Skip to Main Content

Asheboro represents North Carolina at All America City competition 

by League Communications Specialist Jessica Wells

The Southern Railroad sparked a population boom, and, by 1912, there were 30 stores, roller mills, furniture manufacturers, a lumber plant, hosiery mill and wheelbarrow factory in Asheboro. The Great Depression quickly stifled the local economy, but in the war’s aftermath several industrial plants opened in the former hosiery buildings.

For nearly a century, the city prospered as a manufacturing hub and many thought Asheboro to be recession proof. But as North Carolina’s manufacturing climate changed in the 1990s, many factories closed, and Asheboro alone lost more than 7,500 jobs.

But Asheboro keeps going and going and going – that’s what a group of 30 Asheboro residents chanted at The National Civic League’s All America City competition in June.

The city was one of 16 in the nation and the only city in North Carolina this year selected to compete for one of the 10 All America City awards in Denver. It was Asheboro’s first time reaching the top 16.

The competition’s theme was "supporting and engaging young, vulnerable men in the community," so Asheboro’s application focused on initiatives serving at-risk children in the education system.

The programs featured were the Dream Center, Boys and Girls Club of Central Asheboro and Midnight Basketball.

The Dream Center is a free after-school program at North Ridge Church that provides dinner, homework help and activities for 80 at-risk students identified by teacher and family referrals. The program was created with help from a 21st Century Learning Grant and continues to grow. It hopes to expand to serve 100 students and offer parenting, GED and ESL classes for parents.

The Boys and Girls Club of Central Asheboro has several programs available including homework help, mentors, pregnancy and drug prevention, but the most uncommon program offered is Yes! East Side, a local program that takes students from one of Asheboro’s most underprivileged communities and teaches them about the environment through field trips and community service projects.

Midnight Basketball is a 6-week basketball league on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer for Randolph County students ages 8-18. The registration fee is $15, but no student is turned away based on inability to pay. Midnight Basketball removes the barriers to sports including cost and schedule conflicts and keeps kids out of trouble during the summer.

The City of Asheboro supports all of the programs through fundraising and providing space.

"We talked about how when we have people moving out of the community, our education system is going to go down and our employment is going to go up," Asheboro Public Information Officer Leigh Anna Johnson said. "So unemployment is not our greatest challenge, but access to education is. These three programs were able to keep our most at-risk students engaged, and hopefully they go on to graduate from high school and go to the community college or out of our community to attend university."

Although Asheboro didn’t win one of the 10 awards, Johnson said a lot of good came from the competition, mostly for the children who were able to travel to Denver and compete. Children from each of the three programs were part of the delegation, and they practiced for a month from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at night to accommodate the schedules of all the participants.

"Walking away from it after putting in all this work is not a good feeling – I’ll give you that – but I also know a lot of good came out of it," Johnson said. "Even though we didn’t win, we still won because we were able to take those kids and show them what’s out there beyond their current circumstance."

The competition also serves to connect communities across the nation so city leaders can learn new practices that they can bring home to their own communities. For example, Tupelo, Miss., has an 8-week internship program that brings students into the fire department to see if it’s a career they’d be interested in pursuing. The intern is paired with a mentor who will help them with resume writing
and interview tips, and Johnson said she could see a lot of benefit from a program like that in Asheboro.

“After hearing what other partnerships are going on, our community leaders are thinking outside the box on ways they can work together,” she said.

However, she also noticed that Asheboro has a lot for which to be thankful. Many of the communities at the competition were dealing with problems like gangs and crime rates on a much larger scale than Asheboro.

One community suffered 71 homicides in a year whereas Asheboro might only have one.

“I thought all the communities that had those issues were so deserving of the award because they faced what they had going on. We live in a pretty safe community,” Johnson said. “It really opens your eyes to see Asheboro from others’ perspectives and what’s actually happening.”

Typically communities that win the All America City award bring in new businesses, new residents and increased tourism in addition to building community pride. The All America award has been presented since 1949, and more than 650 All America City communities have been recognized. In North Carolina, 35 towns and cities have won — including a trio of 2013 designees, Dunn, Garner and Thomasville. Thomasville Area Chamber of Commerce President Doug Croft, Garner Public Information Officer Rick Mercier and Manager Hardin Watkins attended the competition this year as volunteers and served as mentors for Asheboro during the planning phase.

Many cities do not win the All America City Award on their first tries, but because Asheboro keeps going and going and going, Johnson said she anticipates trying again next year.

"I feel like if we went out for it again next year we would have the backing of the entire community because they have seen the work we put into it this year," she said. "I think people understand now that it is kind of like the Super Bowl of community engagement."