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2015 CEA Winner In Nonprofit: The Harrelson Center

By Joe Lowe, posted May 8, 2015
Vicki Dull, executive director | Year Founded: 2005 | No. of Employees: 3 (Photo by Mark Steelman)
Standing on the corner of North Fourth and Princess streets are the remnants of the former New Hanover County Law Enforcement Center. In the past decade, it transformed into The Harrelson Center Inc., an independent nonprofit center focused on providing an affordable home for charitable organizations looking to aid locals in need.

Some initially thought the old sheriff’s office building and jail needed to be torn down for fresher construction. But First Baptist Church members thought otherwise.

“The idea was really a dream birthed out of the mission work already going on at First Baptist Church,” said Vicki Dull, executive director of The Harrelson Center.

With the aid of First Baptist Church and donations by Bobby Harrelson, who asked that the center be named for his late wife, Jo Ann Carter Harrelson, the center opened its doors in 2005.

Today it houses nine nonprofit partners including Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, Communities in Schools and Phoenix Employment Ministry.

“It’s a business model we sort of developed on our own,” Dull said. “What brought the current partners here is the desire by the board to address the issues of the community.”

Each partner works in a collected effort to improve educational and employment opportunities, health care, support systems and affordable housing for both its nonprofits and the community.

While The Harrelson Center’s primary aim is to provide for its locals, its staff works diligently to offer an inexpensive home to nonprofits at a time when finding cheap rent can be a difficult task. Currently the center’s nonprofits pay an all-inclusive rental cost, consisting of utilities, parking, and security, at below-market values. The model allows the organizations to better utilize funding for the benefit of those referred to the center, officials said.

Grouping the nonprofits together also provides an avenue of marketing and volunteer opportunities for its nonprofit staffers and allows simpler means of group collaboration. In addition, it offers an array of support choices in close proximity for individuals in need.

“We strive here to help those who are trying to help themselves,” Dull said.

Since its creation, The Harrelson Center’s space has seen several renovations to provide the best environment for its affiliates. This year, The Harrelson Center is undergoing its Unlock Hope Campaign. For the campaign, the center made financial plans to renovate the fourth floor and former jail tower to expand for current groups and add more.

By the end of spring, Phoenix Employment Ministry and A Safe Place will be able to serve more
people, and three more nonprofits can join The Harrelson Center, officials said.

“We look forward to having a shared community space in that new tower that is available to our partners for their fundraising events and support group meetings,” Dull said.

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