Correction: The 20th Anniversary Gala will be held at the Oak Harbor club, and not the GYAC.
GIFFORD — “More than an after-school program.”
That’s the slogan the Gifford Youth Achievement Center presented when it first opened its doors on Feb. 15, 1998. Nearly 20 years later, the center continues to provide students, adults and seniors with resources such as classes in general subjects, music, cooking, computer skills, exercise and more.
Freddie Woolfork was initially hired as a program director for the GYAC on Oct. 1, 1997, before the building was built. Woolfork worked out of the Gifford Community Center until the GYAC building was built. He said he felt a need to bring academics to the community.
When he and others noticed that the graduation rate for black high school students in the school district had dropped from 92 percent to 23 percent from 1969 to 1996, he decided to become a catalyst for change.
That number has since increased to 64 percent, according to the GYAC.
“Kids are no longer coming home to a two-parent household. That’s why they fall between the cracks, ” said Woolfork, 65, of Gifford. “I wanted to be the first person to initiate something. As long as I have the health and strength in my body, I’ll do what I have to do.”
One of the GYAC’s most successful academic programs is the KAPS Upward Bound College Preparatory Program, which is an after school tutoring program that helps high school seniors prepare for college.
The program, administered by Indian River State College in partnership with the GYAC, focuses on high schoolers who would be the first in their family to attend college, according to the GYAC. With the program, high schoolers can take college classes on the IRSC campus, talk to college professors, go on college trips and more.
With the KAPS program, which began in 2006, 121 students have graduated from high school, 118 have attended college and three joined the armed forces.
Both the county and Vero Beach honored Woolfork Oct. 17 by each giving him a proclamation for his 20 years of service at the GYAC.
“It was joyful, enlightening and felt good,” Woolfork said. “I’m still floating. It feels good to know the county and city recognize good work. But, we’ve got a lot more work to do.”
The video below was provided by the GYAC.
The GYAC combines education with recreation. Students at the center learn about education, social skills, etiquette, how to speak properly, moral values and more.
Woolfork’s daughter, Shannon Woolfork-Chambers, was 9 years old when the center opened up and took classes there. Now, Woolfork-Chambers, 29 and recently married, is studying to become a nurse practitioner and will soon earn a Master’s Degree.
“She’s a prime example of how important the facility is,” Woolfork said. “I’ve got (former) students who are now in their 30s and are working professionals who bring their kids here.”
Some of those former students are now teachers for local schools, Woolfork said.
The GYAC is a private-owned facility that serves nearly 200 kids daily from at least 22 different county schools.
The center works in partnership with the School District.
The classes taught at the GYAC supplement to what students are learning at school, Woolfork said. The school district provided the center with 10 teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade and also teachers from Indian River State College.
The center has music teachers who teach singing, piano, violin and brass. About 45 to 60 volunteers help out at the center. There is a $60 fee for students per semester.
The GYAC also offers classes for adults, such as parenting, family counseling, mental health counseling, career and college prep and drug prevention. The center’s senior program, “Special K,” lets seniors take classes in exercising, Bible study, sewing, cooking and more.
The concept for the GYAC began in 1996 when the Progressive Civic League of Gifford believed blacks weren’t getting proper representation in the community, Woolfork said. Around that time, there was nothing at the GYAC but palmetto bushes.
The civic league presented a plan to the county commission on building the GYAC and why it was needed, Woolfork said. Commissioners were satisfied with the plan and construction for the GYAC began in 1997.
Woolfork, who served as president of the civic league from 1991 until 1997, said the league was the mother organization of the GYAC until the center became its own 501(c) organization in 2001.
The GYAC is part of the newly renamed Victor Hart Sr. Community Enhancement Complex, which also consist of the Gifford Community Center, Gifford Aquatic Center, a baseball field, football field and a park.
The GYAC will hold a 20th Anniversary Gala from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 27, 2018, at the Oak Harbor club, 4755 S. Harbor Drive, Gifford.
Only one original founder of the GYAC, Dr. A. Ronald Hudson, is still living. The other two founders, Dan K. Richardson and Dr. William “Bill” Nigh, have passed, Woolfork said.
Even with major achievements and 20 years of service under his belt, Woolfork still remains focused on the future of the GYAC. He said he always thinks of a quote by Dr. Hudson – “We have crossed the river, but the ocean still lies ahead.”