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Yesterday, July 30th, EdNC and the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation gathered together with over sixty community leaders at Maureen Joy Charter School in Durham to discuss summer feeding programs in North Carolina, as well as efforts to combat childhood hunger throughout our school system and state.

The “best summer feeding” program for children in need in the state of North Carolina is in Durham County, and it is only meeting 24 percent of the overall need. Only 24 percent.

That meeting 24 percent of need is remarkable given the challenges facing the Durham County nutrition program — and nutrition programs across the state — highlights the importance of this issue for us.

We came from the pulpit in Conetoe to the campus of a middle school in Wake County, from Dr. Lynn Harvey of the Department of Public Instruction to an expert in urban agriculture. Journalists, teachers, parents, professors, policymakers, and nonprofit leaders all came together to share a meal and talk.

GFG

Gathering for Good is one of the signature programs of the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation. 

Jamie’s Foundation has a core belief that if you bring people together from every walk of life to discuss issues that matter, then you will end up with something special. We believe that those who self-select to attend such an event are underscoring one of the core qualities of leadership — simply showing up. 

As we considered the “why” of Gathering for Good, the team behind Jamie’s Foundation also recognized that we must build public awareness of the challenges and solutions facing North Carolina — a principle that explains the purpose of EdNC’s founding as well. 

After all, few of us would turn away from a failing school or a hungry child.

 

This issue is personal for many of us

In the days ahead, I will dig deeper into the issues raised, and the solutions offered, in Durham, but for now I must admit that I was struck by how many of those who were attending had a personal reason for supporting the work.

Jim Keaton is the head of nutrition for Durham Public Schools. He was one of eight children in an impoverished family in Maine. Jim knew what it was to face hunger. He knew what it was for school to be the safe place in your life. Those memories drive his work today.

Reverend Richard Joyner from Conetoe spoke to his own experience of ending up in the pulpit of the church where he now presides. He did not want the position. He did not seek the position. In his first year as minister, in a small town, he led nearly thirty funerals, and it was through this experience that he launched a life-changing farm that is guided by the youth of Conetoe today.

Shorlette Ammons, of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), spoke to the reality of her father, who experienced discrimination as a farmer, which has helped guide her work. Shorlette spoke to the fact that many of our pressing issues intersect regionally — after all, Eastern North Carolina is the home of the highest adult and childhood obesity rates in the South, along with the highest poverty and lowest literacy rates. 

Part of the power behind Gathering for Good is understanding that most of our pressing issues do ultimately intersect. Few, if any, of our major problems exist in silos, and Gathering for Good hopes to help shed a light on that reality. We believe talking about and addressing these issues collectively will lead to better public policy.

And as Mebane Rash, CEO of EdNC, said, as organizations across the state look past the echo of the Baby Boomers, including and investing in our young leaders will empower them to help us as a state dream big and take big steps forward. 

For a few hours, a group of leaders, emerging and existing, from across Durham and North Carolina, came together and discussed childhood hunger, feeding empty bellies on the weekend and over the summer, and how we can improve educational outcomes. For a few hours in Durham, we all felt a sense that we could change the trajectory of this one issue.

And we will. Together.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the director of growth for EducationNC.