Francis Cove UMC Involved in Multi-Cultural Ministry in Haywood County

August 6, 2015

By Bill Upton Pigeon CMDCFor the past several years, Francis Cove United Methodist Church in Waynesville, NC has been assisting the Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center (PCMDC). PCMDC’s mission is: “To promote and facilitate harmony among residents of our community by helping to reestablish the longstanding tradition of community as family.” Commonly referred to as The Pigeon Center, the 501-3C non-profit organization is located in a historically African-American school from the segregation era.   The building went dormant before being turned over to the Pigeon Community Development Club fifteen years ago. The vision at the time was a gathering place for the black community and programs for underserved populations. Currently it hosts an after school program and summer youth day camp, adult computer classes, a food assistance pantry, community socials and monthly senior meal nights. Lin Forney, who attended kindergarten in the school and is now the director of the facility says, “It is more than just a building to us. It has a history for the community as a place for gathering — and really just pride I guess, to have a building that we as a community remember being in as our school.” The African American demographic in Haywood County is small — just 1.2 percent of the population, in a county that is 96.7 percent white, according to the U.S. Census. Being the minority makes it all the more important to have a place where the black community feels accepted and can affirm their shared identity with friends and neighbors. However, the Pigeon Center serves more than the African-American community. Today, children in the summer and after-school program are an even mix of white, black and Latino. “We serve a population that may not get services in other places or may not feel comfortable getting services from other places. We serve a population that is marginalized really,” Forney adds. The Center struggles financially, with barely enough money to remain open, and not nearly, enough to pay for big-ticket maintenance repairs a building of its age requires. The facility is currently owned by Haywood County with the PCMDC paying a nominal annual rental fee. Over the past four years, a leaky roof system has led to rapid deterioration of the building. In fact, some areas of the roof collapsed and made an even bad situation worse. The Center was forced to cancel its after school program for 2014 because of the mold and mildew damage and the Summer Enrichment Program (summer day camp), which typically serves 60 children was at risk of being cancelled. Volunteers managed to get the building cleaned up enough to keep the program in place; however, due to the uncertainty enrollment was lower than normal. Tuition for the summer program is $350, with a sliding scale for those able to pay more. It includes two hot meals a day, reading and math tutoring, and a safe place to spend the day with adult supervision. Tuition is not enough to cover the cost of the program.  The shortfall for the summer program ranges from $5,000 to $10,000 a year, which the Pigeon Center raises in donations from, churches, businesses and individuals. Francis Cove UMC has assisted the center with direct outreach donations. The building is heated by steam from the original fuel oil furnace. The old furnace is cranky, inefficient and expensive to run. Initially, we at Francis Cove became involved with the Center by donating and installing a propane gas furnace to supply supplemental heating to the large multipurpose gathering room used for dining, meetings, and other purposes. This year the church was able to assist the Center Director to negotiate with Haywood County to find sufficient funds to replace the entire roof system.  They were also able to include the cost of removal and disposal of an old 10,000-gallon underground fuel oil tank. They are currently in the process of mounting a smaller, less costly tank to fill, above ground and adjacent to the basement boiler room. Outreach groups from local and distant churches have pitched in with cleaning, painting, and repairs, which enabled 40 children to attend Summer Camp. Francis Cove UMC donates from their Mission Garden to provide fresh produce for the camper’s lunches. The children tend the garden and in the process learn about where food comes from. Flowers grown in the garden are made into floral arrangements and given to elderly and shut-in community residents. Facility ownership has long been a desire of the organization. That possibility seemed a far-off dream given the expensive roofing, electrical and sanitary system repair costs.  Ownership could expand the grant and endowment possibilities, so with the encouragement of Haywood County officials, they have made a proposal to the County, which would give The Pigeon Center revertible ownership. With a little more assistance from the county, the organization should be in a position to bear the costs of the remainder of needed repairs in the coming years. Francis Cove UMC is assisted in its outreach to The Pigeon Center with generous help from First United Methodist Church in Waynesville and Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Clyde. The project is also supported by churches from other denominations, community organizations and individuals. Bill Upton is a member of Francis Cove UMC in Waynesville, NC.