PITT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - The Pitt County Shelter Buddies Reading Program kicked off Tuesday with about 15 kids signed up to read to dogs experiencing stress in their kennels.
Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon this summer, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., kids are invited to bring a parent, a few books, and all the puppy cuddles they can muster to the shelter.
“The dog that I’m reading to over here is Heidi,” said one volunteer. “It makes me feel very special that I get to come here and pick which ones I get to read to.”
The benefits aren’t just for those with four legs. A University of California, Davis study found that literacy improved by 12% in school-aged children when they joined an animal therapy reading program.
For one Pitt County family, the volunteer hour gave them a chance to connect with not only the pups, but also with cherished family memories.
“These used to be mommy’s before they were mine,” 9-year-old Amelie Henry said while she thumbed through pages. “Puss in Boots is falling apart, which is why we needed to put the spine back together.”
It was a touching moment for Henry’s mom.
“About half of the collection that I have in my third-grade classroom and that Amelie has in her library came from books that I had as a child,” Marina Henry said. “When the flood came from Hurricane Floyd, we lost almost everything. My mom said. ‘Wait, let’s check up here.’ We went up in the crawl space and the books were fine.”
While their pages may be worn, the stories are stronger in Amelie’s hands.
“It makes those books all the more special, for them to have survived through some of the most traumatic things that we as adults have been through,” said mom.
The mother and daughter plan on coming back to read to more dogs throughout the summer.
A link to the sign-up can be found here. The program will run through August 26th.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - For more than 300,000 children in Eastern Carolina, school lunch is a necessity to get the nutrient-filled meals they need.
With the school year over, some families may be struggling to provide.
But in Greenville, the Salvation Army has partnered with the Food Bank to fill that gap, and all kids have to do is show up.
“Being fed, being full, and being nourished is not a privilege,” said volunteer Barcey Godwin. “It’s a basic human right.”
Until August 26, families can visit the Salvation Army on S. Memorial Dr. for a free meal for kids 18 years old and under every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
Each day the menu is something different.
“Nachos and cheese, some milk, some vegetables and a banana,” said Anna Rossi in between bites. “It was really good.”
For the volunteers, going without food is a struggle that hits close to home.
“If they’re anything like me growing up, school food is the only food you have,” said Godwin.
It’s difficult for parents to keep everything from their children, no matter how hard they try.
Another volunteer, Matt Johnson, recalls growing up with his mom, who had to provide for two kids on one salary.
“I know she hit the food bank several times when I was growing up, probably more than I realized,” said Johnson.
At the end of June, millions of families are expecting the COVID free school lunch program to expire, but food insecurity is nothing new to the East.
“I’m 25 years old. I remember when I was 5 being hungry and there was no COVID 20 years ago,” said Godwin.
On Tuesday, a group of bipartisan lawmakers announced a bill that would extend the food program through the summer.
Amongst those spearheading the effort is republican senator Virginia Foxx from North Carolina’s fifth district.
But the extension has not yet been approved.
To have come through that hardship and make it out to the other side, volunteers are hoping to change the story for the next generation of kids.
“Maybe you’re eating toast because that’s all you’ve got is a loaf of bread and a toaster, but to be able to give people a chance at a relatively balanced meal, it’s definitely something I was interested in trying to do,” said Johnson.
If you are fortunate to not be experiencing food insecurity, volunteers say there is still something you can do to help: get the word out about the program.
In the first two days of the program, they have given away just 15-percent of the lunches they have available.
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Millions of people across the United States have expressed their condolences to the loved ones lost in the recent string of mass shootings, most notably the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Many even have expressed their demands for reformed gun laws to prevent other mass shootings from threatening the lives of children and Americans in general.
And Tuesday evening, those expressions came from children themselves, in the form of the Jacksonville Youth Council.
WITN was at Jacksonville City Hall where a gun violence awareness ceremony took place.
The goal of the event was for the youth to be there for each other in a difficult time and for them to make clear what they would like to see change.
Morgan McRae is the chairperson of the youth council, as well as a rising senior at Jacksonville High School. She spoke about how the Uvalde school shooting has impacted her.
“The tragedy has impacted me by really just becoming more aware of my surroundings and honestly just being aware that there’s dangers everywhere, even at school,” Mcrae said. “I feel like school is a place students should be able to go and feel safe, and seeing every day on TV students being killed at school is not a good feeling.”
McRae then elaborated upon what the mission of the ceremony Tuesday was.
"The message that I hope people are able to take away from this is that this violence has to stop. It’s not getting us anywhere and it’s really negatively impacting the youth and this cycle’s just going to continue," said Morgan McRae, Jacksonville Youth Council chairperson.
Children’s Miracle Network: ECU Health’s smallest patients get the care they need thanks to donations
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - More than 3,500 “Happy birthdays!” are wished to new babies at ECU Health every year, and while the goal is to send the family home as soon as possible, some infants need further care.
At the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital, everything comes in a smaller size.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to these tiny patients.
“The sickest of the sick will come here because we have all of the pediatric subspecialties that we need to help address any concerns,” said NICU medical director Dr. Ryan Moore. “We have just higher level of capabilities.”
Premature babies and infants needing specialized care come to the NICU for help to grow from Dr. Moore and his staff.
Thanks to years of funding from the Children’s Miracle Network, they have the technology to make that happen.
One of the NICU’s most used tools are isolettes that mimic a mother’s womb.
“Having the ability to maintain their temperature is so much easier with this technology,” said NICU nurse manager Allyson Yelverton. “We have the option to wean them out of actually staying in an isolette, all computerized thanks to this program.”
Close by is another gadget thanks to donations from CMN: a NIC-View camera giving parents a nonstop live feed of their new additions.
“They really are awesome,” said Lyndsey Odom, a nurse on the floor. “I can’t imagine going back to not having them and having parents that live 45 minutes or an hour away, even longer, and not being able to see their babies while they’re at work. I can’t imagine going back to that.”
Parents are taking note of these improvements. Some travel from other counties specifically for these technologies.
With more patients, comes the need to expand, and that is fueled by donors.
“They can help with building new spaces so we can support even more babies than we do now,” explained Dr. Moore. “It feeds right back into the children’s hospital and the community.”
When those babies get all the help they need from the isolettes, they head right where they belong: home.
“It is so great to see them from where they start to where they are ending up,” said Dr. Moore. “They go through so much, some of these babies, but when they do make it home, it’s just amazing to look back over the story and see what they’ve accomplished.”
On their way out the NICU doors, each child receives a parting gift from the Children’s Miracle Network.
Silver chains full of charms sit around their necks, each one symbolizing the milestones they’ve conquered and the village that got them there.
You can help more babies celebrate birthdays at Maynard Children’s Hospital! Just click here to learn more about how you can help.
NASH COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - What started out as a completely normal family dinner in early May soon turned into a test of skill and bravery for one Nash County student.
When gunshots flew across a Chili’s restaurant in Rocky Mount on May 6th, 17-year-old Mariah Poland says she did what most people couldn’t: she sprung into action to save a life.
Poland already juggles a lot on her plate.
She has a job, goes to church, takes college classes, and is graduating in just a couple of days from Southern Nash High School.
And Poland has a dream: to be a nurse and help take care of other people.
“Even the most simple things as brushing your teeth and brushing your hair... a lot of people can’t do that,” Poland said. “They can’t take care of themselves so they have to have someone there for them to do it.”
Poland enrolled in a nursing fundamentals class throughout high school where she practiced bedside manners and learned how to perform CPR.
“When we started clinicals, I realized maybe that was what I needed to do: become a nurse and take care of people,” Poland said.
Yet it wasn’t at a hospital or in a college classroom where Poland says her skills were put to the test. It was at a family dinner spot in Chili’s.
“I sat down and started eating my cheeseburger and I hear this loud noise,” Poland recounted. “It literally sounded like someone had threw a plate across the restaurant and it just shattered on the floor. And there was just a girl standing there holding a gun, pointed at the lady that was bleeding out on the floor.”
Police say the shooter was Nytica Battle. She has since been charged with first-degree murder among other charges.
A stray bullet hit a teenage Chili’s employee. He was able to make it to the back kitchen, and once the scene was safe, Poland says knew that was where she needed to go.
“I couldn’t find a first aid kit or anything so I grabbed some gloves out of the kitchen and I grabbed some towels,” Poland remembered. “I put the towels on his leg and held a lot of pressure up there for like ten minutes. I had his belt wrapped around it.”
The boy was hospitalized and has since recovered.
Now, the graduating senior is focused on what’s next. She has applied for a patient services assistant job at Nash General.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to go ahead and get my foot in the hospital,” Poland said.
First though, Poland will head to high school graduation. She is a part of the Pirate Promise program that will allow her to start classes at Nash Community College and transfer to East Carolina University to pursue nursing.
OAK CITY, N.C. (WITN) - Deputies in Martin County are being credited for saving a man’s life after a home caught fire.
It happened around 9:15 p.m. Saturday on South East Avenue in Oak City.
“I just think it could happen to anybody!” said neighbor Samuel Thompson.
When deputies arrived, they learned from family members that Solomon Baker was still inside. A relative was trying to get Baker out through a window that was too small.
ADVERTISEMENTOne sergeant tried to remove the window to get the man out, while another went in through the back door, but couldn’t get to Baker because of the heavy smoke.
Deputy Justin Barr and Deputy Seymour Whitaker got inside through the kitchen and crawled nearly through the entire house to get to the bathroom.
“It’s just something that comes with the job,” said Whitaker. “We run into different things every day. We just have to be prepared to do what needs to be done. "
Once there, they guided Baker through the smoke and outside to safety, according to a news release.
ADVERTISEMENT“There was no way he was coming out of that small window. So, we went in the back and without thinking about it we just went in and got him,” recalled Barr.
As they were getting out of the burning home, Oak City Fire and EMS were arriving, deputies say, and firefighters were able to bring the fire under control.
“I actually used to be a volunteer firefighter so I used that thinking to make sure we got below the smoke so we were able to see and stay calm,” said Barr. “With my partner there, we had our backs. We knew how to get back out, and we knew each other would be able to help each other out.”
Baker was checked out by EMS, while the relative trying to get the man out through the window, and one of the sergeants was treated for cuts.
ADVERTISEMENTNow, neighbors are focused on helping Baker get back on his feet.
“I don’t know how he got it. I don’t care how he got it. All I know is, he’s a citizen of Oak City, he’s my neighbor, and I’m going to help out as much as I can,” said Thompson.
No word yet on what started the fire.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - After dedicating a career to serving the public, one Eastern Carolina firefighter is being repaid for his actions in his time of need.
Jack Mozingo was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and hundreds of hungry people bought barbeque plates from Mission BBQ to help pay his medical bills.
“As far as being a first responder, it takes a very special person to do that,” said Pactolus firefighter Jimmy Barber. “I’m very honored to be a part of the brotherhood of being a first responder in Pitt County.”
As the crowd licked their plates clean, these emergency service professionals smiled knowing every dollar spent on their dinner was going into the hands of a Greenville family in need.
“It is absolutely awesome the support that these guys are giving to their fellow brother that has come down with cancer,” added Barber.
Mozingo spent 14 years fighting flames in Greenville and 15 years in Kinston.
Now, he fights a new beast: pituitary carcinoma, cancer so rare, no treatment plans exist in previous patients.
“Sadly, firefighters have a much higher rate of cancer than the general public,” explained Greenville Fire Chief Carson Sanders.
After fighting the disease for years, the medical bills add up.
“He’s exhausted a lot of the funds that are available through the state of North Carolina and through some local charities,” said Sanders. “So, we have to try to find some creative ways to support him and get him some money.”
Fundraising at Mission BBQ Wednesday night, all of the money raised will offset Mozingo’s medical debt.
In true firehouse fashion, the night ended with a family meal.
“They spend a third of their lives with these people. They are dependent on them,” said Sanders. “Every day we depend on each other for our lives. We depend on each other and make sure that we care.”
The latest tumor detected by Mozingo’s oncologist came up on a routine scan earlier this year.
Although he is early in the process of fighting against this cancer, the fundraiser was evidence of just how well supported he is.
“As you can imagine, spending that much time with people, you know all about their families. You know all about their histories, the good and the bad,” said Sanders.
Station One is still accepting donations at their South Greene Street firehouse. Checks are to be made payable to the Greenville Firefighters Benevolent Fund and will be delivered to the Mozingo family.
The cooks at Mission BBQ will fire up their smokers to raise money for Greenville first responders again on Thursday night
All sales made then will benefit Greenville Police and their Cop fund for workers that fall into hard times.
As bike giveaway contest begins, Martin County family reflects on last year’s win
WILLIAMSTON, N.C. (WITN) - 2022′s Great Bike Giveaway kicked off Wednesday afternoon. The contest offers families one month to enter their bid for a special bike.
A Martin County family was the recipient of a specialty bike last year. Alston Bullock spent Wednesday morning taking laps around the front yard on his prize.
Squeals of pure excitement were heard from Alston Bullock as he was strapped into the bike, perfect for his needs.
With his brother, Kevin Bullock behind him, the Williamston teen is riding in style.
“The bike helps with outdoor fun,” Alston Bullock’s mother Monica said. “He gets to come outside and enjoy time with his brothers. He’s not sitting in his wheelchair watching them, he’s actually riding around with them.”
The opportunity was made possible by a generous donor and Friendship Circle’s national Great Bike Giveaway campaign.
“Having a child with special needs is challenging enough. It’s a 24/7 job,” Friendship Circle Director Bassie Shemtov said. “So, Friendship Circle really comes in and wants to be there as a family member.”
Entrants have three ways to earn their gifted bikes: by voting, drawing, or fundraising.
Alston Bullock came close to missing out on the opportunity last year until a mystery miracle saved the day.
“We had one donor that donated pretty much the entire bike cost on the very last day,” Monica Bullock said.
The total cost of the bike was more than $1,500.
Monica Bullock suspended physical therapy and other services as the threat of the pandemic took hold, trying to keep her son safe from COVID exposure.
With his bike, Alston Bullock is able to work on those skills safely.
“He’s getting the range of motion in his legs. He’s getting the exercise he needs,” Monica Bullock said.
Always trotting along is Kevin, who is happy to lend a hand to his older brother. And he also gets something in return.
“It feels good to know that I have a good brother just like him and to know that he’s one of the best brothers ever,” Kevin Bullock said.
They are brothers and bicycle buddies, bonding over their shared love of spending time together.
The good news train keeps rolling for Alston. He has been granted a wish by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
They are going to fund a fully functional, adaptive gym space in which the 15-year-old can play with his brothers and have therapy with his specialists.
Entries for Friendship Circle’s Great Bike Giveaway are open until March 16th. Registration information can be found here.
PITT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - A Pitt County community center cooked up homemade soups on a chilly weekend as part of a fundraiser to help those in need.
“I guess the groundhog might have been right this time,” said Bill Kazda, a Joy’s Soup Kitchen customer.
Falling temperatures ushered in what some say is the perfect weather for soup, which the chef at Joy’s Soup Kitchen claims he mastered.
“They started calling me Soup-erman,” said Chef Tom Quigley.
Quigley hosts a weekly soup making competition.
After he gained traction online, people wanted a taste for themselves. So by selling jars of his soup,
Quigley uses the revenue to continue cooking and provide the meal services.
“It was just a huge success, and people started saying, ‘Well, what do you got next?’” said Quigley.
He expanded the operations of the soup kitchen by launching the Joy’s Community Center, where he plans to offer free classes to Pitt County residents each Wednesday.
“If there is a service out there that benefits the people in here, I want it in here,” said Quigley. “You might live all the way on the other side of town and you might need the services that this building can offer you. We are all inclusive with the soup, and all inclusive in every walk of life, too.”
As a born and raised Bostonian, Quigley talked about how he introduced his home style of food to Pitt County.
“All of the soups that I’m cooking are New England specials, not southern specials,” said Quigley. “So, it gives them a little extra treat for that.”
With something new on the menu for each fundraiser weekend, it’s hard to choose a favorite.
“We got the brisket and the bean and bacon.” said Kazda. “Brisket was better, but of course, they were both great.”
“Soup-erman” is taking care of his community, one jar at a time.
The next chance to take part in the Joy’s Community Center’s free class offering is February 9 from 6:15 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
PITT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - Virtual learning has taken on a new meaning at H.B. Sugg Elementary School where one student is on wheels this school year.
EJ Lyles made his kindergarten debut using an innovative piece of technology: a VGO robot.
Social and emotional learning is an important skill in early education. This week, Lyle’s classmates are learning about emotions and feeling words.
Happiness and excitement were the dominating emotions and feelings shared by his new friends when Lyles dialed into his classroom.
“Having EJ return and him coming home, we knew that at Sugg/Bundy we needed to teach and take care of and love on him,” principal Ali Setser said.
In October, WITN first told Lyles’s story of a long road to recovery.
He underwent a series of traumas that left him hospitalized at Duke University Hospital.
Lyles had just been involved in a crash that seriously hurt his mom when he began exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Then, Lyles was diagnosed with a MRSA infection that caused several of his organs to begin failing.
Fast forward three months and Lyles’ heart and kidney functions are approaching normal levels.
“I do appreciate how willing and open the school has been just to really get him back on track,” Sophia Lyles, EJ Lyles’ mom said.
“That was one of our fears. When he did come home, how would school go?" said Sophia Lyles, EJ Lyles’ mom
Setser reached out to Karen Harrington, Pitt County Schools director of student services, for options and landed on the VGO robot.
EJ Lyles is able to see, hear, and interact with his classmates from the safety of his home.
The robot wears an #EJStrong t-shirt, something that one donor gifted all 800 students of the H.B. Sugg and Sam D. Bundy school.
Setser inducted the shirt into the school’s spirit day collection, making it uniform-approved on the special dress-down days.
While his classmates admired his shirt, EJ Lyles admired their masks.
“He was really excited about the one kid with the Spiderman mask,” Sophia Lyles said. “It really did enough for him because he’s been jumping off the walls ever since.”
At home, EJ Lyles has made great strides in his recovery, but he doesn’t get to spend much time with other children his age.
“I think it’s important that he’s around kids his age and he realizes, ‘Hey, I’ve been through this and I’ve made it through it and now I’m here.’ That’s a way for him to share what he’s been through and share that he’s just like anybody else,” Olivia Haley, EJ Lyles’ kindergarten teacher said.
Haley has worked with the Lyles family to craft a schedule that includes Lyles in group learning while working around his medical schedule.
Lyles completed a math lesson Wednesday in greater than and less than numbers. He was able to participate with a small group of students to identify the correct answers.
And when Lyles was ready, he would light up his robot to signal his hand being raised.
EJ Lyles will continue to be monitored by a team of doctors, but when he is able to make an in-person debut at school, the H.B. Sugg family is ready to embrace him.
Every story you see here is written, filmed, edited, fronted, and day-turned by Maddie. As an MMJ with WITN, she really does it all!