While many balk at the thought of physical activity, the community in Ruffin, SC is gaining a new appreciation for recreation. Through the use of a grant from Coastal Community Foundation’s N.E.W. Fund, Hand-In-Hand Community Outreach (HIHCO) debuted a new exercise room at the BZS Community Center this summer.
Committed to improving the lives, health and wellness of those in Colleton County, HIHCO’s community projects such as youth programs, health fairs and voter registration drives align well with the mission of CCF’s N.E.W. Fund. Their latest project, the Katie Fennell Washington Exercise Room, honors the late Director of the BZS Community Center, and offers a safe and welcoming place for families to gather in Ruffin.
The N.E.W. Fund – or Neighborhoods Energized to Win Fund – is often the first funder for beneficiary organizations because of its unique structure supporting small organizations making an impact in their neighborhoods. Grants support projects that improve quality of life and develop and sustain leadership within N.E.W. Fund neighborhoods.
The passion behind the work at HIHCO exudes from its founder and chairperson, Sirena Memminger. An ordained minister at New Bethel 5 Pentecostal Holiness Church, Memminger is a Ruffin native who recognizes that in order for her community to be at its best, practical solutions are needed to help people discover their purpose, while focusing on the mind, body and soul.
Though you may not have heard of HIHCO or the town of Ruffin, this small community is home to an important piece of history. The BZS Community Center once served as a Rosenwald School in the early 1900s, and is one of the few of its kind still standing today.
With aspirations to promote “the well-being of mankind,” Julius Rosenwald and his family established a fund in 1917 contributing over $70 million dollars to public schools, colleges, museums and Jewish charities. Recognizing the suppressed access and quality of public education for black children in the south, the Rosenwald Fund dedicated itself to establishing black schools. Collaborating with Booker T. Washington, nearly 5,000 schools, shops and teacher homes were founded in 11 states. Of these, about 500 schools were built in South Carolina. By 1928, their efforts resulted in one-third of black children receiving an education in rural communities – such as Ruffin.
When a 1954 Supreme Court ruling declared segregation in schoolhouses unconstitutional, Rosenwald Schools became obsolete. Once the pride of their communities, many were abandoned or demolished.
Today, only 10 – 12 percent of Rosenwald Schools survive. In some instances, structures have been taken under the care of the National Trust, providing assistance, grants, and workshops to help save these iconic progressive pieces of architecture. In other cases, Rosenwald schools serve adaptive purposes.
With events ranging from health and wellness classes to motivational sessions and chess classes for children, HIHCO reinforces the strength and progressive nature of its history. Class is no longer in session, but the spirit of the Rosenwald School thrives through the efforts of HIHCO, focusing on the importance of leadership, education and cultural pride for those in Ruffin.