West Fest 2

Albemarle Avenue, the site of West Fest, once was the location of "The Block," home to many thriving Black businesses.

West Fest, a street festival celebration in the historic West Greenville Cultural District, will host fun for the whole family with indoor and outdoor activities, live performances, nonprofit community resources and vendors on July 23 from noon-6 p.m.

Jermaine McNair, founder and executive director of the North Carolina Community and Industry Value Interactionist League (NC CIVIL), said West Fest is a community festival welcoming families and peoples of all ages to support the creative economy in West Greenville.

The street festival will feature over 75 food trucks and craft vendors, nonprofits, community resources and carnival-style booths spread out over multiple lots, McNair said. He said activities will include an Adult Field Day and a youth performance by the Boys and Girls Club

“West Fest is an actual community festival, street festival, that is taking place along the historical West 5th St and Albemarle Avenue over in the West Greenville Cultural District. And the purpose of the event is to celebrate and promote the creative economy of that community,” McNair said. “That's the reasoning behind that.The general idea is to connect with communities in a way that empowers them to shape their own environments.

It will be 0.8 miles of fun, McNair said, with a unique opportunity in West Greenville to support small businesses and community-based institutions. He said he has worked with other organizations like RISE29 in these empty lots and came up with the idea of a neighborhood festival to bring the community together.

Local businesses like the Coffee and Spice Cafe will have extended hours, McNair said. The Breakfast Bar is featuring a Seniors-Only Lounge, he said, and there will be live music sessions at the Gold Post Cafe. He said West Fest’s street festival map is available online.

“West Fest does that (taps into the local economy) by reutilizing empty lots where homes have been removed and taken away. And if you ever drive around W. Fifth Street and take a look around, it is surrounded by them. We have always used a strategy called creative use of community spaces,” McNair said. “But, we typically focus on the lots around our offices, but there are others all up and down W. Fifth Street.”

West Greenville is the most historic community in Greenville, McNair said, but this is the first time a festival like this will be celebrating its surrounding community. He said being able to empower communities and provide them with tools and resources allows them to shape their own social and economic development that directly benefits individuals within.

The festival aims for community collaboration to create an event that inspires business growth and networking throughout the district to empower its residents, McNair said. He said as Greenville develops, West Greenville may see changes like an increased living costs or new industries moving in. McNair said knowing that community members are in support of one another can be reassuring during difficult times.

“Communities have to be empowered in order to shape their own social and economic environment. Cities have the task of thinking about development, and only think of capital development, ‘How can we build bigger buildings, how do we attract larger firms, how can we do all of this stuff that is very top down-ish.’ Really when we look at things like negative gentrification, it doesn’t tap into talents, gifts and opportunities that already exist,” McNair said.

Amatrese Woodberry-McNeil, executive administrative assistant of the Boys and Girls of the Coastal Plain, said community resources like the Boys and Girls Club located in West Greenville become more accessible and available to community members through outreach programs like West Fest. She said the Coastal Plains includes 17 clubs throughout over seven counties.

The mission of the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastal Plain is to enable all young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens, Woodberry-McNeil said. She said the club works with the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Greenville, local schools, East Carolina University and more to become a community resource fit to meet the needs of events such as West Fest.

“When we agreed to relocate from the downtown location (Jarvis Unit) to the heart of West Greenville (Lucille W. Gorham Unit), we joined the village to contribute to the impact already established,” Woodberry-McNeil said. “In supporting those efforts, we also want our past families and future families to know we are here and available to serve.”

The West Fest event gives the Boys and Girls Club visibility, exposure and gets the word out into the community, Woodberry-McNeil said. She said the community gives back by volunteering their time and supporting events they may have.

The Youth Play Social hosted by the Boys and Girls Club and HeARToscope will feature activities in two locations, Woodberry-McNeil said. She said there will be family activities setup in the Community Room of the Lucille W. Gorham Unit such as Tic Tac Toe Relay, Cup Stack, Giant Jenga and Giant Connect. She also said the playground outside of the Lucille W. Gorham Unit will have games like Name Ball, Steal the Bacon, Red Light, Green Light and Tug-of-War.

The festival will have staff and members volunteering from the Boys and Girls Clubs and surrounding local communities, Woodbury-McNeil said. She said members will be assisting with and participating in the activities, where they will earn community service hours. She said events like West Fest create an opportunity for exposure to resources, advancement and other opportunities members might not normally have.

“The Boys and Girls Clubs offers young people, six to 18 years of age, what they want and need most: staff members who are models who respect and listen to them, a safe environment where they can be themselves and have fun and constructive activities to channel their youthful energy,” Woodberry-McNeil said.

Nancy Winterbauer, associate professor for the Department of Public Health at ECU and the vice chair of the West Greenville Health Council, said the Health Council will set up alongside other nonprofits during West Fest giving out freebies and providing information about health disparities and educational opportunities.

The West Greenville Health Council was created by a group of concerned citizens with ties to West Greenville to form a mission to improve the quality of health of West Greenville residents, Winterbauer said. She said the council is community-driven and encourages community and citizen engagement in an effort to target some of the social determinants of health like race and ethnicity, income level, education and more.

“Reifying community identity and we think a strong sense of community identity is important in the self direction of one's own health and healthcare, and again, with that kind of larger lens around what health is and so,” Winterbauer said, “West Fest is right in keeping with that idea of a community identity, and so we're happy to be involved in and celebrate with all of the other people in agencies that, you know, share those interests.”

The West Greenville Health Council was formed over seven years ago after another study a few years before surveyed West Greenville residents alongside data from the North Carolina Health Department, Winterbauer said. The data showed residents in West Greenville are two to five times more likely to acquire chronic health conditions when compared to the county or state average.

The West Greenville Health Council focuses on building “community health identity,” which Winterbauer said can contribute to feeling healthy and ultimately translate into a relationship with healthcare. She said the council works in the community through Adopt-a-Street and Juneteenth, as well as through public health graduate students brought in to work in the area.

“One of the things I really like to do is bring students into the work that the West Greenville Health Council does. Because for me, it's a win-win situation. I'm (employed) in a public health graduate program and our students get to see what real life is like and how their work and interests can support community interests and promote health,” Winterbauer said. “They provide a lot of energy to our group. So it's really a reciprocal kind of relationship that we have.”

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