Community Crisis Center celebrates 25 years
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 11, 2007 9:41 AM
In his early days, William "Pro" Atkinson did not think about where his life would lead.
Caught in the mire of addiction in the 1970s and '80s, he never thought about change.
That is, until he met the Rev. Adeen George at the Holy Ghost Drawing Center, better known as the Community Crisis Center, on South Slocumb Street.
"I turned her hair gray, and I love her to death," he said of the president and chief executive officer of the center. "Within the last 15 to 20 years, she helped me change my lifestyle. I was at that time drinking, smoking cigarettes and stuff like that. At this point, I don't do neither of those."
He has come a long way, Atkinson, 58, said.
He is a recovering alcoholic who has earned a driver's license and has his own transportation and home now.
"Prior to that, I was homeless," he said. "I was just living. "Now I'm able to think for myself. I can do a little work, I can take care of my own self and that makes a big difference."
His life is a blessing now.
"Every morning the Lord wakes me up, I say "Thank you.'
Atkinson has dreams now -- and goals to accomplish.
One of the most special, he said, is his desire to serve as an usher at his church -- a sign of the importance of his newly reborn faith.
"Ever since I have been sober, I have been begging the church," he said. "I was brought up in the church, but you know, one thing leads to another. I enjoy going. I don't have to go to church to enjoy church, but prayer changes things and God will make a way. He sure made a way for me. There ain't no turning around now."
For Donnie McIntyre, his Crisis Center story begins in 1981.
A successful business owner, on the outside his life seemed fine.
But that was just an appearance, he said.
"It's deeper than what I can say. I was terrible, I was professionally terrible," he said. "My lifestyle was in strong jeopardy. I was involved in drugs and even strong promiscuity."
For about six years, he was able to survive because of his income. He ignored his demons.
That is, until he met the Rev. George.
"She literally drove me crazy about changing," he said. The two belonged to the same church.
"I was in church, but not in Christ," he explained.
The Rev. George and Betty Barnes, from another church, were like mothers to McIntyre. Together, they refused to give up on him.
"When others bypassed me, these are the two people that were very kind to me," he said, his voice cracking as he fought back tears.
"I don't even want to remember some of it because it was so bad."
He recalled the Rev. George "working on me."
"She would literally come to my house and get me up out of the bed," he said. "She knew good and well that I had been out all night long, and she'd say, 'You're going to church today.' I would be peeping out the window at her on the curb. She'd say, 'I know you're in there.'"
He always had a consciousness of God, even if he didn't demonstrate it, he said. At an early age, he had played piano at church and never gotten away from going. The Rev. George's determination helped steer him back on course.
"When I met the Lord and I got saved and gave my heart to God, my whole life has been changed," he said.
Within a few years, his life began to shift dramatically.
"All of a sudden, everything I wanted or desired began to come into play," he said. "I attribute my success and my happiness because once I changed my lifestyle, I got married, had four wonderful children and now I operate two funeral homes in Goldsboro and Mount Olive and pastor a church here in the city."
At 53, he says he is "living by the grace of God." He said he knows his former lifestyle could have, and likely should have, killed him.
Atkinson and McIntyre are just two of the reasons the Rev. George has fought for the center, which is located in the Webbtown area -- in a crime-infested area, that others might think is unsafe.
But for the Rev. George, it was the perfect spot.
"I grew up in this neighborhood, raised my family in this neighborhood," she said.
Her vision was to have a place for people put out of their homes, released from prison, in need of the basics like food, clothing and education.
"People don't want to be bothered with these people," she said. "If we don't reach out of them, who will?"
Over the years, she has seen it all -- people living in abandoned cars and abandoned houses, youths standing on street corners loitering, others engaging in drug activity.
"One night at the store, I saw two boys," she said. "I was pretty sure they were doing drugs. I came right between them and said, 'What are y'all doing?'"
She boldly told them they needed to be home, wondering if their mothers knew where they were.
"You have got to let them know that you're not really afraid of them," she said. "Sometimes it's in your heart they're going to get killed. They're some mother's child. I feel like it touches them when you say something to them."
She officially established the Holy Ghost Drawing Center in 1981, housed at New Stoney Hill Holy Church on Poplar Street. One year later, 2.63 acres of land were purchased on the 600 block of South Slocumb Street.
Construction began in 1994, with volunteers doing the work and laying bricks. In June of that year, a strong windstorm toppled everything that had been built.
"We did not have builders' insurance so we had to start all over," said Carolyn Buffalo, the center's secretary.
The community, both black and white residents, rallied behind the Rev. George, and the project soon resumed.
"We got the building up again, still using volunteers, between June and December," Ms. Buffalo said.
The rafters were up and they were on their way, when the whole thing again crashed due to a "building mishap," she said.
The Rev. George still cries about it. She remembers coming down to the site and being unable to face the throng of people who had gathered.
"I thought I was dying," she says now.
Two factors prevented this from being the end of the story, Ms. Buffalo said.
"Because of Sister George's abiding faith and strong courage, she held onto what she felt the Lord wanted her to do," she said. "If she had not held on, everybody else would probably have thrown up their hands and walked away. Because of that, so many lives have been changed."
Calling the Rev. George "fearless," she said her associate and friend demonstrates what it means to go the extra mile.
"She doesn't have any concern about her own safety," Ms. Buffalo said.
"I see anybody that has a need, I want to help," the Rev. George said.
Local businesses R.N. Rouse and D.S. Simmons were among those that responded to complete the project. Providing some of the materials and labor offset a portion of the costs, Ms. Buffalo said. Others also donated items like paint and carpeting.
Paul Pittman is on the board of directors for the center. Now retired, he previously worked at R.N. Rouse and was executive vice president with D.S. Simmons when the call came about helping with the center's completion.
"I figured I better come down here and find out what it's all about," he said.
"The people that she introduced me to that had been coming through the Crisis Center were people I could tell that really had been through things. She had given them a new lease on life."
Pittman said he knew he needed to be a part of the process.
"I figure this was going to be the last opportunity I would have since I was going to retire," he said.
Even the crew assigned the task felt the importance of the job they were doing.
"I think they were all impressed and changed because they could see that we were dealing with a group of people that had sort of lost their way in life," he said.
Pittman said he remembers the Rev. George telling him how the needs were greater than the provisions available.
"She said that the federal programs were good, but they didn't go far enough," he said. "She said, 'If you don't clean them up on the inside, they won't be clean on the outside.'"
The Rev. George and those she works with, he said, are trying to address some of the big problems that have suffered humanity.
"She has set an example for everybody else to follow...This whole place has been sort of a miracle. But there was a real need for it."
Celebrating its silver anniversary in 2006, over the years the facility has had a soup kitchen, clothes closet, a transitional house for the homeless, facilities for them to take hot baths, support groups for Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, an affiliation with WATCH for medical services and medication, and has provided computer classes and assistance toward acquiring a GED.
Veda McNair, now principal at Eastern Wayne Elementary School, called the Rev. George a "foot soldier," going where others are unable, or unwilling, to tread.
Ms. McNair knew the Rev. George long before there was a a crisis center, but became personally involved while principal at nearby Carver Heights Elementary School, having witnessed the far-reaching effects it had on the residents there.
"For people down on their luck, the homeless, I think they saw this as a place that was a beacon of hope for the community, a place that they could come and not only get some clothing ... not just physical needs (met), it also provides for their emotional needs," she said.
As an educator as well as a citizen of Wayne County, Ms. McNair said it means a lot to be affiliated with the Crisis Center.
The center does what I feel every citizen should do -- care for and lend a helping hand to other citizens who are less fortunate," she said. "I personally cannot go into every neighborhood where there are needs, but if I can contribute financially, then I'm giving."
Getting money to support the work at the center is critical, Pittman said.
"If we could get 15 churches in the community that give $100 a month, that would take care of the mortgage payment and I think that's within reason," he said. With $118,000 remaining on the mortgage owed, he said once that is paid off, monies could then be used to care for the people who come for assistance.
The Rev. George estimates about 10 people come in daily to take a bath, with about 200 served meals each week.
She says she is determined to remain at the helm as long as there are hearts that need touching. Two years ago, she had a stroke, and in 1998, she lost her husband, but the mother of five remains resolute about the decision to locate a crisis center in the heart of the city she calls home.
"I was told, 'You're going to need police protection to go there.' I said, 'I am the police,'" she remembers with a laugh. "But all I've got to do is pick up the phone and say, 'This is Sister George, come to the crisis center' and they come right away.
"I've only had to do it twice."
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