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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Heal Charlotte's Greg Jackson: Pandemic Has 'Magnified' Needs In Charlotte Neighborhood

Greg Jackson
Heal Charlotte

When we talk about front line workers, we think about nurses, grocery store clerks and bus drivers. Among that bunch are others who keep their communities together. 

Greg Jackson has long lived in the Orchard Trace Neighborhood just off North Tryon and runs a group called Heal Charlotte, which mentors kids, provides rental assistance and works to reduce violence. Jackson spoke with WFAE's Lisa Worf recently about what the needs look like in his community a few months into the coronavirus outbreak. 

Jackson: I wouldn't say that the needs have actually changed. They just have been magnified, and they're urgent needs. If someone was struggling with a job before the pandemic and they're now laid off, you can imagine just what's going on inside of the house right now.

Worf: So, how do you do your work when there are such urgent needs?

Jackson: I think we've adapted pretty well to the different services that we have to provide or how urgently we have to provide them. You know, we have a big group chat with most of the kids of Heal Charlotte, and we keep up with them daily just to make sure that they're in right spirits and they're motivated and they're continuing to do things with integrity, which is just hard for them right now.

They're getting used to doing school from home. It's definitely a different schedule for them. So, we're just helping them throughout the day, waking up on time and, you know, making sure they're getting correct sleep. And then we've been just staying in contact, doing phone calls and making sure that they hear our voices. You know, we're just concerned and we care. And then we're also providing hot and healthy meals.

Worf: How big of a challenge is online access?

Jackson: It is a challenge. Not everybody has access to internet, and we didn't want to put anybody in a position where they feel left out. So, it's really been hands-on like we've always done. Fortunately for me, also, a lot of the kids live in my community, so as I'm doing door-to-door deliveries for some kids, I'm able to see them and talk to them for a couple of minutes, make sure that they're OK.

I do have some kids that come to my house and do their exams or use my Wi-Fi. You know, I just had a student come over my house yesterday and I had to sanitize her and wash her hands, but she had to do her final exam, and I would feel terrible if she had to miss out on that because she didn't have Wi-Fi. So, I just provided those opportunities, making sure that we're responsible at the same time.

Worf: Yeah. So, you know, you talked about filling the need as far as meals. You've done meal help before, but you're providing more, right?

Jackson: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, typically, we will provide meals during our afterschool program, and that would be for about 40 kids. That is extremely heightened now. We're providing 350 meals per day with breakfast and dinner, so we are definitely attending to those needs, and we're doing Heal Charlotte care packages. We have 50 packages going out this week, which is full of toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectant wipes, feminine products and toothpaste. So, you name it, it's in there.

Worf: How do you have the resources to do this when it sounds like the need you're addressing has expanded so much?

Jackson: Man, I am a man of faith, and I believe that good people find good people. You know, the power of a phone call that somebody can just make a phone call and make some things happen.

Worf: So, the need has expanded, but also the people who are willing to give have also stepped up?

Jackson: Yeah, this is an opportune time for people to show themselves right now and really pour into a community and sow a seed, and it has really been a blessing to see the empathy that has risen in people no matter what side of town that they're on.

Worf: Heal Charlotte works on a lot of fronts, and mentoring is one of them, but also working with rental assistance is another. What are you seeing now in Orchard Trace with rent and people being able to pay it?

Jackson: It's fairly alarming. We have 252 units in Orchard Trace, and about 30-35% of those units are behind in their rent right now. The people that I'm talking to, they are having trouble with keeping up and working on payment plans, but June 1 and June 2 is right around the corner.

We are fortunate enough to have a wonderful property manager. She's always looking out for the best interests of the community, so we've been working together to find out how can we help them as a unit. So, that's what we're working on now for the people that are affected by COVID-19 and have been laid off and seeing how we can raise money for them so they can get right back on their feet and get back on the upward mobility. And I really believe that us as a community will pull together and make it happen.

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Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.