Roots of resilience and generosity run deep in Kinston

People across Kinston, the state and beyond are doing their part in helping the community rebuild.

Walking into Clarence Burton’s home, pictures of his son are framed on the mantle, dishes in the kitchen are ready to serve meals, Redskins memorabilia hangs on the wall and the three-bedroom house has a room for his mother to stay.But walking through the house, the carpet is still soggy underfoot from the four feet of water that rested inside and everything you see is no longer salvageable as contaminated water destroyed it all.”I evacuated before the water, but there was nowhere to take the furniture,” said Burton.”My mother was evacuated to a rest home and I will find somewhere to live. I’ve been staying with my son and friends, going back and forth, to not be a burden.””Champ” as his friends call him, has been flooded out of his home three times. Once in 1996, again in 1999, and now, in 2016 as Hurricane Matthew left heavy waters and rising rivers. Each time he lost his belongings, picked himself up, moved to a new house and began again.”The first time I was angry and questioning God. Now, I know I can’t get any of this back and there’s no replacing. I just look at it as this was a good opportunity to get mom help.”Burton is a coach at the Holloway Recreation Center across the street from his home. He prints t-shirts for groups and organizations, but two of his press machines were lost underwater. He rents his home and FEMA will give him around $5,000 to start over.”It isn’t enough,” he said. “I am just going to start over — that’s all I can do — and take it one day at a time.”Burton, who remains positive and resilient, is one of the many people hit the hardest when Hurricane Matthew ripped through North Carolina in October. He, along with many in his hometown of Kinston, will spend months rebuilding.Kinston, with a population of 21,400, had moved lengths to recover after Hurricane Floyd unexpectedly flooded the town in 1999 causing the Neuse River to rise a record 27.7 feet. In the years since, Kinston put itself on the map. The seven hotels were fully occupied, more than 200,000 people were visiting the Nature Center each year, notable spots like Mother Earth Brewery and Chef & the Farmer were bringing attention to the town, and the announcement of the return of baseball in Kinston was on everyone’s mind.”Kinston was becoming a destination town and that will continue. A small town feel with big city amenities is kind of who we are,” said Mayor B.J. Murphy. “We have a luxury boutique hotel with a five-star nationally known restaurant in the middle of our community, but we also have pockets where people are very poor or need government assistance.”Hurricane Matthew came and went on a Saturday, but left lasting effects on a community that remains determined to band together and move forward. The Neuse River, which runs parallel to Highway 70, rose to a new record of 28.3 feet. The hotels and businesses along the highway were flooded. Of the seven hotels in Kinston, four remain closed for repairs and reconstruction.Michael Johnson was working the night shift at the front desk of the Country Hearth Inn as the hurricane bore through the coast.”I had to work at the front desk with all the lights off. I had to have candles by the windows. People were trying to get out of the storm. We were sold out — all 60 rooms,” said Johnson.As the storm left and the waters came, Johnson was forced to evacuate the Country Hearth, which is not only his place of employment, but also his home. Now, he is spending his days tearing out the flooring and walls of the rooms so the Inn can reopen in the new year.”Friend or foe, everybody needs help. We have a long road towards recovery,” added Donovan Miller who is working alongside Johnson.An old retail space in the local mall turned into a disaster distribution center serving 900 residents with an outpouring of donations arriving daily. The center is run entirely by area churches and volunteers.”Through this hurricane, we’ve seen the best of humanity. At the heart of every human is a seed of generosity, love, and caring,” said Murphy.An eight-year-old member of Burton’s youth basketball team asked his mother if he could withdraw the money he had saved out of the bank. She asked him why.”He said, ‘I want to give it to Coach Champ because his house is underwater,'” said Burton.Those seeds of generosity run deep.Seeds of resilience run stronger in Burton, Johnson, Miller and so many others.Seeds of rebirth run in Kinston.