Gifford Youth Achievement Center

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Gifford Youth Achievement Center


Areas of Expertise:

GYAC’s Accomplishments Include:

Targeted Population:


GYAC was a 24,000 square foot facility equipped with classrooms, computer labs, a library operated by the County, and an in-door gym but has recently been going through a 14,000 SF expansion. The new expansion will include eight multi-use classrooms including a computer lab, two administrative offices and an outdoor patio.


In 1969, Gifford had its own high school but desegregation decommissioned Gifford High School and bused everyone to Vero Beach. Although the original philosophy was meant to give equal quality education to the mostly African-American student body, it had an unexpected by-product—reduction of graduation rates for the GHS students from a 92 percentile down to 23 percent over the next few years.

Students, parents and the faculty began to lose the natural flow of communication and in addition to having to deal with new surroundings, teachers and classmates, the Gifford students also lost their sense of belonging.

Gifford High

In 1996, Dr. A Ronald Hudson, a long time educator with the Indian River School District, was astounded to find out that graduation rates had plummeted to just 23 percent among African-American students in Indian River County.

Dr. A Ronald Hudson

Dr. A Ronald Hudson

Mr. Richardson, was a well-known philanthropist who believed in the power of education; had started the Dollars for Scholars program; sat on the School Board, and worked to bring about the construction of the Indian River State College. He was a devout member of the Community Church where he met and joined forces with Dr. Bill Nigh (Community Church’s long-time pastor) and Dr. Hudson. Richardson had driven around the county with Dr. Nigh and when he came to Gifford, saw the disparity. When Dr. Hudson shared the graduation data, Richardson knew it was time to do something for the community. Richardson, Nigh and Hudson began talking to civic leaders, business owners, county administrators and churches to organize a fundraising campaign and to plan for the future site of GYAC.

  1. Danforth K. Richardson and The Rev. Dr. William Nigh
Danforth K. Richardson
Rev. Dr. William Nigh

“When Dr. Hudson asked what the community really needed, I said that was easy,” Freddie Woolfork, Director of Public Relations and Facilities Operations, remembered. “We needed a place to help our kids educationally and give them a place to socialize as well as for the parents to receive training.”

Dr. Hudson agreed whole-heartedly and after polling the rest of the group, they formulated a master plan with architect John Dean laying out a design for classrooms, office space and a state of the art gymnasium.

As to location, many people may not know that the land which currently holds GYAC, the Gifford Park, the Community Center and Gifford Aquatic pool was once owned by Indian River Shores. Its plan was to use the area as a water treatment plant for the Shores area. A Gifford resident, James Richardson, brought that knowledge to the Progressive Civic League who in turn brought its case for disallowing that proposed use to former County Commissioner Dick Bird. The League convinced the county that the land would be best used as a centralized park for Gifford and county residents. Commissioner Bird plead Gifford’s case before the Shores’ city council and sweetened the argument by offering to swap the Gifford land for a county owned parcel on the barrier island.

Gifford before GYAC

Gifford Park was the first step in development; with the Community Center being built next in 1988 through a joint effort by the PCL and State Representative Dale Padgett. GYAC was on the long-range plan with most thinking it would be feasible by 2025 but with Richardson’s major commitment, they opened their doors in 1998—27 years early.

In 2000, after four children drowned in one year, Joan Woodhouse and Nancy Johnson rallied to raise the funds to build the Gifford Aquatic Center which would provide a facility which could teach water safety and swimming skills.

There were many community partners including IRSC who got on board to help with its educational programs even before the 18,000-square foot building broke ground. Eventually it had to expand another 6,000 square feet which was done in conjunction with the pool’s construction. This was necessary to accommodate the vast number of children who wanted to attend but they even had to add five more modular units to satisfy its growth. Three years ago, the name was changed to Gifford Youth Achievement Center to highlight the main mission of increasing academic achievement to assist student graduation but the Center is still a hub of “activity.”

Gifford before GYAC

Not only is GYAC used for events, exercise classes, bible studies, and computer and educational training for seniors, it is also a home for those in need of services and information. The Center hosts Job Fairs, Health Clinics, training classes, and community gatherings. It has become a vital part of the Gifford community as well as an asset to Indian River County.