2019 Summer Block Champion – Reverend John H. Powell

About Reverend John H. Powell and his role in the Truth for Youth organization

For more than 25 years Reverend John H. Powell has volunteered every minute of his spare time to the support and education of underserved youth through his unpaid role as Executive Director for Truth for Youth, a 501c3 organization.   Mr. Powell started Truth for Youth in 1993 to address the needs of children and families in Pensacola, Florida.  Under John’s leadership, Truth for Youth has expanded service to several surrounding counties, and continues to evolve as the community needs change.  To date the program has impacted more than 80,000 youth and their families.    

In her nomination of John H. Powell for Block Champion, community volunteer Dorothy “Dottie” Dubuisson tells us that John “is recognized for his novel approach to esteem building in youth and bringing healthy play to many who would not otherwise have safe play experiences. Whether confronting gang violence, creating neighborhood festivities or adding to community events, Mr. Powell exemplifies the best adult mentoring of children and leadership in community, expends his personal funds  in support of Truth for Youth and creates positive role model reward events for children of all ages without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, religion or ability.” “Everything that Truth for Youth does for children is free,” states Mr. Powell “because poverty doesn’t discriminate.” 

Rev. Powell is a former Marine, and is a partially disabled veteran.  In addition to his volunteer efforts, he works full time for the military as a sports coordinator. John’s wife Dorothy and three sons have assisted in his work from the beginning.

The decision making and funding process to purchase the Imagination Playground Big Blue Blocks

Truth for Youth is going into their second year of owning and operating the Big Blue Blocks.  Mr. Powell saw the Blocks in an advertisement – there was nothing like it in the Pensacola area.  John instinctively knew that the Big Blue Blocks would be a perfect match for his program and began seeking ways to pay for them.  As an all-volunteer organization, Truth For Youth has to find every dollar needed to make the programs operate. The local Sheriff’s office responded, and committed to helping Truth for youth obtain the Blue Blocks.  “Everyone at Imagination Playground was so nice when I was placing the order,” says John, “they worked with me to get as many pieces as possible. I didn’t have money for the extra storage, so we made our own carts to take the Blocks out to the community.”  

How Truth for Youth uses the Imagination Playground Blue Blocks in programs to support the mission

The Truth for Youth mission is to create and provide educational, recreational, cultural, and social programs for youth ages 6-16.  Our programs are designed to challenge at-risk youth to engage in wholesome activities by providing healthy and creative opportunities for education, social exchange, and personal development. Our activities promote and encourage academic excellence, moral and civic responsibility, self esteem, positive self image, confidence, pride, discipline, and respect for self and others.

Truth for Youth operates the Imagination Playground Big Blue Blocks at events all over the Pensacola area, and surrounding counties.  Whether participating in City or County summer programs, hosting activities in the children’s area for city-wide events, or as a component of the Truth for Youth sponsored activities, the Imagination Playground Blue Blocks have been an instant success.  They are so popular that each Block is numbered, and diligently tracked. Adults are invited to observe their children in play, and 20-22 children can play at one time. “The kids never want to leave.” Mr. Powell remarks, “because we only have one set of Blocks, we have to limit the number of children.  My dream is to see hundreds of children playing with the Blocks at one time.”  

Favorite benefit and biggest challenge with the Blue Blocks

Reverend Powell loves to see the imagination that is active during play with the Big Blue Blocks, “the Blocks encourage people to play like a child again.” Volunteer Dottie also sees the value of “everyone working together, collaboratively.  The experience bridges diversity.”  

Truth for Youth gets requests to bring the Blue Blocks to events all over the area. Mr. Powell wishes he could take them everywhere, but between cleaning, transporting, and operating the all-volunteer Block program “there’s not enough hours in the day!”  The organization is currently housed in an old historic bakery that suffered a roof collapse, making it so that much of the building is not usable for programming. Rallying the community for funding to support the repairs has been a slow process for the volunteer organization.  They would love to have a permanent space within building for the Blocks “so that kids would know that at any given time they could find them, ready and available,” and continue efforts to engage the community in supporting the building repairs to make this goal possible.

What others should know when considering the Blue Blocks

When asked what he would tell others considering purchasing the Blocks, Mr. Powell said “you will never, ever feel you made a bad decision.  It’s the most positive situation. Image breeds inspiration – when kids see something done by other children, they feel they can accomplish it.”  The Blocks help provide that image and inspiration opportunity for the children of the Truth for Youth programs.    

From taking on a failing building because the community didn’t want it to be lost, to helping thousands of children be inspired to imagine, Truth for Youth volunteer leader Reverend John H. Powell is a beacon of light in his community, and an inspiration to all.  He forged a path into and out of the projects, often going where no one else could or would go. And through his actions, Mr. Powell continues to share a message of hope with thousands of children and their families. His work reminds us of the power of what can be accomplished when you get help and give help.  Imagination Playground is proud to be part of bringing joy and learning into Reverend John H. Powell’s community, and looks forward to sharing his story and supporting his efforts.