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Rocky Mount High and Tarboro break the huddle before running a play on Thursday during their Week 1 game in Rocky Mount. The Gryphons won, 12-0.

New officers assume helm of Salvation Army

Life has been a whirlwind for new Salvation Army officers Wayne and Claudia Meads since they arrived from Lexington, N.C., to begin their new assignment on June 27.

By rank, Wayne is a lieutenant and Claudia a captain, but it’s clear that in the whole scope of things, they are both foot soldiers who work diligently to carry out the duties of the Army’s ministry.

“Many people don’t realize that we (the Salvation Army) are a church,” Wayne Meads said. “They know us for ringing bells and Angel Trees and helping people out who are in need — but first and foremost, we are a church doing the work of God.”

The Salvation Army is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church.

This is the second assignment for the Meads, who have been married for four years. They have a 2-year-old son, Micah, and are expecting a daughter, Lilah, in October.

In their new assignment, they are helping usher in change in the Salvation Army in eastern North Carolina.

“We’re now known as the N.E.W. Salvation Army,” Wayne Meads told the Golden K Kiwanis of Tarboro earlier this month. “The Salvation Army in Wilson closed, so we took on the acronym ‘new’ for Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson. It’s an accurate description of the area we serve.”

Claudia Meads, who is a native of Brazil, said the community has been very welcoming and supportive.

“We’re learning what the community needs and wants,” she said. “Before (in Lexington), we had a lot of youth activities and programs, including the Boys & Girls Club. Here, there is already a Boys & Girls Club and we have a lot of senior activities and programs.

“Even though we are an international ministry, each community is different. It takes a lot of adapting,” she added.

Wayne said, “We let God lead the way and direct us.”

Wayne said that he was in officer training at the Salvation Army’s Evangeline Booth College in Atlanta when he met Claudia, who had been on assignment in her native Brazil.

“A friend got us together,” he said with his ever-present smile.

“I worked four months in Atlanta before the wedding,” Claudia said.

Locally, the N.E.W. Salvation Army has a 23-member board and several projects for the organization’s building were just approved at its July meeting.

“They are unbelievably supportive,” Wayne said. “And they are a working board, which helps tremendously because it’s just the two of us and we can’t do everything.”

The Salvation Army has been in its current facility at 1000 Hunter Hill Road for a little more than 20 months after being in its previous location on Paul Street since October 1957.

The current building, which was initially a YMCA and most recently the home of the Telegram, will be dedicated on Oct. 9.

The board recently approved several items that will allow for improvements to the facility and some, such as a major landscaping project in front of the building, are soon to begin.

Claudia said the greatest need now is for volunteers.

“Volunteering is amazing,” she said, telling a story about working in the thrift shop earlier in the week and a customer being surprised when they learned she was an officer.

“We’re here to work,” she said.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring people to Christ,” Wayne added.

As such, there are ministries for men and women with a Bible study on Wednesday night.

Wayne, who describes himself as a “bell-ringing fanatic,” is already thinking about the bell-ringing program and is looking for volunteers to avoid hiring bell-ringers.

“We were way down last year with COVID,” he said. “We only brought in about $40,000 and we also had to hire people, which impacts the money we have to do God’s work.”

While Wayne has visions of bells, Claudia is thinking about Christmas and helping people.

“This year, they will be able to go online and register so that they don’t have to stand in line,” she said. “We’re trying to make the programs as easy as possible. Just go to the website and if you’re approved, you’ll get an email.”

People needing help or wanting to donate items or volunteer can come by 1000 Hunter Hill Road, call 252-446-4496 or email Wayne.Meads@uss.salvationarmy.org. Monetary donations also can be mailed to N.E.W. Salvation Army, P.O. Box 8193, Rocky Mount.

Wayne said he wants the community to understand that the Salvation Army is a good steward of their gifts, financial and otherwise.

“We’re very transparent as far as what we do. Ninety to 92 cents of every dollar we receive goes into our services,” he said. “We receive an allowance instead of a salary and we pray and trust that God will provide so that we have what we need.”

The Meads’ arrival in Rocky Mount filled the positions made vacant when Maj. David Phelps and his wife, Amber, were posted to Gastonia.

Pastor calls attention to dilapidated houses along Branch Street

A pastor recently told the City Council of his having counted nearly two dozen vacant residences along Branch Street in Southeast Rocky Mount.

During the public input part of the council’s Aug. 9 regular meeting, the Rev. Dennis Gunter told the council that, “I’ve been riding down Branch Street a long time, but today I rode down four blocks — and there were 23 empty houses.”

Gunter for 24 years has served as pastor of the Greater Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist Church, which also is along Branch.

Gunter noted a part of Holly Street having been revitalized.

“It looks very nice over there, but over there on Branch Street, where I’ve been pastoring for 24 years, just those four blocks, 23 houses — empty,” Gunter said, also noting trash is everywhere.

Gunter also noted that while on his way to the council meeting, he believed he was driving on Pender Street when he saw five empty houses alongside each other. Gunter also noted that across from Truth Tabernacle Ministries, which is along Arlington Street, he saw five more empty houses.

“And that’s just six blocks in one community,” he said. “So my concern is: Something needs to be done, whether it’s tearing ’em down or remodeling them.

“And I hope that something could be done because there’s a lot of dilapidated houses in the Black community,” he said. “And we definitely need to get something done about it.”

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney reiterated that municipal staff and the council already are working together on an initiative to correct the conditions Gunter spoke about.

Small-Toney and her team on April 8 at the municipality’s 2021 annual retreat in Asheville announced a proposed strategic plan for affordable housing in Rocky Mount.

Small-Toney also has made clear the plan is to set aside $3 million of more than $11.5 million the municipality is going to receive via the American Rescue Plan Act to help kick-start the municipality’s affordable housing plan.

“I think that the council over the years has done a very good job with the limited resources that we have from the HUD (Housing and Urban Development) funding that we received,” she said.

Small-Toney also noted that while municipal general funds have been used to help homeowners and property owners bring their houses up to the municipal code, such efforts have not been enough through the years.

Small-Toney said she believes the $3 million via the American Rescue Plan Act lends an opportunity to use those funds for leveraging and to get the private sector involved so the city can do more.

Resident Samuel Battle, who frequently addresses the council during the public input phase of council regular meetings, told the council, “I was about to talk about the same thing.”

Battle noted he and others have counted numerous abandoned houses along Long Avenue in the direction from Cokey Road and along Pender.

“And I’ve been in Rocky Mount all my life — and this ain’t happened overnight,” Battle said of the situation. “This happened over some years.”

Battle made clear he believes that when one backtracks, one will find the situation is one of many people dying and their houses subsequently sitting for 15 to 20 years.

Battle made clear he believes what happens is that people living as far away as California no longer care about what had been their relatives’ houses in Rocky Mount.

Battle said he believes the condition of these houses declines because nobody enforces the municipal code and the property owners fall behind in paying local property taxes.

He also made clear he believes these houses decline into such a condition that they cannot be sold, with the municipality having to mow the grass at these locations.

Battle said of such scenes, “It’s all around Rocky Mount,” including in the Holly Street area and in Meadowbrook.

But he said that, “Yeah, Branch Street looks like a mess.”

Additionally, he said that a major problem with homelessness exists over there and that there are homeless people in Rocky Mount.

Overall, he said, “We need to take care of our people. I don’t know what else to say, man. I ain’t trying to knock nobody down, but we’ve got to do better, man, we really do. All of us have got to do better.”

The council on Aug. 9 put on hold giving the community code inspector the go-ahead to have a list of former residences demolished.

Councilman Reuben Blackwell asked for time after the public input to give his thoughts. When the time came to do so, he gave extensive remarks.

Blackwell said that he has heard some people think he and fellow municipal officials are protecting landlords.

“We are not,” he said.

Blackwell made clear he has no problem voting to remove a structure that is falling in, but at the same time, he spoke about salvaging savable structures.

Blackwell said of the demolition order that was put on hold, “Some of the properties are able to be redeveloped and renovated. The question is: How do we remove them from the hands of the people who have them and put them in the hands of people who would do something with them that would benefit and aid the community?”

Blackwell said the municipality has been working diligently on a process that would give several levels of pathways for people who owe taxes on their properties, are unable to pay them or are unable to invest in keeping those properties decent — and find ways to put them into the hands of people who would value them and the neighborhoods around them.

“We are at the beginning of developing a strategy that would put (in) millions of dollars — if this community supports housing, affordable housing in particular, as a priority,” Blackwell said.

“We’re at the beginning of creating a process that would help everybody participate in the rebuilding of inner-city, core-city Rocky Mount and create opportunity for developers, for individual homeowners, for institutions that have never left those communities and want to do better,” Blackwell said.

Woman raises concerns about blight along South Church corridor

A resident who addressed the City Council late last month about not just the South Rocky Mount area where she has long lived but about other places in the city was back before the council earlier this month to provide her comments.

Brenda Cooper on Aug. 9 told the council of what she sees as instances of landlords leaving blight behind in her neighborhood.

“These landlords must be held accountable,” she said. “These property owners must be held accountable. I’m accountable for mine. Everybody has to do the same.”

During the public input part of the Aug. 9 council regular meeting, Cooper also commented about the part of the South Church Street corridor between downtown and the junction with South Wesleyan Boulevard.

She said that on that part of South Church, “It’s like they forgot it.”

“Nothing’s happening to make it look like it’s a part of Rocky Mount,” she said.

She said when one drives farther north, one believes things begin to look really nice.

“But what about the south end? People come into Rocky Mount from the south end as well — and it needs to be looking as well as any other area of the city,” she said.

She particularly noted the condition of an unused structure at the busy southeast corner of South Church and Kingston Avenue.

“Now there’s a great big hole in the wall, facing the neighborhood, facing the community,” she said. “You can’t help but see it if you ride down South Church Street. Nobody does anything. That’s got to be a hazard.”

Cooper, while addressing the council, also told of dogs being on the loose and no one seeming to be able to catch them.

“It don’t make sense when I see the same dog running for years, having puppies under these houses that the vents are broken — and no one is doing anything about it,” Cooper said.

Cooper said that she and others have called the municipality’s Animal Services Unit and that nothing is occurring.

Cooper made clear she is particularly concerned because schools are going to be reopening and the loose dogs will be near the bus stops and children will be afraid.

“We’ve seen dogs go after people that’s walking, but nobody seems to catch ’em. They can’t catch ’em,” she said.

She also made clear she believes a pregnant dog about to give birth to puppies cannot be that hard to catch.

Councilman Andre Knight said that the loose dog was reported again earlier that morning and that he was waiting for Animal Services Director Willie Boykin to advise whether the dog was captured along with six puppies.

Councilman Richard Joyner expressed appreciation to Cooper.

Joyner said that the city has especially been experiencing violations of the municipal code at what had been industrial sites and that he believes the municipality is still working on those violations.

Joyner also told Cooper that a list of properties in the South Rocky Mount area she has turned in have been turned over to City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney.

“And some work has been done, but there’s a lot more work that needs to be done,” Joyner said.

Prior to the council’s Aug. 9 regular meeting, Cooper addressed the council during the council’s July 26 regular meeting.

Area schools to begin classes with mask rules in place

School will begin on Monday for most students in the Twin Counties, but this school year will begin unlike any other with most area students and teachers wearing masks as they attend classes in person.

The Edgecombe County Board of Education voted on Monday to make universal masks a requirement for all students, staff and visitors regardless of vaccination status. Masks will be required not only on school campuses, but also in all group transportation activities including school buses.

“The updated guidance reflects the rapid increase in infections, transmissions and hospitalizations stemming from the spread of the delta variant, including among vaccinated individuals, and comes as a vast majority of schools across the county prepare to welcome back students for in-person learning, full-time, five days a week,” Edgecombe County Superintendent Valerie Bridges said Monday in her presentation to the board.

Though mask mandates have been recommended by state officials, they have not been required. Some school districts in the state made early decisions to not require masks, though some have stepped back from that position in recent days amid the recent surge in COVID cases.

The decision by the Edgecombe County school board came on the heels of a statement last week by state officials urging school boards that had failed to adopt mask mandates to change their minds.

In a letter sent to school boards across the state on Aug. 13, Gov. Roy Cooper pleaded with school districts to require masks.

“The science is clear that children learn better when they attend school in person and the science is also clear that masks reduce COVID infections so we can keep them there. The delta variant is moving fast, and I strongly urge school leaders who have made masks optional to reconsider and make them mandatory,” Cooper said.

Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, state health director and chief medical officer for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the measure is needed because of current COVID conditions.

“The highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly through North Carolina,” Tilson said in the letter to school districts. “A layered approach to prevention, including universal masking, helps protect the health and well-being of students and staff and helps keep everyone in school — teaching, learning and thriving.”

The letter outlines the increasing rates of COVID-19 infection in children and higher numbers of hospitalizations for pediatric patients as well as how overall cases have increased by more than 50 percent in recent days.

The Nash County Board of Education earlier this month approved a mask requirement as the school year begins, though that requirement will be re-evaluated each month throughout the school year.

Rocky Mount Prep, Nash County’s only charter school, began its school year on Aug. 9 with a universal mask mandate in place, regardless of vaccination status.

Classes began on Aug. 4 at North East Carolina Preparatory School, Edgecombe County’s only charter school, with a modified mask mandate in place. Masks are required of all pre-K to seventh-grade students, staff and visitors indoors regardless of vaccination status.

However, vaccinated staff and students in eighth grade and above are exempt from wearing masks if they present proof of vaccination. Masks are required on school buses.

Private schools in the area are setting their own rules while evaluating the school health situation. Rocky Mount Academy “strongly encourages all students and faculty, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask whenever physical distancing cannot be ensured or is not possible,” according to the school’s website.

Faith Christian School in Rocky Mount began classes Wednesday without a mask mandate in place. New Life Christian Academy starts class on Monday. No information about its mask policy was available by press time.

Nash County senior centers to reopen after recent COVID exposure

The Nash County Senior Center and the Southern Nash Senior Center will reopen Monday after having been closed for a week due to COVID exposures.

The two senior centers received notification last week of potential COVID exposures during the first two weeks in August. As a result, both centers have been closed for all activities since Aug. 16.

“We were notified of potential COVID exposures during the weeks of Aug. 2 and Aug. 9,” county officials posted on the NASH and Southern Nash Senior Center Facebook Page on Aug. 11. “All of those individuals who were directly exposed have been contacted. Out of consideration we are encouraging anyone that feels the need to be tested to do so.”

The two senior centers originally reopened on July 7 after being closed for 481 days due to COVID. The most recent exposure prompted the centers to close again for the protection of participants.

Once the Nash County Senior Center and Southern Nash Senior Center reopen Monday, the county’s new mask mandate will be in place.

“We will require strict mask guidelines upon reopening,” senior center officials said in a statement. “Masks must be worn properly covering the mouth and nose at all times. Participants do not have to wear a mask while actively participating in a fitness class or while using the fitness equipment. When you are done using the fitness equipment or finished with your class, we ask that you put your mask on immediately after. When visiting, playing cards, playing pool or being in the senior center in general, it will be required that you wear the mask.”

Staff members also will be required to wear masks except when they are in their offices.

Classes at the senior centers are operating at a reduced capacity because of COVID. Participants are urged to sign up for classes at the front desk of either center well in advance.

For more information, contact The NASH at 252-459-7681 or The Southern Nash Senior Center at 252-235-4303.