U.S. Must Reclaim
Role It Had As A
He Tells Big Crowd
BY LISA WARREN
More than 340 people packed the ballroom and adjacent hallways of the General Morgan Inn on Tuesday evening to hear from internationally-renowned brain surgeon, best-selling author and motivational speaker Dr. Benjamin S. Carson.
Carson was in Greeneville to give the keynote address for the annual fundraising "Celebration" of The Hope Center, a Christian-based crisis pregnancy and resource center in Greeneville that is part of the outreach of Free Will Baptist Family Ministries.
The theme of this year's benefit dinner was "Hope For Our Nation."
INTRODUCED BY NISWONGER
Carson was welcomed to the event and formally introduced to the large audience by Greeneville businessman and philanthrophist Scott M. Niswonger, who played the key role in arranging Carson's visit to Greeneville.
Niswonger and his wife, Nikki, were Title Sponsors of the celebration, along with Takoma Regional Hospital and SJ Investments.
A private pilot for many years, Niswonger flew Carson and his wife, Candy, from Baltimore, Md., where they live, to Greeneville on Tuesday afternoon, escorted them on a tour of The Hope Center, and flew them back to Baltimore following the dinner.
In introducing the famous surgeon to the large audience, Niswonger mentioned that both of Carson's parents were originally from Chattanooga.
Niswonger also noted that the response to the neurosurgeon's presence and address had resulted in attracting the largest served dinner event (as distinct from a buffet dinner) in the General Morgan Inn's history.
In his introduction, Niswonger pointed out that Carson retired at the end of June after 25 years as director of pediatric neurosurgery at respected Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, in Baltimore.
He made medical history in 1987 after becoming the first surgeon to successfully separate twins who were conjoined at their heads, Niswonger said.
Among many other honors, Carson is the recipient of the Medal of Freedom, the nation's top civilian honor, and has received the Spingarn Medal, the top honor awarded by the NAACP. He is the recipient of some 40 honorary degrees.
In recent months, he has become widely known for his remarks as keynote speaker at this year's National Prayer Breakfast, in Washington, D.C.
During his speech, he commented on several social, fiscal and other issues including education, the national debt, health care and taxation.
Carson's speech received wide media coverage because his views were generally interpreted to be politically conservative, and critical in some ways of President Barack Obama's actions and policies.
President Obama was seated 10 feet away at the Prayer Breakfast.
MOTHER PLAYED KEY ROLE
At Tuesday night's dinner, Carson spoke for more than 30 minutes in a quiet voice and apparently without a prepared text, lacing his mainly-serious remarks with occasional humor, often directed toward himself.
He mentioned aspects of his own background, citing not only some accomplishments but also some failures.
He recounted his early years of growing up as an impoverished child in a single-parent family in Detroit -- often being the lowest-ranking student in his elementary class.
His parents were divorced. However, he explained, thanks to the encouragement, perseverance and faith of his mother, he was able to overcome his impoverished circumstances and initial poor attitude.
"My mother believed in me when no one else did," Carson said.
Even though she only had a third-grade education, Carson said that his mother taught him strength, determination to succeed, and the importance of knowledge.
He noted that she strictly limited television-viewing and required him and his brother to read two books a week from the local public library and write a book report for her on each one.
"She was determined that we would be successful," he said. And his mother's dream did indeed come true. Carson became a surgeon, and his brother an engineer.
"It's important to have dreams because those dreams may be the only thing that pushes you forward," Carson said.
CRITICAL OF 'POLITICAL CORRECTNESS'
However, he added, a person cannot succeed unless he or she wants to do so.
"The person who has the most to do with who you become is YOU," he said.
It is this resolve that Carson said he hopes to encourage in America and its young people.
"My mother would always tell us that we are the captain of our ship," Carson said.
"Instead of making excuses, she encouraged us to come up with solutions to get things done.
"People who are excuse-makers are generally not people of accomplishment," he said.
He also had strong criticism for "political correctness" in American life since, he said, it prevents citizens from freely discussing important problems of the day.
The surgeon, who has become known for his frankness on issues of the day which are often considered highly controversial, noted with a smile that he himself is "not politically correct."
In order to become competent problem-solvers, Carson said, American youth must receive a solid education, become knowledgeable concerning the world around them, and be able to compete for jobs in a global, high-tech age.
Unfortunately, Carson said that at least 30 percent of students who enter high school in the United States never graduate.
"This is a serious problem," he said.
"We've got to revamp our educational system," he continued.
"We can't just continue to drift along -- complaining."
There was a time in our nation, Carson said, that the U.S. educational system was "the envy of the world."
But, that is not the case today, he stated.
Many high-tech American companies, such as Intel, he noted, must now look outside the U.S. in order to find qualified workers to fill their jobs.
Carson called on Americans to once again become an innovative, hard-working nation with a "can-do attitude" -- and not one known only as an "entitlement nation."
He proposed accomplishing this task by creating "fair opportunities" for youth.
He encouraged those in the audience to become mentors to young people to help guide and direct them.
"We can't afford to throw anyone away," he said.
"We must get our graduation rates to 100 percent. We must once again become a pinnacle nation," he added.
PRAISE FOR HOPE CENTER
Carson applauded the efforts of the Hope Center because he said it not only provides help in times of emergency to young girls in need, but also helps to prepare them for what will lie ahead.
The Hope Center is helping them to become productive, active citizens -- and not be "victimized by the system," Carson said.
Located at 314 Tusculum Blvd., the center offers free services for teens and women who find themselves in an unplanned, crisis pregnancy situation.
Among the Hope Center's services are: a 24-hour telephone hotline, free pregnancy tests, maternity clothing, baby clothes and supplies, education about fetal development, alternatives to abortion, post-abortion counseling, parenting classes, baby care classes and nutrition classes, as well as adoption information and referrals to a licensed adoption agency and referrals to maternity homes.
The facility also acts as a resource center to help connect young parents to education and other community sources of aid.
Proceeds from the annual Hope Center Celebration help to continue and expand the services that the facility provides to local women, teen parents and babies who are in need.
Hope Center Director Sharon Hodgens thanked all who lend their support and prayers to the facility and to the young parents who come there for help and guidance.
"I want to help our girls to stand up and make something for their family," Hodgens said.
DESCRIBES IMPACT OF CENTER
One such young woman, Miranda McIntire, attended the event with her three-year-daughter, Abigail. She said her husband serves in the U.S. armed forces and is deployed in Kuwait.
Several years ago, McIntire said, she chose to come to The Hope Center not as a pregnant young teen but as a court offender sentenced to perform community service. She selected the Center for her service.
McIntire recounted her story of how the center and its staff -- particularly Hodgens -- made a deep impression on her life in the succeeding months and years.
"The most important thing that I ever got from The Hope Center was my faith," McIntire said.
Witnessing the faith of the center's staff, she said, "opened my eyes -- and my heart."
Hodgens also introduced to the audience a young child she said had been born to a mother who came to The Hope Center for assistance when she became pregnant.
Hodgens said that the infant had since been adopted by an (unnamed) couple who were present at the dinner.
WOODS VOICES THANKS
The Rev. Frank Woods, president and CEO of Free Will Baptist Family Ministries, also extended his thanks to those present at the Hope Center Celebration for their support.
"The Hope Center takes its mission very seriously because we truly believe that the future is in our hands," Woods said.
"Our responsibility is not only to precious unborn children, but also to the mothers and fathers who come to us for help. They are our future," Woods added.
APPRECIATION TO NISWONGER
During the evening, both Woods and Hodgens particularly expressed deep appreciation to Niswonger for his support of the Hope Center over the years in a variety of ways.
Woods also thanked the chairpersons for the event: Daniel Wolcott, president and CEO of Takoma Regional Hospital, and his wife, Cynthia.
This is the second consecutive year that the Wolcotts have chaired the Hope Center Benefit Celebration.
Daniel Wolcott said that he was "privileged to be a part" of this event and this ministry because its blesses the unborn -- "who don't have an opportunity to speak for themselves."
'AN AMAZING EVENING'
The concluding speaker for the event was U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, of Johnson City, who called the celebration "an amazing evening."
Roe, who was a long-time obstetrician prior to his retirement, often says that over his career he delivered more than 5,000 babies -- and that he often wonders what those babies are now accomplishing with their lives.
He also noted that since abortion on demand became legal throughout the nation as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, more than 54 million abortions have been performed in this country.
"I also wonder what those babies would have accomplished," he said.
The invocation was provided by the Rev. Derek Bell, development director for Family Ministries. Musical entertainment was provided by vocalist Jeff Snyder.
SPONSORS FOR EVENT
In addition to the Niswongers, SJ Investments and Takoma Regional Hospital, the Title Sponsors, other sponsors were:
* Event Sponsors -- The Lollipop Kids;
* Presenting Sponsors -- Cave Law Firm, Dr. Brad Emde, the Free Will Baptist Family Ministries' Board of Trustees, Greeneville First Free Will Baptist Church, Ted Hensley, Heritage Community Bank, Idell Construction, Dr. James and Amanda Kilgore, Landair, Dr. Gordon and Lyn Marsa, Dr. Marlin and Kathy Mathiesen, Dr. Michael and Jan Rogers, and the Women's Center of Greeneville.
* Associate Sponsors -- The Clark Charitable Foundation, Bob and Karen Gay, the Greeneville Astros, Greeneville Federal Bank, John and Helena Jones Jr., Laws Troutman Insurance, Leonard and Associates, Dr. Daniel and Jessica Lewis, Marsh Petroleum, Price and Ramey Group, Ronnie and Patti Roberts, Dr. Jonathon and Kara Rogers, Elliott and Mary Stott, and J.A. Street & Associations, and
* Additional Sponsors -- C&C Millwright Maintenance Co., DTR Tennessee and John Abe Teague.