Bertie County July 2023


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

When the Extra Miles Tour arrived in Bertie County, the first stop was a community staple: The Hive House. Ms. Vivian Saunders, known in the town as “Big Mama,” welcomed us into her home – something she does daily for many. What was originally an alternative school for Black boys to learn to read has become a community center and home away from home for several. Decorated with furniture from her mother’s old home, the generational legacy on display at the Hive House truly embodies the phrase “it takes a village.” As Ms. Vivian shared her story, it was clear how much she cares for the children and families she welcomes into the home.

Her story begins when she founded one of the first family resource centers sponsored by former Governor James B. Hunt. It was her son who inspired her to support Black boys of the county. He struggled with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). He had a hard time succeeding in the classroom because his teachers weren’t equipped with skills to support him. One day, she found him sitting in the hallway while everyone else was in class; teachers had placed him there in an effort to limit the distractions in class. At that point, she knew there was work to be done.

When she began the work, she found many students in similar predicaments. Ms. Vivian told the story of how she would hear from these children that, rather than face the embarrassment of having to read out loud, they would purposefully cause disruptions, which would lead to their dismissal from the classroom. After discussing the issue with the superintendent, a vision came into focus. Saunders wanted to establish an institution that would promote reading sufficiency in her community. That vision would become the Hive House. With a plan now firm, she set about acquiring the resources she would need. The house was donated by a local pastor, and she engaged Teach For America to support additional personnel resources and training for existing teachers in the community. She has dedicated her life for many years to cooking food, transporting community members to stores and appointments, and creating a safe space for education.

Although it is the oldest in the area, the house still stands, and the work inside continues. With help from her son and former students, the Hive House remains a necessity for community success. Not only does Hive House give residents access to Wi-Fi and nutritious meals prepared by Ms. Vivian, but she’s also approved to host supervised custody visits and has extra mattresses for any child in crisis.

During the pandemic, Ms. Vivian remained committed to her work and even expanded further into education. The Hive House remained full, with up to 30 students and their families frequenting daily to complete their virtual schooling. This presented a whole new set of challenges, as she was tasked with ensuring the health of everyone who entered the house. Each family who visited was given their own room to avoid spreading the disease. Today, Ms. Vivian can proudly say no one contracted COVID-19 at the Hive House.

During this difficult period, the Hive House transformed from being a space for boys to an intergenerational education and learning center. Ms. Vivian extended her support to parents, grandparents and caretakers alike. The “Front Porch Partners” program was one of the most significant new developments: Children who visited the Hive House would take groceries to their grandparents, leave them on the porch and spend time together in a safe and socially distanced manner. Not only would the children make sure their loved ones had groceries, but Ms. Vivian often found herself collecting laundry from these houses to be cleaned at her facility since lockdown protocols had shut down the local laundromat.

After leading us on a tour of the house, Ms. Vivian led us a few blocks up the road to the Lewiston Woodville Educational Vitality Center, another facility she manages with the help of a few staff and volunteers. This center hosts a fitness center, board room and training room that local nonprofits can use free of cost. The center provides the community space to hold meetings, trainings and classes. Returning the favor of Ms. Vivian’s giving nature and years of service, a nearby inn donated up to 76 rooms’ worth of furniture when it closed. While some of it was used to furnish the center, a large part was given to the community, helping upwards of 400 families.

Ms. Vivian has a heart for people – her impact on the community can be seen in the success of the Hive House students. She looks forward to more partnerships and the evolution of the Hive House and Vitality Center as she looks to the next generation of leaders to finish what she has started.

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U39702, 9/23