A whole new world: what it’s like to be a real-life princess

By Alexandra Blazevich

Cassidy Tompkins poses as Ariel from The Little Mermaid at Walt Disney World. Tompkins auditioned 12 times before she was cast as a princess. Cassidy Tompkins
Cassidy Tompkins poses as Ariel from The Little Mermaid at Walt Disney World. Tompkins auditioned 12 times before she was cast as a princess.

Three hundred people. One room. I was out of breath, but I just kept smiling. Five hours later, the group was narrowed down to seven. I’d made it to the end. A casting director asked for my contact information.

Six months later, I still hadn’t received a phone call. My dream of getting a job in Walt Disney World was crushed, once again. I told myself I would try again the next chance I got. It was the same never-ending cycle of excitement and disappointment with every Disney audition I went to – seven, to be exact.

One girl sat in the corner crying after she was cut. Black tears running down her face onto her bright red lips as she changed into her street shoes and packed her bag to leave. She drove four hours to an audition in which she didn’t last more than five minutes. At that audition, I learned not to wear makeup – the casting directors don’t like it.

A few other girls were asked to leave because they were just above or below the height requirement for the part the casting director was looking for. “Please check the audition requirements next time,” she said as they walked out.

Cassidy Tompkins, a former Disney princess, auditioned for Disney 12 times before she was hired.

Abby Peters auditioned eight times and was never hired.

Alyssa Stroner auditioned just one time before getting her part.

“I was part of the very lucky, extremely humbled few,” Stroner said.

Peter O’Neal auditioned for Disney entertainment for a period of six years – after his interactions with cast members during a trip to Disney World inspired him to do so.

“I would do whatever it took to perform at Disney, so I could spread the magic that had been given to me,” he said.

The Audition Process

Being a Disney princess is not all about tiaras and corsets – at least not as first. During the audition process, a casting director could cut you based on how far apart your eyes are, or how big your nose is. If you’re an inch too short or tall of the range set for each princess, you’re out. But, if the casting directors like you, they can measure you down or up to your “Disney height,” as they call it. I’m 5’8,” but my Disney height was 5’7” because they thought I looked the part.

Disney’s casting directors are looking to fit a specific look for each princess and each character. The audition listings on the website say exactly what they’re looking for. For example, the listing to be Anna from Frozen says,“5’3″ – 5’7″, type cast. Elsa’s younger sister, and Princess of Arendelle; quirky and a bit awkward at times, fun spirited with great comedic timing and outgoing personality. Non-singing role.”

The audition requirements don’t stop there. Before you have a chance to show your personality through acting and dance steps, the casting directors line everyone up and cut the majority of the group solely based on looks.

“The casting crew stares at every individual for a few seconds to identify if their physique and basic facial structure matches the criteria. It is a very awkward process, but it is painless,” Peters said. “Despite the casting crew’s many attempts to convince you to ‘just enjoy yourself’ and to not worry about your audience, the whole processes is very intimidating.”

At least they play fun Disney music in the background.

Tompkins first auditioned for Disney entertainment in 2010 for “Beauty and the Beast,” a Broadway-type of show where she’d need to be able to sing, dance and act.

“The casting director told me I would never be a Belle because I didn’t have the right look, which was hilarious to me when I did get cast as Belle in 2015 by that same casting director,” she said.

Once the casting crew has looked everyone over and made cuts, the remaining dancers are taught a dance routine. For Walt Disney World princess auditions, this is usually a simple grapevine or three-step-turn dance with a curtsy or two. When I auditioned for Hong Kong Disneyland, we learned a more complicated number.

“You’re a Cindy”

At the end of the audition, directors choose a few women to have the “Disney Princess experience,” as I like to call it. “Very few females make it to the final round, when they are weighed, measured, and dolled up to look like a selected princess,” Peters said.

At the end of my first audition, the casting director lined up our group of 10 girls. She pointed at me and said, “You’re a Cindy.” Speechless, I stepped out of line and followed her. She led me to a room where a stylist was waiting, and within a few minutes, I had on a blonde wig, blue eye shadow, and light pink gloss on my lips. I looked like Cinderella. It was surreal.

Then, the casting director took my photo and said I could potentially get a phone call from Disney within six months. From there, it was a waiting game.

When asked about their perspective and comments on the audition process, Disney did not respond to my inquiries.

The Training Process

Once hired, Tompkins said she went through a training process where she learned how to do meet-and-greets with guests as both a princess and a “fur character.” The meet-and-greet structure was very specific: greet the guest, have a conversation and send them off – all within about 70 seconds. All princesses – known as “face characters” – must also be trained in fur costumes, where their faces are not seen. For Tompkins, that meant she had to train as Pluto, Eeyore and Elastigirl from The Incredibles.

Face characters must verbally respond to whatever guests may say, and because so they earn an extra $2.50 per hour. This can be rough. Tompkins said that one time when she was playing Ariel, a young child told her, “Ariel can you take my brother away because I think he just wiped a booger on your dress.”

Fur characters cannot talk, but still must still have a non-verbal conversation with the guest. One of Tompkins’ fur character roles was as Pluto.

“If someone had a birthday pin on I’d try to tap dance what sounded like happy birthday and move my hands like a conductor to get everyone to sing after pointing to the button,” Tompkins said.

Stroner said her training lasted four days. She learned to walk, talk and act like Princess Jasmine from Walt Disney’s Aladdin.

O’Neal said the meet-and-greet experience was a thrill for him as a fur character. He couldn’t talk, but his actions made up for it.

“There’s no way you can’t smile when a fun friend gives you a big hug,” he said.

Disney also requires all face and fur characters to go by their character name. Even if other cast members or friends know who the person is under the costume, guests do not.

“In Disney lingo, it is common for people to ask entertainment cast members what characters they perform, and instead of putting it that way – possibly ruining the magic for overhearing guests – we refer to the characters we perform as ‘our friends,’” Stroner said. “For example, someone might ask, ‘Who are you friends with?’”

When I visited Disney World in August, Stroner was holding meet-and-greets as Jasmine in Epcot. While I know her as my friend, Alyssa, I had to call her Jasmine in order to not ruin the magic for the other guests around me – especially younger ones. When posting photos of us on social media, I couldn’t mention her real name – I had to call her my friend, Jasmine.

In order to keep the magic alive for all guests, Disney has put  in place rules to keep things consistent. If two Mickey Mouses were to cross paths, children would start to question which one is the “real” Mickey. The magic would be lost. In a similar way, each princess must have a similar look, just like how every Radio City Rockette must be the same height. Because of Disney’s standards, only a select few of all the women and men who audition make it as a cast member.

On my way home from my audition, I called my parents out of sheer excitement. I had to tell someone. Even while stuck in the miserable downtown Orlando traffic, I sang Disney tunes at the top of my lungs. I rolled my windows down and serenaded the cars beside me. I didn’t care – I felt like I was on top of the world. I don’t know if I was missing the right look or if they lost my resume, but I never got my callback.

The audition process gave me an inside look, not only to how Disney entertainment works, but also the entertainment industry as a whole, which I wouldn’t have gotten to experience otherwise.

It has been three years since that day, and my mom still calls me Cindy.

Edited by Paige Connelly

‘All I have to do is give it everything I’ve got’

Jay Arrington's life has not been easy, but, through perseverance and support, he now plays college lacrosse.
Jay Arrington’s life has not been easy. Through perseverance and support, he now plays lacrosse at St. Andrews University.

By Lauren Tarpley

“I make sure I’m grateful for every opportunity I get. If I could go back one year and give myself advice, I would say be appreciative.”

A lot can change in one year. One year ago, Jahdi’El “Jay” Arrington, 20, was living in Chapel Hill. Jay was reluctantly attending Durham Technical Community College, and he already had a few run-ins with law enforcement. Today, Arrington is attending St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, NC, on a scholarship doing what he his most passionate about, lacrosse.

Life changing opportunities do not happen by chance. These opportunities are born out of struggle, hardship and dedication. Arrington is a prime example of how one’s life can completely change with some ambition and support.

Originally from Ohio, Arrington moved to Chapel Hill while in middle school. A lack of stability had a negative impact on Arrington’s middle school career as multiple moves and switching schools led to poor grades. During this time he was enrolled in the mentor-partnership program Volunteers for Youth where he met his mentor, Eric Perry.

“I figured I needed to do something to give back a little, but as far as getting Jay—it was just the universe doing me a solid favor,” Perry said. “He’s had his struggles, but he has a wonderful heart and he was just the perfect kid for me to mentor.”

Arrington was 12 years old at the time and eight years later Perry continues to support and advise him.

“I’m not sure what it was that caused fate to sign on to it or how it worked, but the universe just lined everything up perfect. I fell in love the first time I met him. He was just a sweet little guy and that part of him never changed and never will,” Perry said.

Struggle to success

Perry helped Arrington work through tough situations in his youth such as transitioning schools, sometimes ending up in worse districts.

“He wasn’t with the same kids or teachers, and it was really hard for him,” Perry said. “He’s a get-along guy, but in this process, he was getting left behind in school.”

As Arrington got older, Perry remained by his side through good times and bad times. Arrington eventually graduated from East Chapel Hill High School and enrolled in Durham Technical Community College. While Arrington was hard-working and ambitious, he still had his faults. He would eventually be charged with a DUI, amongst other minor encounters with the law. Instead of falling victim to these hardships, Arrington used them as an opportunity to learn and grow from his mistakes.

“My struggles have helped me open my eyes to real-life situations. The obstacles that are in my way will be hard to deal with and will continue to challenge me, but all I have to do is give it everything I’ve got,” Arrington said.

Perry was a prominent figure through these difficult times, reminding Arrington that he is in control of his fate.

“He was twelve when we first started hanging out and he’s damn near a grown-ass-man now,” Perry said. “We all have some bumps along the way and if all is well at the end of the rail, we’ve learned something and have some grip on right and wrong.”

Thinking positive

Throughout their relationship, Perry has emphasized the importance of being proactive and positive in life, as our life reflects our thoughts.

“We kept talking about asking the universe for the next great thing,” Perry said.  “Don’t go through life asking what terrible thing will happen next, because the universe will answer with what you ask for. But, the exact opposite is also true. I believe if you look in the mirror and ask for great things, great things will happen.”

According to Perry, every time they spoke, Arrington would say three things he was grateful for. Then, in January, Arrington received a phone call congratulating him on his admittance to St. Andrews University on a lacrosse scholarship. Arrington now had the opportunity to get an education at a four-year institution while playing the sports he is most passionate about—just one more thing to be grateful for.

“It’s been gratifying knowing he was able to make a connection between the change in his attitude and this amazing opportunity,” Perry said. “I’m proud of him. Super proud of him.”

A bigger issue at hand

While Arrington’s hardships were temporary obstacles on his path to success, these struggles often hinder young black Americans trying to succeed.

Black Americans are highly represented within the United States’ criminal justice system. According to The Sentencing Project , 32 percent of blacks males between the ages of 20 to 29 are under some form of criminal justice supervision– whether that be prison, probation, or parole. While white males born in 1991 have a four percent chance of spending time in prison, their black counterparts have a 29 percent chance of going to prison at some point during their lives, according to The Sentencing Project.

An article published on Slate.com reported on a Rhode Island study that found black drivers were more likely to be stopped than white drivers despite the fact that they are less likely to receive a citation. Furthermore, black Americans were three times as likely to have their cars searched and were less likely to have a reason for being stopped. Let’s take a moment to let that sink in.

Perry has emphasized the importance of being aware of the current racial tensions in our society, stating the alternatives to cooperation can be frightening for black Americans.

“If you’re young and black, it’s open season on you. So, you have to be super aware of that in a way that I wouldn’t have to. It’s unfair, but that is what’s going on,” Perry said.

These racial issues, on a larger scale, might be hard to relate to. But ,when these issues happen on a local level and effect loved ones, the reality becomes clear. Perry believes voting and movements such as Black Live Matters bring awareness to these issues and offer people a way to be proactive.

“If you want to change injustice in the system, and it’s loaded with it, you can’t change the system without being active,” Perry said. “That’s a simply fact,”

Jahdi’El Arrington – student athlete

Currently, Arrington is majoring in communications. He will be red-shirting as a midfielder on the men’s lacrosse team at St. Andrews.

“Now that I am in school, doing what I love and getting an education, I feel like I can start achieving more in life since I am learning so much as I go through this process,” Arrington said.

Edited by Luke Bollinger

Saving Northside, the largest black community in Chapel Hill

A new house under construction in Northside neighborhood. A loan from UNC-CH has allowed the Jackson Center to purchase properties to sell at an affordable rate in an attempt to raise the neighborhood's black population. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
A new house under construction in Northside neighborhood. A loan from UNC-CH has allowed the Jackson Center to purchase properties to sell at an affordable rate in an attempt to raise the neighborhood’s black population. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

By Sofie DeWulf

Eugene Farrar is one of the originals. He’s lived in Northside for years, so he’s personally witnessed how the neighborhood has transformed; and like other long-term residents, he’s got something to say about it.

In 2010, he was interviewed for an exhibit featured in the community called “Facing Our Neighbors.”

“Right now, I see a lot of work to be done,” Farrar said. “You know, African-Americans dominated this town, but now you’re pushing African-Americans out because you don’t think that they can pay the taxes or they don’t have the revenue to support the town. So, you bring people in to live in these houses, to build 3,4,5, $600,000 homes, which, you know, the average person that was born and raised in Chapel Hill cannot afford that.”

Historically, Northside neighborhood has been the largest black community in Chapel Hill. Eugene Farrar is one of hundreds of African-Americans who have called Northside home for decades.

Many resident’s families have lived in Northside for generations. These natives cherish the history of the neighborhood and the tight-knit community that developed from a network of long-term family residents.

This community dynamic, however, began to change before the turn of the 21st century. The major reason for this change? College students.

Because of a growing interest from college students to live in Northside, the African-American population in the neighborhood has declined significantly in the last 30 years. According to the U.S. census, there were 1,159 black residents in the neighborhood in 1980, but by 2010, there were only 690.

Because of these changes, Northside residents are worrying about the future of the neighborhood. Many residents, like Farrar, believe that the increase of rental properties and the subsequent rise in housing prices are forcing low-income, predominately African-American residents out of Northside.

There is a fear that this threatens the close feel of the neighborhood and the appreciation of its history. Recent initiatives such as the Northside Neighborhood Initiative and organizations like the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, are helping the community to address these concerns.

Neighborhood Pride

The Northside neighborhood encompasses the 188 acres of land enclosed by North Columbia Street to the east, the Carrboro city limit to the west, the Tanyard Branch trail to the north and West Rosemary Street to the south.

While it may be a clearly established neighborhood now, Northside began rather haphazardly as a labor settlement that served UNC-Chapel Hill in its beginnings.

“There would not be a university if not for the blacks in this community,” says Kathy Atwater, a long-time resident of Northside. “The university was built on the backs of slaves. My grandfather worked for the university, and he would carry water from the Old Well to the dorms for the students.”

In addition to performing tasks like this, Northside residents helped to build the stone walls that surround the university today.

Fast forward about 170 years to the 1950s and you find the largest black community in Chapel Hill, running from what is now the McDonalds on Franklin to the Wings Over on Rosemary. At this time, The Midway, the district connecting Chapel Hill and Carrboro, was full of black-owned businesses, from Bill’s Barbeque — which is now Mama Dip’s — to Mason’s Grocery and a pool hall nearby.

Northside remained united in the face of racism and discrimination. Many residents became freedom fighters in the Civil Rights Movement, participating in sit-ins, marches and demonstrations in Chapel Hill. Church Street was the unofficial divider of the white and black areas of the neighborhood, becoming a marker of the segregation within the community.

While the coexistence of white and black within Northside was relatively peaceful, the same could not be said beyond the boundaries of the neighborhood. Keith Edwards, another long-time resident of Northside, recalls being spit on and kicked during her time as a student at Chapel Hill Junior High.

Her walk home from school every day was filled with anxiety, but she says that her fear vanished as she got close to Northside.

“As long as you stayed in the perimeter of that neighborhood, you were safe from the outside world,” she said.

Edwards’ memories—the feelings of protection and safety and community from living in Northside—are echoed by other residents.

“Everybody was just family,” Atwater recalls of the Northside of the past. “We all looked after one another. Nobody was left to themselves. And I think that’s where most of the hurt comes from, from those who are still here. They remember how it used to be and how it felt like they had something.”

Graham Street in Northside Neighborhood.  Because of the affordable prices and close-to-campus location, Northside has attracted many students in the past few decades. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
Graham Street in Northside Neighborhood. Because of its affordable prices and close-to-campus location, Northside has attracted caught the attention of many students in the past few decades. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

Change Comes to Northside

The hurt that Atwater is referring to started roughly 30–40 years ago, when the gentrification of Northside began. It was about this time that students at UNC-CH started showing a greater interest in living in Northside.

Northside was close to the university, and houses in the neighborhood were relatively cheaper than in other areas surrounding campus. Developers began to notice the growth of students in the neighborhood and how these students could offer more money than existing residents in Northside.

Yvonne Cleveland, administrative associate at the Jackson Center and a member of the Northside community, said that resident’s houses are often sold after they pass away.

“Let’s say my grandmother owned the house, and she passed away,” Cleveland said.  “I have no interest in living in the Northside community, so if someone offered me $200,000, I’d probably say ‘Yes, I’ll take it.'”

Another major reason residents move out is because they can’t afford to live in the neighborhood anymore, largely because of increased property taxes. In either situation, developers will buy the house, rebuild and expand it, and convert it into a rental property to cater to college students.

“Instead of renting one house for $600, you’re renting one room for $600, and within that house you have five rooms,” Cleveland says. “Basically, you’re quadrupling your profit.”

According to the decennial census, investor-owned properties in Northside neighborhood have increased significantly since 2000; and with the increase in investor-owned properties comes a change in demographics.

From 1980-2010, the population of 18 to 24-year-olds increased from 23.4 percent to 55.7 percent, while family households dropped from 48.2 percent to 22.9 percent. The number of owner-occupied houses also decreased significantly. The large majority of the family households living in these owner-occupied houses are long-term, African-American residents of Northside.

Lifting Voices

The long-term residents of Northside became concerned with these changes. How will the community restore homeownership and family rental housing in the neighborhood? How can student neighbors learn to appreciate the history of Northside? How will the neighborhood maintain its diversity in age, income and race? How can the tight-knit feeling that used to pervade Northside be restored?

There was a real need for long-term residents to voice their concerns and have them addressed. The town of Chapel Hill responded with the Northside Neighborhood Conservation District Plan, one of the first initiatives adopted by the town on Feb. 23, 2004. This plan established regulations to “help preserve the character of a particular, older residential neighborhood.”

The real change, though, started happening in 2008, with the establishment of The Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, a nonprofit located on Rosemary Street at the city limit of Carrboro.

The Jackson Center started as an initiative to preserve the history of Northside by creating an oral archive of interviews with long-term Northside residents, but soon expanded its mission to work to sustaining and strengthening the community.

“What we want to do is hear what our neighbors want,” says Della Pollock, the executive director of the Jackson Center.

Since it began, the Jackson Center has been behind several initiatives to aid Northside, teaming up with a number of partners, including UNC-Chapel Hill, Self-Help, the Town of Chapel Hill and EmPOWERment Inc.

These initiatives consist of the Northside and Pine Knolls Community Plan, adopted in January 2012; the Northside Housing Market Action Plan, developed in 2013; and, most recently, the Northside Neighborhood Initiative, announced on March 9, 2015.

The Northside Neighborhood Initiative, according to Hudson Vaughan, senior director of the Jackson Center, is meant to “ensure the diversity and legacy of Northside and preserve its future.”

This has been accomplished through efforts to engage with the students living in the neighborhood. Student residents are encouraged to connect with their neighbors through events like “Cocoa on the Porch” or “Lookout for the Cookout.”

They can also learn about the history of the neighborhood by listening to the Northside soundwalk, “Histories of Home,” created by the Jackson Center.

Jake Pachecho, a student at UNC and volunteer at the Jackson Center, finds the soundwalk to be a huge benefit to student residents.

“Knowing the history of Northside can instill a respect that will stay with students who see Northside as simply a place for them to stay,” he said.

Students have also been educated about neighborhood ordinances, which has helped reduce the nuisance complaints in Northside by 60 percent since the Northside Neighborhood Initiative was announced. The ultimate desire of long-term residents is to build an understanding with student residents.

“They’re not opposed to students,” Cleveland said. “They just want them to have respect for the community and its history.”

Northside has seen other big changes since the Northside Neighborhood Initiative was announced.

UNC-CH gave a $3 million no-interest loan to the initiative, which has allowed the Jackson Center and its partners to purchase 16 properties in Northside and sell at an affordable rate. This is a big step in restoring homeownership and family-rental housing in the neighborhood.

An Uncertain Future  

Currently, a stone gateway is being built in front of St. Joseph Christian Methodist Episcopal Church beside the Jackson Center. The gateway is meant to honor the freedom fighters of Northside and be a marker for the neighborhood. It comes at a turning point in the community.

Because of recent efforts from the Northside Neighborhood Initiative, the African-American population in Northside has increased for the first time in 30 years.

George Barrett, the associate director of the Jackson Center, looks to the completion of the gateway and the achievements of the community with excitement. The gateway is an inspiration for the future, but it also acts as a reminder of the struggles blacks in the community continue to face today.

“There’s still work to do,” he says, echoing the same words of Eugene Farrar seven years ago.

Edited by Molly Weybright

A look into ‘America’s Lawyer’, Mike Papantonio

Lanie Phillips

On Saturday, Feb. 13, 2017, lead Litigation Attorney Mike Papantonio received the call that E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, commonly referred to as DuPont, and The Chemours Company reached a settlement of $670.7 million that will be paid out to approximately 3,500 clients.

For decades, DuPont was intentionally dumping C8, a cancer-causing chemical used in Teflon non-stick pans, into the Ohio River, which exposed entire communities to the toxic chemical, causing long-term health effects on residents. Over the past few years, attorneys have reached individual case verdicts, but this settlement will payout thousands of clients and ultimately bring the case to a close.

“The jury determined that, not only was DuPont at fault, but that they were guilty of actual malice in the way they covered up the evidence of their conduct,” said Papantonio.

For Papantonio, this news was the culmination of tens of thousands of hours of work researching, preparing and litigating this case. Papantonio led the team that originally exposed the dangers of the C8 chemical, exposed the internal secret documents DuPont was hiding and revealed the problem to the EPA. Since then, his team has forced DuPont to set up safety guidelines, including a medical monitoring program, to ultimately stop producing and using C8. In addition to the settlement, Papantonio and his team tried the only three C8 trials against DuPont and won multi-million dollar verdicts.

Meeting Mike 

To say I was intimidated by meeting Mike Papantonio is an understatement. It was in Laguardia Airport and I was joining his firm for a gala they were a part of. His presence filled the room the minute he walked through the door and when he spoke, the crowd quickly fell silent.  What followed surprised everyone.

“I’ve heard you’re good with a tambourine, Lanie!” he said. The crowd broke out in a chuckle and the ice was broken. Since then, Mike Papantonio has grown into the mentor I never dreamed I would be lucky enough to have.

Background

After attending undergraduate school at the University of Florida and receiving his law degree from the Cumberland School of Law, Mike Papantonio, referred to by friends and colleagues as “Pap,” has gone on to create a name for himself as “America’s Lawyer.” In addition to his most recent victory, Papantonio has handled thousands of cases, including the Asbestos and the Florida Tobacco Litigation trials. He has received several multi-million dollar verdicts on behalf of his clients, the victims. Papantonio is a member of the National Trial Lawyers Association and was recently inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame.

If you search for “Mike Papantonio,” you get thousands of results. He is regarded as one of the most talented attorneys of his time and has the reputation to back it up. He is listed in the publications Best Lawyers in America and Leading American Attorney, hosts a biannual conference for trial lawyers and is currently on multiple best-seller lists for his latest book, Law and Disorder. He could – and did – write a book with all of his accomplishments, but the goal of this article is to give a glimpse of the man behind the suit.

Community influencer 

In Gulf Breeze, a small town right outside of Pensacola, Florida, Mike Papantonio is a local celebrity. However, this recognition is not simply for his incredible skills and victories in the courthouse; it’s his contagious personality and unending generosity to the community that allow him to maintain this status. Michael Mann, a resident of Gulf Breeze and a family friend, vouched for this sentiment.

“Pap has donated to pretty much every cause this town takes on,” he said. “He also was the driving force behind me going to law school. Gulf Breeze is lucky to have his influence.” Mann went on to explain how even with his busy schedule, Papantonio is always available for a quick phone call to talk through career options or run through a practice trial for the Trial Team at the law school he is attending.

Work life

After graduating from the University of Florida, Papantonio planned on being a journalist or foreign correspondent. By chance, he interviewed one of the most well known trial lawyers in the country who convinced him to go to law school. After a few years as a prosecutor, Papantonio made the switch to trial law.

“I specifically chose trial law because I couldn’t stomach the idea of helping these corporations get away with the crimes they are committing,” said Papantonio. This mentality has driven his career since the beginning.

Connie Pearson, a lead paralegal at Levin Papantonio Law Firm has worked with Papantonio on several historic cases throughout his career and has only positive things to say about her experiences.

“Pap is one of the most hardworking people I know,” she said. “He never loses sight of the justice he is trying to achieve for our clients and makes it easy for me to come to work each day.”

This sentiment carries throughout the office. As an employee, I wholeheartedly agree that Papantonio makes it easy to enjoy your job. There is an obvious sentiment of teamwork that drives the tone of the office. Whether it was group lunches to celebrate an email found by the attorney leading the case or wrapping up the client calls necessary to head to court, the sense of family in the firm is undeniable.

“We stick together,” said Pearson. “We’re at constant war with teams of corporate lawyers, so we have to stand firm in what we believe in and not allow our clients to be bullied.”

When asked what he was most proud of, Papantonio didn’t rattle off a list of cases or show me a trophy he had received. Instead, he chose his only daughter, Sara. “I think one benefit to being a trial lawyer is that it always keeps things in perspective,” he said. “The people in my life are so much more important than anything this job has given me.” The two have a close relationship and talk often. Sara understands the impact of the work her dad has done and hopes to follow in his footsteps.

“My dad has instilled in me the importance of doing the right thing for the right reasons, instead of what will make the most money,” said his daughter. “He’s shown me that if you’re a good person, the rest will follow.”

Family man

This past summer, I lived with the Papantonio’s while working for his firm and got to experience firsthand what it’s like to be in his constant presence. Throughout the internship, I was not only an employee, but Mike and his wife, Terri, along with their daughter, Sara, took me in as another family member. I was included in dinner outings, day trips and information that would not hit the press for days.

“Different people fill different spaces in your life,” said Terri, “I’m glad that we can fill one for you”. This sentiment perfectly embodies what the family stands for.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have studied under an attorney who practices at the caliber that Mike Papantonio does. After living under the same roof, I think I have begun to understand what makes him tick and why he has taken the road to get where he is today.

It seems as if Papantonio excels at every aspect of life. In addition to being an incredibly accomplished attorney, his home life is nothing short of amazing. Terri Papantonio often spoke to me about what it’s like to be the wife of such a high-powered attorney.

“He’s not ‘America’s Lawyer’ with me,” she said. “We decided at the very beginning of our marriage that he would leave that in the courtroom.”

Over the past 20 years, the couple has traveled to all seven continents, regularly taking outlandish adventures.

Looking ahead

I think Mike Papantonio will remain “America’s Lawyer” as long as he can. He has no plans to retire and although he works from home far more now, he is quick to lend guidance to any team fighting against corporate criminals.

“Dad’s going to hold on until I can get through law school,” said Sara. “We both want to make sure that I am prepared to continue his legacy and maybe even try a case together before he officially retires.”

Edited by Avery Williams

Pain and resilience: A refugee’s journey to North Carolina

By Luke Bollinger

Zubair Rushk is not the typical student at UNC-Chapel Hill. He’s not a typical U.S. citizen. Zubair is from Syria, but he fled the country to escape persecution from the Bashar al-Assad regime. His body is a representation of the experiences of his early life. He walks with a limp from a childhood disease. His glasses sit crooked on his nose, a result of it having been broken multiple times. At times he flashes back to traumatic events, something no amount of therapy can fully mitigate.

Zubair was resettled in Durham in 2010. Since then, he has built a good life for himself. Zubair considers himself lucky to have landed in Durham, as the Triangle has proven to be a welcoming and accommodating place for refugees with numerous organizations devoted to easing the transition and creating fulfilling lives for them. Despite all the good Zubair has found while living in Durham, the events that led to his resettlement are something he carries with him every day. It is part of who he is. Those traumatic times are what make him unique. His journey to Durham holds parallels to the journeys of many refugees. It’s a journey of pain and resilience.

Pain

As a child and young adult, Zubair was a troublemaker, but not in the way one might think of a typical rebellious child growing up in the U.S. He was a troublemaker because he refused to let his pride in his culture be suppressed. Zubair is a Kurd, a minority within the Syrian population. The laws of Syria prohibit students from speaking Kurdish in school, on the streets and even in their own homes.

Zubair never understood why he must disassociate himself from his cultural identity, so he decided he would speak Kurdish in school. He described this act of defiance as if it were kids passing notes to each other or shooting spitballs across the classroom, hoping the teacher didn’t notice and getting a sense of glee when they weren’t caught. But he did get caught. The teacher heard him and called the police. Zubair went to prison.

It was only two days, and he wasn’t harmed. It was only meant to scare him. It would be nine years until Zubair found out what prison was really like.

At the age of 23, Zubair was operating a Kurdish school in a spare room of his home. He taught around 40 students, mostly children and teenagers. He used Kurdish books on history, language and culture to teach them. Just owning these books was a crime in itself.

In his eagerness to share his knowledge, he allowed two men he did not know to enter his home. The men claimed they lived in the neighborhood and wanted their children to attend his school. Zubair showed them the room where he held class and the books he used to teach. He realized his blunder before it was too late. And when he did, he tried to leave his home, hoping escaping the house could save him. But a car was already waiting outside. He was put in the car and escorted to prison for questioning.

For the next 72 hours, Zubair was beaten and tortured, and not a single question was asked. He was then asked to sign a document stating that he had been found with a gun in his home and was participating in the Kurdish rebellion, which had sprung the day before he was taken to prison. He refused. His captors then continued to beat the resolution out of him. They succeeded after three hours. Zubair said he later felt shame for giving in and signing the document after three days when he heard that one of his friends withstood the same treatment for eleven days.

He received a seven-month sentence for his crimes, and they would be the worst seven months of his life. It was during these months that Zubair would come to fully understand the meaning of pain. There seemed to be no end to the torture and beatings.

Zubair was not silent during his time in prison. He defied authority in the only ways he could. He screamed. He cursed the guards. He cursed the government that restricted his freedom and suppressed his identity. And he did not go unnoticed.

Two weeks before he was released, Zubair’s resolution would undergo its greatest test. The prison administration knew he would be a problem once he was released. His defiance had been all too evident. They sent him to the ‘Dark Room,’ which consisted of a single chair. Zubair was strapped to the chair, and his head was placed in a brace. He couldn’t move an inch in any direction.

The guards left, and he was alone. He had been in solitary confinement before. He was optimistic – scared, but optimistic. He had been in this type of situation before. Then he felt a drop of water hit his head, then another and another.

Zubair remained hopeful. He thought he would get a shower. The water dripped through his hair, down his unwashed body and to his toes. However, after 30 minutes, each drop of water seemed to weigh 10 pounds heavier.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

His body began to shake and go numb. He lost his vision, hearing and ability to speak. More tragically, Zubair lost his memory, as if the small drops of water had hammered out all the most important functions of his brain.

Once Zubair was released from prison, it would take him three months to learn to speak without a stutter. It would take him years to recover his full memory.

After his release, Zubair received a notice in the mail of pending legal charges for his defiance. The family lawyer told Zubair his best option was to leave the country. So he was smuggled to Lebanon.

The money paid to the smugglers was guaranteed to provide Zubair a donkey at the border, a more desirable mode of travel compared with walking, as he had been diagnosed with polio at the age of two and has always felt the effects when he walks. Once his family paid the smugglers at the border and drove away, the smugglers removed Zubair from the donkey and pointed him toward a mountain. A mountain he would need to climb in order to cross the border. So he climbed, on his hands and feet, until he conquered the mountain.

Zubair would remain in Lebanon for five years. During that time, he worked as a self-employed electronic engineer to help his brother pay the bills. Zubair went to physical and psychological rehabilitation for the first three years of his stay, a service provided by the U.N., which Zubair had applied to for refugee status. After five years of escaping Syria, Zubair found out he would be resettled in Durham, North Carolina.

Resilience

Arriving in Durham was the greatest blessing of Zubair’s life. The resettlement agency found him a small apartment consisting of three pieces of furniture. The agency gave him enough money for groceries and a month’s rent and told him they would help him find a job. Instead of waiting for the agency to finish the job search, he took the initiative to find a job himself.

He traveled to The Streets at Southpoint mall every day and visited as many restaurants as possible, asking if they were hiring. He spoke very little English, but he knew enough to inquire about jobs. On the twelfth day of his search, the manager at The Cheesecake Factory agreed to hire him. He did not know how to fill out the job application, so the manager, Jeff, helped him fill it out.

Zubair is grateful for Jeff to this day. Grateful that someone would hire him despite the fact that he spoke little to no English and couldn’t even fill out the job application on his own. Zubair said because of the welcoming and accommodating Triangle community, the area quickly began to feel like home.

Community

Zubair is not an anomaly. The Triangle has proven to be a sanctuary for many refugees.

Scott Phillips, director of the North Carolina branch of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said his organization is the first point of contact for many refugees who come to the Raleigh area. Phillips said the organization finds affordable housing for refugees, provides them with three months’ rent and helps about 90 percent of refugee families become financially self-sufficient within the first 120 days.

“In the area, we’ve really seen, and our clients have seen, really friendly people here who are willing to take the extra step to work with refugees,” he said.

Phillips recalled a phone call he received during the holidays. The call came from an employer who had hired a refugee who had been resettled through Phillips’ agency. He told Phillips he was hosting a holiday party for his employees and he was not sure of the religion of the one refugee worker. He was wondering if there was anything he could do to make the employee feel more included in the festivities.

“That is amazing,” Phillips said. “That’s so great. He didn’t have to do that. That’s the guy who stocks the shelves. They didn’t have to take that extra step, but they did.”

Still, refugees in the community consume media like everyone else. Despite the warm welcome most refugees receive in the Triangle, many are still fearful of their place in the country. Phillips said he has heard the concerns of many refugees regarding the rhetoric toward them in the past presidential election and recent executive orders.

“There’s a lot of fear after the initial executive order on refugees,” he said. “Then you turn around and see 1,500 people at RDU and people at the rally the next week. That was a concrete example of North Carolina spirit and American values. That resonated with our clients a lot.”

Zubair has also noticed the contrast between what is said in the media and how people actually treat him and other refugees. He said despite the country being deeply divided on views towards refugees, false perceptions can’t diminish what he calls “this heaven I’m living in.”

And for Zubair, it is heaven indeed. He became a U.S. citizen in 2015, he works hard at multiple jobs and he’s on his way to completing his degree in peace, war and defense.

refugee2
Zubair and his wife, Etena, were married in October 2016 after she completed the vetting and resettlement process and joined him in the U.S.

Perhaps one of the biggest moments of Zubair’s time in Durham was when his wife joined him. With the help of U.S. Rep. David Price, his wife wasable to complete the vetting and resettlement process in two years, a short timespan compared to the lengthy process many refugees must go through. Zubair and Etena, his wife, were married in October 2016 and are hoping to start a family soon.

Edited by Matt Wotus

How one boy’s tragic story inspired an entire police department

By Audrey Wells

Jacob was in his room upstairs when he heard arguing erupt outside. It was immediately followed by the sound of his mother screaming. Soon after, he heard gunshots and ran downstairs to his parent’s room to see what was happening. His parents were lying on the ground in a pool of blood with their next-door neighbor standing over them gripping a gun. Jacob ran back to his room, grabbed an old cellphone, turned it on and dialed 9-1-1. He came down the stairs into the hallway as he saw his neighbor shoot again and turn his gun towards the house. Jacob stayed on the line with the dispatch officer as patrolmen rushed to the scene.

It was approaching 6 p.m. as senior police officer Carl Grecko was finishing his day at the South Asheville Resource Center. He was chatting with Andrew Barker, a new officer who had been on his own for about three weeks. Barker was just starting his shift when the shots-fired call came in on the radio. Dispatch called Barker to the scene, and Grecko joined Barker on the call. In the short drive, the call was continuously updated until the officers came upon the suspect: a man in a dark green shirt, overalls and a tan hat. Both officers exited their vehicles with their weapons drawn and pointed them at the shooter, who was still standing over the bodies.

“Get your hands up!” Grecko yelled. “I said put them up! Higher!”

“All right! All right,” the suspect replied.

The officers ordered him to step away from the bodies, and lay face-down on his stomach so Barker could handcuff him.

“Where’s the gun?” Grecko demanded.

“Over there, in that direction.”

Still watching the suspect, Barker began to secure the scene, starting with the gun, while Grecko called for back-up. Grecko knelt down next to the victims, who had both been shot multiple times. Placing his hands on their shoulders, he said help is on the way, and asked them to hold on.

The call was updated again. There was a child in the house, and he had seen everything. By this time, the fire department and EMS had arrived on-scene. Barker stayed with the victims and the suspect, and Grecko went in the house to speak with the eyewitness.

“Are they okay?” Jacob asked. “Are mom and dad going to be okay?”

“I don’t know if they’re going to be okay, but we have help here and we’re going to do everything we can to try and help them,” Grecko replied. The neighbor had always been trouble, Jacob told the officer. His parents had constant arguments with him.

It was difficult for Grecko to comfort him. He wanted to keep Jacob’s focus away from what was happening, but it had been years since Grecko was around young children. As more people arrived on the scene, the officer asked what Jacob’s name was and about his birthday. Eventually, more officers entered the house with a chaplain, who relieved Grecko. By this time, the suspect had been taken away by another officer, and Grecko and Barker remained to recount their story to the commanding officers.

In September 2013, Jacob’s parents were killed after a long civil dispute lasting at least three years, according to neighbors. Jacob, who has asked to remain anonymous, was only 12-years-old at the time and this crime left him without a family. Many officers in the Asheville Police Department were touched by Jacob and his story, and were motivated into action in the days and weeks following the shooting.

Initial Interview

Jacob’s foster family led him into APD the day after he witnessed his parents’ death.  He was taken to an interview room, where Sgt. Charles Wells and Detective Kevin Taylor waited to ask him about what had transpired.

“It was kind of scary to me. I’d never been questioned by law enforcement or anything like that,” Jacob said.

Though it was a nerve-wracking experience for him, Jacob recounted what he had seen because he understood the officers had a job to do. Throughout the interview, Taylor noticed immediately that Jacob was a unique young man.

“He had this sense of memory recollection,” Taylor said. “He was able to tell us prior incidents where his parents and the neighbor got into confrontations and he could give us specific dates and years when these confrontations occurred.”

Taylor said it is common for people to remember events like these, but not many could recall a specific date for each incident, especially as a 12-year-old.

Jacob continued with what he considered pertinent information. He told the detectives his family had lived in the house for four years and that it had recently been repossessed, but they were somehow able to keep living there.

Wells also noticed something special about Jacob. He was highly intelligent and very articulate for his age, expressing concern about upcoming bills and other household maintenance issues.

“He immediately struck me as being mature way beyond his years,” Wells said. “It was almost like he was the parent of his parents.”

Jacob knew bank account numbers, when bills were due and other household functions that Wells said were astounding for a 12-year old to know. Many officers began to wonder if Jacob had been forced to grow up too fast.

Throughout the rest interview, Taylor said Jacob was very respectful and provided clear and concise information, but he was very concerned about the whereabouts of his parents’ killer.

“[Jacob] wanted to know is he in the room next door to me, is he in jail yet, is he going to see me? He was clearly fearful of his neighbor causing harm to him as well,” Taylor said.

The detectives tried to ease his concerns as they finished their questions, and offered their condolences at the interview’s conclusion. As Jacob left the department, some of the officers were moved to action on his behalf.

‘We had to do something’

As the investigation continued, detectives learned more about the life Jacob had been living before this incident. His home had been in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, surrounded by nice houses and landscaped yards, but the inside of his home didn’t match the exterior. Inside, the home was dirty and cluttered, and didn’t appear to have running water. Trash bags lined the toilets and leftover food filled the kitchen.

“We learned more about his upbringing, his home environment, and he never really had a childhood that you would expect a 12-year-old to have,” Taylor said.  “After we interviewed him and found out more about him, we knew we had to do something.”

Wells started by reaching out to other agencies in the area, and other officers in the APD, including Detective Germaine Weaver. Weaver is a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, a fraternal organization of sworn law-enforcement officers. In 2013, he was a newly-elected second vice president for the Asheville branch of FOP. Wells asked if FOP would be able to help provide Jacob with necessities and Weaver took it to the board immediately.

“I called the board together and said ‘this is what the deal is: this kid has lost both of his parents.’ It didn’t take them long at all to say we’re not just going to help with necessities. We wanted to do something bigger for him,” Weaver said.

After a vote, the FOP board decided to donate $1,000 to helping Jacob.

“It started with communication, reaching out to people within the agencies and saying ‘can you guys help?’ And it kept growing. It was touching to see everybody’s generosity,” Wells said.

As donations continued to pour in, Target heard about the situation, and decided to match the FOP’s offer. Wells was touched by this generosity and began to plan a trip to Target with Jacob.

‘A Red Schwinn Bicycle’

Two or three weeks after Jacob’s interview at APD, he came back to the department and walked into a room filled with the donations and the officers who donated them.

“It was very considerate of everyone involved,” Jacob said. “Overall, it was pretty generous of the entire department to do that for me.”

Three officers accompanied him to Target and let him start shopping. He started with practical, smaller items because at the time he wasn’t sure where the funds were coming from, and didn’t want to take advantage of the officers’ kindness. The officers began to point Jacob towards what Weaver called “the fun stuff.” Eventually, Weaver said they were able to get him on a bike and Wells said it was an interesting experience.

“He picked out a bicycle and jumped on it,” Wells said. “He took off not knowing how to ride it, and tore a rack of stuff down at Target.”

Jacob said he was not good at riding a bike at that time. Generally, he could only ride for short distances because he wasn’t good at balancing, he said.

“I remember it was a red Schwinn bicycle,” Jacob said. “I remember thinking: I wonder if I’m going to be able to ride this bike.”

Throughout the rest of the trip, Jacob got some more fun items, including a PlayStation 3. It was really important to the officers that Jacob had the opportunity to be a kid.

 ‘We’d be there for him’

After Jacob received the donations from APD, the officers never saw him again. His parents’ killer was charged with the crime, and Jacob was placed in a home with his mother’s cousin. Though they never saw him again, many of the officers still think about Jacob and the effect he had on their lives.

“I’ve always wondered, occasionally, how he’s turned out since then,” Taylor said. “I hope he’s in a much better environment.”

Weaver remembers Jacob’s attitude and how he made it through such a traumatic situation.

“He was just a blessing. His whole attitude and demeanor about the whole situation just sticks out and its one of those things that makes you come back the next day and do a better job at work,” Weaver said.

Jacob is now 16-years-old, and still living with his mom’s cousin. He is dual-enrolled at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, and hopes to graduate from high school with an associate’s degree.

“I basically live the normal teenage life,” Jacob said.

If he saw the officers again, Jacob said he’d like to thank them for both their generosity and how they handled such a rare and unfortunate case.

Wells said anyone should be willing to help someone who is less fortunate than them. In this case, Jacob was a victim who didn’t ask to be put into that rough situation. Wells said he was happy to help Jacob in any way he could.

“Most of us do this job because we’re called to do it. We don’t do it for the paycheck, we do this because we want to help people,” Wells said. “This was just an opportunity for us to go a little bit further than the normal call for service.”

Edited by Travis Butler

‘Not just a fit for me’: Carrboro nonprofit matches service dogs to owners

Kaelyn “KK” Krawczyk woke up feeling well-rested and safe. JJ, her terrier mix, greeted KK with a sniff and a lick as she felt her owner begin to stir — one of several checks the service dog would make throughout the day.

After five years of being paired with service dog JJ, 10-year-old KK finally knew what it felt like to sleep soundly and go about a normal day, unafraid of a sudden reaction from her disease, mastocytosis.

She knew that JJ would be there — a spunky, brown-eyed alarm protecting her from her silent disease.

After a few moments of cuddling, they both begin their days. On the agenda is a busy day at elementary school and piano lessons.

But for JJ, it’s not just about hanging out and having fun with her owner. Every day, she has a job: to keep an eye on KK and make sure she knows when she’s about to have an episode.

Without her canine friend, KK would often be caught by a sudden reaction, ranging from hives to anaphylaxis.

According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, mastocytosis causes an abnormal accumulation of mast cells, a type of white blood cells. This causes KK to have a sort of allergic reaction to things like temperature fluctuations, stress or chemicals.

Through her keen sense of smell, JJ can determine if KK is in need of medication to limit her body’s response to a stimulus, stopping the reaction before it starts.

The human body emits certain scents depending on its chemical makeup, which JJ was trained to detect. When KK’s body emits an odor associated with a reaction, JJ alerts her.

“She barks and then she jumps up and tugs at my clothing,” KK said.

This gives KK enough time to take medication before she notices symptoms from the reaction.

Many like KK owe their increased independence to a nonprofit organization that trains service dogs.

Eyes Ears Nose and Paws, located in Carrboro, helps train service dogs to meet the individual needs of each client, including those suffering from mobility impairments and diabetes.

Training in town

When Deb Cunningham decided she wanted to train service dogs, her friend Maria Ikenberry fully supported her.

However, there was small obstacle to her plan. While there were service dog training organizations in eastern and western North Carolina, none existed in the central part of the state.

“When it became apparent that there wasn’t an organization in the area, I encouraged Deb to start a nonprofit and very quickly realized that I needed to put my money where my mouth is,” Ikenberry said.

Ikenberry volunteered as the administrative head, and in 2008, the two women founded Eyes Ears Nose and Paws.

By 2010, they were placing their first dogs.

Finding the right match

Trevor Bell, a Ph.D student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will be getting a service dog from Eyes Ears Nose and Paws in March.

Diagnosed 15 years ago with diabetes, Bell decided to get a service dog after moving to North Carolina from Lubbock, Texas, to study health communications at UNC’s School of Media and Journalism.

Bell’s disease often poses an obstacle for daily life. A sudden drop in his blood sugar will leave him with a migraine and feeling lethargic for the rest of the day.

These episodes are especially prevalent while sleeping. Bell often wakes up to low blood sugar and has to take a glucose tablet to bring his body back to equilibrium.

“Luckily I’m young and take pretty good care of myself and my blood sugar, but there are times when people just don’t wake up when their blood sugar drops,” Bell said.

A service dog can provide Bell with a warning before his blood sugar drops, allowing him to treat the episode before he even experiences the symptoms — similar to KK and JJ.

With Eyes Ears Nose and Paws just five minutes down the road from his new home in Chapel Hill, Bell decided to apply for a service dog.

After an initial interview with Cunningham and Michelle Krawczyk, KK’s mother and a board member at the organization, Bell was put on the waitlist.

“It’s not just a fit for me; it’s a fit for the dog,” he said.

Bell met the five dogs in training in a round of ‘speed dating,’ which included walks, playing and lots of petting.

After seeing him interact with the dogs, Cunningham decided that he was a good fit for at least one. Bell would be meeting his new sidekick three short months later.

The cost of growth

Since 2010, Eyes Ears Nose and Paws has placed 14 dogs, and it’s expecting to place five to six more this year.

“In seven years, we hope to be at a place where we’re placing 12 to 15 dogs a year,” Ikenberry said.

But all of this training comes with a price tag. While they receive money from donations and grants, the majority of their funding comes from the clients.

The cost of one service dog is a hefty $20,000 for up to two years of training. The organization helps as much as it can by providing scholarships based on the client’s personal income.

“I’m a Ph.D student so I don’t have a lot of income right now,” Bell said, “So, I was fortunate enough to be granted a $15,000 scholarship. Which really helps out — that’s 75 percent.”

The rest of the cost is either paid for by the client or obtained through fundraising. Michelle Krawczyk raised the entire amount for her daughter’s service dog through a series of fundraisers.

These funds are funneled directly into the program, helping Eyes Ears Nose and Paws continue to grow and train more dogs — the organization now has 17 dogs in training.

As it grows, Eyes Ears Nose and Paws, is not only able to help more people, but is also able to shorten the amount of time clients wait for their service dogs.

The early stages of training

The graduation rate from Eyes Ears Nose and Paws is about 50 percent.

“We want our dogs to be the best of the best,” Ikenberry said, “This work could stress them out, and we don’t want to put a dog in a stressful occupation. We want to ensure their happiness and the client’s happiness.”

Training begins when the dogs are just eight weeks old with a community volunteer.

They learn puppy manners such as house training, learning to sit on command and socializing with people and other animals. After about five months, the dogs are taken to a prison.

Eyes Ears Nose and Paws began partnering with Franklin Correctional Center in Bunn in 2014, pairing inmates with potential service dogs to complete their training.

Service dog training requires up to 18 months of commitment and is essentially a full-time job. Because of this, Eyes Ears Nose and Paws is always in need of more trainers.

After reaching out to the prison, Eyes Ears Nose and Paws was able to set up a group of 18 trainers that committed 18 months of their prison stay to training the service dogs.

The inmates were able to provide constant care for the dogs as well as daily, in-depth training.

At first, the dogs are trained for both assistance and scent work. As large breed dogs, they easily fall into the role of either a mobility assistance service dog or a medical alert service dog.

Those who need a medical alert dog often also need help with things like retrieving medicine or picking up things from the floor. Training the dogs for both jobs allows them to better meet their owners’ every need.

Once they learn the basics, the dogs begin specialized training depending on the assigned owner. JJ was taught to distinguish the scent KK’s body emanates when she has a reaction.

Ikenberry likens it to a human learning to stop at a stop sign. By learning a patterned response to the sign, we know to react when we see it, even if we only notice it in our peripheral vision. We’re taught that this sign supersedes everything else in that moment.

After 18 months, the dogs attend a leash ceremony and graduate from their initial training. Then they meet their new owners and spend two weeks in intense training sessions lasting eight hours each day, preparing both dog and owner for their new lives.

Eyes Ears Nose and Paws has already placed 14 service dogs, helping owners increase their independence and gain peace of mind.

“JJ is just so amazing,” Michelle Krawczyk said. “She is really just life-changing for us. It’s better than any medial equipment or medication that has been provided before.”

But it’s not just the lives of the clients that Eyes Ears Nose and Paws is improving.

“Our mission is to train and place service dogs, but I think what we’ve found is that the impact on the inmate trainers is just as profound as the impact on the clients,” Ikenberry said.

“We’re not just impacting lives in the final stage of placement, but all throughout the training. That’s a powerful thing to be a part of.”

Edited by Sara Salinas. 

Even over 40, “tennis should be played with just a hint of anger”

By John-Paul Gemborys

Laurence Isaacs, a tall, vociferous redhead not quite on the cusp of 45, strolled across the baseline of the tennis court, spinning his racket in one hand.

“Nice serve,” Laurence yelled to his opponent on the opposite side of the net. “I didn’t hear as much shit talk earlier.”

“That’s because you weren’t here,” Eddie Blount called back.

Eddie, an older gentleman who was quick on his feet despite the considerable girth age had bestowed upon him, was on serve, and rather than trade verbal barbs with Laurence, Eddie preferred to let his game do the talking.

And his serve was a big talker.

In one fluid motion, Eddie drew his racket behind his head, tossed the ball into the air and then blasted it into the opposite service box, sending Laurence scurrying to the baseline, barely managing a return and pushing the ball back with an arcing lob. Despite its lack of pace, Laurence’s lob wasn’t actually that bad of a shot, and it forced Eddie to send back a lob of his own — only his had slightly less English. Taking the initiative, Laurence poached Eddie’s lob out of the air, swatting it down like a fly and sending it careening into the fence without even a second bounce.

“I just aim at the big red thing,” Laurence gibed, pointing his racket at Dominic Wainwright, the opposing net player who wore a bright red T-shirt.

On that warm Saturday morning on the hard courts of C.E. Jordan High School, Laurence, Dom and Eddie enjoyed a game of doubles that was both casual and competitive. All three of the men had been playing tennis for most of their lives, and now all of them found themselves playing on the same team within the Eno River league in the 40 and over category at the 4.0 skill level (7.0 is a player of U.S. open caliber, 1.0 is someone picking up a racket for the first time) — subdivisions within subdivisions of the national USTA League, the largest recreational tennis league in the country.

For many, tennis is an escape. For some, it’s a passion. And for some, still, it can be an obsession.

Having played the sport for most of my life, compelled by my tennis coach dad, I abhorred the game for many years. For me it wasn’t so much a game as it was a job — a toil on sunbaked courts where you could see heat mirages flicker and dance in the summer. But being so close to something often gives one a warped view. And as I grew to enjoy playing on my high school tennis team, my relationship with the sport grew increasingly complex, blending hate with love — aloofness with respect. To this day I don’t know how I feel about the sport.

So I’ve always been curious about the men who do love it. What draws these recreational (or not so recreational) hitters to the sport in the first place? What continues to make them play? And what is it about the sport that made them fall in love in the first place?

The casual third space

Edward W. Soja, the soi-disant “urbanist” and distinguished professor emeritus at UCLA, theorized that in life there are two social spaces people typically occupy: the home and the workplace. Soja posited a theory that there is a third space, one that blends the disparate social natures of home and work, which people seek out in order to express their own individuality and uniqueness. For Dom and Eddie, that space is on the tennis court.

“You make good friends,” Eddie said, resting on aluminum bleachers under the shade of a young oak tree. “It’s fun hanging out together, and then if you qualify for states you go on a four-day weekend — everybody gets out of town and has fun, so it’s the camaraderie. And then, you know, the competition’s fun too.” When I asked him, he said there was nothing he hated about the sport. For Dom, his doubles partner, it was a similar story.

“It’s my main social activity,” Dom told me, “so that’s what I like about it. You rarely run into people who aren’t nice.”

Dom is co-captain of the spring team the three men play on, Eno BCK (short for Bullet City Killers). The team, they tell me, won back-to-back state titles in 2011 and 2012 as well as in 2015 in the 40 and over, 4.0-level division before heading to sectionals, which sees the cream of the southeast United States come together and compete for a spot at nationals. Though the game is casual, the men were quick to tell me that it can still be competitive.

“It’s pretty fierce at states,” Dom said. “We’re picking guys from Raleigh and Cary with the intent to go to states and see how far we can go because you go to states, you need such a solid team.”

For Dom and Eddie, they said they both enjoyed the camaraderie and exercise the sport provides. While competition is still a key ingredient, Eddie said the need to win tends to fizzle with age.

“I think, too, the older the league — I think the hardcore ones who are going to be calling lines close are the 18s. You know, they’re still thinking that it’s important in life. The rest of us, you know, we’re just out there to have fun. By the time you’re in the 40s or 55 plus, you’re patting each other on the back and, you know, chatting it up between changeovers, having a good time.”

Competition is everything

For Laurence, tennis wasn’t always recreational, and competition, he said, is always what made the sport fun.

“I am excessively competitive,” he told me. “I have to be competing.”

Laurence is the former men’s high school tennis coach at Durham School of the Arts — he was also my high school tennis coach while I attended DSA from the ninth grade to the twelfth. During those four years, Laurence delivered many impassioned post-game speeches from the front of the team bus, some of unbridled praise for our exceptional play, others of vexation and disappointment.

“When I was coaching you all,” Laurence told me over a glass of sangria after we had retired to Town Hall Burger and Beer, “I would allow not winning to bug me more.”

Laurence eventually left the coaching position so he could spend more time with his growing daughter Ellie.

“I honestly think having a kid has really mellowed me out in a lot of ways,” he chuckled, “but I still maintain that good tennis should be played with just a hint of anger.”

As I polished my California burger off with a swig of ale, the four of us began to wax poetic about past glories and triumphs on the court. Laurence recounted how he went undefeated for two straight seasons.

“So I won 52 consecutive matches across two seasons plus states, plus sectionals,” he told me. “I was fortunate because I had great doubles partners.”

Eventually I asked Laurence what the best part of the sport is.

“Winning,” he replied matter-of-factly.

Making career moves on the court

Not every player I spoke to played the sport strictly for recreation or for a onetime job. For Leo Evans, the sport has been a career. Beginning during the tennis boom of the ’70s and after only playing for a few years in junior college, Leo took his first job as a teaching pro at a resort in the panhandle of Florida.

“I was a little bit of a poser,” he laughed, recalling his lack of experience at the time.

“I really thought I was being hired to be a court maintenance person and maybe work in the shop, but I got there the first day, and he stuck me right on the court teaching.

“My first lesson was with a married couple — newlyweds, you know? A young couple. They had never played tennis before, so it was a match made in heaven.”

Since then, the 61-year-old Leo has worked as a jack-of-all-trades at various pro shops and country clubs. Right now, though, he plays the game nonprofessionally — just for himself.

“I tried a season as the coach of the (C.E.) Jordan High School girls’ team, and that wasn’t very fulfilling,” he told me. “You know the thing is, when you start teaching tennis, quite often that requires you to be teaching when all the players are around to play, you know? And I wasn’t making enough to take up my valuable playing time,” he joked.

As for why he plays, Leo told me that the social aspect is important, but it’s the competition that keeps him coming back.

“I make most of my friends through tennis,” he said, “but, no, still, the absolute joy of playing is the number one thrill to me. If I never met anyone — if I just showed up someplace and just played tennis and never saw ’em, I’d still play. And I’d probably still play as much as I do. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I started a little late, but I still have the same interest and joy of playing that I had when I picked up a racket 37, 38, whatever it was years ago.”

Regardless of the relationship that each player had to tennis, I discovered that beneath the thin veneer of experience, all of the men shared essentially the same reasons for playing. For each one, they all needed a competitive outlet. If it wasn’t tennis, some told me, it would probably be basketball — only basketball can be a killer of joints, and as Leo told me, tennis “is something I can compete at until I get ancient — like I am now.” All of them also claimed to have made their closest friends on the courts.

And after playing a long match, they all agreed that nothing soothes the aches like a cold beer.

Edited by Alison Krug

Alamance County puts Senate Bill 561 into action

By Kenzie Cook

Pencils, papers and calculators clutter the desks of students poring over their new math worksheets handed out by their teacher while some take quizzes on the computers in front of them. This is a school I left behind almost two years ago and a class that did not exist in my time. Back in my day, students either understood the material or they did not; nobody received second chances or special attention if they were having trouble. Due to this lack of decent education, U.S. News & World Report has reported that only 13.6 percent of those that graduate from my old school, Southern Alamance High School, are ready for college. I witnessed this statistic firsthand when I graduated. Of my graduating class of roughly 350 students, only about 70 of us went to college right out of high school and many of those that did had already dropped out by sophomore year. While Southern Alamance certainly doesn’t have the lowest percentage of graduates going to college in its school district, it was still the perfect site for the pilot program started by Alamance Community College to help prepare underachieving seniors for graduation and college due.

In a study conducted in 2013, the Community College Research Center at Columbia University found that students who had to take remedial classes in college were less likely to graduate than those that came into college fully prepared. Of the students that went straight from high school to community college that year, 52 percent had to take one or more remedial course in either English or math. To improve this situation and cut down on the number of students in remedial courses, the 2015 session of the North Carolina General Assembly proposed and adopted Senate Bill 561 that was set to take effect in the 2016-2017 school year. This bill required the State Board of Community Colleges to develop a program to introduce high school seniors to remedial courses prior to graduation so they can be better prepared for college.

Students in Alamance County are especially under-performing with a college readiness average of 16.2 percent across all six high schools. For this reason, Alamance Community College has decided to start a course titled “Community College Prep” for high schools in the area to help improve students’ understanding of math and English concepts needed to perform well in college and beyond. Melissa Cook, a college math professor and former middle school math teacher, is one of the main developers of the course and the only math professor from Alamance Community College working on this concept. It is the hope of all involved that the Community College Prep course at Southern Alamance will better prepare high school students for college and that it will be the first of many similar courses at all six high schools in the Alamance-Burlington School System and in school systems across the state of North Carolina.

Past

Jodi Hofberg, curriculum facilitator for the Alamance-Burlington School System, contacted Cook during the fall semester of 2016 about starting a new program to enrich the education of students in ABSS with the help of those at Alamance Community College. Prior to this inquiry, a meeting of all principals in ABSS had taken place in which Teresa Faucette, principal of Southern Alamance High School, said that her school had room in its schedule for an extra class. Added to the fact that Southern Alamance had more students enrolled than any other high schools in the area, this settled the question of which school would be best for piloting the new program. ACC’s Vice President of Instruction, Catherine Johnson, and Hofberg chose to put Cook in charge of setting up an online class for selected students and creating a curriculum that included collective information from ACC’s remedial math and English classes. She was also put in charge of creating and grading placement tests to determine what math and English knowledge the students already possessed so they could build on that.

When asked why the school system picked her to lead this program between ACC and ABSS, Cook said: “I’ve been in developmental math for 10 years at the community college, and I also have a background in English. So when the system office was looking for participants to work on the committee for this project, the Vice President of Instruction basically chose me to be a part of it.”

Along with helping students improve their math and English skills, the course also helps encourage them to apply and enroll at ACC after they graduate high school. They receive credit for the modules they manage to complete while in the course once enrolled at ACC; so they are able to pick up where they left off and continue their education.

Present

The new class began in the 2017 spring semester during all four class periods, averaging around seven students per class. Those who passed the placement test for English work on math and those who passed the placement test for math work on English. Likewise, those who passed neither work on both, and those who passed both do not have to attend the class. A computer teacher is constantly in the classroom, but the students complete all learning through modules put together by Cook. The instructors essentially leave the students to their own devices, watching videos and reading examples to help them learn.

Makayla Starling, a senior taking the course who tested out of the English modules, said she enjoys the class more than the regular math classes held at Southern. “I think it’s really helpful,” said Starling. “You can do the work at your own pace and correct yourself as you go. There’s a lot of writing, and you learn a lot of stuff that you didn’t learn here [at Southern].”

Starling hopes to go into the field of biotechnology and believes this new course is helping her achieve her goals. She plans to go to ACC for two years before transferring to a four-year college where she will complete the degree of her choice.

Daniel Simpson, a senior taking the course who also tested out of the English modules and recently completed the modules assigned to him for math, agrees that the course is helpful. He said that the math modules are helping him remember important math concepts that he had not entirely grasped before. “It really reaches back into what I’ve learned the last four years of doing math in high school,” said Simpson.

Simpson hopes to go into the field of education and is pleased that he already has a path into ACC so that he can eventually transfer to a four-year college to complete his degree.

For students like Starling and Simpson, this course at the high school helps save them a large amount of money. At ACC, it costs a little over $200 for each developmental math and English class, which those who are unable to pass the placement test are required to take. However, with this new program, ACC keeps records of the students’ progress in the modules so they can enroll directly into the courses they need without having the take another placement test. If a student, such as Simpson, manages to complete the entire module, he or she can immediately enroll in higher-level classes.

All students enrolled in this course are required to complete all math and English modules – or test out of them – in order to receive credit at Southern for the class. Cook and Faucette are trying to adjust the requirements so that students that are planning to go into certain degree pathways that do not require all levels of the courses to be completed can be excused. For example, one student in the first-period class wants to go into the Fire Protection Program, which only requires math modules up to MAT030, rather than the MAT080 the students are required to complete. If Cook and Faucette can alter the program in this way, the students will not have to complete the unnecessary extra work.

For now, though, all math and English modules must be completed and passed with at least a grade of 85 in order to progress.

Future

Although Southern Alamance is the only high school in the program currently, Hofberg hopes to add Walter M. Williams High School, Graham High School and Hugh M. Cummings High School to the program this coming school year. They will hopefully be able to add Western Alamance and Eastern Alamance high schools in later years; but for now, Hofberg and Cook are focusing on the success of the program at Southern.

“The goal was to have at least 20 students complete the program. So as long as that happens, it will be considered a success,” Hofberg said when asked what her goals for Southern’s program would be.

As of right now, there are roughly 25 students enrolled in the Community College Prep course at Southern, and about half of those students have completed the modules with half of the semester remaining, so Hofberg’s goal has nearly been reached. Unfortunately, this leaves Cook and Faucette to figure out what to do with these students while their classmates finish their modules. Neither has an idea of how to occupy these students; so for now, they are leaving them in the classes with nothing to do. Cook says that they hope to solve all of the little inconveniences before the program spreads to the rest of the high schools in ABSS.

Alamance Community College’s collaboration with the Alamance-Burlington School System is just one example of community colleges across the state of North Carolina teaming up with high schools in their nearby area to meet the conditions of Senate Bill 561. Several other community colleges are also starting their own programs, though they are flying under the radar for now. Professors like Cook are working overtime to make sure these high school students receive the education they need in order to be prepared for college.

Edited by Samantha Miner

Wife of a different mold: how Hallie French defies the role of Army wife

By Alexandra Blazevich

Hallie French lies in bed at her Carrboro, N.C. apartment, her back to the pillows set up to feel as if her husband sleeps next to her. It’s six months after her marriage to Taylor Peele, and he’s deployed in Iraq.

Her cat, Max, lies at her side and purrs along with the humming of the computer as she types her honors thesis. Max lives with her most of the time and goes with her to visit her husband on the weekends he’s not deployed.

From down the hall, her roommate, Nicole Vandiford, sends her a political meme from Facebook. Simultaneously, laughter erupts from their bedrooms.

Before she falls asleep, French gets a call from her husband. The connection is rough. It’s their first phone call in weeks, and the conversation gets emotional.

When he is not deployed, Peele lives in his own apartment in Fayetteville, N.C., about ten minutes from Fort Bragg, where he works as an intelligence analyst for the United States Army. The couple has never lived together.

“She’s very independent,” French’s friend and former Navy Corpsman, Jeremy Zollars said. “She gets a lot done, and makes very good grades. She has an old-person mindset. She is very mature – she’s not the typical 23-year-old going out and getting smashed every night.”

Wife of a different life

After a simple Google search on military wives, a long list of articles like “How Military Marriage Screws Up Your Career” and “How Long Will Your Military Marriage Last?” show up. There’s a popular belief that military couples typically revolve their lives around their husband’s career. The wives cook, clean and take care of the kids, while their husband serves the country to pay the bills. Zollars said about 80 percent of his friends in the Navy were married to women with this traditional lifestyle.

French, however, falls in the latter 20 percent. For starters, she kept her own name after marriage.

“Changing my name wasn’t going to magically make me love him more,” she said. “We’ve always talked about being individual, well-paired partners – not the same person.”

While she feels that changing her name and lifestyle for her husband’s job isn’t necessary, she still supports all that he does.

“She has been nothing but supportive of my decisions throughout my military career, and that is something you can see take a serious toll on people,” Peele said.

French’s roommate has lived with her longer than her husband ever has. Because many military wives live either with their spouse on base or at home with their kids, French’s situation is unusual. She said many people are surprised to hear she has both a husband and a roommate.

French said traditional gender roles are popular in the military, but she thinks they’re old fashioned. She strives to be an individual – something that keeps her strong and independent of her husband and marriage.

“The majority of military wives stand out as very entitled, complacent, and complaining – they don’t do a whole lot, as far as work goes,” Zollars said.

French is definitely not like that – and her husband respects her for it.

“She goes to school and doesn’t complain about my work life,” he said. “She understands that I had this job before I had her and that it is very important to me, just as I understand how important her school is for her.”

French fills her time with a full load of classes at UNC-Chapel Hill, a work study at the Center for the Study of the American South and writing her 40-page honors thesis – a completely different lifestyle than the stereotypical military wife. So in comparison to other Army wives, she said she often doesn’t fit in.

When introducing herself to other military couples at a marriage retreat, French said the other women referred to themselves as wives first, then mothers and lastly their individual selves.

“All of the wives were stay-at-home-moms or sold Avon or something,” French said. “I was the only person there that even remotely fit into my category.”

When it was their turn for introductions, she asked her husband to introduce her simply as, “Hallie, my wife.”

Staying unpressured

Feeling like an outsider isn’t easy, but there is one thing Hallie has in common with many other military wives – her age.

According to the United States Department of Defense’s 2014 Demographics Profile of the Military Community, 23.5 percent of military spouses are 26 to 30 years old, proof that about one-fourth of military couples get married relatively young. A lot of military couples are even younger than this bracket, including French and Peele, but, they do not fit this stereotype entirely.

There’s a popular stigma that young military couples rush to get engaged within a few months of meeting. There’s an expectation to revolve every aspect of their lives around the military.

In basic training, the first two to four months of military training, recruits cannot reach the outside world, with the exception of letters. After graduation, they have access to phones, the internet, and resources off-base. Basic training is typically the hardest part for couples due to the lack of communication, and the pressure to get married young is felt throughout the whole military environment.

“You see a lot of people who get married young in the military for all the wrong reasons,” Peele said.

One of these reasons is for the money. A married person in the Army gets a $60,000 bonus when they finish A-school, compared to $12,000 for a single person.

Zollars said he almost married a friend from home so he could use the extra money to pay her bills. It is a very real option for those in the military, and the pressure is certainly there.

French said she did not personally feel a pressure to get married from the Army, but since the marriage, she’s been pressured by family to have kids. She said her father-in-law asked what her 5-year plan was for having kids – to which she told him to leave and ask again when he’d accept a 10-year plan.

French and Peele got engaged after a year and a half of dating. They were married on their second anniversary – the day after Christmas – a fact that would make any hopeless romantic tear up.

When her family heard news of their wedding after a short 6-month engagement period, French said they seemed more suspicious than happy for her.

“Everyone thought I was pregnant,” she said. Other family members thought she was going to drop out of school to go live with Peele at Fort Bragg.

French said she didn’t appreciate her family’s intrusive questions, but she didn’t let that change her plans.

“It sucks, but it’s also just the price I pay,” she said.

To the chapel

Soon after the engagement, the Army told Peele he was going to be deployed to Iraq. Duty was calling in less than six short months, and French was impatient.

“Our plan was to wait until I finished Carolina,” she said. “That was always our plan.”

But she just couldn’t wait to marry her best friend.

“As long as he was there with me, everything was fantastic – I was on cloud nine,” French said. “As soon as he left though, I was like ‘This is ridiculous. What are we doing?’”

When she picked up her husband from the airport after he spent a month in Texas for the Army, she told him she had a surprise. Peele said he had a feeling she was planning something when she started driving into the city, so he asked her if they were going to the courthouse to get married.

“No, we are not going to the courthouse to get married,” French told him. “What kind of woman do you think I am?”

She was driving him to get their marriage certificate. French referred to herself as the initiator in the relationship, and this action indicates why.

One week later, they were married in the mountains of North Carolina.

“We had been engaged for about six or seven months, and I knew she was the girl for me, but it scared me,” Peele said. “It was such a huge step at such a quick pace, but looking back I don’t think I would rather have done it any other way.”

While French and Peele have not had the traditional relationship, engagement or married life, they still manage to make it work. Living apart is not easy, but they have an understanding when it comes to being together while living separate lives.

When asked if he had any regrets, Peele said without hesitation, “Not a single one.”

After a few moments deep in thought, French said, “The only thing I regret is not wearing shapewear under my wedding dress.”

Edited by Paige Connelly