Taft Community Center
In the mid-50s a group of concerned Taft citizens realized that the community needed a place where residents could meet and hold functions. Led by Willard White, the group embarked on a mission to raise enough money to build a community center. Dances, fish fries, spaghetti dinners along with turkey shoots held in the Harrington pasture, were used to accomplish this goal. A little known fact is that the winners in the turkey shoot actually got to shoot at a real live turkey. Imagine the uproar that would cause today! A secret donor promised $1000 to match the first $1000 raised. The County Park Committee contributed $1000 to the cause. The James E Strates shows, always a friend to Taft, offered their facilities for entertainment.
The ambitious group was able to raise the needed funds and construction soon began on the Community center, or youth center as it was originally called. Local residents did much of he construction, donating both their labor and materials. The structure was finished a few years later; the building became the focal point for community activities. It would serve the community in a more serious way in 1960 serving as the local shelter for hurricane Donna. The building fell into disrepair in the mid-60s due to financial problems and the burden of upkeep for such a large structure. The Office of Community Affairs, which had a presence in the area, they maintained an office on the grounds of the Community Center, struck a deal with community leaders to take over the Center. Orange County, which owned the land where the building stood was to maintain the building, and the citizens would have access to it for community events. Originally designed as a recreation hall with one large ceiled room the center was eventfully was partitioned into small office spaces and served as home to the local Head Start program. The county used rolling partitions so they could be moved for large meetings and gatherings to meet the needs of the community.
In 1996 the county started the Orange County Targeted Initiative Program and was able to direct $633,000 for the refurbishment and remodeling of the building. The project took 3 years and was finished in February 2001. The task was completed in three phases: (1) paint and refurbish the old building, (2) major interior renovations of old building, (3) building of new extension. Under the management of the Office of Community Action and the with help of many partners the center is able to offer the citizens of the area a variety of programs. Partners include Adult Literacy, AARP, Senior’s First and The Center for Neighborhood Families. It also serves as the home for many of Taft’s historical artifacts. These include a vintage fire hydrant, a small “mini” road, as well as a monument, made from bricks from the Old Dixie Highway and the original siren from the volunteer fire station. It is also home for a beautiful rolling picture board of vintage Taft pictures and displayed memorabilia. It serves as the venue for the community’s annual “Homecoming”, Kid’s Christmas Party, T.A.F.T. meetings and other local gatherings. The visionaries who dreamed of a community-gathering place had no idea their dream would serve the community 46 years later.