It takes a village

You can’t keep a good plan down.

This past April, the people of Abiding Village took a giant leap of faith and went on a three-week fundraising whirlwind to raise $10 million. Yes, you read that right - $10 million in the span of three week’s time.

The Myrtle Beach area Christian nonprofit sought the funds when a window opened, albeit slightly, for it to buy the former Freestyle Music Park.

While the amount generated came in around $150,000, rather than in the millions, Abiding Village supporters are upbeat and confident of the group’s mission and ministry of adding value to the Grand Strand community through arts and education.

“We’re still moving forward,” said Jess Sagun, Abiding Village director. “Just because we didn’t get the property, we’re still moving forward.”

In reality, Abiding Village was never down. The offshoot ministry of Christ United Methodist Church is continuing its regular offering of various art classes to at-risk or under resourced young people, while the money raised this spring has helped to launch another phase of Abiding Village, a youth entrepreneurship program. About 80 percent of the money raised will go toward ABCdev, a faith-based program to help teens 14 and older plan, create and operate a real business that will offer support for the youth involved while at the same time provide for the sustainability of Abiding Village.

ABCdev is in the pilot stage with four students in the program who were thrust into a two-week business bootcamp, a fast-paced start to developing a business and action plan.

The students, through professional adult mentors, have come up with their own brand, Village Made. They will continue to work on finalizing a product to launch as well as learn about such things as market research, creating a prototype, public feedback and mass production. If the Village Made product is successful in generating revenue, the youth team members will receive their portion through a trust. The other portion of any money made will go to Abiding Village to help move it toward its ultimate goal of it being a self-sustaining entity. That way, the nonprofit can concentrate on providing services instead of using its limited time and resources to fundraise.

The plan is to hire a director and full-time staff, but initial monies are going toward student materials and startup costs.

“We want to make sure that every dollar given to us is maximized for good,” said Meagan Nowacoski, ABCdev program developer.

Nowacoski, 21, wrote the curriculum for the entrepreneurship venture. Although barely out of her teens herself, she is no novice to business.

“I started my first business when I was 14 so I have a special place in my heart for kids who want to make a difference through a business,” said the Coastal Carolina University student.

Originally from Pennsylvania, she also spent time in entrepreneurship programs in New York City before heading south for college.

The four students currently in the ABCdev program, while in training, have much input in their business venture.

“It’s all completely run by them,” Nowacoski said. “They make the decisions essentially.”

She said the public is buying things anyway so the idea of purchasing products through ABCdev creates an opportunity for shoppers to get a good item and do something good at the same time.

“You have a chance to make a difference through that purchase,” she said.

Don’t stop giving

Jaime Barich did her part to make a difference.

She and her family contributed to Abiding Village’s spring campaign to buy the former amusement park, even though funds were tight.

“We donated our grocery money,” she said, but adds that, “We didn’t go hungry.”

The Barich family believes so much in both the mission and vision of Abiding Village that they choose to eat whatever was left in the pantry instead of restocking everyone’s favorites and snacks.

“We ate what we had,” she said.

If it was rice, that’s what was for supper.

“It’s easy to give out of abundance,” she said. “It’s important to give sacrificially. It’s on-purpose giving.”

While none of Barich’s five children had taken any art classes at Abiding Village before this summer, four of her daughters are currently enrolled. Jayce, 15, Grace, 9, Lucy, 7, and Sara, 5, each take a variety of classes including beginning dance, hip-hop, art studio, art, creative writing, choir and percussion.

Abiding Village currently has about 230 students in its summer session. All summer classes are free and open to the public. While fall classes are also offered at no charge, a priority is placed on those students who at at-risk.

The free classes have been a godsend to the Barichs.

“It’s an opportunity to try the arts at no cost,” Barich said. “It’s huge. We have five kids. We couldn’t pay for them all to take one class.”

Barich said the instruction in the arts is great, but she is also grateful for the mentoring and faith-based teachers.

“They’re going to love them. They’re going to encourage them. They’re going to correct them,” she said.

Barich shared an example of one her girls who has benefitted greatly from the devotion and mentoring, coming to her with an apology after showing less than desirable behavior.

“It was a heartfelt apology,” Barich said she received from her young daughter. “Her art teacher had discussed with them how to handle things. When they come here, they don’t just learn dance, they’re learning to be better citizens.”

Tami Frasier’s kids, Elizabeth, 10, and Makenzi, 9, take art, dance and choir at Abiding Village.

“I love them being there,” she said. “It’s positive reinforcement.”

Frasier is also appreciative of the no cost instruction in the arts.

“It’s real important for us right now because we’re stressed for money,” she said.

The summer session of Abiding Village will accumulate in a performance August 17 at 5 p.m. at Christ United Methodist Church. “The Genesis” will portray the seven days of creation through dance, theatre, art and percussion and will be presented by the students taking the performing arts as well as those who work behind the scenes with audio, video and stage design. The event is free and open to the public.

Don’t stop believing

While ABCdev is the second phase of Abiding Village’s vision, the dream of occupying a larger space in the community is far from over. The third phase includes a Christian education center which provides free K-12 schooling as well as shops, restaurants and shows. The group has produced a video detailing the vision and it can be viewed at www.abidingvillage.org.

Sagun believes she will see that vision become a physical reality, and although she admits she has no evidence other than spiritual to support her notion, she thinks it will be at the very location originally sought, the former Freestyle Music Park.

“It’s set up perfectly for what we want to do,” Sagun said.

Barich also believes Abiding Village will continue to grow and be successful. She also wouldn’t be surprised if that includes procuring the abandoned amusement park.

“They pray fiercely, and they don’t give up,” Barich said.

Sagun hasn’t given up.

“I really believe it’s done. I just don’t believe it’s manifested itself yet,” she said. “I just feel God has affirmed it over and over again, and I believe Him.”