For the people who live and work in Ashe County, there is much for which we can be thankful.
There is the strong emphasis on faith and family. There is the stunning physical beauty of our “cool corner” that attracts visitors from far and wide.
And, of course, there are its people; whom, for the most part, can be characterized as “rugged individualists.” The sort that soldier through each day displaying the courage, dignity and perseverance to face and overcome challenges that occur as they navigate through the daily uncertainties of a changing world.
But there are challenges. And these challenges have no easy answers.
Over the last several weeks, the Post has published several stories on some of these challenges.
Those stories included two on Ashe County having the highest suicide rate per capita in the state, one on the explosion of requests for food assistance over the last four years, and one on the recently released school violence statistics.
Or to put it in more stark terms, more people kill themselves here per capita than any other county in the state, nearly 18 percent of the county population relies on assistance to keep from going hungry, and our school system ranked 18th in the state for reports of violence and crime.
These are jarring and sobering facts for the people who live and work here. And given the size and scope of these issues, we’d feel safe in saying there are few families living here that haven’t experienced these difficult realities first hand.
So, what are the solutions to these challenges? As we all know, there are no easy answers.
We do know this, however. There are individuals and groups who wake up every day and make every effort to make the lives of those less fortunate or suffering a little easier.
In the ongoing effort to address the suicide epidemic here, the Ashe Suicide/Depression Awareness Prevention task force (ASAP) has made enormous strides in raising the awareness of the issue. Through their efforts, there is now a 24-hour hotline for those reaching out for help. That number is 246-HEAL. Problematic though, is that information is not readily available to those who might need help but are not sure where to go for it.
The recent establishment of a 2-1-1 service for the county, which is supported by ASAP, is an enormous step in the right direction. That service, with the necessary marketing, will serve as a centralized hotline for all county social services, including those considering suicide.
Fighting hunger is not rocket science. It is a symptom of a sick economy.
As our economy transitions from manufacturing to tourism and agriculture, the jobs, with the active guidance of our elected officials, will trickle back. And when they do, those needing assistance will decline.
Until then, the organizations that work each day offering food assistance will continue to need the help of all of us to address the need.
That is where we, as a community, can make a difference. Donating food or money to any of these groups will have a real impact on the lives of your neighbors.
And we have no doubt, that each day in the classrooms and halls of our schools, teachers and administrators are doing their very best to offer their students a safe environment.
Our role at the Post is to hold a mirror up to Ashe County and allow you to see your community. Occasionally, that reflection offers uncomfortable truths.
But together, and with a better understanding of the challenges we face, we overcome those obstacles and become stronger and better prepared for the future.