Voorhees launches Rural Community Development Institute | Local

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DENMARK – South Carolina State Senator John Scott announced on June 9 the establishment of the Rural Community Development Institute at Voorhees University.

The institute is a collaboration between the community initiative Becoming Beloved at Voorhees University and the South Carolina Institute of Innovation and Information (SCIII). It is designed to help students work to improve the quality of life in Denmark and Bamberg. It also aligns the institution with partner companies that offer scholarships, internships, and jobs.

According to Scott, the SCIII will provide technical support to the institute, help secure funding, and create partnerships with businesses and government entities.

Excited about the establishment of the institute, he said, “Institutes bring together the best and brightest minds in higher education to solve problems.”

He said that through economic and workforce development, students, faculty and staff will be able to live and work in rural South Carolina instead of leaving the area for career opportunities.

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Ronnie Hopkins, president of Voorhees, looks forward to a community assessment to determine the challenges and how partner companies and the university can address those challenges.

“There is a great need for broadband in the community. We want it to be accessible to everyone,” Hopkins said. “Experts can help us identify strategies and resources to address this problem. We can also take advantage of this opportunity to strengthen the economy and make our community more attractive to companies and businesses that want to locate here.

Hopkins announced that Cathy Scarborough Franklin has been hired as the institute’s executive director. She will start playing this role in mid-June.

Voorhees is one of seven HBCUs working with SCIII to form institutes to address economic, housing, health, transportation, and food disparities, as well as underemployment and unemployment.

During the launch program, the audience heard from Denmark’s Mayor Gerald Wright; Evert Comer Jr., Bamberg County Commissioner and President of the Rural Community Development Institute; Gwynth Nelson, Executive Director of SCIII; Dwayne Smiling, executive director of the community initiative Becoming Beloved; Scott; and Hopkins.

Nelson hosted the program and explained that she will work closely with Voorhees to grow the institute. Comer expressed his gratitude for being chosen as the institute’s president and promised to work for its success.

Wright said he had always seen Voorhees as a source of improving the quality of life in Denmark and the institute was a way to continue that effort.

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Voorhees recently acquired property from the Bamberg County School District for the Becoming Beloved community initiative. The 13-acre property, including a former elementary school building, will house several centers of excellence. These are the Rural Community Development Institute at Voorhees University, the Center for Women’s Empowerment and Advancement, the Center for Community Engagement and Development, and the Institute for Social Justice and environmental, diversity and inclusion. The Voorhees University Picture Museum would also be located on the property.

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