Why the Carver Center matters
By Barbara Revels
Today at the George Washington Carver Community Center, students gather after school in a welcoming atmosphere to hang out, work on the computers, read books, play a game of pool or foosball, pick up a basketball game and just have fun in a safe place, under the watchful eye of the Rev. Eli Emanuel.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Black school, white school
In the 1950s and ’60s, the Carver Center was known as the George Washington Carver School, and it was one of two kindergarten-to-12th-grade schools in Flagler County, the other being Bunnell High School. They were only 10 blocks apart, and there was no official district or dividing line that determined where a child went to school — only the color of your skin.
If you were black, you went to Carver. If you were white, you went to Bunnell High School.
When school districts were ordered to desegregate throughout the country, Flagler County was one of the last to do so. In 1967, the George Washington Carver School was closed, and all high school students were sent to Bunnell High School, with elementary students being divided between the Flagler Beach Elementary School, churches and Bunnell Elementary.
In 1970, Bunnell High School burned down. All of the high school students, black and white were moved to the Carver School while the Flagler County School Board quickly built Flagler Palm Coast High School, which opened in 1973.
As the years went by, the School Board demolished all the buildings at the old George Washington Carver School except the gym. Through the years, the county and the schools have transferred ownership of the property, along with the responsibility of operating the gym as a community resource.
As governments at all levels struggled to lower taxes in the great recession of 2008-2011, the nearly forgotten gym was considered expendable and to be closed by Flagler County, who operated it at that time. The community erupted and petitioned the county to keep it open.
The County Commission reconsidered and created a coalition of government entities and residents to not only keep it open, but to improve and expand its offerings.
The key element in making the facility work was a committed steady hand in management. A dedicated youth advocate who also is manager of the Flagler County Youth Center, Cheryl Massaro offered to help, and she organized a competent team that organizes daily activities and a variety of community events.
Massaro said the new management had to gain trust of the community. “Prior to that point, so many groups and programs had come to Carver and offered services, only to leave after a short stay,” she said. “Establishing strong, reliable programs and activities was crucial in the development of the facility.”
Massaro praised the Rev. Eli Emanuel, or “Sugar-Pop” to locals, for his work in managing the center.
“I will never forget our first meeting,” Massaro said. “I told Rev. Emmanuel that the success or failure of the new G.W. Carver Community Center was going to fall on his shoulders.”
A light to the community
Today, Emanuel continues to run the facility daily, calling it a “light” in the community.
“Now our children and young adults can see there’s hope,” he said. “Carver is a big part of that village to help raise a child. It’s essential.”
Brian Willard is responsible for the startup (in 2012) and continued development of the highly successful Road to Success Youth Program, with help from Flagler Schools and a grant from Career Source. RTS has been recognized as “the model” in many areas of the state and has supported 106 students in gaining their GED and pre-employment training.
RTS operates out of newly remodeled classrooms at the Carver Center, each accommodating 10 students.
“It has been a privilege to be a part of the Carver Center and to work with everyone involved,” Willard said.
The center accomplishes a lot, but with more funds and more adult volunteers, it could do more and stay open for more hours. It badly needs more paid monitors, an addition that would add more classrooms and meeting rooms that will expand our current programs, adding capacity.
The work of the foundation
Since the creation of the George Washington Carver Foundation, we have raised over $60,000. We paid the county $20,000 for ceiling insulation as a part of their renovations that added new air conditioning and heat, added renovated upstairs classrooms and more. The foundation has bought bleachers, scoreboards, backboards, uniforms, balls, furniture. We give two or three college scholarships annually. We help pay for the summer camp food operated by AIM.
We currently just finished the latest fundraising and are prepared to again donate a large sum to the county for the planned building expansion. We have had excellent funding partners in addition to the coalition group of governments, a Kiwanis grant and Bank of America were our first large sponsors of improvements.
Additionally, members of the community annually write checks in support of our activities. One hundred percent of funds raised go to this operation or initiatives that affect the surrounding community. And you can help as well!
While all of these dreams are being accomplished at the Center, the citizens of that community will take back their streets one block at a time where it will be a model of community involvement and an attractive and safe place to live, learn and play.
Barbara Revels is the president of the George Washington Carver Foundation Inc.