North Notes: Robbins Included as Part of STEP Ceremony in Raleigh
Robbins was honored in Raleigh on Wednesday as one of the pioneer sites for North Carolina Small Town Economic Prosperity (NC STEP), a program of the state Center for Rural Development.
The center named a courtyard for Gov. Bev Perdue, who spearheaded support for the program from the start when she was lieutenant governor. So far, 67 communities across the state have taken part. Robbins was in the first group.
Mayor Lonnie English, interim Town Manager Jeff Sheffield, former mayor and STEP leader Theron Bell and Mark Garner —a former town board member — attended. In 2006, then-Mayor Mickey Brown asked Bell, a commissioner at the time, to lead Robbins’ application in the competitive bid for one of the first slots.
“We are the only community in the county ever to get it,” Bell said Thursday. “I wish both Vass and Carthage had. They can keep trying. I hope they will.”
Robbins had drawn on the widespread area surrounding the upper Moore County municipality in communitywide meetings seeking ideas for a better economic future.
“The biggest thing we did was encourage all people to join our committee,” Bell said. “We had a steering committee and branched into projects people wanted to work on. That gave more people an opportunity to be part of this program. It helped build new leaders, both adult and youth.
“We tried very hard to be inclusive. You can ask people to come to the table; it is up to them to come or not. We worked with Hispanics, with black and white. We found that everybody brings something. To think ‘out of the box’ you have to have people with differing points of view. They contribute new ideas, new ways of doing things. That’s what we tried to accomplish, to build community.”
In Raleigh, at the Rural Center, the governor spoke about how much the STEP program can mean to a small town.
“She talked about how the small towns are the backbone of North Carolina,” Bell said.
There are some 500 small towns across the state.
“We were invited out to the courtyard the Rural Center dedicated in honor of the work the governor did on the STEP program from the time she was lieutenant governor,” Bell said. “It was also dedicated to all the STEP towns that had been part of the program since 2006. That is the uniqueness of North Carolina, because we do have this program for these towns that feel hopeless. In the end they give us hope.”
Robbins changed visibly, with new benches and planters on its main streets. Sculptures from UNC Pembroke are on display throughout. STEP formed the Robbins Economic Advisory Program board to review applications for targeted grants from STEP money.
“Some helped with business plans. One was facade improvement,” Bell said. “One went to a new nonprofit who, with additional donations, was able to buy the old Village Theater in downtown Robbins.”
The Robbins Village Theater Foundation is now raising more money to pay the costs of bringing that theater back to life as a cultural and entertainment magnet for the upper area of the county.
“I think one of the great accomplishments was Foothills Outdoors, spearheaded by Drs. William and Lynn McDuffie, Mark Garner and Cynthia Reeves,” Bell said. “They bring hundreds of people to enjoy trips on Bear Creek and Deep River or to hike trails they blazed with help from our former town manager, George Hayfield.”
Another outgrowth, the Bear Creek Hiking Club, organizes expeditions to many parts of the state. STEP involved new people who now serve on the town board.
“We tried to involve everybody,” Bell said.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or by email at jfchappell @gmail. com.
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