Author, Nancy Griffith, Will Describe Research on Ada Jenkins Center as “Heart of the Matter” on Davidson’s Westside
The Ada Jenkins Center in Davidson has a proud history that has been honored by local historian, Nancy Snell Griffith, in her new book “Ada Jenkins: The Heart of the Matter.” Griffith will talk about the book in a free public program at the Davidson Public Library beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday evening, May 10.
Griffith begins the story in the 1930’s, in Davidson’s Westside neighborhood. Against odds, schoolteacher, Ada Jenkins, rallied the community to raise funds to replace an old wooden facility as a brick schoolhouse that opened in 1937-38. It then housed one of Mecklenburg County’s first kindergartens, an integrated program that served hundreds of the town’s five-year-olds. It was renamed the Ada Jenkins School after her death in 1955.
It was the only school for the town’s African-American students until integration in 1966. As such, it was the center for the Westside.
When the kindergarten moved to Davidson Elementary School in the early 1970s, the Ada Jenkins Center came to be used as a recreation and social services center. In 1991 Reverend Robert Shirley founded the Ada Jenkins Families and Career Development Center, and in 1998 members of the community and college volunteers created the Ada Jenkins Center as it is known today – a 501(c)3 service provider that offers a vital lifeline to citizens from across Mecklenburg County.
Its purpose and mission broadened over the years to fill more community needs, promoting the importance of education and equal opportunity for all citizens through programs that include free health care, a daycare center, recreation programs, scout troops, computer education, dance classes, language lessons, a food pantry, after-school enrichment programs, language learning, job search, and workforce development.
Concurrently, the facility grew from a staff of one – Bonnie Brown – to a team of more than 40 employees and volunteers, including many Davidson College students.
In addition to the narrative story, Griffith’s 110-page book is richly illustrated with photos of administrators, supporters, students, and staff of the center. It also includes short biographical sketches of 15 people who were on faculty when it was a school on the Westside.
In a summary, Griffith wrote “For 80 years Ada Jenkins has served as a conduit for change in people’s lives. First it provided the education that enabled residents of the Westside to lead more productive and rewarding lives. In its various incarnations since then, the center has striven to provide services aimed toward achieving these same goals through a similar type of education and encouragement. Whether they are board members, staff members, volunteers or client partners, people at Ada are there for assistance and inspiration through giving and receiving. These people are what give Ada a soul and purpose. So, even though its function and form have radically changed since the original school building was completed in 1937, Ada Jenkins remains at the heart of the matter.”
Nancy Snell Griffith grew up near Pittsburgh and graduated from Dickinson College and Syracuse University. She has been engaged in research and writing for 40 years, with a focus most recently on local history and the history of the Presbyterian Church. Her career has included service as a nursing school librarian, a music librarian, and as a director of archives and special collections at Lyon College and Presbyterian College. She and her husband, John, lived in Davidson from 1979 to 1989, and retired here in 2015.
In addition to the author’s talk Thursday evening, Griffith will give a talk about the book on June 30 at 4 p.m. at Main Street Books. “Ada Jenkins: The Heart of the Matter” is available any time at Main Street Books, and proceeds of sales will benefit the Ada Jenkins Center.
Bill Giduz was the son who followed his father’s footsteps into journalism. He has been involved his entire life with news and photography in schools he attended and jobs he’s held. He believes now that he’s got a few good years left to devote to The News of Davidson.