Student ACES Youth Center has triumphant opening

BELLE GLADE — The brand new Student ACES Youth Center opened here on Friday, Nov. 1, in a space donated by Bank of America along with a $20,000 grant to help establish and enhance programming.

ACES founder and board president Buck Martinez spoke gratefully during the ceremonies, celebrating especially the army of angels that’s united around the organization’s goals and values to help lift Glades youths’ dreams into the realm of reality.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
BELLE GLADE — Buck Martinez, founder and president of Student ACES, speaks at the grand opening of the group’s new educational center and computer lab in Belle Glade on Friday, Nov. 1. Many dignitaries were present: from left are State Rep. Tina Polsky; Fabiola Brumley, Bank of America’s Palm Beach County market president; District 6 Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay; and Erica Whitfield, the Palm Beach County School Board member for District 4.

He and his daughter Krissy Webb co-founded the organization in 2013 to create a pathway for youths to learn how to become leaders in society, starting with 32 kids. Six years later, many hundreds have been served by the nonprofit, and it has expanded into Miami-Dade and Broward counties, too.

The intent behind this new gathering place for Glades youth is to provide leadership, academic and athletic support for student-athletes in the Glades area through the efforts of state and community leaders and mentors. Its long name is the Student Athletics, Community and Education Center in Belle Glade.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
The Glades Central High School Raiders’ No. 80, James Davis, along with student athlete Vernanza Vereen (hidden), cut the ribbon to open the former Bank of America branch at 915 S. Main St. as the Student ACES Center.

In support of Student ACES’ mission to foster the development of successful high school students, Bank of America donated its Belle Glade financial center and property plus the cash to the local organization. It will be a place where youth can develop their academic and athletic skills while also exploring interests in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, including nutrition, robotics and solar energy. As a result of these programs, the students will be prepared for meaningful employment at organizations in need of skilled individuals.

A large crowd gathered at the facility at 915 S. Main St. in Belle Glade to celebrate the opening of the large, former bank branch facility and hear about plans that are in motion already to expand the space even more.

The Rev. Robert L. Rease, pastor of St. John First Missionary Baptist Church and a prominent community leader, first offered a prayer outside the building as officials asked people to gather around. Mr. Martinez directed the audience’s attention to an FPL crew that was asked to bring a truck to raise the colors, and said the flag then would be lowered to half-staff in memory of two young men who died after a shooting in the neighborhood on the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 30.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Bank of America official Fabiola Brumley speaks of how proud and honored they are to have their former branch turned into a gathering, learning and mentoring place for young student-athletes.

The Rev. Rease asked for the group to pray together. “We want to take a moment of silence to remember the lives of the young men … a number of these students here were classmates and close friends with one of the men, and we thank God for this program,” he said.

Afterward, everyone trooped inside for the speeches and accolades.

Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson told the crowd: “Yesterday, this whole idea … was just a vision, thinking all about the dots, how do they connect the dots for student athletes. But look at today: Not only are they connecting the dots for student athletes, they also are lifting up our leaders of tomorrow. We learn in life that the seed that we plant today will certainly determine the harvest of tomorrow. On behalf of the city of Belle Glade and all of our elected officials … we say thank you to Buck Martinez and all of you. Thank you for lifting our town up.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson cracks a joke during his welcoming remarks inside the Student ACES Center.

Palm Beach County School District Instructional Superintendent Angela Moore said she’d never heard of the ACES program before taking her post about three years ago. She thanked officials of the organization for the “opportunity to have a program like this, that is going to provide a safe environment for our students, a place where they can go to study … where they can feel comfortable in their own skin” and learn about “the importance of having integrity, respect for others and also for working together.

“We could not do this by ourselves. It truly takes a partnership of all of us working together, and we know that when we work together great things happen in our community,” she finished.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
The audience applauds as Mr. Martinez asked the Glades Central athletes who were in the room to stand; he also noted that the cabinets lining the walls were built by members of a carpenters union.

State Rep. Tina Polsky gave a few remarks. “I’m extremely honored to work with Buck and Krissy. They come to my office and make me cry, and I just love this organization. We are trying to get more money for this program so we can build out this beautiful facility … I’ll fight for that money. I’m so proud of all of you. Keep going with that. Sports give you that teamwork, perseverance and diligence that you can translate into so many wonderful life lessons.”

Fabiola Brumley, Palm Beach County market president for Bank of America, said she was proud to represent “over a thousand employees here in Palm Beach County, and they were a part of every decision,” asking those in the room to stand.

“When we say it takes a village, it takes a village and then some. We want you to have a great education. We want you to build your natural-born talents, whether it is your athleticism or whatever it is. But you’re surrounded by love, and in this community it really shows. I just want to thank all of the people that gave us the right advice so that we could mobilize and give the community the power to bring this thing together. Congratulations. We are humbled and honored to be a part of this.”

Bank of America selected Student ACES as a recipient of its economic mobility workforce development grant to give the nonprofit the ability to provide mental health awareness, leadership, financial literacy, character and values training.

“This was a brilliant idea, and it’s everything that we hope for at the school district,” said School Board District 4 member Erica Whitfield.

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