Sad fact, but not surprising
HIGH POINT — His Ninja Turtles shirt rippling in the breeze, 5-year-old Brian Bassett smiled as he climbed on the playground equipment, blissfully unaware that, on paper, he is a statistic.
For Brian, stopping in Thursday at West End Ministries to pick up a box of food was just another day, a chance to ask everyone he saw the never-ending stream of questions bubbling up in his curious mind, a chance to laugh and run on the playground.
His grandmother, Bonnie Bassett, looked on as he climbed and provided a hand as he took a trip down the slide.
For her, the stop on Thursdays is a reminder of the job she lost a year ago. It’s a reminder of the difficulty she has had trying to find employment since. It’s a reminder, despite hardships, she still must provide for her family.
“I come here to feed him, mainly to just to make sure he gets good food,” Bassett said of the grandson she’s raising.
“His mother just abandoned him,” she said. “She ain’t going to do it to him again. He asks about her sometimes, but he knows she’s gone.”
Bassett, 58, said she also has been struggling financially since her layoff at a local printing company.
“They shut down the whole plant,” she said. “It’s just hard at my age to get a job in printing when there aren’t no printing companies around here.”
Bassett does receive food stamps, but she said the assistance isn’t enough to last the month. So she turns to West End Ministries on West English Road, about a block from her home.
“There’s days I didn’t have food,” she said. “I’d come up here and eat, and they’d welcome me with open arms.”
The Bassetts’ situation puts a face to what West End Ministries Executive Director Chris Gillespie said are sad, but not surprising, statistics released last month by The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
In North Carolina, 26 percent of children in 2012 were living in poverty, a jump from 21 percent in 2005. Thirty-three percent of the state’s children in 2012 had parents who lacked secure employment; 37 percent were living in single-parent homes.
“When we’re talking about economic well-being, it’s like a domino effect,” Gillespie said. “So many things play off each other. If the kids are living in poverty, if their parents can’t find employment, then they can only afford certain housing.”
That leads families to reside in substandard housing, where outdated heating and air conditioning units result in skyrocketing utility bills they can’t afford.
“So what do you do?” Gillespie asked. “We’re able to help here, but it’s not a permanent solution.”
The organization offers a women’s shelter, GED program, weekly food box distribution, free weekly meals and emergency utility assistance. It also houses a Boys & Girls Club for summer and after-school care.
“So many people are trying to help,” he said, “but it needs to be a collaborative effort: all of us coming together to look for permanent solutions instead of putting a Band-Aid on the situation.”
The community is only as strong, only as viable as its weakest link, he said.
“You can get on Chestnut and see houses that are falling down and then drive a mile on the same street and see mansions, that’s how close we are,” Gillespie said.
“High Point is No. 4 in the nation for food insecurity — that’s not No. 4 in North Carolina, not No. 4 in the Southeast, that’s No. 4 in the nation,” he said. “If I’m working hard and I work through lunch, my stomach will eventually tell me I’m hungry. Imagine coming to work hungry.
“Many of our kids go to school hungry every day,” Gillespie said. “How do you expect them to pay attention? How do you expect them to focus? How do you expect them to behave if they don’t have the proper tools necessary to be successful?”
Not only are many children without food, some also are in situations where violence or gangs are part of everyday life.
“You can only do what you know,” Gillespie said. “You can only do what you’ve been taught. You can only do what you’ve seen.”
That’s why the “Great Futures Campaign” is important, according to Holly Ferree, vice president of development for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater High Point Inc.
The campaign was launched Thursday by the national organization and in clubs across America in an effort to mobilize communities to empower children to achieve great futures, she said.
Last year, the four clubs within the umbrella organization served more than 1,300 children, Ferree said. Membership is $2 a year.
“With 94 percent of them living in poverty, we’re serving the kids who need us most,” she said.
Children ran in the gym Friday at the Southside club on Taylor Avenue, where they receive not just exercise but also participate in a Healthy Habits program that promotes eating nutritious foods and, during the school year, get homework help through the PowerHour program.
“Our doors are open,” said Latoya Bullock, vice president of operations. “And great futures start here.”
Without the club, many of the children would be home alone while their parents work or go to school, roaming the streets or participating in risky behaviors, she said. It’s important to pull those children into the positive environment at an early age to prevent them from falling into the cycle of poverty and violence.
“They see it on a regular basis in their surroundings,” said Unit Director Kenny Mack. “It’s right there for them to emulate on a regular basis. But being here, they don’t get all that, they don’t see all the violence, all the trouble that’s going on in their neighborhoods.”
At the Boys & Girls Club, children get to be children, he said.
And, as the children grow in that environment, they experience opportunities they otherwise would not have, Ferree said. They are exposed to new places and information and learn how to become productive citizens.
“When they only see the things around them, it’s really hard to break out of that cycle of poverty,” she said.
But today’s children are the next work force, Ferree said, so the community and businesses within it need to invest in the future — youth.
All children have a talent, she said, and the Boys & Girls Clubs help them to understand that talent, build on it and determine how to use it to secure employment.
“But it’s not just Boys & Girls Clubs’ job,” she said, “it’s our whole community’s job to make sure that we’re building a great next work force that will break that cycle.”