An open letter to the Henderson City Council

Dear Members of the Henderson City Council:

First, allow me to introduce myself. I am The Rev’d Donald Lowery, the Rector, that is, pastor, of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents’ here in Henderson. My church has a long and venerable place in the history of the City of Henderson. If my historical research is correct, we are the oldest congregation within the city limits of Henderson and we worship in the oldest church building still standing in the city limits of Henderson. From our inception in 1842 we have been a downtown church. Through many years, our parish membership has provided numerous leaders to this city and the surrounding county. We are committed to remain in city center and for that reason our destiny is inextricably tied to the health and well being of our town. I write both as a concerned citizen of this community as well as iri the role of pastor of the Church of the Holy Innocents’.

I am deeply troubled by some of the proposed budget cuts suggested by members of this council. I wish to speak to two areas that are a particular passion of mine. In some ways, all these areas reflect my long involvement with children and young people. I taught school in the year after my graduation from college. Afterwards, I took a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and worked as a school guidance counselor for several years. I have now been ordained for almost 20 years and have worked with various ministries related to youth and children, including traditional Sunday Schools and youth groups, ecumenical youth ministries and summer camping programs. I care passionately about the well being of our children, of all the children in our community. I am very proud of the fact that my congregation is both multi-racial and multi-cultural. We are white, black and brown, we speak. and worship in both English and Spanish. The services we can provide to our children are essential to the well-being and future of our community. In particular, I wish to address the desire to cut off the funding for our Public Library and the Recreation Department.

I love books. As an educator, psychologist and priest, I am convinced that reading is fundamental to the intellectual and educational development of every child. The books and literacy skills which our schools provide are only the foundation for a life time of reading and intellectual growth. Our library is a magnificent resource. I have lived in a number of communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. No community I have inhabited had a main branch library as magnificent as our own. It is a state of the art facility that recognizes that books are only one of the ways we learn in the 21st century. It is a vital adjunct to every school in the county by virtue of the resources it provides. I am impressed that it is within bicycling distance of a significant part of Henderson, including some of our communities most deprived neighborhoods. This library provides children and youth whose homes may not reinforce reading skills or may not possess many books with numerous opportunities to read or use computers. Yet its hours have been truncated and its staff is simply not adequate to meet all the demands placed upon it. Our children deserve the finest library possible, open at all reasonable times and staffed so that children can be adequately supervised and receive help and attention as they master the use of the many media it makes available.

This library is also a treasure for adults. Adults can not only read, but practice computer skills. Newspapers, magazines and computers along with books offer many ways for an inquiring adult to stay connected to the wider world. One can even search for employment opportunities through the media the library makes available.

I find it almost impossible to believe that the City Council would seriously consider abandoning a resource of such value to our community, located quite literally in the center of town. In fact, when I ftrst read about this in the paper, I thought it was joke, or perhaps a bit of political posturing preparatory to negotiating budget issues with the county. When I learned that some members of the city council were dead serious on cutting and eventually phasing out all city funding to the library, I was stunned.

We need visionary leadership if this community is to reinvent itself after the loss of so much traditional industry and agriculture. In many ways we are very much a city in decline. The library can play a vital role in our reinvention as a dynamic, prosperous and growing community. This library can a bright spot in the life of every child in Henderson. Please show vision. Please dream about all the creative possibilities this library presents and then make those dreams happen by fully funding, now and always, our wonderful library.

I move now to the matter of recreation department. It is my understanding that the recreation department began as a program of the City of Henderson. Faced with funding problems, and desirous of providing the best possible recreational opportunities for children in city and county, the City of Henderson went to Vance County Government and convinced them to become partners in this good work. Now the city threatens to walk away from this partnership.

Henderson has serious problems with juvenile delinquency, juvenile crime, teen pregnancy and, combining city and county, a High School drop out rate that is appalling. Speaking primarily as an educator and psychologist, it is has been demonstrated over and over again thai children who are involved in organized recreational activities and team sports generally fare better than those who are not, and this is particularly true for children from disadvantaged families.

Children and youth who are involved with the sorts of activities our recreation department provides will be less likely to have a negative encounter with the law. Children and youth with such involvement will be less likely to drop out, less likely to use illicit drugs and abuse alcohol and even less likely to have an unwanted teen pregnancy. Our recreation department is most certainly not a cure all. But it is part of the solution, not part of the problem. Again, I find it unbelievable that the city would seriously consider cutting funding to recreational programs that have the potential to benefit every child in our community.
As I stated earlier, Henderson needs vision if we are to have dynamic and prosperous future. I am convinced that our Library and our Recreation Department are part of the solution. I would plead for continued adequate funding for these two agencies.

I am reminded of the story of the Exodus from the Bible. Enslaved under pharaoh, and with no hope for the future, God decisively intervened for his people. Through the Red Sea, they were set free and launched on the journey to the Promised Land. Yet, all along the way, there were those who wanted to go back to Egypt and slavery. Our town needs a vision for its future. We need leaders of vision who like Moses of old can lead us from the bondage of economic decline and increasing poverty to a promised land of vibrant growth and prosperity. Will you lead us forward into a brighter future filled with hope for every one of the citizens of this community, especially our children and youth, or will you become our “back to Egypt” committee, taking us backwards into deprivation and despair?

I am sincerely,

Donald A Lowery
The Rector, The Church of the Holy Innocents’