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Turkey Creek Head Start building gets a new lease on life

Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 6:14 PM CST
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The sound of broken glass is not often associated with progress. But it is to the people who are working to restore the old Turkey Creek Head Start Center on Rippy Road in Gulfport.

That broken glass will be the foundation for a vision of one of its native sons.

“Community activities, educational activities, tutoring. Boy Scouting, butterfly garden, bird watching. We’re going to try to do it all because we’ve got a beautiful place to do it at. Right here on Turkey Creek.

Turkey Creek resident Patrick White could go on and on describing what he admits is still an unfocused vision for the building and the grounds.

“Educate, beautify, restore, conserve,” he said.

But one part is sharply in focus.

“Just to make our community a better community,” said White.

The building that was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s to be a segregated school later became a Head Start center in the 1960s.

But in the last five years, the vacant building became a haven for drug use and vandals. White wanted to turn it into an asset again for the community.

He recruited his cousin, Derrick Evans, a 6th-generation native son of Turkey Creek. He bought the land from the Harrison County School District.

“It’s our legacy,” Evans said. “I mean we’re 30 years older than the city of Gulfport. and one of the oldest communities in what is now called Harrison County.”

The land and building will eventually be handed over to Turkey Creek Community Initiatives. It’s a non-profit founded in 2003 to preserve the endangered cultural, historical and environmental assets of the Turkey Creek area.

Part of the vision for the property will be to build nature trails between the building and Turkey Creek to join them together for the community.

Volunteers are now gutting the graffiti-covered buildings. One of those volunteers is 21-year-old Rakesha Crawford. Her great-great-grandfather was one of the 11 men who died in the Yaryan-Phoenix plant explosion in Turkey Creek in 1943.

“Yea, so I’m just here learning my history. Trying to give my legacy back,” she said.

The presence of community members working for free to create something new for Turkey Creek doesn’t surprise Maris Caldwell Fells.

Fells and her sister came to the building on Friday to look at the work being done there. They attended elementary school in the building.

“This is a loving and a giving community,” she said. “We were always taught, if you can do something for somebody...do it.”

That legacy will live on, here on the shores of Turkey Creek.

“We’re just going to make a beautiful thing in our community,” White said. “That’s all. We’re just trying to strive to make our community better.”

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