06/20/04 — Faith-based organization specializes in transforming lives

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Faith-based organization specializes in transforming lives

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 20, 2004 2:03 AM

It's no coincidence that the sign outside Cleo Trigones' apartment in Grace Village reads "Cleo's Castle." The 74-year-old woman says she now lives in a place much more spacious than she ever thought possible.

"All you young people," she says, "think of your golden years. I didn't, and I got myself in bankruptcy."

For eight years she lived in an efficiency apartment in Goldsboro, thankful to have a roof over her head, never thinking she'd be able to live elsewhere.

"My bathroom was so small that I had to take everything out of the bathroom to take a shower," she said. "And when I was finished, then I put everything back in."

But then she heard about the new apartments for senior citizens, called Grace Village, being built on North William Street by Rebuilding Broken Places.

Now, she says, she lives in a safe, spacious apartment, surrounded by a loving community.

Rebuilding Broken Places Community Development Corp. is a faith-based nonprofit organization with strong ties to Greenleaf Christian Church. It was incorporated in 1996 with the purpose of raising the social, economic and educational opportunities for people from low- to moderate-income communities.

The organization provides single-family housing, homebuyer education, computer training, low-income housing for seniors, community advocacy, credit counseling and restoration, pre-school and day care, an after-school program, job skills and leadership training, health awareness and substance abuse prevention.

Ms. Trigones isn't the only life touched by the ministries and programs of Rebuilding Broken Places.

Mary Hearne said she was reminded of an old television show when she moved into Grace Village.

"I truly felt like I was 'moving on up to the east side,'" she said.

Another resident, Nancy Best Holmes, enjoys the walking track at Grace Village, the elevators and the fact that it's so trouble free that the only reason to go to the office is to pay rent.

Linda Williams came to Rebuilding Broken Places to learn about computers; now she teaches computer classes to senior citizens.

Denise Lance is in the middle of qualifying for her first home, which will be at Faith Estates.

"I wasn't satisfied with the rental process," she said. "I'm so excited about how things are going."

Rebuilding Broken Places is able to assist first-time homebuyers, through grants, with down payments and closing costs.

Theresa Leftdrige is thankful for the support provided by Rebuilding Broken Places' community center. Six of her 11 children are in the day camp held at the center.

"They love it," she said. "They like the Bible study and also mingling with the other children. The fellowship is important."

The beginnings

At 88, Athenia Moses is one of the oldest members, and deaconesses, of Greenleaf Christian Church. She remembers when the neighborhood began its slide into decay, after eight
to 12 little houses were built on a
small plot of land.

"I walked inside the houses to look at them, and you could see the ground through the floor boards," she said. "It was beginning to be a bad place to live."

In the mid 1960s, she joined an organization called Operation Boot Strap, which was formed to try to clean up some sections of the city.

"We signed petitions and went to the city," Ms. Moses said. "And they began to help."

The houses were torn down, and the seeds of revitalization were sown, she said.

"When I heard they were building the new houses, I thanked God that I would be able to see decent places built around here," she said.

She says she "keeps an eye" on the building process, to make sure everything's going well. Ms. Moses is known affectionately as the unofficial "construction manager."

Ninety-year-old Hildegard Small was unable to make it to the weekday meeting at the community center, but the story of her tree was told around the table.

"Years ago she planted a tree near where Grace Village stands," said the Rev. William Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church. "Then she moved away for more than 60 years."

Now, she lives in an apartment right near the sycamore tree she planted.

"She planted it as a sign of hope," Barber said.

The Rev. Dennis Jacobs, pastor of Christ Centered Church, said that the revitalization in the Greenleaf area built more than just buildings -- it also built up the spirit of the community.

"Humans are learning to walk by faith, but they need to see something," Jacobs said. "Rev. Barber has built something that is visible."

Local radio personality Jackie Barnes picks up on Jacobs' theme, echoing that "where there is no vision, people perish."

Ms. Barnes is a volunteer with the organization's summer lunch program. Federal money was available to the county for the lunch program, because Wayne County is considered in need. Barber said that the grant was never used before because no one applied for the money.

"What is going on here fits with what Christ says we ought to be doing," Ms. Barnes said. "All of us have a calling, and we can all be useful as long as there is a breath in our body."

The organization

Rebuilding Broken Places is targeting 1.5 miles around Greenleaf Christian Church, in northern Goldsboro. The organization believes it can revitalize the community by working with the residents, governments and businesses.

So far, it seems to be working. Organizations across the state are familiar with the programs offered by Rebuilding Broken Places.

Chris Furr, a second-year student at Duke University's divinity school, specifically asked to be a summer intern at Greenleaf Christian Church, which is strongly connected with Rebuilding Broken Places.

"What Greenleaf is doing -- its commitment to action -- is rare among churches," Furr said. "And that's a shame because the Gospel mandates that churches should be doing what Greenleaf is doing. It is finding those who need God's healing."

Valerie Melvin, choral director for Goldsboro High School, said that during a time of need, the community center provided a free place for her students to perform.

Normally there is a rental fee for the banquet hall, but the organization waived it for the high school chorus.

Ed Holt, a BB&T representative, said the bank had been pleased with its partnership with Rebuilding Broken Places.

Holt says that when the bank looks at funding organizations or projects, it asks several questions before making an investment.

"First, is it the right thing to do?" he said. "Will it hurt anyone, does it make sense and is it economically productive?"

Grace Village and Faith Estates definitely met the bank's criteria, he said.

"It's for the benefit of Goldsboro and Wayne County," Holt said. "These are good houses, quality construction. We help first-time homeowners or those who have had a bump in the road."

Brandon Alexander from the North Carolina Community Development Initiative in Raleigh said that Rebuilding Broken Places had accomplished a lot in a short period of time. The N.C. Community Development Initiative funds nonprofits with operating grants, makes loans and provides technical assistance.

"There are a lot of older organizations that haven't been able to accomplish as much," Alexander said. "They've been a good grantee, and this is a very competitive process."

For Cleo Trigones the organization and the church have brought hope back into her life.

"I have many blessings, and I think of those blessings like popcorn floating around me, except for a few little hard kernels," she said. "Those are my trials and tribulations. But with what I have, and God's help, I can handle those trials."