Members of the civic group Poinciana Residents for Smart Change meet at the Poinciana Public Library for a community forum. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
POINCIANA – Their motto is “Action in Motion,” but their real goal is to wake up, and motivate, the residents of Poinciana with a simple concept: if they want their community to become a better place, they have to work for it.
“The real goal is to expose the residents to the leadership of Poinciana,” said Keith Laytham, the chairman of Poinciana Residents for Smart Change, a group working to improve the community and make it a better place to live.
“Most of the time, for better or worse, that tends to be county commissioners and state representatives,” Laytham said.
Much better, he added, would be if residents themselves got more involved in trying to help Poinciana become the best community it can be.
This morning, the civic group met at the Poinciana Public Library for a public forum on how best to move forward on improving Poinciana’s image, making it a better place to live, and finding ways to bring more jobs and social services to the community of 10 villages that crosses Polk and Osceola counties.
“Today we’re really going to have a discussion,” said Darhlene Zeanwick, the moderator of the forum, who said the goal was to find solutions, and not just identify problems.
“We’re here as AmeriCANS, not as AmeriCAN’Ts,” she said. “We want to leave here on a positive note.”
One of the challenges that Poinciana is facing is the community with a high home foreclosure rate, and equally high unemployment rate, lacks something that so many families badly need: agencies that provides services to families in need.
“We have a lack of social service agencies from the counties,” Zeanwick said, but she noted that Poinciana is on the verge of convincing the Salvation Army to open its first community center here – again, if the community is ready to help make that a reality.
“The Salvation Army will be the first non-profit to come here,” she said.
Nestor Neusch is a Poinciana resident and consultant for the Salvation Army. He said the nonprofit agency supports the idea of opening a community center in the community.
“They have given me a green light for establishing a center by Christmas,” Neusch said.
But as a non-profit, the agency can’t afford to pay rent on an existing building, and the community will have to respond to what Nuesch said would be a series of fund-raisers to come up with the money needed to cover those expenses. If the community does, he said, it will be well worth it.
“We have to do something,” he said. “I was looking at Kissimmee, and they have 30 to 50 social service agencies. In Poinciana, there are none.”
Residents on the Osceola County side of Poinciana tend to drive to Kissimmee to get services, he said, but for residents living on the Polk County side, it’s a much longer drive.
“People have to go to Winter Haven if they live in Polk County,” he said, a nearly 45 minute commute.
Wendy Farrell, a member of Poinciana Residents for Smart Change, said many families hurt by the recession and the collapse of the housing market are badly in need of the type of services that the Salvation Army provides.
“If we got the Salvation Army here, we could send families there for help,” she said.
Laytham agreed this was badly needed.
“My wife volunteers at food banks,” he said. “One of the issues in Poinciana is the physical location. We have several churches, but for a community with 83,000 people, we have very few locations now where these kinds of programs can take place.”
Dereck Gamez, publisher of Politica Politico, a Spanish-language news source on the web, which covers Poinciana, said it’s also important to find things for residents to do to keep them here.
“Poinciana needs more attractive things to get people into the area,” he said, adding that community leaders should also be more vocal about letting people know what Poinciana already does have, such as good schools and parks.
“You need to fix the communications,” he said.
Zeanwick agreed, saying “Poinciana does have a perception problem” that needs to be countered with more positive reports of what happens in the community.
She also said it was important to bring in training programs to help match unemployed people with the jobs being created now. The community is working with the TECO training school in Kissimmee to open a new office in Poinciana.
“The only way we’re going to get our people hired here is to train them,” Zeanwick said.

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