Gaston & Catawba

Program gives youths a leg up

As the smell of fried chicken perfumed the summer air, 12 Hickory High School students and advisers were hard at work inside the kitchen of the Salvation Army preparing dinner for 80 to 130 hungry clients.

The group fried all of the chicken, chopped salad, mashed potatoes, put out bread and butter and then served the meal, along with cake.

The service project is part of the six-week summer program for STAY, or Sustained Training All Year. A Workforce Investment Program administered by the Western Piedmont Council of Governments through Hickory Public Schools, STAY helps motivate low-income students to get extra help to finish school and move into the workforce or college.

And it succeeds: Three of this year's 10 graduates are heading off to four-year colleges. One hopes to join the Army. Others will work and attend CVCC, including one student who has gotten help to make up the last course he needs to graduate.

Meanwhile, younger students in the program are enthusiastic about their prospects. As the name suggests, the year-round STAY program takes students through the school year and into summer, combining 30 hours of summer work with additional training in academic and computer skills.

Students can enter STAY in their sophomore year and may take part in two summer programs, according to Helen Devlin, director of STAY.

“It's a way to expose them, for some, to their first jobs,” Devlin said.

Devlin said she works with nonprofits and businesses to find summer jobs for the young people, making sure they are supervised. STAY also provides transportation and assistance with basic work-related clothing needs, as well as teaching skills students need on the job.

Also provided is practical, real-world information, like how to manage their first bank accounts. Skills include how to cash a check, make a deposit and maintain a check register, according to Devlin.

And the kids love the sense of accomplishment they get from STAY.

Recent graduate John Smith Jr. is on his way to Gardner-Webb University, where he hopes to study human resources or accounting. “I think it was a wonderful experience,” Smith said. “Ms. (Sarah) Wilson (STAY assistant) and Ms. Devlin go out of their way to help kids,” he said. “Some kids cashed their first check out of this program.”

Graduate Nikki Lynn is heading to Emory & Henry College in Virginia. “I didn't get a chance to do this service project last year, but every time you come here you feel so blessed for what you have,” Lynn said. “ … I come from a single-parent home and I don't have a lot, but I feel lucky for what I do have.”

Kids first in divorce

When families break up, children often suffer – but it doesn't have to be that way.

“Cooperative Parenting and Divorce,” an innovative new course offered by Catawba County Parenting Network, helps separating parents find ways to reduce conflict, to the benefit of their children.

A class focus will be on learning how to shift roles from spouses to co-parents, as well as anger management, communication and conflict resolution.

Offered for the first time in the summer, the eight-week course will meet 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Aug. 6 to Sept. 24, at Catawba County Parenting Network, 1005 First Ave., South, Conover.

Course instructor is Donna E. Fletcher, Ph.D., of Cognitive Connection. The class is free; a donation of $25 is encouraged for materials.

The class has been well received throughout the nation, according to Fletcher.

“We've met with some of the judges and attorneys (in the county) and they think it's a very good idea,” Fletcher said. “We had two men in professional positions in the community and both said that the material in the class would have been very beneficial to them.” Details or registration: Catawba Parenting Network at 828-465-8151, or