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Back from the Dead, Carver Gym Is Rededicated By Those Who Nearly Killed It

| September 10, 2011

Balloons instead of tombstones at Carver Gym Saturday. (© FlaglerLive)

It was a morning of celebration, of self-congratulations, of ironies and crossed fingers: the very people who wanted to be done with South Bunnell’s Carver Gym a little over a year ago—the members of the Flagler County Commission—were back Saturday at Carver Gym, applauding each other, and particularly applauding Commissioner Barbara Revels, for not only giving Carver a reprieve from their planned execution, but for rebuilding it into a glittering community and youth center.

The applause is deserved. The short attention span isn’t, particularly in South Bunnell, where history is a recurring whitewash to the benefit of those who’d rather not hear it. That’s why, after covering this story for the last 15-odd months, I have a hard time applauding without at least some reserve.

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Over those months Carver Gym managed to be a symbol of both the insensitivity and hypocrisy of local governments’ attitude toward the poorest and most persistently ignored section of Flagler County—and, not coincidentally, its blackest—and those same governments’ willingness to correct their course and vastly improve on it. They created the very crisis they surmounted, which makes today’s applause a bit self-serving, but they surmounted it so well that the crisis is now a footnote. Let’s hope it stays that way.

The cooperation between governments that made the revival possible is rarely seen in this county. But to say that Carver’s revival could not have happened without that cooperation is a stretch: the county could have easily continued its commitment on its own. It cost less than $120,000 a year to run the gym—a pittance in a  $65 million budget, especially when compared to, for example, the $400,000 a year the county is now willing to spend on its amorphous gamble on “economic development” (a sum that would likely have far greater impact on the development of South Bunnell’s ghetto youth). To its credit, the county invested large sums in improving the physical structure of the gym, building gorgeous classrooms upstairs and game rooms downstairs, and using donated money—including $5,000 from the Kiwanis Club—to stock the place with a gigantic television and an entertainment system that would be the envy of every couch potato from here to Garfield. (This is the work of an unsung workhorse in the county administration, Heidi Petito.) The ID and security systems have yet to be installed.

Several educational programs will operate out of the gym, including the school board’s GED classes and the VOICE program, which teaches young people modes of expression through photography and writing.

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But let’s not overdo the self-congratulations, either: the county did nothing less than what it should have been doing all along. There’s something distasteful about a government, or a bunch of governments, finally doing what they’re supposed to be doing—providing decent recreation and community centers, air conditioning, cleanliness, bathrooms, computer access—then turning the whole thing into some sort of stupendous achievement for which they should be praised. You don’t award medals for finally showing up, though show up they did: today’s event featured the entire county commission (one of whose members, Nate McLaughlin, was not on the board when it sought to end funding for Carver), four members of the Bunnell City Commission (where were you, Elbert Tucker?), three members of the school board (again with the absence of a Tucker), and even Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts.

Today’s rededication is a story of contrasts between what dismal place Carver had become, and what a fantastic place it now is, though it’s doubtful that if it had been, say, on the greener, leafier grounds of Palm Coast Parkway and Clubhouse Drive, or on the campus of FPC, it would not have been allowed to decay.

And let’s not forget that the county is scaling back. The county’s financial commitment to the day-to-day operation of the place has been cut considerably. The involvement of Bunnell, the school board, the sheriff’s office and the Carver Center’s own non-profit foundation are picking up a large portion of the $75,000 the county is no longer contributing. Revels led the foundation’s extremely successful fund-raising, including an electronic auction that involved government, private and business individuals from across the county. But six times the money she raised was blown on that $7,000-a-day “facilitator” the county hired to lead those serial and endless economic development summits that led nowhere earlier this year. The county (Revels included) thought not one iota of spending that money, yet Revels’s foundation must now slave to raise comparatively minute amounts that nevertheless mean the difference between life and death for Carver.

Revels, whose role in making the revival possible can’t be understated, knows it’s not about the gala opening. It’s about sustainability: what happens next, and whether contributors will stick to their commitments. “This is where the rubber meets the road,” Revels said after today’s ceremonies, “this is where we’ve got to really persevere and keep the enthusiasm going from the whole community. People are telling me that they’re going to be engaged, and we just have to keep that happening and do it for the betterment of our youth.”

In a stark irony, those youths were absent today: not a single neighborhood child or young adult—the very people for whom the gym is ostensibly being rededicated—was in the audience. They were supposed to have been invited. Fliers were made and should have been distributed door to door. Eddie Johnson, the soccer star and Bunnell native, who spoke some moving words about his connection to Bunnell and the gym, should have had younger people there in droves. But three young men standing on the porch of a house across the street from the gym during the audible festivities, including Shaquille Neal, 18, who spent his life in the shadow of the gym, hadn’t heard about the rededication. Neal was wondering what was going on inside. Little did he know that it was, in part, about him, or for him.

From left, Shaquille Neal, Javon Heath and Davon Smity. Click on the image for larger view.
(© FlaglerLive)

“I’ve seen it for, like, 18 years,” Neal said of Carver Gym. “At least they didn’t tear it down. That’s the best part of it.”  He’d played a tournament there while it was being rebuilt, but he hadn’t seen the playrooms and classrooms yet. Neal is the nephew of Elijah Emmanuel, better known as Sugarpops, the county staffer at Carver Gym all these years. Neal was with Davon Smith, and Javon Heath, both 17 and of more recent vintage in the area (all three are students at Flagler Palm Coast High School). None had heard about the rededication.  They all hope to use the place (though Heath isn’t into basketball: football is his game), but they couldn’t understand another irony about the rededicated center: it has no set weekend hours, and it shuts down at 7 p.m. on weekdays. For high school students who get home in late afternoon and are expected to do their homework before going out to play, that doesn’t leave much time for use of the center, Neal said.

Cheryl Massaro, director of the Flagler County Youth Center on the FPC campus, is now also the director of the Carver Center. She says the schedule is limited because staffing is limited—which is to say: money is limited. The county cut one position in its scale-back. This is where small government’s rubber meets the road. There may be special activities on Saturdays, but for now, absent a strong corps of volunteers, something Revels wants to build up, the gym will be closed when the youths it’s designed to serve could use it most.

No money? Keep in mind that the $400,000 the county just dedicated to “economic development” (and will re-dedicate next year, and the year after that, in likely fatter sums but without ceremony) will be spent on very expensive salaries for a few individuals with very important titles who know all the economic development buzzwords and how to photoshop splendid reports that talk about economic development and summarize economic development conferences they will have attended in wonderful venues on per diems that could easily pay for a couple more of those entertainment centers at Carver every year. For an eighth of that $400,000 the county could also pay for weekend hours at the gym, providing a place for Bunnell’s youths who presumably have their future ahead of them.

Let’s preferably believe there’s no money. It’s easier. And there’s still plenty of applause.

–Pierre Tristam

Carver's children: They finally appeared, after the re-dedication, to take in the classrooms upstairs. (© FlaglerLive)

18 Responses for “Back from the Dead, Carver Gym Is Rededicated By Those Who Nearly Killed It”

  1. Ask Yourself says:

    “But six times the money she raised was blown on that $7,000-a-day “facilitator” the county hired to lead those serial and endless economic development summits that led nowhere earlier this year.” This is an example of the County Commission out of control, who has no regard for people suffering in this county from lack of jobs. Don’t you agree the money wasted could have been put towards helping those who need help here in out county?

    And the commissioners pretend they are concerned about budgets; Milissa Holland can talk out of both sides of her mouth about these hard economic times-they apparently aren’t concerned about their own spending? $42,000 on the economic development summit facilitator, $800,000 for the Tourist Development Council, another raise for Al Hadeed, and on and on. They spend millions on salaries for a few select individuals! Wouldn’t one think the Carver Gym funding should have been provided without all the drama.sure they all show up today to take credit? They just found another loop hole to get more out of the tax payers. They should all be ashamed.

    Does Pierre have something against a Tucker? Not quite sure what he is trying to accomplish by calling both the City Commissioner and School Board member out for not being able to attend. Some people have more to do than others. I am sure both would have been there if they could have.

  2. Val Jaffee says:

    Shaking my head at the flagrant shamefulness of these oficials running our local government. Let’s see what a Flagler Autumn brings, hopefulling more than falling leaves!

  3. rdh says:

    Ditto to the two articles above. ALL incunbants all the way to the White House should be voted out this fall.. New ideas and politicians listen to the people and act on their behalfs and not what’s in there now who’s ONLY concern is to get re-elected.. The present system is broken and needs fixing.and actions not a lot of fluff and political B.S.

  4. The Geode says:

    I have family that live within blocks of the Carver Gym and know for a fact weren’t any notices or announcements
    were given. Honestly, I don’t think it would have mattered. I have written before about the “hood-mentality” and it is strong in Bunnell. I applaud any effort the County has made to try to make the Carver Gym viable and hope the efforts pays off in assisting at least a couple of kids escape this “Black Hole of Despair” called the “hood”. The Carver Gym was here when the parents of this wayward generation were kids and education was an “afterthought” then – as it is now. You saw the lack of kids, young adults and the parents of the kids who would only use the gym to play basketball and congregate.
    It’s sad in a way, though. Sad to see others fighting to save those who don’t have the where-with-all, the education or desire to fight for themselves.

  5. Bill McGuire says:

    One thing missing from this insightful article is the reason that the Carver Gym became important to local politicians. IMO, without the large number of citizens presenting the plight of the Carver Gym to the County Commission and School Board, accompanied by impassioned speaking from the community, no elected official would have given two hoots about the Carver Gym. But, with publicity to be had and votes to secure, all of a sudden the Carver Gym “had to be saved!” Mr. Tristam and I have disagreed about this factor in the past and will probably respectfully disagree in the future but I maintain that, where a concerned and committed citizenry rises up and presents its case(s) to the elected officials in a public forum, they get attention and, maybe even, results. Public participation in public meetings does make a difference and is in evidence regularly.

  6. tulip says:

    Maybe now that the gym has been done over and some great new things added, these kids will use it more, as there is more to do there. It was an uninspiring rundown place before.

    While it did cost the county some money, a large sum came from donations of money and materials, whereas the county was just diumping money into a basically run down piece of real estate. The county is spending money, why not let the less advantaged kids have something nice for a change–they are the future generation, and maybe it will keep some off the streets and be nice constructive kids.

    I just hope the place is used well,and not vandalized by the many thugs that are around and that Bunnell appreciates what was done and takes an active role in helping to maintain it.

  7. Heather Beaven says:

    I was deeply struck by Commissioner Revels. She has been the steel rod in this process and yesterday she wasn’t formally honored … no plaque … no standing ovation for her. Then it struck me. She was the emcee. She coordinated the agenda of the event that was built to honor the work of others. Humble, unwaivering leadership. Well done Barbara!

  8. PJ says:

    The Community Centers and what they really mean:

    I grew up in the projects as a child. during my time, the projects were a model of the new future life of many low to middle income folks and how they were supposed to live. I enjoyed it, we had community centers to learn wood work, art and to play as kids should do. Parks and monkey bars, stick ball fields and yes basketball courts.
    (my mother passed away in the mid eightys and my Dad in 2000 when we clean out his house we found my wood work project, a napkin holder still as new as when I built it in 1967.)
    We we all know now my mother got something personal from the community center!

    Then came budget cuts of the sixties the city almost went broke by the early 70’s. The community centers were closed one at a time the parks were starting to not get repaired.

    When the swings broke the just removed them and never put them back up. The stainless steel slide was torn out for the scrap steel because so many of the folks that lived in the projects were out of work that’s how they made money by stealing. Things started to slowly go down hill. Drugs and crime destroyed this future wonderful life.

    Here is what I don’t get we gave to some of the people who work for the county, who work for us, who are supposed to do their job were given awards. why? You should not be thanking people for doing their jobs.

    Barbra Revels worked hard to find this money to get the gym back on tract. She should have received an award. Not a high level county employee for doing their job. It just did not seem right.

    The folks from the city of Bunnell were truly greatful to keep this facility open. It is a direct help to those that live there and to those children that can walk there. One day we will hear of the new professional basketball players or sports pro that once again came out of a local community center like the Carver Gym.

    The question is will all the hard work of Barbra Revels and so many others go in vain if the county does not continue fund the Carver Gym. (Maybe those politicians) who did not want to fund the gym and wanted to close it, may have been right? I hope not!

    As I said in the early part of my comment. When the funding stopped the good work the community center was doing became nothing more than storage rooms for the projects.

    You the County and the city of Bunnell are tasked to manage this facility. Don’t blam the economy on the future of the Carver Gyms failure. You must now step up to plate don’t reley on Ms.Revels to save your rear ends again in the future.

    Please continue to pat your staff on the back for simply doing there jobs it was uncomfortable to see and continue to find cash for large pay raises for staff that should get nominal rasies if any at all.

    Manage the managers get yourselves under control county. Your lucky you have Craig Coffey he is a real mamager. Some of you commissioners would likely threaten him with losing his job because you the commissioner are the inept manager. lean from great management like Coffey don’t learn from Palm Coast. they are a mess

    And one last thing take a lesson from the school of Revels. Manage by drive and want and even you can have a sucess like the Carver Gym just did! Job well done Commissioner Revels, thank you………

  9. Anonymous says:

    Bunnell is not the only place with thugs and criminals. Did you know on most of the arrests that are made in the city of bunnell have palm coast addresses? Wow that says alot.

  10. PJ says:

    Good call Anonymous, the cops in Bunnell pick the bad guys off so fast it’ is hurting their business. so they moved over the line to Palm Coast. It’s going to become the new arm pit of Flagler County.

  11. tulip says:

    I would think the leadership of Bunnell would WANT to put in a lot of time and money into this gym. After all it BENEFITS THEM the most and if Bunnell officials just want to be takers and not active participators in their own community then they should be ashamed of themselves and their attitudes.

    It’s not many counties that would do what has been done and it should be totally appreciated. I personally am glad these kids finally have something good in their lives.

  12. The Geode says:

    @PJ – In case you hadn’t noticed, this is NOT the 60’s. To compare the two shows how out touch you are and lack of insight to today’s problems with Black America. I too grew up in the projects and still remain close today. Problems the “hood” face now are different than the problems that even I faced in the 80’s and 90’s.
    1: There was a sense of belonging in the 60’s and 70’s when your neighbor, teacher and almost every other grown-up was like your second parent who steered you straight, corrected you when you were out of line and if that didn’t work, call your parents. Trust me, you didn’t want that to happen.
    2: There was discipline in the 60’s and 70’s when we had to struggle and work hard just to achieve the basic respect others enjoyed and instilled that sense of accomplishment through effort to our children. Kids not only respected the parents but those who had authority around them.
    3: There was PARENTS in the 60’s and 70’s and children had the benefit of learning and and listening to two points of view from two people who loved and cared for them.

    The pride we felt from the struggles have taken a back seat to a sense of entitlement. The PARENTS of yesterday have given away to the “single mom” phenomenon today. The disciplinary hand of the father has morphed into idolizing rappers and athletes. Working hard for a goal that is not clearly available isn’t working at all, and those who don’t know WHAT the goal is sure can’t work towards it.
    I grew up in the late 60’s early 70’s so let’s NOT confuse yesterday’s projects to today’s “Black Hole of Despair”. I say “hood mentality” but that train of thought is not limited to Blacks.
    Side Note: Palm Coast today is NOT the same “Palm Coast” when I was growing up. Palm Coast was like “fancy town” and it was a treat to go to the Publix which was the ONLY large store in the area and Palm Coast Parkway was flanked by dirt hills. Most of th people here would have NO idea of what I’m talking about because of the transient nature of the city. My point is…Palm Coast is as big of a dump as the people in it. Remember. “Hood-Mentality”.

  13. pj says:

    Sorry to mislead you there The Geode. I’m not out of touch but it was a great life for a while back then. As far as today the hood mentality is really there in Bunnell or for that matter any low income projects or section 8 dwelling.

    I guess my point is that the county needs to keep this place open or they should have just closed it. Dont make it a yoyo for the politicians.These politicians just want for the moment to please us. Not fool us but apease us for the moment.

    Your point is well taken parents of yesterday don’t exist in the hood. It’s all about the current need not a plan for change or improvement. Drugs never change things for the good.

    Oh about Palm Coast you are correct and this slice of well being is nothing but BS. Thses elected officials are really disconnected. Stop the drugs you stop the crime. It is sad to see.They need a change in officials and the City Manager.

    So I do agree with you my friend!

  14. Liana G says:

    PJ and The Goede – appreciate the insight from your comments.

    @ The Geode – two people can experience a totally different upbringing in similar circumstances just by the location alone. Culture, history, and social customs of a community do play an important role.

    Does anyone know what REALLY happened to the fliers?

  15. The Geode says:

    @Liana – Thank you for appreciating my take on the sadness that I witness everyday. I also want “PJ” to understand that my rebuttal was in no way directed negative towards the point he was trying to make. We live in VERY difficult times and it seems as if we are skidding further into “Dante’s Inferno”. I live for the opposing debate and appreciate a civil argument.
    Here’s one for you: If two people can experience a totally different upbringing in similar circumstances, I don’t think the location would matter. The customs, history and social customs of the community will be the same whether it be a small city like Bunnell or a large one like L.A. It’s a mentality thing and not a “city thing”. It’s a poor mind-set that sees only darkness because they were born into darkness versus a mind-set born into opportunity and raised with optimism.
    BTW I can’t answer your question about the “phantom fliers”.

  16. Liana G says:

    @ The Geode – here’s my response

    …”If two people can experience a totally different upbringing in similar circumstances, I don’t think the location would matter. The customs, history and social customs of the community will be the same whether it be a small city like Bunnell or a large one like L.A.”…

    Two people can be born into poverty (similar circumstances) but one lives in a community that embraces the mindset of “it takes a village” and these folks are mostly happy and contented. They feel safe, appreciated, and a sense of belonging because everyone is looking out for the other.

    On the other spectrum, the other person is raised in a community with the “dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, kill or be killed” mindset. These folks have to look out for themselves, constantly having to watch their backs, and they are suspicious of anyone being kind – fearing ulterior motives. Same level of poverty (similar circumstances) but the community – its culture, history, social customs – is what forms our mentality and makes the difference here.

    Looking forward to your response, I want to see where you’re coming from – not there yet….

  17. The Geode says:

    Either I had too much rum and coke or you just put me in “check”. I am thinking and pondering a counter-point but I can’t seem not to get away from thinking of “poor” Asians, Indians and even Gypsies who though have nothing, will protect the village and won’t take from someone equally as “poor”.
    I might have another argument here, but for the life of me I can’t think of one yet. DANG! I hate to resign a match when there are still pieces on the board. You got this one. Don’t get used to it. I’ll be back.

  18. w.ryan says:

    Great article Pierre! I think all in all that the people most deserving of recognition were the ones that got out and protested once they heard the news of a shutdown of the gym and continued raising cain. They are the true leaders in this effort. Once motivated a great job was done with the facility. It’s evident that when you hold politicians feet to the fire the constituency get results. I’m not one for grandstanding. Get the job done. Sidebar…Shaq and Javon both played for the Raiders, the only football team for the youth in Bunnell. Unfortunately we took a pause this year and perhaps can resume with this new ray of hope. Our Slogan is Giving our youth “The Home Field Advantage”.

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