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On the same page: A unique Guilford County program helps children learn reading skills — and their parents, too

GREENSBORO

“Trip-trap, trip-trap,” read parent Jennifer Aguilera, practicing a passage from “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” with her classmates.

In another classroom, her son Salvador stomped his feet as instructor Tameka Owens read from the book and encouraged him to help make the “trip-trap” noise — that of a goat walking across a bridge.

Both mother and son are participating in a 10-week literacy program offered by Reading Connections, a Guilford County nonprofit. Parents, mostly immigrants learning English, hone reading skills while their children separately also practice reading. At the end of each evening session, families take home a copy of the book of the night to read together.

The idea is to help parents boost their own literacy while encouraging their children’s reading, too.

The program, which is more than a dozen years old, is expanding. Last year, Reading Connections served 90 adults and 170 children at three sites around Guilford County. This school year, they have five sites ongoing or planned and expect to add

a sixth or offer a second round at one of the current sites.

Any parents who want to work on their reading can participate, along with their children, from infants up through fifth grade. A meal, classes and book are free. Families that attend 70% of the classes can earn $50 at the end of the program.

Rebekah King, the program coordinator, said staff and volunteers look to balance learning with fun, so that children and parents will come back.

“There’s some kids who will ask their mom: ‘Are we going to the party in the cafeteria?’ ” she said.

On a recent Tuesday night at Rankin Elementary, volunteers lined up to scoop pasta, chicken and broccoli onto plates. Parents and children trickled in.

In one corner of the cafeteria, parent Yi Win and her neighbors chatted in Karen, a language spoken in Burma.

At the opposite end of the room, Gilma de Bermudez quizzed adult literacy instructor Ben Michelson on the meanings of shuck, shock and shook — three words the mother had been hearing on her smartphone’s English-language learning app.

Children and parents assembled goat puppets made from paper bags as dinner wrapped up.

“Hello, hello! Baa! Chiva! Hola!” called out Salvador to Aguilera as he operated his new goat puppet. “Chiva” is a word for “goat” in Spanish.

After dinner, parents and children divided into classes. There were three classes for parents, based on their reading ability. For children, there’s a group for infants and toddlers, a pre-K class and an elementary school class.

Children in the elementary class practice reading the book of the night and get help with homework.

Daniela Sosa, a fifth-grader from Erwin Elementary, said she likes how a variety of volunteers help with homework.

In his pre-K class, Salvador listened to a reading of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” made a goat mask and worked on pasting cutouts of small, medium and large goats beneath the words corresponding to their sizes.

Meanwhile, in the intermediate adult class, instructor Aran Garnett-Deakin was offering Aguilera, de Bermudez and a handful of other parents some advice on how to make the story interesting for children when reading it aloud. She suggested using a high voice for the smallest billy goat and a deep voice for the largest one.

One other tip: The bigger the goat crossing the bridge, the louder they could read the “trip-trap” part.

Parents laughed as they read and discussed the book and eventually split up into pairs for more practice.

After nearly two hours, the instructors released the parents and they headed down the hall and around the corner to pick up their children.

Win, who worked on reading “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” in one of the other adult classes, stopped by the elementary class for her daughter and the infant-toddler class for her son, scooping him into her arms.

“I want to learn for my kids,” she said.


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Travel 'opened up my world,' says Barbara Pierce Bush, founder of Global Heath Corps and former president George W. Bush’s daughter

Being a first daughter does have its perks.

Take travel, for example.

“My parents were incredible in that they let us know that if we took care of all of our responsibilities and our school work, we could join them on their travels when my dad was president,” said Barbara Pierce Bush, one of the twin daughters of former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush.

Bush, the co-founder of Global Health Corps., was the guest speaker at Monday’s 10th anniversary luncheon of Women to Women, a permanent grant-making initiative of The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro.

“That type of exposure completely opened up my world,” she said.

Bush said she had her life planned out at age 21 — to be an architect and a ballerina. But gave up that dream after a 2003 trip to Africa with her parents.

“If you were living on the continent of Africa, and you were HIV positive, you could not get the drugs you needed to live,” she said.

Among 12 million HIV-positive people at that time “only 40,000 people had the drugs to survive.”

The realization that drugs were available — but not for the poor — inspired her to start Global Health Corps., which offers 13-month fellowships to address health equity.

She shared stories about participants who tapped into their non-medical skills — like one who worked in the supply chain for The Gap — to “engage in different ways of thinking, bring different voices to the table.”

Bush said she’s been lucky to walk alongside many incredible women, including her mother and grandmothers.

She praised Women to Women’s efforts to transform women’s lives.

The fundraising luncheon included the announcement of $140,000 in grants to nonprofits that help women.

The News & Record Woman of the Year and Rising Star were also announced at the luncheon.

The Woman of the Year is Susan Shore Schwartz, executive director of The Cemala Foundation, a Greensboro nonprofit focused on early childhood education, community development and job training. Schwartz has also served many other organizations, including Action Greensboro, the Greensboro Children’s Museum, the Board of Visitors at UNCG, Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, GreenHill Center and the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra.

Schwartz will receive $5,000 for the charity of her choice, made possible by an anonymous Women to Women donor.

The 2019 Rising Star is Cameron Wannamaker, who has helped raise $600,000 for children with congenital heart defects. She’s also been a “wish granter” with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and has spearheaded employee health initiatives at Quest Diagnostics.


Must Read

Rising star: A new variety of apple called the Cosmic Crisp is expected to “reinvigorate a market.” Page A8


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110 jobs will be eliminated when ITG Brands closes Reidsville plant

ITG Brands LLC has made official plans to end production at its Reidsville cigarette manufacturing plant by Dec. 31, effectively eliminating 110 jobs.

The Greensboro tobacco manufacturer announced Nov. 1, 2018, it would close the plant at 301 N. Scales St. by April 2020.

ITG said at the time the 127-year-old plant would maintain production of former Commonwealth Brands cigarette products until the shift is completed to the former Lorillard Inc. plant in Greensboro.

The manufacturer said in Thursday’s WARN notice to the N.C. Commerce Department that it would begin shutting down operations on Dec. 19 and that 102 jobs would be eliminated Dec. 31 and the rest by Feb. 27.

Employees were told Thursday of the final plant-closing decision.

By moving operations to Greensboro, ITG Brands will lower manufacturing and regulatory costs, “allowing the company to continue to reinvest in its business and continue growing its brands,” said Dan Carr, who was ITG’s chief executive and president in 2018.

“Reidsville has experienced and dedicated employees, a great business climate and cooperative public officials,” Carr said. “However, it is a business decision we had to make.”

ITG said displaced hourly employees will receive a severance package. It has established a benefits plan for salaried employees.

The hourly workers are represented by Local 192T of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers’ & Grain Millers International Union.

ITG spokesman Mark Smith said in November “it is to be determined whether Reidsville production employees will be offered jobs in Greensboro.

“But at this point, we don’t expect there will be new jobs added to Greensboro,” Smith said. “Additional volume is expected to be handled by existing workers at the Greensboro facility.”

Smith could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.

Reidsville and Rockingham County released a joint statement in November about the closing, saying it “is extremely upsetting news to all of us in Rockingham County.”

The officials said they worked for several years with ITG to keep the plant open.

“We understand that sometimes a company must make a bottom-line business decision,” according to the statement. “Unfortunately, we are on the wrong side of that decision this time.”

On Monday, Leigh Cockram, director of the county’s Center for Economic Development, Small Business & Tourism, pointed to manufacturers, such as Pella adding 125 jobs in Reidsville and Gildan Yarns adding 85 in Eden, that could hire some of the ITG workers.

“We are working with ITG Brands on redevelopment of the Reidsville plant, which has been an iconic fixture in the city since the late 1800s. We will assist them with marketing the property and any machinery and equipment as needed.”

The production shift seemed inevitable after Reynolds American Inc.’s plans to buy Lorillard surfaced in July 2014. Reynolds completed the $29.25 billion deal in June 2015.

The companies sold Reynolds’ cigarette brands Kool, Salem and Winston, and the Lorillard cigarette brand of Maverick and its blu eCig brand to then-Imperial Tobacco Group Ltd. for $7.1 billion to ease regulatory concerns about competition and help Reynolds pay for the overall deal.

Since the sale, at least 375 ITG production jobs have been eliminated. Smith said its Greensboro workforce has shrunk from 1,700 to 925. Production workers, which numbered 1,100 before the sale and 675 afterward, were hit hardest.

ITG also has 859 sales and marketing employees across the country and 22 at its leaf-processing plant in Danville, Va.

Reynolds and Lorillard had a reciprocal manufacturing relationship for most of the first year after the completion of the sale in which they continued to make their former brands at their respective Tobaccoville and Greensboro plants.

Meanwhile, ITG made USA Gold, Sonoma, Montclair and Rave cigarette brands in Reidsville. The two ITG plants are within 25 miles of each other.

ITG held a 6.9% U.S. market share, third overall, but well behind Philip Morris USA (53.9%) and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (33.8%), according to the latest Nielsen data on convenience store sales.

ITG’s top-selling brand is Winston with 2% market share, along with 1.5% each from Kool and Maverick. ITG has said its market share is at 10%.

Imperial made Winston a growth brand — one of 10 globally. Those 10 brands receive the bulk of Imperial’s marketing and innovation spending. Winston’s market share is among the Top 10 U.S. brands.

Smith said ITG is investing $70 million in new high-tech, high-speed equipment at the Greensboro facility, “which indicates how we feel about the future.”