Taking back the keys to the community center isn’t an unreasonable request, a group of Tallevast residents said at a Friday afternoon protest outside the controversial Centers for Success.
Community members have expressed frustration over the past few months at the secret changes being conducted at what was formerly known as the Tallevast Community Center at 7727 17th St. Ct. E. The name change is just one of the issues that has them riled up.
Locked doors, security cameras to keep an eye on the community and the refusal to allow kids to use the basketball courts are just the beginning of their problem, according to a group of lifelong Tallevast residents.
“We want to give the center back to the community so the kids have something to do,” said Sharon Smith. “We had it when we were growing up. It’s not fair.”
Smith’s daughter, Debra Smith-Coleman, organized the protest of more than 20 people. Wielding a megaphone, she led chants of “Wrong is wrong,” “stop the lies,” and “TCC ain’t what it used to be.”
The Centers For Success has turned the public community center into a private 501(c) nonprofit that refuses to open its doors to the public, neighbors say.
“Last month, I tried to use one of the computers and they told me the computers were broke. You can’t even go inside. How can you keep the community out?” Geraldine Bryant asked.
Black tarp has been wrapped around the center’s fence, limiting visibility and preventing neighborhood children from accessing the formerly public basketball court and playground. The playground has been removed entirely. Those who might be tempted to hop the fence are deterred by no trespassing signs.
There are also allegations of nepotism and using the center for financial gain. The husband of Melissa Robinson, the president of Centers for Success, is listed as the company’s treasurer and her event hosting and catering business, Red Drop LLC, is prominently featured on the Centers for Success website.
The Bradenton Herald previously reported on residents’ struggle to get a representative to answer some pressing questions they may have. None of their calls, letters or other attempts to reach out have been acknowledged.
“Time is up, and we’re taking our center back,” said Smith-Coleman.
County Commissioner Misty Servia’s attempts to reach Melissa Robinson, have also gone unanswered, she said.
“It’s sad,” Servia said at the protest. “The community center was built for the children of Tallevast.”
The county leader urged residents to attend the next Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday to voice their concerns to her colleagues.
About 30 minutes into the protest march through the Tallevast neighborhood that wound past Robinson’s home and ended outside the center, two Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to the scene to an apparent trespassing report from a Centers for Success employee.
“If you met with us, you wouldn’t have to go to these extremes,” Smith-Coleman said into the megaphone as the deputies entered the center.
The deputies informed the group that the Centers For Success has not responded to their act of protest because they have retained legal counsel.
“The county does not own the Tallevast Community Center property, so we don’t have any authority over this dispute,” Servia said. “This is a civil matter between the parties. I hope they can work it out for the sake of the residents and the children who live there.”