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Kinston Named 2009 All-America City

For the second time in 21 years, Kinston has been named an All-America City.

The National Civic League announced Friday night that Kinston was one of 10 winners in the competition, held in Tampa, Florida.

Kinston presented three community projects that it said resulted in significant local impact during the past five years as reasons why it should be given All-America City status.

Those were the Neuse Regional Water and Sewer Authority project, the Little-By Little education project, and The Gate project which helps keep kids off the streets and away from crime.

The city was last given the honor in 1988 and in 1997 it was named as a finalist.

Other winners this year were Phoenix, Arizona, Inglewood, California, Richmond, Indiana, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Wichita, Kansas, Somerville, Massachusetts, Albany, New York, Statesville, North Carolina, and Caroline County, Virginia.

Other cities who received the designation recently in Eastern Carolina were Wilson in 2003, Rocky Mount in 1999, Washington in 1993, and Jacksonville in 1992.


Read more about Kinston's All America City projects:

Project 1:
NEUSE REGIONAL WATER AND SEWER AUTHORITY

As American Citizens in a modern country we often take water supply as a plentiful, inexpensive, never-ending natural resource. This misconception can be expanded further to assume jobs and economic development are not directly correlated to ones water supply. Before an industry will consider investing and locating in a municipality or region, there must be a guarantee of water availability and its sustainability to meet their needs in the future. It’s the forward thinking of Lenoir County elected officials that began a Task Force to evaluate and ensure their water capabilities would serve its citizens and industries adequately for the long-term.

The initial task force included: elected officials and public works officials from each of the 5 entities who supply water within the county (Kinston, Pink Hill, La Grange, Deep Run Water Corporation, and North Lenoir Water Corporation). Lenoir County’s Economic Director, county representatives, engineers, Neuse River Foundation, and Global TransPark were invited to attend. Since the plentiful aquifers of the past were being overused and alternative choices had to be considered, the Task Force evaluated current conditions and assets, attended educational planning sessions to fully understand the scope of the problem, and decided upon alternatives. The Neuse River presented the soundest decision economically and environmentally.

The state has been monitoring ground water removal rates since the 1960’s, and the Central Coastal Plains Capacity Use Area rules set requirements and standards to reduce the amount of pumping from the ground by 75% by 2018. This rule was enacted at the end of 2002. Because Kinston and Lenoir County understood the critical need to supply water for our jobs and future industrial investment, they were working together and crossing jurisdictional boundaries before the rule even went into effect. Kinston and other regional water providers realized it would be more efficient to collaborate than attempt to fix the problem individually within ones jurisdictional limits.

An alternative supply to support the current needs of the city, and encourage and support potential growth and jobs for the region, was completed by forming The Neuse Regional Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) in 2001. Final memberships, organization, inter-local agreements, and contracts were finalized for WASA in 2006. WASA’s mission is “Preserving our region’s quality of life through sound resource management.” WASA includes eight different water systems from Lenoir and Pitt counties:

Ayden
Bell Arthur Water Corporation
Deep Run Water Corporation
Eastern Pines Water Corporation
Grifton
Kinston
North Lenoir Water Corporation
Pink Hill

These eight water providers met the Central Coastal Plain Capacity Use Rule in five years instead of fifteen years!

The 144 million dollar water plant, constructed along the Neuse River, is financed by a combination of:

$24,750,000 USDA Grants
$7,1000,000 NC Water Resources Grant
$880,000 NC Rural Center Grants
$372,543 NC Tobacco Trust Fund Grants
$2,117,600 EPA Grants
$11,581,108 -Member Contributions and Private Investments
$70,750,000 -USDA loans
$26,742,000 - SRF low interest loan.

This water project is the largest funded water project to date in the history of the USDA in the United States. Funds totaling $48 million were committed from Federal, State, local and private sources. All funding partners were proud to be a part of this national-precedent setting project which will provide clean water to sustain life, create jobs, and promote economic development in eastern North Carolina.

The creation of WASA, created 21 jobs available to Kinston and the region. Bids for construction were received and contracted in 2005. Construction began in the second quarter of 2005 and was completed during the third quarter of 2008. In total, about 75 miles of water transmission lines ranging from 12” to 42” in diameter, three elevated tanks, and four booster pumps were constructed. Based on cross-jurisdictional cooperation, arrangements were made to allow for equal cost no matter the distance from the water plant. Even though Kinston provides 60% of the usage customers and revenue, Kinston voluntarily gave up majority votes on the WASA authority to ensure no one entity could control the decisions for the whole.

Since the authority was established, financing secured, and construction began, exciting jobs and economic development has already brought positive results to Kinston.

Smithfield Packing Company brought 200 jobs and invested $80 million in our community in 2004. All industries inquires require a Plan for water and not a Promise.

Sanderson Farm’s decision to locate in Kinston was based on available water supply. Sanderson will require 1.5 million gallons of water per day! Sanderson has purchased the land required for their three facilities. Sanderson Farms represents 1650 jobs and $126 million in investment to Kinston. An additional 130 contract growers will be utilized and maintained across 5 counties, representing an additional $98 million in investment.

The announcement in May of 2008 that Spirit Aerosystems would locate in Kinston at the Global Transpark was the greatest economic announcement in years. Spirit requires 100,000 gallons per day of available water supply. Because we could now meet their needs for today and into the future, they will invest over 570 million dollars in Kinston! They will provide 1000 jobs over the next five to seven years. Salaries for these jobs are well above the current median-salary of residents. Ground breaking for construction took place in September 2008.

Other economic development(s):

2006- Spatial Integrated Systems- $2,750,000 investment & 37 new jobs
Ferguson Enterprises- $400,000 investment & 30 new jobs
2007- A.G. Machining of North Carolina, Inc. $1,650,000 & 29 new jobs.
2007-Commerce Overseas Corporation- $4.3 million investment & 73 new jobs

Expansions:

2007-West Pharmecuticals-$18.5 million investment &154 new jobs
2005-Extrolux-$18 million investment & 97 new jobs
2005-Dupont- $55 million investment & 66 new jobs

The new water plant increased the available water supply to Kinston by 3 million gallons per day and regionally by 15 million gallons per day. It’s designed for easy expansion and has permitted capacity to withdraw 30 million gallons per day from the Neuse River. Through the use of its existing well field and its membership in WASA, Kinston will provide enough water for the next 50-75 years. WASA service extends to approximately 100,000 citizens and commercial users in the area.

In addition to creating jobs and providing economic development, the collaboration has resulted in more trust of the other municipalities and entities. Before the region worked together, a common mistrust existed. When you don’t work together, see each other, and discuss business, more assumptions and unknowns are looked at as negative vs. positive. Now that these groups are working together, a common trust has been built and open communication occurs. This is extremely beneficial when it comes to regional planning issues that arise such as traffic and DOT requirements, power agency, and sewer issues.

This collaborative project will be sustained by WASA board and Kinston Utility Advisory Board. Seven community citizens comprise the Kinston Utility Advisory Board while 4 members of the WASA board are business owners and citizens of the community. Kinston is definitely “On the Way” and serves as a nation-wide example of working together across jurisdictional boundaries to best serve its citizens.

Project 2:
LITTLE-BY-LITTLE

One of greatest concerns and challenges in the City of Kinston is being successful in the education system. At minimum, our children need to be graduating high school. Currently, Lenoir County has a graduation rate of 65.1%. Lenoir County, including Kinston, fully supports and understands the need to better our success within the system. The community has set a goal of having a state-of-the-art, technologically advanced school system and voters approved at a 2-1 ratio a $69.7 million school construction bond in May of 2006. The money is building three new schools, renovating four others, and building first-rate library and media centers. With an investment of nearly $70 million in elementary education, including a 2.5 million library bond for our recent library expansion, the community’s voice to fix our most critical need for Education was being heard.

Understanding the benefits to being educated is imperative. There is no better time to start instilling such values in our children than in Elementary School. Not only is graduating from high school important for the future of our youth and nation, but also post-secondary education. In a school where 100% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches, many children come from a place of public housing and generational poverty. The power of one-on-one time, mentoring, and building community relationships serves as a catalyst for such thinking.

In 2007, the “little-by-little”, concept to facilitate and push educational success was born. It was a community-driven grassroots problem-solving idea. The community wanted a mentoring program, like no other. One that forms a long-term positive relationship where a mentor, or Buddy, loves these students, cares for them, nurtures them, and encourages them to dream big. Partners were formed to make this vision a reality. A local financial institution, the “little bank,” partnered with Partnership for Children along with Lenoir County and Southeast Elementary School. They came together to meet the challenge of providing a long-term mentoring program.

The “little bank” has provided nearly $23,000 towards Southeast’s mentor program. Every nine weeks the students are given specific goals in comprehension, behavioral, and accelerated reading. If the students meet their goals in all three categories, $50 is put aside for the student’s college tuition. Students are even awarded a $50 end of year bonus if all four, nine week goals are met throughout the year. This money will build over time and if students continue to work hard, excel, and meet their goals, they could have up to $3000 to use for tuition or books in the future. So far several students have already earned $400 for meeting the program’s goals. The intention of the program is to work and follow these children until they have finished high school. If a student ever chooses to drop-out, funds earned are returned to the pot for those seeking funds for college or post-secondary costs.

Other partners in the program include local attorneys, business owners, District Court Judges, Assistant DA, and local churches. This collaboration of efforts and relationships has even created additional impacts to the community. For example Queen Street United Methodist Church, a partner in the “little-by-little” program, touched over 100 families over Christmas. Individual residents and citizens are involved and working together as well. For as little as $250 per year, a “little-by-little” child is sponsored and can partake in the various activities and field trips for the entire school year. Over 45 private individuals are sponsoring these 50 students in 4th grade.

Activities:

Guest Speakers (such as)
Lin Dawson, former professional football player who played for the NE Patriots (an alumni of Kinston High)
Baseball Players
Judges & Assistant DA
People who were involved in negative life choices that have turned their life around
Basketball Camp
Visit and Tour Regional Colleges
Mock College Interviews
Concerts
Restaurant etiquette

This “little-by-little” mentoring and educational initiative operates based on Proverbs 13:11, “he/she who gathers money little by little makes it grow.” Not only can this philosophy be applied to finances, but also life skills and necessities such as education, health and wellness, athletic skills, leadership, even spiritual maturity. These life skills do not happen overnight or in a week, or year; it happens daily. Learning and growing to be a community minded person happens daily and “little-by-little.” It is through this mindset that Southeast Elementary and its collaborative partners believe that “little-by-little” is a way to provide support and teach children the value of learning each day, growing in wisdom, and setting and achieving goals both personal and educational.

We always hear children’s minds are like sponges. Just putting the vision, idea, and hope of post-secondary options into their ears, allows the concept to enter into their young mind, heart, and then actions. The buddies meet with the students to read and ensure comprehension while discussing everyday life and positive character building. These individuals show the students how much the community cares about their lives and future. Felicia Solomon, Southeast Elementary Principal, said, “They are truly learning what it means to be part of a community, where we all work together.”

The young people have truly responded. The 2007 3rd graders maintained the highest number of Accelerated Reader points and the highest overall average of school-wide achievement levels. The mentored student’s test scores are being monitored and have improved as well. In a study just released, students in the 5th grade and the current 3rd grade are not meeting the national requirements for reading aptitude. The “little-by-little” students currently in 4th grade are the only class meeting the national requirements.

Before the program started children were asked what they wanted to do when they grew up. Some children responded by saying they were going to graduate high school and work at “Hardees” or “the gas station.” After the mentoring program began and children were exposed to East Carolina University and other colleges (via field trips), the same question was asked at the end of 2008. Several students said they plan to attend college someday. A young boy said he would like to study law at East Carolina University, while a young girl plans to attend the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Students agreed that “little-by-little” has helped them focus and prepare for the future and see outside their present surroundings. From working at such businesses they see everyday in their neighborhoods such as Hardees, to dreaming of being lawyers, police officers, athletes, and doctors, this change in perspective is an unbelievable result of this relatively new, yet phenomenal program. Principals at other area schools such as Bynum, Teacher Memorial, and La Grange have also inquired about the mentoring program based on the increased test results and other positive behavioral improvements.

District Judge Beth Heath, a mentor in the program, explains without this opportunity both mentors and the children may not extend beyond their current environment to learn and grow from each other.

In a quote by the principal of Southeast, “This mentorship program is by far unlike any I have ever seen; it is truly about the power of relationship; and it serves as a testament to our children of what it really means to be part of a community.”

Project 3:
THE GATE

In May of 2006 our Chief of Public Safety had been quoted with saying crime was exploding in Kinston. In an attempt to reduce youth and teenage crime, a 120 day trial curfew, or Youth Protection Ordinance, was adopted. During this time 43 juveniles were arrested for criminal activity. 130-160 juveniles were arrested when there was no curfew in place. This is a reduction of 70%! With the curfew mechanism adopted as a permanent city law, additional efforts to curb youth criminal activity and gang affiliation came to light. One of these efforts is, The Gate.

The Gate, a community development center, project is a non-profit collaborative, faith-based initiative, between Kinston, federal, and state agencies, Lenoir County, private investors, local churches, and dozens of private citizens. The initial steering committee and partners included:

District Court Judge
Lenoir County Schools
Lenoir County Community College
The Refuge
City of Kinston Public Safety
Lenoir Memorial Hospital/Safe Kids Coalition
Eastern Pregnancy and Care Center
Association of Congregations
Kinston Housing Authority
City Mayor
Integrity Ministries

The original idea behind the name, “The Gate,” was Gang Awareness Training & Education. Since it is offering so much more, the Gate has transformed, “to provide a gateway for young people to become good, productive citizens.” One of the goals of the non-profit organization is to provide direction to at-risk youth in the community and help them view police as their advocates, rather than enemies.

This idea for a faith-based center was embraced by the city and its citizens because of the growing number of street gangs in Kinston and Lenoir County. Its primary purpose is to teach gang awareness and gang prevention by offering programs and activities to keep kids off the streets. Approximately 50-70 young people attend various functions and activities; including career development, preparing for GED exams, abstinence, and even building character traits such as respect and honesty.

Overall, community involvement and numerous volunteers are working together to help our at-risk youth in The Gate’s Mission to “offer hope for a future to the youth of Lenoir County through Christian values and principals.” It’s imperative to note the faith-based portion of this intriguing project, while at the same time acknowledging that all people of all faith backgrounds are welcome to partake in the numerous opportunities.

The Gate’s Board of Directors is a stellar example of a diverse and inclusive board charged with community decision making for this community development center. This group of leaders from the community includes: youth pastors, pastors, superintendent of the school system, principals, teachers, a city council member, and some individual citizens who have this community and its youth central to their heart. Other agencies that are represented on the Board of Directors are members of the juvenile court system and other non-profit groups such as the Pregnancy Care Center. This example of broad-based participation and involvement across ethnic, racial, and socio-economic status continues to increase daily.

Discussions were held with community leaders and advocates for the youth in this community explaining the measurable success of faith-based initiatives to keep youth out of gangs. These discussions persuaded information to be shared with the Association of Congregations and present the plans for the building of the project, the incorporation of the critical faith based part, and how the churches truly needed to leave their four walls and unite together to save the at-risk youth.

In a presentation given to the Governors Crime Commission (GCC), Greg Smith, shared the results of faith-based programs, along with the possible changes in life and educational skills. Excited about the concept, grant applications were submitted and actually scored highest in the state. Over $350,000 was awarded to the city to build the community development center. $169,000 came from the GCC, $100,000 from a State Gang Grant with the city supplementing the grants with $89,556 contribution over two years. Numerous donations by local businesses and contractors including sweat equity of city employees, volunteers, Lenoir Community College, churches, and Erasing the Lines youth, helped build The Gate. These donations and volunteers saved over $50,000 in cost for renovations. The Gate is now a model facility of this type for the state of North Carolina.

Since its opening in May 2008, the attendance has increased seven-fold. From only about 10 students at it’s opening, The Gate now boasts nearly 70 youth at its Open Friday nights. Latest data shows the number of participants has increased monthly, 70.4%, 69.5%, 228.7% respectfully since the baseline was established. Friday nights offer a time for entertainment to include: musical instruments, video games, foosball, air hockey, as well as a praise-and-worship service. Fridays also include inspirational speakers. The Carolina Panther, Derwin “Dewey” Gray is one example of such a speaker. All services including individuals’ donation of their time and resources are FREE to kids in Lenoir County.

Some programs offered at The Gate include:

Karate- taught by a local Attorney
Tutoring classes- taught by a local engineer
Food Preparation
Yoga
Gather & Grow groups
Small Bible studies offered to females Grades 6-12 focusing on abstinence and modesty
Motivational Speakers
GED program
32 people served since opening in May including 9 graduations
Art Classes
Bible School
Computer Lab
Erasing the Lines (Since 2004, 100+ youth from 10 churches have participated annually)
Life Skills

Initial difficulties included reaching out and convincing the youth that The Gate is a safe and welcoming place for them to come and have place to “belong.” Not only to have fun with the games, but learn essential character traits, morals, ethics, and the skills that could change their future into something much better than perhaps their parents or relatives have had. Since The Gate has not yet been open a full year, besides clear increase in attendance, the relationships formed as a result of the youth interacting with law enforcement personnel has been valuable and producing the most measurable results. As the youth realize the value of the Public Safety Department and detriments of gang and criminal activity, intelligence information is being discussed openly with police at The Gate. Just recently a suspect in a violent crime was identified by an attendee of The Gate. Solving this crime through relationships formed and trust gained is all due to The Gate.

The Gate has a total of 40 volunteers including the 19 board members. Local businesses such as Wal-Mart, Walgreen’s, and Dixon Marketing along with private citizens and local churches have donated various items such as piano, encyclopedias, and choir robes.

One of the newest programs offered at The Gate is called Connections 110. One Friday night a month 2 churches, of culturally diverse backgrounds, work together to provide a meal for the teens. 85 meals are provided for the youth. It is a mandate for The Gate that there will be no division among them. It is imperative that the youth of the community see adults in fellowship with each other, again crossing the lines of culture, race, and religion to cooperatively engage and work together to set examples for our most-critical youth.


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