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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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).

Good news on teen pregnancies

Years ago, I remember walking into the den while my daughter was watching the reality TV show “16 and Pregnant.” I was initially shocked. MTV was pretty much a “no-no” in my house, and she was still pretty young to be watching it, in my opinion.

Instead of freaking out, I decided to watch an episode with her and let it launch a conversation that I’ve tried to keep open since then. Trust me, the episode was wrought with all kinds of teen drama, giving us plenty of things to talk about.

At that time, I would have never believed that reality TV shows like this one would be credited, in part, for a nationwide drop in teen pregnancy. In 2014, a study estimated that teen births dropped 6 percent in the 18 months following the show’s release.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the news that teen pregnancy is on the decline in the nation. The same holds true here in Henderson County, and we at the Children & Family Resource Center couldn’t be more relieved.

Our work with teen parents has long had us aware of the need for better access to information for teenagers and for support for parents to help them gain knowledge and confidence to talk to their teens about sex.

Obviously, the reason for the decline in teen pregnancy is about much more than reality TV shows. A 2014 study by the Guttmacher Policy Review identifies two reasons that are at the opposite sides of the arguments about what to do about sex education. Those reasons:

• Fewer teens are having sex. Over the past two decades, there has been a shift in social norms that encourages teens to remain abstinent or delay sex.

• Today’s teenagers have better access to information about sex, and teens who decide to have sex have better access to contraception and are using it more often than in the past.

The newly released numbers show that birthrates among females ages 15-19 have declined 38.5 percent nationwide from 2006-2007 to 2013-2014. The largest drops have occurred among Hispanic (47.8 percent) and black (40.3 percent) teens.

North Carolina is seeing a 43.3 percent drop in birthrates for females ages 15-19, and here locally we’ve also seen numbers drop significantly with a 28.3 percent decline from 2013 to 2014.

Even though we are celebrating a decline in teen pregnancy nationwide, CDC Director Tom Frieden is correct in stating, “The reality is, too many American teens are still having babies.”

Obviously, teen parents need a lot of support. The odds are against them, and the obstacles can seem insurmountable. The statistics say that teen parents are less likely to complete high school, much less go to college. They are more likely to become pregnant again while still a teenager (22.3 percent of teen pregnancies in North Carolina last year were repeat teen pregnancies). We also know that children of teen parents are also at greater risks for health complications, academic challenges and social problems.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Over the past 15 years, we have proudly helped hundreds of teen parents successfully beat the statistics and graduate from high school, go to college, land jobs and go on to lead successful lives. Teens enrolled in the Children & Family Resource Center’s Adolescent Parenting Program receive individualized, targeted support aimed toward the goal of helping them graduate from high school and make choices to delay a second pregnancy.

We work to help them overcome life’s obstacles, develop solid parenting skills and knowledge of child development, and transition into adulthood by furthering their education and job training.

A trend we’ve noticed locally is the increasing involvement of teen dads. Through the years, I’ve often been asked, “What about the teen dads? What happens to them?” Teen fathers have always been welcome to participate in our program, but historically they have been hard to keep engaged. This year, we are about to enroll our fifth teen father in the program.

I recently read a great quote from a teen mom that appeared in a 2004 article in Parents Magazine about teen parenting. The 15-year-old mother said, “I’d like the world to know that teenage moms can be every bit as caring, loving and perfect or imperfect as any other mother. We’re parents, too, and we’re just like other parents — only a little bit younger and with a little bit more to learn.”

It is our privilege to work with parents to help them improve the lives of their children, no matter their age or circumstance. For more information about our programs, please visit our website,, or contact us at 698-0674.

Elisha Freeman is executive director of the Children & Family Resource Center.

This article originally appeared on here.

What Growing Up in Henderson County Does for Future Income

IMG_7348My 19 year old son dreams of living in Alaska one day and my 16 year old daughter wants to be living in New York City in her 20’s. I have this whole dialogue in my mind that goes something like, “But what about me seeing my grandkids?” and “Don’t you realize I’d miss you?” To be honest, that dialogue has slipped right out of my head and through my lips. I can remember aching to get out of this tiny town and be off to bigger-city things. I made it as far as three hours away from here and it only took me seven years to move right back, just in time for my oldest to be born. The truth is, as much as I love our town, I think this would be a pretty tough place to be a 20-something year old and it all centers around ‘opportunity’ and the ability to start a career and earn an income that can equal to what could be earned in other places.

Earlier this year the NY Times released a fascinating study on income mobility. Income mobility measures the odds that a child of poor parents will be able to move up the income ladder. Income mobility for the US has remained steady over the past decades and, as North Carolinians, we are in a geographic region where income mobility is about the lowest it can be compared to other places (a child has the best chances growing up in the Midwest). The data drills right down to the county level where I learned that Henderson County is described as “below average” (even if only slightly so) in helping poor children up the income ladder and that it is relatively worse for poor girls than it is for poor boys. According to the study, here is what a childhood in Henderson County does for future income:

• For poor kids – If a child in a poor family were to grow up in Henderson County, NC, instead of an average place, he or she would make $20 less in his/her average household income at age 26.
• For average income kids – If a child in an average-income family were to grow up in Henderson County, NC, instead of an average place, he or she would make $420 less (1%) less in his/her average household income at age 26.
• For rich kids – If a child in a rich family were to grow up in Henderson County, NC, instead of an average place, he or she would make $800 less (2%) less in his/her average household income at age 26.
• For the top 1% – If a child in a family earning in the top 1% for wealth were to grow up in Henderson County, NC, instead of an average place, he or she would make $1,040 less (2%) less in his/her average household income at age 26.

Note: for a family with a parent in his/her 40s, the 25th percentile corresponds to an annual income of about $30,000; the 50th percentile to about $60,000; the 75th percentile to about $100,000; and the top 1% to more than $500,000.

I know I, like my parents did, hope for better for my kids. Basically, we seem to be fairly close to being considered “an average place” even though we are slightly below. The data is fascinating and you can even take a look at it by a child’s gender and see that poor girls do much worse than poor boys, but as family income rises, girls from higher income brackets do better than boys.

Location matters. The study also outlines what it considers to be five key factors for a community to have in place to improve income mobility for its children:

1. Less segregation by income and race
2. Lower levels of income inequality
3. Better schools
4. Lower rates of violent crime
5. Large share of two-parent households

Each one of us may have a different opinion of how we’re doing as a county in each of those factors. I personally have all kinds of thoughts about the influence of family dynamics and the culture of socio-economic class (the whole psychology of poverty) and their impact on all of this. I do encourage you to research for yourself and learn a little more and make investments in community efforts that improve these factors for children. You can start by googling the New York Times article on “The Best and Worst Places to Grow Up How Your Area Compares.” The research links are available below.

I often get asked about what the biggest needs of kids are in our community. I immediately can rattle off the things I seem to continually talk about: affordable housing for families; child homelessness; child hunger; access to affordable, quality child care; access to mental health services for children. It all points back to poverty and I don’t have a quick answer on this. Many of the families we serve at the Children & Family Resource Center are in poverty. They are also employed and working to make ends meet. They do not want to be in poverty. Wouldn’t it be great if we (this community) made investments into those five factors helped change the future for our kids? I think it would be pretty incredible.

Research links :

You can start by googling the New York Times “The Best and Worst Places to Grow up How Your Area Compares” or link here to go straight to an interactive database where you can look at counties all over the US.

This is an interactive map that shows poverty in the US. You can drill all the way down to State and County and see where concentrations of poverty are in Henderson County.