Gastonia, North Carolina: 2010 All America City

In honor of Gaston County’s upcoming community celebration, we made this short video about Gastonia’s All-America City Award-winning projects.

A city of about 74,000 in the Charlotte region, Gastonia, like other southern mill towns, has been hit hard by the double whammy of a loss of textile jobs and the 2008 recession. The unemployment is around 13 percent and the high school drop out rate is one of the highest in the region. The economy woes have also slammed some of the city’s older neighborhoods as lower income homeowners struggle to keep their properties repaired.

Hope for Gaston

In 2006 the city joined with a faith-based program, Hope4Gaston, to make home repairs for low income residents of the mostly African-American Highlands section. A community development block grant was used to pay for construction materials, and teams of 20-40 volunteers were assigned to various homes to do repairs under the supervision of licensed contractors.  Repairs valued at $348,000 were made in two days to 50 homes. Very good leveraging of the $27,000 grant.

Highland Health Center

In 2007, the Gaston County Health Department conducted a door-to-door survey of local health care needs. With help from the city, eight teams fanned out across the Highland neighborhood to interview residents. They found that about one fifth of them had no health insurance. A business plan for a new Highlands Health Center was developed to address the community’s health needs, ranging from teen pregnancy to heart disease and diabetes. The health center opened July.

Run for the Money

The community stages an annual run to raise money for local nonprofits. It began in 2003, a time when local nonprofits were struggling. After sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to support relief efforts in New York after 9/11, Gaston County residents were tapped out. A stagnant economy didn’t help matters.

All told the annual event has raised about $7.8 million for local nonprofits in seven years. The run has become a community event involving hundreds of families. “There is no other fundraiser we could do that could raise this kind of money for us,” notes Cathy Howell, director of Crisis Assistance Ministry.

Lowering the Drop Out rate

Established by Mayor Jennie Stultz and the city council, the Mayor’s Youth Council became concerned with the dropout rate. In 2008, they surveyed 9th and 10th graders to find out about the various causes of dropping out of school. One of the major reasons, they discovered, was anxiety over a mandated senior graduation project. This year, the youth group invited role models to speak on the importance of staying in school, including former MVP NBA start James Worthy, a native Gastonian.

Gaston Career Climb

Three county foundations came together to support Gaston Career Climb, a program to improve the skill levels of the local workforce. Computer-based assessments of students and adults were used to determine skill levels. The program prepares students and adults to be tested for “Career Readiness Certificates.” Over 50 area businesses now recognize these certificates and use them in their hiring practices.

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