“We’re getting awfully close to the Boys and Girls Club opening,” said Jeanette Coughenour, manager of the Association of Poinciana Villages, the homeowners association for the 10 villages in this community that cuts across Polk and Osceola counties.
“We will be having a grand opening celebration next month,” she added. “It’s moving along. It’s going to be the Poinciana Teen Center.”
For years now, this has been a persistent challenge for the APV: how to find activities for young people to enjoy in a community that experienced a huge amount of residential development in the past decade, but was slower to bring in recreational opportunities for newcomers to enjoy. That’s been particularly true for teenagers. There are no movie theaters in Poinciana, or places that young people like to gravitate to in this community of 70,000 residents.
Recognizing this, the association reached out to the Central Florida Boys and Girls Club, which agreed to create a center for youth activities this summer. It will be a place where young people between the ages of 12 and 18 can go to spend time, study, and hang out. It’s expected to house gaming equipment, a computer lab area, and a study area. Students who often wait to get on a computer at the Poinciana Public Library can now come over to the Teen Center instead to study, do homework, or hang out with friends.
“A lot of it is going to be computers and computer labs and accessibility,” Coughenour said. “A lot of these kids don’t have computer access at home.”
The entire project, Coughenour said, dates back to last fall, when Osceola County officials hosted a Youth Crisis meeting at Osceola Heritage Park. It was a discussion on ways to reduce problems like a rising juvenile crime rate, the high drop out rate at county schools, and the need for more events and activities for teenagers to help keep them out of trouble.
During that meeting, it was suggested that communities invest more in sports parks and ball fields to give teenagers something to do. But Coughenour noted that some teens are not interested in sports, and besides, there are sports activities available now at either the Poinciana YMCA or the three local high schools, which have after school sports programs. In addition, Poinciana just built a new soccer field at Vance Harmon Park and Polk County is building a new park and sports field in the community as well.
Instead, the APV turned to the Central Florida Boys & Girls Club, which agreed to operate a teen center in a 2,400 square foot facility that will handle 50 to 60 teens a day. It will be geared to kids ages 12 to 18.
It’s a great idea, said Wendy Farrell, a Poinciana resident and business owner who has been active in local schools. She helped organize Career Days, which invites business owners to visit the high schools and speak to students about their company and the potential career options available to them in the future.
“The good thing is we actually are getting a Boys & Girls Club in Poinciana,” Farrell said. “The bad news is it’s not big enough. I hope on the first day they’re inundated with kids. Then we can say we need this more than ever here.”
Nick Murdock, who lives at Solivita on the Polk County side of Poinciana and works as a consultant for the construction firm Manhattan Kraft, said this is a welcome piece of news for the community.
“If you look at Poinciana High School and New Dimensions High, I know how hard they’ve worked to give kids things to do in the community,” Murdock said. “We also have a YMCA here, and now the Boys & Girls Club is coming in. We need all of this.”
Murdock said he’s also negotiating with the Salvation Army to open an office in Poinciana as well. Poinciana is divided between Osceola and Polk counties, and was one of the fastest growing communities in this region throughout the past decade. Poinciana experienced a building boom until the housing market went bust, and today is struggling to shake off a high unemployment rate and a high home foreclosure rate.
“I’m working with the Salvation Army’s business planner through Manhattan Kraft,” Murdock said. “The Salvation Army has a lot of plans to do a lot of outreach to needy families down here.”
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