Opened in November 2014, the Rogers Road Community Center runs an after-school program for low-income families in the Rogers Road-Eubanks neighborhood. Anywhere from 20 to 30 students, mostly from nearby Morris Grove Elementary School, visit the after-school program each day.
There, they are warmly greeted by the full-time, all-volunteer staff of David Caldwell, Rosie Caldwell, and Reverend Robert Campbell as well as an army of UNC tutors. The center is soon abuzz with activity: homework assignments are completed and books are read with the help of the UNC tutors, phones ring in the front office where some of the students are being trained in administrative skills, and healthy snacks are quickly prepared in the kitchen.
Not to be lost in the shuffle, lessons in manners are also imparted. “Excuse me,” David Caldwell reminds a young boy interrupting a conversation to proudly share his completed math lesson. “Ten pull-ups, please,” David instructs a young girl walking the hallway with her shoe laces untied. “The potential of this new building is immeasurable,” Caldwell says. “It’s going to do so many things to make the quality of life of people in the community so much better.”
One way the new building improves the quality of life of the community is through its food pantry and kitchen. Some of the food donated by PORCH is used to prepare hearty snacks for kids in the after-school program – fresh vegetable and fruit trays, home-made trail mix, applesauce, granola bars and popcorn, cheese and crackers, even bowls of spaghetti with a side salad. “We’re trying to expose the kids to fresh foods at early ages,” says the chef, Rev. Robert Campbell. “That way, we can set in place good heating habits over the course of their entire lives.” The kids take turns helping to prepare the salads with Rev. Campbell and beginning this summer, they will be planting a garden at the community center to grow some of the vegetables added to their green salads. “Now you see why we are volunteering 60 hours a week,” David jokes.
Other bags of PORCH food are picked up from the community center by families in the neighborhood that are struggling to make ends meet, says David. This includes long-time elderly residents living on fixed incomes, and new Latino and Burmese/Karen refugee families living in nearby Habitat for Humanity housing. “For such a small neighborhood, we are a really diverse place,” says Rev. Campbell.
The story of the community center is one of perseverance. In 1972, Orange County built a landfill at nearby Eubanks Road and in return, neighbors were promised a new recreation facility, streetlights, indoor plumbing, sewers, and sidewalks. It’s been a long and painful process waiting for those promises to be kept. But after watching his granddaughter cut the ribbon to officially open the community center, the end of the 40-year struggle is almost in sight for David Caldwell. “I think this will be my biggest satisfaction,” he says, “and once the community center is running smoothly, I’ll feel like I can take a break.”