Category Archives: Community

The Public Library’s Role in Early Literacy

SEABROOK SAYS: Is it just too much to ask that Gaston parents and their close associates DO SOMETHING to improve the reading at an early childhood age?  Imagine how much better Gaston would be if all could read.  Schools and libraries are engaged.  So, what about the adults? NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Did you know that the week of April 8-15, 2017 is designated as National Library Week? It’s a great time to celebrate all the ways that public, school, and special libraries serve the needs of communities and people…of every age, background, and walk of life. Libraries have a long history of being community gathering places and of providing educational and entertainment opportunities for everyone. In today’s digital age, libraries can reach even more people through virtual services: providing online reading, listening, and informational services around the clock from the comfort of a laptop, e-reader, or cell phone.

Founded over 110 years ago, the Gaston County Public Library recently updated its mission and vision statements:

Vision Statement:   A versatile community center, open to all, that evolves with changing technology and social trends to empower lifelong growth, learning, and education.

Mission Statement: Meeting individual and community needs through information, education, engagement, and enrichment.

One of the most important ways that your Public Library has and continues to meet these goals is through its leadership in the area of early literacy. Librarians have traditionally focused on helping their youngest patrons acquire the building blocks they need to become successful readers and students.  Through baby, toddler, and preschool storytimes, each featuring stories, songs, and activities developmentally appropriate and targeted to the specific age group, library staff engage the children and model suggested methods for parents and caregivers to make learning fun for the little ones. Many studies have shown that basic activities such as talking, playing, singing, reading, and writing with preschool children are crucial to their future success when they begin school.

But despite the Library’s ongoing efforts to reach our youngest citizens, there are many, many children in our community who arrive at the kindergarten doorstep without these essential pre-literacy skills. For this reason, the Gaston County Public Library has been working with many community partners, including the Partnership for Children of Gaston and Lincoln Counties, the Gaston County Department of Health and Social Services, the Gaston Literacy Council, the United Way of Gaston County, the Gaston Family YMCA, Gaston County Schools, Boys & Girls Clubs of Gaston County, and the Gaston Gazette, to form the Gaston Early Literacy Collaborative (ELC).

The Gaston ELC is affiliated with the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading and the NC Early Childhood Foundation and has been working on ways to more adequately prepare our kids for reading and school success.  Most significantly, the Gaston ELC has organized an event entitled “Literacy Builds Gaston,” an Early Literacy Convening to be held on Friday, May 12, 2017, from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm at the Main Library, 1555 E. Garrison Blvd., Gastonia.  At this event, local organizations such as churches, neighborhood groups, book clubs, and service groups will be able to hear about successful early literacy techniques and programs that they can implement in different parts of our community, to help parents and caregivers get their babies, toddlers, and preschoolers ready for school.  There will be inspiring messages and question and answer sessions where specific program ideas will be discussed, and assistance will be provided for groups who are considering implementing an early literacy program.

This is a problem that all of us working together can solve. If we can do our part to help our youngest residents be fully prepared for school, the chances of them staying on grade level, staying in school, and graduating will significantly increase, and this will benefit the entire community.

If you want to find out more or would like to attend the May 12 event, please contact Sarah Miller at the Gaston County Public Library, 704-868-2164, ext. 5538, sarah.miller@gastongov.com

Laurel R. Morris
Director, Gaston County Public Library

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Respecting Differing Opinions

SEABROOKS SAYS: Attention please.  This is a minor power move as I seize the liberty that comes to the publisher. The article (actually a letter) that follows was just recently written by my 90 year old friend, Presbyterian minister and business consultant who has mentored me for decades.  I believe lots of very interested Americans are currently dealing with this issue right now – maybe you  too.  NOW THAT KNOW WHAT WILL YOU DO?

 23 February 

Howdy,

As indicated earlier, my village was struck with a malevolent virus from which I am slowly recovering. I have set tomorrow as the day to celebrate my back to normal. 

Sadly, during these weeks, things have occurred that might define a wider gap between you and me. Things that I will say below might find a strong difference of opinion.  

I read the Brooks article about resistance. His reference to Bonhoeffer sounds like what the “opposition forces” are about. St. Benedict’s model has appeal for the likes of me. The more strident forms of resistance to which he refers sound like guidance from the mainline media. Brooks was interviewed in a February 1 article in Christian Century – “Chasing beauty, finding grace.” I liked that article better. I have followed Brooks for years and read, Character. I disagree with his politics, but respect his thoughtfulness and the influence that theology has had on him including that of Reinhold Niebuhr.

However, he and other good people have chosen sides in the current political and cultural conflicts with which I disagree. In my unique career and associations, I have come to respect those who build things more than those who critique the builders. The harshest thought that is with me now is that we are witnessing a well-funded and well-led revolution to convert America from the democracy that has been our history to state managed socialism.

When you have the money of George Soros, the legal pool of the ACLU (now full of funds), the still-in-tact Illinois syndicate, a brilliant and “enchanting” leader like Obama who is leading the charge to revive his legacy, political “tools” like Nancy Pelosi, and the vast media that has chosen to use its power for a crusade more than for information – you have a substantial opposition to an administration that won the electoral votes and is bringing to the government people who have track records of achievement and who, instead of seeking political power, simply want to contribute to a sustainable future for our nation.  

I have confidence that those now aligned with the administration that includes political support in both houses of Congress, most state legislatures and state governors will prevail because they have the Constitution, commitment to obey laws, leaders who have made things happen instead of those who have spent their lives climbing political ladders, and millions of citizens willing to sustain their support in spite of ugly intimidation from the organized and often compensated protesters in their faces.

Sadly, your Academy has mostly aligned with the opposition. I heard a Duke economics professor report that he and many colleagues propose a federally-funded, national employment for all with a minimum guaranteed compensation. Duke has a program to equip students on how best to protest Trump. Many conservative students must closet themselves from intimidation from their professors and many professors encourage protests that often include criminal assaults against private properties.

I check on the news at night and check on my on-line media reports the next day. The gap between what happened and the twist that the New York Times (NYT) gives has led me to unsubscribe to the NYT. I still follow the Christian Science Monitor and Wall Street Journal and a few periodicals.

I read the article by Paul Prather. Although there seemed to be a tilt toward assigning many Christians who support the President as being “hung up” on authority and fear, I did agree with his statement that, “Grace people need a little authoritarianism to keep us from levitating away on shimmering clouds, and Law people need a big dose of Grace to keep them from getting swallowed whole into their profoundly constricted sphincters.” I don’t agree with his final demeaning characterization.  

Sadly, I see little ground for dialog in our society today. Nevertheless, I am more optimistic than many because I believe that many of the policies and projects of the administration will prove to be beneficial to more Americans than was the case with the previous administration. When we see evidence of promise-keeping and leadership and achievement, more views will change.

I read your article, “Against Contempt.” I understand the concerns you express. I do not defend Trump’s rhetoric and wish that he could stop tweeting. He is the rough to Obama’s smooth. I look at what he achieved. I look at his family. I look at the loyalty of his long time friends. I watch the ways he seeks to walk his talk and the support that he is gathering to make that happen. I compare that with the “flame throwers” and “bridge dynamiters” and politicians that have made their careers and wealth based on the style of people like Pelosi who openly advised a vote for the health care legislation without it being read or debated. We can find out what it says after we pass it, was what she affirmed. 

You are successful. You win generous prizes for writing about your views. I hope that as your career, like mine, slows down to a crawl, you are happy with what you have achieved. I have not received $25,000 prizes and have not been successful getting a book commercially published, but I am happy with what I have achieved. The experiences and relationships of my career have afforded me a remarkable life in which I have learned much about the world and its people. God has been good to me and I have tried to be a responsible steward of the Grace with which my life has been blessed.

So, here we are – very separated in our views about the world in which we live – but, hopefully, continuing to respect each other and maybe finding ways to join the “little platoons” of citizens who strive to rectify the excesses of “numerous democracy” so feared by the authors of the U.S. Constitution.

Cheers and best wishes,

Irving

Reducing Rancor in Our Polarized Society – The Power of One

SEABROOKS SAYS: You, like I, spend very little time pondering the subject of polarization.  Jesse Caldwell does and you should know what he thinks.  Try adjusting your life by applying his three power=packed points.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

The increasing level of open hostility and venomous attacks among people concerning political and social issues should have us all alarmed. The long respected American tradition of “ agreeing to disagree” seems to have been eclipsed with a “Reality TV” “Jerry Springer Show” aggressive display of name calling, personal attacks, and “one upped” insults. Fanatics on both the left and the right demonize people with whom they disagree. If not curtailed, this may be the greatest threat to our American way of life that we face. Truly, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Certainly we should all exercise our First Amendment Rights to Free Speech, and should never hesitate to hold our public officials accountable for their actions. But we should do this in a respectful way that does not intensify the decibel level of public discourse. Moreover, I believe that there are things we can all do as individuals to reduce the level of rancor in our polarized society.

  1. FIRST, LET US ALL MONITOR OUR TONE AND ATTITUDE

Courtesy, civility and a respect for everyone’s worth and therefore opinion can do wonders. As a young man, George Washington compiled a list of 110 “Rules of Civility”, which were the attitudes and values that helped shape his leadership. By setting the right tone, attitude and atmosphere in his Cabinet, this allowed our country to reap the best that men of opposite political beliefs, like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, had to offer.

I love what my childhood friend from Victory School, Kandy Bradley Puckett, recently posted on Facebook:

While much of America seems to be getting more and more divisive, I’m going to
Be holding doors for strangers, letting people cut in front of me in traffic, greeting all that
I meet, calling people, “Sir” and “Ma’am, exercising patience with others, and smiling
at strangers. I’ll do this as often as I have the opportunity. I will not stand idly by and
let children live a world where unconditional love is invisible and being rude is acceptable.

2. SECONDLY, LET US TRY TO KEEP AN OPEN MIND ON ALL ISSUES

We all have our own beliefs and opinions. But none of us is perfect, and none of us can be right all the time. On most issues, those on opposing sides are people of good will, seeking to find an honest solution to a problem. May we listen to the views of others and seek to find “common ground” if it can be done without comprising our principles. “Tip and the Gipper” is a wonderful book that explores how Republican President Ronald Regan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill were able to work together on certain issues, despite being on polar opposite ends of the political spectrum, because they were willing to keep an open mind. Similarly, conservative Senator Orrin Hatch and liberal Senator Edward Kennedy, often at political odds with each other, were able to collaborate and co-sponsor many bi-partisan bills that became law, because they viewed what each proposed with an open mind.

3. THIRD, LET US SEEK CREATIVE WAYS TO REACH OUT TO OTHERS WITH WHOM WE HAVE POLITICAL OR PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES

Much of the animosity between different factions on issues stems from the fact that most of us do not understand the backdrop of those who disagree with us. If we were all to see creative ways to reach out to others with whom we have political or philosophical differences, and try to get to know them as people, I submit we would lessen the virulence in our society. It is hard to dislike someone who disagrees with you when they know and ask you about your children.

We can begin by sending a greeting card to someone of a different political party, persuasion, or race. We can move beyond that by asking them to lunch. We can turn unlikely and potentially negative situations into positive opportunities for good.

In 1983, Senator Edward Kennedy opened a mass mailed letter from Moral Majority Leader Rev. Jerry Falwell, which urged the recipients to “unite and defeat ultraliberals like Ted Kennedy”. Instead of becoming angry, Kennedy was amused and reached out to Falwell. This led to an invitation for Kennedy to speak at Liberty University, family dinners in each other’s homes, and a surprising but enjoyable friendship. Rev. Falwell prayed with Sen. Kennedy’s ill mother, and Kennedy wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for Falwell’s son for law school. If they can do this, why can’t we?

In conclusion, we can all help reduce the level of rancor in our land my monitoring our tone and attitude, keeping an open mind about current issues, and seeking creative ways to get to know someone who believes differently from us.

Let us not underestimate the “Power of One”. In the words of Edward Everett Hale:

I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
What I can do I ought to do, and what I ought to do, by the grace of God, I will do.

Jesse B. Caldwell, III
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge
Judicial District 27A

Our Local Media – Let’s Take a Closer Look

SEABROOK SAYS: Until recently, the now retired Tim Gause was Duke Energy’s go-to man for Gaston County.  Gause’ words help us better understand the words coming from the media, specifically the Gaston Gazette and the Charlotte Observer. He, too, challenges us to help the media by offering them good stuff to print and showing exceptions of fair, honest and balanced news. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

You are busier than ever and your appetite for fast but reliable information has never been more significant. Whatever your interest – sports, politics, business or local events, you expect to receive information that is fair and balanced. News that you can take to your workplace or social gathering. Solid information that measures risk and influences your perspectives, decisions and outcomes. This editorial is not about protecting the First Amendment, nor is it a popularity commendation for journalism.

So, how would rate your local media? Can you rely on the six o’clock news, the Gaston Gazette or Charlotte Observer?  The talk show with celebrity appearances?  Is your iPhone the fountain of truth?

A recent Gallup poll suggests that only 32% of the public has confidence in the media. Why is there a presumption of negativity from the media?  Is the media seeking conclusions in lieu of reporting the facts?  Standards have dropped, hurting everyone.

In my former working life – there was often a frustration with the media —- the quality of the reporting or the intent of the media. Has this happened to you or to your business?  During the recent political campaigns and following the elections, my family became entwined in the news, including the “Wiki-Leaks”, Facebook posts, and Twitter.  We were continually challenging each other about the most reliable networks to watch and which newspapers maintained reputational values.  So what did we learn?

Here are take-aways that will make you a more discerning media participant:

  • Have an open mind but keep a healthy skepticism for what is being reported. It’s no longer your grandfather’s media.
  • Your first step as you read an article should examine who authored it. A local reporter or a syndicated columnist?
  • Are they reporting the news, attempting to create a larger story, or writing for entertainment? Did the story pass judgment or convict its subject ahead of the fact gathering process?
  • Ask you read the Gazette or the Observer or watch the six o’clock news, ask yourself: Did they report the facts or did they express an opinion? I would never suggest that our Gaston Gazette or Charlotte Observer create “fake news” (fake news seeks to mislead, rather than entertain readers for financial or other gain).
  • Validation of sources. Often, it’s not what is reported, but what has been left out of a story or in some cases, just not reported. Fact checking is often left to the reader or a rebuttal because fact checking takes time and reporting deadlines have to be met. In this day of instant messaging, the pressure to get it out there often overrides the contextual value of the event.
  • Did their headline or opening statement used to capture your attention really match the story? The guy that writes the story doesn’t always create the header.
  • Here’s a favorite: When a reporter starts a question with “ some would say” or “it’s been said” – here we go. That reporter is taking you on an expedition.

News is a tough competitive business. Smaller media companies are facing difficulty with declining home delivery succumbing to digital delivery. Large media syndicates are buying or shutting down the smaller hometown outlets and media markets are being consolidated. Media is a business with owners and shareholders who expect reasonable profit.

So here in Gaston county, let’s work together to raise our expectations and our standards. This is our home, with so many wonderful attributes. So, when an investor or a relocating family looks at us, let’s be polished and positive in how we present our community, whether it’s in our personal expression or in the media. We can help our local media by supplying them with the good things to report and by letting them know that we EXPECT a standard of excellence in reporting fair, honest, balanced news.

Tim Gause
Retired Utility Executive

The Threat to American Greatness

SEABROOK SAYS: Maybe you have been attempting to form your conclusions on this subject.  It is very difficult. Now, it would seem to be an imperative that you give study to Mark Epstein’s comments.  Do more than “think” them – write them.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

My family were once refugees, some of them long ago, some of them just a few generations past; true of most all reading this post.  They were once immigrants to the United States, most of them legal, some probably not; many were children when they made a journey unfathomable to most of us today (my grandfather came from Poland at age 17, with only his sister, 14).   Some just wanted to improve their lot, others were fleeing for their lives.   Of my family, their immigration to the United States was once prohibited because they were perceived as a grave threat to American sovereignty and its way of life (1924 Immigration Act; in the 1930’s under pressure from the America First movement).  Elsewhere they were once forced to register as a member of a religious minority.   They were blamed by their country’s leadership as the source of its problems, a fearful but false narrative that was nevertheless embraced by its citizens.  Laws were passed restricting their liberties; they became a focus for law enforcement. Their houses of worship were defaced; some were attacked.  Some were rounded up, taken from their homes, and deported.  Some were sent to internment camps, or locked into certain neighborhoods of towns and cities.  Some died there.  Isaac, his wife Chaya, and their 4 children Herschel, Yeshianu, Kraysal, and young Miriam were gassed at Treblinka on a cold November morning, 1942.  My mom’s great-aunt/uncle, and her cousins.  May their memory be a blessing.

Sympathy not sought; they were victimized yet no victim mentality here.  But:  in an era when one would think the lesson of history has been learned, nevertheless a religious registry, surveilling “certain” neighborhoods, “national stop-and-frisk,” a Deportation Force, and internment camps are being brought to the national dialogue by serious-minded and influential people with the ability to influence if not create actual policy.  The first step, an immigration ban focusing on religious affiliation, has already been undertaken.  In the public domain, mere mention and discussion of these things makes it tempting to consider them passably normal and worth considering – when in actuality such talk – much less actual policy – is a corrosive national poison that violates the most inviolable of American values.  That no one predicts it ends in industrialized murder here, doesn’t mean that where it starts is not insidious and destructive to who we are, and what this country is, what makes this country great, what Has. Always. Made. America. Great.

Arguments that such steps may be necessary in the name of national security and public safety should make the American hairs stand up on the back of our American necks, and send a collective shiver down our American spines.  To consider these things is not just to be afraid, but to be governed by fear, when famously it is fear itself that is most dangerous of all.   When any act of government, any act at all, can be justified in the name of security and safety, “to save even one life,” history is clear about the outcome, and it isn’t pretty, and it isn’t the United States, and in the extreme there is a word for it:  Police State.   History should make us know better than to even consider this path.  But by God if we have not stepped on it.

My faith tradition is not only very clear about how to consider those amongst us who are different (not only to love them, but to accept them as a native, to share my lot with them, to not wrong them, nor oppress them, nor detest them), it is also clear about WHY…even if in history they may have once wronged me.   It is because I myself have been seen as different; my family was once oppressed and considered the stranger, not native, and detested (and still is by some, sad to say).  Ex 22:21, Lev 19:34, Deut 23:7,  Ez 47:22-23, many more.

Thus should a religious registry come to the United States, register me first, as Jew or Muslim, I’ll take either one.   If there are internment camps, find me there as my family once was.  Deportation Force?  I will aid DACA or Muslim children, just as courageous Righteous Gentiles (Christian and Muslim), at their far greater peril, once aided children in my family.

It is clear the 2016 election was about much more than these issues, but these issues are nevertheless a consequence of the election.  Agree or disagree as we might on many things, as Americans, and people of faith, it is required of us to be vigilant against the corrosive forces of fear that can inadvertently, but without diligence invariably, decay moral and legal violations of our Constitution and our Scripture and the values both encode.

Mark E. Epstein

Tri-Faith Open Letter

SEABROOK SAYS: Mark Epstein is brilliant – and a superb writer.  He has been a very active member of the Interfaith Trialogue (a group of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Gaston County) for many years.  Read with interest his thought-provoking words.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

A Tri-Faith Open Letter to our fellow Citizens of Gaston County

Whereas recently and all too often we are witness to senseless tragedies in the name of religious faith, we the undersigned and many others issue this statement to calm, to ease fear, and bring us closer to a world filled with love and peace, where swords have been bent into plowshares, and the lion has laid down with the lamb. To this end we proclaim, and hope all will likewise proclaim, that WE:

    • Believe that faith in God gives purpose and meaning to human life, and is a force for good in the world; that all people are created in God’s image and thus equally deserving of human dignity.
    • Hold that God’s greatest desire is for his creation to live in joy and peace, with forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
    • Understand that evil exists in the world, but believe God extended to humankind grace and the ability to discern right and wrong, to be used in the pursuit of righteousness, to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.
    • Acknowledge that although fear may at times draw close, it should not and need not govern us, and we will not be bound by it. It is within our human capacity to transcend and overcome fear, from which too often anger, discord, and spiritual weakness inevitably flow. It is together, resolute in cooperation and not divided in fear, that we will prevail over those who wish us harm.
    • Hold that Truth of Holy Scripture does not mean its most difficult, even violent, language and passages are a prescription for violence today, nor arrogance of faith, nor demagoguery, nor disdain of other faith traditions.  
  • Reject and disavow violence in the name of God or select scripture, or to advance one’s faith and precepts. WE JOIN OUR MUSLIM COMMUNITY IN RENOUNCING ALL SUCH VIOLENCE.

 

  • Yet recognize the unfortunate fact that any faith tradition will have its misguided fringe, unrepresentative of and rejected by nearly all of its worldwide adherents.
  • Affirm and embrace timeless American values: Liberty, Life, Inclusiveness, Religious Freedom, the democratically-established Rule of Law, and urge all to stand by them no matter how difficult our challenges.
  • Embrace and rededicate our lives to the universal ethics of our traditions: Justice, Kindness, Good Conduct, Charity to care for the least amongst us. Conversely, our traditions commonly hold that God forbids injustice, immorality and oppression.
  • Affirm that our traditions each embrace God’s most important directives: to love Him, to love our neighbor, and also to love the stranger. We thus oppose any effort at discrimination – socially, religiously, or politically – directed towards any faith tradition.
  • Are grateful to the men and women of all races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds who work tirelessly and often at risk to their own lives, to protect our freedoms and liberties.
  • Issue a call for Interfaith dialogue, understanding, and acceptance – for when people of good will gather together in the study of scripture, God is present among them.   And as it enriches each other and our community, it is the same as enriching the whole world.

With these avowals, we and many more are proud to call Gaston County home, and a beacon and stronghold of interfaith diversity and strength.   We join hands to put aside fear, to engage and make our corner of the world better, and to continue our daily work of bringing peace on earth and good will toward all men and women.

SIGNED,

Members and Friends of the Gaston County Interfaith Trialogue

(Meeting for 14 years with the purpose of fostering understanding and harmony among the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam)

  • Dr. Mark Epstein, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Charles Gray, First United Methodist Church, Gastonia
  • Sam Shoukry, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Rev. Sydnor Thompson, Myers Memorial Methodist Church Gastonia
  • Charles Brown, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Rafat Hamam, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Rev. David Christy, First United Methodist Church
  • Hassan Ebrahim, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Bill Gross, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Rev. T. Steven Bolton, ret.
  • Mark Hanna, Trinity United Methodist Church
  • Linda Gibbons, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Rev. Richard Boyce, Union Presbyterian Seminary
  • Jason Shiflet, First Presbyterian Church Gastonia
  • Cindy Buckley, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Rev. Joan Martin, Gastonia
  • Cam Tracy, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Chuck Duncan, First Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Rev. Vic Wilfong, Covenant & Trinity United Methodist Churches
  • Dr. Bob Blake, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Sally Williams, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Andi Brymer, The Christian Church Disciples of Christ, Gastonia
  • Geof & Judy Planer, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Steve Knight, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ
  • Jeremy Whitener, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ

 

 

The Power of One

SEABROOK SAYS: Gaston County now has about 300 mentors for students.  The need is far greater.  Have you ever given serious thought to mentoring a kid for one hour per week? Elizabeth and I did.  The benefits to the Seabrooks and Phillip, the student, were huge.  Step forward – give mentoring a try.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

He’s a high school student. Good grades and social interactions haven’t come easily for him.  His home life is economically challenged; he has not grown up with a father figure or the advantages that others might take for granted. Is he another statistic destined for failure?  Perhaps. Except this student experienced the “Power of One,” the power of one caring adult … his mentor.

Our most recent success story for Gaston County Schools’ Mentor Program is a young man who recently landed his first part-time job at a local restaurant. Making the difference in this outcome was his mentor, a caring gentleman who built a relationship with the boy going back to elementary school. While most mentor relationships in our schools involve shorter time periods, this particular one has navigated many ups and downs, challenges and disappointments, and the routine of regular visits that sent a simple message: “I’m not giving up on you.” It was the mentor who coached his mentee on interview skills, handshakes, eye contact and what it would take to keep his first experience in the workplace positive. That’s mentoring at its best!

Gaston County Schools’ Mentor Program is in its 24th year of matching caring community individuals with deserving young people. Regular weekly meetings and activities at the child’s school help provide encouragement and valuable life skills that build confidence and self-worth.  This year, 257 mentors answered the call to volunteer in over 35 schools. That number sounds large, but immediately shrinks when you compare it to the 32,000 students attending Gaston County Schools. Wouldn’t every child benefit from a visit by a wise friend with experience?

The question I always ask at the start of every mentor training session is, “Who mentored you?” Think back — you may not have been part of a formal mentor program, but was there someone in your life who nudged you to try something out of your comfort zone? Was there a person who always seemed happy to hear your good news or just made you smile? Was there someone who was a comfort or just listened to you when life’s disappointments seemed to make it impossible to get back up? That’s mentoring!

“Young people with mentors, especially at-risk youth, have more positive visions of themselves and their futures, and they achieve more positive outcomes in school, the workplace and their communities,” writes David Shapiro, president and CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. “As a society, too often we leave these powerful human connections to chance. We must close the mentoring gap for the good of young people and our country.”

January is National Mentoring Month. It was launched by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership in 2002 to focus attention on the need for mentors. It is an invitation to individuals, businesses, government agencies, schools, nonprofits and faith communities to come together to increase the numbers of mentors for our young people. I am proud to say that each of those six community sectors are represented by the 261 current mentors in Gaston County Schools.  As wonderful as that number sounds, more mentors are needed. There are children waiting.

Becoming a mentor for Gaston County Schools requires a short approval process and training session that equips new volunteers with some starting strategies. The mentor program is school site based, meaning all your interaction occurs on school grounds during the school day. You can choose a time that works with your schedule. Weekly visits with mentees averages about 40 to 50 minutes. Time is spent doing fun activities that the student and mentor choose, but usually revolve around meaningful conversations. You may request to work with an elementary, middle or high school student.

Gaston mentors come from all walks of life and possess the single best characteristic, the ability to listen. A one-year commitment to the mentor program is requested. Many mentors, after building strong relationships, have remained with their mentees for several years and in some cases to graduation. Numerous proud moments and “Power of One” stories have emerged from Gaston County Schools’ Mentor Program. Will you consider sharing your powers with a deserving child? That’s mentoring!

Valerie Yatko
Director, Business and Community Partnerships
Gaston County Schools

For more information contact Valerie at 704-866-6329 or vayatko@gaston.k12.nc.us