Compassion toward others is what drives Melissa Simpson to do her job.
Simpson, the operations manager and volunteer coordinator for the Ada Jenkins Center, said that she enjoys her career because she knows she's helping underprivileged people every day.
"When I walk out the door at night, I think 'you know, we did good stuff here today,'" the 53-year-old said. "You wouldn't work at a nonprofit for the amount of money we make if you didn't feel like you're making a difference, and I feel like we're making a huge difference right here."
The northern Charlotte resident moved to the area with her family more than a year ago from Florida, where she worked with hospice for more than 15 years. She was offered her current position a little more than a year ago.
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Simpson said the center provides a one-stop shopping experience for health and education resources for people who can't normally afford these services in the Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson and Mooresville communities.
The center has a food pantry, free health and dental services, after-school care, computer classes and a job resource program among other services.
Its Loaves & Fishes program serves more people out of their pantry than any other in the Charlotte area. The pantry operates Mondays and Wednesdays from 12:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. as well as Fridays from 9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Simpson said that out of all of the programs the center offers, most of their resources go to the after-school program and the free health clinics.
The clinics, which provide free medical services for people who don't have health insurance, run every Thursday evening at the center. Local doctors and nurses as well as Davidson College students - many of whom are bilingual and in pre-med tracks - donate their time at the clinic.
The after-school program works with academically-at-risk children. Simpson said the program consists of 60 children from Cornelius and Davidson who are referred to the program by school administrators or teachers.
Simpson said the children, who range from first through fifth grades, arrive at 3:15 p.m. during the week for tutoring, snacks and physical activity. She said that the center estimates it costs $2,500 a year for every child in the after-school program.
"A lot of these kids we have all the way through elementary school, and we see a huge difference," said Simpson, explaining that many of the children improve academically.
In addition to all of its other services, the center also allows civic and church groups use the building.
Simpson said they are able to do this because Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools lets them use their building almost free of charge. The center, which is located at 212 Gamble St. in Davidson, used to be the home to the Davidson Colored School before it closed after the schools were desegregated in 1966.
The center gets its name from the school's principal Ada Jenkins, who helped raise money to build the brick building that now houses most of the center.
Simpson said that the center receives a lot of financial help from local churches in addition to United Way of Central Carolinas, although the organization's cuts earlier this year hit the center hard. Simpson said the cutbacks have come during a time when the demand for the center's programs has gone up tremendously because of the economy.
"We're swimming upstream constantly - we have to say, 'OK, we have to keep our head above water,'" she said.
But Simpson said the center's board has assured her and her fellow employees that the center will continue to run smoothly.
"We're OK," she said. "The board of director's mission is to make sure that we remain giving the level of services that we are right now - that will continue to be the case."
As part of her job, Simpson oversees the day-to-day operations of the center and its programs in addition to making sure that they have enough volunteers at hand for the center to run smoothly.
"I'm usually one of the first ones in and one of the last ones to leave, which kind of goes with the job," she said.
Simpson also works with local civic and church groups to help them with food drives and to recruit more volunteers.
She said that many people in the community don't realize that there are underprivileged people living amongst them because poverty isn't obvious in the area.
"There is a misconception that everybody who lives in the greater Lake Norman area lives in those $6 million houses and all have a yacht," she said.
Simpson said that people in the community should try to help out and count their blessings every day because they don't know if one day they will be the ones who need the help.
"We shouldn't take our health, our wealth or our livelihood for granted because you never know whether it could be you here a month from now."