CHARLESTON—Gilbert “Nikki” Grimball, the new director of Neighborhood House in Charleston, has some inspirational plans for the outreach center.
He is looking at ways they can do more through each of their initiatives: the soup kitchen, clothing center and education programs.
At the heart of each new idea is his belief that the organization should do more than feed and clothe those in need — it should start them on the path to recovery.
Grimball said his biggest challenge when he started the job in February was the feeling that he was feeding into the cycle of poverty instead of helping those in need break free.
He feels his plans can be successful because he has a solid, strong team to work with at Neighborhood House. The outreach is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy.
“We’ll still serve the food, give out the clothes and help with the bills, but in the meantime, we have to teach the necessary skills,” he said. “We need to create supports to curb the situation of poverty.”
For example, one of the toughest aspects of being homeless is finding ways to keep clean, Grimball said.
He is trying to put together a collaborative effort for a Starting Fresh laundry program so people aren’t just receiving clothes, but also have a way to keep the garments and themselves clean.
It’s one of the small bridges people have to cross to reach self-sufficiency, he said.
The soup kitchen, run by Vonceil Mitchell, is doing its part. Already, they serve 120 people each weekday, and Grimball said they plan to start a pantry program that will provide a bag of groceries for the weekend, too.
They are also creating a cookbook “with recipes that remind you of mama,” he said. All of the submissions will come from the community and the finished cookbook will serve as a fundraising tool.
Another initiative Grimball has put into practice is the Front Porch Library, where those in the neighborhood can check out books or just relax in the rocking chairs and read. He hopes it will improve the literacy rate.
The new director said he wants to collaborate with organizations such as Trident Technical College, East Cooper Community Outreach, Echo House and others so they can do more with less.
“The needs of the community are just so vast, and the chasm is ever-widening,” Grimball said.
An issue that he finds particularly troubling is the lack of technical training in high schools today. He said not everyone is meant for college, and noted that the world still needs trade skills.
One idea he is working on is using soup kitchen space for educational opportunities. Grimball would like to teach people how to budget and cook for their family, and even hold classes on carpentry or brick masonry. He said youth and others in the community need to know the power to succeed is within them.
This is a lesson he learned from his parents, Ethel and Gilbert Grimball, when he was growing up on Wadmalaw Island.
After graduating from Burke High School in 1977, he attended the University of South Carolina, where he fell in love and raised three sons.
Grimball spent 30 years helping people with special needs and calls it his ministry. He worked with the S.C. Department of Disabilities and Special Needs for 28 years, then United Cerebral Palsy before the position at Neighborhood House came to his attention.
“I feel blessed to come back and be able to do my part,” he said.
His mother worked with Our Lady of Mercy Church and the outreach. And before that, his grandfather, Esau Jenkins, who was active in the Civil Rights movement, collaborated with Neighborhood House on ways to help the community.
Now he lives in his family home on Wadmalaw with his wife Jakki and helps care for his father.
Grimball said he has come full circle.
“It’s a blessing to me, my family, and I hope it’s a blessing to Neighborhood House,” he said.