At the corner of Beaver and Broad streets, another vacant historic Downtown building will soon re-open its doors thanks to the continuing legacy of one of Downtown’s leading ladies.
Eartha White’s Clara White Mission, a social services agency founded more than a century ago named after Eartha’s mother, is transforming a vacant former hotel into the Beaver Street Veterans Villas. The $3.4 million project, expected to open this summer as a housing and social services site for impoverished veterans, is the latest effort to expand Eartha’s philanthropic impact on Downtown.
After the Mission worked to secure funding for more than fours years, construction finally began on the Villas in October, with completion expected in June. The ground floor of the Villas will be leased by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which plans to operate an outreach center providing various veteran support services, from substance-abuse and mental-health counseling to housing and job placement. Upstairs, 16 housing units will be able to accommodate up to 30 veterans.
“Timing is everything and I feel that now is the perfect time to celebrate the men and women who have fought for our country as well as providing services that are really needed and to do it in an historical area of this community,” said the Mission’s president and CEO, Ju’Coby Pittman, in a recent Florida Times-Union story.
Jacksonville-born Eartha started the Mission in 1904 to continue and build upon the work of her mother Clara, a former slave who fed hungry neighbors from her two-room house on Clay Street. Eventually outgrowing its original residential location, the Clara White Mission now operates from the former Globe Theatre Building on at 613 W. Ashely Street, as it has since the 1930s.
Over the years, the Mission continued its food program but also saw many projects come and go with the times. For example, according to its website, the Mission acted as headquarters for Works Progress Administration arts and sewing projects during the Depression, and the mission’s upper floors housed soldiers in need of a place to stay during World War II.
Other mission initiatives over the years included providing housing and rehabilitation services to the homeless and former prisoners. The Mission also offered a variety of classes, including but not limited to canning, cooking and typing.
Today, the Mission assists hundreds of poverty-stricken individuals daily through its feeding, educational and housing programs. Current diploma-earning programs through the Mission include training in culinary arts and janitorial services. Every Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., students of the culinary program prepare and serve lunch at St. Johns Cathedral, an initiative known as “Clara’s at The Cathedral.” Open to the public, a $10 donation will give you access to an all-you-can-eat buffet.
DVI is thankful for the impact of Eartha White and her brainchild, the Mission. Named a “Great Floridian” by the State of Florida, Eartha and the efforts of her Mission have improved the quality of life of thousands over the years Downtown, not to mention inspired goodwill and encouraged historic preservation.