Progress 2021 - Rocky Mount Telegram

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PROGRESS ENC Rocky Mount TELEGRAM Serving the Twin Counties since 1910

INSIDE ■ Area businesses learn to adjust, adapt,

■ Event center works to return to normalcy,

Page A2 Page A5 ■ CSX facility delayed but work continues, ■ Woman preserves Princeville’s history, Page A3 Page A7 ■ Edgecombe projects continue to move, ■ Sports complex reopens after shutdown, Page A4 Page A8



Area businesses learn to adjust, adapt BY WILLIAM F. WEST Staff Writer

Brett Hill said no real estate agent ever thought they would be in a position where they were putting on masks and gloves when going into a stranger’s home. “But as such, we did find ourselves doing that,” Hill said of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Hill is a real estate agent at 1st Class Real Estate Triangle East, which he established and is based at the Rocky Mount Mills business and residential complex. The Telegram spoke with Hill and other local business owners and representatives about how they responded to the economic impact of COVID-19 and how their respective operations are doing. Hill said his real estate business realized the need to have more technology available to help him and his team manage transactions and to make transactions as smooth as possible for clients. That technology includes using videoconferencing applications such as Zoom and using online shared calendars, both to ensure less in-person contact to the point that even at the closing of a sale, when sometimes just the client and the attorney are involved. “I’ve even seen situations where the attorney walked out to the parking lot and handed a clipboard through the window of the car to do a closing in the car,” Hill said. He said business is fantastic, with the market being to the advantage of a seller. “And I think there’s a number of factors that contributed to that because of COVID,” he said. “And inventory is down, so it’s fun to be a seller right now. It’s a little tough to be a buyer at times, but it’s fun to be a seller right now.” He said part of the reason is because of people becoming home-based workers and wanting a home to both live and work in. “I think that when we all went on lockdown and people were sent home to work from home, people who were renting realized how dissatisfied they were in their current living situation,” he said. Hill said perhaps a person was residing in an apartment sharing a wall and hearing a virtual school in progress next door while he or she was trying to work. Hill also said many people saw their vacation plans


Real estate agent Brett Hill works in his office at 1st Class Real Estate Triangle East.

canceled but suddenly realized they had cash they could use toward making a down payment and closing costs. Hill also emphasized people had more time to go online and seek details about how to get pre-qualified with a lender and link up with a real estate agent. “Now, I think those contributed to buyers beginning to scoop up properties that were first-time homebuyers,” he said. “And then when we saw the interest rates drop, then a lot of people took advantage of refinancing.” And he said there are people with existing residences who realize they can afford larger residences now because of the changes that have occurred. He also spoke of having learned more so the impor-

tance of urgency in the real estate business. “If you see something you like, don’t wait because there’s probably five other people behind you that are going to be making offers as well from a buyer’s perspective,” he said. Denise Watkins is a partner with her brother David Holder at Sky-Vue Skateland, which has been in business since 1958 and is off U.S. 64 Alternate just east of the city. The Sky-Vue name came from since-deceased parents Vernon and Pauline Holder having had a drive-in movie theater next door. Watkins has such an established family-oriented business at Sky-Vue Skateland a lot of the children who come may be second- or third-generation rollerskaters.

Below, Denise Watkins stands in Sky-Vue Skateland. At right is signage listing rules and regulations for Sky-Vue Skateland.

“So we know some of their parents, their grandparents,” Watkins said. “We have a good relationship. They know us. We know them.” Watkins said in 2020, she was set to probably have her best year in about six to eight years before lots of chatter started about COVID-19 and people became concerned and attendance at Sky-Vue Skateland dropped. She said she told her brother, “Let’s close for a couple of weeks and see if things subside.” “We actually closed prior to the governor mandating different businesses to close,” she said. “Of course, we never knew that two weeks was going to run into six months.” She said the business is a member of the Rollerskating Association Internation-

al and said she and fellow industry members began having town hall meetings weekly and began developing safety standards. In addition to putting signage on the floor at Sky-Vue advising patrons to stand six feet apart to ensure social distancing, she and her team installed hand sanitizing stations at frequent places. She also said she and her team established a protocol to clean tables once patrons get up from having eaten at the table. “We’ve not actually opened our games back up,” she said. “I think we are about ready to do that.” Sky-Vue reopened in September and Watkins said business since then has been pretty good because young people wanted to get out and have something to do.

“At that time, we were opened at a 30 percent capacity,” Watkins said. “And we did hit that capacity a couple of times.” By 30 percent capacity, Watkins means 165 people. Asked what she has learned, Watkins said, “Well, I guess we just have to try to do the best we can. The winter months are our strongest months. “So we’re very used to banking that money to help us get through slower times. And I guess I’m just very thankful we’ve developed that habit — and we do that,” she said. She also the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which was set up to provide loans to small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll, aided Sky-Vue. Sky-Vue has two employees as hired help. “I did try to pay my employees some while we were closed, because they need money, too,” Watkins said. Erin Gall is the sales manager at Allegra, which is a marketing, mailing and printing company in the Greenfield area in the northwestern part of the city. Gall spoke of Allegra having had a wonderful 2019 and having been primed and rolling along heading into 2020 before the impact of COVID-19. “And I would say that April was our real starting point,” Gall said of the effect on the business. “Obviously, we could see what was happening.” Gall said by April, Allegra was pretty much a barebones operation, but she said the business was quite lucky to have the PPP loan come into play. “And then we brought everybody back,” Gall said. She said the only difference was not a lot of companies were ordering or needing things at that moment because they were shut down. “So we used that time to train employees and kind of clean up our processes and our systems — and look at what might be coming down the pipeline, what people were needing now,” she said. She told of the business also diversifying to sell personal protective items such as disposable masks, branded regular masks and desk shields. “So we kind of brainstormed to think about what might be coming down the path and just kind of letting our customers know that we were — that we had these additional products if they needed them to stay open,” she said.




CSX facility delayed but work continues BY JOHN H. WALKER Staff Writer

Work continues on the project that has been labeled as the “game changer” for Edgecombe and Nash counties in regard to industrial development, although the completion date continues to be delayed because of COVID-19. CSX’s Carolina Connector (CCX) intermodal facility, being constructed on a 330-acre site in the vicinity of N.C. Wesleyan College, will have the capacity to handle as many as 110,000 shipping containers. The facility a $160 million project, will have three wide-span, zero-emission electric cranes and container handling will be completely automatic, with operators remotely controlling the initial lift and final placement from inside the terminal building. “Progress remains steady after delays due to COVID-19. We now have workers on-site at CCX working on the assembly of the wide-span cranes,” CSX spokeswoman Sheriee Bowman said. “Barring any unforeseen delays, we are hopeful to have cranes in the air by the end of April and fully assembled before the end of the year.” The initial target date to be operational was by the end of 2020. That date was pushed to the end of the first quarter of 2021 when travel restrictions implemented because of COVID-19 prevented as many as 30 engineers from traveling from Europe to Rocky Mount to assemble the cranes. The Rocky Mount intermodal project is one of two currently under construction by CSX with the other being a seven wide-span, zero-emission electric crane facility in North Baltimore in northwest Ohio. Carolina Gateways Partnership CEO Norris


The $160-million CSX Carolina Connector intermodal facility is being constructed on a 330-acre site and will have the capacity to handle as many as 110,000 shipping containers.

Tolson labeled CCX as a “game-changer” for the region because he said the day after the announcement that it would be located in Rocky Mount, the telephones started ringing in his office as site developers began reaching out to inquire about the Twin Counties. “It was if you had flipped a switch … that’s how obvious the impact was,” he said. As it was, CCX came about as a last best pitch from Tolson. CSX had already decided on a site in Johnston County, just east of Selma. As the railroad began contacting property owners regarding land, opposition began to grow, finally reaching the point to where CSX was ready to pull the plug on the project. “I had a friend in Raleigh who called me and advised me that CSX was running into strong opposition down there and that I might give them a call,” Tolson said in a previous interview. Tolson said he reached


Work continues on the CSX Carolina Connector intermodal facility along Wesleyan Boulevard.

out to his contact with CSX and told him Carolina Gateways already had land and there would be no lengthy — or difficult — land acquisition process.

That turned the trick and in the end, CSX settled on the Edgecombe County site that sits just down tracks from the former Genco coal-fired generating plant

and in the general proximity of N.C. Wesleyan. The site is inaccessible from the west via the Wesleyan Boulevard side of the track, with only the boom

ADJUSTING Continued from A2

She also said the business used this as a time to reach out to customers, not to try to push or sell anything but to touch base with them and tell them, “We’re all here together” and “Let us know how you’re doing.” She also said the business has been beefed up in the category of mailings, because such a service is touchless, and has included offering social distancing and directional signage for sale. “So we really pushed products that we felt were beneficial to helping businesses communicate to their customers or clients, helping them stay open and helping them mostly stay safe,” she said. She said business has improved. “It’s not where it was pre-COVID, but it’s definitely better than it was midCOVID,” she said. Kyle Eickhoff owns the Golden Corral restaurant off North Wesleyan Boulevard in the northern part of the city. Eickhoff said right before COVID-19, he and his team believed the business was about to have one of its best years and said he and his team had a marketing campaign the business felt good about. The local Golden Corral closed in late March 2020 after Gov. Roy Cooper ordered restaurants in North Carolina to halt dine-in service and limit business to take-out or delivery orders. The local Golden Corral reopened in late May 2020 after Cooper allowed dinein service at restaurants to resume at 50 percent capacity. The local Golden Corral had in the past offered breakfast on Fridays but presently is limiting that service to Saturdays and Sun-


Allegra Sales Director Erin Gall shows examples of COVID-19-related safety signage the business offers for sale.

days. Lunches and dinners are offered every day of the week. Eickhoff said the local Golden Corral has been fortunate in that, although the restaurant is having to operate under some quite strict restrictions in North Carolina, customers are still served in a way that is safe and gives them the product they are accustomed to. Eickhoff also noted the restaurant offers foods such as meatloaf and pot roast, which one cannot purchase at quick-service restaurants. Eickhoff said in addition to having mask-wearing procedures in place, he and his team reduced the seating capacity by half and provided customers with gloves when they go to the buffet. Eickhoff said one thing customers do not see is he and his team increased the speed of the restaurant’s air conditioning and heating

system so more air is being piped out of the building. He said while such a procedure is costing the restaurant lots of money, he and his team want to ensure there is as much incoming fresh air as possible in the building. He also spoke of the local Golden Corral offering food via delivery or at curbside, with customers ordering in advance on the restaurant’s website or on other platforms such as DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats. Eickhoff said business is not back to what it was. “But we’re a lot closer,” Eickhoff said. Eickhoff noted that the curbside and delivery parts of the restaurant’s services are growing and that the amount of take-out business has increased a lot. As for the status of the restaurant’s staff, Eickhoff said, “We kept every one that wanted to work — and

we have a few who are still either working reduced hours or intending to come back but not able to right now. “And we’ve hired quite a few,” he said of new employees. Crystal Taylor had long been working as a waitress at the local Golden Corral until the restaurant temporarily closed. “And I knew I had to support my family somehow,” Taylor said. Taylor said she started cleaning her house from top to bottom, which eventually prompted her son to tell her she was going to be sweeping the roof if she soon did not find something to do. “So my friend said, ‘You can come clean my house,’” Taylor said. “So I went and cleaned her house and she had told one of her friends — and before you know it, I was cleaning houses.” Taylor said that she

worked at the local Golden Corral a couple of days a week, but that the income was not the same, so she focused more on cleaning houses. She said one day her brother came over to her residence and suggested she start a business and call the service Crystal Clean. “It’s actually turned into a really good, good thing — and I enjoy doing it,” she said. She said she started around May 2020 and said

of a crane and huge piles of dirt visible. A large, gated entrance with paved road connecting to Old Battleboro Road provides access to the project. There is no company name on the plywood mounted on the brick sign —only the address in red spray paint. Even though CSX had given the go-ahead, the road wasn’t a smooth one as the railroad company hired Hunter Harrison as CEO in March 2017. Harrison, who died just eight months later, was known for introducing precision scheduled railroading and for shutting down rail yards and shying away from what is known as hub and spoke operations. Harrison pulled the plug on the Rocky Mount project. But about 10 months after Harrison’s death, new CEO Jim Foote resurrected the project — albeit on a smaller basis than originally planned. The terminal’s location allows for an easy in-and-out process of containers and utilizing the ports at Norfolk and Wilmington as well as I-95 and US 64. The state Department of Transportation conducted an economic impact evaluation and determined the facility will have an estimated indirect job impact of up to 1,300 jobs. Studies indicate the project will result in $310 million in public benefits, $125 million to the state economy, 3 million annual reduction in truck miles on state roads — equaling 120,000 trucks off the road per year — and a 655,000-ton reduction in CO2 emissions in North Carolina, equaling 138,000 cars off the road. The study also projected that CSX will lower shipping costs by as much as 15 percent because of CCX and increase access to national and global markets.

she has been cleaning one or two residences a day, with the business being word of mouth and with the price being negotiable. “I basically just price it from my heart, to be honest with you,” she said. “Most of my customers are residents,” she said. “It’s residential. I have done businesses, but for the most part I like to do houses just individually. They’ll call me. They’ll get a price range.” She said most of her residential customers are not in their respective residences when she arrives to do the housecleaning. She said residential customers who are in their respective residences where she arrives normally are home-based workers and are on the opposite side of their respective residences. Taylor said the basic service is dusting, sweeping and mopping, with the pay for the work being per hour and with the work at each house taking probably two hours. Taylor summed up her philosophy of doing business: “I will help you as much as you can help me.” “I get paid for the job, but I also like to look out for others,” she said. She said while she remains part of the team at the local Golden Corral, she is not working there. “The door is open,” she said. “I can go back anytime I want to — but right now, we’re just going to take a break until I get everything on this end situated.”



Agency pushes Nash development efforts BY AMELIA HARPER Staff Writer

After the first year of the new Nash County Economic Development Department, director Andy Hagy said efforts are going well despite the challenges of the pandemic. Nash County commissioners voted in April 2019 to leave the Carolinas Gateway P a r t n e rship at the end of September of HAGY that year and to revive its own economic development department. Hagy joined the county as head of the department in January 2020. Hagy said in a press release from the department that Nash County has been identified as an ideal location to accommodate the growth of e-commerce, cold storage and logistics companies — especially ones in the life science and food-beverage industries. This speaks strongly to the strength of the market and the opportunity for Nash County to expand and grow in 2021, he said. “Many elements are leading the way for continued economic growth and expansion in 2021 for Nash County. The county’s prime location and abundance of county-owned industrial property, diverse workforce and partnership with Nash Community College for workforce training, a strong

Above: Construction of a new road and 62,500-square-foot shell building was completed last year in the 320-acre Middlesex Corporate Centre. Left: The Middlesex Corporate Centre is located on N.C. 231.


industrial base, accompanied by a low cost of living and doing business — have everything pointing to continued expansion of this strong base in 2021,” Hagy said. One the activities promoted by the new department was Nash County’s decision to join the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, a 12-county regional market-

ing group. The Research Triangle is home to some of the fastest-growing companies and communities in the world. Joining the RTRP allows Nash County to participate in and benefit from national and global marketing efforts by highlighting the county’s location within the Research Triangle region, the statement said. The Nash County Eco-

nomic Development department also worked closely with the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina to market the county’s assets and align the county’s efforts with state partners. Nash County, with the support of EDPNC, announced 128 new jobs and $33.7 million in new investment in 2020, Hagy said. Another development in-

cluded the expansion of the county’s social media platform and the launching of a new and professional economic development web site, which can be found at Chris Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of N.C., praised the new website when he spoke earlier this month at a meeting of Nash County commissioners. “I sent a message to Andy recently complimenting him on the new website. With more companies avoiding travel because of pandemic, websites like this become more important,” Chung said. Nash County also recently developed a Nash County Strategic Economic Development Plan with the help of Ted Abernathy, managing partner with Economic Leadership. Input was received from the chambers and stakeholders throughout the county and region. The final plan was presented and adopted by commissioners in October. Despite the pandemic, the county’s partnership with the state and its own business recruitment efforts generated an extensive pipeline of 51 active projects, Hagy said in the release. These projects spanned across many industry sectors and could bring a potential capital investment of $1.8 billion and 6,300 new jobs to Nash County. The activity was especially centered around the county’s 62,500-square-foot Middlesex shell building, which is expandable to

100,000 square feet, and the completion of the infrastructure and road in the 320-acre Middlesex Corporate Centre, he said. Chung said the development of industrial sites and industrial parks such as these are important to the county if it hopes to attract new businesses and industries. “If Nash County doesn’t have sufficient real estate in the form of developed, shovel-ready sites or in the form of vacant modern buildings that companies can move into, unfortunately the county won’t get very far in consideration as we are talking to companies that might want to move into the area,” Chung said. Despite the challenges generated because of COVID-19, the Nash Economic Development Team continues to see an increase in new leads and requests for information, Hagy said. “One of the greatest economic indicators for a county’s economic growth is when an existing business expresses interest in expanding their facilities and retains or creates more new jobs in Nash County,” Hagy said. “The Nash County Economic Development Team has been busy working to assist many requests from the county’s existing businesses, both small and large, who want to continue to grow and prosper in Nash County. “I believe 2020 has made Nash County stronger and has positioned the county to experience an exceptional year for job growth and capital investment in 2021.”

Edgecombe projects continue to move forward BY JOHN H. WALKER Staff Writer

The coronavirus pandemic hit just as economic indicators were beginning to improve for Edgecombe County. And while those indicators dropped all the way to the bottom of the scale, there was slippage in a number of areas as job reductions — and in some cases layoffs — hit the county. Still, economic development continued and at the Rocky Mount Economic Summit on Dec. 3, Rocky Mount Area Chamber President David Farris said, “There’s just a lot going on … action we’ve never seen before. Rarely, if ever, had we seen this kind of activity before (the pandemic).” But about that same time, the state Department of Commerce was releasing data that showed Edgecombe County to be the state’s most economically distressed county for the fourth straight year. The ratings are state-mandated and based on four factors: ■ Average unemployment rate for the most recent 12 months for which data are available. ■ Median household income for the most recent 12 months for which data are available. ■ Percentage growth in population for the most recent 36 months for which data are available. ■ Adjusted property tax base per capita for the most recent taxable year. During 2020, Corning moved into its new 800,000-square-foot warehouse distribution center at Hartsease while work continued on the CSX Carolina Connector being constructed along CSX’s A-line, which runs along the western boundary of Edgecombe County. And for the first time, Triangle Tire acknowledged the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China had led to the delay in building the 5-million-square-foot plant. The plant, Triangle’s first outside China, was announced in December 2017 and Phase I was to have been operational by this time with the entire facility operational by 2023.

terested in the area. A 100,000-square-foot spec building, expandable to 200,000 square feet, will be completed at Kingsboro during the first quarter of 2021. As the year headed into the home stretch, Wolf and Flow X-Ray, a fourth-generation medical imaging manufacturer, announced it would relocate from Deer Park, N.Y., about 40 miles east of Manhattan, to the Fountain Industrial Park. The company said it will FILE PHOTOS/ROCKY MOUNT TELEGRAM invest more than $4.5 milCorning opened its new 800,000-square-foot warehouse distribution center this year lion to relocate their headquarters and manufacturing in Hartsease. operations, including 68 underway and the center’s jobs, to Edgecombe County. opening close at hand. Farris, who made the As the year progressed, the Carolinas Gateway Partnership announced that the Tarboro shell building project had been leased and that as soon as that deal was closed, construction would start on a second facility in the Tarboro Commerce Center. Both are 65,000 square feet and expandable to 120,000. That announcement was part of a larger one that included construction of a series of shell buildings to draw developers and investors in-

Focus Vice President of Technology Bill Wiser works on connections in the equipment room of the company’s new call center in Tarboro.

Carolinas Gateway Partnership President and CEO Norris Tolson told the Telegram that the last time he had talked with Triangle, they still were committed to Edgecombe County and would start construction as soon as the trade issues eased. Triangle initially said it would employ 800 people at nearly $56,000 annually, although that employment number later was revised to 1,200. Edgecombe had started the year off with a bang, when Sara Lee Frozen Foods announced a $19.8 million expansion that would add 108 jobs at its Tarboro facility. Just months earlier, Sara Lee celebrated 30 years in Tarboro and Edgecombe County and its first anniversary since

becoming Sara Lee Frozen Foods. In February, N.C. Armorock announced a $6.6 million project to locate in the Battleboro community and create 55 jobs. N.C. Armorock is the world’s largest manufacturer of polymer concrete structures. Then in April, Utah-based Focus Services LLC, a customer service organization, announced it would open a call center in downtown Tarboro. Focus, which already had a location in Greenville, was looking for a second location in eastern North Carolina and was eyeing Rocky Mount when company officials were made aware of Tarboro. Just a few weeks later, hiring had begun, training was

Carolinas Gateway presentation at the Rocky Mount Economic Summit, noted that the agency has 63 active projects. “That’s probably 50 percent of the projects statewide,” he said. “That’s to say we’re in play.” Farris shared a graphic showing what was identified as CGP’s “top 10 highly active projects out of a total of 63 active projects.” The 10 represent nearly 6,000 jobs and $1.758 billion in investment. All of those will not come to fruition, but it does underscore Farris’ statement that the region — and Edgecombe County — is “in play.”






Event center works to return to normalcy BY SPENCER CARNEY Telegram Correspondent

With March marking the oneyear anniversary since COVID struck and shut businesses down, the return of activity to the Rocky Mount Event Center brings a hopeful, cautious return to a semblance of normalcy. “We were closed down in March through basically the end of the year and really only started having events and sporting in February,” said David Joyner, general manager of the event center. “Since restrictions began to ease, we were able to begin booking small events and small catering events and reopened for our first real sporting event, a youth volleyball tournament that brought in 140 teams on Feb. 12.” Joyner said that while many of the staff were furloughed, there are plans to bring more bookings and events to the center, which will hopefully work toward building activity and staffing back to normal levels. “Our strategy was that we knew we had to be ready for whenever we were able to reopen,” he said. “We’re booked for almost every weekend from now through the summer for sports.” In bringing back the larger events, he said they have had to learn new processes and safety procedures to continue to comply with COVID restrictions. Part of this is participating in training through Count On Me NC, “a public health initiative that empowers visitors, guests and businesses to help keep everyone safe from COVID-19,” according to the Count On Me NC website. “Once all this is through, I do believe we will keep many aspects of this routing moving forward in regards to how we sanitize and flow traffic through the building,” he said. “One interesting result of COVID is that businesses have had to innovate and adapt — and there are things that we’ve learned and are doing differently that we wouldn’t have thought to do before.” Currently, the number of people involved in the sporting events are


People walk into the Rocky Mount Event Center on Oct. 26, 2019, during the Grand Opening Celebration.

The Rocky Mount Event Center’s Game Day Adventure and Arcade area is shown here.

limited to the teams, chaperones and coaches. In addition to the volleyball tournament, the center also was able to safely host a dance competition at the same time as one of the sporting events in different areas of the building. “The restaurants and hotels in the area are ecstatic that we’re able to do these events again,” Joyner said. “These events always have a big economic impact, and we’re proud to be able to do bring that impact to the city.”

George Collins plays a video game with his daughters, Hope and Faith, on Feb.22, 2020, at Game Day Adventure & Arcade inside the Rocky Mount Event Center.

Rocky Mount Event Center Manager David Joyner shows volleyball courts ready for tournament play at the facility.

During the shutdown, despite the lack of activity, employees were still hard at work to expand what the event center has to offer. The event center is excited to announce their new KultureCity verification. “This is an extensive sensory inclusivity training that taught us how we can be more sensitive to the needs of all of our guests, from those with autism to people who struggle with PTSD and anyone with a sensory-inclusive need,”

he said. “We have quiet rooms in our facility, and kits with things such as headphones. We want to be accessible to a diverse group of people, who have a diversity of needs.” Over 40 staff members received the KultureCity training, and it will continue to be a mandatory part of training for all new employees. Joyner said that so far, the response from the community has been very positive. “I’ve gotten messages on Linke-

dIn and emails from people saying they have loved ones with autism or have autism — and they’re so excited that we’ve taken this step. It was really eye opening for me just how it was for so many people,” said Joyner. In addition to KultureCity and the Count On Me NC programs, the event center is also working toward another COVID-related certification that will ensure they’re taking every possible step and precaution to prevent the spread of COVID and other infectious diseases. “With the new certifications and safety measures and everything, it’s given us an opportunity to build an even stronger relationship with our local and state tourism partners,” said Joyner. “That’s something that I’ve been really proud of and our community should be proud of, that the Edgecombe, Nash and even Wilson tourism offices, we’ve all met together, and they all work together and use our facility as an anchor. It gives us the chance to be strategic and unified in marketing and deciding our plans, to make sure it benefits each county.”

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Nash County contends with challenges BY AMELIA HARPER Staff Writer

Nash County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robbie Davis gives an overall positive assessment of conditions in Nash County despite the unprecedented challenges of the past year. “I do believe 2020 will be a year we will all remember for a very long time,” Davis said during his annual State of the County DAVIS address. “We have basically been in a year of unknowns and challenges. I do believe we have all grown closer, more appreciative and certainly more innovative as we have learned about COVID-19.” Davis said the county has fared well financially over the past year. “We were concerned about how the pandemic would affect the financial condition of the county, but surprisingly, we are still doing very well,” Davis said Monday. “What we expected did not happen. We met and exceeded all revenue sources except for court fees because we have not had court for some time.” Nash County has not increased its tax rate in the past 11 years and yet maintains a fund balance of $42.25 mil-


Nash County completed several capital projects over the past year and more remain underway or scheduled to begin this year.

lion, Davis said. “That is great for a county this size,” he said. The county’s tax collection rate is higher than ever at 99.06 percent. This is a testament, Davis said, to the hard work of the tax department and the character of its citizens. Through all this, Nash County has worked hard to balance priorities with 26.94 percent of its funding going to schools, 25.43 percent going to public safety and 24.28 percent going to human services. “You just can’t be any more fair with your funding agencies than we have,” Davis said. However, Davis did leave room for improvement, especially when it comes to school funding. Davis spoke positively of

the current relationship between the school board and county commissioners. “The relationship with the school board is so much better now,” Davis said. “We as a board need to be open to providing more money to our Nash County Public Schools in capital improvements as well as human resources. We have been at the same place in our current expenses funding for about six years. We can and should do more for our school system.” Davis touted several of the capital projects the county has completed over the past year and some that are underway. Among these were the completion of airport improvements and progress on the Northern Nash Water project and broadband ex-

pansion. “The pandemic has shown us something we already knew, and that is the need for broadband in the county. We will work in this partnership with Cloudwyze to make sure that everyone has been served,” Davis said. Two major construction projects should begin this year, Davis said. One is the development of the new Red Oak Elementary School. “We are looking forward to getting that project started,” Davis said. “We will be replacing the three oldest schools. This is sorely needed.” Bidding on the new Nash County Detention Center expansion should take place in April or May, Davis said. “This project was under discussion a great deal last

year. The sheriff’s department, Board of Commissioners and Nash County administrative staff reached a compromise on that project and we are moving forward as quickly as we can,” he said. Several more projects are planned for 2021, Davis said. Davis expressed great appreciation for the employees of the county in helping to make the accomplishments of the year possible. “The biggest thanks from all of us above is to our employees. They have kept government running in a very efficient and safe way,” Davis said. “What a year for them to shine, and the light has been very bright. This year has been eye-opening on just how good we are and can be and that is be-

cause of our people.” This year also is filled with challenges as COVID continues to affect lives, Davis said. The county also needs to complete a new land development code. “The county is growing, and we need to establish a clear direction of the desire of this board in how we want to grow,” Davis said. Other challenges include the need for more industrial recruitment, he said. Davis said he is proud of the efforts of the Nash County Board of Commissioners. “Last year, we had 16 regular meetings and 13 special called meetings. During that time, we only had four absences from our board members, and they were all excused absences,” he said. But the board needs to look toward developing future leaders for the county, Davis said. “I am saying for myself — I don’t know if I am speaking for the board — but I feel we need to seek out and develop new leaders,” he said. “This is a great board, and we all feel we have served well and made Nash County better. But we all have our age constraints, and I do believe it is our duty to plan for the future in all aspects. I hope the board will keep that in mind, and I will be keeping that in mind for myself as we seek out new leaders.”

Tarboro moves forward despite pandemic BY JOHN H. WALKER Staff Writer

Despite the last nine months of the year being under the shroud of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions, 2020 was not a bad year for Tarboro. Downtown Tarboro welcomed a new eating establishment, Las Delicias, in January and full tables during lunch and dinner showed that locals appreciated the quality and style of the food. Las Delicias, located at 411 Main St., serves dishes that one would find in eateries south of the border. Las Delicias is part of a small group of restaurants in Eastern North Carolina, with locations in Fayetteville and Greensboro and a panaderia (bakery) in Rocky Mount. Also in January, the state Department of Commerce announced that Sara Lee Frozen Bakery would begin a $19.8 million expansion of the company’s plant, creating 108 new jobs. Just three months earlier, Sara Lee had held a birthday celebration to commemorate its 30th year in Tarboro and first as Sara Lee Frozen Bakery. In March, Tarboro Savings Bank returned to its downtown roots with the opening of its new building on the corner of Main and East Church. The new building was designed by architect and Tarboro native Chip Hemingway and built by another company with deep Tarboro roots, Barnhill Contracting Co. “Our history is here on this corner,” bank President and CEO Ann Winstead said. “This (building) represents the loyalty of our members throughout the years.” The new facility includes a room that can be used by community groups, a sheltered drive-thru with room to expand and a walkup ATM. As the bank’s move was being made downtown, Corning was getting things set up in the company’s new, 800,000-square-foot warehouse on U.S. 64 Alternate at Hartsease. The company began posting job openings in February and before the weather turned hot, the warehouse was full with trucks backed up to the bays. Carolinas Gateway Partnership CEO Norris Tolson said he thinks the day will come when a rail spur crosses the highway to the facility and an expansion option is exercised. Heading into the summer, Tarboro’s recreational arena got a couple of boosts as an upgrade to the playground and a newly constructed pavilion, with bath-


A mural greets motorists as they enter downtown Nashville. FILE PHOTO/ROCKY MOUNT TELEGRAM

Tarboro continues to see new businesses open and economic development projects continue despite the pandemic.

Nashville perseveres in troubling times BY AMELIA HARPER Staff Writer


Waitress Nancy Acosta, left, talks with customers on Jan. 21, 2020, at Taqueria Las Delicias in downtown Tarboro.

rooms, were completed at Braswell Park. Parks Director Travis Stigge noted that the facilities were “open for about a week” when the order came down from Raleigh to shut them down to help slow the spread of COVID-19. About a month later, advanced-level baseball returned to Tarboro’s Municipal Stadium for the first time in almost 70 years as the Tarboro River Bandits began play in the Carolina Virginia Collegiate League. The team, owned by Wayne Turnage of La Grange, brought college-level baseball to Tarboro in the form of a wooden bat league team. Coached by Brandon Matthews and made up of players from across the country, the River Bandits got off to a 6-0 start and then swept the post-season tournament to win the league championship with a 29-11 record. In September, Turnage announced the team would be joining the Tidewater League for the 2021 season. The season will start May 27, according to the Tidewater website. Crowds drawn by the River Bandits heading into and during the CVCL tournament offer promise for the 2021 season, as

crowds upwards of 400 were on hand to see Tarboro win the league title. Meanwhile, construction on a 65,000-square-foot spec building — expandable to 120,000 square feet — in the Tarboro Commerce Center continued with plans to build a second spec building once the first was either leased or sold. Tarboro’s many street fairs, dances and outdoor events — like so many other things — fell victim to COVID-19 from the outset. Starting with the Spring Fling and working through the long list of activities generally held in the community, they were all shelved in favor of attendance restrictions and an ongoing effort to slow, if not prevent, the spread of the virus. Modified events, such as a drive-thru trick-or-treating event or a drive-thru with Santa Claus, both held at Riverside Park, or community movie nights at Indian Lake Park, reminded folks that there’s more than one way to get out of the house in the middle of a pandemic. And to put a cap on 2020, a drive-up New Year’s Eve event at Indian Lake Park served to tie the bow on what seemed like the longest year in history.

The Town of Nashville continues to fare well despite the pandemic, Town Manager Randy Lansing said. “The past year in Nashville has been anything but business-as-usual with the COVID pandemic,” Lansing said. The immediate concern in March 2020 was the problem of how to conduct business at all. “There was the challenge of figuring out how to provide public services during a pandemic where social contact with citizens and contact between employees was seriously curtailed,” Lansing said. “Early on in April and May, this was compounded by not being able to get needed personal protective gear for employees to do their jobs.” Lansing said having administrative employees working from home, holding council meetings via Zoom and live-streaming and dividing essential employees into small work groups with very limited contact with other employees got the town through the first part of the pandemic. “Once it was proven that face masks and social distancing was an effective way to prevent getting COVID, things got a little easier and most people figured out how to go about their daily lives again,” Lansing said. The Nashville Town Office has been open for business for months now, though the town has changed some of its procedures to preserve social distancing. The town also is holding meetings in person, with chairs for participants spread six feet apart. While every COVID-related order since executive order 141 issued on May 20 included the provision that “the prohibition on mass gatherings also does not apply to educational institutions or government opera-

tions,” many municipalities and school board meetings in the area are still refusing to allow participants to attend public meetings. Lansing said town leaders also LANSING were concerned in March about how COVID-19 would impact the town’s finances. “Beginning with the town’s fiscal year 2021 budget back in March, we anticipated the pandemic would likely impact the town’s revenues,” Lansing said. “We knew sales taxes and Powell Bill (motor fuel tax) revenues would be less with the governor’s stay-at-home order and closure of restaurants, bars and other businesses — but by how much was a real question.” Lansing said the town council and town staff also were concerned with the delay of some water and sewer revenues because of the governor’s orders and with whether homeowners and businesses would be able to pay their property taxes in a time of economic uncertainty. Because of these concerns, the Nashville Town Council controlled the only thing they could, he said. “As a result, the town council budgeted very conservatively and items that were not an absolute necessity were put on hold,” Lansing said. The strategy has worked well for the town. “Although there are still many people in Nashville unemployed due to COVID and a number of small businesses still struggling financially, the town’s revenues from sales tax revenues, property tax and utility payments are pretty much on track with projected revenues,” Lansing said. “I feel the town and the community of Nashville have weathered the COVID pandemic thus far pretty well.”



Woman strives to preserve Princeville’s history BY MACY MEYER Special to the Telegram

What Kelsi Dew said stunned her mother into silence. “I’m moving back.” While those three words seem so simple, Kelsi said them with such conviction that Karen Dew was floored. Kelsi grew up in the small town of Tarboro, in the heart of Edgecombe County, and she swore she would never return when she left in 2017 to attend Appalachian State University. “That’s why she chose App, because it was the furthest she could go without going out of state,” Karen said. Boone offered Kelsi everything her hometown could not — space, time to grow, a freshness that comes from a place where no one knows who she is or what her parents do or which house in the neighborhood is hers. So why was she coming back? Kelsi couldn’t help herself. Like kinetic attraction between two magnets, everything in her life was pulling her back. But it wasn’t nostalgia. It was history. She moved to Greenville to earn her master’s degree in history and then accepted a job as a historical outreach coordinator in Princeville, the town that straddles the Tar River with her birthplace. Her interest started in a cultural anthropology course at Appalachian State despite Kelsi not knowing what anthropology meant before enrolling in school. One course led to another until Kelsi was so deeply invested in the history and anthropology departments, that she knew she had found her life’s calling. History consumed her. There, in a course on African American history, Kelsi’s lifelong disdain for her hometown began to melt away. The passion for history started when Kelsi really learned about her hometown for the first time. When she really learned about the twin towns that represented each of her parents: her father in Princeville and her mother in Tarboro. “There was just all of these connections of ‘Holy crap, I live in a place that is so interesting, and now I want to learn about it,’” Kelsi said. “I lived there for 18 years and had


Kelsi Dew poses for a portrait outside the old history museum and the new mobile history museum.

Kelsi Dew feeds her chickens in her backyard of what used to be her father’s home.

no idea about all of these things that absolutely makes this place wonderful.” Princeville is the oldest town incorporated by African Americans in the United States. After being established by formerly enslaved peoples after the Civil War, the majority-Black town has fought through social and economic difficulties relating to race disparity. Princeville has survived through slavery, the Reconstruction period, the Jim Crow South, systemic racism and government negligence — and decades of tumultuous floods. Between the years of 1800 and 1958 the Tar River, which splits Tarboro and Princeville, flooded the town seven times. A levee built in 1965 to regulate water levels failed in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd. The town was submerged for days, and homes were destroyed. Kelsi can still feel her fear of the rising waters during the hurricane. She can still see the signs of water damage on the walls in her father’s home. It’s a permanent reminder of what they lived — and survived — through. Life is defined by how many times a person’s house has been flooded. People know well the stress of evacuation, the hardship of displacement, the disappointment of waiting for FEMA, and the destruction of everything they had. From Floyd to Matthew in 2017 to Florence in 2018 to Dorian in 2019, residents barely began rebuilding before another

finding a new toy. Goldberg will look it over, squint, but settle with responding back, “It looks like a piece of rust.” He doesn’t see what she sees. A conversation with Kelsi will prove to Goldberg just how wrong he is, when Kelsi shows artifacts more than 100 years old, relaying the life history of the previous owner. A headstone shows Kelsi the wealth of a person, a brick shows skilled labor, coins and metalwork and pottery paints a picture that Kelsi interprets. She learns from the objects, then she shares that with residents — and eventually, she hopes to share it with the nation through a permanent museum that hosts exhibits of objects she is discovering now. “The information that Kelsi has so diligently collected, and continues to collect, will serve a very instrumental purpose as we continue to move forward wanting to share about the town of Princeville —not just locally, but across the state, across the nation,” Princeville Town Manager Glenda Knight said. Kelsi’s research is her greatest commitment. She knows the town like the back of her hand, even a casual drive around the county consists of Kelsi identifying every property passed and a quick history lesson. Kelsi calls Edgecombe County a gem, and to her, it is a treasure. “Her energy is exactly what the town needs as it relates to building a community back bigger, better and

devastating flood arrived. But in that classroom in Boone, Kelsi learned about Mayos Crossroads, the region where her maternal grandparents owned a farm. She learned about her home, the cemeteries she visited as a child, the cemetery she would go to on her first date with her now-partner, James Goldberg. She learned about Princeville’s resilience. Not the flood disasters. Why didn’t she know about this? she wondered. The simple answer is the element that gives life, but is often so intimately associated with devastation in Edgecombe County: water. Because of the decades of floods, Princeville rarely can preserve its rich history. “We are now collecting data, research and artifacts that represent the town of Princeville,” Kelsi said. “Because of persistent flooding, there are a lot of artifacts and items that are lost, by no fault other than flooding.” When Kelsi moved back home, she made a commitment to preserving and protecting history. Even when her father, a lifelong resident of Princeville, grew sicker with complications of hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver in 2017, Kelsi moved in to care for him while continuing her research on Princeville’s history. Goldberg says Kelsi thrives in her historian work because she sees objects differently. “Look what I found,” Kelsi will say with the giddy excitement of a child

bolder,” Knight said. “Just to know she is that passionate about the town of Princeville is very special.” From never returning to never leaving, Kelsi’s relationship with her hometown has been tumultuous — much like the history of the town. But Kelsi feels the strength of the town, and the love from her fellow residents who are determined to stay there despite the flooding. The misconceptions about the town — the rumors that Princeville is less-than, and the associations with drugs and high-unemployment that give Princeville such negative connotations — only fuel Kelsi to prove them wrong. “She’s able to show the history and preserve it, and it tells a story of who was here and how they got here,” Goldberg said. “It’s a great community that’s being reborn now.” Princeville is historical, mysterious, gutted and resilient, often nearly all at once. But that’s what drives Kelsi to the greatest lengths — because Princeville has always been that way. The people have always been that way. “These people have held the community down consistently for 135 years,” Kelsi said. “You have this multi-layering of reasoning of why this community shouldn’t exist but it does. And it exists because of the people, and working with what you have, and being happy with what you have. I’m just happy to be a small part of it.”

World Cat keeps expansion close to home BY PAT GRUNER The Daily Reflector

What began as a plan for bigger catamarans has led to an expansion of a regional marine manufacturer that had been eyeing a move out of state. World Cat is a Tarboro-based boat manufacturer specializing in catamarans meant to provide a smoother ride for mariners. In 2020, the company was developing plans for a 40foot dual console hulled craft that was simply too large to build in their space in Tarboro. The company outsourced manufacturing to Tampa, Florida, and was on the brink of relocating business out of state. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country, engineers and executives were hampered by the threat of traveling south for water


World Cat engineers discuss the dynamics of a design at WorldCat’s newest location in Greenville.

testing and other necessary steps in the process. “We couldn’t get all of our work done in Florida,” World Cat President Andrew Brown said. Brown and his team saw that employees in their Edgecombe County location had come from all over the region. As he looked in

surrounding areas in the state, he found Greenville. He said the workforce and support he’s seen from the city were the right match. “It is perfect for what we’re doing,” he said. “The workforce in Greenville is so good for it. There are engineers and people always graduating from the univer-


sity and people who have a strong understanding of modern manufacturing and safety.” With space being a determining factor in the move, the city’s economic development group began seeking available locations. They found the North Park Industrial Center on Staton Road, a location formerly used by Camping World and Nike shoe company. “Fortunately, we had an existing building here in Greenville that would fit the footprint that they were looking for,” said Uconda Dunn, vice president of business development with the Greenville-ENC Alliance. “It was partially being leased at the time,” she said. “However, that lease was coming up for renewal and the company was not renewing. We were able to work on World Cat getting

into that facility.” World Cat’s familiarity and appreciation for the workforce in the area was another factor Dunn saw as an incentive to bring World Cat to town. “We didn’t want to lose this company and potentially risk losing the 100 employees they had in Edgecombe County because we could not come to an agreement on location,” she added. Brown said the city was welcoming in making the deal happen every step of the way. “We could not have done this without the city of Greenville,” Brown said. “The mayor’s office was so welcoming. Kathy (Howard) in utilities was a huge help. She’s probably 90 percent of why we got here. If it wasn’t for COVID I would have taken her for a steak dinner.” The facility is 232,500

square feet consisting of offices and warehouse space which World Cat can use to keep manufacturing at a steady clip. Engineers are set up in offices with design software and the two attached industrial settings will allow for 900 40-foot boats to be built at a time according to Brown. The facility will be exclusive to the larger vessels. During a tour, Brown explained that one building will serve as an assembly line and the other will be devoted to laminating products. “Everything we’re using here is compressed air,” Brown said. “As far as renovations, we are going to need $3.5 million for the laminate room, a third of which we’re spending this year. Ventilation is extremely important and we need to keep that area around 70 degrees.”



Sports complex reopens after shutdown


N.C. Wesleyan’s Lindsey Sharpe, right, slides into third base as Greensboro’s Kierstin Mckenna Alayna Hendricks, 7, attempts to kick the ball as waits for the ball on April 14, 2016, during the Jakelah Matthews closes in during a U-8 soccer USA South Conference Tournament at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex. match at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex. PHOTOS BY FILE PHOTO/ROCKY MOUNT TELEGRAM

BY CHANDLER JOHNSON Telegram Correspondent

The Rocky Mount Sports Complex brings in thousands of people every year from across the state. These visitors come to watch athletes take the field in one of the six youth baseball fields, four softball/baseball fields, eight football/soccer fields, two basketball courts, outdoor volleyball courts or the disc golf course. Many visitors also come to participate in the sporting events on many of the fields and courts that are open to the public to play as well. During the spring of 2020, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, athletes and fans were no longer able to enjoy the many sporting events that the complex has to offer. This hurt not only the spectators and athletes, but the City of Rocky Mount and many of the people that were employed because of the sports complex. Although COVID-19 forced the complex to shut down sporting events in the spring of 2020, many of these activities resumed in the fall. “We were able to offer some fall outdoor programs that were following COVID guidelines,” Rocky Mount Parks and Recreational Department Director Joel Dunn said. Programs included softball, baseball leagues, and soccer clin-

ics but did not include any travel events which had normally been a substantial source of income for the complex. “With no travel events being held in 2020, revenues and expenditures’ related to hosting these events were down,” Dunn said. Even though revenue has been down as a whole, Dunn said that no full-time employees have lost their jobs. “All of our full-time staff remain employed and are dedicated to keeping the Sports Complex in great condition throughout the year,” he said. The shutdown of events that are normally held at the complex negatively affected many businesses in the surrounding area. Hotels and restaurants that would normally host visitors coming to the complex no longer had their added business to count on. Dunn said he expects many of those businesses to pick back up when the complex is running at full capacity. “As we begin to reopen, we anticipate hosting successful events that bring great economic impact to businesses, restaurants, and hotels in our area,” he said. Dunn said the events that were canceled last year included the Down East Viking Football Classic, the city’s annual Independence Celebration on July 3 and the Tackle the Tar Obstacle Course Race. Dunn also said that the following traveling sporting

events were canceled: baseball, softball, football, lacrosse and soccer.” Dunn said he is hopeful that the Independence Celebration will happen this year, and he is making plans accordingly but with caution. “As we approach the date of the event, we will evaluate whether it is safe to operate and if so, what guidelines and restrictions are required to be put in place,” he said. Dunn said he has had to face a lot of challenges in dealing with the pandemic. He said that the most difficult aspect was trying to make plans in an uncertain environment. “There is no way to anticipate where you might be at in three months, so you prepare for several scenarios,” he said. The sports complex was reopened March 13 for travel sporting events, with attendance to be limited to no more than 100 spectators per field. Concessions sales will be limited to only include drinks and pre-packaged items. Visitors, players, coaches and referees will be required to wear protective masks when they cannot engage in social distancing. And even though the pandemic caused difficulty for the sports complex, Dunn feels that the future is bright. “As we plan for future events, our priority is the safety of the public,” he said.

City workers lay new gas lines.

COVID experiences bring out best in city services Contributed to The Telegram

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unique opportunities to the City of Rocky Mount in its commitment to enhancing the safety, well-being and quality of life of its citizens. More than a year from when the pandemic first hit our nation and community, the city finds itself Responsive, Reflective and Ready for its future. Our work began immediately in March 2020 when executive city staff came together for a Continuance of Operations Plan that ensured we would function as an organization in the opening days and weeks of the pandemic. When many of our residents faced immediate financial hardship at the outset of the pandemic, our city was one of the first in the state to respond by issuing a moratorium on utilities disconnections. In addition, the Rocky Mount City Council extended the moratorium an additional three months past the date of many other state municipalities. As the days of the pandemic turned into weeks and then months, we were still there, delivering day-to-day services, seen and unseen. None of this could have been possible without the commitment of the organization’s employees. While some briefly worked from home as we learned more about safely coming together in office

environments, many of our frontline employees such as Police, Fire, Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Water Resources and Energy Resources, continued to provide the excellent municipal services our community depend upon and deserve. When we returned to our facilities, the city was hit with a network disruption that attempted to halt our daily operations, but a team of skilled and dedicated employees made sure that essential functions remained intact. No one has an answer for when the pandemic will end, but we are excited about the adjustments and creativity this time has afforded us. Rocky Mount City Council meetings have enjoyed an expanded transparency, as the events have found live and recorded homes on the city’s Facebook, YouTube and CITY-19 channels. Even the way we view our events has changed, with everything from yoga classes to theater shows being offered online. We will continue to be at the forefront of providing services to the community during this pandemic — whether it is a free ride to vaccination sites or offering innovative ways to stay informed and connected. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a part of our story, but it is not the end of our story. We look forward to helping write the chapters of our city that lie ahead.

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PROGRESS ENC Rocky Mount TELEGRAM Serving the Twin Counties since 1910

INSIDE ■ Area public schools look to the future,

Page B2 ■ Center provides robotic-surgery practice, Page B3 ■ Peacemakers adapts to difficult times, Page B4

■ Down East partnership keeps moving,

Page B5 ■ Salvation Army provides hope, help, Page B6 ■ Nash UNC Health Care meets challenges, Page B7



Area public schools look to the future BY AMELIA HARPER Staff Writer

As public school districts in the Twin Counties strive to navigate a pathway through the pandemic, they are also looking toward the ways school will change in the future because of the impacts of the past year. Nash County Public Schools and Edgecombe County Public Schools both have been closed to normal in-person instruction for more than a year, relying instead on remote learning or a hybrid model that allows students partial access to in-person learning. At the behest of the state legislature, elementary school students are now returning to full time instruction after more than a year of non-traditional learning. Leaders from both school districts note the toll that the COVID pandemic has taken on their school districts. Edgecombe County Public Schools Superintendent Valerie Bridges said that one concern is the way the COVID restrictions have made long-range planning designed to improve the performance of the school district harder to achieve. “Our collective attention has had to shift from long-range planning to immediate needs, such as supporting our teachers with AMELIA HARPER/ROCKY MOUNT TELEGRAM the overall transition to virtual instruction and disseminating hot Ms. Hale teaches her second-grade class as some students in kindergarten to third grade return to classrooms on Oct. 19, 2020, at spots. Our district currently had Winstead Avenue Elementary School. systems in place to ensure we were able to address these urgent needs while also maintaining a focus on the future — designing and implementing innovative learning experiences for our students,” Bridges said. While Nash County Public Schools is also working to improve its low-performing status, the district is also dealing with the financial impacts of the pandemic. “The pandemic has resulted in a decrease in enrollment across most public schools in the state, Nash County Public Schools included. North Carolina school funding is based on average daily membership (ADM) so when there is a decrease in enrollment, there is a decrease in funding,” said Chris Catalano, the school district’s executive director of communication, planning and enFILE PHOTO/ROCKY MOUNT TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO/ROCKY MOUNT TELEGRAM/ gagement. However, there have been School nurse Deb Terrell, left, and receptionist Shonda Locket Students at Red Oak Elementary School are dismissed on March 8 in front of the site of the new state-of-art elementary school that screen a student on Oct. 19 as he enters Benvenue Elementary will bear the same name. School. See SCHOOLS, B4

High school sports emerge from shutdown BY PATRICK MASON Sports Writer

It was the final Thursday in February and Rocky Mount High athletic director and boys’ basketball coach Michael Gainey was keeping a close watch on his cell phone. Gainey was pacing the away sideline ahead of the Gryphons’ season opener football game at Nash Central, while watching an online video stream of his daughter’s basketball game. “Got to keep an eye on this, too,” Gainey said. His daughter, Barton College women’s basketball senior Michelle Gainey, scored nine points and played 29 minutes in the win. For the elder Gainey, obligations that come with being an athletic director and coach, like attending sporting events and practices, often prevent him from attending games as a fan. The remedy has been to stream the games online. Sports fans have followed professional sports teams through this manner for years, and the college level is catching up, too. And until recently, the streaming option hasn’t arrived at the high school level — and it was the COVID-19 pandemic that helped to hurry that along. As spectators were barred from stadiums and gymnasiums, schools tried to figure out how to address the issue of lost revenue from ticket sales. The final North Carolina High School Athletic Association-sanctioned sporting event for the 2019-20 school year was March 13. Tennis, soccer, baseball, softball, track and field seasons, as well as the conclusion to the basketball playoffs, ended early. When sports began to trickle back late in 2020, Rocky Mount High began offering a streaming service to watch games remotely. Each stream costs $10 and it in-

cludes all of the games from that night, including JV and varsity games. It began with basketball, and is now opening up to more sports. “It’s going good right now,” Gainey said. “Good, clear video. This is going to be here to stay.” The pandemic also changed the way the games look by ushering in a number of new rules and policies. Basketball players wore masks while playing the games, and an extra timeout was added to each quarter to give players a mask break. “They have been great,” SouthWest Edgecombe coach Michael Mosley said of the way his athletes adapted to the changes. “The kids want to play, and the kids made adjustments to everything going on. It’s the adults who have the most difficult time with it.” Also, the seasons in which sports were traditionally played were shuffled. Sports with less contact such as cross country, volleyball and swimming were allowed to play in the fall, while sports like football were moved from the fall to the spring season in hopes that the virus situation would improve. Some schools didn’t attempt. Rocky Mount Academy didn’t play football this year out of an abundance of caution. Neither did Rocky Mount Prep. Another complication has been participation numbers. Many schools have cut or limited JV teams, while some programs, like the Rocky Mount High girls’ soccer team, won’t field a team this year due to low numbers. Yet while the high school sports landscape was largely put on pause for nearly eight months, sports are slowly returning. Athletes are becoming active again — and even if spectators are limited, there’s always the option to pull up a local Gryphons game on a phone or computer.


Rocky Mount High running back McKenly Hines, center, is tackled by the Nash Central defense on Feb. 25 at Nash Central High School.


Faith Christian sophomore Olivia Pannell lunges to reach a return shot on Sept. 28, 2020, during her tennis match against Rocky Mount Academy.

Rocky Mount’s McKenley HinesWilliams makes a shot on Jan. 18.

Rocky Mount High’s Tyrese Tillery goes up for a shot on on Jan. 28 during the Gryphons home game against Southern Nash.



Vidant innovates to combat pandemic



Wilson Medical Center orthopedic physicians are offering robotic-assisted surgery for knee replacements.

Center provides robotic-assisted surgery practice Contributed To The Telegram

Orthopedic surgeons at Wilson Medical Center now have a helping hand for knee replacement surgery. This month, our specially-trained orthopedic physicians began offering robotic-assisted surgery for total knee replacements. “I am very excited to be part of the next evolution of knee replacement for improved patient outcomes and satisfaction,” said Lawrence Yenni, M.D., orthopedic surgeon, who performed the first case on March 9. Robotic-assisted surgery allows the physician to perform with greater precision and flexibility. The robotic assistant has features that assist with bone resections,

which allows the surgeon to take an individualized approach. This personalized approach is shown to provide the surgeon with greater accuracy which results in better patient outcomes. “It’s not always easy for patients to decide to have joint replacement surgery. We are pleased to have this new technology at the fingertips of our orthopedic surgeons, to help our patients feel at ease when making that decision,” said Mark Holyoak, CEO of Wilson Medical Center. “This is just another way we are advancing our mission of Making Communities Healthier.” To find an orthopedic specialist, call 800-424-3627 or visit schedule to make an appointment online.

he COVID-19 pandemic forced our region, state, nation and world to adapt. Vidant Health is no exception and the past year has been highlighted by our ability to innovate in the face of COVID-related challenges to ensure we can respond to the pandemic, improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina and restore vibrancy to our community and economy. Innovation in health care during a historic pandemic means a couple of things: finding new WALDRUM ways to treat and prevent the novel virus, while continuing to deliver high-quality care for other deadly diseases and conditions. Keep in mind, COVID is not the only killer. Rather, serious chronic conditions like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and more are prevalent, particularly in our region. A healthy community is a more economically vibrant community and Vidant plays an important role as an economic engine in the East, and in improving the health of our citizens and communities. Early in the pandemic, we proactively scaled back elective procedures, ramped up cleaning and safety measures and created a safe environment for our team members and patients. This helped ensure we could still provide needed care for those we serve. At the same time, we invested heavily in world-class testing infrastructure. These highly accurate tests embedded in our communities allowed us to rap-


Vidant Health strove to innovate during the past year to responde to the coronavirus pandemic.

idly provide care and better understand how the disease spreads. Our team-member parking lot was converted into a drive-up testing site serving thousands of community members per day at its busiest time and the results were delivered within 24 hours. Testing helped us understand the disease and its prevalence. While we never stopped providing life-saving care, the knowledge gained from testing provided us the opportunity to safely expand our non-COVID services. Our health system includes nine interconnected hospitals, hundreds of clinics and is anchored by Vidant Medical Center, a level-1 trauma center and academic medical

Our greatest hope for a brighter 2021 comes in the form of the COVID-19 vaccines, which are both safe and effective. As we did with testing, Vidant has invested heavily in building a high-quality vaccination program that is embedded in our communities. The regional vaccine program is highlighted by the Vidant/ Pitt County Large-Scale Vaccine Clinic at the Greenville Convention Center. This venue epitomizes our values to be efficient and to provide excellent service for eastern North Carolina. As we work to reimagine our future without COVID and to assure we care for the non-COVID needs of our patients, I am grateful for our team members and community partners. Their hard work and dedication is phenomenal. A brighter year lies ahead as we work together to control COVID and to treat other health issues our communities face.

center. Vidant boasts not only state-of-the-art COVID testing and care, we have advanced technology such as GammaTile and GammaKnife for cancer patients, robotic kidney transplants, advanced heart failure treatment options and more. In fact, Vidant is nearing its 2,000th patient for GammaKnife, a treatment designed to treat brain tumors. We are able to bring this high-quality care to our region of 1.4 million people in large part because of our partnership and collaboration with many organizations. Foremost of these partnerships is our important relationship with the Michael Waldrum, Brody School of Medicine at M.D., is CEO of Vidant East Carolina University. Health.



Peacemakers adapts to difficult times

day,” Peacemakers Deputy Director Lemanuel Williams said. “Many of the children we serve are behind their peers academically, and we work with them on basic math and reading skills in order to close that learning gap.” “We have one teacher for every six students,” Williams added. “Those teachers have done a phenomenal job coordinating the students’ individualized instructional plans

and not only helping with their academic work, but balancing the intricacies of online learning including deadlines, class schedules, login information and assignments that are unique to each student.” A few strategies have helped Peacemakers staff pull off the tremendous task of supporting their community during the pandemic. First, they made safety a priority. CDC safety protocols like social distancing,

mask-wearing and extra cleaning is in place. The enrollment application process includes COVID testing. “We also hired people from our neighborhood as instructional leaders and neighbors who could be here to encourage students, assist with scheduling and Bible study,” Williams said. “It is incredibly rewarding to see the great progress the students are making,” Williams said. “This would not have been possible without the strong collaboration with Nash County Public Schools. They have worked very closely with us to help the students stay on top of their studies.” “We saw early on that we had to address more than the academic needs. When children do not go to school each day, they also miss out on vital support services,” Williams said. “We stepped in to cover those needs as well.” Peacemakers has access to mental health counselor and a speech therapist onsite. “The lack of intervention programs meant that we needed to provide cognitive and behavioral therapy in order to make the best of their academic experience,” Williams said. The nonprofit staff and children agree that they have turned difficult circumstances into an opportunity in more ways than they ever could have imagined. “Helping our neighbors by equipping them with the skills they need to move forward despite adversity and to persevere through challenges is exactly what we do,” Lewis said. “That has always been our mission. To show people there is a way. We can only hope we have done that through the pandemic.” In addition to the educational programs for young scholars, Peacemakers has also continued its Hometown Hires program, a holistic job training and employment program that helps move families out of generational poverty despite barriers like criminal backgrounds, racial inequality and history of drug abuse, domestic violence and homelessness. Additionally, through a partnership with Nash Community College, Peacemakers offers a large selection of adult education and job readiness courses and partners with local companies to help neighborhood residents find employment. As for next steps for the organization, Lewis said while virtual learning continues on site Peacemakers is also gearing up for another year of Freedom School, which begins June 14. Enrollment applications are available at This year’s program is expected to serve more than 100 young scholars. To learn more about Peacemakers or to schedule a tour of the facility, call 252212-5044.

ic, but more attention has been drawn to the issue because of the remote learning needs. “Nash County Public Schools has been a 1:1 laptop district for many years, and we have a robust infrastructure to support online learning in our classrooms. Going into this pandemic, we already had fiber lines providing high-speed connections in all of our school facilities and we have the processes, procedures and technology staff to support online learning. Community connectivity has been a challenge and we are hopeful that one long-range impact will be to improve connectivity in all neighborhoods,” Catalano said. Nash County already had introduced its Virtual Academy before the pandemic began. However, the use of

this form of learning has expanded greatly over the past year. As the pandemic begins to wind down and public pressure to return schools to normal increases, leaders from both school districts are hoping for brighter days in the next academic year. “We are hopeful that the 2021-22 school year will see a return to some semblance of normalcy for our community,” Nash County Public Schools Superintendent Steve Ellis said soon after his school district reopened to in-person learning in March. “We will continue to move forward as we maneuver around the challenges of COVID. Having students in Plan B (in-person learning) is a step in the right direction.” Bridges said she is also hopeful that schools will return to some form of normal

in the fall. “I am not sure what ‘normal’ will look like for schools in this country, but I do think that we will be able to return to some traditional school settings. It will be imperative that we follow the research and advice of scientists as they learn more about COVID and variants that could harm or impact our community,” Bridges said. However, she envisions that her school district will be forever changed by the experience in ways that will benefit students. “I am hopeful that students will be able to return to face-to-face learning in the fall, but I am also desirous that we will utilize some of the innovative practices that we leaned into during the pandemic to make learning more engaging for students,” she said.

BY KELLEY DEAL Special to the Telegram

Like many organizations, Peacemakers of Rocky Mount pivoted its well-laid plans when the coronavirus pandemic struck one year ago. The nonprofit had just moved into its new South Rocky Mount facility a month earlier, nearly doubling their space and facing the need for extensive renovations. Located at 2221 West Raleigh Blvd., the building was formerly South Village Nursing Home. “When we said we had great expectations for how God was going to use this new location to advance His kingdom in South Rocky Mount, we had no idea those plans would begin with a pandemic,” Peacemakers Executive Director Jesse Lewis said. “Being a Christian community development organization serving a low income neighborhood, it was only fitting that our plans shift as the needs of the area increased.” Peacemakers’ programming supports community members in the areas of education, job preparation and community events to help empower people with knowledge that leads to successful, sustainable lives. “The governor’s executive order prevented us from opening at full capacity, so we did all we could do to support parents and students virtually in their new normal with children learning from home,” Lewis said. “We shared daily read-aloud videos, parenting workshops and exercise videos on our social media platforms.” Online parent support groups launched with teachers and mental health professionals as facilitators. Morning one-on-one tutoring began for elementary school students needing extra support and Peacemakers continued providing tutoring for its existing After School Program participants. “Children being out of school unexpectedly created a significant financial strain for a number of families,” Lewis said. “Being the hands and feet of Jesus means that we respond where we are needed. So Peacemakers prepared weekly food boxes for more than 70 Williford Elementary families in need.” The organization also continued its plans for its annual Freedom School to begin in June. The seven-week, full-time enrichment program helps young scholars fall in love with reading, increases their self-esteem and generates more positive attitudes toward learning. At Freedom School, young scholars participate in high-quality STEM clubs providing an in-depth learning experience in their area of interest. The scholars engage in a wide variety of learning experiences, including the exploration of career paths, learning about higher education and


A volunteer works with students at Peacemakers of Rocky Mount.


Students work on computers at Peacemakers of Rocky Mount.


Freedom School student Tameia Alford, 5, laughs while working on a phonics worksheet with volunteer Alex Stanley on July 3, 2019, at Peacemakers of Rocky Mount.

participating in community service and social action projects. “The biggest change to Freedom School in 2020 was that we had to move to two half-day sessions instead of having the same scholars all day as we normally do,” Lewis said. “However, in the end, it was more than worth it. Our scholars still improved their average reading scores by one full grade level over seven weeks last summer.”

In August, with Nash County Public School students continuing virtual learning for the new academic year, Peacemakers started an all-day Day Program open to students by application. The Day Program serves 64 students and currently has a waiting list for enrollment. “The program assists students with their coursework, provides supplemental instruction and includes lunch and a snack each


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some positive results of the COVID restrictions. Chief among these is a greater emphasis on expanding internet access. “Due to the need for remote learning, attention was brought to the number of students without internet accessibility. As a result, the Town of Tarboro has been proactive in seeking and securing partnerships that will expand internet accessibility in our rural communities,” Bridges said. The pandemic has also been catalyst for innovation for the school district, Bridges said. Several programs have been added or redesigned with future needs in mind. “We recognize that we

Freedom School student Lyric Bibbs, 5, raises her arms and sings the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus during the Harambee morning motivation on July 3, 2019, at Peacemakers of Rocky Mount.


Students in Jessica Langley’s kindergarten class watch a video Monday at Winstead Elementary School.

don’t want to go back to business as usual,” Bridges said. “We are making plans next year for a 1:1 initiative in an effort to provide instructional opportunities outside of school and during any type of school closure.” The school district also has developed a virtual academy during the pan-

demic. “The development of a virtual academy will allow us to continue to meet students with unique needs,” she said. Catalano said the Nash school district already had been working to address the need for increased tech services before the pandem-



United Way strives to help vulnerable people BY PAIGE MINSHEW Telegram Correspondent

The pandemic has greatly affected the majority of nonprofit organizations in North Carolina. With the disruption of programs and services, many organizations feared they would be unable to continue to care for the needs of the populations they serve during this time. However, the United Way Tar River Region has been working diligently to “unite people and resources to build a stronger community.” “COVID-19 has created challenges for many businesses and organizations, and United Way Tar River Region has MOHRBUTTER not been immune to this,” United Way Executive Director Ginny Mohrbutter said. In response to the pandemic, United Way Tar addressed the challenges for children, families and individuals by launching the COVID-19 Relief Fund. United Way has been working with nonprofit partners to address urgent needs in feeding, housing, individual/ family stability, child care and youth, senior and special populations. Through an efficient and accountable grants process, United Way COVID-19 Relief Fund has poured in over $168,550 into 50 community programs which has positively impacted over 30,758 children and families. The fund has supported homeless shelter/feeding pantries, financial/rent assistance domestic violence shelter/programming, child care programs, remote learning support and senior citizen meal programs. As with many nonprofit groups nationwide, fundraising efforts have been hindered due to the pandemic. The normally fruitful United Way Tar River Region Community Campaign is facing a shortfall in reach-


Volunteers load boxes of fresh food onto trucks on Sept. 18, 2020, outside the United Way Tar River headquarters on Sunset Avenue.


A volunteer hands a food box to United Way Executive Director Ginny Mohrbutter on Sept. 20, 2020, outside the United Way Tar River headquarters on Sunset Avenue.

The 2020 United Way fundraising campaign began with a proverbial bang at Davenport Honda, with the organization’s executive director, Ginny Mohrbutter, launching confetti.

ing its $1.1 million goal. New and innovative ideas were implemented to connect with workplace giving campaigns and donors, but dollars raised compared to past year past have trended much lower. “United Way’s Community Campaign funding is the life blood for our organization doing such good

food, and people having access to health programs and medications to keep them well.” “We are actively working to minimize this deficit by outreach to our corporate partners and other donors. This financial shortfall will have far-reaching negative impacts on our community members with the reduction

work in our community,” Mohrbutter said. “For a nonprofit like United Way, it is not about profit, it is about people. In our case, it is about utilizing donations to help people through vital, local programs that touch all quality-of-life issues. It is about children having educational programs, fragile citizens having housing and

of human service programs available to them,” Mohrbutter said. “With the unprecedented strain caused by COVID-19, United Way and our nonprofit partners have been called to help stabilize our community. United Way remains so grateful for the campaign support and the extra COVID-19 funds that have been donated and dis-

tributed into our community. Now, we are working to ensure that our nonprofits have the support they need going forward to provide every-day services and ongoing programs to combat the effects of COVID-19.” The economic fallout of COVID-19 continues to impact low-wage Americans the hardest, along with people of color and those lacking a college degree. To survive this unprecedented time, people have had to borrow money from friends or gotten food from a food bank. Many adults who lost a job due to the virus are still unemployed. People in need are encouraged to call 2-1-1 for assistance and resources related to the coronavirus. The NC 2-1-1 program is an information and referral service where families and individuals can obtain free and confidential information on health and human service resources within their community 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The United Way Tar River Region provides funding and support to bring 2-1-1 to Edgecombe and Nash counties. “NC 2-1-1 is an important resource every day for families in our community who may experience a crisis such as food insecurity or unemployment. During times like this with the COVID-19 crisis, we are proud 2-1-1 is here to help,” Mohrbutter said. The fundraising deficit will have real consequences that impact the most fragile clients including children, youth and families, as well as other special populations. For example, reductions in meal and food support, income/self-sufficiency programs, school/youth programming and services that help promote independent living for seniors, domestic violence survivors, people living with disabilities and people rebounding from trauma, disaster and equity imbalance. “As an organization, we are working now to


Down East partnership keeps moving forward BY PAIGE MINSHEW Telegram Correspondent

The Down East Partnership for Children since its inception has “committed to launching every child as a healthy, lifelong learner by the end of the third grade.” However, COVID-19 has made fulfilling that mission challenging. The pandemic has forced partnership staff and clients to adapt the way they live, work and play. Executive Director HENRIETTA H e n r i e t ta Zalkind ZALKIND said the theme for 2020 was “moving forward” no matter the obstacles that stood in their way. Zalkind said she has been determined to adapt, persevere and continue to build resilience to move forward individually and as a community dedicated to equity. In order to continue support the communities it serves, the Down East Partnership for Children developed new programs and revamped current ones to practice social distancing. The Incredible Years Parenting Program is a 16-week program that fosters healthy development in young children by strengthening parenting skills and promoting children’s academic, social and emotional skills. To continue to support parents during this time, the series has been offered virtually. Although not in a face-toface setting, meal gift cards


Jennifer Hammett, center, shares a laugh with her sons Ryan Hammett, left, and Kyle Hammett as they read the lift-the-flap book ‘The Treasure of Pirate Island’ during the 2018 National Summer Learning Day at the Down East Partnership for Children’s Discovery Park.

and gas cards and play incentive pick-ups are still awarded to participants. In this setting, parents learn how to promote positive social and emotional behaviors in their pre-school age child and learn how to establish predictable household rules and routines. While physically isolated, it is a great opportunity to connect with other families. For children under the age of 5, the Kaleidoscope Play and Learn groups, designed for families who want to learn fun ideas for hands-on learning, nurture their child’s positive social skills and increase their family’s healthy lifestyle habits, went virtual. Circle of Parents, a support group for families of children with special needs, is also held virtually each week. When thousands of schools along with numer-


Ge’Nay Bobbitt, laughs as Khyleah Muhammad, left, pushes her in an Oodle swing on April 10, 2019, during the Down East Partnership for Children’s Party in the Park at Discovery Park.

ous day care centers closed as a result of the pandemic, millions of families around the country struggled to make their lives work. Parents and their children were suddenly home together, all day, every day, but the expectation of working from home while monitoring their child’s virtual learning has proven to be for some, nightmarish. The Down East Partnership for Children recognized this issue and continues to support families. When many child-care facilities reopened, providers are on the frontline providing essential services for families who are working. The partnership continues to support Head Start and public schools where FILE PHOTO/ROCKY MOUNT TELEGRAM each follow special health and safety guidelines. Down East Partnership for Children Executive Director Henrietta Zalkind, top, welcomes a delegation from Kansas on Nov. 14, 2019, at the Down East Partnership See DEPC, B6 for Children.



Salvation Army provides hope, help BY PAIGE MINSHEW Telegram Correspondent

Like all nonprofit organizations during the pandemic, The Salvation Army of Nash and Edgecombe Counties has had to adapt to ensure the health and safety of their clients. “So much of our work is face-toface but for the safety of everyone, our lobby is closed,” Maj. David Phelps said. Client intakes are done over the phone and information required to be included in those applications are being dropped into a drop box at the front of the organization’s headquarters on Hunter Hill Road. Except for the senior programs, The Salvation Army has still been able to support those in need. Clients in need of food assistance are met outside while a staff member brings them boxes of food. The food bank has adapted to work as a drive-thru. Phelps said the need for utility and rent assistance has increased, but fortunately, with partners such as the United Way and federal and state grants, The Salvation Army has been able to meet that need. As 2020 was a most challenging year, The Salvation Army served 4,327 people, dispersed 1,214 food boxes and groceries, provided 2,830 toys and 1,369 pieces of clothing. “The work of The Salvation Army has always been focused on nourishing the spirits and the bodies of those whom we have the privilege to serve,” Phelps said. “Among the people in our community that we interact with every day are those who are most vulnerable to the effects of illnesses like COVID-19. Often those with whom we work have limited access to resources such as health care or personal protective equipment. Throughout the past year, we have taken seriously the need to modify our approaches while continuing to serve those who need us. “We are hopeful for the day when these precautions are no longer necessary. Until then, we will continue to do all that we can to serve compassionately and safely.” There are many tales of sorrow associated with the safety precautions put in place during the pandemic, but one particular story has resonated with the local chapter of The Salvation Army as described on its website. “The Salvation Army is often the place where people come when they have nowhere else to turn. Soon after the pandemic began, a Salvation Army officer received a call from an elderly woman who felt she was at the end of her rope. “The lady had called one of our partner agencies, and she sounded very depressed,” the officer said. “She told them she felt so alone, abandoned by her family,


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connect with corporate partners to raise funds to help minimize the Community Campaign shortfall,” Mohrbutter said. “The Board of Directors is spearheading the Corporate Outreach Campaign, where funds raised will go 100 percent to support our program funding through United Way in education, health and income/ self-sufficiency.” Despite 2020 proving to be one of the most difficult years, with lower donations, people’s needs being higher and the effects of the pandemic making it very challenging to meet the community needs. Mohrbutter said the staff at the United Way Tar River Region thank the thousands of donors, as well as the extensive network of volunteers and nonprofit partners who believe in the power of pos-


Maj. David Phelps of the local chapter of The Salvation Army walks down West Raleigh Road on May 14, 2020, as part of a journey of appreciation for the work of volunteers over the past year.


Maj. David Phelps and Maj. Amber Phelps place angels on an Angel Tree at The Salvation Army office.


Sammy Burt seeks donations for The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Drive outside Walmart.

and that she believed only suicide would bring her relief.” The agency first called the police to do a wellness check on her. The second phone call was to The Salvation Army, hoping that a visit and delivery of a food box would help. “While trying to maintain social distancing, I didn’t intend to go inside her home,” the officer said, “but I could see what she desperately craved was human contact.” She placed the food box on the lady’s table and sat a good distance from her just to have a chat. “I prayed with her, and by the end of my time there she seemed much better,” the officer said. “I told her that she was not completely alone — there are people who care for her and that she can reach out to us as many times as she needs.” She also gave her The Salvation Army’s emotional and spiritual care hotline, 844-458-HOPE itive change through United Way. “Even in such a challenging time, (donor) support has helped United Way have tremendous impact in our community. Contributions crossed many sectors and helped thousands of individuals and families during this tumultuous time,” Mohrbutter said. Board Chairman Jonathan Boone echoed that sentiment. “Although responding to COVID-19 has proven challenging and has negatively impacted our annual fundraising campaign, our community has proven over and over again that we have the capacity to work together in times of need to help our friends and neighbors,” he said. “With that said, I am confident that working together we can find a way to sustain the work of the United Way Tar River Region and many local United Way community partners that are on the front lines working to help our community weather the impact of this pandemic.”

(4673), for her to call if she ever felt alone again. The hotline is staffed with trained emotional support employees to listen, give comfort and pray with people who are feeling isolated and overwhelmed. To this day, the officer checks in with her new friend daily to make sure that she never feels alone again. “When this thing is over, I’m gonna give her the biggest hug,” she said. “The thing that makes The Salvation Army unique is that we don’t just meet a person’s physical needs, we are here to meet their spiritual and emotional needs as well. Our locations have been in communities long before this pandemic started and will be there for many years later. “We are always a phone call away for anyone in need.” One of the most popular programs The Salvation Army offers


each year is the Angel Tree program, which provides new clothing and toys to more than one million children and families in need each year. Once a child is accepted as an Angel, donors shop a Christmas list provided by each child. The Salvation Army normally distributes them to families in need on Christmas morning. Phelps said that normally people who qualified for Angel Tree would come into the office and fill out an application. However, due to COVID-19, the application process needed to be addressed to ensure the safety of clients and staff. Dates were set for people wanting assistance to come into the office after appointment dates and times were shared publicly. Clients were then asked to come in and pick up an appointment letter. That letter included an appointment date and time, all of the information the clients would

need to bring in with them to qualify for assistance and instructions on health guidelines as outlined by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Clients then came back at their appointment date and time with all of the required information, and staff was able to quickly process applications in less than 20 minutes. The Salvation Army was still able to serve the same number of clients as in years past. “It’s been difficult to work with such a vulnerable population during this time,” Phelps said. “However, I think with the help of technology and the will of our employees and agency, we were going to do whatever it took to meet the needs of our community. We’re hopeful things will get back to normal somewhat this year — but if not, we will continue to meet the challenge and serve those who need us most.”


Down East Partnership for Children Executive Director Henrietta Zalkind, left, talks with Laura Howard, secretary of the Kansas Department of Children and Families, during a tour of the facilities on Nov. 14, 2019, at the Down East Partnership for Children.


Continued from B5

Rick McMahon, co-chairman of the 2020 United Way fundraising campaign, speaks during the launching of the campaign at Davenport Honda. At right is regional United Way Executive Director Ginny Mohrbutter.


Dela Hall rings a bell for The Salvation Army outside Hobby Lobby.

Down East Partnership for Children clients also have received the benefits of the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program in partnership with Ripe Revival Market, L&M, Wards Produce and Greenville Produce to distribute boxes of fresh produce to the community. Through this program, thousands of boxes of fresh food were delivered to churches, the Rocky Mount Housing Authority, summer feeding sites, F.I.T. families (Families Involved Together) and all six F.E.E.D. child-care centers who used the produce on menus and distributed food to staff and parents. Zalkind continues to encour-

age clients to reach out to their elected representative and those running for office and tell their stories of how the pandemic has impacted them, their families, their businesses and employees, making their needs known so policy makers can take action to address them. This school year has been like no other and has served to reinforce the fact that healthy kids are the result of healthy, supportive families. “Thank you so much to our early educators who continue to be on the front life providing essential services for families,” Zalkind said. Vaccinations are now underway for essential workers and continue to be expanded to other members of the public, and Zalkind encourages them to take advantage as vaccines are free and

more importantly are effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths. Although there are still several challenging in months ahead, Zalkind encourages families during this school year to “build something positive into your day every day, remember your social connections, set aside time to understand what is developmentally appropriate for your child’s learning, educate yourself about remote learning and as always, continue to reach out to Down East Partnership for help when needed.” “We’ve been through many disasters together — none that have lasted this long, but we’ve always rebuilt better and stronger,” Zalkind said. “I’m confident we can do this again if we continue to work together.”



Ripple Effects makes waves in area BY SPENCER CARNEY Special to the Telegram

Keisha Spivey remembers when, four years ago, God called on her to start making ripples in Rocky Mount. It was at a rough point in her life. She was doing her best as a youth pastor to offer comfort to a city shaken by the deaths of two children in a drive-by shooting and a suicide at the high school her son attended while dealing with a tragedy in her own family at the same time. And she was supposed to stand that Sunday to preach, to comfort a broken city and grieving families. So she asked God how she could do that when she was feeling so broken herself. “He said to me just as clear as if He were standing next to me: ‘You’re overwhelmed because you’re looking at the ocean. You can’t see where it ends, you don’t know how far it goes — it’s insurmountable,’” Spivey said. “He told me, ‘Keisha, I didn’t ask you to take on the ocean. I just asked you to get up every day and make ripples. Take what I’ve given you, the passion that I put in you, the gifts and talents that I have trusted you with, and I want you to stand on the shore every day and make ripples. At the end of the day, if you’ve made a ripple in somebody’s life, that’s all I’m requiring of you. Because if you stand up and toss the stone and you make ripples, the effects are up to me. Trust me with the effects.’” That Monday, she told her husband they would be starting a nonprofit group called Ripple Effects. She was not sure what the purpose would be then, but she wasn’t worried — and by the time the paperwork came back, she had a plan of how to cast the first stone, to make the first ripple. As the youth pastor at Church on the Rise, Spivey was responsible for helping children labelled “at risk.” These children had been deemed troublemakers due to acting out at home and school, but in her time


Keisha Spivey, right, and Sandra Harper work on a resource guide on June 13, 2019, at Ripple Effects.


Members of Ripple Effects distribute ‘goody bags’ to Rocky Mount police during the group’s Valentine’s Day ‘Love Out Loud’ community event. The group also visited several local nonprofit organizations, fire stations and the homeless shelter.

working with them, Spivey started noticing a pattern: many of the challenges the children faced were grounded in a home life that was unstable as their families faced homelessness or even just struggled to make ends meet. “I started working with one particular student, who we found out was home-

less,” she said. “And in the process of helping that family get stable in a home and helping mom go back to school and start working, we realized that this is how we change a generation. This is how we break cycles of desperation and hopelessness. It’s not just enough to support the child and send them back home to get

stuck in the same cycles all over again. We needed to be active in coming alongside the entire family.” Spivey said that the purpose of Ripple Effects is to stabilize and maintain. The first step is figuring out what it is a family or individual needs to get back on their feet and then walking with them to make sure

they keep moving forward. “What makes Ripple Effects unique is that we are chasing after the one, the one who’s hurting, needing, lost, broken, desperate, hopeless,” she said. “So often, programs are designed for numbers to ask, ‘How many people can we touch?’ And those programs do good work and we support them, but there are a lot of people who fall through the cracks. We’re dedicated to finding those people, and what we do is we throw out a hope line and say, ‘If you reach up, we’ll reach back. Let’s walk this thing out together.’” In March 2020, COVID-19 struck and turned everyone’s plans upside down. Ripple Effects had a gala and several other fundraising events planned that had to be canceled or put on hold. But just when Spivey was about to give up and accept the lost funds from all the food for the gala they had already bought, she said God pointed her in a new direction. “He said to me, ‘Keisha, all the food you just bought,’”

she said. “I said, ‘Yes, God?’ He said, ‘I want you to give it away.’ And I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ He told me, ‘I want you to give it away, and I want you to give it to seniors.’ So we did.” So the program gave away all the food they had purchased. And then she said God called them to do it again, so they sent a volunteer team to Conetoe Family Farm to get fresh produce. She said He called them to do it again, so they sent out a plea on social media. And she said He called them to keep doing it. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the group’s senior citizens program has grown from 60 seniors served to 150 and over 4,000 boxes of food have been distributed from their food center. “Our whole heartbeat is that we leave the 99 for the one,” Spivey said. “There are a lot of people moving forward, but what about the ones that are being left behind? What about the ones we’re not seeing?” In addition to their focused programs, Ripple Effects also serves as a resource hub, working with other local programs to direct people in need to resources that many do not even know are available. Looking forward, Spivey has outlined two major goals for the new year. The first is that as they have grown, so have their needs for staff and volunteers to help keep up with increased demand for services. The second is a financial goal. “In 2021, we’re asking God to help us connect with 500 people who are willing to donate $20 per month,” Keisha said. “We don’t ever want to be more focused on getting grants or money than on helping people. If 500 people donate $20 per month, that will completely cover our operating costs. If we can connect with these people and this community, I believe that we can really make a splash.” To connect with Ripple Effects, visit or on social media.

Nash UNC Health Care meets challenges Contributed to the Telegram

COVID-19 has affected everyone in some shape or form. For Nash UNC Health Care, COVID-19 challenged every aspect of what health care looked like for staff, patients and families. When the outbreak reached the United States, Nash UNC employees, medical staff and leaders, in partnership with UNC Health, formed a coronavirus task force and began working on a response plan. On March 13, 2020 that possibility became reality, as the coronavirus made its way to Nash County. Within the following days and weeks, Nash UNC and the local health departments prepared the hospital and community for the unknown. At Nash UNC, visitation was limited, elective procedures were delayed and masks were mandated. Decisions were made and processes were put in place to ensure the safety of everyone in the community. Twelve months later, Nash UNC Health Care has overcome many obstacles related to the pandemic and has accomplished more than was thought possible after the uncertain start of 2020. In the first few months of the pandemic, Nash UNC had a personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage, financial difficulties and other pandemic-related challenges. Support from the community and a robust COVID-19 response plan helped navigate Nash UNC through those challenges


while the hospital adjusted to new operations brought on by the pandemic. “I think it’s important to remember that through all the changes the pandemic brought, we were simultaneously caring for patients coming in for other procedures and emergencies. After all the safety measures and changes, we continued to provide superior quality health care to all patients, while our staff had to adjust to a new standard of care for patients. Additionally, we were also following

through on other plans to move the organization forward related to our strategic plan,” said Lee Isley, president and CEO of Nash UNC Health Care. During the summer of 2020, Nash UNC welcomed 10 new physicians to its medical staff and opened a new general surgery practice. A few months later, a new infectious disease clinic was established, the heart failure clinic was enhanced and UNC Orthopedics at Nash moved into a newly renovated facility and expanded to include

on-site orthopedic rehab. In late fall, Nash UNC earned a Grade A safety rating from The Leapfrog Group and was also re-designated as a Pathway to Excellence organization by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). “All of these accomplishments, along with the many improvements our medical staff and teams have made in response to COVID over the year, have made our board and leadership extremely proud of our staff and their ability to adjust

and overcome. Their perseverance and commitment to patient care has been inspirational, and I am incredibly proud to be part of the Nash UNC team during this unprecedented time,” Isley said. By the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, vaccines became available and Nash UNC experienced a COVID patient surge, with hospitalized COVID patients reaching the high 50s during January. By the one year anniversary of COVID-19 coming to Nash County, Nash UNC had administered

more than 10,000 vaccines to staff members and eligible community members. Nash UNC continues to work with community partners to bolster local vaccine resources, and to reach underserved communities with vaccine access and education. “Looking back on the last 12 months, it’s amazing what we have accomplished together as a community. We will take these learnings to continue to work together in new ways to improve the health of our community,” Isley said.