Volunteers spur opening of Place of Grace tent city

Dwellers can expect safety, acceptance and a plan

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

EAST ROCKINGHAM — Sylvia Raines packed up a new-to-her camera tripod, a tackle box, two coolers, two stadium seats.

She loaded into her vehicle  some pots, a weed eater and a toolbox, among other items. Then she wrote a check.

“You’re gonna fund the whole tent community by yourself,” said Mark Joplin.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Amber Marcengill, of Rocking Trends Consignment Boutique in Rockingham, has been the "biggest benefactor" for Place of Grace, said Mark Joplin. Joplin said many other companies have donated services and material, including Lowe's and Cascades Tissue.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Amber Marcengill, of Rocking Trends Consignment Boutique in Rockingham, has been the “biggest benefactor” for Place of Grace, said Mark Joplin. Joplin said many other companies have donated services and material, including Lowe’s and Cascades Tissue.

Joplin was no longer hungry, having fed from the trough of hope that is Raines’ passion for the cause.

“I’ll help y’all and y’all help me,” said Raines, 74, who lives near Cordova and plans to resell many of the items found Friday at the name-your-price yardsale at New Life Church on Airport Road in East Rockingham.

She was there, she said, “more to support the cause, ’cause I sure don’t need” the stuff.

Proceeds from the sale, which goes through 7 p.m. today and again from sunrise Saturday through 2 p.m., benefit a planned tent community to aid the area’s homeless. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, there will be a cookout with a contest and a meet-and-greet. At 3 p.m., there will be a question-and-answer session about the group, the tent city and its relationship to the community. The public is invited.

The key, said volunteer Dianne Raines, is for everyone to know that the tent city is “a temporary solution to a permanent problem.”

Known as Place of Grace, the 25-acre site behind New Life Church became available when Pastor Gary Richardson had land and Joplin and his group, Transitional Services of  Richmond County, had the cause.

There are two things any visitor to the new tent city can expect, Joplin said: safety and acceptance. Before being assigned a tent, those who choose to stay will read and agree to adhere to a list of rules that protect not only the temporary residents of the Place of Grace, but the neighborhood around them. The plan is to provide shelter about 75 people, though that could be increased based on need, Joplin said.

Among the rules:
* No weapons of any kind — not even a Swiss Army knife
* Keep noise to a minimum
* No alcohol or drug use on the premises
* No theft or any other criminal activity
* No panhandling, hanging of signs or accosting patrons at businesses along Airport Road

As it is the Place of Grace, there are loopholes — but they are quickly closed. Joplin noted that someone trying to come into camp drunk would be given a one-time grace, or forgiveness, and “wait it out” outside the perimeter of the camp but still on church property. A second offense “will be grounds for removal.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Sylvia Raines haggle with Mark Joplin over the price of several items on Friday during a yard sale to aid Grace of Place tent city at New Life Church on Airport Road in East Rockingham. The yard sale continues through Saturday.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Sylvia Raines haggle with Mark Joplin over the price of several items on Friday during a yard sale to aid Grace of Place tent city at New Life Church on Airport Road in East Rockingham. The yard sale continues through Saturday.

If anything goes wrong, Seymour “Jordan” Hunt, the onsite manager, will be the first to respond. Then Joplin himself, as “my house is a mile away.”

If it needs more attention, the Transition Services of Richmond County board of directors gets involved. And should it be an emergency, 911 will always be the first call made, Joplin said, noting Sheriff’ James Clemmons Jr. has promised to “assist us in any way possible.”

The tent city is divided up into sections — one for men, one for women and a separate area for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Joplin, a 10-year Army veteran, said he knows such individuals offer an experience that is “a whole different venture … they need that.”

Businesses have come forward to help whenever asked, said Dianne Raines (no relation to Sylvia Raines). Cascades Tissue has donated enough toilet paper for an entire year. Rocking Trends Consignment Boutique, Joplin said, “has been our biggest benefactor.” Lowe’s has has helped as well.

But the bulk of the work has been by Danette Hunt, Raines and Joplin. It’s not always easy. On Friday, Joplin recalled a situation one day earlier where he fussed at Raines — then apologized. It takes Joplins’ organizational skills and, as Joplin said, Raines’ heart to tolerate the “chain of command.”

“It’s a heck of a gel,” Joplin said of the operation. “We may not like each other all of the time, but we have our eyes on the prize.”

 

 

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