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Renaissance Village

March 16, 2007, Palm Beach Post, Shelter for young adults celebrates home that expands capacity to 29, By Kathleen Chapman.

WEST PALM BEACH — When the Rev. Leo Armbrust first planned to build a home for troubled teens, he envisioned a boarding school for 600 children west of Jupiter.

But environmentalists and some Jupiter Farms residents opposed the idea of a boarding school and adjoining golf course so close to the headwaters of the Loxahatchee River. So instead the former Miami Dolphins chaplain eventually built a smaller-scale program for young adults on a modest street in West Palm Beach.

Last year, the county agreed to pay $16.1 million - above the appraised value - to buy the land, as long as the money would go to Armbrust's program, Vita Nova of Renaissance Village.

At a dedication Thursday evening, Armbrust celebrated the renovation of a dilapidated apartment building near Clear Lake that will soon house up to 15 young adults who would otherwise be homeless. The new building, next door to the existing apartments and office, will increase capacity of the program from 14 to 29.

The program, which opened in 2005, gives young adults ages 18 to 22 a stable place to live while they work and go to school. Vita Nova helps teach the teens cooking, financial management and other life skills.

Many in the program were teens who were taken away from their parents after abuse or neglect, but never found an adoptive family. Some are referred by foster care organizations, but others come from homeless shelters and churches. One had lived 17 places in three years. Another, said Renaissance Village CEO Irvine Nugent, grew up in institutions and had never gone shopping for himself inside a Publix grocery store.

The program spent $1.35 million to buy and renovate the apartment building. When the organization first took over ownership, roaches fell from the doorway. Program director Jeff DeMario said the makeover was extreme: Contractors worked until the first guests arrived for Thursday's dedication.

Nugent said the organization will contribute about $12 million from the sale of the north county land near Jupiter to the Vita Nova endowment, which pays about $550,000 of the $1.3 million annual operating cost of the program. The rest of the money will be kept in reserve, Nugent said, for the possible purchase of another apartment building or a thrift store that would help provide work experience.

Armbrust said Vita Nova fits the spirit of the vision he had years ago:

"The goal was always to take in young people who had no place to go," he said.

Renaissance Village website.

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