Jan 03 2022
A new image for kids
Top of the Table Annual Meeting charity partner brings support, expansion to Florida-based youth center.
By Matt Pais
Teenagers planning to attend college typically start visiting potential campuses in the middle of high school or later. For the kids at New Image Youth Center, college visits begin a whopping seven years earlier — around fourth or fifth grade.
“We want to get their minds excited to know what’s expected of them and have a goal in mind,” said Dr. Shantá Barton-Stubbs, the center’s founder and director. “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by so much negativity, you need something to get you up in the morning and be the good in your ’hood.”
Since founding the organization in 2004, Barton-Stubbs has brought remarkable change to a struggling community — providing not just a safe place for kids to play but to invest in their future as well. That mission is why New Image Youth Center, based in Parramore, Florida, USA, was the charity partner for the 2021 Top of the Table Annual Meeting, during which $50,920 was raised to support the center.
It all started when Barton-Stubbs was a 21-year-old college student and her dad, a pastor, moved his church from comfortable Winter Park, Florida, to Parramore, believing the church could make a greater impact in a community that needed more.
The center’s programs focus on five key pillars: academic support, social development, health and wellness, crisis intervention, and social justice.
“It was a culture shock,” Barton-Stubbs recalled. “I was raised totally different, about 12 miles from here. As a young girl, I sent money every month to Feed the Children. I knew about poverty, but I didn’t know it existed right here in our backyard.”
Yet she didn’t hesitate when she saw a group of kids playing in a grocery basket in the street and nearly getting hit by a car. Barton-Stubbs invited them into her family’s church (her mom is a pastor as well) and realized these kids just needed something to do, sitting them down for a long game of Monopoly. Barton-Stubbs then progressively invested in a computer, games and more activities for what became the New Image Youth Center. The center is open from afternoon into evening during the school year, and from morning through afternoon in the summer. Each day, kids are invited to recite the affirmation, “I am strong, I am courageous, and I will change the world.”
The center’s programs focus on five key pillars: academic support, social development, health and wellness, crisis intervention, and social justice. (Barton-Stubbs, who also works as a full-time mental health therapist, is certified to specialize in helping young people and women through trauma and crisis situations.) There is also mental health counseling and educational assistance to ensure that kids have no lapse in learning during the pandemic.
Scholarships are offered and fundraisers are held to help support the kids’ educational goals; in the shorter term, offerings include a new toolbox, which, in addition to sensory assistants and a comforting stuffed animal, provides kids with helpful reminders about coping skills they can use during difficult times. That could be a classroom challenge or the loss of a parent, which 16 kids at New Image experienced since 2019.
With services provided at no cost to the kids (as young as kindergarten students and as old as 24) or their families who sign up, the center has been at capacity and using a waiting list for the last five years.
That is where the money raised from the Top of the Table Annual Meeting comes in. Those funds will literally help get a new project on the road — specifically, a minibus that the center will bring to four different communities, twice a week, to provide fun, interactive social-emotional activities for a larger group of kids.
“We don’t have the manpower or money to start a center in these locations, so we’re going to do it on wheels,” Barton-Stubbs said. “We’ll teach life skills, do arts and crafts, and give access to some therapeutic services as well.”
After all, everything and everyone must start somewhere. Barton-Stubbs looks back on her own upbringing and the moment when, at just 11, she, her brother and her sister found themselves living with three other kids who needed help after their mother, a family friend of Barton-Stubbs, went on a one-week vacation to the Bahamas and didn’t return for two years.
“I can only imagine how selfless they had to be to make that possible and really change their whole life,” Barton-Stubbs said of her parents. “Being part of the solution has been part of who I’ve grown to be because of my parents.”