PITTSBORO — “Kasserian Ingera” is a common greeting for the Kenyan tribe of the Maasai people.
The phrase translates to “And how are the children?”
This greeting begins by thinking about the next generation. The intention is to monitor the well-being of their children, which they believe is the best way to determine the future health and prosperity of their whole society. If the children are well, the community at large is well.
This tradition was shared as part of a presentation by Danya Perry, philanthropist and youth advocate, at a celebration for Communities In Schools of Chatham County. The celebration, which marked CISCC’s first community event since Covid-19, was titled “All in for Kids.” It was meant to inspire community members about the work of CISCC and show its importance to the children of the county.
“If no one cares, and you have nobody to turn to when you have that failure, you’re not able to fail forward,” Perry said. “We don’t want to let our kids do that. We want to lay down goals, expect a lot from these kids, respect them where they’re at and give them something to reach for.”
CISCC, which is part of a statewide and national Communities In Schools network, works with students of all backgrounds to surround them with a network of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. They do this through peer tutoring programs, mentorships, community service and more. Each of these programs is designed to help kids stay on the right track.
The organization currently provides on-site services at Chatham Middle School, Virginia Cross Elementary and Siler City Elementary. It also provides programming at Pittsboro Elementary, George Moses Horton Middle School and Jordan Matthews High School.
Perry, who previously worked for Communities In Schools, told the audience last Wednesday at 79°West in Pittsboro that the work of CISCC is critically important in Chatham to prevent dropouts, improve academics and most importantly, foster meaningful connections between young people and their communities.
“We all want communities to be healthy and young people to be successful,” he said. “I often say, ‘What’s up with these churren?’ because if there’s something wrong with the children, then there’s something wrong with us.”
CISCC, formerly known as Chatham Together, started in Chatham County in 1989. Since then, the program has served thousands of students. At the celebration last week, Tych Cowdin, CISCC’s executive director, shared that so far this year, the organization’s programs have impacted more than 1,600 students with more than 300 receiving individualized support. That support is made possible through the volunteer efforts of community members. This year, CISCC volunteers contributed 3,162 hours of service, which equates to about $108,000 in added value to the community, according to Cowdin.
“You all are the bridge to these kids and the support they need,” Cowdin said. “We want to be those liaisons between the schools, the students and the community of support.”
Part of Wednesday’s event was also about honoring those volunteers who make CISCC programs possible. Each honored volunteer was gifted a piece of artwork made by a CISCC student, Mason. The 15-year-old spray painted glass with swirls of reds, golds and purples to make funky designs for each volunteer. He said he learned to make the designs from TikTok videos.
Perry said the type of talent and skill displayed in the art by Mason is exactly why CISCC is doing important work — bringing the best out of students and nurturing their abilities, no matter the circumstances.
The work of CISCC also proved to have long-term impact. Part of the ceremony featured video testimonies from previous students about the skills they still carry with them. One such testimony came from Enasio Alston. The now-27-year-old joined CISCC in 1990, he then went on to serve in the U.S. Army and is currently a U.S. National Park ranger in California.
“I am grateful for everything [my mentors] taught me and the interest in fellowship that brought me,” Alston said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the camaraderie and guidance of Communities In Schools.”
The event served two-fold: to honor current volunteers and highlight their efforts, and to encourage other community members to become volunteers for CISCC.
“Looking ahead, we need to sustain and grow our capacity to serve,” Cowdin said. “It takes all of us.”
He added that while 300 children with individualized mentorship in Chatham County is impressive, there are many more in need who slip through the cracks.
Jill Cox, CEO of Communities In Schools of N.C., was also present Wednesday. She said she’s been impressed by the work of Chatham County because they are leaders on family engagement and juvenile justice.
“All our affiliates have various strengths, but Chatham is a leader when it comes to restorative practices,” Cox told the News + Record. “That’s really helping kids see their full potential.”
She said seeing that potential is especially powerful in a rural setting like Chatham because it provides services that open doors to the future like college readiness, workforce development and personal financial literacy. The CEO added she believes we cannot leave any children behind if we want to create better, stronger communities.
“Pretty soon, Chatham may have to be big community thinking with all the development coming,” Cox said. “But that’s what makes the work of CIS here so strong — They’re already opening those windows of what’s possible.”
For more information about Communities In Schools of Chatham County, including how to get involved, visit cischatham.org.
Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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