10/31/11 — Waiting for just the right fit for Communities in Schools

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Waiting for just the right fit for Communities in Schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 31, 2011 1:46 PM

Not many can say they introduced a program in the county, served as its leader for nearly 16 years, then delayed retirement until a known replacement was ready to take the reins.

But that's essentially what Sudie Davis, executive director of Communities in Schools, has done.

Mrs. Davis chaired the task force that brought CIS to Wayne County, later stepping in when the first director left. Since, she has managed the program that coordinates an array of youth programs, including Teen Court in both Wayne and Lenoir counties, Teen Health Corps, an annual school supply drive and the county's Junior Leadership program, as well as overseeing graduation coaches at Goldsboro and Southern Wayne high schools.

She actually announced her retirement in 2008, intending to remain during the interim when a replacement was hired. When that didn't work out, Mrs. Davis wound up resuming her duties.

Selena Bennett, a former classroom teacher, had met Mrs. Davis years before when Mrs. Bennett became a counselor at Greenwood Middle School. The two have cultivated a shared history of working with children.

"As a school counselor and also the volunteer coordinator and business partner coordinator, I have seen the real value of having a person in the school setting whose total focus is on working with the community, bringing in resources, having to work with volunteers," she said. "I had worked with Sudie and had been really interested in how CIS could pull together resources from the community."

Mrs. Bennett had no imminent plans for retirement, but knew that after 30 years in education, she would find a way to work with children in this county.

"When you're involved in public schools, you devote your whole heart and soul to that," she said. "I'm sure it's that way with other jobs as well.

"I had never been able to do as many things in the community because my job was so consuming. I thought that CIS would be a great way to network and get involved in other organizations."

Unknowingly, she had actually begun interviewing for Mrs. Davis' job years ago.

"Selena had expressed an interest in working with CIS probably five or six years ago," Mrs. Davis said. "And when I came back in after I had hoped to retire, I just thought, I will stick around and wait for her to retire. And that's basically what I did."

The women met for dinner in the spring, discussing the prospects more seriously, she said. Mrs. Bennett retired in July.

"Then it was convincing my board chair that she committee really should meet her before they advertised. They thought she would be great," Mrs. Davis said, adding, "That's why I waited for her, because I wanted it in hands that I was secure with."

Recent weeks have been spent with Mrs. Bennett volunteering, "just to try it out."

"I wanted to find out what this was all about, just what I was getting into," Mrs. Bennett said. "It's only been in the past few weeks that I have been immersed in this and see the possibilities and how involved it can be.

"The opportunities are endless for Communities in Schools, there's no doubt. But I think having Sudie's expertise and her knowledge of all those things that have been done over the last 15 or 16 years helps."

Mrs. Davis is spending this time training her replacement, and says she plans to remain in a limited capacity, as fiscal manager.

"I'm going to stay on and do the financial part, its budget, writing checks, helping with grant opportunities," she said.

She is proud of the agency's growth over the years from having an $11,000 budget to its current budget of $247,000, and says she hopes to devote time to other areas that she did not have time to focus on in the past.

Mrs. Bennett, meanwhile, is excited about the prospects her new job promises.

"I really think that this is a good fit for me as well as Sudie because she has the background in grant writing and I come with the public schools background. That will transfer over so well at helping to match up with resources and services," she said.

A native of Mount Olive, her husband, Gordon, is safety director at Mt. Olive Pickle Co. She has two children, Laura, who lives and works in Raleigh, and Graham, a junior at N.C. State University.

She credited her own parents and grandparents with being her first mentors and instilling the example early on.

"I knew if I didn't do this, I would be mentoring somewhere," she said. "My parents taught, 'It's family, it's church, it's community.' Those are the three areas that you throw yourself into. ...

"I didn't know what I would be doing when I retired. This was the first thing on my list."