Brookland-Lakeview Empowerment Center

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Brookland-Lakeview Empowerment Center

Serving Communities in the Midlands and Beyond

WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. – A nationwide pandemic that caused lockdowns, job slowdowns and threw families and communities in an economic tailspin has made 2020 a challenging year for us all. However, for the Brookland-Lakeview Empowerment Center (BLEC) it was an opportunity for the West Columbia-based non-profit to step up to provide critical services to individuals and communities in need.

“How we respond during a crisis affirms and validates our mission to provide programs and services that improve the lives of residents in counties throughout the Midlands,” said Dr. Cindye Richburg-Cotton, BLEC executive director. The BLEC has received funding from grants, local and regional businesses and corporations, and individual donors.  We also generate revenue from renting office space to local businesses.  All funds raised by the BLEC are critical to helping us fulfill our mission. We appreciate all of the support we have received, but there is so much more that needs to be done.”

The BLEC’s fundraising priorities include securing support to increase the number of meals it provides for youth and families in West Columbia and neighboring communities. Richburg said they also want to expand meals and other services provided by the Brookland Community Food Bank.  The gymnasium has been renamed the Harold White Memorial Human Development Center and a fundraising campaign was launched last year to renovate the multi-purpose facility. The late Harold White was a former coach at Lakeview High School and the first black to serve as a coach and administrator with the University of South Carolina Athletic Department.

The BLEC’s latest funding, updates and partnerships include:

  • Funds from the Stewart Standouts Foundation, Inc. that donated meals for senior citizens attending the BLEC’s daily senior programs. Seniors were able to get the meals by driving up to the Center or they were delivered to those who are homebound. Additional meals were also distributed at nearby Brookland Baptist Church’s Northeast Campus and to the homeless. Darian Stewart, a professional football player and principal of the Stewart Standouts Foundation, developed a bond with Brookland Baptist Church, the parent of the BLEC, while he was a student athlete at the University of South Carolina.
  • A $25,000 grant from the Tides Foundation that was used to help repair and renovate the Harold White Memorial Human Development Center. The renovations are being done in honor of Harold “Coach” White a former coach and administrator at the University of South Carolina and the last coach at the Lakeview School. The Tides Foundation, with a mission of equity, human rights and economic empowerment, sustainable environment, healthy individuals and communities and quality education, seeks to help individuals and entities “hit the ground running and drive change faster than they can on their own.”
  • A grant from the United States Department of Agriculture and South Carolina Department of Education for the summer feeding program. This program, in partnership with Columbia Housing, fed over 700 children at nine locations. The BLEC provided breakfast and lunch for seven days a week and hired over 21 employees, many of them youth and teens from the area, to staff the program in Lexington and Richland counties.
  • A $10,000 grant from TD Bank for a financial literacy program for youth and teens, $5,000 from the Parrish Family Foundation; $20,000 from First Baptist Church for the BLEC’s renovations project, a $50,000 grant from Boeing to support the STEAM afterschool program and a pledge up to $300,000 from Donald H. Burkett from Burkett Financial Services. Burkett supports plans to make improvements to the athletic grounds where many athletic programs take place.
  • These new sponsors join Dominion Energy, formerly SCE&G, and Lowes who have remained long-term supporters, particularly with efforts to upgrade and outfit the Center’s kitchen and cafeteria.
  • The approval of a historic state marker for the Lakeview School. The marker, which will be formally dedicated on Friday, Dec. 11 at 11 a.m., will be the first such marker recognizing a former all-African American school in Lexington County. The marker approved by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, reads in part, “This was the last site of a segregated school for Black residents of Brookland-Cayce School District with roots to at least the 1900s.” The effort was a collaboration between the BLEC and the Greater Lakeview Alumni Association, which recognizes and honors the legacy of the Lakeview School.

“These donors and awards have helped us keep our programs going and provided funding so we can plan and develop new programs,” Richburg-Cotton said. “We are delighted that we are doing the kind of work that attracts supporters that can help us enhance our programs and service to the communities in our region.”

In addition to the funding, four businesses are now located in the Brookland-Lakeview Empowerment Center. They include Arts-in-Action Music Studio, Chuckie Cheezz Steaks and Hoagiez food truck, Dress for Success Columbia, and Allen Recycling e-Waste Services.

The BLEC is working to expand the small-business incubator and workforce development training center to help small businesses by providing affordable and below-market rate rental space and making available the knowledge and skills needed to launch and continue their operations. BLEC also offers conference rooms, co-working space and workforce training facilities that can be used by businesses or those seeking to open new businesses. The BLEC’s long-term goal for the small business center includes further renovations to expand the commercial kitchen and to house a food incubator. There are also plans to bring a health center to the BLEC which will provide affordable healthcare services to those in need. 

“The BLEC has a small staff with most of its programs supported by dedicated volunteers whose time and energies are invaluable,” Richburg-Cotton said.

“The volunteers are our lifeline.  On average, they each give about 20 hours a week. They are invested in the community and so are we.”

In addition to the on-going renovations of the Harold White Memorial Human Development Center and Bogan Hall, the BLEC continues, following all safety protocols, to offer most of its usual programming including athletic programs for boys and girls, afterschool, tutoring, mentoring and feeding programs for families.

“It’s been an unusual year for everybody, but it’s also been a time when BLEC has been there to help and support the community and we’re glad we’ve played such a critical role,” Richburg-Cotton said. “But this is only the beginning. With our existing and new partners and our volunteers, we have plans for so much more.”

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