Through the Eyes of An Unsung Hero

    Through the Eyes of An Unsung Hero

    Marina Lewis, Mauldin High School – Social Worker

    Written By: Marina Lewis, Mauldin High School – Social Worker

    March 13, 2020.  Seemed like any other Friday, everyone was ready to get out the doors of Mauldin High and start the weekend.  The weekly food pantry backpacks were lined up for students in need to grab on their way out the door. I was busy wrapping up my emails for the week and didn’t get to speak to several of the students.  Little did I know that was the last time I would see them pick up their packs for the school year!

    The following Monday we were in a state of emergency due to the Coronavirus, schools were closed and in 72 hours teachers converted their classes to eLearning.  Everyone was so busy making virtual learning available.  All I could think is what in the world could I do? My job as a school social worker is tied to my students being at school!  The Backpack program, all the small groups, OnTrack meetings, Mentor program, Social-Emotional Learning trainings, activities, and events all came to a screeching halt.

    Quarantine stopped daily living as we knew it but life continued.  Our students needed the connection to the school that provided them stability in what was often a very chaotic and unstable home life.  That next Friday when our students normally would have picked up their extra food supply for the weekend I knew what I had to do. I needed to bring the food to them.  With an amazing co-worker (Kelly Yanity), we packed up the bags and delivered them to our 20 students in need.

    As the weeks stretched on and the state was shut down, with support of our Principal, Michael Peake,  and the blessing of my husband, my three teenagers packed up the pantry and moved it to our garage.  We continued to make weekly supply deliveries to our families in need,  as well as new families that were struggling due to the pandemic. Everyone pitched in to assist making our little Mauldin High food pantry not only survive but thrive.  Brookwood Church continued to collect donations and PTSA donated all the items from the student school store that was going unused and sponsored a sign-up genius to collect needed household and cleaning supplies.  We switched from backpacks to boxes left them at the door to have as little physical contact as possible and followed all COVID protocols.

    In the end, it became less about the food being delivered and more about the relationships strengthened and the trust earned.  The food became more of an excuse to check in with our students.  It wasn’t just for them either. It brought peace to myself and my co-workers being able to lay eyes on them knowing they were OK.  It gave me structure and purpose to my quarantine days. Assisting them with all the changes that had been thrown at all of us.  Helping them learn to do this eLearning thing.  Sharing resources and providing hotspots.  They felt heard.  They felt seen.  I felt relieved. These students gave me more than I could give them, reminding me not to take things for granted.  The hugs, the laughs, and the check ins we usually shared throughout the halls and classrooms were missing.  We realized the importance of relationships.

    The silver lining of this pandemic is it made us slow down and focus on what is truly essential, connecting with others.  Being there for one another, that’s what will get us through.  My hope is that through all the changes, grief, and chaos 2020 has brought, that it brought us something greater that can live past this pandemic, gratitude. Gratitude for each and every person that impacts our days.  Greenville will get through this stronger by focusing on each other.  I am privileged to have the opportunity to continue to serve our students, teachers, and community and will let that be my lasting memory of this pandemic.

    Ten at the Top recently hosted their Celebrating Upstate Unsung Heroes Virtual Event on Wednesday, November 18th.  At this event, they honored 10 county representatives and 130+ additional unsung heroes that have kept the Upstate region alive and well during this pandemic. Click here to view all 132 nominee listings.

    The 10 county representatives that were present at the day-of event were:

    1. Abbeville: Ethan Cornick – Dreams with Open Arms, Volunteer
    2. Anderson: David Baker – Anderson County, Emergency Services Director
    3. Cherokee: Carol McFadden – Know(2) Neighborhood Association, Volunteer Director
    4. Greenville: Marina Lewis – Mauldin High School, Social Worker
    5. Greenwood: George McKinney – Greenwood County, Emergency Management Director
    6. Laurens: Joey Avery – Laurens County, Emergency Management Director
    7. Oconee: Vanessa Earle – Prisma Health, Community Health Worker
    8. Pickens: Lesa Howard – 5 Point Church Food Pantry, Director
    9. Spartanburg: Charlene Cheeks – Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Upstate, CEO
    10. Union: Shanna “Nikki” Burgess – SC Works Greater Upstate, Talent Development Specialist Supervisor
    Fighting the Urge to Settle for Instant Gratification

    Fighting the Urge to Settle for Instant Gratification

    Dean Hybl, Executive Director of Ten at the Top

    In a world where technology has made waiting for anything seem antiquated and unnecessary, I think it is fair to say that for most of us instant gratification is not considered a luxury, it is an expectation and necessity. If something can’t be done immediately, then we often will move on until we find something that meets our immediate need, even if it isn’t as good as something that may have taken longer.

    Those of us with gray in our beards (and whatever is left of our hair) like to call out the instant gratification need in Millennials and Generation Z, but be honest, even if you are a Baby Boomer or Generation X product, I bet you are guilty of picking a drive thru based on the line or quickly flipping to another web site when the one you were on fails to quickly load.

    I have found in my 15 years working with stakeholders on issues of community impact that getting people to withstand the urge for instant gratification and instead dive deeper to identify and work on a more systemic issue can often be an exercise in futility.

    On one hand, I get it. Business leaders, elected officials and non-profit leaders often are focused on the most immediate need. They are hearing from customers, clients, constituents and employees about the crisis of the moment and feel pressure to do something quickly to deal with it.

    I have often called this the “pothole syndrome”. People want the immediate pothole fixed and often don’t care if there is a big truck headed straight for them.

    Now I am all for fixing the potholes. Especially in today’s world where COVID-19, economic disparity and social unrest are impacting millions of Americans, immediate solutions to reduce the burdens must be found and implemented.

    However, I believe that around every issue and challenge we have an opportunity and obligation to also look at the systemic causes and identify what long-term strategies might be implemented to not just address the immediate need, but also the root cause of the challenge.

    Following the tragic events in Minnesota, Kentucky and other parts of the country earlier this year that have led to protests and questions about the role and authority of law enforcement, Ten at the Top convened a discovery committee of leaders from across the Upstate to look at how we can work collaboratively to create a safer environment for all residents.

    The committee has recently released a series of initial recommendations that encourage our law enforcement and community leaders to work collaboratively to create an environment where the lives of all law enforcement members and residents are equally valued.

    There are some immediate opportunities, including encouraging law enforcement agencies to hire Diversity & Inclusion Officials (Oconee County was the first in the region to do so earlier this year) and creating a pipeline to encourage more women and people of color to become law enforcement officers.

    However, while we would love to be able to wave a magic wand and immediately create a new dynamic where every resident is treated with the same level of opportunity and respect, we know in reality that it will take many years of incremental successes to move our society to the desired outcome.

    The same thing can be said for just about every other issue impacting our community, including transportation, poverty, affordable housing, skill training, education and many more.

    The reality is that current situations are the result of many years of policy and practice. There are certainly short term “potholes” that we can fix to make an immediate impact, but unless we are also willing to work together to address the long-term and systemic reasons for these challenges, we will never really be able to make them go away.

    We must fight the urge to simply look for the instant gratification and instead recognize that having the patience and perseverance to stay engaged for the long haul is the clearest path to lasting success.

    You can read the full recommendations of the Ten at the Top Safer Upstate Discovery committee at

    You can read the full article on Upstate Business Journal here. 

    Dean Hybl has been the Executive Director of Ten at the Top since January 2010.

    Q & A with West Carolina Rural Telecommunications

    Q & A with West Carolina Rural Telecommunications

    Shannon Sears, WCTEL Director of Commercial Operations

    Q: How quickly was your team able to start adjusting their processes to account for the stay at home order?

    A: We were able to adjust our processes almost immediately to account for the stay at home order. Within one week, we went from a company that worked entirely from an office for 68 years, to 70% of our workforce working from home. We had equipment on-hand to do this and ordered what else was needed; VPNs were set up at staff homes to continue to take calls and operate as normal. It was a team effort and an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to get our company working remotely. Not only did we attend to our immediate needs, but we also proactively reached out to business members, to see that they had the equipment and connections they needed to allow their employees to function in a remote set-up. We were a key resource in allowing other businesses the option to work from home.

    Q: What was the immediate reaction from customers?

    A: Customers wanted to be assured that their internet connection was stable and could handle the new demands being placed on it. Having a fiber optic network that is robust enough to handle any increase in demand, gave our customers the peace of mind that their internet service would be there when they need it the most. We also educated the community with work from home tips, CDC Guidelines, computer scams, and other helpful content on a dedicated webpage and through social posts, emails, and blogs. You can view the link here:
    Our offices have been closed for walk in traffic and will continue to be closed until further notice, however we have the tools in place to continue to serve our members.

    Q: How quickly was your team and customers able to adjust to the new processes?

    A: With anything new there is a learning curve, however we were able to accelerate our learning curve in this situation and our members did too. We stopped in-home installations immediately and released instructional videos for self-installation of our services, along with an “install in a box” that included the equipment necessary. The instructions and the videos were very thorough and went through every detail so customers would know exactly what to do. It went surprisingly well; we have a wide age demographic, and all customers were able to self-install smoothly. Once we resumed in-person visits, we released a video describing what precautions our technicians were taking so customers would know firsthand. Prior to scheduling an in-home installation, customers were asked screening questions to ensure the safety of our team. The customers were assured that we were taking sanitary precautions to mitigate exposure to the virus and doing our part to keep both them and our employees safe. We also identified that the community may experience hardships during this time, WCTEL came alongside of its members who were experiencing economic hardship and provided payment options and ancillary plans.

    Q: What did your team in the field do to ensure their safety as well as that of your customers?

    A: It was our top priority to make our customers and employees feel both comfortable and customers safe. Our team practiced sanitization safety along with health assessment checks (temperature checks) daily. We sanitized all our tools, equipment, supplies, trucks (door handles, steering wheel) and other common surfaces between every service visit. This video shows how we continued sanitization safety once we restarted in-home installations.

    Q: Was there anything that in hindsight you wish you had done immediately?

    A: We’re thankful for a proactive board and executive team who were quick to take action and implement new pandemic procedures. I don’t think we would change anything that we did, mainly because we all worked together to accomplish a very specific goal.

    Q: Of the procedures you have enacted, are there any you anticipate becoming your regular practice?

    A: Throughout this process we’ve created many efficiencies, productivity has actually increased with our staff working from home and we will consider a hybrid model of office and work from home arrangements. The biggest takeaway may be that our company will never be the same because of this, in a good way. Even though the pandemic is a negative, the changes in our company from this situation have made us stronger and more adaptable. We were impressed with our team’s resilience, positivity, and willingness to do their part. As a telecom we knew that internet was and is an essential service, but now society embraces it as an essential service, placing even greater value on it than before. Schools have also adjusted to hybrid models and WCTEL is proud to enable that with the services we provide.

    Q: What is your strategy related to adjusting to the continued pandemic issues over the next six months?

    A: We continue to monitor the pandemic internally and externally. We have daily and weekly meetings with staff check-ins. Team health remains a top priority for WCTEL. Team health check-ins, work stress levels and personal stress levels are monitored and taken into consideration. Anxiety is high now with personal stresses, teaching kids from home, working from home, all impacting stress levels. We are in tune with our staff and the social shift. We recognize there are mental health issues when a team is removed from social interaction and we’re providing team resources on a regular basis to address those issues. We review CDC guidelines daily and look to them as an overall resource on the current state of the pandemic. We’ll continue to practice social distancing and sanitizing procedures.

    Although our offices will remain closed over the next several months, we will continue to support our members and community by providing reliable services that the community can count on and assist customers with a positive customer experience. We value people by showing genuine care when we interact with them.

    Q: Has there been a positive story or result that you can share?

    A: When the pandemic first started, we reached out to the community and our schools. We helped ensure that local students had access to internet, and low-income areas were served with WiFi Hotspots. Students were able to continue their studies and stay up on their curriculums because of it. During this time, it was of utmost importance for us to serve our community, whether members or not. We wanted to ensure that our community continued to flourish.
    Also, we had just connected a local business with hosted business solutions right before the pandemic and because of the integrated phone lines, they were immediately able to work from home and continue their daily operations without a glitch.

    In conclusion, I am certain that our journey through this pandemic is not so different from what other companies experienced.  We also realize that others had a much more difficult time.  In the end I hope that we all learned to work together, grow together, endure together and have a common goal to serve others.

    Global Entrepreneurship Week: November 16-22, 2020

    Global Entrepreneurship Week: November 16-22, 2020

    Erin Ouzts, Upstate Entrepreneur Ecosystem Director

    Global Entrepreneurship Week is even more important this year as we celebrate the small, large, starting and growing businesses and their owners that have worked tirelessly to keep employees and provide all of us with the products and services we need.

    The week of November 16-22, 2020, Global Entrepreneurship Week, is an annual celebration of entrepreneurship organized by the Global Entrepreneurship Network.  The Upstate Entrepreneur Ecosystem (UEE) launched Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) activities in November 2018 as a way for Upstate communities to celebrate their local businesses and connect to the entire Upstate through a common theme and brand.

    In 2020, Upstate communities are focusing activities on more virtual celebrations and other non-event ways to honor entrepreneurs.  We are asking local city and county councils to proclaim a resolution to support GEW, their local business owners and the many support organizations that guide them.    Ask your Mayor or County Council leader if they are aware of this.  If not, download a template resolution here and contact Justine Allen for more information.

    Upstate universities are celebrating and competing with colleges, universities and technical schools statewide on the first ever SC Innovates Pitch Competition.  Beyond student participation, multiple entrepreneur advisors and mentors around the state are judging the entries, bringing two different groups together for the common purpose of celebrating GEW.

    USC Upstate will have the first ever international sharing of ideas with entrepreneurs and innovators as they host Universidad Latina De Costa Rica in a virtual panel discussion.  CommunityWorks is partnering with USC Upstate to host another panel discussion, this one on Supporting Black Women-owned Business:  Innovative Strategies for Growth and Overcoming Challenges.

    Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship will host the final Paladin Pivot:  Connecting with Your Customers Faster and More Efficiently during Global Entrepreneurship Week.  They were also instrumental in launching the SC Innovates Pitch Competition.  Other events will be included in the UpstateVibe356 calendar.

    InnoVision Awards is hosting their annual awards celebration during GEW.  This is the premier innovation awards recognition in South Carolina.  Register here.

    The South Carolina Community Loan Fund’s Investing in Community Summit Series:  Resources for South Carolina’s Small Businesses will host a statewide panel discussion with the moderator and 2 panelists from the Upstate.

    In 2018, the UEE celebrated with gatherings, panel discussions, speakers, and social media promotions of local entrepreneurs.  2019 continued that success with multiple events spread over the Upstate.  Here is a link to the USC Upstate Johnson College of Business video of their 2018 GEW activities.

    In 2020, the Director of the State Office of Innovation in the State Department of Commerce, Laura Corder, became an official State Coordinator through GEN and has local coordinators within the state facilitating activities.  Celebrations are spreading throughout the state, so much so, that we now have our own Global Entrepreneurship Week South Carolina log!

    GEW is about more that the Upstate and South Carolina.  Events occur all over the world and are more accessible than ever this year with so many going virtual.  Access the global GEW Events calendar here and sign up for an event today!

    According to their website, Global Entrepreneurship Week is a collection of tens of thousands of activities, competitions and events aimed at making it easier for anyone, anywhere to start and scale a company.

    This November 16 – 22, GEW 2020 will rally almost every nation in the world to empower their entrepreneurs and encourage their citizens to become starters – finding new and better ways of doing things. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented impact, GEW 2020 is a call to action for all societies to be resilient and come together in leveraging the power of new ideas and innovation for the benefit of all.

    GEW inspires roughly 10 million participants each year to explore their potential while fostering connections and increasing collaboration within their ecosystems to empower entrepreneurs and strengthen communities.



    Native American Celebration at the Hagood Mill Historic Site

    Native American Celebration at the Hagood Mill Historic Site

    Katie Mann, Assistant Director, Hagood Mill

    Every November the Hagood Mill Historic Site observes Native American Heritage Month by holding the Native American Celebration. Every Third Weekend of November we hold this beloved celebration that we also call Selugadu.  Selugadu translates into cornbread in the Tsalagi Gawonihisdi (Cherokee) language.  Selu, meaning corn and gadu, meaning bread.  This celebration of cornbread is in reality a Harvest Festival.  November is the time of year when Native Americans reaped the harvest of corn.  All across the Americas the first people developed over 250 varieties of corn.  Corn was an essential crop in Native American life and came to be in Colonial life as well.

    At this time of year Americans Give Thanks.  Join us at the Hagood Mill to give thanks to, and honor the first peoples of these lands, for the food traditions and customs that have influenced southern Appalachian life.   On Saturday, November 21st we will bring together many people from many tribal groups to share their customs from today and yesteryear at the idyllic Hagood Mill Historic Site.

    Saturday’s event kicks off at 10 am and runs until 4 pm.   We will have our typical Third Saturday activities, including the operation of the Hagood Mill, living history demonstrations and a cherry picked group of vendors.  Visitors and guest performers will participate in the festivities of the day which will include: Native American traditional drumming, singing, dancing, flute playing, storytelling, Cherokee hymns in the Tsalagi Gawonihisdi language, and traditional crafts and demonstrations.  Performers include storyteller and basket maker Nancy Basket, from Walhalla, SC; Cherokee singer Amy Sindersine of the Reedy River Inter-tribal Association; The Kau-Ta-Noh-Jrs Society Singers of the Tuscarora Nation, NC with On’yas Locklear, Raniya Locklear and Nawayla Locklear; and Keepers of the Word from South Carolina.

    Demonstrations of food-way traditions such as stone grinding of cornmeal, cooking fry-bread, and roasting corn will take place throughout the day.  Barry Crawford’s prehistoric cooking demonstration using ancient soapstone bowls is too artful to be missed.  Members from the Foothills Archaeology Society will be on site to identify Native American stone tools and artifacts. Be sure to bring your treasure to be identified!

    We will be inaugurating “Our Native Roots: An Interpretive Trail” at noon.  The interpretive trail takes visitors along the Old Indian Path, which is an ancient trading path that took the Native Americans from the Mississippi coast and up and through the continental divide to Virginia. The interpretive trail includes a dugout out canoe which will be burned during the Native American Celebration, a river cane restoration area, a sacred fire circle for all to experience on this special day, a medicine wheel garden, a corn garden, a mortar and pestle for grinding corn, a prehistoric stone mortar, an archaeology adventure for kids, the Paul West artifact collection, and the petroglyphs that were made in prehistoric times. We are especially grateful to Paul West, who donated his personal collection of Native American artifacts, art and books to the Hagood Mill Foundation, and are now housed in the Hagood Creek Petroglyph Site.

    Due to COVID, we are limiting admission to this event.  As a result, admission will be $10 per person 13 and up and $5 per child aged 3-12.  One of our most popular events of the year, this event is sure to sell out, so get your tickets today.

    We will kick off the weekend on Friday, November 20th at the Heritage Pavilion!  We have special free programming this year thanks to the Traditional Arts Touring Grant from South Arts.   Beginning at 5:30 pm we will have an Artifact Show-and-Tell, in addition to workshops from some of the veteran performers of our Native American Celebration! There will be artifact experts on site helping folks to identify artifacts and to share stories.  Nancy Basket will provide an educational workshop highlighting Native American basket making techniques, motifs, and the different types of construction materials which can be used based on one’s demographic location.  On’yas Locklear and Ka-Tau-Noh-Jrs Society Singers will be offering song and dance workshops as well.  Concessions will be available at 5 pm .  Admittance to the Heritage Pavilion will be cut off at 150 people.  Please bring PPE and your own chairs and bundle up! Arrive early to ensure your space.  Of course observers are welcome to disperse in the fields surrounding the pavilion.

    Make a weekend of the event and reserve your camping space as well!

    Primitive camping will be available Friday and Saturday nights– $10/person aged 13 and up for one or two nights (tent/car camping) or $30 for RV spaces.  Limit 6 people per site.  Car and RV spaces are limited, so register online soon.  Folks with loud generators will be asked not to use them during special events.

    The Native American Celebration is partially funded by South Arts, Pickens County ATAX, and from generous donors like Paul West.

    Visit our website for full event details and to access the ticket portal:

    Text GRITS to 85100 to stay in the loop of all things happening at the Hagood Mill and to receive exclusive offers.