Metanoia Community Development Corporation and its activities

Bill Stanfield with some of the children involved in the Metanoia ministry. Photo courtesy of Metanoia

The ministry of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina has worked in the Chicora-Cherokee community of North Charleston for 10 years and has created a sustainable model of faith-based, community-led, asset-driven community development.

After-school program for young leaders

In 2002, the Chicora-Cherokee community had the highest per-capita rate of child poverty in South Carolina. This prompted Metanoia’s founders, the Revs. Bill Stanfield and Evelyn Oliveira, and its sponsor and funder, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina, to focus first on children’s programs.

Building around community-defined strengths and goals, they launched in fall 2003 the Young Leaders program, an after-school program for students chosen by their teachers for leadership potential and academic motivation.

The program started with 17 first- through fourth-graders and has grown to nearly 60 students during the school year and 110 during the summer months. The students receive homework help, exposure to career possibilities and a daily meal through the national Kids Café program.

The program’s leadership building activities are aligned with the Integrated Leadership Development Standards Model, which was developed for Metanoia by the College of Charleston Master of Public Administration program.

As students age out of Young Leaders, volunteers from the College of Charleston’s Bonner Leader program continue to work with them to build leadership skills through the Civic Leaders program, which focuses on character education, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

Civic Leaders students set up savings accounts for college, and Metanoia -- in partnership with First Citizens Bank -- matches their contributions $3 to $1 if they meet certain incentives.

“It’s investment optimization,” Stanfield said.

Two in-house businesses Metanoia has started for the middle and high school youth are especially inspiring for the students. Isoke Sisters Jewelry allows students to design, make and sell their own jewelry, and Hodari Brothers Screen Printing Co. -- made possible through a grant from the S.C. Department of Commerce -- provides screen printing services to a variety of churches, businesses and community groups.

Rebuilding vacant homes

A major community asset identified by Metanoia was vacant homes. Broadening its scope to include housing and homeownership initiatives, Metanoia became a Certified Housing Development Organization and purchased its first home in 2005. After rebuilding it and selling it to a first-time homebuyer, the organization bought four neighboring lots and another vacant home in the area. The result: violent crime rates dropped on that block by more than 60 percent.

In 2008, the organization identified two vacant duplexes owned by St. Matthew Baptist Church that were attracting loiterers and criminal activity. Metanoia agreed to use volunteers to renovate the properties if the church would allow its local students and interns to live there while they worked with Metanoia and the community.

Since its housing efforts began, Metanoia has rehabilitated eight abandoned homes, built four new homes and assisted in renovations of 24 owner-occupied homes. In addition, it has funded a 14-week training program for minority contractors to learn both administrative practices and trades and then hired its graduates for its own construction projects.

Financial literacy

In 2008, Metanoia began its financial literacy programs to help people in the neighborhood buy homes. It partnered with the Charleston Area Community Development Corporation to run financial literacy classes and with the Charleston Homeownership Resource Center to run homeownership and credit counseling classes.

When the subprime mortgage crisis hit, however, it became almost impossible to get residents with less-than-perfect credit ratings into homes. So Metanoia got creative: in collaboration with Atlantic Bank and Trust, which agreed to provide in-house mortgages, it devised a plan whereby residents would make their mortgage payments into a Metanoia escrow account and then Metanoia would pay the bank on the residents’ behalf. If the homeowners miss the payment date, Metanoia contacts them and provides counseling and backup assistance prior to the due date.

Economic and social impact

All of this has boosted the local economy, according to a 2010 study conducted by Metanoia and the S.C. Association of Community Development Corporations. The immediate impacts of home construction and sales from 2005 to 2010 included 10.8 new full-time equivalent jobs in construction and related industries, $513,000 in local income from construction and first-year move-in spending.

The potential long-term impacts are even more inspiring, with new homeowners projected to contribute $1.5 million to the local economy over a 10-year period.

Aside from the economic benefits of homeownership, there are the added benefits of beautification and lowered crime rates. Metanoia joined the North Charleston Police Department in creating a site for the department's gun “buyback” program, which recovered 250 weapons in a single three-hour session.

Beautification efforts have included two public mural projects -- underwritten by the North Charleston Police Department and the City of North Charleston Cultural Arts Department -- based on local students’ ideas of what a positive community looks like. They’ve also helped establish the Chicora Place Community Garden, which is run by community volunteers and supplies the neighborhood with fresh food, seeds, pots and soil.