Monthly Archives: November 2015

Gaston County Schools Has Accepted Rachel’s Challenge

SEABROOK SAYS: Gaston County Schools are confronting BULLYING head on and are getting positive results.  Improvements are clear in relationship building, communications, learning and kindness towards peers!      NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

In August 2012, Gaston County Schools became the first school district on the East Coast to launch district-wide participation in Rachel’s Challenge.  This program was made possible by a grant partnership with the United Way of Gaston County.  School support personnel including counselors, social workers, nurses, and media specialists experienced a powerful introduction to Rachel Scott’s story at our summer training.  Participants were all moved by the incredible vision of this young lady and the impact her life is still having nationwide, and they were excited to bring this message to everyone in Gaston County Schools.

Rachel Scott was a student killed in the Columbine school shooting.  Her ideals of kindness and compassion live on through the organization that sponsors the Rachel’s Challenge initiative.  Another important message of the Rachel’s Challenge program is the idea that each person can reach millions.  In the presentation, a story is shared that Rachel drew her hands on the back of her dresser and wrote that her hands would touch millions, a prophecy that has definitely come true.

From the organization’s website,, five tenets for improving school climate include this challenge to students:

  1. Dream BIG and Believe in myself.
  2. Be KIND to others.
  3. Practice POSITIVE gossip with others.
  4. Show APPRECIATION to those I love.
  5. Be the ANSWER (not the problem).

In Fall 2012, school presentations were held to introduce the tenets of Rachel’s challenge to all students.  These programs were tailored to the appropriate learning levels for elementary, middle, and high school.  Students signed a banner, accepting Rachel’s Challenge to have a positive impact on school climate.  The message went beyond an anti-bullying message.  Students were being asked to complete targeted acts of kindness.  The speaker encouraged students and faculty members to consciously do something kind every day and to look for those who might need their friendship.  One important example in the program was for students to be inclusive.  An example was given to look around at lunch and other social opportunities in the school and to invite someone who may be sitting alone to join your table. In fact, Rachel was known to not only invite someone to her lunch table but to move to sit with someone who may have been sitting alone, and by this initiation to include them in a larger conversation that ultimately facilitated friendships.  Following the Rachel’s challenge presentation, many administrators, teachers, and support personnel witnessed this act of kindness happen throughout cafeterias across the entire school district.

At all schools, clubs were founded, Friends of Rachel (FOR) clubs and Kindness clubs.  These clubs had students write how they will be a positive link in the school climate chain.  These links were put together to decorate school lobbies, libraries, cafeterias, and classrooms.  These chains of kindness were a visual reminder to students that they are important and can make a positive impact on the lives of others.

In October 2012, Gaston County Schools partnered with Gastonia Rotary clubs to sponsor a Rachel’s Challenge video contest.  Schools videotaped implementation of club activities, programs, and student interviews to present at the Rotary Leadership program.  The Highland School of Technology won the competition with a student produced video.  The video showed students who had written on their hands that “these hands will touch millions” interspersed with clips of students showing kindness and interviews of students and faculty members answering questions about how Rachel’s Challenge can reduce bullying. In December 2012, high school FOR clubs marched in parades across the district.  The student groups had matching Rachel’s Challenge shirts to show unity among all club members at all schools.  A bus with banners encouraging people to accept Rachel’s Challenge followed the students marching in the parade.

Three years later, Rachel’s challenge continues to actively improve school climate by promoting positive character traits (respect, responsibility, kindness and courage) and reducing bullying incidents.  Schools are more welcoming and Gaston County Schools as a district has seen a subsequent rise in graduation rate and reduction in drop-out rate.  Below is a picture of hearts signed by Highland students displayed in the shape of a hand that can touch millions.

Here are some examples of Rachel’s challenge events across Gaston County Schools:

  • Belmont Central’s Kindness Club works on character education each month.
  • Chapel Grove Elementary school hosts a food drive for families in need during Christmas. The students make handprints and write well wishes and positive messages on the collected bags of food. The counselor supplements this activity with lessons on empathy.
  • Pleasant Ridge Elementary completes a Drumming for Kindness event to emphasize how listening to each other is an act of kindness and a great way to build positive relationships. Below is a picture of the students holding their chain reaction.
  • Belmont Middle School’s FOR members are the student ambassadors who give tours and mentor new students.
  • East Gaston High School FOR club hosts a food drive annually. They also hosted a faculty/student basketball game to raise money to help some students afford basketball camp.
  • The Highland School of Technology FOR partners with the Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) to host a rally on conflict resolution, positive decision-making, and safety (no texting and driving). Students write “I Believe” statements on a banner that is displayed. Below is a picture of hearts signed by Highland students displayed in the shape of a hand that can touch millions.
  • South Point High School incorporates Rachel’s Challenge with Project Unify to bring together students with disabilities with other students and promote acceptance of diverse populations.


Dr. Melissa Balknight 

Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services                           Gaston County Schools


The Value of Telling It to You Straight

SEABROOKS SAYS: Careful now. Get a good grip when trusted folks give you straight talk.  Do whatever it takes to react positively. Read on…

Here is a lesson I learned recently based on personal experience. I wonder if you see yourself in any of this. For those of you I’ve not met, I’m a business owner and I coach other business owners and their teams. I’ve got a bit of a niche coaching and teaching businesses and teams that seem to hit a hurdle they just can’t get past. The hurdle comes in several forms. It could be the need for the business to become more valuable or profitable or it could be the organization is growing yet unsure about their next level of leadership, management or building a great team. However it presents itself, I’m expected to be congruent with what I teach. So, while working hard to help others get the life they enjoy via a business that supports what they want to achieve, I find myself saying something that pushes them past where they stop on their own; clearing the hurdle. Sometimes this requires being blunt. Most of these folks have already enjoyed some level of success and are pretty smart. They’ve even surrounded themselves with smart people.

The problem is, the people they surround themselves with are reluctant to tell it straight; afraid to tell the boss the truth about what’s going on in the business. It might make him or her mad and could be a game changer for their career. Here’s the lesson applied to me. This past year my own business growth was flat. So my coach says to me, “Your skills and knowledge have gotten you to this point, if you want your businesses to grow then you’re going to have to wake up and do something about your skills and your knowledge.” Hmmm. Guess who is working on ramping up his skills and knowledge?

Let me ask you, who do you have in your life that will tell it to you straight? Who has the courage, and cares for you enough, to sift through all of the political correctness and tell you what you NEED to hear?  I once strongly scolded a client that his team was terrified of him and wouldn’t bring him the information he needed in order to make better decisions. “How does that make you feel,” I said. A moment later, I got up and headed for the door and mentioned, “That’s our coaching session for the week; I’ll be back next week for your answer.” Wasn’t even sure I’d still have the client the next week. But hey, he was paying me to tell it to him straight; he already had all the “yes” people he needed surrounding him.

Whether it is in your personal life or your business, it is an absolute must that you have someone that will be honest with you—realizing that they are doing it for your own good, not theirs.

So, I have a coach that told it to me straight—concise, direct and exactly what I needed to hear.

OK, so you find someone that cares about you enough to tell it to you straight—now what? Are you going to take their advice and do something about it?  Or, are you going to smile and listen and then keep doing what you are doing?  The choice is yours—but your decision makes all the difference in the world.

It doesn’t make any difference whether it is your family, your business or your friends. Having someone willing to tell it to you straight means you absolutely must have a great relationship with them. And life is all about relationships.  With your family, your team, your community, your church, etc.  The most important thing in your life is not what tangible items you have, but rather what relationships you have.

So, let’s assume you want someone to be honest with you and tell it to you straight. What do you need to build the relationships that will lead to that? Here are three things to consider:

  1. Invest time in building relationships—mark the most important words here; it is an investment of your time, something you can’t get more of, so it’s valuable
  2. Ask people to tell it to you straight—give them permission
  3. Take action on their advice—i.e. listen and then do something. The difference this makes will be a game changer for you.

Tony Marder, President

ASM Ventures Corporation

The Real Deal

SEABROOK DAYS: Darcel Walker says “these relationships are what help bring new leaders to the table.  Relationships build leaders.”  Are you a relationship builder?  Should you be? NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

As someone categorized, simply by date of birth, as a millennial, I cringe at the thought that I may come off as pushy, challenging and one who constantly needs recognition. These are all terms that came to light at the recent Leadership Rising program that was sponsored by the Jaycees and Gaston Together. Instead, I want to be seen for my willingness to make change, my hunger for learning and my enthusiasm and motivation that comes simply from meaningful work. But in a world where millennial employees outnumber all other working generations, it’s interesting that the negative characteristics often outweigh the positive. Rather than using our powers for good, we tend to model the crab effect, pulling others down as we make our way to the top.

According to the Regional Indicator website, as of 2014, millennials made up approximately 22% of Gaston County’s population. This number is approximate, simply because since then, some residents have aged out and some residents have aged in. That means that 55,000 Gaston County residents are millennials. So why do we continue to ask where the leaders are? Where are the other 54,500 people who are classified as a part of this new aged working generation? Rather than attempting to speak for a whole generation of people, let me share my perception of the problem. This is simply the perception of an African American, 20..ish, female who seems to ooze the “not from here” scent.

The simple question that I would ask a future leader is, do you see yourself in the room? Do you see someone who looks like you at the table, making the decisions, playing the games, encouraging everyone to “drill down” to obtain the “low hanging fruit”? In Gaston County, only 38% of people of working age are male. So why, in a county where almost 60% of residents are female, do I not see myself at the table more often? I was once told that the majority of business transactions take place in the parking lot. But why? Why are these conversations taking place on the golf course, in the mens gambling room and in the parking lot? Do we need to hide out in the locker room to get to the table? I attended an all girls high school, so based on those four years of research, alone, I can absolutely answer my own question. Too often, women don’t support other women. Instead of seeing someone that can be a good leader, we tend to see someone who can be a threat. Eyes are rolled, judgements are made and before we can even get to the table, millennials, who grew up seeing Lindsey Lohen and her crew in Mean Girls, are over it.

I came across a quote the other day that stated that, “When women support other women, incredible things happen.” The golf course, the gambling room and the parking lot all have one thing in common — relationships. Men, whether they realize it or not, form relationships. You like golf? Me too! You like fast cars? Me too! Now, the relationships may not start over something so shallow, but those relationships are what get the checks written and the decisions made, quicker than it takes to walk to the car after the official meeting. These relationships are what help bring new leaders to the table. These decisions aren’t decided by who pushed someone else down to get the top, but instead by getting to know each other and understanding that relationships build leaders. Don’t get me wrong, both men and women gravitate to this dog eat dog mentality. And I hate to say it, but oftentimes, the negative characteristics that I mentioned earlier are what distinguish us as millennials. Those who try to be the big fish in a small pond deter the rest of us from pursuing leadership. It took our parents 30+ years to get to retirement and who we step on on the way up won’t help us get there much faster.

In a day in age where it’s not what you know, but who you know, the path to leadership is lined with mentors and lunch dates. Asking where the leaders are without reaching out and getting to know a millennial is like sitting in the boat asking where the fish are… without a fishing pole. If future leaders don’t see themselves in the room, it may take us longer to open the door. Instead of asking where the leaders are in Gaston County, let’s open our eyes. We’re right here! We’re ready and willing to walk through the door. There may not be 10,000 of us, but the 100 of us who are here have our sleeves rolled up, ready to work. Sometimes, we just need the invitation to join the team. Don’t assume that we have too much on our plate. We thrive for this.

Look around the table and see who is missing. Women, are you one few? If so, is that because you may have driven the others away? Start building those relationships, rather than seeing other leaders as stepping stones to the top. Whether or not we are invited, true leaders will find their way to the table, simply because of our passion and need to create positive change. Invite us in, form those relationships. When women support other women, incredible things happen.

Darcel Walker, MA

Program Manager, Gaston Together