LAURINBURG — The Scotland County nonprofit work to transform the Wagram Prison into an agricultural and farming community center has garnered national recognition.
GrowingChange, the organization responsible for flipping the prison,was awarded the Shark Bait Challenge earlier this month at the National Brownfields Training Conference in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Founded by Noran Sanford in 2011, the nonprofit works with young people limited by criminal charges in North Carolina, the only state in America that continues to prosecute 16-year-olds as adults.
GrowingChange, one of five groups to compete, will receive free advice on the project from major corporations, notoriety and further vetting. The Wagram Prison will also be the featured article in the National Brownfield’s Journal.
Sanford along with two of the program’s youth leaders, Gerald Jacobs and Luke Fredericks, had 10 minutes to present their project to a panel of judges during the Shark Bait Challenge, which followed the format of the TV show Shark Tank.
Projects were required to demonstrate a creative re-use vision, broad community engagement and support, diverse partnerships, and potential for a dynamic presentation.
“The five sharks are national leaders in brownfield development and were captivated that our project was a scalable model,” Sanford said. “If you draw a circle within a 50-mile radius of the Wagram Prison there are six decommissioned sites. There are 22 in North Carolina and nearly 300 in the nation. We’re creating some best-practice standards for how these sites can be reclaimed for the greater community.
The goal of GrowingChange’s project is to transform the once prison labor camp that operated from 1930 to 2001 and was responsible for the construction of sections of North Carolina’s roads, into an agricultural and farming community center that will provide counseling and assistance services for troubled youth in the region. The facility will also provide employment and educational services for returning veterans and recreational opportunities for the surrounding community, according to Sanford.
Fredericks and Jacobs were the only youth leaders that attended the conference — something that was also noted and praised by the experts.
“They said ours (project) was very unique because of how we incorporate youth leadership into ours and how our project is ran by the youth leaders,” Fredericks said. “We were the only young people there, in a conference of over 2,000 people.”
Sanford said he and his two youth leaders were the only group not from a major municipality with professional consultants.
“As soon as we got done with our presentation, I told them there was no doubt in my mind that we won,” Jacobs said. “We practiced the entire trip up to Pittsburgh.”
“This year we are looking at beginning to renovate the site, once we have the proper permits,” said Sanford. “We also plan to lift up our product line like our hydroponics.”
Sanford, Fredricks and Jacobs will be appearing at the National 4H Tech Conference in Washington D.C. the second week of January. They will present their hydroponics work and how that work can be used to reclaim close prisons. In the Spring, the students from M.I.T. will return to continue their partnership with the program.
Amber Hatten-Staley can be reached at 910-506-3170 or email@example.com.