New Century College professor Toby Jenkins will take students to the Mt. Vernon area of Columbus, S.C., to help renovate the community as part of her class, 95 South: Cultural Heritage and Community Sustainability. Photos courtesy of Toby Jenkins.

New Century College professor Toby Jenkins will “raise up the community that raised her” when she takes students to South Carolina in May to learn about the challenges of renovating a community while still maintaining its cultural heritage.

The course Jenkins created in the Center for Field Studies is called 95 South: Cultural Heritage and Community Sustainability.

Students will participate in community service, attend workshops with community leaders, have lunch with city politicians and learn about the culture and history of the three communities they will visit: Columbia, St. Helena Island and Charleston.

When asked what inspired her to create a course that involved traveling to her hometown, Jenkins said that she wanted to tie her work at George Mason University into the commitment she has made to her community.

“My parents still live in the neighborhood I grew up in,” Jenkins said, speaking of the Mt. Vernon area of Columbia, S.C. “We’ve seen the neighborhood go down – poverty and crime coming into the community – and we’re concerned about it.”

As houses become available on her street, investors purchase them and barely repair them before renting them out again.

“That was one of the first alarms for me,” Jenkins said. “This is one of the major problems – that we have people who don’t live in the community owning the community.”

As a result, Jenkins purchased the home next to her parents’ house.

“If I own the home, the community owns the home,” she said. “I want to make an impact on the community and help restore it back to what it was.”

Jenkins explained that her main goal in this course is for students to become more curious about American communities.

“There’s so much value and history in neighborhoods we drive by,” Jenkins said. “These communities and the stories they have to tell are just as compelling as [the stories of] places we can go around the world.”

First, students will travel to Jenkins’ hometown of Columbia, where they will spend six days focusing on community service. They will help neighbors with yard work and small renovation projects. During this time, they will reside and immerse themselves in the community. Students will have dialogues with local leaders and talk about the religious and cultural history of the community. This part of the course will focus on maintaining a community’s culture while helping to renovate it.

Next, students will spend three days on St. Helena Island, absorbing themselves in the culture of the Gullah community. According to the course website, this section of the course will “focus on the concept of community investment in cultural heritage.” Students will engage in art workshops on basket weaving, storytelling and music, and the visit will even include canoe rides.

Finally, students will spend two days in Charleston, learning about the history and culture of the South, including slavery’s impact on African-American culture.
At the end of the course, students will create an interactive website so other communities looking to renovate can use their work as a guideline for their own community transformations.

“I don’t believe that social change and joy and fun can’t occupy the same space,” Jenkins said. “I want to share with [students] the beauty of and what I love about South Carolina – communities that need to be transformed and culture that needs to be sustained.”