Carolyn Henderson is a motivator, counselor, cheerleader, prayer partner, advisor, and spiritual leader, and all that aside from her duties with the Department of Social Services in Granville County. Her love for people, especially young people, is the cornerstone of her life's work and her story reminds us to stay connected to people who are connected to Jesus.
Q) What was your upbringing like in Person County?
A) I grew up in the Timberlake/Rougemont area. My parents were farmers. I was the youngest of seven children. My oldest sister was 17 years older than me. So, I was like my sister’s child because I was so much younger. My parents raised tobacco. They had huge gardens that we all had to work in. My dad raised pigs and most of the food that we ate, we raised it. It wasn’t until my older siblings started working that anyone would really go to the grocery store. But growing up on the farm was our way of life. I didn’t know any different. It took me a long time to realize there were different lifestyles. But I enjoyed my childhood. Sometimes, especially in the summertime, everyone would go out and sit on the porch and watch the fireflies. And we would look up at the stars. And I remember telling my mom once when I was a little girl that if I wanted to put one more star in the sky, I wouldn’t be able to fit it in because there were so many stars in the sky. Those are things that I remember that I enjoyed doing with my family. The simpler things.
I originally attended Roxboro Elementary, which was where First Baptist Church is. Then when they integrated schools, I started fourth grade at Helena. Then I went on to Southern Junior High School. And then from there to Person. After graduating from Person in 1978 I went to North Carolina A & T State University. I only went for two years because the third year I decided to sit for a year and work. I wasn’t working because I had to, but I just felt like I needed a break from school. But then life started happening and I never finished. But that is why, to this day, with my children and other young people, I push them to press forward for their dreams. If school is what you want to do, go for it.
Q) What is your career path and what are your proudest achievements?
A) I have worked in the clerical field the majority of my life. I have worked at UNC Chapel Hill Law School, Duke University Housing Administration, and Durham Housing Authority. Then from there I went into telecommunications where I worked for just over 20 years with Verizon and Frontier. Then after I got laid off from Frontier I worked at Social Services of Roxboro. And now I am working at Social Services of Oxford in Granville County and working with food and nutrition recertification, which I absolutely love. I truly enjoy working with people. And when you can get those calls back—you know, you have those tough days, but when you get calls from people who you were able to help, those are the calls and the conversations that let you know that you are doing what God wants you to do.
The crazy thing about working at Social Services is that when I graduated high school and they opened Social Services in Roxboro and I would ride past it, I would say to God, “Lord, this where I want to work someday.” Of course I went to school and worked all over only to come back to start working at Social Services in Roxboro six years ago. And that was always my ultimate goal. It took me a long time to get back around to it. But I feel so good that I am there.
Q) What organizations or community endeavors do you participate in?
A) At church (Greater Clegg’s Chapel Community Missionary Baptist Church) there is always work to do. We always have so much going on so I’ve always been busy. Pastor (her brother, Louis E. Cash) has been at Clegg’s for 27 years. So I’ve been working at Clegg’s for 25 years. I’m the church secretary. That’s my specific role. I’m also an advisor for the dance ministry. We have four dance teams and a young lady who mimes, so I help with that. When we have our major programs I help with the coordination of those. I sing in the choir. I do the church calendar every year. I help Pastor with his calendar when he will let me. Usually, he just does stuff and then tells me he’s done it so I have to try to keep up with him. And sometimes my role is to just being a listener. Sometimes people just want to talk about what they are going through. And of course, whatever is shared you have to keep confidential, so you have to be trustworthy. And you have to be a prayer partner because people need prayer. When someone asks me to pray for them I have to make sure that I do that. So, my church work covers a multitude of things.
My children say that when they were growing up I made all of them work for the church too. So yes the church holds a major place in my heart. And not so much the church as in the building, but the people. For me, when I think about the members there it makes me emotional because they are my family. And sure, I have a lot of blood relatives there, but all the members are my family. When our young people there are reaching major milestones and pushing themselves to make their dreams and visions come true, it makes my heart sing. I am just as excited for them as I am my own children. I always like to be an encourager and I just always want to see the good in everybody. No matter what happens or what people go through, the good is always there. And I just like to push it to make it shine through. And with our children and the success they have—most graduations I try to make it to if I can because the kids hold such a special place in my heart. And when I sit back and see some of them now as parents, all these young people who grew up in the church and are doing so much, doctors and ministers, musicians and pastors, dancers—we had a young man who just graduated who wants to do medical research and then we have a young lady graduating in May with a degree in social work, and then my daughter will be graduating in May with her Juris Doctorate—I’m happy for all the children that have come up through Clegg’s and it's just amazing to me to look back and see what God has done in the lives of those young people. I just have a heart and a love for young adults and children. And I love my seniors, don’t get me wrong. But with all the young people that I’ve met through the years, when I see them accomplish things, I sit back and tear up because I just love them. If I leave any legacy behind it will be that I have a love for people and I have a love for watching people accomplish things.
Q) Why is it important that women be recognized for their foundational work in our community and our nation?
A) Can you imagine our community and our nation without women leading? We are a strong force. I think about women like Eva Clayton who served as a U.S. Congresswoman from this area. Women who made a difference and stood for things, and in the midst of all that, they had families. They were still taking care of their families and they were working at their jobs. But with all of that they were still pushing for equality and striving for people to get the same opportunities. They were fighting for rights while making sure to handle everything else at home. From my perspective women rarely get the credit they deserve. They say behind every good man is a woman. But in the Civil Rights movement the women were fighting for rights and being beaten right beside the men. And then they still made sure nothing went lacking at home. And now with the Black Lives Matter movement, women are there leading. And if you go to a church you will see mostly women. So we have a powerful voice. And if you take us out of any situation what would happen? So women need to be recognized.
Q) What do you envision for the future of Person County?
A) One of the major things I want is to have activities for young people. They need recreation centers that welcome all of the kids. A YMCA or something like that. We need to have multiple places that young people can go to have fun. Places for people to swim and do other things that they enjoy. I know when I was raising my kids that’s something I wanted. Also, more areas for our seniors to go and enjoy themselves.
Q) What is your advice for girls and young women who may look to you as motivation?
A) Trust God, respect yourself, and love yourself. And whatever you desire, whatever your dream is, whatever job you want to do, do it. Somebody has to do it. Why not you? Whatever it is, somebody has got to do it. And I say that for girls and boys. All young people need to know that. Whatever you desire to do, do it. Because someone has to. So why not you?