UNIVERSITY AREA — Several programs for at-risk children and youth have closed because of a major cut in funding for the Prodigy Cultural Arts Program, which originated 17 years ago at the University Area Community Center.
The cuts have resulted in contracted participants dropping from 3,500 in the 2016-17 budget year to 800 in the 2017-18 year, said Sarah Combs, executive director and CEO of the University Area Community Development Corp. (UACDC), which operates the center.
However, "no youth here (in the University Area) will be affected this year" with a full program to be offered to 400 participants, she said.
The cuts came as a result of the state budget cut of Prodigy to $1 million for the 2017-18 fiscal year, a drop from $4.6 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year, which ended June 30.
"We did pick up another $245,000 from the Department of Justice," said Combs who said the program was moved to the Department of Education for 2017-18 from the Department of Justice. It has been returned to the Department of Justice for 2018-19.
"We are determined to get back the full amount, $4.6 million, next year," said Combs, who has met with state officials to express the need.
Meanwhile, Prodigy did not renew contracts with the Florida Institute for Community Studies (FCIS), OASIS of Lakeland, Education Foundation of Osceola County, Heartland for Children and St. Leo University . It is offering a limited partnership with Girls Inc. of Lakeland, Tampa Housing Authority, Brandon Boys and Girls Club and Arts Ensemble Foundation. Those combined will serve about 400 children
It also is reaching Memorandums of Understanding with some smaller organizations to offer limited classes. Most are a site, such as a church, where classes had been given by contracted providers who were not renewed . Now the churches or other organizations are picking up the costs.
"We just can't shut down. We know if we pull out completely it will be hard to restart and get the trust of the community," Combs said.
The FCIS serves Town 'n Country and the Wimauma area "and those are the communities that are going to suffer the most," Combs said.
FCIS founder Alayne Unterberger said she had to move the Hanley Multicultural Family Center in Town' n Country to the previously closed Morgan Woods Park because she could not afford the rent without the Prodigy funding.
She hopes to be able to offer at least one program for drums and guitars because the FCIS already owns them. She has reached out to donors and families for support.
Unterberger said if Prodigy does regain funding next year, "I would in a heartbeat bring back Prodigy. " But she has doubts about it happening as she sent petitions and had parents and supporters call the legislators and the governor not to make the cuts. "But they didn't listen," she said.
In 2016-17, Prodigy had about 150 total staff members - ranging from full-time to contractors. About 100 have lost their jobs, Combs said. Some have offered to help by working for half or even free.
Combs also said the UACDC is assisting with the costs at its University Area center as the nonprofit's board approved diverting some of the corporation's general funds to Prodigy. The corporation also is seeking assistance from local governments, businesses and private donors.
The board also approved all funds raised for a gala, set for Nov. 3, to go to Prodigy. Combs said the goal is $100,000.
The gala, Art in the Park … After Dark, will be at a new pavilion and band shell in University Area Community Park, 14015 N 22nd St. It will feature food, music, dancing, an art gallery and an auction of art by youth.
"We need to showcase the arts in a way it has never been showcased," Combs said.
The UACDC currently is seeking sponsors with sponsorships available from $1,000 to $15,000. For information, call (813) 558-5212 or see uacdc.org.
Contact Lenora Lake at [email protected]