AVON PARK - Currently, it's not more than a jumble of cables, clustered computer hard drives, various electronic components scattered on tables and a determined group of mostly south side Avon Park residents working to make it all come together.
Since being founded by Frank Jones and his three sisters in 2009, The National Community Network and Coalition of Highlands, Inc. is on the cusp of becoming an official non-profit community activism organization. Its members are working to help improve the lives and living conditions of not just the south side of Avon Park, but for the community at-large.
Housed in a two-story former social hall at 923 South A St., Jones and members are volunteering their time to do all they can to help prevent crime and criminal recidivism by creating activities for the community to become involved with, including recreational pastimes, sound and music recording, making videos and getting involved in other hobbies.
Jones, president and CEO of the Community Network, said he and his sisters - Lujuana Flood, Ella Williams and Egeria Jordan, who died July 13, 2012 - have worked hard to what Jones said will "bring about the overall social improvement and better living conditions of the local community in general through food assistance, help with bills and other social programs."
Jones, a disabled U.S. Army veteran who moved from New York City to Avon Park in October 2009, has roots in Avon Park. His parents, Frank and Blonde Austin and their families, were from Avon Park and Jones spent his growing-up years visiting, considering the city his second hometown. Over the years, he saw the effect of poverty impact the increase of crime in the community, especially as work in citrus began to attract more migrant workers, leaving unskilled workers in the predominantly-black community without jobs.
To help get the area economically back on track, Jones and a core group of 10 Community Network members bought an old social hall whose club members were aging out on South A Street and upgraded it using money from Jordan's life insurance policy.
It was sold at a considerable discount provided the Community Network "do community work and help people," said Jones. In addition, Flood, vice-president, is forming a sister Community Network in New York City so one day the Network would have influence countrywide.
Jones said the Community Network expects to get status as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization by mid-February.
"That's going to help, we can start working towards an agenda and mission, purpose and vision," he said.
During a Community Network meeting Friday, board members spent time working on upgrading computers under the guidance of Tim Lashbrook, a technical consultant who volunteered his time. Their goal is to make a 15-unit computer lab available for the public to use. They would also help build a new organization website, which is what the Community Network began as.
"They needed my help and I was desperate for something to do," said Lashbrook, a computer technology instructor on sabbatical from San Diego (Calif.) Community College. "When people see other people in the community in action, then they want to get involved."
The lab is just part of a list of goals Jones said he hopes are reached over the next three years, such as starting 12-step groups, a soup kitchen, a non-profit newspaper, coupon classes, life-betterment seminars and build a digital recording studio - a capital investment of about $163,000. Jones said he'd also like to expand the center into a homeless shelter and single-room occupancies.
"When you look at the population of Avon Park and its demographic and the racial breakdown of the public housing residents, it is obvious that black people are receiving a disservice by these federally-funded housing complexes," said Jones, who worked as a quality assurance clerk for a non-profit in New York.
Standing among the computers, Network treasurer John Moss said whatever members learn, it's important to pass on the knowledge. He said the idea was to pass on the knowledge of computer repair shared by Lashbrook.
"We're in training now on how to repair computers. Then, we want to share with others; we want to pass it on," he said.
Another of the Network's main agendas is the renaming of South Delaney Avenue for Martin Luther King Jr. and southside redevelopment. In a Network overview, he said it would "install a new sense of pride back into our community, to bring forth community togetherness, for the purpose of 'Building a Better Community."
Jones said he's been homeless and without hope and he hopes the Community Network center, website and people would make a change for not just the southside, but Avon Park overall.
"It's all about people knowing what's going on here. Our mission is to build a better community. That's our priority," he said.
In addition to Jones and Moss the Network is run by Vice-President Flood, Editor Ella Williams, Secretary Albert Moss, Controller Shaneem Flood and Programs Director Dahaoud Smith.
For information, call (863) 657-2407, email NCNCHINC@Comcast.net or see www.ncnchinc.org.