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Florida Tennis Players Impact STAR Homeless Shelter

August 20, 2009 07:00 PM
By Rick Vach, USTA Florida

 

 USTA Florida staff unload donated goods
at the STAR Family Center

Florida adult and junior tennis players showed their generosity this spring and summer by donating food, clothing, hygiene items, or simply giving money or writing a check in aiding USTA Florida's drive to support the STAR Family Center homeless shelter in Daytona Beach.

On Aug. 17, 2009, USTA Florida staff unloaded six vehicles full of donated goods, and participated in an afternoon of service at the shelter, which alone provides approximately 60% of homeless services in all of Volusia-Flagler County.

Florida homeless shelters are struggling to address the overwhelming need of entire homeless families resulting from economic troubles over the last year, and in Florida especially due to the the collapse of the housing market.

"We are in dire need of help from the community for funding to simply keep the doors open, to keep running, to keep the power on," says STAR Family Center Executive Director Kassy Guy-Reed. "And to make sure that families and homeless individuals have a place to go and be safe when it's 90 or 100 degrees outside. They can come in here, see a nurse, get clothes, take a shower, make themselves feel better and help them to get back into the mainstream community."

USTA Florida's effort with the STAR Family Center was inspired by USTA national's "The Big Serve," a campaign to encourage those who love tennis across the country to not only advocate for the growth of the game in their communities, but to also "change lives and improve communities."

 

 USTA Staff organize donated clothes

"Andy [McFarland, associate director, USTA Florida Play Tennis Division], Doug [Booth, executive director] and I had gone to a leadership conference, and they had a session called 'Community Team Building,'" said USTA Florida Director of Community Tennis Linda Curtis. "We loved what they said, with the message of giving back to your community, and how it is benefiting you as well as the people you are helping in the community. So we thought we would bring it back (to Daytona Beach), and since we had a relationship with the STAR Family Center, we contacted them and said they would love it if we did our team-building activity there."

After unloading vehicles full of donated goods, more than 25 USTA Florida staff members spent the afternoon at the center scrubbing walls and cleaning rooms, sorting men's, women's and children's clothes, weeding the playground and public areas, and performing other in-need services at the facility. Donated items and goods for the center were collected at the Florida Tennis Center from generous adult and junior USTA Florida members during the USTA League 3.0/4.0 Senior Section Championship in May, the USTA Florida Jr. State Closed Championships in June, the USTA League Adult Region Championships in July, and in August during the USTA League Adult Section Championship.

"USTA Florida members and players that came out to events donated clothes, they donated shoes, they donated all kinds of things," Curtis said. "We had over four SUVs and a couple cars that were packed to the gills."

The STAR shelter provides its most critical boarding for medically-needy homeless as they are released from the hospital. Families may stay in the shelter up to six months, and during this time they are required to find employment, attend case management appointments, seek assistance with substance abuse issues, send their children to school, and assist with chores in the facility. The shelter provides tutoring and classes to help families manage after they leave. The center boasts a 95% success rate in moving families from the shelter program into permanent housing.

 

 USTA Florida staff and STAR Executive Director Kassy Guy-Reed

There are currently 2,690 homeless women, men, and children in Volusia and Flagler counties.

"It was a real eye-opening experience for me, and maybe brought some of our staff out of their comfort zone in a good way," Booth said. "I am real proud of what we did, and the contributions of USTA Florida players throughout the state that made this happen."

The center feeds 300 people per day, seven days a week, in its partnership with Halifax Urban Ministries. Over the last year, in a partnership with University of Central Florida medical students, the center has cut homeless emergency room use in half, saving Volusia-Flagler counties $1.5 million dollars. The center also provides clothing for more than 400 people per month, 2,500 blankets every winter, and 94 shelter beds that are constantly filled.

"In Volusia County alone, as far as children are concerned, there are more than 1,200 registered homeless children in the Volusia and Flagler County schools," says Shannon Smith, client care coordinator for the STAR Family Center. "There is such a need right now to care for these children."

Homeless numbers are still on the rise in the current economy according to the STAR Family Center staff, who maintain a tenuous hold on keeping the center open to serve one of the fastest-growing homeless regions in the state.

For more information or to contribute to the mission of the STAR Family Center, please visit www.homelessindaytona.org. For more info on USTA national's "The Big Serve" campaign, go to www.usta.com/thebigserve.

 

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