One7 provides refuge for those who need help

The Charlotte Observer
City News
Sunday, January 25, 2015

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David Garrett never expected to open an after-school program for impoverished and underprivileged children.

Garrett grew up in Tennessee, the son of a judge, but said he spent his teens and early 20s selling drugs and acting recklessly.

He said he never expected he’d one day spend his time acting on his faith.

“I’d go to church and listen, but I didn’t get it. … It didn’t hit me until my father passed away; I reached rock bottom and was hit by the light,” he said recently. “Once I got it, I could never look back. I wanted to save the lives I’d hurt the most.”

Garrett moved to Charlotte in 2008, where he worked as a youth pastor at Forest Hill Church’s former Mosaic Church on Albemarle Road and at Nexus Church off North Tryon.

Garrett said he appreciated the opportunity but felt limited working within a church.

“I wanted to reach the community in their everyday lives,” he said.

Garrett, his wife, Mary Catherine, and their three children acted on their faithto open the nonprofit One7, and they continue to commit all their time and money to help struggling families and children.

Pictured left to right: Kate Munroy, Rebekah Goode and One7 Director David Garrett

Pictured left to right: Kate Munroy, Rebekah Goode and One7 Director David Garrett

One7 is a faith-based organization that provides housing, mentoring, a soccer league, private girls’ academy and an after-school program for inner-city youths and families in need. The programs are privately funded by local families and churches.

One7, off Eastway Drive, is housed in an old apartment complex. The building has been painted white and a tall black fence lines the 1.12 acres. Soccer fields take up most of the green space, and gym lockers fill the corridor.

There also is graffiti on the outer walls and inner courtyard, and inspirational rap music blares from speakers on the second floor.

While the two-story multifamily dwelling doesn’t compare to some high-end complexes not far away, what goes on inside makes One7 shine. Homeless refugee families and abused and abandoned children are given a place to call home.

The home is far from ideal; Garrett, who’s also Garinger High School’s soccer coach, said he’s been shot at and had his vehicles burned by angry gang members in the area.

“We take the kids nobody wants,” he said. “We try to help families torn apart by the cycles of abuse and addiction come back together.

“What we do takes guts, compassion, patience and lots of love.”

Garrett said the facility has 16 one-bedroom housing units that have been converted into two-bedroom apartments. Most who live there don’t contribute financially because of their circumstances.

“If we see a need, we make sacrifices and do what we can to help,” Garrett said.

Next to the complex, beyond the playground, the Garretts lease a house and garage that has been converted into three classrooms. These two spaces house an after-school program for 75 elementary students from Billingsville, Merry Oaks and Briarwood.

Inside, students from kindergarten through fifth grade sit in groups, most smiling and laughing with peers as they complete homework with the help of volunteers and guided instruction from the program’s resident academic coordinator and co-director, Rebekah Goode.

Goode, who worked as a teacher at Westerly Hills Academy for 14 years, said she felt fortunate to work in the community.

Goode created One7’s after-school program, a multicultural literature-based program that focuses on increasing vocabulary, phonics and critical thinking.

During a recent session, students in kindergarten through second grade gather around Goode, chairs pulled in from separate classrooms.

Standing in the middle of this brightly decorated room filled with academic posters of the alphabet and numbers and maps of the world, Goode asks students to answer questions about a children’s picture book, “The Mitten,” based on a Ukrainian folk tale.

The students eagerly raise their hands to answer.

Emilio was the first to speak up about the story, giving a precise summary of the interactions between characters. Goode then animatedly acts out vocabulary words, using her body to emphasize the meaning of “trudging.”

Goode, who lives in Mint Hill, said, “These activities help them learn a second language through pictures … and the stories open their mind to other cultures, while also helping them to feel accepted for their differences.”

Kate Monroy, 20, co-director of the after-school program and One7’s administrator and residential staff member, said most of the students are refugees or immigrants – predominantly Montagnard, Latino, Burmese and Nepali – and come from 30 or more countries; however, some students are U.S.-born Latinos or African-Americans.

“Beyond their educational needs, this after-school program has also helped us build more relationships in the community and touch more lives,” Monroy said.

Posted in Charlotte Observer, Education, Human Interest, Newspaper, Philanthropy, Spirituality and Religion, Traditional Journalism | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Youth group in Charlotte region battles sex trafficking

The Charlotte Observer

City News
Sunday, January 25, 2014

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Eleven Charlotte-area teens voluntarily meet at Christ Covenant Church to learn more about domestic-minor sex trafficking and raise awareness to prevent it.

Known as Youth4Abolition, a N.C. chapter-based program under Gastonia’s On Eagles Wings Ministries, the group is a nonprofit, sex trafficking prevention, outreach and after-care center. They work within the greater Charlotte area to raise awareness about sex trafficking.

Youth4Abolition members participate in fundraising for On Eagles Wings Ministries and provide information on sex trafficking at community events.

Chapter Leader Elizabeth Padgett, 18, also speaks out against human trafficking statewide. She said her message has reached more than 2,000 people. She has spoken at Steele Creek’s Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, Tsunami Ministries in Winston-Salem, and will speak for the second consecutive year at the Women of AT&T Girls Technology Day in Charlotte.

Padgett, a junior who attends Grace Academy in Matthews and lives near Quail Hollow said, “This has been an eye-opening experience for me, learning how to identify potential threatening situations and to hear how the identifying factors I’ve presented have helped others become aware of the real dangers of human trafficking.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, up to 300,000 U.S. children become victims of sexual exploitation every year. The Polaris Project runs a national human trafficking resource hotline and ranks North Carolina as one of the top 10 states with call-in inquiries for survivor support and reports of potential human trafficking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s why these youth abolitionists sit comfortably together in a semicircle of floral-printed accent chairs, eyes, hearts and minds wide open, exploring and identifying the mental, emotional and physical circumstances surrounding domestic minor sex trafficking.

On Eagles Wings Ministries Director of Prevention Autumn Hanline oversees the chapters and created curriculum to coordinate with their monthly meetings.

Youth4Abolition’s January meeting discussion painted a picture of those most vulnerable to sex trafficking. Statistics provided by Girls Educational and Mentoring Services show that many victims are impoverished; living in single-parent homes, foster care or are runaways; and may be former victims of sexual abuse.

“The biggest misinterpretation is that people are forced in against their will. But more often, that’s not the case,” Padgett said. “They are coerced by the promise of protection and love.”

Fiona Glaser, a member, told the group, “There always seems to be something missing in their (victim’s) lives, and (the victims) are willing to do something else to get their needs filled. … It makes me want to do something, give them a hug.”

Shannon O’Grady, 18, attends Union Academy Charter School in Monroe. She’s been a part of this chapter since Padgett started it in March of last year.

“It’s really powerful to be a part of a group that teaches young girls becoming women about the realities of trafficking,” she said. “We are so vulnerable. Given technology and social media, it’s important to get this out there.”

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Gaston’s Sleepout for the Homeless sets stage for homeless count

The Charlotte Observer
Gaston/Catawba News
Sunday, January 12, 2015

- UNITED WAY OF THE GREATER TRIANGLE The idea for the Sleepout for the Homeless in Gaston County came from a similar event held by the United Way of the Greater Triangle last year.

– UNITED WAY OF THE GREATER TRIANGLE
The idea for the Sleepout for the Homeless in Gaston County came from a similar event held by the United Way of the Greater Triangle last year.

Imagine sleeping outside on a cold winter’s night with minimal material comforts.

The United Way of Gaston County urges residents, organizations and business owners to experience sleeping in the same conditions as a homeless person to raise awareness of homelessness in Gaston County.

The inaugural Sleepout for the Homeless takes place from 6 p.m. Jan. 24 to 6 a.m. Jan. 25 in the United Way of Gaston County’s parking lot.

The idea came from a similar event held by the United Way of the Greater Triangle last year.

“The event will also be tied to a one-night online fundraising drive to benefit organizations that work with the homeless in Gaston County, along with a food and personal care item drive throughout the month of January,” according to the United Way’s website.

With more than 20 people, businesses and organizations already signed up, campaign manager Ashley Smith said more people are interested than they first anticipated.

“Initially, we didn’t think there would be many people interested in sleeping outside overnight, so we had planned on having a small group of us sleeping on the ground with sleeping bags, gloves and jackets,” he said. “Since the response has been much more enthusiastic, we are letting people who attend choose how they want to support the homeless.”

- UNITED WAY OF GASTON COUNTY Sleepout for the Homeless will be held Jan. 24 in the United Way of Gaston County’s parking lot, 200 E. Franklin Blvd., Gastonia. Sign up for the event or find out ways to donate by visiting, http://unitedwaygaston.org/sleepout/ or by calling 704-864-4554.

– UNITED WAY OF GASTON COUNTY
Sleepout for the Homeless will be held Jan. 24 in the United Way of Gaston County’s parking lot, 200 E. Franklin Blvd., Gastonia. Sign up for the event or find out ways to donate by visiting, http://unitedwaygaston.org/sleepout/ or by calling 704-864-4554.

Participants can choose how long they plan to endure the elements, whether that’s a couple of hours, all night or allowing group members to sleep in shifts. Smith also said they are planning to have a kickoff meal for those involved.

The event was also created to raise awareness for the Homeless Point in Time Count, also known as PIT. One day each January, a team of volunteers make contact with all the homeless people in the counties. During that time, they provide supplies, such as a backpack, gloves, food and toiletries, and they gather information about each individual’s living situation. The data is compiled to give annual statistics on local homelessness. These stats help community leaders determine how to better serve the homeless.

Gaston, Lincoln and Cleveland counties’ PIT Count will take place Jan. 28.

Smith, 29, is also the PIT Count coordinator for Gaston County. He said, “Last year, PIT counted 118 unsheltered homeless in our county on a night with freezing temperatures and snowy conditions.”

The United Way of Gaston County’s website states that more than 400 homeless people were identified in the tri-county PIT Count last year. They counted people who were living without shelter and those in churches, homeless shelters or other temporary living conditions.

James Burgess, chairman of the Continuum of Care, said his job is to oversee the PIT Count and work with community leaders to find ways to improve the lives of the homeless. Burgess, along with Bill Steury, president of Cross Co. – Automation Group and longtime supporter of the United Way, were instrumental in bringing Sleepout for the Homeless in Gastonia to the attention of the United Way.

“It’s a great opportunity to engage the community, foster awareness and to give the folks who participate a point of reference,” said Burgess.

Smith hopes this event will give the community a real-life experience of what it’s like to be homeless, as well as start a dialogue to better serve the local homeless community.

“Changing our community starts with identifying the roadblocks that hold people back from having a happy and successful life,” he said. “Homelessness is often a symptom of other problems affecting individuals and families. If we want to truly fix problems, we must start identifying the root causes and that means having a very public dialogue about the issues of homelessness and income instability.”

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Math program offers variety of methods

The Charlotte Observer
City News
Saturday, January 3, 2015

Seventh-graders work in small groups to learn math in a Teach to One classroom at McClintock Middle School.

Seventh-graders work in small groups to learn math in a Teach to One classroom at McClintock Middle School.

Seventh-graders at McClintock Middle School gather at work stations in Teach to One math classrooms.

Divided by wooden storage shelves, students review math taught by teachers, through online instruction and with each other.

Teach to One was created for middle school math by New Classrooms – a nonprofit organization created by Joel Rose and Christopher Rush as an offspring of their New York City Department of Education program School of One, which was named one of Time Magazine’s 2009 inventions of the year.

“It’s the way public education needs to go … it’s hard to differentiate education without technology,” said McClintock Principal Paul Williams.

Jennifer Brown, the school’s New Classrooms Director of Growth & Expansion, said the math program was created to reach each student at their skill level and help them move forward.

Seventh-graders takes exit assessment on Teach to One online program. Students share laptops across grades, that means one laptop is shared among three students – one from each grade.

Seventh-graders takes exit assessment on Teach to One online program. Students share laptops across grades, that means one laptop is shared among three students – one from each grade.

“At the end of every class, students take a five question skills assessment test and receive an exit ticket,” Brown said. “That exit ticket explains their progress and assigns their skill and learning modality for the next class.”

Williams said it’s a well-choreographed symphony, the way students and teachers move from station to station – 12 teachers always teaching different skills to different students in different ways.

There are several methods used to teach math at McClintock: live instruction, virtual instruction, small group collaboration, peer-to-peer instruction, virtual reinforcement, live investigation and small group projects.

Students are given four opportunities to learn a math skill, each time the program generates a new way of learning based on the level of difficulty for each individual student.

“By meeting students at their skill level, it makes education the same across the board,” Williams said. “It’s just not feasible to create an individualized learning plan for every student every day, but Teach to One helps us do that … we need this to support teachers and students.”

Dawn Salters, one of McClintock’s Math Directors and TTO teachers, said the program has been beneficial to all of her students. She said some have moved from being two to three grade levels behind to learning ahead of what’s required.

“In a traditional classroom, I had to teach to the middle – hoping the ones who were ahead didn’t get bored and the ones that were behind were able to catch up,” she said.

However, teachers have had to learn new ways to do their jobs.

“We’ve made students very dependent on teachers and we’ve conditioned teachers as the givers and owners of knowledge,” Brown said. “Twelve teachers equals a lot of distinct perceptions – we had to spend a lot of time working together, learning to collaborate in a new setting.”

Salters, who’s been teaching math for 10 years, said, “It’s been life-changing for these kids and it really helps (teachers) meet their needs.”

Brown and Williams said McClintock Middle School was the first school in the Carolinas to adopt this approach. They also said, since starting the program, the students’ math EOG scores have increased by 8 percent and the school’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment places McClintock students 1.8 years of learning math concepts ahead of the national average.

The program costs CMS $125,000 per year, Brown said. She also said that amount will decrease because the fee is based on need. There’s also an annual $225 per student license fee.

Math Director Dawn Salters stand with one her students, Joel Holder.

Math Director Dawn Salters stand with one her students, Joel Holder.

For everyone involved, it appears to be money well-spent.

Joel Holder, a 13-year-old seventh-grader, is in the program for his second year.

“The Teach to One math program is a fun and interactive way to learn math …. I’ve learned a large amount of math skills that I may not have learned in a traditional classroom,” he said. “I’m really enjoying math.”

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GenerationNation gets young people involved

- COURTESY OF SCOUT ROSEN Steven Armendariz, Jordan Murdock, Quentin Blair, Lade Aladeniyi and Clarissa Brooks, from left, all are Charlotte-Mecklenburg Youth Council alumni. The youth council and GenerationNation are intended to involve and educate students in how local governments and communities work.

– COURTESY OF SCOUT ROSEN
Steven Armendariz, Jordan Murdock, Quentin Blair, Lade Aladeniyi and Clarissa Brooks, from left, all are Charlotte-Mecklenburg Youth Council alumni. The youth council and GenerationNation are intended to involve and educate students in how local governments and communities work.

Deirdre Jonese Austin, a 17-year-old Independence High School senior, said that before joining GenerationNation, she hadn’t given much thought whether her voice mattered.

“Now I know it does,” she said.

“Each time a city council member, county commissioner, school board member or other city official takes time out of his or her busy schedule to meet with us, I feel like our voice matters,” Austin said.

Austin said that some of her most memorable moments include speaking with former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison on the achievement gap and participating in a “speed-dating style” forum with Mecklenburg County commissioner candidates.

Austin, a member of GenerationNation since 2011, said, “It’s great to be able to speak to government leaders from our community about what we the students are passionate about.”

GenerationNation Executive Director Amy Farrell said that’s one of the reasons the organization changed from Kids Voting Mecklenburg – an annual election-day event – in December 2011 to GenerationNation, to provide programs for Mecklenburg students to better understand and become involved with local government.

Farrell, involved with what now is GenerationNation for more than 10 years, said, “There was a huge need for students and officials to collaborate on community problems and solutions. Students are stakeholders in the community, and officials were eager to have this partnership to better understand their needs.”

GenerationNation does more than give students an outlet for their opinion; it also gives them the tools to make informed decisions, said Farrell. She said they regularly discuss current events, compare and contrast headlines and discuss different viewpoints.

“It’s important for them to learn how to use all the tools in the toolbox, learn to think critically, analyze information for the facts and collaborate and problem-solve with people from different backgrounds and perspectives,” Farrell said.

Members also get behind-the-scenes access to all aspects of government, working with city, county and school officials to address social and educational issues and receive hands-on experience in community planning and budgeting.

Farrell said that in January, students will meet with Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee, County Manager Dena Diorio and CMS interim Superintendent Ann Blakeney Clark to discuss priorities and budgets. Before those meetings, Farrell said, she will work with students to teach them about budgeting.

While budgeting may seem difficult even for some adults to understand, Farrell said, students shouldn’t worry about what they don’t know about local government.

“This is an opportunity to learn hands-on and to collaborate with officials on real life issues,” Farrell said.

“You can come into this hating politics, and that’s okay. All you need is a desire to make a difference. It’s all about improving the community we live in.”

Area high school students from public, private and magnet schools and homeschooled students are invited to sign-up for the council. All meetings take place at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center: 600 E. 4th Street, Charlotte, NC 28202. Free CATS passes and carpool information is available to help students who have transportation conflicts. Find out more information about the youth council and sign-up by visiting http://generationnation.org/index.php/youthvoice.

Area high school students from public, private and magnet schools and homeschooled students are invited to sign-up for the council. All meetings take place at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center: 600 E. 4th Street, Charlotte, NC 28202. Free CATS passes and carpool information is available to help students who have transportation conflicts. Find out more information about the youth council and sign-up by visiting http://generationnation.org/index.php/youthvoice.

GenerationNation is a nonprofit organization founded in 1992 by former Charlotte Observer Publisher Rolfe Neill and other civic leaders to give Mecklenburg County youths an opportunity to learn how local government and communities work.

During the 2013-14 school year, more than 35,000 public, private, magnet and home-schooled students engaged in civic-minded activities including mock elections and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Youth Council.

The youth council is a program of GenerationNation that operates in partnership with Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and CMS. The council currently has 65 members from more than 28 schools, including Providence Day School, West Mecklenburg and Myers Park.

The council always has open enrollment for high school students. There are no set hours of participation, and no prior achievements or accolades are necessary.

“Anyone who wants to make a difference should get involved,” Farrell said. “It’s a great way to network and explore future job opportunities.”

Austin, also a senior youth council member, said, “It means a lot to me to have this opportunity, because it has opened the door to many other opportunities for me.

“Other students should join because it will give them a chance to hear various perspectives on several topics, meet with prominent city officials and let their voices be heard.”

Posted in Charlotte Observer, Civic and Government News, Education, Newspaper, Philanthropy, Traditional Journalism | Tagged , , | Leave a comment