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Seeing and believing

LEWISTON-WOODVILLE – On a whirlwind tour of three eastern North Carolina counties, Bertie, Perquimans, and Pasquotank, primarily to visit their various Arts Councils North Carolina’s ‘First Lady’, Kristin Cooper, made a side stop in Lewiston-Woodville on Tuesday to visit the Hive House.

It happened after one of Cooper’s staff members saw the film, ‘Raising Bertie’ – the intimate portrait over five-plus years of three African American young men growing into adulthood in rural Bertie County and how their lives are affected by complex relationships, generational poverty, educational inequity, and race.

Cooper later received a DVD copy of the film from Hive House founder Vivian Saunders, viewed it, and scheduled a visit on her next trip to the county.

“It was really last minute, and a nice surprise,” Saunders said, as she gathered with citizens and dignitaries on the steps of Hive House – 103 Mitchell Street in Lewiston – in anticipation of the First Lady’s visit.

“She wanted to know about the program, know what’s going on in the community, and how the Hive stacks up,” she continued.

Saunders challenges critics who claim ‘Raising Bertie’ paints too grim a portrait of the poverty of the county.

“This (film) brings attention to Bertie County,” Saunders declares. “We’re one of the poorest counties in the state, and if we don’t show what we have here to the powers in Raleigh, then everything will go to Mecklenburg, and Guilford, and other big counties. We need support and resources to bring our young people out of these situations.”

Formerly an alternative school, Hive House – undergoing renovations following a fire in 2017, and closed for other repairs and upgrades to the property for a year-and-a-half – hopes to re-open in June as a community center for the western part of the county. Nearly $200,000 worth of grant funding and donations has been put into the house. During its time away from Mitchell Street, Hive projects such as the food pantry with Perdue Farms, utilities assistance, a tech-lab, and clothing drive did continue to function at other sites.

“We never stopped operating,” Saunders added. “We just didn’t have a physical site to operate out of.”

Shortly after 1 p.m., the First Lady arrived following a first stop at the Bertie County Arts Council in Windsor. County Commissioner John Trent and Lewiston Mayor pro tem Chris Cordon, filling in for convalescing Mayor James Pugh, were part of the welcoming party for her visit of Hive House.

A walk-thru tour then commenced with Saunders and Trent pointing out to Cooper’s group the building’s renovation efforts – most of which have been done with contributed labor – both those that were finished and some others still ongoing. The house dates back to the 19th century.

“There’s no economic stigma here,” Saunders noted. “We don’t serve the poor, nor the rich, we’re here for anybody who needs services in Bertie County; black, white, whatever.”

Saunders told the First Lady that one of the Hive’s new projects will be an intergenerational program, partnering senior citizens with teenagers as part of an extended family.

“I think this is all pretty amazing,” Cooper said, as the tour concluded. “This is the kind of facility that every county needs. As we travel around the state, whether in rural areas or large cities, children need a place to have people, adults around to mentor, to help with homework; people who care what happens to them.”

“Every kid needs a place to belong,” Cooper added. “Ideally that place is their own home, but for some children it’s not, so to have something like this is great. Sometimes there’s an advantage to it happening in a small community because everybody knows everybody and they see the children as their own.”

The visit lasted about 20 minutes and then the Raleigh group were off to continue their swing through the northeast.

Vice-Mayor Cordon, who along with her husband, Pastor Gary Cordon of Victory Temple Church, has contributed to Hive House, applauded the First Lady’s visit and what it signals for Lewiston and western Bertie County.

“This means economic development,” Cordon said. “It means recreation for our children, a place where the public can have Wi-Fi, food, clothing, shelter, and the whole gamut in one big package. There are no requirements, it’s for us: the community at large.”