Making an impact — fundraisers underway for Sumner School repairs for future community center

Charles Dunlap
Freedom in Christ Ministries took over ownership of the historically segregated Sumner School in April from Concerned Citizens for a Better Community. Extensive repairs are needed before it can be reopened as Impact Activity Center, so fundraisers are undwerway to help repair roof damage, remove mold and more.

When Concerned Citizens for a Better Community shut down operations, disbanded and closed its community center at Sumner School, leaders knew they would need to find a new organization that could provide for community needs. Any group that took over the facility also would face the mammoth task of rehabilitating the historically segregated school.

Better Community leaders found that organization in Freedom in Christ Ministries, which plans to use Sumner School as a community center and extension of its ministry to be known as Impact Activity Center.

“I reached out to [Better Community] and asked if we could take over the building,” Freedom’s pastor Chequita Hinkle said. “We actually took ownership of that building, [it] became Impact Activity Center April 9.”

While Hinkle and Impact President Daniel Bruce have extensive plans for what the community center could be, the first step is to make extensive repairs to the building. While Impact will have different goals than Better Community, it still will provide community support, he said.

“Our goal is to have programs and partner with other folks in the community to try to help our community out,” Hinkle said. “We want programs for youth, the elderly, families, single moms, single dads. [We are] trying to take a holistic approach toward the community,”

A GoFundMe campaign known as Reviving Sumner School was established by Bruce. The goal is to raise $100,000. As of Sunday evening, nearly $1,800 was raised. Donations also are being received via CashApp through the $SumnerSchoolRevive account. Bruce also can receive donations via mail through P.O. Box 550, Boonville, MO 65233. Donations are tax deductible as Freedom and Impact are nonprofit organizations. Progress updates are posted on Facebook through the Reviving Sumner School page.

The roof was damaged in the winter which led to water leaking into the building and promoting mold growth. It also damaged the gymnasium floor, among other issues.

“What we have on the table we have to get done before even thinking about opening up,” Bruce said. “We have a lot of things we have talked about we want to offer to the community. But, first things first, you can’t offer anything without a building.”

Impact also plans to hold a pick-up spaghetti dinner from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 7 from Freedom in Christ at 512 Sixth St. Those who would like a meal delivered should call to make arrangements a week prior. Tickets will be available from the church 6-8 p.m. Oct. 24 for $10. More information is available by calling Bruce at 660-888-4388.

First built in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration established by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Sumner School was a segregated school for Boonville’s Black residents. It was desegregated in 1959, five years after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that desegregated all U.S. Schools.

One room in the building, after repairs, will be designated as a museum to highlight the building’s history and its impact on the community, Hinkle said. After the school was closed, it was purchased by Guy’s Potato Chips, which used the building as a warehouse. Better Community first took ownership in 1980 until it was transferred to Freedom earlier this year.

Work on the building will be done in multiple phases.

The first is to repair the roof, which is estimated to cost nearly $50,000. Cleaning and mold remediation will happen after that. Costs associated with mold removal are unknown until the roof repairs can be completed. Renovations to the dining room, kitchen and recreation rooms will follow, along with plumbing repairs. The gymnasium floor and ceilings will be replaced. Finally, the building needs new windows.

“The [roof] repair is supposed to last [about] 10 years. Long term, we want to completely replace the roof, but this will get us up and running,” Bruce said.

Freedom and Impact leaders want to maintain the historical significance of the school, while being a haven for educational, community and social resources.

“We want to make [Impact] a safe place for people, where people can come down and have family fun,” Hinkle said. “We want to enhance people’s lives. If we can reach one person that would be great.”

While plans are in the works for tutoring programs and other activities, the first goal after repairs are made is to re-establish the summer meal program. Better Community would offer meals in the summer to school-aged children so they still could have food during the summer. Impact wants to continue this program, Bruce said.

"Then we will start looking at programs for kids who are having trouble at school or don’t have computers at home,“ he said. ”We’ll also have some programs for the elderly. We have a lot of things on the table.“

While the activity center is associated with Freedom in Christ, that should not stop anyone from visiting, Hinkle said.

The old Sumner School, the last school built for use by Black Boonville children before desegregation, suffered significant damage during winter storms. Freedom in Christ Ministries hopes to reopen the school as the Impact Activity Center next year after repairs are made. The church is holding fundraisers for the repairs.