Opening Possibilities: New Community Center Offers Youth a Place to Go
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
Carthage has a new community center - by accident, almost.
When Allen Matthews opened his Done Rite Auto, the first African-American-owned auto repair place in the county seat, he got support from existing mechanics and lots of customers from the start.
But when he tried to move to a new Carthage location, he ran afoul of town zoning laws.
After renting a repair shop not far from the middle of town, he was told that the building could no longer be used for auto repair though it had been in the past. Auto repair is not permitted in the central business district, according to town zoning. While there were two such businesses still open in that zone, both had been in operation before the zoning law changed.
Matthews moved everything again, this time to the old Asheboro Wholesale building out on N.C. 24/27 and U.S. 15-501 across from Carthage Farm Supply. Suddenly he found himself with a new opportunity to help his town.
The brick building is huge, well over twice the size he'd need for his repair shop. It was already walled into two sections. Matthews began to see his "accident" as a blessing and a call. Young people in the county seat needed a place to go on weekend evenings, a safe place where wholesome fun could be enjoyed.
His own son Trey is a senior at Union Pines High School, a cadet in the Naval Junior ROTC unit who plans to join the Marines when he graduates later this year. Matthews could see that other young people could benefit from "a place to go."
He garnered support from churches and assembled a 10-member board of directors. After getting a Friday evening youth program under way, they started planning other events. The first was bringing gospel groups in for last weekend's festival evening.
The event featured "praise teams," spoken word, a mime, hip-hop groups, a "step team" and dance teams under the direction of Elder Stephon Johnson, whose daughter had celebrated her 18th birthday there the week before. Johnson retired here after 22 years in the military.
Johnson and Ty Phillips serve with Matthews on the community center board.
"We are in the beginning phases of putting together something great here," Phillips said at a recent board meeting. "It may start off small, with just a few things. Our ultimate goal is to help this generation grow, give this generation something to do and a place. The difference is sometimes just one person stepping out and saying, 'Hey, you can make it.' If you put your mind, put your will, to anything, it can become a fact.
"I think we are going to find that there is a cry for help, not just for encouragement," Phillips said. "I am a church member, but there are things a church can't offer, because a church is sometimes just on a weekly basis. What happens between those times? We need somebody to say, 'Hey, what are you doing? Let me see your homework. I am going to call your teacher, see what you need to work on.' We need a group of people who come together to say, 'I care about young people.'"
It was the interest and encouragement from others that spurred Phillips, and what he hopes the community center Matthews is making possible can offer Carthage's young people.
"This is not my community center," Matthews said. "That's why I have a board. I provide the place, and they make the plans."
Plans for the center include programs to help with literacy and other learning as well, offering events like career days, providing games, a pool table, an air hockey table, arts and crafts, exercise. They are seeking exercise equipment.
"The board will come up with a list of ideas," Matthews said. "We will find ways to do what they come up with. We are going to have an etiquette program, a dress-for-success program. We have the time, and we have the means. The town says we can do it."
His mother, Lorreine Matthews, says the focus is on keeping families together.
"I think it is something that we really need in Carthage," Matthews said. "When you look around town you see all these young people just walking around, nothing to do. They want to get out of the house and have some place to come to. There is a need for that."
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-584 or jfchappell @gmail.com.
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