FACT check: Church partners reach out to families of Zion Hills
SALISBURY — At Miller Recreation Center, Dana Monroe gathered about a half dozen of the older kids around her and read “The Christmas Box,” a holiday tale of letters left behind by a child who had died.
“It’s a beautiful little story,” said Monroe, a member of Soldiers’ Memorial AME Zion Church and a volunteer for FACT — Families and Communities Together. ‘What was the first gift of Christmas? By the end of the story, he knew it was love.”
Assisted by Corine Parks, Monroe encouraged her table of students to make their own Christmas boxes — something they could fill with their cards, letters, pictures and other mementos from this Christmas season. The kids, who included middle school- and high school-aged students from Zion Hills Apartments, decorated their cardboard boxes with stickers, ribbons and drawings.
Monroe also asked each participant to include a personal tag or message related to the season on his or her box. Larry White, a sophomore at Salisbury High School, wrote, “Christmas shows love and the coming together of families.”
And so went just one exercise at this December meeting of FACT, an outreach ministry to residents of Zion Hills from the members of Moore’s Chapel and Soldiers’ Memorial AME Zion churches.
Most people don’t realize it, but the 50-unit apartment complex off Standish Street has been owned and managed by a partnership of the two Salisbury churches since its dedication in 1971.
Rather than just be landlords satisfied with providing housing for low-income families, the churches established FACT almost three years ago as a way of doing more for the children and adults who live at Zion Hills.
The unique partnership is a blessing and opportunity, said Dr. Grant Harrison, pastor of Soldiers Memorial, and the churches want to see this outreach effort grow beyond Zion Hills.
The Rev. Carolyn Bratton, pastor of Moore’s Chapel, said the two churches are of one mind when it comes to helping the residents of the apartment complex,, a rent-subsidized community.
“We understand it’s all about ministry,” she said, “and not about competition.”
Since April 2012, a wide range of activities have been offered through FACT, beyond the monthly classes for children and their parents that are held at Miller Recreation Center.
“I like the way it brings families together,” said Kesha Hoskins, a Zion Hills resident whose has five children ranging in age from 7 to 13.
For the adults, the program has offered information on attaining GEDs or taking college courses. They’ve learned about meal-planning, taken computer sessions, attended health fairs, participated in the Section 8 Housing and Family Self-Sufficiency program and had “chit-chats” to discuss issues such as voter registration, government, spiritual growth and what makes for healthy relationships.
The offerings for children have been even broader. Summer activities alone have included basketball camps and mentoring at Livingstone College; Vacation Bible School; a reading, art and music camp; a reading camp at Rowan Public Library; and Bible enrichment studies.
Other programs have taken in Black History Month activities, basketball and mentoring at Miller Recreation Center and two special programs aimed at girls: FIT (Females in Technology), sponsored by Livingstone College’s technology department for girls in grades 5 to 12, and the “Girls Rock with Docs!” program, in which the honors program of Livingstone College brought in eight women with doctorate degrees to talk to young girls.
That Oct. 18 event on the Livingstone campus lasted from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and preceded a Blue Bears football game the same afternoon.
Overall, Livingstone College has been an important partner with Soldiers’ Memorial and Moore’s Chapel in FACT’s efforts.
Tonight, Livingstone College has invited 10 Zion Hills families to a Christmas banquet at the Livingstone Events Center. The dinner will be followed by a presentation of some gifts and the group’s attendance at the college production of “Miracle on Monroe Street.”
“God has blessed us, and people have heard about us,” said the Rev. Mary Hardin, who serves as the FACT coordinator for Soldiers’ Memorial, along with her counterpart from Moore’s Chapel, Shirley Holt. “People now come to us and ask, ‘Can we help you.'”
A nursing sorority provides a health fair every year. And as part of fulfilling Harrison’s wish to expand the program beyond just Zion Hills residents, the Salisbury Drill Team has joined the FACT activities held at the Miller Recreation Center.
To help residents attend the monthly classes, Moore’s Chapel provides a bus that picks up children and their parents and returns them back home.
FACT leaders have stressed the importance of parents participating, and not just sending their children to the Miller Center or dropping them off.
“We’re having more parents engage with their children,” said Yvonne Tracey, director of Christian education for Soldiers Memorial and a retired executive from Kraft Foods.
Tracey belongs to the board of directors of Zion Hills Apartments Inc., which includes five members from each church. She also is a past board chairman — a job belonging to Herbert Chambers now.
Once the mortgage on Zion Hills Apartments was paid off, Tracey said, members of both churches discussed what to do next. Rather than selling the apartments, they asked themselves why couldn’t they make an effort to improve the quality of living, thinking and parenting for the Zion Hills residents, Tracey said.
The churches wanted to do more for the residents than just providing a program at Christmas or rolling eggs at Easter, Tracey said, also emphasizing that establishing FACT wasn’t an effort to increase membership at either church.
As for both churches working together over the past 43 years as owners of Zion Hills, Tracey acknowledged, “It’s more unusual than it is usual.”
Holt said the bond between the two churches has grown since the FACT program started.
Patricia Ricks, a specialist in alcohol and drug prevention, volunteers as an instructor in the adult education aspect of FACT, and she likes how the participating parents learn from each other.
“This brings people together,” Ricks added. “They may live in the same neighborhood and not even know each other.”
As part of her instruction, Ricks might talk to the parents about how to help their children succeed at school, how they should talk to teachers, how to react if their child is being bullied, how to work with different ages of kids, how to approach homework or how to prepare their children for college.
Hardin said the Zion Hills children must know they can be successful, and FACT tries to elevate their expectations and dreams through spiritual, physical, mental and emotional means.
Holt said she likes how FACT often reaches children one on one. A lot of times, she said, children don’t receive a lot of feedback, and FACT activities give them more of a chance to express themselves.
“It’s catching on,” Holt said.
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