Fort Myers community leader provides safe space, role model for kids

Reporter: Breana Ross Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
(Right) Matt Richard, the founder and executive director of Crossover Community Outreach in Fort Myers, instructs his program youths at Crossover headquarters. Credit: WINK News.

A community leader in Fort Myers made it his mission to provide a safe space for the youths around him. He began a program years ago to help raise the next generation of leaders, with a focus of his program to give children a much-needed role model.

But he almost ended his mission when he lost one of his program’s teens in the Club Blu shooting of 2016.

We learned why he kept it going and how he continues forward.

Founder Matt Richard told us the Club Blu shooting showed him why programs like Crossover Community Outreach in Fort Myers are necessary. He says that was the moment he expanded the program from focusing on sports to including leadership, development and teaching kids how to positively impact their community.

Richard knows what it’s like to need a safe place, to need someone to look up to.

“Growing up in a single-parent household in Los Angeles, California, I just dealt with a lot of problems that a young teen would deal with without a father at home,” said Richard, who is also the executive director of the youth program. “Really just running in the streets, not having mentorship, not having role models to kind of lead me on the right path.”

In adulthood, Richard has become the role model he wishes he had, and he created a safe place for dozens of kids in Southwest Florida. He uses Crossover to teach teens about financial literacy, leadership skills, faith in God, sports and athletics, and takes them on trips to see life beyond Southwest Florida.

“A lot of these kids are just walking by themselves,” Richard said. “Crossover is my way of giving back and actually building the things that I think I would’ve been able to use and would have been beneficial to my life.”

We spoke to Canavis Pray, who explained how Crossover impacted him for the better.

“Me growing up, my life, it was stumbling,” Pray said. “I needed direction in my life, correction in certain things and certain parts of my life, and me coming here almost every day of the week, it really shaped me into a godly man.”

The program that exists in the present and the impact Richard makes almost stopped in 2016. Richard mentored 14-year-old Sean Archilles, who was shot and killed at Club Blu in 2016. He was a part of the Crossover program.

When Archilles was killed, Richard did not think he could go on.

“I just didn’t want to have to go through losing young men at that young age for just senseless crime, but in that moment as I was really just weeping and crying out, God spoke to me and said this is the reason why I have you here is it’s to be a leader in these times, where you can lead these young men to walk through their hurts but also to choose a different life,” Richard said.

So Richard kept going. He kept providing the safe place he wishes he had. High schoolers such as Pray and Malik Bonilla are sure glad he did.

“There are a lot of things that I was going through as a young kid and also for the other leaders here,” Bonilla said. “It really helped guide me through those things.”

“He is more than just a coach or a mentor,” Pray said of Richard. “He looks like a father figure … I grew up in a single-parent household as well, but you know, it’s just I’m tearing up because you know it’s amazing to have him.”

Crossover serves about 50 kids a week, and more than 160 middle schoolers and high schoolers have visited since March. They meet weekly on Thursday nights.

Matt Richard told us he wants to expand and hire more staff, so they can serve more kids in the community.

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