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Sarasota Thursday, May 28, 2009 11 years ago

Pastor turns tragedy into hope

by: Robin Roy City Editor

A full-time Sarasota pastor and part-time Riverview High School athletics coach has purchased a former adult nightclub and sports bar and plans to turn it into a youth center.

“There were things in this building that were a bad influence,” said the Rev. Joseph Davis. “And now it will be a good influence.”

Davis bought the black-and-white striped building at 6240 South Tamiami Trail, which was most recently Ref’s Sportsgrille and was previously a nightclub called J.B.’s, to turn it into a center to provide a place for at-risk students to hang out. It will be named Nightlife.

But Davis’ mission was born out of tragedy.

Davis had been a pastor at the Covenant Life Presbyterian Church, in Sarasota, for six years, when he was offered a job outside Queens, N.Y. He moved his wife and their two teenagers there in 2005. On Sept. 25, 2007, Davis’ 18-year-old daughter, Sarah, was killed in a car crash just a block from their home.

“I remember walking past the roped-off area and just dropping to the sidewalk,” he said.

His daughter was rushed to the hospital, but doctors told the Davises that Sarah was not going to survive.

“What that does is make you re-evaluate life,” Davis said. “You can become bitter and angry, or you can become more effective.”

He decided to leave the highest paying job he’d ever had to come back to Sarasota.

“(It’s) a town I loved and my daughter loved,” he said.

Davis had no promise of a salary, but he started to help mentor high school and college students.

Purchasing the former sports bar is part of his plan. He hopes to partner with schools, churches and other groups to make Nightlife a center that will keep at-risk kids out of trouble, with volunteer therapists on staff.

He also plans to re-open the restaurant inside the 4,751-square-foot building and have the students operate it to provide them job skills for the future.

“We want this to be a resource for kids and parents,” Davis said. “We want the building to be full all the time.”

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