By Anne Heymen / Correspondent
“We want homeless people to know they are special individuals, and they need to be treated like all of us,” 4-Her Ava Schantz said recently, seated in the front room of the Port in the Storm Youth Center, a service being developed by St. Francis House.
Ava, a member of the Clever Clover 4-H Club, was referring to a project the 14-member club, whose ages range from 7 to 13, has adopted to establish not only a library at the center, but to interact with clients at the facility. Through a $1,000 Community Pride Grant awarded by the University of Florida 4-H Foundation, Clever Clovers have obtained a bookcase which they are filling with all sorts of publications ranging from fiction and nonfiction to self-help information. They are also assembling items for birthday backpacks which will be presented to young people at the youth center. The backpacks will contain a variety of items including personal items, reusable water bottles and gift cards, along with journals and writing utensils.
This is the second time in recent years that Clever Clover Club has received a Community Pride Grant. In 2017, a $200 request was submitted, with $1,000 awarded. The first time a $200 grant was requested, and the club received $300.
“In the 13 years I’ve been 4-H agent here, I’ve never seen such a large grant in St. Johns County,” Geralyn Sachs said of the $1,000 award. Laurie Simmer, who is co-leader of the club with Amanda Leonard, said she, too, was surprised, saying she called to make sure that one too many zeros hadn’t been added to the award.
The funding, Sachs adds, is donated to the 4-H Foundation from Tractor Supply Company.
Port in The Storm is in its infancy for St. Francis House. The organization purchased the building at 1375 Arapaho Ave. at the end of 2016 to open a youth shelter, according to Karen Hensel, assistant director; Candice Bowman, volunteer marketing coordinator; and Sarah Sherman, program manager. Right now the location is a day-drop facility, open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to serve 18- to 24-year-olds. “Homeless” in that age group, includes those who are “couch surfing” — they come to the shelter to take advantage of the services, and that’s where the library being established by Clever Clovers comes in handy. Clients can learn everything from how to create a resume to tips on fishing. Books, Simmer said, were donated by various groups including Friends of the Ponte Vedra Library, while others were purchased or came from friends, relatives and neighbors of 4-H members.
The library is “really wonderful,” said Sherman. “Most of our clients have not graduated from high school,” and the library is “such a welcomed resource. It’s such a blessing.”
4-Hers Lily Simmer and Charlotte Leonard explain that working with the homeless has been a special project for their members. In recent years, the girls have distributed toiletries and food to the homeless in the St. George Street and Plaza de la Constitucion areas, as well as dog biscuits for the pets of those in need, and they’ve donated blankets and clothing to St. Francis House at its downtown location — where hot meals and temporary shelter are available. This time, however, Lily and Charlotte explained, they wanted to continue to work with the homeless but especially with the younger people.
Once renovations and the licensing process for the Arapaho Avenue facility have been completed, the Youth Crisis Center will provide shelter for 16 clients ages 14 and up. Services will range from providing a safe environment to technology and recreation areas and comfortable living spaces.
The plan submitted to the 4-H Foundation was very detailed, including goals which the 4-Hers can accomplish in undertaking the project. Included are learning how to speak with local business owners, how to write letters, coordinate fundraising activities and work as part of a team to accomplish goals.
It’s estimated the project will cost nearly $1,600, and the remainder of the funding will be earned through hard work of club members. Harvesting potatoes planted in January as part of the Tri-County 4-H Potato Project is one way. Members will harvest, sort and bag the potatoes and hope to sell 100 bags at $5 each. One component of that project, Sachs adds, is that half of the harvest must be donated to the needy. “We donate to St. Francis House.”
All 4-Hers will share the message of the organization at a Saturday event from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the St. Johns County Agricultural Center, when arts and crafts, photos and other items will be on display. “This is our way of presenting an event for youth to exhibit,” Sachs explains. Baked goods and potatoes will be on sale there.
Members of the Clever Clover Club are proud of their organization. Ava says she enjoys selling homemade items, Lily’s favorite part of 4-H is going to Camp Cherry Lake in the summer, and Charlotte, the self-appointed “hugger” to the homeless, “likes to plant stuff.”
“Planting stuff” goes right along with plans the girls are already making for the 2018-19 club year. Lily wants to start a garden for Port in the Storm youth. “Can we make a garden?” she asked Hensel.
“Let’s see what happens with the renovation,” Hensel replied. “We have a place where a garden would be great.” But, she challenged, members of the Clever Clover Club will have to advise how to maintain it.