The least, the lost, the ‘knuckleheads’

RALEIGH—When Royce Hathcock first felt God’s call to full-time ministry, he sensed God sending him to a unique, unreached people group.

Hathcock, who grew up in inner-city Phoenix, never setting foot in a church, met Jesus through a basketball ministry. “I was a backward white kid with no dad who grew up with Latinos and African-Americans. My mom always said we were poor, but we weren’t white trash.”

The people in the basketball ministry helped Hathcock start thinking about college, and a few years later he found himself at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma.

“I knew I was called,” he said. “I was going to be in ministry and work with youth, but I knew it wasn’t going to be some mainline, mainstream approach. God said, ‘Go find knuckleheads like you.’”

California callin’

After graduation in 1988, Hathcock and his wife, Julie, headed west for a graduate internship at the P.F. Bresee Foundation at LA’s First Church of the Nazarene. They wound up staying eight years.

“That’s when CCDA was getting off the ground,” explains Hathcock, who enjoyed early exposure to the CCD movement when Bresee worked with Dr. John Perkins and his Pasadena CDC, Harambee Ministries.

“We had a church-nonprofit model,” he says. “Four different congregations, four different languages in inner-city LA, and we were doing community-development work.”

He eventually found himself heading the program in which he’d once interned, but after eight years in Los Angeles, a former colleague encouraged him to consider a move across the country. After a visit to Raleigh-Durham, NC, Hathcock said it was clear: “We knew we were supposed to be here.”

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Neighbor2Neighbor, the ministry Hathcock has headed since 1996, got its start in a Raleigh housing project in the late ‘80s. A group of moms began welcoming people into their homes, and people began hanging out together. There were some early “listening conversations” that launched N2N’s work and laid the foundation for the organization’s community focus.

“Everything we have comes up out of the neighborhood,” Hathcock says. “What those original moms talked to us about, they asked us to give their kids opportunities. They didn’t ask for things for themselves. They wanted opportunities for their kids to excel in ways they weren’t able to.”

“A mentor,” he says, “gives someone a greater sense of the possible—a vision where none existed before. You can’t become what you can’t see or touch, so we use adults to expose kids to vision.”

As a result, Neighbor2Neighbor’s bread and butter is literacy, education, and mentoring, with mentoring at the core of all the organization does. “A mentor,” he says, “gives someone a greater sense of the possible—a vision where none existed before. You can’t become what you can’t see or touch, so we use adults to expose kids to vision.”

Neighbor2Neighbor runs several mentoring programs focused on grade-level reading literacy and math, as well as working alongside non-native English speaking students. The program incorporates student-testing, working to build relationships with school administrators, and makes a consistent effort to make meaningful connections with parents, too. It’s all an effort to help that struggling student who’s two, three, even four years behind grade level.

Those efforts include three sites where N2N runs after-school programs from 4 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, reaching nearly 150 kids ages 7 to 18. Hathcock says mentors in the program work hard to get their mentees to grade level, and they check progress regularly, administering pre- and post-testing to measure success. But even with the emphasis on getting kids to grade level, there’s more than just tutoring going on: “Our other goal is that the mentor gets to know the student and that instead of just coming for academics, they come for the big brother-big sister relationship.”

To supplement the tutoring, N2N also offers homework and computer labs and an educational-incentive system. Hathcock explains: “We pay everyone to learn. We have a bank and a store, so we actually write people checks. Students deposit them in their account and have their own IDs. We teach them to save and the difference between immediate and deferred gratification.”

And there’s “fun stuff,” too: a game room, weight room, six-goal basketball court, and a field for soccer and football. There’s even skateboarding, with several portable ramps, half-pipes, and grind rails. The bonus, of course, is that it’s a safe place for kids to hang out. Of course, it’s not just fun and games for the kids who participate. There’s an inside-outside ethos to N2N’s programs, Hathcock says. If you’re inside, you’re working on academics. Outside, you can play. But academics always comes first.

With all of Hathcock’s responsibility running Neighbor2Neighbor, it might come as a surprise that the nonprofit executive director also moonlights as senior pastor of a church he planted in the neighborhood in 1999. He said the genesis of the church plant was the same as any other work he’s ever done in Raleigh: He listened.

“People in the community asked us to plant a church,” he explained. “They said, ‘I’ve got issues with church, but I want Jesus.’ What we heard from people is that the church isn’t relevant in our neighborhood.”

The way the two organizations work together is what Hathcock describes as being the church. “We’re trying to point people to the church by living out what it means to be the church.”

Like Brazee in LA, Neighbor2Neighbor’s approach is a church-nonprofit model. “The church is driving it,” he says, calling it a tapestry. “They’re separate legally, but they’re twins joined at the heart.”

Go. See. Learn.

As a longtime CCD’er, Hathcock doesn’t hide his enthusiasm that this year’s CCDA National Conference will be in his backyard. The Host Team co-chair and 18-year Raleigh resident was one of the driving forces in helping bring the conference to the Triangle, and he’s not only excited to attend, he’s eager to have Neighbor2Neighbor participate.

The 25-year-old ministry, in partnership with neighborhood church Ship of Zion, will play host to one of this year’s Go & See opportunities on Thursday afternoon.

“The neighborhood we live in, South Park, is the lowest-income neighborhood in Raleigh,” Hathcock explains. “It’s an old, historical African-American neighborhood, but in the past eight years, it’s become more Latino. There’s a lot of slumlording, no-questions asked prostitution, an open-air drug market, lots of single moms and seniors, too. All the data show one thing, but the kingdom is alive and well in South Park.”

Hathcock says he, his team, and the other partnering nonprofits are preparing a unique experience for participants.

The afternoon lineup, subject to minor changes, looks like this:

  • The afternoon will start at Ship of Zion, an African-American church in the neighborhood and a close N2N partner.
  • Go & See’ers also will rotate to two other neighborhood partners—Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and Passage Home, spending about 50 minutes at each location, learning about the uniquenesses of each organization.
  • At N2N, participants will learn about the N2N model, what Hathcock and his team do, how the model reflects CCDA values, and about the power of the church-based model. There also will be discussions about the dynamics and sociology of the South Park neighborhood in which N2N ministers.
  • The entirety of the afternoon will give participants a glimpse at the South Park neighborhood, including a walking tour, and a review of neighborhood affordable housing and a recently revived South Park grocery store.

Of course, Hathcock will be on hand for the afternoon, playing amateur tour guide and enjoying the opportunity to impart to others what he’s learned since showing up in LA back in 1988. A lot of folks will work alongside him to make the Go & See come alive, but Hathcock will have a few things to say himself. And one message participants are sure to hear: “Knuckleheads are welcome.”

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