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An End of Year Letter from Our CEO
By: Rev. Bill Stanfield 12/30/2019
Here we are folks—the end of 2019 on the doorstep of 2020. What a year it has been. I have one word to summarize what life has been like around Metanoia over the past year: WHEW!
We have sustained and grown all our existing programming while also making significant progress on the $20 million renovation and adaptive reuse of the 57,000 sf Old Chicora Graded School in the heart of our neighborhood. We knew such a project would be significant amount of work; but honestly, we had no idea how MUCH additional work it would add to our already full workload. However, with your support, we managed some real successes along with the redevelopment of that old school.
Along the way we saw profound progress in our efforts at community renewal:
We increased enrollment in our year-round Metanoia Youth Leadership Academy (MYLA), where students consistently outperformed their peers on standardized testing. Our summer Freedom School once again partnered with Boeing and Clemson to offer computer coding classes to students. 98% of students in the Freedom School either gained or maintained their literacy levels over the crucial summer months, and these same students led our community in a march against violence. We placed our high school students in internships with places like the Gibbs Art Museum and our local State Representative’s office. Our student-run small businesses continue to grow and the income students earn in these businesses is saved for college.
Years ago, Metanoia adopted a vision statement that included Reynolds Avenue becoming a “hub of economic and social activities.” This year, we saw continued progress on that goal as we opened a new minority entrepreneur incubator space along Reynolds in cooperation with Lowcountry Local First (LLF). The incubator includes reduced-cost space for two entrepreneurs and is hosting a minority entrepreneur training academy each week with LLF. We also partnered with several neighborhood groups to oppose a logistics company’s plan to route dozens of tractor trailers down Reynolds each day. Special thanks to the advocacy and support of the SC Environmental Law Project in that effort. The company we opposed agreed to reroute the trucks, provide annual funding to our local elementary school, and keep the neighborhood informed about job opportunities.
Also in economic development, we wrapped up a three-year partnership with the Urban Electric Company (UECo.) that created 52 jobs for low income individuals in our region. UECo. has nearly finished paying back the low interest loan that Metanoia made to them for job creation and these funds can now be a tool to support other economic development efforts in our community.
We completed five units of new affordable housing. Four of these units were completed at the end of the year allowing families to enjoy the holidays in brand new homes that they can afford. We also broke ground on an eight-unit apartment complex in neighboring Liberty Hill. This is occurring in a region where housing affordability is reaching crisis levels with many households having to spend 60% of their monthly income on housing costs. In one of the homes we have three generations of family. A mother who is blind, her adult son who works part-time for a local church and cares for his mom, and then his daughter. They were having consistent problems with the poor condition of their current property, so their new home is a Godsend.
We completed 22 essential repairs for homeowners on a low, fixed income that could not afford to repair their family’s leading asset.
Like I said, WHEW!
Amid all this progress, we are also working to build the organization to handle the upcoming growth of Metanoia as we bring the renovated Old Chicora campus online about this time next year. Our staff and board went through a full assessment using the Baldridge tool for organizational assessment and we are working to implement all that was discovered. This will mean updating all our systems and processes, and that work is already being undertaken.
Now, to explain what pyramids and old schools have in common…
On one particular evening this past year, I was watching a program about the Egyptian Pyramids on the PBS show, Nova, with our ten-year old son. (No doubt with thoughts in the back of my head about all we need to do to successfully reconstruct and operate Old Chicora in addition to all we have going on otherwise).
The show quotes an archeologist who is talking about the pyramids. “We make a mistake when we say ‘the Egyptians built the pyramids,’” the archeologist says. “Actually, the Pyramids built the Egyptians.” His point was simply that the effort of constructing the Pyramids led to many innovations and structures in Egyptian society that might not have existed had that ancient culture not felt compelled to build those tremendous monuments. The archeologist’s words resonated with me. I don’t think we are just working to renovate an old school in the heart of our neighborhood, the effort to renovate the old school is causing us to build a stronger organization and a better ‘movement of people rooted in faith.’
Speaking of faith…
As I sit at the end of 2019, I see how there is so often evidence of another hand at work beyond our daily human efforts here at Metanoia. There were a few notable events this year that, had you told me they were to happen at the beginning of 2019, I might have told you we needed to throw in the towel.
Rather surprisingly, we lost over $100,000 of annual funding we were receiving from Trident United Way due to a restructuring of their grant processes and priorities. That was a bad day at Metanoia. However, this very difficult news was followed by generous new or increased gifts from SunTrust Bank, Becky and Mark Joye, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, along with others that more than made up for the loss of funding.
In late summer, we received word that the anchor tenant of the Old Chicora renovation would no longer be able to utilize that space. They were a major source of the funding for the project. However, the loss of that tenant opened the door to a partnership with Allegro School of Music that has actually sped up our ability to start construction on the old campus rather than slowing it down. Our partnership is a win/win because it allows Allegro a permanent location at a lower cost than they originally thought they would pay elsewhere, and it creates a more sustainable project for us that is exclusively focused on the arts and education.
In both situations, we received news that looked crippling only to see new possibilities emerge that may well have been better than the possibilities that we originally imagined. It is worth recognizing these things as we start 2020.
It looks to be an amazing year with new projects and possibilities arising in our work. There will be surprises, but when we prioritize faithfulness to our own values and hard work, even what look like bad surprises can become the ground out of which something new and powerful can emerge. We are thankful for 2019 (all of it) and what it taught us. And, we are most thankful for you and your support! 2020 looks to be a great year and we are elated to have you along for the journey.