The New ESR
(pictured above: Ribbon cutters (left to right) Larry Herzberg, Fred Bazemore, Vivian Burke, DD Adams, Twanna Wellman-Roebuck, Dell James, Dr. Frank James, Tommy Hickman, Mayor Allen Joines and William Womble.)
Experiment in Self-Reliance (ESR) held a ribbon-cutting celebration at its new headquarters last Friday.
The 50-year-old nonprofit – which works to empower the working poor – will officially begin operating out of the new commodious building at 3480 Dominion St. on June 16.
ESR had rented its current location (the former City Memorial Hospital) off East Fifth Street since the 1970s. Officials said the agency had long outgrown the building.
The agency’s homeowner training program – which teaches clients how to save for and buy a new home – was being held in the basement of an adjacent building. Its free tax preparation service, which prepares more than 2,500 tax returns for local residents each year, was spread over many locations throughout the city. The new building is designed to house all of the agency’s programs and classes with room to spare and grow.
“We are so appreciative of having the time we spent in that neighborhood and appreciative of our neighbors there, but the building wasn’t really suited for providing the services we provide through out the community,” said ESR Board Chair Larry Herzberg. “We knew we needed a more efficient site: one, to serve our clients better and, two, we were renting from the North Carolina Housing Foundation. While they were a good landlord, we also knew we didn’t want money going into rent every year; we want that money to be going into programs to serve our clients.”
The agency launched a capital campaign to pay for the new building. To date, it has generated more than $2.7 million, said campaign chairman Tommy Hickman.
Funds are still being raised through the sale of engraved bricks that will be cemented into the sidewalk at the new site; spaces on the building’s donor wall are also available.
“The work that ESR does around empowering people to be more self sufficient or self reliant, empowering people to help themselves, is something that resonated very well in this community as we went out and told the story,” Hicks said.
The night before the ribbon-cutting, a donor reception was held at the new building; Johnnie Draft III spoke at the event, detailing his experience in ESR’s self reliance program. In it, clients like Draft learn strategies to rise above the poverty level, which 92 precent of the program’s participants succeed in doing.
Draft earned a high school certificate of completion and, with the program’s guidance, is taking GED and CNA classes at Forsyth Technical Community College. The single father – who is employed full time as the minister of music at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church – plans to eventually attend Wake Forest University Divinity School and take to the pulpit one day.
“When you come into Experiment in Self-Reliance, you come into a family, but they are going to push you to be better than what you are,” he said.
Stephon Hicks is an ESR success story. These days, he volunteers at the agency to help others. But years ago, a battle with drugs and alcohol left him homeless. He got into one of ESR’s housing programs and lived for four years in one of the agency’s furnished, subsidized units on Fifth Street. ESR also got him the help he needed to conquer his demons. He said the assistance changed his life.
“It gave me something to fight for,” he said.
These are heady times for ESR. In addition to its new building, the agency is marking its 50th anniversary. Board chairs from the past were invited to help cut the ribbon. They included ESR’s first board chair William Womble, Dr. Frank James, along with Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke, whose late husband, Logan, was chair in the 1970s and 80s.
For more information about ESR, visit esr.org or call 336-722-9400.