We were founded by activists, academics and community members.
What became the Florida Institute for Community Studies, Inc., or FICS, came out of a great deal of dialogue between activists from all over the state, community members and academics at University of South Florida, University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of Miami. We wrote a Concept Paper in 2001 outlining the need for a new model for communities to create and guide strengths based research to help them improve. We received our 501-c-3 status, or non-profit standing, from the IRS in February, 2002.

Our use of community-based participatory research is integral to our mission of partnering with communities. Based on our research, community advisory boards write Strategic Plans that build on the identified strengths to reduce the identified risks through consensus. We feel that we meet our mission and have far exceeded our expectations at the local level in which we work. Success stories abound and we have collected about 300 hand-written letters, in multiple languages, from adults and another 200 or so from youth, testimonials to the changes they have made and the catalytic role that their involvement has made in their lives.

The Early Days: Ybor City
FICS’ first office was in the home of one of the founders, Dr. Alayne Unterberger. We opened our office on December 6, 2002 at the Cigar Factory in Ybor City and we operated out of that space for three years, when we moved and consolidated operations at the FICS Multicultural Family Center at 6704 Hanley Road, Tampa FL 33634. Since we obtained our 501-c-3 in 2002, FICS is proud of our many successes: 1) obtaining over $1.6 million in grants and donations; 2) obtaining two SAMHSA awards over six years; 3) leveraging resources to build out a dollar store in a local plaza to become a Multicultural Family Center, complete with computer lab, five offices, locked filing room, conference area and small kitchenette; 4) creation of Project Prevention, which involved 754 youth and 500 adults in research and over 500 in HIV/substance abuse prevention; 5) holding two Youth Summits and an Adult Encuentro Latino; 6) continuing our focus on rural and farmworker populations with eight years of Exemplary Father of the Year programming, six years of Mother’s Day Programming, and eight years of Three Kings’ Day Programming with hundreds in attendance at each event. Specifically in TNC, we are proud that: 1) sign-in sheets at the Multicultural Family Center document over 5608 unduplicated clients in less than a year; 2) 359 free HIV tests with our MOU with the FL Department of Health; 3) various community-building events, organized by community and youth boards that have drawn over 1000 people (three Community-Youth Violence Roundtables, two Annual Multicultural Festivals, National HIV Testing Day, National Latino Testing Day, Latin Food Festival and many Hispanic Heritage events).

FICS 2005 to Present
Since 2005, FICS continues to change and grow with the communities in which we work. Although we are now based at the FICS Multicultural Family Center in Tampa, we continue our statewide focus. Some of the highlights since 2005 include:

January 2005
  • FICS establishes Multicultural Family Center
October 2005
  • FICS organizes very successful One Goal, Many Voices Symposium @ Disney
February – May 2006
  • FICS organizes and conducts three successful community forums lead by youth on gang violence after two young men lose their lives to “gang warfare” in TNC
May 2006
  • Memorandum of Understanding with Hills. County Children’s Services – Begin our bilingual family counseling program with Hillsborough County
  • First year of Safe Summer in TNC
September 2006
  • FICS Expands the Multicultural Family Center for two new classrooms and begins as a Prodigy site
  • Prodigy begins with 200 youth in one year as a goal – almost 250 served
February 2007
  • Contract with Children’s Services and Family counseling added
March 2007
  • Project Prevention wins award from Patel Foundation: Local Hero, Disease Prevention
September 2007
  • Project Prevention’s 2nd Youth Summit rocks Town n Country
October 2008
  • Nadia Palomino awarded Local Hero Award, Bay News 9 for her work with Project Prevention
February 2009
  • FICS successfully finishes Project Prevention with less than 10% drop out rate and 678 graduates with statistically significant results, including 55 less teen pregnancies in 4 years
May 2009
  • With the support of USF and University Area Community Development Center, FICS expands Prodigy art classes to Wimauma, to serve migrant youth and families at the Catholic Church, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
June 2009
  • FICS overachieves our Prodigy goal of 500 by 10% in one year!
Look at these results: 
We are proud of our uniqueness: FICS is not a social service agency, although we provide services, training and education. We focus on the dynamics between research, service and education while keeping the community at the center of everything we do. We value and utilize research and evaluation on a continual basis and we share these findings at community advisory boards and with other organizations, such as county government, to help fill gaps or improve programs. Every program we offer has been identified as needed to fill gaps or has been created specifically with the community that will benefit from it. Our value lies in our approach, which requires that community members participate in structural changes that improve their own, their family’s and their community’s quality of life. We apply our approach to many different topics and have ongoing programs in health, education, ESL/GED and literacy, job training through health careers and afterschool programming and cultural arts classes that focus on difficult topics including intergroup relations, discrimination, human rights and equity.

We focus on helping communities help themselves in the ways that participants know that the project will work so we actively partner to bring needed resources rather than create them if they already exist. A good example is our partnership with Hillsborough County Schools that brings a certified teacher to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) classes on-site daily at the FICS Multicultural Family Center. Most importantly, however, is the sense of ownership our community members have with their own success. We hope to replicate the success of our approach in other communities specifically the Multicultural Family Center, which has a computer lab, five offices, locked filing room, conference area and small kitchenette as it was envisioned in our Strategic Planning between 2002-2004 to provide a “place for everyone in Town n Country.”