Published: Aug 11, 2012 04:20 PM
Modified: Aug 11, 2012 04:40 PM
Jerra Collins wants to fill up Ellen DeGeneres inbox.
The Chapel Hill resident has written the daytime TV show host about 10 emails in the last few months to try to persuade the actress and comedian to help her community build a new playground.
At one point, I was bugging her all the time, said Collins, who lives in Chase Park Apartments, an affordable housing community off N.C. 54. But then I saw she wasnt really responding, so I kind of just laid off for a while. I thought that maybe people who work for her, maybe theyll go through the emails and see how persistent Ive been, how many times Ive written about the same issue.
Im willing to do that with whoever I have to, whoever I think will help us, she added. Im willing to do that. Im willing to write them and bug them and beg them.
What Collins would like are more letter writers to help her tell Ellen the story of the Inter-Church Housing Council Corp. Its a story about a nonprofit group and the two affordable housing communities it owns and manages in Chapel Hill: Chase Park and its sister community off Elliott Road, Elliott Woods.
Without this place right here I probably wouldnt have ever been able to get on my feet, said Collins, a former teenage mother with her GED who now is a graduate of Aveda Institute Chapel Hill. I would always have been living paycheck to paycheck.
Residents in the two apartment complexes pay rents on a sliding scale of up to 30 percent of their monthly adjusted income, and about half the apartments are subsidized with grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for families who cant pay even the lowest rent.
This place here just gives us the opportunity to live in a nice town, a safe town, and have our kids in a good school, Collins said, recalling some of what she wrote to Ellen.
But what Collins wants even more than letter writers is someone to help replace the outdated and rundown playground equipment at the two complexes, including metal slides, broken or missing swings and wooden slats that need to be replaced on play bridges and ramps. The slide at Elliott Woods was bent this year from a fallen tree, and the property manager thinks some of the playground equipment may date back to when the communities were built in the early 1970s. She said the last significant update to the playgrounds was in the 1990s, and Collins would believe that. She estimates the wood on the newest structures is about 20 years old, judging from how worn they are.
Oh, yes, we need playground equipment real bad, and weve been talking about it a long, long time, said Edna Heath, the property manager, but weve never had enough money to work on that.
Just this past year, the communities underwent their first major overhaul in nearly 40 years. Without the $4.5 million renovation project, the affordable apartments might have joined the list of other HUD communities meeting with a wrecking ball. And even without the playgrounds on the critical to-do list, the money ran out. Work still needs to be done on drainage, sidewalks and mailbox and Dumpster pads at Chase Park.
It probably would be a drop in the bucket for Warner Brothers, who sponsors Ellens show, Collins said of the cost to fund new playgrounds. It would be nothing to them, but it would mean so much to us. It would be so beneficial for all these kids out here.
This is the one place that I know for a fact the kids can go outside and be safe, she added. We dont have to worry about sexual predators or drug dealers. We dont have to worry about that here in our community because its really quiet and really close-knit. When we send our kids outside, our biggest concern is the playground.