Working to help others, at-risk teens and young men are moving through the process of rebuilding their lives and preparing for a brighter future.
They are part of The Warehouse Project, a vision that the Rev. Stephen Brown of Conway brought to reality.
About two years ago, Brown was cleaning a warehouse to be used as a ministry. “We had troubled young men helping us with the cleaning of the building and I saw how productive they could be with direct instruction based on trusted relationships,” he said. “I saw how the lives of at-risk young men could be influenced and impacted for the better.”
There is no longer a warehouse, but The Warehouse Project idea was born there, and that’s how the nonprofit community organization got its name. It reaches out to teens and young adults from every background who are having difficulty functioning or adapting to the real world.
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It’s stated values are integrity, goal-setting, education, and dedication. The project provides mentoring, academic tutoring, job readiness skills, virtual job training, career counseling, ACT/SAT and GED preparation, guidance counseling, life and social skills training and more.
Some participants have been given a second chance by the juvenile justice system, some have served their sentences and others are at-risk of incarceration or some level of hardship because of decisions they are making. One boy is there because his mother, worried about him, asked for him to be included.
“Some of them have never had direct instruction. A lot of them have become students of the streets,” Brown said.
“We offer an alternative,” he said. “We offer hope with instruction. We harp on manners and being respectful. We frown on profanity, and we demand they use appropriate language.”
On Saturdays, they are out helping other people or they are someplace learning important lessons.
The current staff is made up of four people, including Brown and his wife, Aprelle Brown. Horry County natives, they own and operate Freshwater Fish Company, a restaurant and fish market on U.S. 701 North of Conway. He pastors Living Word Baptist Church. She is a school teacher. The other staff members are Helen Horne, who retired from human resources at AVX, and Darian Rembert, principal of AMI Kids, an alternative school in Marlboro County.
Hurricane Matthew and the flooding that followed has kept the staff and participants busy. Some Saturdays they help clean-up and clean-out water damaged homes and personal belongings in the Rosewood neighborhood in Socastee.
“It’s eye-opening and jaw-dropping,” Brown said of the devastation in the community where peoples’ ruined belongings lined the streets in piles. “We’re bringing young men who are in similar conditions,” he said. “It’s not just us helping the community; it’s the community helping us.”
Mingling with heart-broken homeowners determined to see their way through, and watching that neighborhood get cleaned up and rebuilt shows the youth that you can take something that was left in shambles, and with time, rebuild it, whether it is property, the lives of the residents or their own lives.
Every moment is a teaching moment.
As the youth helped a homeowner sort through things, deciding what to keep and what to throw away, Brown said the young men are taught to do that with their lives – sort through what they’re holding on to and decide what to let go of. “You have to reassess your life to renovate it,” he said.
They teach the youth leadership, and being a leader means that they should first be the leader of their own lives.
Joseph Thomas is among the young men involved in The Warehouse Project. “I feel good helping people that are in need,” he said. “It (the flooding) kind of took a toll on a lot of peoples’ lives. A lot of people are devastated. They’ve worked 25 years to have something and the storm came in and took everything. It hurts me to see them in this pain, so I am happy to help.”
“Stephen is a great mentor and a great blessing to a lot of us,” Thomas said. ”He’s been a blessing for me. He’s been teaching me as I go, and I’ve been listening. He builds you for a whole new individual. He gives us chances when other people probably wouldn’t. You listen to him; you’ll learn a lot of things. He teaches you that it’s good to help others.”
Tara Pellerin is director of the Solicitor’s Juvenile Diversion Program in Horry and Georgetown counties. That program allows juvenile offenders from 12 to 16 years old to complete a list of requirements, and if they do that successfully, their charges will be dismissed.
She said there are several programs working through that office to help divert juveniles from the system. “We want to teach them that there are better alternatives out there for them,” she said. “I’ve heard some very positive feedback from the kids about going out and giving back. They were just in awe of the damage that was done. It was an eye-opening experience for them.”
The youth and their mentor were in awe of how so many people from different places converged on Rosewood to help.
“It’s amazing. When one person does something, it’s like it opens a door for other people to do something,” Brown said as he looked around at individual volunteers, Billy Graham’s Rapid Response team, people from Samaritan’s Purse, a tent where clothing and other items were being distributed and a Salvation Army food serving station.
“It’s a beautiful thing in a community for people from other cities and states to come together to help people in need,” Thomas said.
How to work together is just one of many lessons taught to the youth by Rembert, Horne, the Browns and others they recruit to help with their mission to save and rebuild the lives of young people headed in the wrong direction.
Whether in a classroom, helping individuals, cleaning up neighborhoods in Socastee or cooking and serving fish dinners to flood affected families in Mullins, they are learning how to live in the real world.
As Brown said while the youth served devastated people in Mullins. “We are not just cooking; we are teaching.”
For more information, call 365-4915. If no one answers, leave a message. You can also contact The Warehouse Project, a community organization, on Facebook.
The Warehouse Project is having a fundraiser from 3-6 p.m. Sunday at Angelo’s Steak & Pasta. There will be a silent auction that will go at 50-60 cents on the dollar, plus there will be free pizza and non-alcoholic beverages.