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Tampa officials seek to create programs for teens as an alternative to a curfew

A building with large glass doors and windows as an entry way. A number of trees, including palm trees, are in front of the building. An empty handicap space and bench are in front of the building.
City of Tampa
The Port Tampa Center is in the 4700 block of W. McCoy St. Tampa Parks and Recreation plan to expand youth programs at rec centers like this.

"Stay and Play" is offered to Tampa teenagers looking for a place to spend time in a safe environment.

During Thursday’s meeting where the Tampa City Council unanimously voted to push back discussion of a juvenile curfew, officials repeatedly expressed interest in other ways to help keep young people safe.

In one effort, the Tampa Police Department and Tampa Parks and Recreation are coming together to expand evening youth programs.

The curfew was suggested after two people, including 14-year-old Elijah Wilson, were killed in a Ybor City shooting last October. Another 14-year-old, Kadyn Michael Abney, faces second-degree murder charges in relation to the incident.

The initiative acts as an alternative to a curfew by establishing places that welcome teens.

The Police Department is planning to use up to $280,000 to fund and expand youth services in the area. According to a press release, Police Chief Lee Bercaw said there was “an overwhelming response for additional resources dedicated toward keeping our children safe.”

One of the programs, Stay and Play, opens select recreation centers around Tampa to teens ages 13-19 from morning to night. It aims to create a safe and supervised space with activities such as music lessons, sports leagues, pool parties and financial literacy workshops.

"The community's looking for more holistic programming,” said Director of Parks and Recreation Tony Mulkey. “Something that goes beyond just trying to control behavior but, to actually develop skills and uplift the community as a whole."

“One person doesn't know the answer to this, and it's going to take a lot of people to really contribute and bring everyone in for their perspective,” added Mulkey.

“We don't always know what everybody's situation is, and I think it's important to be able to be empathetic and to be able to respond to the needs of the community, and I think this is a great first step.”

Stay and Play is currently offered from the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. during holiday breaks and 11 p.m. during the summer. Hours of operation will be extended to midnight starting this spring break into the summer.

Ari Angelo is a WUSF-USF Zimmerman Rush Family Digital News intern for spring of 2024.
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