In 2013 many households in Guilford County received two pieces of very bad news: the North Carolina General Assembly voted not to expand Medicaid, leaving tens of thousands across the state with no insurance coverage. At the same time Greensboro’s HealthServe Community Care Clinic, the medical home for more than 8,500 low income patients closed. Dr. Beth Mulberry, who had worked at HealthServe, and Kevin Devine, a community advocate for equal access for healthcare, began exploring the possibility of opening a clinic that would not just respond to health emergencies but would help to get at the problems that were making and keeping people sick.
The Cottage Grove neighborhood was the perfect fit. The New Hope Community Development Group, a project of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, was already working with neighborhood residents on everything from job readiness to a community garden, and had long hoped to see a health center in the neighborhood. In addition, the community was already the site of Collaborative Cottage Grove, a partnership of groups working together for the health and well-being of the neighborhood. Mustard Seed set up a clinic in the former parsonage next door to New Hope Missionary Baptist Church and opened its doors in February, 2013 as a once a week clinic. By 2016, the clinic was ready to be out on its own and moved into it’s current space on South English Street in 2016.
In the 1950s the neighborhood on either side of what is now South English Street was a thriving African-American community of homes, shops and professional offices known as Cottage Grove. By the 1970s the community had gone into a decline, accelerated by urban renewal efforts that demolished buildings and turned Cottage Grove Avenue–now renamed South English Street–into a busy cut-through between East Market Street and Gate City Boulevard. Health, incomes and investment in the neighborhood all suffered; asthma cases increased as more and more people were living in moldy, poorly maintained rental properties.
A decade ago neighbors reclaimed the name Cottage Grove and began organizing to bring the community back to its proud roots. At the same time, the neighborhood was changing: what is still a predominantly African-American neighborhood also became home to people from all over the world–Mustard Seed’s patients include families from Myanmar, Haiti, Mexico, Vietnam, the Congo and more.
Even before the clinic opened, Mustard Seed joined with New Hope Community Development Group, Greensboro Housing Coalition, and Cottage Grove neighbors to work “upstream” to improve health outcomes. The partnership took the name Collaborative Cottage Grove and decided to focus on asthma and diabetes, chronic diseases that can be addressed through housing, fresh food, infrastructure for physical activity, and community engagement. That unique and successful partnership was profiled nationally in December 2018 on PBS’s NewsHour.
The neighborhood’s strength was tested in April 2018 when a tornado ripped through the heart of Cottage Grove. Neighbors, Mustard Seed, and community partners reached out, coordinating assistance from far and wide; Mustard Seed’s medical and behavioral health staff has continued to help people with the lingering effects of that life-changing event.
Cottage Grove is on the move. The neighborhood association’s slogan “Cottage Grove for Life!” can be seen throughout the community. Long-neglected apartment complexes have been rehabilitated, community gardens and a weekly fresh produce marketplace offer healthy food, and new park equipment and sidewalks are safer places for physical activity. Now more than ever–Cottage Grove for Life!