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Transforming a Neighborhood

For years, Patricia DeGraffinreaidt has volunteered in her neighborhood near Winston-Salem State University through the Southeast Neighborhood Association and her church, Exodus United Baptist.

When she became the event manager for the S.G. Atkins Community Development Corporation’s Enterprise Center, the opportunity provided the perfect way to match her vocation with her passion to serve the neighborhood.

“It was just a godsend,” says Patricia, who worked as a catering sales manager at a local hotel before starting her own event planning business.

When S.G. Atkins’ Executive Director Carol Davis showed Patricia the opportunities the center provides, “I was actually in awe,” she says. “This is a jewel. There’s a lot of love in this building for this community.”

The S.G. Atkins CDC started at Winston-Salem State in 1998. Its first efforts focused on renovating and building affordable homes, Carol says, and then on creating a loan pool for small businesses.

In 2011, the CDC opened the Enterprise Center, a business incubator and community learning center located in the former Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club building on South Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. A $1.2 million federal grant covered renovations to the 40,000-square-foot space.

The Enterprise Center houses office space for small businesses and nonprofits on all three floors of the building. The center partners with Winston-Salem State, Wake Forest University, and Forsyth Technical Community College to provide workshops that benefit the resident businesses.

The first floor features a virtual hospital custom-designed for WSSU’s School of Health Sciences. The former gymnasium reopened in 2012 as a 4,700-square-foot conference center that stays busy with special events, including business networking, workshops, and community gatherings.

“It’s taken on a life of its own,” Carol says. “It’s a unique asset which supports a diverse community’s changing interests and needs.”

A LEED-certified building powered by solar panels, the center is “a model of sustainability,” she adds. Look no further than its most recent projects for additional proof of that. The center now features Forsyth County’s first permitted, shared-use commercial kitchen for chefs, caterers and other entrepreneurs in the food industry. And a community garden soon should produce food for events.

“We have added two positions—a commercial kitchen manager and a community garden manager—and they are helping with the conference center,” Carol explains. “Our goal for the next spring harvest is to be able to get fresh vegetables from the garden that can be prepared in the kitchen and served in the conference center. It’s our version of the farm-to-table concept.”

In all it does, the S.G. Atkins CDC strives to create community-based leadership and focuses on revitalizing the neighborhoods surrounding Winston-Salem State through community, economic-development and housing programs.

Another example: Through a partnership with the City of Winston-Salem, it currently has four houses under construction for first-time home buyers.

“We’ve spent a lot of time over the last two years working on a master plan for the neighborhoods near WSSU,” Carol says. “At the root of the plan is creating a stronger neighborhood economy, which means more jobs and more opportunities for residents.”

Patricia calls the center “a transformational place.” Yet, she says, “It’s like family, too, here. My goal is to make as many people as possible aware of this center and what it offers.”

S.G. Atkins and other community development corporations (CDCs) are 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations that support and revitalize communities, especially those that are impoverished or struggling. CDCs often provide development of affordable housing, and they can be involved in a wide range of community services that meet local needs such as education, job training, healthcare, commercial development, and other social programs.