Monthly Archives: December 2015

Gaston Youth Connected: Doing Something Together

SEABROOK SAYS: Most Gaston County folks do not know the writer, Sally Swanson.  She was the leader of our very effective five-year teen pregnancy reduction effort. Does reading this encourage you to help continue to reduce teen pregnancy?  I hope so.

Roughly half of all pregnancies in our state – and in our country are unplanned. That doesn’t mean that the children born from these pregnancies are unwanted or unloved or doomed from the get go. But it means that these families might not be prepared – ready for the cost of diapers and child care; in a safe, stable home and relationship; with basic supportive benefits, like the ability to take time from work or school to even give birth.  Teenagers approach pregnancy, birth, and parenting with added challenges: they may not have finished high school and haven’t finished college, they likely don’t have a resume or savings or a credit history, and, as they approach the task of parenting a child – which is hard for anyone – they are deeply stigmatized in their families, communities, and society. When we talk about addressing teen pregnancy, we don’t do it to cast aspersions on young people or young parents. In fact, let me be very clear: Young parents can be great parents when they have the support they need, and health departments have been key players in that support system. We talk about teen pregnancy to encourage communities to do what they can to make sure that the children in their communities – in their classrooms, on their playgrounds, as their future workers and leaders – are surrounded by families who are emotionally and financially ready to parent. We do it to protect the ability of each community’s young people to build a strong future for themselves. We do it because we know that the skills it takes for a 17 year old to avoid an unplanned pregnancy carry forward to 27 and 37. We do it because teen pregnancy is almost entirely preventable when our education systems, our health systems, and our community norms align to support young people and to support prevention.

Five years ago, across sectors of the community, Gaston County scaled up pregnancy prevention efforts by working on four major components: mobilizing the community, implementing evidence-based programs, improving health care services for adolescents, and linking young people to both health care and programmatic services. In addition, there was special focus on the most high-risk populations, most notably, older teens.

Community leaders came together to serve on a series of leadership teams, including one for youth, to take on planning and implementing the initiative. These teams spent the better part of a year surveying the community, assessing needs, and planning. In the process of surveying the community, we found that 96% of county residents thought the community should do more to prevent teen pregnancy, that 87% of parents thought it was important for teens to have a place to get birth control, and that 80% thought their own child should have information on birth control even though they hoped their child would stay abstinent. 

To implement programs, we helped build the capacity of organizations and youth-serving professionals across the community to provide evidence-based programs. More than 6,500 young people have since participated in an evidence-based program, and most of these participants came from the county’s teen birth hot spots.

In 2012, Gaston County Health Department opened the Teen Wellness Center, a clinic that provides a full complement of health care services, including sexual and reproductive health care. Young people provided input to redesign a section of the main health department clinic to serve teens and young adults. The walls are bright blue and green, the magazine racks are stocked with Teen Vogue and Sports Illustrated, instead of Woman’s Day. The posters and pamphlets are designed for teens. More importantly, though, the staff is trained to provide adolescent-friendly health care. How do I know this is the more important part? Because we’ve worked with the community’s private providers, as well, to make the same changes in practice, and they’re making progress even without redesigning a space. When we look at the combined reach of the private providers and the health department, providers who have committed to adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health care served 36% of the county’s 15-19 year old female population in 2013.

The Gaston Youth Connected also worked to connect teens to the health care they need. “If you build it, they will come,” does not work – even if you have a gorgeous space just for teens. They have to know where to go, they have to know about their right to get care, and they have to feel welcome. Youth-serving professionals and school personnel were trained on how to make a good referral for teens. We introduced a social marketing campaign to try to reach older teens who are less attached to systems like the school system and who are too old for most youth programs. And, program partners incorporated a lesson on how to seek health care.

So, all of these activities are great, but what about the results? Since the project started, teen pregnancies in Gaston County have dropped 43% – that’s compared to around 37% statewide. At the start of the project, Gaston County’s teen pregnancy rate was 17% higher than the state rate; now it’s only 6% higher. And, there is more, the racial gap between white and black rates closed, indicating significant strides in addressing a long standing disparity.

My hope for the community is that everyone can continue to educate, provide needed services and work in concert to prevent unplanned, too early pregnancies. Onward!

Sally Swanson
Chief Program Officer




The New Way to Read

SEABROOK SAYS: The place where we live, Gaston County, has made solid proves in literacy during the past year, but folks – it ain’t over.  New energy and dedication are needed.  Read Kaye Gribble’s remarks and ask “Am I willing to help?” If your answer is yes, than DO SOMETHING about it starting right now.

The New Way to Read:  Technological Effects on Literacy

Lauging so hard crying emojiOxford Dictionary’s word of the year is an emoji that means “laughing so hard I’m crying.”  Emojis embody the way people express themselves in the digital realm today.  It’s a form of expression that crosses language barriers.  Have we come full circle – from hieroglyphics to words now back to symbols?  American writer-futurist Alvin Toffler, born in 1928, predicted “The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read.  It will be the person who does not know how to learn.”

There are no genes for reading like there are for language or vision.  But spurred by the emergence of Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Phoenician alphabet, Chinese paper and, finally, the Gutenberg press, the brain has adapted to read.

Reading proficiency is a cumulative process that develops from birth and is rooted in early brain development.  Brain science research and longitudinal studies have identified what children need to be successful readers by third grade:  good health, strong families and high quality early learning environments that build social-emotional and cognitive development.

In 1990, Gaston County’s literacy rate was a dismal 61%.  Determined to change this fact, Gaston Literacy Council conducted a “Gaston Elects to Read” campaign.  Over the next 10 years, compared to the other largest counties in the state and those contiguous to Gaston, we have made the most significant improvements.  And now, according to the 2013 American Community Survey, 81% of our citizens have at least a high school education.  We are catching up with State and National averages, 85% and 86% respectively.  While it may appear that the end of illiteracy is in sight, many studies suggest that challenges remain.

Common Sense Media found that parents are reading to their kids less than ever and adolescents aren’t reading much for fun anymore.  The average kid sponges in about three hours of Internet and video games every day, and they spend another hour and a half texting and talking on cell phones.

The percentage of 9-year-olds reading for pleasure once or more per week has dropped from 81% in 1984 to 76% in 2013.  There were even larger decreases among older children.

Reading achievement hasn’t increased for over two decades.  Only about 1/3 of fourth grade students scored proficient in reading.  Scores among 17-year-olds have remained relatively unchanged since the 1970s.  About 46% of white children are considered proficient, compared with 18% of black children and 20% of Hispanic kids.

To go 20 years with no progress in that area is shameful.  Except that, our brains were not designed to read.

And now, our clicking, swiping, and scrolling are training our brain to consume content in a new way.  Researchers are finding that serious reading has taken a hit from online scanning and skimming.

Cognitive neuroscientists warn that humans seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online.  This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia.  Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist, said, “I worry that the superficial way of reading is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing.”

There is concern that young children’s affinity and mastery of their parents’ devices could stunt the development of deep reading skills.  A 2012 Israeli study of engineering students — who grew up in the world of screens — looked at their comprehension while reading the same text on screen and in print when under time pressure to complete the task.

The students believed they did better on screen.  They were wrong.  Their comprehension and learning was better on paper.

Researchers say that the differences between text and screen reading should be dealt with in education, particularly with school-aged children.  There are advantages to both ways of reading.  There is potential for a bi-literate brain.

“We can’t turn back,” Wolf said. “We should be simultaneously reading to children from books, giving them print, helping them learn this slower mode, and at the same time steadily increasing their immersion into the technological, digital age. It’s got to be both.”


Kaye Gribble
Executive Director
Gaston Literacy Council, Inc.

FaithHealth – Gaston

SEABROOK SAYS: Do you know Lisa Marisiddaiah?. She is a parish nurse serving both First United Methodist and First Presbyterian churches. She too, is highly involved with a new process that, done in collaboration, will save significant money for the taxpayers while giving needed service to those who are just discharged by our hospital. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Did you know that there are almost 800 faith communities in Gaston County filled with compassionate members? Imagine if even a small percentage of those were willing to partner with a community initiative, not only to strengthen their own health ministries, but to reach beyond their own walls to assist their neighbors in need. And if faith communities in the same geographic regions were willing to collaborate, to create a partnership to serve those in close proximity by combining their assets, we could really make an impact…we are always stronger when we come together.

 FaithHealth-Gaston is a new community-initiated program. It is a “movement” of compassionate care, partnering the strengths of congregations, the clinical expertise of health providers, and a network of community resources. The goal is to assist patients by offering them a network that they can rely on, someone they can trust to be with them at a time of need. This program is strongly supported by CaroMont Health, the CaroMont Health Foundation, Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services, Gaston Faith Network, Gaston Together, HealthNet Gaston and the United Way of Gaston County.

There are many things we overlook in the course of our day, and maybe even take for granted…being physically able to drive ourselves to a medical appointment or having the ability to prepare a meal. And when we are not feeling well, most of us have family, friends or neighbors who can and will assist. We have the luxury of being blessed to have the basics that we need to have a comfortable life, good health, and a network of supportive people.

Imagine if you weren’t so fortunate. Imagine if you did not have a support system; if your health declined and you couldn’t drive yourself to the doctor’s office or to the pharmacy to pick up your medications. Imagine if you didn’t have the energy to stand up long enough to prepare yourself a nutritious meal, or even to get to the store to purchase groceries to make that meal. Unfortunately, this is a reality for many older adults in our community. Many go without proper nutrition or prescribed therapies because they lack access to transportation. Sometimes that can lead to a health crisis that could have been prevented.

After many months of planning, FaithHealth-Gaston will soon begin assisting frail, elderly patients who are being discharged from CaroMont Regional Medical Center; patients who do not have a support network in place. Hospital staff will assess the needs and make a referral to the FaithHealth-Gaston Community Coordinator who will connect the patient with a caring volunteer.

 Volunteers from congregations will offer health care ministries for their members and neighbors. When illness strikes, they’ll provide support before, during and after hospitalization. They’ll make home visits, provide emotional and spiritual support, and help with meals, transportation and picking up medications. Training will be provided to these volunteers in respecting patients’ privacy, hospital visitation, care at the end of life, mental health first aide, and other topics. Partnering congregations will receive a wealth of educational resources aimed at improving health. Volunteers will gain the many benefits that come along with helping someone else, and the recipients will witness what a true relationship between faith and health looks like.

If you have a desire to be a volunteer, or would like to see that additional information be presented to your faith community leader, please contact Lisa Marisiddaiah, RN, BSN, FCN, Faith & Health Ministry Manager, CaroMont Health. or 704- 834-3516

 For additional information, please visit