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Volunteers bring hope to tornado victims in Bertie

WINDSOR — Clad in neon-orange and blaze-yellow T-shirts, volunteers were spread across the tornado-devastated landscape in Bertie County on Saturday like beacons of hope.

Many of the volunteers started arriving just hours after an Aug. 4 tornado spawned by Hurricane Isaias ripped through a 10-mile stretch of southern Bertie, killing two and injuring at least 25. The twister completely destroyed 26 homes, left eight unsafe for occupancy and damaged more than 200, particularly on Morning and Woodard roads.

Traveling from Greenville and across the state, volunteers have continued their relief efforts this week, delivering aid and comfort to more than 500 people affected by the storm.

“We love helping people,” said Susan Vannoy of North Wilkesboro, a volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse U.S. Disaster Relief. In Windsor, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers are helping with tree removal and tarping roofs, among other tasks.

“This is what God has called us to do,” she said. “My husband was a minister for many years. We felt the Lord was calling us to do disaster relief.”

Bertie County officials said multiple volunteer organizations have moved in quickly to distribute supplies, clean up debris, cook meals, tarp roofs and mud out houses.

On Saturday, residents’ personal belongings — artifacts from happier times — were scattered among smashed vehicles, busted home-appliances, twisted metal and soggy insulation.

A toddler’s bright red bicycle, its training wheels mangled, was embedded 25 feet up in a tree twisted with electrical lines, metal siding and roofing material.

Many of the volunteers were easily identifiable by the brightly colored T-shirts they wore. Samaritan’s Purse volunteers were clad in orange and North Carolina Baptists on Mission volunteers wore yellow.

The COVID-19 pandemic is complicating how organizations bring in teams of volunteers. Samaritan’s Purse usually draws volunteers from across the country to help in times of crisis. For the Bertie recovery effort, however, the organization is currently relying on day-volunteers — those who live within just a few hours’ drive.

According Vannoy, the organization is unable to house large groups overnight due to restrictions to help slow the virus. She and her husband, Tom, are “site team leaders,” she said. They left for Windsor immediately when they received the call to help with storm recovery.

They are among a few volunteer leaders being housed at Ross Baptist Church in Windsor. Howard Carter, a site team leader with Samaritan’s Purse from Tennessee, was with them.

“Normally, I get a group of people I work with for several days. But they are trying to make sure everyone is safe,” he said. “The amazing thing is — the volunteers come. Instead of relying on people coming in from halfway across the United States staying for a week, we are dealing with people who come just day-to-day.”

On Saturday, Carter led volunteers from Chapel Hill, Askewville and Pittsboro, and his group included a college student, a doctor, a postal service worker and a pastor.

North Carolina Baptists on Mission is providing hot meals to Bertie residents twice a day, drive-though style, at Cedar Landing Baptist Church.

The group also has disaster recovery teams on site helping with tree removal and cleanup. BOM also is relying on day-volunteers from counties close to the disaster site.

Other groups assisting victims in Windsor are the Red Cross, Team Rubicon, United Methodist Men and the Civil Air Patrol.

The CAP N.C. Wing helped distribute bottled water and ready-to-eat meals and other supplies for families at Cedar Landing.

On Morning Road, Thelma Tate suffered substantial damage to her home and property. Samaritan’s Purse helped clean up her yard Saturday and tarp her roof.

“This meant so much to me,” the 80-year-old resident said. “This meant my life — it means I don’t have to kill myself picking up and moving this all this stuff alone.”

Farther up the road, Lockwood Craig Jr.’s home was in pieces — no longer inhabitable. On Saturday, orange-shirted helpers from Samaritan’s Purse worked to clear his yard of downed trees and debris.

“I lost everything I got,” he said. “Three vehicles, everything. But, God saved my soul.”

Craig said he was asleep when the tornado came. His phone alerted him that it was coming, then he heard what others have described as the sound of a train.

He said he crawled through his hallway while debris fell around him and his roof caved in. He escaped by crawling up a ladder and through a window.

“I thought I was going on home,” he said. “I ain’t lying. I was scared to death.”

Craig said he then crawled along the ground to his neighbor’s house, making sure he avoided downed electrical lines.

He and his neighbor then drove to a hotel for the night.

“I know it was God who saved me,” he said.

In Greenville, organizations collected supplies for victims during an impromptu emergency donation on Friday outside Walmart on Greenville Boulevard. The Rev. Rodney Coles of Interfaith Clergy and Paul Dunn of N.C. Volunteer Organizations Active in a Disaster headed up the effort. Two Men and a Truck donated a truck.

Dunn said he was currently working on rescue efforts in eight counties across North and South Carolina affected by Isaias.

“We are exhausted, but this really lifts your spirits. This is not just Pitt County showing love to Bertie, this is lifting our spirits, too,” said Dunn.

The Bertie County Morning Road Tornado Relief Fund has raised more than $24,000 in less than seven days, according to the Bertie County website.

The first disbursement went out Wednesday.

“We know this money is desperately needed right now by these families to cover (the costs of) food, temporary housing, and other personal assistance for themselves and their families,” said County Manager Juan Vaughan II. “These are trying times, and this is hopefully the first of many rounds of relief that we can provide to our citizens most impacted.”

Back-to-School Bash, Drive-thru Edition: 400 get school supplies at event

There was no live music, children’s games or shoulder-to-shoulder crowds this year — COVID-19 restrictions made sure of that.

Even so, Elizabeth City State University and the Elizabeth City Police Department still found a way to make their ninth annual Back-to-School Bash a success.

This year’s school supply event was a drive-up event held in the parking lot at Roebuck Stadium on the ECSU campus.

Melba Smith, general manager at ECSU radio station WRVS, and Deputy Chief James E. Avens Jr. of the ECPD said community response for the Back-to-School Bash was wonderful. The event distributed school supplies to 400 students.

Christine Timpson said she stopped by the event to pick up school supplies for her grandchildren.

She has one grandchild in the 10th grade at Pasquotank County High School, one in ninth grade at Northeastern High School, and a fifth-grader and a first-grader at Pasquotank Elementary School. A fifth grandchild is in pre-K this year.

Timpson said the principals at the schools have been very helpful and will be providing additional information this week. She said she appreciates the university and the police partnering to hold the Back-to-School Bash.

“I truly believe it’s a blessing,” Timpson said.

She said she believes school officials are doing the right thing starting the school year off with remote instruction rather than trying to bring the students back to school buildings.

“I think there is more safety in doing the remote as far as having the children in school,” Timpson said.

Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools officials agreed to offer remote-only learning for the first nine weeks of the school year that starts Monday.

This year’s event didn’t include complimentary haircuts for students, which have been a popular feature in years past.

Cheerleaders from ECSU weren’t cheering as a group this year but they nonetheless held up signs to welcome students and families as they drove into the parking lot.

The signs read: “Have A Fun School Year,” “School Back in Session,” “Wash & Wear” (a nod to the twin health principles of washing your hands thoroughly and wearing a face covering) and “Stay in Car.”

Vanessa Morgan of Currituck, a junior at ECSU and member of the cheer squad, said their coach encouraged them to help out with Saturday’s event.

“I just love coming out here and seeing the community coming together,” Morgan said. “It’s especially good to see during a time like this.”

Morgan also helped with last year’s Back-to-School Bash.

Last year the cheerleaders did cheers and the band was on hand to provide music. Those things were missing this year.

Morgan noted the cheerleaders haven’t held a practice session so far this year.

But they hope sports will be back by early spring.

“We’re ready to cheer,” Morgan said.

Holding signs alongside Morgan were Viking cheerleaders Shenelle Brown, Aprylee Brown and Lakeisha Cartwright.

Perquimans school leader Stallings remembered


HERTFORD — Dwayne Stallings is being remembered as a charismatic education leader who cared about students and school staff as well as his community.

The retired Perquimans County Schools superintendent died Sunday after a long illness at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. He was 63.

“One of my favorite sayings is ‘Your walk talks and your talk talks but your walk talks louder than your talk talks,’” Perquimans County Schools Superintendent Tanya Turner said. “This is so very true of Dr. Stallings. He was a genuine person and it showed through everything he did. He was well respected by all because of his strong character and compassionate heart.”

Turner says Stallings always encouraged her career and was “extremely supportive” after she was named Perquimans schools superintendent last year.

“He would freely lend a listening ear and always offer valuable words of wisdom and support,” she said. “Dr. Stallings touched the lives of many. His memory will live on in the hearts of countless students, school system employees, and community members. I am blessed to have known him. He will be missed.”

Stallings came to the Perquimans County Schools in 1994, working as an assistant principal at Perquimans County High School. He went onto serve as principal at both the elementary and high schools, and was named the district’s Principal of the Year in 2001. He served as assistant superintendent for four years before being named superintendent in July 2007. He retired from that position in January 2015.

One of those who worked closely with Stallings is Anne White, chairwoman of the Perquimans Board of Education.

“Mr. Stallings was a very charismatic leader who was loved and respected by his colleagues, teachers, students, staff and the Perquimans County community,” she said.

Ashlea White-Davis, who graduated from Perquimans County High School in 1996, recalled Stallings as a kind and caring educator.

“He was kind and cared so much about students, even those that gave him a headache,” she said. “You could tell he cared. He really did. He was a truly good man and he’s gone far too soon. I hope his grandchildren will grow up knowing all about their kind granddaddy.”

A native of Pasquotank County, Stallings was a 1975 graduate of Northeastern High School. After earning a bachelor of science in technology education from Elizabeth City State University in 1985, Stallings earned a master’s degree in technology education from East Carolina University and a doctorate in education from ECU.

During the years he spent as a teacher, Stallings also served as a head coach or assistant coach in three different school districts. He also served on the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Board of Directors and in 2015 he received the Bob McRae Superintendent of the Year award. The award is named for Bob McRae, a former school superintendent in Randolph County and former president of the NCHSAA.

Following his retirement, Stallings worked as an adjunct professor at East Carolina University and as a director of the North East Regional Education Service Alliance.

Besides his work in education, Stallings was also a member of the Baptist Men’s Disaster Relief Team for Corinth Baptist Church in Elizabeth City. He also retired from the Inter-County Volunteer Fire Department.

Stallings is survived by his wife of 41 years, Kathy Godfrey Stallings; his daughter, Megan Stallings Loftin and her husband, Dr. Patrick Loftin, and their children, Owen, William, and Cora, of Raleigh; his mother, Anna Faye Copeland Stallings; a sister, Glenda Tosado, and her husband, Dr. Dan Tosado, of Miami.

Funeral services will be held in the Perquimans County High School gymnasium Friday at 2 p.m. A private burial will follow in Westlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Elizabeth City. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Perquimans County Schools Foundation, P.O. Box 337, Hertford, NC 27944.

Miller & Van Essendelft, Funeral and Cremation Providers, 1125 Harvey Point Road, Hertford, is in charge of arrangements.

Sentara Healthcare seeks merger with Cone Health

The Norfolk, Virginia-based health care system that operates Pasquotank County’s hospital is seeking a merger with a Greensboro-based health care system.

Sentara Healthcare and and Cone Health have signed a letter of intent to combine organizations, both nonprofit health care systems said in a press release Wednesday.

Both systems said their intention in merging is to form “a unified, transformative and value-driven organization ... that will be a model for the rest of the nation’s healthcare systems.”

The trustee boards of both health care systems have approved the terms of the letter of intent, the press release states. The merger is still subject to state and federal regulatory review and closing conditions, but officials expect the merger to take effect in mid-2021. Officials believe it will take up to two years to fully combine and integrate the two health care systems.

Sentara Healthcare leases Sentara Albemarle Medical Center from Pasquotank County. SMAC spokeswoman Annya Soucy said the merger will have no immediate impact on local operations since a “definitive agreement” between the two health care systems won’t be in place until mid-2021.

“Eventually, the two systems hope their association will lead to better access to health insurance across North Carolina as Sentara and Cone combine their health plans,” Soucy said. “Both systems have a strong commitment to value-based care that increases access and affordability and both are committed to their not-for-profit missions and stable employment for their members of the team.”

Sentara Healthcare operates 12 hospitals in Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, including Sentara Albemarle, as well as hundreds of care sites. It employs more than 1,200 physicians and advanced practice clinicians and 30,000 staff members. Its Optima Health Plan and Virginia Premier Health Plan serve 858,000 members in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio.

“This rapidly changing healthcare environment requires tremendous transformation and innovation to ensure the long-term success of each respective health system and, most importantly, the very best for those we are privileged to serve,” said Howard P. Kern, Sentara’s president and chief executive officer. “We can either react to change, or we can shape it. We are choosing to shape change and will lead this transformation of healthcare together.”

Cone Health operates five hospitals and more than 100 health care sites n North Carolina. It employs more than 13,000 people, including nearly 1,200 physicians and advanced practice providers. Its Medicare Advantage health plan, HealthTeam Advantage, serves 15,000 members. Its operations are in Guilford, Alamance, Rockingham, Forsyth, Caswell and Randolph counties.

“In Sentara Healthcare, we’ve found a like-minded organization who shares our commitment to transforming healthcare,” said Terry Akin, Cone’s chief executive officer. “The combined organization will build on our shared commitments and distinct expertise to promote better health outcomes and minimize healthcare costs for consumers. Our integration strengthens and accelerates our shared mission and strategy to transform healthcare in the communities we serve.”

Kern will oversee the combined health care system whose headquarters will remain in Norfolk. Greensboro, meanwhile, will serve as the regional headquarters for the Cone Health division. Akin will remain in Greensboro as president of that division.