Everyone who lives in Davie County knows what a special place it is.  Soon other communities around the country will know it as well. Last month, the National Civic League selected Davie County as a finalist for this year’s All-America City Award. We will now compete against 19 other communities in Denver, Colorado, June 9-11, 2023.  

This year’s theme is “Creating Thriving Communities through Youth Engagement.” The 2023 award seeks to identify communities that are breaking down barriers to meaningful youth participation and enacting programs that will improve the quality of life for youth and, by extension, all members of the community. Davie County’s application focuses on youth programs that build the civic capacity of young people, increase job readiness and employment opportunities and provide leadership opportunities.

This is the final article in a series of articles published each Tuesday, sharing a different portion of Davie County’s All-America City Award application. While the application was compiled by a team of county and municipal representatives and community leaders, the story is about all of us. As you read, you will revel in Davie County’s accomplishments and learn more about innovative programs in your own backyard. Take a bow Davie County; you have much to be proud of.   

PART III: Describe Three Community-Driven Projects or Programs

Describe your best projects or programs that have a compelling community-wide vision and have resulted in significant local impact and action planning within the past five years. Since the theme this year focuses on youth engagement, we opted to submit all powerful youth-related programs.  These programs were evaluated based on a shared vision, civic engagement, inclusiveness and equity, collaboration, innovation, and impact. This week focuses on our final two programs, S.U.R.F. Board Grantmakers and Davie Respect Initiative.   

S.U.R.F Board Grantmakers annual big check presentation. The board raises money through its annual Popsicle 5K and then grants the funds to youth-led projects. 

S.U.R.F. Board Grantmakers

The Davie Community Foundation (DCF) believes that building leadership within the community is an important role of a community foundation. In 2004, the Community Foundation partnered with the Ministers’ Alliance to conduct a needs assessment through our local churches. Community Foundation staff interviewed community and school leaders as well as county non-profit organizations and agencies to determine needs. Consistently, youth issues were raised, from drug abuse and a 33% high school dropout rate to a lack of positive activities for youth in the county.

The concerns of adults in the community mirrored the findings of an Annie E. Casey Foundation study at the time that found an alarming general “disconnect” of today’s youth from their communities and society in general. According to the report, one in six youths ages 18-24 were reported as not working, not in school, and having no degree beyond high school.

In response, DCF began a Youth in Philanthropy program in 2005 with the intent of improving that trend in Davie County.  DCF began by bringing together collaborators (representatives from Davie County High School, Davidson County Community College – Davie Campus, Davie High Eagle Academy, Community Foundation board, a community volunteer, and a local youth minister) who believed in the value of a Youth in Philanthropy program for Davie County.

Based upon reports from other youth grant-making organizations, expectations were that a Youth in Philanthropy program would:

  • Empower youth to take creative steps toward addressing youth-related issues.
  • Teach youth the importance of volunteering time and talents to better their community.
  • Increase youth’s propensity toward philanthropic giving.
  • Provide training to develop leadership skills and experiences that place youth in leadership roles.
  • Help youth make life choices that involve philanthropy and the non-profit sector. Some may care enough to want to give back through non-profit work, and through their experience with youth grant-making, they will have the skills and knowledge to be strong community leaders.

Eighteen youths (six mainstream Davie High School students, six “at risk” Davie Eagle Academy students, and six Davidson County Community College Davie Campus students) were selected to create change. Of those approached, five from each group committed to the Youth in Philanthropy program. Youth worked with Eric Rowles from the Youth Leadership Institute to learn evaluation skills for group facilitation and assessment of needs. These youths led youth discussions and surveys throughout the county. Unlike prior assessments, these youth surveyed and discussed issues with their peers (13-24) to determine what young people viewed as the greatest youth needs in our community.  After collecting the data, the youths worked together to compile the information and prepare a community presentation.

S.U.R.F. Board big check presentation.

Results shared at the community presentation were surprising and concerning to adults:

  • Nothing to do
  • Harassment by cops  
  • No place to go/hang out where kids aren’t chased off
  • High School – too small, too crowded
  • Drugs
  • Racism
  • No county transportation
  • No jobs for youth
  • Not enough money for school computers/technology that works 

Consequently, DCF committed to involving youth in bettering their community. It established a youth grants board, S.U.R.F. (Student Understanding Real Futures) Board Youth Grantmakers, to grant funds for youth-led projects. S.U.R.F. Board members learn the importance of giving their time, talent, and treasure to make their community a better place. Their volunteer hours have increased from more than 300 hours annually to more than 600 annually. 

Students select incoming board members each year from applications submitted by rising freshmen.

S.U.R.F. Board Youth Grantmakers has changed over the years but empowering young people to be leaders has remained constant. Today board members interview candidates to join their board annually. They work to keep an equal distribution of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Eighth-grade students from all three middle schools are encouraged to apply each June in an effort to keep the board geographically and racially diverse. This was a challenge in the early years of the program, where S.U.R.F Board minority representation was only 5% in a community minority population of 16%, but the S.U.R.F Board now enjoys a consistent 13%-18% minority involvement rate. We credit this rate to empowering the youth board to select its own members. Board members also elect their officers who plan monthly agendas with the advisor. The youth officers lead the meetings.

S.U.R.F. Board leaders plan an annual retreat with get-to-know-you and team-building activities. They also discuss their fundraising plan for dollars to offer in grants for youth-led projects. Ideas for projects that address youth needs are discussed in small groups.

S.U.R.F. now hosts the POPSICLE 5K in February to raise money for their grantmaking. They reach out to local business leaders for sponsorships and race donations. They work with a local nonprofit organization to time their certified race for runners who are more serious than many of their participants. Most of the 5K is run on the new Greenway in Rich Park. Other high school youth and adults volunteer to assist with the 5K and are given directions by S.U.R.F. Board members. The number of youth involved in volunteering has tripled because of the number of volunteers needed for the POSPSICLE 5K. This event has proven financially successful, raising between $8,000 and $14,000 for grant awards annually. In all, S.U.R.F. has raised $84,091 and awarded 65 grants totaling $79,089.

The S.U.R.F Board’s 2023 Popsicle 5K raised $11,000 for youth grants.

Examples of grants funded include: 

Birthdays in a Box – $960 – The Davie High STEM Ambassadors bought supplies for children’s birthday parties (cake mix, icing, plates, cups, napkins, hats, etc.)  and put them in plastic containers. The containers were donated to A Storehouse for Jesus so families who could not afford a birthday party could pick up the box and host one for their child. The Youth discussed that young children often talk about their birthday parties at school, and they didn’t want any child to be unable to hold one because of financial need. 

Wardrobe Warriors – $1,000 – The Davie 4-H Club discussed the fact that teenagers from poor families are often alienated because of the clothes they wear. The group purchased “hip” clothes to place at A Storehouse for Jesus so teenagers could find donations that would allow them to look like other teens. 

Hunger Fighters – $4,000 – SURF was excited to make a grant for food for their peers. The Hunger Fighters at the high school take boxes of food to needy students’ homes to feed their families for the weekend.

The S.U.R.F Board has remained committed to addressing the issues identified in the first assessment (2005). Many of these issues have been resolved through partnerships with other organizations or mitigated through youth projects.  

High School Too Small, Too Crowded / School Computers – Technology That Works

This concern was shared throughout Davie County. In the Fall of 2017, a new tech-savvy Davie County High School was opened for students. After a great deal of public input and engagement the old high school campus was converted into a community park complex supporting a wide variety of activities.  

Technology is also now accessible to all students from kindergarten through high school.

S.U.R.F also sprang into action when COVID hit. They participated in a Zoom tutorial on how to teach 3rd Grade Math so it would align with what the teachers were teaching. They then offered themselves as tutors for 3rd  Grade children who needed extra help. 

S.U.R.F participated in the annual “Twas the Night Before” bed race in Downtown Mocksville.

Nothing to Do / No Jobs for Youth

Thanks to many investments around Davie County, there are a variety of activities available for youth, which has also created job opportunities. A new Davie County Park, the Greenway in Rich Park, Farmington Disc Golf Course, Cognition of Davie County, Truist Sports Park, Rise Indoor Sports, the Park at Lake Louise, and beach volleyball courts all offer opportunities to be active or simply to be together.

In Spring 2020, S.U.R.F. had the opportunity to participate in a Zoom conversation with County and town leaders about economic development. They gained a better understanding of the current efforts being made in their county and the lengthy process often required to effect change. As teenagers, their number one request for economic development was to bring a Chick-fil-A to Davie County. In January 2023, Chick-fil-A broke ground in eastern Davie County thanks to the successes of Truist Sports Park and Rise Indoor Sports.

No Place to Hang Out

In 2005, a S.U.R.F. grant funded equipment for a Teen Center hosted at the YMCA, and in 2006 a similar S.U.R.F. grant funded a Teen Gathering Place at the Farmington Community Center. Since that time, additional recreational facilities have been added to the community center.    

S.U.R.F. also awarded a grant in 2021 to create a hammock area at the Park at Lake Louise where young people could “hang out” together and enjoy a lake view. Other S.U.R.F. grants that facilitated youth social engagement included funding the Makerspace at Cognition to provide hands-on educational opportunities, purchasing uniforms to start a Special Olympics Track Team coached by a teenager, and purchasing equipment for a special needs soccer program. S.U.R.F. also provided funds in support of an autism awareness/enrichment project to help elementary children better understand children with autism.


In 2007, S.U.R.F. funded a grant for diversity lunches at Davie High School to promote conversations and understanding among the student body.

In 2010 Youth Filmmakers’ anti-bullying videos for middle school students were funded through a S.U.R.F grant.   

In the summer of 2020, S.U.R.F used Zoom to host a discussion to raise awareness about racism. Two consultants led the small group conversations around stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination, bias, racism, and social justice. These sessions gave board members a better understanding of their own biases and feelings. One member commented that he now understood he is a “privileged white male” and has a responsibility to see people as individuals and help others do the same.

Although specific impacts may be difficult to measure, the S.U.R.F. Board Youth Grantmakers have successfully helped effect change on some of their greatest concerns in Davie County! The hope of the DCF Board is that some of these leaders will return to Davie County as adult leaders and continue to make a positive difference. We believe the S.U.R.F. Board provides food for both the mind and heart. Youth who participate with S.U.R.F. go on to be leaders in their schools and recipients of prestigious scholarships, including the Parks Scholar (NC State), Levine Scholar (UNC-Charlotte), and Morehead-Cain Scholar (UNC–Chapel Hill). We want to leave you with a short story that speaks well to the organizational and leadership skills S.U.R.F. Board members are able to hone in their time with us. The following is an excerpt from an email we received from a proud parent:

“Maddie has been so incredibly blessed by you and her time on the S.U.R.F board!!  I’m not sure you know the extent of how your words, wisdom, and influence impacts these young adults! 

Maddie serves on the executive committee of her sorority. The Executive Committee is comprised of all “Vice Presidents” of the different committees, and she is the VP of Philanthropy.  She planned, organized, and hosted an impressive event last night!  We had no idea!!  Various alumni kept commenting that this was the largest philanthropy event that Alpha XI Delta had ever had to support a local charity!  Her “big sisters” (graduates that came back for this event) couldn’t get over how well it was put together! The judges commented on the decorations, how professional they looked, and the organization of the event. Her fellow sisters couldn’t believe the attendance!  (Sorry for the bragging- I’m a proud mom!)

They had over 230 people attend and expected around 120!  They raised money for Nourish NC, an organization giving nutritious meals each week to children in need.  They collected over 30 auction items and sold raffle tickets for chances to win items.” 

Davie Respect Initiative 

2017 was a turbulent year in the United States characterized by political rancor, the Harvey Weinstein controversy that gave birth to the “Me Too” movement, mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas, and the deadly “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, VA. These events left many people shaken and wondering if civil discourse and basic respect for our neighbors were fading into history. Meanwhile, a group of Davie County residents were reflecting on how much they enjoyed living in our community and considering ways to “give back” so that living in Davie County could be an even better experience for everyone.

During this initial brainstorming session, several thoughts emerged:

  1. Could a program be developed that would increase the amount of expressed respect in Davie County? 
  2. Since the future of any community truly lies in the hands of its youth, could this program also challenge youth to express their natural creativity to make a difference in the community?
  3. How could such a program be designed to attract and maintain diverse youth involvement?      

What followed was a community-wide collaborative effort called the Davie Respect Initiative (DRI). Both the people who provided feedback and the volunteer panelists later tasked with selecting DRI Challenge winners were drawn from a diverse pool of community members representing different racial, ethnic, gender, social, and religious experiences. This included early outreach to involve African-American churches and our local chapter of the NAACP. DRI has also solicited feedback and involvement with businesses, non-profits, Davie County School System, county & municipal governments, and average citizens. DRI Challenge winners have also influenced the program.  

After months of community discussions and planning, DRI kicked off in early 2018 with a website, an application process, and an incentive for young people to sign up and participate. DRI is a competitive community impact challenge for Davie County youth between the ages of 12 and 21, willing to put in the work and effectively communicate a creative project that would enhance the amount of expressed respect in Davie County. The projects could be done individually or with a group and could involve care for the Davie County environment or promote any other activity that expressed respect.

The program started with private funding for up to ten $1,000 awards in 2018 and continues to be fully funded through community donations. There are no restrictions on how winners spend their $1000 award. Examples include purchasing equipment to start youth-owned businesses, saving for college, purchasing transportation, continuing Respect projects, and donating to charity. In 2020, former DRI Challenge winners were added to the selection panel. Submissions are evaluated based on a rubric developed by DRI with five scoring criteria. 

Implementation:   Is the project already being implemented, or what is the likelihood that it could be implemented by the applicant or others?

Effectiveness:   How likely is the project to be effective at influencing the expression of respect in Davie County?

Feasibility:   Is the project realistic, can it be implemented with the resources available?

Originality:   How original is the idea for the project?

Substance:  Does the application show evidence that the applicant has really thought about how this idea might be implemented?

DRI received more than 40 applications during its inaugural award year, ranging from basic ideas to a thoroughly planned project already in action. Eighteen submissions moved into a second phase of the application process that included an interview panel that delved into project details and community impacts. Ten winners were announced and celebrated at an awards event open to anyone in Davie County. Various elected boards across Davie County also honored and continue to celebrate winners during public meetings. 

Submissions to the 2019 DRI Challenge were notably more substantive than the 2018 submissions. Ten additional awardees were selected and provided a $1000 award.

DRI adapted to the COVID-19 Pandemic by transitioning to a quarterly award format. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only two Ambassadors of Respect were named in 2020. With the transition to quarterly awards, annual winners increased to a maximum of 12  per year. Up to 3 are selected each quarter depending on the quality of applications submitted.  

As DRI continued to organically develop in 2018 and 2019, additional enhancements were added:

Each DRI Challenge Awardee was given the “title” of Ambassador of Respect (AoR) for Davie County. As AoRs grew into their roles, they began to work together on projects and became more involved in the selection process and organization.

AoRs have significant service/development opportunities, including monthly meetings with DRI leadership who act as facilitators and mentors. Other community and business leaders are invited to present during the monthly meetings as well. For instance, Caroline Moser, president of the Davie Chamber of Commerce, engaged with each AoR to determine their interests and facilitated introductions to local businesses that could match those interests.

In addition to their Respect projects, AoRs have been involved with several community events, including collaborating with TRU Taekwondo to gather bottled water, snacks, and t-shirts for the Dragonfly House Children’s Advocacy Center. Three AoRs also led a campaign to gather dog food, bedding, and toys for the Davie County Humane Society (DCHS). The DCHS does not have a permanent building, so all the dogs and cats were being fostered. They put boxes in several local businesses and collected the boxes every couple of weeks. This was a huge success – filling two SUVs full of supplies and toys for our furry friends.  

The most recent service projects included IMPACT of the Piedmont, which provides housing and services for adults with neurodiversity. DRI Leadership and the AoRs have hosted two parties at a small local airport to benefit the group. The AoRs managed food coordination, entertainment, and clean up. The recent holiday party had close to 100 guests!

Davie Respect Initiative hosted two parties for IMPACT of the Piedmont, which provides housing and services for adults with neurodiversity.

Davie Respect Initiative was built with the diversity of our community in mind and wants Ambassadors of Respect to reflect this diversity. The forty-three (43) Ambassadors of Respect selected from 2018-2022 are a true cross-section of Davie County as reflected in Table 1 below:

Table 1 – DRI Recipients by Race / Ethnicity

Race / EthnicityDavie County Schools DRI Recipients
African American6.6%11.6%

There are two areas where DRI needs to improve and encourage involvement. The first is gender. Sixty-four percent (64%) of Ambassadors of Respect are female, while only 36% are male. The student body population is 48.7% female and 51.3% male. Another area to consider is that Hispanic ambassadors are underrepresented, while African-American, White, and Asian Ambassadors are overrepresented. However, we realize that this is a small sample size in a relatively new program, so the most significant challenge we see moving forward is engaging more male and Hispanic involvement. DRI also needs to find a way to measure community respect. Other than anecdotal data, the program has not defined how community respect can be measured over time. We have discussed adding a question to a county-wide survey in 2023 and using that as our baseline. 

Even with the challenges noted above, DRI has made significant progress in achieving its original goals:

  1. DRI is a program that has given birth to forty-three youth-driven projects to increase respect in Davie County. In addition to these projects, it has facilitated the growth of youth leaders engaged in additional community projects and in selecting future Ambassadors of Respect. 
  2. Youth have been effectively challenged to use their creativity and imagination to build mutually respectful relationships in the community through their projects. Several of these are described through the lens of the 2023 theme below. 
  3. Program participants and, more importantly, winners represent a diverse cross-section of our community.  
DRI collected food, beds, and toys for the Davie County Humane Society.

Below is a list of AoR projects that are consistent with the All-America 2023 theme.                                                     (Note: Some projects may fit into more than one category.)   

Build the Civic Capacity of Young People

a. Madelynn Keller: Created a community column in the high school newspaper to address youth and community issues. This column has also been published in the Davie County Enterprise.  

b. Jack Williams: Built awareness and provided resources for youth with chronic illnesses, in particular Type 1 diabetes.

Promote Youth Participation in Voting and Policymaking

a. Madelynn Keller: Responded to a social media post that was clearly anti-gay/anti-same-sex marriage and related issues by engaging Davie High School administration. 

Provide Leadership Opportunities for Youth

a. DRI gives applicants opportunities for their voices to be heard through projects that improve the quality of life and address issues of inequality in Davie County

b. Each year 1 or 2 awardees are invited to serve on the DRI Selection Panel alongside various county leaders.

c. Kaylee Roscoe: Recruited volunteers to provide services for the elderly and disabled.

d. Riley Barnes: Developed an entrepreneurial business (raising chickens) to generate money to support needy folks in Davie County.

Enhance Civics Education

a. Rachel Quance: Developed a website to publicize and enhance volunteer opportunities for young people and adults in the County.

b. PJ Peck: Developed a podcast program to promote mental health.

Improve Police-Youth Relations and Engagement in Public Safety

a. Savannah Ivey: Developed a project to train the public in how to respond appropriately during crisis situations and treat victims and rescuers with respect.

b. Sugar Valley Squadron CAP Cadets: Initiated a project to provide EMS responders with opportunities to inform the public about the work being done in the county.

Improve Mental Health and Trauma Systems for Youth

a. Reagan Brooks: Developed a project to encourage the public to support the work of Milling Manor (Impact of the Piedmont) and to encourage neurodivergent students to participate in school activities.

b. Maddie Kulis: Initiated the Down Syndrome Walk for Davie County.

c. Isabella Brown: Developed a project to provide the “differently-abled” with opportunities to work in a protected environment.

Reduce Poverty and Income Inequality, Including Youth Homelessness

a. Mary Cain: Worked with Family Promise, which supports “at-risk families”, to create corn hole games to promote family health through recreation.

Foster Youth-Oriented Efforts to Improve Equity and Inclusion

a. Morgan Creason: Developed a committee with representatives from the school administration, students, and faculty to address issues of racial inequality.

The positive impact of the Davie Respect Initiative can be found in this quote by one of our DRI Ambassadors of Respect. 

“My project focused on my childhood love of the sport volleyball. I raised money and purchased agility and volleyball equipment for the local Parks & Rec Department in my small town. I completed my project 3 years ago, but I still am actively involved with Parks & Rec. Now, I use the equipment that I purchased to coach a team of young girls every spring. Being a part of the Davie Respect Initiative has changed my perspective entirely since working on and completing my project. I see the impact that I am making on the lives of others. Therefore, I realize the impact that DRI has on the youth of our community. DRI helped make my project possible. Not only did they supply the funding to help with the coaching process, but they provided never-ending support to my project. If I needed anything at all, I could always reach out to the DRI team, and they would be there instantly. Through my project, I had the opportunity to teach young girls how to play the game I love so dearly. I built connections with each girl on my team, and I was able to teach them life lessons that they will never forget. I taught each girl how to win and how to lose. I watched the girls create ever-lasting friendships with one another. I witnessed memories being made each and every practice and game. Being a part of The Davie Respect Initiative is an opportunity that I will forever be grateful for. Each and every day, I am aware of the good they do in our small county. I see the differences they are making, and I am extremely blessed to be a part of such an incredible organization.”

Davie County’s All-America City team will head to Denver, Colorado, on June 8th, to compete in the annual competition sponsored by the National Civic League. The team is comprised of students and advisors from IGNITE DAVIE, Davie Works/CTE, S.U.R.F. Board, and Davie Respect Initiative, as well as municipal and civic leaders with a passion for supporting the youth in our community.  Next week, we will share the names of the participants and highlight the work that is being done to prepare for the competition. 

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