Tag Archives: human issues


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.


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

photo (13)


Relations with America and Cuba

SEABROOK SAYS: Claudio Fuente is a native of Cuba, but has lived in the USA for many years.  He will share his thoughts about Cuba and the possible relationships with the US. Somehow, sometime, Gaston County may benefit from a relationship developed between Cuba and the US.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

On a recent trip to Little Havana in Miami, Florida I marveled at this vibrant community in action. Vendors and business owners graciously made everyone feel welcomed, despite language barriers and cultural differences.  As an American citizen originally born in Havana, Cuba, this environment reminded me of the warmth and friendliness the Cuban people show to each other and to everyone they meet.

Significant events have once again thrust Cuba and America together and all for the better. Many people who came to this country from Cuba take the view that America should have nothing to do with the present Castro regime. I’m of the opinion trade is good — eliminate the embargo and flood Cuba with blue jeans and car parts!

Cuba has many issues, and so does America — both countries have political prisoners, a history of human rights violations, a significant gap between rich and poor.   I’ve always had a dislike and distrust for the current Cuban government leadership.  Because of the actions of previous administrations, the door was opened for the current leaders, leading to mass migrations from Cuba in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.

This year, my family and I will celebrate our 60th anniversary of arriving to America. For my sister and I, the move was like a camping trip.  For our parents it was pure hell.  They had to give up everything they owned in this world to be total strangers in a land that did not want them.  They endured being made to feel they were unwanted, got used to being shown the exit rather than the entrance.  They experienced discrimination because they were from another land and spoke another language.  They survived and provided for their family by accepting any employment available, even jobs that were well beneath their skill levels.  We knew many physicians, dentists and teachers from Cuba who came to America and found their degrees and experience meant nothing here, so they took any job they could, often working as housekeepers, shift workers in factories, or restaurant servers.  My family and I saw and experienced these hardships and many more.

Our family made a vow not to allow the hatred to discourage us. Many people were kind to us and provided encouragement as we found our way in this new country.  We pursued education and exhibited a strong work ethic, eventually meeting our goal of becoming American citizens.  As citizens,  we were excited to be granted the privilege to vote, looked forward to the honor of being called to serve on a jury pool, and felt secure knowing know that no one could take these and other rights away from us.

As someone who came to this country as a legal immigrant, I am concerned by the harsh language I hear from others about people who were not born in America. Please, never fear someone whose language you don’t recognize or speak — embrace them.    Show compassion — many of these families suffered greatly to leave faraway places that don’t enjoy the freedoms that many of us take for granted.  They want to be free to work hard, get an education, raise their families, and make a positive contribution to America.

Claudio Fuente
Retired Graphic Design Manager

Interfaith Trialogue

SEABROOK SAYS: Quietly and effectively, the Interfaith Trialogue has been working for the future of Gaston County. Who are they? Better find out!  The issues this group tackles are becoming more important every day.  If you do not know, start to learn right now.   NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

You may or may not know this, but Jews, Muslims and Christians have been meeting in Gastonia on a regular basis since the months following 9/11.

Also, you may or may not know that we have not only a synagogue, but also a mosque right here in Gastonia, too.

This group of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in Gastonia (we call ourselves the Interfaith Trialogue) have been gathering for the purposes of better understanding one another’s beliefs and practices (and hence our own), to remove barriers of misinformation and distrust, and to build strong relationships within our community.

Meetings are held the third Monday of every month, taking turns at various houses of worship throughout the community, including the Islamic Center, Temple Emanuel, and at a variety of churches around Gaston County.

A main study method used is called “Scriptural Reasoning”, whereby passages are chosen from the holy texts of each faith, comparing and contrasting the verses to learn the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian perspective of each reading.

Significant outcomes of Trialogue have been personal spiritual growth for participants, and the development of close relationships built on mutual respect and trust. We do not proselytize or attempt to convert one another to our respective faiths, nor to homogenize our differences, but rather gather in the spirit of mutual deference and understanding.

Over the past few years, the media has highlighted the Islamic faith, both in a good, but mostly bad, light. Meeting with local Muslims in a posture of learning serves, among many other things, to counter the negative narrative.  Our last meeting at the Mosque drew 35 people, and, on a positive note, our numbers continue to grow.

In the interest of community awareness, members of Gaston Trialogue have organized a “Walk for Peace” starting at 8:00 am on Saturday, July 9th.  We will begin at First United Methodist Church on Franklin Boulevard and walk to the Temple, various churches in Gastonia, and then end at the Islamic Center to enjoy an “Abrahamic meal” to celebrate.  Fellowship, prayer, refreshments and transportation will be available along the way.  If you have more interest in our group and/or the “Walk for Peace”, please feel free to send an email to gastontrialogue@gmail.com.

Rev. Dr. Joan C. Martin
Covenant Village

The Golden Rule

SEABROOK SAYS:  It’s quite likely that very few in Gaston are aware of the teaching, training and work that go into the job of sheriff.  Here are comments on what works for Sheriff Cloninger.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

I can remember as a child my mother, Mary Jo Cloninger, teaching me the Golden Rule, which is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” She had to use a “hickory switch” to emphasize the value of the Golden Rule on me. But as I have matured, I have come to appreciate these simple words.

Since having the honor to be the Sheriff of Gaston County, I have made the Golden Rule part of our philosophy at the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office. In my interviews with new employees, we discuss the Golden Rule and its value in serving the citizens of our county. I explain that we should treat everyone as we would want our own mother, father, brother or sister treated by any other Sheriff’s Office personnel in the same situation. It is my belief, that if my employees and I will try our best to follow the Golden Rule, then we will better serve the citizens of our county. Hopefully, we will reduce complaints and dissatisfaction with the jobs that we perform for the public.

But just take a moment and think what the effect would be on Gaston County if all of us just tried every day to follow the Golden Rule. Would we not have less conflicts and have a greater respect for one another? Would there not be a significant decrease in crime? Would Gaston County not become the greatest place in the world to live and raise a family?

I hope all of us will try to make Gaston County the envy of the whole world by trying to live everyday by the Golden Rule. We need to encourage all our friends, family and acquaintances to try to live by this rule also!

Alan Cloninger
Sheriff, Gaston County

Let’s Resolve to Be Bold in 2016

SEABROOK SAYS: Some of Gaston’s leaders have reduced their leadership contributions. Some have aged out and, of course, some have died.  New leaders must emerge and you must be a part of that emergence.  Read Ash Smith’s comments and allow them to bring new energy to your community leadership.  Now that you know, what will you do?

There has been a lot of discussion over the last year on leadership in our community. Most of the discussions center on a lack of leadership development opportunities, a lack of political leadership, or a lack of engagement by particular segments of our population such as millennials or minority groups. As I gathered research for this article, I read back through the articles written for Digging Deeper over the last year and a half and it dawned on me how many great leaders our community has already identified.

Beyond the many leaders who have contributed to Digging Deeper, I have had the privilege of working with dozens of amazing leaders in the nonprofit and business communities, who are making a difference by providing services or jobs that our community desperately needs. The Gaston County Jaycees have shown me that our millennials are dedicated to improving Gaston, and I’ve heard tales of the well-organized Junior League’s work on personal development and community service. I have had thoughtful conversations with newly elected political leaders who want to make Gaston County a better place to live, work, and play.

It has become clear to me that our community doesn’t have a problem identifying leaders; we have a problem embracing boldness. I once read that boldness is the translation of values into action. It is difficult to be bold, because when we are bold as leaders it means that we are going against the grain, are trying something new, or are changing the way that things are done. The fear of having others disagree with you and the potential of failure are both strong deterrents that hold organizations and communities back from creating the change necessary to do extraordinary things.

Often times we deter our leaders from taking risks. The results of that deterrence can be devastating to the development of new ideas. When we create an environment that is hostile to change or risk, the really impactful ideas are never proposed, are met with resistance and then dropped, or suffer the worst fate of all in a slow, painful death by committee. That last one is what I have seen all too often in Gaston County. How many of you have heard a bold idea, only to see it get sent to a committee and never resurface, or take a year or longer before any action on the idea occurs?

John Maxwell writes about the “Law of the Big Mo”, or momentum, in his famous The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. He says, “It takes a leader to create momentum. Followers catch it. And managers continue it once it has begun. But creating it requires someone who can motivate others…”

In Gaston County, we need our leaders to be bold and undeterred in their pursuit of big ideas. And as followers we have an obligation to help them maintain the momentum of those ideas once they are proposed. This is not only true of our political leaders, but with anyone proposing something that will create positive change in our community or organizations. There are some good examples of people doing bold things in our community: Jesse Cole and the excitement that he creates around the Grizzlies organization, Kenny Gehrig of Partners Behavioral Health and his committee’s work on developing a coordinated intake system for the homeless, Lisa Marisiddaiah and the work she is doing with the FaithHealth program over at CaroMont Health, and the Gastonia City Council as they pursue the potential of a new ballpark downtown. They, and many others, are working on bold ideas.

So today I challenge You. In 2016, resolve to do at least one bold, new thing that will benefit your organization, company, or the community. Take a risk and be willing to fail. Don’t let others kill your motivation, and motivate others to follow you. Act with boldness, and make 2016 the start of something great.

Ashley Smith works with the USAF on leadership development, continuous improvement programs, and enterprise learning projects.


Disrupting the Effects of Poverty on the Young Child’s Brain

Growing up poor can be devastating for children. Their home environments are often unpredictable and uncertain. They can’t always count on nourishing food at mealtimes or relief from an earache or a painful cough by getting quality health care. Their parents are often unable to offer them a childhood that is nurturing and that fosters attachment and a sense of security. Age-appropriate learning materials, adult/child conversation and an attachment to books may be missing in these homes. Due to all of these factors and others, children from impoverished homes are under constant stress. These conditions, often beginning in infancy and continuing throughout toddlerhood and the early childhood years, result in children entering kindergarten lacking the prerequisite skills necessary for success. In particular, studies show that language development is affected. Studies tell us that children from low socio-economic environments suffer as much as a 30 million word gap at kindergarten when compared with their peers from middle and upper income homes. This means that children from disadvantaged environments speak and understand fewer words. This language deficiency continues and even widens as children progress through the grades. School is a language rich environment and children need to understand and process the spoken and written word in order grow and development. There is now ample scientific evidence that explains why poverty is so detrimental to young children and why it can lead to more poverty.

During the process of human development the brain expands at its most rapid rate during the years of infancy, toddlerhood and the early childhood years. Young brains need to experience stimulation, emotional attachment and healthy social interactions in the early years in order to lay the foundations for later school learning, a healthy sense of self and positive social relationships. Poverty alters the young child’s brain by reducing the number of brain cells in areas of the brain that help with memory, language and emotions all of which play a major role in learning. Researchers tell us that young children exposed to poverty have smaller brain volumes than children not living in poverty. By the age of three, for example, the pathways in the language area of the brain associated with vocabulary development are well established. If by age three children have not been enriched with language building activities that enhance these pathways, they may have difficulty building and developing vocabulary later on. They may also lack the persistence, desire and self-regulation skills needed to attend to learning. Happily there are measures that can be taken within communities to disrupt the damage that poverty inflicts on young children thereby interrupting what has become intergenerational poverty.

To disrupt the effects of poverty on children, communities around the country have invested in a variety of programs. In some cases agencies have trained practitioners to make weekly home visits during the early months of life to teach parents about nurturing parent behaviors that ensure healthy attachments between children and their parents. In other communities high quality educare programs have been established. These programs care for the very young but also engage them in learning practices suitable to the age of the child. There is often a parent education program attached. Others have weekly programs at locations such as libraries, churches or community centers where parents bring their infants and toddlers and learn how to use appropriate educational materials with their children. These programs teach parents how to read to babies and toddlers. Many of these early childhood initiatives have been researched so communities wishing to embark on one or more of these interventions will find ample evidence for implementation. Often agencies of various kinds come together in a community to guide the development of these practices. A needs assessment is usually completed and then the representatives from agencies and community organizations determine what kinds of services are needed to address the problem of educating children with the greatest need. Communities may offer many kinds of programs so parents can select one that meets their needs. High quality must characterize both the training of those who work with parents and children and in the selection and implementation of the program. Too often we try to do this on the cheap and the results are inadequate.

Poor children have few advocates and little voice in their circumstances. They depend upon caring and compassionate adults to speak and advocate for them. Many social service agencies and other community groups are working hard to meet the needs of these children and their families but the case loads are heavy and the need is great. In a recent report before the Gaston County School Board, it was reported that about 50% of children who entered kindergarten in Gaston County this fall did not have all the skills needed to begin school. Investing in quality early childhood programs has shown benefits. Studies show that these children have increased cognitive abilities, are more healthy, have fewer social and emotional problems, and cost local, state and federal governments less money when compared with children from similar socio-economic backgrounds who have not benefitted from high quality infant, toddler and preschool programs. Investing in human development at the very earliest stages of life is one of the best investments Gaston County can make.

Marilyn E. Mecca, Ph.D. Child Development and Early Childhood Education
Professor Emeritus, Lander University, Greenwood, SC; Resident of Gastonia.

Backpack Weekend Food Program

Food insecurity or childhood hunger is a rising epidemic in the United States.  One in five children does not know where their next meal is coming from. With the US economy continually declining, the numbers are expected to grow.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program (BWFP) is the outgrowth of a study of the nutritional needs of school-aged children in Gaston County over the weekend especially during the school year.  Gaston County Schools has reported that since 2007 the number of students served free or reduced fee lunch has risen from 47% of the public school population to 59% in 2013.

In early 2011 while watching a TV program on the Food Network, Carolyn Niemeyer came upon a program featuring a back pack program in Rock Hill, SC.  According to the program, 1 in 17 children in that school district were hungry on the weekend. “This surely couldn’t be,” Carolyn thought.  After doing some research on her own, she discovered the astonishing truth and suspected the same may be true in Gaston County as well.  Carolyn contacted the Gaston County School System to discover they did not have an official weekend back pack program in the county, although some schools did have local churches providing food for students on the weekend.

Carolyn, mother of two and grandmother of five, went on a six month search to gain information about how she could help.  Believing a back pack program would work in Gaston County, she reached out to the community, and it responded. “I just knew that something had to be done, I couldn’t sleep thinking about little children being hungry,” said Carolyn.

CaroMont Health provided the professional nutrition advice through their chief dietitian with specially designed menus for both elementary and middle/high school aged children. The food items for the program are purchased at a wholesale bulk rate through an agreement with CaroMont Health and their Premier purchase program. CaroMont Health became the first partner in the project and has provided food bags for over 100 students each week at one of the elementary schools for the past three years.

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Gastonia provides the warehouse space, the non-profit status, and has been a partner since the beginning providing food bags for over 50 students at an elementary school.  Pastor Brack East offered his support when Carolyn brought the idea of a backpack program to him.  “God gave Carolyn her passion for this program and we wanted to help out in any way we could, said Pastor East.”

The program is designed to provide a bag of nonperishable, individually-portioned, nutritionally-balanced food for students to take home in their backpacks on the weekend.  Schools choose to be involved with the program.  Each school is partnered with a local church or organization that has agreed to fund a set number of students in the program for at least one year.

The cost to feed a child for the weekend is under $5.00, which includes at least six meals.   The students receiving the weekend food bags are identified by teachers, counselors, principals, social workers, and school nurses as those most likely to be hungry on the weekend.

 “This program has the ability to provide some sort of stability to students,” Valerie Yatko, the Gaston County Schools Business and Education Partnership Director says.  “Just for children to be certain that they will not be hungry over weekend could translate to better performance and behavior in the classroom.  We are seeing some success with that.”

Many volunteers give their time each month to unload the tractor trailer load of food, organize the food items, count them for the partner food orders, and assist with distribution to the partners. Carolyn Niemeyer serves as the program’s coordinator.

There are many, many more volunteers in 36 partner churches or organizations that pack the food bags each week for over 740 students in 33 schools in the county.  They say they know their time is well spent and are committed to feeding hungry children on the weekends.

In the 2013-14 school year the BackPack Weekend Food Program provided 168,963 meals at a cost of $174,334.80.  The program has been recognized in the Community Foundation’s newsletter and was the winner of $10,000 in underwriting in the Community Give Back contest sponsored by WTVI PBS in Charlotte.  The Gaston County Commissioners commended the program, the partners, and the volunteers at their June meeting.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program is getting ready to begin a fourth year of operation.  The program expects to add at least three to five additional schools with approximately 100 more students.  Many schools will ask to increase their number of students needing the weekend food.  When this happens and the partner does not have the extra funds, the program will pay for these additional food bags. This past school year the program paid for 100 students, many of whom were homeless.  The cost for these extra students can run as much as $30,000 to $40,000 for the year.

There are many caring individuals, clubs and organizations who regularly send donations to the program.  The BackPack Weekend Food Program has had the good fortune to receive support from grants from local and regional foundations. The participation in the Community Foundation Run for the Money 12 was very successful this year.  Without this continued monetary support, the program would not be able to extend the numbers of food bags when they are needed.

 “I don’t see our number of students going down, but I do know our food costs will be rising as much as 5 to 7%,” said Carolyn.  “We have to make weekly adjustments to our food orders when we have costs increases.  To have the monetary support from these donations and grants is vital to our operation.”

Volunteers, donations, interest in the program are always welcome.

For more information about the BackPack Weekend Food Program, please email  bwfpgastoncounty@gmail.com.