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Last week, the Department of Public Instruction hosted two events, labeled SummerPalooza, in eastern North Carolina focused on feeding hungry students over the summer months when school is out and food insecurity becomes more challenging for families across our state. According to the DPI press release, the workshops are designed to provide an opportunity to learn more about summer nutrition programs, identify pathways to reduce or eliminate barriers to success, and identify areas where summer meals are most needed to combat hunger.

In New Bern and Greenville, dozens of childhood nutrition staff members and other community leaders focused on fighting food insecurity. They gathered together in an effort to be inspired by others, make connections, and learn about concrete steps that would allow them to move toward action next summer.

Cynthia Ervin, a nutrition program consultant for DPI, played a lead role in organizing the events last week. I had the good fortune to meet Cynthia this past summer when she asked EducationNC if we would help lead sessions during the SummerPalooza events focused around enhancing collaboration following our Gathering for Good around childhood hunger last July. We agreed to collaborate with the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation in order to use the Gathering for Good model in an effort to shift the dialogue from challenges to solutions in each of the four sessions across North Carolina.

Heroes

At EducationNC, we like to discuss everyday heroes — those working tirelessly on behalf of all the children of North Carolina. Those who often do the work without seeking recognition. As I sat in a conference room in New Bern last week I thought of a quote from Dean Smith.

“You should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.”

The folks in that room would not call themselves heroes, they would say that they are simply working to do the right thing for the hungry children of North Carolina. The energy, commitment, and desire to create change among each person in the room was deeply impressive. All of them want to see more kids fed in their community, and they all came seeking answers for how to do just that.

One moment stood out as an example of the spirit of the event.

A lady spoke up and said that she had been wrestling with how to deal with a thorny issue, but was not sure of how to resolve the issue. Cynthia stood up immediately and beckoned for the microphone across the room.

“I will come, my staff will come, and join any meeting that you invite us to attend. Sometimes it helps to have a neutral party. Call us and we will be there.”

At that point I decided I might start calling Cynthia, Can-Do Cynthia, because that answer was emblematic of her answers throughout the day. Their resolve is that whatever it takes to feed more children, they will do if it is within their power. The can-do spirit of those in the room in New Bern and Greenville showed that they are heroes regardless of their own comfort level in using that label.

At each facilitation, we were also joined by Lisa Altman and Meredith Honeycutt of Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ Nutrition Program.

Check out their story:

Lisa Altman, Cynthia Ervin, Meredith Honeycutt, and every person who gathered together for SummerPalooza are working together to solve the very public problem of childhood hunger.

Mister Rogers would certainly think so.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

It is easy to be cynical today. We seem to see a dizzying array of negative headlines online, in the paper, and on the cable news each day. The Presidential debates have yet to meaningfully address the pressing challenges facing our children, our educators, and our schools.

Our largest problems can often seem intractable, which breeds cynicism.

But I think that if we look around we will see reasons for optimism. 

A can-do spirit as exemplified by Cynthia Ervin. 

Dozens of unsung heroes who were gathered together to learn how to make a difference for hungry children across our state.

North Carolinians who believe that we must do more on behalf of the 27 percent of children in our state who are food insecure.

It was an honor and a privilege to be with them all.


Our friends at No Kid Hungry NC would like everyone to know the following:

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers free summer meals to kids across North Carolina similar to School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, except meals are free to all kids that come to a registered summer meals site.”

More information on summer meals programs here.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the director of growth for EducationNC.