Amid a culture of artistic flight, Triangle offers N.C. artists a haven close to home

By Janna Childers

Kellyn Thornburg was 20 years old, hair freshly died platinum blond and chopped off at the nape of her neck, with one very large suitcase stuffed full of thrift store T-shirts and leotards. It was August of 2015, and she was waiting at the Charlotte-Douglass International Airport for a  flight to New York City.

Back in May, Thornburg graduated from the UNC School of the Arts with a degree in contemporary dance. After a summer spent bouncing between her college city of Winston-Salem and her rural hometown of Dallas, North Carolina, Thornburg was hungry for change. So, she found an apartment in Harlem and booked her flight.

“I straight up moved to Harlem, and Harlem is a whole different world in and of itself,” Thornburg said. “It was a huge shock at first. But coming from Dallas, North Carolina, there just wasn’t anything out here.”

Thornburg’s story follows a familiar story of young, burgeoning artists, tired of the lack of inspiration in their hometown, flocking to the open arms of a gritty city. And despite musician Patti Smith’s warning to young artists from a 2010 blog post on Vanishing New York — “You have to find the new place because New York City has been taken away from you” — New York has remained the most popular choice, especially for those interested in contemporary art and media. According to the U.S. Census, from 2010 to 2012, the city saw a 40,000-person spike in individuals identifying as artists.

But what happens to the towns these artists leave behind? Is there an art vacuum? Despite the notion that suggests art is dead across America’s small towns and suburbs, the Triangle area of North Carolina offers an alternative. It might not be considered the most exciting and inspiring place for young creatives, but there are certainly a number of locals who take the art world seriously.

Going elsewhere

Wayne Marcelli is a painter from Myrtle Beach. He has an armful of tattoos, thin-rimmed glasses and gauges in his ears. And despite having roots in North Carolina, he plans to move away after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill’s graduate studio art.

“The department is kind of an incubator, but once you graduate, you go elsewhere unless you’re going to work at the school,” Marcelli said. “Teaching jobs around here are kind of dried up. And at least in the art department here, when they’re hiring new people they generally don’t hire from within the department.”

Aaron Mandel, founder of the Durham-based media company Clarion Content, said he thinks the Triangle, with its economic success, has become a place for yuppies. He describes the “glory days” of the Durham art scene, back in the ’80s and ’90s when it was a city known for high crime rates and low incomes. He draws parallels between gentrification and what he deems to be the success of the art scene in a city.

“Durham was the sort of place where it was possible for artists to find ground-level opportunities and cheap studios. It’s the same story of the Village in New York, or SoHo,” Mandel said. “Now it’s priced artists out. I think if you study the places where art is made, it tends to be more of those edgy places, more of those places where conflict is really present. Because if you’re in safe, comfortable, suburbia, what do you really need art for?”

But Marcelli wanted to clarify that he didn’t fully agree with the idea that art always came from a place a struggle.

“That could be a misconception, because like a good chuck of the celebrity artists, people who show all over New York City and have pages in art forum, they have generally privileged upbringings,” he said. “They’ve been immersed in that world for a long time. I personally agree that turmoil is a really good generator, but I don’t think that’s the case across the board.”

People move for all sorts of reasons, and artists are no different. They may be priced out of their neighborhood downtown or feel that box stores and model homes are no longer inspiring. Or maybe it’s a trend because the marketplace makes it necessary to have a concentration of network and resources for a particular industry. Whatever the reason, in the United States, many artists tend to be pretty mobile people.

Creative thinkers  

Patrick Hitesman puts his students first. He is a busy man — carting his daughter off to middle school, commuting to work every morning from Apex to Durham, teaching high school students how to paint and maintaining a gallery space in Pittsboro. Hitesman has spent 23 years teaching painting, and he’s spent the past four at Durham School of the Arts. But he said it’s common for students to forget that he’s also a working artist in the Triangle art community.

Art education is messy terrain, with wary parents and a persistent drought of federal funding. But art teachers and schools across the state are still finding ways to make it work.

Art educators find a surprising amount of community support, especially in the Triangle. Since 1995, Durham School of the Arts has offered students a choice in one of 10 concentrations, including visual arts, dance and theater. Graduates from the school often pursue degrees across the country. UNC School of the Arts also has programs that train high school and college students for visual and performing arts careers.

Darrell Thompson, who also works at Durham School of the Arts, has been teaching photography at the school for 20 years.

“The thing about education in sort of a broad brushstroke is you want kids to be creative thinkers. And there’s no better way to do that than giving them a simple set of skills, a project they need to accomplish and then turning them loose to go do it,” he said. When you’re talking to parents though, it gets tough, because not all parents who are my age did what I did to get thorough college. They were doctors, they were lawyers, they were mechanics, they are physician’s assistants. To them, without science and math, there is no future.”

Navigating the market

Art teachers aren’t alone in being engines of the art community. There are also a number of people in consulting that work specifically with artists to help them navigate the art market. Heather Allen is one such person. Allen studied art and design as an undergraduate student, but she quickly realized she longed to teach and see people thrive. After earning a graduate degree in business, she started consulting in 2012, focusing on creative small business out of Raleigh — mostly writers and artists who want to sell their work. She’s now mostly consults older business owners who have been in the industry for years and need help managing new media platforms.

“A lot of those [marketing] models that were popular and predictable in the ’90s and the early 2000s now come with sometimes higher costs,” Allen said. “I encourage people to see the opportunities on the internet in a way that allows them to reduce cost and increase visibility.”

Allen is among several consultants for artists in the Raleigh-Durham area, but she works with people in several states. There are also several organizations that serve as resources for artists in the area, including Triangle ArtWorks, The ArtsCenter in Carrboro and the public art offices in Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh.

‘Something really beautiful about the struggle’

Whether you yearn to up and move to the big city or hunker down and try to make it in your hometown, there are inevitable challenges an artist must face. One could simply be choosing a path — do you freelance, teach? Own your own business, go to school?

Thornburg is a little nervous about the next few years. She freelanced in New York City for more than a year — interning for Twyla Tharp, performing at Lincoln Center, picking up gigs in music videos and flash mobs. She recently accepted a position as the regional creative director for Salvation Army. While she’s glad to have a steady income, she said she’s found it difficult to find as much time for dance.

“For this job, I’m sort of hoping it’s a stepping stone for my dance career instead of this just being it, you know,” she said. “Eventually, my goal is to save up enough money to go back to grad school and get my masters in arts management and/or dance and create my own company and be able to create my own work from there.”

In the meantime, she’s enjoying her job and spending time getting to know the greater New York area, often driving hours to visit a site in her designated region. Thornburg says she’s not afraid of the harder times she has faced and might face in the future.

“There’s something really beautiful about the struggle that you face as an artist because it feeds into whatever you’re trying to portray through your movement, or the film that you’re making or the story that you’re writing,” she said.

“I think you just have to go for it and you realize that it’s not as scary as you make it out to be.”

Edited by Danny Nett

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

Vietnamese immigrants find the American dream at Nail Trix Salon

By Colleen Brown

We’ve all seen it before. Manicure stations on the left, pedicure on the right, with light decor, posters and fake potted plants placed at seemingly random intervals. Sinks are located in the back and mirrors tacked on opposite walls reflect images back and forth smaller and smaller to a greenish-tinted infinity. There’s stereotypical easy listening music in the background and a rack of brightly colored nail polishes on one wall. A small room in the back of the salon has a stiff white table and bright lighting where customers lay down to have hair waxed off their eyebrows and upper lips.

The workers spend most of their time attending to customers who stubbornly keep trying to use their phones while their nails are drying.

Nail technicians peel old polish off fingers, clip cuticles and file down nails. Customers get to pick a new color from the wall, or if they want a gel manicure, from a little basket filled with rings of brightly painted plastic nails. For pedicures, customers get their feet and calves washed and smothered in lotion. Their callouses and bunions are scrubbed away using a loofah and elbow grease. Two to three coats of polish, then a quick dry under a UV or LED lamp and customers are out within an hour.

A worker at Nail Trix helps customers pick out colors for gel nails.
Toan Pham helps customers pick out colors for gel nails at Nail Trix nail salon.

There are more than 17,000 nail salons in the U.S. according to census data. Manicures aren’t just for special occasions anymore.

I myself am a frequent visitor to Chapel Hill’s salon, Nail Trix, just off Franklin Street. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve been going for almost two years and never even bothered to learn any of the workers’ names. Customers come in, get their nails done and leave. Never once have I seen any customer seriously engage with a technician. Even if customers wanted to, most of the workers are Vietnamese and the language barrier  stymies conversations and prevents understanding.

In spite of these roadblocks, I found the workers at Nail Trix to be friendly and open. They were willing to speak with a young journalism student about their lives, despite the fact that they didn’t really understand why they deserve to be written about in the first place.

Making the adjustment

I spoke with two technicians, Toan Pham and Anhthu Ngo, as I was getting my nails painted.

Toan Pham is perhaps the smallest fully grown woman I have ever met. The 32-year-old comes to about my shoulder, if that. Pham has short, straight black hair and rocked Coach designer glasses with a chic yellow blazer. I let her talk me into painting my nails a bright poison green as I spoke with her and Ngo.

Pham moved from Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, to North Carolina two years ago with her husband Hieu Nguyen and four-year-old daughter Han. Pham used to be a preschool teacher. She stopped sanding my nails with a square nail buffer in order to articulate, more through gestures than words, how she would teach the children drawing, music and writing.

“I want to be teacher again,” Pham said. But her daughter Han, Americanized as Hannah, knows more English than she does. And until Pham’s English improves exponentially, it’s unlikely she’ll be hired as a preschool teacher.

This demotion in careers, I soon came to realize, was a common theme among the workers. It seemed to be the price for a life in America.

When asked what she liked most about America, Pham said, “Americans nice people, very kind. And is so clean here.”

Ngo seemed more like a mother to me than any of the other workers. Ngo goes by the first name of Sophie, a name she picked after quitting her job as a realtor in Vietnam and moving to America. She’s 46 and is short with mid-length black hair, dark eyes and warm skin.

Her English is good, a result of living in the U.S. for 10 years. She married her husband, Jack Bui, 25 years ago in Vietnam.

“And you ask me if he handsome — yes,” Ngo said of her husband. We giggled like teenage girls. “I hope so, I keep him.”

I was struck by how comfortable and organic the conversation felt. The women were funny and open.

“You good person, with good heart,” Ngo said when I explained why I wanted to write about these women, and how their lives and stories were so interesting. “Good people with good heart do good things.”

Ngo said that while she still misses Vietnam, each year, she misses it less and less.

“The first year I come here, I learn little English,” Ngo said. “I was sad a lot. But now, 10 years, I better. And I understand a lot of English and now I love Chapel Hill. I love North Carolina. And the last year I be back in my country three weeks, but I missed here a lot.”

‘Vietnam is my family’s country’

Tina Ngo, who shares a last name with Anhthu but is not related, is small as well, with a well-lined face and heavily penciled in eyebrows. She wore chunky flip-flops with black socks. It was a slow afternoon, with just one customer in for a pedicure, as we sat and talked between the nail polishes and the register at the front of the salon.

Ngo moved to the U.S. in 2006 from Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, with her son.

“When I came here I had no choice,” Ngo said. “I try to help my son in school by work.” Ngo gave up a managerial position at a company that sold kitchen equipment so her son could receive a better education.

Ngo is proud of her son, Kaiser, who is in his first year of medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill on a full scholarship. Kaiser was 13 when he picked his American name. Kaiser means “emperor” in German, which he picked because of his love for the German national soccer team.

Ngo was born in 1959. As she sat in the plastic waiting chair, bouncing a flip-flop off one foot, it hit me. She lived through the Vietnam War.

“My daddy was police officer,” she said. “My mom work for Marine.”

Ngo’s father was jailed for almost a decade following the war because of his allegiance to the South Vietnamese Army.

“Some people die in jail, or still in jail,” Ngo said. Her parents, in their eighties now, still live in Vietnam.

Ngo gained her American citizenship a few years ago. “I took a promise,” Ngo said as she looked directly into my eyes. “One country is my country. This is my country. Vietnam is my family’s country.”

Vy Nguyen wandered over to me in-between drying breaks for her customer’s nails. She breaks the streak of small women in the salon, clocking in at a towering five feet four inches. Nguyen wears her hair in a ponytail and has a habit of shuffling nervously from foot to foot and fiddling with her small wire-framed glasses.

Nguyen grew up in Danang, a major port city famous for its seafood and beaches. She told me about Vietnamese food, consisting mainly rice and noodles, as well as pork, chicken and goat.

Vincent Tran, the only male worker at Nail Trix, jokingly added “dogs and cats” to the list of foods from the opposite side of the room where he was painting a woman’s nails. We all laughed.

Nguyen’s mother and brother convinced her to live in the U.S. with them. She studied business and learned some English back in Vietnam, and I asked why she works at Nail Trix instead of going to school.

“You start again at zero when you come here, everything you start over,” Nguyen said. “I come to learn a lot. All the English and all the customs. I make good money. I want to go to school so it’s better for me. But I need to learn English first.”

Nguyen had to cut our conversation short when her customer’s UV light timer went off.

Finding the American dream

Working at Nail Trix pays a decent salary, especially on busier days when up to 60 people visit the salon.

The older women seemed content with their job. But the younger women see Nail Trix more as a stepping stone. It helps their English improve and pays enough for them to save up for school.

These women share similar stories, backgrounds and hopes for the future. They love and respect America and do not this country for granted. They gave up more respectable careers in Vietnam to move to the U.S. They had to start over with virtually nothing.

For all their hardships, these women are putting their children through school. They make their own money. They are improving their English and have earned or are in the process of earning American citizenship.

“I am American dream,” Tina Ngo said. I had to agree.

Edited by Hannah Smoot

Carrboro Farmers’ Market provides community, sustainability

By Leah Asmelash

An old man sells handmade mugs in a corner, in the same spot every week. He smiles and converses with the vendors and customers around him, pointing at different mugs and grinning with almost every sentence. Across from him, a farmer with three tables filled with different types of mushrooms leans against his truck, while his daughter collects money from customers. There are signs for ethically-raised meat and local dairy up ahead.

A few feet away from the vendors, kids run around on the open grass, playing soccer with a muddy yellow ball. Vans are parked on the grass, some with names of farms on the side. Everyone seems to be talking to someone else – farmers talking to customers and other farmers. They speak with the friendliness of people who have known each other for years, but they could have just met that morning.

This is the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, where every Saturday and Wednesday, dozens of farmers set up tables filled with fresh, local produce and meat. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of customers come to the market every week to shop, chatting with the farmers about new products and what’s good that week.

Although farmers’ markets can be fun for community members, the life of a farmer is not glamorous. It involves early mornings, mud, sweat, animals, animal feces and animal carcasses. It involves early mornings at farmers’ markets and pulling bugs off crops, high costs and hard labor with minimal profits. So what drives people to choose this life – a life without health benefits, a small paycheck and self-employment?

Cane Creek Farm

For Eliza MacLean, owner of Cane Creek Farm in Graham, it was love.

“I was fascinated,” she said, recalling her earlier days managing a pig herd at North Carolina A&T State University. “I fell head over heels in love.”

Although MacLean had worked with and studied animals for many years prior, she said she didn’t know anything about pigs when she started managing the herd. Working with the pigs made her realize she had a tender spot in her heart for livestock, and she became involved in evaluating farms and meat quality for hog production in North Carolina.

Three years later, Peter Kaminsky, author and writer for The New York Times, was searching for someone to care for a herd of rare Ossabaw Island hogs. MacLean was the first suggestion he received, and thus Cane Creek Farm was born, devoted to ethical raising of livestock.

Now, Cane Creek Farm is over 15-years-old. MacLean has pigs available every day of the year, harvesting three to five pigs for her butcher shop and a few more to sell at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.

Customer Driven

When talking about the slaughtering process, MacLean said she tries to cater to the customers’ desires and do what works best for her community.

“For me, that’s why I’m so small,” she said. “I want to be able to see my community. I want people to know my little story and be able to see my animals and see what they eat, know why they’re paying a little bit more.”

But no one knows the animals, loves the animals, more than MacLean. She’s the one that feeds them every day and prepares them for sale. She takes them to slaughter herself, in a trailer that she says smells like them, and she’s around the animals when they are killed.

“My kids say I treat them as well as I treat the pigs,” she said with a laugh, before further explaining her rationale.

“I want everyone to have room to be what they want to be,” she said. “A pig gets to be a pig, a chicken gets to be a chicken.”

Ethical Breeding

Despite how well she treats them, the animals are always brought to slaughter and sold.

“It doesn’t make real intuitive sense to raise something to certain death,” she said. “But again it wouldn’t be there in the first place if I hadn’t raised it, and it’s doing a good thing for my land, it’s having a nice life while it’s alive, it’s good for consumer – it all makes sense to me.”

Still, MacLean admits it is not always easy.

“It’s sad a lot of the time,” she said.

The sadness doesn’t stop her from having fun though, which she always makes sure to include in her busy schedule.

“I plan my breeding this time of year so that I’m not having babies in August, and we can be flying off rope swings and doing things that are much more appropriate for August than everybody completely stressed because it’s so friggin’ hot,” she said.

MacLean doesn’t sleep much. Instead, she floats down the Haw River while drinking a beer and kayaks in the moonlight. Her kids, both 16-years-old, chase her up mountains. These playful times are important to her, and she makes sure she doesn’t take on too much work so that there’s always, even in the middle of a workday, time for play.

Turtle Run Farm

Two miles away, on the other side of the Haw River, husband-and-wife duo Kevin and Kim Meehan grow organic vegetables on Turtle Run Farm. Before owning the farm, they were in the construction business and originally bought the land to build a house. But Kim had always loved gardening. Gradually, a few rows of vegetables turned into a few plots. In 1996, Turtle Run Farm was born.

Two years later, Kim applied for a spot at the competitive Carrboro Farmers’ Market. She said they weren’t expecting to be accepted, but they ultimately were. They began selling their produce at the Wednesday market, but eventually moved up to the Saturday one.

“Once we got into the Saturday market, we kicked it into high gear,” Kevin said.

Afterwards, their crop production continued to grow to keep up with demand, so much that they began selling honeysuckle bouquets and strawberries which grew naturally on their property, just so they would have something to sell.

They both admit that farming is exhausting, but they enjoy their job because it’s never boring.

“Farming is very satisfying work and at the end of the day you are physically exhausted but mentally enriched,” Kevin said. “Farming is always changing as the seasons come and go, and the weather and tons of other variables create challenges.”

Environmental Advocacy

For the Meehans, their farm is also a type of environmental advocacy, and they refuse to use chemicals and pesticides on their crops. Although Turtle Run is not a certified organic farm, the two are dedicated environmentalists and did not see any other way to farm besides organically.

“(Using pesticides) just never occurred to us,” Kim said.

Since they don’t use sprays and chemicals, Kim said they learned through trial and error which crops will bring a lot of bugs to their land and which ones won’t. That’s the reason why they never sell carrots, she said. They’re too difficult to manage with the bugs and critters they attract. Instead, they try to keep the bugs in check by planting flowers and plants that bloom in order to attract beneficial insects, like ladybugs, to help with pest control.

Farming Community

They also enjoy the community farming has given them, saying the Carrboro Farmers’ Market is a social network just as much as a business network. Local farmers throw parties or host farm-to-fork dinners and other events to bring the farmering community together.

“It’s a tremendous social farmer’s club,” Kim said.

It was the Carrboro Farmers’ Market that pushed the Meehans to move to the area in the first place, figuring that if they had a nice farmers’ market, the town must be pretty nice too.

“It’s a very friendly market,” Kim said.

Kim said the market was one of the best she’s been to in the country.

Alex Rike, assistant manager of the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, agrees, but he says friendliness isn’t the only reason consumers come back week after week.

Buying Local

“It’s a form of consumer activism,” Rike said. “When (customers) spend their dollars at the market, they know they’re supporting their neighbor and, with the case at CFM, someone within 50 miles of where they live. And they get to know their farmer. They get to know that their food is fresh – it’s been picked within the week. They can ask questions about the growing practices.”

MacLean prides herself on the social and economic effects Cane Creek Farm, and local farms in general, have on the community.

“My land is open,” she said. “The cross-country kids run their cross-country meets through the farm. There’s a 5K that combines land in Saxapahaw and goes through the farm. Teaching people about what these animals are really like, how funny, how curious, how smart, how dignified. And keeping the money in that community. What I’m growing is being sold to my neighbors and it makes me feel really good.”

It makes Kevin and Kim feel good too. For both MacLean and the Meehans, their farms serve as ethically raised and organic offerings to their community. So what’s a little hard work for something you love, for something that brings you and your community so much joy?

Edited by Sarah Muzzillo

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

Chapel Hill prepares for the final chapter of The BookShop

By Audrey Wells

Elmo stood watch at the door. On his hind legs, he stared skeptically at each new customer, in perfect position to pounce if necessary. He dared them to stare back and scoffed with disapproval when they failed to meet his gaze.

The musky perfume of well-worn books engulfed the entire store. Elmo, a gray tabby, purred softly as another visitor stopped to pet him.  Secondhand books from all genres lined the walls: “Absalom, Absalom!”, “Heart of Darkness”, “Jane Eyre”, “One for the Money” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” are among the titles.

A man in a tan suit walked to the register. He was balding, tufts of gray hair sticking out on the sides of his head with a small earring gleaming in his right ear.

“I’m sorry to hear you’re closing,” the man said.

“Yeah, it’s sad, but we had a good run,” Martin Hall, the man behind the register, said optimistically. He was wearing a simple gray sweater that matched his graying hair. His wire-rimmed glasses reflected the computer screen where he was cataloging “new arrivals” to the store.

The man in the tan suit lingered at the counter in silence, his furrowed brow suggested he was thinking of what to say next.

Finally the man said, “I’m from Washington D.C. I’m only down once a year, and I always stop in here. I’ll try to stop by tomorrow since it’ll be my last time.”

“Of course, come on in and see us,” Hall responded.

The man in the suit nodded, turned and walked out the door.

After that, a calm silence fell over the store. Red, another cat in the shop, meandered out from behind a shelf, finding a new place to people-watch between shelves of mystery books. Unfazed by the floors creaking behind him, Red fixed his gaze on a middle-aged woman perusing a Janet Evanovich novel. He watched this woman’s every move through the store until the gray-haired man behind the counter said they were closing shop for the night.

Hall ushered the few remaining patrons out the door and started his nightly closing routine: feeding the cats and closing the register. These tasks took him about 15 minutes and then he turned off the lights, locked the doors and went on his way. Only 186 days until he would be closing up shop for the last time.

Background

The Bookshop, a rare and used bookstore, has been a long-standing establishment at 400 W. Franklin St. in Chapel Hill.  Currently, it’s the only secondhand bookstore on the town’s main road. But, the building’s owner said it’s hard to maintain the old 1940s era building. The store owner, different from the building owner, lives in San Jose, California. He has opted not to renew the lease that runs out July 31.

So, The Bookshop will be closing its doors after a 32-year run and Elmo and Red will be moving into a new home with a former employee.

Bill Loeser, who opened the store with Linda Saaremaa in 1985, didn’t start his independent book-selling career in Chapel Hill. He opened his first store in New Bern, but he said there weren’t many books sold there.

“The secondhand bookshop that had been in Chapel Hill for a long time went out of business in 1981, so I moved to Chapel Hill and opened my individually owned bookshop,” he said.

Loeser’s first store in Chapel Hill, Keith Martin Bookshop, was located east of Mellow Mushroom, and opened three months before Linda Saaremaa opened Bookends, a nearby competitor.

“We each owned bookstores, and it’s the kind of business that people who own such businesses want to meet and talk shop with,” Loeser said.

Eventually, the two formed a partnership, and opened The Bookshop in July 1985. Together, they started to grow what would become a collection of 80,000 books. For them, selling books is much more fun than selling clothes or groceries or really anything else.

“We wouldn’t have had bookstores if we weren’t interested in books or reading,” Loeser said.

A Fond Memory

For him, the best part of owning a secondhand bookstore was going out and buying books. One time, Loeser got a call from a woman who he assumed was about as old as he is now, 74. She said her mother had been a book collector many years ago, and that he should come take a look at what her mother had collected. So, he drove out to her small town and paid a visit.

He followed her upstairs where she pulled down the attic stairs and disappeared momentarily. Minutes later, she came teetering back down with two enormous books in her arms. He looked at the first one, which was nothing remarkable.

Loeser, worried that he might go home with nothing to show, grabbed the second book. It was two feet tall and thick, and it was old. Loeser realized just how old when he saw the title: “National History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama, Third Edition. This book, by Mark Catesby, was originally published in 1771, and this edition had enormous hand-colored pictures of alligators, Billy goats and other animals from the regions.

In a situation like this, the goal is to remain calm and not tip off the seller, but Loeser said he couldn’t do that with this book.

“I regret to report, I said ‘Oh my God!’” he said.

New Owner, New Management

Loeser and Saaremaa owned and operated the store until 2007, when they made the decision to retire. That same year, a woman from San Jose, California who had recently moved to Mebane, North Carolina came into the store and saw “For Sale” signs. She then contacted her former boss, Eric Johnson and convinced him to buy the store.

The acquisition was the third bookstore for Johnson. He placed management of the store with Betty Schumacher, a woman who had always dreamed of owning a bookstore. In her 10th year as the store’s manager, she said The Bookshop brings in about $400,000 a year, but sales have been flat for eight years.

“I can’t say it[the business model] doesn’t work because it is a thriving business in one sense, it’s just that the sales have been flat,” Schumacher said. “The owner has two other stores in California that are doing much better, so he’s trying to simplify his life.”

Lasting Impressions

Schumacher has seen 10 years of UNC students and people from all over the East Coast visiting the shop.

“It’s the only one of its kind on Franklin Street,” she said. “It’s the only one of its kind, I’d almost say in the state.”

But that’s not what she enjoys most about the store. She loves to see young families come into the store with their children. Many kids come to play with the cats, but Schumacher is delighted when they come in to read. The store has a large children’s section, and it brings a smile to Schumacher’s face when children come in to look at the books, read them and sometimes buy them.

Schumacher watches out for one girl in particular. The girl, probably no more than 7 or 8-years-old, proudly walks into the store to give Schumacher recommendations.

“They were great suggestions,” Schumacher said. “I would just write down everything she told me, and we would try to get ahold of them.”

Johnson, the store’s owner, said Chapel Hill and the Bookshop house a different community than in San Jose. Once, while in the store, he said an older woman came in and Johnson thought for sure that she came in to look at mystery or romance. But, Johnson said he was shocked when the woman came to the counter and asked where she could find the academic books and told him what book she was looking for.

“It’s refreshing and rewarding to be in such an academic community,” he said. “The community that comes really wants us here.”

As the owners of the building, Loeser and Saaremaa have gone from shop owners to landlords, and they have worked with Johnson and Schumacher for the past 10 years. About two years ago, Loeser said The Bookshop owners decided to renew their lease, without a key stipulation they had kept in the other renewals.

“The lease had a stipulation in it that they would have the right to renew the lease, and [this time] they did not ask for that revision,” Loeser said.

Without this provision, there wasn’t a guarantee the tenant would be The Bookshop when the lease was up, so Loeser and Saaremaa decided to put the building up for sale.

Meg McGurk, the executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, understands the value of bookstores in a college town. She said people in college towns like Chapel Hill, want places to learn and engage with creative thinking and ideas, and The Bookshop is that place.

“It’s place where students have sold books, where professors have had students go and buy books,” McGurk said. “It was a local bookshop, and that brought a lot of value.”

But its impact on the town or the smell of old books are not what Schumacher will miss most. She said she will miss the store itself the most because it was the closest to owning a bookstore she will ever get.

“I’ll miss the smell, I’ll miss the books and I’ll miss buying books and seeing all the new stuff that comes in, and talking about books with the customers. I love to make recommendations when people say they’re stymied and they need something good to read. I’ll miss it all,” Schumacher said.

Loeser compared the closing of the bookshop to losing a family dog. He said he couldn’t choose what he would miss most because that’s like asking what you’d miss most about having a dog. He hopes someone will open a new store, like the one he opened back in 1985, but he’ll have to wait and see.

“Just the idea of there being such a place around, makes life a little bit better,” he said.

Edited by Travis Butler

Late-night food trucks transform Tar Heel town into taco town

By Blake Richardson

Someone painted a giant mural over the brick walls of the garage — a field of grass and rocks under a light blue sky. It looks like it’s been there forever and probably took months to paint.

But it’s hard to pay much attention to the mural because the old school bus in the parking lot is captivating the crowd of customers.

Blue and purple string lights resembling glow sticks snake around the outline of the bus, which is covered in light blue paint — even the windows.

There’s an opening on the right side of the bus where a line of people wait for a late-night meal from City Bus Burritos and Tacos.

A menu boasting treats like tacos and quesadillas overhangs the opening to the food truck, where a couple of workers take orders and prepare food under florescent lighting that poses a stark contrast in the dimly lit parking lot. The young locals wait for food while watching a Spanish soap opera on the small TV that hangs on the side of the bus.

City Bus is just outside the earshot of music blasting down Franklin Street blocks to the right. The song ‘Pumpin Blood’ by NONONO comes from Chapel Hill Tire’s parking lot, where a crowd surrounds Mexican food truck Monterrey.

If the City Bus workers look past the line of customers, they can see the flashing lights of a small sign in the distance. Up close, the word “taco” on the sign becomes clear, and it  lures pedestrians to Mexican food truck Taqueria el Tejano.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro are dotted with food trucks, from the Parlez-Vous Crepe truck, to donut truck Dough Broughs, to a truck that’s the brainchild of Sup Dogs and Pantana Bob’s.  But the most competitive market is arguably the late-night taco. In a town where it seems at least one restaurant goes out of business each year, these trucks thrive despite the concentrated competition.

‘GOOD FOOD, GOOD SERVICE’

Mac is the owner of City Bus, but he won’t tell you that. He wouldn’t even share his last name.

“I don’t like titles,” he said.

The bus may look playful with its glowing lights, pictures of food and seemingly endless handwritten menu items. But Mac is dedicated to business. Even when it was too early for customers to start forming a line, he was busy working on a screen that was barely visible when looking up at him seated inside the truck.

“Good service, good food,” Mac said. “That’s what I want.”

It’s Mac’s outgoing, kind personality that makes City Bus the favorite food truck for Winston Pace, a Carrboro resident and part-time UNC-Chapel Hill student.

“He’s a real character,” Pace said. “He’s just awesome.”

City Bus came to Chapel Hill in 2011, but Mac said he’s been in the food truck business for about 10 years. City Bus has taken off, drawing a crowd of young students and the occasional older Carrboro resident.

“You can ask the people everywhere about City Bus, and they’ll tell you good food, good service,” Mac said.

City Bus brings a spicy flair to its food. Bottles of the bus’s sauce — one red and one green — sit on the metal windowsill of the truck with a plate hanging above. The words “our sauce is very spicy, hot hot” are written on the plate in red ink.

The homemade sauce is another standout for Pace. And he likes that he can customize his food.

Mac is proud of City Bus’s unique taste.

“People want to eat something different,” he said.

A FAMILIAR NAME 

Hans Vargas, one of two people working at the Monterrey food truck, goes to work at 6 p.m. on a Friday.

He doesn’t finish until 3 a.m.

Vargas works the same hours on Saturday. For each of the three taco trucks, these are two of the busiest nights each week.

“It’s food for students,” Vargas said.

Drunken students, to be exact. Vargas said most of Monterrey’s customers stop by the food truck after a night out at a Chapel Hill bar. Most are happy, some are flirtatious, but all are hungry for Mexican food.

With fresh green paint, flashing lights and menus with light-up borders, Monterrey is the most polished looking of the food trucks. The vehicle is even equipped with a stereo to blast music.

But Vargas said the food sets Monterrey apart.

“Everything is fresh,” he said.

The food at Monterrey is restaurant-quality because Monterrey did not start out as a food truck.

Monterrey began as a Chapel Hill restaurant in 1996 and later opened a second location in Carrboro. The food truck is the newest addition to the business, and it can be found about halfway between the two restaurants.

The food truck offerings, which are prepared at the restaurant beforehand, are just a sample of some items on Monterrey’s menu.

Vargas has been working at Monterrey’s food truck for six months, and he has seen the business prosper. In fact, sometimes the truck gets so busy that four workers cram inside instead of two.

On slow nights, the truck brings in revenue by renting the spots in Chapel Hill Tire’s parking lot — free for customers, but $5 for everyone else.

While City Bus is Pace’s favorite, he comes to Monterrey at least three times each week to grab some food after work. He enjoys the variety of items on Monterrey’s  menu.

“They also sell chips, which none of the other ones do,” Pace said.

But Vargas said the competition doesn’t affect Monterrey too much because the other two trucks draw more customers from Carrboro.

“It’s too much taco trucks,” Vargas said. “Only in Chapel Hill is only one.”

FAMILY FLAVORS

Taqueria el Tejano is the fifth truck that 23-year-old owner Roberto Garcia’s family has operated.

Garcia is from Houston, Texas, and his family opened a food truck called El Taquito when Garcia was 5 years old. The family moved to North Carolina when he was 9 years old and started selling the food at night to people working in factories and tobacco fields in Henderson.

The right side of the metallic truck is covered with pictures and colorful signs describing items on the menu. A collection of colorful Jarritos sodas in glass bottles rest against the window of the truck. Positioned at the front of the nearly empty Wings Over parking lot, Taqueria el Tejano radiates light.

“We have our own style, our unique flavor,” Garcia said.

This truck is Victoria Garcia’s favorite. The Carrboro resident comes once a week for a corn taco with lime, lettuce, tomato, cheese and other toppings. She pairs the treat with a Jarritos soda. She prefers the truck because of the quality of the meat.

“It has no fat,” she said while sitting at the small wooden table propped next to the truck. “And it’s juicy.”

Roberto Garcia’s mom prepares the food at home each day for her son to sell at night. The family recipe traces back to Garcia’s grandmother, giving the food truck an authentic flavor of San Luís Potosí, the Mexican region that Garcia’s mom is from.

Taqueria el Tejano draws a wide variety of customers, including students, residents, visitors at nearby hotel and Tar Heels fans going to catch a game.

Roberto Garcia’s favorite part about the business is his interactions with a wide array of people — from the friendly conversations to a “thank you” at the cash register.

“Good food to people, that’s always good to see,” he said.

COMPETITION OR CAHOOTS?

Pace has a theory that the three food trucks are in cahoots.

“I have always wondered if they had connections to each other in any way, or if it’s some sort of taco mafia going on,” he said. “That’s a true mystery of the town.”

Do they buy supplies in bulk together to make food cheaper? Or coordinate sales to fix the competition? Pace doesn’t know, but he likes to think there’s something.

If there is a conspiracy between the owners, they’re keeping it well-hid. Mac seemed to hardly notice the competitors nearby.

“I don’t know about what they serve,” Mac said. “I care about mine.”

Vargas also did not seem worried about competition because Monterrey is the closest to downtown Chapel Hill.

Victoria Garcia suspects early restaurant closing times allow the food trucks to thrive. Because they’re the only places open, the three trucks can dominate late-night business.

“I love other restaurants,” she said. “But I’m not hungry before 9 p.m.”

Each truck caters to its niche — a group of loyalists who decide which truck they like best and keep coming back. Those customers allow each truck to prosper.

“Everyone you ask will have a different favorite,” Pace said.

Roberto Garcia said he appreciates the competition.

“It makes you want to be better,” he said. “Makes you want your service to be better, your food to be better.

“So it betters you as a person and as a business owner.”

Edited by Ryan Wilusz