Tag Archives: youth development

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

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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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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.

Gaston County Schools Has Accepted Rachel’s Challenge

SEABROOK SAYS: Gaston County Schools are confronting BULLYING head on and are getting positive results.  Improvements are clear in relationship building, communications, learning and kindness towards peers!      NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

In August 2012, Gaston County Schools became the first school district on the East Coast to launch district-wide participation in Rachel’s Challenge.  This program was made possible by a grant partnership with the United Way of Gaston County.  School support personnel including counselors, social workers, nurses, and media specialists experienced a powerful introduction to Rachel Scott’s story at our summer training.  Participants were all moved by the incredible vision of this young lady and the impact her life is still having nationwide, and they were excited to bring this message to everyone in Gaston County Schools.

Rachel Scott was a student killed in the Columbine school shooting.  Her ideals of kindness and compassion live on through the organization that sponsors the Rachel’s Challenge initiative.  Another important message of the Rachel’s Challenge program is the idea that each person can reach millions.  In the presentation, a story is shared that Rachel drew her hands on the back of her dresser and wrote that her hands would touch millions, a prophecy that has definitely come true.

From the organization’s website, www.rachelschallenge.org, five tenets for improving school climate include this challenge to students:

  1. Dream BIG and Believe in myself.
  2. Be KIND to others.
  3. Practice POSITIVE gossip with others.
  4. Show APPRECIATION to those I love.
  5. Be the ANSWER (not the problem).

In Fall 2012, school presentations were held to introduce the tenets of Rachel’s challenge to all students.  These programs were tailored to the appropriate learning levels for elementary, middle, and high school.  Students signed a banner, accepting Rachel’s Challenge to have a positive impact on school climate.  The message went beyond an anti-bullying message.  Students were being asked to complete targeted acts of kindness.  The speaker encouraged students and faculty members to consciously do something kind every day and to look for those who might need their friendship.  One important example in the program was for students to be inclusive.  An example was given to look around at lunch and other social opportunities in the school and to invite someone who may be sitting alone to join your table. In fact, Rachel was known to not only invite someone to her lunch table but to move to sit with someone who may have been sitting alone, and by this initiation to include them in a larger conversation that ultimately facilitated friendships.  Following the Rachel’s challenge presentation, many administrators, teachers, and support personnel witnessed this act of kindness happen throughout cafeterias across the entire school district.

At all schools, clubs were founded, Friends of Rachel (FOR) clubs and Kindness clubs.  These clubs had students write how they will be a positive link in the school climate chain.  These links were put together to decorate school lobbies, libraries, cafeterias, and classrooms.  These chains of kindness were a visual reminder to students that they are important and can make a positive impact on the lives of others.

In October 2012, Gaston County Schools partnered with Gastonia Rotary clubs to sponsor a Rachel’s Challenge video contest.  Schools videotaped implementation of club activities, programs, and student interviews to present at the Rotary Leadership program.  The Highland School of Technology won the competition with a student produced video.  The video showed students who had written on their hands that “these hands will touch millions” interspersed with clips of students showing kindness and interviews of students and faculty members answering questions about how Rachel’s Challenge can reduce bullying. In December 2012, high school FOR clubs marched in parades across the district.  The student groups had matching Rachel’s Challenge shirts to show unity among all club members at all schools.  A bus with banners encouraging people to accept Rachel’s Challenge followed the students marching in the parade.

Three years later, Rachel’s challenge continues to actively improve school climate by promoting positive character traits (respect, responsibility, kindness and courage) and reducing bullying incidents.  Schools are more welcoming and Gaston County Schools as a district has seen a subsequent rise in graduation rate and reduction in drop-out rate.  Below is a picture of hearts signed by Highland students displayed in the shape of a hand that can touch millions.

Here are some examples of Rachel’s challenge events across Gaston County Schools:

  • Belmont Central’s Kindness Club works on character education each month.
  • Chapel Grove Elementary school hosts a food drive for families in need during Christmas. The students make handprints and write well wishes and positive messages on the collected bags of food. The counselor supplements this activity with lessons on empathy.
  • Pleasant Ridge Elementary completes a Drumming for Kindness event to emphasize how listening to each other is an act of kindness and a great way to build positive relationships. Below is a picture of the students holding their chain reaction.
  • Belmont Middle School’s FOR members are the student ambassadors who give tours and mentor new students.
  • East Gaston High School FOR club hosts a food drive annually. They also hosted a faculty/student basketball game to raise money to help some students afford basketball camp.
  • The Highland School of Technology FOR partners with the Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) to host a rally on conflict resolution, positive decision-making, and safety (no texting and driving). Students write “I Believe” statements on a banner that is displayed. Below is a picture of hearts signed by Highland students displayed in the shape of a hand that can touch millions.
  • South Point High School incorporates Rachel’s Challenge with Project Unify to bring together students with disabilities with other students and promote acceptance of diverse populations.

 

Dr. Melissa Balknight 

Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services                           Gaston County Schools

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.