The Kappa Alpha Psi Jacksonville Foundation fraternity took one step further Tuesday night to opening a new community and health care center in Northwest Jacksonville.
With unanimous support, City Council approved a $500,000 grant to the organization – bringing the group to the next steps of securing permits and, finally, construction.
“The hope is that from this, others will see an opportunity and take advantage of it as well,” Lawrence Dennis, executive director of Kappa Alpha Psi Jacksonville Foundation, said. “The need is certainly there. And what we wanted to do was create something that would be beneficial in terms of the aesthetic value, but also in terms of the services that this will provide.”
The foundation partnered with Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Sulzbacher Health Center to create and operate the center, meant to expand existing mentorship programs to Black students, as well as provide medical services to all members of the community in an area where clinic closures have already affected the community harshly.
Less than a mile from Ribault High School, where Wolfson currently operates a medical resource center, and across the street from Raines High School, the center will be around 17,000 square feet, with 4,500 square feet dedicated to a new medical facility. The remaining space will serve as a youth center.
The Jacksonville fraternity is a branch of the one of the oldest Black fraternities in the country and already offers mentoring services in the area. Dennis said the center aimed to increase the reach of that work to offer programs with mentorship opportunities as well to serve young Black children and men ages 12-22, with the goal of expanding over time. The attached health center will serve all community members at no cost or low-cost rates.
“What this does is provide an avenue, an outlet, where we can identify and that certainly, I would love to say ‘yeah, we can save pretty much everybody,’ but we can’t. But we can make a difference,” Dennis said.
Named after Dr. Charles B. McIntosh, the first Black pediatrician in Jacksonville, longtime Kappa and influential advocate for sickle cell disease research, the center will focus on five primary components: life skills training, leadership training, financial literacy, health education and information technology.
“This is going to be an awesome project,” council member Ju’Coby Pittman said during a committee meeting.
“I do think this is another project that is on the corridor that will be a gamechanger,” Pittman added.
The center will be built on land the fraternity already owns in Jacksonville Health Zone 1 – where three health clinics have closed in the past year.
Dennis said he hoped the community center would inspire other groups to step in to help.
Work to build the center is estimated for around $8.3 million. The City Council grant is a Large Scale Economic Development Fund which will be dispersed to help cover construction costs when the center is open to the public.
Normally, the type of grant is reserved for projects that will create substantial jobs in the area, but the city waived the requirement due to the nature of the project and increasing the accessibility of the health facility to the community.
If the permits go through as planned, Dennis said the center would hopefully be up and running by February 2025 – the 100 year anniversary of the Jacksonville branch of the fraternity.