(From left) Mike Davis, supervisor over the inmate work crew currently renovating the future home of the Warrior exhibit, pauses for a photo as he meets with Linda Williams and Joyce Clemmer of the Friends of Fayetteville-Lincoln County Veterans, and Lincoln County Sheriff Murray Blackwelder.

Sheriff Murray Blackwelder’s work crews, comprised of a little more than a half a dozen or so Lincoln County Jail inmates, are making a world of difference in the community one project at a time.

Among their most recent projects is the renovation of a downtown building at 113 Main Avenue North that will soon house the Warrior Exhibit, a pictorial display of well over a thousand veterans who have lived here and served or are serving in the military. The exhibit is currently housed at the Fayetteville Recreation Center on the Winchester Highway.

“Projects like this are what we love to do,” said Blackwelder. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

From the Lincoln County Courthouse to a number of county-owned buildings, including each of the county’s volunteer fire departments, as well as facilities owned by local nonprofits, the sheriff’s two crews, headed by supervisors Mike Davis and Tony Hill, are making their mark as they undertake a variety of projects as well as general maintenance.

“Number one, it gives nonprofits an avenue to get projects done without having to incur labor costs – they provide the materials,” said the sheriff. “Two, it gives inmates opportunities to give back and learn a trade. Most have a general knowledge, and that’s what it takes – they’re good people who have made some bad choices.

“Third, it’s good for the community, and it’s good for the inmates. It’s good for everyone all the way around.”

“I can’t say enough about this program and these people,” said Linda Williams, president of Friends of Fayetteville-Lincoln County Veterans, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit formed earlier this year that recently purchased the North Main Avenue building for the exhibit, thanks to the support of Fayetteville and Lincoln County’s governing bodies. “They’ve been so respectful, and we are so proud of what they’re doing here – it’s going to be beautiful.”

The Friends’ organization hopes the building will be ready to open in time for Host of Christmas Past Nov. 8-10 as well as Veterans Day on Nov. 11. During the Christmas festival, the group will also have its annual Santa’s Warrior Gift Shop, which benefits the Warrior Exhibit, open in the Fayetteville Municipal Building.

Meanwhile, as work continues on the North Main Avenue building, crews have had to make some alterations to make it ADA compliant – “We’ve had to do some fine tuning on this building,” said the sheriff. “Mike does a real good job ... He and his crew completely rebuilt the Park City Volunteer Fire Station. I’m proud of what Tony and his crew have accomplished, too – they both do a good job.

“These work crews are my pet project,” he continued, noting the program is now in its 11th year.

“This program gives me the opportunity to let people know that you don’t have to go back to where you came from,” said Davis, who’s supervised one of the crews for three and a half years now. “And if they want a job when they get out, I try to get them work – there’s a high demand now, too, for people with their skills.

“I appreciate the opportunity the sheriff has given me to do this ... We’re a team, and if Tony needs me, I’m there to help, and it works the same for him. The sheriff puts it best, we’re all our own family.

“The crews cannot work on private property or for anyone’s personal gain,” Davis continued, explaining that the crews are only permitted to work on publicly owned property – those owned by the city or county, as well as property owned by 501(c)3 organizations.

Each of the crew members must also be vetted before being assigned to either of the two crews. They put in applications for one of the crews, then those applications must meet with the approval of several officers up the chain through corrections and jail administration, nursing, and ultimately the sheriff.

“They’re doing a world of good,” said the sheriff.

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