Pastor C.T. Curry of Ezion Fair Baptist Church hopes the new Family Wholeness Center will help combat neighborhood violence./Photo by Scott Pruden
When Teneysha Henry was growing up in Wilmington, she found discipline and mentorship as a member of the step-dance team for a community center called the West End Neighborhood House.
“It was an outlet that gave me something to do instead of hanging out in the street and on corners where I didn’t belong,” she says. Now a single mother of a 7-year-old girl and 14-year-old twin boys, Henry wants the same safe harbor and role models for her children.
A constant worry is that her kids will get caught up in Wilmington’s crossfire. “I think I may have made them paranoid a little bit because I’m so fearful,” Henry says.
But there’s a ray of hope. Henry believes a new community center operated by Ezion Fair Baptist Church in the Southbridge neighborhood will provide the strong role models her kids need.
Curry inside the gymnasium of the Family Wholeness Center,
Called the Family Wholeness Center, it opened in June with a dance studio, a conference room, a 12,000-square-foot gym and five classrooms. It springs from the philosophy of its pastor, C.T. Curry, who became the church’s leader in 2009.
At the time, he quickly saw that his flock needed more than spiritual guidance. There were few refuges in Wilmington where children could escape the city’s violence, he says.
Even if the Wholeness Center’s gym is what gets teens in the door, Curry believes its classrooms will change their lives. His remedy to hopelessness is literacy.
“If young people are in school, engaged and love learning, they see a vision, they see a future,” he says. “Education does that for you. It shows you there’s another day.”
To establish a foundation for that love of learning, the church opened a daycare in 2012. Now, those children can graduate to the new Family Wholeness Center’s five smartboard-equipped classrooms.
Kids can also find a physical outlet in the gym, where they can dance or play basketball, soccer, rugby and tennis. The church asks that young people who use the gym take self-improvement classes, though Curry says it’s not about imposing spiritual beliefs.
His concern for his parishioners’ material lives is nonetheless grounded in the Bible, he says.
“Jesus said, ‘I’ve come that you might have life and have it abundantly,’” Curry explains. “That means we must create experiences for the total person in all that we do.”
To this end, they’ll work with partners who have a successful track record, like Christiana Care Health System. But Curry draws attention to the self-sufficiency of the effort. The Family Wholeness Center doesn’t use grants or other government money, he says.
“Everything we do comes from the tithings and offerings of our congregation,” he says. That isn’t pride, exactly. More like protectiveness. Too often, he says, black Americans have been characterized as relying on government handouts rather than seeking self-sufficiency.
To Henry, the Wilmington mother of three, that this effort is coming from her own community is central to its promise. When her boys joined Ezion Fair’s own step team, the Holy Soldiers, she saw a change— “a different glow came upon my children,” she says—that transformed their personalities.