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Sunday, Nov 19, 2017
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Historic Tampa Heights church to become community center

TAMPA HEIGHTS – An abandoned historical church soon will be filled with about 150 teens learning about cooking, computers, financial literacy, art and more.

Major reconstruction is expected to start soon on the Tampa Heights Youth and Community Center, which should open its doors in June at 2005 N. Lamar St., a low-income area just north of downtown Tampa.

The Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association has worked more than three years to get to this stage. During this time, executive director Patrick Sneed and the nonprofit’s board has been securing a lease, raising funds for the supplies, seeking grants and organizing volunteers.

“We have the money approved to go ahead with the construction,” Sneed said recently, adding that grants from the Sears Foundation and Hillsborough County government will total $100,000 of the $650,000 project. Most of the funds have been raised.

The plan calls for the 10,000-square-foot former Old Faith Temple Church to have an open community room and separate rooms for art, cooking, computers and business education as well as offices and a conference room. Local businesses, including the Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union, MIT Computers and the Columbia Restaurant Group are sponsoring the various rooms.

Richard Gonzmart of the Columbia Restaurant Group is donating a commercial kitchen to the facility, which is near the group’s new Ulele Restaurant, currently under construction. Keith Sedita, managing partner of Ulele, is a junior civic association board member.

“We want to come into Tampa Heights and make a difference. We want to change the statistics and improve the future,” Sedita said.

The kitchen will provide training for students who may wish to enter the culinary field. They also would be able to work at the center, which will be available for rentals and catering, Sedita said.

The junior civic association currently runs the Make a Difference Center for elementary students at Mobley Park on Palm Avenue and serves about 75 students each year. But space limitations there meant that middle and high school students were not being served, Sneed said.

“One day I walked by and saw this building,” Sneed said of the old church. “I knew this was it. This is a true grassroots effort.”

The building had historical designation and had to be left standing when Interstate 275 was widened. But it remained empty. The civic association eventually secured a lease and started planning the center.

Volunteers from local companies and organizations have helped tear out areas, cover the windows and unload supplies. Now skilled workers for electrical and mechanical needs can begin their work.

Sneed said on-site programs also will include lessons in leadership and community involvement, tutoring and entrepreneurship education. In addition, the organizers plan to take the teens on college tours and assist with college applications and financial aid applications.

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