Conversation on Boulevard: Edna Moffett

Executive Director, Operation P.E.A.C.E.

In 1983 Edna Moffett took a job as assistant property manager with Wingate Management Co. and was assigned to the Village of Bedford Pines, Wingate’s sprawling collection of Section 8–subsidized apartments along the Boulevard corridor.

In the late eighties, “crack hit Boulevard,” and by the early nineties things got bad. “I saw the destruction of the community,” says Moffett. She decided one way to counteract the influence of crack dealers on street corners was to bring in a positive influence: college kids. She wrangled permission from Wingate and the department of Housing and Urban Development to market fifty-five vacant studio apartments to students at the Atlanta University Center. The college kids got cheap rent, and Moffett got a couple dozen live-in role models.

“When we started, there was a drug sale on every corner. Prostitution up and down the street. Sights the children were seeing were awful. Shootings, arguing, killing.” When the new residents moved in, “we had families living next to a college student and there was a young man or young woman walking out every morning with a book bag, someone improving their lives.”

Moffett and the students started an after-school homework program for Bedford Pines kids, meeting in an unused laundry room in the basement of one of the Wingate buildings. At first they offered tutoring three days a week, turning the laundry room into a clubhouse/classroom. By 1996, the program evolved to include a summer camp and became a certified 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Moffett christened the program Operation P.E.A.C.E. (Positive Education Always Creates Elevation). Over its first decade, the program evolved to include services for its young participants’ families. Moffett offered G.E.D. and job certificate classes as well as workshops and other programs for parents.

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Today, Operation P.E.A.C.E. serves sixty-five kids year-round in its after-school program and 125 in a summer camp. Most of the participants are residents of the Village of Bedford Pines, but the program also draws from other areas of Old Fourth Ward and adjoining neighborhoods such as Cabbagetown. There is no fee for the program. Wingate pays the salaries of Moffett, assistant director Marcel Benoit (one of those original college volunteers and still a Bedford Pine resident), and the program’s bus driver. All other program expenses are covered by grants and donations. (As part of the Year of Boulevard initiative, TEDxAtlanta is raising funds for summer camp scholarships. See more here.)

Moffett is trim, energetic, and stylish. On the day we met, she wore strappy sandals and a summer-y marble-patterned pedicure. The small Operation P.E.A.C.E. office in the lower level of an apartment building at Boulevard and Morgan was stacked with files, massive crates of drinks and snacks, a setting familiar to anyone who’s worked in a school or summer camp. Benoit fielded a steady stream of phone calls, and a mom came in to register her kids for the summer.

This space was once a teen center for Bedford Pines. A fire in late 2005 destroyed the building that originally housed the program and all its supplies. All that survived was the bus. Moffett and her team moved the kids’ programs to Our Lady of Lourdes Church. Because of lack of space, the adult programs had to be discontinued.

But in June, the organization will move to a new location, the former Sylvester Baptist Church sanctuary, across the street. The immediate business will be the summer program, which runs June 4 through July 27. But Moffett has visions of bringing back services for adults. “The challenge for all of us is the economy and the job market. If you have no skills and do not have a high school diploma, that is a problem. Many residents are in a place they would not like to be. They didn’t have the skills, they were the last ones hired, and the first ones let go. They’re in a situation where it’s not very pretty.”

She’s excited about the new space. “I can see the center bustling with activity,” she says. At some point, she hopes to be able to retire, and have Benoit helm the program. Until then, she is a passionate advocate for the families of Bedford Pines.

“The thing that bothers me most is many people not knowing who the people who live here actually are,” she says. “They think every resident is involved with illegal activities, while 99 percent of our residents are good people trying to make a living. They want a good education for their children and they want to be able to some day move out of Section 8 housing.”

In the early 1980s when Moffett came to the Village there were only 6,000 residents of the Old Fourth Ward, and close to half lived in Bedford Pines. The area population has increased over the past decade. “Most of our neighbors have become our neighbors in the past ten years,” says Moffett. “They say Bedford Pines is an ‘eyesore.’ Well, we were here all the time, before you built your home or purchased your home. Why would you move here, knowing this was here already, if you criticize us? We have always been here, and have always been the same. We provide safe, decent, and sanitary housing for 700 families. And we’ve done that since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here 30 years.”

She’s frustrated that, especially in the current economy, there’s not more empathy for Bedford Pines residents. She’s also frustrated by media coverage that gives the perception that every vacant lot or boarded-up building in the area is part of the Wingate complex. “I’ve been calling in code complaints for year,” she says.

She’s optimistic that Year of Boulevard will help her program grow – and improve communication between Bedford Pines and its neighbors. “Year of Boulevard has so enhanced Operation P.E.A.C.E. Our city council person has introduced us to people who are touching the lives of our young ones.”

Pictured: Edna Moffett outside the Operation P.E.A.C.E. office; the mural on the former teen center; the program’s new home; the bus that transports kids to and from the program.