ROCKINGHAM — A building that was once a place of learning for children will soon be a place for the county’s homeless to lay their heads.
The Richmond County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted to trade the county’s recently acquired Rohanen Middle School property to New Life Christian Ministries of the Carolinas in exchange for land on Airport Road — a green light for New Life to begin transitioning the property into a soup kitchen, community center, church and a homeless shelter that will accept women, children and families in addition to the men who currently stay at Place of Grace Rescue Mission.
Pastor Gary Richardson, CEO of New Life, said the campus will operate under the name Place of Grace, with the old Place of Grace taking on the name Richmond County Rescue Mission. New Life will hold its regular church services in the building.
Richardson has been tight-lipped about his plans, and said he was anxious all day Tuesday. He first began forming the idea in his head last summer and expressed his interest to the Richmond County Board of Education when the building first became available. After he attended a pastor’s conference in February with his wife, Debra, he said he “knew we needed a community center” and called the school system again when the the building was declared surplus.
“Since the day I called about the building, I knew it was supposed to be us to go in there,” Richardson said. “I feel very humbled and blessed.”
Rohanen was declared “surplus” and “unnecessary for school purposes” in a resolution passed by the school board, which allowed the county to decide what to do with the property. The result was a trade between the county and New Life, in which the ministry would receive the 11.36 acres — including all the buildings on the land — located at 252 School St. in East Rockingham and the county would receive the 26.25 acre property at 575 Airport Road.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the church,” said County Manager Bryan Land. “I’m glad to see it come true.”
A sizable crowd of about two dozen congregants, family members, friends and supporters of New Life’s project were in attendance for the vote and gave a standing ovation for the result.
Wayne DeBerry, a resident of Place of Grace and the former caretaker, said the men of the shelter are ready to make the transition to the new facility.
“I love it, I’m so excited,” DeBerry said. “We want to help everybody we can.”
The rescue mission is a separate nonprofit organization that will operate on the campus and will have its own board of directors, according to Richardson. He said they will have the property will have to be rezoned before they can move in residents. Current residents will move in first, with the women, children and families coming in the future once more accommodations are made, he added.
Pastor Ernie Walters, who runs the Refuge Ministry for those dealing with addiction, said the new facility will allow them to expand to run separate meetings for people at different stages in their recovery so that they don’t have to start from square one with each meeting.
“The more often our door is open the better it is for them,” Walters said. “It will enable us to be more comprehensive.”
Richardson’s aunt, Nancy Hayes of Cordova, said she initially resisted being a part of Richardson’s vision but said, “The Lord turned that around.”
“We need that place to help children, the hungry, and the homeless,” Hayes said. “I know the Lord gave him this vision.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]