Shelter's executive director leaving after seven years
By Tyler Stocks
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
After seven years of working to improve the lives of Pitt County's homeless population, Bob Williams, executive director of the Community Crossroads Center, is retiring.
Williams, whose last day is Sept. 27, said he promised the board of directors he would serve at least five years. September will mark his seventh anniversary the shelter's executive director.
"Here I feel like, 'Yeah, I made a difference,'" Williams said. "I can walk away feeling, 'Yep, I did my part for Greenville.' Now I can do some other stuff."
During Williams' tenure, which began in 2012, the center underwent major changes including the construction of a new $2.2 million facility which was completed in 2015. The building features offices, dormitories, family rooms, lockers, a dining hall, and a commercial kitchen.
"The biggest accomplishment is building a decent, secure, safe facility, Williams said.
In particular, Williams highlighted the facility's four family rooms.
"At least now we have at least four rooms for families," he said. "Prior to that, if a mom checked in with a 13-year-old boy, the boy had to go over on the men's side just because of his age and all that. With the family rooms, we can keep families intact."
Another accomplishment is expanding partnerships with Pitt Community College, Vidant Health and the City of Greenville to provide transportation and education for residents.
In 2013, Williams said, PCC partnered with the shelter to teach classes in food preparation to train workers for entry-level food services jobs. After that program ended, PCC began teaching a free three-week course on human resources development, which covers interviewing, conducting job searches, dressing for success and being a good employee. That course is still offered to residents today.
Another component of helping shelter residents prepare for the workforce is the shelter's clothing closet.
"A lot of people show up and they don't have any clothes," Williams said. "They're really destitute, or they got kicked out of their home or whatever. That was one of our thoughts too, 'Let's open up our own clothing closet that way people can go over and get stuff, go to the class, learn how to be a good employee, do job searches and all that.' It kind of all goes together."
Through grants with Vidant, Williams said transportation to work, job interviews, doctor's appointments and other places are provided to residents at no charge, something that wasn't available when he arrived.
Williams said what he's enjoyed most about his time as executive director has been being able to serve others.
"I just feel it's the right thing to do. We need to take care of everybody," Williams said.
While a new executive director hasn't been named, recruitment for the position has been going on for two weeks and the candidate field has been narrowed down to three possible choices from a field of 50 applicants, Williams said.
The right person for the job needs to understand the nature of homelessness and know the ins and outs of running a shelter, he said.
"What we want is somebody that has experience with homelessness that can run a facility like this and keep it up to par," Williams said. "The last thing we want is for it to become run down and kind of a flophouse."
One project that awaits the new executive director is the task of figuring out what to do with a dilapidated 1920s building that sits on the property.
"I would like to see the board and the new (executive director) take on the task of what are we going to do with that building," Williams said. "What are we going to do with that two-story building next door that needs some help? That building was built in 1924 and it's probably seen enough life."
Williams also said he hopes the new director will help the center continue its mission of improving the lives of the people it touches.
"We want somebody to continue in the manner that we've been accustomed to in the past 61/2 years and to take it to the next level," he said. "There are some things in the works that I'm going to pass along to the person that takes over for me. And I can't talk a whole lot about that."
Williams also reiterated that homelessness doesn't exist in a vacuum and that it affects everyone.
"A great percentage of our people are just like you and I and a lot of people are just one paycheck away from being homeless," he said. "There's a lot of people out there that can be homeless tomorrow given certain circumstances. That perceived notion that homeless people are just a bunch of drug addicts and bums — that's definitely not true."
Some members of Pitt County's homeless population have strong professional and educational backgrounds, Williams said.
"We've had people with MBAs here," he said. "We've had people with nursing degrees. We've had very legitimate people here that made a wrong choice or bad decision or who were down on their luck and they're just looking for a place they can go, get their life back together and go back out there and be productive, tax-paying citizens again."
Though he's leaving behind work he's thoroughly enjoyed, Williams said he's ready to relax and enjoy retirement.
"I've been here 24 years and I'm probably going to spend a lot of time in my wood shop, playing with wood and making things," Williams said.
Williams also plans to continue teaching sociology part-time at Craven Community College in New Bern.
As he prepares for his exit in a few months, Williams said he is grateful for the outpouring of love and support from the community.
"I'd like to thank the community for all their support," Williams said. "We would never have been able to build this new facility without the help of the community. It's amazing how much support we get from the folks out there. And if it wasn't for them, we would have to close our doors."