Center gives kids in tough Durham neighborhood help – and hope

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – The Youth Life Center is beacon of hope in tough Durham neighborhood

The Youth Life Learning Center on Cornwallis Road in Durham was born 17 years ago. That’s when Ron Lewis, the senior pastor at Kings Park International Church, realized his church wasn’t doing enough in its own community.

“We were doing missions all across the world and it’s like we’d forgotten to recognize the fact there are neighbors who need development, need help, they need opportunity,” Lewis said. “So when we came to this neighborhood and saw the amount of help needed.

Youth Life Learning Center in Durham
PHOTOS: The Youth Life Learning Center in Durham

“We really felt the love and a calling to come here and tell the good news, share our lives and share our resources with these wonderful children.”

Kings Park International is one of the state’s largest and most ethnically diverse churches in North Carolina. Lewis says many of his congregation come from the Cornwallis neighborhood.

“This is definitely a tough area and there are lots of kids in need,” Lewis said. “But there’s also the hunger for a better life from the parents and the kids who live here.”

It’s no secret the neighborhood has a reputation for crime, gang affiliation and little opportunity. Lewis said that’s the reason he established the Life Learning Center in the heart of the Cornwallis Housing Project and its impact was felt immediately.

“What really helps is when we see the long-term story of families that can graduate from here can go through life and they can be given what they’re lacking,” Lewis said. “Not so much as things but skills, confidence and the faith and certainty that someone outside of themselves loves them enough to get them unstuck. We’re watching these kids as they’re fully blooming and blossoming. The talent that is in them is able to come out and shine and they’re doing great things in their lives.”

Helping children every day at the Life Learning Center is the Director Georgina Hill. Hill, who has been at the helm for three years, said the need can be overwhelming.

“This is a tough neighborhood,” Hill said. “There are single-parent households, for the most part, and children need a lot of extra help in regards to character development and programming and different things that we can offer them.”

Hill and her team work Monday through Friday with about 50 children. Kids get a meal during the summer and school year, help with homework and character development training. Hill, who operated one of the largest Christian book stores in New York City before moving to the Triangle, said she knows this is her calling and there’s no other place God wants her right now.

“It’s a great thing to know what we’re doing here with Kings Park and the Life Center is going in the right direction,” Hill said. “Children come in and volunteer with all age groups and get a chance to give back and bless the children and put them on firm ground. It’s a tremendous blessing to me personally. We get a chance to input and lead our kids in the right direction.”

Youth Life Center members Ja’Corey Barockington, 11,and Semaja Bullock, 12, said they’ve both become a better people because of its help.

“My favorite part of coming here is to be with my friends and get my homework done with Miss Georgina,” said Barockington.

“My favorite part of coming here is when we get to do our homework and they get to help us with projects and when we need to research we can get on the computer and researc stuff and just to have fun,” said Bullock.

How you can help

On Saturday, Aug. 8, the Youth Life Center will be holding a back to school clothing and backpack drive.

“We will be looking for new backpacks. We are looking for various age groups. So our younger kids there looking to see whoever’s the new trend out there. Our older and middle school kids are just looking for solid backpacks,” said Hill

Uptown Thrift in Raleigh will also be donating gently used clothing to the drive. The store will also serves as a drop off and pick up location for the drive before and after Saturday’s event. Store owner Mike Risley says it’s a small thing that impacts kids in a big way. “We love being a part of the drive. I coach a lot of kids from the area on my youth football team and it’s our way of giving back. We’d love for you to come out to Uptown Thrift. We’ll discount any items you’d like to buy for the drive and deliver them to the center for you,” says Risley.

For Lewis, the best part of the Youth Life Center is seeing kids come back years later to help.

“The best stories are when the kids speak for themselves of how they’ve benefited. They come back to volunteer and help these kids break the cycle of dispair and give hope. We’ve seen grades go from D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s.

“We have kids at UNC. We have kids that have graduated from here who are now at NYU and some who are in the work force and have a job and sharing what they’ve received here with others.”

If you’d like to help you can leave backpacks at Kings Park Internation Church 1305 Odyssey Drive Durham, NC 27713 Email: Phone: 919-544-6304 or Uptown Thrift in Raleigh Drop Off or Buy Monday-Friday 10am-7pm 4025 Wake Forest Road Raleigh, NC 27609

Both will be taking donations the entire month of August.

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