‘WCU Flip the Prison Day’ underway

WCU students who volunteered to help transform a closed prison into a shelter, halfway house and soup kitchen help with painting at the Haywood Pathways Center during "WCU Flip the Prison Day" on Friday, Sept. 26.

WCU students who volunteered to help transform a closed prison into a shelter, halfway house and soup kitchen help with painting at the Haywood Pathways Center during “WCU Flip the Prison Day” on Friday, Sept. 26.

So many people from Western Carolina University volunteered to help with the transformation of an old prison in Haywood County into a soup kitchen, homeless shelter and halfway house that project organizers designated Friday, Sept. 26, as “WCU Flip the Prison Day.”

“We are overwhelmed by the support we have received from the citizens of Haywood County, and we are equally excited by the outpouring of support from WCU faculty and students,” said Nick Honerkamp, president of the Haywood Christian Emergency Shelter, a partner in the Haywood Pathways Center “Tear Down These Fences” project. “We never anticipated the groundswell of support that has come from Cullowhee.”

Launched through a partnership of the shelter, Open Door soup kitchen and Next Step halfway house, the Haywood Pathways project was selected from 320 entrants across the nation to win the grand prize in Guaranteed Rate’s Ultimate Neighborhood Give Back Challenge. The honor comes with $50,000 and a visit from Ty Pennington, a home-design expert known for his work with “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and other TV shows, on Thursday, Sept. 25, to help kickoff the project’s construction phase. Project leaders plan to open the center by Saturday, Nov. 1.

Volunteers from WCU on Sept. 25 served as part of a “bucket brigade” in which they were stationed in the community with buckets to collect money for and raise awareness of the project. On Sept. 26, volunteers from WCU are assisting at the facility in three-and-a-half-hour shifts either from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or from 1:30 to 5 p.m. with tasks such as construction, painting or landscaping.

Among the WCU volunteers will be Jordan Boecker, a senior from Franklin majoring in nursing. Bocker said she and two classmates decided to focus their senior research project on assisting the Haywood Pathways Center. In addition to assisting with tasks at the site, the students will facilitate a food and toiletry drive.

“We will go and volunteer, and plan to help through the end of October,” said Boecker.

Jennifer Cooper, assistant director for the Center for Service Learning, said she was proud that nearly one-fourth of the people who responded online to a call for volunteers to help with the project kickoff had ties to WCU.

“I’ve always been amazed by the generosity of our students, faculty and staff, and the Haywood Pathways Center project further highlights how willing they are to share their time and skills with the community,” said Cooper.

Members of the WCU community also assisted with helping market and support the project during the Guaranteed Rate Ultimate Neighborhood Give Back Challenge and are planning ongoing efforts and partnerships that will offer long-term support for the initiative.

For more information, contact the WCU Center for Service Learning at 828-227-7184 or servicelearning@wcu.edu, or visit the Haywood Pathways Center website at haywoodpathwayscenter.org.