“We are covering their scars to heal their hearts”–Shanese Spaulding, co-owner of Carolina Hair Loss & Prosthetics

Shanese and I spoke on November 13, 2020. For the better part of two weeks now, I have felt somewhat unqualified with regards to how to fully share the Good News about Shanese Spaulding’s and Sharon Smith’s new business, Carolina Hair Loss & Prosthetics. I think I finally put my finger on it…..you’ll have to read to the end to see if you agree.

For three years, Shanese Spaulding worked as an analyst at Gibson Cancer Center in Lumberton where she would assist Sharon Smith in fitting patients for wigs. Spaulding said that “watching [Smith] put smiles on people’s faces” motivated her to register for Smith’s hair care school (Smith Natural Hair Academy). The two began talking about their ideas and visions for a business, and (as they say) the “rest is history”. Carolina Hair Loss & Prosthetics opened in June 2020. From making custom medical wigs to offering mastectomy bras and breast forms, as well as offering lymphedema products, Spaulding and Smith strive to make their customers feel “beautiful again, whole again”.

In talking with Spaulding, I was amazed at how involved wig making actually is–a person’s head shape, allergies, and other factors are key in determining if a person is eligible for a synthetic or human hair wig. And wigs can be quite costly, ranging in price from $500 to $3,000. In addition to helping customers who are experiencing cancer treatment related hair loss, Spaulding and Smith also help people who are suffering with alopecia or who are burn victims.

What’s the Good News?

This edition of Good News from a Good Neighbor has been the most difficult for me to write because I don’t feel like I can fully capture how important Carolina Hair Loss & Prosthetics can be to our community. Thankfully, to this point in my life, no one in my family has been diagnosed with cancer. Thus, I don’t have a direct personal story to tell. Plus, I’m not a woman, which is to say that while I might look a lot different without hair, most of society isn’t taken aback by a man with no hair. But a woman with no hair is a different story. And yet, I would tell you that I have an extremely high level of empathy for people with hair loss in the midst of cancer treatments. It’s got to be hard enough to be diagnosed with cancer. Then, you feel miserable with treatments, and then your hair falls out. And people can say they’re ok with no hair as long as the treatment works. I can appreciate that sentiment–certainly your overall physical health is more important than hair. But still….it’s your hair. You’ve lived a life where the only reason it has changed to this point is because you wanted a different color, a different length, or a different style. And good grief….if you’re a woman with no hair….well EVERYONE will look at you differently.

So you don’t feel like yourself, and you certainly don’t look like yourself. Maybe a wig will help you feel better about your appearance. Except many health insurance policies (including Medicare/Medicaid) do not pay for hair loss services. I don’t have an exact reason for that, but my assumption would be that a wig is not considered “medically necessary”. Given the fact that wigs can be expensive, many people are unable to afford this ability to feel “normal”.

That brings us to the good news: In the process of opening Carolina Hair Loss & Prosthetics, Spaulding and Smith established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called “Make a Wig Foundation” with a goal of helping people regardless of their financial means. So far, Spaulding and Smith have helped 50 people with wigs. Some of that is due to the early donations made to the foundation. However, there have been quite a few wigs that have been completed not because of money, but because of a simple desire to watch a person’s entire demeanor change simply because of hair.

When Spaulding told me about her customers, she told me that “it makes [me] proud to see them cry tears of joy”. I have thought about that statement quite a bit over the past 10+ days. I think it has finally occurred to me that Carolina Hair Loss & Prosthetics isn’t selling a product. Sure, they have products that people can see and touch. But the more I reflect on their business, the more I think the product is simply a means to an end. The reality is that Spaulding and Smith are providing people an opportunity for a sense of normalcy; they are in the business of helping people “fit in” with the rest of society. As Spaulding says about her new career, the sense of personal satisfaction is felt most when a person says, “I feel like a woman again”.

And as we begin to see the end of 2020–a brutal year by most accounts–the term “Good News” isn’t nearly a strong enough term to use when we are talking about someone simply feeling normal again, and simply feeling like themselves again.

**If you would like to donate to the MAKE A WIG FOUNDATION please contact Shanese Spaulding at 910-887-2015. Carolina Hair Loss & Prosthetics is located at 1903 N. Pine Street in Lumberton

“If you have a thriving downtown, you have a thriving community”–Dencie Lambdin, Chair of Main Street Lumberton Committee

I spoke with Dencie Lambdin on the phone October 19, 2020. Speaking on the phone is not nearly as much fun as meeting in person, but in the days of COVID, we make adjustments. I have known Lambdin for quite a while now, when she was the Director of Communities in Schools of Robeson. Not long ago, Lambdin began a new chapter in her life and she now volunteers with Main Street Lumberton.

Why Not?

You’ve been there–the downtowns of Boone, Blowing Rock, Southport, Southern Pines, Wilmington. You’ve walked in and out of the local boutique shops; you’ve sat at a table, under an umbrella and enjoyed lunch from a sandwich shop; you’ve had cocktails and dinner at a great locally owned restaurant. And if you’re honest, I bet you’ve asked at least once, “Why can’t we have something like this in Lumberton?”. Well, there are 20-plus members of “Main Street Lumberton” who are responding to that question with a question of their own–“Why not?”

Around 2 years ago, with guidance from Connie Russ and other city leaders, Lumberton began an accreditation process with an organization called Main Street America, with a goal of preserving and revitalizing our downtown. And with accreditation comes opportunities for access to resources which range from intellectual guidance in areas like planning, regulations and marketing, as well as financial guidance and grant opportunities.

As the chair of the advisory committee, Lambdin has been leading a group of motivated citizens to develop an annual plan and a 3 year strategic plan. At this point, there are three main areas of focus in the annual plan:

  1. Promoting Downtown–Marketing. This subcommittee is primarily focusing on the development of downtown maps and event calendars that can be accessed online, as well as in print.
  2. Design–Aesthetics and impressions are critical to a thriving downtown. Improvements have already been made, as seen with the large mural and the smaller paintings on the sides of some of the buildings. The smaller paintings (photos attached below) are actually the work of students from Lumberton High School art classes. Additionally, this committee is developing a plan that will guide future downtown renovations with respect to maintaining the historical appearance of the buildings while also having a degree of uniformity.
  3. Economic Vitality–this involves working with the city to create rules and guidelines for historical preservation and appearances of store fronts, as well as business and consumer friendly ordinances, such as outdoor seating at restaurants that serve alcohol.

What’s the Good News?

Downtowns don’t thrive by accident. Downtowns aren’t highlighted in Our State magazine without years of behind the scenes planning, hard work, and–frankly–money. While Lambdin and others are certainly doing the planning and putting in the hard work, the City of Lumberton continues to make investments to improve the infrastructure of the downtown area. Additionally, the partnership with Main Street America opens doors for additional funding sources that will no doubt improve our chances of success. As Lambdin said, “Once the bones and structure is in place, then we can strategically grow to a thriving and bustling downtown. And if you have a thriving downtown, you have a thriving community.”

In a previous edition of “Good News From a Good Neighbor”, I commented on how students and faculty at Southside Ashpole School believed in their ability to be successful before they could see results. That same notion comes to mind when thinking about downtown Lumberton. After reflecting on my conversation with Lambdin, there is no doubt that the volunteers with Main Street Lumberton believe they will be successful. But this does beg the question: Do WE, as citizens, believe? Do WE understand the importance of having a thriving downtown? Will WE support the businesses–especially those businesses that are first to take a chance and locate downtown before it becomes the popular place to be?

For probably 10 years or more now, community members have been working to improve the appearance and atmosphere in downtown. From my perspective, it seems that the progress made in the “early years” of this effort was more a result of shear determination and grit. (And kudos to everyone who has been involved in this effort in the past.) Today, the good news for Lumberton and Robeson County is that a growing group of volunteers at Main Street Lumberton has learned from the successes and setbacks from the early years; they have found large scale guidance and access to resources through Main Street America; they continue to gain support from the city itself in investing in downtown. Those “human” elements, combined with the natural beauty of the Lumber River and the diverse color scheme and appearance of the historical buildings, should give us plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of downtown Lumberton.

Let’s all look forward to the days when we stroll the downtown streets shopping, dining, and coming together as a community. Let’s look forward to the days when–instead of saying “I wish we had something like this”–we can say, “Its is great to have this right here in our backyard!”

http://www.ci.lumberton.nc.us/351/Downtown-Main-Street

“Kids Are Care Detectors”–Dr. Kenneth Bowen, Southside-Ashpole Elementary School Director

I met Dr. Kenneth Bowen on November 8, 2019 at Southside-Ashpole Elementary School in Rowland. Bowen is the Director–as opposed to the normal term we hear of “Principal”–of the school, and just with that information alone, you know that something is different at Southside-Ashpole. If you were not aware, this school became the first school in the state to become a member of the North Carolina Innovative School District. Bowen brings an impressive mix of education, business, and leadership experience to the school, and he has quickly demonstrated his ability to integrate that experience into what appears to be a fresh start and bright future for students.

Believing is Seeing

You will perhaps recognize this phrase as scripture in the Bible or from the Christmas movie Polar Express. While Dr. Bowen didn’t use those words to describe his marketing strategy at Southside Ashpole, they seem to fit perfectly with what he is doing. But if you’re thinking of “marketing” in the traditional way that a business thinks of advertising its product to consumers, you are missing the target.

Before I elaborate on the marketing strategy, recall that Southside-Ashpole was a school that previously ranked near the bottom of any state-measured statistical performance category. And with those results, year-after-year, it’s not hard to imagine how a negative mindset can take hold. How do you get students, teachers, and the community to believe success is possible when what they have seen is far from it?

In my short visit with Dr. Bowen, it is clear that he has an adept ability to mesh his business and entrepreneurial skills into the school environment. He understood that his initial target audience (his “consumers”, if you will) for “marketing” his ideas for success is actually the students, teachers, staff, and parents–the people “inside” the school. He has to convince them that success is possible. Proof of this change is seen in a short conversation I had with Ms. Whittington, who works in the office. When I asked her what has changed at the school, without hesitation, she said, “we have an expectation that we will succeed”.

Ms. Whittington’s comment begs the question: Succeed at what? For Bowen, that is a simple question to answer. He has changed the focus from students being judged on passing a test at the end of a school year to focusing on growth. In fact, the school’s mission statement is now a simple statement that anyone can remember: “To Grow and Achieve Together”. Bowen told me that “we all speak the same language [at the school] and that revolves around the question of ‘How are we growing?'”.

When hiring teachers, Bowen said the first thing he looks for is heart. He commented to me that he can provide many forms of professional development for teachers. But he cannot provide professional development for “how to love kids”. He continued by saying that “Kids are Care Detectors. They know if you really care”.

Difference Makers

I have been to many meetings during my professional life. Instead of setting myself up for failure by trying to implement all of the tips and suggestions learned at these meetings, my goal is to bring back one or two ideas that I may be able to implement easily in my office.

As I write this, I wonder what one or two ideas an educator (a system superintendent; a school principal; a teacher) could take to his/her school and implement with success. Here are some of the things happening at Southside-Ashpole that are unique–“difference makers” in my opinion–and that are having a positive effect on the school’s growth goals.

  • Southside-Ashpole is a K-5 school. There are two teachers in every grade level, with an educational partner in both Kindergarten classes and one educational partner serving 1st Grade, and another serving 2nd Grade.
  • Students have PE every day. They have art and music instruction on alternating days. One of the ways that music education has immediately proven its worth at Southside-Ashpole is the creation of a school song. I was able to watch a video of 5th graders singing the song. It was incredible. It was easy to see the pride the students had in helping to create it, and then to perform it. The school song is part of Bowen’s “marketing” strategy to help students verbalize and reinforce a belief in their ability to grow.
  • All teachers are assigned to one of eight small teams that meet periodically and report back to the larger cohort of teachers with success and strategies. Everyone has a place to be involved on teams such as the Student Learning and Growth Team, the School Climate, Culture, and Events Team, and the Parent/Community Advisory Team.
  • Play Therapy: in partnership with UNCP, a classroom at Southside-Ashpole has been set aside to allow space for play therapy. An example would be a student who has experienced the death of a family member. This student would have scheduled time to talk and play through those emotions and challenges with a professional counselor. The room currently being used is set up with comfortable chairs, toys, and an area to color and draw. It’s not hard to imagine how this helps the student (and his/her family) at home and in the classroom.
  • Learning Commons: You and I would have known this space as the library. And while there are the normal library items (books, computers, couches, etc), the “librarian” isn’t what we traditionally think of. This person is not always in the library. Rather, this person is in classrooms, helping teachers integrate technology and other resources into their teaching.
  • Parent Center: soon, Southside-Ashpole will have a space for parents which will include a washing machine and dryer, along with computers and sitting area. I LOVE THIS IDEA! The ability to have a center devoted to parents, making it easier to take care of important tasks while being a vital part of their child’s education is extremely valuable. Kudos to Dr. Bowen for offering this space. Improved student attendance, parent involvement at the school, and improved morale are just a few benefits.

I recognize that Southside-Ashpole has somewhat of an advantage over a larger school system in that it becomes easier to implement changes in a small setting. Sort of like turning around a ski boat as opposed to a cruise ship….it’s just easier. At the same time, many of the improvements at the school have nothing to do with money or size. Rather, in this case, it starts with Dr. Bowen’s leadership (although it certainly doesn’t end there). He firmly believes people will rise to the expectations that are established. He communicates those expectations in simple and consistent ways (a focus on growth, for example) so that everyone from students to teachers to bus drivers can tell you what the goals actually are. He provides opportunities for stakeholders to take ownership of meeting expectations (sub-committees for teachers, students creating a song). He (and his staff) care about the students and their success.

What’s the Good News?

The changes implemented at Southside-Ashpole seem to evolve from a recognition that simply teaching core curriculum subjects often isn’t enough in a society where schools are expected to be all things to all people. Dr. Bowen recognizes that there are external factors influencing student achievement. He has quickly demonstrated the ability to integrate “outside the box” opportunities (such as the partnership with UNCP to provide play therapy, as well as providing a parent center) with a clear mission and set of expectations.

Without exception, everyone at Southside-Ashpole believes they can succeed. That belief started before anyone could see results. There’s no doubt there have been many changes at the school in the past few months, and based on my short time visiting with Dr. Bowen, it won’t be long before there is at least one more change: They will believe AND see the results of their hard work! I can’t think of anything more exciting for the students, teachers, staff, and parents to experience!

“We allow them to make mistakes”–Brad Losh, Boy Scout Troop 301 Leader

On September 16, 2019, I met Brad Losh, Boy Scout Troop 301 leader at the “Scout Hut” which has been home to 301 for many years.  Since 2001, Losh has been the Troop leader, but he says he thinks of role as more of an “advisor” as opposed to leader. With that mindset, Losh strives to let the scouts lead themselves, which provides outstanding opportunities for real-world learning.

Several years ago, an Americna Flag was donated to Boy Scout Troop 301.  But this wasn’t just a normal flag. It was a 48-starred flag; it was used by Troop 301 when it was chartered in 1946; and it was donated by an individual who was a Troop 301 scout in those early years.  How do you get young people to understand and appreciate the significance of what that flag means–not only as a symbol of our country, but also as an artifact of the scout troop? And at the same time, how do you keep adolescent boys committed to scouting in a world where they are rarely separated from some from their phones? 

Losh will tell you that “we don’t know what it is” when asked why Troop 301 has been so successful in making scouts relevant to today’s youth, while still preserving the traditions from decades ago.  In the sense that “it” isn’t just one thing, Losh is correct. There are many “it”s that have helped 301 flourish.  

Before I describe them, it is important to understand how Losh defines success for 301.  One way is to talk about the number of scouts who have earned the rank of Eagle. Troop 301 can claim 154 Eagle Scouts, 59 of which have come under Losh’s leadership, and 20 of them since 2014!  Losh is proud of that track record, while also quickly pointing out that this is not the only way to measure success. For Losh, evidence of success is seen when a former 301 scout comes back to watch current scouts receive rewards; success is seen when a former 301 scout reaches out and invites him to dinner; success is seen when a former 301 scout applies the skills he has learned to his own life and adventures.  Essentially, Losh notes that it’s important that a scout doesn’t “quit being a scout” when his time with Troop 301 is over.  

So, what is “it” that has made Troop 301 flourish?  Losh is admittedly disorganized, often “flying by the seat of [his] pants”.  And while that may be true, you should not think that Losh isn’t prepared to lead Scouts.   He is incredibly clear and consistent with his expectations of scouts and works hard to “not mess it up”.  Here’s how he does it:

  • Specific Priorities:  Family, Church, School, Scouts.  In that order. Losh tells members of 301 that scouts is last on that list.  A child should not have to choose between scouts and other obligations or interests (they can coexist).  And when a child is forced to choose, in is opinion, scouts will lose every time. If a scout has to miss a series of meetings because he plays soccer at school, for example, then that’s ok.  He is welcome to come back when his schedule allows.
  • A short list of rules:  Losh demands respect for adults, the National Anthem/American Flag, religion (any religion, he points out), and the scout uniform.  These are “non-negotiables. Easy to understand, easy to enforce.  
  • “We allow them to make mistakes”.  This one, by the way, may be my favorite.  Losh can tell countless stories of times when failures have occurred:  cooking a hamburger that was as hard and black as a hockey puck on the outside, and as raw as the moment it was taken out of the cooler on the inside.  He’s even seen scouts skip classes at summer camp and not earn the merit badges that were needed to advance in rank. But in the end, Losh and leaders always seem to have extra food to make sure everyone eats; they always find a way to work with a scout to get him back on track.  Losh is quick to point out that allowing scouts to make mistakes doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. But what better place and time to learn from mistakes?  
  • Parental Support:  Repeatedly, Losh mentioned this as one of the reasons Troop 301 continues to thrive.  From attendance at meetings and camping trips to financial donations, parents have played a critical role in supporting Losh’s leadership and the goals of scouting.

What’s the Good News?

When I started “Good News from a Good Neighbor”, it wasn’t my intent to focus on groups that work with youth.  But my first two interviews have been just that, although they typically work with very different children. Ron Ross, at Boys and Girls Club, said that over 90% of the students he works with come from a single-parent, low income home. On the other hand, Brad Losh (Troop 301) has been fortunate to have incredible parental support (both with time and money) for his scouts.  Regardless, they are strikingly similar in that they allow children to be independent, to make decisions, and to learn from the consequences of those decisions (good or bad). They both trust kids to make the right decision. That trust, combined with clear communication and expectations has allowed children to learn lessons and skills that are critical in the “adult world”.


“I have learned strength from young people”–Ron Ross, Boys and Girls Club of Lumberton

On August 20, 2019, I had breakfast with Ron Ross, the Executive Director of Boys and Girls Club of Lumberton.  As I listened to Ron tell countless stories, my mind wandered just a bit.  Not because of boredom.  But, rather, I found myself asking why I waited so long to follow-through on the idea of Good News from a Good Neighbor.  Ross has been, and continues to be an incredible asset to our town, to the organization he represents, and to the children and their families he works with daily.

“Ron Ross Boys and Girls Club”.  He says it in the same uninterrupted cadence that you and I say our own names.  It’s as if his first name is “Ron Ross” and his last name is “Boys and Girls Club”.  But I’ve never heard Ron Ross Boys and Girls Club introduce himself in any other way. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to spend time talking with Ross, I have a new appreciation for the way he introduces himself: it is a reflection not only of his tenure with Boys and Girls Club, but also of the passion he has for working with children.

Ross has been affiliated with Boys and Girls Club since 1968—51 years!  And if you subscribe to the idea that some things are “just meant to be”, then the story of Ross’ beginning days with the organization will certainly add credence to your belief.  In Fayetteville, at the age of 17, Ross had a part-time job cleaning dishes at a restaurant.  He would take the bus to work, but since he didn’t get off until midnight, and since bus service didn’t operate at that hour, he literally would walk home.  Occasionally, he would “thumb it”, as he calls it.  One day, he was picked up by a person who introduced himself as the director of the Boys Club (it wasn’t called Boys AND Girls Club until 1990) and offered him a part-time job.  The appeal of working shorter hours and ONLY having to walk 2 miles home was too much to pass up.  And so, in a serendipitous moment, Ron Ross’ dedication to the Boys and Girls Club began. 

In the mid-1990s, the process began to establish a Boys and Girls Club in Lumberton.  Ross was approached by James Meacher (who, by the way, sold me the winning Duck Race ticket) to apply for the position of Executive Director.  The only problem was that Ross didn’t have a resume.  In fact, he never had a resume, since he had worked for just one employer since the age of 17–which was, or course, the Boys Club in Fayetteville.   His solution was to simply cut out an article from a local magazine that had highlighted his successes at the Fayetteville club, and send it in (eventually, he admits, he did prepare a “proper” resume, but that version of the story isn’t as much fun to tell).

Speaking of stories, Ross can spend hours talking about his work with young people, and those are Ron’s stories to tell—not mine.  But I can tell you that a common underlying thread is a consistency in how he interacts with children.  The approach he has taken with the boys and girls who have come through the program demonstrate lessons that every parent should want to teach their children.

What’s the Good News?

For two days, I have been thinking about how to eloquently elaborate on those lessons.  I have finally come to the conclusion that Ross’ words are profound enough on their own.  I have listed them below, with very brief commentary. The Good News from a Good Neighbor this month is simply that Ron Ross Boys and Girls Club is who he is, which, in a word, is passionate.

  • “You can do anything you want to do.  But are you willing to pay the consequences?”  This is a message that Ron asks young people who are on the verge of making an unwise decision.  I really like how Ross empowers the person to make their own decision.
  •  “What we think is tough, is not tough.”  Ross puts an emphasis on “WE.”.  Ross has seen first-hand some of the “tough” situations that children experience.
  • “Can I help the person change their life?  They’ve got to do it.  But can I help?”
  • “I have learned strength from young people.”

A quick snapshot of the Lumberton Club:

Currently, there are about 230 youth in the Boys and Girls Club of Lumberton, ranging in ages from 6 to 18.  The fee is $5 per school year, and $5 per summer.  Ross points out that many clubs in North Carolina and throughout the country charge substantially more, making it a barrier for access.  If a child doesn’t have the money to pay the $5, they can “work it off” by sweeping, cleaning, or doing other chores around the club.  The club is open Monday-Friday after school from 2-6pm, and during the summer from 9am-4pm.  During the school year, children arrive at the club and are given time to play and “unwind” from their school day.  At 4:00, “Power Hour” begins, which is a time for the children to do their homework (with assistance from Ross or other staff members when needed).  At 5:00, the students will participate in various programming, such as the “Smart Moves” program (which is an alcohol/drug prevention program) or the Cal Ripken program (which promotes exercise and sportsmanship).  At around 5:30, there is “left over” time to play or finish homework. 

One of the highlights of the year is the Christmas Party, where every child who shows up (whether they are Boys and Girls Club members or not) gets a Christmas present.  I have had the opportunity to help hand out presents several times.  You should make a point to do the same. 

If you would like to volunteer or donate to Boys and Girls Club of Lumberton, Ross can be reached at 910-738-8474.  The club is located at 1310 N. Seneca Street, Lumberton.

Tell Me Something Good

The idea for this blog has been incubating in my head for a while now. But it was just an idea with no follow-through. That is, until I won a Duck Race (my rubber ducky floated 100 yards down the Lumber River the fastest) sponsored by the Boys and Girls Club of Lumberton. I haven’t been able to explain exactly why, but that simple “victory” provided enough motivation for me to actually follow-through with a plan that has the potential to improve my attitude and my perspective. In that regard, Good News from a Good Neighbor will be, in a sense, therapeutic–hopefully as much for you as me.

I have been a State Farm agent in Lumberton since 2004, and the only reason I bring that up is to say that I have lived in this small community for 15 years and I have witnessed many people “doing good”. On the other hand, I only took one journalism class in college–on the topic of censorship–and it was certainly not about developing an ability to interview people or write an article with any sort of journalistic integrity. So this could be interesting for many reasons.

Good News from a Good Neighbor is a blog about the many good things happening in Robeson County, North Carolina, and the people who devote their time and energy to making those things happen. Every month, I will be having a cup of coffee with these people, learning more about them, and the groups and organizations they represent. Hopefully I can adequately pass along to you what I learn.

I think the singer Chaka Khan said it best: “Tell Me Something Good” (and now that chorus line will be stuck in your head all day). And that, simply, is my goal with Good News from a Good Neighbor–to tell you something good.