Scarlett Harrison thinks the new Hope Park next door is going to disturb her peace a lot less than the people who lived there before.
They were often arguing, and cars would come and go, signs of possible drug activity. Stuff was strewn all over the yard, at 159 Bear Creek Road, and three children lived there, teetering on neglect.
They’re now in foster care, the mom is nowhere reputable to be found, and the property has been transformed, through private hands, into a place where children and their families can enjoy a community room, a pretty pond, a clubhouse, picnic tables and a basketball court, all under the watchful eyes of a sheriff’s substation.
On Sunday afternoon, a day shy of one year after the Lime Rock Road fire, Eastpoint resident Joyce Estes, who is a key part of the ad hoc alliance of churches and faith partners known as the “Friends of Eastpoint,” helped lead a time of songs and praises.
“This is hope made real, hope and encouragement and love, for them to know we’re still with them,” said Estes, following a musical prelude from Pastors Cheryl and Tony Middleton, part of the Forgotten Coast Community Church’s worship team.
She said she was inspired last November to move beyond giving out “a toy and a turkey. That’s what I saw at Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
She worked closely with area pastors, Sheriff AJ Smith, retired Army Major Gen. James Donald and many inspired volunteers to make a long-term change in the neighborhood. After the St. George Island United Methodist Church bought the land, inmates began clearing the land, and helped transform a former modular unit brought there into a community center, complete with projection screen and a refrigerator, that will double as a sheriff’s substation and as a meeting room for everything from AA meetings to family gatherings.
The outdoor pavilion on site was restored, a privacy fence was erected to buffer Harrison's property, Ace Hardware donated picnic tables, a contractor is pouring the foundation for a basketball court this week, and electricity was provided for the site, under the watchful eyes of Ken Burke, a journeyman electrician from Springfield, Illinois who retired down here, and who, together with Commissioner Ricky Jones and several other area men, take part in a monthly Wednesday morning ecumenical prayer breakfast.
“We are to be our brother’s helper,” said Burke, as he points proudly to how the community room, and a small clubhouse in the back that may soon be used by Scouts, is now fully wired and ready to go.
In his invocation, Pastor Kory Gordon of Eastpoint First Baptist, prayed that “hearts and minds and passion impart a new peace on this whole region.
“Remind the people they’re not forgotten in your eyes,” he said. “Give us a measure of drive and passion to make your name known. Give us ‘fresh grace’ to see (those struggling with addiction) as the lost sons and daughters of the Kingdom.”
Jones offered remarks that shared how he had lost his home to fire while a junior in high school, and that experience helped shape his outreach in the immediate aftermath of the blaze. “I didn’t know how they were feeling, but I knew how they felt,” he said.
“Nothing that took us here was good, but God has a way to turn it around,” Jones said. “It’s awesome to have this kind of place.”
Pastor Larry Sterling, of the Eastpoint Church of God, provided the occasion, beginning with Hebrews 13:4-6. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. So we say with confidence, The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
He said hope “is something you have until it’s over with,” just as a team knows that hope will give them a shot at winning.
“The moment the team stops believing they can do it, it’s over,” he said. “This fire has hit us hard but we fought back. The storm took a lot from us but we got right back. If it somehow is something you think is possible, it’s of God.
“We have a vision, we have good leaders, we have people who love this county,” Sterling said. “A lot of wonderful, giving, serious people that care. This is just the beginning, there’s so much more hope to be done.”
Two fire victims came forward to offer testimony, including Kayla Roberts, who spoke of the chaos during those desperate hours, and William Banks, who fought the flames with the Eastpoint Volunteer Fire Department, even as they were consuming his own home.
Pastor Brian Brightly, with the St. George Island United Methodist Church, then led a prayer of thanksgiving, with the area pastors coming forward to lay hands on the participants.
Brightly’s congregation on the island and in Eastpoint has welcomed Jonathan Lovely as youth minister for the summer, and he plans to help with getting programming started at Hope Park.
The afternoon ended with a picnic lunch, prepared by Karl Lucy.