Before I left for the Dominican Republic, all I knew about the island were its pristine beaches tourists sent home on postcards and the shooting of former Boston Red Sox pitcher David Ortiz in one of its biggest cities. I also knew to play baseball with the kids and not to drink the water.
It turns out I had a lot more to learn.
Last month, our church spent a week working with a mix of Haitians and Dominicans in Severet, a community about 20 miles from Puerto Plata. In addition to myself, three other teenagers went on the trip — Sarah Billings, Pearce Ruffin and Tanner Price.
We were planning on teaching the children about values at vacation Bible school. Wow. What a mistake.
During our first day of school, I ran low on beads, string and patience — but Severet’s children didn’t mind. They didn’t ask for the string I gave their neighbor, the pipe cleaner I gave their sister or the beads I gave to their friends.
All they wanted was my time and companionship.
Over the week, they invited us into their homes to meet their families and learn more about their culture. One proud child even asked me to meet their winning chicken from Sunday afternoon’s cockfight.
What could I possibly teach these children about values when they were already teaching me to value my relationships, blessings and virtues?
No matter what I put into the community of Severet, the people gave more.
It’s been almost two weeks since I was there and that still holds true.
After feeding over 30 people, an elderly Severet woman told me: “Every single morning when the sun comes up is a miracle.”
What did I get out of my time serving in the Dominican Republic? I learned to follow the wisdom of the people of Severet and value every little miracle in my life. There are many. I find new ones each day. The trick is to never stop looking.
From the minute I arrived back in the United States, I began to notice our differences. The old shoes we throw into landfills and donation bins? In Severet, the soles make great squeaky-free door hinges. The food we leave on tables? In Severet, it gets passed from parents to every child.
I may not have seen all of the Dominican Republic or met all its people, but where I went and who I met taught me what really sets us apart. Here we have grown cold to one another and are constantly working to obtain the next materialistic item to climb some silly social ladder.
In Severet, family is more than a biological term. Social status doesn’t matter. Everybody getting by is the main concern while still upholding morals.
Now that I’m home, I’ve tried to be more aware of my blessings and appreciate them. I’m trying to show I care for the people around me rather than hoping they know it. I’ve learned to help others less fortunate.
Arrests: Three teenagers are charged in the drive-by shooting that killed a 5-year-old boy. Page A3
Public schools statewide will retain their late-August opening dates after a House bill attempting to move up the schedule by a week was shelved in the state Senate.
Although that outcome was expected, the legislation did clear one chamber after similar bills have been dead-on-arrival at the General Assembly in recent years.
Since the 2005-06 school year, state law has prohibited public school systems from opening before the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and closing after the Friday closest to June 11 without permission from the State Board of Education.
For the 2019-20 school year, opening day will be Monday, Aug. 26, for both Guilford County Schools and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
House Bill 79 would have allowed public school systems to align their calendars with local community colleges, which typically start a week earlier and not before Aug. 15.
The bill cleared the House by a 100-10 vote March 28.
However, HB79 was sent directly to the Senate Rules and Operations committee. That typically is a sign a key Senate Republican leader wanted the legislation on the back burner, if not to be heard at all.
“There is no chance (for HB79), as I believe the tourism industry has once again convinced legislators that starting school early would hurt tourism,” said Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth.
Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said that even though “there was lots of discussion early in this session, I don’t think there was ever any chance for serious movement.”
The 2004 law passed after the successful “Save Our Summers” campaign was initiated by vocal grassroots parents/teachers’ group and later supported by coastal business owners.
Before the law, many public-school systems, including Triad systems, began school in early August. The law delayed the start by up to three weeks in an effort to allow families to spend more time at North Carolina’s beaches.
The N.C. Travel and Tourism Coalition said “studies show that starting school in late August produces as much as $1 billion each year in economic growth through increased tourism-related sales.”
The N.C. Travel Industry Association lists school calendars as the No. 2 item on its 2019 legislative agenda.
Bill supporters said legislators should compare the benefits of the bills for students, such as finishing their first semester before the Christmas holiday break, to those of extending the summer vacation until late August for the tourism industry.
Lambeth said uniting the calendars make sense since two district schools — Early College of Forsyth and Forsyth Middle College — are on the Forsyth Technical Community College campus. Students at those schools take college courses for credit while earning their high school diplomas.
Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said most, if not all, of the state’s 115 school districts would like school calendar flexibility “so they can design their calendars to what best fits their communities and enables high school students to finish exams before the Christmas break.”
The travel coalition said that “a majority of states have late-August start dates, with no discernible impact on student learning or test scores.”
Lambeth said more than 200 school calendar bills were submitted in the legislature before the 2019 session, with none of them clearing a committee because of stiff opposition from the travel industry.
For the current session, there have been at least 33 local and four public House bills filed affecting 87 school districts — including Alamance-Burlington, Asheboro, Ashe, Davidson, Davie, Elkin, Forsyth, Guilford, Lexington, Mount Airy, Randolph, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry, Thomasville, Watauga and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County.
There have been 13 Senate bills affecting 35 districts, including Guilford. Local bills cannot be vetoed by the governor.
Lambeth said it was worth noting, as a sign of progress, that the House passed HB79.
GREENSBORO — Among the grant requests that caught the Guilford Green Foundation‘s attention is a plan to put grade-level appropriate LGBTQ books in more than 100 Guilford County Schools and to work with school librarians to incorporate the books into the curriculum.
GSAFE Greensboro, a chapter of the national Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools, has been awarded $5,000 to help with the effort.
Four years ago GSAFE Greensboro started a project to ensure that every student in the local school system had access to LGBTQ-inclusive books in their schools.
“We believe in its positive impact,” said Alexa Briggs, the group’s co-chair.
The money is part of the $30,000 in grants recently announced by Guilford Green — one of about a dozen lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community foundations in the country. A good number of the applications come from grassroots organizations without a grant writer who are often competing for a dwindling pool of money.
“Compared to other foundations we have a very small pot of money, but we are also more flexible with how we can use that money,” said Jennifer Ruppe, the foundation’s executive director.
The foundation, which works to create unity through programming and philanthropy that advances equality and inclusion for LGBTQ communities, gets more than $100,000 in grant requests each year.
“There are always going to be programs that you wish that you could fund,” Ruppe said.
One of the more successful ones came from the FaithAction International House, an anchor in the community, which sought help serving LGBTQ immigrants coming to the area. The priority with immigrants usually focuses on housing and other basic needs. But there are a good number of them who have left countries where being gay is considered a crime.
“It may impact a small number of people,” Ruppe said of the $2,500 grant for education and outreach, “but it will have a huge impact for that small number of people.”
With GSAFE’s project, Briggs pointed to GLSEN’s 2017 School Climate Survey, a national survey of the experiences of LGBTQ youth in the nation’s schools, which found that less than half (41%) reported they could find books or information on LGBTQ topics in their school library.
Briggs said the survey also reported that students in schools with LGBTQ resources, like books, were less likely to hear homophobic remarks, were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation, were less likely to miss school because they felt unsafe, and performed better academically, including having plans to pursue higher education.
Since the early 1990s, Guilford Green’s mission has been to focus on challenges facing the local gay community. Besides being a financial resource in the LGBTQ community, the foundation hosts programs and initiatives and serves as a resource for residents through the LGBTQ Center as well as an online guide of services and community groups.
But at a time when less than 1% of all foundation dollars across the country went to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, the group has raised more than $700,000 for projects ranging from meals for people diagnosed with AIDS/HIV to a documentary on a gay couple before the legalization of same-sex marriage.
That couple, Lennie Gerber and the late Pearl Berlin of High Point, were the face of the country’s marriage equality movement.
The foundation’s grants typically range from $1,000 to $10,000.
“What we are looking for is how the Guilford Green Foundation dollars can build capacity for a program, help provide seed money for a program or take a program to the next level,” Ruppe said.
At Senior Resources of Guilford, an agency that works with the elderly, that means being able to focus on the problem of loneliness that affects members of the gay community. Renee Griffin, the nonprofit’s assistant director, remembers hearing about the SAGE-Table at a national conference on aging. (SAGE stands for Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders.) The program addresses the fact that a lot of older gay adults may not have the traditional family and community support surrounding them while they are aging. Through programs, such as different generations coming together around a meal for conversation, the program encourages younger people to participate as a way of building community and also understanding aging issues.
Senior Resources already partners with the foundation and AARP to provide “Gay and Gray” social activities and services at Guilford Green’s LGBTQ Center.
“I can’t even tell you how excited I am,” Griffin, who wrote the grant, said of getting the news about the $4,500 award to expand outreach. “We would not be able to bring this program to Guilford County without it.”
Some of the money will also be used to host SAGE training for other service providers who come into contact with the elderly to make sure their staff and working environment are welcoming and affirming.
“I think a lot people are reluctant to seek support because of the way they think they will be treated,” Griffin said.
The largest grants of $7,500 each will be used for LGBTQ youth. One of them, One Step Further’s Family Factor Program, works to bridge the gap from non-acceptance to acceptance between youth and their caregivers, and to increase the mental health and well-being of these youth.
Another $7,500 was given to the Youth Focus Act Together Crisis Center, which funds emergency shelter, meals, and support for LGBTQ youth. According to Guilford Green, an estimated 40% of homeless youth in the United State identify as LGBTQ.
The other recipients are: