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Rubonia residents organize to reopen community center for youth summer program

Published on: May 18, 2016

By CARL MARIO NUDI

Work has begun on getting the Rubonia Community Center reopened for a summer youth program the Rubonia Community Association will operate. Carl Mario Nudi photos.

After being closed for about two years, the Rubonia Community Center will once again be buzzing with activity this summer, providing a place for the youth of this historic black community to enjoy their school break.

The community center that hugs the Terra Ceia Bay in Northwest Manatee County has always been an important meeting place for the community.

“With the center open, we’ll be able to do a lot for the community,” said Mary Brown, chairperson of the Rubonia Community Association. “Our children will not have to commute to other facilities for summer programs.”

The Manatee County Commission unanimously approved the spending of $75,000 at its meeting on May 10 to repair the building and provide $22,304 for the community association to operate a summer youth program at the community center at 1309 72nd St. E.

“We plan on providing reading enrichment programs and other summer educational activities,” Brown said.

The Rubonia Community Center has always been a central facet of the social life of the historic black community. The current building was constructed on the site of the community’s schoolhouse.

The Rubonia Community Center has always been a central facet of the social life of the historic black community. The current building was constructed on the site of the community’s schoolhouse.

The community association, a resident organization founded in the early 1990s, also will have use of the athletic field adjacent to the building for outdoor activities.

The county funds will pay for a director and four youth counselors, as well as supplies.

Also, 10 to 15 community volunteers will help make the program a success, Brown said.

After the commission meeting, Rubonia resident Derrick Randall said this was a great opportunity for the community.

“The community is ready to come together and work,” Randall said.

He said he would volunteer his time to make the program successful.

The licensed social worker has been providing enrichment programs for children and an exercise program for the elderly at the Macedonia Baptist Church in Rubonia.

At the meeting, Brown acknowledged all the work Manatee County Neighborhood Services Director Cheri Coryea and her staff have done to successfully bring the proposal to the commissioners.

The county took possession of the Rubonia Community Center from the Manatee County School District in October 2014, when it closed and the youth program provided at that time was discontinued.

Knowing how important the community center is to Rubonia residents, the commissioners tasked Coryea’s department to find a partner to reopen the center and, in August 2015, they received a proposal from New Path Academy Inc. to operate the facility.

After New Path Academy lost one of its main funding sources, it withdrew that proposal.

Black workers at the vegetable farms and packinghouses on Terra Ceia Island established the community of Rubonia in 1920.

Black workers at the vegetable farms and packinghouses on Terra Ceia Island established the community of Rubonia in 1920.

In May, the Rubonia Community Association asked to lease the center and grounds, and after discussions and meetings, an agreement was reached between the county and the association.

The association will operate the summer program from June 20 through July 29.

Coryea said she has been looking forward to seeing the center open.

“I’m excited for them and what the center will do for the community,” she said. “The benefit of having the Rubonia Community Association as partners is that it’s their community.

“They are invested in the center and willing to provide volunteers to make it a success,” Coryea said.

Charlie Bishop, director of the county property management department, told the commissioners at the meeting his staff were already surveying what has to be done to get the building ready.

In the coming weeks, renovations including three air conditioning units, kitchen renovations, a fire-suppression system, upgrading two offices, carpeting and floor waxing, will be done, Bishop said.

Crews have already been working on the outside of the building, cleaning up the athletic field and surrounding areas, he said.

Commissioner Betsy Benac said getting the center opened for the summer program was a first step for keeping it open year-round.

“It’s up to the Rubonia Community Association to step up and lead,” Benac said.

Coryea said the future of the community center has been left open as a possibility if funds become available.

“The county staff will work with the Rubonia Community Association to develop a business plan and fundraising plan,” she said, “and help them become a viable organization to continue operating the community center.”

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