Category Archives: Mentoring

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

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

Investing in Educational Excellence

SEABROOK SAYS: Everybody knows Jennie Stultz.   But, for sure, everybody odes not know she is the leader of the Gaston County Education Foundation. This organization raises funds to meet needs that the Gaston County Schools budget cannot afford. Read on.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

The Gaston County Education Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit, was organized in 1992 to raise funds for extraordinary initiatives not covered in the regular Gaston County Schools budget.  Since our inception, we have funded over $950,000 in grants to Gaston County Schools teachers.  Our funds, raised through private and corporate investments, are housed within the Community Foundation of Gaston County.  A broadly-based board of directors directs the programs of the foundation and maintains our corpus of funds to create a valuable resource for Gaston County Schools.

Receiving a good education is a key component to each person’s quality of life. Providing a channel of educational excellence is the main objective of the Gaston County Education Foundation.

The Gaston County Education Foundation (GCEF) has lead positive change in the following capacities:

In the mid to late 1990’s, GCEF served as a vehicle for major contributions and investments in the building and development of Highland School of Technology, by providing a 501c3 organization to channel major grants, to include a $1 million grant from the N. C. Department of Public Instruction.  This N.C. School of Excellence now boasts a 100% graduation rate!

The Ron L. Ensley Grants awarded yearly to deserving teachers, provide funding for innovative teaching that otherwise would go unfunded.  Teachers must justify expected outcomes to include improved student performance in End of Grade and End of Course testing.  Sustainability and transferability are key components to the grants awarded.  An average of $50,000 each year is awarded in grants.

An annual Teaching and Learning Conference is held in August for all teachers.  The GCEF funds the cost of two renowned keynote speakers who open the two-day session with inspiring messages and praise to begin the new school year.

When the S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) initiative was being launched, GCEF pledged a three year funding commitment totaling $15,000 to establish S.T.E.M. in all Gaston County Schools fifth grade classrooms.

For the past ten years, the Gaston County Education Foundation has funded the handbooks for Gaston Together’s “Pride in Gaston County” program which reaches every third grader in Gaston County Schools.

“Are You Smarter than a Gaston County Fifth Grader” has become an epic event.  The yearly tradition pairs area businesses with local elementary schools for a friendly competition to raise funds and raise friends through the Education Foundation.  At least 9 of the 12 schools involved are Title 1 schools.  The members of each corporate team visit the school building team spirit, mutual cooperation and studying the questions to be posed from the standard End of Grade and End of Course tests. This opportunity offers students, who are ethnically diverse, a positive experience with professionals.  The students come to realize the capacity for local jobs and personal success.  The event celebrates 360 participants and an auditorium full of raving fans and serves as a major source of our grant funding.

The GCEF has provided creative leadership and problem solving through a diverse support base of educators, foundations, corporate partners, and advocates for public education to determine our most critical funding priorities.  As greater needs are identified by Gaston County Schools, the GCEF can continue to be a vehicle by which larger investments can be channeled.  The GCEF also offers opportunities for funders to earmark monies for a specific need they wish to meet, to include individual scholarships, memorials and honorariums.

Our foundation has developed the expectation that positive outcomes are not optional,  they are expected.

Our principles are paramount to the educational excellence required to keep our county competitive for growth and sustainability.

If you are inspired by our work, we want to partner with you as an individual, business or organization by:

  • Volunteering for any of our signature events or serving on our board of directors
  • Sharing monetary investments which build our capacity to build our grant awards.
  • Earmarking and directing donated funds for particular initiatives.
  • Donating funds to honor or memorialize friends and relatives.

We can broaden our sphere of influence through greater connections county-wide.  You can be that one connection that strengthens our public schools, one student at a time!

For additional information, go to our facebook page: Gaston County Education Foundation, our website at: gaston.k12.nc.us/gaston county education foundation, by phone at 704-874-1876 or 704-616-8613 or by email at gceducationfoundation@gmail.com.

Jennie Stultz, Executive Director

 

 

 

 

‘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.

Gaston Together: Be Engaged

SEABROOK SAYS: Future leadership is an absolute essential if Gaston County is to move ahead.  Gaston Together is right now creating a plan that begins community-wide action on November 15th.  Please encourage the younger generation (ages25-40) to engage now.  Connect with Donna Lockett.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

In 1997, a group of community leaders with foresight decided to launch a unique concept in Gaston County. A non-profit organization was developed with a mission that would tackle big Community Challenges by engaging the citizenry and working to avoid duplication of efforts in our community.  Gaston Together:  Communities of Excellence grew out of this effort.

Over the last nineteen years, Gaston Together has addressed many such challenges in our community. Some “solutions” have remained under its administration such as the “Pride in Gaston Traveling Tour” for third graders and the Gaston County MLK Unity Awards (honoring citizens in our county who build bridges of unity across lines of race, religion, gender, culture and geography in Gaston County.)  Others, such as “Keeping Families Intact”, now the Resource Connection at the YMCA , were transferred to other entities for sustainability.

One initiative developed by Gaston Together in its very beginning and still going strong today is the Gaston Clergy & Citizens Coalition (GC3.) The GC3 is a non-denominational ministerial association that provides faith-based leadership to address community issues.  Recently, they have created and signed a covenant with Law Enforcement in Gaston County including the Sheriff, the Chiefs of the County and all municipal police departments. The idea behind the covenant is to be proactive in Gaston County instead of reactive to community unrest; to develop a closer working relationship among clergy and law enforcement in Gaston County in an effort to prevent local protest events such as those experienced nationally.  Significant pro-active events since then have included a clergy/law enforcement breakfast to encourage relationship building, a gathering at the MLK Plaza to thank and pray for police following recent violence against police across our country, and a clergy specific police academy developed by the Gastonia Police Department.  Twenty-five Clergy members will take part in the training this fall.

The newest major initiative of Gaston Together is our Civic Engagement process. In an effort to attract and retain the 25 – 40 age group in our county and after several months of community review and cross-sector focus group sessions, in late fall Gaston Together will launch a community process to engage our next generation of leaders for Gaston County.  The underlying objective of this initiative, as the name implies, is to provide a vehicle for citizens- especially the next generation of leaders – to become engaged in endeavors that will improve our community’s vitality and quality of life.

These are just two specific examples of on-going Gaston Together initiatives, but there are numerous opportunities for people in this community to participate. So how can you help and what is the first step?

Find out what interests you. Whether it is just simply working with your neighbors to improve your street/neighborhood or getting involved by providing your opinions and desires to the elected leaders. Think of your county and its future; think of how it will drift if we all do nothing. We are the last county in the Charlotte Metro to experience tremendous growth. Be a part of deciding how, when and where that growth will happen. BE ENGAGED!

For more information about Gaston Together, please visit our facebook page, website: gastontogether.org, or call 704-867-9869.

Jaggy Anand
2016 Gaston Together Board Chair

 Donna Lockett
Gaston Together Executive Director

F3- Fitness, Fellowship, Faith

SEABROOK SAYS: Steven Long, the co-leader of Gastonia Sheet Metal, tells about his high level of commitment to F3.  F3, a national organization, was founded in Charlotte.  The organization is dedicated to grow young male county leadership in unique ways.  Gaston County desperately needs young leaders to emerge to lead us now and into the future. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

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Six days each week, usually in the gloom of 5:30 am or 7:00 am, men gather at different locations throughout Gaston County for a 45 – 60 minute workout. The number of attendees at any given workout can vary from 3 – 35+.  The rules for these ‘Boot Camp’ style workouts are very simple and are as follows, they are open to all men, are held outside regardless of weather conditions, are free, are led by the attendees in a rotating fashion and each workout ends with a Circle of Trust.

The F3 movement began on New Year’s Day 2011 in Charlotte, NC. The mission of the group isn’t to get men in better shape, it’s “to plant, grow and serve small workout groups for the invigoration of male community leadership.”  You can find this exact wording on the website, www.F3Nation.com.

Something happens on the road to better leadership the F3 way with regular attendance at workouts. Regular attendees get in better shape.  It is impossible to attend multiple workouts each week and not see your fitness level improve.  Regular attendees meet other men with similar goals and thoughts on life, family, faith, etc.  This fellowship is ultimately what brings the men back week after week.  New friendships are formed from this fellowship and interaction leads to more opportunities to serve each other and the community.  Regular attendees become a part of a group that supports each other, motivates and holds each other accountable, and pushes each other to be better.

For me personally, the F3 story started in March, 2015 when a good friend from Church invited me to the first few workouts. Initially, there was one weekly workout held on Saturday mornings with the group meeting in the parking lot at the Schiele Museum.  When I finally got out for that first Saturday, I was blown away by what I experienced.  First, there were 18 – 20 persons in attendance including several that I personally knew.  There were guys from other F3 Regions there to lead the first few weeks of workouts until the Gastonia group was ready to lead on its own.  I had the same thoughts that most have at the first workout, “I’m not in good enough shape”.  What I found was a group of men working to be better regardless of fitness level.  I witnessed all ranges of fitness level that first day including guys who could have done that workout in half the time and then ran a marathon right after to guys who were struggling to keep up after the first 10 minutes.  It was terrific. I found myself to be somewhere in the middle of the pack that day for most of the workout and that is where I continue to be.  The guys in front did all they could to help the guys in back and that’s what struck me mostly at that first workout.  Since then, I have posted over 130 times, led 15 – 20 workouts and helped launch a workout in Lincolnton.  I have become close friends with men I would have never met otherwise and had these same men check on me after missing a few workouts.  I have found it to improve my daily outlook and health.

From that first workout in March, 2015 to now, we have grown to 13 different workouts throughout the week at 8 different locations and are looking to add more. We have multiple workouts scheduled each week in Cramerton, Gastonia and Dallas with the newest location on Saturday mornings in Belmont.  This link shows the exact locations and times, http://f3nation.com/schedules/gastonia-nc/ . Please come out and see what it’s about.  I can almost assure you won’t regret it…….at least not after getting a few workouts behind you.  Aye!!

steven-long

Steven Long (F3 Stroganoff)
President, Residential Divisions
Gastonia Sheet Metal

P.S. – At the end of your first workout, you’ll be given your F3 nickname…so think hard before answering those questions.

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