MOUNT OLIVE -- For more than three decades, the Carver High School Alumni and Friends Association have been a constant presence in Mount Olive and southern Wayne County, providing outreach to those in the community and fellowship to those among their ranks.

On Saturday, the association celebrated its 36th anniversary with its annual picnic in the Carver Cultural Center gymnasium in Mount Olive. Part of a three-day series of celebratory events, the picnic brought special attention to the members of the Carver High classes of 1943, 1953, 1963, 1948, 1958 and 1968.

While the guests found their seats, outgoing Carver Alumni President Cassandra Rush took time to explain the history behind the alumni association. The group started in 1982, she said, but has roots reaching back to around 1880. The alumni regularly raise money for outreach programs, including several scholarships the group handed out on Friday.

"Students gave testimonies as to what they were doing, what schools they were attending, what their aspirations were. So the scholarships went out across the state," she said. "There were 10 of them, $2,500 each."

Saturday also marked Rush's last day as president of the association, Rush now lives in Maryland, and traveling to Wayne County for events while also working two jobs has -- perhaps understandably -- caused her some fatigue.

"After seven years, I'm stepping down," she said. "A little fatigue, and I wanted to do something else. I still work full time, and then a part time job, and then I had this, plus getting on the road."

Stepping into her place is Granger Martin, a member of the Carver High class of 1967 -- a class which Martin proudly said had donated over $10,000 to be used for the scholarships. Though he begins his first official term today, Martin never actually intended to be in the position he is in.

"Well to be honest with, I tried to convince three other people to do it," he said. "I've got a classmate up in Maryland who would have been an excellent person for the job. There's a young lady in this area, Goldsboro, and then there's another young lady right here in town, but they didn't want it.

"Since I couldn't find a qualified candidate, I decided to step up the the plate," he said.

Martin, who lives in Dunn, is focused on set of goals which he calls his "Four E's," a set of priorities he hopes to achieve in the space of his two-year term.

Those "E's" include expanding the membership of the club, enhancing the group's relationship with Southern Wayne High alumni, embracing local government entities and other civic groups around Wayne County, and bringing economic empowerment to the southern side of Mount Olive, he said.

That last goal has roots that run back to the days of segregation, Martin said.

"Back in the '60s when I went to school here, there were at least 20 businesses that flourished in this community, because that was segregation. We couldn't go anywhere else, we had to provide our own things," he said.

"Now, there's businesses scattered throughout town, but there is no sense of economic empowerment."

Building up the economy is not one of the association's stated objectives, Martin said, but it is still a goal he hopes to pursue moving forward.

"We want to see some activity on this side of town," he said.