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Education, exploration come with youth center's opening

BETHEL — Among the 30 people who gathered in a Main Street parking lot on Friday, some saw a long abandoned supermarket while others saw a former ABC store.

Winterville Town Councilman Ricky Hines saw hallowed ground.

“This lot used to be Bethel Primary. It’s where I started kindergarten,” Hines said. “I’m very excited and happy to see the youth center here. It swells my heart because it gives kids something to do.”

“It’s hallowed ground. Education is the key to everything. If you want to be successful you need education. It’s where your foundation starts,” he said.

The group gathered at the former ABC store at 7449 Main St. to formally mark the opening of the Bethel Youth Activity Center, an extension of The Center for Science, Technology and Leadership Development, a Pitt County nonprofit education outreach.

Garrie Moore, executive director of the center, gathered five of its students to perform the ceremonial ribbon-cutting.

“These are future scientists, teachers, doctors. We have to help them,” Moore said.

The facility will serve as a remote learning center. It also will be a place where children can get assistance with public school assignments, tutoring and special activities.

“So much is needed in this area,” Bethel Mayor Gloristine Brown said.

“I am sitting back here, trying to hold back my tears because this is something I’ve wanted to see for a while. Now it’s finally become true,” Brown said.

Moore said he wants the community to view the center’s opening as phase one in a multi-step effort to expand opportunities for children living in Bethel and northern Pitt County.

He wants to purchase the vacant supermarket next to the building so more space is available for more activities.

“We know Pitt County Schools are doing a great job, but we also know as citizens we have a responsibility to help them,” Moore said. “It’s not enough for kids to go to school, come home and have nothing to do.”

He then brought forward five of the children currently attending the center to cut the ceremonial ribbon.

The Center for Science Teaching and Leadership Development obtained the building from the Pitt County ABC Board in September. Using grants from the N.C. Alliance of YMCA, Suddenlink, the Eddie and Jo Allison Smith Family Foundation, Vidant Hospital Foundation, United Way, Barnhill Family Foundation and N.C. Community Foundation, the facility was renovated and outfitted with 30 computers, along with desks, protective shields and high-speed internet.

“We are in the technology industry and this is where our future leaders come from,” said John Autry, regional sales manager for Suddenlink.

“The science, technology and engineering workforce is what we always have to replenish as a nation,” he said. “As a nation, innovation is in our blood but if we don’t foster all of our young people, if we don’t provide the resources, if we don’t have people like Dr. Moore who dedicate their heart and time to something like this, we are all lost.”

Moore spent 34 years in higher education, working at Pitt Community College for 22 years before moving to and eventually retiring from East Carolina University as vice chancellor for student affairs in 2006.

Three years later he started an after-school program at his church, Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church. The program, which became the Center for Science Technology and Leadership Development, later expanded to provide services in Bethel School.

“There are so many needs in Pitt County and kids are out of school, not having anything to do,” Moore said. “I said it’s not fair for me to sit down after retirement and not do anything.”

Having a facility outside the school system gives the center flexibility, Moore said. If there is a need for weekend services or being open later in the evening, the center can adapt.

Three veteran school counselors and teachers make up the core staff. Starting in January, students from ECU will provide reading tutoring and group reading sessions.

Thirty-four students are already enrolled in the center and applications are still being accepted.

Having personal interaction while trying to master new skills is proving invaluable to the students.

Akeela H. Stancil, a 12-year-old sixth-grader from Farmville, comes to the center when her mom is working.

Stancil is taking all online classes. While her internet service as home is great, she’s struggled with the work they are given, especially math, where she is learning to divide fractions.

“If you need help they are here to help and they are really nice,” she said. They also do hands-on experiments such as making a volcano explode.

Demetrion Andrews, 13, a seventh-grader from Bethel, has also found the center’s staff helpful with his math tutoring, he said.

Brown’s granddaughter, fourth-grader JyMeek Borden, has attended the center since it opened two weeks ago.

“She’s excited about coming. She wakes up in the morning, she does virtual learning. When she is done with most of her school work she says ‘Grandma, it’s time to go to the center,’” Brown said. “When I pick her up, she gets in the car and says grandma I had so much fun … she says ‘I understand my math better, (the teacher) makes it seem so simple.’ Just to see the enthusiasm in her makes me know Dr. Moore is on the right track.”

Moore said parents can enroll their children by visiting the center from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday or call 252-818-0020.

County leaders slow Greenville-ENC Alliance pitch to Grifton officials

GRIFTON — Town leaders held off on a decision to join a new economic development group after seeking input from a pair of Pitt County commissioners who have opposed county membership.

The Grifton Board of Commissioners discussed joining the Greenville ENC Alliance at its Nov. 10 meeting following a presentation by alliance officials.

Spence Cosby, a member of the board of directors, and David Horn, director of investor and community relations, discussed the benefits of joining the alliance and answered questions.

The alliance is a public-private partnership formed in 2019 after more than a year of discussions among several entities including the City of Greenville, Greenville Utilities and the Pitt County Committee of 100. It has secured annual funding from public and private members and has more than $8 million committed over a five-year period to attract industry to the region.

“Our goal is to bring people to look at all of Pitt County,” Horn told the board, adding the alliance keeps an inventory of available land and property. The group also assumed ownership of Indigreen Corporate Park north of Greenville from the Committee of 100.

Among the benefits of joining the alliance is that each year the organization awards five grants of $10,000 grant to municipalities. “We want jobs, but we always want livability,” Cosby said.

The group is governed by a board that includes members appointed by the Greenville City Council and GUC and private sector directors elected from members who invest in the alliance. Several public sector representatives serve as non-voting members. Three voting seats go to municipal members on a rotating basis, Horn said.

Others serve as ex-officio, non-voting members. All who attend the meetings are able to express their opinions, Horn said. “We want engagement. It’s a great opportunity for us all to be engaged,” he said.

Ayden, Bethel, Grimesland, Farmville, Fountain and Simpson, he said. Grifton, Falkland and Winterville are not. To be a member, municipalities pay $1 per citizen annually. This would equate to approximately $2,000 for the town of Grifton to join.

Pitt County and the Pitt County Industrial Development Commission were involved in early discussions about the alliance. The Industrial Development Commission is a wholly tax-funded body with a similar mission.

The county pulled out of discussions and did not join the alliance after several commissioners raised concerns about representation on the board and ceding control of county funds. The county has since begun the process of reorganizing the Industrial Development Commission.

Alliance officials said the development commission remains a valued partner. 

Pitt County commissioners Tom Coulson and Lauren White were present at the Grifon meeting and shared their thoughts on the alliance after being asked to do so by Grifton Mayor Billy Ray Jackson.

Coulson said he and Commissioner Beth Ward were hesitant to support the alliance due to the board’s composition of one voting municipality member along with the cost of the county joining.

“Do you have ($2,500) to buy into this? You’re going to take somewhat of a chance,” Coulson said.

White also shared her views.

“I just want to be sure everyone has a voice — that my small towns have a voice for representation,” White said.

The Grifton board took no action after the discussion.

In other business, the commissioners accepted seven parcels of land from Pitt County acquired through FEMA buyout funds after flooding.

“During storms Irene and Matthew, seven properties were acquired where houses resulted in flooding. Pitt County used funds to acquire the properties,” Interim Town Manager Mark Warren said.

Parcels cannot be sold for development since they were purchased with FEMA money and prone to flooding, he added.

Properties can be leased by residents for a low annual price. Residents have done this in the past to use the parcel as additional lawn space.

Parcels also can be used for community gardens, Commissioner Will Barnes said.

Commissioner Claude Kennedy expressed concern about accepting the parcels since the town will be responsible for maintaining the lots. He asked if the county would provide compensation for maintenance.

Traditionally the town accepts the parcels and maintains the lots. This keeps residents happy since they do not have to live by unkept parcels, Warren said.

Barnes agreed that ensuring maintenance of the parcels was important and made a motion to accept them. It was seconded by Commissioner Raymond Oakes. It passed 3-1 with Kennedy opposed.

Commissioners also held a moment of silence for Commissioner Johnny Craft, who died on Oct. 30. The board will begin advertising to fill his vacancy.

“We lost a faithful member of this board. May his service never be forgotten,” Jackson said.

Fountain Library

Mold removal work soon will begin at the Fountain Public Library following a unanimous decision by the Fountain Board of Commissioners at its Nov. 10 meeting.

The library, which is closed due to the mold found in its ceiling, has been a focus of Commissioner Kathy Parker.

Parker has been working with specialists to correct the problem. She was informed the ceiling and its insulation would need to be replaced.

After discussion on the library’s viability, commissioners voted to contract Shaun Newland to do the work.

The demolition will cost of $6,047.37 and will be paid for through the town’s library fund.

Animal shelter has new driveway but renovations remain on hold

Future pet parents now have a more hospitable route to the Pitt County Animal Shelter.

The facility, located at 4550 County Home Road, opened a new driveway entrance on Nov. 12, eliminating the need to travel through the Bells Fork collection site where people take their trash and recyclables.

Officials said the new entrance is more functional and appealing.

“We encourage all citizens coming to the shelter to access it through the new entry way,” said Michele Whaley, Pitt County Animals Services director.

Construction at the shelter has been underway since April 2018 when the county started a $1.93 million expansion and renovation of the facility in order to house more dogs and cats and improve opportunities for adoption.

A new structure was built to house dogs and puppies available for adoption along with two interior “get acquainted” areas and two additional restrooms.

The existing building and kennels would then be renovated to make space for a new cat adoption area, expanded cat-holding area, an intake area, an office for the shelter attendants and space for the animal control offices.

The entire project was supposed to take one year to complete. Instead, the first phase took 18 months to finish.

The project stalled and in September 2019 the Pitt County Board of Commissioners declared the general contractor, Burney & Burney Construction Co., had defaulted on the project.

Burney and Burney in turn filed a lawsuit against the county and the company that held its surety bond in November 2019.

In April the board of commissioners accepted a $750,000 settlement from the surety company, but the lawsuit with Burney and Burney remains in litigation.

Along with paving the new driveway, commemorative bricks have been installed outside of the shelter. Two hundred bricks were sold to raise money to purchase equipment and furnishings for the get acquainted spaces.

Whaley said they were installed along the sidewalk leading into the new wing at the shelter by a Boy Scout for his Eagle Scout project.

The shelter has reopened the commemorative brick sale. The cost is $50 per brick. Individuals can choose a brick that has three lines of text with 20 characters per line or they can choose a brick with an image and three lines of text with 15 characters per line.

Visit http://www.fundraisingbrick.com/online-orders/pittcounty to place an order.

The shelter has traditionally conducted holiday-themed adoption programs. Whaley said there will be no program this year because of COVID-19, but it highlights animals by sharing pictures and videos on its Facebook page.

The shelter is open to the public by appointment only. Anyone interested in adopting an animal should call the office at 252-902-1726. It is staffed 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday–Friday.