The April issue of the Urban News has a piece I wrote for Buncombe County about the Edington Center in the Southside neighborhood, a community center that truly nurtures community and overflows with heart and hope. For this story, I got to interview the amazing Ms. Shuvonda Harper, who is a vital part of the center’s success. Here it is:

As a positive place for connection and enrichment, Arthur R. Edington Education and Career Center tips the scales towards positive outcomes in Buncombe County.

Shuvonda-Harper-photo-by-Ami-Worthen

Shuvonda Harper. Photo by me.

“Having a space where people can come and do things in their community is good,” states Shuvonda Harper, who manages scheduling and more at the Edington Center. Harper was born in the Southside neighborhood, the historically African American neighborhood where the Center is located, and is deeply involved in in her community.

While synergy between people is what makes the Edington Center so special, the building itself holds historical value. It was originally Livingston Street Elementary School for African American students. After integration it became a City of Asheville Parks and Recreation facility, the W.C. Reid Center, before it’s current incarnation.

Edington-Center-HACA-photo

Murals on the front of the Edington Center. Photo from HACA.

Today, murals on the front of the building, created by neighborhood youth, send the message: you matter, there is success in your future, reach high.

A true hub, Edington Center is always bustling with activity, housing a variety of organizations. These groups create a resource grid and help create uplifting neighborhood norms.

Harper shared a bit about the groups that convene at the Center:

Green Opportunities (GO)
Green Opportunities (GO) provides training programs and a pipeline to employment. Their Kitchen Ready program teaches culinary skills. People are able to come to the Southside Kitchen to get a nice fresh lunch. It’s donation-based and 100% of the donations go to the students.The GO Build program teaches carpentry and building. They sell cutting boards and knife racks and do custom builds. This money goes back into the students as well.

Southside-Kitchen-GO-photo

Southside Kitchen. Photo from Green Opportunities.

Housing Authority of the City of Asheville (HACA)
The owner of the building, HACA supports the many activities that occur at the Center.

Word on the Street
This is an online magazine created by youth of color. They really work hard and meet at the Edington Center three days a week. I enjoy having the young people there, they are smart, really creative kids.

My Community Matters
This the RCHACA youth group that meets in the summer. We hire residents to work as counselors, and the kids who participate are kids from our community. They get a stipend to participate. We teach leadership skills and life skills. Our goal is to give them the tools they need to pursue jobs or a college education.

Forever Living Clothes Closet
Stephanie Maewether, who was a resident of the Southside community, started this donation-based clothes closet. Her mission is that you look good when you go for your job interviews or start a job.

Southside Community Garden
We grow healthy food which is pesticide free. In 2016, close to 1000 pounds of food was harvested and used in the kitchen or by neighbors. Our mission is to keep our community healthy, to have fresh food that we know where it comes from.

Southside-Community-Garden

Southside Community Garden.

FreshLo Project
FreshLo stands for fresh food in low income communities. We provide free Grab-n-Go healthy snacks in the afternoons Monday through Friday. This is made possible by a grant from the Kresge Foundation.

UpFront Sports Management
Coach Sherman Williams serves as a mentor to to a lot of youth. He provides training in various sports. He also offers tutoring and help with college readiness in partnership with Positive Changes Youth Ministries.

Positive Changes Youth Ministries
Dewana Little provides college readiness programs for teens who will be the first in their families to attend college. This past summer we took a group to visit 15 colleges in 5 days. Since then, we’ve had quite a few who have applied and have gotten a response from schools.

Partners Unlimited
Anderson Davis provides lessons for high school students needing credits to graduate. He also does SAT and ACT prep.

Residents’ Council of the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville (RCHACA)
This office is the main hub for all of the public housing communities.

Southside Community Advisory Board
They have been a huge influence on keeping the integrity of the space and keeping it community focused and led.

Of these groups, the Edington Center is made possible by a partnership between HACA, RCAHA, Upfront Management Sports, GO, Partners Unlimited and the Community Advisory Board.

“I love to see the flow of the building,” Harper says, “the adult students during the day and the kids after school. The kids have a creative place to come and hang out with peers, learning about their community and how they fit into Buncombe County.”

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In my opinion, the transformation of our community simply cannot happen without welcoming gathering spaces like the Edington Center and supportive programs such as those listed above. Asheville is lucky to be home to such a jewel.