Stark and somber on the outside, FreshMinistries' Eastside Resource Center inside is a bright and bubbling wellspring of hope in a Jacksonville neighborhood more often seen as afflicted with poverty and crime.
On weekday afternoons, the center is alive with the hum of children getting help with grade school assignments, and adults trying to find employment or access to healthcare.
The center is also a place where Jacksonville Jaguars fans go to enjoy pregame tailgating on fall Sundays. They pay for the convenience of being within sight of the stadium. They get to use the center’s facilities – dining area, restrooms, and parking.
And, best of all, their fees of $300-$350 per season when combined cover the mortgage for the center as it reaches out to one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
FreshMinistries was founded 25 years ago by The Rev. Dr. Robert V. Lee, III, who built on his ecclesiastical background and entrepreneur's experience into a commitment to eradicating poverty.
Over the years, Lee also oversaw the development of Operation New Hope, the renovation of the historic Klutho Building, and the establishment of the Beaver Street Enterprise Center, one of the nation’s first inner city business incubators. Continuing its mission in Jacksonville’s core, the Eastside Resource Center was a logical next step.
The center helped almost 5,000 visitors last year, most of whom were classified as falling in the “extremely low poverty” category. Many come looking for work via the center's job program. They find lists of jobs, get assistance with resumes and even file applications via computer with the help of center staff.
Another initiative, Jacksonville Hospitality Institute, is in its eighth year and has placed more than 800 in productive jobs in the hospitality and healthcare industries.
"Our philosophy emphasizes education, community safety, gender equality, strengthening families, health, economic opportunity and shelter," says Lee.
Lee says FreshMinistries is seeking community partners right now to place youngsters in summer jobs. To learn more, visit FreshMinistries.org.
You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.