Down through the red clay and muddy rivers of Mississippi, the trodden community of Gaston Point is in the process of transforming what was once known as an ‘underprivileged residential area’ into a smart growth community.
Leaders, residents and citizen volunteers of Gaston Point and surrounding areas collaborated with corporations like, Partners World Wide and Back Bay Mission and other 501C3 corporations to form the newly, non-profit organization, Gaston Point Community Development Corporation or Gaston Point CDC.
Since May 2007, the selected eight board members of the Gaston Point CDC have focused its primary mission on improving the quality of life for the residents of Gaston Point community, through the development of partnerships; to provide affordable housing, to improve the quality of existing housing and to encourage development of neighborhood businesses.
Sidney Rushing, president and CEO of Gaston Point CDC said, “I get fulfillment when the opportunity comes to serve people and give something back to the community. Rushing, along with the other board members have created a strategic planning technique to help organize and foresee the vision of Gaston Point CDC.
Other board members and Gaston Point CDC affiliates are: Everett Lewis, Housing Specialist for Back Bay Mission, Roland Buteyn, consultant for Partner’s World Wide, Michael Holleman, Pastor Felix Williams of Grace on the Coast Church, Justin Holton, director of the West End Disaster Relief Association (WEDRA), Gary Hollimon, City Councilman for the Gulfport, Reverend Lee Adams of Little Rock Baptist Church in Gulfport, MS. and Jimmie Jenkins, president of the Civic Association.
The idea of the Gaston Point CDC manifested through Buteyn of Colorado. Over a year ago, Buteyn saw the need for reconstruction in the Gaston Point community due to hurricanes Rita and Katrina, drug abuse and many other inner-city social factors. Therefore, he ventured out and collaborated with Rushing to bring this organization into fruition. Buteyn and other employees of Partners World Wide, travel to third world countries to work along with ministers and leaders to strengthen families in role modeling and mentoring in the community. “Our second main focus is affordable housing for citizens, but first we work to improve the family structure and social relationships,” Buteyn said.
One factor of focus for the board members of the Gaston Point CDC was to improve the unemployment rate in the area. So, Buteyn came up with the idea to form a construction-training school to give residents experience in this field that is high in demand. Buteyn and Rushing searched high and low at many abandoned and ransacked buildings in the area in search for the perfect building to jumpstart this school. They finally found the perfect building. However, the school did not open until months later. Gaston Point CDC is now, the founding organization of “Operation Reconstruct,” which is linked to the Home Builder’s Institute (HBI). The school is a construction institute that is currently training residents for Gaston Point’s reconstruction sites. Buteyn describes it as a way for families to have a source of income.
The very first 12 students recently graduated from “Operation Reconstruct” and currently hold fulfilling careers in this field. The second class had their commencement ceremony in November 2007.
Holton, former student of Rushing’s, came on board to review proposals, plans and operate decisions and input. Holton thinks of his job as, Supreme Court Justice. “We’re on the mission to supply decent, affordable housing for residents,” Holton said. Pastor Williams was one of the first community leaders to see the hard work and labor of the Gaston Point CDC. The very first home that was renovated by the board members is located on the same street as his church. “I’m like the new-kid on the block,” Holton explained. “The people of the CDC welcomed me with open-arms and everyday it’s an experience and honor to work along with the other board members.”
Williams described the Gaston Point area as an inner-city area where drug gangs and prostitution is a way of life for many. Williams believed that to repair this community in every aspect, it’s going to take the leaders, citizens, neighboring cities and states. “To get this job done, we are going to have to take it one step at a time. It takes everybody,” Williams said. The Gaston Point CDC has adopted a road in the area, in which the board members clean monthly. “We’re very hands-on,” Williams explained.
Everett Lewis, treasurer of the Gaston Point CDC said, “Our motive is to go back to the times where it was all self- contained.” Lewis’s experience with Back Bay Mission has enhanced his passion for advocacy and service. “It’s not just about housing, but total communication of revitalization. It’s about ministers being active in the community. We’re hoping as time goes on, we produce tangible evidence of success,” Lewis said.
The Gaston Point CDC is on its way to a future of success. At 10 a.m., Thursday, Oct.18, the Gaston Point CDC, opened its doors to their new headquarters in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Gaston Point. Over 150 citizens rallied around in support and admiration. This headquarters is the very first site for Gaston Point CDC’s place of business. Also, the Gaston Point CDC is currently renovating three homes that were demolished by hurricane Katrina. Holton calls the ground-up labor, ‘Grass-root Construction.’ They are also in the process of composing a neighborhood survey for the Gaston Point residents to check on their progress and the needs of each citizen.
The board members of the Gaston Point CDC plans to continue to thrive in the areas of, affordable housing and humanitarianism. “The most important and intriguing thing about this group is, it’s an organization that has a very specific, geographical, defined area of focus,” Lewis said.