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Economic Development
Feb 17, 2022

Port City United for Change

Sponsored Content provided by Chris Coudriet - County Manager, New Hanover County Government

I’ll believe it when I see it.  

They are words that have truly stuck with  me  and others on our staff here at New Hanover County  for  many  months.   

Like all things in government, there are procedures and processes to follow that ensure  objectives  are handled fairly, equitably and meet the needs of what is being addressed. Our response to the issue of community violence is  not immune to that.   

In a meeting late last year that featured stakeholders from across the community, a group of New Hanover High School students were invited in to listen and provide feedback. As members of  our team  shared plans, the students remarked that the areas  we intended to  target were a good start and provided insight on how to  enhance what we were working on.   

One young  woman  echoed the sentiments from her  peers, but quickly followed with  these  concise, but impactful,  words: “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  

Ultimately,  she is right. Talking is good. Planning is great. But change only happens when  those two things become action.   

And, as a county and community, we are  taking action.  

Hiring the people to the do the work and soliciting proposals from the non-profit sector to partner with us is under way to accomplish an array of services within the newly formed Port City United. This agency, which will be located  downtown at 320 Chestnut Street,  will have three main focuses:  

  • It will utilize  trusted outreach workers and mediators within  our community who will work to  intervene and prevent violence.   
  • Port City United Connect, a  24-7, locally manned call center  will be a place where  community members can  anonymously  report violence, threats  or  other  concerns  not addressed through vital  community  services like 911 or mental health  hotlines. PCU Connect will  also  actively listen on  social media for potential threats, a  proactive  measure  to overcome blind spots.  
  • PCU will also work with  nonprofit partners  to  bring community resource coordinators into schools to help students and families receive equitable and easy access to services. These coordinators will  be  adults who the students can get to know and develop authentic connections   to  feel heard, feel safer, and  develop greater trust.  
I know that there are questions from the community about how Port City United’s structure and program will work, and  people may be skeptical. It’s unlike anything this community has ever done before, so I understand the hesitation and know it will take time to show  its  effectiveness.  However,  in order to begin solving  problems, we  must  think differently and be willing to try new  and different strategies. 

The county’s intention is to get to the root of the issues and build support and resources at every turn, and we know that will not occur overnight. But it has the power to happen with our  community’s involvement and commitment.  

We are working with key partners, we are focusing on evidence-based programs and  will  be evaluating their  effectiveness  constantly, and we are willing to pivot as needs present themselves or if different  resources are needed.  This real and important issue deserves everyone to be at the table, to give it a chance, and work together to make it successful so we can have positive and  lasting change.   

Another key component of our initiative is  providing resources  and stability  for families within their  neighborhoods. One of the biggest issues we heard from stakeholders was a lack of food options, especially in the Northside.   

Working with the  City of Wilmington  to determine the best location, the county will design and build a grocery story that will  then  be  owned and  operated by the  Northside Food  Co-op.  We feel like the Co-op is the right partner to oversee this endeavor as they have been in the Northside community for quite some time, meeting with residents and learning about the needs in that area. Their goal was always to build a grocery store in the Northside, and we are able to partner with them to make that happen now.  I believe their passion and their partnership  will make this successful.   

The grocery store will also help create more job opportunities, with employee recruitment  focused  on the surrounding neighborhoods. And  the aim is even for  a portion of the items that will be sold  to  come from local farmers and  vendors from our area  who are now currently  part of  the Northside Food Coop’s weekly  Frankie’s Outdoor Market.   

The store itself will be like any other grocery store,  offering  families  the essentials  they need to stock their fridges and pantries.  While anyone is welcome to shop, the store’s goal is to provide a place where nearby residents can come and get the  food  they need and want to feed their families without having to leave their own neighborhood. That’s an opportunity many of us take for granted. 

An overview of our community plan can be  viewed here,  so  you can see  a snapshot of  many of the initiatives we are launching soon.  

In addition to those outlined,  in the coming fiscal year,  we  are  also  working with New Hanover County Schools to expand our county-funded Pre-K program  with  six  additional  Pre-K classes. This  will provide more  children  with  the opportunity to begin their educational journeys sooner, setting them  up  for  life-long  success  academically, socially, and emotionally.  

For our older students and adults, starting in the fall of 2023,  we  will be  working with our partners at Cape Fear Community College to  help  eliminate barriers that  might have previously kept  someone from attending. This includes  making sure needs like transportation and childcare are met so that individuals can further their education or work to hone skills in a specific trade.   

We must do what we can to stop violence from happening. But we must also provide the resources needed to give everyone in our community equitable access, help and support to lead positive and productive lives. 

I encourage you to continue remaining engaged in our progress, ask questions and share feedback, and be part of the community solution.   

I believe  the actions we are taking today, with  our community  working together,  will help  everyone be able to  believe,  see, and feel  the  impactful  changes  being made.   

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