Naples youth center avails itself of chance to reinvent
By: Brad Rowland
In Naples, Florida, approximately 60 percent of children in the public school system live at or below the poverty level. Though the area is widely known as an affluent community, there are pockets across Collier County that deal with difficult socio-economic conditions and, as a result, The Salvation Army partnered with a well-known philanthropist to aid in meeting the need.
In 2017, the Fran Cohen Youth Center opened its doors but the early days of its existence were challenging, stemming from the fallout of Hurricane Irma, which made landfall approximately six weeks later. The building then housed disaster relief efforts and, while it made a significant impact in the community as a result, the delay and staffing issues caused something of a reset in the development of programming.
“That left us with an opportunity to step back, assess what we wanted the youth center to be, and better define what we want to accomplish based on the vision and the mission of The Army,” said Martin de St. Pierre, director of development.
Enter Hilary Shore, Fran Cohen Youth Center director, who previously engineered a program called Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead. In tandem with her husband as former teachers, the program was developed with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, which perfectly aligned with the mission and idea for the youth center itself.
Upon arrival, the program was integrated seamlessly, taking advantage of the building’s capacity for artistic work, including a culinary room, arts and crafts room, drawing room and facilities to house a school for performing arts.
“The way she has restructured our program,” said de St. Pierre. “The units that she has put together; the way that kids cycle through them, it’s just been amazing. And to know now that what we’re doing in there completely integrates with the original purpose of the center, it’s fantastic.”
Operating in partnership, a school for the performing arts lives within the youth center’s doors, providing the opportunity for all-around instruction. The performing arts school, led by director Regan Love, also showcases the ability for students enrolled in the after- school program to experiment with the performing arts and even provides for the prospect of dual enrollment.
Captains Ben and Annie Bridges, commanding officers, have embraced the youth center with an eye toward growing the Army’s work in the community and making a tangible impact. With the ability to track outcomes and monitor the progression of the youth involved, there are additional possibilities for growth, but the work being done in the center is already paying dividends.