By Chantè Russell
The founders of the TJ Robinson Life Center in Hope Mills envisioned the center as a place for youth to participate in sports while finding mentorship and a host facility for regional athletic tournaments. However, the center may now be facing foreclosure before ever even opening.
The massive center, meant to boast five basketball courts, two football fields and classroom/meeting spaces, was the idea of Charlotte and Thuston Robinson, known by many as Coach Rob. The retired veteran couple decided to open the center after finding they didn’t have the space to house Coach Rob’s basketball coaching and mentoring efforts.
The Robsinons invested over $1 million from their savings to start the project, but have been unable to come up with the rest. Their contractors have now told them that they will be seeking foreclosure on July 1 if they are unable to pay the remainder of the $700,000 owed. Charlotte Robinson said that what continues to give her faith is knowing that this is a “Jesus project.”
“Even though it’s been seven years of struggle, there’s been strategic things that [Jesus] has done so I know it was him Him,” said Robsinson.
Once opened, the center is meant to have an emphasis on serving at-risk youth. Robinson noted that any child could be at-risk, not just those growing up facing economic hardships.
“Our experience is that a lot of these kids are doing what they saw done,” said Robsinson. “The kids are our future so we have to start with them.”
The center is also slated to have a special needs athletic program which Robinson says is important because both she and her husband have had special needs friends and there aren’t many athletic opportunities for Cumberland County’s special needs community.
“Those kids are left out of the sports circuit. They get the Special Olympics in Raleigh and that’s it,” said Robinson. “They don’t have leagues, so we wanted to open up an opportunity for special needs kids to have their own sports leagues.
The center would also have programs geared toward the senior community. However, Robinson says despite positive impact she and her husband believe the center would have on the surrounding area, they have not received their anticipated community support.
“We cannot get community buy-in,” said Robinson. “I’ve spoken to county commissioners, we’ve written letters, I’ve even had the mayor of the town of Hope Mills say he doesn’t want to meet with us anymore.”
According to Robinson, they’ve lost grants because they’ve been unable to partner with a municipality. The Robinsons believe that the TJ Robinson Life Center has the potential to serve as an economic stimulus in their community through hosting tournaments and have begun to question if racial discrimination is why they haven’t received their expected support.
“I wish someone would ask them ‘Why won’t you support this project?’ because only one thing comes to mind for me,” said Robinson. “Because they have not been able to produce anything, I’m saying it’s because we’re African-American and in their mind we’re not supposed to be doing what we’re doing. I can’t think of anything else.”
Robinson says that organizations who have agreed to partner with them are ready to help once the center is open, but until then the majority of their support comes from the parents of children being mentored and coached by the Robinsons. Charlotte Robinson also believes that even more opportunities for partnerships will come once the building is completed.
For the time being the center’s goals include grant writing and fundraising. Once construction is completed, the Robinsons hope to help many kids find a path for a bright future.
“Almost all of our kids have made a decision to go to the military, go to college, get a job or go to trade school, so we feel we’ve been very successful,” said Robinson.
“Our long-term goal would be to have thousands of kids come through and have the tools they need to be successful placed right in front of them, no matter what environment they come from.”