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Auction On: Carver Foundation Leads Gym’s Rebirth As Revels Steers Ideas and Dollars

| April 29, 2011

Carver Gym is poised to bounce back. (© FlaglerLive)

It’s not the kind of auction you expect to see on a local government website, let alone the website of the Flagler County Commission. Then again, it’s not the kind of rapid turn-around, from near-death to triumphal rebirth, that anyone expected for Carver Gym just 10 months ago.

But Carver Gym is back. And its future depends in part on your role in its rejuvenating auction.

Here it is: Right at the top, Jay Garner, the property appraiser, is offering a one-hour flight tour of the county. Current bid: $125. The sheriff is offering a three-hour tour of duty with a cop on the job. Milissa Holland, the county commissioner, is offering to host a dinner for four at Kokoro’s the Japanese restaurant, where the courses will include some learning about sushi customs. Alan Peterson, the chairman of the county commission, is, as always, strictly numbers: he’s offering to match the first $100 donated. Jon Netts, the Palm Coast mayor—who is adapting Sartre’s most famous work to “Boating and Nothingness”—is offering a two-hour boating tour of the Intracoastal Waterway. Dennis Bayer, the Flagler Beach attorney, is offering to prepare your estate documents. He got a $100 bid already.

That’s just a few of the 45 auction items offered at a webpage of the Flagler County Commission. The auction is the latest brainchild of the just-born George Washington Carver Foundation, the non-profit fund-raising arm of the Carver Gym—the same Carver Gym that, a little less than a year ago, was facing its demise at the hands of the same county commissioners who, since, have revived its fortune under a new model.

To assure the gym’s future, the foundation wants to raise at least $5,000 a year in non-governmental funds to go along with $50,000 from the county, $10,000 from the school board and Bunnell each, and $5,000 from the Sheriff’s Office, among other sources. Each of these agencies has agreed to commit to five years’ worth of support.

That new model is coming along with remarkable swiftness, literally—which matters most to the residents of South Bunnell who use and love their gym—and politically.

Literally, you can see the place in reconstruction mode right now. The rooms downstairs have been rebuilt from dark, crowded spaces into airy, light, marbled rooms that will include a lounge with a big flat-screen television and another section for video games and the like. Upstairs, the cavernous, low-ceilinged former haunt of the Boys & Girls Club has been entirely rebuilt into a series of high-ceilinged, well-lit and spacious classrooms. A bathroom will be added upstairs. That’s where various programs, from GED classes to creative arts to whatever else the gym will host will be located.

There’s a distinctly cooler air inside, too: those junky air conditioning units have replaced (all but two, with those two being replaced soon). Carver Gym is a gym again, and it looks like it will live up to its name as a community and youth center, a youth center similar to the one the county pays for and the school district runs on the campus of Flagler Palm Coast High School. Cheryl Massaro, who runs that youth c enter, will also be in charge at Carver, where the front entrance no longer exists as the freewheeling doors it used to be. The entrance will be like the other youth center’s, regulated by a scanner, with users swiping their IDs to get in.

“It’s a big improvement over what was,” Heidi Petito, the county administration’s point woman on the job, said Friday, in an understatement. “We hope to be done when the kids get out of school,” in late May.

What used to be the upstairs haunt of the Boys & Girls Club is being remade into a set of classrooms. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Those are the physical improvements. They wouldn’t have happened if the political foundation hadn’t been established first, after being nearly wrecked. The gym had previously been the ward of the county. But the county, citing budget cuts, no longer wanted to provide the $120,000 a year it took to keep it going. South Bunnell took it as another in a long line of swipes by the county at that region’s second-class status. South Bunnell is almost exclusively black, poor and a throwback to the age when segregation was a given in Flagler County.

County Commissioner Barbara Revels, who initially approved of closing the gym, used the howls of outrage to energize its reinvention as a youth center instead. She stepped in last summer after various sundry and scattered attempts by others to find a solution for the gym. Ideas were all over the place. Revels was able to channel those ideas into a workable plan that, with key support from School Superintendent Janet Valentine and some extra coaxing of Bunnell (that city initially offered up just $5,000, and even then, much of it as vague, “in-kind” money), made the plan stick. That, and monthly meetings with representatives from the government agencies and others, who refined the plan down to lists of immediate and long-term needs. The immediate needs are being fulfilled.

“I’m very happy,” Revels said. “I can’t take any pride in it because there are so many enthusiastic people that are a part of this, and I’m just really, really thrilled with their continued enthusiasm. But now is when the long haul rubber meets the road kind of thing occurs when Cheryl rolls up her sleeves with Eli and they crank up the operation for the kids, and at the same time we keep all of these people who were there as cheerleaders going rah-rah, keep them involved in helping with the fundraising.” That’s Cheryl Massaro and Elijah Emanuel, the long-time county employee at Carver Gym who, in children’s eyes there, is synonymous with the place. He’s staying. But his co-worker, another county employee, will be fired as part of the cut-back in overall support for the place.

“We’ve got so many fund-raising ideas and excitement that it messes with our meetings in getting organized. It’s hard to contain everybody. We could do this, we could do that, so I keep trying to say: guys, we have to focus, we have to do one hit fast, and I knew that this auction item, because I’ve done it before, I knew it could be a decent-sized hit fast. We could pull it off in 60 to 90 days.”

The Carver Foundtaion's new logo. Click on the image for larger view.

So there you have it: a Bob Gibson autographed baseball and baseball card, mounted on a wood base? Flagler Beach City Commissioner Steve Settle is offering up that one (the item has drawn a $50 bid). Fellow-commissioner Jane Mealy is offering a personal quilting class, and John Fischer, the school board member, is offering a $100 gift certificate to Home Depot. The auction’s broad list of participants reflect not only the cooperation across agencies that underscored the foundation’s efforts, but Revels’s skill at getting the participants on board, using the competitive spirit to the foundation’s advantage. Politicians and administrators from every city and the county are participating, even those who don’t necessarily have a direct stake in the Gym: a divisive issue has turned into a bridge across turfs.

The auction runs until June.

Beyond that, the trick will be to keep the enthusiasm going for the foundation, and, in a larger sense, for Carver’s overall funding. “I think it’s highly important that we always have this pressure on a group of people who are concerned with it, because if you don’t and they just think the government is operating it and somebody is running a program there, they’ll all go away, they won’t be as involved, and I say we have to do this just to keep everyone involved.”

The county's Heidi Petito, who was chiefly responsible at the execution end of Carver's reconstruction, in one of the ground-floor rooms that'll soon be Carver's lounge. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

The county's Heidi Petito, who was chiefly responsible at the execution end of Carver's reconstruction, in one of the ground-floor rooms that'll soon be Carver's lounge. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

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1 Response for “Auction On: Carver Foundation Leads Gym’s Rebirth As Revels Steers Ideas and Dollars”

  1. w.ryan says:

    I was just sending out email to my friends and acquaintances and thought of sending one to Flaglerlive. Pierre, you’re on it!!! Wow!

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