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Like its Thanksgiving dinner, Little Willie continues to serve

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Debra Yancy holds out her plate as volunteer Lathan Turner serves turkey, during the annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Masonic Lodge Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017.


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Friday, November 24, 2017

A location change did nothing to alter the mission of the Little Willie Center.

The devotion the center’s leadership and volunteers have for the west Greenville community was on full display Thursday when the organization partnered with Mount Hermon Masonic Lodge No. 35 to serve more than 1,000 meals at its annual Thanksgiving Day dinner.

“We are doing good,” said Renee Arrington, Little Willie Center’s founder. “There is something about God’s work. God’s work will go on into eternity; it never stops. Everybody has gone through situations and circumstances things happen, that’s life but you never stop your vision.”

Nearly two years ago the Little Willie Center, which has operated in the West Fifth Street area since its beginning in 1990, relocated to the other side of west Greenville to Living Faith Prophetic Ministries, 308 Truman St., off Dickinson Avenue. The March 2016 move came after the center’s leadership reached an impasse with the city of Greenville over a request to provide testing and care for children and adults they believed were sickened by mold at the Lucille Gorham Intergenerational Center, which they had occupied since 2007. The city repaired the building and made it available to the organization; it did not provide health screenings.

“Our mission remains the same, empowering our children, rebuilding or community and re-establishing the family structure,” said Melissa Arrington, Little Willie Center’s program and volunteer coordinator and Renne Arrington’s daughter-in-law.

Twenty-five children spend the hours of 2:30-6:30 p.m. in the after school program. They also offer a weekly program for children ages 6-17 who are at-risk for delinquency or who are delinquent to help them with character and relationship building and conduct and communication skills. The monthly community prayer breakfast is still held the fourth Saturday of each month from 9 a.m.-noon. The organization also has its weekly food box distribution and Thursday night prayer meeting.

All center activities are possible because the organization maintained its full complement of volunteer parents, community members and faculty and staff from East Carolina University.

The new location isn’t on an ECU bus route, Melissa Arrington said, but student volunteers have driven themselves or carpooled to reach the facility. The center also gained new partners, such as teachers from Lakeforest Elementary School who provide tutoring services.

While the center’s work never stopped, the new location had one drawback: it didn’t have a full kitchen.

Renee Arrington had hosted a community Thanksgiving dinner even before they opened the Little Willie Center, her daughter-in-law said, so continuing it it was top goal of the family and the center’s board of directors.

“It’s the familiarity. Twenty-nine years is an awful long time to not do it again. It motivates you to keep the harmony going,” Melissa Arrington said.

The West Fifth Street lodge was happy to partner with the center, said Kari Williams, the lodge’s past master. “Our purpose as a Masonic Lodge is to help in the community,” he said.

“They (the Little Willie Center) used to have a dinner and we used to have a dinner,” said Arjenae Jones-Williams, who works with the lodge and is director of Something to Somebody, which provides weekly food to the less fortunate.

“Instead of having two events we decided to come together and have unity in the community. It’s better, instead of having two little events, to have one big event.”

This is the second year the organizations jointly sponsored the celebration, which included a clothing giveaway organized by Ladies Delight Chapter 10, a sister chapter of the lodge. They received donations from numerous businesses and community members. Melissa Arrington said the volunteers didn’t miss a beat.

“We had people cooking last week and freezing dishes because they knew they couldn’t be here today,” she said. They had at least 50 volunteers working Thursday and dozens more helped with preparations on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Jevara Ward of Wilson joined a friend who is parent-volunteer at the Little Willie Center at Thursday’s event.

“I was just amazed. I’m standing around and it looks like a big, family reunion,” Ward said. “I don’t know if they know each other, but people are hugging, they are just coming together.”

“They are very helpful with clothes and food. There was a variety of food,” said Tray Dixon of Greenville

Konisha Everett waited with her children, Dashavious, 6, Keyshawn, 4, and Tizanna, 1, as her mother collected plates of food for the family.

“My mom, she doesn’t cook, and I can’t cook at all,” Everett said. “Our family isn’t in Greenville. This means a lot to people who don’t have any place to go.”

Renee Arrington said it’s a pleasure and an honor to do the Lord’s work.

“I still have a happy face and still love the Lord even more,” she said. “I’m getting ready to turn 65 and I am not tired yet, but I do know that I have to train and teach others and impart to them, hopefully prayerfully, that they will get the vision and continue the work of God.”

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.