The Transylvania Times -

Project Empathy: Time To Listen

 

Last updated 11/2/2020 at 4:48pm

Nicola Karesh

Nicola Karesh

What are you most proud of regarding your neighborhood or community?

I came to Transylvania County back in 2015. There are many aspects of the landscape (waterfalls and rivers, surrounding hills and mountains) and the easier pace of life, that remind me of my birth home, Jamaica. It felt like a wonderful place to settle down and have a family, so I did. We haven't turned out too badly at all! In fact, I believe we have thrived in this environment! What I feel really good about is how, over the years, so many different groups and individuals within our community have made me and my family feel so welcome and at home. That sense of belonging has been present in every job that I have had, every client and resident that I have interacted with, school systems, church, after-school activities (especially soccer and track) and through it all, the lasting friendships that I have formed.

For the last 8-plus years, a large part of my community experience has been connected with the Rosenwald community. So, even though I was not born in this country, state, county or historic neighborhood, somehow, I was adopted and welcomed into the fold! I am so grateful for that. I cherish the wisdom that has been shared so joyfully and freely with me. I love the ideas, the creative problem solving and genius that is often mixed with a relentless spirit. That spirit inspires me. It makes me forget the word "work," because everything that we do together feels like play. I love how this spirit that I see so often, is tirelessly forgiving with a visionary eye to possibilities, dreams and to never losing hope or vision. I am often in awe. There have been many occasions where I have found myself as a spokesperson of sorts for the Rosenwald community, and I am careful to mind my p's and q's, to consider how my words and actions may affect others. In those moments, Rosenwald often represents a feeling of grace.

Thinking about Transylvania County, what one thing or action do you think would help improve the way we get along regardless of where we come from, our skin color, faith, education or economic background?

I like the feeling of us all being in this together. Kind of like the relay track events (200m, 400 and 800m) that I loved to watch my daughter run, how exhilarating is it when we come together and choose to function as one beautiful unit! We are extraordinary individuals in our own right, with unique skills and talents. When we take to the field and we move as one to get that baton around the track, handing off with deliberation and finesse, cheering each other on to the finish line, it just doesn't get much better than that feeling for me! Even if we don't wind up in first place, that spirit that pools energy together, regardless of the final outcome, makes me feel good inside.

What are you personally doing (or will do) to help make your community a better place?

I am a bit of an introvert by nature, definitely a homebody who prefers to curl up with a wonderful book, or play out in my garden. Sometimes, I kid myself into thinking that I can go back to being a hermit now that my kids are older, but the universe seems to have other ideas for me! I often wake up in the middle of the night with the kind of idea that I just have to jot it down. I'll wake up and all of a sudden, I have the makings of an art show in mind, or how to connect different people in the community, the makings of an interview, a story, a book, a film... yes, the list is ever growing. And when the introvert in me feels that creative buzz, I feel younger than my 18-year-old son! I feel like I could give my 20-year-old daughter a run for her money on the track field! That enthusiasm probably comes across as being extroverted. Whatever it is, I enjoy the process, the journey and whatever fun we get to create together! If God graces me with the inspiration, my tendency has always been to immediately follow that spirit-driven impulse to bring it about. I think the best gift that I offer to myself, to you and to our community, is to be real, to show up and to give the best of myself.

Artie Wilson

What are you most proud of regarding your neighborhood or community?

There are three organizations that I am involved with that I am very proud of. They are my church, Carr's Hill Baptist Church, with all the ministries they do; the Gideons, a professional men's Christian organization that distributes Bibles throughout the world; and the Salvation Army.

Today I want to focus on the Salvation Army. While most of us associate the Salvation Army with the red kettles at Christmas, you probably do not know what it does in our community. Let me share with you what the local Salvation Army office did for our community over the last year. The local office is located at 126 North Caldwell Street and has a fulltime Social Worker (Alva Owensby) and at Christmas a part-time employee. Over the last 12 months the Salvation Army served 1,816 people. This service consisted of providing 2078 clothing items, 663 furniture items, energy and rental assistance to 66 families, providing groceries to 397 families and 65 families helped at Christmas in addition to giving out $1500 in gift cards. The local office has a food pantry, small clothing assortment and at times furniture items. Last year at Christmas with the community's help we raised over $40,000 through kettle sponsorships and money placed in the red kettles here in our community. These funds go to help those less fortunate in our community.

Thinking about Transylvania County, what one thing or action do you think would help improve the way we get along regardless of where we come from, our skin color, faith, education or economic background?

It is my belief if we all would adhere to the Golden Rule as defined in the Bible we would see and treat each other in a different light. In Matthew Chapter 7 verse 12, Jesus says, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." In my words, "Do unto others, as you would have them do to you."

What are you personally doing (or will do) to help make your community a better place?

Currently I serve as Chairman of the Salvation Army Christmas committee in Transylvania County. The Christmas committee is made up of 10 Advisory Board members with the responsibility of getting Kettle Sponsors, recruiting volunteer bell ringers, and overseeing the collection of the kettles. Our Christmas goal this year for our county is to raise $40,000 and secure as many volunteer bell ringers as we can during this Christmas season. As I mentioned earlier these funds go to help those less fortunate in our community. To date our Christmas committee has secured kettle sponsorship commitments totaling over $10,000! Our kickoff for ringing the bells is Friday, Nov. 20 at Walmart and will continue at various locations through Dec. 24. Not only do we need your financial support, but we need you to volunteer to ring the bell. If you ever ring the bell you will find this to be a most rewarding experience. I encourage Churches, organizations, clubs, businesses, school sports teams, and individuals to volunteer to ring the bells during this Christmas season. Yes, I will be ringing the bells along with my Church and friends and look forward to seeing you wearing a Salvation Army apron with a bell in your hand.

To sign up to volunteer to ring the bells, please contact Alva Owensby at the Salvation Army Office at 828-862-6518.

Pat Childress

What are you most proud of regarding your neighborhood or community?

Brevard has a culture of friendliness, helpfulness and good will, in general. I feel at home here more than at any other place I have lived.

Thinking about Transylvania County, what one thing or action do you think would help improve the way we get along regardless of where we come from, our skin color, faith, education or economic background?

I wish I knew.

What are you personally doing (or will do) to help make your community a better place?

Before the lockdown, I was involved with Transylvania Heritage Museum and volunteered weekly at Sharing House. Now, I am still able to participate in the Living Wage Coalition via Zoom meetings.

Michael Dexter-Smith

What are you most proud of regarding your neighborhood or community?

The Rotary Club of Brevard is a small but mighty group of people, a small part of 1.2 million Rotarians across the world in 32,000 clubs. We put service (I like "community") over self. We do enjoy the camaraderie of a common purpose of helping to improve the community, but we are more cause focused as a club. It is a place where you can follow your passion to improve the community. We help in the care homes; in the schools; with charities; with events in the county – we run the five Brevard running races in town. Across the world we have worked on polio eradication, Alzheimer's research, disaster relief and, now, on using our logistics to deliver a COVID-19 vaccination, when it is ready. We picked up a lot of the United Way programs when it closed earlier in the year and transitioned them, and now we are helping renovate a school bus in to a Magic Book Bus.

We often have to ask, "If not us then who?"

Thinking about Transylvania County, what one thing or action do you think would help improve the way we get along regardless of where we come from, our skin color, faith, education or economic background?

We have an amazing volunteer philosophy in the community, making it an exceptional place to live and work. We have the chance to make Transylvania an extraordinary place to live and work and to become a model for the country. We are blessed with amazing community organizations like Sharing House, Rise & Shine, El Centro and many more, and we are lucky to have the Pisgah Health Foundation and Blue Zones. We hope that the Rotary clubs (and SCORE where I am also a mentor) and Lions clubs can assist these entities to meet the changing needs of every family and person – particularly the children and youth of the county – by giving them a "chance in life." Many of us can remember one person in our lives who told us "yes you can." I like to think I approach every interaction in that way – "let me help without conditions."

What are you personally doing (or will do) to help make your community a better place?

Every day I am trying to help others and make the community better (while trying to run a few companies at the same time). I often say that I am not sure what I want to be when I grow up – at 67 I had hoped to know by now. Through SCORE I have ten business and non-profit clients. Through Rotary I coordinate many of our programs and as treasurer fund them. We need to get the 5K "races" back when the pandemic subsides.

The need is endless, but if each of us try really hard, the community will get better and better. And be extraordinary.

Susan Lefler

What are you most proud of regarding your neighborhood or community?

We moved to Transylvania County from Kentucky in 1976, having grown up in Chapel Hill. We had also lived in Mississippi and Okinawa while my husband was in the Navy. Our little family of five (soon to be six) arrived in early July, just in time for a fireworks display that was exciting for us, though (as I remember) far less ambitious than the wonderful displays of recent years.

In 1986, I was asked to write a play in preparation for the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. The directors and I held auditions in all the county community centers. Artists and craftspeople designed and built sets and prepared costumes. The play, called "The Twelfth Star," was performed at Brevard Music Center in 1987. It was a community effort to celebrate what we held in common as Americans.

In the 40-plus years I've lived in this county, I have continued to value the people who live here and to see evidence everywhere that members of this wider community care about the wellbeing of their neighbors. I see it in civic organizations, in my own church and so many others, in non-profits such as Sharing House, Bread of Life, The Haven, SAFE, and in street festivals, community gardens, and many other settings.

Thinking about Transylvania County, what one thing or action do you think would help improve the way we get along regardless of where we come from, our skin color, faith, education or economic background?

Recently writer Marilynn Robinson asked, "What does it mean to love a country?" Her essay explored her view that America is not just an idea, it is a family. Like every family, members have a range of views, but if the family is to thrive, its members must find a way to negotiate their differences. The tools of democracy are similar to what a family's goals are for each other. They are expressed in the words our Democracy Project puts on posters, in our PowerPoint introduction, and on the Democracy Rocks we offer at festivals and at our celebration event. The words include: Respect. Kindness. Justice. Generosity. Vote. Listen. Learn. Speak. History. Facts. Understanding. Connection. If the children and families who live in our county continue to practice these things in their daily lives, then surely we will be able to focus on our common purpose as Americans. We are, after all, a people who pledge allegiance to the flag of a republic and to a Constitution which stand for liberty and justice for all.

What are you personally doing (or will do) to help make your community a better place?

Artie Wilson

During the past four years, I have worked with a small group of people to create a non-profit called the Democracy Project of Transylvania. The project grew out of a desire to support our young people and their teachers and families as they focus on shared values and explore how the idea of democracy can provide tools to support problem solving in a community. The non-partisan board of the Democracy Project is made up of teachers, educators, writers, parents, veterans, and relatives of veterans. We invite local speakers into middle school classrooms to talk about their experiences as contributing members of their community and how they have experienced the Constitution as well as the country's history as a part of their own "toolkit." In response to these talks, the students create projects with the guidance of their teachers. The projects are submitted to the Democracy Project and the students receive certificates of participation as well as awards for the most effective projects. Their work is then shared with their larger community in a spring celebration. This year we are adapting the project to the requirements created by the health emergency. Much of it will be done online.

 
 

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