‘More than just bricks and mortar’: UNC Naval Armory faces demolition

By Kristen Snyder

The bricks of the memorial pathway line the entrance of the Naval Armory, engraved with the names of Carolina’s service members to remind cadets of the legacy that guides them — but perhaps not for much longer.

“If the armory is torn down, their memory will also vanish,” Air Force Cadet Katie Goldman said.

 This year, Goldman wonders if her team will be adding to the memorial pathway. She is not sure whether to begin engraving bricks or end the tradition and wait for the pathway to be destroyed with the rest of the armory.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s plan

After UNC-CH finalized its 2019 University Master Plan, the Naval Armory fell under the list of buildings set for demolition. The plan envisions a new Institute for Convergent Science at the current armory site.

Surface 678 is the architecture firm providing planning for the new proposed layout. The university expects the institute to give STEM majors a place to connect, expand their research and develop participation in the market.

But for cadets like Goldman, memories of weekly drill sessions, leadership classes and late-night bonding might soon be replaced by the rubble of the armory and its broken traditions and legacies.

Goldman recalled the day she was contracted into the Air Force in the shadow of the American flag flying over the armory. She, and other first-years, stood tentatively before the lieutenant colonel and swore allegiance to the Constitution and the U.S. to lay down their lives, should their country require it. For her, that memory lives closer to her heart than to her mind.

 “I would have the same reaction as if they bulldozed the Old Well or the planetarium or the Bell Tower or the Dean Dome,” Lt. Col. Mark Clodfelter said.

Clodfelter taught at UNC-CH from 1994-1997, serving as the Aerospace Department Chair while also heading the Air Force ROTC program. Clodfelter trained over 70 Air Force cadets in the halls of the armory. He showed them the pillars of the Air Force, not only as a military branch, but as a brotherhood.

 In the drill deck, Clodfelter reminded cadets to strive for excellence in their performance and their morale. He bonded the cadets together as a family, inspired by the belief that they will fight in the greatest military for the greatest country in the world. 

“This building is a symbol of that…the commitment to service and if necessary to lose one’s life in that service to the nation…and thus you take this building down you have lost that symbol,” Clodfelter said.

 Clodfelter and other members of the community have rallied around the armory in the hopes of saving both the building and the memories within it.

Preserving history

 “The armory is more than just bricks and mortar,” Rob Rivers, a member of the UNC-CH Naval ROTC Alumni Association, said.

 Rivers has worked closely with Sandy Henkel, to form a preservation committee to advance the status of the armory as a historical landmark and preserve its place on campus. 

Henkel spoke of the building’s assets, which make it unique and augment the committee’s case.

“Obviously historical significance based just on World War II and the service that this building gave to the UNC- CH, to America… and under architectural significance.”

 In 1940, then-UNC President Franklin Porter Graham, fought to save the university by bringing naval funding to campus. His success brought new buildings, a foreign language program, a pre-flight school and one of the first Naval ROTC programs.

The Naval Armory was designed by Archie Royal Davis, a leading architect at the time in North Carolina, and built in 1942 to meet the needs of the ROTC program. Henkel said that Davis’ design further contributes to the historical significance of the building.

The design of the building was meant to reflect the colonial look of the Carolina Inn while also giving a modernist approach to the inside. The drill deck placed in the center of the armory was built to fit the needs of trainers preparing midshipmen to serve as leaders. One of those trainers was Gerald Ford.

 But in 1996, all cadets and midshipmen were consolidated to the armory as the university accepted more students, and there was less of a need for military training. The armory became the military hub of UNC-CH, as it remains today.

Yet, ground is still set to break on the site in 2027.

Why the Naval Armory?

Many, including Rivers and Henkel, are confused. Other potential demolition sites, like Whitehead Hall and Venable Lot, provide more economic and strategic sense than replacing the armory.

 The armory is still used for its intended purpose. Moreover, it is valued amongst current students, alumni and visitors who recognize the building’s significance to the university’s history. 

 Rivers and Henkel spoke to the willingness of Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and the UNC-CH Board of Trustees to recognize the significance of the armory. While they determine the university to be receptive, the main question still goes unanswered.

What aspects of the armory set it apart from other antiquated buildings on campus for demolition?

 The answer: no one knows.

 UNC-CH Facility Services declined an interview about the building’s deficiencies. There seems to be limited documentation indicating why the armory and institute cannot exist simultaneously.

For those who train and work at the armory, that answer is not only necessary but deserved.

Four years from now, a student might walk past a construction site on a North Campus corner. They won’t know that the bricks that surrounded the armory may very well have been laid by the Pre-Flight Naval school. They won’t know that Davis constructed each element with the hope to augment the training of future officers in the United States military. They’ll forget that there used to be a flag for cadets to salute and remember the UNC-CH military legacy that existed since World War II.

 Or, they might just walk past a historical landmark. A symbol of military service and tradition. And perhaps, they might just see a few more engraved bricks in the ground.

  Edited by Preston Fore and Lauren Fichten.

UNC first-year’s TikToks teach financial literacy in an alternative style

A female college student with long blonde hair wearing a black and red outfit with silver chains poses for a photo in the Pit at UNC-Chapel Hill
Mary Eva Esposito teaches financial literacy through her TikToks.

By Reagan Allen 

When you think of a businessperson , the words “goth” or “emo” probably don’t cross your mind. However, Mary Eva Esposito says those terms aren’t mutually exclusive.

In 2021, like most teenagers, Esposito downloaded TikTok. Instead of posting videos doing dances, funny voice-overs or makeup tutorials, she started posting financial literacy lessons. Her aim? To help younger kids learn about financial independence. 

Esposito wears black eyeliner, chained necklaces and eccentric fashion, all of which define her personal style. Black clothing and a beanie are her top picks when it comes to apparel. The contrast between her bleach-blond hair and black lipstick is striking. 

She wants to break the stereotype for what an intelligent, successful woman should wear. Her bold style pushes boundaries and inspires others. 

“The way I look should not validate or invalidate the merit of what I have to say,” Esposito  said. “By dressing the way I do, I can resonate with people who also share the same style and sense of individuality, and so they will feel more comfortable learning from me than they would from say, a man.”

Whether she’s getting lunch with friends, in class, speaking at a business panel or making TikToks, her style doesn’t change. The UNC first-year is unapologetic when it comes to how she chooses to present herself. 

Teaching with TikTok

Topics she discusses in her videos include the importance of building credit, how to start investing and futures trading. In her TikToks, Esposito sits up straight, makes eye contact with the camera and talks with her hands. She explains complex terms and ideas in a way the average person can understand. 

 The more popular videos on her @moneywithmary TikTok account have over 1 million views. One is titled “How to Afford a Car That Isn’t (poop emoji),” an issue most young people struggle with. 

Not all her videos are tutorials. Esposito has gone around UNC’s campus, asking students questions like “How much money is in your bank account?” and “What is your biggest worry as a college student?” Afterwards, she offers financial advice to them and to others watching her videos. 

Her TikToks aim to lessen the gap left by the education system. Esposito believes students should be taught more about finance and economics  in school instead of topics most will never need to know in life, like calculus. 

“The really big issue and a question I always ask is, ‘How are high school students expected to matriculate into the real world if they are not equipped with these necessary skills?’” she said.  

Her TikToks helped her to win the 2022 BMTX Annual Financial Empowerment Scholarship. In her application, her videos, alongside various side hustles, played a huge role in helping her be chosen out of over 1,000 other applicants.

Esposito believes everyone should be taught about personal finance and how to manage money.

 “Money is power,” she said. “So, when you neglect to teach people money, you are taking away their power.”

Odell Escorcia-Puente has been dating Esposito for the past year. They spend time together hiking, skateboarding and foraging for mushrooms. Both have edgy, alternative fashion styles. 

Escorcia-Puente said Esposito introduced him to finance, teaching him things like how to make a brokerage account, wisely choose stocks and invest money. She didn’t just help Escorcia-Puente, she helped his family as well, creating a PowerPoint for them explaining the same concepts.

“I feel like using investing as a tool and being taught how to use that tool would be a good benefit for everybody,” Escorcia-Puente said. 

From Hobby to Career

 Her TikTok account is not only a passion, but a source of revenue. As a content creator, she gets paid by brands to promote products on her account, but she doesn’t stop there. Esposito sells crochet animals on her Instagram account, @shoppurplepear

 She learned to crochet in ninth grade after being hospitalized for an eating disorder. Having a hobby helped her during her recovery. Suddenly, an influx of people wanted to buy crochet plushies and Esposito needed to learn how to handle the money she was making.

 “In disorder, I discovered my love for art. Art discovered my love for entrepreneurship and discovered my love for finance,” she said. 

Four years later, Esposito committed to UNC and was accepted into the Kenan-Flagler Business School with a surplus of scholarships. 

Both her parents and her older sister attended Harvard University. In her high-achieving family, Esposito always felt overlooked and in her sister’s shadow. Determined to make her own path, Esposito didn’t go down the Harvard route. 

 “Financial literacy is a way for me to differentiate myself. A creative, expressive outlet that’s unique to me,” she said.

 She attributes her success to her upbringing, saying her attitude was cultivated in her when she was young.  

“The saying in my household was that extra credit is never an option,” said Esposito.

She has received nothing but support from her family in her financial endeavors. 

At UNC, she is an executive member of Smart Woman Securities at the Business School, which hosts seminars for women interested in learning about investing. 

 Amy Bugno is one of Esposito’s professors in the Business School. She says Esposito is a great example of what students can accomplish when they are intentional and dedicated to their career goals, and that it’s admirable to teach others about a topic where many are undereducated, including professionals. 

 “She makes it relatable and easy for her own generation to understand,” she said. . 

Despite her passion for financial literacy, educational success, ambitious family and multiple revenue sources, Esposito believes being high-achieving isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Relaxing  and utilizing leisure time is something she struggles with constantly. 

“I think that American hustle culture is a disease and I am sick. I have somehow convinced myself that productivity equals worth,” she said.

 She says that having balance is essential for a healthy, happy life. She isn’t willing to give up on her passions or businesses, but plans to balance using her time to rest and complete goals. 

For Esposito, a successful life is living in Asheville as an entrepreneur, financially independent and turning her home into a rescue sanctuary for senior Chihuahuas.

Edited by Will Christensen, Nathan Wellish and Claire Burch

Phenom Chapel Hill reporter blazes new path for young journalists

By Isabella Reilly 

Six years ago, 9-year-old Teresa Fang applied to become a reporter for the award-winning international journalism program, Scholastic Kids Press

She wasn’t accepted. 

“‘We liked your writing, but you’re a bit too young,’” the editor said.

The following year, she applied again, inspired by a fifth-grade wildlife reserve visit. “I saw these birds flying in synchronized blocks,” she said. “They looked like clouds.” 

Moved by the “clouds,” Fang’s second application, an article on bird migrations, landed her a spot as one of only 50 chosen kid reporters. Scholastic Kids Press Editor Suzanne McCabe said the competitive program annually receives around 400 applications worldwide. 

Fang’s acceptance to the program would soon afford her a collection of high-profile interviews – some in-person, some on live television – with former presidential candidates, well-known astronauts, Olympic gold medalists and more. 

“[Teresa] seemed extraordinary from the start,” McCabe said. “She showed a willingness to learn and grow all the way along. By the end, she was leading me.” 

‘Nothing to be afraid of’

And willing she was – within a year at Scholastic, Fang landed an interview with NASA astronaut Christina Koch at 12 years old, reporting a story on Koch’s first space expedition in 2019. 

Fang said she wrote directly to the government agency, and recalled her message being “one of the hardest, most time-consuming emails” she ever wrote. 

NASA responded to the young reporter and invited her to interview Koch on a live broadcast of NASA Television. 

With the day off from school, Fang recalls dialing into the livestream at 8 a.m., patiently waiting her turn among reporters from WRAL News, ABC 11, CBS News and others. 

“I wasn’t intimidated,” she said. “There was nothing to be afraid of – I just needed to speak.” 

Ten months later, Fang emailed U.S. Figure Skating and requested an interview with Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Nathan Chen. Soon after, she was on the road to Greensboro, North Carolina, having scored an invite to the 2020 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships to meet Chen. 

“It was cool to see such a famous person who looks like me,” Fang said.

McCabe said although Fang wasn’t the first kid reporter to earn a high-profile interview, she was surprised by her skill and determination. “She’s not going to take no for an answer,” she added. 

Fang remained a Kids Press reporter from 2018 to 2021. “I only stopped because they said I was ‘too old,’” she said, grinning. 

‘Determined’ and inspiring student

At the same time, Fang was also a middle school student. In late 2019, Erin Kellas, Fang’s seventh-grade social studies teacher, tasked each of her students with a hefty assignment: enter C-SPAN’s annual national video documentary competition, StudentCam

Tapping into her Scholastic confidence, Fang reached out to former presidential candidate Andrew Yang for her video. She recalls a month of coordination with the head volunteer for Yang’s South Carolina campaign rally before securing the interview. 

Her family riding along for the 2 1/2-hour drive, Fang recalls meeting Yang backstage at the rally, wearing his signature scarf and snacking on popcorn. Even after her interviews with Koch and Chen, it was the interview with Yang that made Fang realize “famous people weren’t really that hard to get to,” she said.

Kellas said she was “floored” to hear about Fang’s interview with the former presidential candidate but wasn’t surprised. 

“Teresa is a determined student,” Kellas said. “[Her work] was an inspiration to the rest of us.” 

The final documentary, “America: This Equality,” highlighted social, racial and socioeconomic inequality, winning third place in 2020 and a $750 prize. Fang said the competition pushed her to become more active in finding solutions to social issues and helped her learn the importance of communicating those solutions to wider audiences. 

Former Chapel Hill Town council member Hongbin Gu, who was also interviewed for the documentary and since has become a mentor of Fang’s, said she greatly admires the now 16-year-old’s passion for civic involvement. 

“She is actually aware of what is going on locally and at a national level,” Gu said, “and she’s very confident in presenting those ideas.”

Use your voice

Since her prize-winning first year, Fang has entered C-SPAN’s national competition annually, winning second place in 2021 for “U.S.-China: Survive or Thrive” and an honorable mention award in 2022 for “Stand and Deliver: Our Youth Voices.” 

To encourage her classmates to participate in the competition, Fang founded East Chapel Hill High School’s first documentary film club. She said she hopes the club motivates her peers to use their voice. 

“I wanted more teens to jump in because that’s what high school is about,” she said. “It’s a pathway to be the person you want to be.” 

As for paving her own path, Fang is already well on her way. In July 2022, she sent an email to Jessica Stringer, editor at Chapel Hill Magazine, looking for summer volunteer work. 

“I’ve always wanted to contribute to my community’s media and especially to your magazine,” Fang wrote in her email to Stringer. 

And just like before, Stringer responded, too. 

“She said, ‘Can I call you?’” Fang recalls. “She offered me an internship right then and there.” 

Stringer said she was impressed by Fang’s experience and thought it would be exciting to guide and mentor the young reporter. She spent a month as the summer’s youngest editorial intern, sandwiched between third and fourth-year college students at the Sage Road office. 

“I didn’t think of her as, ‘Oh, she’s the high schooler,’” Stringer said. “I thought of her as somebody who’s considerate, mature and driven beyond her years.” 

Despite a lengthy list of experience, the high school student isn’t sure journalism is her future. Fang’s loss of several family members to COVID-19, she said, helped her discover a new passion outside of reporting. 

“After the pandemic, I was inspired to save lives,” she said. She is considering studying medicine after graduation and aspires to go to an Ivy League. 

Even if Fang doesn’t continue to pursue journalism, she describes her journey as “magical,” with one thing certain – no matter what she does, she hopes to be a “trailblazer,” adding, “it’s all about grasping opportunities and using them to the fullest.”

Edited by Harrison Clark and Valeria Cloës

College content creators provide insights, make their mark on campus

By Chantel Gillus

Brianya Chambliss grew up in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, where she had big dreams of becoming an entertainer.

As a child, she aspired to be in the spotlight, whether it was through music, dancing or both. 

She also served as a role model to her younger sister, Destiny, encouraging her to stay focused in school and strive towards her goals. 

Kelsey Boyd lives thirty minutes away in Enfield, North Carolina. She started out taking pictures in her snazzy outfits throughout middle and high school, and she created a YouTube channel called DKNZ with three of her closest friends in highschool. 

Boyd was in her freshman year of college, when she was encouraged by a friend and fellow content creator to take content creation seriously. This led to her creating a solo YouTube channel, purchasing a camera and documenting her adventures. 

Jordyn Middleton, who was born and raised in Washington, D.C., also had a passion for fashion along with a strong connection to poetry and spirituality. 

She said she remembered going to a church conference when she was younger and being driven to content creation after being touched by the devotion of one of the women she met there.

“I remember the Holy Spirit coming over me,” she said. “And as soon as I got back to Washington, D.C., I remember I wanted to be a part of this and I wanted to share about God just as other people have and how he’s touched me and moved me in my life.”

Different approach, same passion

Boyd, Chambliss and Middleton are all up and coming content creators who have three different, yet slightly similar missions. 

The trio are currently attending different universities. Boyd and Middleton go to UNC-Chapel Hill and Chambliss goes to North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University

Chambliss said she wanted to become an influencer so she can have an outlet to do the things she couldn’t or was too afraid to in person. She wants to use social media to connect with other people. 

Boyd said she got into content creation because she loves fashion. She loves trying to find ways to make things look aesthetically pleasing. 

She describes herself as a micro-influencer with a minimalistic aesthetic. She enjoys creating content for the fun of it, exhibiting her life, outgoing personality, and style in her own unique way. 

“There is no one else at all like Kelsey,” she said. “So me being me, just me being my loving, goofy, just showing my personality, my bubbly, social self. I think that’s what I bring, along with being a resource to people.” 

Outside of fashion and lifestyle content, Boyd and Middleton like to use their platform to exhibit what life is like for them as Black women at UNC-CH for current and future college students.

Boyd said there aren’t a lot of Black students at predominantly white institutions like UNC-CH, and there are even fewer Black students with an online presence like hers. So, she tries to use her platform to answer questions other Black students might have about going to school there.

Middleton said Black womanhood is very important to her. She said being the best version of herself she can be is critical to both herself and Black women and girls in general. 

“I just try my very best to be intentional about the words that I say because I know that the little, young people that are coming behind me are looking at me, and I just want to make sure I’m making decisions that will be positive on them,” said Middleton. 

Unlike Middleton, Chambliss often posts Q&A’s, vlogs, dances and original music. She said she likes to post things she comes up with because she likes the feeling of making her mark on the content she creates.

All of them said they try to come up with unique content and be their most authentic selves.

“I am a firm believer that if it’s meant for you, then it’ll be meant for you. If I continue to be myself, I’m not gonna do anything that is outside of my comfort zone just because it’s a trend. I am going to stay within my realm and do what’s comfortable for me,” Boyd said.

Being a light for others

The three of them said that, as content creators, there’s a gratification that comes with garnering love from your audience and being a beacon of light for others.

Boyd said she can see the impact she’s had on people through her interactions with people on campus. She said people would see her and tell her they watched her YouTube videos and encouraged her to keep making content.

“I definitely see the influence in that and it does make me feel good, and it makes me want to keep going because you never know who’s watching,” said Boyd. 

However, they all said they were careful not to rely on validation from others.

Chambliss said it was important to acknowledge that people might not know what others are going through. So, she said she doesn’t care how others feel about her experiences. Only she knows what they have been like for her and how to express that in the content she creates.

For Middleton, being herself and making content that reflects that is a testament of what God wants her to be. She doesn’t want to get caught up in trying to be who other people want her to be. She just wants to be herself.

To them, the importance of being a content creator is all about reveling in your individuality and never letting up. 

“Believe in yourself. Take time for yourself and say, ‘I can do this.’ Taking the time to sit back and really tell yourself if this is what you want, you’re gonna find a way to do it — no matter how long it takes,” said Chambliss.

Edited by Katie Lin and Guillermo Molero

‘The poetry of agriculture’: Fricks Apiaries shows love to Chapel Hill through beekeeping

By Isabella Braddish

February weather is a guessing game for residents of the Tar Heel State. One day, it’s snowfall. The next, a beautiful 60-degree day that calls for an extended lunch break.

Conditions may be unpredictable, but North Carolina apiarists — also known as beekeepers — start their seasonal work on February 1. Rain or shine.

Chapel Hill residents Guy and Ingrid Fricks began their beekeeping careers when they purchased two bee hives in early 2000s and opened Fricks Apiaries. Following a move from Carolina Beach, the couple became invested in protecting the local environment and building a community of honey enthusiasts

A former yacht carpenter, Guy Fricks turned to beekeeping — a practice he said is a dying art. A proverb has circulated in the hearts and minds of the couple since moving to Chapel Hill.

“Beekeeping is the poetry of agriculture,” Guy Fricks said. 

Nothing short of necessary’

In the United States, more than one-third of all crop pollination requires some sort of insect pollination. Therefore, bees aid in the production of about one-third of the food supply. They also help prevent soil erosion. Without the presence of bees, the diversity and availability of fresh produce would drastically decline. 

“Beekeeping is nothing short of necessary for this world we live in,” Guy Fricks said. 

The United States Department of Agriculture has estimated that bees and butterflies help pollinate approximately 75% of the world’s flowering plants. Not only do bees pollinate roughly 35% of the world’s food crops like fruits and vegetables, but they are responsible for providing stable ecosystems for other animals and insects.

The process of pollination provides stability in numerous ecological settings. 

“For decades, honey bee populations have been on the decline,” Guy Fricks said. “From pesticides to parasites to destruction of habitats, they just can’t seem to catch a break.” 

This perpetual decline has been occurring for some time. But in recent years, the decline of pollinators has dramatically worsened, largely due to a phenomenon that the United States Environmental Protection Agency calls  “Colony Collapse Disorder,” or CCD.

CCD occurs when environmental circumstances or human intervention cause worker bees to flee the hive, leaving behind the queen bee and the remaining honey supply.

‘Innovative? Always.’

After learning just how powerful beekeeping is in terms of environmental sustainability, Guy Fricks said he decided to translate his interest into a business.

This drive resulted in the genesis of a full-time family venture that revolves around community, passion, dedication, and sustainability. To Guy Fricks, it also ensures the future of local beekeeping. 

“Innovative? Always. Boring? Never,” Guy Fricks said. 

The Chapel Hill-based farm offers an array of products and services that revolve around the beauty of bees and the art of beekeeping.

Fricks Apiaries produces and sells raw, unfiltered honey from honeybees that forage across Orange, Chatham and Alamance Counties. It sells raw local honey, creamed honey, comb honey, bee pollen, handmade beeswax candles and other hive products.

The farm also sells N.C.-raised queen bees from their locally-adapted stock, typically available from April to September. To ensure continued demand for beekeeping in the area, the family offers pollination services to farmers from February to September. 

For $40 plus shipping fees, patrons can buy Carniolan or Italian Queens, the two most common N.C.-raised queen bees. Fricks Apiaries prides itself on its honeybee selection, Guy Fricks said, as its stocks are selected to thrive in North Carolina while resisting pests and diseases.

‘Nothing quite like their honey’

For the benefit of patrons’ health and individual wellness, the honey from Fricks Apiaries is completely raw and unfiltered, which allows for the honey to retain its pollen particles and natural enzymes.

One of the apiary’s products, freeze-dried bee pollen, has a long history of medicinal use. Propolis is a resin-like material that honeybees father from bark or buds and mix with their wax. Medicinal use of this substance dates back to ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations, where it would be used for its healing properties. 

Loyal customer and Chapel Hill resident Mary Voelkel was quick to rave about the quality products Fricks has to offer. 

“There is nothing quite like their honey,” Voelkel said. “Not only is local honey crucial for allergy sufferers like myself, but it also tastes amazing.” 

Another customer, Carolina Ramirez, was eager to offer tips for consuming Fricks’ honey. 

“Honey is one thing,” she said. “But hot honey seriously changes the game. You can put it on anything and see how it instantly transforms a flavor profile immediately.” 

Fricks Apiaries’ products can also be found at fan-favorite shops such as Maple View Farm Ice Cream. 

“Those products sell out quite often and definitely seem to be a hit,” a spokesperson for Maple View said. 

Although Guy and Ingrid Fricks said they love to see customers enjoying their products, they urge buyers to understand how important the art of beekeeping is in sustaining a fully-functioning and lively environment. 

“We need to put environmental issues at the forefront of more minds,” Guy Fricks said. 

As both local and global populations increase, bees are essential in providing a sustainable and constant source of diverse agriculture. 

Local beekeeping and businesses like Fricks Apiaries are one piece of conservation efforts in North Carolina and across the county. Their efforts are possible only with the support of the community.

“It all starts and ends at the individual level,” Guy Fricks said. “We need people to really care about this cause because its effects can be seen both at the micro- and macro-level.”

Edited by Allie Kelly and Mattie Collins

Chapel Hill resident educates community on native plant species

By Anna Connors 

Jerilyn Maclean arranges dozens of native plants on a folding table outside Woods Charter School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In front, she props handwritten signs with the name of each plant and how to care for it. When someone stops by her table, she explains how native plants changed her life. She hopes she might convince them to buy one.

Maclean didn’t know her passion would touch the lives of hundreds of her neighbors in two short years.

“Jerilyn has changed my life,” said Kathleen Southworth, a neighbor of Maclean. “Nature is coming back to my yard. And it’s all because of her.”

Maclean is the founder of the Briar Chapel Native Plant Club, a neighborhood organization with more than 500 members. Every Saturday morning between March and June, she sells plants in the parking lot of Woods Charter. 

Almost every other day of the week, she can be found gardening in her yard and in the park behind her house, offering advice to neighbors, fighting for change in her neighborhood’s landscaping practices and giving talks about native plants. Maclean is on a mission to prevent the extinction of native species — one plant at a time. 

Gardening was not always the focus of Maclean’s life. In her hometown of Napa, California, she began her career in accounting. 

But in 2014, with four kids between the ages of 5 and 11, Maclean was diagnosed with a chronic illness. The doctor’s prognosis was bleak. Her illness was incurable.

Maclean’s garden became her escape. Outdoors, with her hands and feet caked in dirt, she felt at home.

The more she planted, the more her backyard filled with life. Hummingbirds began to feed on the coral honeysuckle by her back fence. Monarch caterpillars crawled up stems of milkweed. Snakes slithered through blankets of woodland phlox. Bees buzzed around blossoms of coneflower.

“If you plant, wildlife will come,” Maclean said. “Every plant makes a difference.”

Maclean began posting images of her yard in neighborhood forums like Nextdoor. And her neighbors began to notice.

In the fall of 2021, Amy Coughlin, Maclean’s neighbor and owner of Breakaway Cafe, asked Maclean if she wanted to sell her plants outside Breakaway. Those plant sales helped spread the word about Maclean’s business.

“She got a lot of attention, and she had a lot of opportunities to promote the importance of native plant sales,” Coughlin said. “Customers and patrons really, really liked it.” 

Soon, Maclean had customers driving in from Cary, Apex and High Point to buy her plants. Not everyone, however, was happy about Maclean’s burgeoning business. 

The Briar Chapel Homeowners Association protested Maclean’s unruly yard — saying her wild greenery was too messy. A tenant next to Breakaway Cafe complained to the complex’s landlord about Maclean’s Saturday plant sales, forcing her to move her sales elsewhere. When Maclean asked her HOA if she could hold her sale in Briar Chapel, they refused.

Maclean didn’t give up. 

Briar Chapel is a suburban sprawl of 2,000 identical row houses. It prides itself on green grass and perfectly pruned trees. The manicured look comes with a price.

Maclean said the Briar Chapel HOA spends $150,000 per year on pine needles alone, which are used to cover empty garden beds surrounding non-native trees. Sod, the neighborhood’s grass of choice, requires constant watering in the summer. Hired landscapers blow leaves on the medians and sidewalks three times a week.

“They want an old-fashioned, colonial look,” Maclean said. “Even if it means the extinction of our butterflies, bees, birds, moths, fireflies, amphibians.”

Nearly one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction, some within decades, according to a 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

With estimates of private land ownership in the United States as high as 78%, Maclean says the onus falls on private landowners to make a difference.

The American fascination with manicured lawns dates back to the 1600s. A New York Times video “The Great American Lawn” explains that, as European farm animals ate through native grasses, foreign seeds were imported to replace native grasses. Green lawns became a symbol of wealth and status — a symbol that continues today.

Maclean said the American ideal of a manicured lawn needs to change.

“Five years ago, there were butterflies all over my yard every day,” Maclean said. “And now I see fewer and fewer, even with all the food that’s available to them. Do people care about that? How much do you care? Do you care more about having your four little round shrubs and your sod? Or do you care more about the future of the planet, for your children and grandchildren?”

Maclean’s yard is small, no more than 1,000 square feet. Every inch is covered with native plants. Bee balm, golden alexander and coreopsis — now dormant for the winter — run along her front sidewalk. On either side of her house crawl tangles of mountain mint and goldenrod. In the back, framed by a white fence, lies a patchwork of potted plants, their leaves only just starting to peek through the soil. Come spring, Maclean’s yard will be teeming with life.

On a cold day in early February, Maclean walks through her garden, pulling out the occasional weed and admiring the baby leaves of her plants poking through the soil. Spring is on its way, Maclean said, and this year will be her biggest year yet. She’s ordered 1,400 milkweed plants from a local nursery, fronting the cost out of her personal bank account. Her backyard is brimming with hundreds more potted plants she’s cultivated over the winter in preparation for her spring sales.

In the last two years, Maclean has sold more than 5,000 native plants, she estimated. She’s given away hundreds more to those who can’t afford them.

Soon, Maclean plans to announce her newest initiative: the Briar Chapel Pollinator Pledge. She hopes to commit 10% of the neighborhood — 250 houses — to planting community gardens of native plants.

The difference she’s made is tangible, her neighbors said.

“What Jerilyn has done is educate so many neighbors like me who had the same mission and goals, we just didn’t know how to get there,” said Rhonda Jones, Maclean’s neighbor and member of the Briar Chapel Native Plant Club. “I probably have a hundred different species now… that I’ve bought from [Jerilyn]. I haven’t been back to a garden center in two years. And I see my little plot of land flourishing.” 

But Maclean doesn’t know how much longer she’ll be able to keep selling her plants. With four kids and her aging mother all living in Maclean’s house, the bills are piling up — and her plants can’t always pay them.

“I have a grand idea in my head,” Maclean said, her eyes glassy as she gazed toward the community garden behind her house. “But I don’t know how to get there.”

Maclean’s dream is to find an investor to back her work. If someone could fund salaries for a team of three to five people, Maclean said her team could give talks about native plants and work with local organizations to help them develop plans to make their land more sustainable.

“If we could report on what we’re doing around the Triangle, we’d have HOAs calling us and asking us to help save on their maintenance costs, help with runoff and erosion and help bring butterflies and bees and birds back to neighborhoods,” Maclean said.

“Plant by plant, yard by yard,” Maclean tells people. “They won’t go extinct unless we let them.”

Edited by Anna Neil and Noah Monroe