Anson County July 2023


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

The Extra Miles Tour arrived in Polkton, NC to join community representatives for a lunch hosted by South Piedmont Community College (SPCC). SPCC President Maria Pharr emceed the lunchtime discussion that covered a lot of territory, but the conversation kept circling back to one particular area of interest: Mental health and substance use. In this context, Dr. Pharr emphasized the critical importance of bringing so many stakeholders from the community together: “Mental health speaks to the health of the community. Here in one room, we have health care, education, law enforcement, social services. Mental health challenges impact all of your work.”

The health care representatives on hand emphasized the importance of bringing together services to make whole-person care easier to access. Andrew Ward, CEO of Sandhills Mental Health, talked about efforts to get licensed therapists into local schools. By making day treatment options more easily available in an environment where children and youth feel comfortable, the county can increase the odds that patients will show up for the care they need. This also has the added benefit of minimizing the stigma that’s attached to mental health care. Seth Goldwire, vice president at Atrium Health, discussed how the county’s nationally recognized emergency department shares the same footprint with primary care services, making it easier to ensure that patients stay healthy. Atrium’s long-term goal is to integrate mental health care into this same complex.

Representatives from the law enforcement community also discussed the importance of integrating health care into operational procedures related to the justice system. This work is especially important at this historical moment when substance use disorder is becoming more and more prevalent. Sheriff Scott Howell talked about his office’s efforts to reduce bonds and transfer arrested persons to hospitals when appropriate: “So often, jail is not where they belong.” Anson Correctional Institution Warden Miranda Richardson discussed her strategy to make sure that prisoners leave her jurisdiction with a continuity of care plan in place. In prison, inmates have access to health care resources … something that many of them had not had or utilized before. They leave prison on a better footing than before, and Richardson wants to ensure that their health’s forward momentum doesn’t stall upon their release.

Continuing this thread, subsequent discussion focused a lot of attention on the county’s goal of developing a multipurpose facility to house the sheriff’s office, a jail and mental health services all in one location so that treatment options are immediately available.

Following the community lunch, the Extra Miles Tour journeyed to Morven, on the other side of the county, to visit HOLLA! (Helping Our Loved Ones Learn and Achieve).

Executive Director Leon Gatewood founded the organization in 2005 to help address the fact that only 3 out of 10 Black children in the community were reading at grade level. With a grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation, in 2011 HOLLA! grew into the site that once housed the local hardware store.

The historic building that had long stood empty is now bustling with activity. In fact, when Blue Cross NC visited, the voices and laughter of happy children in the next room threatened to drown out Mr. Gatewood’s presentation! He explained how the organization offers a variety of program activities designed to lay the foundation for long-term success. The site’s greenhouse provides a space to teach children about gardening and clean eating. There’s a large arts space where children can rehearse for shows (prepping for and putting on a performance of The Lion King has been an organizational highlight: Through a grant, kids were able to take virtual courses led by cast members in the Broadway show). A media center provides free access to computers and the internet – two resources that are vital to academic success these days. Mr. Gatewood was the first Black student to play tennis competitively at his local high school. That youthful passion continues to influence his work at HOLLA!, which houses a pristine tennis court in the back and offers 26 participants free transportation to a tennis camp hosted in Salisbury, NC.

Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from HOLLA!’s work in Morven. Every Tuesday, Atrium Health (with the support of the United Way, NC Counts and the Golden LEAF Foundation) brings its mobile clinic to HOLLA!, where it provides free services. This reflects the organization’s growing significance as a hub of community-health activity.

One of the highlights of Blue Cross NC’s visit to Anson County was hearing from the children themselves. On the day that we visited HOLLA!, they were busy composing “acronym poems” – writing down an adjective for each letter in their name to say something about themselves. Several budding authors were brave enough to recite what they’d composed.

The spontaneous poetry reading was a joyful celebration of self and a potent reminder of everything that’s possible in Anson’s future.

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U39702, 8/23