The volunteer kickoff effort at the Haywood Pathways Center on Sept. 25, 2014, was a glorious day in Haywood County.

It is estimated more than 1,000 volunteers were on hand at the former Hazelwood prison site to remove fencing, paint dormitories, build a laundry/restroom facility and landscape the premises.

All efforts were aimed at transforming a facility that once served as a punishing place into one that is a nurturing place.

It is an idea that television reality star Ty Pennington called brilliant, and one that helped the Haywood Pathways Center project win a national contest — and $50,000 — sponsored by Guaranteed Rate.

It is also an idea Pennington thinks could be picked up across the country where hundreds of abandoned government buildings — and prisons — could be repurposed to make a difference.

It was clear Thursday the project that will offer hope to Haywood County residents without a home, whether it’s because they were recently released from jail or are facing a particularly difficult set of circumstances, is one that is enthusiastically supported by virtually every sector of our community.

With the opening event at the Open Door, the exact right tone was struck when the helpers and those in need of help shared breakfast. The opening presentation was poignant but short, which allowed time for the volunteers to head directly to their tasks. Early organization efforts obviously paid off because there seemed to be a job for everyone and a purpose for every job!

We need to continue telling our story to our neighbors and well beyond our county’s border. In Haywood, we have hit the exact right note for moving forward — something that appears to be a difficult task when you consider the dysfunctions we read about daily in our nation and beyond.

Perhaps we can help lead the way in showing that by setting aside minor differences and concentrating on the big picture, the desire to make a difference can unite all. Our community’s elected officials, churches, the business community and nonprofits are pulling together in a way we haven’t seen in Haywood County since the floods of 2004. The distinction is that instead of reacting to a disaster, county residents are being proactive to address underlying problems that create even larger ones when not addressed.

These efforts are assuredly blessed from above. That alone paves the way for success.

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