Charlotte EAST Matters – An Interview with Carol Sawyer, District 4 CMS School Board Rep about East Side Issues

Carol Sawyer is the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board’s new District 4 member, and she represents many of Charlotte’s East side neighborhoods. Although she is new to serving on the Board, she is a seasoned veteran of School Board meetings and deliberations. Her website offers an exhaustive list of contributions to CMS  including long-term volunteer commitments in classrooms; advocacy for school improvements; service on the CMS Equity Committee (now disbanded); and championing moves to reduce high concentrations of poverty in our schools. Her daughter attended Charlotte public schools, and Carol was a frequent attender at CMS Board or Policy Committee meetings. Now Carol serves on the Policy Committee, which is chaired by Dr. Ruby Jones, who represents the remainder of the East side’s neighborhoods.

When I asked Carol how East side residents can help her achieve her goals, she asserted that “we have to do it neighborhood by neighborhood.” She points to some wonderful East side success stories: Idlewild Elementary being named as best magnet school nationwide, and the high payoff of parent involvement at Shamrock and Oakhurst Elementary schools. She is excited about the new K-8 school coming to the former Eastland Mall site, which will open with K-1 magnet students in a Dual Language program she believes will be popular.

Carol believes that “neighborhoods own their schools,” Each of us has an elementary, middle, and high school that serve us. Whether or not you’ve got children in schools, you strengthen your neighborhood by strengthening your schools. She was ready with a list of ways to engage: Be a tutor; be another pair of hands in the classroom; offer paid internships through your work; volunteer in career development programs; be a mentor; help students network; help staff network to find community partners and sponsors. Sometimes it’s the simple impromptu things that matter: at school events, “notice that your teachers need a break,” said Carol. “Pair that with the fact that attendees at school function often welcome a task as a way to make a contribution. Be that person who matches attendees with teachers you can relieve.”

Carol has said: “We talk a lot about closing the achievement gap in CMS…equally important, we need to raise the floor and lift the ceiling of student achievement. So it’s not just about closing the gap, it’s about elevating all students.” She wants to be an accessible representative and encourages residents to register for her eNewsletter. She maintains Facebook and Twitter accounts:  @Sawyer4Schools and can be reached, or 980-292-0554.


Charlotte EAST Matters–An Interview with Mike Sullivan, Board Co-Chair

Mike Sullivan is a new and dynamic member of the Charlotte EAST Board. Soon after joining the Board, he was elected to serve as Co-Chair, finishing the term of Kay Peninger, who left Charlotte to take a new job. Mike is a commercial realtor with the Nichols Company, though he’s also been employed by political campaigns and hosted his own television show. He has chaired the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, served on the Historic Districts Commission, and is currently on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning Commission, where he is a member of the Zoning Committee.

Mike is an enthusiastic champion of the East side, where he has been a resident of many of its neighborhoods. “East Charlotte is in an auspicious time,” he explains. “What people are trying to build elsewhere we already have – quaint neighborhoods with cultural diversity and affordable homes.”

Charlotte EAST began as an advocacy group for the former Eastland Mall site. Mike noted that the Planning Commission’s work toward a Uniform Development Ordinance (UDO) is relevant to such redevelopment. The UDO aims at promoting and guiding “smart” and focused growth using guidelines that help “places” in the city retain their unique character.  He wonders if the former Eastland site could be a first opportunity to implement the UDO – be it a private development or some type of a public/private partnership.

Mike’s real estate background leads him to think that it may be time for the City to “get out of the way” and put the former mall site up for sale. “We need to let Eastland be what it is destined to be.” He maintains that the City could put some restrictions on uses, and if we let the market determine what will become of the property, change will happen faster, and developers will manage transportation and other issues.

When I asked Mike how he sees the East side among other city sectors, he acknowledged there is bias against us by those who don’t know us. He believes we lack a cohesive political strategy but hopes that Charlotte EAST can be a broker for changing that. He envisions a very diverse Board that actively promotes conversations among East side residents about “who and what we are and what we want to become.” He is excited about the Board’s new broader mission to be an advocate for East side neighborhoods and schools.

Mike observed that the hardest part of making and keeping vital neighborhoods is bringing people together. While social media has a role to play, he believes physical proximity is important and hopes there will be many future opportunities to offer that. He cited Charlotte EAST’s Taste of the World as a step in the right direction and envisions other thematic festivals and pop-up events throughout the year. “These events help us point to our strengths and engage young people, and where there is youth, there is growth.”



CHARLOTTE EAST MATTERS: An Interview with Ms. Sil Ganzó about East Side Issues

Ms. Sil Gonzó with ourBRIDGE students

Ms. Sil Ganzó directs ourBRIDGE for Kids, and I met with her at their new location on the grounds of Aldersgate Retirement Community. I learned about ourBRIDGE when Mr. David High of Aldersgate praised their work and shared that he was delighted to bring them to East Charlotte. OurBRIDGE is a non-profit “out-of-school” program that supports refugee and immigrant students as they adjust to a new life in the U.S.

Ms. Ganzó explained that, while tutoring and academic programming are important services they
provide, ourBRIDGE also strives to support the social and emotional growth of the children in their care. She explained that refugees have 90 days of support after arriving in the U.S., and a lot must happen in that window. Many ourBRIDGE kids grew up in refugee camps or had to flee their homes and leave everything behind. “We want our kids to be proud of who they are. Sometimes having an accent can feel embarrassing, but we make sure they know it is a good thing because it means they speak another language. We want to help them feel at home, confident, and safe.”

OurBRIDGE draws students from several local elementary schools and Eastway Middle School for after school or summer programs. Students work on English and math and get homework help, but Ms. Ganzó explained that their curriculum touch on all disciplines through lessons on citizenship, empathy, and sportsmanship. A school counselor and family therapist are also available. “We develop an individualized plan for each child.”

Ms. Ganzó explained that OurBRIDGE receives lots of community support, because “our success is evident.” Their data show students exceeding national growth by 37.9% in reading and 47.9% in math. (Loosely, growth is the number of grade levels advanced in one year.) Ms. Ganzó, a native of Argentina, has been with OurBRIDGE since its inception. She grew it out of a for-profit organization that was discontinued, driven by her commitment to help refugees. “It’s not enjoyable leaving everything behind, but you do it if your best option is to grab-and-go. These kids are going to be here,” said Ms. Ganzó. “They are going to be working in this city and country. They need our support now.”


Where Do We Stand: Housing – A Spotlight on St. John’s Place

An interview series about East Side Issues

By Helene Hilger

Pamela Jefsen,
Executive Director of
Supportive Housing Communities

I recently sat down with Ms. Pamela Jefsen, Director of
Supportive Housing Communities (SHC), to hear about the
innovative housing program coming to East Charlotte and
discuss affordable housing initiatives in general. Her agency
( works with the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Homeless Services Network to help
people find and stay in permanent housing. SHC recently
invested $1.3 million to buy and renovate St. John’s Place,
an apartment complex near Harris Boulevard, that was
unsightly and in disrepair.

After the renovations, existing residents may remain in their
apartments; formerly homeless residents will obtain stable
housing; and SHC will provide maintenance, staff, inter-
agency coordination and volunteers to help residents
succeed. The St. John’s Place project is being heralded as an
example of ways in which communities can serve their
neighbors in need while enjoying the benefits of a more
attractive building and safer environs.

Ms. Jefsen acknowledged that the East side’s positive response to the St. John’s purchase speaks
well of our community culture. She noted that it contrasts with what she has seen in other county
sectors, explaining that other city sectors often rebuff affordable housing proposals based on pre-
conceived ideas of what their new neighbors will be like; fear of what the property will look like;
and fear of a project’s effect on nearby property values. However, she was quick to point out that
such is not always the case, and some neighbors welcome the diversity that an affordable housing
project might bring.

I explained that the East side is already quite diverse, and we are constantly striving to stabilize and
increase our economic base. Our income demographics need to be strong if we are to attract new
businesses. Ms. Jeffers concurred, recognizing that that in general, it makes sense that any
affordable housing added to the East side come as part of mixed income housing initiatives that also
include strong educational components. She cited the new Renaissance West Community Initiative
( ) that combines housing, schools, and community services as a model. The
aim should be to ensure that the economic base of a sector remains stable or improves when
neighborhoods are asked to share in hosting those among us who are most in need.

I asked Ms. Jeffers if the economic stability impacts of host neighborhoods are considered when
affordable housing locations are considered by the various agencies and governing bodies that
deliberate about their siting. She said that typically was not the case, and that it would be up to us
(the East side) to make this case for ourselves. Ms. Jefsen applauded our strong East side ethic of
advocacy for neighborhoods, schools, and economic development and felt confident that we could
have a voice in such decisions. She believes such neighborhood advocacy is important, saying “You
can only advocate for your own neighborhood – it is where you have the most credibility.”


Taste of the World 2017 Volunteer Reception and Info Session Huge Success!

Taste of the World 2017 planning (and ticket sales) is underway! It takes many volunteers to host a successful event. From Bus Guides and Restaurant Guides to Registration volunteers, there are many roles that contribute to the success of this annual event. To volunteers past and present we say, “THANK YOU!”

A Volunteer Information Session and Reception was held on August 5, 2017 at the Charlotte Museum of History. It was well attended and we looking forward to working with these dedicated volunteers as we prepare for Taste of the World 2017.



Taste of the World 2017 Tickets on Sale Now!


Taste of the World is a food tour of more than 25 restaurants representing cuisine from across the globe all right here in beautiful east Charlotte. Let us be your guide for the 15th consecutive Taste of the World event and take your taste buds on a culinary expedition to three of these local treasures!

EVENT SCHEDULE Wednesday, October 4, 2017:

4:30 PM Registration Begins

Charlotte Museum of History 3500 Shamrock Dr., Charlotte, NC 28215

Registration Reception until 5:45 PM

Event ticket includes one Complimentary Beverage

All tickets must be claimed by 5:45 PM

5:45 PM – Guests Begin Boarding Tour-Guided Buses for Restaurant Visits

6:00 PM – Bus Departures from the Charlotte Museum of History

6:30 PM – 8:45 PM – Restaurant Visits – Guests Visit 3 International Restaurants for Tastings

8:30 PM – 9:30 PM – Dessert & Coffee Reception – Guests Enjoy Dessert & Coffee at the Charlotte Museum of History


Where Do We Stand? An interview series about East Side Issues: Mary Newsom

By Helene Hilger

This month I sat down with Ms. Mary Newsom, Associate Director of Urban and Regional Affairs at UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute, to hear her thoughts on where she saw the East Charlotte’s heading – did she see us on the upswing or in decline? Ms. Newsome has a long history following regional urban and suburban development and has written several times on the fall and rise of the Eastland Mall site.

Not surprisingly, she had no definitive answer for me, explaining that our neighborhoods are too disparate to be changing together. Some areas (Plaza Midwood and NoDa) are struggling with gentrification while others see little sign of new economic development. She noted that changes moving down Central Avenue from Plaza Midwood would continue as homebuyers seek housing affordability close to uptown. But she characterized the more distant suburbs as suffering from the “laisse faire” development of their time (1970’s and 1980’s) – a period when zoning was weak and the home architecture (brick ranches) and commercial buildings (think vacant Pizza Huts) did not have much “character” as they aged. Nevertheless, she predicted that affordable housing prices will spur the popularity of the “far east” sectors within a decade.

As for Eastland, Ms. Newsom expects it to develop incrementally rather than with a single large project. However, she qualified the prediction by saying that change might move quickly if, for example, a developer offered us a unique urban neighborhood plan unlike anything else in Charlotte. She noted the remarkable success of our many small business owners and entrepreneurs and pointed to the many thriving enterprises along Central Avenue that emerged from the sweat equity of immigrant entrepreneurs. Most of those businesses, she explained, were not started with loans but with money gleaned from years of saving – and they are succeeding and expanding. They are the seeds from which more robust growth will occur.

I asked Ms. Newsom how we could spur and support strategic growth and development in more East side neighborhoods. She suggested that it is up to us to build on our assets and play up our “cool factor.” We host many interesting international restaurants, and we can expand our “cool” by luring new entities such as coffee shops, bakeries, art shops and other venues that bring the adventurous to our neighborhoods. She cited E.A.S.T. Charlotte’s annual Taste of the World as a good example of such promotion. Another strategy she mentioned was the use of “tactical urbanism,” where temporary events (e.g. a pop-up plaza and street fair) create festive and novel gathering places. The community-building that results spurs new cohesion and activism that makes a sector more vital and interesting.

Ms. Newsom explained that one of Charlotte’s key neighborhood challenges is finding influential champions. The lack of such champions creates a “power vacuum” that makes it hard to move projects such as the revitalization of Eastland and other East Charlotte sectors forward. In the end, Mary reminded me, “Big projects don’t save neighborhoods. Neighborhoods save neighborhoods. You have to work it out.” In sum, the take-away from our conversation is that it will be up to East siders to organize ourselves through E.A.S.T. Charlotte, the Harris Coalition, and neighborhood organizations that will catalyze the East side changes we hope to see.


The Most Interesting Street in Charlotte – Central Ave

central-aveCivic By Design: “The Most Interesting Street in Charlotte”
Tuesday October 11, 5:30pm – 7pm FREE
At Midwood International Cultural Center, 1817 Central Avenue, Charlotte 28205

What do Family Dollar, novelist Carson McCullers (Heart is a Lonely Hunter), evangelist Billy Graham and the rock band REM have in common? All trace their early history to Central Avenue. Community historian Dr. Tom Hanchett explores those stories and looks at the avenue’s international landscape today.

Meet at Light Factory photo gallery 1817 Central Avenue, take a quick tour of the Midwood International Cultural Center, then join Dr. Hanchett in the auditorium.

Sponsored by CIVIC BY DESIGN, a monthly forum on community growth, architecture and planning. Co-sponsored by Levine Museum of the New South and 704.577.5103


Global Table Culinary Walking Tour October 22, 2016

Taste of the World 2016 is sold out but don’t fret, you can still enjoy the culinary treasures of East Charlotte with the Global Table Culinary Walking Tour. This tour for adventurous foodies explores 10 culturally rich businesses located along North Sharon AmityRoad and Central Avenue. The owners will share stories and flavors of Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. You’ll see kitchen tools, ingredients and cooking techniques from around the world while sampling cherished, sometimes ancient recipes. Click for tickets.