Twitch, streamers, and profits: discovering the world of eSports

By Heather Prizmich

Hands over his face, he can barely look at the game playing out in front of his eyes. It is now in double overtime. Everything is too intense, so he rests his head on his desk and listens to the crowd’s reaction. He turns up the volume to the point it shakes the painting of the Millennium Falcon hanging behind him. The final shot is taken, and it’s a tournament winner. The Boston crowd goes crazy and so does Brendon McGay.

This wasn’t a Celtics or Bruins game. This was a major tournament for a video game called Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The winner was an all-American team called Cloud9, which you’ve probably never heard of unless you partake in the 21st century pastime of eSports.

Millions of people worldwide were watching this international tournament, but they weren’t tuned in to ESPN or any other network. They were all sitting in front of computers watching a live stream on the website Twitch.

Twitch is a live-streaming video platform owned by a subsidiary of Amazon, and it has been active for seven years. The site primarily focuses on video game live streaming, including broadcasts of eSports competitions, in addition to creative content such as “IRL” (in real life) streams, which are like reality TV, but live and unedited.

Like many YouTubers who make a living by creating videos that are monetized, the same goes for gamers on Twitch. On Twitch, you can subscribe to a person’s channel for $4 a month or watch an ad or two during the live stream. McGay, a software engineer, live streams on Twitch almost nightly and makes enough to pay off a few smaller bills every month. It’s not enough to live on, but he said that is his dream.

“Make no mistake, I love my job and I love coding, but if I could play video games for a living I would. It’s like asking avid sports watchers if they’d like to play baseball or basketball for a living instead of their mundane nine-to-five jobs,” McGay said.

McGay is in the process of starting his own podcast on gaming in the hopes that it gains him subscribers who will watch his podcast and then explore his other content.

Twitch vs. YouTube

The only dilemma for him is deciding on which site to do the podcasts: YouTube or Twitch. Both sites pay between 10 to 30 cents per ad, but YouTube has more traffic on its page, which can increase the likelihood of people watching a video. As for Twitch, it’s where the gamer base is. Fewer people are on Twitch, but they are the people who would most likely want to watch a gaming podcast.

Other gaming companies like Rooster Teeth publish most of their content on YouTube, where there is a larger viewership, but individual employees of Rooster Teeth who have a large following stream on Twitch.

The UNC-Chapel Hill eSports club streams games and competitions on Twitch. Club member Eugene Zhang said the club loves Twitch because its format is gamer-friendly and members don’t all need to be in the same room to stream a game together.

Zhang said, “We find Twitch to be great for our club because it is great at promoting our club, because we’ll have viewers who are still in high school watch us and will want to join the club if they come to UNC. We have even seen support from people across campus who aren’t members of the club, but are gamers who watch our live streams, which makes us feel good as a group.”

The UNC-CH eSports club does have a YouTube channel where they post some videos highlighting events they have held, but the view counts are low on those videos compared to the numbers of viewers they get on Twitch.

The North Carolina State eSports club has a similar attitude when it comes to which site it prefers to use. Club member Cara Garrison said Twitch is superior to YouTube when it comes to gaming.

“I love Twitch. It’s been the better option for me when I want to watch live streams and for our club when we want to live stream,” Garrison said. “We also get to watch the live streams of teams we compete against in tournaments, which is great when preparing for competitions.”

The risk of demonetization

Another deciding factor between Twitch and YouTube is the inconsistency of their rules for videos and streams. Videos can easily lose out on ad money if the content is flagged by YouTube’s software, but the rules about which content is or isn’t advertiser-friendly is not always the same for every video. People have been especially critical of YouTube for this issue.

McGay is concerned that his videos may get flagged on YouTube, because he and his friends will more than likely use profanity on his podcast. He said that’s how they talk in everyday life, and he wouldn’t want his podcast episodes missing out on ad money because he and his friends were acting like themselves.

“I don’t want to host a PG podcast that is censored like if I were on television and needed to make everything FCC friendly. My friends and I curse like most 20-something-year-old guys,” McGay said. “The people watching my podcast will most likely be people who speak the same way my friends and I do, so this should be a non-issue.”

According to Newzoo, a market intelligence company that specializes in the eSports industry, the expected revenue of eSports by 2020 is expected to be $1.5 billion.

Leaning back in a chair with a vape pen in his hand, McGay said, “I’m excited to see the gaming industry boom. I really like those numbers, and I want a piece of that pie.”

Edited by Lily Stephens

Dodging bludgers: Here’s how UNC Quidditch qualified for the World Cup

The UNC-CH Quidditch team attend the 2018 Quidditch World Cup in Round Rock, Texas.

Everyone cringed on the sideline, as they watched Justin Cole’s face get trampled by a stampede of cleats. The referee rushed out onto the pitch, blowing his whistle in sporadic chirps, calling for a halt to the game. Picking himself off the ground, and relying on walking support from the sport medics, Cole revealed his bloody eye to the silent crowd.

This injury marked the beginning of a sequence of unfortunate events for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Quidditch team at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. They would experience three additional concussions, and the well below freezing temperatures of a northern winter, in following day and a half of the competition.

Why would 21 Carolina students endure these conditions for a sport based on the Harry Potter franchise? The answer differs from person to person, however, the following four stories share a common theme of playing because of the bonds formed with other teammates.

Sam Doughton: Beater and Chaser

Lounging on the sofa in his family’s living room, a teenage Sam Doughton watched “CBS Sunday Morning.” On the television screen, college students nationwide were shown riding white plastic pipes, or PVC pipes, and throwing a volleyball into hoops during fast-paced and contact-heavy Quidditch matches. It was this moment that Doughton said he became certain of two things: “I had to go to a college with a journalism school and a Quidditch team,” said Doughton. “So I applied to UNC.”

Four years later, Doughton weaved through the crowd at FallFest, UNC-Chapel Hill’s annual club and organizations fair.

“First thing that I did, [after] getting out of convocation, was walk straight to the Quidditch table,” said Doughton. “I really wanted to get involved. I just loved Harry Potter, and it seemed like the type of people that I would like to be around.”

Over his six semesters on the team, Doughton has played as a beater, using bludgers (deflated dodgeballs) to disrupt other players, and a chaser, using the quaffle (volleyball) to score points by throwing it through three hoops. In addition, he has also become a certified referee for U.S. Quidditch. This has allowed him to travel.

“The coolest thing about the Quidditch community, for me, is the opportunity to go to these other colleges, and meet people from across the country. Sometimes, there are players from all around the world,” said Doughton.

Louis Torres Tailfer: Beater

After coming to America, Louis Torres Tailfer, a “Star Wars” fan, was determined to trade in his lightsaber for a broomstick. However, what he did not expect was to fall in love during the process.

“I really like ‘Star Wars,’ but unfortunately, UNC doesn’t have a lightsaber dueling club,” said Tailfer. “Luckily, I found an equally nerdy, but challenging sport in Quidditch.”

As the lights dimmed on Hooker Fields, Tailfer felt a tap on his shoulder while leaving his first practice. Turning around, he found the shadowed figure of a blond woman that he had talked to during team introductions. She asked if he could walk her home, considering it was 11:30 p.m.

This moment of fate blossomed into a routine. After every practice, they walked home together. Often speaking as late as 4 a.m. on her dorm’s front steps, they learned they shared a lot of the same interests.

The only difference between them was that he lived in France, and she lived in America.

“I was not going to allow the distance to be a factor,” Tailfer said, “I was convinced we had met each other for a reason. I am a strong believer in the concepts of soulmates, and mine just happened to be halfway around the world at a Quidditch practice.”

Looking back, Tailfer said that meeting his girlfriend was the best thing to come out of being on the team.

Annie McDarris: Chaser

Annie McDarris joined the UNC-Chapel Hill Quidditch team to stay active, and as a joke. She anticipated a bunch of gawky students gabbing about Harry Potter in the middle of a field. If anything, she thought she would have a good laugh.

It did not take long however, for her to appreciate the athletic skill the game required and lifelong friendships she would make.

“It is a legitimate sport,” said McDarris. “We get tackled a lot. It is definitely intense being a girl, because you can get slammed to the ground by a 6-foot guy. Meanwhile, you are getting hit by bludgers.”

Thus, it comes as a great shock to her that she has not been severely injured yet. Regardless, she continues to play, because she has found a second family in her teammates.

“I feel like we are always there for each other. If someone posts that they need a ride to the airport, there will be like three responses offering to pick them up as early as 3 a.m,” said McDarris.

Though her classmates occasionally raise an eyebrow when McDarris tells them that she is heading off to Quidditch practice, she no longer finds herself laughing. Instead, she is confident to be a part of the sport that has a dash of magic, as she proudly mounts her PVC pipe with her closest friends.

Gabriella Williams: Beater

Gabriella Williams wrote her admissions essay for UNC-Chapel Hill about Harry Potter, so it comes as no surprise that she would want to play a sport based on her favorite novels.

However, Williams said that the appeal of being on a Quidditch team expands beyond simply playing the game. As a sociology major, Williams said she appreciated that it was co-ed sport that furthered gender equality.

“The Quidditch community, in general, strives for having team diversity. This really appealed to me,” Williams said.

In addition, Williams is on the executive board of the UNC-Chapel Hill Quidditch team. She claims that their biggest challenge is moving the sport away from just being an aspect of the Harry Potter franchise.

For example, actors from the films, such as Evanna Lynch (who plays Luna Lovegood), used to attend the World Cup. As appreciated as these appearances were, many were concerned that they were weakening the athletic credibility of Quidditch. Therefore, there have been efforts to reduce the number of such invitations to tournaments.

World Cup-bound 

It is the end of the second day of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship, and the UNC-Chapel Hill team is waiting anxiously in the gravel parking lot next to the frost-covered fields. Sam Doughton said that despite their many losses due to injuries, they may still have a chance of making the 2018 World Cup in Round Rock, Texas.

All they needed was for one team to score a slightly less then they did, and they would make it in the lowest bracket.

Crushing the last bit of heat out of her hand-warming packets, Williams looked at her team sitting in the trunks of cars. Even if they returned without victory, she would be proud of them.

Suddenly, Cole, with his eye-patch, came over the hill. Doughton followed closely behind.

“Sam said we made it!” Cole said enthusiastically, “We barely did, but we made it! You crazy nerds are going to nationals in May!”


Edited by Liz Chen.

UNC-Chapel Hill alumni face real-world tests in Teach for America classrooms

By Rachel Jones

LaDarian Smith was fed up.

After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill in May of 2014, he was in his first few months of teaching 10th grade English at W.W. Samuell High School. At the Dallas Independent School District campus, 98.5 percent of the students were classified as economically disadvantaged. Reading proficiency hovered at 50 percent – 23 percent less than the state average.

And he had a student who would not, for the life of him, turn in his work.

“It was really easy for me to say, ‘oh, he doesn’t care,’ or ‘oh, he doesn’t want to be here,’ or things like that,” Smith said.

But the student did care. A conversation between the two would radically change the direction of Smith’s classroom.

“He was like ‘you keep saying I don’t want to be here, but don’t I come to class every day? If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be here,’” Smith said. “And as simple as that statement is, I think that put it in perspective for me, because truancy was also a very real thing.”

A new mindset

After that, Smith started earnestly listening to his students — not just for test answers or roll calls, but for ideas on how he could help them. They reformatted his classroom participation grading system. Instead of deducting points for inattentiveness, they would all start at zero and earn participation points throughout the year. They helped pick quiz questions.

And almost immediately, they respected Smith a lot more.

“(Students) don’t care what you know until they know you care,” Smith said. “So I spent my first year in the classroom, after those three months of hell and high water, resetting.”

He reset with his 10th graders that year, and he carried that mentality into his 12th grade classroom the next year.

And then, as his students graduated, he left teaching permanently.

Smith was a part of the Teach for America, a program that recruits college students to teach in low-income communities across the country, placing them in these communities for a five-week boot camp that ends in getting a teacher’s license and a school assignment for two years.

He feels that he met the goals of the program — but that often means different things to the communities that TFA serves than it does to the students who participate in it.

A Carolina connection

There’s an Easter egg in the Teach for America website for UNC-CH students. In a subsection of a subsection of the JOIN TFA heading on the site’s homepage, there is an example resume for a college senior applying to the program. And there, under “Extracurricular Experience” and “Work Experience,” things begin to get familiar.

“Dance-a-thon, 24-hour dance marathon,” said Jacquelyn Gist, reading the resume off of her computer screen. She’s worked at UNC-CH’s University Career Services center for 26 years, and has been helping people apply to Teach for America for the better part of two decades. “I mean, what do you think that is? University newspaper, uh-huh. And then career center.”

It makes sense that a UNC-CH experience is used as the corps-provided template for TFA applicants. The founder of the corps spoke at UNC-CH’s spring commencement in 2006. The University first appeared on TFA’s list of schools with the largest incoming corps classes in 2008, and has consistently stayed there since – the program has partnered with N.C. schools since 1990, when it established a presence in the Eastern region of the state. But despite 28 years of partnership in the state, there are still some misunderstandings between program and community, and questions about who, exactly, TFA is teaching for.

UNC and back again

The resume on TFA’s website isn’t LaDarian Smith’s, but they’re both clearly products of UNC-CH.

Where the sample says Dance-a-thon, newspaper and fraternity, Smith’s says Black Student Movement, Carolina Union Activities Board and UNC Red Cross; where it says University Career Center and Communications Office, Smith’s says Orientation Leader and Office Assistant at Morrison Residence Hall. But while the sample stops in 2016 — “they’re still using that one?” Smith said when told about the sample UNC-CH resume — Smith’s has extended past the University and back again.

Smith, an English major, started a relationship with TFA during in 2013, the first year that TFA piloted an early-admittance program that allowed juniors to apply. Smith, then a junior, was encouraged by the job security TFA offered and by honest discussions of the workload with corps members he trusted: a former UNC Black Student Movement president and a resident advisor in his dorm. But, he initially didn’t believe in the program’s promises.

“I just didn’t buy the entirety of bringing in college students and them teaching right after they graduated if they hadn’t majored in education,” he said. “It just was not computing for me that this program could be as impactful and as successful as it has. But I mean, it’s been 28 years and the organization is still around, so obviously something is going right.”

Nevertheless, he applied to the corps. He also applied to a job as a campus campaign coordinator — “which is a pretty watered-down version of what I do now as a recruiter” — and found out that he had been accepted for both within the span of a week.

Beyond the classroom

After the end of his two-year commitment in Dallas, he applied to be a recruiter at UNC-CH, and has been in the role for a year and a half.

One of the students that Smith recruited is Katie Arney, a senior public policy and sociology major who’ll be teaching middle schoolers in Houston after graduation. Arney wants to eventually go into education policy and research, and believes that classroom experience is essential to this career path.

“A lot of different programs are focused on keeping people in the classroom, and while I’m not opposed to that — it could be that I do my time in the corps and absolutely love the classroom — I wanted something that was going to encourage me to take my knowledge and experience and apply it in a way that can make change be out of the classroom,” she said.

Despite loving his job, Smith harbors some reservations about the program.

“I’m still not drinking the Kool-Aid,” he said. “Teaching is something that you have to grow into. It’s something that you don’t get the hang of the first two, three, four years, really.”

The drawback to this is that TFA is a two-year program. According to a 2014 study by the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina, approximately 10 percent of teachers who were trained through TFA return for their fifth year of teaching, compared to 76 percent of teachers who were trained through a UNC system undergraduate program.

But on average, TFA teachers outperform their UNC-system education major peers, and have “significantly greater odds” of being scored proficient on N.C.’s five professional teaching standards.

Smith sees this as a result of the program’s mission, but he thinks that that mission isn’t what the public perceives it as.

“I think there’s some brand misalignment, not necessarily on our end, but with people who come to the table,” he said. “But I do take it seriously, my job to find people that I think would thrive at this, and then task them with taking what they’ve learned and becoming lifelong advocates. And if that’s staying in the classroom, great. I’m not going to come and kick you out. But if you do decide that your impact is better suited elsewhere, then go for it.”

Edited by Mimi Tomei

Increasing light pollution wreaks havoc in the sky — and on our health

By Anne McDarris

Back in the ’80s and ’90s, Doug Lively of the Raleigh Astronomy Club could peer through the lens of his telescope and see the Whirlpool Galaxy in rich detail. The galaxy was clean and symmetrical, a pretty silver spiral that looked like a glow-in-the-dark ceiling sticker.  Lively could see one of its wispy arms reaching for the unassuming blob of its sister galaxy, M5195, and the details of the dust bridge between the two galaxies.

Now, on a wintery evening along the edge of Jordan Lake, Lively squints through his telescope lens at the Whirlpool Galaxy and M5195. The thin spirals look fuzzy and faded.  He can’t see the dust bridge. Newborn stars — which aren’t so new anymore because the light traveled for 25 million years to reach Lively’s eye — are only suggestions.

He sighs.  The light pollution is getting worse.

He can see it in the same way that the lights of Raleigh, Durham and Apex burn like suns pinned just below the horizon, a sunset that never fades. The way that they cast a white-orange fog that dims the starlight, the light of the Whirlpool Galaxy and its sister.

Light pollution, the bane of Lively and the Raleigh Astronomy Club, is the result of undirected light from artificial sources like streetlamps and buildings. The light reflects off clouds and small particles in the atmosphere, which creates a hazy glow that obstructs the view of the stars. For the past two decades, this has become a problem for North Carolina astronomers as people have flooded into the area seeking jobs and high living standards.

Mass migration carries quiet consequences.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Durham County grew by 16 people per day while Wake County grew by 67 people per day in 2016. With this mass migration into central North Carolina comes more roads, developments and lights that illuminate those places at night. This growth carries quiet consequences.

“I’ll never forget that night that the mall over there in Durham… completely obliterated our northern horizon,” Lively said, referring to the Streets at Southpoint, which opened in 2002. “Objects that are in the northern sky that you could see really well, it’s pretty well washed-out now.”

New development isn’t the only source of light pollution — LED lights have wreaked havoc on the night sky. While great for energy efficiency and city budgets, blindingly bright LEDs are terrible for light pollution. And because they’re cheap, some cities overlight areas because they can afford to, despite studies showing that more lights do not always mean less crime.

The crux of the matter is using light efficiently and taking advantage of the technology we have. It’s addressing light design more than light usage.

Although many cities have developed lighting ordinances that decrease inefficiencies, they’re not exhaustive. In Raleigh, the lighting ordinance does not affect streetlights, a major source of light pollution. This means that these lights do not need to be shielded like many others do and can shine in all directions — even up.

Our health is at risk, too.

Light pollution doesn’t just affect astronomers — it can affect the health of city dwellers across the globe. In large cities like Hong Kong and New York City where night is more like twilight, residents have decreased levels of melatonin production, a regulatory hormone that the body produces at night. Scientists have linked low levels of melatonin to breast cancer.  Light pollution also messes with the circadian rhythm, and the inconsistent ticking of the biological clock is linked to depression, cardiovascular disease and insomnia.

Many aspects of environmental change can feel intangible, seen only through long-range reports and scientists’ earnest articles and lectures. Melting glaciers and desertification are far-off issues that plague a minority. But with light pollution, the change is something that people can observe in their lifetimes. It’s something that affects our health and our ability to look at the stars. To see it, all that a person has to do is look up.

Amy Sayle knows this all too well. An educator for the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, Sayle teaches about the night sky under a dome of virtual stars. There is a light pollution feature that she can turn on during shows, and when she turns it off, people gasp and murmur at the difference.

“Lots of people have never seen a truly dark sky, but a lot of people don’t realize it,” she said. “They think they’ve seen a very dark sky but don’t even know what one looks like because there are so few places that are not light polluted anymore.”

But Sayle has found one of those few places in Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah, where she volunteers at its annual astronomy festival.

“It’s pretty darn close to a perfect sky,” she said. “It’s dark. It’s amazing.”

One night, she forgot her flashlight in her cabin when she went to go to the bathroom. She tried to walk along the paved road that curves around the campsite. She knew the area — she had come to this event 12 years in a row. But in the consuming darkness without a light, she stumbled into a ditch, reoriented herself, walked a few more feet and then smacked into a tree.  When she found the bathroom, she gravitated toward the light, relieved.

Light pollution continues its tour of the U.S.

On a recent data collection trip to Bryce Canyon, Chad Moore, the head of the National Park Service Night Sky Team, showed Sayle the new map of light pollution in the area. There appeared to be some detectable from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Las Vegas is 270 miles away.

“It’s just one of those things that I think is just thoughtlessness,” Sayle said. “Taking care of light pollution is a win-win-win-win-win situation.”

Sayle said astronomy is one way to get people interested in science and how it works.

“To be an informed citizen in a democracy, you have to understand how science works,” she said.

Far from Bryce Canyon, the Raleigh Astronomy Club continues to go to Jordan Lake, even as the glow creeps closer with each passing year. They’ve seen the light pollution maps. They know it’s only getting worse.

“At least for the next 10 years, we’re going to continue to use Jordan Lake, unless it gets absolutely bad,” Lively said. “Probably the next place we could go would be north up around Castalia, Rocky Mount and Medoc Mountain State Park.”

Medoc Mountain is just under a two-hour drive from Jordan Lake.  It’s a long way to go for dark skies. And like Jordan Lake, it’s not immune to the creeping fingers of light pollution.

So they grit their teeth. They bear it.  They don’t have much of a choice.

Edited by Adam Phan

Horizons program changes the narrative of opioid addiction for mothers

By Danielle Chemtob

Drug paraphernalia and bleach stains surrounded Rachel Lankford as she sat in the bathroom of her ex-boyfriend’s single-wide trailer. He hovered over her as she took her ninth pregnancy test in three days.

It was the last stick in the three-pack she had picked up from a dollar store — she’d already taken two in front of him, one result was unclear and one positive. He still didn’t believe her, despite the previous six tests and a visit to Planned Parenthood.

It was positive. Again.

Immediately, she walked through the graffiti-laden hallway and showed the plus symbol to his mother. Both of them encouraged Lankford, then 20, to get an abortion.

But she knew that was not an option. She had already been to the Planned Parenthood in Chapel Hill earlier that day, her paperwork signed and everything in place to get an abortion. Lankford had already had two abortions, one at 13 and one at 19. When she made her appointment, she figured this time around would be no different.

High on prescription painkillers, she walked into the clinic with her mother. She stepped into the doctor’s office and undressed from the waist down for the ultrasound. The technician turned to her.

“You’re 21 weeks and five days pregnant,” she said. “You’re not having an abortion.”

In the corner, her mother sobbed. Lankford was five months pregnant and weighed just 84 pounds. Her words racing — an effect of the opioids — she pleaded with the technician, told her she was a drug addict, that she couldn’t have a child. But nothing could be done.

She knew in that moment that her ex-boyfriend would never be there for her, or her daughter. Still, she held onto a sliver of hope, and drove to his house after her appointment where she took the pregnancy tests with him.

But when she told him that she’d already tried to have an abortion, he attempted to convince her the baby wasn’t his.

She felt heartbroken and desolate. She was too afraid to tell her father, and her mother still lived in Virginia at the time. Without anyone to help her, she lived in her car for a few weeks.


Four years later, Lankford, now 24, loves Marleigh, the healthy, energetic child she so desperately didn’t want that day.

“She’s my whole wide world,” Lankford said, “but she wasn’t at first.”

Woman and the crisis

As the opioid crisis devastates American communities, women are among the most vulnerable. Between 1999 and 2015, the rate of deaths from prescription opioids increased by 471 percent among women, compared to 218 percent among men, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. While research is still emerging on gender disparities in opioid addiction, studies have shown that women are more likely to be prescribed prescription pain relievers and become addicted more quickly.

Pregnant women are particularly at risk, as the substance abuse can harm both the mother and her child. Between 2007 and 2012, an annual average of 21,000 pregnant women aged 15 to 44 across the United States had misused opioids in the past month, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Yet as overall opioid use rates surpass capacity rates for treatment centers in most states, options are particularly limited for pregnant women, who often travel far and face waiting lists to access programs like UNC’s Horizons, a drug treatment program for pregnant and parenting women and their children.

“I think there’s still this underlying belief that pregnant women should be able to just walk away from substances fairly easily,” said Elisabeth Johnson, director of health services at Horizons.

A coping mechanism

The trauma from Lankford’s parents’ bitter divorce, especially after her father remarried, drove her to substance use at just 13. She first tried Vicodin after her wisdom teeth surgery at 16, and her addiction to prescription painkillers didn’t take long to develop.

During and after Lankford’s substance use, she wound up in several abusive relationships. While she was pregnant with Marleigh, but before she was aware of it, she fought with her ex-boyfriend constantly. But because he was her supplier, she was stuck.

When the two would use opiates together, it often exacerbated the physical abuse. She’s recovered from her addiction, but her abuse still haunts her.

“I guess I feel like that’s what I deserve because of what I went through in my past, and I’m damaged goods, and no decent person would ever love me,” she said. “And then I challenge myself with that all the time.”

Johnson said around 80 percent of the women who enter Horizons report having experienced trauma at some point. A 1996 study found that women who are victims of violence are much more likely to use substances in general and during pregnancy.

“Women often end up using drugs because they’ve got no other coping mechanism,” said Hendree Jones, executive director of Horizons. “They’ve grown up being told that they’re nothing more than dirt.”

Access to care

After 120 days sober in a treatment program — when Marleigh was around 6 months old— Lankford returned home, determined to turn her life around. She enrolled in college and got a job.

But it wasn’t easy to stay sober in a college filled with childhood friends she used to get high with. In a span of two weeks, she relapsed and picked up two felonies for stealing her mother’s credit card and money from her job at Goodwill. She lost her job, dropped out of school and lost custody of Marleigh.

She was devastated. For two months she slept in her Honda and on people’s couches. She got high.

“I didn’t know how to live,” she said. “My whole world from when she was born was to take care of her, and then when she was gone, what do you do?”

She had weekly meetings with her social worker and Marleigh, but the one hour wasn’t enough.

“I wouldn’t use before I would see her, and I’d walk out that door and go get high,” she said. “Because leaving her was just… It was awful.”

During a 30-day period in jail, Lankford assessed her options for treatment. She wanted to participate in Horizons so she could stay with Marleigh, but the program was full.

Just 20 percent of treatment services offer programs for pregnant or postpartum women, according to a survey of providers from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“We have women who drive an hour and a half to two hours to come to their prenatal visit from other parts of the state just because they cannot find in their area a provider who has experience dealing with women who are pregnant,” said Kim Andringa, director of research and evaluation at Horizons.

Among programs that do serve pregnant women, many don’t allow children to live with their mothers. Horizons allows children up to 12.

“You may have a mom who comes into treatment who has to choose of her three or four kids who she’s bringing with her and who she’s going to leave with someone at home,” Johnson said.

Facing a four-month wait for Horizons, Lankford’s only option to get out of jail was a facility in Asheville, but she couldn’t bring Marleigh.

When she returned, Marleigh had been in foster care for six months. She finally regained custody of her daughter, and the two started the Horizons program together.

She hasn’t let her go since.

In July, she’ll be three years sober. Last year, 266 women received treatment at Horizons, where Lankford now works.

“I might not have stopped right away and I might have screwed up a lot in her first year and a half of her life, but I feel like I’m here now and I feel like I’m a good mom,” she said.

Edited by David Fee

Hip injury results in loss of final rowing season for Harr

By Margaret High

The bow of the Spirit pushed through glassy lake water in the pre-dawn haze. Caeli Harr was on stroke 400 of 1,000 of the morning’s workout. The sun hadn’t risen yet to show her wincing with every repetition. Something was wrong.

She struggled to stand on the dock after finishing her hour-long morning workout. A teammate asked if she was OK.

“I don’t know; something just isn’t right,” Harr said.

Her left hip had been painful for the past month, but the last race in the fall 2017 season for the UNC women’s varsity rowing team was two weeks away. The pain could wait to be addressed. Winning was more important.

The senior scholarship rower knew what was wrong as soon as the pain hit. It was the same injury a fellow recruit from her class suffered from freshman year. A year later, another teammate from her recruiting class also medically retired from the injury. The same fall Harr’s hip hurt, another rower had surgery for the injury and was beginning her eight months of recovery.

Harr tore her left hip labrum sometime in the fall. The labrum is a ring of fibrocartilage. It secures the ball part of the hip’s ball-and-socket joint within the hip socket. It also helps to stabilize the hip joint.

Torn labrums: a common injury, but a relatively new medical discovery

Despite prevalence on the UNC rowing team, torn labrums are a new medical discovery. Roughly 15 years ago, doctors believed the symptoms meant arthritis. Surgery has low success rates, and few orthopedic surgeons know how to do the procedure, which involves reattaching the torn labrum back to the disc within the hip socket. In extreme cases like Harr’s, cadavers are required to replace the shredded labrum.

“The first time I heard it was a torn labrum, tears were just streaming down my face,” Harr said. “I was distraught. I didn’t know what to do.”

In addition to a torn labrum, Harr suffers from a stress fracture in the top of her left femur and a cist within the stress fracture. The daily pain Harr feels from her injuries pushed her to decide to opt for surgery.

Dr. Joseph Barker, a hip specialist in Raleigh, told Harr they would try microfracturing to get rid of the cist. Just like the labrum replacement, it’s a controversial surgery. Microfracturing involves poking holes in the femur to trigger the body’s natural healing responses to a broken bone, increasing blood flow to the area and hopefully healing the stress fracture and cist at the same time.

“I wish I had known how serious it was. I thought it was just another injury,” Harr said. She would’ve stopped sooner had she realized the severity of her issues.

Harr’s history of injuries and passion for sports

Her inevitable surgery will be scar number five on her 5’7” body. Her right knee has two major scars on either side. The left one is from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in eighth grade from a non-contact soccer injury. The botched surgery resulted in the right scar.

Harr was a sophomore in high school, just back from three month’s recovery from scar number three that rests beneath her jawline from jaw surgery. It was her third day back at practice. The freckle-faced 15-year-old was running when she tripped and tore her ACL for a second time.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Harr said as she looked down at the ground. “It just tore.”

Soccer was Harr’s passion. It consumed her since first grade. When her parents divorced in middle school, Harr stayed after soccer practice to work on her technique. When only one parent could attend her soccer games instead of both, Harr worked harder to be the best on the field. In between different homes on the weekends, she threw herself into the sport.

“Sports give me a purpose,” Harr said. “When I don’t have structure, I just feel lost. I feel all over the place.”

Discovering rowing

The San Jose, Ca., native needed a sport to satisfy her. Harr’s favorite running trail overlooks a water reservoir, which houses the Los Gatos Rowing Club. Rowing was a sport that could get her into a good university and let her continue to be an athlete without ruining her knee.

“When I first started, I was so bad,” Harr laughed. “I’ve never been so bad at something.”

Her long legs helped propel her body in the boat, but her disproportionately short torso created a litany of technique issues. Six days a week, three hours a day, the Los Gatos head coach, Matt Pinschmidt, berated Harr. The 5’2” former national champion would turn his sharp nose up at Harr, displeased eyes shaded by the baseball caps he always wore.

“I would come home sobbing,” Harr said. “My coach was screaming like bloody murder at me every single day.”

After practice one day, Pinschmidt sat Harr down and told her she should quit. She wasn’t fast enough to be recruited.

Harr worked harder than ever after that day. She shaved off almost a full minute on her 2,000 meter score. She raced every teammate and won. There was no amount of pain Harr couldn’t breach in order to prove Pinschmidt wrong.

“It was really satisfying. I just had this whole ‘screw you’ mentality toward my coach,” Harr said. ”He was absolutely shocked. He had no clue I could actually be that good.”

Soon after, Harr received a scholarship offer for the UNC women’s rowing team.

A year later, Harr was in a four-man boat racing down the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia with more than three seconds between the stern of her boat and the bow of the next. Her Carolina blue unitard swung back and forth quickly in the boat, propelling her to a first-place finish in the largest collegiate regatta in the United States.

She continued to enjoy success as a sophomore, racing in the ACC Championship in the top varsity eight-man boat. Pinschmidt, her former club rowing coach, even sent her a text message before the 2015 ACC Championship, congratulating her success.

“It was like something out of a movie,” Harr said. “We went from hating each other to learning to love each other.”

Hip labral tears are a common injury for UNC’s varsity women’s rowing team

As a junior, one of Harr’s best friends on the team medically retired from a hip labral tear.

Nina Luker, a member of the freshman four-man boat and Harr’s best friend on the team, decided to not undergo surgery after learning of her torn hip labrum. She weighed the options of dealing with the pain or dealing with recovery. Unlike Harr, her labrum doesn’t bother her as intensely every day.

“When I heard it was a labrum tear, I left the doctor in full tears,” Luker said. “You have the idea that something can be kind of a sport-ending injury. But hearing those words come out of someone else’s mouth triggered those emotions. Hearing that I wouldn’t be a student-athlete anymore… that was my identity.”

Alex Davis, another teammate with a torn labrum, felt surgery was her only option.

“I didn’t really have an option,” Davis said. “Basically I needed surgery to resume normal daily activities.”

Davis underwent a six-hour surgery and received a cadaver iliotibial (IT) band to replace her labrum. She was on crutches for three months and has five more months of limited mobility.

Originally, Davis thought she’d just need to have her labrum reattached, the mildest form of surgery for labral tears. However once the surgeon saw her labrum, they found it too damaged to repair. Cadaver was her only option.

“I woke up and thought everything went well,” Davis said. “I was on a lot of drugs, so I think when they told me my recovery would be longer and I’d be on crutches I was a little dazed. But I do remember crying a lot.”

The three rowers, Harr, Davis and Luker, all describe the pain the same: it’s a catching feeling in your hip; it’s always throbbing and constantly commanding attention.

“This whole journey with Caeli is kind of bringing up my memories,” Luker said. “I know the mental struggle that comes with this injury.”

Pushing through their pain resulted in worse injuries for the rowers

All three could’ve avoided shredding their labra had they not continued to push through the pain. It’s their desire to never stop working hard that put them in these positions.

A couple of weeks after the end of her senior fall season, Harr was running up a hill with 47 other teammates on a cold November afternoon. Leaves crunched underneath her feet as sharp pains ran from her hip. Harr began breathing harder with fear that her hip would give out mid-run. The next day she could barely stand.

Harr knew without a doubt her labrum was torn. She had pushed too hard for too long.

Since her initial visit to the doctor in December 2017, Harr has gone through two MRI’s and an arthrogram. The results are all the same: arthritis, stress-fractured femur, bone cist, torn labrum.

Now as the bow of the Spirit cruises through murky lake water, Harr has been replaced. When her teammates wake up, she stays asleep in her bed. The senior lost her last season on the rowing team.

“It really sucks,” Harr said. “Finishing meant I proved everyone wrong.”

Edited by Savannah Morgan 

Chapel Hill K-9 officers live and learn with their brave companions

By Cailyn Derickson

He followed behind his dog. The intense rain made it difficult to see. His dark blue uniform didn’t protect him from wind, but he bundled tight and kept marching. They had done this what seemed to be a hundred times before. Not even the incoming hurricane would hinder their routine.

But suddenly, his energetic black Labrador retriever stopped, sniffed and sat.

UNC-Chapel Hill police officer Matthew Dodson knew what that meant.

His dog, Kash, had found an explosive chemical.

“I’m thinking, ‘Are we going to have to postpone this football game?’” Dodson said. “I didn’t know if it was real or not.”

Dodson trusted his dog, trained to identify 30 different chemicals most commonly found in explosive devices. He spoke into the walkie-talkie attached to his left shoulder.

“We’ve got a possible device,” he said.

The hurricane wouldn’t interfere with their routine. But an explosive device would.

Then, UNC-Chapel Hill police Sgt. Keith Ellington assured Dodson it wasn’t real. It was just a training aid.

All clear. The game could go on.

UNC-Chapel Hill police K-9 officers, Kash and Molly, specialize in explosives detection.

Four-year-old Kash  works with Dodson and 8-year-old Molly works with Ellington. Both dogs are black Labrador retrievers. They are the backbone of safety for any high traffic event in Chapel Hill. Whether it’s football, basketball or a controversial speaker — the dogs are there.

They sweep Kenan Memorial Stadium and the Smith Center for explosive chemicals five hours before the start of each game. The dogs haven’t found an explosive device on campus before, but the training aid Kash found last October was a close one.

When the officers sweep the stadium, they use training aids — a small pouch of non-hazardous, non-explosive chemicals — to test their dogs. Dodson said the incident was a miscommunication.

“We always know where the aid is because we’re clearing it for an actual event,” Dodson said. “But on that particular game day because of the rain, (Ellington) had to move his training aid from where he usually keeps it, and he didn’t have time to tell me.”

Although it wasn’t an explosive device, Ellington said the moment was still tense.

“It’s a lot of weight on you when you’re at the stadium and your dog alerts,” Ellington said. “You have to make that call. This football game is going to be postponed or it’s going to be delayed because we’re making the call to shut it down until we can get somebody over here to see exactly what’s in this box or particular package.”

But the officers go through hours of training with their dog to prepare for situations like that. Dodson and Kash trained for 275 hours over a six-week period.

From preparation to protection

“I struggled with it,” Dodson said. “It was hard. This job, in general, has always come pretty easy to me. Now, I have this other living being I have to learn and watch and work with.”

Prior to their training, Dodson and Kash were complete strangers. Dodson knew nothing about trusting a K-9 and Kash, still a puppy, only knew how to sit. Now, Kash roams without a leash and Dodson knows his dog won’t stray.

In order to become a K-9 handler, an officer must meet certain credentials. One credential focuses on an officer’s years of service. If the officer meets the credentials, they can apply to become a handler. A panel will then interview the officer to decide if the officer is eligible for a dog.

Both Dodson and Ellington knew they wanted to become K-9 handlers when they joined the UNC-Chapel Hill police. Both officers said they enjoy working with animals. Ellington has nine hunting dogs and three inside dogs at home. Dodson has two other dogs at home. Being a K-9 handler gave them the opportunity to incorporate their love of dogs into their careers.

But the road to get there was a long one.

“I put in for the first dog back in 2003, and I didn’t get it,” Dodson said. “Then, I went on to be a detective, and I was a detective for 11 years. When this opportunity came up, based on how the dogs work, I knew it was now or never.”

The purpose of the training is to establish a relationship between the handler and the dog. Ellington said that relationship is similar to the relationship between a parent and child.

Caring for a canine companion

“You take care of them at home,” he said. “You feed them. You bathe them, just like a kid. It’s like always having a baby. I’ve got four kids, so to me, (Molly) makes five.”

Kash was born in Blaine, Washington. Dodson adopted Kash from a kennel in Scotland Neck, North Carolina, in 2015.

Molly is different. Rather than coming from a breeder, she came straight from Afghanistan, where she worked with active-duty Marines. She is credited for finding live explosive devices during her two tours abroad.

“She likely saved lives before she ever got to campus,” Randy Young, a UNC-Chapel Hill police spokesperson, said.

Ellington said Molly can be aggressive toward other dogs. He suspects she got into a fight with another dog while she was deployed, causing her act more aggressive.

Molly would bark and growl at Kash when he first joined the UNC-Chapel Hill police team. But the dogs have since learned to work together.

“There was a time when it was really hard for us to take a picture together,” Dodson said. “But now it’s like, ‘Hey, that’s Molly. That’s Kash. Whatever. Let’s do what we got to do.’”

Ellington said Molly is more aggressive when she is protecting Ellington’s four kids.

“My kids were in the bedroom watching TV,” Ellington said. “My mom and dad came up. I live right beside them and when they came in (the bedroom), luckily, I had the cage door shut. But she got to growling. She would run over and try to stay between the kids and my parents.”

Dodson said Kash is similar to Molly in that aspect.

“If we come in late at night from working a game or something, he makes his rounds in the house,” Dodson said. “He comes in. He goes in my son’s room. He checks on him, makes sure he’s in the bed. Then, he goes into my daughter’s room, checks on her. Then, he goes to my bedroom, where he sleeps on the floor in his bed.”

Although Molly and Kash are the only K-9 officers with the UNC-Chapel Hill police, they aren’t the only dogs Dodson and Ellington received from the department.

Both Dodson and Ellington took home a chocolate Labrador retriever puppy last month from UNC-Chapel Hill police Capt. Thomas Twiddy — something Molly hasn’t gotten used to yet.

“I’m in the process of introducing the puppy,” Ellington said. “(Molly) didn’t want any part of it. I don’t know if she felt it was pulling the attention from her or if she didn’t like me holding another dog that looked like her. But she’s gotten a lot better.”

The puppies won’t be trained as K-9 officers. Dodson and Ellington plan to keep the dogs as indoor pets.

Retiring to a bright future

Molly, who will turn 9 in May, is nearing retirement. Ellington said the department will look to replace her early next year.

After her service, Molly will stay with Ellington and instead of searching for explosive devices on patrol, she will get to relax at home.

“These dogs really open up a lot of opportunity for you to be able to participate and see stuff you wouldn’t normally see as a normal officer,” Ellington said. “She’s with me all the time. It’s just like having a kid.”

Edited by Jack Smith

A scorpion, bearded dragon and Byrd: One UNC-CH student’s journey to vet-hood

Courtney Byrd poses for a portrait in front of a collage of animals. Byrd dreams of being a vet one day and has found outlets at UNC-Chapel Hill to fulfill her love of animals. Photo by Mimi Tomei.

By Mimi Tomei

Orion skirts across the palms of Courtney Byrd’s hands.

Byrd has held snakes around her neck and seen an octopus feeding off the shadowy coastline of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands at twilight. But still, Orion, a black forest scorpion, makes Byrd’s hands gently tremble.

Byrd delicately avoids Orion’s two large pincers, which resemble pointy oven mitts, and the venomous stinger at the end of his tail. Orion’s sting is only about as harmful as that of a bee or hornet, but he still doesn’t seem like a cute and cuddly animal used to teach children about wildlife.

Byrd doesn’t treat him much differently than she would any other animal. She approaches him with respect.

“It felt just like holding a hermit crab, (but) the legs were a little bit spikier and sharper,” Byrd said.

A WISE place for peace

Orion is one of the animals 19-year-old Byrd works with in Carolina Wildlife Information and Science Education, or WISE, a group that creates wildlife education programs to bring to local schools and community organizations.

When all her activities and classes stress her out, Byrd finds solace in WISE and its animals. WISE’s home — a small, dark room in Wilson Hall — contains shelves and tables holding various animal enclosures and a mini fridge filled with fruits and vegetables – and mice and worms.

“Yesterday, I was sitting in the library doing chemistry. I actually like (organic chemistry) so far, but I was like, ‘this kind of sucks. I don’t want to do this,’” Byrd said. “So I just went to the WISE lab and sat on the floor, and it was kind of peaceful, just being around the animals.”

She was surrounded by Ruth the box turtle and Murphy the bearded dragon, who live in large enclosures on the floor. Other residents of the lab include snakes, toads and even a tarantula named Scout.

Finding her place

Byrd is a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill studying biology. She has loved animals her entire life and hopes to turn this passion into a career as a vet.

Her road to vet-hood isn’t an easy one. Getting into vet school after college is difficult, since there are only around 40 doctorate vet programs nationwide. UNC-CH lacks both an undergraduate vet program and dedicated pre-vet advisers. The biology major at UNC-CH is intense and involves many chemistry classes, which Byrd finds challenging.

But Byrd has found her niche at UNC-CH.

In addition to Byrd and her roommate Emily, two yet-unnamed hermit crabs reside in Teague Residence Hall. The creatures inhabit a large glass aquarium, where they live comfortably, alongside a small, plastic palm tree and with various places for them to hide and dig in several layers of pebbles and sand.

The crabs have access to fresh and salt water. Situated inside their home are sponges, strategically placed so the crabs can get a drink without drowning in their water bowls. They have special hermit crab food, which Byrd supplements with bits of produce she sometimes brings them from the dining hall salad bar.

“Last night, we had a fire drill at like 11 p.m., and one of my first thoughts was, ‘get the hermit crabs,’” Byrd said. “I think if there really was a fire, I’d get them first, as opposed to my laptop and everything.”

‘It’s not just cute animals’

Byrd participates in the UNC-CH Pre-Veterinary Club, which brings veterinary guest speakers to campus and helps students navigate the vet school application process by sharing resources and opportunities. The club is a small but supportive community, according to Vice President Simone McCluney.

While home for winter break, Byrd found a drawing she made as a child of her wearing a lab coat and treating a dog, surrounded by bottles of medicine and syringes.

As a college student, Byrd has found herself in this environment often as she has shadowed vets in both Chapel Hill and Wilmington. Although she hopes to become an exotic animal vet, Byrd draws inspiration from the companion animal vets she worked with, particularly Dr. Charles Miller at Triangle Veterinary Medicine in Chapel Hill. She’s observed many procedures with Miller.

With gauze in her medical glove-clad hands, Byrd has held a stomach in place during a gastropexy, a type of surgery that involves stitching the stomach inside an animal’s abdomen. Byrd even got to cut the stitches at the end of a spaying procedure.

“I felt like a surgeon,” Byrd said.

The experience of shadowing, in addition to cleaning animal habitats at the Duke Lemur Center and working with lab mice and toads at the UNC School of Medicine, has taught Byrd that being a vet is more than just playing with animals.

“I liked it when I was little because of cute animals, but now I’m realizing that it’s not just cute animals,” Byrd said.  “It’s also medicine and a lot of science and chemistry involved, and surgery, which is bloody and gross.

“Obviously, it’s a lot of time commitment, since it takes up so much of your life, which I’m definitely starting to realize,but I’m definitely still interested — even after all that.”

Nothing new

Molly Sprecher, a photojournalism major at UNC-CH and one of Byrd’s suitemates, created a photo story on Byrd. Sprecher witnessed the relationships Byrd created with many of her animals as she followed Byrd around to all of her activities.

“There were a lot of moments where I had a hard time getting a good photo because she wanted to play with the animals and was constantly telling me all the things she knew about them,” Sprecher said.

Byrd’s ability to emotionally connect to animals isn’t new though.

When she was in third grade at Parsley Elementary School in Wilmington, Byrd bought a stuffed polar bear. She got the stuffed animal­ as a memento, hoping to preserve in her memory what her favorite animal looked like in case it went extinct in her lifetime.

“I wanted to have something to remember them by, to show my kids, ‘This is what bears used to look like that lived when I lived.’”

Edited by Ana Irizarry

A mid-tattoo Q&A with Tattoo Phoenix owner, artist Kevin Khu

By Courtney Triplett

When I walked into Tattoo Phoenix in Greensboro wearing my red high heels, I knew I definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I had just come from a bridal shower for my high school best friend and was still dressed semi-formally. I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Realizing my awkwardness, I smiled politely at the receptionist and approached his desk.

        “Hi, um… is Kevin here? I’m interviewing him and hopefully shadowing him for a story today.”

Just like that, a head poked around the corner. It was Kevin, gloves on, wearing a glowing head lamp that reminded me of something a coal miner would wear.

        Hey… Courtney, right? Just give me 10 minutes; I’m finishing up a tattoo now.”

I walked across the waiting area and found a seat in a cushy armchair. I sat surrounded by five or six other people, mostly women, facing an enormous antique pool table. The table was offset by a large taxidermied wolf perched purposefully on top of some shelves; it looked ferocious and seemed to be staring right at me, teeth bared, as I nervously tapped my heels with anticipation.

The shop was on the small side and wasn’t flashy in any sense of the word. The furniture was clearly worn, and the waiting area almost had the feel it had been thrown together at the last minute. That was a part of its charm; the shop felt comfortable and easy rather than harsh and intimidating, like I’d imagine other shops could be.

I wasted time on my phone, checking social media and going over interview questions while I waited on Kevin to finish up. He had been working for almost six hours on an intricate pocket watch tattoo when I arrived at 4:30 p.m. After about 10 minutes, he emerged from the back room, looking worn but confident. He was tall, dressed casually in a pair of dark skinny jeans and a black T-shirt. He removed his helmet light, smoothed his black hair back into place with a stroke of his hand and broke into a huge smile.

        “It’s so cool that you want to interview me. That’s pretty crazy. I think that while we are interviewing I should give you a tattoo. Have you ever been tattooed while you interview?”

I let out a giggle. Of course I haven’t — but with the idea now in my head, how could I say no?

        “All right, let’s do it.”

I wanted a tiny tattoo, something small and simple and easily hidden. I picked out a picture of a sun from Google, and Kevin, eyeballing it a couple of times, sketched it perfectly onto some paper in less than a minute.

I’m extremely close with my younger sister Hannah, and we decided when she turned 18 that we would get matching tattoos. We chose  a moon and sun on the side of our heels — she was always the perfect balance for me, and I for her. She went ahead and got her moon tattoo months ago, and I was finally getting around to my end of the bargain… I couldn’t wait to surprise her.

Kevin motioned to me and I followed him to the small room in the back. The walls in the room were technicolor, covered in various paints and signed in Sharpie by hundreds of happy customers. There was a black leather chair meant for me to lie down on, and next to it, a small table filled with scary-looking equipment. I noticed the needle right away and felt queasy. I climbed up into the chair, took several deep breaths and removed my shoes.

        “So, how did you get into tattooing? Where did that stem from, and what inspired you to do this full-time?”

Kevin began wiping down my heel with alcohol and readying his equipment. I watched as he dipped the long needle in dark black ink.

        “Well, I never really grew up wanting to be a tattoo artist … it just kinda happened. I started hanging out at my brother-in-law’s shop in Greensboro, and he really encouraged me to pursue tattooing because I loved art so much and didn’t really have another job.

        “I usually drew all the time when I was at school, but my parents told me I should stop because drawing wouldn’t take me anywhere in life … and now here I am.”

He placed a piece of wax paper on my ankle for a few seconds and then pulled it off, leaving behind a tracing of my tiny tattoo. He looked up at me:

        You ready?”


I kept talking as he put on plastic gloves and loaded the needle into the gun, rambling out of sheer nerves at this point.

        “So, um… tell me about the shop. How long have you been an owner here?”

Kevin, head lamp now on, leaned over my ankle and began.

I cringed. Ow, this really hurt. I caught a glimpse of my blood and had to look away.

        “I have owned this place with my partner Kim since I was 17 years old. I’m 27 now if that tells you anything. I used to work in High Point … they’re like family to us, but they didn’t exactly treat us right as employees because of that. So we decided to open our own shop.”

I was taking deep breaths to deal with the pain. Kevin had to hold my foot steady with one hand as he tattooed with the other.

        So what is the most intricate tattoo you have ever done… And have you ever turned down a tattoo down because you couldn’t do it, or do you like the challenge?”

He chuckled.

        “Well of course you gotta’ turn down some people if you don’t know how to do something. But for me, I always know how to do it.

        “But to answer your first question, when I first started out, I did a Koi fish on someone’s ribs, and it was pretty intense. It took me about eight hours. I only charged her a little bit. Sometimes it’s not about the money; it’s about the challenge and the artwork.

As I was watching Kevin tattoo, I noticed that he didn’t have any tattoos at all, at least not that I could tell.

        “Kevin, do you have any tattoos?”

He laughed.

        “I knew you would ask. No, I don’t. Isn’t that funny, a tattoo artist that doesn’t have any tattoos?”

I asked him why that was, and he told me it was because he didn’t like needles, despite the fact he used them every single day of his career. He insists, however, that using needles and having them used on you is a completely different thing.

        You know that famous painter, da Vinci? Well, he painted things as a part of his art, but he never felt the need to paint himself, if that makes any sense. It’s much more about creating art for me.”

He turned the gun off and told me I was all done. Even though had it been less than five minutes, I breathed a sigh of relief that the pain was over. My tiny sun turned out exactly as I wanted it, and I smiled as Kevin blotted and bandaged my permanent souvenir.

        “This looks so good; thank you so much!”

I fished for my wallet inside of my purse, but when I found it, Kevin waved his hand, immediately dismissing it. He insisted on giving me the tattoo for free. I was taken aback by his generosity and thanked him again.

        Where do you see yourself in the future? Do you see yourself continuing to tattoo and own the shop?”

He paused at this question and began toying with his hair, clearly giving it some thought. After a few seconds, he nodded to himself and turned back to me.

        “I know I see myself tattooing. I never get bored with it. I get bored easily, but every tattoo and every person is different every day. I love that; I really do.”

I watched as his eyes sparkled with clear passion. His love for art was obvious and refreshing. Gathering my belongings, I had one final question for him.

        “What would you tell anyone who wanted to get into tattooing?”

He replied, “Just don’t give up if you want to be a tattoo artist. Pursue your dreams. If people put you down — and there’s a lot of people and even other artists that will put you down so that way you won’t achieve your goals — just don’t listen to them and keep doing what you’re doing.

“Just go for the gold … you never know — you could own your own shop or be famous one day. You could put a tattoo on Kendall Jenner or something. Just don’t give up.”

Edited by Danny Nett

Burlington church doing ‘whatever it takes’ to calm a cultural current

By Blake Richardson

At first, it was just another closing prayer. Heads bowed, eyes closed — the usual at every church on Easter Sunday. But then the pattern ruptured.

“If you want to welcome God into your life today,” lead pastor Tadd Grandstaff said, “raise your hand.”

Curiosity snaps my eyes open. Are there any takers? I’m trying to scan the room while keeping my head still so I don’t make it obvious that I’m breaking the heads bowed, eyes closed rule that’s still technically in play despite what I’m witnessing.

“I see you guys in the front and you in the back,” he continues. “Come on. Who else? Maybe you’ve lost your way and you want to come back. This is your chance.”

God, why did you have to make me so short? All I can make out in the dim lighting is Grandstaff at the front and the silhouettes of heads surrounding me in my usual seat in the back left with my brother, Jack. There’s a sense of urgency in Grandstaff’s voice, but there’s also reassurance.

“I invite you now to come up so we can go pray together. Don’t worry. Nobody’s looking around. Nobody’s going to be looking at you.”

Oops. I force my eyes shut, and suddenly this moment surpasses my curiosity. Submerged in blackness, I realize that this wasn’t for me. None of it. Not the alternative service format that switched between short sermons and music, not the Philippians verses flashing on the screen that I wrote down using the free pen and notecard placed in each seat on Sundays, and not the black-and-white videos of people reenacting Palm Sunday and of others saying, “In a moment, my life changed when I accepted Christ.”

Nine hands shot in the air to take on this  life-changing step in the safety of Hope Church in Burlington. I was just a lucky observer. Leading up to Easter, Grandstaff told the congregation that, for many people, this is one of just two church services of the year to attend. Christmas is the other. For him, that meant today was show time.

Religion is declining in the United States. Millennials are the generation least likely to pray, attend church or consider religion an important part of their life. This cultural shift puts churches’ survival at risk. But not Hope Church. This congregation took the change as a call to evolve. And the result has left this church even more emblematic of Christianity’s original mission.

With unexpected obstacles, Christ calls for a change  

I was doing this usual, partying pretty hard with my friends, and I ended up in the hospital: alcohol poisoning along with too many drugs in my system.  I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I laid in a hospital bed, never being suicidal, and I prayed out to God for the first time in a long time.  I told him, “God, if this is all I am ever going to do with my life, then just let me die, ‘cause I can’t do this anymore. I cannot continue to live like this.”  I was miserable.  I knew I had been running from God. I’ve never heard God speak in an audible voice, but in that moment I felt God’s presence in my life like nothing before. I felt him, in my spirit, tell me that he was done with me, that he had a calling on my life and it was time for me to answer that calling.  I left that hospital room and made drastic lifestyle changes.

A relationship with God, Grandstaff said, is defined by a series of moments that mold your identity. This moment in 2000 was the first in a sequence of life-altering instants that drew Grandstaff to become a pastor. He knew God was calling him toward the job as early as his sophomore year of high school. His grandfather, father and older brother are all pastors. But it wasn’t until this moment that he decided to answer the urge.

After graduating from Liberty University and then getting married in 2005, Grandstaff launched Pine Ridge church in 2007, holding services at Smith Elementary School. The church was a resounding success, but then the congregation rose to 300 people. They had outgrown their place of worship. They needed a new home.

Meanwhile, Brookwood Church was encountering a different obstacle. Their pastor, who shared similar goals with Grandstaff, moved to Greenville, South Carolina. Who would run the services now? In the church’s search, they invited Grandstaff to preach there one Sunday.

“It was a natural fit,” said Peter Sawyer, first-time guest champion at Hope Church and former member of Brookwood Church for about 25 years. “We needed a pastor. They needed a building.”

For about a year now, Grandstaff has been working on a sermon series that will take the congregation through the entire Bible. He took a month-long break for an Easter series, but he is currently working through the story of Joshua. Grandstaff’s sermons have amassed a substantial popularity. The church has only been around for 3 1/2 years, and its already played with service times to figure out how to manage a growing congregation.

But the merging hasn’t been seamless. The two churches were different. Brookwood featured more traditional music, and Pine Ridge embraced a contemporary style of service. But the melting pot became a success because of the overarching mission that bonded the two churches together.

Do whatever it takes to reach people who are far from God.

Affiliating the obstinate in the toughest of times

Hope Church is fighting a cultural current.

People who identify as unaffiliated with a religion rose from 16 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. That number is even higher among millennials, at 35 percent. Studies have shown that millennials are more mistrusting of institutions in general, but the change is striking.

And Christianity has moderately declined, too. The percentage of Americans who identify as Christian dropped from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. Grandstaff noted in a sermon that the number of practicing Christians is likely much lower. But this might not be the fault of the church.

“You see millennials holding to where they stand intellectually, morally, spiritually,” said Yaakov Ariel, a religious studies professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The United States has always been more involved with organized religion than other post-industrial countries. But since the Cold War ended in the 1990s, deciding against identifying with an organized religion has become more socially acceptable, Ariel said.

But denominations should not be concerned. Ariel said that across American history, the church has made changes to respond to drops in attendance and other cultural changes. Grandstaff said this is about shifting your target audience away from the regulars.

“The focus of too many churches has been keeping the people happy that show up each week and making everything be about them,” Grandstaff said in an email. “My heart has always been for the kids and students in this community because I know what it’s like to grow up in a church where you are bored out of your mind as a kid or a student.”

Those kids who were once doodling on envelopes in the pews are now grown up. Grandstaff wants them to want to go to church. That means changing the approach. And so he hatched a service plan that incorporated comfort in to the very fiber of the service and in the interactions with volunteers.

“One of the things we are passionate about is being authentic,” said Diane Sawyer, first-time guest champion at Hope Church. “We try not to be judgmental about what other people’s mistakes are because we make mistakes as well.”

Comes as you are when no strings are attached 

Jack and I walk through the door, and we are blind.

Once the timer on the screen up front hits zero, the lights fade to nearly black and the band starts to play. We’re five minutes late to church today. Well, I was five minutes late driving to Jack’s dorm at Elon, and he waited for me. So when we walk in, we’re submerged in darkness. I can barely see my hand. Wow will we find our seats?

“Here,” a voice says. A flash of light comes to life in front of us. How? Behind the illumination, I make out a woman with blonde hair in a Hope4NC T-shirt. We’re saved! As I get situated in a seat next to Jack with this stranger’s help, I can’t help but find myself in awe. They think of everything. And it’s always no strings attached.

Jack was the one that found Hope Church, and that’s why he kept coming back. That’s why his raving compelled me to join and why I’ve been continually drawn back. It’s laid back and meets you where you are. Where other churches failed to captivate me, this one clicked.

That’s also what set Hope Church apart for Jennifer Hanpole, position leader over guest services at Hope Church, who started going to the services three years ago. Hanpole drives from High Point every Sunday to volunteer with the church.

“I was a single mom at that time, working, and it was the first place where I could come to church and no one would really judge me,” Hanpole said. “I could actually sit in church and it feel welcome … It kind of felt like home.”

Every tiniest detail is geared toward making people feel comfortable. Why is it so dark? So you don’t feel like you’re being stared at. Why is the music so loud? So you can sing without feeling judged. The no-pressure environment makes it easy to engage.

“The come-as-you-are mentality … it’s probably the purest form of worship,” Jack said.

At the start of each sermon, Grandstaff announces that the church will give a Bible to anyone who doesn’t own one. And after I filled out a connection card my second Sunday there, I went to a booth outside the auditorium and received a free mug. No judgment. No expectations. Just kindness.

“We’re not trying to put on this façade that we’re perfect people,” Peter Sawyer said. “We’re just regular people that believe in Christ.”

I was most surprised three days later when I walked home from class, music blaring through my ear buds, and found a postcard in the mailbox by the door. It was addressed to me.

Blake, It was so nice meeting you Sunday. I am glad it was your second time back and hope that you join us again! Have a great week! -Tyler

I couldn’t pick Tyler out of a lineup, but that postcard has been resting on the shelf above my desk for months.

Something about Hope makes it seem like no other

Little droplets of rain ricochet off the tires to form a grey haze behind every car. I can only tell it’s water and not smoke when my windshield wipers quickly clear the fresh layer of wetness that has accumulated on the glass. I have two papers due the next day and work in an hour and a half — I need to get back — but the water flying in all directions keeps my right foot treading lightly on the gas pedal.

Maybe I could have stayed home — spent my Sunday collecting precious sleep instead of adding another far-away obligation to this world where time is divided like pieces of cake. Then the rain, my homework and my near-empty gas tank would’ve been problems I could have delayed addressing — even if only for an hour.

The changing millennial culture may seem to pose a threat to the survival of churches across the nation, but it’s not a problem without solutions. It’s a challenge. A call to evolve. And for Hope Church, that change has paid off.

Somehow the magnet of this church was strong enough to pull me out of bed at 9:30 a.m. and down the highway for a 40-minute drive almost every weekend this semester. Yes, seeing my brother every week is its own motivation, but there’s something about this place. It’s unlike any other church I’ve experienced.

“We realize that the vision for our church is not necessarily the vision that God has given to other churches,” Grandstaff said. “However, it is who God has called us to be.”


Edited by Ryan Wilusz