At the Rogers Road Community Center, the Sheriff’s Office was setting up its tent, unwinding some electrical equipment, and putting out a popcorn machine in the concrete drive in front. The Center sits square in the midst of three or four small connected roads of brick ranches, singlewides, and, along the farthest street, a row of newer cottages. Together they have been known, for who knows how many decades, as the Rogers Road Neighborhood. Around them, here and there a forgotten animal shed lingers under overgrown trees, a reminder of the neighborhood’s roots. It’s a close-knit community of people who care for one another. That’s where the Rogers Road Community Center comes in, the place where care is central to everybody, and that’s where Rosie Caldwell, who directs it, is central to it all.
That day, Rosie was busy organizing a children’s Bicycle Rodeo, co-sponsored by the Sheriff’s Office (including Rosie’s husband), and seeing to all the details: parents dropping off bikes, volunteers arranging bikes, kitchen staff preparing rows of hotdogs for the hungry bikers, and the children in day camp, 5-13 years of age, waiting for the Rodeo to start. They will learn bike skills and road safety and have a lot of fun doing it.
“I married into Rogers Road!” Rosie says first off. “When you marry into someplace, you take on the responsibility, too.” It is obvious that she takes that word seriously. Responsibility: it’s written all over her personality, like genetic code. There is little (or big) she doesn’t take on. While we are talking, she stops to answer a question from a staff member; she sends a text trying to locate a large ice chest, she helps a parent put an identification to his child’s pink bike, helmet attached. Meanwhile, she doesn’t stop talking about the history of the Center, the work it has done even before they had a formal center, and, and its continuing needs.
It took 30 years from their struggle to get the city and county to recognize the damage to their community done by a landfill plopped down right next to them in the ‘70s. “Can you imagine? All that runoff, rodents, bad air, and our children try to grow up next to it.” She shakes her head. Finally they convinced the town to take them seriously, and things began to happen. “We have sidewalks, a sewer and water system, and now we are waiting on streetlights…out here, when dark comes, it’s dark!”
PORCH has been a big help to Rosie and her neighbors. The bags of nonperishable food PORCH sends each month, along with fresh foods and snacks, feed 125 families, 32 afterschool children and 72 children in summer day camp. A community garden, free to all who need, also helps bring fresh seasonal food to Rogers Road neighbors. Still, as much as they try to do themselves, Rosie says PORCH’s help has been invaluable.
“We give three bags of food to each family of four,” she explains, “because one bag a month doesn’t go very far. And we keep a pantry of food to help out between time.”
Besides that, she says, with understandable pride, “We supplied 650 backpacks to children last September, and this year we are aiming for 700.” The Center, which also gives computer camps for adults, and resources to help with job searches and resumes, health concerns and family issues, could use a bigger space, Rosie points out. “Our one community room holds all the afterschool and summer camp children, meeting space for groups, and other neighborhood gatherings. One room!”
Rosie, who had retired from the State Employment Commission, found her true calling in 2011 at the Center. “I enjoy it,” she laughs, and you can hear the root of that word, joy,loud and clear. “Children always need something and somebody to be their support, an ear to listen, a hug…” Somebody to show they are important and part of things. It’s something we all need, and Rosie, who knows that well, takes it as her personal mission. Her responsibility.