Silent Heroes support varying generations to shape Wiregrass
Though the communities they serve are different, Nate Patterson and Summers Bell both seek to protect some of the more vulnerable residents of the Wiregrass.
Patterson, founder of TIME Youth Impact Center, works to keep preteens and teens away from a life of crime. Bell, as Houston County Department of Human Resources adult protective services supervisor, endeavors to help the disabled and elderly stay safe and independent in their homes and communities.
Patterson and Bell are the most recent winners of the Silent Heroes of the Wiregrass award. The award stems from a partnership between Wiregrass Electric Cooperative and WTVY News 4 and provides each winner with a $1,000 grant courtesy of WEC’s Operation Round Up Charitable Foundation.
“Six years into this partnership, and we’re still finding fabulous people to honor with the Silent Heroes award,” says Brad Kimbro, WEC’s chief operating officer. “What better calling is there than to ensure our youth grow into productive citizens? Equally as valuable is ensuring the elderly and disabled live in safe environments and have the support they need. We are proud to honor Nate Patterson and Summers Bell for their efforts to make the Wiregrass a better place to live.”
Drawing From Past Experience
When Patterson, a Dothan native who lived in Atlanta for several years, returned to the Circle City in 2015, he knew he wanted to help the youth of the community avoid the same troubles he witnessed others encounter here.
“My dad did two terms in prison. My mom worked two jobs just to support us,” he says. “That left me with a lot of free time to be in the streets.”
Patterson recalls grown men giving bicycles to kids his age — recruitment efforts for the next generation of gang members.
Fortunately, Patterson used basketball as an outlet, parlaying his size and talent into scholarships at Enterprise State Community College and Columbus State University.
Patterson initially ministered to Dothan youth through basketball camps, but his wife, Keni, noticed his desire to do more. In 2016, the couple began looking for a place to rent for a youth center. After some struggles, they landed a facility on South Oates Street near Dothan Preparatory Academy, one of the city’s two public middle schools, and TIME Youth Impact Center was born.
“TIME stands for teach, inspire, mentor, educate,” Patterson says. “People think in order to build your community, you have to have money and material things but, really, time is just as valuable as the dollar. I knew that just spending time with these kids would build into love and trust.”
The program has 2 major facets: an after-school program designed to serve children 8 to 13 years old and a Teens to Work program for those 15 to 19.
The after-school program encourages youngsters to journal and engage in group activities like Bible studies. A computer lab also helps the participants — many of whom do not have a computer or internet access at home — complete homework.
The Teens to Work program helps teens prepare for job interviews, and a partnership with Southeast AlabamaWorks helps them locate job opportunities. The center even provides dress clothes for interviews.
“We’re a faith-driven organization, and our mission is to love, equip and empower the youth to be productive leaders in the community,” Patterson says. “We want them to feel welcome, loved and valued. Either we get them or the streets will get them.”
A Team Win
Bell’s team investigates reports of financial exploitation, abuse and neglect of the elderly and disabled in Houston County. The county has a population of more than 107,000, according to the 2020 census, and the department initiates between 40 to 60 new cases each month, while working several more already in progress.
Many cases are a result of adults reaching a stage in life when they cannot care for themselves on their own. DHR steps in with a bevy of resources and services in an effort to help them stay in their homes as long as possible, Bell says.
Several years ago, Houston County DHR officials created their own food and resources pantry to help in the endeavor. Area churches and service organizations contribute items like canned goods, medical supplies, medical equipment and toiletries throughout the year to support the pantry.
“Meeting these emergency needs helps us build rapport and trust with our clients, which leads to other successes,” Bell says.
While her name may be the one on the award, Bell considers the Silent Heroes honor to be a win for the entire Houston County DHR’s adult protective services team, which consists of six other people.
“They do the work in the middle of the night,” she says. “They do the hard, messy work people don’t get to see, but it’s the work that literally saves people’s lives.”
Bell is grateful to WEC members who round up their monthly bills to the next dollar to hep fund Operation Round Up and the Silent Heroes grants.
“We are so thankful for Wiregrass Electric and their members for giving of their hard-earned money to benefit those in our community,” she says.