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Rural Community Development Institute established at Voorhees University

Denmark, S.C. – South Carolina State Senator John Scott announced the establishment of the Rural Community Development Institute at Voorhees University on June 9. The institute is a collaboration between the Voorhees University Becoming Beloved Community Initiative and the South Carolina Institute of Innovation and Information (SCIII). It is designed to help students work to improve the quality of life in Denmark and Bamberg. It also aligns the institution with corporate partners who provide scholarships, internships and jobs.

According to Scott, the SCIII will offer technical support to the institute, help secure funding and create partnerships with corporations and governmental entities.

Excited about creating the institute, he said, “Institutes bring the best and brightest minds in higher education together to solve problems.”

He said that through economic and workforce development, students, faculty, and staff will be able to live and work in rural South Carolina instead of leaving the area for career opportunities.

Ronnie Hopkins, president of Voorhees, looks forward to a community assessment to determine challenges and how corporate partners and the university can address those challenges.

“There is a great need for broadband in the community. We want it to be accessible to everyone,” said Hopkins. “Experts can help us identify strategies and resources to address this problem. We can also use this opportunity to strengthen the economy and make our community more attractive for corporations and businesses to locate here.”

Hopkins announced that Cathy Scarborough Franklin has been hired as the executive director for the institute. She will begin functioning in that role in mid-June. 

Voorhees is one of seven HBCUs working with SCIII to form institutes to address economic, housing, health, transportation, and food disparities and under- and unemployment.

During the kickoff program, the audience heard from Denmark Mayor Gerald Wright, Evert Comer, Jr., Bamberg County commissioner and chair of the Rural Community Development Institute, Gwynth Nelson, executive director of SCIII, Dwayne Smiling, executive director of the Becoming Beloved Community Initiative, Scott and Hopkins.

Nelson facilitated the program and explained that she will work intimately with Voorhees to develop the institute. Comer expressed gratitude for being selected as the institute’s chair and vowed to work toward its success.

Wright said that he has always seen Voorhees as a source for improving the quality of life in Denmark and that the institute is a means to continue that effort.

Voorhees recently acquired property from the Bamberg County School District for the Becoming Beloved Community Initiative. The 13-acre property, including a former elementary school building, will be home to several centers of excellence. They are the Voorhees University Rural Community Development Institute, the Center for Women’s Empowerment and Advancement, the Center for Community Engagement and Development, and the Institute for Social and Environmental Justice, Diversity and Inclusion. The Voorhees University Pictorial Museum also would be housed on the property.

A high-resolution image of Smiling, Scott, Nelson, and Hopkins is available at https://voorhees.edu/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/2022-June-RDC-Institute-Kickoff-00042-scaled.jpg

2022 June RDC Institute Kickoff 00042
Left to right: Dwayne Smiling, SC State Senator John Scott, Dr. Gwynth Nelson, and President Ronnie Hopkins

About Voorhees University

Voorhees University, founded by Elizabeth Evelyn Wright in 1897, is a private, coeducational institution affiliated with the Episcopal Church and the United Negro College Fund. The university is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award baccalaureate and graduate degrees. Its mission is to produce highly qualified graduates who coalesce intellect and faith in pursuit of life-long learning, healthy living, the betterment of society, and an abiding faith in God. U.S. News & World Report has ranked Voorhees as a #1 best value, #3 in social mobility and #33 among regional colleges in the south in 2022-2023; and #26 among Historically Black Colleges and Universities, nationally. Additional information about Voorhees University can be found at www.voorhees.edu.


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