JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When the school day ends, students who live in the Moncrief area have a brand new, safe, air-conditioned building to learn and hang out in.
The state-of-the-art, sleek, gray and modern 3,000 square-foot building will host some of the Northside's brightest minds for years to come.
The 100 Stars Community Center was built specifically to host a new youth development program serving 100 local students, helping them receive special science, math and leadership training to set them up for a pipeline of high-paid technology careers. And there's already anticipation for it to expand.
It's part of a $1 million grant to increase STEM skills in Jacksonville's youth within the northwest community on Moncrief Road. Focuses include software and workforce development training implemented by three local nonprofit partners: the 100 Black Men of Jacksonville, Inc., the I'm A Star Foundation and Goodwill Industries of North Florida.
"This is strategically where it should be," said Marvin Wells, Kids Hope Alliance Chairman. "We're expecting great things. One of our goals is to make this facility and this city a STEM community. Trust me, this is just the beginning of lots to come. It's already too small for what we need to do."
According to a spokesperson, companies including Miller Electric, CSI and Florida Blue have already committed to hiring young people who obtain the appropriate certifications and qualifications from this program.
"We are focusing on bringing real-life workforce development," 100 Black Men of Jacksonville President Ronnie King said. "Stuff like blockchain and crypto — making sure these kids are well versed and can get high paying jobs. We’re excited to do our small part."
City Council Vice President Terrance Freeman has been pushing for the teen center's development since 2019, following a string of shootings involving young people.
"In February on Valentine's Day [of 2019], we had an incident that was not one of our finer moments," Freeman said, referring to a shooting where a 14-year-old was killed in a nearby park. Freeman recalled speaking at a press conference about the shooting at 5656 Moncrief Road West, which at the time was just an empty lot. He knew the site would eventually host a place that will hopefully keep young people safe.
"I had the news interview in this very parking lot because I knew it would one day be filled with resources to help them [young people] do life better," Freeman said. "I stand before you today just filled with joy."
Along with a $1 million grant awarded by the Florida Department of Education to the Kids Hope Alliance, the project was also funded by the City of Jacksonville ($75,500) and a Community Development Block Grant through the Housing and Neighborhood Department ($773,900). The total contract for the new building on Moncrief Road was for $849,494 to Acon Construction.
The center opened Feb. 1 and operates Monday through Thursday after school and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. On a daily basis, it primarily serves 100 local students who are enrolled in the program. But over time, the plan is to extend access to the center to over 500 students annually with outreach and tutoring programs.
"We want this to be a model," said I'm A Star Founder and Executive Director Betty Burney. "We’re going to work together. We want 100 Black Men of Jacksonville and I’m a Star to show people how it’s done."
Now, stakeholders say their biggest concern is that the building that once seemed massive could use some expanding as programs flourish. "We're going to need a bigger boat," audience members said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday.
Rep. Angie Nixon said the center will help young people with job placement early on.
"I got my first job right down the road at the Sherwood Pool, so I'm super dedicated to this area," Nixon said. "Oftentimes, I have folks calling my office as it relates to needing jobs and the housing crisis. One way we get out of there is to make sure we have folks who are equipped — particularly the kids. I look forward to the expansion."