Anya Russian, left, UNCG Access Americorps Caseworker, helps Honorine Ningatouloun, right, with her clothes. (Ningatouloun's daugher Gracia Fidelia Allah-Issem watches from the far left.) Ningatouloun took advantage of washers and dryers installed at Center for New North Carolinians. The washers have been installed to help draw immigrants to the "center". Many of the immigrants started washing their clothes in bathtubs and sinks. They also typically dry their clothes on a drying ground. The washers have increased the sense of community and use of the CNNC's center.

Where some might see a problem, UNCG’s Center for New North Carolinians saw an opportunity to make things better.

The immigrants living in Greensboro’s Avalon Trace community had no good access to laundry facilities. They’d wash clothes in bathtubs, which would sometimes overflow, and hang or lay the clothes throughout the property – on trees, bushes and mostly flat on the ground.

The apartment manager asked for assistance. UNCG’s Center for New North Carolinians volunteers and community center director Stephanie Baldwin seized the initiative.

They could help meet some of the needs of the immigrants – clean clothes and clear living spaces – while the residents learned how to operate American-style washers and dryers.

But the results could go much further.

They installed three washers and two dryers, donated by the apartments’ management company.

It’s about meeting a basic need.

African immigrants first began using the machines. Baldwin and CNNC AmeriCorps volunteers showed them how to operate the switches, how much detergent to use, how full to load the washer. Then more began using them. They’d not go directly back to their homes – they’d sit and talk with each other – and with volunteers. They’d learn about English classes offered at the center. About a women’s support group there, which gathers to knit and talk weekly. Clothes for new arrivals. Computer-education and tutoring opportunities there. Health education, such as sickle cell outreach. Or if you just want someone to help you read mail …

The African, Vietnamese and Burmese residents began taking greater advantage of what was offered – and became more empowered.

There’s a greater sense of community now, Baldwin explains. All because of a few machines – and basic needs being met.

Baldwin received her master’s in 2007 in social work in the joint master’s program run by UNCG and NC A&T. She did much of her graduate work with former CNNC director Raleigh Bailey.

“I moved here [from West Virginia] just to do this,” she said.

The community center at Avalon Trace, located in eastern Greensboro, was created a few years ago in partnership with the African Services Coalition and CNNC.

“We approached the complex,” she explains. “The apartment managers said, “OK, we’ll do this.” The groups were given use of three units and utilities.

UNCG students are regular volunteers there, says CNNC director Dan Beerman.

“It’s about meeting a basic need,” Baldwin adds.

By Mike Harris, University Relations
Photography by Chris English, University Relations