Author Archives: Nicole Plavnick

On Hunger, Giving Thanks, and Paying It Forward This Holiday Season

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and while many associate the holiday with turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and giving thanks, a quick history refresher on the origins of the holiday shows it has roots in caring for one another.

That’s right – after the Pilgrims arrived at the would-be Plymouth in late 1620, cold temperatures, disease and a lack of food made their chances of survival slim. These chances of survival greatly improved when local Native Americans offered their help to the Pilgrims for finding and growing food. In November 1621, roughly a year after their arrival in the new land, the Pilgrims held the First Thanksgiving in celebration of their first successful corn harvest. The Pilgrims gathered around for a three-day feast and invited their Native American allies to join – after all, the Pilgrims could not have made it this far without their help.

With this in mind, it is important to approach Thanksgiving not only with gratitude in mind, but also with an inclination to help others and pay it forward. This may be a food-centric holiday, but hunger is still an issue for many in the U.S. In 2015, the national food hardship rate was 15.8%. For households with children, this rate was even greater. Research shows that 19.2% of households with children had food hardship in 2015, while the rate of food hardship in households without children was five points lower, at 14.2%.

On a more local level, the numbers are even worse. North Carolina ranked 13th in the top 20 states with the worst food hardship rates in 2015, at 17%. For metropolitan statistical area food hardship rates in the 2014-2015 year, the Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia area came in 26th out of 109 for the worst food hardship rates, at 19%. Further, the North Carolina Association of Feeding America Food Banks states that, “1 in 4 children in North Carolina are food insecure, 81% of North Carolina households don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and 36% of food pantries in North Carolina have had to turn people away for lack of food.”

Although many of these households receive SNAP benefits, the benefits are not intended to completely fulfill a family’s food needs. As the program is set up, families using SNAP are typically expected to purchase some food from their own resources. Despite the assistance SNAP offers, many families still struggle to be fully fed by the end of each month. The reasons for this lingering hunger range from under- or unemployment, to the expensive nature of life. In one study on hunger in the U.S., results showed that 69% of families had to choose between food and utilities, 67% between food and transportation, 66% between food and medicine, 57% between food and housing, and 31% between food and education. So while food is important, these families are in situations so desperate, they are having to make extremely difficult decisions.

We have a hunger problem – both at the national and local level. If you are interested in helping families facing this very real issue this holiday season, join us at the Ada Jenkins Center in our Thanksgiving Meal Assistance project. Our goal is to provide a Thanksgiving meal to all families who qualify for assistance. By donating anything from the list below, you can make a difference.

So what do you say? In honor of the origins of the holiday, let’s give thanks, and pay it forward, too. Let’s help make sure everyone has a reason, and the means, to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. Thank you, and happy Thanksgiving!

To learn more about how you can give, contact Janice Hinton. 

The Ada Jenkins Free Clinic Works to Keep Our Patients Healthy

Coughing, sneezing, fevers and chills – the inevitable flu and cold season are upon us. Fortunately, the Ada Jenkins Free Clinic is working to keep people healthy.

Our medical clinic offers free services to uninsured individuals in North Mecklenburg and South Iredell counties. A person must only show a valid ID and proof of address to be eligible. We are accredited by the North Carolina Association of Free and Charitable Clinics at Level III, which is the highest level of accreditation awarded.

The 2015-2016 Fiscal Year proved to be a great success at the Free Clinic, and we have the numbers to back it. Of all 1,038 individuals who used our medical services, 97% said their health had improved after receiving care at our clinics, and 63% reported fewer hospital admissions. We assisted patients in 2,289 medical office visits and nurse consultations, and had 241 first-time, new patient visits. In total, our patients received $320,690 worth of medical office visits for free.

In addition to the medical knowledge and advice we were able to offer our patients, we were also able to provide them with medicine. Over $244,000 of prescription medications were provided to our patients at no cost through NC MedAssist, and over $36,000 worth of in-kind medications were distributed directly at Ada.

And of course, we could not have had such great success without the help of our 222 medical volunteers, who collectively logged over 5,000 hours of work for our program and patients. These volunteers include, but are not limited to, physicians, mid-level practitioners, nurses and nursing assistants.

While the 2015-2016 Fiscal Year was one for the books, we hope to help even more people this year. If you are eligible for our services and find yourself in need of medical assistance, be it a cold, the flu, or something else, our clinic is open every Thursday evening with the exception of holidays and inclement weather. No appointment is necessary, and sign-ups start the day-of at 4:00 p.m. (doctors typically start seeing patients around 6:00 p.m.). Our services are free, and we welcome donations. You can learn more about the Ada Jenkins Free Clinic here.

**Starting Thursday, October 20, we are offering Free Flu Shots at the Clinic while supplies last.


[1] As reported on the North Carolina Association of Free and Charitable Clinics’ Annual Outcomes Report, 2015.

[2] Based on 2015 Usual and Customary Rate values provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

The Importance Of Transportation For Getting Out Of Poverty

For many unemployed people living in poverty, finding a job is only half the problem. The other half? Getting to work.

Owning a car can be an enormous financial burden. In one article published by the Boston Globe, the author notes that transportation can cost as much as ¼ of the family budget for an average family of four. Further, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Survey, administered in 2009, the cost of driving a car has been increasingly expensive, with an overall rise in the cost per gallon of gas since 2000. The survey results also show that approximately 24% of households living in poverty do not own a vehicle, while over 98% of households with an income of $100,000 and greater own at least one.

When owning a car is so costly, accessible and well-maintained public transportation can be a worker’s ticket to clocking in and rising out of poverty. There is a positive correlation between a city’s implementation of public transportation and the likelihood of a person living in that city to rise “from the bottom fifth to the top fifth in income across generations.” Of the top ten cities for social mobility identified by Raj Chetty, an economics professor at Stanford University who does research on the topic, five – New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Seattle – are also top-ranked for public transportation and physical mobility in the United States.

The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) helps people in North Mecklenburg get where they need to go, and is continuously expanding. Currently, CATS offers public transit in the form of buses, light rail trains and street cars. Additionally, it is the largest system in the U.S. between Atlanta and D.C.

Here at Ada Jenkins, we are helping our client-partners by handing out CATS bus passes on a monthly basis. It’s a small gesture that can have a huge impact on a person when it’s the difference between being unemployed and having a job. Learn more about CATS, including routes and bus schedules, here.


Author: Elizabeth Davis

Ada in Action: Emily’s Story

Emily’s Story




I initially came with my service dog, Blaze, to the Ada Jenkins Center to meet with Crisis Assistance Ministry for financial assistance. Some time later, we returned because we no longer had a place to live. All of our belongings were in storage and we lived in a nearby hotel. Blaze and I went back to Ada Jenkins and after speaking to Tina, the receptionist, I realized the Center had much more help to offer.

From our initial visit, “Ms. Smiley-Happy” as I like to call Tina greeted us with enthusiasm but also firm professionalism. As she explained the available services, all I could do was smile. That was a good thing, because my smiles were few and far between. Volunteers greeted me with the same enthusiasm, as did my case worker Cara. Other staff acting on my behalf continued this mission of support and assistance, sometimes with increasing effectiveness during my stumbling-blocks and snags. All of my case workers were and are still very supportive and most of all encouraging. They continued to do everything they can to help ease our journey and make our transition better. They were all receptive of my service dog, Blaze. I believed we were receiving extra favor from the Ada Jenkins staff and volunteers…and then I realized that this is a great group of folks who are just doing their jobs, and doing them really well.

From the time we stepped inside the Center or remained outside sitting and waiting, we felt comfortable and genuinely cared for. The Staff and volunteers supported us by instructing, referring, and managing. They made certain we had food, water, and temporary shelter, the most basic of human needs. At a time when you feel discouraged and broken, these needs are incredibly important to have met. I am so grateful for the pep talks, the straight talk, the prayers, and even facilitating a 911 call for immediate help. Sometimes people are helped but not in the way that they need to be helped at that particular time. Sometimes it is almost enough, but not enough. This type of help keeps them continually seeking services until the cycle is broken and their needs are appropriately met.

I know this may sound like an advertisement, but this is truly how I feel. The Ada Jenkins Center is a one-stop shop; your needs are assessed, you receive counsel, you are helped as well as followed-up on. I cannot thank my case worker, Cara, enough for all that she did and continues to do for me and Blaze. Much thanks to her co-worker, Michelle, for assisting and backing Cara up. Other thanks to Jenni, Georgia, Janice, and last but not least Willie and Tina for helping keep Blaze hydrated and his tail wagging. This surrogate family is truly needed for myself and blaze, as well as for other individuals and families seeking help.

While in the care of the Ada Jenkins Center, I utilized the computer center, printing services, the food pantry, dental screening, financial assistance, housing referrals, hotel assistance, and transportation referrals. I also used the Center as a safe place to cool off and escape the summer heat.

The Ada Jenkins Center has changed my life and reminded me of God’s promise of Grace, and that no one can ever keep me from that. The Center and its staff and volunteers became a physical reminder that God is with us through green pastures, and He also makes a way to bless us through our valleys. I found hope in my discouragement. I gained endurance through my homelessness. I sought friendship in my loneliness. I gave forgiveness from my disappointment and anger. I am better because I walked through the doors of the Ada Jenkins Center. I asked for help…and they gave it to me.

Saddling Up For A New School Year

By Elizabeth Davis

With August in full force, families are gearing up for a farewell to summer and a return to school.

Education is important, especially when there’s a positive correlation between the levels of education attained and median income. According to the results of a study published by the Mecklenburg County Manager’s Office, county residents with graduate or professional degrees have a median income that is 2.5x greater than that of residents who did not graduate from high school or earn something of equivalent value (such as the GED).

Further, in Mecklenburg County, 11.2% of residents have less than a high school diploma, and of these people, 30.9% live in poverty. Poverty thresholds vary depending on the number of individuals in a household, but for a family of four the national poverty line sits at an income of $23,834, to put things into perspective.

Although high school graduation rates have increased across all races and ethnicities since 2010, with the most recent data (from 2014) showing that 93% of whites, 87.3% of Asians, 82.6% of Blacks and 74.3% of Hispanics are graduating, there is still room for improvement.


Room for improvement? That’s where Ada Jenkins comes in. For more than fifteen years, we have been running our LEARN Works program. Through this program, students in grades 1-8 who demonstrate a need for additional academic support are provided with extra attention and help in their learning endeavors.

Each afternoon begins with snack and quiet reading time. Students are encouraged to choose their own story and to practice critical thinking skills by writing a few sentences about the story at the end of each chapter. After recess on the playground (our kids have been at school for a long time by this point!) instructors and volunteers lead students in guided reading and help with homework.

Our one-on-one focus with students is incredibly beneficial for them. Students are expected to grow 5 points in reading and 3 points in math per year. One boy, John, grew 8 points in reading and 11 points in math in just one semester! Our kids are often smart but they have one of four issues affecting them at home, and sometimes a combination of these issues:

  1. Poverty
  2. Language barriers (over half of our students are Hispanic)
  3. Cultural issues
  4. Learning disabilities

To address poverty and language barriers, we are applying a two-generation approach to breaking the cycle of poverty. Students often have family members enrolled in other programs at Ada Jenkins Center and we have case managers that work specifically with those families to help build success for students and parents simultaneously. We have a bilingual Family Engagement Specialist who serves as a liaison between the LEARN Works and Human Services departments.mario

LEARN Works focuses its efforts under three main goals – to promote academic development, foster personal growth, and provide enrichment experiences. Although LEARN Works does not directly impact the number of students who earn their high school diplomas, it is preparing students early on by instilling in them the determination, as well as providing them with the skills and motivation, important for staying in school.


Ada in Action: Scenes from Love Week

Last week was Elevation Church’s annual LOVE Week, and they poured out love on the Center and our community. Volunteers worked in the pantry and organized a carnival for our client-partners, their children, and members of the community. Parents and kids were able to play games together and receive a free meal.

Thank you Elevation!







Ada in Action: Guest Post

Our People

by Danielle Rifkin, Davidson College student



The Ada Jenkins Center and the nearby Davidson College’s long history of partnership benefits both the Center and Davidson’s student body. These benefits become immediately evident in even a short conversation with volunteer Jonathan Ferguson (’17), an English and Classics double major who has been working with the Ada Jenkins Center for almost three years now. An aspiring teacher, Jonathan has spent his time in LearnWorks, Ada’s after-school tutoring program where students who have demonstrated need for academic support are exposed to one-on-one help with homework, skill-building activities for academic development. In his time volunteering Jonathan has gained as much knowledge as he’s passed on.




Jonathan’s strength lies in his ability to relate and connect to his students.  “I’m pretty subdued, just around people my own age” he told me, “but something about being with kids…you can really be animated with kids and they love that.” The classroom is where Jonathan is in his element. He shines there because he is so well able to empathize with the students. He has a magic touch for putting himself in their shoes when necessary.

If you polled a grade school classroom on their favorite part of the day, the overwhelming majority would likely say recess. Jonathan, who is looking to spend the rest of his life in the classroom, also votes recess. Though he sheepishly admitted to a “probably not very academic” favorite, his answer is the best way to demonstrate his biggest strength in the classroom.

You can’t blame students for wanting recess all day, especially LearnWorks students who have already had a full day of school before arriving. “Even I’m not in class for that many hours” Jonathan mused, realizing that he himself would be none too thrilled in that position. Recess helps him form a connection, so that when the time rolls around his students are more inclined to listen when he says, “okay, we had our fun time but now we have to get back down to business. If I have been playing with them, you know playing tag with them or talking with them on the playground then…its like ‘I have to do this too’… I think if I just sat on the bench while they played they would look at me as sort of the enemy who was making them crack back down.”

In addition to the importance of recess, Jonathan learned the importance of cultivating mutual respect in the classroom. It’s crucial, he says, to “talk really plainly, and directly to them, just as if they were my age. I think that’s pretty key, not to talk down to them, but to talk to them just like they’re a fellow learner…just know that they want to be respected, just like you would want if you were being taught something.”

Jonathan undeniably offers guidance and knowledge to his students, but it is equally clear how much he has learned in the process. A huge part of Jonathan’s time at Ada has been spent learning to try different methods and figure out what is best for each student. A key factor in learning to teach is learning that everyone is different, “some people are auditory, some visual, some tactile.” While some kids like learning multiplication tables through the spontaneity of rolling dice to see what numbers they’ll be multiplying, others prefer to see it written out on the white board. Ada has also taught him to be patient because “they need some time to figure out whether you are a good guy or a bad guy… once they do its great.”

The lessons extend beyond classroom skills as well. “It makes me really appreciate the people that teach me and the struggles that they probably go through …it makes you appreciate education, and also makes you appreciate that this culture of Davidson is not the norm.”

The effect Ada has on those it serves and those who serve it is undeniable and in many ways unbelievable in scope and power. Clients, staff, and volunteers alike walk away deeply impacted. Talking with Jonathan, even for a short while, demonstrates the beautiful reciprocity of the relationship between Ada and its volunteers.

Ada in Action: Rachel’s Story

Rachel, a single mom with two children, is a domestic violence survivor. When she became homeless and turned to the Ada Jenkins Center, we partnered with her to find shelter, food, and financial assistance until she could stand on her own two feet again.

Many client-partners use Ada Jenkins’ services, but we serve as an outpost for incredible partner agencies as well. Rachel received a referral from Crisis Assistance Ministries to Safe Alliance, a local organization that was able to provide interim housing and counseling while Rachel worked with our case manager to find a permanent home.

Rachel now works for a cleaning business and is in high demand for her detailed work and ethical standards. She and her children continue to work hard and keep moving forward, despite barriers encountered along the way.

Using our two-generation approach to breaking the cycle of poverty, we have been able to assist Rachel’s whole family. Rachel’s son has made in incredible improvement in the classroom since living in a stable home, and his teachers have commended him for his great work.

To our staff, from Rachel:

“You deserve to know how much you mean to me. I’m in a lot of pain but compared to what I experienced, I guess this isn’t really anything. I’m mentally trying to hold it together and ask God for help every day. I thank Him so much for having y’all on my team because I don’t have much of a support system. Y’all really are all my kids and I need, though. I paid rent on time this month. Last March, I felt like my world was falling apart and look at me now. Thank you.”

Ada in Action: Charlyn’s Story

We firmly believe that education is the key to ending poverty, and we love working with client-partners like Charlyn to further their education!

Charlyn P

As a single mother, Charlyn came to the Ada Jenkins Center seeking employment, education and housing. She worked closely with one of our case managers to develop a plan to meet these goals. Charlyn has interests in hospitality, tourism and project management; after encouragement from her case manager, Charlyn applied and received the ANSWER scholarship to pursue her dreams. She currently attends Johnson C. Smith University and is working towards a Bachelor’s degree with a focus in in Business Administration.

Despite her challenges as a single mother in school, Charlyn’s grades are excellent. She has been recognized multiple times for her outstanding GPA and excellence in education. Recently, Charlyn was chosen for the Women Initiating and Nurturing Growth through Scholarships (WINGS) program.

Charlyn continues to stay in touch with her case manager and the Ada staff, who she has nicknamed “Ada’s Angels”. We are overjoyed to hear of her continued accomplishments and can’t wait to see where her education takes her!

Trips for Kids Bike Safety Clinic

Biking and cycling are very popular in the Charlotte area, and it’s no different here in Davidson! We live in a very bike and pedestrian friendly town with access to the greenway, Fisher Farms Park trails, and trails surrounding Davidson College. To promote bicycle safety, Trips for Kids Charlotte teamed up with local officials, bike path designers and volunteers to put on the Davidson Bike Safety Clinic at the Ada Jenkins Center. We’d like to thank all who came out to volunteer their time to put this on. Special thanks to John Finney of Spirited Cyclist who fixed and adjusted bikes and even donated one for a giveaway! This was a hugely successful event and we hope to host another clinic in the future.

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