Stuart's Samaritan Center For Young Boys & Families Provides Guidance And Education For Florida's Children
The Samaritan Center for Young Boys & Families rings in a milestone anniversary this month—half a century of changing lives through spirituality, structure and support.
The faith-based, early intervention center has rewritten 50 years’ worth of futures for fathers, mothers and sons struggling to stabilize their home environments.
“I can see the difference we are making,” says Sue Kinane, the center’s board chairwoman. “We have measurable results.”
A five-days-a-week residential program counsels, educates and tutors boys between the ages of 6 and 12 who act out, defy authority and exhibit anger. Its primary goals include building character, controlling impulses, improving communication and, ultimately, keeping boys out of the juvenile justice system. “There’s plenty of boys out there that need our help—plenty,” Kinane says. “There’s something missing with all of them.” Often, what’s missing is a parent. “My son didn’t really have a strong father figure in his life,” says former Port St. Lucie resident Natalie Coggeshall of Gabe, who as a kindergartener was suspended 27 times for violent outbursts. “I was basically at my wit’s end. I called the Samaritan Center and said, ‘I need your help. I don’t know what else to do. Tell me how to make this work. Tell me what I’m doing wrong.’”
Coggeshall embraced the program that required her to participate in weekly parenting classes and instill the same value system Gabe was expected to follow at the center in her home when he returned each weekend.
“We worked together,” she says. “You have to be humble enough as a parent to say, ‘I’m not doing this well. I’m clearly not doing my child a service.’”
During Gabe’s second month at the center—and a few days prior to his 10th birthday—he had a violent outburst that earned him a demerit and the loss of all privileges. He was not allowed to participate in group activities, play games or watch movies. Staff members told his mother they believed it was in everyone’s best interest that his upcoming double-digit day go uncelebrated.
“As a mother, that broke my heart,” Coggeshall says. “It affected me way more, long-term, than it affected him. But I knew it was something I had to do. It was a pivotal moment for Gabe and me. He realized I was serious.”
Coggeshall says the biggest lesson she learned from the Samaritan Center was that she wasn’t helping Gabe by being his friend. “When he would have outbursts and stuff previously, I always felt bad punishing him or giving him consequences,” she says. “I didn’t want to see him upset. I didn’t want to see him angry. I didn’t appreciate how much harm that was doing to him.”
Gabe, now 17 and attending a public high school in Orlando, represents one of hundreds of boys throughout the center’s history who have faced overwhelming obstacles and courageously conquered them. They are the reasons the center is heralding its humble beginnings as a Christian ministry in October 1968, and its impressive growth into a non-profit that operates solely on private donations. Two fundraisers are on the horizon—a golf tournament on Oct. 26 and a concert on Nov. 11—as well as a cocktail party on Dec. 8 to thank benefactors for making the center’s 50 years possible. The Great Chef Adventure, a gourmet luncheon prepared by local culinary legends, will return in February.
‘Building Men…One Boy at a Time’
The Samaritan Center for Young Men & Boys got its start in the midst of the Vietnam War. Heads of households leaving their wives and children to fight on the other side of the earth disrupted the domestic dynamic. Sons—more so than daughters—began to get into trouble as a result of the sudden void. The elders at Tropical Farms Baptist Church, less than five miles from the center’s Cove Road location, wanted to address the issue by opening a facility and founding a program based on the principles of discipline, guidance and love. Stuart’s Witham family, whose patriarch Paul “Homer” Witham, is the namesake of the airfield, deeded 11 acres of land, on which the center sits today. Three residences (the Garden Cottage, the Meadow Cottage and the Porter Cottage), the Seymour St. John Center (a state-of-the-art school, library and meeting hall), an administrative office and a maintenance building dot the campus.
Seven boys enrolled for 2018-19 live in the Garden Cottage with their teaching parents, Johnny and Jean Cox, who are former preachers.
“As a ministry couple, you do a lot of talking,” Johnny Cox says. “In a job like this, you do a lot of what you talk about. To me, it’s the best way of preaching.”
As teaching parents, they not only serve as role models for the boys but also instruct them on etiquette and grace, enforce the ground rule of no electronics or TV, make sure homework is completed and award merits and demerits.
“We emulate a biblical lifestyle, and that does more than anything else,” Johnny Cox says. “Fundamentals are what’s important.”
Striking a balance between succor and strictness is key.
“I have niceness, but I can get serious if I need to,” Jean Cox says. “We always say working with young people is easier than working with adults.”
Boys typically stay in the program for two years before transitioning back to their families, equipped with the knowledge, skills and tools to become men.
“The most common thing we hear is, ‘This place saved my life,’” says Amy Christensen, the center’s executive director. “The families we help—we could write soap opera scripts.”
They have come from as far south as Miami-Dade County and as far north as Orange County in search of security, stability and strength for their sons.
“We get any number of scenarios any given day,” Christensen says. “What we do, honestly, is to teach these kids to swim upstream.”
Samaritan Center Golf Tournament
The annual event at The Fox Club in Palm City will benefit the Samaritan Center Scholarship Fund, a pool of money that ensures no boy is turned away because of inability to pay tuition. Registration and breakfast precede the 9 a.m. shotgun start and scramble format. Lunch is at 1:30 p.m., when awards will be given. Oct. 26; 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; $300, $1,000/foursome
An Evening of Sinatra and Motown
Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., season six winner of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” will headline a concert at The Lyric Theatre. Murphy, who grew up in West Virginia and found himself homeless at age 19, learned about the Samaritan Center for Young Boys & Families during a singing tour and agreed to support the cause. Nov. 11; 8 p.m.; $50
Great Chef Adventure
Taking place at Willoughby Golf Club, the signature soirée serves up a three-course meal showcasing the cuisine of area chefs. Guests can bid on silent auction items in addition to live auction items that include physical improvements to the center such as resurfacing the basketball court and covering the outdoor patio. Feb. 11; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; $125