Clover and Lake Wylie SC groups to help community in need
Facts and figures are fine, but the 50 or so people gathered Thursday morning at First Baptist Church in Clover weren’t there just there to hear about issues facing their struggling neighbors. They want to fix them.
“We’re going to start putting folks to work and start thinking about, as a community, how can we address some of these needs,” said Winthrop University professor Duane Neff.
Neff teaches in the university’s department of social work. Long-time food and financial assistance provider Clover Area Assistance Center reached out to him to study community needs within the Clover school district. Neff and his team wrapped it up in November. Thursday’s workshop brought together nonprofits, school district social workers, volunteers, the faith community and others to review the study findings and assign tasks for solutions.
“That’s our goal, that we’re going to be able to continue what happens here today and just keep it going so we can actually get some things done in response to community needs,” said Karen van Vierssen, CAAC executive director.
Despite significant affluence in parts of the district, the study found what nonprofit leaders say they see daily. There is need within the Clover district.
“From Lake Wylie to the Cherokee County line, (there’s) a lot of disparity, diversity in that region,” Neff said.
While an entire Lake Wylie census tract brings in a median household income at more than $90,000 annually, the study shows, Clover has about 20% of its people living below the federal poverty level. One part of Clover has unemployment almost twice the 7.7% district rate. More than 20% of residents in part of the district do not have health insurance.
Even the affluent Lake Wylie area isn’t without needs. The study found unemployment higher in Lake Wylie than the western side of the district, and at times higher than the district rate. Part of Lake Wylie has homes without access to transportation at almost three times the district rate of 3.8%.
Across the district of about 39,000 people, 18% of households make less than $25,000 a year. Almost 12% of people have a disability, 13% are uninsured and 11% live in poverty. About 40% of the population has an education level at high school degree or less.
The study found several themes among interviews, surveys, federal and local data. Public transportation, adequate nutrition, affordable housing, low-income family support, mental health services, job training, parenting education and communication rose to the top.
“There’s a lot of things there that are not even anywhere close to being in our realm,” van Vierssen said, “but there are a lot of people in this room that are able to do other pieces.”
Clover Cares began in 2012. It too started from a community meeting, held by the school district the year prior. Clover Cares includes dozens of churches, nonprofits and civic groups serving low-income, homeless or other residents in need. CAAC is a member and brought the study to the larger Clover Cares on Thursday to talk about partnerships.
Many groups face the same challenges, including transportation and communication. People who don’t have a ride or Internet access can be difficult to serve.
Ranny Eite with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said her group is looking at a possible satellite office at the Catawba Indian Nation near Rock Hill after setting up a satellite in February in the Clover district. The office serves its Women, Infants & Children program focused on education, nutrition and support.
“So many people have transportation issues getting to the Rock Hill health department,” Eite said.
Judy Duke said she was one of the earliest supporters of a backpack program in Clover schools a decade ago, where donated food goes home on weekends with students who may not have access to consistent meals. The program has been a success, she said, but there’s room to improve.
“As I talk to people they say, I don’t even know what that is,” Duke said. “And if you don’t know what it is, you don’t support it.”
Cynthia Thompson helped form Restore Mobility for the Blind a few years ago, providing free rides from volunteer drivers. The organization does great work, she said, but it could do more.
“It tears you apart when you know someone has to be somewhere at a certain time, and you’re full,” she said.
Talk Thursday turned to adult mental health services, parenting information for Moss Justice Center inmates, support groups, churches providing volunteer transportation, affordable childcare and job skills training.
“This came out pretty prominently in the survey,” Neff said. “Looking at the role of parents as far as raising children, understanding what’s appropriate, what’s not.”
If the idea of existing service organizations uniting to better serve their community sounds familiar, it is. In Rock Hill, Pathways Community Center will bring together agencies to create a one-stop shop for people needing financial, housing and other assistance. That effort was designed to help people with transportation needs.
CAAC started looking at how to bring community groups together after a bequest and investment return.
“We want to put the money back into the community, and we wanted to make sure we were putting it where it was really needed,” van Vierssen said. “And we didn’t feel like off the tops of our heads, we knew what the needs were.”
For the organization that traditionally has been about feeding people and helping them financially, the study has revealed new ways to serve.
“It kind of shifted what Clover Area Assistance Center might be doing besides just assisting with basic needs help to clients,” van Vierssen said. “CAAC is changing, and how CAAC can be used is changing.”