Archived Opinion

Remember the privilege of giving

By Bill Nolte • Guest Columnist

Last week I was providing my ongoing parental taxi service. I can’t remember if we were rushing to soccer practice or Wednesday night church activities or wherever. From the back seat one of the kids said, “Daddy, why do some people have really good houses and some people have really bad houses?” As I looked out of the window, I saw what the kids were seeing. New or well maintained homes with beautiful landscaping and homes with peeling paint, broken windows and unkempt yards. The amazing thing was that these homes were not in different neighborhoods or communities. Sometimes only a row of trees or a pasture separated these homes.

As you might imagine, I didn’t have an easy answer for the question. Poverty is a deep and complex issue. I’m often frustrated by politicians who give simple answers like, “We just need to train people for a good job.” Or, “They just need to get out and work for a living.”

While good training and hard work are essential keys to long-term economic success, they are not the only answers to addressing poverty. Truth be known, I am a little frustrated that I don’t have any good answers to the questions surrounding poverty.

While I worked at Pisgah High School, Bethel Elementary School and Waynesville Middle School, the staffs had the practice of reading books together. The level of participation varied from school to school and year to year. However, the purpose was always the same. We were working on skills to help students improve reading comprehension.

At Waynesville Middle School Roz Buchanan, our lead teacher, decided that we needed to select a book that also taught us more about our students. Roz selected Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty. It was captivating. I can remember running through the house on several occasions to find my wife and read her passages from the book. I usually followed my out-loud reading with comments like, “That’s my mama.” Or, “That sounds just like Aunt Birdie.” If you are perplexed by poverty as I am, I challenge you to read Payne’s book. She has an eye-opening way of explaining how folks in poverty, the middle class and the upper class think and respond to life.

For Haywood County and many other parts of the country, we are impacted by poverty on a daily basis. For example, 40.9 percent of our students receive free or reduced meals at school. That means that four out of every 10 students live near or below the poverty level. While many of these students do well academically, their path to academic success is often more difficult than students in middle and upper income homes. They deal with additional distracters and barriers as they move through life.

The holiday season is a particularly difficult time for children in low-income homes. There is extra pressure on parents to provide what others get. There is also the additional burden of heating costs on low-income budgets. I ask that you consider all of this as you prepare for the holidays.

Schools don’t have governmental funds to help low-income students with holiday gifts. However, the schools do a good job of coordinating the generosity of individuals, churches, professional organizations and civic groups. Please consider giving to your favorite charitable organization during the holidays. Each school coordinates donations to help needy students. The Haywood County Schools Foundation also raises and distributes funds for needy students. While the holidays are an important time to give, it is also important to give during the year. Poverty is a year-round problem for many of our families, friends and neighbors.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. once said, “Think of giving not as a duty but as a privilege.” He obviously had more money to give than many of us. Nevertheless, we are privileged if we have enough to give to others. We are also blessed when we help make other lives better.

(Bill Nolte is the associate superintendent of Haywood County Schools. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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