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This year, WUNC’s Youth Reporting Institute, launched our first advanced cohort. Our goal was to hone in on the journalistic skills alumni developed in earlier iterations of the youth reporting institute. Inviting 8 alumni back to the institute allowed us to foster more interaction and opportunities for learning between WUNC Staff and our youth reporters. Along with shadowing various departments, youth reporters produced a diverse array of stories. Their topics ranged from the history of the Durham Black Sox and the Winston-Salem chapter of the Black Panther Party to the lasting impact of Hurricane Florence on rural communities.

5 years after Hurricane Florence, Girther Fryar holds onto hope in eastern North Carolina

Girther Fryar poses at her Sampson County Home.
Manzili Kokayi
for WUNC
Girther Fryar poses at her Sampson County home. The home has been in her family since the late 1800s after her mother was gifted the property from her enslaver.

In the fall of 2018, Hurricane Florence uprooted thousands of lives and caused billions of dollars of damage in North Carolina. Much of that is attributed to residential flooding and related effects. Girther D. Fryar, an 83-year-old woman who lives in Turkey, N.C., is awaiting financial assistance years after the storm hit Duplin County.

Although she wasn't in the direct path of the hurricane, Fryar is dealing with its lasting effects. Her insurance covered a roof replacement after the hurricane, but not all of the holes were repaired, allowing rain to stream in through the cracks.

"It rained in here for so long... They started working and couldn't go any further because it was raining all the way down here and behind [the wall]," Fryar explained.

The outside of Fryar's home.
Manzili Kokayi
for WUNC
Girther Fryar has lived in the Turkey, N.C. community her entire life. She went to elementary school with her next door neighbor and has been involved with the community church for years.

As a result, the foundation was separated from the wall. Fryar walked us through her inherited house, where we saw contorted floors and moldy ceilings. Her wooden floor would look fine if it weren't for the spaces between the base of the wall and the floor's perimeter. They were big enough to stick your finger between.

She applied for a stipend to cover repairs to the house in January 2022 through ReBuild NC — a state program created to help those affected by Florence. Fryar got help from Robert O. Moore, a former member of Duplin Disaster Recovery Group, to get the paperwork filled out.

"It's like they try to give you enough work so that eventually you will just quit." Moore said.

He described the tedious application process, which included submitting documents to prove identity, like bank information, and ones to prove residency, like electricity bills. After completing the application, there was still the question of whether the house repairs existed before the storm. If they were, a term called deferred maintenance might inhibit the repairs.

"That means that: 'you didn't fix your house so when the storm hit, it hit you harder, so we ain't responsible for that,'" Moore explained.

ReBuild NC has an eight-step process. Fryar is currently on step four — inspection and environmental — which is where they determine the damage and the impact construction would have on the environment or cultural heritage of the area.

Fryar and Moore at a table with WUNC's Director of New Talent and Community Partnerships, Kamaya Truitt.
Manzili Kokayi
for WUNC
Fryar and Moore talk about their life growing up on North Carolina farms with WUNC's Director of New Talent and Community Partnerships, Kamaya Truitt.

It’s been a year-and-a-half since and Fryar is on her third case worker and is still waiting for her inspection to be approved to determine if she’s eligible to receive funding. She's one of almost 75% of applicants awaiting repairs.

But she refuses to move out of her home. The house has been in her family for generations.

Fryar's mother received the land from her enslaver's wife after he died, and her father built their house on it. His goal was to make sure his children could go to college and leave the farm life if they chose.

Fryar took advantage of that opportunity, using her college education to find a job and pay off her parents' debts. Doing that allowed her father to keep up the house. Since then, she never stayed out of her home for long. Fryar maintained the house for her children and is very involved in the community.

A Smithfield farms factory.
Manzili Kokayi
for WUNC
The Smithfield Farms factory is two miles from Girther Fryar's home. She attributes her dwindling community to the corporate purchasing of her neighbor's land.

However, it’s a community that has been diminishing. According to Fryar, this is a result of a combination of factors — family farms being bought by corporate agriculture, youth moving away and elders passing on.

Being one of the few remaining residents, she’s been fighting to stay part of the community. Her father built the house so she could thrive, and she wants to do the same for her family. That's why fixing her home is so important to her. As the application has dragged on, she's hoping they will finally address it all.

"I'm beginning to get a little nervous because I can feel the house deteriorating," Fryar said. "My hopes are that, hopefully, my name will come up this summer and they will start working on my house."

Fryar says she has been waiting for a call from her case worker for two months. She’s one of 1,130 people waiting on approval for inspections as they brace themselves for the next storm.

Manzili Kokayi is a recent graduate of NC A&T. Originally from Durham, NC, they heard WUNC in their family car and were immediately intrigued with radio journalism. Manzili is passionate about storytelling and how creative writing and dancing can be used as methods to share diverse and underrepresented experiences. As a WUNC youth reporter, they hope to further archive that which is often unseen.
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