Millie Forehand has always wanted to make a difference. Sometimes people liked it and sometimes they didn't but that never stopped her from trying. In 1995, she was unhappy with the way things were going in her neighborhood in the city of Quincy and she set out to make a difference by running for office. In 1997, she was elected mayor and served 1 year. The following year she was defeated.
Twenty-eight years ago she looked around Gadsden County and noticed a need for economic stimulus and housing. Since then she has been executive director of the Community Economic Development Organization. Under her leadership the organization has built and managed the 50-unit Vanguard Village Apartments in Gretna, 56-unit Omega Villas Apartments and the 80-unit Triple Oaks Apartments on Strong Road in Quincy.
Also under the CEDO umbrella is Gadsden County's only charter school, Crossroad Academy. Nurturing Crossroad Academy has consumed most of her time since she left the public eye.
"The night I lost the election was the same night the school board approved Crossroad Academy as a charter school. So it wasn't as if I didn't have any thing to do. I had a lot to do," she said.
Crossroad Academy started out with a contract from the school board as an alternative program aimed at drop-out prevention. It was an alternative program for middle school students. Forehand soon realized she wasn't satisfied with the role of the school or the outcome.
"The state of Florida was just beginning to embrace the charter school concept. The first year, 10 charter schools is the state were authorized and Crossroad Academy was one of them," she said.
The school was housed in the community rooms at Triple Oaks Apartments, which is owned by CEDO. The school opened its doors to 30 students. The next year, 45 students enrolled and by the beginning of the third year, when the school added fourth through eighth grades and became a business charter school, 200 students were enrolled. The school opened with 285 students this year. Forehand said there were 206 returning students and over 100 applications. To be fair, school officials selected students by lottery.
For the past 5 years Crossroad Academy has received an "A" or "B" letter grade for school performance. For the past 2 years the school has been an "A" school. Forehand convinced her board of directors that business should be the focus of the school. She chose business because she wanted to make a difference.
"When I went to Florida A&M (University), I wanted to major in business. I didn't know a debit from a credit and all these people around me were talking in business terms which I knew nothing about," she said.
The charter school was the opportunity she needed to make a difference in the lives of children who had little or no exposure to business. The school, she said, gives students a background in banking and entrepreneurship at an early age. Each year the students hold an event showcasing their business skills.
"One of the reasons I pushed for an emphasis on business is because my background is in business and because business is what makes the world go around," she said.
For the past year Forehand can be found at the new site of Crossroad Academy on Strong Road, at the intersection of Frances Kelly Lane. The multi-million dollar school will open Sept. 5. She has seen her vision grow from an idea to a new school that she hopes will change the lives of the county's young people.
If you ask her what she does in her spare time, she'll ask you, 'What spare time?' At age 62, the mother of three adult sons and seven grandchildren, Forehand said she will retire from CEDO "sometime" and will travel.
But for now she is still trying to make a difference, now that her "baby," Crossroad Academy, is almost grown.
Editorial Note: This is the third in a series of articles on Gadsden County citizens who were once prominent in the public eye.