The 23 members of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership St. Johns Class of 2021 began its class year on April 9 and selected a nonprofit beneficiary as part of the program responsibilities. Class members are professionals from all sectors of industry, commerce and public service in St. Johns County.
This year, the group selected SEA Community Help Resource Center Inc., a 501(c)3 that was formally established in 2013 but began as an outreach ministry with the neighboring First Baptist Church of Armstrong in 2005. The charitable organization began meeting in a dirt parking lot to help those in need to enrich their lives from sub-standard housing, homelessness and hunger in the Spuds, Elkton and Armstrong communities.
SEA is located at 6408 Armstrong Road in Elkton, 13 miles southwest of St. Augustine.
Members of class, the Chamber, community leaders and local government officials will celebrate the completion of the Leadership St. Johns project and donated property improvements at SEA with a formal ribbon cutting at 4 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Elkton property.
Classmates contacted local businesses to donate a new 30-by-30-foot concrete pad, picnic tables, signage, landscaping and yardwork, along with a screened area for food distribution to the community. Local donors include FASTSIGNS, Marker 38 Investments, Mudflower Creative Media and TBL Construction Inc.
The Chamber is following the current CDC guidelines regarding gathering in indoor and outdoor spaces for the celebratory event.
As part of the Leadership St. Johns activities for this year’s class, participants also conducted a back-to-school backpack and supplies giveaway at SEA for children and families in need of many required items to begin school.
In October 2017, SEA purchased a run-down cement block building at 6312 Armstrong Road to house a potential community center and public rest station along the Palatka-to-St. Augustine State Trail.
An improved structure and property alongside the bike and pedestrian paved pathway would help the underserved rural community receive additional funds to better their quality of life while providing trail followers a place to rest and refresh.
The project is still in progress and needs volunteers and donors to complete the facility.
SEA has been operating in a single-wide trailer alongside the First Baptist Church of Armstrong and holds its food pantry — free to anyone — with daily bags of groceries and 150 to 800 hot meals each month.
The nonprofit also distributes 150 to 250 turkeys and hams each year during the holidays along with year-round field trips, clothes, shoes, books, toys, book bags, school supplies, computers and blankets.
A summer children’s camp, lunch program and afterschool program are also offered. Services are also provided by North Florida Community Action Agency clients, FEMA, Toys for Tots and Empty Stocking.
Community activities and events hosted by SEA include a St. Vincent Mobile Outreach Unit, which provides medical services, and visits from the St. Johns County bookmobile; plus, biking events with the North Florida Bike Club and Bike Florida; the Annual Rails-to-Trail Festival, which includes a celebration of the area’s Gullah Geechee ancestry; the MENDE Film Festival; Gullah Geechee Festival; and tables and chair rentals for third-party events.
A humanitarian outreach program to Haiti is also in place.
The class initially requested donations from the community to help complete the nonprofit’s improvement project with short- and long-term plans and worked to start renovations at the existing space for safety, comfort and security for recipients, residents, visitors and SEA staff.
The class envisions more work at the site including additional construction services, more concrete, patio and picnic tables, outdoor fans, lighting, gardening, landscaping, perishable and non-perishable items and in-kind services.
Leadership St. Johns Class of 2021 members are Trish Becker, Anastasia Mosquito Control Board; Randy Bradley, Northrop Grumman; Jason Caban, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office; Jennifer Michaux, St. Augustine Police Department; Diane Denholm, Supporting Strategies, Northeast Florida; Melissa Derrick, St. Augustine Youth Services; Tres Edenfield III, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office; Melissa Cecil, Flagler Health+; Whitney Kersey Graves, St. Johns County Tax Collector; Bonnie Hayflick, Bonnie Hayflick PR Counsel; Meghan Holder, Independent Agent, Primerica; Dawn Infanti, United Way; Lauren Howington, Herbie Wiles Insurance; Heidi Jameson, JAXUSA Partnership; Gurpreet Misra, self-employed entrepreneur; Vicky Ann Oliveri, St. Johns Title LLC; Dianne Pittman, Watson Realty; Jennifer Ravan, St. Johns County Tax Collector; Christina Parrish Stone, St. Johns County Cultural Council; Josh Underwood, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office; Greg Wells, K9s for Warriors; Meredith Breidenstein, City of St. Augustine; and Casey Woolsey, Woolsey/Morcom PLLC.
For additional information on Leadership St. Johns, go to sjcchamber.com/leadership-st.-johns.