RIGELWOOD – After the death of her mother in 2009, Alisa Deltz did not expect to find a new family.
The following year, when she was 11 years old, her social worker enrolled her in a summer camp for men, women երիտասարդ designed for young և families. It was then that Delts found a group of people who continue to support him for more than a decade.
Founded in 2006, the nonprofit organization seeks to fully meet the needs of rural communities in Bladen, Brunswick & Columbus. In recent years, the area has withstood severe storms and other floods, and some residents, especially farmers, are still struggling to rebuild or even put food on the table.
In Rigelwood, one of the two constituencies of United and Women, more than 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, while the U.S. Census Bureau says the nation-wide is about 15 percent. Only 3% have a bachelor’s degree, while about 33% have a state degree.
“We exist out of necessity,” said Randolph Keaton, the group’s chief executive.
To meet this need, Men և Women team up with local community colleges, food banks, career centers, and local government to provide workforce training, mentoring, disaster relief, scholarships, and entrepreneurship.
Delts can personally confirm the non-profit organization’s commitment to the region.
As a child in foster care, he did not feel that he had a voice. Men and women, especially his Young Ambassadors for a Better Community, changed that.
“Thanks to the program, I got a vote, I gained independence, I felt I wanted to do more than myself,” Deltz said.
As part of the 2015 Young Ambassadors Inauguration Team, Delts made money helping local farmers grow and sell their crops.
Since then, the Young Ambassadors program has expanded to include dozens of children attending food policy conferences in the state, maintaining five community parks, and traveling to the beach to sell local produce for the holidays.
And all this is led by the youth, instilling responsibility and work ethic in 10-year-old children.
“It’s more than just making money. We want to teach them social responsibility և civic engagement, ”said LaVonia Lewis, grant writer և coordinator of special events for men և women. “We try to cover all areas, so by the time they graduate, they have matured a lot without getting negative.”
Thirteen-year-old Latori Daniels has been a young ambassador for many years. His family runs farmers, and he enjoys helping other local farmers. But the program made him a bigger dream. He wants to work in the medical field one day.
Cameron Blanc, 14, also has an uncle who farms. He is not sure what awaits him in the future, but the Young Ambassadors program has taught him some life skills such as voting, writing resumes, and cover letters. Professors and local leaders also join the ambassadors in educating them about food and climate policy.
“It’s different when someone is told they can do it than those who can touch someone who did,” said Rev. Keith Graham, who sits on the board of directors. “You will see how their souls are enlightened, because they can see something other than ‘What am I going to do this summer?’
That is why young ambassadors return every year. “Being a rural community, our young people do not have as many opportunities as the children of New Hanover, who have gardens to walk 10 minutes from their homes or pool during the summer,” said Lewis. “Our youth must be creative if they are not directed to take constructive action for their benefit.”
For example, years ago a 16-year-old boy had problems with a local boy while he was in prison. Several young ambassadors gathered behind him and wrote letters of support to the judge. As a result, the judge allowed the young man to escape from prison; instead, he appointed a community service, which the boy graduated from with the Men-Women Association. He is now a high school graduate who recently enlisted in the army.
“With a program like this, we try to keep as many children as possible out of that situation,” Lewis said. “We can not keep them all away, because not all of them will be ambassadors of the youth, but for those who do, they gain the protection of those interests.”
Men and Women United has partnered with juvenile delinquency councils to reduce convictions for juvenile delinquency in Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties.
“We just want to help them all,” Lewis said. “They are all our babies.”
The commercial organization also helps seniors, regardless of their criminal record, find work through its new quarterly employment center. The center is a joint network of local businesses, community organizations, government agencies, and community colleges that contribute to the development of the workforce through continuing education classes, computer access, food distribution, and case management.
Locals in need participate in the admissions process when staff identify barriers to success, set goals, and plan. “We try to fit things so that they can cope and be an effective citizen,” Graham said. “They are not stuck, leaving behind no hope of feeding their families.”
Encouraging hope is the key to success, especially if someone or family has many obstacles to overcome. “If we could just help five of those needs, six of those needs, we could help build a foundation to give them hope to get out of any situation that might hinder them,” Graham said.
Money is often the biggest obstacle, but Women և Men help with grant funding and donations. Scholarships are now available to two- and four-year universities. In 2019, the non-profit organization awarded a total of $ 70,000 in scholarships.
Former Youth Ambassador Devin Bowen, a recent graduate of East Bladen High School in Elizabethtown, was worried about paying for his education at A&T North Carolina. At the end of June, United Men and Women awarded him a $ 1,000 scholarship to help him buy books and notebooks for school.
“They will definitely help you out with everything you need,” Bowen said.
Men and Women United has also partnered with state colleges to offer paid summer internships. Gabriel Rose, a resident of Pender County who attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill;
Support for non-profit organizations extends to adulthood. Staff like Keaton are usually associated with Delthes, who works in the Durham County Department of Public Health and continues to earn a master’s degree. “There have been times when I have felt I can do nothing,” he said. “They pushed me to keep working.”
Keaton hopes that children like Deltz, who have completed programs for Men and Women United, will return to South East Carolina to support the community they support. “Even though you go to college, you have to go home and use your talents here,” he said.
Keaton focuses on sustainability to make sure the community stays strong enough to last for generations. “We are trying to create leaders so that they can understand what their role is in making our community better,” he said.
Although he now lives in Durham County, the Delts are still trying to make the community he accepted in 2010 a better place. She has taught several local children, but wants more young people to join the supportive family she found at Men and Women United.
“It’s a great opportunity for more people to take advantage of,” said Delts. “They provide so much to our community.”
Ivy Schofield is a Border Belt Independent Writer. The Border Belt Independent is a non-profit, web-based newsroom focusing on issues and challenges in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and the Scottish states.
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