Local partnership dedicates Rhoda Martin Early Learning Center


A community partnership led by Christ Episcopal Church, The PLAYERS Championship and the Rhoda Martin Cultural Heritage Center held a dedication ceremony in Jacksonville Beach Sept. 8 for the new Rhoda Martin Early Learning Center.

Speakers at the dedication included Rev. Rick Westbury, Jr., rector, Christ Episcopal Church; Debra Wotiz, Christ Church parishioner and project champion; Lilly Sullivan, president of the Rhoda Martin Cultural Heritage Center; and LaTanya Wynn-Hall, executive director, Lutheran Services Florida.

The new center – whose supporters also include The Bove Company and Seaside National Bank and Trust – will provide educational programs, social support services, tools and resources to promote healthy development. Lutheran Services Florida will also operate a Head Start program at the center with the capacity to serve 33 children and their families.

The center honors the legacy of Mother Rhoda L. Martin, who started the first school for African Americans in Jacksonville Beach

Partnership members credited Wotiz with identifying the need for a locally based pre-literacy programming for 2- and 3-year-olds in Jacksonville Beach’s The Hill neighborhood after working closely with the Rhonda Martin Center (RMC) on elementary education initiatives. After bringing the idea to Christ Episcopal Church, together they enlisted the Community Foundation to determine the feasibility of creating an early learning center to support children and families in the area.

The group determined that a 3,000 square foot facility providing research-based education programs for children from toddler through pre-school age would have the greatest impact. In conjunction with the project, a community and family liaison will interact with local families to facilitate access to local services and programs offering solutions to needs not typically provided through an early learning center.

Project costs are an estimated $815,000; with a contributed $400,000 in pledges and donations from THE PLAYERS, Christ Episcopal Church and private donors from the Beaches community, the additional funds are being sought for the project, which is to be located at Fourth Street South and Fourth Avenue South. The new center is expected to be in use by mid-October.

Christ Church is seeking additional community partners to ensure the ongoing success of the center. Gifts can be made to the Rhoda Martin Early Learning Center by contacting Father Tom Reeder of Christ Episcopal Church at (904) 286 6127. For more information, contact Rev. Westbury at (904) 285-6127.