historic risley

The auditorium in the Risley Colored Memorial School on Albany Street.

The idea is to breathe new life into the community.

The Community of Hope initiative, which began last year, aims to create a community resource center in the heart of one of the poorest neighborhoods in Brunswick, bringing together numerous resources offered locally and ensuring that those in need have access to services.

And the project now has a new name to fit that mission — “Rebirth Risley.”

Zerik Samples, chief development officer for Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority, announced the project’s new title Thursday at a planning meeting.

“We feel like this is at the heart of the community, and from this center things will begin to rebirth for this community,” he said.

Community Action Authority submitted the original application for this project in July 2018 to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, which gave the project “State of Hope” approval in September 2018 and awarded $125,000 to support the plan.

Local partners have been meeting since then and have taken many strong steps forward in creating the community center, which will be located on the historic Risley campus on Albany street.

The project aims to provide services in five specific areas — education attainment, trauma-informed care, quality childcare, self-sufficiency and economic security and neighborhood revitalization that supports job growth.

“We wanted to make sure all the services were in one central location,” Samples said.

A USA Today article published May 7 named Brunswick as the poorest city in Georgia. Tres Hamilton, CEO of Community Action Authority, said the center will be located near families who need these services the most.

“It’s right there smack dab in the middle of one of the highest poverty neighborhoods within our area,” she said.

The center will later be replicated in McIntosh County.

The project’s leaders offered some of the first concrete plans Thursday for how the Risley campus space will be used.

Recently completed environmental and structural engineering studies of the campus buildings found that none of the buildings will need to be torn down.

“There are great bones to the building,” Hamilton said.

Groups that are currently planned to have space in the center include DFCS, Medicaid, local public housing representatives, homeless support groups, after-school programs, job training groups, health care services, including mental health, and more.

Plans are also in the works to ensure that transportation is offered to the center, with pick-up locations scattered around town.

“We know that in rural Georgia, transportation is a huge issue,” Samples said.

The first phase of the project will include a continued focus on the arts committee, whose goal is to incorporate trauma-informed, therapeutic arts education into a variety of the services offered at the center. The arts committee has also done significant work on a mural project that aims to complete six murals in downtown Brunswick in the next several months.

The first phase of the project will also focus on filling the space in the Jackson Learning Center on campus, which until recently housed a Glynn County Schools program. An economic development center will go in that space, Samples said.

The Risley Alumni Association currently uses a portion of the campus, and Samples said he hopes they will play a role in helping the center become part of the historic tours of Brunswick.

“There is so much history that is not told in the Golden Isles, as it pertains to African American history,” he said.

The second phase of the project will focus on the old Risley Elementary School space and on plans for green houses on the campus, where healthy food production, distribution and education will take place.

Drop-in child care and business-subsidized affordable childcare will also be added during this phase of the project.

A third phase will focus on the Colored Memorial Building, which currently needs the most renovation work, and the fourth phase will include additional arts projects.

Samples ended the meeting by sharing the Community of Hope initiative’s new name, which he said came out of off-the-cuff discussions of the plans.

“It hit me hard — ‘Rebirth Risley,’” he said. “Think about Risley 30 years ago, 40 years ago, and how vibrant that area was, how beautiful it was, how much of a community, a village, it really was. We want to recreate that.”

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