News-Sun photo by CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY The Champion for Children Foundation's latest prioject is the The Circle Theater in Sebring. It took one person's vision and the community's support. Kevin Roberts, CEO of the foundation, had a vision, the foundation's board is making that vision come true. The theater is scheduled to open in the spring.
published: Friday, December 28, 2012
Kevin Roberts driving force behind Champion for Children Circle Theater
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- During times of difficulty, challenge and fear, it is important to remember that America empowers people. Individuals make a difference here. Individuals working together change history.
Kevin Roberts, who served Highlands County as Director of Human Services for 13 years, personifies this reality. While he is quick to point out he does not work alone and that dozens of people have been essential in bringing his dreams to life, the fact of the matter is the landscape of Highlands County would be dramatically different if Roberts had never settled here.
A dreamer, catalyst, diplomat and pest, once Roberts sets on a project he keeps putting one foot in front of the other until the vision becomes concrete.
Take the Champion for Children Foundation, which was his solution to bureaucratic red tape. "It could make good things happen fast in Highlands County," he has said.
Supported with a unique blend of private and public funding that creates financial flexibility, it was created by the county commission, but is run by a board of directors. Partly a way for the county to provide needed services, the foundation impacts the community in a vast number of ways. Each service and each program the foundation created and supported over the years thrives to this day. Combined, they provide children -- and families with children -- advice, protection, emergency aid and support services.
Consider the list of the foundation's accomplishments: The Children Services Council, where representatives from the spectrum of children serving agencies get together regularly to brainstorm and network; The Avon Park Youth Academy, where boys in trouble with the law have an opportunity to turn their lives around; the Family Safe House; the Healthy Kids Initiative, providing medical services to school-age children; the Emergency Rescue Fund, which assists families in crisis; Vision Quest, which provides eye care for school-age children; the We Care Hotline for teens; the Kinsley L. Cox Living Memorial Fund, which provides funds for non-medical expenses for families with a seriously ill or injured child; the Champion for Children Children's Advocacy Center, a leader and model for one-stop sites providing protection, support and services for families whose children are at risk.
Roberts mentions a long list of names who were as instrumental as he in bringing the foundation to life -- people like Doris Gentry Hawthorne and Ruth Handley. Still, he can't suppress a happy smile. "Men do not give birth to anything, I gave birth to the foundation," he said, his smile widening.
For 2013 Roberts, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the foundation, builds on past achievements and plans his most ambitious project yet -- the Champion for Children Circle Theater in Sebring.
Two reasons the theater is a challenge to renovate have to do with the fact it was built in 1923, and been neglected over the last several years, in foreclosure for the last five.
"It was a mess," said Roberts, "an old, dilapidated theater, a pink dinosaur, so to speak. A rat-infested, roach-infested wreck. There isn't one square wall in the building," said Roberts, looking up at the ceiling. It needed all new wiring and plumbing, and those are only two items on a very long list.
Roberts and his crew come to the theater with plenty of experience. They have already turned an abandoned part of an air base into the APYA, a decrepit convenience store into the advocacy center, and a close-to-condemned older home into the foundation headquarters.
Even so, Roberts and the board of directors were not with doubts, especially as their goal is a self-sustaining institution. Funding was a major concern.
"The decision to move forward was a big leap," Roberts said, during an interview in the foundation's comfortable greeting room Friday morning. "I stepped out onto a diving board."
He leaned forward. "Ships are safe in port, but that's not what ships are for. It was time for action."
The theater's redesign embraces the past with an exterior reflecting the year the theater was built, 1923.
Inside, the decor is art nouveau with special touches. "Four chandeliers provide a 'wow' affect," Roberts said. "Everything is first class."
The ceiling is covered with metallic pressed tiles, typical of the 1920s.
Three tiers of seating provide excellent sight lines and the acoustics are excellent, he added.
The enlarged stage, projector and large screen, plus a compliment of theatrical lights make producing plays or presenting seminars easy. At the same time, the space has an ambiance ideal for weddings or celebration parties.
"This is the biggest, most difficult project we've ever undertaken," Roberts said, adding that the benefits to the community made all the hard work and frustration worth it.
The theater will offer various art programs for students after-school and during the summer, as well as during the school day for pre-K children. There will be programs for adults, from vintage movies to room for meetings.
Roberts laughed when asked when the theater would open -- the foundation has owned the building for two years -- "I'm saying April 1st," he said.
"You mean April Fool's day," he was asked.
"Exactly," he replied. Then he grew serious. "It's about giving not taking," he said. "About honor and glorifying the Lord. This is not a job, this is my mission."
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