Norma T. Roberts left a job with the federal government to become a Salvation Army Officer with a desire to serve people in the South. In 1949, her prayers were answered when she was assigned to a small, dilapidated Salvation Army center in Little Rock, Arkansas. Determined to provide for the people in her new community, she launched an extensive ministry which included children’s programs and social services.
During her home visits, she discovered the poverty-stricken residents had stuffed the walls of their homes with cardboard and rags to keep out the cold; they used old trunks and garbage cans as end tables; and they covered some walls with old newspapers to hid the decaying, splintered boards.
One day, a local reporter from the Arkansas Gazette knocked on Roberts’ door. He asked Roberts if she would agree to let him write a story and photograph her ministry, to which she agreed. Reader response to the article and its dramatic photos was sensational. The piece exposed a community in desperate need. The public’s outcry pressured local business leaders to take action, which resulted in a state of the art community center being opened in 1952.
The new facility sat across the street from the 200-family Hollinsworth Grove housing project for black families, which flanked the Arkansas River, Adams Field Airport, and industrial plants along the Missouri-Pacific Railroad tracks. The center offered programs to 5,000 people annually, had a large auditorium for recreational and group activities, meeting rooms, a kitchen, and more.