Tag Archives: Volunteer

Snap, Crackle and Pop

SEABROOK SAYS: Carolyn Niemeyer gives every day to the Gaston community! Very few citizens will ever know how much she does. The back pack program she brings is incredibly successful.  Read her article and ask yourself’ “Can I help kids get food for the weekends?”  More readers need to step forward and help. How about you?  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

How many of us have heard this phrase on TV and associated it with popular cereal?  Likely, many of us could just go to the kitchen in our homes and find cereal to eat.  What about the students in Gaston County who would not have had that opportunity if not for the BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc.?  The food bags received on Fridays have meant the difference between being hungry over the weekend and having meals to eat.  The students are so anxious to get the weekend food they start asking their teachers on Friday morning, “Are we getting our food today?”

The Gaston County Schools currently report that 66% of the student population is eligible for free lunch. This is a 10% increase in need from 2011 when the BackPack Weekend Food Program began.

The US Census Bureau reports that 44% of households in Gaston County have yearly income of $35,000 or less. These statistics indicate a need for economic improvement in our area.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc. has grown from providing weekend food for students in 17 schools in the beginning to 43 schools currently.  The program provided almost 300,000 meals to 950+ students this year.  The operation of the program has grown out of the space at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and will start the new school year in a larger warehouse space on Linwood Rd.  It is anticipated that the program will begin with around 1,000 students.  Just imagine how many volunteers this will take to get the food from the truck to the back packs of the students!

The good news is that with so many caring people in the community the task will be accomplished. The number of students in need will increase in the near future and food costs will continue to rise as much as 5 to 7%.  A registered dietician assists the program to provide menus that meet the caloric and nutritional needs of the students K-12 within the budget for the meals.

Many schools and teachers report that the students have hope when they receive the weekend food bags. Hope that someone cares about them weekly, not just one time. Surveys report that there has been an increase in positive behavior and daily work in the classroom because they are not concentrating on their growling stomach.  As a community, it is our mission to encourage these students to stay in school and receive their education.  Without education these students will have difficulty finding jobs that will sustain themselves or their families. Individual failure leads to family failure and community failure.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc. is totally run by volunteers. Local churches and community groups provide funding for about 70% of the students. The remainder of funds come from grants, donations and fundraisers.

For more information about the program, how to make a donation, or volunteer, please visit our web site at http://www.backpackweekendfoodprogram.com.

You always stand taller when you kneel to help a child.”

Carolyn Niemeyer head shot

Carolyn Niemeyer Community Volunteer

 

 

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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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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

 

Ask Yourself

SEABROOK SAYS: Remember all of the good stuff as we all work to solve our problems.

Continuous Improvement

Ask Yourself:  Can Gaston get the big things done?

We have many critical issues that need our attention.  Here are a few:

  • Greater access to Charlotte
  • More jobs that our people can handle
  • Better education so more are qualified for better jobs
  • Attack poverty and keep poverty from draining us dry
  • Some houses of worship consistently make huge contributions, others offer very little engagement beyond trying to take care of their own

Here are good and big things happening now:

  • More than 30 churches and many volunteers are active with the Back Pack food program
  • Community leadership will get better at multiple levels
  • Completing the Loray Mill project
  • Created, built and are operating the Highland School of Technology
  • Decreased teen pregnancy rate more than 30%
  • Became an All American City – twice
  • Unemployment rate dropped to 5% after loosing our textile industry
  • High school graduation rate has become much higher, the dropout rate much lower
  • 19,000 students are now attending Gaston College
  • Greater Gaston Development Corporation is actively helping Gaston County grow and finding jobs

All of us must continuously improve in all that we do!

Are you supportive of the changes needed?

Bill Seabrook
Digging Deeper

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.

 

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. lisa.marisiddaiah@caromonthealth.org or 704- 834-3516

 For additional information, please visit http://www.FaithHealthNC.org/Gaston

 

 

 

Life on Life Investment: The Value of Mentoring

SEABROOK SAYS: Matt Kuiken is not just the lead pastor at First ARP, he has vast experience with mentoring school kids. When you read his remarks ask: “Now that I know, shall I volunteer as a mentor?

For the first five minutes we stared at one another. His name was Michael. He was a seven year-old African-American student from a single parent home, and he had requested a mentor. So here I was. I had no idea what to do or say. Yet I had committed to spend an hour a week with this child. And so it began – my first foray into mentoring. I look back at that time now and am amazed that somehow, during the ensuing weeks and months, I not only developed a special bond with this young man, but my eyes were opened to the power of mentoring.

Paul Stanley and Robert Clinton, authors of the book Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life, define mentoring as, “A relational process… that facilitates development or empowerment within a mentoree.” In other words, mentoring is an intentional life-on-life investment in another person. For the past fifteen years,  I have been involved in mentoring students and have become convinced that mentoring relationships are a powerful catalyst for community transformation. The essence of the mentoring relationship is to communicate to another person, “You are worth my time,” and to acknowledge that some of the most important lessons in life are caught rather than taught.

There are roughly 32,000 students in the Gaston County School System from K-12. Every year hundreds of Gaston County Students agree to participate in school-based mentoring with an adult volunteer. Tragically, there are almost always more students to be mentored than adults who will mentor them. This has to change. If we truly desire to impact the overall community health of Gaston County, we must be willing to make a life-on-life investment in these student’s lives.

Fran Ellis, who is the Mentor Coordinator for Robinson Elementary School says this, “As a School Counselor, I am convinced that children who have a Mentor are given a gift!  They have one special friend, an adult they can truly count on. Someone who is there to listen and advise them regarding so many important things….Mentors are the saving grace for so many of our students. After developing a real relationship with a student, they teach basics such as making friends, focus in the classroom, using good manners, and keeping your word. This Mentor may be the only adult in their lives who shows them the right path. It is truly a gift which makes all the difference!”

According to recent studies students who meet regularly with a mentor are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school, and 37% less likely to skip a class. Mentored students also are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs, and 27% less likely to start drinking. Students in a mentoring relationship experience a reduction in depressive symptoms, and gains in social acceptance, academic attitudes, and grades. The benefits of mentoring for young people can hardly be overstated.

So why don’t we do it? Many of us feel like we don’t have much to offer. Or, we may be insecure about how we would relate to a student from a different race, religion, family background, or socio-economic class. Oftentimes, I simply wonder if I’m too busy to make this commitment. In some regards these are all valid concerns. But then I think of the mentors who took time to invest in me. I think of the conversation I had with one student about his father’s imprisonment. I think of a time with another student where he asked me how to shake hands with an adult. I think of another student who asked me if I thought he had what it takes to be an auto mechanic one day. I have continually been amazed at the impact that can be made by simply showing up.

So would you consider mentoring a student in the Gaston County School System? The commitment involves a simple approval process and one hour a week during the school year. The need is too great and the benefits too significant to ignore this opportunity.

In the coming weeks I will challenge First ARP Church to provide all of the needed mentors for the York Chester Middle School, which sits in our own backyard. My hope is that other churches and individuals will get involved in mentoring as well.

\ If you would like to get involved with mentoring in the Gaston County School System you can contact any school and ask to speak to the Mentor Coordinator. You can also contact Valerie Yatco who is the Director of Business and Community Partnerships for Gaston County Schools (vayatko@gaston.k12.nc.us). Community transformation happens one life at a time. Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” I am convinced by one of the most productive and meaningful ways to live is to give of ourselves in mentoring relationships.

Matt Kuiken
Senior Pastor
First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church