Samoset’s Oasis Community Center director, Dwayne Parker, or better known as Bishop Freeze to dozens of community children the center guides along life’s path, is fond of saying there is no such thing as accidents.
The center is part of Woodland Community Church’s outreach ministries. The newly renovated Oasis belongs to the church. Parker believes the Lord is at work in the impoverished neighborhoods of one of Manatee County’s oldest areas.
At a time when the Oasis is undergoing significant changes, it is also the center point of a new effort to revitalize the community. At the same time, Oasis has been named as one of the “Let’s Play” finalists, sponsored by Kaboom in partnership with Dr. Pepper and Snapple.
The whole goal of this center is to love on teens and help them go on the right track.
Dwayne “Bishop Freeze” Parker, Oasis Community Center director
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The contest launched a couple of months ago asking neighborhoods around the country to submit videos with five winners being awarded a $20,000 grant for new playground equipment. Oasis was named as a top 10 finalist over the weekend.
Oasis focuses on youth in troubled neighborhoods providing mentoring, discipleship, tutoring, life skills and summer camps to young people impacted by poverty, gangs, drugs, crime and single-parent households.
“The whole goal of this center is to love on teens and help them go on the right track,” said Parker. “And if they aren’t on the right track then we do what we can to mentor them back onto the right track.”
The top five winners will be determined by votes, which began Monday. Voting can take place once per day on the Let’s Play Video Contest Facebook page and will continue until June 24. The existing playground is more than 30 years old, but Parker said, “It’s used day in like you wouldn’t believe.”
Community organization begins
Oasis hosted the first community meeting last month with residents and officials from the Manatee County Neighborhood Services department, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and Manatee County School District Diana Greene in attendance.
On Monday, resident Taura Denis took the lead in suggesting the residents form a neighborhood association. She said the definition of an association is a group of residents who work together to improve the quality of life and form over a concern or issue.
“That fits us,” said Denis, who noted one of the problems the community faces is the lack of attention it receives from local government. “It seems the government is more focused on developing prosperous neighborhoods and less focused on old neighborhoods like Samoset.”
The residents named more streetlights, sidewalks, addressing drainage issues and parks and recreation needs as top priorities.
Danny Smith, Manatee County Public Works field maintenance manager, acknowledged that Samoset has some serious drainage issues, but said he doesn’t believe the residents understand how the county works.
“When you contact us about a problem, a field supervisor must come out and investigate within two days,” said Smith. “Getting the work done isn’t so quick. We are about 90 days behind most drainage work because we don’t have the resources or the people so it is a first-come, first-serve basis.”
Smith said the county does not do regular maintenance on storm water ditches, so it’s up to the residents to keep the county informed.
“I hear a lot of times, ‘We’ve had this problem forever.’ But if we don’t know about it, we can’t fix it,” he said.
Residents said the largest problems are near Samoset Elementary and would prefer future funding be concentrated around the school first.
Greene said she would return to next month’s Samoset community meeting with the school’s new principal and looks forward to updating the residents on upcoming improvements.
“I first want to put people’s minds to ease that Samoset Elementary isn’t closing,” said Greene. “A part of our half cent sales tax we hope to have reinstated in November will be prioritized for Samoset and other elementary schools in the central corridor. So some of the things you are doing here, aligns with what the district is hoping to do.”