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Home reflects community spirit
Harper-Smith Houses programming geared toward at-risk individuals
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Mayor Danny Dunagan reads a proclamation at the Harper-Smith House, Inc., ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday, April 11, 2015. The house will serve a community outreach center providing education support to at-risk individuals and families. - photo by Erin O. Smith

For nonprofits, success often lies in defining a mission. Without a clear focus, it’s easy to become stretched too thin.

But this doesn’t appear to be a problem for Gainesville’s newest charitable trust, The Harper-Smith House Inc., which got the city’s best treatment Saturday during an official unveiling and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“The house has a wonderful history,” said Mayor Danny Dunagan. “And if it just helps one person every now and then, that’s a great asset.”

The Harper-Smith home at 817 Athens St., a two-story, red-brick standalone perched on a bluff with a bird’s eye view of the industrial heart of Gainesville, has a legacy unrivaled in the city’s prominent and historic black neighborhood.
The home’s restoration in recent years after a fire gutted the upper floor is metaphorical of the changes the nonprofit hopes to inspire in young adults looking for a leg up in life.

Cornelia Martin, a member of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Mill Street, said the nonprofit’s aim is to provide educational programming for at-risk youth and families, including mentoring, job assistance and arts education.

Named in honor of the previous owners, W.J. Harper, and EJ and Latrelle Smith, the home has been restored to glory thanks to the donations and hard work of church members.

Harper was the first black principal of the Fair Street elementary school, who helped the city’s black students find opportunities and attend college.

Harper also opened his home, constructed in 1930, to students and black educators, making it a place of refuge for local residents and travelers.

He later sold the home to the Smiths, who were members of Bethel, and they willed the home and property to the church when they died with the goal of having the residence transformed into a nonprofit dedicated to social service work.

The renovated home features two floors, with a conference room, office space, kitchen and dining area, plus a gathering area for visitors.

“This is important in this community,” said Hall County Commissioner Jeff Stowe. “Anything we can do to help children out and give them a second chance to turn their life around, I’m glad to be here to support it.”

Shun Martin, a member of Bethel, said the nonprofit’s board of directors is ready to begin connecting programs and services with those in need.

The nonprofit’s mission is about capturing the “spirit of the community,” he said.

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