Yvonne Smith Reeder recalls the days when the Nicholtown Community thrived on a spirit of entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency. From the 1930s through 1950s, it was one of the few neighborhoods in Greenville County that housed African American professionals and skilled workers. However, zoning regulations during the 1950s and an influx of lower-income rental residents changed the landscape of the area. The community which once boasted carpenters, brick masons, and school teachers found itself grappling with poverty and crime. After decades of watching the downward spiral of this historic community, Reeder felt relieved in 2010 when a coalition of organizations in Greenville expressed interest in restoring some of the neighborhood’s glory.
The coalition was LiveWell Greenville—a partnership of organizations focused on making Greenville County a healthier place to live, work, and play. Since its formation in 2010, LiveWell Greenville has partnered with schools, businesses, faith communities and others who are helping to craft environments that make living well in Greenville much easier.
As a LiveWell Greenville Neighborhood Liaison, Reeder is particularly pleased with LiveWell Greenville’s hand in helping the neighborhood become healthier through the creation of a community garden and a bike share program. First Baptist Church of Greenville, the City of Greenville and volunteers built a storage shed and donated 50 bicycles which are maintained by TTR Bikes. The Greenville Spinners offered bike helmets and a bike safety training class. Speed bumps were installed to make the street in front of the community center safer and directional signs now point residents to the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail.
“This was a true community collaboration and LiveWell Greenville was a key partner in putting it together,” states Reeder. “The kids now have a new desire to not just sit in front of the computer all day. They can now ride their bikes, enjoy nature and get healthy. “
In addition, a grant enabled the community to start a garden. Eighty-eight residents came together to plow, lay topsoil and plant seeds. Nicholtown’s summer garden grows vegetables such as asparagus, corn, okra, and tomatoes. Reeder is pleased that the vegetables are never sold, but rather given to elderly residents and those who live below the poverty line.
“It’s difficult to ask people to eat fresh vegetables when they cannot afford them,” Reeder states. “We want the healthy choice to be the easy choice, but you have to have all elements present.”
Mr. Eddie Byrd, garden manager, is excited to begin planting for the fall. He stated that the garden produced over 5,000 lbs of vegetables and fed 963 families last year.
“It makes a huge impact. A bonus is that young and old are working together. It’s a great way to build cross-generational relationships,” Reeder says. “What used to be criminal corner is now a positive relationship-building corner.” The corner now features a new sidewalk that is safer for residents to walk to the garden and to the community center.
Reeder also wants to call attention to the Nicholtown Historical Monument to be completed this fall. Engraved on it will be the names of all residents who lived in the community since its establishment. Reeder states that it will serve as an inspiration to the neighborhood’s youth, tasked with maintaining the community’s renaissance for years to come.