Gaston Together History

Gaston Together was formed as an outgrowth of the Gaston Chamber Quality Council and incorporated in 1997. In 1998, Gaston Together began operations as a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization. The initial purpose of the organization was to promote economic prosperity of Gaston County through facilitation and collaboration. The original Gaston Together Council Members were selected from individuals throughout Gaston County in an effort to truly make Gaston Together representative on a county-wide level. The Charter Council members received facilitation training on the week-ends. The first Executive Director, Pam Youngblood, was hired in late 1998. At that time the Gaston Together offices were located at Gaston College. Initial financial support was provided by Gaston County.

During 1999, numerous companies contributed to Gaston Together‘s programs. Funds were used to attract several national speakers to challenge Gaston County leaders to look into the future. Speakers included Wally Amos (Famous Amos Cookies), Rudy Rudiger (Notre Dame), Anthony Compolla, and Art Linkletter. Also that year a ministers group, Gaston Clergy & Citizens Coalition, consisting of 20 Gaston County white and African American ministers, was formed to enhance race relations and to build community relations. The Martin Luther King bridge memorial and plaza were results of planning by this group.  Since 2004, the GC3 has recognized local citizens with the MLK Unity Award.  In 2009, the GC3 began the Breakfast of Champions program with middle schools in an effort to connect ministers in a mentor setting with at-risk middle school students. Basic Facilitation Training of Community Members began in 1999 and continues today.  A Level II Facilitation Training, “Continuous Process Improvement,” a quality control model, is held periodically with professional trainers. Sherry Shaw selected as the second Executive Director in 1999.

In 2000, Gaston Together began the Community Leadership Awards to encourage organizational leadership to enhance Gaston County. Operation Playground was the first winner, followed by City of Gastonia All America City Delegation.  Others include: Gaston County Schools and their community partners, Connect Gaston, Sisters of Mercy, Run For the Money Campaign Committee, Interfaith Hospitality Network, Junior League’s Woodhill Elementary School Project, the Mount Holly Community Development Foundation, Gaston Family Health Services, Alliance for Children & Youth, Gaston College and Hope 4 Gaston. The 2012 winner was Habitat for Humanity, followed by the Carrie E. and Lena V. Glenn Foundation in 2013. Also recognized at the Community Leadership Awards is the Proudest Kid in Gaston County essay contest winner, a companion program to the third grade Pride in Gaston Traveling Tour field trip.  The “Proudest Kid” county-wide winner is introduced to the NC General Assembly each spring.

The Promote Gaston campaign, an image building campaign for Gaston County, began in mid-2000 and Donna Lockett was selected as Program Coordinator.  It included: Pride in Gaston Traveling Tour, Proudest Kid in Gaston County Essay Contest, and Photo Contest, Gaston Gazette insert featuring all 14 municipalities, among other program.

Gaston Together facilitated the formation of Greater Gaston Development Corporation that led to the creation of the Economic Development Division of the Chamber of Commerce. It also sponsored Electronic Town Meeting (live TV coverage) at Gaston College in the Fall of 2000, which was moderated by Dr. William Friday with panelists including Senator Hoyle, former Senator Marvin, Ed Sadler, Barbara Voorhees and a Gaston County student. Panelists discussed images of Gaston County of the past and desires for the future. The Community Foundation was major contributor.

The Gaston Community Healthcare Commission formed an alliance with Gaston Together in 2002 under the leadership of Wayne Shovelin, the 2001 Board Chairman. CaroMont Health originally provided funding for administrative support under a three year renewable contract/grant. In 2003, Donna Lockett was selected Executive Director and Gaston Together formed a strategic alliance with the Gaston Chamber and moved offices to the Chamber building. Later that year, Gaston Together was selected as the facilitating organization for Gaston 2012 Economic Development Process, which is the outgrowth of Gaston County’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). CEDS was funded through a $240,000 grant secured by US Representative, Sue Myrick.

In 2008, through the work of the Gaston 2012 Education/Workforce Development Action Team, Gaston Together launched Gaston Career Climb, a community workforce development collaborative.  The goal is to develop a nationally certified, skilled workforce for Gaston County. Also during 2008, Gaston Together served as the lead organization for the Carolina Thread Trail (CTT) mapping process pilot project in Gaston County. The adoption of the CTT Gaston County plan occurred in 2009. The Greenways Team continues as a part of Gaston Vision 2020.

In 2009, Gaston Together began a process to extend the Gaston 2012 strategy to the year 2020, which included transitioning the work of three of the Gaston 2012 Action Teams to the Gaston Regional Chamber for administrative work: Transportation/Infrastructure, Entrepreneurial Development and Education/ Workforce Development. During 2011, community stakeholders were identified and the UNCC Urban Institute was engaged to facilitate four Stakeholder Goal Setting Sessions.  Three priorities were determined around the focus areas of Education (Quality & Attainment), Infrastructure and Quality of Life. During 2012, GV2020 Action Teams (Infrastructure, Education, Community Vitality) engaged community teams to develop strategic goals around identified focus areas. It contracted with UNCC Urban Institute to create Gaston County portal for their Regional Indicators Website. Engaged Gaston College, United Way and Gaston Family Health Services as website community partners.