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Franklin's Promise invests in permanent home

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

Franklin’s Promise Coalition has taken a giant step towards a new future, with the purchase last month of an enormous 20,000 square foot building in Eastpoint.

Once the home of Tiffin Furniture, and most recently as VayK Gear beach rentals, Franklin’s Promise bought the 60 Island Drive location in August for $616,000 from Orlando psychiatrist Sonny Joseph.

Members of the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast work on the interior space of the new building.

“We’ve been saving for a a couple years,” said Franklin’s Promise director Joe Taylor. “To have a permanent home.”

The non-profit organization has a 15-year mortgage on the property, as it sets out on a three-phase  process that will culminate in a completely outfitted Coastal Resilience Training Center, to serve the entire region of the Conservation Corps, whose chapters stretch from Pensacola to Tallahassee.

Here in the Forgotten Coast, Taylor works with the chapter, a branch of Americorps, which includes about two dozen young people, mostly males, between the ages of 18 to 25. They all must either have, or be on the road towards getting their GED.

ED Corps guidance counselor Elinor Mount-Simmons, front right, and teacher Sarah Harris, back left, meet with prospective student Xavier Martin and his mom Elizabeth Russell.

In addition, Franklin’s Promise oversees the Ed Corps, which a couple years ago split off from its operation under the Franklin County School District.

It now has earned status as an independent private school, for those young people for whom traditional high schooling hasn’t worked well, and who are willing to make a long-term commitment to the educational program. The program is overseen by veteran Franklin County educator Elinor Mount-Simmons, and includes teachers Libby Newman, who teaches art and language art, and Sarah Harris, who handles math and science. Accreditation comes from  Grade Results, which offers online courses and a comprehensive set of credit recovery, credit acceleration, remediation, alternative and special education services.

Taylor said that with the pandemic, must of the work has moved online for the students. The new Ed Corps high school has a maximum of 20 students, and so far they have 11 enrolled.

Joe Taylor, director of Franklin's Promise Coalition

“We don’t want them to pop in and out for three months,” said Taylor. “We are looking for that long-term engagement.”

There's lots of yet-untapped storage space in Franklin's Promise's new headquarters, including these boxes earmarked for Toys for Tots.

The Conservation Corps have been busy completing the first phase of the rehab project on the building, by removing walls, installing carpeting, putting in offices, and otherwise making the new digs sparkle.

In the second phase, they’ll expand with two more training rooms, and in the third phase, they’ll tackle a mammoth portion of the building and transform it into a commercial kitchen, with restrooms and showers and 36 bunks for visiting Conservation Corps members from around the region, offering them a place to either launch projects for one of their missions - disaster recovery - or to secure additional training in the field.

Taylor said he hopes to have the transformation of the entire space completed within two years.

The new headquarters are adjacent to the Apalachicola National Estaurine Research Reserve, as well as the national forest, making it an ideal location to partner and embark on their missions on behalf of conservation, construction and disaster recovery.

The Conservation and Ed Corps young people are set to take a leading role in the Franklin 98 living shoreline project, under the auspices of the Apalachee Regional Planning Council. The project, to make the county’s shoreline more resistant to storm damage and erosion, is funded by millions of dollars from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Emergency Coastal Resilience and Gulf Environmental Benefit funds.

They’re busy growing Spartina cordgrass, a spiky, hard grass that is essential for protecting salt marsh shorelines and establishing habitat for fisheries.

Not only is there focus on coastal restoration, the young people tackle everything from removal of invasive species, forest restoration, help with prescribed burns, protection of the red-cockaded woodpecker, all sorts of things intended to provide training opportunities that can lead to stable, drug-free, constructive careers.

Conservation Corps members receive a stipend of a minimum of $360 per week, with crew leaders earning $500 weekly.

In addition, they get regular counseling and character development through a program administered by Apalachicola psychologist Sarah Madson.

Taylor said that while the Franklin’s Promise headquarters will be housed in the new space, the food pantry will remain at the Van Johnson Municipal Complex in Apalachicola. The annual Toys for Tots drive, which is held in conjunction with Franklin’s Promise, has already begun storieing gifts in the new Eastpoint location.