When Codney Washington became a family man and decided to settle down, he started his own construction business. The move was a good one, but times became tougher with the 2008-2009 housing crisis, so Codney decided to diversify. He began to look at real estate investments.
It was then a friend let him know about a unique investment: a skating rink. The old skating rink in his hometown of Pine Bluff was for sale. This was the very same rink where Codney skated as a child. The rink that, even then, was one of the few places kids could go for entertainment in Pine Bluff. Pine Bluff, Arkansas is a city with a population of 42,271 people of which 28.6% live in poverty and 76.9% are African American. In this context, Codney saw a unique opportunity to give back to his community, but he was going to need some help. That’s where Communities Unlimited came in.
‘On Board From the Beginning’
Skateland skating rink had opened and closed in Pine Bluff several times over nearly 30 years. As time went on, places such as the movie theaters in town closed, and entertainment venues became scarce. The skating rink, when open, was one of the few places kids could go for entertainment, in a time where the other option was being out on the streets and getting into trouble. It was that thought that was at the forefront when Codney began inquiring about purchasing the old rink.
Codney worked out an agreement with the owner to lease and eventually purchase the rink, but he knew he would need help. For starters, the rink was in need of repairs and updates. He needed access to startup capital faster than he could generate it himself.
So Codney brought the project to Communities Unlimited. As with other financial institutions, he expected an uphill battle. He was surprised at what he got instead. “I came in with all these ideas about Skateland and what I wanted it to be,” he said. “The thing that struck me was how much the team at Communities Unlimited bought into what I was saying.
“You go and talk to banks, and all they want to look at is your credit report and what kind of assets you have,” he said. But he found that wasn’t the case with Communities Unlimited. “They were on board from the beginning.”
Thanks to a loan from Communities Unlimited, Codney was able to take over the skating rink and update it. The first several years were the toughest, with Codney working 10+ hours at the rink on the days it would be open.
As Codney saw how the rink transformed the community, he also began to see other ways to help the city’s youth. When the building next door to the skating rink became available, Codney purchased it with the intent of turning it into a community center. But as the idea evolved, he saw it as a place where life skills could be taught to the city’s emerging adults. Then the idea came about to use his background in construction to teach construction trades in the old building. The concept kept growing, from just providing trade skills to providing a true transition for those wanting to forge a straight and narrow path in life, away from the trouble they might have experienced in their youth.
Codney began working with a youth center in nearby Dermott on ideas for a transition out of the youth center and into a productive role in society. He began purchasing properties around Pine Bluff to use not only as a training ground for construction and other trade skills, but also to create a transitional home for youth.
A big part of that plan is to help the youth develop their own businesses, if that’s the path they choose. Once again, Codney’s relationship with Communities Unlimited will come into play. He said he hopes to steer his clients toward Communities Unlimited’s small business technical assistance, which guides budding entrepreneurs on what it takes to not only open a business but also maintain it and make it successful.
“They provide something I can’t provide,” Codney explained. “I can be a mentor and I can lead you, but sometimes you have to get out of there and fish on your own. That’s where [Communities Unlimited] comes in.”
He hopes to pass the successful relationship he’s had with Communities Unlimited on to his clients.
With financial and technical assistance from Communities Unlimited in place, Codney plans to continue to work to make a difference in the lives of the youth in his hometown, so that not only he can give back to his community, but they can as well.