Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pennies add up to make change

We might often throw the loose coins in our pockets into a drawer or jar at home to collect dust. It's easy to forget that those coins can add up - can even make a difference in someone's life.

Student participants in the YWCA Youth Learning Centers in Charlotte collected their spare change and created the Pennies for CHANGE program.

The drive was held at the 10 Youth Learning Center sites in at-risk neighborhoods across the county. As a result of the program, the students collected $200 in pennies for United Way of Central Carolinas.

Participants told the United Way that they collected pennies by doing laundry, helping with odd jobs around the house and washing the dishes. They also kept their eyes peeled for loose change while walking in parking lots and looking in between sofa cushions.

So instead of taking the spare coins out of your pocket at the end of the day and tossing them into a crowded drawer, send it to the United Way and let someone in need benefit from your change.

Above photo: YWCA Tuckaseegee Learning Center participants fifth grader Jada Ford (left), YWCA Program Site Director Christina Bellamy, second grader Mikayla Smalls and second grader Jyell Patterson (right), collect pennies for United Way. Photo courtesy of Jerri Haigler.

How to help:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Young professionals give thanks by helping those in need

Every day, thousands in the community are left struggling to survive. Some go without food, while others live without sufficient clothing or shelter from the elements.

With the holidays in full swing, young professionals from the Charlotte area are helping to ease the pain of those in need by participating in the United Way Young Leaders' Week to help fight hunger.

From Nov. 7-14, the group of 74 young professional volunteers supported seven agencies, dedicated more than 160 hours of time and served about 1,000 people. In a week's time, the volunteers also donated 580 pounds of food to Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.

The goal of the weeklong service project was to generate awareness about the issue of hunger.

Organizations that benefited included the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope, Crisis Assistance Ministry, The Relatives, Florence Crittenton Services, the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, the Friendship Gardens and Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.

In your backyard:

• There are 106,865 individuals living at or below the poverty level. This represents 12 percent of the population.

• There are 6,129 individuals 65 years and older living at or below the poverty level. This represents 8 percent of the older adult population.

• There are 37,057 children living at or below the poverty level. This represents 16 percent of the child population.

Source: Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina

How you can help:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Enjoy an evening of music at youth symphony

Nearly 200 young musicians will bring together their talents to produce an annual fall concert at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Central Piedmont Community College's Halton Theater.

The Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestras will perform works featuring Sergei Prokofiev’s "Peter and the Wolf," which will be narrated by trombonist Thomas Burge. Other works highlighted will be those of Bizet and Elgar.

The orchestra is comprised of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra, which caters to youth grades 8-12, and the Junior Youth Orchestra, which is open to grades 4-9.

The group is directed by Dr. Ernest Pereira, a violinist in the Charlotte Symphony.

Members of the youth symphony work closely with those in the Charlotte Symphony to develop their talents through monthly coaching sessions.

To attend tonight's event, visit CPCC's website. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for seniors and students. Tickets can also be purchased at the door, or in advance by calling the Charlotte Symphony ticket office at 704-972-2000.

Learn more:
More information regarding the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra, visit
For more on the Charlotte Symphony, visit

Friday, November 18, 2011

High schools battle each other to end hunger

For the past six weeks, 16 area high schools have been scrambling to collect as many non-perishable food items as possible for the second annual Charlotte Student Hunger Drive.

The schools have been competing in various events, like a Fast Feet shopping spree sponsored by Food Lion, to see who can gather the most total weight in food to be donated to Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.

Totals were announced at the Second Annual Charlotte Student Hunger Drive on Wednesday night at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina - where the drive originally kicked off. Together, the schools collected 86,023 pounds of food worth more than $196,000.

For the year, this was an increase of 77 percent, said Natalie Jenkins, executive director of the Charlotte Student Hunger Drive.

Winners of the 2011 Charlotte Student Hunger Drive:

Most Pounds Per Student: 1st Place ($2,500 award) – Cannon High School with 10.49 lbs per student 2nd Place ($1,000 award) – Hickory Ridge High School with 8.52 lbs per student Most Improved ($500 award) – Garinger High School with a 206 percent increase, collecting more than 2,010 pounds.

Food Lion Student MVP Award: Given to a student who went above and beyond in their leadership during the Student Hunger Drive. The Food Lion MVP Award, a $250 Scholarship, was given to Nation Ford High School junior Forrest Holloman of Fort Mill.

Snyders-Lance Freshest Idea Award: Given to the school with the most creative collection event of the Student Hunger Drive. 1st Place ($500 award) – East Mecklenburg High School

Awards of $100 were given to schools that collected over 5,000 pounds: Ardrey Kell High School; Charlotte Catholic High School; Olympic High School; Providence High School; Hickory Ridge High School, Fort Mill High School, Nation Ford High School, and East Mecklenburg High School

Congratulations to all high schools who contributed to the success of the drive: Ardrey Kell; Butler; Central Cabarrus; Cannon; Charlotte Catholic; East Mecklenburg; Fort Mill; Leadership & Public Service High School at Garinger; Harding University High; Hickory Ridge; Myers Park; Nation Ford; Olympic; Philip O. Berry Academy; Providence; Rocky River and South Mecklenburg.

Learn more:

For more information on the Student Hunger Drive, visit

Do you know a Young Achiever? If you know (or are!) someone you think has an inspiring story, email me at or call 704-358-6043.

-Photo by Adam Jennings

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Teen overcomes peer pressure to succeed in life

Sometimes success is as simple as being a positive light in a friend's life - encouraging them to withstand the peer pressure of gang involvement and to stay in school.

It's not defined by the amount of AP courses taken in a semester or the number of academic clubs one participates in after school.

I was out on assignment last week to interview two kids at West Mecklenburg High when I was introduced to Noah Propst, 16, a sophomore at the school.

For Noah, success is just that, he told me - being a positive influence in high school.

He says he began high school on the wrong foot. His freshman year he started to see the new amount of peer pressure that came along with high school and he wasn't focused on making good grades.

"A lot of times I felt like dropping out, but I didn't want to give up on myself," Noah said.

That all changed when he realized how negative behavior would cripple his future and limit his abilities to go to college and find a stable career.

Noah said he shifted his focus completely his sophomore year, began doing his homework right after school and enrolling in a technology club at school called "Our Voices."

"Noah is a great example of a student who stands out quietly," said Stephen Gibson, "Our Voices" advisor. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for him."

Now a sophomore, Noah turns in all of his work on time and makes all A's, Gibson said.

While in school, Noah said his favorite class is biology because he enjoys learning about different molecules. It is his goal to attend college and to possibly study about the automotive industry.

He says he is now trying to be an encouraging example to others in school who are involved in gang activity and may not have dreams of a better future.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Learning to make Mondays count

Let's face it, Mondays are always the hardest days to get motivated.

We drag ourselves out of bed and typically need several cups of coffee in order to be productive.

But while I was out reporting one day, I came across an idea being implemented in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools that makes Mondays count for more than just another start to the work week.

CMS schools are "Making Mondays Count." Their new anti-bullying program called just that, "Making Mondays Count," is centered around the idea of creating a positive school climate by implementing character building and bully-harassment prevention initiatives.

Each Monday of every month, there is a new theme that is promoted district-wide that relates to calendar observances and the idea of a positive school climate. Each week in the month has a new focus centered around the overall theme.

This month's theme: Unity with a Focused Intention.

The purpose of this month's theme is to unite and rally schools, communities and families to give thanks and support to those around them.

On Nov. 14, the focus will be: Treat the Homeless with Dignity.

Students will learn how to aid those who are less fortunate in the community and treat others with respect.

So instead of begrudgingly starting another Monday, make your Mondays count for something more and do a little good - just like these kids are doing.

Upcoming focuses:
Nov. 21: What Matters Most. This topic focuses on continuing to love, support and accept one another.
Nov. 28: Write a Note of Gratitude. This week, students will write thank you cards to those who have impacted their lives.

Program observances this month:
• Thanksgiving
• Eid-ul-Adha
• Birth of Baha’u’llah
• Alzheimers disease awareness
• Veterans Day
• Recycle day
• World freedom day
• American Indian heritage Month
• Military Family month
• Hospice Month
• Adoption Month
• Family Caregivers month
• Diabetes month

For more information about anti-bullying programs like "Making Mondays Count," email

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Child fights blindness with community support

Derek Wynne has been legally blind since he was 18 months old.

He was born with a genetic retinal disease that progressively robs his vision, said his mother, Anita Wynne.

Derek, now 11 and a sixth-grader at Metrolina Christian Academy, is helping fight diseases that cause blindness by participating in the 5th Annual Charlotte 5K VisionWalk.

His team, called "Derek's Dream Team," consists of about 23 members.

This is the family's fifth year participating in the event following their move from New Jersey to Charlotte in 2006, Anita Wynne said. Each year, they try to have a different team name.

"This is the only hope we have right now for this research," Anita Wynne said about the walk.

To fundraise for the event, Derek sells vision bracelets and chocolate covered pretzels to family and friends. He leaves for school with six bracelets on each arm and comes home with none, his mom said.

"It's a good time to have everybody get together and donate," Derek said.

Aside from participating in the walk, Derek also had the opportunity to join in on Dining in the Dark, another event that benefits sight-saving research.

At the event, Derek presented the foundation's Visionary Award to his role model, NASCAR driver Richard Petty.

"It felt really good inside" to meet Richard Petty, he said.

As for advice to children who may be struggling with vision impairment, Derek says, "Try your hardest and don't overwhelm yourself."

How to help:
5th Annual Charlotte 5K VisionWalk
When: Nov. 12
Time: Registration begins at 9 a.m. and the walk starts at 10 a.m.
Where:Freedom Park
1900 East Blvd.
What: Hundreds are expected to gather to walk to fight blinding diseases like macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, which affect more than 10 million Americans. VisionWalk aims to raise $65,000 for blindness research.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Saving the planet at a young age

Save the planet? No problem.

Two Ranson Middle School students are tackling environmental issues one recycle bin at a time.

Jaylen Sifford and Narciso DeLabra, both sixth grade students at Ranson, approached their guidance counselor, Lasonya Frazier, three weeks ago about starting a recycling program at the school.

Both students, who recycle at home, noticed their middle school did not have a recycling program. So with the help of Frazier, the school is in the process of setting up about 16 recycling bins throughout the building.

Jaylen and Narciso, along with other recruited students, will visit each classroom on a routine basis to collect paper to be recycled, Frazier said.

"To have the diligence to ask adults about a program that is lacking takes a lot of courage," Frazier said. "I think it's wonderful and they are thinking outside of the box."

Narciso is also contributing to a beautification project in his neighborhood. As a part of the beautification project, he helps pick up trash and also spends time doing chores for elderly individuals in the area.

As for Jaylen, he began recycling at home and hopes to save the environment and protect the planet with his efforts, Frazier said.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Calling all young writers to express yourself

Last Sunday, I took a seat on a maroon theater chair in Spirit Square, waiting to hear young poets take the small stage for a poetry slam.

To be honest, I didn't know what kind of material I would hear from the young poets. I admit that I was expecting topics centered around love, school, sports and family. And I definitely got that, but there was no fluff.

Young artists spilled out rhymes of loneliness, finding love, the economy, suicide and war. Their words were thought provoking and their delivery was passionate.

After being inspired by so many talented youth that night, I went on a search to find more opportunities for young writers in the area.

Here's what I found:

Collegiate Slam
What:1st Annual Carolina Collegiate Slam with Duke University, UNC Charlotte, UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Greensboro, Johnson C. Smith University, and North Carolina A&T
When: Nov. 5.
Time: 8 p.m.
Where: Davidson College in Davidson, Duke Family Performance Hall in the Alvarez Union at 8 p.m.
Cost: Admission for students is free with IDs and non-students cost $3.
More info:
Email or call 501-993-8532.

Speak Up Youth Poetry Slam
Where: Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square
345 N. College St.
Charlotte, N.C., 28202
When: Nov. 20
Time: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Cost: $5
Sign up: The list opens up at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.
More info: Contact Ed Mabrey at, or call 704-301-5132.

The Cankerworm
Where: Crossroads Charlotte at UNC Charlotte
What: A free evening of storytelling. The event is inspired by the Levine Museum's Courage exhibit and pays homage to New York City-based nonprofit, The Moth, which is dedicated to the art of storytelling.
When: Nov. 30
7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
More info: Interested individuals can contact Arissa El-Amin at for details. Email subject lines should include "Cankerworm."