Some of us would be hard pressed to imagine growing up in a place where hope is less accessible than the poverty line. Where opportunities seem scarce, if not intangible.
We’d be more challenged to figure a way out – before falling prey to what’s ugly about being poor.
For others of us, though, c’est la vie.
Christopher Pierce, 23, could have fallen prey. Instead, he considers himself fortunate.
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Fortunate to know and understand both worlds; to grab the attention of his mom, his dad and community mentors; and to know to embrace the guidance of leadership, advice and exposure to opportunities.
Pierce recently graduated from N.C. A&T State University with a degree in supply chain management. On Aug. 17, he will head to Marseille in France to study at Aix-Marseille University.
It will be the first of two semesters for Pierce in N.C. State University’s dual-degree Master of Global Innovation Management program. There, Pierce will work with technology company Norton. He’ll return to N.C. State for a final semester working with 3M, a manufacturing firm.
Pierce grew up in Southeast Raleigh, off of Sanderford Road, and attended Southeast Raleigh High School. He was raised by his mother, Valerie Pierce.
Pierce believes the difference for him – what helped him overcome bleak circumstances – is Passage Home, a community safety club designed to empower children to thrive and families to reverse generational cycles of poverty.
At 15, Pierce was lured by the club’s Raleigh Regulators basketball team. Activities to explore and discover his place in the world made him “a regular.”
“It showed me there are choices. And I found out just how fortunate I was compared to others,” Pierce said. “That helped me to not take my opportunities for granted, to appreciate them, whether they fall through or succeed.”
Pierce applauds consistent, continuing mentorship by Passage Home, including his mentor, Ceno Scott, a youth program director.
“I take pride in trying to expand minds and help them grow,” said Scott, who described Pierce as “a thinker.” “It’s been just amazing to see the drive he’s had to excel.”
But without the community’s intentional connection and mentoring, Scott said, many young people never get to venture into lands of limitless opportunities that define their potential.
“Anybody can come out and say they want to help, but to mentor and be impactful, it has to be real for you,” he said. “You have to connect.”
It’s true, said Don Camden, who chairs Passage Home’s board and works as vice president of food company Cargill. His blended family with girlfriend Brandy Duffy includes two young men – now ages 18 and 20 – who he met at Passage Home.
“You don’t know what people face until you sit with them so you can understand,” Camden said. “Only then can you show them what’s out there so they start to dream and they can become.”
That’s the impact sought by Building a Stronger Raleigh Together, a five-month campaign that partners Passage Home, the J.D. Lewis Multi-Purpose Center and its nonprofit education and community service arm, The B.A.G.S. Foundation, to break the cycle of poverty in Southeast Raleigh.
The partners hope to unite the city in three events, and raise $250,000 to expand services that attack unemployment, addiction and homelessness, and other cycles of poverty.
First is a family festival and all-star basketball game Saturday, Aug. 1, at Broughton High School.
Next, Building a Stronger Raleigh will host a VIP Celebration Affair at Wine and Design from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3. Tickets are $100 or $175 for two.
The message: More of us should do what we can to ensure more stories begin and continue like Pierce’s.
“Every action is followed by an opposite and equal reaction, so stepping out of that box, for someone who can do it, is the first step,” Pierce said. “The perception in poverty is that no one else cares.
“Five or 10 minutes of your time could mean the world to someone. It can go a long way.”
Want to help?
Christopher Pierce has established a GoFundMe campaign to help offset costs of travel, housing and living expenses to study abroad with N.C. State University’s Master of Global Innovation Management program. For more information, go to www.gofundme.com/vh433b3b.