POINCIANA – Jay Wheeler remembers the day that Jeanette Coughenour grabbed him by the arm, and told him what Poinciana really needs is a place where teenagers can hang out and enjoy themselves.
“Jeanette and I were getting on a bus and Jeanette muscled over to me and said, ‘We need a teen center in Poinciana,’ “ recalled Wheeler, a member of the Osceola County School Board. “I said ‘Do you have any money,’ and she said ‘Yes, do you have a location?’ “
The location they settled on turned out to be property that is owned by the Association of Poinciana Villages, the homeowner’s association in this community, and the agency that Coughenour manages. And while the property on Marigold Avenue is on the Polk County side of Poinciana, Wheeler said the project got the full support of Osceola County as well. Poinciana, a community of more than 70,000 people, is divided between the two counties.
This morning, the new Boys & Girls Club Teen Center had an official ribbon cutting ceremony, and residents were invited to come in and view the property, which includes a room with computers that the teens can use, as well as a games room and study area.
Before it opened, the association recognized that not all teens play sports, so the APV reached out to the Central Florida Boys and Girls Club, which agreed to create a center for youth activities. It’s a place where young people between the ages of 12 and 18 can go to spend time, study, and hang out. It’s in a 2,400-square-foot facility that can handle 50 to 60 teens a day.
“This is something we need desperately in Poinciana,” Wheeler said. “We’ve had gang problems in Poinciana. We’ve known for years we needed it. This is a momentous day.”
“It’s a great event,” added Buck Raith, president of Poinciana’s Village 9 homeowners association. “I wish it had been here when my kids were young.”
Gary W. Cain, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, said his agency recognized that teenagers in Poinciana really needed a place to call their own.
“We’re very, very grateful to have the opportunity to be here,” Cain said. “We understand how precious a resource our children are.”
Cain noted that he was raised in a low-income family, and he experienced plenty of struggles while growing up.
“My mother grew up very, very poor,” Cain said, noting that he often showed up at school wearing second hand clothes that sometimes made him feel inadequate compared to students from more affluent families.
It was only when he discovered the Boys & Girls Club, he said, that he started to be accepted for who he was, and encouraged to be and do his best.
“In the club, people believed in me,” he said. “You’ve got to believe in yourself.”
The Teen Center, he said, will do just that: make young people in Poinciana feel not only welcome, but appreciated and fully supported.
“Trust me, trust me, I know what being poor is like, and I know what opportunity looks like,” he said. “And we will help provide opportunity here.”
Opal Warren, director of the new center, said it would host a technology program, a “Power Hour” after school program where kids can do their homework, and a “Passport to Manhood” program to help the students feel good about themselves.
“It feels extraordinarily comforting to have a place for our youth,” she said. “It’s important to have a place for them that is safe and nurturing. Now they have a place where they can say, ‘I’m wanted, I’m loved.’ “
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