Community Education Center Opens at Oakwood Forest
Article by Elizabeth Biddle
On Friday, October 4th, a new community center opened at Oakwood Forest, a predominantly Latino mobile home park on U.S. 29 North in northern Guilford County. Opening the community education and tutoring center at this isolated mobile home park was a major event which had been under negotiation with Oakwood management for three years. With the establishment of a new management company this year, called YES Communities, things changed. The new management reported that they were moved by the sight of young children huddled in the cold, under the trees, doing their afterschool tutoring with AmeriCorps members and volunteers. They built a special unit in the center of the park, with a large community room housing work sites, computers and a flat screen TV; a kitchen, rest rooms, and an office. University program staff will manage the unit and activities.
CNNC has provided services to residents at Oakwood for several years, with an emphasis on health and education support. Three years ago, AmeriCorps members initiated an after school tutoring program called “Tutoring Under the Trees” because there was no facility available where the children and tutors could meet. Reedy Fork Elementary has been an important community partner in the tutoring, and Guilford College Bonner Scholars have been a tremendous resource for student tutors. CNNC has also worked with a group of residents there, called “Supporting Thriving Families,” that advocates for more resources for this community, which is not on any bus lines or within walking distance of any shopping centers. A year ago, CNNC and the social work programs at UNCG and NC A&T initiated a mental health counseling program for residents. This initiative is funded by the Kate B. Reynolds Foundation, with Natosha Knight serving as program director. The Kate B. Reynolds Foundation is also funding the new center, where there will now be an onsite place for family counseling.
Shortly after the opening, Natosha Knight, Supporting Thriving Families staff member from NC A&T reported that, “Last Friday, YES Communities presented the Center to the Oakwood community with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception. A group of children from the community cut the ribbon together while families, friends, and stakeholders looked on. It was wonderful to see the outpouring of excitement as families toured the Center, ate refreshments, and caught up with each other. It is so clear that the Center will be a huge benefit to the community, allowing for more educational services and programs to be provided in this unique space. The collaboration between YES, UNCG, A&T University, AmeriCorps, Supporting Thriving Families, and community residents has resulted in a truly special project, unlike any other.” Dr. Jay Poole from the UNCG Social Work Department added comments from the universities on behalf of the project. Kathy Hinshaw, Community Outreach Coordinator for CNNC, interpreted for community residents.
AmeriCorps member Brianna Higgins reports that over 30 students are now showing up for afterschool tutoring assistance, and a new recruitment drive for volunteer tutors will need to be initiated. Parents, also, are delighted to finally have a place for community activities.