Befriend a kid

UNCA Chancellor James Mullen does it. So does Vice Mayor Terry Bellamy and United Way CEO David Bailey. Each week during the school year, these busy community leaders find the time to spend an hour at an Asheville City or Buncombe County school, hanging out with first- through fifth-graders.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC Mentors and Matches Program is now entering its third year. And while the program has enjoyed great support from the schools and from the community, Assistant Director Jamye Davis reports, “We do need more volunteers in all of our schools, especially in schools that are in more rural areas.”

Program volunteers commit to spending one hour per week with their assigned child during a nonacademic class period (many businesspeople volunteer during their lunch hour). Mentor and child spend the time engaged in relationship-building activities such as having lunch, reading books, working on special projects, making crafts or going over homework.

Children who need help building their social and relationship skills and self-confidence are referred to the Mentors and Matches Program by school counselors and teachers.

“Folks think, ‘Well, what can one hour a week do?'” relates Davis. A lot, judging by the written evaluations from teachers, who report that a majority of the children matched with a one-on-one mentor through the program showed significant improvement in self-confidence, attitude toward school, relationships with peers and adults, academic performance and classroom behavior.

“Kids just need some extra support and encouragement to do well at school — and that’s what a supportive friend gives,” emphasizes Davis.

Volunteers ages 16 and older can participate. “We have a number of retired volunteers who really enjoy the program,” notes Davis. “We even have an 80-year-old who is participating. So for anyone who might think, ‘Well, I don’t know if I could really bond with an elementary student,’ they can, and they really end up enjoying it.” Volunteers, she notes, often say that their hour with their assigned student is the best part of their week.

Getting involved is easy. After filling out an application form, prospective volunteers are interviewed (this takes about half an hour and can be done at their place of work). “We find out the volunteer’s preferences for working with a child based on age, personality and interests,” Davis explains. Then, after a one-hour training, a criminal-background check and one reference check, the mentor is ready to be matched with a child by Big Brothers Big Sisters staff, who are also available to provide ongoing support throughout the year.

The hope, says Davis, “is that volunteers will continue the next year with the same child. This year, we have a very high return rate.”

For more information, call Big Brothers Big Sisters at 253-1470.

Taking the arts to school

Last year, the Asheville Area Arts Council launched its Arts-in-Education Initiative, which aims to make the arts an integral part of the educational experience for Buncombe County students. The program forges partnerships between artists and classroom teachers.

One key tool is the Artists Directory, a resource list of local artists working in a wide range of disciplines, as well as arts organizations offering curriculum-related arts programs. Educators can apply to the Arts Council for an Arts-in-Education grant to bring any listed artist to their school.

On Saturday, Aug. 17, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., teachers, parents, students and other interested parties will have a chance to meet some of the artists listed in the directory at the 2002 Arts-in-Education Showcase at Pack Place (2 S. Pack Square) in Asheville.

Artists will set up booths where they can greet the public and share information on the residencies and/or performances they offer to all schools in Asheville and Buncombe County (whether public or private). There’ll also be showcase performances in the Diana Wortham Theatre, and teacher workshops about the program will be offered for CEU credits.

The morning session will include a teacher workshop on funding (9:30-10:15 a.m.) and showcases in Diana Wortham (10:15-noon).

The afternoon session will include a free lunch, a teacher workshop on funding (1:15-2 p.m.) and showcases (2:05-3:30 p.m.).

For more information, call 258-0710.

Up hill and down dale

Listen up, cyclists: Here’s your chance to take a fun but challenging ride through our beautiful mountains with a bunch of other pedalin’ fools.

The 22nd Annual Hilly Hellacious Hundred bike rides through Western North Carolina will take place Sunday, Aug. 18, leaving from Cane Creek Components (355 Cane Creek Road) in Fletcher. Each year, hundreds of cyclists suit up to tackle one of three rides offered: the Full Century (100 miles), Metric Century (62 miles) and Family Route (15 miles).

This is not a race, but a chance to help raise awareness about cycling in the area. Organized by the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club and the WNC Bicycle Dealers Association, the event promotes safe cycling practices while raising funds to help maintain mountain-bike trails.

Rest stops will be available along all routes, and “sag” vehicles will provide support for riders with minor mechanical problems or safety issues. Cyclists should carry their own water bottles and a patch kit for fixing flats. Helmets are required for all riders.

The Full Century entails at least 7,700 feet of cumulative climbing, taking cyclists from the apple orchards of Henderson County to the ridges above Lake Lure. The route skirts Chimney Rock Park, following the Broad River through Hickory Nut Gorge and along Route 9 in Bat Cave before looping back to Fletcher.

The Metric Century will follow a similar route but without the Lake Lure section.

The Family Route — significantly shortened from its former 20 miles — sticks pretty close to Fletcher. This is a great choice for parents who can bring child bicycle seats and trailers, for young riders with some road-riding experience, and for anyone preferring a less-challenging route. A rest stop at Fletcher Park, 13 miles into the ride, features a play area for kids tired of riding.

The $30 registration fee ($20 for the Family Ride) is due by Saturday, Aug. 17. A table will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. that day at Cane Creek Components, where riders can pick up their packets and do late registration. No registrations will be taken on race day, but registered riders may pick up their packets from 6-8 a.m. Rides depart at 7:30 a.m. (Full Century), 7:45 a.m. (Metric Century) and 8 a.m. (Family Route), rain or shine. Riders should be prepared for hot weather — bring plenty of water!

For more information, call Michele Trantham at 648-9336 or visit the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club Web site (

State returns plate money to the Smokies

In April, the state of North Carolina seized all specialty-license-plate fees collected during the third quarter of the state’s fiscal year (January through March) as part of a much larger, unsuccessful effort to head off a state budget deficit. This included $24,480 raised through sales of the Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park license plate.

After much protest from the Friends of the Smokies organization and others, Gov. Mike Easley reviewed the situation and pledged to return the money.

Attorney General Roy Cooper and Rep. Marge Carpenter are among those who helped arrange the return of the money, reports George Ivey, director of the North Carolina Office of Friends of the Smokies. “From elected officials and the media to all those people who own the specialty plates, it really was a team effort to bring attention to the situation and get it resolved,” he says.

And Stephen W. Woody, vice president of the Friends’ board of directors, adds: “We realize that the state of North Carolina is in a financial bind, but it was clearly a mistake to take funds intended for use by a nonprofit organization. We are gratified that the governor has restored the funds.”

The state has also sent the organization a check for $29,440, covering tag sales in the most recent quarter (April through June). To date, the Friends of the Smokies specialty tags have raised more than $193,000. The money has been used to support the experimental return of elk to the park, construction of the new Purchase Knob Learning Center near Maggie Valley, efforts to protect the park’s threatened Fraser fir trees, and improving handicapped access at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee.

The Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park license plate is available from any local tag office. Of the $30 additional fee for the specialty plate, $20 goes to Friends of the Smokies to support park projects and programs and $10 goes to support highway-beautification projects.

For more information, call the Friends of the Smokies at (828) 452-0720.

A skateboarder in need

We all hear gut-wrenching stories about people struggling to overcome adversity. But this one hits a little closer to home — at least for this reporter.

I’ve been a skateboarder for nearly 13 years, and I’ve really come to appreciate the way boarders rally round one another and take care of their own; it’s what I’ve come to expect. So when I heard about a skateboarder who was having some problems, I didn’t even think about it; I just wanted to know what I could do to help.

Erich Browne was diagnosed with Berger’s disease when he was about 13. The kidney disorder (also called IgA nephropathy) is caused by deposits of the protein immunoglobulin A in the “filters” within the kidney. The IgA protein interferes with the filtration process, producing blood and protein in the urine and swelling in the hands and feet. This chronic ailment may progress over a period of 10-20 years. It can lead to end-stage renal disease, requiring the patient either to go on dialysis or get a kidney transplant.

Browne has been a regular member of the Charlotte skateboard community since moving to the area from Pittsburgh two years ago; he even got a sponsorship from 7 Doors Down, a local skateboard shop.

On July 10, however, Browne says he knew something wasn’t right. He felt something like a hangover but went to work anyway. When he kept feeling worse, an EMT-trained co-worker took his blood pressure. “It was something like 230/190,” explains Browne. “That’s when I went to the emergency room.”

For nine days, Browne lay in a hospital bed. “Everyone I knew came out to see me,” he says. “They were all real supportive. It was great.”

Doctors later told Browne that he needs a new kidney to avoid being on dialysis for the rest of his life. “It sucks; the transplant team won’t even talk to me,” Brown reports, because he doesn’t have insurance.”

For the time being, Browne is stuck at home, on dialysis for up to 10 hours a day, but he remains upbeat and optimistic. “My family has been helping me out,” he relates. “They all want to get tested to see if they can donate one of their kidneys. If I can get on Medicaid, it will pay for 80 percent of the cost, so hopefully that will work out.”

Meanwhile, however, Browne’s bills are mounting; the nine-day hospital stay alone cost more than $20,000, not to mention the cost of daily dialysis.

For now, Browne just sits and waits, unable to work, hoping for some good news. “I just wish I could skate again,” he laments. “I feel crappy and nasty, but I did slide a flat bar the other day.”

A celebration/benefit for Browne will be held in Charlotte Saturday, Aug. 17, starting at 2 p.m. The event, to be held at 2004 Bay St. (near downtown between Central and 7th), will include skating, bands, skateboard raffles, a D.J. and beer; there’s a $10 entry fee. For more information, call 7 Doors Down (704-563-4377) or visit

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