Completion of the nature trail and playground at Hesed House of Hope is progressing, perhaps faster than Hesed House director John Hall anticipated. Hall has been working on clearing the woods since this winter, succumbing to poison oak on several occasions. This summer, a volunteer cleared the heavier brush and trees with his backhoe and during this year’s United Way Day of Service, volunteers continued with the clearing.

The nature trail, which will be about a mile long, goes down to a creek. There’s already trails through the woods from Hesed House to Main Street that residents utilize to come to and from the shelter but this will be a special place. It’ll give the residents a cool, relaxing place to stay while they wait for the shelter to open. Hall partnered with a Baptist mission camp in Shelby to get six wooden benches built that will go along the trail and throughout the future playground park. This nature park and future playground is not just for Hesed House residents. It’ll also be open to the Oaklawn community, which has been traditionally underserved with amenities like this.

On Wednesday, Lincoln Charter School students were at Hesed House helping with organizing and cleaning the shelter as part of their annual 9/11 Day of Service. In addition to the students, a group of more than 30 individuals from American Woodmark Corporation, formerly RSI Home Products, were busily working on the nature trail and putting the playground equipment together. American Woodmark has several locations throughout the country, including one in Lincolnton.

“They gave us a $2,500 grant to help us with our expansion and also wanted to do this as an annual event that this company does where they chose one project in the nation and fly all of their executives in to work on it,” Hall said. “The vision is finally coming true.”

This trail is part of a planned expansion of the shelter adding on to the front of the building to make two suites that can be used by families who stay at the shelter. The expansion is being called, “Hope Rising Featuring Joshua’s Journey.” The expansion, which Hall said can’t come soon enough, was spearheaded by Tracie Johnson, who wasn’t aware of the work that Hesed House does in the community until she was part of the 2019 graduating class of Leadership Lincoln which chose Hesed House as their class project.  Johnson’s son, Joshua, fought a decade-long battle with addiction. Through the good graces of his family, Joshua was never homeless but many struggling with addiction are, so it’s a cause close to Johnson’s heart.

There are currently eight children staying at the shelter and Hall said that two more may be coming soon. As the shelter is organized now with women sleeping on one side and men on the other, children must stay on one side of the room or the other. The expansion will allow families with children some separation from the other residents and enable them to  stay together as a family unit. 

Hall has several themes in mind for the nature trail, which will tie into the name of the expansion, the history of the Oaklawn Rosenwald School which is now occupied by Lincoln County Communities in Schools, the Oaklawn community and because the Oaklawn community is a Habitat for Humanity community, Habitat. The final name of the trail and themes will be voted on by the shelter’s board of directors.

“The Lincoln County Community Foundation granted us with $3,600 to purchase the playground equipment,” Hall said. “It’s the first part of our community park which will be called ‘Hesed Community Park’ because it’s not only for Hesed House residents but also for the children of the community. Lowe’s in Lincolnton gave us a really good discount on the equipment and AJ Landscaping in Gastonia donated the playground mulch.”

Hall didn’t know the playground was going to be delivered until 8:00 that morning, so the timing was perfect. The instructions for assembling the equipment indicated that it would take approximately 40 hours for one person to put it all together but with a dozen or more men armed with tools, Hall was hoping it may be done before they left to return home that afternoon.

“If not, we’ll be asking local men’s groups, or churches or maybe the construction class at the Lincoln County School of Technology to help finish it,” he said. “Our goal is to have the first phase of the community park open by the beginning of October.”

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