Monthly Archives: January 2017

Tri-Faith Open Letter

SEABROOK SAYS: Mark Epstein is brilliant – and a superb writer.  He has been a very active member of the Interfaith Trialogue (a group of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Gaston County) for many years.  Read with interest his thought-provoking words.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

A Tri-Faith Open Letter to Our Fellow Citizens of Gaston County

Whereas recently and all too often we are witness to senseless tragedies in the name of religious faith, we the undersigned and many others issue this statement to calm, to ease fear, and bring us closer to a world filled with love and peace, where swords have been bent into plowshares, and the lion has laid down with the lamb. To this end we proclaim, and hope all will likewise proclaim, that WE:

    • Believe that faith in God gives purpose and meaning to human life, and is a force for good in the world; that all people are created in God’s image and thus equally deserving of human dignity.
    • Hold that God’s greatest desire is for his creation to live in joy and peace, with forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
    • Understand that evil exists in the world, but believe God extended to humankind grace and the ability to discern right and wrong, to be used in the pursuit of righteousness, to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.
    • Acknowledge that although fear may at times draw close, it should not and need not govern us, and we will not be bound by it. It is within our human capacity to transcend and overcome fear, from which too often anger, discord, and spiritual weakness inevitably flow. It is together, resolute in cooperation and not divided in fear, that we will prevail over those who wish us harm.
    • Hold that Truth of Holy Scripture does not mean its most difficult, even violent, language and passages are a prescription for violence today, nor arrogance of faith, nor demagoguery, nor disdain of other faith traditions.  
  • Reject and disavow violence in the name of God or select scripture, or to advance one’s faith and precepts. WE JOIN OUR MUSLIM COMMUNITY IN RENOUNCING ALL SUCH VIOLENCE.

 

  • Yet recognize the unfortunate fact that any faith tradition will have its misguided fringe, unrepresentative of and rejected by nearly all of its worldwide adherents.
  • Affirm and embrace timeless American values: Liberty, Life, Inclusiveness, Religious Freedom, the democratically-established Rule of Law, and urge all to stand by them no matter how difficult our challenges.
  • Embrace and rededicate our lives to the universal ethics of our traditions: Justice, Kindness, Good Conduct, Charity to care for the least amongst us. Conversely, our traditions commonly hold that God forbids injustice, immorality and oppression.
  • Affirm that our traditions each embrace God’s most important directives: to love Him, to love our neighbor, and also to love the stranger. We thus oppose any effort at discrimination – socially, religiously, or politically – directed towards any faith tradition.
  • Are grateful to the men and women of all races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds who work tirelessly and often at risk to their own lives, to protect our freedoms and liberties.
  • Issue a call for Interfaith dialogue, understanding, and acceptance – for when people of good will gather together in the study of scripture, God is present among them.   And as it enriches each other and our community, it is the same as enriching the whole world.

With these avowals, we and many more are proud to call Gaston County home, and a beacon and stronghold of interfaith diversity and strength.   We join hands to put aside fear, to engage and make our corner of the world better, and to continue our daily work of bringing peace on earth and good will toward all men and women.

 

SIGNED,

Members and Friends of the Gaston County Interfaith Trialogue

(Meeting for 14 years with the purpose of fostering understanding and harmony among the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam)

  • Dr. Mark Epstein, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Charles Gray, First United Methodist Church, Gastonia
  • Sam Shoukry, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Rev. Sydnor Thompson, Myers Memorial Methodist Church Gastonia
  • Charles Brown, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Rafat Hamam, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Rev. David Christy, First United Methodist Church
  • Hassan Ebrahim, Islamic Society of Gastonia
  • Bill Gross, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
  • Rev. T. Steven Bolton, ret.
  • Mark Hanna, Trinity United Methodist Church
  • Linda Gibbons, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Rev. Richard Boyce, Union Presbyterian Seminary
  • Jason Shiflet, First Presbyterian Church Gastonia
  • Cindy Buckley, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Rev. Joan Martin, Gastonia
  • Cam Tracy, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Chuck Duncan, First Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Rev. Vic Wilfong, Covenant & Trinity United Methodist Churches
  • Dr. Bob Blake, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Sally Williams, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
  • Andi Brymer, The Christian Church Disciples of Christ, Gastonia
  • Geof & Judy Planer, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
  • Steve Knight, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ
  • Jeremy Whitener, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ

 

 

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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

Gaston’s Opioid Issue

SEABROOK SAYS:  To Gaston County residents: You, like most, are unaware of Gaston’s problems with opiate abuse and addiction.  It is bad.  We rank #5 in North Carolina behind Mecklenburg County, which is #1.  Read on, become aware and weep. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Initially, when the news started trickling out that Gaston County was one of the worst counties in North Carolina for opiate abuse and addiction, I sensed that many of my fellow residents were as unaware as I of just how deadly the epidemic was.  As we have begun to educate ourselves, the news has become pretty grim.  Consider this sobering statistic from the Gaston Gazette.

Gaston County remains one of the top counties in the state for heroin overdose deaths, ranking fifth in the total number of such deaths from 1999 to 2014.  Seventy five people in that time period have died from heroin overdoses, putting Gaston County behind only state-leading Mecklenburg (175), Wake (109), Guilford (103) and New Hanover (97).

When reading the stats and figures , remember we are talking about someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, child or spouse.  Opiate addiction does not discriminate and has permeated every race and social/economic demographic in Gaston County.  In fact, one of the quickest growing demographic is white, middle class women.  Whether or not we are aware, we all know someone who is struggling with this form of addiction.

How do we combat the crisis in Gaston?  Fortunately, we have some of the finest law enforcement agencies and some of the most knowledgeable addiction specialist, doctors, social workers and clinicians in the state.

The DDAT (Drug Diversion and Treatment) program initiated by Chief Ramey (Gaston County Police Department) has blossomed into an all hands on deck approach to not only assist those who are addicted, but work to keep them sober with short and long term goals and programs.  They correctly understand that we will not be able to incarcerate our way out of this epidemic.

Our Sheriff has partnered with CaroMont Health to provide over 500 doses of Narcan (a lifesaving drug that when administered can literally bring someone back from the brink) and is ensuring the proper training for GEMS and local deputies.

Our Gastonia City Police are also training their deputies on the use of Narcan and have been actively working with the DDAT program as well as increasing their arrests of major drug traffickers in the Gastonia.

Phoenix Counseling and other groups such as Gaston Controlled Substance Coalition, Partners Behavioral Health and the Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services have also stepped up and initiated training programs, public awareness events and treatment programs to address the epidemic.

And still we need to do more.  We are making headway and lives are being saved, but as I talk with legal and clinical experts and recovering addicts; this struggle is far from over.

Gaston County has much to be proud of – we are ahead of many NC localities that are still trying to assess and respond to the crisis.  What is critical now is more community involvement and awareness.

Faith leaders can help by opening their doors for community discussions and allowing recovery groups to meet free of cost.  There is a real need for more ALANON and NARCANON groups to be formed and facilitated by trained staff.  This could be a real asset to the community.

Local schools (public and private) need to formulate or update drug deterrent programs that address the troubling rise in youth addiction and abuse of opiates.  Young adults are quickly becoming one of the most vulnerable demographics of opioid abuse.

Finally, all of us can help by talking to our friends and family about the dangers of abusing opiates, discarding and storing medications properly and the rise in heroin addiction.  Be aware, educate yourselves, form community watch groups and take care of one another.

Like any other crisis that has come our way , Gaston County can and will rise to the challenge.  What will determine the speed at which we gain the upper hand will be equal to the amount our local communities come together to help.  This is your community and our challenge.  Let’s meet this challenge together.  Are you ready?

Robert J Kellogg

Gastonia City Council (Ward 1)