Written by Rebecca Knowles and Alice Koehler
Photography by Dan Austin

LVIM and Academy Prep’s strategic development plan that created space for them to grow and serve the community better.

“In ways both subtle and seismic, from rural towns to inner cities, community is essential in ways that transform a mere collection of individuals into agency through shared purpose.”

Throughout our lives, we have learned that community is vital to the foundation of everyday existence. In ways both subtle and seismic, from rural towns to inner cities, community is essential in ways that transform a mere collection of individuals into agency through shared purpose. Anchoring the very idea of community, at its heart, is the simple power of giving. Whether providing meals to the elderly, fostering homeless animals, organizing activities for at-risk or marginalized youth, or healing the sick, it is the unpaid, unsung volunteers and donors that help weave together the fabric of society and open doors not only for the recipient but also the giver. Giving through service can inspire great positive change and healing in a world that profoundly needs it. There is a reason that spiritual and religious leaders champion the transformative power of giving; because it builds better and stronger communities predicated upon grace, commonality, and the bonds of mutual responsibility.

This is a story of shared philanthropy, of how Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine grew from being housed in a historic 1920s school building to a state-of-the-art medical facility on Lake Wire, and how Lakeland became home to Academy Prep Center’s third campus.  

The story began in late 2017 when a group of local philanthropists heard about the impressive work being done at the Academy Prep Center of  Tampa. Moved by the school’s unique educational model and impressive outcomes, they knew Lakeland needed an Academy Prep for our children. The group of supporters got to work on their vision immediately, seeking a location for the new school. They toured several possible sites, but nothing completely met their needs. At the same time, Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine was operating out of the former John Cox School, where it had been located since 2001. While the building had undergone a number of renovations over the years, it was still not the ideal space for a state-of-the-art medical clinic. The magic happened when the Academy Prep team approached LVIM’s team with an idea that would prove to be a fantastic win-win opportunity for everyone involved: Academy Prep would buy the John Cox property from LVIM, and LVIM would use the money from the sale to acquire property and build a new building that would fully meet their needs and allow them to grow and serve more patients.  

Student counseling and guidance services are available to all Academy Prep students, families, and caregivers.

After both organizations engaged in fundraising efforts, permitting activities, public relations efforts, and worked with local government entities to resolve a 2001 inter-local agreement in mid-2019 (LVIM in April and Academy Prep in August), both organizations opened their doors and were serving their clients, all for the betterment of our shared community.

In order to move from vision to fruition, however, LVIM had to seek approval to amend the interlocal agreement between the City of Lakeland and the Polk County School Board, which was put in place in 2001 when LVIM opened in the John Cox building. The agreement would give the City and the School District a financial stake in LVIM’s property if it would no longer be used as a health clinic before 2030. Both entities approved the amendment, which transferred the contract to LVIM’s new property on Lake Wire, and allowed LVIM to sell the John Cox property to Academy Prep.  

Rodda Construction led the charge on both projects, which allowed for smooth transitions for both entities. LVIM continued operating from the John Cox building while their new building was constructed on Lake Wire, with no interruption in service to their patients. When construction was complete, in April 2019, LVIM moved into their new building and began serving patients immediately. Academy Prep’s team then sprung into action, renovating the historic building back into a school and turning a parking lot into an astroturf field and new building, housing a gymnasium, kitchen, eating area, and apartments for AmeriCorps staff.  

One key feature of an Academy Prep education is the academic summer session, which takes place in June. Since the building was still being renovated in the summer of 2019, Academy Prep partnered with the nearby Dream Center to hold their inaugural summer session there. By August, the start of the official school year, Academy Prep’s new building was ready for students. 


Through its unique and immersive academic approach, Academy Prep creates learners, leaders,, and legacies in St. Petersburg, Tampa, and Lakeland. Academy Prep believes that hard work, personal responsibility, and education are the keys to breaking the cycle of marginalization. This belief has become a proven reality for students who complete the program.

Serving students who show academic ability, demonstrate good citizenship and a commitment to excellence, and who qualify for need-based scholarships, Academy Prep is a non-profit, tuition-free private school serving students in fifth through eighth grade.  

At the core of Academy Prep’s promise is its intense and rigorous academic program. Daily, students engage in a college prep English, math, science, and history curriculum, coupled with required classes in chess, music, physical education, and visual arts. To be successful, however, students must also be involved in a wide range of other activities that focus on building personal skills and talents. Through Academy Prep’s Enrichment Program, students gain the self-confidence, self-reliance, and personal identity that, coupled with their academic skills, propels them into their futures with confidence.

A key component of the Academy Prep program is the ongoing support students receive after they complete eighth grade. With support from Academy Prep’s Graduate Support team, students apply for acceptance to continue their education at competitive college-prep high schools and subsequently go on to receive a college education as well, often with full scholarships. While at its core Academy Prep is a middle school, it also boasts a 99% high school graduation rate, with 87% of those students going on to enroll in college and an additional 7% joining the military.  

By creating learners, leaders, and legacies, Academy Prep is changing lives and communities.

A day In the life of an Academy Prep Student

Gates open, breakfast offered

Morning convocation begins with a smile and a handshake from all students

Classes Begin

Students take a break at lunch and recess, lunch is served to all students

Daily study hall for all students, staffed by faculty focused on ensuring equal opportunity for student success 

Classes continue

Snack is served to all students

Students participate in the enrichment program, broading horizons and exploring new challenges 

Dissmissal  (Monday-thursday, no study hall on Friday meaning dismissal is at 4:30PM)

Academy Prep

Mission: To inspire and empower students qualifying for need-based scholarships to become future community leaders through a rigorous middle school program coupled with ongoing graduate support.  

For information about becoming a student at Academy Prep, please visit:  


Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine embraces the call of giving through service and the wisdom of the age-old adage – they who have health have hope, and they who have hope have everything. For, what gift could be more salient, enduring, and impactful than that of good health? Futures, lives, and aspirations are built upon it.

LVIM’s 21-year history is a vibrant expression of shared giving, a testament to what a community of like-minded, passionate individuals can successfully achieve in addressing their neighbors’ greatest needs. From its beginnings as a project of the Watson Clinic Foundation birthed by Dr. Glen Barden, Dr. Angelo Spoto, and many of their colleagues of the time, LVIM is now an independent non-profit entity that has helped more than 33,000 uninsured Polk County residents find their way to health and stability. Yet, even with this successful history, there remain more than 83,000 people in Polk County without healthcare (lvim.net/our-work/).  

LVIM’s model hinges on volunteer service to provide high-quality, compassionate medical, dental and mental healthcare to Polk County residents who work but cannot afford the high cost of basic healthcare. LVIM patients often have to choose between food on the table or gas in the car, forcing healthcare to become a luxury item. LVIM serves working families, who rise each day faced with such unenviable choices, even as they strive to create a better future for themselves, their families, and their children. 

Each year, nearly 300 volunteers work in LVM’s every nook to ensure that patients have high-quality, compassionate healthcare at no cost to them. Yes, LVIM volunteers are doctors, nurses, and dentists, but they are also everyday individuals passionate about serving. LVIM volunteers are schedulers, receptionists, and greeters. They are eligibility screeners, data clerks, lab techs, pharmacy assistants, and more. Volunteers make up 96% of LVIM’s workforce; volunteers are LVIM’s heartbeat.

Throughout the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has birthed, LVIM’s doors never closed. As an embodiment of the determination and steadfastness of the community it serves, LVIM remained open to its family of patients, volunteers, and staff. By focusing on caring for existing patients and keeping staff and volunteers safe, LVIM remained centered on surviving and thriving during the crisis of the last two years. Even as healthcare challenges in a pandemic continue, LVIM is steady and poised for growth. Because giving is LVIM’s driving principle, calling, and hallmark of success, giving has kept LVIM strong. Today, LVIM remains open to new patients with no waiting list for primary care services.  

As members of this city, we prove through our industry, passion, and shared purpose, that in giving to others, we build a richer and more robust community for all.

Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine has served over 30,806 patients.

Lakeland is a loving, giving community. As members of this city, we prove through our industry, passion, and shared purpose, that in giving to others, we build a richer and more robust community for all. LVIM may be a specific vehicle serving the working uninsured, but all Lakelanders have a stake in the success and health of those it serves. Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine speaks to the better angels in all of us.


LVIM provides high-quality, compassionate, FREE medical, dental and mental healthcare to the working uninsured of Polk County, FL.

For information about becoming a patient at LVIM, please visit: