New house provides hope, second chances

By Nikki Gaskins

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- A new home on the old Navy Base is opening its doors to those who are rebuilding their lives. On Wednesday, the nonprofit organization SC Strong celebrated its grand opening.

"It gives them a reason for living," said Bart Fanning, who is currently enrolled in the organization's program.

Fanning came to the organization nine months ago after doing time in jail. It was while incarcerated he decided to change his bad habits.

"I was going down a road where there was no turning around," said Fanning. "It was either prison for the rest of my life or death."

SC Strong opened its doors in May 2006. There residents of all ages, races, and backgrounds help and teach each other the skills and values they need to live not just drug free, but legitimately and successfully in society.

The house was built 1906. Those in the program gave it a complete makeover. It in turn will provide free housing and invaluable skills to people from all walks of life.

"The residents did everything you see here," said John Hamilton, who once attended the organization's program.

Hamilton now serves as a general contractor for SC Strong after having spent eight years with the program.

"Taking this house apart and putting it back together was very similar to what I had to do for myself," said Hamilton.

The two-story house took three years to renovate with an estimated price tag of nearly $1.5 million.

"We give vocational training," said SC Strong CEO, Mimi Silbert. "We teach education. They get a GED."

Silbert expanded her organization to South Carolina in 2006 with one purpose: to inspire and change lives.

"If they pool their resources and they help each other, and they come to believe in each other I believe they can do miraculous things," said Silbert.

SC Strong is a replication of the Delancey Street Foundation, considered the national's leading self-help residential education center for ex-convicts, homeless, and former substance abusers.

Since its founding in 1973, Silbert says about 20,000 people have graduated from the program.

Fanning hopes to eventually be one of them.

"I'm tired of being called a loser. I'm tired of not doing anything right. I want my respect and dignity back," stated Fanning.

Currently, 28 people are enrolled in SC Strong. The new house will allow organizers to increase enrollment to 65.