GROWING homeownership Plant A Home aims to help put down
• New Chief • Community’s center • Recreation rehab • Hometown homage • Housing boom
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10 Hometown homage Growing homeownership Chief among us Center of community Recreation rehab Housing boom Some place like home Springing ahead
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Hometown homage The Skylight Inn BBQ
Ayden’s new history museum preparing exhibit that will pay tribute to one of town’s mainstays — barbecue By Pat Gruner
orth Carolina has a long relationship with smoke. Its mountains are Great and Smoky and Tobacco Road sits in the dead center of the state. In Ayden, smoke is put to, arguably, its most delicious use — whole hog barbecue. At the Ayden Historical Arts Museum, located at 554 Second St., an upcoming exhibit is aiming to honor the town’s barbecue heritage. The royal families of smoke and swine will be recognized and immortalized in the place they call home. “Why do you come to Ayden?” Andrea Norris asked rhetorically.
“To eat barbecue!” Norris, director for the Ayden Historical and Arts Society, has been poring over interviews and family trees for what is referred to as “An Eastern Dynasty,” the families of Bum Dennis, founder of Bum’s Restaurant, and Pete Jones, founder of The Skylight Inn.
“This cousin asked me if it came from ‘that place in Ayden,’ to which I said, ‘what are you talking about? How do you know anything about Ayden?’” Paige Worthington, Ayden resident, barbecue entusiast
Norris ties the two families back to Skilton Dennis, a farmer who would sell smoked pork out of a covered wagon at farmer’s markets in the early 20th century. The legend goes that Skilton Dennis had the claim to the nation’s first commercial barbecue establishment.
“The boys’ uncles taught them how to cook,” Norris said. “Bum and Shirley (Dennis) tell me how Bum closed down his uncle’s City Cafe on a Saturday and opened Bum’s that Monday.”
That and other anecdotal evidence, along with research by barbecue scholars, will be on display in the exhibit. A date has yet to be set for its official opening as planning continues, but the group hopes to turn the opening into a community event when health officials give them a green light. Ideally, Norris would like to hold the event on a Sunday afternoon. Pictures of Ayden’s culinary history will adorn the walls, as will menus for Bum’s Restaurant and The Skylight Inn. One wall will be dedicated to the Dennis family and another to the Jones family. A condensed timeline will also be on display similar to the one in the museum’s exhibit on education in Ayden. “We want to be fair to both legacies,” Norris said. The exhibit will also feature the Dennis process of smoking a hog as well as a testament to the three legs supporting Jones family barbecue — Pete, his son, Bruce, and grandson, Sam. The interest in the exhibit has been around since before the museum’s official opening in early 2020. When Norris was garnering support to open the museum, residents were keen on
making Bum’s sure there was Resta urant a special spot for ’cue. and C
“It is a legacy our town is very proud of,” said Paige Worthington. “Most everybody loves barbecue.”
That goes for visitors to the town as well. “My mother’s family is just over the mountains in Virginia,” Worthington said. “The family reunion is always the first Sunday in June. Several years ago, a second cousin who I hadn’t seen in forever, was standing across from me. I had brought pulled
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The Ayden Historical and Arts Society Museum is at 554 Second St.
pork from one of the area restaurants and had a little sign in it that said ‘Eastern North Carolina Barbecue,’ underlining the eastern. This cousin asked me if it came from ‘that place in Ayden,’ to which I said, ‘what are you talking about? How do you know anything about Ayden?’”
As it turns out, the cousin had been stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune years prior. He and his fellow Marines made a monthly trip to Ayden to eat at The Skylight Inn.
and a few years ago she had a Super Bowl party. I shipped her two pounds of barbecue for it, which the shipping cost more than the pork, and she never even got any!”
“That gives you an idea why it’s a destination,” Norris said. “My daughter lives in Tampa
A tragedy as old as time and a teachable moment, Worthington said. “She’ll learn to hide hers in the fridge.” Moving forward, Norris plans to hold an open house to showcase the exhibit’s progress. Her fellow planner, Philip Barth, is the mastermind behind the layout of all the exhibits at the
museum and was on vacation. Norris is also excited about the possibility of an exhibit dedicated to Ayden’s Collard Festival. As the museum grows, the city is planning to grant it more space to use for future exhibits. Norris said that Town Manager Matthew Livingston has been very supportive of the museum’s growth and potential to tell the story of Ayden. “Hopefully we can make it a destination space,” Norris said. Right now, the museum is open on the fourth Sunday of every month from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
A chop block donated to the Ayden Historical and Arts Society Museum sits in the room that will become an exhibit showcasing the legacy of barbecue in Ayden. The block was donated by Sam Jones and was used for years to process whole hog barbecue at the Skylight Inn.
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Growing homeo Plant A Home program strengthens town, families with low-cost property
allowing them to invest more of their money into a home, and it puts the soon-to-be improved property back on town tax rolls and relieves the town of upkeep costs.
The Plant a Home program offers vacant parcels of townowned land for sale at a low cost to generate a win-win for Ayden and potential homeowners who qualify.
Currently, six lots are available. The town acquired several after previous owners failed to maintain them, a byproduct of ongoing revitalization efforts. Other lots were donated and the town continues to seek donations.
The program helps buyers obtain land below tax value,
“I saw an opportunity to elevate living standards while
By Donna Williams
he town of Ayden is striving to build its community by planting seeds of hope in those who thought home ownership was not possible.
turning vacant property expenses into town revenue,” said Ayden Mayor Pro-tem Ivory Mewborn, who helped get Plant A Home started. “The goal is to increase community hope by planting beautiful homes as flowers where dilapidated house once sat.” Mewborn said the idea came in a vision from God. He saw a single mother feed her children breakfast on a Saturday morning then hug and kiss them before heading out to work. Her children pleaded with her to stay home and watch cartoons with them, but the mother responded she couldn’t and held up a rent receipt. She told the children that at the end of 30 days, that rent slip would be all that she had.
Ayden Mayor Pro-Tempore Ivory Mewb
“It started my brain turning. Ten to 15 years from now, that’s all she is going to have,” Mewborn said. “Why not reach out to people like that and give them an opportunity to own their own home?” The lots are located across town on Martin Luther King Boulevard, Lee, First and Sixth streets.
Mewborn, left, applauds Tyrone and Jamie Taft after their purchase through Ayden’s Plant A Home program.
Applicants must pass background, credit and criminal history checks and their revenue may not exceed 20 percent of the area’s median income. The lot also
ownership LEARN MORE: • For more information about the Plant-a-Home program contact Nichole Brown at 252-746-2021.
“I saw an opportunity to elevate living standards while turning vacant property expenses into town revenue.” Ayden Mayor Pro-Tem Ivory Mewborn
Ivory Mewborn and Nichole Brown, executive director Ayden Housing Authority.
must be used for a primary residence. “The program works if you are ready to buy a house in the next six-months. That means you already got your credit where it needs to be. You have taken the pre-steps to become a homeowner. You have had home ownership in your scope. You just haven’t gotten all the pieces worked out,” said Nichole Brown, program facilitator and director of the Ayden Housing Authority, adding the goal is to have homes established on the vacant lot within a year.
“We are selling the property to bring up the community and to have houses where vacant lots sit now. You don’t want a person to buy the lot and it sit vacant for two to three years. Timelines were established to keep people on track.” By offering land at a reduced cost, the town is able to help economically disadvantaged families move forward and take the next steps to home ownership, Brown said. “For these families, it is extremely hard to gain home ownership. When you start
thinking of home ownership and moving it requires a nest egg, a down payment or deposit. It normally takes a lump sum of money. For people living paycheck to paycheck, it can be extremely hard for them to squirrel away money to save up for those closing costs. Life happens. The money they had set up where they wanted to do something gets taken,” Brown said, adding lack of affordable lots is also a deterrent. “The unique thing about this program is it takes some of that out. While there are some costs that are associated with it, there is not a large amount of costs like
those that would be in the regular private sector or housing market or with a bank loan. It takes that large amount out so that the amount we give them is more obtainable.” The win-win scenario is good for the town and participants, she added. “The town gets to take the property and now turn it into revenue where before it was an expense. At the same time, they are helping at family with home ownership who otherwise may not have it. Really it’s a win for the town, it’s a win for the resident,” Brown said.
“This is what communities and helping each other is about. The town is helping the family and the family, whether they know it or not, is helping the town because they are taking expense off of it.” The program signed up its first participants in April, Tyrone and Jamie Taft. The Tafts have been residents of the Ayden Housing Authority for 11 years and together have three children. Like others, the Ayden natives have had a hard time finding land that is affordable. They struggled through the home-buying process. “The process has been long and it seems like we kept coming to a dead end, especially when it comes to purchasing land,” Jamie Taft said. “It has always been either too expensive or it is not in an area that we want to raise our family. “This opportunity could not have come at a better time
because we were ready to give up on the whole home-buying process. This project is a great opportunity for us because we can stay in an area we like and as area our children are used to and comfortable with. It also gives us an opportunity to be able to afford a better life for our family.” Having the Tafts leave the Housing Authority is “bittersweet” for Brown. “I am proud of them and I am happy. They are a great family,” Brown said. “They are some of the best tenants. They are really good residents. They are engaging. They always participate. I understand we have to help people move to the next phase in life. That is something they can pass down to their children and have a legacy.” Having the ability to leave a legacy generates both generational wealth and creates hope for others, Mewborn said, adding children will see homes built on the vacant lots and know that they too can be
home owners one day. The program is also expanding. Brown is working to add in financial education components and classes through the local Southern Bank, targeting people interested in becoming home owners and those who didn’t think home ownership was a possibility. “We’re working on financial education, saving, debt consolidation or getting out of debt education,” Brown said. Mewborn said their job is to reach out and try to make things better for all of the town’s citizens. “We are trying to elevate everyone for them to achieve their fullest potential. During research, I found many other municipalities across our state have similar problems regarding vacant parcels and affordable housing. The positive is, most can solve this issue by simply implementing the program.” Mewborn and Brown hope
the program expands beyond Ayden to other cities and states. “That’s how you change communities. You have to start somewhere. If I can take three of my residents and make them homeowners, I have impacted Ayden, the county, because now we have county revenues we can count on and city revenue we can count on. It has the potential to boost the economy. It has potential all the way around,” Brown said. An added benefit is that Housing Authority units will open for new residents as former tenants move into their new homes, she said. “We get them in here, get them some help working, transportation, and now we can help them move to the next thing and that cycle keeps going. I think that’s what our initial purpose was: To help families become stronger. That what I want to do.”
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Chief among us Chris Forehand takes finds a home at the Ayden Police Department
By Pat Gruner
hris Forehand might not be a native of Ayden, but his ties to the area date back more than 20 years. In that time, he’s come to call the town home. Now, as he starts his career as the Ayden Police Department’s chief, he’s making it his mission to ensure officers have the same respect for the city and its people as he does. In 1989, Forehand moved to Pitt County to attend Pitt Community College. He received an associate’s degree
in criminal justice and started his law enforcement career with the Ayden police as a reserve officer in 1993. “I was promoted to full time in August or September of ’94,” Forehand said. “I’ve been here ever since and done about every job you can do in this department.” That flexibility saw Forehand promoted all the way up to captain and then interimchief for six months. Now, he’s taking the helm as the department’s full time chief. Forehand’s love for Ayden is obvious. Before talking
about the department he spent time detailing the pride he takes in the town’s infrastructure, particularly the benefits for young people. “We have great schools in this town,” Forehand said. “Our recreation department is fantastic when it comes to handling all the sports in town. From football to basketball to baseball and soccer they’re taking care of just about every one you can think of. Now we have Ayden District Park on Jolly Road which has a great disc golf course.”
Ayden’s new Police Chief Chris Forehand
“Our guys are stopping to engage with people and take an interest in them. Whether that’s helping out with a flat tire or just hanging out and shooting the breeze.” Ayden Police Chief Chris Forehand
Forehand tries to instill that kind of respect, interest and pride in the community in his officers, he said. It’s his way of building trust and maintaining transparency. He also hopes that it makes residents feel like they can count on the department even in unusual times.
liaisons. Once a month we gather at the community building with everyone in town to hear from the community. We let people voice their issues. For them, it might be needing a new stoplight or road work done. The council also lets us do several projects behind the department.”
“I tell the young guys the same thing,” Forehand said. “You can be that preconceived definition of an officer that the public has in mind when they think of police. Especially now. But, if you treat people with respect and build that relationship, that’s the difference.”
One of the projects which Forehand takes a lot of pride in is the annual Shop with a Cop program. Around the December holidays, the department receives donations to give kids in need the Christmas they deserve.
The chief takes a lot of pride in that sort of transparency. He believes it makes people more comfortable when voicing their needs to the city, police included. “Our major means of connecting with the public is the Ayden Community Policing Council,” Forehand said. “It is entirely volunteer driven along with department
“It depends on donations but we typically get about $300 per kid,” Forehand said. “Last year we received about $400 per kid. Half of that we put toward shoes and clothes and the other half is for stuff that they want.” Forehand laughed. “The kids almost always end up telling us to get things for their families,” he said. “You’re
getting things for them and they make sure to tell you they need things for their siblings instead. It’s a big help for families.” The event ends with a dinner for the families the week of Christmas. Forehand said that approaching policing from a place of giving and mutual respect makes Ayden different. “When you get home and you turn on the news, the things you see are not what we see in the office,” Forehand said. “Sometimes it can be more difficult to operate like that and make sure we’re fostering those relationships. But I can say we don’t see that negative dynamic at work. We are out there 12 hours a day and not just on calls and stops. Our guys are stopping to engage with people and take an interest in them. Whether that’s helping out with a flat tire or just hanging out and shooting the breeze.”
Proud to call Ayden home. 144D 3RD AYDEN MAGAZINE
The old IGA grocery is a landmark in Ayden. It is being rehabbed as a community center through HUD funds.
Center of community Oﬃcials expect to break ground in July on work to transform the old IGA into the Ayden Housing Community Resource Center By Deborah Griﬃn
n aging, empty IGA on Lee Street — an artery that cuts through the heart of town — is a historic landmark to some. To others, it’s a dilapidated eyesore. The 5,900-square-foot building has been sitting empty for years. Weeds sprout through cracks in the cement parking lot, plywood boards up glass and fading red and white marquee letters, missing a “T,” spell out “Food Sore.” Soon, the Ayden Housing Authority will refurbish the building from the inside out and offer a wealth of services to residents as its new community center, said Nichole Brown, the housing authority’s executive director. The agency bought the building using funds from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The old IGA is one of several
redevelopment projects currently underway in Ayden, said Town Manager Matt Livingston. “In the same area, they are repaving Martin Luther King Jr. Street and putting in new sidewalks,” made possible with Powell Bill funds, he said. And, with the help of Community Development Block Grant neighborhood revitalization funds, the town also is refurbishing the recreation center, across and down the street. He said the new community center will offer an array of services. “It will be used for basic education, career development, job-training and literacy programs. Nichole has a whole range of ideas of what it can be used for. She has met with community volunteers to help guide her in the best way to use the space,” Livingston said. “Mostly, we want it to see it used as a true community building.”
The store will be renamed Ayden Housing Community Resource Center, and will serve as a hub to enhance the lives of citizens. For many in the town, the building is a point of reference and a part of their early memories. “People who have lived here since they were children can remember when their parents shopped there. The IGA was here long before [any other grocery store],” Brown said. “We are trying to figure out what parts of the building we can keep to save some of that heritage. “We would like to keep the floors if we can,” Brown added. “They are terrazzo (a concrete-gravel mix), which is almost indestructible.” She said when it’s complete, the building will house classrooms, a computer room, an office and a private health screening room.
“We want to provide the resources and tools to help people go to the next phase in life — whatever that may be for them.” Nichole Brown, Ayden Housing Authority executive director
Nichole Brown, executive director of the the Ayden Housing Authority, stands inside the old IGA Grocery Store on Lee Street. The housing authority bought the building through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds. After completion, the building will serve as a service hub for many needs in the community.
It also will serve as an after school assistance site and as a summer feeding space. “From the outside it doesn’t look that big, but there is a lot of floor space,” Brown said. Renovations include outside stone work, new electrical and plumbing lines, the addition of a commercial kitchen, and a back-up generator for use during natural disasters. “We are so excited. It will also improve the visual aesthetics on this side of town,” she said.
The roof already has been replaced as the first line of defense against decay. The front in- and out-doors will be replaced with ADA-compliant double doors, and a foyer will welcome those who enter. The back end of the store, once the meat section, will be a meeting room, able to accommodate up to 130 people. The space will be available to the public to rent for private or group events. The old grocery’s two walk-in coolers will be put to good use
during community feedings. The building was purchased for $45,000, a fraction of the original asking price, Brown said. She said this was a blessing, considering the funds it will take to transform the store into an attractive place where people can find resources they need. “Due to the rising costs of construction materials, we estimate having at least a $300,000-$400,000 renovation budget,” she said. Brown said she hopes to get
bids in for the work soon, in order to have a groundbreaking in July. “Our hope is to have it completed by the end of December,” she said. “We are very excited about it and I believe the community is as well. There will be even more enthusiasm once groundbreaking occurs.” Everyone in Ayden can benefit. “Programs that are free to Ayden Housing Authority will be also be free to the Ayden community at large,” she said.
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She hopes several goals will be reached with the site. “We hope to increase graduation rates,” Brown said. “And it will serve as a relief center in the event of a natural disaster. We want to provide the resources and tools to help people go to the next phase in life — whatever that may be for them,” she said. Some services already being provided elsewhere in Ayden will move to the center, so an array of services can be offered under one roof. “We also plan to have some programs that are unique to our location — such as partnering with Pitt Community College to bring the Career Readiness Certificate program here. This will help applicants have additional credentials when applying for jobs,” she said. The recent award of a Resident Opportunities and Self-Sufficiency Grant helped Brown’s department extend support services and empowerment activities to residents, she said. Brown has the ability to see past
dilapidation and envision the end product. “I’ve always been able to see the end
of the road. This transformation will be amazing,” she said.
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Project will new life and cool air into the Ayden Recreation Center
“The restrooms have been there since the early 1950s. All the pipes had to be replaced. When workers busted through a cinderblock wall, they found a water leak we otherwise would have never found,” he said.
Built in 1929, the Ayden High School building at 435 Lee St. has been used as a recreation center for years with few upgrades. Many in town felt fortunate to have the facility, even without airconditioning in the gym.
Town Manager Matt Livingston said town officials were pleasantly surprised when bids came in lower than expected, allowing the town to use some of the $600,000 Community Development Block Grant neighborhood revitalization funds for additional work, such as fixing the gymnasium floor and sub flooring.
By Deborah Griﬃn
pair of grants is funding longneeded renovations at the Ayden Recreation Center including a climate control system that will bring comfort for summertime activities at the old gym.
“A lot of places don’t have a gym. If we didn’t have this, we wouldn’t be able to have basketball, volleyball and summer camps,” Recreation Director Tommy Duncan said. “It’s nice — it allows kids a place to have organized sports and keep them off the streets.” He said it will be even nicer with the upgrades. “The restrooms and the concession stand at the front of the building are being redone,” he said.
“The gym is truly being totally updated,” Livingston said, adding the town uses it to host its youth sports programs and other activities including use by outside recreation leagues. “It’s not just used for basketball. It is used for cheerleading practice and multitude of other things,” Livingston said. One coach is especially happy about the HVAC system. Urban Turnage, a facilities manger at Community Christian Church in Greenville,
Construction is underway on the new air conditioning system by the Berry Building Group, the compnay that has been contracted to rehab the Recreation Center in Ayden.
Workers from the Berry Building Group get ready to install central air and heating on the roof of the Ayden Rec Center’s gym.
Workers from the Berry Building Group get ready to cut into the roof to install HVAC. Also being rehabbed are the gymnasium, the bathrooms and consession stand area.
has coached youth basketball and football in Ayden for 14 years. He said AC will be a great thing. “This season, a load will be lifted off coaches, officials, parents, grandparents and the kids. In the past, the gym has been like playing in a sauna. Heat builds up frustrations,” he said. “In that environment, fatigue sets in, and some kids struggle with asthma.” Turnage said the suffocating heat can exacerbate tensions. “Everything is just sitting on top of you and the stress really builds up. Coaches many times had to tell players too literally, ‘go outside and get some air,” he added.
“It is great to know it is coming. Piping in fresh, clean air is going to make a big difference,” he said. “It’s really all about the kids — you want them to have very the best.” Turnage feels that the gym is vital for children in Ayden. He began coaching when his son Drew, now 25, was young. Turnage continues to coach. “I see so many kids that don’t have … I remember from my childhood, the gym was the one place I could find men I respected. They would point me in the right direction and pour positivity into me. That’s what I want to do,” he added.
“The elderly can’t take the heat,” he said.
The town also acquired grand funding for a nearly $400,000 project to renovate the first floor of the center’s classroom building, which is currently used for community art programs and fitness classes.
“At the same time — you have a hot gym, full of boys running around — there is an odor you can’t miss. Even the officials get frustrated,” he added.
“This building was built almost 100 years ago. They used plaster on the walls, which over the years has become damaged. No one I know knows how to repair
He has witnessed grandparents leaving during games.
plaster,” Duncan said. Hanging sheetrock was the solution. In the past, the rec center has offered art classes such as stained glass, holiday wreath making, pottery, scrapbooking and motherdaughter painting sessions. Fitness classes included yoga and adult exercise.
A re a s o the re f replaced hab t floorin a g ar Recre king plac e at t e part of ation he Ce n t e r ’s gy Ayden m.
All classes were canceled last year due to COVID-19. The renovations also will help the town combat the virus in the future as a testing, immunization and wellness center.
“Everything has been so dead. We are just now gearing up — trying to find some different programming,” Duncan said.
He hopes additional funds will come through government-funded relief programs, which would allow even more upgrades to the building. “We are excited,” he added. “We will just be glad when things begin to truly open back up.”
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Small-town charm, planning and the Southwest Bypass position town for growth By Donna Williams
he real estate market is booming, and Ayden is well positioned to take advantage of the expected growth, local experts said. “It is phenomenal,” said Realtor Pat Chappell, a veteran Pitt County agent who lives in Ayden and focuses much of her work on the market here. “Houses are selling and we are getting multiple bids. Prices are up 17 percent higher than what they were a year ago.” A major factor in the town’s growth is the Southwest Bypass. Completed in November 2019, the highway cuts the commute to Greenville’s Medical District
and Industrial District by 10 minutes and allows easy access to U.S. 264 and points west. The interchange at the Bypass and N.C. 102 is expected to see significant commercial growth, which translates into jobs and a boost to the tax base. Residential growth will push development there and elsewhere in town, Chappell said. In the last year, she has seen first hand the need for housing in Pitt County as the real estate market has soared. “It’s a seller’s market,” she said. “People are putting houses on the market and making money. Then they have to buy something. It’s an interesting time.”
Growth in the region and a dearth of homes on the market has town leaders working with developers to plan out several new subdivisions to ensure future and current residents can make their home in Ayden. Ayden’s future land-use plan was written to provide a range of housing options that build on the diversity the community has to offer, Planning and Zoning Director Stephen Smith said. In the last 18 months, the town has approved more than 700 residential lots in five new subdivisions with more to come, Smith said. “We do envision at least another 200
lots on top of what we already got. We will likely see even more than that.” Allen Park on Ayden Golf Club Road is already underway. Homes will occupy 65 lots in two phases. Buyers can choose from five floor plans ranging in size from 1,700 to 2,800 square feet. All 43 lots in Phase 1 have been sold, Smith said. Also coming to Ayden Golf Club Road is Monetvello subdivision, which will consists of 197 lots. Its Phase 1, which consists of 18 patio home lots, is underway, Smith said. East Ridge subdivision, a 323-lot development, will be built on Ayden Golf Club Road near N.C. 102, while
That will help us without commercial growth,” Smith said. “We have all the property near the N.C. 11 and Bypass zoned as highway commercial. We have put zoning and infrastructure in place to attract new commercial businesses as houses are built.” An additional 700 homes in the next five years comes as no surprise to “I was naming and Chappell.
Allen Park is one of the new subdivisions in Ayden.
Cottages at Swift Creek, a 39-lot subdivision, will be constructed nearby on N.C. 102. As the demand in housing increases, so does the need for infrastructure. Ayden approved a sewer extension along N.C. 102 with work slated to begin in June. The extension will serve the new developments along Ayden Golf Club Road and will likely spur further growth, Smith said. Across town, near N.C. 11 and
Snow Hill Road, Legacy Park Apartments are under construction as well. Town officials said such developments are needed to provide more diverse housing options. Subdivisions also have been discussed along Snow Hill and North East College streets, Hines Drive and Pleasant Plain Road. “We are starting to grow in a lot of different places, not just Country Club, which is encouraging,” Smith said. “A lot of residential growth is happening in all parts of our town. It’s encouraging. It’s spread out and not focused
claiming it 20 years ago. I’ve always felt if we could get some people here, they would start seeing what I was seeing and Ayden would grow crazy like it is now”
“I was naming and claiming it 20 years ago. I’ve in one always felt area.” if we could get some In time, Pat Chappell of Pat people here, residential Chappell Realty they would growth will start seeing what lend to more I was seeing and commercial growth, Ayden would grow crazy Smith said, adding the like it is now,” Chappell said. town is poised for when this happens. A native of Greenville, Chappell fell in love with Ayden “Without rooftops, your at a young age when commercial growth is not really she visited family existent. On the commercial side here. Even then of things, they look at roof tops. It’s encouraging to say in the next she recognized it as “the Mayberry of couple of years we’re Pitt County.” going to have more than 700 new “There was houses.
such a little network of people and everybody knew everybody. Everybody was willing to help,” Chappell said.
She married B.T. Chappell, a former Ayden-Grifton High School football coach. While B.T. was working the field, Chappell was working concessions.
“With my husband as coach, I got to know all those kids. A lot of those boys still call me Ma Chappell. Several sent me Mother’s Day notes,” she said.
The couple settled in town while their family was young. Chappell invested herself in the community, serving the Ayden Collard Festival, Boys & Girls Club, Pitt-Greenville Realtor’s Association, Pitt County Economic Development Commission, the Pitt County Home Builders’ Association, Ayden Chamber of Commerce, Ayden Historic Downtown Association, CrimeStoppers and Ayden Downtown Commission. “To me, money is not wealth. It is helping people,”
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Chappell said. “It is my happiness. It makes me happy to help people.” She left her job as a payroll clerk at East Carolina University and begin a career that had interested her since she was 17. “When I was a young girl I always thought it would be a great profession for me. I love people. I love talking. I wanted to help people and the No. 1 investment people normally make is their home. I thought it was something I could be of service doing,” Chappell said. With time, her confidence grew, she said. “I wanted to know everything I could know so I could help (clients) and be a resource. I wanted to help create a smother transition. That’s the way I still feel today.” Her efforts have made her the go-to agent for many in Ayden. “In the real estate world, they called me Miss Ayden. I love Ayden. Ayden has been good to
Pat Chappell is the Ayden specialist with Aldridge & Southerland Real Estate. Chappell chats with associate Kevin O’Sullivan.
be,” Chappell said. Knowing the town’s small town atmosphere, friendly neighbors and
caring charms, Chappell said great things will certainly grow here. “I knew Ayden was going
to be the Cary of Pitt County,” Chappell said. “It is the jewel in Pitt County.”
Home Place co-founder Anne Grimes blows a ram’s horn, or shofar, before Bible study at the Home Place of Ayden.
Some place like home Former businesswomen open gathering place for senior adults
By Kim Grizzard
ith its inviting front porch and cheery yellow door, the Homeplace of Ayden is definitely quite homey. The inside is just as welcoming, with a charming kitchen, cozy fireplace and comfortable sofas. So it is really no wonder that people sometimes call and ask if there are any beds available. It’s an honest mistake from those who have glanced at the cover of the brochure to assume that this is a retirement home. But the 1,800-square-foot ranch on Emma Cannon Road has almost everything except beds. That’s because Homeplace
isn’t where people come when they need a place to live. It’s a place they come when they want to have a life. “When people come in, they feel a sense of happiness in here and they feel a sense of belonging,” co-founder Pam Eldridge said. “They feel the spirit of the Lord in here. That’s what we mostly get from everybody is that they really feel that the spirit is in here, which is what we’re looking for. “We want people to feel that way,” she said. “We want them to feel that this is their second home.”
HOW IT BEGAN Eldridge’s refurbished farmhouse is right next door
to Homeplace, and co-founder Anne Grimes lives just down the road. Grimes is better known for launching Harvest Time Foods as a family business in 1981, but the idea of starting a nonprofit is one that she had cooked up decades before now. Grimes and her husband, Bryan, used to talk about being involved in a ministry after they retired.
“When he died, I just thought it was down the drain,” Grimes, 78, said. “What could I do by myself?”
As she prayed about the need, Eldridge said she felt led to contact Grimes, but she was reluctant to do so. She sent a text that she half hoped would be ignored, but Grimes proposed a meeting later the same day.
Three years ago, Eldridge came into the picture. Back then, she knew Grimes as the name behind Anne’s Flat Dumplings. But in December 2017, some mistletoe brought
Eldridge had volunteered to sell pieces of the plant as a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization Daughters of Worth, and Grimes bought bags of it. Still, the two wouldn’t meet face to face until months later when Eldridge was working on another fundraising effort.
WHY SO SOON? “I wanted to get her out of
HOMEPLACE OF AYDEN 3815 Emma Cannon Road, is a nonprofit, faithbased gathering place for senior adults. Visit homeplaceofayden.com. Call 258-2235. my hair,” Grimes recalled, laughing. At the meeting, Eldridge was surprised to find that a fundraising pitch was hardly necessary. Grimes was familiar with the cause and was more than willing to give. In fact, she already had an appointment to talk with a representative of the same organization the following day.
The Home Place, a place for seniors to meet and enjoy each others’ company holds Bible study during the week in the spacious living room area of the home.
LIFE AND LONELINESS
But what was more unexpected was the ease of conversation between the two strangers.
Within a few months of their first meeting, Grimes offered Eldridge a job as her personal assistant. Spending hours on the road together, with Eldridge driving to allow Grimes to pursue her passion for amateur photography, led to long discussions about life and loneliness and sharing on matters of faith, family and friendship.
“We talked for about two and a half hours like we were just bosom buddies, like we’d known each other all our lives,” Eldridge, 70, said, laughing. “It was just amazing.”
Differences between the two are evident. Eldridge, a Massachusetts native who has called Greenville home for 30 years, is the more talkative and has a bit of a flair for glitz
and glamour. Grimes, a Pitt County native, is more reserved and outdoorsy. Both were successful businesswomen with experience in the food industry. Eldridge formerly owned a local franchise of Mrs. Fields Cookies. Both had children and grandchildren who were too old to be dependent on them. Grimes had lost both her husband and sister. Eldridge had recently been through a divorce. “We had lots of conversations about how you have family but how lonely you are as an older person,” Eldridge said.
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“When we were all open around here you would wonder, ‘Why does the Hardee’s and Bojangles filled with old people?’” she said, “Because they’re lonely. They go there to get their biscuit and hope to God somebody’s in there that they can have a decent conversation with because their kids are busy or their family’s gone. “We spent hours on the road talking about lonely people,” Eldridge said. “That is exactly how this came about.” Grimes and Eldridge, both ordained ministers, envisioned a place where veterans and senior adults could come to forge friendships and to create connections within the community. They wanted Homeplace to function somewhat like a senior center but with more emphasis on faith. “We have a senior center here that does lots of things, but they don’t minister to the spirit,” Grimes said. “They’re
ministering to the body, mainly exercise and activities to keep them busy. We just lump it altogether. “The county has us classified as a private club,” she said, laughing. “There’s no category for what we do.”
VISION DELAYED Following Grimes’ retirement in January 2019, she and Eldridge began remodeling an older home on the property as phase one of Homeplace. They broke ground on the new building in October 2019 with a goal of opening it within the first few months of 2020. But the paint had hardly dried when the coronavirus pandemic arrived. Stay-at-home orders issued in spring made it hard to draw any visitors, let alone seniors considered at high risk for contracting the virus. Delaying the official opening, Grimes and Eldridge decided to use the Homeplace kitchen
Visit Us At Our Local Branch
to make chicken and pastry, meatloaf and other food for seniors and veterans. Over the first several weeks of the pandemic, they prepared and delivered hundreds of meals to people who had never heard of Homeplace. Joanne Pador, who attends Vision Caster Ministries church with Grimes, volunteered to serve in the kitchen. By the time Homeplace officially opened in June, she was a regular. “I originally came here to help,” she said. “I was just drawn to what was going on after that.” Homeplace has scheduled activities most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from Bible studies and prayer groups to exercise classes and crafts or cooking sessions. It engages members in community service projects, from sending notes of encouragement to teachers to collecting toiletry items and other necessities for the homeless.
don’t even have a smart phone, computers are alien to them. “We could shut up and not do anything,” she said. “(But) there’s a need there for this, and we know there’s a need for it.”
HAPPY PLACE Beth Capillary, who started coming shortly after Homeplace opened, fell in love with it on the tour. On a recent Tuesday, she attended Bible study in a sunny room known as “the porch,” which overlooks a bird feeder and a pair of yellow and turquoise butterflyshaped benches outside. A sign over the serving hatch between the great room and the kitchen reads, “This is our happy place.” It’s a statement that Capillary has found to be true. “It’s such a light in the community,” she said. “They have great joy. It’s infectious.” Nadine Binkley, who started coming about three months ago, agrees. She enjoys the informality and the welcoming atmosphere.
Behind the main facility is an area for gardening and almost 4 acres for walking. Work continues on an exercise room and a pavilion for outdoor activities.
“It’s not an adult day care, which some people think. It’s not a nursing home,” she said. “It’s for people who want to enjoy life and share their life with someone else.”
“COVID kind of put a stop to a lot of things,” Grimes said. “We’re trying to work around that by offering the Zoom for those that know how to do that. A lot of the older people
“It was built for the community. That’s why they call it Homeplace,” Binkley said. “Once you walk in, you feel the love of God here. You’re always loved at home.”
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“When people come in, they feel a sense of happiness in here and they feel a sense of belonging. They feel the spirit of the Lord in here. That’s what we mostly get from everybody is that they really feel that the spirit is in here, which is what we’re looking for.”
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pring has sprung, and this year seems to be moving faster than ever. This year started with a cold, wet winter and in full pandemic mode and moved to a quick warm spring right to, well, a down-right hot past couple of weeks and what seems like a light at the end of the tunnel with regard to the COVID crisis. The happenings around Ayden this year have occurred just as quickly. Since starting my job with the Ayden chamber in late January, I have had my feet to the fire in trying to keep up with all the moving and shaking going on in this great town. In January, the first
rebranding committee met to with town officials, business try and determine what Ayden leaders and the community in is best known for and how general. My concentration during can we market and the past few months capitalize on that has been to update brand. We have the chamber met several website, so times over be sure to the past few check it out. months and Restructuring have had the chamber hundreds membership of surveys tier levels has completed also been a Jimmy Adams to gauge these major focus over questions. The the past few months. committee is closing Since completing these in on the answers and plans to tasks, the focus has now shifted proceed soon with a marketing to recruiting businesses to join strategy. the chamber so that we can all help support and promote the February and March saw me town of Ayden. If any individual getting my feet wet by meeting or business wishes to join the
Ayden chamber, please feel free to contact me through the Ayden chamber website or phone number. The most recent couple of months have blossomed with the announcement that the 47th Collard Festival will take place in Ayden Sept. 10-11. This great news will hopefully bring some normalcy back into our lives after being cooped up for the past 14 months. This past month also saw the chamber partner with the Town of Ayden and Subway sandwiches of Ayden to sponsor an Ayden Clean-Up Days event which was held on consecutive Saturdays, May 1 and 8.
Volunteers put on the orange safety vests over their green Ayden Clean-Up T-shirts and went out all over the town picking up trash alongside the roadways.Volunteers included chamber board members, community leaders, town council members, concerned citizens and even Mayor Steve Tripp lent a helping hand. In the middle of the past month the chamber also teamed up with Gwendy’s Goodies to bring sweet treats to the teachers and school staff of all three Ayden schools during Teacher Appreciation Week. There was no surprise that every morsel was consumed very quickly. As we start to roll into summer and are allowed to have more in-person gatherings, the chamber will bring back ribbon-cutting ceremonies to celebrate the openings of
businesses that happened in the past We are looking forward to a great year as well as those that we summer of new and old are excited about opening businesses thriving, new in the very near future. residents moving in and “As we start to roll into Also, the hope is becoming a part of our summer and are allowed that we will have great community and to have more in-person our first business fewer restrictions gatherings, the chamber will after hours in on mask-wearing quite a while and social bring back ribbon-cutting in late June in gatherings, but ceremonies to celebrate the the new Pocket most of all just openings of businesses that Park, located in being able to get happened in the past year the downtown out and enjoy one as well as those that we are area. Here, we will another’s company excited about opening in be able to bring again, face to face. the very near future.” business leaders Jimmy Adams is together in a casual, the director of the Ayden friendly setting to network Chamber of Commerce. and socialize.
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