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Goodbye for Now

To: READERS OF DIGGING DEEPER

CHANGE HAPPENS TO ME, TOO

Just recently, April 2, Digging Deeper acknowledged the completion of our third year.

During the latter part of our 2016 ,we spent lots of time creating our Five Year Plan which in the end was not good enough. If we are to continue we must bring a more powerful punch while expecting our readers to “Do something, now that you know.”

We will now discontinue the articles written mostly by local knowledgeable writers. Many, I know, will miss this. So will I.

What ever evolves will likely be more demanding for the readers to offer initiatives for continuous improvements in our community, less time requirement for me and, maybe less cost.

Part of my decision making is directly connected to my recent hip surgery. Progress goes well, but it is draining my energy. Yes, I know life will return to normal, but in the meantime I have been ineffective for the past 4+ weeks and it ain’t over yet. For sure I expect to walk the streets of NYC again!

Thank you for supporting Digging Deeper during the past three years. Please keep one eye open to follow our future.

Sincerely,

Bill Seabrook

P.S. I do plan to keep the Digging Deeper name, a good one I think, and consider using it with future work.

‘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.

Snap, Crackle and Pop

SEABROOK SAYS: Carolyn Niemeyer gives every day to the Gaston community.  Very few citizens will ever know how much she does.  The back pack program she brings is incredibly successful.  Read her article and as yourself, “Can I help kids get food for the weekends?” More readers need to step forward to help.  How about you?  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

How many of us have heard this phrase on TV and associated it with popular cereal?  Likely, many of us could just go to the kitchen in our homes and find cereal to eat.  What about the students in Gaston County who would not have had that opportunity if not for the BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc.?  The food bags received on Fridays have meant the difference between being hungry over the weekend and having meals to eat.  The students are so anxious to get the weekend food they start asking their teachers on Friday morning, “Are we getting our food today?”

The Gaston County Schools currently report that 66% of the student population is eligible for free lunch. This is a 10% increase in need from 2011 when the BackPack Weekend Food Program began.

The US Census Bureau reports that 44% of households in Gaston County have yearly income of $35,000 or less. These statistics indicate a need for economic improvement in our area.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc. has grown from providing weekend food for students in 17 schools in the beginning to 43 schools currently.  The program provided almost 300,000 meals to 950+ students this year.  The operation of the program has grown out of the space at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and will start the new school year in a larger warehouse space on Linwood Rd.  It is anticipated that the program will begin with around 1,000 students.  Just imagine how many volunteers this will take to get the food from the truck to the back packs of the students!

The good news is that with so many caring people in the community the task will be accomplished. The number of students in need will increase in the near future and food costs will continue to rise as much as 5 to 7%.  A registered dietician assists the program to provide menus that meet the caloric and nutritional needs of the students K-12 within the budget for the meals.

Many schools and teachers report that the students have hope when they receive the weekend food bags. Hope that someone cares about them weekly, not just one time. Surveys report that there has been an increase in positive behavior and daily work in the classroom because they are not concentrating on their growling stomach.  As a community, it is our mission to encourage these students to stay in school and receive their education.  Without education these students will have difficulty finding jobs that will sustain themselves or their families. Individual failure leads to family failure and community failure.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc. is totally run by volunteers. Local churches and community groups provide funding for about 70% of the students. The remainder of funds come from grants, donations and fundraisers.

For more information about the program, how to make a donation, or volunteer, please visit our web site at http://www.backpackweekendfoodprogram.com.

 

You always stand taller when you kneel to help a child.”

 

Carolyn Niemeyer head shot
Carolyn Niemeyer, Community Volunteer

 

 

Gangs in Gaston County

SEABROOK SAYS:  Do we in Gaston County worry about gang activity – or do we worry about the lack of family strength that yields gang members?

Do we have gangs in Gaston County? It depends on who you ask. But here are the facts. In 2005, the Governor’s Crime Commission labeled Gaston County as having the 5th largest gang problem in North Carolina.  Statistically speaking, our crime rates were in line with where Los Angeles was 20 years ago.

The federal definition of a gang as used by the Department of Justice is [1]:

  1. An association of three or more individuals;
  2. Whose members collectively identify themselves by adopting a group identity, a common name, slogan, identifying sign, symbol, tattoo or other physical marking, style or color of clothing, hairstyle, hand sign or graffiti;
  3. Whose purpose in part is to engage in criminal activity and which uses violence or intimidation to further its criminal objectives.

Criminal activity is what separates gangs from fraternities, sororities, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Masons, etc. It is not actually illegal to be in a gang, it is illegal to commit the criminal acts in order to prosper the gang. The gangs we have in Gaston County may not be like what you see on TV (Gangland, movies, documentaries, the news) but we have gang sets and gang members and they are causing major disruptions on our streets, in our schools and in our county.

So, what do we do about this growing epidemic? In 2006, the Gaston County Anti-Gang Initiative was formed. This was a multi-agency, countywide initiative to offer prevention, intervention and suppression services to combat the growing gang problem in Gaston County. Prevention programs, like Street SMART, to help younger children resist the temptation of gangs and build confidence, self-esteem, and life skills were implemented in the Boys & Girls Club and Parks & Recreation Departments in the hot spot communities. The Community Outreach Program is an intervention program funded through the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council with the purpose of helping those kids who are already gang involved find an alternative lifestyle. This program is a wrap-around approach to get to the root of the problem and offer services which may not be available otherwise, like mental health or substance abuse counseling. Suppression is our law enforcement. The Sheriff’s Office, County Police and Gastonia City Police work together to document and suppress the criminal activity associated with gangs in our communities. Knowledge is key when it comes to fighting what we are afraid of or do not know, and our Law Enforcement agencies are the ones who see and are fighting gang violence day in and day out, on our streets and in our jail.

After spending time with a lot of these kids, they have also taught me. They crave guidance, discipline, attention and love. If they don’t get it from home, they will find it someplace else. During one of our programs, I sat down to talk with “Z”, who rarely talked to anyone. The more I listened, the more he opened up. I was in awe at the things he experienced during his short 15 years. When I asked him “Why?”, his answer changed everything. He lived with his 2 younger siblings and a drug addicted mom, who allowed the men she brought into their home to beat on them daily. There was never any food, or clean clothes, no money, definitely no love, no praise or stability. But then the gang found him and he never had to worry about getting beat on, because they protected him. He didn’t have to worry about food, money or clothes, because the gang supplied him money just for being the “lookout” when they conducted their drug deals. The gang loved him and provided for him when his mom couldn’t. This is the lure of the gang.

How do we compete with that? Be a mentor! Take time and be a positive role model for a kid that doesn’t have someone to rely on or look up to. One hour a week is all it takes! One hour can change a life!

Arin Weatherford Farmer
Executive Director, The Alliance for Children & Youth/Communities In Schools
Project Director,  The Gaston County Anti-Gang Initiative

Loray Mill Update

Seabrook Says: Occasionally, we are surprised and very pleased about how well things turn out. Lucy Penegar shares with us much of the Loray Mill story. Read it and be impressed! 

Would you be surprised to know that the apartments at Loray Mill are renting so well that all Phase I three-bedroom and one-bedroom apartments are filled? As Phase I of the project is now complete, that means all amenities for the renters are complete, outside and inside. The outdoor area includes a pool and pool house, dog park, fire pits and grills, tables and lounge chairs, a bocci court and outdoor movie screen. The indoor area includes a pool table, foozeball table, game stations, kitchen facilities, sofas, chairs, and tables.

Two model apartments, located on the main floor, are furnished to show off the look of loft space living. They contain high quality stainless kitchen appliances, stone counter tops, ceiling fans, and window shades. The majority of the apartments are on the upper floors. All are in private areas accessed by a code pad. Construction on Phase 2 will begin soon and will provide 110 more apartments, bringing the total to over 300.

The commercial space includes 100,000 square feet of glass front stores on two levels, with floor cut outs that makes the space resemble a two story mall. In a multi-use facility, the commercial spaces fill up after the apartments are full, insuring a customer base. There are several businesses talking with the developers and the Loray Athletic Center is opening soon.

This community area includes a large rental space with a 40 foot high ceiling that can seat 300 in an auditorium setting, or become a large dance venue. It has already been used for wedding receptions, reunions, and large gatherings.

The Kessell History Center is expecting a spring opening. The UNC Chapel Hill Digital Innovation Lab staff and director Bobby Allen (from Gastonia) are designing this high tech, interactive exhibit. Archivist and designer Julie Davis has been on site several months working on the center. This type of exhibit is the first of its kind and is being studied by other similar projects.

The neighborhood is also getting some much needed help. UNC Greensboro supplied a class of interior architecture students to redesign some of the early historic workers’ houses for today’s use. The students drew plans for “millennials” and the downsizing “baby boomers”. Preservation/NC has received a major loan and is looking for additional grant money. They will open a couple of model homes and look for sensitive buyers who are interested in the national “smaller house movement”. The houses will sell with protective covenants and require owner occupancy, which helps stabilize neighborhoods.

So come to the Loray Mill, especially if you were one of the skeptics, and see how this project is changing west Gastonia. If you have been a supporter, come confirm your positive “can do” attitude. It is open daily and there are special events, like Loray Live, that will help you see how fantastic this project really is!

Lucy Penegar
Founding Member
Gaston County Historic Preservation Committee

The Jobs War and Gaston County

SEABROOK SAYS: Our article writer today served as Superintendent of Gaston County Schools. He is semi-retired now as he continues to give to Gaston County. His subject is one that touches two hot topics:  jobs and leadership.

The Coming Jobs War is a book written by Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, Incorporated.  The book is a result of the findings of the Gallup World Poll which measures the thoughts and feelings of the world’s 7 billion citizens on global issues.  The title of the book comes from the key finding of the World Poll.  Clifton calls the finding one of the most important discoveries Gallup has ever made.  That finding says that whether in Cairo, Berlin,  Los Angeles, or Istanbul, the single most dominant thought on people’s minds is having a good job. The Coming Jobs War outlines what Clifton calls “an all-out war for good jobs” and his book examines America’s ability to win this war.  The final chapter of the book predicts that for America “failing the coming jobs war will be easy, and winning will be hard.”  The book ends, however, with the author noting that “the United States of America is an exceptional country with exceptional people” and “once again, against the odds, she must rise up and win.”

Clifton suggests that a key to winning the jobs war is meeting the challenge on a community by community basis rather than depending on state and federal solutions to create jobs and build a qualified workforce. This common sense approach recognizes the role of individual states and the federal government but puts the bulk of responsibility for winning the jobs war on local leadership.  If Jim Clifton is right and local leadership is the key to job creation and building a qualified workforce, how well is Gaston County poised to face this challenge?  My answer to this question is that we are in great shape to do our part!  There are two primary reasons for my optimism.

First, local leadership in Gaston County recognizes the importance of job creation and workforce development in building a brighter future for our community. Our leaders have accepted this challenge.  The Gaston Regional Chamber has established workforce development as a priority area.  The GGDC is doing great work in promoting the image of our county.  Gaston College has implemented exciting new programs like Apprenticeship 321 to impact workforce development.  The local school board has invited the business community to participate in a comprehensive look at district Career and Technical Education programs.  Gaston County Schools has partnered with the Gaston Regional Chamber in developing and implementing “Educators in the Workplace” which offers teachers greater insight into jobs and careers in Gaston County.  Our Economic Development Commission is exploring new and innovative approaches to bring new businesses to our county and the Workforce Development Board now provides comprehensive job fair opportunities on a monthly basis.  Finally, our local NCWorks office has completely revamped its efforts to help job seekers gain tools and experiences needed to find meaningful employment.  All of these workforce development partners understand that business as usual will not get Gaston County where it needs to go and they are looking for better ways to meet the jobs challenge.

Second, leadership in Gaston County understands the importance of working together. This spirit of cooperation was clearly evident in Gaston County being named one of the first  Work Ready Communities in NC.  While other counties have struggled to meet the high standards set for this program, leaders in Gaston County combined efforts to meet and exceed each and every requirement.  By working together, elected leaders, business leaders, and workforce development partners gave our community an economic development advantage enjoyed by only six other counties in our state.  This spirit of cooperation will serve us well in meeting the job creation and workforce development challenges out ahead.

In closing, I would paraphrase Jim Clifton by saying, Gaston County is an exceptional county made up of exceptional people – and we will do our part in winning the war for jobs!

Reeves McGlohon
Former Superintendent
Gaston County Schools

Value of Small Business to Gaston County

SEABROOK SAYS: Here is a refreshing look at Small Business in Gaston County. You should be pleased to conclude that small business is good for the owners and good for the community. We would all do well to support our small business. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

In Gaston County’s industrial heyday, textile manufacturing was KING. A strong, supporting industry was metal working and machine shops. These locally-owned shops machined and provided replacement parts for all types of production equipment.    From replacement shafts, collars, bearing housings, spindles, motor mounts, etc., the textile mills relied on this group of small businesses to keep their machinery running so they could meet their customers shipping requirements.  This group of shop owners and their employees also provided an avenue for the design, development, and manufacture of new parts and equipment as technologies evolved.

In the early to mid-1980’s, textiles started migrating out of Gaston County and the USA. As the textile customers left, our community of small business owners were left with little or no business.  However through ingenuity, the will to continue providing jobs while meeting customer needs, and by embracing the newest in technologies many shops were creative and sought business in other sectors of the economy.  Industrial machinery manufacturing, metalworking machinery manufacturing, engines, turbines, power transmission equipment manufacturing, general purpose machinery manufacturing, and motor vehicle parts manufacturing were all potential replacements for the lost textile business.  An English language proverb “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” is certainly apropos for the county’s machine shops.

What is the Impact of Small Business on Gaston County?

The Small Business Administration has indicated that businesses with fewer than 500 employees can be considered a small business. Certainly there are quite a few small businesses in the county. In fact, the most recent Gaston County Business Statistics indicate there are 2,980 small business firms employing 29,923 with an annual payroll of $987.8 Million with an estimated revenue of $4.97 Billion. Of these 2,980 small businesses, there are 49 machine shops in Gaston County employing 3,108 individuals.  As these 49 shops grow and find new segments to provide products and services for, you may ask what is being done to support this growth.

What is being done in Gaston County?

Recognizing the importance of manufacturing as a crucial component to the growth of the region, both local and regional economic planners have identified advanced manufacturing as a key sector to target. Also, the renovation of Gaston College’s PTI building and the construction of a Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) have received strong financial support from local, state, and federal funders. Gaston County has allocated $3.3 million in county bond funding.  The Golden LEAF Foundation has contributed $500,000 towards the renovation of the PTI building and the United States Economic Development Administration has preliminarily allocated $1.5 million in support of the project.

Combined, these two projects will offer training in Computer Integrated Machining and a second Computer Numerical Control (CNC) lab as well as a Center for Advanced Welding to include orbital and plasma arc welding. The CAM will house many of the more advanced or technology-rich industrial training programs the college offers.  In addition to meeting rooms, offices, and classrooms, designated laboratory/ training spaces will include: Advanced Manufacturing (cross-training and demonstration lab), Mechatronics, Robotics, Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Specialized Processing (Chemicals and Plastics), Industrial Instrumentation, Nuclear Technologies, Alternative Energy (a photovoltaic array and geothermal heating/cooling system will be incorporated into CAM.)  Once these two projects are completed, Gaston County and its base of small businesses, particularly the machine shops, will be in a better position to meet the growing and diverse needs of business and industry.

What can you do?

Continue to support our local business owners by buying their products and services and referring your friends, business associates, and neighbors to also support our local small businesses. But, do not stop there!  Encourage the existing small business owners to look at alternative avenues of revenue that may enhance their existing products and services, or, in some cases, may totally help the small business owner set a new course to a more profitable business that will hire even more of our citizens.

Brad Rivers
Director of Gaston College’s Small Business Center