Morgan Rodden lives in a cute, well-manicured house in west Charlotte. She calls it a transitional area.
"I haven't had any problems in this neighborhood," Rodden says. "It's probably gotten a bad rap it doesn't deserve."
Westover Hills is conveniently located near the interstates and West Boulevard. It's five minutes from Uptown. Rodden walks to Panthers games. She loves where she lives.
She also considers herself conscientious and somewhat of a community watchdog. So she signed up for email alerts from Mecklenburg County's Sex Offender Registry. Anyone can sign up for them – they let neighbors know when registered sex offenders move in or out of a home nearby.
You can imagine Rodden's surprise when within four months, she got eleven email alerts… all about sex offenders moving in and out of one particular house down the street.
"It's a block and a half from me on Barringer Drive," she says. "But even more importantly, it's right next to a playground and right next to First Tee program dealing with youth."
First Tee, as it's called, is a golf program for kids in Charlotte. It's so respected, participating kids were asked to help a couple weeks ago at the Wells Fargo Championship.
"I just didn't know why so many sex offenders would be in one place," Rodden said. "That's when I reached out to you."
Rodden emailed Anchor Molly Grantham.
Molly looked into it. She found state law says nothing about whether sex offenders have to reside a certain distance away from youth programs like First Tee. Meaning it might have raised Rodden's eyebrows, but legally, it's not an issue. However, law does require registered sex offenders to live more than 300 feet from a playground. The public playground near this home, on Remount Road, seemed really close.
So Molly measured.
She found it to be 337 feet away. Close. Really close, actually. But legal.
Rodden said she felt comfort in knowing no laws were being broken, but was still concerned as to why so many registered sex offenders would be under one roof.
"It seems, on paper, like it's a crash pad for them," she said.
Property records list a corporation in Florida as homeowner, but it turns out the lease-holder is a woman in Charlotte.
Her name is Pastor Denise Lewis.
Pastor Lewis runs a ministry, a 501©3 called My Father's Choice, Incorporated. It gives the homeless – and registered sex offenders – a place to live. She says there is a house manager inside the home, 24 hours a day.
"It's getting them off the streets," says Pastor Lewis. "It's making sure they don't return to the same behavior, the same habits, that got them in the same position they were in the start. The program itself is a second chance program, where individuals who are unemployed and coming home from prison with felony convictions are able to live. We start a comprehensive back-to-work program to help them."
Part of Pastor Lewis's "back-to-work" program is to employ people in her ministry at a Freedom Drive thrift store. The store is filled with donations. Money raised goes towards her charity.
Why she would help registered sex offenders?
"The reality is there is nowhere designated for them to go," she says. "No one wants to do it. No one wants to help. The shelters in Charlotte no longer accept sex offenders. So where are they supposed to go? We had one person we took in – he was told to go stand under a bridge. When we rolled by to check and see if he was there, that was his home. Under a bridge."
That's one reason Pastor Lewis says she's involved with trying to rehabilitate these offenders. The other reason is more personal. She says she was raped as a young girl, and is now called to help those who hurt her most.
"My healing took place as a part of doing this work," she says. "I wasn't able to go to therapy, but somehow God took a situation and was able to heal me from the inside out. To help those who hurt me the most."
To access the sex offender registry and sign up to get alerts like Rodden did, so you can be your own community watchdog, click here. It's a free service offered by the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office.
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