Haywood prison project is a finalist in $50,000 challenge

By Vicki Hyatt | Jul 15, 2014
Photo by: Donated The former Hazelwood state prison complex will be reconfigured as transitional housing, with a kitchen for community outreach as part of the Haywood Pathways Center.

Haywood County learned late Tuesday its entry into the Ty Pennington/Guaranteed Rate Ultimate Neighborhood GiveBack Challenge went from one of 50 finalists to one of the top six.

There will be one final round of Facebook voting that began Tuesday, and will end July 29. By Aug. 1, the winners of the $100,000 challenge will be announced, with the winner receiving $50,000 and help for a day from the Ty Pennington crew, and runners up receiving up to $10,000 each.

The Haywood County project entered into the challenge involves converting the former Hazelwood prison into transitional housing for those who are homeless and using the kitchen in the facility to provide meals to those in need.

The project was entered into the challenge relatively late in the game — May 23 for a competition that began March 25. Individuals show support for a project by online voting, and Haywood’s project had surpassed the votes of all others within the first weekend, receiving more than 2,000 votes by June 9.

In the second round of voting, which included a video submitted on the project, the Haywood prison project took an early lead, which it maintained until voting closed with 3,500 on July 9. This time, Haywood’s project garnered nearly 1,000 more votes than the closest challengers.

“I think we have a good shot of winning the whole thing,” said Nick Honerkamp, senior pastor at New Covenant Church and the board chairman of the Haywood emergency shelter organization. “The big question is whether they think our project is doable. My whole focus has been to provide a master plan and budget, but then to sell them on the idea that our project is scalable.”

There are two dormitory buildings, a central kitchen area, a house that can be used for emergency family shelter and several other buildings on the county-owned property that will be leased by the groups spearheading the effort. Honerkamp said costs are prepared for all aspects, and if the Haywood effort is selected to receive help and $50,000, whatever portion Guaranteed Rate wants to tackle is the place to start.

“We feel confident we have volunteers to do some of the labor and confident we have vendors to donate supplies,” Honerkamp said. “Our focus now is on fundraising, writing grants and trying to get individuals to donate to the effort on the Haywood Pathways Center Facebook page.”

Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher clearly understands the need for this project after seeing inmates released from the county jail with no place to go and no plan to start a better life.

A transitional program where help is available to set goals, take career building classes through existing programs offered in the community and spruce up job skills will be key in keeping the individuals from landing back in jail.

"Our goal is to have our inmates never come back into this facility being charged with a criminal offense," said Christopher.

He acknowledged there are many pieces of the puzzle to be addressed aggressively to prevent this from happening, but said it will be worthwhile on multiple levels.

"We have got to reach out and do different things to get our inmates to see they are not destined to be wearing orange jumpsuits, that there is a way for them to make a living and live in the community as productive citizens," Christopher said.

One of the rules of the campus will be that everyone staying there longer than three days must either volunteer or work, said Honerkamp. As with shelter operations at the former location at Camp New Life, there will be a zero tolerance for alcohol, and those staying in the complex must pass a daily test to remain there.

Entries will be judged on three criteria: impact to the community, a plan in place to execute the idea, and the number of votes received. While online voting is important, it only counts toward 20 percent of the project's success.

"We need to show this project has financial support as well," said Honerkamp, stressing the need to donate to the project and attend future fundraising events being planned.

What's next?

To help Haywood's prison project advance in the final round of voting, which begins today, supporters will again need to vote online and convince their friends to do the same.

“This will give us a chance to win all three rounds of voting,” Honerkamp said. “It will say ‘this is the project the nation wants done.’ Out of 49 states and 330 projects, all I’m saying is we are the one.”

To vote, visit http://bit.ly/1vJi54g.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jul 15, 2014 16:43

A great concept.  But will this facility attract and draw people who want to use it from other areas?  I believe there were two instances where inmates from other parts of the state wrote the Mountaineer saying they are aware of this facility.  How much would this facility and all the publicity that a TV show might give it entice inmates to relocate to Waynesville?  I'm just sayin....


To use the Waynesville Parks facility and library and other town resources, you must prove residency to get the resident discount.  I guess the logic on that is that if you pay local taxes, you are "more entitled" to the town infrastructure.  What might be done so that this former prison would be prioritized for local use?  And should this "local use prioritization" plan be part of the TV show that might otherwise put out a "come to Waynesville" commercial for inmates nationwide to see how nice it is?


Folks coming out of halfway homes don't have a lot of earning potential and therefore much financial contribution potential to society.  The higher the percentage of population is that "takes" from limited subsidies, limited low-income housing, and limited school resources, the less people might want to move to Waynesville to contribute to an increasing population of subsidized citizens.


We already read recently there is "not enough" low-income housing.  If we have more low-income people moving to the area, who will provide the necessary low-income housing and what will Waynesville look like because of it?

Posted by: Rachel Robles | Jul 16, 2014 13:17

I think there’s a misunderstanding on who this facility is for. As far as we understand, this facility is only for those released from the Haywood County Prison. At least one of the inmates you referenced is from Haywood County. Inmates in the state prison sometimes get released back to the prisons in their home counties; state prisoners who are released back to the Haywood County Prison would also be welcomed.


Furthermore, this facility isn’t for “inmates;” it’s for former inmates. It’s for people who are serious about getting their lives back together after spending time in prison. Everyone, at some point in his or her life, needs a little help. Why not help out those who will have to work against the stigma of being a criminal try to reorder their lives to they don’t remain a criminal? The fact that current inmates learned about the facility and what our county is trying to do tells me that there’s a need for such a facility to exist.


It’s a story as old as time. Let’s say a man commits a crime, is caught, and spends five years in jail. When he’s released, he wants to return to his old life but that’s harder to do now because society has labeled him a criminal and holds him to certain stigmas and negative expectations. He wants to do the right thing — find a job, find a place to live, contribute to society again — but it’s harder because no one wants to give him a chance. Plus, maybe he doesn’t have the skills necessary to land a decent job, so he’s stuck in a minimum wage job, barely making ends meet. What happens next? Maybe he gets frustrated with how society is treating him. No, he doesn’t expect to be handed anything, but he would like a fair and equal chance to improve himself. Except that’s harder now because of the way society thinks about former inmates. So maybe he reverts to stealing or selling drugs again to supplement his income. He gets caught and goes to jail. Rinse and repeat, ad infinitum.


This project will help break the vicious cycle. This is going to be a place of hope, healing, and second chances. Those who use these facilities will be expected to contribute and they will be expected to make improvements in their lives. They will learn marketable skills so they can get decent jobs. They will have resources available to them that will allow them to improve their situation.


The tone and general language of your comment is unnerving, as if we shouldn’t be marketing this place or bringing national attention to our cause because it might bring “undesirables” into the community and lower property values. You said, “If we have more low-income people moving to the area, who will provide the necessary low-income housing and what will Waynesville look like because of it?” This is a selfish attitude to have. There is so much good in Haywood County and so many good people willing to open up their hearts and hands to those who really need the help. Why shouldn’t they share? So property values don’t decline? It is negative attitudes masquerading as concern for the community that perpetuates the vicious cycle of recidivism.

Posted by: Scott Lilly | Jul 16, 2014 14:55

Ms. Robles, first I may ask that you take issue only with what I write -- not what you think I mean when I write.  I made no comment and have little-to-no concern about "property values".  Take that one off the table.


My question about who this facility is to serve is a valid one.  You say "as far as we understand" -- but that statement is implied and has uncertainty in it.  Please see if you can report the facts on that question.  I (and I'm sure others) would appreciate it.  I suggest it would be wise to document that fact in advance of a national TV exposure.  If done earlier, you may even gain additional support from those in the community.  It is a friendly suggestion and I apologize if you misinterpret any tone from it.


Any good citizen cares about their community.  If there is a proposal to open a few topless bars in town, that too would attract what some might consider "undesirables".  I would like to see how one could argue for a halfway house while against a topless bar using "attracting undesirables" as the basis of the argument.  I define "undesirable" as anyone that would reduce the quality of living of the community.  As you accurately put it, the undesirable risks reverting "to stealing or selling drugs again to supplement his income."  That demonstrated and real risk "as old as time" is what we ought not to increase in our limited resource town.  Is that a selfish attitude?  Perhaps it is.  I selfishly do not want to increase the risk of crime on my street.  I selfishly do not want to pay even more taxes for more law enforcement.  I selfishly do not want to have our limited community resources even more depleted by relocating problems from other areas into our community.  I selfishly want to live in a community that is pleasant.


I volunteered 7 years of my life on a government "Redevelopment Commission" -- I know how blight is created, how it's fought, and how much it negatively impacts a community.  For a government to fight blight, would you consider that to be "selfish"?  (http://www.greensboro-nc.gov/index.aspx?page=1626)  When I ask what will Waynesville look like with increase low-income housing, I ask with a vast amount of experience and concern in that area.


That being said, I WOULD be in favor of taking care of our own.  I DO appreciate the concept of this initiative that requires effort from the beneficiaries.  I AM looking to better this opportunity by drawing out risks early.  Does that also make me "selfish"?  Maybe.  Whatever good comes of this opportunity, I'd like it to have maximum benefit for the community and per dollar spent.  Why?  Because I selfishly think it's in my best interest to have a community that can help its citizens be better.  And I selfishly want to spend as little as possible to accomplish the objective of providing an effective opportunity for people to break the cycle.


If the proposed use is certainly for local residents and the facility will not influence those being released to become local residents, I don't have a concern.  So rather than shoot the messenger, should you determine and report those facts?


By the way, this was the first I saw that there will be daily drug tests at the facility.  Another GREAT idea to improve the chances for success of those that will stay there.

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