Local News

Police stress prevention in effort to bring crime rates down

05 police line do not crossSix homicides in six weeks! Fayetteville Police spokesman Sgt. Jeremy Glass tells Up & Coming Weekly that half a dozen murders through Feb. 15 compare to three homicides during the corresponding period last year. 33 homicides were recorded in 2020 tying a local record. Glass said Police Chief Gina Hawkins stresses crime prevention in efforts to drive crime numbers down.

“Preventing certain crimes is a daunting, if not impossible task,” Glass said. “However, we continue to provide resources, crime prevention programs, technology and manpower trying to reduce crime.” Police could not provide information as to trends of gun violence in the city.

Coincidently, gun ownership has exploded since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest that gripped the nation over the summer. Americans purchased more guns in January 2021 than any other month on record, according to the FBI which has tracked gun sales since 1998. American citizens bought more than 4 million firearms last month which is a rise of 60% over last January.

Broadband internet service on the way to Cumberland County

05 MetroNet Truck CopyMetroNet and the city of Fayetteville will bring 100% broadband internet, television and phone services to businesses and residents in greater Fayetteville. Indiana-based MetroNet will spend more than $70 million to develop its high-speed system which is the company’s first deployment in North Carolina. Fayetteville, Hope Mills and Spring Lake as well as Linden, Wade, Stedman, Vander, Godwin, Eastover, and Falcon and much of unincorporated Cumberland County, as well as portions of Hoke County, including Raeford and Rockfish will be tied together.

Fayetteville has DSL, cable, fiber, fixed wireless and satellite internet available depending on the area. DSL covers nearly all of Fayetteville. Common speeds average around 10-40 Mbps depending on the area and provider. Internet is provided using the same cable cords as cable television. Cable internet has much faster speeds on average than DSL. MetroNet will compete primarily with Charter Spectrum for internet, television and telephone service.

There are also two small satellite services and CenturyLink provides DSL availability. There may be early termination fees for changing service when under contract. Spectrum offers a contract-free, or month-to-month, option. Program prices and internet speeds vary.

Fayetteville-Cumberland Economic Development Corporation President Robert Van Geons says MetroNet’s high speed broadband service is “state-of-the art infrastructure that will literally link our business community to the global marketplace, at the speed of light. Small businesses and entrepreneurs will be able to utilize and deploy next generation technologies and develop tomorrow’s

In addition to television and telephone services, ultrafast internet broadband will also support teleworking, distance learning and virtual medicine. A fiber optic network uses tiny strands of glass which are extremely thin. To be specific, they are less than a tenth as thick as a human hair. Each optical fiber transmits beams of light over great distances. The beams carry unprecedented amounts of data — much more than cable or DSL — directly to homes and businesses.
Amid COVID-19, the community's need for increased broadband access has become even more apparent for virtual learning and remote school and work. “MetroNet will provide small businesses, start-ups, students and teleworkers with capabilities previously unavailable to much of Cumberland County,” Van Geons said.

Mayor Mitch Colvin said the company is known for its reliable, high-speed internet friendly service, and fair pricing with no long-term contracts.

"We've experienced such a warm welcome from Mayor Colvin and the City of Fayetteville since we began discussing this project," MetroNet President John Cinelli said. "It's clear that this community is rich in diversity and opportunity, and we're excited to be a part of it as we move forward together.”

Projects of this size typically take approximately two years to build, Cinelli noted.

As the work gets underway, residents will receive communications by mail about construction activity in their neighborhood 30 days prior to starting. The company provides additional messaging, such as yard signs, to let residents know when the temporary construction process is beginning in their neighborhood.


New CEO brings expertise to PWC and local community

01 01 Elaina BallThe Fayetteville Public Works Commission welcomed Elaina Ball as the new Chief Executive Officer and General Manager in December. Ball, who has 14 years of utility experience, is the first female leader in PWC’s 115-year history and just the 9th CEO/General Manager.

“Elaina has a wealth of experience in the electric industry, including generation, which is a huge asset for us,” said PWC Chair Wade Fowler.

“She’s been a leader at outstanding utilities including public power utilities in San Antonio and Austin, Texas," Fowler said. "She was highly sought after by several other organizations and we are very fortunate that she chose PWC and Fayetteville. We are excited about the future of PWC and what she brings to it.”

Ball came to PWC from El Paso Electric where she served as Senior Vice President in Operations and Administration roles. Since 2018, she oversaw functional areas of the company including Power Generation, Power Marketing, T&D, Customer Care, Technology, Safety, Environmental and Public Relations and Corporate Communications.

She was responsible for over 800 employees and helped El Paso set new records for annual customer satisfaction scores and earn its first JD Power top performing utility award in 2019. El Paso Electric is a regional electric utility that serves over 400,000 customers in west Texas and southern New Mexico.

Prior to joining El Paso Electric, Ball worked at Austin Energy, the publicly owned electric utility serving 450,000 customers in the Austin, Texas, area.

Ball served as Vice President, Technical Services at CPS Energy, the municipally owned electric and gas utility serving over 800,000 customers in the greater San Antonio area from 2006-2012.

Fayetteville PWC is a municipally owned utility that provides electric, water and wastewater service to over 118,000 customers in Fayetteville/Cumberland County. PWC has over 600 employees and is the 37th largest municipal electric utility
in the U.S.

“I’m very excited to join the great team at PWC and for our family to be a part of this community,” said Ball. “PWC is a significant asset and plays a vital role in the community’s success. It is known throughout both the electric and water utility industry for its excellent operations and I look forward to continuing the legacy of strong leadership at PWC and continuing that excellence of providing safe and reliable service to our customers.”

Among Ball’s priorities is taking care of the team and customers and getting to know them better, she said.

“It's been terrific so far, the community has been so welcoming I have met so many different people from different industries, different fields and different walks of life and that’s something that struck me and it’s actually a big difference here in Fayetteville compared to the other utilities I was looking at before coming here,” Ball said.

With Ball’s leadership Fayetteville PWC is looking forward to updating its strategic plan, system work to maintain reliable service and supporting several projects already underway.

One such project is the PWC Community Solar, North Carolina’s first municipal community solar farm. The farm is a large-scale, ground-mount solar array offering electric customers a shared renewable energy option and an alternate to rooftop solar. Customers pay a monthly subscription fee and in exchange, receive a bill credit for the value of the solar less the cost to operate. All electric customers can participate as a subscriber in the program.

There are a number of benefits to the Community Solar project. It adds renewable energy to the local power grid without the effort and expense of installing solar panels at a home or business. Customers get paid for a portion of the power generated by the solar array.

Ball mentioned that anyone interested in helping provide cleaner, greener power for the community can visit the PWC website to learn more about installing panels, bill credits and moving toward an increased use of clean energy.

Among Ball’s priorities as the CEO and General Manager is ensuring that PWC remains customer-focused and keeps services safe and reliable while remaining cost affordable, she said. A personal driver and focus area for Ball is the improvement of the supply chain to help grow opportunities for local and diverse businesses, she said.

“As far as day-to-day, I am trying to spend the day in the field, trying to get to know our employees, see our facilities,” Ball said. “We are budgeting right now, and it really helps me get the sense of needs that the system has while getting to see the people, equipment and the business and challenges,” she said.

A native Texan, Ball attended the University of Texas at Austin and graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only about one-quarter of those working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, widely referred to as STEM, are women.

The number of women entering the professional fields of STEM is slowly growing around the world, but there is still a sizable gender gap in these professions.

Many women who do enter STEM fields and have successful careers like Ball do not necessarily consider themselves trailblazers, but simply do the best job they can in a field they enjoy.

In high school, Ball realized her love for mathematics and chemistry which led her to picking her current career path.

“I am a process person and love problem solving and being a chemical engineer is perfect for that,” she said. With a background in leadership roles, Ball said it is exciting to have this opportunity at PWC while representing women in a traditionally male career field.

Aside from work, Ball is looking forward to becoming more involved in the Fayetteville and Cumberland County communities. While working in Texas, Ball was an active civic leader, serving on the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Board of Directors. She is also a current Board of Directors member of the Association of Women in Energy.

An avid reader and snow skier, Ball is currently a member of the Fayetteville Running Club and hopes to join the local Kiwanis chapter and also find a local church to attend. Ball is married and has two children, but her family is still in Texas for now.

“But we have bought a house in the area and are renovating,” she said. “So I am really looking forward to my family joining me this spring.”

Pictured below: PWC CEO/General Manager Elaina Ball splits her time between work in the office and field visits getting to know PWC employess and facilities.

01 02 20201215 134747

Umoja Group celebrates, shares African American culture

01 01Umoja Festival at Seabrook ParkOver 30 years ago, a small group of friends with diverse interests and opinions shared an appreciation of African and African American culture along with a desire to produce positive changes in their local community. They decided to form the Umoja Group with Dr. Kwame Tuprah and Dorothy Fielder at the helm. Through the years, the organization has grown and continues to make a lasting impression in the Fayetteville community.

“The purpose of the group is to share positive cultural information about Africans, African Americans and Carribeans,” said Wanda Wesley, incoming director of the Umoja Group, Inc. “It is our duty to spotlight and share that information with others so they will know about the greatness, unity and develop a mutual respect for one another.”

The group, incorporated in 2005, is very active in the community and one of their biggest services is to assist students by awarding them scholarships for college. Since 1998, the group has given over $22,000 in scholarships.

“Since the Umoja Group was formed in the community, the scholarships focus around students who live in the Broadell, E. E. Smith and Fayetteville State community,” said Wesley. “So most of those scholarship recipients have either been students who actually attend E. E. Smith High School or who have been active participants in the Umoja Group’s activities over the years as far as volunteers or supporters.”

Wesley added that a lot of the students who receive scholarships are recommended by the E. E. Smith Band because a lot of the students in the band participate in many of their activities.

“We have worked with the school to identify worthy students who have positive attitudes, decent grades and give back to the community,” said Wesley. “In December 2020, we gave a $1,000 scholarship to Deborah Effon, an early senior at Massey Hill Classical High School that finished in December.”

One of their annual events is the Umoja Festival held the last Saturday in August. “It is a community day and we have singers, dancers, food and product vendors, and a health fair,” said Wesley. “For the last few years, we have partnered with Darvin Jones from Cape Fear Valley to have a health fair and it has been very well received.”

The health fair is designed for individuals who might not normally go to the doctor for routine physicals. The health screenings include cholesterol, rapid HIV test, depression screening, blood pressure, blood glucose, body mass index, vision screening, lung function tests, flu shots, blood typing, AFib testing and more.

“One year there was a person whose blood pressure was so high and they did not realize it and came to the health fair,” said Wesley. “They found out they needed to take care of some things and it may have saved their life.”

“What I think is really special about the festival is that it is intergenerational, something for the entire family, wholesome, fun and exciting,” said Wesley. “You would feel comfortable bringing your small child out as well as your grandparent.”

Darvin Jones, community health coordinator of Cape Fear Valley, gave his perspective of the group.

“I think the Umoja Group does an outstanding job in the community trying to bring culture and heritage together,” said Jones. “Umoja means unity and that is exactly what they do through some of their programs with education and the appreciation of the arts, culture and a positive history.

“I approached the Umoja Group ten years ago about doing what I call the hospital making a house call into the community,” said Jones. “The first group that I approached about this was very lukewarm, but the Umoja Group loved the idea so we got together and discussed the vision of what it could be.”

Jones added that together they executed that vision and now it has become a part of the Umoja Festival. Every year they find something that they screen for, such as high blood pressure, in abundance.

Not only is it set up to find these things, it is designed to help people. It has grown into being the largest health fair in the county.

The Kwanzaa celebration has become a popular staple event in the community. “We recently had our Kwanzaa celebration and that is when I first got started with the Umoja Group,” said Wesley. “The celebration is a great community gathering of people and it tells them the history of Kwanzaa along with the seven principles, their meanings, and how they can live that through their
daily lives.”

The last few years the celebration has taken place at the Smith Recreation Center. “There is a set program and we usually start off with a drum call, welcome, singing, libation to those who have passed, a parade of African kings and queens, a tribute to elders, a feast, storytelling, scholarship presentation, dancing and more,” said Wesley. “One of our most popular acts is Shaka Zulu, performed by Larry Johnson, who has been doing this for over 20 years and everybody looks forward to his performance.”

Due to the circumstances of COVID-19, the celebration was held virtually on Facebook in December 2020. “We shared Kwanzaa videos throughout the month of December which proved to be well-received and we will most likely incorporate that format into how we celebrate going forward,” said Wesley. “We did several interviews with children and adults who have been a part of the celebration for years and we were able to reach a larger audience to include folks from other states and overseas.”

Future projects include digitizing the mural “Wall of Honor” to make the information more widely accessible and sharing stories about the individuals featured on
the mural.

For more information, donations, or to volunteer call 910-485-8035 or email umojagroupfay@gmail.com. If you would like to purchase a copy of Wall of Honor: A Celebration of Fayetteville’s Everyday Heroes contact Donna Barnes at 919-368-5258.

Pictured above: The Umoja Festival at Seabrook Park is usually held the last Saturday in August. The public event is a celebration of culture and heritage.

01 02 Kwanzaa U G members Ramon Huggins Dr Kwame and Yawa Tuprah








Pictured above: Umoja Group members celebrate Kwanzaa (left to right) Ramon Huggins, Dr. Kwame Tuprah, Yawa Tuprah.

01 03 2020 U G scholarship recipient Deborak Effon











Pictured above: Deborah Effon (center) received the 2020 Umoja Group Scholarship.

MedAssist teams with Humana to provide free over-the-counter medicine in drive-thru event on Feb. 19

NC MedAssist is holding a Mobile Free Pharmacy Event in partnership with Humana in Cumberland County on Feb. 19 from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The event will be held at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church located at 701 Westmont Dr., Fayetteville and is open to any individual or family needing over-the-counter medications. Such items include cough and cold medicine, vitamins, allergy medication, first aid supplies, etc. Participants must be at least 18 years old to receive medicine. No identification is required, however face masks are required to participate.

“Our North Carolina team is proud to partner with NC MedAssist here in Cumberland County and across the state to bring resources to those in need in our community,” said Humana’s North Carolina Director Patrick Farley. “We hope that having these important over-the-counter supplies on hand will help everyone stay healthy this winter.”

All Mobile Free Pharmacy events are being held as a drive-thru service only. In order to comply with local recommended guidelines, all participants will remain in their vehicles while volunteers retrieve their medicine. Participants are highly encouraged to pre-order their over-the-counter medicine online by visiting https://medassist.org/mobile/ and selecting their county event. Additional options are available for those individuals unable to pre-register online, so that everyone who needs medicine will be able to receive it. However, it is highly suggested to come early in the day if you were not able to pre-order online, as medicine will be given out on a first come, first serve basis, and while supplies last.

At the event, all participants will receive information on NC MedAssist’s Free Pharmacy Program, which mails free prescription medications directly to a patient’s home. NC MedAssist’s overall goal is to help ease the burden for those in need; it is aiding people who are making the choice between buying food and purchasing life-saving medication.

“Due to the pandemic, we had to create a new and innovative way to continue serving the community. We will be bringing close to $100,000 worth of OTC medicine to the event to be distributed to those most in need in our community,” said Sheila Kidwell, Director of Foundations and Communication at NC MedAssist. “We understand there is a pressing need, especially in the midst of the cold and flu season. Our goal in this partnership with Humana is to improve the health of the community, one family at a time.”

The Mobile Free Pharmacy events have served upwards of 1,000 people, at times. To ensure the event runs smoothly and that all participants are served by the end, many volunteers are needed. NC MedAssist is partnered with safety-net organizations to recruit community members to serve in volunteer roles such as pharmacy consultation, client personal shoppers and sorters. However, the charitable organization is still actively seeking volunteers for the Mobile Free Pharmacy Event from the community. Any interested individuals can sign up at www.medassist.org/volunteer.

NC MedAssist is a statewide non-profit pharmacy, founded in 1997. The organization provides free prescription medication to all low-income, uninsured North Carolinians who qualify for their Free Pharmacy Program. NC MedAssist offers three programs that address the needs of children and adults: the Free Pharmacy Program (for prescription medication); the Over-the-Counter Program (which includes the Free OTC Store in Charlotte, as well as the Mobile Free Pharmacy Program which distributes over-the-counter medicine in communities across the state); and the Transitional Jobs Program (for individuals with barriers to employment). Last year, NC MedAssist distributed $76 million worth of prescription and over-the-counter medicine to NC residents.

Learn more about NC MedAssist at www.medassist.org. You can also visit their Facebook at www.facebook.com/NCMedAssist/.


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