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.
“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.”