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Fence company aids local veterans' group home

The Tri-County Veterans Group Home has served the needs of homeless and transitioning veterans for three years.

Located in the Edgemont National Historic District just a couple of blocks from Pineview Cemetery, the brick veneer home sits on a corner lot in a quiet neighborhood. It offers a secure place for those who have served their country and, for whatever reason, need a helping hand.

The home is a function of The Mercer Foundation Inc., and on Friday, employees from the Rocky Mount office of Seegars Fence Co. were on hand to remove an old privacy fence and install a new one as part of the Goldsboro-based company’s Helping Hands program.

Seegars Marketing Manager Ben Harper said Seegars, established in 1949, has long supported activities and programs in the 14 communities where it has offices but made the decision this year to do one community project a year per office.

He said the first such project was a fence at the Salvation Army in Goldsboro.

The fence at the Tri-County Veterans Group Home is the second. Seegars’ Rocky Mount Manager Shawn Holland has a special connection with the project since he is a veteran — an Army Ranger, in fact.

“He has a personal interest in helping those who have served our country,” Harper said.

Col. James Mercer of The Mercer Foundation said he appreciates the work Seegars was performing.

“They took the old fence down and are putting a new one up,” he said. “That will better define the property and give the residents additional security.”

The new fencing adds to the property, which is clean and well-maintained.

“We certainly appreciate Seegars’ commitment to helping our veterans as they work through our transitional program and obtain permanent housing,” Mercer said.

The program helps the veterans with all of their paperwork, provides transportation to and from whichever VA facility their appointments are scheduled and also provides food and clothing in addition to housing.

He said the program works with Express Employment to help secure jobs and that the United Way of the Tar River Region has been generous in its financial support.

Transportation for the veterans is made possible through the donation of a 2003 Ford Explorer that was part of the Nash County Emergency Services fleet.

“It has a lot of miles, but it serves us well,” Mercer said.

Mercer said the Tri-County Veterans Group Home survives on donations and that people wanting to help may get more information by emailing info@mercerfoundation.org.

Campaign to target childhood inequities

A local day care center operator will be spearheading a social marketing campaign about childhood inequities with the help of a more than $300,000 grant.

Frenchy Davis, CEO of the Foundation Builders Academy Childcare Development Center, announced the news this week in a news release. The nonprofit FD Building Foundation Inc., of which the day care center is a part, has received a grant to fund an Inequities in Early Childhood Systems Social Marketing Campaign from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem.

The project is designed to improve the lives of residents by addressing the disparities that affect children in Nash, Edgecombe and Halifax counties. The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust is funding the project in the amount of $330,000 over three years, the duration of the project.

“The lives of the community will change as we address the disparities that exist in Nash, Edgecombe and Halifax counties by showing that African Americans and Latinos living at poverty levels often suffer the worst health and education outcomes,” Davis said in the news release.

The campaign will involve a detailed community planning process that will involve leadership from different segments of the community, Davis said in a later interview. A community planning group will be formed to discuss the impacts of disparities in the community, document existing local resources and assets, discuss the audience that will be addressed by the campaign, create a key message and establish goals.

The group also will hold focus groups to gain feedback from the community. The three groups will include representatives of the African American and Latino low-income communities.

After this planning process, the group will design a social media and marketing campaign to help address these issues. All media to be utilized in the project will be originally created. The media of the campaign will include billboards and websites with links to community resources.

Following completion of the media campaign, the planning groups will reconvene to discuss strategies for meeting or exceeding goals and objectives. They will also determine the next steps in continued dissemination of information about the negative impact of inequalities in early childhood systems.

Davis has experience in dealing with childhood education. He founded the Foundation Builders Academy, which is located at 54 Therapy Lane, in 2017. Davis also has experience working with other social media campaigns concerning HIV and other health matters through the OIC of Rocky Mount.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust was established in 1947 and is now one of the largest private trusts in North Carolina. The organization has funded several playgrounds in the area as part of a campaign to encourage childhood health and well-being. However, Davis said he thinks that this is the first time the organization has funded a social media campaign in the Twin Counties.

According to the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, such strategies are part of the group’s approach to improving communities.

“We focus on outcomes, rather than issues, because we believe this is the most effective way to achieve long-term, sustainable change. We always start by listening to the communities we serve,” the organization’s website states.

United Way honors volunteer award winners

The United Way Tar River Region recently honored three local winners of the 2021 Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service for their outstanding work in the Twin Counties.

The 2020 award recipient also was honored at the ceremony as COVID-19 restrictions prevented a reception from being held last year.

The Governor’s Volunteer Service Awards honor the spirit of volunteerism by recognizing individuals, groups and businesses that make a significant contribution to their community through volunteer service.

“United Way Tar River Region proudly administers this program as a service for the governor’s office. Each year, the power of volunteerism is a driving force for United Way and our network of nonprofits throughout the community,” United Way Executive Director Ginny Mohrbutter said. “We know the power of volunteerism and how important it is to recognize and value those who give of their time, talent and treasure.”

Mike Smith, the United Way’s board vice president of resource development, presented Marilyn Malloy Jackson as the 2020 recipient of the Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service.

“Marilyn Malloy Jackson shows remarkable dedication to service education to the patrons at the Harold D. Cooley Library in Nashville,” Smith said. “She provides various supports to the patrons, including assistance with ‘Storytime’ that involves preschoolers, special-needs children, homeschool students, parents, grandparents and caregivers.”

Tikela Alston, the library director who nominated Jackson, said Jackson is loved by the “Storytime” participants.

“She goes above and beyond to ensure that the kids learn and enjoy ‘Storytime,’” Alston said. “Her previous skills obtained such as teaching, mentoring and writing have helped boost library programming and other endeavors.”

Lisa Wright, board co-vice president of community development, presented Kelly Spivey as the 2021 Governor’s Volunteer Service Award recipient for Edgecombe County. Spivey is co-founder of Kelly’s Community Pantry, a place where people can donate to others in need.

As Spivey’s nominator, Ashley Hall said, “She also has her entire family involved in helping with the pantry and giveaways, including her husband and children. It’s 24/7 for her.”

Spivey began the community pantry outside her home in the Tarboro area initially to collect and distribute non-perishable food items.

“She even has her youngest children helping in the community,” Hall said. “The day before Thanksgiving, she hosted a clothing and food drive for locals. To have been there and to see the children and families that lit up as they received assistance was wonderful.”

Wright also presented Delois Mercer the 2021 Governor’s Volunteer Service Award for Nash County. Mercer is the volunteer manager of The Food Pantry at Thornes Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Rocky Mount. She coordinates the ordering and distribution of more than 6,000 pounds of donated food provided through the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina and Food Lion. Mercer ensures that every two weeks, nutritious food and veggie boxes are distributed to 150 families in need.

Her nomination provided through her husband, James Mercer, included: “Delois has demonstrated that she understands the unique needs of the community and stakeholders … she brings people together to solve community issues and problems … she is an outstanding administrator and budget manager for The Mercer Foundation and Thornes Chapel Church.”

Alane Gordon-Bray, co-vice president of community development, presented Nancy Jones Taylor as the recipient of the 2021 Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service.

“This award is the highest honor presented for the Governor’s Service Awards,” Gordon-Bray said. “She began creating initiatives to help sustain those living in Whitakers who were experiencing changes in jobs and community opportunities.”

As Taylor’s nominator, Tom Betts said, “Nancy’s passion began as care for the disrepair of public and private spaces, and this led to the formation of the 2018 nonprofit group, WRAP-Whitakers Revitalize and Preserve. The nonprofit has 41 members who have diverse backgrounds, races and age ranges.”

Gordon-Bray went on to say that Taylor succeeded in raising $55,000 to improve the only public park in Whitakers, where they now have a cultural, social and healthy outlet for residents.

“Nancy and WRAP have inspired residents to get involved in creative projects to instill care in one another and to have renewed town pride,” Gordon-Bray said.

Mohrbutter closed out the ceremony by saying to the winners, “Our community is better, stronger and more responsive because of your selfless actions.”

Authorities shut down heroin ring

Eight people received stiff sentences in U.S. District Court after a partnership between law enforcement agencies and prosecutors put a heroin trafficking ring out of business.

Acting U.S. Attorney Norman Acker and Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone made the announcement on Friday during a news conference at the Nash County Sheriff’s Office.

“This prosecution resulted in the lowering of crime in this area, in this whole region — and specifically the lowering of violent crime and also the amount of drugs on the streets, specifically heroin,” Acker said.

According to Acker, what he called the Terrence Clyburn drug-trafficking organization would have the heroin transported from New Jersey to Scotland Neck for subsequent distribution in Nash, Edgecombe and Halifax counties.

Acker said Clyburn from roughly 2002 to 2017 was found to have been responsible for trafficking more than 22 pounds of heroin — more than half a million dosage units — into the eastern part of North Carolina.

Members of the interagency Tar River Regional Drug Task Force, including members of the Nash County Sheriff’s Office, found out about what was going on and a probe was launched. Authorities in Edgecombe and Halifax counties assisted.

During the news conference on Friday, Acker read aloud the following names of those convicted in U.S. District Court and the sentences for the following offenses:

  • Clyburn, 12 years and three months, for conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 35 ounces or more of heroin and for two counts of possession with the intent to distribute 3½ ounces or more of heroin.
  • Patrick Direece Holiday, eight years, for conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 35 ounces or more of heroin and for possession with the intent to distribute 3½ ounces or more of heroin.
  • Tyshawn Rayvon Reams, seven years and four months, for the same charges as Holiday.
  • Charles Lee Wright, five years, for conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 3½ ounces or more of heroin.
  • Tara Finis Simmons, two years and four months, for conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 35 ounces or more of heroin and a quantity of marijuana and for possession with the intent to distribute 3½ ounces or more of heroin and a quantity of marijuana.
  • Herbert Lamont Cherry, three years and 11 months, for conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 3½ ounces or more of heroin.
  • Tony Ray Reams, five years and 11 months, for the same charges as Cherry.
  • Mario Marelle Scott, four years and nine months, for conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 35 ounces or more of heroin.

Acker said what was discovered during the probe was that Cherry was a courier who would regularly bring the heroin from Paterson, N.J., to Scotland Neck for distribution into Nash, Edgecombe and Halifax counties.

In March 2017, agents conducted a traffic stop of Cherry and Tony Reams as they were returning from New Jersey and found 694 bricks of heroin aboard, packaged in 34,722 bindles or units. The heroin had been hidden in a suitcase with a false bottom and a laundry bag.

In August 2017, agents conducted a traffic stop of Simmons and Wright as they had been heading south on Interstate 95. The agents found 102 bricks of heroin — that is, more than 5,000 individual doses — aboard.

Authorities also found out that once Clyburn’s couriers got the heroin into North Carolina, Clyburn’s procedure was to have people help distribute the heroin, including Tyshawn Reams, Holiday and Scott.

Acker noted that 2018 statistics from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration showed heroin-related drug-poisoning deaths nationwide almost doubled between 2013 and 2016. Acker said this has been worsened by the increased use of fentanyl, sometimes sold by itself and sometimes mixed with heroin.

Fentanyl is similar to morphine but is more potent and typically is used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery.

Acker also made clear the threat of illegal drugs has had a devastating effect on communities across eastern North Carolina.

Acker said the investigation revealed useful evidence about violent crime and murders that have taken place here.

He said the good news is that his office is aggressively prosecuting people, “the worst of the worst of these drug offenders,” and that his office is seeing success across the federal eastern district of North Carolina.

“Our goal is not to put more people in prison,” he said. “Our goal is to get the worst of the worst off the street so that the crime rate will go down and the people of the eastern district of North Carolina will be safer.”

Stone noted the importance of tipsters to law enforcement during the probe.

“We need the public to inform us of what’s going on and how these drugs are getting into the community,” he said.

Stone also said that both fentanyl and carfentanil laces these illicit drugs and that they are now 10,000 times stronger than the opioid pill people take after going to see a doctor. Carfentanil is more toxic than fentanyl and is supposed to be used by veterinarians for treating large animals.

Stone also said that the marijuana of today contains more of the psychoactive compound THC than in the past, as well as more synthetic drugs.

Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson expressed gratitude to Stone, the other officials at the podium and fellow law enforcement officers in the area.

Atkinson said that when combating drugs, gangs and violence, “This is a 24-hour-a day job. It’s nonstop.”

Atkinson made clear law enforcement today is a tough job, with recruiting and doing the same things day in and out being difficult.

“But when you love what we do in trying to keep streets safe and communities safe, this what we’re designed to do,” he said.

Feds take hard line against drug traffickers, gun violence

Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone was quick to make clear that punishment in U.S. District Court of a person charged with a federal drug-related or violent-crime-related offense is going to be sincere and swift.

Stone also said he has a message for young people who are members of gangs and for those who are dealing in illegal drugs: “Don’t get caught up in this because they’re long prison sentences.”

Stone said that when imprisonment is ordered by the federal court, “You’re not sentenced and going next door over here (in the Nash County Detention Center) where your family can visit you. You might be anywhere from Fort Leavenworth to anywhere in America.”

Stone has continued to make clear his office’s top priority is to go after gangs, guns and illegal drugs — and he has been working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh to secure federal prison time for hardened troublemakers.

Stone on Friday was asked to comment in the context of the federal judicial system in the eastern district of North Carolina handing down stiff sentences — and of people at risk of ending up in federal prison having been warned what could happen to them if they continued to commit crimes.

In 2016 in Elizabeth City, an intervention program was held to issue such a warning to eight state probationers who were called in to appear in person.

One of those who addressed the probationers was Sgt. Joe Friday of the Greenville Police Department.

Friday at the time said that in Raleigh, Chief U.S. District Judge James Dever III is so hard-line when handing down sentences he is known as “Forever Dever,” meaning the person convicted will end up “pretty much gone forever,” with either a long sentence or life imprisonment in a federal facility.

In 2012, Elizabeth City man Joey Lamar White found out U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan also hands down lengthy sentences against career criminals.

Flanagan ordered White imprisoned for 40 years for having confessed to having peddled crack cocaine. White, 24 at the time of the sentencing, already had an extensive prior record, including being involved in a shooting outside a convenience store that inadvertently injured an 8-month-old girl.

Acting U.S. Attorney Norman Acker on Friday said the intervention program like the one held in Elizabeth City years ago continues to be done periodically in the region.

“And in fact, we’re open to doing that in pretty much any community that asks us to in the eastern district of North Carolina,” Acker said. “We not only have law enforcement there but we have religious leaders, we have health professionals, we have mental health professionals, we have places for them to get jobs.

“It’s a holistic approach where we say, ‘Look, you’ve got a choice,’” he added.

At the same time, Acker made clear the problem of ongoing violence and his office’s policy of taking seriously those cases of convicted felons having been charged with possession of a firearm.

“And so we tell them, if you’re caught with a gun, you’re going to be in federal prison. And you’re going to be there for probably five years, maybe 10 years, because we’ve got to stop the violence on the streets,” Acker said.