Summerton, South Carolina is anything but urban. Located about 50 miles southeast of Columbia and 115 miles south of Charlotte, North Carolina, the tiny hamlet is home to just over 1,000 residents.
The median annual income in this quiet, rural town stands at $21,563. Since 1996, only six new homes have been built in Summerton.
Almost 60% of the population is African American, with right at 40% white.
I saw Summerton on ESPN's Sports Center program over this past weekend.
The story was about six grandmothers ranging in age from 58 to 80. Five black. One white.
They shared at least a couple of things in common: faith and concern for the children of Summerton, especially those from West Summerton--the poorest section of town.
The women noticed that many of the children of the community had little to do during the summer months. Many went unattended with nothing productive to occupy their time.
Baseball, another love the women shared, seemed to be the answer!
Together the grandmothers lobbied local officials and business leaders to restore an abandoned baseball field to usefulness. What had been overgrown and weed-infested became a picture perfect little park.
The women started a drive to gather equipment. They raised funds for uniforms. They created a baseball league for 40 children from scratch. They called the effort "Pride in Summerton Baseball."
Their biggest challenge was finding a coach to run the program. None being obviously available, they gathered around home plate and they prayed.
A local truck driver heard about their efforts and he called to volunteer some equipment and support. Before he knew what hit him, he was the coach!
At the end of their first summer in operation everyone regards the project as a huge success.
The young children I saw in the report were all smiles and filled with the right kind of pride. They learned the game. They enjoyed the teamwork and the discipline. They responded to the love and concern of adults who really care about them. It was obvious they had enjoyed a very good summer.
The grandmothers are already planning for fall baseball. The story ended with a vision that someday Summerton players would be in the Little League World Series!
I don't know about that, but I do know that these grandmothers understand community development. They seem expert at leveraging social capital to achieve great community outcomes. Taking what was available to them and forgetting what was not, these very ordinary women worked significant change in an entire town.
What these women did in tiny Summerton, South Carolina is the same sort of thing that needs to be done neighborhood-by-neighborhood in the inner cities of America. People coming together around shared concerns can make a difference no matter what their economic status.
The grandmothers of Summerton, South Carolina have a lot to teach us!
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