Bradenton's 13th Avenue Dream Center changes lives

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The year was 1937, and across the country $4.9 billion was being spent to build new parks, bridges and schools. It was all part of the Roosevelt administration's WPA fund, itself a result of FDR's New Deal. Getting approval for a project wasn't easy despite of all the available money, but Bradenton resident and Civil Rights activist Minnie Rogers didn't care. She set out to fill a need.

Rogers project became the 13th Avenue Dream Center, a location known throughout the Suncoast. What many don't know is that it's been a part of the community for almost 80 years.

"Its amazing what Minnie Rogers was able to accomplish back in 1937," says Patrick Carnegie, the current CEO of the Dream Center. "I can just imagine her going to Washington to secure funds for this project right here in Manatee County." 

With the help of legendary educator Mary McLeod Bethune, and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the Dream Center became reality. Back in those days it was an experimental negro recreational facility, but 70-plus years later the Dream Center is now a K-12 educational institution that also offers after school intervention and recreation.

"We serve over 2,000 children and families every year, ranging from age 4 to adults in some of our programs," says Carnegie. "We have prevention and intervention programs, sports programs, we partner with the Y to provide an alternative school for high schoolers."

Carnegie says that more than 90 percent of the families that they serve fall below the poverty line. Many of the individuals come from broken homes or other tough circumstances.

"One who comes to mind right away is Todd Williams," Carnegie explains. "He's a student that was homeless and he was able to tie into some of the services here in the community, and people all over Manatee County pitched in and he was able to go to Florida State University, graduate with two degrees [and end] up playing in the NFL."

Williams passed away in recent months, but Carnegie says similar success stories are not uncommon.

"We did the research, and there were over 600 students [in East Bradenton] that were not in school, so that is a direct reflection of youth crime and all of those things that go on," Carnegie says. "We have about 300 of those kids enrolled right now, and last years we had about 20 of them graduate. When you talk about that it resonates through the community."