Neighbors Pitching In To Raise A Community Center

Darlington Projectpart Of Community Service Day

October 06, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

One look at the dilapidated shell of a house next to Grace Memorial Church tells you the people of Darlington must have vision.

There's no front porch left, the plaster walls have been removed and to enter the house you have to shuffle across a single board and climb through a window. There is a lot of work yet to be done to make the househomey.

But when Darlington residents look at the 100-plus-year-old house, they see the Wilson Center -- a freshly renovated community center where they can help people in their community who have drug and alcohol problems.

"Darlington is a beautiful old town with beautiful homes, but there are a lot of old back roads as well," said Jan McDonald, whose husband, Nick, is pastor of the Deer Creek Parish that includes Grace Memorial.

"I think people are learning that the picture of drug and alcohol abuse is not downtown on Baltimore Street. And itsays a lot about Darlington as a community to be able to face this head-on. There's been no resistance to the project. We've had nothing but support."

For months now, the McDonalds, the church congregation and other Darlington residents have been tearing out termite-ridden beams, pouring the concrete slab for the basement.

Next weekend they will be joined by other county residents on Community Service Day, said Mary Chance, a Darlington resident and coordinator for Community Service Day.

The Wilson Center is one of about 70 projects community residents can volunteer to help with, but it will be the central object of attention for many volunteers, Chance said.

"Every year we've looked for a project that needs volunteers and more support," she said. "And this was a project that would have a lasting effect on the community."

She expects about 300 volunteers to participatein the Wilson Center work over the three days.

Grace Memorial used part of a $300,000 bequest from Dorothy Wilson, a Darlington resident, to buy the house and grounds several years ago. McDonald said thepurchase must be fated because it turns out the house the church bought was the house Wilson lived in as a child.

"When we were deciding what to do with the house, it became apparent that drug and alcohol abuse was at the beginning of a lot of problems we were seeing in the community," McDonald said.

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at Grace Memorial are packed, she said, with as many as 40 people attendingsome nights.

But related services to help teens or children cope with alcoholic family members are available only in Bel Air, which is14 miles away -- a long drive, or walk, for some residents, she said.

"There are a lot of alcohol-related counseling services, but nottoo many places where the whole family could come," she added. "Whatbetter place for healing in a family to take place than a house?"

The group has raised about $9,000 in cash since being selected as the main Community Service Day project and has had building materials and labor donated to the renovation effort.

Although Community Service Day this year doesn't officially begin until breakfast at 7 Saturday, McDonald said Darlington residents have already volunteered to work around the clock beginning at 5 p.m. Friday. The group will work in shifts throughout the weekend until supper time Sunday.

"If youdo shift work, come by. We'll still be working in the middle of the night," McDonald said. "We won't be finished all the work on the house, but the addition we're putting on will be raised on the 12th and 13th. If you show up, there'll be something for you to do."

McDonald said that with the help on Community Service Day, the Wilson Centermay be opened as early as January 1992, instead of 1995, as originally planned.

The church is already seeking professionals to staff the center when it opens, Chance said, an aspect that has impressed county officials.

"They've had some people come forward already to say they would volunteer their time," she said. "There are counselors looking for space and to volunteer their time as well."

Counselingwill be available at low cost or free, McDonald said. The Wilson Center also will be used by the Gadabouts, a senior citizens group that meets monthly, she said.

J. Sue Henry, coordinator of the county'sDrug Alcohol Impact Program, said she wishes other neighborhoods would get involved in such projects.

"There isn't any community center or other way of giving services in Darlington," she said. "This will provide help in terms of prevention of drug and alcohol abuse. We don't know the scope of the problem, but there is a sense it will be heavily utilized."

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