Blackmon Road’s ‘A Place For Hope’ seeking assistance to avoid closing in Rock Hill

adouglas@heraldonline.comMarch 30, 2013 

  • Want to help?

    Donations to A Place For Hope can be made online through PayPal by visiting www.aplaceforhope.net/faq

    Checks may be mailed to P.O. Box 11232, Rock Hill, SC 29731

    For more information about the group and its mission, visit A Place For Hope’s website or call 803-329-HOPE (4673).

A Place For Hope may have to close its doors in the Blackmon Road community if it doesn’t get more financial backing to continue helping Rock Hill’s at-risk youth.

The non-profit organization and its community center have served Blackmon Road residents for 12 years.

The road – a street just outside Rock Hill’s city limits – is the “most severely underserved community in the entire state,” according to South Carolina health officials.

At a March meeting of A Place For Hope’s board of directors, voting members were divided on whether to close the center or renew fundraising efforts. Current and former board members put out a call for help last week to keep the doors open.

The board will meet again Thursday to assess the group’s fundraising results and the sustainability of A Place For Hope’s operation.

Board members are asking donors to sign on to a five-year annual giving plan or to contribute to the center’s capital campaign. To meet its immediate fundraising goal of $10,000, A Place For Hope is asking 100 people to give $100 each.

To operate the Blackmon Road center – which primarily serves children – the organization typically needs to raise $40,000 a year to go with the local grant money it receives.

Grant dollars account for more than half of A Place For Hope’s annual budget, its director, Mary Hoppmann, said.

“We do need some cash--we don’t need $40,000 in a week but we need some cash in a month,” Hoppmann said.

The center won’t spend any donations to just keep A Place For Hope open for a few more weeks, Hoppman said. If the board decides to close the doors, the group plans to give supporters their money back.

Over the next three months, Hoppmann expects grant money from local organizations to roll in but more five-year sponsors are needed to ensure A Place For Hope is sustainable.

From ‘crisis’ purpose to educational mission

As board members ask for financial help, they say they want to educate York County residents about how the organization’s mission has changed since A Place For Hope started in 2001.

The group started as a way to respond to Blackmon Road’s lack of clean water and basic needs like food and clothing, said former board chair and Winthrop University professor Jennifer Disney.

A Place For Hope’s resources now serve an “educational mission” that offers help to children on Blackmon Road and other children living in poverty around the city, she said.

The Blackmon Road community center serves many “pockets” of poverty in Rock Hill, she said.

As business and civic leaders look to Albright Road – which connects to Blackmon Road – as a place for growth and economic development, traffic and the need for A Place For Hope’s services are inevitably going to increase, Disney said.

One end of Blackmon Road sits a half mile from the intersection of Albright Road, Saluda Street and S.C. 901. The city of Rock Hill and the state Department of Transportation have paid for a “gateway marker” at the intersection, which city officials have said they hope will stimulate private development and economic growth.

“That side of the county – that I-77 corridor – is an area for growth and development….A Place For Hope is designed to serve other pockets of poverty in that wider Saluda area – we always have.”

Many of the organization’s original goals have been achieved, she said, illustrating “what can be achieved through local county government, a grass roots organization, businesses, banks, non-profits, churches (and) volunteers coming together.”

The neighborhood is quiet and safe now, Hoppmann said. Blackmon Road is free of drugs, crime, trash and has street lights thanks to A Place For Hope and help from local officials and money from supporters, she said.

A Place For Hope “always wants to serve the Blackmon Road community,” Disney said.

“But (we) also believe the organization can still serve a wider community…In a time of financial crisis that we’re just beginning to come out of – is this the time to eliminate one of the organizations that serves the neediest among us? Is this the time to let that happen? I hope not.”

Kids should ‘have a chance’

Ernestine Kirk, a board member and Blackmon Road resident for 37 years, said she has watched the center and the community’s goals change over the years.

“We can’t help the adults – they are complacent, they are OK with what they have,” said Kirk, 65.

“But the children – I want them to have a chance.”

A Place For Hope’s goals on Blackmon Road no longer center on extending water and sewer lines or building new homes for residents, she said.

The community’s future, Kirk said, rests on the success of its children who participate in A Place For Hope’s afterschool program, cultural and educational trips and summer camps. About 12 students participate in the afterschool program, and at least 25 in the summer camps.

Until recently, the organization held out hope that the city or the county would build water and sewer lines to connect to Blackmon Road homes.

Politicians and visitors have walked down Kirk’s street periodically for the last decade, vowing to do their best to bring modern amenities to the community.

“They finally had to tell us it was impossible,” Kirk said.

Hard rock under the road and the neighborhood makes extending water and sewer lines difficult and expensive.

The news that utility lines weren’t a possibility was “heartbreaking and heart wrenching” for A Place For Hope, the residents on Blackmon Road and many other stakeholders, Hoppmann said.

To meet the community’s sanitation needs, a wash house was built in 2010 with a grant from the John L. Mulvaney Foundation, the Springs Close Foundation and the NASCAR Foundation.

The wash house and community center are serviced from utility lines York County extended more than five years ago.

A federal grant jump-started the utility project with more than $600,000 in 2005.

York County contributed about $260,000 to the utility extension project. The city of Rock Hill waived the tap fees for the center to hook up to the city’s water and sewer system.

Extending the lines from Albright Road to A Place For Hope proved how difficult and expensive it would be to take the lines all the way down Blackmon Road, Disney said.

“We found more rock under the ground than we thought we would – they don’t call it Rock Hill for nothing,” she said.

The wash house and bathroom facility serves about 30 people a day as a source of clean water for bathing and washing clothes.

“We have fought for a decade to bring water and sewer to the Blackmon Road community and even though we have not yet succeeded in extending water and sewer in the traditional style…we have brought access to clean water and sewer to the Blackmon Road community,” Disney said.

“And that is something I am extremely proud of.”

Some five-year sponsorships expired

To coincide with the utility line work, individual and corporate sponsors signed on to five-year giving plans that were staggered to start between 2005 and 2007.

A Place For Hope is experiencing financial difficulty now, Disney said, because many of the five-year sponsors have not re-upped after the last round ended in 2012.

With some five-year sponsorships expired, the organization faces a financial need that all non-profit groups encounter, Disney said.

“There are ebbs and flows; there are times of strengths and weaknesses,” she said.

“When I first got in office (in 2005), it was in a moment of weakness.”

Disney was nominated to the board after then-York County Manager Al Greene called a meeting to replace A Place For Hope’s board, she said.

Many people in the county, she said, considered the group’s board to be “defunct.”

The new board members were able to get new donors on board, she said, because the former board members had laid the ground work by obtaining grants for the utility project.

A Place For Hope’s support from York County tax revenues has been cut by about 50 percent over the past five years.

County leaders decided a few years ago to wean charities and non-profit groups off of general fund support from York County.

A Place For Hope got $8,000 last year – down from $15,000 in 2008 and 2009 and $14,475 in 2010. Other groups like the United Way, The Children’s Attention Home, Safe Passage and The Boys and Girls Club have also received less money from the county since 2007.

Hoppmann said she understands the county’s move to give less to charitable groups.

‘What do you tell the kids?’

York County Council member Bump Roddey, who represents sections of Rock Hill including Blackmon Road, says he’s reaching out to friends and community leaders to help save A Place For Hope.

Responsibility for helping Blackmon Road’s children shouldn’t fall solely on the government or foundations giving grants – “everyday” people need to give money to the group, if they can, Roddey said.

“Of course the community takes meals down, takes clothes down and does that kind of stuff,” he said.

“But it takes money to run a wash house. It takes money to pay a director. It takes money to put gas in vans to take kids around. That needs to come from the community. And that’s my plea to all of York County.”

If fundraising goals aren’t met, Disney said, A Place For Hope’s volunteers and staff members wonder how they’ll explain the center’s closing to the residents who will be impacted the most: children on Blackmon Road.

“That’s the biggest concern,” she said. “What do you tell the kids?”

The Blackmon Road community appreciates all the help York County residents have given in the past, Kirk said.

“We just need it to continue.”

Ernestine Kirk and her husband Cleveland – who also sits on the group’s board of directors – want A Place For Hope to stay open so that children on their street have a chance for the same success their son has had.

The Kirks, who are retired, have a son who graduated from college and now lives in Charlotte, pursuing his master’s degree.

Another family on Blackmon Road has a daughter who is a doctor, she said.

These success stories are examples to young kids in the community that an education can take them on to bigger and better things, Kirk said.

“I don’t want poverty to be a generational thing. With some of the families, that’s what it looks like it’s doing,” she said.

“If you can get the children…I think we have a chance of beating it in this community. I want to get instilled in the children independence and wanting more.”

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