Wallace Family Life Center: a pathway to transformation

By Jessica Connor

WALLACE—In a community plagued by poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse and illiteracy, one United Methodist ministry is doing all it can to transform lives for a brighter tomorrow.

For the past 34 years, Wallace Family Life Center has existed to enrich the lives of children and adults through educational, cultural, recreational and religious programming. Best known for its children s after-school and summer programs, Wallace also offers GED testing for high school dropouts, senior citizen outreach and more.

This is a life-changing transformation for people, said Wallace Executive Director Corina Esaw. We re trying to get them to see the importance of what education can do.

Situated in northwestern Marlboro County, Wallace is real poor, Esaw said. It is one of the hardest-hit areas of economic decline in South Carolina, and most of the major industries in Marlboro County are now closed. People often have to go out of state to get work because there are few local jobs, and they are technologically left behind, too. Wallace Family Life Center is still on dial-up Internet access in a world where most everything is transitioning to online, including seeking unemployment benefits. Many children are being raised by grandparents or aunts and uncles.

We do help a lot of marginalized children here, the innocent victims who often get left on the side of the road, Esaw said. It s a place where they can get refuge, even if just for a couple hours.

At Wallace, children are taught the importance of working hard at their studies and mastering reading, comprehension skills, math and science. It s their ticket to a better life “ an escape from the poverty and despair surrounding them. They also are taught to develop a sense of awareness about the help they receive “ not just gratefulness, Esaw said, but an awareness that empowers them about giving and one s contribution to the whole.

It s an ownership of where they are, she said. The Bible tells us to remember our history, to remember where we come from so we can know where we re going. ¦ There s more to life than just ˜get a job ; they must be a success. Each generation must be better than the last.

Built from the ground up in 1979 by United Methodist Women in the area, Wallace initially focused on adult programming, but they quickly shifted their focus to children. After all, as Esaw said, parents listen to their children, and the children end up pulling in the whole family for outreach.

Shanetta Strong has four kids who have come to Wallace the last four years.

My kids love it here, Strong said. It s enriching, it helps them with their studies and they get to spend time with other kids. They are so excited when they come here.

Elijah, 8, said he loves the chance to master his times tables, while Angel, 7, enjoys being able to work on reading, science and math.

It really helps with school, Angel said.

Esaw said the extra help in a secure, loving environment makes a big difference to kids, some of whom would spend the entire afternoon alone watching TV while their caregivers work a late shift or second job.

A child goes home alone, or comes here to a safe place and goes home with their homework done and feeling he s accomplished something, Esaw said.

Wallace does have its obstacles. Like most nonprofit ministries, lack of funds and volunteer labor can be challenging, and Wallace also struggles to make do with an aging building that has had limited upkeep over the years. They need to replace their doors, which the fire marshal said are outdated, and they have a major to-do list including fencing, new carpeting and additional storage. Their gutters were done in May, the roof in July and some plumbing work in early August, but the work continues.

They also need supporters to help with everything from prayer and volunteering to adopting a Christmas Child. Every year at Christmas, Wallace provides a person with the name, size and favorite toy of one child; many times, the adoptive parent will decide to help the entire family, purchasing clothing and other gifts for parents, grandparents and siblings, too. Esaw herself was a Christmas Child recipient many years ago, and she knows how it feels to be blessed with new clothing and toys when just getting a meal on the table can be a hardship.

It really does touch people s lives, Esaw said. It makes Christ real.

Esaw and others from Wallace invite United Methodists across South Carolina to visit their center and learn how they can help make a difference.

We want to continue our success stories another 34 years, another generation, Esaw said. It s about embracing your whole community, looking beyond the surface.

For more about Wallace, visit, email [email protected] or call 843-479-7991.

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