The temperature was barely above freezing Saturday morning, but that didn’t stop 20 or so people from showing up at an abandoned building on Beach Boulevard.


The volunteers showed up to help renovate a building for AMIkids, a school for troubled youth that is planning to renovate the structure and turn it into its main Jacksonville school. The renovation is being done by Builders Care, the charitable arm of the Northeast Florida Builders Association, with many of the services and supplies donated.

The building, located at 13375 Beach Blvd., was previously the main campus for AMIkids.

When the property was to be sold in 2007, the program relocated to rented space at St. Andrew’s Church on Lone Star Road. But the sale fell through and the rented space proved too small to meet the program’s needs.

So the AMIkids board decided to renovate its old campus into its new campus. But when they returned to look at the abandoned building, they didn’t like what they saw.

“It has been completely decimated since we moved out,” said Pamela Dulin, project manager for AMIkids. “It really depressed me when I first saw it.”

But efforts to get the building back will be concluding soon. It should reopen by the end of February. The cost is around $900,000, but it will likely cost less because people are donating their time and supplies, Dulin said.

One of those volunteers Saturday was Nathan Diehl. He was one of several Jacksonville University students who showed up to help out.

They are part of a service fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, that was just formed at the school, and part of what they do is volunteer for projects like this, Diehl said.

“I’ve always been pretty active in community service,” Diehl said. “So this was something that made sense to do.”

Matt Wilford, executive director of Builders Care, said the goal for Saturday was to clean the area up and paint it. So volunteers can hit the ground running and get to work without any detailed instructions.

About 150-200 youths a year, ages 14 to 18, are referred to AMIkids through the juvenile justice system and the Duval County school district. They arrive with a wide range of challenges, including violence, family dysfunction and drug and alcohol use.

“A lot of these kids don’t have homes and live on the street,” Dulin said. “It’s just an awful situation.”

When the new building opens they can deal with 65-70 teenagers at a time, more than they could take on in the Arlington location. Most students stay for four to six months.

The next step is prison for a lot of them unless someone steps in and helps, and they have about a 75 percent success rate, Dulin said.

They receive education and counseling services. The state and federally funded program’s success stems from behavior modification, based not on punishment but on rewards. Youths who make academic and behavioral progress go on scuba diving expeditions or other field trips and earn points to make purchases at an onsite store.


Larry Hannan: (904) 359-4470