EASTERN CHARLOTTE COUNTY — The rustic Crossroads compound for teenage boys who were sent there by the courts now has been converted into a home for a couple dozen foster kids no one wants to adopt.
And Crossroads’ board, along with a couple hundred of its community supporters, celebrated those fresh starts with a ribbon-cutting event, a barbecue and live music from a couple of youth rock bands Saturday.
“You know how things happen for a better reason?” said Bob “Fig” Newton, a Punta Gorda real estate agent who has become a Crossroads supporter. “This was meant to be.”
Newton was referring to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s decision last spring to not renew its contract with AMIKids Crossroads to provide the facility for the state’s juvenile offenders.
Newton was one of hundreds of Charlotte County residents that lobbied Gov. Rick Scott to reverse that decision. Scott granted a 60-day reprieve to allow Crossroads’ last kids to graduate, but the facility was closed Aug. 29.
Crossroads’ board, which includes chairman Robert “Bucky” McQueen, Charlotte County School Board member Lee Swift, Charlotte County Sheriff’s Maj. Dan Libby and Babcock Ranch Inc. manager Steve Smith, refused to watch the 20-acre compound, which had proved so successful in turning kids around, go fallow.
So they worked to obtain approval from the Department of Children and Families to provide the facility for troubled foster kids who would be referred by the DCF’s Southwest Florida contractor, Children’s Network.
To meet DCF’s requirements, the board hired an architect and builder to remodel dorms with tile floors, new bathrooms and no bars on the windows.
Final inspections are due Monday, said John Davidson, Crossroads executive director. The Children’s Network has some four or five kids under consideration for the facility, he said.
Board members hope to see the ranks swell to 22 by February.
“We’re going to stagger them in because we’re going to create our culture,” Davidson said.
He said the intent of Saturday’s event was to both reward supporters and show them around the compound so “they’ll feel comfortable” coming back to volunteer.
Davidson said the community’s support already has made a “huge difference” by helping Crossroads’ previous kids. They worked in town almost weekly on community-service details, and that helped them “assimilate,” Davidson said.
Crossroads isn’t the only such program, said Ray Fischer, chief operating officer for Children’s Network.
“But I have to tell you, we were so impressed with (Crossroads’) staff, and the fact they have this unique setting makes me really excited that we’ll be partnering with them,” he said.
Swift said it’s hard to describe how he feels about Saturday’s kickoff.
“I’ve never been a part of something that was two-thirds dead and resurrected itself,” he said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to change lives in the future.”
McQueen was recruited to Crossroads’ inaugural board some 28 years ago by its founder, the late Circuit Judge Elmer O. Friday.
McQueen pointed out the compound’s real estate assets have been appraised at some $2 million. But the real value is its staff and programs, which include marine science, wilderness studies and vocational training, he said.
Crossroads hires certified teachers and has put kids through police Explorer and junior ROTC programs. One graduate is studying at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University to become an airport manager, according to McQueen.
McQueen didn’t blame the state for canceling Crossroads’ contract.
“It’s happening everywhere, cutbacks and changes, so it’s a sign of the times,” he said.
“I think the thing we’re most blessed with is the leadership of John Davidson,” McQueen added.