by Eren Tataragasi

CORNELIUS - One year after the Smithville Community Coalition got its start, the fledgling organization is still working hard to get residents directly involved in preserving its heritage and planning for its future.

Coalition members John Quinn and Sammie Knox are working with Cornelius commissioners and staff on obtaining a community center as the organization tries to involve residents through various projects and events.

The two reported during a meeting Monday, June 25, that the town has made an offer to the Howard family for the old Community Center on South Hill Street. The center was once the old Rosenwald School, built by the Sears Roebuck Co. to educate blacks, and is located in the heart of Smithville.

But Knox said the town hasn’t yet heard from the Howards, and if it doesn’t, they have  Plans B and C ready. The town isn’t ready to say what they were.

“What the town is saying is they are going to build a community center,” Knox said. “They would love the spot over here, but if the Howards don’t want to sell, they’ll move on because it’s been going on back and forth long enough.”

The town and the community coalition have been working since January on obtaining a site for a community center to serve the Smithville community as well as all Cornelius residents.

Knox said he will work with Town Manager Anthony Roberts on getting the neighborhood’s drainage and sewer problems sorted out while the town waits to make its next move.

They’re also working on a traffic solution to make it easier to enter and exit the Smithville community.

“That’s one of the things they’re working on and really struggling with that,” Knox said.

Knox also said the town is concerned with how residents feel when a condemned house is torn down in the neighborhood, which has been happening more frequently than the town or coalition would like in recent years.

“I think they want Smithville to remain a community. As houses get torn down, we have fewer neighbors, and they’re concerned,” Knox said. “They want to know, what do we want here? What do we want to do? Do we replace the house? How do we go about doing that? They did show a real concern about our community.”

Quinn said one of the best ways to do that is to get residents involved in the ongoing Habitat For Humanity projects happening in Smithville.

“A good example is the Philadelphia House,” Quinn said. “People are looking at that as a model for doing more. There are other groups besides Habitat who can make this model something we do more of. That’s part of our vision, and we just have to keep trying to influence that and get momentum going. But the town is supportive of that.”

Our Towns Habitat for Humanity bough the Philadelphia House, located at 19907 S. Ferry St., earlier in the year as a rebuild project, rather than building a new home from the ground-up.

Coalition co-chair Lisa Mayhew Jones said getting residents involved is the only way to make positive changes in the community.

“We have to get out there, and we have to be seen,” she said. “We have to.”

Want to help?

Habitat has several upcoming builds scheduled for the Philadelphia House, June 30, July 7, 21, 28 and Aug. 4, 11 and 18.

Residents who volunteer on the build will be able to receive a training certificate that could help them meet qualifications when applying for construction-related jobs.

To sign up for an upcoming build, contact Manny Rosado at or 704-896-8957 ext. 113.

And if yielding a hammer and tools doesn’t suit residents, the Smithville Community Coalition is responsible June 30 for providing lunch to volunteers. To volunteer to help, contact Sammie Knox at or call him at 704-605-3078.

Another upcoming volunteer opportunity for residents is Lake Norman’s vacation Bible school, which takes place at Union Bethel AME Zion Church on West Catawba Avenue. The class runs July 23-26, 1-2:30 p.m. Volunteers are needed to help with crafts and other lessons. Bread of Life Ministry will provide snacks. To volunteer, contact Mayhew-Jones at

And to get residents out and enjoying their community, the Smithville Community Coalition is hosting a July 4 celebration, Wednesday beginning at 7:30 p.m., with fireworks beginning around 9 p.m. Hot dogs, drinks and popcorn will be served. Organizers are asking for small donations to the organization.

The event will take place next to the community center on South Hill Street.

The next meeting of the Smithville Community Coalition is July 30 at 7 p.m. at the Union Bethel AME Zion Church on West Catawba Avenue.