Clearwater MLK Center Coalition: Saving the Community’s Historic Heartbeat

by | Apr 26, 2021 | Community, COVID-19, MLK Center History | 0 comments

Clearwater MLK Center History Series — Part Three

Catch up on the History of the Clearwater Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Center by reading Part One and Part Two of the series.

Not willing to let the city tear down the Center, community residents formed the Clearwater Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Center Coalition.

The Coalition approached the Pinellas County School Board, which owned the building, about retaining the lease. The school board agreed, leasing the property to the coalition for a dollar a year – and the coalition set about gathering the support and assistance of community partners to make the necessary repairs and renovations.
Yvette Pendleton, one of the original Coalition members, recalled how the Coalition met to strategize at local restaurants, churches, and even the Willa Carson Center on Martin Luther King Avenue.

“We had quite a few members, but they dwindled,” said Yvette of the initiative, recalling the difficulty of raising money for renovations in an already struggling community. Yet, the Coalition was determined.

One news article quoted Milton James, the Coalition’s vice president at the time, as saying, “It’s the only abandoned building in the neighborhood that hasn’t been broken into. Not a single windowpane gone. The community respects it.”

Re-Opening the Heart of the Community

Eventually raising enough funding and community support to accomplish the initial renovation, the MLK Center re-opened in 2015. The all-volunteer Coalition continued the tradition of opening the space to community members and nonprofit organizations to hold showers, birthday parties, educational events, receptions, and movie screenings on a donation basis.

The center also started a community garden, held an annual Father-Daughter Dance, sponsored golf tournaments, became a regular site for Feeding Tampa Bay’s mobile pantry, and held 5K events to raise funds. Initially, all support came from the community since the MLK Center did not yet qualify for grants, and finances remained a challenge, with much-needed repairs delayed.

Grant Funding Provides Ongoing Support

The Venture Philanthropy Fund at Pinellas Community Foundation offers eligible nonprofit organizations resources to connect clients and donors. PCF employs marketing expert Jake-Ann Morton specifically to help charities work effectively and maintain sustainability. The MLK Center fits eligibility requirements.

The Venture Philanthropy Fund has assisted the Clearwater MLK Center Coalition through ongoing capacity-building support, including:

  • Redesigning their website and social media marketing
  • Producing promotional materials and flyers
  • Creating programs and invitations for the MLK Center’s 2019 Red Carpet Gala
  • Ongoing financial literacy review and training
  • Fundraising support
  • Free access to training with nonprofit experts

In November 2019, the MLK Center held its first red carpet fundraising gala — its first fundraising event in many years — attended by city officials, community members, church leaders, and students. With a new board, positive energy and attention, and renewed commitment, coalition members were hopeful things were turning around.

For more information about the Venture Philanthropy Fund at Pinellas Community Foundation, contact Jake-Ann Morton. You can also follow PCF on Facebook and Instagram.

Come Back Next Week for Part Three

Visit next week to read Part Three of the Clearwater MLK Center History Series that highlights the chronicles of the Clearwater Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Center.