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  • The News Reporter

Local leaders share 2019 accomplishments and goals for the new year

The News Reporter asked some local government, non-profit and education leaders to share their proudest accomplishments of 2019 and their goals for 2020. Not all of them responded, but we understand, given the holidays. We asked them to limit each response to 150 words. We welcome other organizations to send their accomplishments and goals as letters to the editor at

Edwin Russ, chair of the Columbus County Board of Commissioners

Proudest accomplishment: no response

Top priority: My first priority for 2020 is education and our school systems. We have two new schools being built for the county and new construction for city schools after securing more funding in 2019. We are continuously working with Dr. Meadows and the board’s recommendations as to the betterment of county schools.

My second priority is to get more industry in this county. Black’s Tire and Carolina Botanical received incentive grants this past year and added over 40 jobs in the county. I am looking forward to beginning the renovations on the courthouse. This historical building is going to be utilized and help provide much needed space for our personnel.

Terry Mann, mayor of Whiteville

Proudest accomplishment: I think we have had a very successful year in the City of Whiteville. We have initiated several new projects. The flooding issue has been at the top of the list and I think council and our city staff have been involved in several projects that could potentially provide some relief to the flooding problem. Our staff has also been very persistent in identifying and pursuing grant and low interest loan possibilities.

However, I think the biggest accomplishment we had in 2019 was the completion of our City Hall project. Although we started in mid 2018, the bulk of the project was done in this past year. I think we have a facility that is very useful and an attractive addition to our city. Our staff worked hard and kept this project basically on schedule and most importantly within budget. I am very proud and I hope our citizens are as well.

Top priority: I think going into 2020 we must still keep the flooding issue at the top of our list. This is going to be a long-term issue that we are going to have to keep working on in several directions and over several years. In addition to the flooding issue, I think economic development, especially in the downtown area, must remain a priority. We have several projects now going on, and with the inclusion into the N.C. Associate Main Street program through the Department of Commerce, we must continue to make our downtown more vibrant. We have had tremendous momentum in the last two months or so with the help of several groups of volunteers who have visually improved the looks of our downtown area.

I am excited about the things going on and we must continue to ensure that our downtown stays active as it is the lifeline of our community.

John Young, CEO Columbus Regional Healthcare System

Proudest accomplishment: As we close out calendar year 2019 and head into a new decade, Columbus Regional Healthcare System (CRHS) is on the move.

2019 was a difficult year from a patient volume and financial perspective, because of hurricanes Florence and Dorian. What makes me most proud is that we survived these turbulent waters together; this was possible because we have a strong culture of caring for others regardless of the challenges.

Additionally, CRHS purchased two surgical robots to fuel the growth of our surgical services programs; we offer technology to our patients that most hospitals our size simply do not have access to. We replaced our Electronic Medical Record system, which will allow us to better care for patients by assuring all providers have immediate access to needed patient information.

Finally, we substantially improved our Emergency Department wait times and we significantly grew our cancer and wound care service offerings.

Top priority: In 2020, we expect the strategies and investments of 2019 to bring substantial growth to CRHS.

CRHS is blessed to have such a talented medical staff. We have nine excellent surgeons who are also robotically trained; we have plans to expand this high-tech robotically assisted surgery. Gynecology, general surgery, bariatric surgery and orthopedics all have the latest technology, literally, at their fingertips. We also have plans for growth in urology, ENT, and podiatry.

2020 is a year for focusing on the CRHS obstetrics program. With a designated Baby Friendly delivery service at the hospital and superb obstetrics and pediatrics practices in the community, bringing precious new life into Columbus County will be a primary strategy.

None of this would be possible without the support and talent of the CRHS board, medical staff and hospital family.

As we enter 2020 and a new decade, CRHS is on the move!

Marc Whichard, superintendent of Whiteville City Schools

Proudest accomplishment: Whiteville City Schools is proud of the academic commitment put forth by our dedicated community of educators, parents, and students. Perhaps the most memorable accomplishment for our community has been the groundbreaking for the new Whiteville High School facility. This new facility will be rooted in the soil that raised generations of productive and responsible citizens of Whiteville. We look forward to strengthening our commitment and pride in educational excellence for all students in the new year.

Top priority: Our top goal for our community is to provide the highest quality education to all of our students in a cost effective manner. The top priority is for each student to reach their maximum potential in each grade level, and at minimum, attain a year of academic growth.

Dr. William Aiken, SCC interim president, with collaboration from Henry Edmund, chair of the SCC Board of Trustees

Proudest accomplishment: Several accomplishments have occurred at Southeastern Community College during 2019. One accomplishment is the construction of a new facility on the campus. The Advanced Manufacturing Center assists us in meeting our goal of a well-trained workforce. The college plays an important role in attracting new industry to the area, and we hope that the new facility will assist in accomplishing this objective. State-of-the-art equipment will mirror that of industry, making the transition from training to employment more effective.

Nationally, community colleges have seen a decline in enrollment during recent years. However, Southeastern Community College has reversed that trend by showing a growth in enrollment. This growth is attributable to growing confidence in the programs we offer. In addition, parents continue to view community colleges as a more cost effective alternative to rising costs of higher education.

SCC is pleased to have strengthened our relationship with the Columbus County Schools and Whiteville City Schools. This is evidenced by the increase in the number of students who have enrolled in the Career and College Promise (CCP) program. Students are able to complete high school graduation requirements while simultaneously accumulating college credits. Furthermore, 40 percent of CCP students selected SCC as their college of choice after high school graduation.

Top priority: Southeastern Community College’s top priority for 2020 is the selection of a new president. A search committee has been appointed, and the college is currently selecting a search firm to direct the process. This is perhaps the most important task the board of trustees undertakes. This individual not only oversees the day-to-day operations of the college, but they chart the future of the institution. The president is an integral part of the entire community.

The accrediting agency for SCC is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools-Commission on Colleges. Rigorous standards are written that the college is expected to meet. This multi-year project includes a self study, an off-site review, and an on-campus evaluation. Steps will be taken in 2020 to begin the re-accreditation process, which occurs every 10 years; SCC’s reaffirmation takes place in 2021.

The Advanced Manufacturing Center will allow us to greatly expand our program offerings in the new year. We are in constant dialogue with industry in helping set our priorities. Official opening of the building is expected in early 2020.

The college’s role in economic development will be a major focus in 2020. Working with other agencies, we will increase our efforts in attracting new industry. Preliminary steps have already been taken to expand our approach to a more regional concept.

Jennifer Holcomb, president of Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism

Proudest accomplishment: The Chamber’s proudest accomplishment of 2019 is the creation of a three-year strategic plan that focuses our efforts in a more streamlined manner to address workforce preparedness, business development, and pro-business policy at the local, state, and federal levels. What we realized over the previous several years is that the Chamber was involved in so many areas that our impact was being diluted and gauging success was nearly impossible. Historically, we looked at membership numbers alone, but the work that we do is so much more important than that. Getting what we do, why we do it, and how we measure success down on paper is an incredible tool for guiding our work. And, incidentally, it has also helped us recruit new members. Our staff and volunteer board of directors are dedicated to the Chamber’s 83-year history of promoting, supporting, and developing businesses in Columbus County.

Top priority: The Chamber’s top priority for 2020 is to expand our advocacy efforts. As the voice of business, the Chamber speaks on behalf, and in support of, the business community in Columbus County. While we are proud of our existing program, there is so much more to be accomplished. We have worked diligently to keep our membership informed of proposed state legislation and local ordinances that will have an effect on the business community. In 2020, we want to provide additional opportunities for business leaders to engage elected officials, and when appropriate, our Chamber will stand ready to take legislative action on items of significant impact. In this often contentious environment, the Chamber has a responsibility to keep the focus on pro-business policy. It’s policy, not politics, that drives our economic future.

Les High, chairman of Columbus Jobs Foundation

Proudest accomplishment: The Columbus Jobs Foundation had both its proudest and most disappointing moments in three weeks’ time.

A well-established computer coding company notified the state that it needed to move quickly on a site for a 130-employee center in a rural city. Average salary: $38,000.

We immediately realized this was a transformative project that would give our young people a reason to stay at home. We assembled a team of eight key people and flew them to meet company officials in Alabama.

We just missed being selected because of the one variable we couldn’t control – better incentives from South Carolina, but I think people would be proud how the school systems, SCC, the county commissioners and Whiteville city council, North Carolina’s Southeast, the city and county economic development offices and others coalesced as one unified team to put together what one state official called the strongest package of its type he’d seen in years.

Top priority: Our top priority is the continuing recruitment of this growing computer coding company. We believe they will expand, and when they do, we will be ready. We have already had positive correspondence with them.

A second priority will be an entrepreneurial center, perhaps in partnership with the SCC Small Business Center. Entrepreneurial centers provide shared services and expertise for small businesses to find their footing before they go out on their own. We have passed the first cut in a competitive grant process and are hopeful.

We also plan to be more aggressive in recruiting. If we have to put a board member on a plane to sell a company on the virtues of Columbus County, we’ll do so. We’ll also lend support in efforts to reinvent Fair Bluff and promote quality housing developments, among other things.

Gary Faircloth, president of Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina

Proudest accomplishment: Our proudest accomplishment of 2019 is the creation of Carolyn’s Kaleidoscope Child Advocacy Center, providing services to child victims of sexual abuse that help them heal and holding the perpetrator accountable. I truly believe that since the founding of our organization in 1954, this may be the next greatest initiative we’ve taken. It is truly a collaborative initiative in Columbus and Bladen counties and something the community has needed for so long.

Top priority: The top priority for Boys and Girls Homes in 2020 is to continue to ensure that the best programs possible are provided for our children to help ensure the best outcomes. This includes the launch of Success Coach Family Reunification Program. This program will work with families in the home to build skills in problem solving, self-advocacy, and crisis management to prevent a return to the child welfare system. It is truly the next step in meeting families where they are to make futures brighter for children, families and communities.

Vickie Pait, executive director of Families First

Proudest accomplishment: Our proudest accomplishment of 2019 is the number of students we educated with our prevention programming. In addition to providing services to 1,386 survivors of domestic violence and shelter to 203 women and children, we presented Hands are not for Hitting to 476 second graders, and Shifting Boundaries and Safe Dates to 791 seventh and ninth graders in Columbus County and Bladen County Schools. These programs are funded by the Rape Prevention Program of the Centers for Disease Control and administered by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The evaluation of the seventh and ninth grade programs saw an average of an 85 percent increase in knowledge of teen sexual violence and revealed where the middle school students felt most safe and most in danger. The seventh grade program also addresses bullying.

Top priority: In 2020, we will be working to remodel and make repairs to the newly acquired Help Mission building. Our goal is to open our Columbus County advocacy office in that building. This, along with continuing all of our programs, will be quite an undertaking but we are looking forward to moving into this space. It will save the program over $14,000 per year in rent payments, which can be utilized for us to continue to provide the needed and frequently lifesaving services that we provide.

Selena Rowell, executive director of Columbus County Partnership for Children

Proudest accomplishment: In addition to providing services which support children ages birth to five, as well as their families, caregivers and teachers as they prepare them for kindergarten, the Columbus County Partnership for Children (Smart Start) is pleased to be part of a county-wide movement to make Columbus County a trauma-informed, resilient community. Dozens of nonprofit and community services agencies as well as individuals have convened Resilient Columbus to discuss the topics of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma and how to become a resilient community through awareness and engagement activities to inform residents of the lifelong impact of trauma on one’s learning, health and longevity. When we identify and address the often hidden adversities and stressors in our community as well as in our personal lives, we all have the potential to learn, grow and thrive. There is hope, and we can learn to overcome adversity and live our best lives.

Top priority: The Columbus County Partnership for Children will continue to focus on our priority to serve every young child, their families, caregivers and teachers in Columbus County as they navigate through the early education experience. Specific emphasis will be placed on early reading/literacy. Working with the school systems in Columbus County, we are looking to make a countywide impact with a message about the importance of learning to read early and the benefits of early childhood education in general. The Partnership will also continue to focus on the efforts of Resilient Columbus, working with the various agencies leading this movement.

Carol Caldwell, executive director of DREAM Center

Proudest accomplishment: The enthusiasm of the community when we held the Juneteenth Celebration on June 19, 2019. Juneteenth is a national celebration and is important to American history because it makes us all aware of the time when all slaves realized that they were free. This happened on June 19, 1865, in Texas and has been celebrated subsequently. Currently 46 states recognize Juneteenth. DREAM Center has celebrated internally for several years, but this year was the first community celebration/recognition. This was the first public celebration of Juneteenth since the mid-90s when it was observed at Southeastern Community College. We were thrilled with the cooperation and support from the community.

Top priority: During 2020 we hope to keep and make the support for NETworX for Hope of Columbus County sustainable. NETworX is a national movement to measurably reduce all stages of poverty, and it offers opportunities for individuals to develop personal life plans. Individuals will receive tools to prepare them to set and achieve life goals and to participate in a support network that will identify and address challenges in the community and work to bring about positive change. NETworX will begin its weekly meetings Jan. 14, 2020, at First Baptist Church, Whiteville.

Wallyce Todd, executive director of Community CPR

Proudest accomplishment: This year, through the steadfast efforts of a dedicated, grant-funded and volunteer team, Community CPR (CCPR) helped over 1,300 neighbors in our community. More than 2,000 volunteer hours were contributed to our county from local folks and others who poured into our area to help after Hurricane Florence. CCPR personally impacted the lives of over 150 children in our community. With the help of donors and contributors of all kinds (from individuals, non-profits, churches, businesses and civic organizations), CCPR was able to give a sense of home and blessing to more than 600 households. We are most proud when we work together with others to Serve. Advocate. Volunteer. Educate (S.A.V.E.) within our community so that we are able to authentically address everyday issues as well as natural and man-made disasters in ways that bless our citizens in mind, body and spirit. We are the most accomplished when we are: #neighborshelpingneighbors.

Top priority: In the upcoming year, the top priority of Community CPR is to continue to collaborate with others to help as many individuals and families as possible. Sadly, there will be more families in need than we have the funds to support. While we are blessed with storage space for donated items of all kinds, we will be unable to assist the numbers of people we’ve helped in previous years without an increase in financial assistance. It’s such a blessing to have received grants designated exclusively for a used box truck, used pick-up truck, and other specific projects. We also are always grateful for individual and corporate giving. Additionally, we have an amazingly committed team who care deeply for our community. However, our funds are quite limited for operating costs and salaries to support the very people who make it possible for us to effectively and efficiently continue to be #strongertogether.

Kim Smith, Columbus County health director

Proudest accomplishment: We provided Columbus County citizens with the best service possible or assisted with coordinating the needed care through partnerships formed throughout the years.

Top priority: We will continue to provide the required services needed to keep our citizens free of the many communicable diseases that are coming into and through our county on a daily basis.

Dr. Shelby Gull Laird, head, Whiteville Branch of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences

Proudest accomplishment: The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville is ecstatic to have such a hard-working and dedicated staff, who worked their hardest during a year of fluctuation to provide amazing programs and services to our community in 2019. We are of course proud of all our accomplishments and programs, but we are particularly proud of Meredith Morgan for her win as the N.C. Environmental Educator of the Year for 2019. Meredith’s dedication to the people she serves as an educator at the museum is truly amazing. We are very grateful to you, the people of Columbus County and beyond, for supporting us in our mission to connect people to nature and science, and especially for the votes as the best Museum in the Best of Columbus 2019 Awards. Thank you.

Top priority: The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville is committed to the mission of the museum, which is to illuminate the natural world and inspire its conservation. Our priorities for this year include expanding our offerings to include more interactive programming both in the museum and as outreach, increasing our volunteer base and opportunities, and reaching out to the citizens of Columbus County and the entire southeastern NC region to understand better the needs of the community and how we might better serve as a nature and science hub for the area. Some things we are looking forward to are the beautification of our grounds and building, creating new and exciting programs, and participating in festivals and downtown events. Please drop in for a visit soon.

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