A Harrells group is seeking funding for roof repairs at the Harrells Community Center, deemed by residents and the county district’s representative as vital to that area of southern Sampson.
Lethia Lee, co-chairwoman for the Harrells Community Center, took the group’s request to the Sampson County Board of Commissioners this week. She said the facility on Bland School Road is in need of $10,000 for a new roof for its community center and to fund an application for 501(3)c status that would allow it to extend more services to residents young and old.
Lee read from a prepared statement at the end of the board’s meeting earlier this week.
“It is our objective to support the cultural needs of our senior citizens in the community. Currently, the building houses the Harrells Nutrition Site where 25 senior citizens participate in a variety of activities such as arts and crafts, exercising workshops and educational programs,” said Lee. “This proposal seeks funding to purchase a roof for the building and help with funding the 501(3)c application.”
The most pressing need, the new roof,would cost about $5,000.
A new roof would be crucial to the center’s continued existence, and carrying out its mission to provide senior adult programs — recreational, educational and social — in order to promote wellness and lifelong learning.
“Our goal is keeping our senior adults active and engaged in their community” she said. “We also have a special interest toward helping our youth. To reach our goal, the Harrells Community Center seeks to launch an innovative partnership with Sampson County Board of Commissioners, our board members and volunteers to reach our short and long-term goals.”
Long-range plans include being able to offer fitness classes, computer labs, an updated kitchen and creating space for a day care center, as well as renting the building for community activities such as weddings, receptions and family reunions. Access to computers and the Internet would assist in training to help toward job attainment, skills-building and other educational opportunities, while also leading to the development of after-school programs.
She said the group was attempting to set up a makeover project in phases, with the first one to consist of the building repair and remodeling and a 501(3)c application.
“Our goal is to allow all people in our community to take advantage of the educational and economic opportunities created by upgrading our building,” Lee stated. “Once we are incorporated, we will begin Phase II applying for grants to help set up programming and operational expenses.”
The building on Bland School Road currently houses the Harrells Nutrition Site, but also hosts monthly meetings of the Masons and Eastern Stars.
“For those senior citizens, it’s where they meet and have dinner,” Lee said. “We hope that you will consider funding for this project in order for us to continue to serve and make a greater impact for the well-being of the citizens in our community.”
Commissioner Harry Parker, whose District 4 contains Harrells, said he has been familiar with that property for quite a a while, having done inspections for the county in his previous job. He told commissioners he visited the site recently and expressed his concerns, and those of Lee, with Sampson Department of Aging director Lorie Sutton. The county nutrition sites fall under the Department of Aging umbrella.
“That center is very much needed in that area, because there is not another one down there,” said Parker. “It’s a building that has been there for some time, and there are other activities that go on that cater to our people in that area besides the nutrition. It’s one that you can’t do without.”
Commissioner Jarvis McLamb said the county has funded community building renovations before, but such expenditures went by the wayside several years back.
“When the budget began to get pretty tight, we took all that out,” said McLamb. “Is that something the board wants to bring back in, to cover all community buildings in the county? Some probably don’t need it like others, but that’s something that maybe we need to think about.”
Lee previously discussed the request with county manager Ed Causey, who encouraged her to make a formal request to commissioners.
Causey, in a correspondence to Lee, said the timing was good for a request, as the county was currently putting together its 2013-14 budget. He shared, however, that he was not optimistic about the favorable consideration of the request, as the “county is and has faced challenges for the last several years in meeting its current obligations and needs.”
He noted there are “many worthwhile groups in the county that would like to receive funding for a variety of worthwhile projects,” and the commissioners are usually reluctant to fund new requests if similar ones cannot be considered.
Commissioner Albert Kirby said tight budgeting was always an issue, but there was also “money well spent.”
“My voting record on this board has been quite conservative — I’m fiscal conservative, I make no bones about it — however I think that government serves a legitimate purpose,” said Kirby. “You’re talking about something for the public. You’re talking about $5,000. That’s the extent of what they’re asking. And if there is another community where that was the case, and that’s all they’re asking, I would say look at that extensively.”
He said the issue should be examined in full context. A request to help seniors was hitting at the fabric of what government should be about, said Kirby.
“What is the purpose of government? This is hitting what it is,” said Kirby. “These are senior citizens who are in an area where they are going to get a meal and do things that are helping their lives. This is a chance where you’re being frugal and looking at saving money, where maybe look at where the best bang is coming for your buck.”
Kirby said he felt the board should look at it. Parker agreed, saying the options on the table to Harrells residents in receiving necessary services, and the county in making them available, were limited.
“Trying to find a place in that area is impossible,” Parker said. “There is no other way to do it but to build another place, and we don’t want to go to that extreme. They’re just asking for help for that roof. In our deliberations, I would ask you to consider all the information. We need to help those people down there.”
The issues is expected to be taken under advisement as part of budget deliberations.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.