Category Archives: Gaston County Youth

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

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

HOPE

SEABROOK SAYS: Tony Sigmon is the leader of the Gaston County Family YMCA which has five operational facilities.  When the Y’s $18 million new facility is ready, Gaston County may well have the best in America. Tony writes on HOPE.  Read on and commit to give it your thought time. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

When my friend Bill Seabrook asked if I would write an article for “Digging Deeper,” it immediately hit me what I wanted to cover.   In a time like this, in a place like this, we all need a good healthy dose of Hope in our lives. For several years I have been pondering the question, “what is our greatest need?”  Looking around and seeing the unrest locally and abroad, observing the current political climate, seeing young people put off adulthood longer now than ever and seeing yet others have to jump into adulthood way too early; all of this brings me to my next question, where is the hope?  Some get so busy with day to day and yet others find ways to escape reality.  There seems to be a huge void of hope in our world.

Last week I had the pleasure of serving my 22nd year at the YMCA’s Blue Ridge Leaders School in Black Mountain, NC.  This “school” is a week long program where 700 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 from YMCAs throughout the South experience a physical education and leadership development training school so that they can become better leaders for their home YMCAs and communities.   Once again I was reminded what “Hope” looks like and through the eyes of a young person.   At the school there are eight 17/18 year olds who serve the school, having been selected the previous year as the “best of the best.”  They are called Honor Leaders.  Two of those Honor Leaders shared a reflection on HOPE.  Instead of listening to me pontificate, here is some of what they had to say.

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Hope. A small word, with a large meaning.  It plays a different role in each of our lives and there are many ways to define it.  Hope is looking towards the future with a clear vision.  Hope is acknowledging the uncertainty that is possible in any given situation.  Hope is our motivation to continue persevering through a difficult situation.  Often, hope is the idea we cling to when all our efforts have failed.  That small word, with such an incredible meaning, is essential to having a healthy spirit and mind.  Throughout different experiences in life, we have a persistent twinge of hope that the best outcome will be in our favor.  During these times, where do we find hope? Often we turn to temporary gratifications such as social media, negative attention or bad habits.  But they are just that, temporary and usually unhealthy.  Ultimately, this leaves us unsatisfied and wanting more.  When we find hope in temporary satisfactions, we are restricting ourselves from experiencing the hope that God provides us every day.

Think back to when you were a young child. Can you recall just how simple life was then?  We were surrounded by stories of happily ever afters, courageous heroes and victorious underdogs.  As children we have so much hope around us every day that it’s hard to be anything but positive.  The older we get, the realities of life alter our pure sight of this hope and it becomes more and more blurred.  Although we no longer cling to fictional stories to instill our hope, we have things that we do believe in.  For us and so many more we have the YMCA.  Here we see hope in action.  We see it when the dreams of an underprivileged child come true, when a struggling parent receives the financial assistance she needs to allow her children to attend camp or afterschool so she can work without worrying about them, or when a lonely widower gets time to socialize while they exercise in classes at the Y.  As leaders, it is our responsibility to use the hope we receive every day and spread it to others.  We all of have the potential to be someone’s hero.

When I hear an 18 year old talk like that to a group of 700 teens and 200 adults, I am inspired. It ignites a Hope in me that I want to share with others.  Our local community is right at that “Tipping Point” and there are so many great things that inspirational leaders are doing here in Gaston County.  My closest and favorite example is the New Y at Robinwood Lake.  To be a part of this incredible community lifting project is amazing, but working alongside leaders like Andy Warlick, Gene Matthews, George Henry, Richard Rankin, Steve Huffstetler, May Barger and Frank Craig is beyond a blessing to me.  Seeing so many more people excited to the point that they give the largest gifts that they have ever given to any project is a testament to leadership, inspiration and hope.  It is also a focused energy that creates a best of the best attitude and an excitement that is unparalleled.  My hope is that this is a beginning for Gastonia and Gaston County to see how bringing energy, vision, community and leadership together around a common cause brings great hope and makes dreams come true.  We have great potential to thrive as leaders, as community and as a county.  Now, “go be someone’s hero.”

Tony Sigmon
CEO, Gaston County Family YMCA

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How Being Mentored Helped Me

SEABROOK SAYS: Every story I ever heard about mentoring has mentioned benefits to both the mentee and the mentor.  Matt Adams’ story may be the best of all!  Has the time arrived when you should be mentoring for an hour per week?  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

A mentor is defined by Webster’s dictionary as, “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less-experienced, and often younger, person.” While this is certainly accurate, it does not fully convey the impact a mentor has on someone’s life. To me, a mentor is someone who makes such an indelible impression on the life of a young boy or girl that they become better equipped to realize their full potential. A mentor can play a fundamental role in altering a young person’s course in life for the better. It is, however, even more than helping them develop life skills that will propel them to eventual success. It oftentimes satisfies an emotional need that a young girl or boy is not having met, which carries an even more profound effect than equipping them for success.

How do I know this? I, myself, have experienced the positive effects of having a mentor. When I was five years old, my mom and dad split-up. My dad moved about two hours away and aside from my mom and brother I had no family around. We lived in a low-income part of Gastonia and, statistically speaking, the prospects for my life grew dimmer. By God’s grace, though, there was a man that had already been in my life, named Doug Mincey, who recognized that I needed a strong, male influence and he heeded the call.

What this man has done for me, in my book, places him among the saints. He was a giant to me then and is still a giant to me today. Writing briefly about him here frankly does not do him the justice he deserves. While my mom undoubtedly had the greatest influence on me, Doug would be a very close second. As someone himself who had the cards stacked against him, he instilled in me the belief that through hard work coupled with determination I could accomplish whatever I wanted. What I learned from him was to not let your circumstances define who you are but to use those circumstances to define yourself. I would say, though, that it wasn’t really what he taught me directly that impacted me. It was the example in his own daily life where I really paid attention. Among some of the things his example taught me was about the importance of faith, showing compassion to those less fortunate, conducting oneself with the utmost integrity in your profession, giving back to the community, and showing an undying devotion to family.

Doug has been more than a mentor to me. He has been one of my very best friends. I can say with certainty that my life would have been far different without his influence.  He has been with me during the highs of life and there for me during the very lows. I haven’t always followed his example and have made many mistakes, some of which I’m sure were disappointing to him, but he’s always been there to guide me back to where I need to be and has done so with grace and love. I owe a lot to him and could never repay him. I will be forever grateful to him for being that strong, male role-model that I needed but most of all for showing me unconditional love. I know my mom was very grateful as well and I believe she’s in heaven right now asking God to bless Doug as much as possible simply for the role he has played in my life.

I want to thank him, his family for sharing him, and to all those out there that take the time to mentor. You may not ever know fully the impact you are having but I can assure you it is positive. If you are considering becoming one, I’d encourage you to do so. You may just change a life.

Matt Adams
Senior Personal Banker
CommunityOne Bank, N.A.

 

The Power of a Mentor

SEABROOK SAYS:  Matt Kuiken, the lead pastor at First ARP Church, is leading the initiative to recruit adults to mentor our kids.  Read on, get inspired, become a mentor, share the benefits!   NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO? 

I was back in my hometown several months ago and I ran into him. John Raudenbush is a guy about fifteen years my senior.  He is an easy-going fella, with a sly smile, a sharp wit, and twinkle in his eye.  When I was in high school John was one of my mentors.  Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea – John would never call himself that.  But John did for me what a mentor always does.  He engaged me and gave me attention.  He encouraged me in various aspects of my life.  He motivated me to pursue God’s call on my life by affirming me.  He mentored me.  So when I saw John recently, I thanked him.  I told him I appreciated the role he had played in my development and that any success I have had is in part due to his influence on me (I don’t hold him responsible for the many failures).  I wasn’t prepared for his response.  Tears filled his eyes.  It was honestly kind of uncomfortable as he told me that he never realized that I looked up to him like that.  But I could tell that he felt honored and affirmed to be considered a mentor.  In that moment we stood on holy ground.

A mentoring relationship, whether formal or informal, is a sacred space. It is life on life impact.  It reminds us that our most formative experiences come not through interactions with programs or abstract principles but with people.  Mentoring, at its most basic level, is simply one person intentionally investing in another.  I have been blessed to be the recipient of such mentoring relationships.  In High School it was John Raudenbush.  In college it was quirky Mike McGhee.  In Seminary it was the Rev. Ryan Laughlin.  Who has it been for you?  In his book The Mentor Leader, Tony Dungy writes, “Building a life of significance, and creating a legacy of real value, means being willing to get your hands dirty. It means being willing to step out in your life and onto the platforms of influence you’ve been given and touch the lives of people in need.  If you want to make a difference in the lives of the people you lead, you must be willing to walk alongside them, to lift and encourage them, to share moments of understanding with them, and to spend time with them, not just shout down at them from on high.  Mentors build mentors.  Leaders build leaders.  When you look at it closely, its really one and the same thing.”  If you have been blessed with a mentor at any point in your life, it is now time for you to pass this gift on.  There are a myriad of different ways to do this, but let me give you one opportunity that easy and available to you right now.

Did you know that every year there are students within the Gaston County School System who step forward and request an adult mentor only to be told that there are not enough adults willing to mentor them?   Of course I’m sure they don’t actually tell the kids this.  But kids are smart; they get the picture.  To be without a mentor is to be without a crucial lifeline.  We have a tremendous opportunity here as leaders within Gaston County.  It is not just to be a mentor our selves, but to encourage others within our sphere of influence to be a mentor as well.  And here is the big thing – it doesn’t take any special skills, or abilities, or talents, or a certain personality – to be a mentor.  It just takes a willingness to show up, for an hour a week, and to invest your life in someone else’s life.  That’s it.

This year there are 238 active adult mentors in the Gaston County School System. My hope is that this number continues to grow.  My hope is that Gaston County becomes a model, not just in the state but also in the entire country for student mentoring.  How cool would it be if it was the rule, and not the exception, that all community leaders in Gaston County were also mentors?  What if mentoring was the culture of our public schools, our private business and organizations, and our entire community?  I am convinced that this reality would contribute dramatically to the flourishing of our county on numerous levels.

If you are not yet a mentor in the Gaston County School System, I encourage you to contact Valerie Yatko, Director of Business and Community Partnerships for Gaston County Schools, to let her know you are interested in getting involved. You can reach her at vayatko@gaston.k12.nc.us or 704.866.6329.  Thanks in advance for your involvement.

Reverend Matt Kuiken
Senor Pastor
First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

 

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.