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After 25 Years Hale to Step Down at West End Center

Two West End after school students help paint the center.

Resigning as Executive Director of the West End Center after 25 years on the job was one of the hardest decisions Kaye Hale has ever had to make. She did it, she said, with a lot of prayer and reliance on a God she trusts will lead her into further work helping people.

Hale, age 50 and a single parent, has been at West End in Northwest Roanoke City for over half of her life.

She’s seen the after-school program for disadvantaged inner city children and teens grow to its present 70 youngsters, who find the former restaurant and store buildings in the 1200 block of Patterson Avenue a fun and safe place to hang out Monday through Friday afternoons.

Eating a late lunch recently near her South County home, Hale reflected on her years at West End which, she said, have brought her into contact with countless wonderful people.

One is her permanent foster son David, a Patrick Henry High School student, who shares her home with Hale’s biological son, Tanner, now 19 and preparing to become a certified nursing assistant. Hale has fostered several other children she met through the center. “It’s been my life,” she said. “I can’t just put it behind me.”

However, two major factors led to her decision to move on, Hale said. One is the serious illness of both her parents who remain major figures in her life and that of her sons. Hale says “I don’t ever want to regret that I didn’t do everything I could for them.”

Her father is terminally ill with Parkinson’s diseases and recently had to be admitted to Catawba Hospital. Her mother is now battling oral cancer and requires her daughter to help with treatments. Her two brothers also help from their homes in Rocky Mount, each pitching in with some of the transportation and other needs.

The other reason for her surprise resignation: Her duties as a fund-raiser to just keep West End open had become heavier each year. It was taking more and more time from what she enjoyed – interaction with the center’s children and their families.

“We’ve had several financial crises over the years and this recession has dried up so many sources of our money,” she explained. “All non-profits are like that.”

West End, Hale pointed out, now has a lot of supporters, including some large businesses, from which money and in-kind gifts have come.  The Center’s budget is about $600,000 a year.  Food, furniture for the center’s two buildings, parking lot and playground maintenance and even cheerful murals by local artist Polly Branch have helped make the center what it is. (The Center went through a makeover inside and out in 2009, capped off with a celebration last September.)

But as the center’s services have grown, so have expenses. There are now nine paid people on the staff. Her successor has not been announced, so for the time-being Joy Parrish, associate director, is keeping the programs going.

Volunteers do much of the work around West End, with about 50 people tutoring children, to help build reading and other skills needed to succeed in school. With individual attention to lessons three afternoons weekly, academic performance often rises dramatically, Hale noted. On afternoons when they are not tutored, children learn about good eating habits and personal health routines, which may not be taught in their homes.

Hale said the majority of children at West End still come from African-American households and live in Northwest and the city’s older Southwest neighborhoods. They are in grades from kindergarten through high school, with the median income of their households less than $17,000 a year. Many are being reared by a single working parent or grandparents, generally women. About 75 percent of those enrolled are living below or only slightly above the poverty level.

This was evident even in 1979 when two old congregations around Thirteenth Street Southwest, West End Presbyterian and West End United Methodist, along with the now-extinct Mountain View Neighborhood Alliance, launched a small after-school program in an old square-brick residence belonging to the Presbyterian Church. Only about 20 children could be accommodated in a three-day weekly schedule.

By the time Hale was employed in 1984 as director at $6,000 annually, West End’s board had bought a restaurant building at Twelfth and Patterson and gone to a five-day week from 2:15 to 6 p.m. Enrollment had risen to the present level of 70 children and more volunteers and money were needed, the former director recalled.

“I was supposed to work about 20 hours a week — I had been working three jobs at once and that impressed the board — but I soon saw it was about a 50-hour a week commitment,” Hale said.

She grew up in Rocky Mount, earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Radford University, but in the early 1980’s found few jobs open in her chosen field. So she waited tables, worked in a bar and also as a teen counselor at the former Lewis-Gale Psychiatric Center.

Reflecting on her years at West End, Hale said she would remember the satisfaction of working with two generations in several families. Girls whom the center helped find a better life 20 years ago are now sending their own children there. Records show that dropping out of school, teen pregnancies, substance abuse and teen crime show up far less in the center’s long-time attendees. Kaye Hale will always be proud of that.

By Frances Stebbins
[email protected]

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