On Monday, March 26, The News Reporter, Scalawag magazine, our partner in the recent six-part series on opioid addiction and the mental health crisis in rural North Carolina, plus Columbus Regional Healthcare, will host a forum on these issues at Vineland Station from 6 to 8 p.m.
UNC-TV will have a crew on hand to broadcast the first segment of the forum.
There have been several good conversations in the county about mental health and opioids, including outreach by the Sheriff’s Office into the county schools, but we want this forum to result in a call to action, and if it doesn’t, we’ll keep trying until there is one.
Nationally, there are 64,000 drug overdose fatalities each year, and for the second year in a row, overall life expectancy has declined due to overdose deaths.
In Columbus County, reporter Sammy Feldblum found an emergency room overcrowded with people dealing with acute mental health crises but having to wait days for a room at an in-patient treatment facility. A father said he dreaded the inevitable phone call telling him his daughter had died from an overdose. Feldblum saw how EMS and law enforcement are on the front lines of mental health care because people don’t know who to turn to for help, so they call 911. He learned that Columbus County leads the number of opioid prescriptions per person in North Carolina. Now, more people are turning to heroin as the drug of choice.
The forum will be instructive. We’re still putting the panel together, but it will include locals and others from state and national organizations. Professionals, laymen who help counsel those dealing with mental health issues and addiction, or anyone who cares about the ravages of these terrible afflictions, are invited to listen, participate and help.
We know what the problems are; now let’s try to find some solutions.
If you’ve been by The News Reporter over the past year and noticed the lights on a little later than normal, it’s because we’ve spent hours here and with colleagues at the UNC School of Media and Journalism in Chapel Hill working to reinvent ourselves.
We’ve hosted focus groups and conducted surveys to find out what people want.
Soon, we’ll have the first News Reporter app, which will provide text alerts of breaking news and sports and be a portal for easy access to the new nrcolumbus.com website.
It’s no secret that technology, social media and the digital revolution have changed the landscape of how people get information. If we learned one thing, it’s that wherever our audience is, we have to meet them there.
Notice that I said “audience” and not “readership.” Communication today takes many forms, and the visual is quickly becoming just as important as the written word.
Some new initiatives have already begun. We have a free newsletter, “The Trend,” that is emailed every other Thursday. It’s targeted toward a younger audience and is written in a brighter, youthful voice on topics like fashion, style and things to do, but the early feedback is that all ages enjoy it. You can sign up at nrcolumbus.com.
You’ll hear a lot more about a number of interesting changes in the coming weeks.
Kayaking Soules Swamp
In a small town, adventure is often what you make it, so Becky and I loaded up our kayaks one Sunday afternoon and kayaked Soules Swamp.
Local governments have used grant money to snag several clogged streams and waterways that contributed to massive flooding after Hurricane Matthew. We had heard that the run of Soules Swamp east of the Madison Street bridge had been snagged and was a nice paddle.
The run is surprisingly well defined, wide and quite pretty. We ran a couple of dozen wood ducks and one angry heron away from their resting spots. We made it about 10 minutes downstream, but encountered a massive beaver dam that easily made the water level behind it at least two feet higher.
I’m sure the city and county will continue to fund ongoing beaver trapping and snagging projects, especially prior to hurricane season to mitigate what will certainly be contributing factors for flooding if left unchecked.
Judging by an aerial map, it appears that Soules Swamp offers an easy 30-minute trip downstream, then back to Madison Street for a nice one-hour paddle.
If the city were to build a small landing and dock, Soules Swamp would offer another box to be checked for unique things to do here, provided the water is high enough.
They will always be
I saw something a couple of weeks ago in The News Reporter that made my day.
On page 2B of the sports section was a photo of the Chadbourn Middle School girls basketball team, which won the middle school B-League championship.
Chadbourn Middle has seen some tough times. The school census hovers around 100, which is the minimum threshold for a school. In a couple of years, it will be merged into a new combined middle school in Cerro Gordo.
I am an assistant coach for the Central Middle School girls soccer team, and in September, we played Chadbourn Middle School. It was near the end of the season, and Chadbourn brought only seven players to the match. It was hot and they had no substitutes while we fielded 23; their chances of winning were slim.
Central won by mercy rule, but the game reminds us why sports is important.
Adversity is a great teacher. When you are part of a team, you stick with your teammates through thick and thin, even if things aren’t going well and others have quit. It took character for those seven girls to get on the bus that day, knowing that the game wouldn’t end well for them.
I imagine some members of the Chadbourn Middle soccer team were also on the basketball team.
My hope is that these girls will always remember that hard work and perseverance can help anyone achieve greatness, and that no matter where life takes them, whether it’s one year or 70 years later, they were champions, and nobody can ever take that away from them.