DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Forough Hosseini tugs on the locked door at the former Walter A. Hurst School just north of the Daytona Beach city limits in adjacent Holly Hill in an impoverished neighborhood that served as its elementary school for many years before its closing nearly a decade ago.
Hosseini knows all too well the strengths and weaknesses of Daytona, the Central Florida tourism hub on the east end of interstates 4 and 95, that is home to the World's Most Famous Beach®, where speed was born.
And some 75 miles west on I-4 on the other side of Orlando is the ultimate global family destination -- Walt Disney World -- home of Mickey Mouse.
But Daytona has yet another major tourist attraction: Indeed, while the hard sands of the curling surf still provide 17 of the 50-plus scenic miles of beach driving, speed long ago found a new racing mecca -- Daytona International Speedway, home of NASCAR and stock car's All-American Race, the Daytona 500.
And perhaps rivaled on a global scale only by that of the Memorial Day Sunday running of the open-wheel racing of the Indianapolis 500.
Photo for Headline Surfer® /
Forough Hosseini is quite familiar with NASCAR, as her husband, Mori Hosseini, serves on the board of trustees for International Speedway Corp., which is the parent company of Daytona International Speedway and a dozen other major tracks throughout the US.
And if there is one entity the Hosseinis are intimately tied into, it's the high-end residential housing market, and with their company in particular, ICI Homes on Beville Road, custom-home building is their specialty.
Mori Hosseini, president of ICI Homes, is among the wealthiest of greater Daytona's business entrepreneurs, who also devotes time to his higher education responsibilities, in addition to getting involved in financing political campaigns at all levels of government over the last few decades, including that of George W. Bush. Hosseini, Iranian-born and educated in London before coming here and gaining US citizenship, is nearly matched by that of his business-savvy wife, also from their homeland.
After all, Forough Hosseini, long since an American citizen and mother of their three grown daughters, is vice president of ICI Homes and chairwoman of the Daytona State College Board of Trustees.
And Hosseini lends her name and checkbook to countless charities and community good works. Among these good works is a program, "Food Brings Hope," which mostly provides food subsidies for "unaccompanied youth" or those teens 18 and older, still enrolled in school, but living on their own -- and mostly homeless.
That charitable effort alone would be considered herculean, but Forough Hosseini wanted more for homeless families and teens who don't have parents or a home. Then it dawned on Hosseini. Why not a facility that was under-utilized like Hurst Elementary?
And Forough Hosseini lends her name and checkbook to countless charities and community good works. Among these good works is a program, 'Food Brings Hope,' as shown here, which mostly provides food subsidies for "unaccompanied youth" or those teens 18 and older, still enrolled in school, but living on their own -- and mostly homeless. That charitable effort alone would be considered herculean, but Forough Hosseini wanted more for homeless families and teens of age, still enrolled in school, who don't have parents or a place even to call home. Then it dawned on Hosseini: Why not a facility that was under-utilized like Hurst Elementary? Thus Hope Place was born.
The credit to convert Hurst Elementary to a temporary residence for homeless families belongs to Troy Ray, the former executive director of Halifax Urban Ministries. Ray was not able to make an appointment with the former Volusia County Schools Superintendent Margaret Smith, for one reason or another over time.
Forough Hosseini’s role, as an advocate for homeless children, was to make it possible for Ray to pitch the idea to Smith. In 2012, it finally happened when she and Troy met with Dr. Smith.
At the time, the superintendent explained that Hurst Elementary was being used for training and meetings and she wouldn't be able to sell it.
Forough Hosseini doesn't give up: Jim Dinneen & Mark Geallis enter picture
In 2014, Hosseini and the school superintendent met again to further discuss the idea of converting the Hurst School into a temporary facility.
In these past couple of years, Hosseini spent countless hours and personal capital to bring the right people together to make it a reality.
She set up multiple meetings between County Manager Jim Dinneen and Superintendent Smith, together with their staffs, to hammer out the issues. Others were invited to lend their expertise and ideas as it became necessary.
Dinneen from the onset was clear that the County Commission might consider helping with capital costs of renovating Hurst but would not commit to annual operating costs.
The County was considering spending more than $3 million for renovations and paying the school district $200,000 for the Hurst School property itself.
The school district was willing to find alternate locations for their meetings and training to provide this opportunity of a better location for the homeless children and their families. HUM stepped up through its new executive director, Mark Geallis, to accept responsibility to run the facility, which he did readily.
Project Hope was well under way to reality with a series of government votes.
Here is a timeline on action taken by stakeholders for "Hope Place, a shelter for homeless families with children and for teens, age 18 and older still in school, but with neither parents nor a place to call home, also known as unaccompanied youth:
• March 3: County Council
The Volusia County Council votes unanimously to fund Hope Plac for homeless families with children (108 bunks) and for approximately 28-32 unaccompanied youth (teens 18 18 & older without parents) but still attending school.
• March 15: School Board
The Volusia County School Board votes unanimously (6-0 with Linda Costello absent) to sell the former Hurst Elementary School complex to Halifax Urban Ministries for $200,000, with funding from the county council.
Posted Wed, 2016-03-09 10:33