WINSTON-SALEM – Since 1964, Experiment in Self-Reliance (ESR) has been helping people help themselves. With more than 55 years of service in the community, the organization is one of the oldest non-profits in the community with a rich history.
As one of the original 11 Community Action Agencies (CAAs) in North Carolina, ESR and other CAAs were born out of the Equal Opportunity Act of 1964, the economic twin of the Civil Rights Act.
In the beginning, the agency has a pivotal role in launching local organizations such as HeadStart, Crisis Control, TransAid, Legal Aide, and others. Later, ESR helped launch senior, youth, and emergency assistance services.
Louise G. Wilson, one of ESR’s longtime Executive Directors, helped establish vital community programs for the poor and pave the way for black leaders in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County.
Mrs. Wilson worked as the Assistant Director of ESR in 1964 before serving as Executive Director from 1968-1985. She dedicated her life and career to ESR and worked tirelessly to advocate for the low-moderate income population of Forsyth County. Her lasting effect on ESR can be seen in many elements of the Housing Program and Self Sufficiency Program, and her impact on the community is still felt today.
Ronald Jennings, grandson of the late Louise G. Wilson, continues to celebrate her legacy and reflect on her wisdom.
“My grandmother, Louise G. Wilson, was the greatest, one of the most amazing women I was blessed with to be a part of my life,” said Jennings. “She had a very beautiful spirit, an overwhelming energy, and she was always helping others every day.”
“As a child, I would ask her, ‘Granny, why do you do so much for other people?’ She would simply say, ‘Because that is what God wants me to do!’ As I got older, it helped me to understand that: Helping others is a Spiritual Duty that will not go unnoticed.”
In her honor, ESR established the Louise G. Wilson Legacy Society, created to recognize those who donate $1,000 or more throughout the year to ESR. The gifts from members of the Louise G. Wilson Legacy Society provide crucial funding for the services ESR provides, bridging the gap between expenses and services and allowing ESR to serve more and more community members.
Today, ESR continues to serve the working low-income and chronically homeless in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County community, and clientele consists primarily of households with income below poverty level as defined by the federal government.
Twana W. Roebuck, who has been the Executive Director of ESR since 1998, has worked diligently to honor the history of the organization, recognizing the impact and legacy of community leaders who were determined to be a voice for the voiceless. “Black History Month is a point in time to celebrate legacy and vision of leaders such as Lousie Wilson, ESR’s Board of Directors, and governmental visionaries and faith based organizations that came together to support the needs of low-to-moderate income families and children in the 60s,” says Roebuck.
But her passion doesn’t stop there. “As the current leader, my passion is to continue providing services for the needy, fight for social justice, and inform the general public about the importance of empowering our youth and young adults academically to build their family infrastructure,” she says. “The future of our community is to build the framework for inclusion so all people can have a voice at the table of change and community building. We will have a better tomorrow and Winston Salem/Forsyth County.”
For more information on ESR or the Louise G. Wilson Legacy Society, visit www.eisr.org or call 336-722-9400.
ESR is a non-profit Community Action Agency. Its mission is to empower social and economic self-reliance for the working low-income and homeless. Programs serve the working low to moderate income population in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, helping people locate safe and affordable housing, increase their education, attend financial education classes, have their taxes prepared at no cost and more.