SIFE helping residents like Lydia White work for a ‘better quality of life’
By Emily DeLoach
Lydia White has lived through the good times and bad times of West Augustine.
The predominantly black community has changed in many ways during White’s lifetime. Growing up the eldest of 10 children, White remembers a flourishing black community.
“All along West King Street there were thriving black businesses,” White said.
According to White, during the 1960s after Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched in St. Augustine, city officials decided to cut off King Street from I-95 and instead bypass West Augustine by creating State Road 16. She says this was meant to serve as a punishment to blacks that played a major roll in the nation’s civil rights movement. Their demonstrations and marches helped pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Corrine Brown, the Democratic Rep. for Florida’s 3rd district, came to West Augustine in 1999 and was appalled at the conditions. Most of the area had unpaved roads, cesspools in yards that were draining into the well water and piles of garbage in empty lots because the city stopped collecting trash in the area.
The St. Augustine Record quoted Brown saying, “I’ve never seen anything like it. No city water, no drainage, no sewers. It reminds me of Haiti and this is St. Johns County, one of the richest counties in Florida.”
West Augustine has slowly been changing for the better since Brown visited, but according to White there is a long way to go.
“It is very frustrating to see a vision and nobody is listening to you,” White said about her work in the community. “We pay taxes too and our money is not going to help our community but to wealthier communities.”
Every Saturday morning the White family can be found at the West Augustine Market, where local venders from West Augustine come and sell their homemade food, art and produce.
Flagler College’s Students in Free Enterprise created the market to help locals start their own businesses. According to SIFE, the organization was asked by state and federal legislators to find a way to bring economic opportunity to the West Augustine area.
“Our mission was to improve the finances of West Augustine’s 6,000 residents, who have an average annual income of $16,000 for a family of four,” SIFE said in a press release. “Since they didn’t have the skills to succeed in a traditional marketing arena, [we] created a community market tailored to their particular needs.”
White spends more than 20 hours a week in her kitchen baking cream cheese pound cakes and sweet potato pies.
“I hope the market blossoms into something really big and is a positive note for the community,” White said. “I want people in the community to come out and see what it is all about: a family oriented atmosphere.”
Lydia and her husband Greg are respected members of their community. They raised four children and are now great-grandparents. After retiring from Flagler Hospital for 22 years, Lydia decided to open a day care center called Keeping Our Kids Safe.
“At two in the morning, the Holy Spirit woke me up and told me there was a need in the community for a day care,” White said.
Since then she has worked hard to keep the center running even when she had to go back to school to get her high school diploma.
When the city threatened to close down her day care in 2005 she had to take classes at Florida Community College of Jacksonville to get her directors license.
Currently the day care takes care of 18 children and most of them come from single parent households.
After retiring from Florida Power and Light, Greg White serves as chairman for the west chapter of the Community Redevelopment Agency. The agency was started by the County Commission to make improvements within West Augustine. The redevelopment agency plans to diversify the area and bring in new businesses and low-income housing.
“My husband and I want to help people have a better quality of life,” Lydia said.