JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – About 10 years ago, Rick Macdonald was just trying to get his elementary-school-age kids to appreciate all they had when he took them to Jacksonville’s Cleveland Arms Apartments, a low-income housing project in a dangerous part of town.
“A friend of mine, Terry Lane, told me how he was helping kids by going to HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) housing projects and offering assistance to the children,” says Macdonald, a Realtor® with The Legends of Real Estate in Jacksonville. “My kids were in elementary school and were being bratty and selfish, so I took them to show them how good they had it.”
That’s when Macdonald got to see firsthand what Terry really did.
“I went home crying,” he recalls. “What touched me and motivated me to get involved was the fact that my kids didn’t see anything different about the kids at Cleveland Arms. Those kids didn’t have a chance because of their environment, not because they weren’t intelligent or great kids.”
From that point on, Macdonald and his children devoted themselves to Metro Kids Konnection, a community-based organization that offers in-school teacher support, facilitation of parent-teacher communication, after-school educational and recreational activities, and summer day camp for kids. It also provides case management and community support services for parents, including GED preparation, job skills training and facilitation of community involvement through community service.
“We want to empower children and youth to make positive choices that impact their lives before they become involved in drugs, crime, gangs and other negative lifestyle choices,” says Macdonald, who for the past 10 years has been president of the board of directors.
The program was founded by Terry Lane some 15 years ago and has expanded to doing more and more services as well as offering support to Cleveland Arms, one of the most dangerous projects in Jacksonville. “Several years ago, land was donated adjacent to Cleveland Arms and we built the Lane Center,” says Macdonald. There, Metro Kids Konnection volunteers offer tutoring, after school programs, crafts and more.
“We partner with other groups such as Educate Today to offer services,” he says. “We have up to 100 kids a day and we feed them. Many times it’s the only meal they’ll get that day.” The organization now offers programs for elementary-school-age students, teens and adults.
While Macdonald isn’t involved in the day-to-day operations of the center, he is very active in raising money for Metro Kids.
“I’m responsible for finding financing and help with grants. I also get the word out about the benefits of Metro Kids,” says Macdonald, who was honored by Florida Realtors as its Humanitarian of the Year in 2011. “We’ve held luncheons, and we have a huge golf tournament. Our first year, we raised $3,000. This is our third year, and we expect to raise $25,000. We have some major sponsors this year,” he says. In addition to the large fundraisers, many of the 11 board members hold smaller, more personal fundraisers.
The best part, says Macdonald, is that the work they’re doing is successful. “We’ve been cited by the sheriff’s department as one of the reasons average arrest rates for teens in the area have dropped by 60 percent,” says Macdonald, who says they are now working on starting a Pre-K program as well.
Macdonald sums up his work with this thought: “But for the grace of God go I. I try to teach my kids that you can’t go through life without affecting other people. You have to give back and understand what other people go through.”