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Local leaders find reasons to be thankful amid a pandemic

Local leaders find reasons to be thankful amid a pandemic

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In a year of so many challenges — like stay-at-home orders, missed family gatherings and lost loved ones — the people of Catawba County found the silver lining in it all. Ahead of Thanksgiving, the Hickory Daily Record asked community leaders and members: What have you found to give thanks for amid a pandemic and other issues facing us this year?

They responded with gratitude for their faith, their families and, overwhelmingly, the community they live in. They were eager to express their thanks.

Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry Executive Director Rev. Robert Silber

Clearly, as so many agree, 2020 has been a tumultuous and trying year, pushing us to our limits at times. A pandemic, with universal impact on our lives, with so many infected and with too many deaths. Racial unrest erupted in multiple cities across the land as we were reminded that all lives matter and all voices should be heard. An election season that seems to be never-ending, with polarization many have never experienced before, and with each side deeply entrenched in their beliefs.

Many other voices have opined about all these matters to the point one more voice may do little to ease the tumult, resolve the issues or bring us peace and solidarity. When asked by this paper what I am thankful for this year, in the midst of the tumult, I suggest that one more voice, God’s voice, is all that is necessary to restore calm and comfort.

Throughout the year, I have found comfort in the Serenity Prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”. Indeed there are many things that none of us can change, but truths to which one can cling: God, prayer and thanks. As a pastor, I remind us all to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). When we commit ourselves to God, pray and give thanks to God, we experience the universal truth of God’s love and will for us. We find peace. We find comfort. We find assurance.

What am I thankful for this Thanksgiving? I’m thankful for God’s voice that calls some to be first responders, including emergency workers and front line medical workers. For a God who gives scientists and doctors the intelligence to study viruses and discover vaccines and treatments. For a God who nudges each of us to support those in need during pandemics and throughout the year. For a God who opens our eyes to see those who hunger, keeping food pantries stocked and able to provide hunger relief. I’m thankful for a God who hears us pray without ceasing. For a God who loves humanity more than we love each other. For a God who teaches us that all lives matter and all voices are important. For a God who reminds us that God is God and we are not, and even if an election fails our desires, we will be OK as God reigns supreme. Most of all, I am thankful that, even with all of our human shortcomings, God loves us unconditionally. I am thankful for God’s will for each of us in Christ Jesus.

Will you join me in rejoicing, praying without ceasing and in everything giving God thanks?

Catawba County Public Health Director Jennifer McCracken

In a normal year, I would say that I am thankful for the more than 40 community partners who dedicated their time, resources and energy to improve and protect the health of our community through their participation in creating the comprehensive Community Health Assessment this spring and who are working to create action plans to address our county’s most pressing health issues.

But this year is a little different, as our community’s focus has been on preventing the spread of COVID-19. This year, we are thankful for all the amazing community partners who have come together to address this crisis and help protect our residents. Their collaboration and support has been invaluable. However, the most valuable partners through all of this have been you, our fellow residents. We have seen a tremendous outpouring of support from the people of Catawba County, and we value each sacrifice you’ve made during this pandemic — from wearing masks, even though they can be stuffy and inconvenient, to staying six feet apart, even when all you want to do is give someone a hug — all the way to your generosity in giving to organizations that we rely on to help our community’s most vulnerable. I feel extremely blessed and grateful to live in a community like Catawba County, where people genuinely care about helping others.

I would also like to thank the family and friends who have supported Public Health’s response to COVID-19, and personally, my own family. You have been patient and encouraging, even as we work long hours and sometimes get discouraged. You help us soldier on, and for that we are thankful.

Hickory branch NAACP Political Action Chair Sherbia Jones

First of all, I am thankful for life, health and strength every day. In my lifetime, I have everything that makes me feel happy and blessed: God, church, family and friends. I am happy that God has been in my life to give me the knowledge to live, laugh and love.

I am blessed to have the opportunity to serve and help others who are less fortunate than myself, to be available to lend a listening ear to many in need who are not “being heard.”

I am blessed to have the opportunity to engage, challenge and inspire young people to be strong and know that they can be and accomplish anything that they can imagine and set their minds to achieve. More importantly, be a witness to them by showing that even when life knocks you down, you can get back up and stand tall.

My health is important as I am blessed with good health, which provides me the energy and inspiration to be present for others. I am thankful that my family and friends have not contracted the virus. My strength comes from the Lord who can do all things.

I am thankful that I can encourage people to be safe, use safe practices like wearing masks, washing hands and keeping social distance.

As a proud member of the NAACP, I am thankful for so many others that have partnered with the NAACP to ensure equity and justice for all. Be thoughtful and careful for yourself, family and the community this Thanksgiving season.

Catawba County Department of Social Services Director Karen Harrington

I try to practice gratitude regularly, not just at Thanksgiving, but this year, especially, I find myself counting my blessings daily. The past several months have added an additional perspective for me and a greater appreciation for things I took for granted in the “pre-COVID-19” world.

As the director of Catawba County Social Services I see the very best and sometimes the very worst of humanity. Some days the level of hurt and need in the community is so overwhelming and my sense of hope limited. Since April, I’ve been overwhelmed by how much good there is in this community. I’ve seen a community rally around the needs of their neighbors. I’ve seen nonprofits and other service providers contribute thousands of pounds of food to those without food. I’ve seen community volunteers continue to call and ask how they can help deliver meals to our shut-in and vulnerable senior citizens. I’ve seen community leaders personally knock on the doors of young, single moms and hand them diapers and other necessities. I’ve seen fear and uncertainty replaced by love and kindness and generosity.

I’m blessed to live in this great community. I’m privileged to oversee the day-to-day work of the social services department. I’ve been humbled by a team of social work staff who have shown up day after day after day, without complaint despite their own needs and fears, to carry out the essential mission of my department. I’m full of hope at this point and truly that is what I am most thankful for this year.

Catawba County Library Director Siobhan Loendorf

There is so much to be thankful for. First and foremost, I am thankful for the amazing staffers who keep the libraries open amid the pandemic, ensuring critical access to resources for information and entertainment. I am grateful for their ingenuity and dedication to making sure that libraries stay open and safe.

I’m also grateful for the Friends of the Library groups, who have stayed active and supportive throughout the pandemic, hosting book and gift basket sales to sponsor ongoing programs.

The State Library of North Carolina deserves thanks for funding that enhances the library’s ability to connect people to the resources they need to succeed. Through an NC CARES grant, the library is providing tablet computers for check out and Wi-Fi in the community to help bridge the digital divide. The Community Navigators project is another grant-funded program making a difference by helping people figure out how to access resources for housing, food, addiction and more.

I feel very fortunate and thankful to live and work in Catawba County. We have a great community and excellent county leaders who care about doing what’s right.

Catawba County United Way Executive Director Jennie Connor

It is important each day, and especially during this season, to be keenly aware of those around us and to be mindful of their needs — both spoken and unspoken. What needs might they have? Do they appear distressed in some way?

Listening and observing can be our greatest asset and this leads me to what I am most thankful for …YOU. You, the person who notices, feels empathy and takes action. Why am I thankful? Because we are all only passing through this grand life, setting the tone for those who will follow. Nope, I am not a bleeding heart. I am just a human who is thankful for those of you who believe that everyone has an important role in this chapter of life we have been fortunate to share.

So, there it is. I am, and will forever be, thankful for you.

Catawba County Board of Commissioners Chairman Randy Isenhower

We all have so much to be thankful for despite trying circumstances. Foremost, I am thankful for the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, and the hope, comfort, and peace that God gives. This is constant no matter what the circumstances.

I am thankful for a great supportive wife. Thankful for my children, and grandchild. Thankful to have and had supportive Christian parents and. grandparents. Thankful for the ability to serve the great people of this county, along with fellow commissioners and good county staff. I’m thankful to be living in this county, with its friendly citizens and great spirit of cooperation. In reflection each of these survive what circumstances we may face, including a pandemic.

Catawba County Commissioner Kitty Barnes

Thanksgiving in the midst of a worldwide pandemic has given me time to reflect on the many people who have risen to meet the challenges presented.

Our first responders, medical personnel and public health staff are working continuously to keep us safe. Since my son is an emergency room physician, I have learned the complexity of issues they deal with.

Our three school systems are working hard to deliver a quality education with challenges that seem to change daily. Virtual learning has complicated lives for parents, students and teachers.

Our nonprofits are providing relief for many challenged families, thanks to the generosity of individuals with both their time and money.

W.T. Purkiser has written, "Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of Thanksgiving.” I am truly grateful for the resilience of Catawba County.

Betty Anthony, Hickory NAACP member

I have a lot to be thankful for, pandemic or not. First and foremost I am glad to be able to praise God and give him all the honor and glory realizing he is still on the throne and in control of this universe. I am thankful for the lives of my family during this pandemic and know that it is by the grace of God, our savior that we have survived so far, and tomorrow is not promised. Because of the vengeful COVID-19 and its sniper-like ability to attack at random, it is that I can be thankful for the simple things in life.

With the cost of food getting higher, I am thankful that I have been able to maintain and have enough food and shelter to protect my family from the weather, and yet there are still many homeless people who are not as fortunate and I plan to reach out and do my part to help others who have less.

I am thankful for all the front line people who give of their time and services, especially our teachers in the school system to keep education going for our children, in-house and virtually, for our future depends on our children of today that they should learn and get the necessary skills to lead tomorrow and keep America great.

I am so thankful for our new leadership in our country and for the opportunity to invoke a more positive outlook for all American lives, not just Democrats or Republicans, but for every American.

I am grateful for communication services, especially the telephone, for we have been able to continue with our church services, Bible study and other needed church meetings.

This list of gratitude would be incomplete or even dismissive without mentioning my late husband Glenn D. Anthony, a pioneer of my family’s faith and values and whom we dearly admired.

The Rev. Antonio Logan, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church

In Psalm 92:1-2 (it) says: ”It is good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High: To shew forth thy loving kindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night.”

I thank God that we in this great United States have chosen Nov. 26th as Thanksgiving Day.

This scripture informs us that it is good to be thankful. Being thankful reveals humility and acknowledges that we realize that it was almighty God that is so good to us by providing and protecting us.

It has been said that your “attitude determines your altitude,” in which I truly believe that this merits some truth. To not be thankful can be a sign of pride and even becoming self-centered. We should be cognitive realizing that it is God’s faithfulness that keeps us while we sleep and slumber every night and every morning that he allows us to awake to see another day.

I myself am so thankful and grateful to God for my family he has blessed me with.

Thank God for my mother God blessed me with who is now 88 years of age and in her sound and grateful mind. She raised six children, two girls and four boys. Imagine six children using diapers and not the convenience of Pampers. We always had three meals and dessert. We always went to Sunday school and morning worship without any excuse.

Well, it seems to have paid off because all six of us are still alive and in good health. This is nothing short of God’s goodness.

Also I want to give God thanks and the highest praises for four beautiful children which all are grown and fulfilling their careers. I can’t thank God enough for seven grandchildren who love their ‘G-Daddy!’

Today we are so challenged with this dreadful disease known as Covid-19 which has taken so many lives of all ages. So many families have to face this Thanksgiving without their presence.

My deepest and most sincere prayers are offered to them all that the God who speaks to the storms of life (and they have to obey), would grant you the peace and strength that only he can give.

Finally the Bible says in Psalm 100:4-5: “Enter into His gates with Thanksgiving and into His courts with Praise: Be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good: His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.”

Dr. Fred Whitt, president, Lenoir-Rhyne University

In my more than 40 years in higher education, I have never seen a year like 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic, social justice issues and deep political divisions created incredible challenges and presented us with complex situations this year.

I am profoundly grateful for the Lenoir-Rhyne family and the support and partnerships with the entire Catawba County community. The extraordinary collaboration and partnerships we enjoy have provided the unwavering support to strengthen and shape our resolve during this incredible year of uncertainty.

This makes me so thankful for the opportunity to live and work in such an incredible community.

Our students, faculty and staff have led the way with their response to these challenges. Their thoughtful discussions, adherence to new and sometimes awkward guidelines, and optimism about the future inspire me every day. I also am thankful for our health care partners like Catawba Valley Medical Center, Frye Regional Medical Center and Catawba County Public Health who have been instrumental as we created and implemented our COVID-19 response plans. Their heartfelt work on the front lines dealing with tragic patient and family issues demonstrate they are our community angels.

In 2020, our community has shown its best self and proven that we have what it takes to meet the challenges we face. For that, I am eternally thankful.

Catawba County Commissioner Sherry Butler

This year has certainly had its challenges. The pandemic has been the most difficult to navigate. As I reflect back on the year, I am thankful for all the many blessing that God has given me. I am thankful for my salvation through Jesus Christ, God’s grace, my family (especially my six grandchildren), my friends, and my health.

I am blessed and thankful to live and have been raised in a county that shows Christ love every day in the way they serve and treat each other. A place where neighbors help neighbors and are there for each other especially in difficult times. I am humbled and thankful to the employees of Catawba County government who have continued to work during this pandemic to provide services to the citizens.

My prayer this Thanksgiving is that our nation will humble ourselves before God, pray, and seek His face and turn from our wicked ways. I wish everyone a safe, blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!

Chamber of Catawba County President Lindsay Keisler

This year has certainly been one like no other, but the response to the adversity we have experienced has been very revealing and inspiring.

One distinct privilege of my role, and something I often take for granted, is having the vantage point of seeing our community from a bird’s eye view. I see and regularly interact with businesses of all sizes, nonprofits, education, health care and local government. I have seen locals rally around efforts to support our local businesses and nonprofit organizations. I have seen manufacturers shift their production to retain talented workforce, while filling the critical need of personal protective equipment. I have witnessed educators teaching students in person and through a screen, simultaneously.

I have marveled at how retailers, arts and culture organizations, restaurants, and fitness facilities have pivoted into the digital space, offering online ordering, social media sales, educational content and more.

I have applauded a powerful social justice movement that has denounced racism and acknowledged the work that needs to be done to create a more equitable community that all may succeed. I have watched neighbors serving neighbors, through providing food for students in need, displaying teddy bears or hearts in their windows as a sign of hope, making grocery store runs for the immuno-compromised and elderly and quietly choosing to wear a face covering to protect those around them.

All of these are a mere sampling of what has occurred but are indicative of the definition of who we are as Catawbans. Our history is filled with examples of our resilience, perseverance, and creativity in hardship. From the Miracle of Hickory during the devastating polio epidemic to the more recent Great Recession, our community continues to pull together, hunker down and come through bruised but not defeated. The COVID-19 disruption continues to prove no different. In the face of great losses, of heartbreaking real stories of friends and family no longer around our tables, of financial and personal setbacks, and the promise of more trouble around the corner, let us pause, remember, and reflect.

I choose to not look down in defeat, but to look up in hope. More than ever, I am thankful for the community in which I choose to live, work and raise my family.



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