SUSSEX COUNTY — Brenda Milbourne and Evelyn Wilson are both leaders of their communities in West Rehoboth and Coverdale, respectively. They have seen how problems such as affordable housing, gentrification and poverty have plagued the area. Nevertheless, their communities have grown and remained strong throughout the years.
However, these communities are present but barely seen, just like the more than 19 underserved communities in Delaware.
The Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice hosted a town hall meeting Tuesday night via Zoom that focused on the underserved communities in Sussex County. Ms. Wilson and Ms. Milbourne told of their communities’ struggles and successes while also informing others on how they can help.
The meeting started with Bruce Wright from First State Community Action Agency giving an overview of the general problems many of these communities face, such as poverty and poor water quality. He emphasized that more and more underserved communities are found every day and people might not even realize they are driving through one.
“It’s very easy to ride by the forgotten parts of our county and you don’t even realize entire communities exist,” said Mr. Wright.
Both presenters then gave a brief history of their communities. Ms. Milbourne told a story about how the land of West Rehoboth was given to African American workers by Charles Mills during the Jim Crow era. Mr. Mills gifted the land in order for the residents to be self-sufficient.
“They really did not know that they were poor because everything they needed was in their community,” said Ms. Milbourne.
Ms. Wilson talked about how Coverdale went through many name changes since the 1800s. The original name was Bethel Crossroads. Then, she talked about the first business owners of the land, Priscilla Coverdale and Samuel Stevens, who opened taverns around 1816.
The presenters then talked about the biggest challenges they face in their communities.
In West Rehoboth, lack of education and transportation, mental health issues and drug use are some of the problems.
Ms. Milbourne has partnered with Delaware State Police Troop 7 in order to help with the drug issues. She said a drug raid removed people out of the community for the safety of others. This was one of the first steps in helping the area.
“First of all, you got to clean up before we can make a change in any community,” Ms. Milbourne said.
On top of the issues the communities already face, the coronavirus pandemic only worsened them. With there already being a lack of education, it didn’t help that children were not going to school because of the virus.
“With this epidemic, it did not help us at all,” said Ms. Milbourne. “I brought some of them in to help with their lessons but when your parents are uneducated, it’s hard for you to talk to the parents about what we need to do.”
No matter the problems, people will continue to live in these areas for generations because it’s their home. These communities have received aid and have started to help their community change for the better, she said.
Ms. Wilson, who has served on the Coverdale Community Council, said the Coverdale Community Center, which was open from 2004 to 2015, helped educate children and adults to improve the community. They partnered with First State Community Action Agency, which gave the community center a computer lab, new furniture and many other things.
Also, Coverdale has partnered with the Food Bank of Delaware and Woodbridge School District volunteers to have a mobile food pantry.
For Ms. Milbourne, a huge accomplishment was starting a youth summer program.
“We had kids that didn’t even know what a fork and a spoon was. They were climbing over tables,” she said. “But then we began to teach them (and) to nurture them and some of these same children have gone to college.”
Ms. Milbourne said partnerships and helping each other are the keys to community development. She said former Delaware Attorney General, the late Beau Biden would come and help at the Westside New Beginnings Center.
“Joe Biden’s son was the most important person (that came). He came every Thursday and he cooked for the children. In January, we put up a display of Beau Biden and all the work, all the cooking that he did here in this center,” she said.
Mr. Wright said others can help these communities through advocacy and talking to community leaders about what needs to be done in the area.
“Bring your talents and skills to the table and help communities like these that need assistance that have been forgotten and are ignored,” he said.
This article was produced with support of a grant from the Delaware Community Foundation. For more information, visit delcf.org/journalism.