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Overtown’s Theodore R. and Thelma A. Gibson Charter School gets a makeover

ALL HANDS ON DECK: A TEAM OF VOLUNTEERS WORKS TO SPRUCE UP THE RELOCATED THEODORE R. AND THELMA A. GIBSON CHARTER SCHOOL

BY RODOLFO R. ROMAN
Special to The Miami Herald
It’s been three months since Stephen Bridges graduated from the former St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Overtown.

On a recent Saturday, he made one more stop at his old campus, but it wasn’t for educational purposes: Stephen, 14, joined dozens of Hands on Miami and UPS volunteers to help beautify the relocated Theodore R. and Thelma A. Gibson Charter School, which replaced the Catholic school after the Archdiocese of Miami closed it due to budget constraints.

“This change will help kids get a better education,” Stephen said of the mini face-lift. Stephen, who lives in nearby Town Park Village and is starting Monsignor Edward Pace High this school year, helped lift logs and trim trees at the campus playground.

“Before, it was mostly dirt. It looks good now,” he said at the Aug. 15 clean-up.

The playground was just one area the 85 volunteers helped refurbish. Volunteers also painted three portables, administrative offices and two kindergarten classrooms at the school, which will emphasize the arts.

Volunteers needed 10 gallons of paint and 750 bags of mulch for the children’s playground, 182 native plants for landscaping, and $12,500 in furniture for the kindergarten classrooms.

Principal Brenda Dawson said the building needed the help, which came days before the beginning of the school year on Monday.

“This is an old building. It was run down,” she said.

The 72-year-old Overtown building, 1698 NW Fourth Ave., housed St. Francis Xavier. Its closure took effect at the end of the school year, June 30. The property is owned by the Archdiocese of Miami, but it is leased by the Gibson Charter School Foundation.

The school was founded by Thelma Gibson in honor of her late husband, the Rev. Theodore Gibson, a civil-rights activist and the first African American to serve on the Miami City Commission.

Since its opening in 2003, the Gibson charter school has been located at 450 SW Fourth St. in Miami.

Hands on Miami searched throughout the community for a location that would benefit from a service project, said Mia Batlle, director of development for Hands on Miami.

“This is a performing arts school and it provides the community with that resource,” she said, noting that residents of Town Park Village housing projects also would benefit from the new school. “There is a commitment to bring excellence in education.”

A sweaty Shawn Fanshier, senior vice president of UPS Americas region, said she braved the heat and rain to help those in need.

“If you don’t support communities, there won’t be a difference in the world,” said Fanshier, whose gloves were full of dirt and mulch after helping with the playground and landscaping. It was a busy day for UPS volunteers. More than 100 also gave St. Paul Lutheran School in Southwest Miami-Dade, a face-lift.

Volunteers at the Gibson school spent the day painting the kindergarten classroom in colors like lime green and organizing books and furniture.

Dawson said the school still needs help with supplies. To make a donation, call 305-438-0895.

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