Daring To Create A Village

Dare 2 Be Great Scholars Believe in 'paying it forward'

Dare 2 Be Great Scholars Believe in ‘paying it forward’

About four years ago,  I met Morgan Russell for breakfast at Christina’s in Pineapple Grove.

Morgan was a long time investor and believer in Delray Beach and I got to know him when I served on the Delray City Commission.

Pineapple Grove was a far cry from what we see there today and the first time I met with Morgan he looked me in the eye and asked if we were serious about a public/private partnership to beautify the Grove. I said absolutely.

Morgan was referring to a plan to add a streetscape, landscaping and lighting to Second Avenue. The project would be paid for by property owners, the city and CRA. The investment, coupled with the hard work and vision of Pineapple Grove volunteers, transformed the area. Morgan bet big, investing in real estate projects and the Esplanade shopping center  in Pineapple Grove when most others were flocking to East Atlantic Avenue.  He moved to an apartment above some shops on Second Avenue so he could better understand the rhythms of the street and the nuances of the neighborhood.

His investment in Pineapple Grove did very well.

So when we sat down for breakfast back in 2010, he was grateful for his good fortune. Morgan says he has been lucky. I call him smart.

He wanted to invest again in Delray Beach by giving back to a place that was very good to him. On a napkin, we created Dare 2 Be Great and added a stellar board of directors and a terrific group of mentors.

In a nutshell, D2BG is a non-profit that awards scholarships and provides mentoring to Delray Beach students who want to go to college and come back to enrich Delray; either by launching their career here or paying it forward as we like to say. We look for kids who we feel exhibit greatness and have that intangible spark. We are looking for more than just good grades and a solid resume of community involvement.

Most are students who have overcome great adversity to excel. Challenges range from poverty and family dysfunction and illness to personal challenges so great that nobody gets through our interviewing process without tears. The stories are so touching, the kids so amazing, we are simply in awe of their strength, resilience and potential.

Most of them grew up here, a few came from Haiti (some after the quake)  and through hard work and resolve have managed to put themselves in a position to succeed—if we as a community can help them. And we are.

We often talk about being a village, but being a village is way more than whether or not you allow a 60 foot building or a 54 foot building. It’s about more than setbacks and density and parking calculations and all the others stuff us adults get hung up on.

Talk to kids who grew up in Delray and have gone away to school and ask them what they are concerned about and they’ll tell you that they care about jobs, opportunities and living in a place that has things to do.

They also talk about living in a community that cares. Really cares, not through  lip service, but by actions.

We have interviewed dozens of kids over the past four years and if there’s a common theme it is this:

They like Delray Beach. Many would like to return after college to live here. Most are concerned that unless they are going into a service profession that the opportunities to come back are limited. And most have a positive feeling about their town because of a city program or effort that touched them in some way.

Whether it was an art or photography class at the Delray Center for the Performing Arts that spurred Stephanie Brown and Maria Gracia to pursue careers in the arts or the Youth Council that spurred Ian Mellul to want to become an elected  official (future president? Don’t bet against it) or the Criminal Justice Career Academy at Atlantic High (generously supported by our superb police department) that inspired Joseph Elisma to apply to become a Delray officer, these kids—our kids—were touched by something supported by our community.

Those programs—Explorer Posts, Boy Scout Huts, Youth Councils, Sister Cities, arts classes, summer reading initiatives, early childhood efforts, partnerships with local schools, businesses and non-profits are what makes us a village. At least in the eyes of our children.

They understand that it’s  all about people.

Caring about people.

Helping people.

Looking out for our neighbors.

Creating a city of opportunities for existing residents, our kids and our grandchildren.

Dare 2 Be Great was our answer to how can we invest in the future of Delray Beach. There are other approaches and worthwhile programs in Delray Beach too.

As we approach the holiday season and the New Year, please consider what we can do to touch others in our great city. Happy holidays…see you after the New Year.