St. Augustine, Fla. – October 1, 2021 - The 23 members of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership St. Johns (LSJ) Class of 2021 began its class year on April 9 with a goal to select a local nonprofit project beneficiary as part of the program responsibilities. Members of the LSJ class 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. (SEA), a 501(c)3 local nonprofit which was formally established in 2013, but began as an outreach ministry with the neighboring First Baptist Church of Armstrong, Fla. 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, Fla.
On Wednesday, October 13 at 4 pm, members of LSJ, the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce , community leaders, and local government officials will celebrate the completion of the LSJ project and donated property improvements at SEA with a formal ribbon cutting 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 LSJ’s activities for this year’s graduating 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 renowned Palatka-to-St. Augustine State Trail, which stretches along the corridor through St. Johns and Putnam counties. 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 LSJ Class initially requested donations from the community to help complete the nonprofit’s improvement project with short- and long-term plans and worked diligently to start renovations at the existing space for safety, comfort and security for recipients, residents, visitors and SEA staff. The LSJ 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.
SEA’s three key communities were established in 1912 from descendants of the Gullah Geechee Corridor along the east coast of the U.S., and includes the neighborhood of Vermont Heights, Fla. These small townships provided and still provide a rich culture and lifestyle with laborers who primarily work for local farmers and the former turpentine industry. The Gullah Geechee have traditionally resided in the coastal areas and the sea islands of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida with a unique, world culture. Additionally, Gullah Geechee people are descendants of Africans who were enslaved on the rice, indigo and Sea Island cotton plantations of the lower Atlantic coast. Many came from the rice-growing region of West Africa. The nature of their enslavement on isolated islands and coastal plantations created distinctive arts, crafts, foodways, music, and language. Gullah Geechee is also a unique, creole language spoken in the coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
ABOUT LEADERSHIP ST. JOHNS (LSJ):
LSJ was started in 2001 and has more than 450 alumni who have graduated from the program designed to educate, connect and encourage influential and emerging professionals as they strive to make a positive impact on the local economy and community. The 2021 program ran from April through September. Class members are committed to meeting program days which include in-depth overviews of the challenges and opportunities faced by St. Johns County’s many industries, government agencies and non-profits.
Class members who successfully graduate from the program are accepted into the prestigious ranks of leadership alumni in St. Johns County and across Florida, and many LSJ graduates have been accepted into the state-wide Leadership Florida program. For additional, visit the website at https://www.sjcchamber.com/leadership-st.-johns.
The members of the Leadership St. Johns Class of 2021 are: Trish Becker, Anastasia Mosquito Control Board; Randy Bradley, Northrop/Grumman; Jason Caban, St. Johns County Sherriff’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 Sherriff’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.
The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce is a not-for-profit business membership organization; the second largest business networking organization in northeast Florida with approximately 1,000 members. The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce strives to deliver continuous value-added service to its members and the community, resulting in a business environment and quality of life where existing businesses have the opportunity to prosper, and new companies find it attractive to locate in St. Johns County. The Chamber strengthens business credibility, improves business visibility, amplifies business advocacy and drives prosperity in the community. For more information about the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce, visit www.sjcchamber.com.