Local high school student connects with CSEM and charges ahead
By John Railey
Sarina Jarrahi Horner, 15, is taking on a challenge that has daunted many of her elders: reforming the bus system offered by the Winston-Salem Transit Authority (WSTA).
“The worst they can do is say no,” Sarina, a sophomore at Forsyth Country Day School, said in a recent interview. “You find somebody else that says yes. You go from there.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the daily concerns faced by bus riders, including getting to stores and appointments with doctors. The pandemic may slow Sarina’s push for reform, but it will not stop it.
Sarina has already made some gains in her effort with the backing of her parents and her sister, Yasmin, a first-year student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. A few years ago, when Yasmin was also at Forsyth Country Day, Sarina and Yasmin convened existing student efforts and founded a student group to tackle local issues of economic mobility. That started when Yasmin and Sarina heard Craig Richardson, the founding director of CSEM, being interviewed on local radio station WFDD about CSEM’s work.
The student group, the Forsyth County Young Leaders Program, has grown to include 25 students from area high schools, mostly Reagan, as well as mentors. Yasmin said: “A lot of people don’t have the things that we’re so fortunate to have.”
As part of her work with the group, Sarina has taken on reform of the bus system. In the CSEM manner, she researched the issue, and decided one factor where she could make a difference was in helping bus riders bring their groceries home. In Winston-Salem, plagued by food deserts, many residents depend on buses to get to chain grocery stories and bring their purchases home. WSTA has a “two-bag rule” that prohibits riders from bringing more than two bags of groceries on board.
Unofficially, some bus drivers let their riders exceed the two-bag rule. That allowance is faulty. Drivers, just trying to make a living themselves, can get in trouble. Riders might get on one bus where a driver waives the two-bag policy, then board another bus where the driver enforces the policy, possibly causing riders to discard goods bought with precious dollars or wait for hours for family or friends to help them out with their cars.
Sarina found a solution used in other cities: Put cargo racks on top of the buses. She has talked with WSTA officials and City Councilwoman D.D. Adams about that option. In January 2020, she wrote a column promoting the idea that was published in the local daily newspaper, The Winston-Salem Journal, https://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/sarina-jarrahi-horner-a-simple-solution-could-help-alleviate-hunger/article_642881ac-4e39-5339-9e62-800603c6d4ed.html
As an alternative, Sarina has suggested that WSTA waives the two-bag rule for a trial period.
The virus pandemic has slowed the progress toward cargo racks, but Sarina says she will keep pushing.
She has also been studying free bus fare, which some other cities offer. “I've been reading a lot about that recently and thinking about ways we could do that in Winston-Salem,” she said.
Consulting with leaders including Gayle Anderson, the former head of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, has been part of Sarina’s work. “Sarina’s passion for helping others is coupled with a practical sense of working with others to get things done,” Anderson said. “She does her homework to understand an issue and adapts possible solutions until she finds something that works. She is wise beyond her young years and leads by example. We are fortunate to have her in our community.”
Exploring other alternatives, such as using vans other less-expensive-to-operate vehicles instead of large buses that often are not full, is another strategy Sarina has harnessed. She hopes routes through food deserts might also be increased.
Sarina has stayed in close contact with CSEM Director Richardson on data to support her work, which he has supplied.
With the backing of her sister, the Forsyth County Young Leaders Program and CSEM, Sarina will not ease up on her efforts.
John Railey is the senior writer and community relations consultant for CSEM. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.