History of the
Robeson County Church and Community Center
In the early 1960’s a Christian community leader brought together people from the historic tri-racial county into her Pembroke home to discuss the plight of the poor, division among peoples, and the responsibilities of a caring church fellowship. The Community Forum was organized out of this fellowship and began meeting at the First Baptist Church, Walnut Street, Lumberton. This group dealt with concerns and feelings related to integration and social change.
Representatives gathered from churches throughout the Pembroke area in 1963 and formed the Pembroke Community Welfare Fund to meet needs at Christmas and throughout the year. In the late 1960’s the Lumberton Ministerial Association helped to get the Lumberton Emergency Aid Fund organized to provide money to aid transients through the police department as well as money to meet others emergency needs of the Lumberton area. Red Springs organized an Emergency Aid program with a clothing room and a volunteer caseworker.
Churches in Red Springs provided leadership and many resources for this project. Maxton organized an Emergency Aid fund through church and Jaycee support. By the late 1960’s it was clear that there was a need to address cooperatively the concerns of the poor and the issues of social justice within Robeson county but no comprehensive vehicles existed to meet this need.
In 1967 the National Council of Churches expressed interest in bringing special social ministries to Robeson County. Bishop Paul Garber and District Superintendent Graham Eubank and other leaders of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church did not want the Methodists of Robeson County to enter into a special ministry with the Council of Churches, so they encouraged local Methodists to develop whatever ministries possible through leadership that was indigenous to the Methodist Church. Local Methodists suggested that this be done by developing a tri-racial dialogue and consultation group. This group would engage in dialogue to arrive at an understanding of conditions and then move Christians toward solutions. Bishop Garber and Superintendent Eubank approved the beginning of a Methodist dialogue program in 1968 for social consultation programs that did not get started.
A task force to establish a Church and Community Center was proposed to the North Carolina Conference Bishop’s fund for Reconciliation in the fall of 1968. District Superintendent Graham Eubank, Reverend Robert Mangum and Mrs. S. A. Dunn, President of United Methodist Women, N. C. Conference, established the task force that was made up of tri-racial Robeson leadership, composed of clergy and laity and of conference leadership, including Dr. Wilson Nesbitt who represented Duke Endowment. That task force worked for about one year in revising proposals. They submitted a proposal to the National Bishop’s Fund for Reconciliation on December 17, 1968. The task force was granted funding for a social ministry center in 1969.
ORGANIZATION OF THE CENTER
The Robeson County Church and Community Center began operation December 1, 1969, with $30,000 funding from the Bishop’s Fund for Reconciliation of the United Methodist Church. This was the first such project in North Carolina. The North Carolina Fund Reconciliation committed $14,000 to the Center over a three-year span. The Center located on the grounds of the Robeson County Correctional Unit near Lumberton, was staffed by the Reverend Robert Mangum, Director, Matilda L. Hocker, caseworker, and Nancy Ford, secretary/receptionist.
The original task force became the Board of Directors in October, 1969. Members were:
Dr. Adolph Dial, Chairman Bishop William R. Cannon
Rev. J. H. Bailey, Vice-Chair Dr. Graham S. Eubank, D. S.
Rev. James Cummings, Secretary Rev. L. C. Vereen
Mr. Howard Cooper, Treasurer Mrs. Harold L. Mann
Rev. R. L. Mangum, Director Dr. Wilson Nesbitt
Miss Juanita LaBadie Mr. Jimmy Smith
Mr. John Edward McGirt Mrs. James Hathoway
Rev. Oscar Graham Rev. S. F. Cummings
Mrs. Currency Locklear Rev. N. W. Grant
Mr. Frank Farmer Rev. Henry Bizzell
Mr. Larry Barnes Mr. Brent Locklear
THE PURPOSE OF THE CENTER
The Board of Directors identified the purpose of the Center as follows:
“To help the churches of Robeson County to become more involved in the ministry of the whole gospel to the whole person in the whole community with the whole church.” This meant the involvement of people across racial, class and denominational lines in the identification of social problems and in cooperative endeavors toward solutions.
A SEVEN-FOLD MINISTRY
The summer of 1970 was a busy one. The Center moved to a former warehouse at 705 South Willow Street, Lumberton, the programs swelled the staff from 3 to 13. A directory was printed to give information on the various social services offered by federal, state and local governments, church agencies and educational institutions in Robeson County. Because the Center was seeking to be a referral agency, a door-to-door canvas was conducted, using college students from several institutions as well as VAST (Volunteer Appalachian Services Team) workers to help determine the areas of need and how these needs could best be met. Two Duke professors worked as consultants to the study and canvas program. VAST workers conducted six Vacation Bible Schools in the County during the summer. The Center worked in cooperation with Pembroke State University in a pilot program of consultation with the prisoners in Robeson County Correctional Unit and their families.
The Center also participated in Robeson Technical Institute’s adult education program. A voter registration project, funded by the United Methodist Church Commission on Race and Religion, began in 1971 and continued until 1975. Eleven thousand African Americans and Native Americans registered during that time. This project gave opportunity for ethnic minority concerns for political self-determination, equal employment opportunities and other justice issues.
1971 saw a great round of activities for the Center. The Center began to be involved with the literacy problem in Robeson County. Twenty students received literacy training. Sewing clubs were organized for which four sewing machines had been donated.
Other programs of 1970 continued into 1971. These included; a door-to-door canvas, Vacation Bible Schools, casework in specified areas and working with other agencies in assisting families with limited income, poor housing, unemployment, and limited educational background. The first summer work team came to repair houses of the elderly and low-income families in 1971. This team came from a Presbyterian Church in Frankfort, Kentucky. In the fall of 1971 the Center took a giant step toward becoming ecumenical. Forty people attended a meeting at the Redwood Restaurant, Lumberton, represented ten denominations.
By July 1972, six denominations and twenty individual churches had affiliated with Robeson County Church and Community Center. Participating denominations were: The Lutheran Church of America (Synod of N. C.), the United Presbyterian Church, the Lumber River Baptist Association, the Burnt Swamp Baptist Association, the Lumbee Holiness Methodist Conference and the United Methodist Church.
In 1973 the Center helped to establish a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, rounded up support for a day care center, formed a task force that led to creation of a family counseling center.
In 1974 the Center began working with older adults in cooperation with the Lumber River Council of Governments; the Center became incorporated in 1975. The Center needed additional space and moved to the former N. C. Manpower building off I-95 service road. The Laubach method of teaching one-on-one reading to adults began in 1975.
In April 1976 the Robeson County Literacy Council was formed as a new program of the Center. Services for the elderly were expanded in 1976. Transportation was provided to doctor appointments, nutrition sites and other needed services for the elderly.
A health coordinator was employed in 1977 to work in a four county area providing health care services for the elderly through the nutrition sites. This program was funded by “A Call to Prayer” offering from the United Methodist Church. The Health Program reached approximately 520 senior citizens through nutrition sites, and approximately 52 persons received skilled nursing care and/or health care advocacy and casework.
In 1978 Betty Purkey became Executive Director of the Robeson County Church and Community Center. The Center was chosen in 1978 as one of the pilot programs for the state’s housing rehabilitation program. CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act) workers trained the unemployed to rehabilitate dilapidated homes for the elderly and low-income families. In 1979 a garden project was started. Garden spots were made ready for the elderly and low-income families to plant and harvest. In the same year the Center purchased the former nurses’ home at 210 East 15th Street, Lumberton, for office use.
The Rev. J. F. Cummings became Executive Director of the Center in 1980. A Careline ministry for senior citizens began in 1980 with daily phone contacts to 10 shut-ins. The ministry has grown to approximately 240 contacts. A senior citizens program, which provided part-time employment and training for citizens of 55, was enacted.
In 1981 a family ministries outreach program was developed. This program provided help for abandoned and abused children, and family planning for a foster parenthood program. The Center provided office space for Domestic Violence, Inc. and the Crisis Line program began. Several ongoing programs suffered drastic cutbacks in 1981 with the cutbacks in CETA funding.
In 1984 the Center assisted tornado victims in Red Springs and hurricane victims in Wilmington.
In 1985 Brenda Connelly became Executive Director and Rick Connelly became church and community worker, serving 50 percent of his time as Housing Director at the Center and 50 percent of his time with community development in a nearby South Carolina community.
The Center opened a Maxton Satellite Center in 1986. The following services were offered:
1. Receiving, sorting and selling good used clothing and household items.
2. Services by a caseworker from the Center one morning per week.
3. Tutoring in literacy one morning per week.
Shirley Jones served as coordinator of Maxton Satellite Center. Also in 1986 a Self Help Center in Clio, South Carolina, directed by Rick Connelly. The work camp ministry increased tremendously during 1986. This ministry engaged in housing repairs for the elderly and the handicapped. In 1987 the transportation program added two new vans, thus expanding this ministry. Also in this year Domestic Violence Inc. moved its office from the Center to a new location.
During the summers of 1987 and 1988 approximately 250 elementary age children attended the day camping experiences sponsored by the Center. The children found their days filled with crafts, Bible stories, learning songs, playing games and taking field trips. This program was made possible by the North Carolina United Methodist Women’s Love Offering.
In 1988 Rick Connelly assumed full time employment at the Center. Also in 1988 a new ministry, the Jubilee House Ministry, began. This program is patterned after Habitat for Humanity. A new house is built for a working low-income family and sold to that family at no profit and with no interest payments required. This program made home ownership possible for a family which otherwise would never be able to own a home.
1989 was highlighted by the burning of the mortgage note thereby indicating full payment of the Center’s building (210 East 15th Street, Lumberton) and the establishment of a satellite center at Red Springs. The Rape Crisis Center of Robeson County was given office space at the Center’s building.
In 1990 the Red Springs Town Council donated a house and lot to the Center to be used for the satellite center and as a nutrition site. The Center’s transportation program was expanded to include transportation for clients to mental health services. The Center’s Christmas store began with approximately 100 needy families able to choose their gifts rather than have a choice made for them by the Center staff.
In 1992 a “Get Off Your Can” food drive sponsored by WTSB radio station, Jimmy’s Seafood, and Lumberton Cablevision, was conducted, with the collected canned goods being donated to the Center. Also the Boy Scouts of Robeson County conducted a “Scouting for Food” drive. Both of these “drives” have continued.
1993, sixty-two burned-out families were assisted with food, household items, clothing and/or start-out rent and 30,500 meals were provided to hungry people through food bags. Eighty-seven adults are learning to read and sixty-five school children were given coats last winter. The Center repaired fifty-one homes for the elderly and low-income families. Four hundred twenty-seven people were provided Christmas gifts and dinner and one hundred fifteen were helped to buy medicine.
In 1994 the Center continued to reach out in areas of literacy, emergency assistance, home repairs, Jubilee House, transportation, Careline, clothing distribution, and the Christmas Store.
In 1996 the Center began a program of Senior Citizen Information referral and case assistance (SCAL). Through this ministry, the Center collaborated with Abbot Laboratories and began providing a nutritional supplement at enormously reduced costs or at no costs for our impoverished neighbors. Also in 1996, in response to the damage caused by Hurricane Fran, the Center provided what was the equivalent of 64,000 meals to over 2,000 families. Additionally, emergency home repair and debris removal services were provided.
In 1997 the Center began working in the public school system, matching volunteers with dozens of “at risk” second grade children in order to bring them to grade-level competency.
In 1998 one hundred forty-seven elderly and low-incomes families received home repairs, including roof repairs, building wheelchair ramps, and weatherization. The work was done by thirty-three work teams representing church groups, youth groups, and college students. One hundred volunteers were trained as literacy tutors and three new literacy training sites were opened. Four thousand seventeen persons were given emergency assistance, including food, shelter, clothing medicine and fuel. The Center completed its ninth Jubilee House and one hundred sixty-two families shopped at the Christmas Store where new gifts were offered and purchased for $1.00 per family. Each family also received food for a Christmas dinner.
Upon arrival in January 2002 Rev. Pat Lykins as Executive Director set out to bring the Center into the 21st century by seeing to much needed roof repair, updating and purchasing computers, and redecorating the interior both upstairs and down. She hired a Director of Finance to bring bookkeeping in house in 2003, enabling staff and board to keep a closer eye on finances.
The years 2003 through 2005 saw a yearly decrease in United Way and FEMA funds for Emergency Assistance while the county lost hundreds of textile jobs increasing the need for these funds. Due to these decreases, loss of a couple of other grants and general national economic downturns affecting individual and church giving, the focus turned to streamlining operations and long-term income stabilization.
Pat had a dream. In her dream the thrift store downstairs was turned into a Home Store
that would not only be self-sufficient but enable the Center to assist more people and use the profits for operations of other programs. With the board’s blessing a Home Store Committee was formed, consisting of Rev. Pat Lykins, Rev. Ann G. Benson, Bridgit Bass, John Frye, John Grantham and Neil Thompson. The committee set out to find a building and hire a manager, both of which it accomplished before July 2005.
The owners of Lumberton Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Inc. had built a new building on the I-95 service road and had their old location up for sale or lease. When approached, they generously agreed to a very reasonable long term lease for the Home Store in the old used truck building. Jim Nance was hired as Home Store Manager and the dream was becoming a reality. At the same time Pat was accepting a position with St. Francis United Methodist Church in Cary, NC.
Bridgit Bass became Interim Executive Director/Director of Finance in July, 2005 and with Jim Nance, mission work teams, Rev. Sam Loy of Grace United Methodist Church, Clinton, NC and numerous volunteers and in-kind donations the Home Store was remodeled and opened for business September 1, 2005. In the first ten months of operation the Home Store exceeded the past income of the thrift stores in Lumberton and Red Springs by several thousand dollars. At the Grand Opening and ribbon cutting in May, 2006, Pat Lykins was honored for her dream. She was pleased that the reality exceeded her vision.
In December, 2005, The Rev. Jane Esdale came to the Center as Executive Director with a long history of nonprofit experience. She brought with her many new ideas for income and a new dream for the Center and other nonprofits in the county. This new dream represents the Center’s continuing service for others and encouragement for the future.
One year later the owners of Lumberton Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Inc. donated the entire 600 West 5th street complex to the Center. Plans to renovate began immediately with Becky Thompson drawing up plans for utilizing the show room space for offices, lobby, library and conference room. Again, the Rev. Sam Loy was called to repair and replace wiring that had been vandalized and stolen while the building was vacant. Personnel from the Robeson County Juvenile Justice program along with inmates from the local minimum security prison began clean up and painting. Kelly Hunt; Housing Manager & Carpenter, began building walls with the help of mission work teams, local volunteers and staff. Meanwhile, a “for sale” sign was placed in the front yard of the 210 East 15th Street building.
Jane began searching for other local non-profits that needed space at a budget friendly rate. The Robeson County Volunteer Fireman’s Association leased the block building that formerly housed the body shop. Greater Works Inc. leased half of the service bays and the Robeson County Juvenile Justice program occupied the other half. The Rev. Bill Cummings leased the computer lab and a niche for his office for Robeson Community Ministries. Frank Horne Construction Co. leased the west fenced in area for construction equipment and material storage. Later the local chapter of the American Red Cross leased space in the Literacy hallway. Jane’s dream of Hope Plaza became a reality.
The building on 15th Street was sold September 2007 and the last week of November 2007 was moving week for the Center. Later when asked which moving company moved us to the new location Jane laughingly replied “Robeson County Church & Community Center!” The staff was amazed at the stuff that had accumulated over the years and exclamations like “I knew we had that but didn’t know where” and “I didn’t know we had that” and “Look at this stuff from the 70’s” were heard all week.
The Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting for the new home of Robeson County Church & Community Center took place on a very windy May 20, 2008.
Again, a national economic downturn brought more federal emergency assistance funds to the county as citizens living on the edge in Robeson County fell off the edge into crisis. Gas prices soared, jobs disappeared and the Center spent more in emergency assistance than ever; over $145,000 in the fiscal year 2008/2009. Local churches, individuals and governments stepped up and poured food into the Free Choice Food Pantry and money into the coffers so that we could continue to meet the growing needs of our neighbors. More tutors were trained and students learning than ever before and Home Store sales exceeded the $108,000 mark. Assistance through the Home Store tripled providing clothing, furniture, appliances and household items to those in need of a hand up.
*Celebrating Our Ministry 1969-1994: Robeson County Church and Community Center.
Ed Gibson H. Gray
Revised: 07/22/09 by Bridgit B. Bass
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