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Paige Mills: Hunger In Danville

Posted: 7/2/16 at 9:45pm. Post by Paige Mills

A postcard depicts Danville in its heyday. (Creative Commons License)
A postcard depicts Danville in its heyday. (Creative Commons License)

I realized recently that I’ve been involved with Impact Mission Camps for over 10 years. I started as a camper in 2003 and later became a member of the staff in 2011.

Over the past five years I’ve been in every part of Virginia for camps and have been to a few locations multiple times. Normally camps will reoccur in certain locations every other year. However, this makes the third year in a row of Impact coming to Danville.

That got me thinking and questioning why we keep coming back so often. What is it about this particular city versus others?

If you’ve ever driven through the Downtown River District of Danville you may understand my question. To get to where we stay at Averett University you have to turn off the main highway and cross over the Dan River onto West Main Street. Once over the river it’s as if you’ve stepped into a picturesque scene of small town America.

The street is lined with quaint shops, people grabbing a local coffee, and hanging baskets of flowers on every light pole. A little farther and you reach what a local friend calls ‘Millionaire Row’. A stretch of gorgeous, historic, wrap around porch homes line both sides of the road. This is the Danville that anyone sticking to West Main Street sees and the Danville that I travel the most.

There’s a blink of an eye transition from West Main Street to North Main where the hanging baskets end.

So today I decided to drive through Danville on the other side of the Dan River. There’s a blink of an eye transition from West Main Street to North Main where the hanging baskets end. There are no quaint shops but corner marts. No people walking with coffee in hand instead people with tattered clothes dragging along their shopping bags filled with their belongings. No hanging baskets of flowers but trash overflowing in the street corner. No million dollar row but peeling paint, boarded up windows, and no trespassing signs. This is the Danville that is on the other side of the river. And even hiding just a few streets behind ‘Millionaire Row’.

I had the opportunity to spend some time with Ray Robinson this week. He’s a local who knows much of the history of Danville and cares for its current state. He explained that Danville started as a farming community that eventually grew into a city due to incoming industries. However, after World War II, one by one the industries started leaving to find cheaper labor. This left behind thousands without jobs. Since then, the unemployment rate in Danville has remained high. Sometimes as high as 15%. Currently the unemployment rate hovers between 8% and 9% which is still almost double the unemployment rate for the state of Virginia.

This week, with our theme of Hungry, Impact campers were able to work with many local non-profit organizations including Transition Pregnancy Solutions, Cedar Terrace Youth Center, and Riverside Health. At each site, campers were able to focus on the needs of those around them in the community of Danville.

At Transition Pregnancy Solutions (TPS) women and men who are faced with unexpected pregnancies are able to come into a loving environment which helps to guide them through their pregnancy and help the new parents choose between adoption or parenting on their own. This month Rena DeAndrea, the Executive Director, expects their client base to rise from 300 to 500 clients.

With such an influx of clients, Rena and her employees haven’t been able to give the TPS building the attention it needs. Campers were able to organize donations and give the outside of TPS a much needed “face-lift” taking it from a sick-looking pale yellow color to a much more inviting and calming gray color.

While working at the Cedar Terrace Youth Center, campers were able to minister to local children. They played games, danced, made crafts, and shared Bible stories. The Center was located in an area that most of our campers have never experienced before. Some were nervous at the beginning of the week. By the end, the campers realized the kids were just kids who wanted to play and needed a little extra love. They needed time to be taken care of by others and have the chance to be a kid.

At Riverside Heath campers had the chance to visit with the elderly. At first, they shared with me that it was very hard for them to connect with anyone. But, they powered through and came up with a solution. By creating cards, the campers were able to start a conversation with those at Riverside and even bring a smile to many faces.

The people of Danville are hungry.

It was after visiting these organizations and others that my questioning started. Why Danville? Why do we keep needing to come back here year after year? I felt while asking these questions that our theme this year was more true than any I’ve known. The people of Danville are hungry.

And this isn’t just the physical hunger that many of them face. The clients at Transition Pregnancy Center are hungering for acceptance and guidance. The children at Cedar Terrace are hungering for the chance to be a kid. Those at Riverside Health are hungering for companionship. They are all hungering for love.

The people of Danville are hungry but they aren’t the only ones. There are people from all across the Commonwealth who are hungry. They are hungering for peace. They are hungering for grace. They are hungering for righteousness. They are hungering for love. So in the end there is only one question left. What are we doing to satisfy that hunger?

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6

Paige Mills is serving with Impact Mission Camps this summer.

Read more about the 2016 summer missionaries.