During a historic night for Sampson Partners, Johnny Pridgen proudly talked about his father’s work which began man years ago in a soup kitchen.
Nearby, Paul Viser unveiled a portrait of his parents the Rev. Johnny Pridgen Sr. and Dolletha Mae DeVane Pridgen. Shortly after, a tarp walk lifted away from a bronze plate bearing his dad’s name. Sampson Partner’s home will forever be known as the J.C. Pridgen Family Building. Sampson Partners hosted its New Building Celebration and Naming Ceremony event Thursday night to bring in a new era for the 34-year-old organization mission to make life better for people. It was made possible through the leadership of Pridgen, Viser and other board members.
“It brought so much joy to my heart because he was very much involved in the operation,” Pridgen expressed while acknowledging his family and the board for making the naming decision.
Through the expansion project, more than 3,700 square feet to be used for furniture displays and sales. Clothing and household goods will continue to be sold in the existing 6,400 square feet area with construction work completed by HN Carr, under the leadership of Tyler Baxter. Funds are used to help needy Sampson County residents.
“When my father passed in 1994, mother got us all together and say hey, we’re going to continue to support,” Pridgen said about joining the board and continuing the history.
Before everyone went outside for the unveiling, the moment reminded Viser of a scene from the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when everyone gathered around the character George Bailey.
“They all had a part in his life and he had a part in theirs…I definitely feel that way here,” Viser said about stories associated with Sampson Partners and its supporters.
The 501(c)(3) nonprofit Christian-based organization began in 1986 as Clinton United Churches Crisis Center, Inc. and became known as Sampson Crisis Center, Inc. a few years later. During that time, Pridgen’s father was on the original board of directors. The group’s assistance has undergone several changes, one of them being the discontinuation of food distribution and crisis intervention in 2014. The thrift shop continues to be a profitable operation. Through reorganization, the name changed to Sampson Partners in the summer of 2018. Over the past three years, the organization donated $30,000 to help people around the county. Viser emphasized how a village needs a leader while praising Pridgen, director of financial operations.
“(Pridgen) had a hand on the tiller, guiding this ship in rough seas,” Viser said. “He did so in his understated way and did so expertly. This organization was on the very cusp of insolvency. (Pridgen) regrouped and ran the thrift shop with a lot of volunteers.”
Now, Viser said the seas are calm, with the sun shining brightly. With construction finished, the organization is ready to get to work with the thrift shop and helping people in need. After thanking a large crowd for their attendance for supporting a goal which began back in 2018 when the property on East Main Street. Pridgen has a lot of fond memories from his youth when he got haircuts and records from the building complex, once owned by Robert Bobby Harris.
“Unfortunately, upon his demise, it started going into a bad situation and we were able to fulfill a part of our dream of expansion because I had my eye on this property for quite a long time, several years,” Pridgen said before they received the property.
To continue their mission, Sampson Partners asked for donation and as of Dec. 31, 2019, Pridgen was thrilled to report that the organization received more than $200,000 in community support to help pay for a building project costing over $400,000. He thanked everyone for their support. Before the ceremony, cash reserves accounted for $140,000 and cash from business operations was $51,000. This left $21,000 to pay. In February, a list of donors will receive a final update on an illuminated wall panel. It will be placed permanently inside the new building to commemorate the milestone.
Viser said Newton Grove plays a major part of Sampson Partners success. One of them was Rhonda West, director of communications. Before the unveiling of the names, West said she was thankful for all of the support during the years.
“I just want to thank you all for coming and supporting all of us,” West said. “We couldn’t do it without any of you.”
On behalf of the organization, West later presented a $1,000 check to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Newton Grove to help with food pantry needs.
Inside the furniture showroom, Margaret Spivey held a glass jar of change. As the director of thrift operations, Spivey thought they would never get to that moment Thursday to have more room for furniture. To make it happen, volunteers spent months collecting money for the future.
“There’s been nothing in this jar, above a ten dollar bill,” Spivey said. “I’ve emptied this a lot of times and as of today, we’ve collected $700 dollars — just nickles, dimes, pennies.”
She said the larger donations are important, but the smaller donations meant a lot to her too because of their love for the organization. It’s now been six years since Spivey returned to Sampson Partners after leaving for several years. She expressed how it was a message from God, which was followed by a request from Pridgen to come back. While talking about the organization, she expressed the importance of Sampson Partners to be more of a ministry for Sampson County.
“There are needy people here,” Spivey said. “I see them every day and I hear stories every day of people in need. There’s grandmothers who have custody of kids and they’re coming in and buying clothes for them and they’re buying other things for them.”
Spivey said there was hundred of stories she could tell of people in need.
“There’s just tremendous needs and I believe that God wants us to be a part of meeting those needs,” she said. “We have been and I think we will continue to be. I want you to pray for us that we will try to meet those needs, so we can be a blessing to someone else.”
Peggy Melvin, director of volunteer operations, shared the same message while showing her love for the Sampson Partners. She also made a request for more people to get involved and help as well with thrift operations by volunteering for a few hours hours. Melvin said men are also needed to help with moving items around the store.
“We need some help,” Melvin said. “They often say it’s nothing without the volunteers. I say it wouldn’t be nothing without all of us.”
Sampson Partners is leasing 1,200 square feet of that area to Sampson Community College (SCC) for classes, programs and public events. Viser said the new connection feels more like a partnership.
“I don’t think it does justice to the situation by just calling it a landlord tenant thing,” Viser said. “It’s much more than that. We’re partners with a major institution. We’re just been thrilled to pieces and I can barely contain myself.”
Melvin presented a check to the college’s Foundation and SCC President Bill Starling, Amanda Bradshaw, dean of SCC Workforce Development & Continuing Education, and Amelia Surratt, Foundation president. Starling spoke about the history of the college occupying spaces in different locations throughout Sampson County.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to raise the Viking above this building and welcome ourselves again back into this community,” Starling said while showing appreciation. “We hope this is a partnership that goes on and on into the future.”
Viser acknowledged Bill Scott, executive vice president of First Citizens Bank, for his assistance with the expansion project. He said Scott was an inspiration from the start, along with others. First citizens has been a partner with Sampson Partners for more than 20 years. Scott expressed how the name was fitting for the nonprofit organization.
“Sampson tells me it’s all about where we live and who we are and a partner is a thing or an institution that’s not going to let you down,” Scott said. “That’s how I feel about Sampson Partners.”
With Sampson Partners being a faith-based organization, Scott added that a portion of Matthew 25:35 encapsulates the mission of the organization. It reads “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited. me in.”
“I couldn’t be more proud to have the bank affiliated with such an organization,” Scott said.
Mary Rose, planning and development director for Clinton, said the ceremony was an historic day for the downtown area. She said downtown is not new to public or private investments, but she Sampson Partner’s historic nature was seeing the project come together quickly through collaboration.
“I’m so proud of Sampson Partners and all of the folks who have been involved in this project,” Rose said. “Another thing I would like to say that there’s an African proverb that says if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. And Sampson Partners will help Sampson County go far, I’m convinced of that.”
On behalf of the Clinton Main Street Program and the City of Clinton, Rose presented a $5,000 grant for facade improvements. Councilman Darue Bryant was also acknowledged for his assistance with the organization’s website.
Clinton Mayor Lew Starling spoke about history of Clinton dating back many years and how everyone watching the ceremony will be a part of future history. One of the biggest political issues back in 1895 was the number of hogs walking around the streets of Clinton. Another humorous story was a lion loose after the circus came to town in 1935. Sampson Partners purchased the land from Starling, less than what it was appraised for — giving the organization a financial boost for the project.
On behalf of his family, Starling said he wanted to help give a little push to Sampson Partners, while doing something in honor of his parents Donald and Annell Starling with a bronze name casting.
“(Our daughters) are sad today because we took their college fund to do it,” Starling said receiving laughter from the crowd and thanking Viser. “This won’t be as much fun as the lion getting out, but it’ll be pretty close to it.”
Along with a bronze name plate for J.C. Bridgen and the Starlings, a third was unveiled with the history of the Sampson Center.
“In the name of God, we mark this moment in time,” Viser read.