JOHN CHAPPELL: Habitat Homes One of Many Signs of Progress in Robbins
Jimmy Garner strapped on a nail apron and picked up a hammer.
He took time from his day job as president and CEO of FirstBank, and he brought a team of bankers along with him. They spent the day last Wednes-day helping build a house for one of their customers, Abraham Hernandez.
He is a customer at the Robbins branch of First Bank, where Frances Cagle is manager. It was her idea that the bank spend a day helping him build a house for his family of five as part of a three-home neighborhood on Green Street in Robbins.
These are the first homes Habitat for Humanity of Moore County is building in the town.
This was not the first time out for FirstBank. It has been helping Habitat for years. Some years ago, the former First Savings Bank of Southern Pines obtained a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta. It provided $5,000 toward the cost of each new Habitat house.
"I guess the thing is that Habitat was really special to First Savings there in Southern Pines," Garner said. "I believe our first annual report after we got together had a picture of Bill Samuels and Johnny (Burns) and some others working. Since I am from Robbins, I am really pleased we are getting houses there. Our church (Smyrna United Methodist) and, I expect, a lot of other churches are going to be taking part. Good things happening for people who really need help. It is a good and honorable thing for us to do."
After the merger with FirstBank, that continued. It now gives $8,000 for each house. That amount is represented by a third mortgage, forgiven a month at a time over the first five years of home ownership as homeowners make their payments on the primary mortgage.
Burns, executive vice president and director of the Southern Pines FirstBank, has been out three times on Habitat builds.
"I enjoy the opportunity to work with fellow First bankers and do something that helps our fellow man," Burns said. "I enjoy the fellowship, and just knowing you are helping. It is part of our business to help people buy homes."
Work continues on the three houses, and volunteers are welcomed every Saturday morning to the site, no experience needed and lunch served.
Signs of Change
By chance, the bankers were pounding nails directly across the street from the new American Growler factory. It is on Green Street, across the railroad tracks and just up from where Green runs into Hemp Street near the First Baptist Church.
Mayor Mickey Brown hopes this is just another sign of changing times for the economically distressed town, center of the Moore County Foothills area.
Early last week, a big truck arrived carrying the prefabricated structure of another new business. Domino's Pizza had arrived at Robbins Crossing where cleared land waited. It was there a day early.
"Beau Jackson promised that the building would be here Monday, but it's here now," Brown said Sunday. "The truck is waiting, and the building is on it."
Brown is spreading the word, seeing all these things as part of a spreading resurgence of his home town: Growler, Situs, Habitat, NC STEP, the change to a town manager system, and (he hopes and prays) Fibrowatt.
"It is like NC STEP," he said. "Moving us forward -- together."
The next areawide STEP support team meeting is already on the boards, set for Town Hall at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 4. Support team meetings are meant to open the town's doors to people from all around the Foothills area as well as people from the Sandhills who are helping with this three-year experiment to find out what small towns like Robbins can do to restore lost prosperity.
The team will hear from one task force charged with making an inventory of Robbins area resources and strengths, as well as taking a look at weak areas and challenges.
Among suggestions put forward by NMT (Northern Moore Tomorrow) will be a proposal that the Robbins Elementary School take advantage of its almost evenly split cultural population (53 percent Hispanic) to require every child be bilingual by the time they go to middle school.
With half the students already fluent in a different language than the other half, each one could help teach a partner, sharing their language as well as their culture.
Holiday Pottery Kiln
Potters from all over the Foothills area are proposing a unity movement to connect the homegrown artisans through already well known Seagrove and the Seagrove Area Potters Association. They've come to STEP team meetings. Most Seagrove area potteries are in Moore County.
On Saturday, just before that team meeting, the venerable Jugtown Pottery will have its annual Holiday Kiln Opening. Starting at 7 a.m., with refreshments "and warmth," it is the only kiln opening where customers get numbers in order of arrival.
The event will feature pieces from the 2006 firings by Vernon, Pam and Travis Owens, Salt and Pepper Chickens by Lara O'Keefe, JLK Jewelry necklaces with pottery pieces by Pam Owens and handmade beads and design by Jennie Keatts.
A special highlight this year will be a book signing and informal discussion with Dr. Charlotte Brown and her new book, "The Remarkable Potters of Seagrove," from the Lark series. From 10 a.m. to noon., Dr. Brown will be there, accompanied by her book's photographer, Timothy Ayers.
Manager Job Description
Meanwhile, the Robbins town board is working on a job description and list of qualifications for the town's first manager. An interim manager will take the helm to start with as the town conducts a job search for the permanent position.
"The commissioners were kind of setting the stage, jotting down notes this week," said Debra Cockman, town clerk and financial officer.
They have talked with nearby manager-based towns such as Southern Pines and Carthage about what Robbins should have in its job description.
"They gathered information from those and other towns," Cockman said. "We are working out our advertisement for our local newspaper, the statewide newspapers, and the League (N.C. League of Municipalities) letter. It will probably be out first of next week."
John Chappell can be reached at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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