Category Archives: Gaston County Youth

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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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

‘Tis the Season

SEABROOK SAYS: Who here in Gaston County would have ever thought we could be giving thanks and giving back as we have?  Read what Carrie Meier has to say.  Who would have thought teen pregnancy would be reduced by 57.2% in a relatively short period?  We have proven we can do more – now let’s dedicate ourselves to doing even more.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

 

The holidays are upon us and we often see this as a time to give thanks for what we have, to give back to our community, to reflect on what has happened throughout the year, and to gather together with family and friends.   For those of us who work in teen pregnancy prevention and reproductive health, we have much to consider this holiday season.

Giving Thanks

According to data recently released from the State Center for Health Statistics, Gaston County’s teen pregnancy rate dropped for the eighth year in a row in 2015. Since 2007, our teen pregnancy rate declined by an incredible 57.2%.  I am extremely thankful to see this number continue to fall.  I am thankful for the five years of funding, attention, and resources that the Gaston Youth Connected (GYC) project brought to address this issue in our community.  I am even more thankful for those who have continued to stay involved and dedicated to this cause now that millions of dollars are no longer at play.  If you have provided accurate information about sex to a young person, coordinated a sex education program at your church or home, joined the Teen Action Council, attended a teen pregnancy community advisory meeting, or helped a youth make an appointment at the Teen Wellness Center, I thank you.

Giving Back

So maybe you haven’t been involved in the effort to curb teen pregnancy… yet. Here are some ways you can help and give back to your community.

  1. Tell the young people in your life that you care about them and are available to answer their questions about sensitive topics. Their health and their futures are worth enduring an uncomfortable conversation.
  2. If you aren’t feeling up to #1, use your resources! Gaston County DHHS has programs to educate young people about puberty and sex AND programs to educate parents and other adults on how to talk to young people about these issues. There are also excellent websites with tips and good information – check out SHIFT NC or Advocates for Youth to start.
  3. Talk to leaders at your child’s school about the importance of comprehensive sex education. For many youth, school is their only source of sex education outside of the media, which can be highly inaccurate and biased.

Reflection

Though we’ve seen great success in Gaston County, we still have work to do. Our teen pregnancy rate is still higher than the State’s.   The rates among minorities are still disproportionally high when compared to those of young white women.  In fact, from 2014 to 2015, there was a slight increase in the teen pregnancy rate among African Americans in Gaston County.   We need to focus our efforts to ensure that this does not become a trend.  We cannot allow our minority youth to fall victim to cycles we have worked so hard to break.  We can’t do it alone.  We need your help.

Gather Together

Each quarter, DHHS hosts a Community Advisory Council meeting on the topic of Teen Pregnancy Prevention. This group, affectionately called GYC 2.0, has adopted the mission of Supporting efforts that empower Gaston County youth and their families to make safe and healthy decisions.  We need as many people as possible to advocate for this mission, to be aware of the work that is still happening, and to spread the word far and wide.  We need your participation and your support.  Join us.

Happy holidays to all.

 

Carrie Meier is the Community Health Education Administrator at the Gaston County Department of Health & Human Services. She can be reached at carrie.meier@gastongov.com or 704-862-5405.

Responsibility Leads to Great Success

SEABROOK SAYS: Think what our future would be like if all Gaston citizens would take full responsibility quite seriously.  Our Boys and Girls Club works on this everyday.  Is there something you can do to get more folks to be more responsible for themselves, family and community? If yes, please do it and start now.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

The Boys and Girls Club is more than a place. It is a movement to inspire and enable all young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to realize their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens. By reaching children at an early age, and providing positive activities and encouragement, the Club provides a compelling alternative to youth crime, gang membership, drugs, and other negative influences that affect our youth today.

Specifically, the Club’s programs promote the development of young people by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, influence and belonging. When this strategy is fully implemented, self-esteem is enhanced and an environment is created which helps the members achieve their full potential. Members learn to enjoy their interests, nurture their talents, dissolve their prejudices, express their personality, develop friendships, build self-esteem, contribute to society, and achieve personal success. An additional, and equally critical aspect in the education and development of club members, is the idea of personal and social responsibility.

At its core, Personal Responsibility means taking actions in life by making decisions to progress towards a better life for our family, a satisfying career, or personal and spiritual fulfillment. When making decisions, we need to take a responsible approach and consider the effects of our decisions and actions, all the while considering the overall impact and affect we can have.

Responsibility is built on self-discipline; the understanding of what is morally right and what action should be taken is not always evident. I have been raised and personally believe that responsibility is one of the best traits a person can have because it encompasses so much of one’s demeanor and the quality of life one has. It is not always so simple to take liability; not many are able to do so because it requires cooperation in some situations. There are many areas in life where responsibility can be important, including but not limited to, aspects of family, community, and society.

The relationship between personal and social responsibility can be best explained through musical analogy. If you envision the essence of responsibility in terms of musicians working together, you understand how responsibility affects the individual and society at large. Each individual musician must take responsibility for not only his or her part, but also for how he or she relates it to the fellow musicians as they share a collective goal. In the same regard, we as individuals must take responsibility for living our own lives responsibly and translating the benefits of living this way into how we relate to those around us. If the percussionist does not keep a steady rhythm, then the rest of musicians playing in conjunction could miscue on their parts of the composition. He must concede to the group in achieving its collective goal of creating a beautiful collection of sounds. The amount of self-discipline shown in the musician’s life and an individual’s life, directly translates to the quality of the music and the quality of his life. The harmony that can be achieved by practicing self-discipline with, for example, personal finances extends not only to immediate family, but also impacts our civil responsibilities. Being fiscally responsible is a very important part of ensuring the wellbeing of individuals and families and our community. Saving, planning, and investing wisely can make unforeseen hurdles a small matter to deal with in the overall picture, rather than causing great amounts of stress or financial ruin. Individuals that prepare for themselves, and those around them, can potentially avoid burdening others when problems arise. Furthermore, responsibility can free up individuals to make larger contributions to the harmony of society. This example can be applied to many other areas of life, including concepts from time management to nutritional management, or from personal to social responsibility. Understanding, learning from, and living with those around us can teach us to relate to one another with consideration, especially if we exhibit self-control when conflict arises and take responsibility for our mistakes. A responsible life lived can inspire others to play along, and thereby the melody will spread throughout society. For example, through self-disciplined saving, we can donate to a local charity. By donating, the echo of our responsibility will translate into a much-needed building block in bettering a community in need. If everyone can choose a part of his/hers life to be responsible in and see how that can impact others, we believe our society would be better as whole.
In the end, I believe that The Boys and Girls Club is making a difference in the lives of each child, meeting its goals to the best of its abilities, and constantly working to instill values and ideals, including personal and social responsibility. I applaud the community for their valiant effort and support in giving local youth a feasible alternative to socially undesirable after school activities. Now let’s all do our part–as a collective and diverse community–to become more responsible, in all aspects of life, and watch as positive changes happen throughout Gaston County.

Thanks to all for being an essential lifeline as we continue to CHANGE LIVES!

Chad Melvin
Executive Director
Boys & Girls Club of Greater Gaston

Lean and Nimble

SEABROOK SAYS: Gaston County is extremely fortunate to have Earl Mathers as our county manager.  Our commissioners have just finished the budget for the upcoming year.  Earl shares lots of information about the financial issues we face in our new fiscal year.  Financially, we are doing pretty good! Now  that you know, what will you do?

Gaston County Approves the FY 2017 Budget

During the last two years Gaston County has adopted leading edge budget practices in an effort to ensure that community and county commission priorities are as closely aligned with expenditures as possible. In fact, the implementation of the leading edge Priority Based Budgeting (PBB) methods have further streamlined an already award winning budgetary process in Gaston County.  We also take pride in the fact that the foremost authority on governmental budgeting, the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), has recognized Gaston County for excellence in its budget process for the last several years.  In addition, strong financial management practices was a major factor in a recent bond rating upgrade by Standard and Poor’s for Gaston County which enables the county to obtain more favorable interest rates in the financing of school debt. This bond rating upgrade will save the county tens of thousands of dollars.

Gaston County’s general fund budget for FY 17 is approximately $202 million. Although this may seem like a great deal of money to most people, most of what Gaston County does is mandated.   In other words, Gaston County has limited discretion in the activities it performs.  Despite the mandates, the county does have the ability and the responsibility to ensure that all activities are performed in an efficient manner.  PBB enables Gaston County’s managers to be more intentional and results oriented in their deployment of scarce resources, regardless of whether a particular program is mandated or discretionary.

Producing Gaston County’s annual budget is an arduous process involving months of intensive work. Typically, budget requests exceed available funds by a substantial margin and this year a total of over $25 million was trimmed from departmental and external requests in order to produce a budget that is balanced.  The FY 17 budget would be flat except for the fact that $3 million in additional debt service for two new schools and $1.5 million in teacher supplements are included.  These are expenditures that have considerable merit. Overall, Gaston County departmental budgets are flat for FY 17.  There are several significant expense items on the horizon, however.  These include the need to make a variety of infrastructure improvements which have been deferred for several years and upgrade the public safety radio communication system.  Leading expense categories for FY 17 in Gaston County are illustrated below:

Mathers pie chartFortunately, Gaston County anticipates revenue growth in coming years. Both property and sales tax revenues are expected to continue to grow and this will ease the financial strain that Gaston County has felt since the beginning of the recession.  In addition, the increase in debt service over the next two fiscal years will decline as older debt is retired.  Continued fiscal restraint on the part of county departments will also be necessary and desirable but, in general, Gaston County’s financial outlook is favorable.  Anticipated revenue growth for FY 17 is shown below.

Mathers graphLooking to the Future

There is a widespread belief that Gaston County is poised to achieve the kind of progress that will lead to greater economic parity with several of our regional neighbors. Some lament the fact that Gaston has fallen behind more affluent parts of the metro area and yet there are specific reasons that growth has been more gradual here.  Actually, considering the persistent generational poverty and other challenges confronting Gaston County, our performance has been quite strong in recent years.  Unemployment has fallen to around the state average and many of the jobs lost during the decline of the textile industry have been replaced.  Indeed, we now need to develop more industrial property which fits the needs of prospective industries and the FY 17 budget sets aside money for that purpose.

There is most assuredly room for continued advancement and if genuine collaboration in the public interest occurs there is reason for considerable optimism. Gaston County recognizes these needs and has made a variety of investments that we hope will yield excellent returns.  Colin Powell once said “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”  In order to achieve the success we all desire for Gaston County, we must allow our collective optimism to brush aside minor differences in a manner that promotes the common good.  Although every individual and all the organizational entities in Gaston County have a natural tendency to protect their own interests, lets’ focus on mutual efforts that will yield universal benefits as we design an even brighter future.

Earl Mathers
Gaston County Manager

 

HOPE

SEABROOK SAYS:  Tony Sigmon is the leader of the Gaston County Family YMCA which has 5 operational facilities.  When the Y’s $18 million new facility is ready, Gaston County may well have the best in America. Tony writes on HOPE. Read on and commit to give it your thought time. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

When my friend Bill Seabrook asked if I would write an article for “Digging Deeper,” it immediately hit me what I wanted to cover.   In a time like this, in a place like this, we all need a good healthy dose of Hope in our lives. For several years I have been pondering the question, “what is our greatest need?”  Looking around and seeing the unrest locally and abroad, observing the current political climate, seeing young people put off adulthood longer now than ever and seeing yet others have to jump into adulthood way too early; all of this brings me to my next question, where is the hope?  Some get so busy with day to day and yet others find ways to escape reality.  There seems to be a huge void of hope in our world.

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Last week I had the pleasure of serving my 22nd year at the YMCA’s Blue Ridge Leaders School in Black Mountain, NC.  This “school” is a week long program where 700 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 from YMCAs throughout the South experience a physical education and leadership development training school so that they can become better leaders for their home YMCAs and communities.   Once again I was reminded what “Hope” looks like and through the eyes of a young person.   At the school there are eight 17/18 year olds who serve the school, having been selected the previous year as the “best of the best.”  They are called Honor Leaders.  Two of those Honor Leaders shared a reflection on HOPE.  Instead of listening to me pontificate, here is some of what they had to say.

Hope. A small word, with a large meaning.  It plays a different role in each of our lives and there are many ways to define it.  Hope is looking towards the future with a clear vision.  Hope is acknowledging the uncertainty that is possible in any given situation.  Hope is our motivation to continue persevering through a difficult situation.  Often, hope is the idea we cling to when all our efforts have failed.  That small word, with such an incredible meaning, is essential to having a healthy spirit and mind.  Throughout different experiences in life, we have a persistent twinge of hope that the best outcome will be in our favor.  During these times, where do we find hope? Often we turn to temporary gratifications such as social media, negative attention or bad habits.  But they are just that, temporary and usually unhealthy.  Ultimately, this leaves us unsatisfied and wanting more.  When we find hope in temporary satisfactions, we are restricting ourselves from experiencing the hope that God provides us every day.

Think back to when you were a young child. Can you recall just how simple life was then?  We were surrounded by stories of happily ever afters, courageous heroes and victorious underdogs.  As children we have so much hope around us every day that it’s hard to be anything but positive.  The older we get, the realities of life alter our pure sight of this hope and it becomes more and more blurred.  Although we no longer cling to fictional stories to instill our hope, we have things that we do believe in.  For us and so many more we have the YMCA.  Here we see hope in action.  We see it when the dreams of an underprivileged child come true, when a struggling parent receives the financial assistance she needs to allow her children to attend camp or afterschool so she can work without worrying about them, or when a lonely widower gets time to socialize while they exercise in classes at the Y.  As leaders, it is our responsibility to use the hope we receive every day and spread it to others.  We all of have the potential to be someone’s hero.

When I hear an 18 year old talk like that to a group of 700 teens and 200 adults, I am inspired. It ignites a Hope in me that I want to share with others.  Our local community is right at that “Tipping Point” and there are so many great things that inspirational leaders are doing here in Gaston County.  My closest and favorite example is the New Y at Robinwood Lake.  To be a part of this incredible community lifting project is amazing, but working alongside leaders like Andy Warlick, Gene Matthews, George Henry, Richard Rankin, Steve Huffstetler, May Barger and Frank Craig is beyond a blessing to me.  Seeing so many more people excited to the point that they give the largest gifts that they have ever given to any project is a testament to leadership, inspiration and hope.  It is also a focused energy that creates a best of the best attitude and an excitement that is unparalleled.  My hope is that this is a beginning for Gastonia and Gaston County to see how bringing energy, vision, community and leadership together around a common cause brings great hope and makes dreams come true.  We have great potential to thrive as leaders, as community and as a county.  Now, “go be someone’s hero.”

Tony Sigmon
CEO, Gaston County Family YMCA

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How Being Mentored Helped Me

SEABROOK SAYS: Every story I ever heard about mentoring has mentioned benefits to both the mentee and the mentor.  Matt Adams’ story may be the best of all!  Has the time arrived when you should be mentoring for an hour per week?  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

A mentor is defined by Webster’s dictionary as, “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less-experienced, and often younger, person.” While this is certainly accurate, it does not fully convey the impact a mentor has on someone’s life. To me, a mentor is someone who makes such an indelible impression on the life of a young boy or girl that they become better equipped to realize their full potential. A mentor can play a fundamental role in altering a young person’s course in life for the better. It is, however, even more than helping them develop life skills that will propel them to eventual success. It oftentimes satisfies an emotional need that a young girl or boy is not having met, which carries an even more profound effect than equipping them for success.

How do I know this? I, myself, have experienced the positive effects of having a mentor. When I was five years old, my mom and dad split-up. My dad moved about two hours away and aside from my mom and brother I had no family around. We lived in a low-income part of Gastonia and, statistically speaking, the prospects for my life grew dimmer. By God’s grace, though, there was a man that had already been in my life, named Doug Mincey, who recognized that I needed a strong, male influence and he heeded the call.

What this man has done for me, in my book, places him among the saints. He was a giant to me then and is still a giant to me today. Writing briefly about him here frankly does not do him the justice he deserves. While my mom undoubtedly had the greatest influence on me, Doug would be a very close second. As someone himself who had the cards stacked against him, he instilled in me the belief that through hard work coupled with determination I could accomplish whatever I wanted. What I learned from him was to not let your circumstances define who you are but to use those circumstances to define yourself. I would say, though, that it wasn’t really what he taught me directly that impacted me. It was the example in his own daily life where I really paid attention. Among some of the things his example taught me was about the importance of faith, showing compassion to those less fortunate, conducting oneself with the utmost integrity in your profession, giving back to the community, and showing an undying devotion to family.

Doug has been more than a mentor to me. He has been one of my very best friends. I can say with certainty that my life would have been far different without his influence.  He has been with me during the highs of life and there for me during the very lows. I haven’t always followed his example and have made many mistakes, some of which I’m sure were disappointing to him, but he’s always been there to guide me back to where I need to be and has done so with grace and love. I owe a lot to him and could never repay him. I will be forever grateful to him for being that strong, male role-model that I needed but most of all for showing me unconditional love. I know my mom was very grateful as well and I believe she’s in heaven right now asking God to bless Doug as much as possible simply for the role he has played in my life.

I want to thank him, his family for sharing him, and to all those out there that take the time to mentor. You may not ever know fully the impact you are having but I can assure you it is positive. If you are considering becoming one, I’d encourage you to do so. You may just change a life.

Matt Adams
Senior Personal Banker
CommunityOne Bank, N.A.