Friday, January 31, 2020

Donna Shumate for District Court Judge

I am proud to lend my voice in support of Donna Shumate in her quest to become District Court judge for Alleghany, Ashe, Wilkes and Yadkin counties.

In 1998, I was promoted to sergeant with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.  One of my areas of supervision was Alleghany County.  Within a couple of months I found myself in district court presenting cases for wildlife violations.  It was in the courtroom in Sparta where I first encountered Donna Shumate.

For those unaccustomed with the courtroom experience, it can seem chaotic and adversarial. In all fairness, both of those descriptions are accurate at times.  However, there are individuals in the courtroom who bring a sense of order to the proceedings and work to bring a resolution to cases that are fair to all parties involved.  Donna was one of those people and it is a role she continues to fill.

While a sense of fairness and impartiality are crucial for a district court judge, a firm grasp of the law and its application are vital.  Building on a law degree from Campbell University, Donna has spent 26 years handling criminal cases ranging from speeding tickets to capital murder cases.  She has handled countless child custody cases, all manners of civil disputes and juvenile cases.  In a one notable case some years ago, Donna assisted a father who was a citizen of Mexico, living in Mexico, reunite with his three children. This case drew international attention because of the complex entanglements of family and immigration law.  Donna was interviewed by the Los Angles Times and Washington Post concerning this case, and spoke at American Bar Association Family Law Convention in Washington, D.C. in 2013 on the topic “When Immigration and Family Law Collide.”

Perhaps equally important to the professional qualifications, Donna and her husband, Chris Walker, are active members of our community. They are ardent supporters of Hunters Helping Kids, an organization that helps get kids outside and introduced to hunting. They are also members of the National Wild Turkey Federation.  Donna often plays the piano during worship services at Peak Creek Church of the Brethren where she also teaches Sunday School and works with the youth of the church.

Donna Shumate’s campaign theme is, “Experience Matters.”  For a district court judge a broad foundation of professional experience, community engagement and a strong moral compass are crucial.  Not only does “Experience Matter”, Donna has the type of experience that matters most.

Please join me in voting for Donna Shumate on March 3rd.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Eulogy for Sam Caveny

"A righteous man who walks in his integrity - 

How blessed are his sons after him"
Proverbs 20:7 NASB

June 5, 2019

As I write this my Daddy is dying.  While it seems sudden, he has been in a physical and cognitive decline for several years.  In no specific order he has had prostate cancer, heart bypass surgery, a stroke, cancer on his vocal cords, and two broken hips.  Perhaps the most sinister has been the creeping effects of dementia.

It was the last hip break that has put him down.  After a successful surgery, he developed pneumonia and spent several days in ICU.  Though there were days when it seemed that he was recovering, his overall tread for the past months has been downward.

So today, as he sleeps, I consider his eulogy. 

June 12, 2019
The Funeral

This past Saturday, my daughter, Elizabeth, came to visit at my mom and dad’s.  I had been there for four days and I had a desperate need to get outside for a bit.  I suggested to Elizabeth that we go for a ride.  Perhaps it was because I had been reflecting on my dad’s life and his impact on me that I felt drawn to Antioch Baptist Church and specifically the church cemetery.

Sam Caveny 2016
We parked across the road from the church and began a meandering walk through the cemetery.  I pointed out the graves of my Grandpa Harlin and Great Grandpa John.   I pointed to the lower end of the cemetery where two uncles were buried.  I showed Elizabeth the marker for my 2 Great Grandpa Columbus’s grave and a tombstone for a Civil War soldier craved by my 3 Great Grandpa R.C. Caveny in 1861.  It is an area steeped in Caveny family history.

I confessed to Elizabeth that I couldn’t define why it seemed so important to bring her there, particularly at that point in time.  But, it seemed vital that I share that place and snippets of stories with her about our family. Later it struck me that I was somehow trying to better understand our family’s legacy and how it was intertwined in the community for almost 250 years, particularly as that legacy relates to my dad.  


I have a hazy memory of Daddy walking up the drive after a day at work.  Since it was at what we later called The Little Red House I was somewhere either side of three years old.  While the image is fuzzy – Daddy got out of someone’s car – the childhood emotion I recall is vivid.  Joy. My Daddy was home.

Sometime after this, we moved into my childhood home.  Neither set of my grandparents had owned a home at that point.  Both Mama and Daddy moved many times during their childhoods.  Owning their own home offered stability they neither had known as children.  Daddy told me many times that buying that house was one of the scariest things he had ever done.  The monthly mortgage was equal to two of his weekly paychecks in those early days.  This house is still their home.

To fend off those financial fears, Daddy worked. Over the next 40 years he worked 55 hours a week at the mica mine.  Monday through Friday he was there from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm.  On Saturdays he worked a half day – 7:00 to noon.  It was a bruising schedule in a dusty environment that contributed to him developing COPD later in life.  Many evenings after his shift at the mine, he welded for folks for extra money. Daddy seemed to be in continual motion.

One of my favorite things during my childhood years was when Daddy went back to work at the mine after supper.  Usually this was the result of a mechanical breakdown of some sort.  While it added to an already long day for Daddy, he often took me and Dennis back to work with him.  In hindsight, I’m sure it was a potential OSHA nightmare.  But for inquisitive kids, it was the ultimate playground.  There was lots of noise and terrifying machinery that crushed rocks and heavy equipment that moved sand from place to place.  There was a unique smell of chemicals (some of them extremely hazardous) and dust that I still find oddly appealing.

The thing that struck me then and even more so as an adult, was how much Daddy trusted us.  There were many processes that we could have negatively impacted by turning a value or diverting a flow of water.  There were countless belts and pulleys that could snap off fingers and arms. But those explorations fostered a sense of curiosity about how things work and instilled a strong sense of self confidence in me and my brother.  Perhaps most importantly, Daddy demonstrated that when your talents are needed, you step up and apply them, even if doing so adds to an already long day.

When I was 14 or 15, I got a job mowing grass and doing odd jobs around the mine.  One afternoon, I was in the welding shop with Daddy.  He was building something that required cutting a large circle out of a metal plate.  He needed to calculate the number of square inches in that circle of steel.  I was ready to show him how smart I was by rattling off the formula of A=πr2.  Before I could blabber out my newfound knowledge of geometry, Daddy said, “Now if I measure from the center of the circle to the edge (the radius) and multiple that together (the radius squared), then multiple that by three (the approximate value of pi), it should get me pretty close.”  I have thought back to that moment many times.  It pointed out the supremacy of functional over theoretical knowledge.  While he may have been lacking a formal education, Daddy had practical knowledge that served him throughout life.

Daddy could build or repair most anything.  He built buildings and roads and furniture. He carved intricate figurines from wood.  He could repair a furnace, rebuild a carburetor and build a tractor from parts.  I spent many hours holding a flashlight and fetching wretches during these projects.  These were more than “how to” lessons for me.  Daddy taught me the value self-sufficiency and determination, along with a healthy a dose of stubbornness.

My last photo with Daddy
Daddy taught me about faith.  A favorite memory is of us going to the Easter sunrise service at the Kings Mountain Cemetery. Nowadays, those services come to mind each Easter Sunday.  I never heard a stereotypical “testimony” from Daddy.  Instead his was a lived faith.  I don’t recall ever not being in church or him not being there with us.  He served in a variety of roles in church. I even remember him leading music on occasion during the Sunday School assembly.  Daddy taught me to tithe and by example to trust that God would provide for our needs.  I recall a story he told many times of only having enough money for his tithe one Sunday morning.  To give it would leave him broke until his Tuesday paycheck.  He gave it all.  Then after church, someone paid him for a set of golf clubs Daddy had sold the man weeks earlier.  Perhaps that is why one of my favorite verses of scripture is Psalms 37:25 “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread.”  There are countless examples of God's provision for our family.

Daddy demonstrated how to interact with family.  I suppose every family has its dysfunctional side and ours is no different.  But Daddy modeled that we love each other regardless of our differences.  Once I moved away, he usually cried as we left after a visit and he would slip me a little gas money for the trip home. And it was more than family, Daddy loved people.  Whether it was at a family function, lunch at the café, or hanging out at a local store, he just enjoyed being with people.

While this is Daddy’s memorial service, I have to mention two people that have played an integral role in Daddy’s care over the past months.  We couldn’t have made it without my cousin, Kenneth.  His support has been invaluable. Kenneth had an easy way with Daddy.  Daddy loved him like a son.

And of course, there is Mama.  Daddy could be a little challenging.  He was forever bringing home his latest finds from the flea market and yard sales – there are still boxes of flower vases and a variety of broken power tools in his workshop.  He loved the challenge of resurrecting a piece of junk to its original functionality.  In the past few years, the dementia generated frustrating, compulsive behaviors such as ranking the yard. Mama took this in stride.  And in these last days, she gave him the care all of us hope for as we make the transition from this life to the next. I can never thank her enough for what she sacrificed for Daddy.

I’ve been in church all my life and I’ve heard numerous speculations of what we can expect in Heaven.  Most theologians say that we will be so awed by God that nothing else matters.  I know that is true.  But I do have a hope for Daddy.  I hope that Heaven has a little shop that is filled with old worn out lawn mowers that Daddy can repair.  I hope he has all the tools he needs and that when he finishes his repair work, each one will fire up and run like a sewing machine. That sounds like heaven for Daddy.

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one's youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.
Psalm 127 3-5a

Monday, February 11, 2019

From Addiction to Recovery to Meaningful Employment

According to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), people in Appalachia are 65% more likely to die from a drug overdose than those living in the rest of the country. Here in Alleghany County we experienced 11 drug overdose deaths from 2012-2016. While it is obvious that substance abuse is a health concern that strains our community’s social structure, a less obvious impact is how this crisis effects our local workforce.

Substance abuse is a complex problem with tentacles that reach into an individual’s life, the lives of their family members and out into the greater community.  This complexity makes successful, long-term interventions difficult to implement.  And due to the individualized nature of the problem, it is difficult to apply strategies with the hope that “one size fits all.”

To better understand what is working in Appalachian communities, the ARC is conducting a series of Recovery to Work Listening Sessions. Throughout the region, representatives from public and private organizations that are engaged in substance abuse treatment, recovery programs, and job training and placement are meeting with educators and employers to discuss how we move people along the path from addiction to recovery to skills training to meaningful employment.  A session was recently held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC.

The morning session brought together 35-40 individuals who set out to answer several broad questions.  One that was especially enlightening sought to clarify the barriers that impede someone on their journey from addiction to employment.  The answers that surfaced repeatedly were striking in their need for community engagement.

Recovery for most is a mixture of obtaining educational or job training, participation in 12 Step or other similar programs, and becoming gainfully employed.  This often translates to long days of moving from one place to another which can create transportation challenges. It is not surprising that many suffering with addiction have driving records that prohibit them from being licensed drivers or affording automobile insurance.  This forces those in recovery to rely on family and friends or public transportation to get them to where they need to be.  Since many entry level jobs occur during early morning hours, at night or on weekends, the transportation needs are intensified.  Missing work or appointments due to unreliable transportation was noted as one of the biggest obstacles for those in recovery.

Adequate housing was also listed as one of the top barriers.  Those with felony convictions, low credit scores, and poor rental records often find it is virtually impossible to find suitable housing.  Substandard housing often leads to higher energy costs.  This inability to secure proper housing can also inhibit or prevent the return of children from foster care.

Affordable childcare can be a challenge for someone reentering the job market.  In Alleghany County we have a noted lack of available childcare.  Again factoring in nights and weekend employment, child care is almost nonexistent.

Finally, low self-esteem can be a substantial barrier for reemployment.  After hearing (many for years) that they are “a disappointment,” or that they are an “addict” or a “drunk” many lack the self-confidence for the journey to productive work.  One innovative program director described how their goal was for everyone to leave their program clean and sober, and with a good set of teeth.  She shared that they had found that poor dental condition was a substantial barrier to employment.  She added that a pretty set of teeth also returns a smile that communicates confidence and relatability – both key factors in landing a job.

Why should we care about those on this journey?  After all, many have made a series of poor life choices and now must pay for those choices.  Is it really our concern whether they get a job?

The short answer is yes.

Various sources estimate that substance abuse costs the national economy over $500 billion each year.  That number seems unbelievably high until we consider an overwhelming percentage of crime and negative health outcomes are tied to alcohol and drug abuse. The National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that a lack of productivity due to substance abuse in the workplace costs employers $49 billion each year.  Those costs are passed on to us as consumers. Locally, most employers will attest that an inability to pass drug screenings is a top disqualifier for job applicants.  The costs associated with substance abuse effects us all.

It also personal.

Many of us know firsthand the devastating effects of drug and alcohol abuse on our families.  We can argue whether addiction is a disease or a result of poor choices.  We can debate whether we approach this problem through a lens of tough love or compassion or some combination of the two.  One thing is certain – few people successfully travel the path from addiction to recovery to work without a peer coming alongside them to serve as a guide – a North Star, helping plot the course for the journey.

Transportation, housing, childcare and a timely helping hand are way points along the path of that journey.  


This post originally appeared in the Alleghany (NC) News on 2/6/19