Nonprofit groups like the Community Crisis Center and the Continental Society have been around for a long time — helping a lot of people in this community. Others have faded into history, like the Epicurean Club and Daughters of Mizpah.
These, and other groups like them, will be represented at the newest exhibit at the Wayne County Museum, “Hearts and Hands: A History of Local African American Community Service,” which runs Feb. 2 through April 27.
“We wanted to focus primarily on African American-led organizations,” said museum director Jennifer Kuykendall. “This exhibit is designed to shine a light of recognition on these service groups and to honor and raise awareness about all of the amazing work being done within the local community for the local community.
“At a time when all the news we hear is negative, I want this to be a positive show where people will be inspired and ask when they’re leaving what they can do to help, how they can get involved, whether it’s joining one of these organizations or volunteering some place.”
Kuykendall said at a time when the national news has reported that the community is more divided than ever politically, racially and economically, she wants the exhibit to focus on some of the positive things that are happening locally to correct these issues.
“This exhibit will focus on those organizations and individuals in the African American community that are stepping up to directly help those in need with a variety of resources,” she said.
Kuykendall noted that some of the organizations that will be represented in the exhibit have a very long history and have been around since the early 1900s, groups like the NAACP and some of the Pan-Hellenic sororities and fraternities. Others are newer groups that have seen a need and are trying to meet that need.
Various groups in the community will have several items in the exhibit, including photos, awards, scrapbooks and sashes. If the group has a T-shirt, those will also be on display. There will be information about the group and brochures that visitors can take.
“We want to let people know what’s happening in the community,” Kuykendall said.
“There’s a kids’ boxing club based out of W.A. Foster Center. They work primarily with at-risk youths. They give them a place to go to build their self-esteem . And they’re teaching them a skill.
A community garden will be featured in the exhibit. It focuses on nutrition and fresh produce.
“We are having a Blessing Box built for our parking lot, and will have it on display during the show,” Kuykendall said. “So people coming to the show can bring canned food and donate to the Blessing Box.”
Rebuilding Broken Places Community Development Corp. will have a spot in the exhibit. The group began in 1996, operating out of Greenleaf Church, but moved to its current building in 2003, said director John Barnes.
“The church wanted to do something in the community,” Barnes said. “It bought us this building and invested $1.5 million from buying it to renovating it as a center to be a one-stop shop where individuals could come in and learn.”
Rebuilding Broken Places also operates Greenleaf Faith Village, a 41-unit housing complex for seniors. And it owns Faith Estates subdivision, a 16-lot area where it has created nine homes for first-time home buyers.
Other programs include credit counseling, homebuyer education, computer and information technology, job/leadership training and health programs. There is also a preschool/day care center and an afterschool academic program. And there is even a community garden, where people can pick a plot, learn how to take care of it and grown their own vegetables.
Rebuilding Broken Places also hosts an 8-week culinary training program for those who think they want to go into that kind of career, said program manager Francine Smith.
“We serve anybody, regardless of race,” Barnes said. “We are here because people need help.
“I’m hoping that people going to the exhibit will see the work that we do and they will work with us. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and people need to be involved in it and use their skills to help people in the community.”
Another nonprofit that will be featured in the exhibit is Mephiboshuth Project, MPI.
Its founder and director is pastor Marvin R. Alexander, who started it in 2015.
“We work with people who were formerly incarcerated and released back into the community, men and women, or those serving on probation and parole,” he said. “We take them through a 12-week intensive curriculum, learning social skills, interview skills, resume writing and financial management to help them to get a footing as they return back.”
MPI partners with Wayne Community College to help people get their GED.
“We believe that, despite where you came from and despite some of your experiences, looking at it from a black history perspective, you still have the opportunity to write your own story,” Alexander said.
He said by helping people in this situation, the group is also helping the community.
“We looked at April 2017 to April 2018, and we were able to keep 33 people from going back to prison,” Alexander said. “In North Carolina, it’s roughly $36,000 a year to incarcerate one person. Multiply that by 33 and that’s a savings to the state of $1.1 million. It does impact the whole community.”
Alexander said one of the things he hopes to see come out of the exhibit is that the community gets a better understanding of and sees that there is support here for those who have been involved in the justice system.
“Too often, people can feel that with a record, and especially a felony, they can’t get a job, they can’t do this, they can’t do that,” he said. “Those are false statements.”
The HGDC Community Crisis Center has been here since 1982 and has helped many people over the years — and is still helping people in this community.
“We are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day,” said founder and director Adeen George.
People come in off the streets for coffee and donuts every morning and either a sandwich or a hot meal at lunch time. They can get items from the nonprofit’s clothes closet free of charge and also pick up a few food items from the food pantry.
“We used to have GED classes and a transition house,” George said. “But we don’t have any programs anymore. We just feed the people, give them food and clothes and let them take a shower here.”
“Our focus is to meet the human basic needs of people,” she said.
“These groups are not just helping the black community,” Kuykendall said. “They’re helping everyone.”
She said one of the ideas of the exhibit is to show the contributions of the African American community, as well as educating visitors about things the black community does that people may not know about.
The exhibit will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.