POINCIANA – Growing up in Poinciana, Dave Raith recalls, wasn’t all that exciting while he was a middle and high school student. Although Poinciana is a fast growing community that cuts across both Polk and Osceola counties, there just wasn’t much for teenagers like himself to do there, he noted.
“I would just hang out in my neighborhood,” said Raith. “My dad never let me go outside the neighborhood, so we’d play in the woods and stuff.”
Raith, now 24 years old, attended Poinciana High School and remembers having very few parks to play sports in.
“Nope, and that’s why I spent all my time in Kissimmee,” he said. ““I didn’t hang out in Poinciana.”
Jeanette Coughenour, the manager of the community’s homeowners association, the Association of Poinciana Villages, has known for years that Poinciana needs more activities and programs for young people.
“For teens specifically, it’s a tough age group,” Coughenour said. “We’d like to say, ‘Well, they should just go out and get a job,’ but there are precious few jobs out there and they may be too young to get a job in the first place.”
The good news, she said, is that several new recreational opportunities for teens are in the works.
This morning, during the APV’s regular board of directors meeting, Coughenour outlined some of the programs being developed to help young people find things to do this summer, without having to leave Poinciana.
First, Polk County commissioners have agreed to build a multi-use park on the Polk side of the community. Poinciana, which has more than 70,000 residents, is made of of 10 villages across the two counties.
“Polk County has closed on the purchase of the land with Avatar,” Coughenour said. Avatar is the main builder in the community.
The park will be at the intersection of Poinciana Parkway and State Road 542, and will have 28 acres to offer.
“They approved several million dollars, and part of it was they’re going to purchase the land, and they’ve got engineering drawings for it and they’re moving to a final drawing,” Coughenour said. “Very soon they’ll be putting a ‘Coming Soon’ sign in front of that land.”
The plans for this property now include a softball field, two concession buildings, a playground with a shelter, several picnic shelters, and two basketball courts.
“There will be three multi-purpose fields that will be regulation-sized for football and soccer,” she said. “It’s pretty extensive. There’s also plans for a dog park there. It would be the first dog park in Poinciana. There’s one in Solivita, but it’s not open to the public.”
Solivita is a private residential development on the Polk County side of Poinciana, billed as an “active adult” community.
“A dog park. Isn’t that neat?” Coughenour said. “It’s exciting. It’s in a great locaiton, it really is. We worked really hard, the residents of the community, the association, and Avatar, to get Polk County to approve this.”
Hopefully the park, which should break ground later this year, will give young people in Poinciana an opportunity for more sports activities, she added.
“For the organized sports to be able to flourish and to have field space in the community that’s not too far from where the kids live, that goes a long way,” Coughenour said.
For young people who are not athletic, Coughenour said the APV has contracted with Goodwill Industries of Central Florida to start a teen program that kicks off at the end of this month. It will include computer classes that young people can sign up for.
“Not all kids are going to be inclined to organized sports, so this will be an outlet for them,” Coughenour said. “Goodwill is an organization for kids considered to be at risk for various reasons. Goodwill Industries will have a nice program set up for them. They’ll have an organized program for the kids that runs all day. There will be computer-type programs, with knowledge they can use and training. It’s just neat stuff, stuff kids like to do.”
The program will be held at the Poinciana Community Center on Marigold Avenue, from 7 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., and it runs for four weeks.
In addition, the APV is sponsoring a youth camp at the community center.
“The APV does a summer youth camp occupying some of the side rooms here,” Coughenour said. “That will be running concurrently” with the Goodwill Industries program.
This is exactly what the community needs, said Keith Laytham, a member of Poinciana Residents for Smart Change, a group formed to help find ways to make Poinciana a better place to live.
“For a community the size of ours, there’s been a dearth of activities for kids,” Laytham said. “And idle minds and idle kids wind up creating problems.”
Raith said he understands that sentiment, and recalls that when he had trouble finding fun things to do in Poinciana, it sometimes got him in trouble at home.
“I was always getting grounded,” he said.
Laytham, who attended the APV board meeting this morning, said he was able to help the folks at Goodwill Industries once he learned about their new program.
“We actually made an award to Goodwill Industries of two really nice laptop computers,” he said. “I was able to link them up to some IBM people in the Central Florida area who were really impressed and said ‘Not only can we give you some software programs, but we have a college up here that can give you computers for the program,’ “ Laytham said. “It’s a great idea.”
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