Pinellas County Urban League Milestones
The idea of an Urban League affiliate was discussed by members of the St. Petersburg community, Charlotte McCoy, Jean Anderson and the late John Hopkins and Morris W. Milton. The Southern Regional Office of the National Urban League was contacted for assistance in establishing an Urban League affiliate in Pinellas County. In 1976, a group of community individuals met with Ken Crooks, Deputy Director of the National Urban League to discuss the feasibility of an Urban League affiliate for Pinellas. Support was sought from business, industry and labor leaders; the clergy; civic groups; health and social service agencies and educational and governmental entities in the quest for a local Urban League.
Initial funding was secured in 1977 through a CETA contract to operate a pre-employment orientation program. At that time, the agency was a four member, one program operation, sharing a single office with another agency. Mr. James O. Simmons was appointed as the first President & CEO to lead the sponsoring committee and guide its successful efforts to become the 117th affiliate of the National Urban League. Since that modest beginning, in 2001, the PCUL paid off its mortgage on our administrative headquarters which house the staff of its various programs.
In 1978, the PCUL was officially certified as an affiliate of the National Urban League. In 1981, the United Way of Pinellas County recognized the League as a member agency, funding two programs: the Minority Skills Bank and the Nurses Tutoring Program. Juvenile Welfare Board funding began in 1985 with the initiation of Project Success and the Comprehensive Family Services Program (CFSP), with additional support from the Pinellas County Department of Community Development. With funds emanating from the Florida Department of Legal Affairs, the inception of the Black-on-Black Crime Prevention Program started in 1985. In 1986, the agency received funds from the Florida Department of Education to operate the Vocational Education Support Program. One year later, the Competency-Based Remediation and Skill Development Program (later renamed Operation SMART - Student Motivational and Readiness Training) was initiated through the financial support of the Pinellas Community Foundation. In 1991, the Peer Power Program was implemented with funds provided by the Florida State Governor's Drug Free Communities Grant Program.
High among PCUL accomplishments are the development and growth of its Housing Department which encompasses numerous programs supported from various sources. Under the auspices of this department, energy saving repairs to homes of qualified county residents began in 1980 with the Weatherization Assistance Program. The original funding, from the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA), was soon joined by other programs with similar purpose: FLORIDAFix (1991), Solar Weatherization Assistance Program (1993), the Low-Income Emergency Home Repair Program (1994) and the Weatherization Assistance Program/Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (1995). In 1996, the SHIP Program, funded by the City of Largo Community Development Block Grant monies, was awarded to the PCUL. In 1996, a partnership between the PCUL and Florida Power Corporation was established to provide an incentive basis for specified energy enhancement measures. This Urban League was chosen as one of the few participants in the Florida Power Pilot Program and is viewed as a trend setter, based on its stellar performance. In 1997, a partnership was established with Pinellas County, using CDBG funds, to provide Housing Rehab services to eligible residents. In 1999, the department expanded weatherization services to Martin, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties. The Urban League's Housing Department has been recognized by the State of Florida and the U.S. Department of Energy for its exemplary strategies in the area of energy conservation measures.
Home energy services of a different nature are provided under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (1992) which helps qualified individuals meet the high cost of energy by paying a portion of their energy bill or assists low-income individuals and households in weather-related crisis situations which is funded by the Florida Department of Community Affairs. The program complements and augments the home energy conservation measures provided by the agency's Housing Department.
Recognizing a growing need, the State of Florida funded the Crime Prevention and Intervention Program in 1994. This statewide program is charged with providing leadership in creating strategies and viable alternatives which will serve as a deterrent to youth at risk of embarking on a life of crime. The League secured an additional contract from the Florida Attorney General's Office to operate a Preventing First Time Offenders from Becoming Second Time Offenders Program in September 2002 and received funding from the Department of Justice for FY 2007/2008.
In 1999, additional support for the Health Mobile (donated to the PCUL by Anheuser-Busch) and its Health Screening Program was received from the Baxter-Allegiance Foundation and the Florida Department of Health. These funds allowed the PCUL to bring essential health screening services to individuals in the communities where they live.
Additionally, Herman L. Lessard served as President & CEO from November 2004 through October 2006. Gregory Johnson served as the President & CEO of the Urban League from October 2007 through October 2011.
In 2008, the PCUL received a two-year Health Education Awareness grant from Baxter Foundation. Other grants awarded to the PCUL in 2008 were the 50-50-50 Youth Challenge (Community-Based), Tampa Bay Rays Foundation, Progress Energy (Weatherization Incentive) and the City of St. Petersburg (Weed & Seed). In 2009 the agency received stimulus funding for the Weatherization Program. In 2011 funding was received to weatherize multi-family apartment buildings under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). PCUL selected Rainbow Village, located in Largo, Florida (HUD property) to weatherize 200 units. A Sustainable Energy Resources for Consumers (SERC) supplemental grant was received in 2011 which will be used to fund "materials, benefits, and renewable domestic energy technologies" not currently covered by the Weatherization program.
The Pinellas County Urban League's nationwide search for a new leader concluded at its beginning – with a hometown hero whose deep roots stretch throughout the community, state and nation. Watson Haynes, a native of St. Petersburg and a popular public speaker, consultant and advocate for education assumed the role of President & CEO on May 7th, 2012.
The aforementioned vignettes describe the pivotal events and program development which form the unique history and depict the forward movement of the Pinellas County Urban League. Each has its significance to the mission of the League to assist all those in need. The progress of the PCUL is the direct result of the vision, dedication and commitment of a dedicated Board and staff.