Standing in the gap for children

When you walk into the Henderson County Guardian ad Litem office, you’ll see two walls. One has hearts with the names of children who have been removed from their home due to abuse, neglect or parental dependency (substance abuse), and whose future will be determined by the courts. The other has hands with the names of volunteers who stand in the gap for these children, representing them in court and speaking for them because they cannot speak for themselves. Right now, there are 30 young hearts in need of a hand.

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Heath care for kids is a priority

In 2007, our community gathered to set priorities for children who live and grow up in our town. We were challenged to think of doable, local solutions to our children’s greatest needs.

Our top priority was to increase the number of school nurses, creating better health care access. Not having nurses on-site at each school means school employees often provide medical interventions for children with chronic illnesses or injuries. Our commissioners made it a priority to add school nurses until our nationally recommended ratio of one nurse for every 750 students is met.

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Aiding Transition to Adulthood

The Children & Family Resource Center will celebrate as 20 teen parents, who have been in our Adolescent Parenting Program, walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. This is our largest ever graduating class. Graduation day is a significant achievement for every student, and given the obstacles some of these teens have had to overcome, we are particularly proud.

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Resilience Helps Avert Child Abuse

I keep running across this story of resilience where a young woman is telling her mother about some problems in her life. While she is talking, her mother boils three pots of water. In one pot she places carrots, in another she places an egg, and in the third coffee beans.

After twenty minutes of boiling, she asks her daughter to tell her what she sees. The carrots went into the water hard but had turned soft. The egg looked the same but had become hard inside. The coffee transformed into something delicious and aromatic — better than it was before. All three experienced the same situation of heat, trauma and 20 minutes in boiling water.

The mother told her daughter that her trials were like the boiling water…. Click here to continue reading.

A resolution on behalf of kids

Happy New Year! I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to tuck 2016 away for the memory book. The year was full of loss mingled in with blessings. That’s just life, I suppose. I’m choosing to focus on the latter.

For a variety of reasons, this isn’t always the most magical time of year for me. Even though I long ago gave up making resolutions, every time I usher in a new year, I’m convinced THIS will the year of great things for me — when I correct all my flaws, life will go as planned, I’ll be skinny and fit, a perfect mom and friend, happy in love, out of debt, and run a home that never gets messy. You, too?

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Help a family this holiday season

As I type this, I’m still basking in the glow of an excellent Thanksgiving. I didn’t know what to expect going in — except I knew it would be different with my family scattered here and there. Different turned out to be excellent.

We were nonstop and in six short days shared Thanksgiving, moved my son into his first home, decorated for Christmas, squeezed in Charlie Brown, Frosty and the Grinch, celebrated my daughter turning 18 and went ice skating. I’m exhausted and my house is a wreck, but my heart is full.

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Transportation equals opportunity

Thank goodness I looked down at my gas gauge! When I saw the words “0 miles to empty” glaring up at me, I was thankful I could see a gas station up ahead.

I have a couple of bad driving habits. Nearly running out of gas is one of them. When the “50 miles to empty” warning sounded, maybe my sunroof was open or the music was turned up. I never heard it.

I heard a story last week that makes me incredibly thankful and a little embarrassed that I can just zip around with little thought about fuel. I was at The Free Clinics where I learned about a man who walks four hours to and from Mills River to get his medication each month. Four hours! I can’t imagine walking four hours to get medication every time I needed it, especially if it were a monthly prescription. But you and I have a friend and neighbor who does.

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Critical issues affect local kids

Last month, the Children & Family Resource Center hosted a dinner conversation for local pediatricians and family practice doctors to talk about what they were seeing firsthand as some of the biggest concerns for children and families in Henderson County.

Several pediatricians and doctors (representing all three pediatric practices in Henderson County, Blue Ridge Community Health Services, the Health Department and two family practices) and our team of early childhood professionals discussed what concerned doctors most often found parents struggling with (outside of health concerns that caused their visit to the doctor’s office), and what trends in child development they were witnessing.

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Getting Energized by Reaching Out

I stared at the register in shock — $58 for three meals a day for five days. I’m under $4 per meal! Cha-ching. When my kids lived at home, I was easily $100 to $200 north of that.

I skipped out to the car, not caring about the summer afternoon downpour. I texted my friends to share the news. Maybe there is a silver lining in an empty nest!

I’ve recently enjoyed a week of what I’ll call “community action” on behalf of Henderson County’s children. This stuff just energizes me! The Chamber of Commerce and the Henderson County Vision Alumni Association hosted a conversation about the need for affordable housing in Henderson County.

In a nutshell, an affordable home for a family earning a median income ($42,478) in Henderson County is $158,423, or $1,024 in monthly costs. Monthly costs for housing include mortgage (or rent) plus utilities. However, the median price for a house in Henderson County is $210,000.

We have a supply problem. The city manager recently reported only about 32 homes for sale in the county listed below $200,000. And the likelihood of finding an affordable rental in Henderson County is also slim.

I’m glad to see our community concerned about this issue. The city continues to convene local leaders, nonprofits, real estate development, homeowners and renters to work on solutions.

Later in the week, the United Way convened a group of agency leaders to talk about healthy youth behaviors and the work we are doing in our community to promote protective factors for young people, like improving parent engagement, positive parenting practices and increasing connectedness between students and their schools. All of these are protective factors that help children and adolescents from engaging in behaviors that place them at risk for adverse health and education outcomes.

Representatives from seven agencies, including Henderson County Public Schools, were present. It was immediately obvious that we have a high level of collaboration among agencies and programs in serving young people.

We were able to begin identifying where gaps still exist and where funding and community support could provide needed action. We recognized that work that began years ago, through efforts like the United Agenda for Children, were still moving forward – the priorities our community set then, are still priorities today.

Things like increasing the number of school nurses is a commitment the County Commissioners have embraced. The advancement of school based health centers brings new models of health and mental health access to students at their school campus.

Great stuff is going on around here. More stuff needs to happen.

My colleagues gathered again for a luncheon hosted by the Community Foundation of Henderson County. Philanthropists, volunteers and providers joined together to share stories of giving and helping, to celebrate the generosity of this community, and to acknowledge that without it, great things couldn’t happen.

My colleagues gathered again for a luncheon hosted by the Community Foundation of Henderson County. Philanthropists, volunteers and providers joined together to share stories of giving and helping, to celebrate the generosity of this community, and to acknowledge that without it, great things couldn’t happen.

As it’s been a month of reflection for me, I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned from being a parent:

1. Underarm hair looks like grass to a preschooler.

2. Ranch dressing and ketchup are necessary at all meals.

3. In our small town, people you know will call, text and email you to tell you they saw your child/children walking to their car after school, walking down Main Street holding hands with someone, driving slow, driving fast, eating at a restaurant — you name it. I always wondered why my mother could confidently tell me that if I did anything, she’d know before I could tell her. She was right. It’s just awesome to know there are extra eyes on your babies.

4. If you are a mother, you’ll never go to the bathroom alone. Ever. No matter how grown up they are. By the time they leave home, the pets have already figured out that you obviously need a great deal of support in that room, and they will join you too. Nobody seems to go to the bathroom with dads. I don’t understand that.
5. It’s not easy to be a good parent when you’re stressed, tired or worried about money.
6. Being a single parent is very hard.
7. Siblings fight. Hard and dirty. Having been an only child, I just had no idea.
8. Siblings love each other fiercely. Having been an only child, I just had no idea.
9. Your children probably know you better than you know yourself.
10. You’ll wish you could have a do-over so you could get this parenting thing right.

Two weeks have passed since I went skipping out of the store. I finally got the call, “Mama, will you come see me?” (Hallelujah! It’s about time she missed me!) Hotel room, check. Dinner out in a cool new town, check. Pedicures, check. Mother-daughter shopping spree, check.

I actually lost money. And, it was worth every cent!

Elisha Freeman is executive director of the Children & Family Resource Center (; 828-698-0674).

Bouquets of Sharpened Pencils

“I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” It’s a line from the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” a late ’90s movie I can’t help but watch whenever I see that it’s on.

Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks star in this cute little love story about a relationship that started in an online chatroom back in the days when internet access was still via dial-up.

I thought of bouquets of sharpened pencils because it’s almost back-to-school time, and, like many parents, I just spent the weekend buying new school supplies that are sure to keep my daughter organized and focused all year long.

I love this time of year. It’s kind of like a mid-year reboot — full of promise, the anticipation of crisp fall air (and football), and a head full of dreams about how organized I’m going to be — new pencils, new paper, new colored pens and folders! Bliss!

More than 1,000 local boys and girls will walk into their first day of kindergarten before month’s end. And several of our year-round schools are already underway. If recent statistics hold true, we’ll know two things about students in Henderson County this year:

• More than half will be considered “not ready” for school on day one of kindergarten.

• More than half in all grades will qualify for the free and reduced meals program.

If you’re like most people, you may be wondering, “What does ‘being ready’ mean?” The truth is, there is not a nice, clean checklist. Young children develop at their own speed and learn as they are exposed to new things in their environments.

Early childhood experts and K-12 educators across our nation have worked together to define what it means, but early life experiences vary widely among this age group, and children will walk into day one with a range of skills and abilities.

In general, being “ready” has less to do with children’s ability to name letters and numbers or spell their name and more to do with their ability to self-regulate, problem-solve, be imaginative and curious, take initiative, and be socially and emotionally competent. All of these skills are the business of early childhood development, and are developed through play during the first five years of life — play with their friends, with adults and by themselves.

All that development begins at birth and is shaped by the child’s environment. Early childhood environments that are rich with love and are safe and nurturing are best at preparing children for academic and social success. Environments that lack strong emotional connections with caring adults, are unsafe, unstable and high on stress are worse.

Often, the most detrimental thing impeding positive child development is poverty (and all of its impact).

Within the first 20 days of school, every kindergartner’s reading and math literacy skills will be assessed, and identifying numbers and letters becomes important. These state-mandated assessments will be repeated three times during the year and used to monitor students’ progress.

The good news is that county educators are doing a great job of taking the majority of those children from being “not ready” to being at grade level before the end of kindergarten. But imagine where a child who starts behind could have been if he or she had started “ready.”

Being ready is a two-way street. We want children to be ready for school, and we also want schools to be ready to provide positive learning environments with developmentally appropriate teaching methods that include lots of play, movement and engaging interactions. Additionally, for many children in homes with scarce resources, school can provide stability, routine and regular meals.

Here are some ways you can help impact the lives of our young children this school year:

School counselors or the Title I Department at the HCPS Central Office can connect you with the organizations that are managing local backpack programs. Backpacks full of food go home with our community’s neediest students on weekends and during breaks to ensure they have food available.

The schools’ HELP program works with families of students who are homeless. They need supplies (school supplies, toiletries, etc.).

Interfaith Assistance Ministries conducts an annual back-to-school supply drive and provides a Children’s Clothing Closet. School supplies, backpacks, shoes, coats and clothes as well as financial donations are needed.

Schools need volunteers to tutor children or read to a classroom. After-school programs like the Boys & Girls Club or Salvation Army need your support of both time and financial resources.

A number of local organizations are working together on the front end to increase the number of children who enter school ready to learn. Smart Start of Henderson County, the United Way of Henderson County and the Children and Family Resource Center work together to help address this. As nonprofits, we all need your support.

So, in the movie, he skips the bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils and actually takes her a bouquet of daisies. Be still, my heart.

Elisha Freeman is executive director of the Children & Family Resource Center (; 828-698-0674).

This article was originally seen here.

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