MOUNT OLIVE — The Men of Faith, Integrity and Character, or FIC, are in the process of renovating the old Carver High School building, donated to them by the town of Mount Olive as a headquarters/office.
The nonprofit formed in January 2011, with its mission rooted in helping others and serving the community, said Al Southerland, president.
Over the years, efforts have included providing clothes, school supplies and mentoring services. The organization started out with 15 members and has grown to 23. At one point, in 2015 it expanded to Young Men FIC, for ages 8-17, with each participant sponsored by a Men of FIC member.
Currently, the younger group has aged out, Southerland said, but there are plans to resume it, especially since they now have a stationary home.
“(FIC) had been meeting basically at my church,” Southerland said. “Sometimes we met at places like Rita’s (Restaurant) Saturday morning before the pandemic, met at the library, the Train Depot, other food places.
“We still do tutoring and go around to schools.”
The acquisition of the former Carver High School holds personal meaning for Southerland.
“That whole campus is where I attended all 12 years of school,” he said. “When the county turned it over to the town the town kept it up as long as they could.
“Carver Alumni, Danny King of ADLA and WAGES Head Start used the offices, and we had started using it way back for meeting places. But over the years, since it’s been abandoned, there’s a lot of work that needed to be done.”
Southerland, joined by FIC members Charlie Holloway, Vernon Lee and Danny McLean, took the News Argus on a tour of the newly acquired space, estimated to be around 90 years old.
“I love it,” said Holloway, when asked how it felt for the organization to finally have a place to call home.
Standing in what used to be the music room, or the library when Southerland was a student, each room currently serves a different purpose — a meeting area, storage space containing children’s clothing donated for a May giveaway, a room designated for school supplies to be dispensed throughout the year.
FIC typically generates money through fundraisers, donations, gifts and grants. Initial renovations were estimated at approximately $200,000, Southerland said.
“We started raising money to fix it up,” he said. “The first thing we had to do, without a doubt, was to fix the roof. It took two to three weeks to finish that.
“Now we have raised enough money to do the windows. Hopefully, prayerfully, by the time they finish that side of the windows, we’ll be able to do the other side of the building.”
With any luck securing funds and donations, the project could conceivably be completed by year’s end, the men said.
Southerland said he has faith the support will come, saying, “This is God’s building, not ours.”
He anticipates the sources will be through individuals, businesses and nonprofits.
“We’re on the trail of trying to go out and get a few grants, local ones,” he said. “We’re known to do some fundraising out there and people, believe it or not, they donate to us without even asking because they know what we’re about.”
The new offices will be under the control of the Men of FIC, Southerland said. But it will not just belong to them.
“We’ll of course get with other nonprofits and see what they need and see what’s the biggest use of the building,” he said.
And likewise, the hope is for area residents to take an interest, and ownership.
“This is a community project,” McLean said. “We need the community to pitch in.”
The FIC has also announced intentions to name the new acquisition in honor of Henrietta Highsmith Williams, who spent most of her 107 years in service to others and her hometown. She died in 2004.
“The Henrietta Williams Community Center will be run by the Men of FIC,” Southerland said. “Ms. Henrietta was a lady that believed in helping others. We want to do something that will keep her memory alive, doing things that are helping the community.
“I thank everyone that’s helped us in these 12 years we have been in business. We look forward to doing things that will be for the betterment of the community.”
The men, all technically retired from a lifetime of contributing to careers and their town, could rightfully pack it in and call it a day. But they, to coin a popular phrase, have miles to go before they sleep.
“It’s a tedious job but it’s fun,” said Southerland. “We don’t want to get out of bed either but there’s work to be done, knowing you can help others.”
“That’s what the group was founded on — recognizing there’s a need,” added McLean.
For more information or updates, follow Men of FIC on Facebook.
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