Metanoia Community Development
2005 Reynolds Ave.
N. Charleston, S.C. 29405
What it is:
A faith-based movement to create positive changes in low-income neighborhoods by building leaders within the community and creating new economic and educational opportunities.
What $25 would do:
• Feed 25 students daily meals for one day
• Feed five students daily meals for one week
• Provide part of the cost of sending one Young Leader to Washington, D.C.
• Playground toys
• Karaoke machine
• Money for field trips
• New small toys for the Metanoia Store (children buy with "metabucks" earned for good behavior)
• Small gift items for adults for Christmas store (where kids buy gifts for their parents)
It was a love of making a difference in the lives of others that inspired Anita Antoinette to talk to the Rev. Bill Stanfield about the AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) position.
AmeriCorps*VISTA, a national service program for young professionals, had an opening in Metanoia, a faith-based community development project in her own North Charleston neighborhood, Chicora-Cherokee.
The position would enable her to help individuals and communities make positive changes through building homes and providing new educational and economic opportunities. On the other hand, it was a grant position that would limit her financially. And she had one potentially enormous financial concern hanging over her.
As the interview approached its close, she confided in Stanfield. "Listen," she said, "I really want this position, but I have to let you know what is going on in my life right now."
She explained how, not long before, her teenage daughter had run away from home. Frightened for her safety, Anita called the police. It was the right thing to do, she knew. But by notifying the authorities — even though her daughter returned, apologetically, on her own the next day — they had to go to court to face runaway charges.
"I was so nervous," Anita says. "He got quiet for a minute after I told him, and then he said, 'The fact that you came in here today when all this is going on in your life tells me how much this position means to you.'"
"It did raise a question mark," Stanfield says. "But after hearing what her references had to say about her and her commitment to the community, I knew she was the one for the job."
Anita went to court confident in herself and her daughter. Other community leaders came in support of them too. She had an excellent track record of doing good works — Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Hat Ladies — and had, through the Habitat program, recently became a first-time homeowner. On her own, she put herself through college, survived an abusive relationship, and got herself and her daughter out safely.
Even so, she lost her daughter that day in court.
It's still a whirlwind in her mind. Unresolved issues from the time before she left her husband, questions regarding why Sharree had acted out by running away, and financial concerns: it all came out and the result was that she had to go home without her daughter, who remained in custody.
"When I came home that night, Archie Burkel of The Hat Ladies — she's Top Hat — had just left me a message thanking me for my work with them," Anita says. "It was at that point I realized that I hadn't shared with people what was really going on in my life."
Anita returned the call to Burkel and told her story, all of it: the domestic violence, Sharree running away, and the court decision.
"I was proud that she took me into her confidence," says Burkel. "And I felt relief in knowing immediately who to call when she did. The strength of The Hat Ladies is our network. So I called my attorney, who is also a very good friend, and I let her know what was going on."
After learning the particulars of the matter and of both Anita and Sharree's long track records of service to the community, Charleston attorney Andrea St. Amand not only agreed to take the case, but to do so pro bono.
"That's all I needed to hear," Anita said. "I said, okay. And then I moved forward." She accepted the VISTA position at Metanoia, as the development and public relations intern, and redoubled her efforts at building strength within the community and within herself.
She established the Chicora Farmer's Market, providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables for families with limited transportation resources. "The nearest grocery store is five miles from the neighborhood," she says. "That means spending a day on buses just to get fresh food."
She also wrote letters, made calls, and visited donors, procuring resources for educational programs. "A large part of Metanoia is investing in the youth of the community," she says. "This builds the next generation of leaders."
Sharree was returned to Anita and is now not only enrolled in the culinary arts program at Trident but a Metanoia employee herself, teaching at the after-school program.
"The kids really like that I am younger and in school myself," the 17-year-old Sharree says. "They relate to that. We live in the same neighborhood, so when mom and I are out walking, we hear 'Hi, Miss Sharree' all the time."
For both Anita and Sharree, the fact that they have personally experienced many of the challenges that people in low-income neighborhoods must face every day makes it all the more important to continue to share the strength and knowledge they have gained with others.
"You can only act on options if you know they are available to you," Anita says. "When you're in the middle of a bad situation, it's difficult to see other possibilities." Both have become fierce advocates for the people of their community and don't mind correcting simple-minded assumptions often made about the working poor.
"I get so frustrated when I hear people pass judgment on working moms. People say, 'Why don't they come to school meetings? Don't they care about their children?' Unless you have been in a situation where you aren't allowed to take a day off from work, where that could mean losing your job, you can't understand."
As Anita and Sharree will tell you, often the greatest service they can provide is just to be there, open and honest, listening.
"There are so many challenges that people go through," Anita says. "Some we know about and some we don't."