I was supposed to be working somewhere else: Nehemiah Project, Greer, SC

The day I interviewed Rev. Ronald Smith for my last post about courageous conversations on racism, he introduced me to Toshia Mayer, President of Nehemiah Community Revitalization Corporation, just around the corner from Stomping Grounds, the coffeehouse where Smith and I met for our interview.

Nehemiah began in early 1993, as a way to reach the goal of the South Carolina Low Income Housing Coalition to address the need for adequate, affordable housing in the state, by creating a sophisticated non-profit affordable housing developer which could use multiple sources of financing to build or renovate a variety of housing options for low income families and individuals in SC.

It was originally established with a focus on mental health clients in the ‘90s, when the state moved from large-scale hospitalization of patients to locating those who could live independently in communities, made possible in part by dramatic advances in medications. About ten years ago, Nehemiah broadened its focus to address a wider variety of housing needs and clients.

Toshia is very much “called” to her position at Nehemiah, which is a faith-based housing partner. But she almost didn’t work there at all. She grew up in nearby Greenville’s “projects,” and was enrolled in a job training program that would prepare her for a clerical position with another organization in the area.

But when funding wasn’t available for that position, she got connected with the newly-established Nehemiah, where she started as a temporary secretary while her best friend’s mother was out on maternity leave. When the mother was not able to return to her position, Toshia continued in a permanent capacity, having earned her Associate’s degree at Greenville Technical College. Opportunity and an education were all she needed to begin her journey toward greater and greater responsibility at Nehemiah.

“People are my passion,” she says, although she is shy by nature. Nehemiah’s goal has always been to create affordable, decent housing that people are proud to call home: “That’s why we install dishwashers, microwaves, and all the usual appliances.” Affordable doesn’t mean cutting corners, or providing minimal furnishings.

“Empowerment” best describes Toshia’s story, and she sees herself as a people-builder as President of Nehemiah Corporation, encouraging and assisting people in improving their lives as she experienced.

As part of its mission stemming from a statewide coalition, Nehemiah has built housing throughout South Carolina, as far away as Mount Pleasant, in the Charleston area. Its current efforts are focused on establishing a locally based non-profit in Greenwood, 90 minutes away, through the AME Church, and she has led the way in the revitalization one of Greenwood’s historic mill villages, Mathews Village.

She feels indebted to Nehemiah founder Tom Faulkner’s mentoring of her from that serendipitous opportunity as a secretary all those years ago, and she caught much of his passion for the organization’s mission.

One of the treasures of doing this blog is that I get to meet and learn more about people like Toshia and hearing how God works through her and many others.

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