WAGRAM — A project to re-purpose the former Scotland Correctional Center as a sustainable farm and education center is getting some help through a virtual reality grant.
The Duke University Libraries announced on Wednesday that it had received a $52,647 grant from the State Farm Youth Advisory Board to help GrowingChange, a nonprofit based in Laurinburg, better communicate its vision for the abandoned prison.
As part of the grant, students at the Durham School of the Arts will work with participants in GrowingChange to design a virtual reality version of the prison to help visualize the site’s untapped potential. Virtual reality technology provides it audiences with a 360-degree sensory experience.
GrowingChange was conceived in 2011 as a way to rehabilitate at-risk youth and to make use of an outdated prison facility like dozens of others in North Carolina. The nonprofit, led by a team of formerly incarcerated youth, provides participants with job training and life skills through farming and service learning.
Noran Sanford, founder and director of GrowingChange, said the virtual project will allow people to see jail cells transformed into aquaponics tanks, guard towers into climbing walls, the galley into a certified community kitchen, and the old “hot box” as a recording studio.
“Just as our youth leaders have re-visualized their life, virtual reality allows them to share a new vision for Scotland, Hoke and Robeson counties — home of North Carolina’s highest unemployment, poverty and violent crime rates and the worst health outcomes,” said Sanford, who is also a Laurinburg social worker.
Once completed, the virtual project will be used as traveling exhibit to share with state leaders, supporters and the public.
“Through this process, our community will be able to re-visualize how youth from tough circumstances can become the leaders to help us change our grim statistics,” Sanford said.
Training and technical support in virtual reality content production will be provided throughout the project by the Virtual Reality Learning Experience, an educational outreach and advocacy arm of Durham’s Lucid Dream, a virtual reality production studio.
The grant is one of 63 service-learning, youth-led projects across the United States to receive funding this year by the State Farm Youth Advisory Board. Since its inception in 2006, the State Farm Youth Advisory Board has granted more than $40 million, impacting some 21.5 million students.
The grant will be administered through the PepsiCo K-12 Technology Mentor Program, a partnership between the Duke University Libraries and Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs. The program, endowed by a grant from PepsiCo, encourages the use of educational technology.
“It’s not easy to visualize how an abandoned and unused prison can be re-purposed to help a struggling community,” said David Stein, Duke PepsiCo Education Technology Partnership coordinator and principal investigator for the project. “We are ‘shackled’ by our preconceived notions of what prisons can be.”
Scotland Correctional Center was closed so state officials could open a larger prison — Scotland Correctional Institution — that could house up to 1,752 male prisoners in a mixed custody facility for minimum, medium and close custody inmates. It opened near the Laurinburg-Maxton airport in Laurinburg in 2011.
Reach Scott Witten at 910-506-3023