Nine Palestine community volunteer honorees received praise at WE CARE Palestine’s Love Your Neighbor Banquet Tuesday.
This year’s honorees were Grizelda Castillo, Deb Kendall and Sue Crouch, Laverne Mims Donell, Tom Garcia and Molly Raine, Rosana Mosley-Arthus, Jessie Marie Smith Sweet, and Linda Swinney.
The ceremony broke precedence from the first two years, when single winners were selected from a group of 8-10 nominees. Good Neighbor honorees are nominated by neighbors who write about their kindness and selfless giving each year. Rev. Jordan Byrd read each nomination to honor the recipients.
Previous winners of WE CARE’s Neighbor of the Year Award are Celia Smith in 2018, and Kay and John Burney in 2019.
Some recipients attended the banquet without knowing they would be part of the award ceremony.
“I was overwhelmed and surprised,” said Sweet.
The banquet highlighted another WE CARE initiative, the Friendship House.
The Friendship House serves as a Community Center for after-school programs for children/youth, life-skills training, family night gatherings and other activities which offer residents a better quality of life. Community Coordinators and their families live in the Friendship House and become catalysts for rebuilding a safe, caring neighborhood where children are nurtured and can feel safe.
The ultimate goal is to build and staff Friendship Houses in a city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.
“In our city there’s a neighborhood with about 60 children whose parents work different shifts,” Willhite said. “A bus driver told me it would make a difference if we could build a Friendship House in that neighborhood.”
Palestine City Manager Leslie Cloer supports the concept and said the project would benefit the city. Cloer added the city could help by donating land or offering a tax break.
Lonzo Sheffield III, the evening’s keynote speaker, discussed 18 years of experience with his wife Tina as Friendship House Coordinator in the Barksdale Annex neighborhood in Shreveport, Louisiana, also known as The Quarters.
As Friendship House coordinators, the Sheffields formally host after-school activities, but informally, they parent kids, provide a safe haven, and serve others in the community.
“It’s very easy for the streets to take control of our children,” Sheffield said. “A Friendship House is a platform to touch young lives consistently – not on just one occasion.”
Sheffield’s Friendship House is just one of 10 in five Shreveport neighborhoods, a project of Community Renewal International started by Mack Carter of Shreveport more than 20 years ago. The program has attracted national and international attention by lowering crime in some neighborhoods by 52 percent.
Sheffield graduated Kilgore High School and served 24 years in the Air Force before joining CRI. The Sheffields have six biological children, but call all children in their after-school program their “babies.” “We were sent there to model what the family structure looked like,” he said.
Rev. Lynn Willhite started WE CARE Palestine in 2016 to strengthen local relationships and neighborhoods.
WE CARE Palestine is based on CRI's model, which began in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1994. Over the past 20 years, Shreveport has seen major crime drop up to 45 percent in the targeted areas where CRI has been at work. More than 50,000 people have joined the WE CARE Renewal Team of Shreveport/Bossier City. Willhite read of Shreveport’s efforts more than 10 years ago when she was pastor at First United Methodist Church in Elkhart.
Moved by the underlying spirit of the initiative “to love your neighbor as yourself,” Willhite wanted to develop the same caring culture across the city of Palestine, where she was born and raised.
This non-profit seeks to enlist as many individuals from across the city who will commit to being a caring community member. “We want every citizen to be part of this movement to connect neighbors across the city through friendship and caring to radically change the future of Palestine,” said Willhite.
WE CARE Palestine’s board of directors includes: Rev. Lynn Willhite, Rev. Jordan Byrd, Cathy Clancy, Sharon Grizzle, Amy Rigsby, Tucker Boyd Royall, Tracy Torma, and Angela Woodard.
This year’s banquet was attended by roughly 160 people at Palestine Senior Center.
Many local businesses provided funding and door prizes for the banquet, which was catered by the culinary staff of Palestine Regional Medical Center.
For information about WE CARE Palestine, contact Rev. Willhite at 903-922-6149, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.