ORLANDO, Fla. — A longtime nonprofit in Parramore is doing all it can to keep neighborhood children safe, even if it means operating outside of their meager budget.

  • New Image Youth Center funded primarily by grants
  • Center only has 7 paid staffers - most helpers volunteers
  • More Good News stories

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Shanta' Barton-Stubbs stumbled across a group of kids playing in the street in Parramore by chance. Instinctively, she yelled at them to be careful before ushering them into her father’s church, which was still under renovation. 

A college student at the time, Barton-Stubbs only had a board game — Monopoly — on hand to keep the children entertained. She patiently taught them the rules of the game, and they played for several hours before heading home.

“The next day my dad called and said, ‘You know those kids you were playing with? They’re asking for you,’” she recalled. “I found myself running here every day after school, to this condemned building. We painted the walls, I put up posters.”

Building a neighborhood hub

All these years later, board games have turned into programming ranging from MMA and step team to Girl Scouts and gardening. And Barton-Stubb’s group grew, too — from 10 to 15 kids into around 70 — gathering at a nonprofit she called New Image Youth Center.

Each afternoon, Barton still rushes from her mental health counseling job to run programs at several buildings along Parramore Avenue. It’s a hub of activity as kids flit between basketball outside to indoor, STEM-focused arts and crafts such as creating a tetrahedral kite.

Around 5:30 p.m. the children file into a single line to pick up their pre-packaged dinners, part of an agreement with Orange County Public Schools.

And all of this is free. With only seven paid staffers, most helpers are volunteers — including Barton-Stubbs, NIYC’s executive director.

“We’re saving lives, our kids are not in harms’ way. They have a safe haven,” she said. “I just want a safe community for our kids.”

And Barton means it, in every sense of the word.

Because not within their $280,000 budget, made up mostly of grants, is the cost of shuttling kids from school to activities and home for the night. But they do it anyway.

“A few months ago, there were shootings happening in the middle of the day," she explained. "We could hear them at our youth center. No one who loves children would send kids out in the neighborhood, walking home.”

Changing neighborhood perceptions

Just this week, a 39-year-old man was shot and killed on South Street, two blocks from the youth center.

Two weeks prior, two men were arrested after a carjacking and kidnapping just north in Callahan.

Orlando Police Department Deputy Chief James Young said that while there’s no uptick of crime in Parramore, there's a perception of one, and perception is reality.

“We all know that crime in any neighborhood can go up and down," Young explained. "A lot of times it’s not about specific numbers. We know it’s about the perception of crime. We might go one week with two incidents, we might go another three months with none.”

But Young said if a community isn’t feeling safe, Orlando Police works with them.

Just last month, OPD held a roundtable discussion in Parramore, renewing their focus on neighborhood watch initiatives. The latest meetings showed less division between the community and police, another reality greatly affected by perception.

“Changing a community isn’t just about the police — police aren’t going to make that change," Young said. "The Parramore neighborhood’s a great neighborhood. When crimes occur, it’s about individuals."

What’s more, Young said that police applaud any effort of community members, nonprofits, faith and school leaders to come together.

“[That] makes it a safer environment,” he added.

For now, Barton said that she’ll continue to shuttle students wherever they need to go in order to keep them safe.

“I’m a person of many hats, many wigs in my case,” she laughed. “And you never know what you’ll be doing that day. There’s just as much good here in the hood.”