George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

‘Learn⁠i⁠ng Tree’ a place of l⁠i⁠⁠t⁠eracy for Sou⁠t⁠h C⁠i⁠⁠t⁠y ch⁠i⁠ldren

By: Guest Author / 2016

Members of Leadership Tallahassee’s Class 33 gathered Wednesday to cut the ribbon on an oasis of educational resources for South City children, who did not waste any time in curling up with a good book inside on a rainy day.

The center was installed in the Oliver Hill, Sr.Community Center in the public housing community on Country Club Drive.

Aptly named The Learning Tree, the colorful reading nook is filled with community-donated books in hopes of boosting vocabulary and reading comprehension. Decorative tree branches hung from the wall above comfortable seating to create a serene, canopy-like setting.

But The Learning Tree promises to be so much more than a place where kids can read on their own. In an area where 80 percent of children live below poverty level, it represents a means of creating stronger individuals for a stronger community.

According to Brenda Williams, executive director of the Tallahassee Housing Authority, the center’s planned after-school program will offer tutoring and homework assistance with two certified Leon County teachers on-site.

Back-to-school goodie bags including miniature globes, crayons and writing utensils were handed out to South City children at the ribbon cutting event.(Photo: Ryan Dailey/Democrat)

“This is an opportunity for the children to have a place to go and learnand learn about their community with each other,” Williams said.

There are even plans to integrate computer-based instruction, parental involvement workshops and family literacy workshops.

According to Commissioner Curtis Richardson, who spoke about the South City as his home for decades, The Learning Tree also is a beacon of hope in the long-term.

Richardson said South City sees “conditions that rival some Third World countries,” and that education for its youth is essential to improving the community.

“This will prepare them not only for success in school but success in life. To give them the literacy skills they need,” Richardson said.

Richardson counted the reading center among several improvements planned for the South City. He said there is funding in the coming year’s budget to install sidewalks along Putnam Drive and Polk Drive.

Commissioner Curtis Richardson speaks about the importance of providing ongoing education to South City youth at Wednesday's ribbon cutting event.(Photo: Ryan Dailey/Democrat)

Courtney Atkins, a member of Leadership Tallahassee Class 33 and executive director of Whole Child Leon, described working on the project as “the experience of a lifetime.”

“They’ve let us have so much fun with this spaceand have several sponsors who have made this project possible,” Atkins said, noting even the carpet squares on the floor were donated by sponsorBrian Barnard'sFlooringAmerica. She also namedCentennial Bank, Hancock Bank, Golden Dragon Associates, Inc. and the James Madison Institute and some private donors among the project's top contributors.

“We’ve made friends for life doing this, and are so grateful for the program.”