The Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association Community Center re-opened to the public on June 26, 2022.
Although the center closed public operations, RENA continued to support the community during the COVID-19 pandemic through food distributions and pop-up vaccine clinics.
Robert Campbell, RENA president, said the re-opening of the center is exciting because it can continue to provide resources and serve residents through programs like after-school tutoring, arts and dance programs and the community garden.
The RENA Community Center, which originally opened in 2010 in a different building, serves those in the historically Black Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood along with families from Chapel Hill, Carrboro, the Highway 54 area and all of Orange County.
Campbell said the center brings unity to the historically diverse community. He said the organization also works to inform the community about the importance of maintaining a safe and healthy environment and to preserve life for young people.
“That is basically the main purpose of the Rogers Community Center,” Campbell said. “To give voice to a marginalized community so they can have a voice into policies and programs that exist around us.”
Although a community center did not open until 2010, the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, which was founded in 2007, has been committed to ending racial and cultural injustice through community involvement, political action and education for many years.
Along with his work with the community center, Campbell is an advocate for social and environmental justice — two important issues to the Rogers-Eubanks community.
History of environmental injustices
In 1972, the Town of Chapel Hill purchased land in the Rogers-Eubanks community for the location of a new landfill after a few years of public discussion involving the Orange County Board of County Commissioners.
According to the RENA website, RENA program director and longtime community member David Caldwell recalled Howard Lee, the Chapel Hill mayor at the time, telling his dad that the Town wanted to put a landfill at the location. Lee apparently promised that the Town would pave the community's road and turn the landfill into a recreation center when it was full.
But Lee couldn't keep that promise on behalf of Orange County.
Orange County announced that it would be expanding the facility in the 1980s.
On Feb. 21, 2012, the OC BOCC voted unanimously to close the landfill on June 30, 2013 – nearly 40 years after it initially opened.
Campbell said the Roger-Eubanks neighborhood continues to deal with the lasting effects of the landfill, including include attracting unwanted animals such as pigeons, seagulls and roaming dogs.
While Lee had promised a community center for the community once the landfill was closed, the Town of Chapel Hill never built one.
It was only until residents, with funding from Orange County, came together to build a new RENA Community Center in 2013.
The impact of the RENA Community Center
During his time at the center, Campbell said RENA has helped young people academically. He said children who often struggled with end-of-year testing in the past were able to accomplish more, which meant they did not have to attend summer school.
Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils said the community center has served as a safe space for residents and has provided educational opportunities for kids in the neighborhood.
“RENA has been a valued partner for all the local governments, and the community center itself has been an important community space for the neighborhood and for the entire community,” Seils said.
Pam Hemminger, the Chapel Hill mayor, said RENA has been an incredible community asset.
“It's been a great way to connect with community members, which has actually been very visible,” Hemminger said. “We've seen people actually really resonate well after knowing that they can go to the community center and find out what they need to find out and get the help they need.”
With a history of social justice work, the community center is also committed to bridging cultural gaps among those in the Rogers Road community.
The RENA community "is a diverse community of many colors working together to learn from each other," the community center's website said.
Through the various enrichment classes, athletics, community festivals and other activities, RENA promotes a safe, strong and vibrant community.
Campbell said members of the community center are looking forward to future activities it will host, such as summer enrichment camps, the annual bike rodeo and a youth trip to The International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, N.C.
Campbell added that the community would benefit from more affordable housing and funds that would help residents get connected to resources. He said a new gymnasium would provide a safe place for young people to play instead of outside in the hot weather during the summer or when it is raining.
“If we look at it, it is more than just bringing in educational resources,” Campbell said. “It is a bringing unity into the community. We are a very diverse community and we have been able to adapt to different culture and move on as a solid unit.”
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