My family’s Eastern North Carolina roots meant I grew up with NASCAR in the background on TV. I barely paid attention, and outside of being able to tell you that a man named Richard Petty drove a race car, I couldn’t have told you a thing about the sport until I attended my first race in the fall of 2014.
I was lucky enough to learn a little bit about it from a former NASCAR pit crew member who patiently explained it to me. There’s much more to it than cars going fast around a track. My favorite part may have been watching the pit crew at work. It is fascinating.
As much as winning the race depends on a great car and a talented driver, it also depends on the performance of the pit crew, who can either shave off or add thousandths of a second to a car’s time. Those thousandths of a second could win or lose a race.
If you watch a pit crew in action, seven members function like a machine, completely in sync with one another. In a span of fewer than 15 seconds, cars are jacked up, four tires changed, windshields are cleaned, gas tanks are filled, shocks are adjusted, and mechanical adjustments are made to the car. They do it all with a limited number of tools: two wrenches, one jack and two cans of gasoline. Today’s pit crew members have to be in top physical condition and even train like athletes. In fact, NASCAR actively recruits conditioned college athletes as pit crew members. Winning is the goal.
This past year, several community partners have been the “pit crew” for a homeless teen and her baby.
Our young friend came to us from a neighboring community when the family she was staying with left her stranded at Mission Hospital during her pregnancy when she needed prenatal care. The hospital contacted a local agency, which sent a cab and brought her to Henderson County to a place that could provide safe shelter. As is common in our community, we quickly came together and formed a team to help.
With her needs of shelter met, keeping our friend in school was the next goal. She enrolled in the Children & Family Resource Center’s Adolescent Parenting Program and enrolled in school.
Prior to coming to our community, her desire to stay in school had been met with encouragement to “drop out for a while” until her life stabilized. She did for six months, and that makes me cringe. She was almost a statistic because more than half of teen mothers are high school dropouts.
It was a shame as she is a bright young woman, easily performing in the top 5 percent of her class. I’m proud to say that our local schools embraced her, and she’s in the hands of a group of educators who are seeing to it that she can overcome the barriers that would make it so easy to quit instead of getting her education.
With her life stabilized and surrounded by people who care about her, we’ve seen a determined young woman emerge. Knowing her baby was soon due, she worked extra hard to complete her senior project ahead of time and meet all of her academic deadlines so she could focus on him when he was born. She accomplished her goal.
What we see is a young woman who, with our help, will overcome the odds. Her life has been unimaginably difficult and one that would cause many to fall through the cracks.
For her to stay in school, her son needed child care. Our local school system has an excellent program for teen mothers at Balfour Education Center, where babies are cared for in a five-star, early Head Start child care program located in the school. There, he is in a loving, nurturing and educationally stimulating environment with trained early childhood educators who can ensure healthy growth and brain development for young children.
I tell people all the time that there’s something magical about this place. Our network of human service providers does an incredible job helping our community’s most needy. Because of our community’s size, we can collaborate well with one another. We meet regularly and talk often to share ideas and to ensure that we are helping in the best ways possible. Our services are not duplicative but dovetail together to create a safety net for many in crisis.
In this particular story, and as part of all the array of essential services we are providing, representatives from all of the involved agencies have coordinated to provide transportation for mom and baby to ensure that they can make it to health care and other important appointments. With our help now, she’ll become more stable. As she becomes more stable, she’ll need our help less. If we do it right, she will be able to stand on her own in a few short years.
Like a pit crew, it’s taking the work of a team to make sure our driver is ready for the road. We’ll continue to be with her until she successfully transitions into adulthood; we’ll encourage and provide opportunities for her to continue her education beyond high school, and we’ll work with her baby to ensure that he is safe and nurtured and ready for school when it’s his turn to go.
Winning is the goal.