FORT PIERCE — A Catholic-based charity is committing up to $4 million to community improvements in northwest Fort Pierce over the next five to seven years, but only if the community gets involved in deciding those improvements.
“It appears the community is willing and excited about it,” said Shabazz-Phillips, a regional vice president of Allegany Franciscan Ministries of South Florida.
The city’s Lincoln Park neighborhood is the target of the ministries’ new Common Good Initiative in South Florida “because it had a clear identity and showed a readiness to change,” Shabazz-Phillips said.
The area of focus is Orange Avenue to the south and Avenue Q to the north. Martin Luther King Boulevard splits the area in half.
Now her organization is talking with community groups about what they want done.
A public town hall meeting is being planned for late September to urge community involvement in formulating what Common Good will do. A date is not final.
“(We) don’t have preconceived notions about what we will fund or invest (in Fort Pierce),” she said on Aug. 20 in Fort Pierce during a presentation to 60 representatives of nonprofit groups and community leaders who may play a role in what is done.
A similar community initiative by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in other parts of the United States led to a medical clinic for the uninsured, a center for introducing youth to job opportunities, preschool education and medical technicians going into homes.
Shabazz-Phillips said those sorts of things could be done in Fort Pierce.
Common Good strives to foment citizen involvement through neighborhood activities that help the community.
Lincoln Park has been on edge.
Last year, repeated gunfire and shootings caused a community outcry and a Restore the Village movement in the area.
It’s the same part of the city where police and others are beginning to integrate a nationally tested anti-gang plan for steering youth and young men away from crime. That Restore the Village plan includes social intervention in a community with low income and low educational levels, according to U.S. Census figures.
Allegany Franciscan Ministries’ efforts “could complement (the anti-gang initiative),” said Police Chief Sean Baldwin.
State Rep. Larry Lee Jr. said the convergence of the efforts is unprecedented.
Lincoln Park faces “some heavy objects that need to be lifted together and together we can and will make a difference,” said Lee, who is a leader in Restore the Village.
This fall the city expects to learn if its gets a federal grant to bolster plans done in conjunction with groups Common Good also is working with, including the county health department and the Executive Roundtable of St. Lucie County that sets priorities for social service spending, especially on youths.
An Allegany Franciscan Ministries commissioner is the public health department’s public information officer, Arlease Hall. The Executive Roundtable is starting to develop a new long-range plan and its new executive director, Shaniek Maynard, is a Fort Pierce native whose brother was fatally shot in the city. Her mother, Donna Mills, serves on the St. Lucie County School Board and is following the Common Good Initiative.
“We’re excited to partner with others who care about Lincoln Park to create a healthier, safer and more prosperous place in which our most vulnerable residents can live, learn work and play,” Shabazz-Phillips said.
Common Good may set up an office in Fort Pierce to help monitor what is done. Initially it will start out small, and expand initiatives as time goes on.
Both she and people involved with the anti-gang initiative acknowledge that change will take many years.
“We recognize that systematic community change often takes decades” she said.
A 2 1/2-square-mile residential area in northwest Fort Pierce that has had disproportionate low income, education and crime. Its origins date back to the late 1800s and racial segregation.
Per capita income: $9,555 (It’s $23,062 throughout St. Lucie County)
Families with incomes in excess of $75,000: 7.34 percent (It’s 42.58 percent nationally).
Children in poverty: 2,281 of 3,265 children, which is three times the national average.
Lacking high school diplomas: 40.1 percent (14.2 percent nationally)
People without health insurance: 30.5 percent.
SOURCE: U.S. Census and the Fort Pierce Housing Authority.
Article source: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/local-news/st-lucie-county/fort-pierce-neighborhood-focus-of-common-good-initiative_27463701