Donieka White was knocking on the front door of Metro Kids Konnection Tuesday afternoon, but it was locked-up.
“Almost every kid goes there, like, from the teenagers down to the babies that’s in Pre-k and VPK and stuff like that,” she said. “So this is like a big part of us just getting out of the apartments.”
White, who lives next door in the federally subsidized Cleveland Arms Apartments, said she went to the center as a kid and plans to let her 2-year-old daughter go when she’s a little older.
But the Westside community center closed its after-school kids’ program this month because the state said Metro Kids Konnection's operator and founder, Terry Lane, doesn't have a proper child-care license.
NEIGHBORHOOD SAFE HAVEN
Inside the center Tuesday, Lane looks at framed pictures of some of the kids he’s seen come and go over his 20 years running the center. One photo is of him and a teenaged girl.
“She is 28 now and she just moved to Pennsylvania,” Lane said. “As far as she’s concerned, I’m her dad.”
He said kids around the area call him pops — or grandad, now that he’s older. He started mentoring local kids when he owned a cabinet shop across the street from Cleveland Arms in the 80s.
Lane said Metro is a safe place, open to whoever needs it. It’s a place for kids to do their homework, or watch movies. It's a place where adults come, too — for the computers or job training or resume help.
But now, Lane is closing his doors between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on week days — the same time when kids used to stop by after school.
“I’ll watch 12 to 15 teens come out of Northwestern Middle School, walk down the railroad tracks and pass Metro Kids Konnection gates that they’re used to coming through and calling home,” he said.
Lane says he was left no choice because the state insisted he get a license and attend training or hire someone else to run a childcare facility.
State Department of Children and Families spokesman John Harrell said no one shut Metro down. Lane could have applied for the license, or found out if he qualifies for an exemption.
'I'M NOT A LICENSED DAYCARE'
Harrell said according to state law, if more than five kids are attending the center and it receives payment, it has to be licensed. Metro receives grant money.
“The people of this state are depending on this agency to make sure that the people who are running these child cares have gone through the background screening, have gone through the first aid training,” Harrell said.
But Lane considers his facility a community center, not a child care center.
“Sorry, I’m not a licensed daycare,” Lane said. “There’s no way even if I became one that I could hire a person to be a DCF director for three hours a day.”
To be a DCF child care director, the person has to complete a program offered at many local colleges. Florida State College at Jacksonville’s course takes about three months.
Lane said he relies on grants, donations and his own Social Security money to keep the nonprofit afloat. He said even if the licensing situation is resolved, he’s not sure how much longer, financially, the center can be sustained.
But for many Cleveland Arms residents, closing can’t be an option. Metro is listed as a “Model Neighborhood Networks Center” by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That status means the federal government has determined the center encourages communities and meets residents’ needs.
Doris Russell lives in the complex. She’s been working to create a tenant association.
“The children come (to Metro Kids Konnection) for the help; they’re not out there fighting. We don’t have all that fighting and stuff that used to go on over there,” she said. “They’re finding ways to occupy their time. We’re trying to build this community up, so why do they want to come in and tear down what’s been working all these years?”
For now, Metro is open to adults only on weekday afternoons.