Flowers Street neighborhood aims for ‘new harvest’

East Rockingham community rallying for better future

By Kevin Spradlin

EAST ROCKINGHAM — Maybe it’s fate. Maybe it’s faith. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

Regardless, recent changes in one East Rockingham neighborhood are making for a better present and brighter future for a small group of people hell bent on life better and safer for their children. Drug deals out in the open, fights, stabbings and other crimes.

Kevin Spradlin | Crystal Brooks distributes a newsletter to nearly three dozen people who attended a modified Community Prayer Walk at Church of God of Prophecy Friday night in East Rockingham.

Kevin Spradlin |
Crystal Brooks distributes a newsletter to nearly three dozen people who attended a modified Community Prayer Walk at Church of God of Prophecy Friday night in East Rockingham.

On Friday night, Crystal Brooks set up at Church of God of Prophecy on Flowers Street for a Community Prayer Walk. The second year event was hampered by the inclement, chilly weather but that didn’t stop Brooks from hosting nearly three dozen people inside the church gymnasium for warm words of welcome, a smile, a goodie bag and a short film on making better life decisions.

Brooks was aided by the church when her Rockingham home burned to the ground in March 2014. The church had housing available near its facility on Marigold Street. Brooks and her daughter, with nowhere else to go, moved in. And their eyes opened.

She was given, Brooks said, “a front porch view of the holy terror” that made up the neighborhood. Brooks said she told God that “if I have to raise a daughter here, things have to change. If I’ve gotta live there, it’s gotta get better.”

She’s had some help. William “Butch” Benoist, a South Street man, also recognized the need for change. At Brooks’ prompting, he became a catalyst for positive change.

“Even up until last year, things were bad,” Benoist said of the constant fighting and drinking, kids doing pot and taking pills.

William "Butch" Benoist

William “Butch” Benoist

Police were called. They quickly bought into the issue and help nudge wrongdoers in the right direction.

“It seems like things have really changed,” he said.

Benoist said a gathering like that on Friday night shows those who wish to take down the neighborhood  that “we’re here to stand up … for the people who think there’s no help. We’re not afraid to go out where the trouble’s at.”

There was a time, Benoist said, one couldn’t walk down the street safely. If someone’s on the street late at night, Brooks said, it probably means they’re up to no good — and she’s going to err on the side of caution and safety.

“I know what you would do for your next fix,” said the former hotel manager, factory worker and substitute teacher who now serves as outreach pastor for the ROC — Reaching Our Communities. “I know how mean people can be when they’re not in the right frame of mind. I’ll call the cops on you. Why? Because I love you.”

Proactive measures have worked. Helping law enforcement target problem areas has aided life being a little bit better for many who choose to call this former mill town home. A third component was a squirrel — or God at work. You decide.

At a popular hangout in town, Brooks recalled that not once or twice but three times a squirrel tripped the silent alarm at the place of business. Each time, police responded quickly — thinking the place was being robbed. Each time, police arrived and discovered drug deals and other criminal activity midstream.

It’s okay that one has made bad choices, Brooks said. She’s been there. Her faith has helped her through some difficult times. She’s not the only one. Brooks introduced “Ronnie,” a man who had previously been homeless, on the run from law enforcement for an outstanding warrant for DUI. He faced a jail sentence and a fine of up to $10,000.

But running was, well, tiring. Stressful. It was ruining his life.

“He made a choice to be held accountable,” Brooks said.

Ronnie paid a fine of $100 and completed 48 hours of community service. God helped him through a tough time, Brooks said, “because he decided God’s way was better.”

Brooks and Benoist are part of a street team outreach ministry every third Wednesday on Flowers Street. She’s planning a community garden this season and is encouraging residents to buy into the effort for a share of the harvest. On Aug. 19, the group also is planning a back-to-school event to distribute school supplies to children.

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Religion, Rockingham

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