Local author breeds success out of setbacks

She was an infant with no father. A talented student with no money for college. A newlywed with an unexpected baby.

Local author Jennifer Busfield signs books at Local Yogurt April 10. The book signing was planned by the Elon Microfinance Initiative, which works to support local and international business owners.

Writing may come easily to local author Jennifer Busfield, but not much else in her life has.  Described as “refreshing” by her friends and family, Busfield, with her inviting smile and bold presence, is someone people want to be around. But it was her difficult upbringing and dedication to success that gave Busfield this enthusiasm for life.

Busfield is the author of “Love Letters, Volume 1, Moving On: Growing Up,” and “Love Letters, Volume 2: Being Adult.” Both books are compilations of love letters, with Volume 2 being a longer, more serious collection. To correspond with the books, Busfield founded jabsloveletters.com, a website that encourages users to submit their own love letters.

The books and the website send the same message — “I love you” isn’t said enough. Whether it’s to a boyfriend or a best friend, love needs to constantly be expressed. Expressed, perhaps, through love letters.

Growing Up

Busfield was born February 11, 1981 in Jackson Heights, New York to young immigrant parents. Her Columbian mother, Margarita Krassa, married her father shortly after he emigrated from the Dominican Republic. But her father abandoned the relationship, and Busfield, an only child, was raised by Krassa.

In the summer of 1988, Busfield and Krassa moved to Burlington, North Carolina after Krassa’s attempt at a second marriage failed. But Krassa was not financially stable and was forced to work long hours.

“She lived with friends for a while, she did part time jobs, she was very driven, but because of her lack of education, she was always working,” Busfield said. “I was alone a lot. A latchkey kid. I had to get myself home by riding my bike in the dark.”

In 1991, Krassa married Andreas, a German immigrant. Although Busfield was happy for her mother, living with Andreas often proved difficult, she said. Cultural issues were immediately present, and personality clashes became apparent over time.

“I was never something he wanted, but he took on the responsibility because he loved my mom,” she said. “He didn’t really invest in me as he should have, and I, being a little girl wanting to have that daddy figure, I tried a lot. And then somewhere along the way I stopped trying, and we just kind of coexisted within the household.”

Busfield signs copies of her Love Letters books at Local Yogurt April 10.

Despite the frustration and constant disagreements, Busfield considers Andreas the closest thing she’s ever had to a father. Busfield didn’t meet her biological father until she was 28 years old, because although she was interested in communicating with him, her mother and Andreas firmly believed she should have no contact with him.

“As a middle school and high school student, even though (my mom) had already remarried, it was important to me to connect with blood family,” Busfield said. “My stepfather was not keen on the idea, for (my mother’s) sake, but also I guess for mine.”

In addition to deciding Busfield would not see her father, Krassa and Andreas also took a stance on where Busfield should attend college. They gave her three options: work and go to community college, work and save tuition money for a four-year school or go to Bible college. Busfield, who had already submitted applications to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, was not content with the options presented to her.

“I went into my room and sulked for a week,” she said. “But I was very independent and very strong willed, and I was trying to figure out okay, at what point do I do what my parents say, or grow up and do what I want to do.”

Krassa was keen on Busfield attending Bible school because of the evangelical Christian neighborhood the family had moved into when they moved to North Carolina. Busfield attended Sunday School, participated in youth groups and mission trips and attended a local Christian school before transferring to public school her sophomore year of high school. Although the Christian school was academically solid, Busfield said she was frustrated by the lack of recognition of non-Christian higher-education opportunities.

“They just assumed you would go to one of the Christian schools or universities, so they had Christian universities come in and talk about what they do and what they offer,” she said. “Transferring to the public school and being identified quickly as a high grade student, (the college search) turned into an academic pursuit.”

Determined to be academically challenged, Busfield decided she would pay her way through college at UNC Chapel Hill. Her parents purchased the sheets for her dorm bed, but that was the extent of their help. To pay her tuition bills, Busfield worked as a parking attendant, and when she couldn’t pick up enough hours, she took a job at Starbucks. Busfield graduated with a BA in English in August 2003 after taking summer sessions to complete her credit hours.  Although she didn’t have a typical college experience, she has never regretted her decision.

“I’m sure that going to Bible school would have been just fine; it wouldn’t have been as hard,” she said. “But what I’m most proud of is that I evaluated my options, I chose what I wanted, and I made it happen.”

Krassa said Busfield’s determination is one of her most estimable characteristics.

“She is tenacious when she wants something and works hard to achieve it,” Krassa said. “(I admire) her intelligence with just the right amount of humility mixed in.”

Adulthood

In October 2003, Busfield married Kevin Busfield, who she began dating fall semester of her sophomore year at UNC. When Busfield announced her marriage, Krassa pulled out her own wedding album to show to the new couple. This gesture was emotional for Busfield, who had only ever seen her father in the two pictures her grandmother had given her in high school. But Busfield no longer felt an urgent need to speak with her father, she said.

“It was really important, and then I got married, and it wasn’t important anymore,” she said of her longing for a reunion with her father. “It was one of those like, ‘okay, one day.’ Because I have my own family and I need to invest in that.”

Busfield and Kevin decided to wait five years before having a child, and Busfield began working as an 8th grade language arts teacher in the Alamance Burlington School System. She said this was a particularly fun job because she enjoyed interacting with the kids and sprucing up the syllabus.

Busfield speaks about her upcoming projects with senior Kelly Cavanaugh, president of the Elon Microfinance Initiative, at her book signing April 10.

“I followed the curriculum in that we covered the objectives, but that language arts book was so boring,” Busfield said. “I totally loved rocking their worlds with Edgar Allen Poe and “The Lottery,” and I read some O.Henry with them. The classroom was always a blast.”

But before the year was over, Busfield unexpectedly became pregnant and was forced to quit the job. The pregnancy also meant giving up her dream of receiving her Master’s in Education. Busfield took a job at Citi Financial Group and later at LabCorp to support her husband and young son, Rand.

In the spring of 2008, shortly before Rand’s third birthday, Busfield found out Rand was living with high-functioning autism. She began researching early intervention strategies and individualized education plans. She joined online networks for moms with autistic children.

The same year, Busfield received more unexpected news. Her father’s girlfriend had found Kevin’s name associated with Busfield and reached out to Kevin after finding his contact information online. Busfield and her father began emailing back and forth, and later in the year she decided to go to New York to see him.

“They say blood is strong, and I think it’s true,” Busfield said. “You can try and cut family out, but there’s no denying it.”

Upon meeting him, Busfield said it wasn’t so much hard feelings that were present, but more an unavoidable awkwardness.

“Fathers and daughters are supposed to have this great bond and all these sweet moments, and we’ve never had any of that,” she said. “But really, whatever happened between him and my mom was him and my mom.”

Busfield, who was going through her own marriage struggles, said meeting her father as a married woman was helpful in allowing her to understand the complexities of her parents’ relationship. Through connecting with her father, Busfield also found out she had a half-sister, Katherine. Upon meeting her, Busfield saw the same charisma and passion she sees in herself.

But as one relationship began, another was disintegrating. After struggling to make things work with Kevin, Busfield left with Rand for Oklahoma in 2009 to clear her head. She stayed with her friend Shelby, whose husband was away serving in the Air Force.

“It was a highly emotional time, but it was really nice to be in a new space,” Busfield said. “I kind of wish everybody could have their own Oklahoma experience.”

In Oklahoma, Busfield began the Love Letters blog, where she posted love letters written for significant people in her life. From that point on, she became serious about expanding her online presence.

The Elon Microfinance Initiative created a poster for Busfield to help her promote her books at the book signing April 10.

After 11 weeks away, Busfield returned to North Carolina in May 2009 to give her marriage a final chance. After much negotiation and discussion, Busfield left Kevin for good in October. The divorce was final in January 2011.

“I didn’t see what I needed to see from the other side,” she said. “I didn’t feel like it was wanted, because to me, if you want something, you have actions to prove it, not just words.”

In addition to counseling, Busfield was able to move on from the divorce through the love and support from her friends.

“We were close before, but during that point of her separation, because I’ve been through the same thing, we really started seeing each other and talking to each other more,” said Calvetta Watlington, a friend from high school.

Finding success

After returning to North Carolina, Busfield continued to blog and explore social media. She took a job as an administrative assistant at WebSpark, a web development company, and her role soon grew to operations manager. She recruited her friend Joe Wilson to the company, and their relationship began to grow stronger as they spent more time together and helped each other expand their portfolios.

“We dated for several months, but we’re just really good friends now,” Wilson said. “The thing I really like about her is she’s so interested in everything about life, and where her friends are going. It makes me think more about those things through trying to answer her questions.”

In summer 2011, she began researching what it would take to self-publish her work.

“Part of my platform is that love letters aren’t just ‘oh, I love you’ to a partner or to a husband or to a boyfriend,” she said. “It’s moments of love and appreciation and value for somebody who has made a really positive impact in my life.”

When Busfield’s first book was published in November 2011, she embarked on what would become an inspired journey to accomplish her long-term ambitions. Her pen name — which she shortened from Jenny to J.A. — became a popular Google search. Readers gravitated towards her online platforms to learn more about her published works. She began assisting other newcomers in setting up a digital presence and portfolio.

Busfield’s first book is 92 pages and short, sweet and to the point, she said.

Although all of the 50 letters published in Volume 1 were written for specific people in Busfield’s life, she chose not to include their names in the book.

“Each letter I could talk about who it is in reference to,” she said. “I leave that out in the books because I want people to be able to insert one of their own experiences.”

Watlington said she appreciates that readers are able to relate to the love letters.

“In the letters, even though when you read them it’s knowing she’s experienced these things, they aren’t so specific as to where you can’t think of a situation you’ve been in where you’ve felt that same way,” she said.

This aspect of the book stems from Busfield’s willingness to print details of her personal life. Without this vulnerability, the purpose of the books wouldn’t be served in their full potential.

“She gets very raw with her emotions with these letters,” said Jennifer Bringle, who interviewed Busfield about her recent success for an article in the Greensboro News & Record. “It was really refreshing to talk to someone so open with their emotions and willing to share that with the world.”

Despite Busfield’s professional success, loose ends from her relationship with Kevin persisted. In order to ensure their old house in Mebane was fixed up, Busfield moved back in with Kevin after the divorce. Busfield said she has learned to make it work in order to keep Rand within his school system and allow him to stay close to his dad.

Busfield’s second book is a little longer and more personal, she said.

“It’s the overall best option with the consequences I can live with,” Busfield said.

Busfield is constantly brainstorming new projects and is in the process of writing a third book. In order to spread the word about her upcoming ventures and continue to promote her published books, Busfield began working with the Elon Microfinance Initiative, a student group on Elon University’s campus that works as a liaison for small businesses.

“I think she knew that if we work together, it would increase her publicity and it would essentially help both of us,” said Elon junior Erin McGuiggan, a member of the initiative.

The initiative recently hosted a book signing at Local Yogurt for Busfield, where she was popular among Elon students.

“We had people write love letters which she then posted on her website,” said Elon junior Alexis Deprey, vice president of operations for the initiative. “She was an inspiration for a lot of aspiring authors.”

But it’s more than just authors who see Busfield as an inspiration. Krassa says she is constantly impressed by her daughter’s success and is incredibly proud of her.

“She knows how to grasp and dispense truth without apology in a way that leaves you feeling like you have been enriched by her presence, like you learned something new about your life that you can use with others, like you have grown a little yourself,” Krassa said.

Religion Factors in to Vote on North Carolina’s Amendment One

For many people, their religious faith defines who they are. They base what they do in their lives off of what they learn from their religious practices. On May 8, registered voters in North Carolina will be voting on Amendment One – a controversial amendment that has both passionate supporters and detractors. Proponents of both sides have cited religious arguments for their position.

Section one of the amendment reads as follows: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

“By definition, marriage is between a male and a female,” Father Gerry Waterman said. Waterman is the Elon University Catholic Campus Minister and a strong supporter of the amendment.

Waterman said that the Catholic community believes that heterosexual marriages are not just Christian, God, or faith-based but they are mainly natural law. There are two things that Waterman says are the goal of marriage: the furthering of life and the coming together as one. He believes sexual intercourse is the symbol of that oneness and that unity, and that Catholics believe that only a man and a woman are able to partake in something that sacred.

“I have no problem with people who are homosexual coming together and forming some type of union. I have no offense to that, but I do have an offense when they want to call it marriage because of what the word means to us,” Waterman said.

Waterman explains that in scripture, Jesus refers to a man and a woman as a reflection of God’s love for his bride, the church. This means that God loves the church so much that His love is reflected through marriage.

“[Marriage] is not just a word, it is also one of our sacraments,” Waterman said. This is where conflicting arguments arise.

“This particular amendment isn’t about marriage,” Phil Hardy, pastor at Life’s Journey United Church of Christ in Burlington, N.C., said.

While in college, Hardy began to wrestle with the idea of becoming a pastor. He enjoyed public speaking and when something needed to be proclaimed, he wanted to be the one who proclaimed it.

Hardy is against the amendment because he said that he comes from a camp that believes we, as humans, are born with our sexual inclinations. He figures that if enough people are born as lesbians, gays or bisexuals, we are going to have to start accepting them.

“God’s all grown up and doesn’t need to be defended, but people do,” said Hardy.

He believes that the LGBTQ community is the group of people that need to be protected.

“Our oppression on this group of people is a black eye on the church,” Hardy said.

The church, Hardy believes, has managed to create a negative reputation for itself. He feels that people should be able to feel safe in a religious community.

“Religious intolerance won’t be tolerated in the life of our church,” Hardy said about his congregation. “There can be safe religious communities.”

Ian O’Keefe, the Deputy Director of Campus Outreach with the Coalition to Protect North Carolina families, believes that Amendment One is horrible legislation.

“Religion is one of the reasons I claim to be against Amendment One,” O’Keefe, who is Presbyterian, said.

O’Keefe recognizes that religion factors in to why people support the amendment but he says that the Coalition has hundreds and hundreds of ministers and people of faith who have signed on to their campaign to vote against it.

“[They] have claimed that this amendment does not harm their faith, it does not harm their relationships and it is not justified by their religion,” O’Keefe said.

Because of his passion for the fight against Amendment One, O’Keefe, a freshman at Appalachian State University, took his spring semester off to be able to focus solely on the campaign.

“I think is it putting discrimination into the constitution of the state,” Ellie Ketcham, co-founder of Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Alamance, said.

Ketcham, an 83-year-old fighter against the amendment from Elon, N.C., has a son, Clifton, who came out to her as gay in 1989. She found out about a chapter of PFLAG in Winston-Salem and went there for monthly meetings until one started up in Greensboro. That was still too far for Ketcham to travel so she decided, with the help of her husband and another couple, to started a chapter here in Alamance County.

It is important to Ketcham, who proudly displays a Vote Against sign on her lawn, that the word gets out to North Carolina citizens about what the amendment truly means. She participates in phone banks run by members of the Elon Community Church, which she belongs to.

On Tuesday, April 3, the church had a phone bank and Emmett Floyd was among those who dialed up households asking if people knew about the amendment and what it means.

Emmett Floyd, a retired Navy admiral, helps out at the phone bank run by members of the Elon Community Church, Tuesday April 3, 2012.

Floyd, a retired navy admiral, was just concerned about the issue and wanted to help spread the word.

“I am aware of the way that many gay people are treated,” Floyd said. “I saw it in the service and in too many other places.”

Waterman said that his thoughts on the amendment are not discriminatory at all.

“We believe in loving every human being whether their orientation is heterosexual or homosexual; there’s no distinction when it comes to loving those people and respecting them,” Waterman said.

Like Waterman, the group behind Vote for Marriage NC is supportive of the amendment and they see a threat that would be imposed on the state if the amendment wasn’t passed.

No one from the group would comment on the issue but according to their website, they believe, “marriage is a special relationship reserved exclusively for heterosexual unions, because only the intimate relationship between men and women has the ability to produce children as a result of that sexual union.”

This worries Vote for Marriage NC because they think that, “While many people would like to believe that proposals to allow same-sex marriage are simply about allowing a different form of marriage to coexist alongside traditional man/woman marriage, they are wrong. The impact that same-sex marriage will have on society is much deeper and far-reaching then a modest change in the word’s definition.”

Members of Vote for Marriage NC include people from the Christian Action League, NC Values Coalition, African American Pastors, NC Baptists, and the National Organization for Marriage.

The members of Vote for Marriage NC believe that voting for the amendment will do two things: protect the definition of marriage in North Carolina and strengthen democracy by allowing people to vote for the protection of marriage.

Ketcham believes that some of the things that Vote for Marriage NC says are untrue.

“I think they’re trying to scare people,” Ketcham said.

Ellie Ketcham is strongly against Amendment One, not only because it affects her gay son but also because of the harmful affects if has on the entire population.

On the website for Vote for Marriage NC, they talk about how it’s a possibility that children will be taught in school that marriage is between any two adults – either heterosexual or homosexual – and the group thinks that this can be very detrimental to the children of North Carolina.

Ketcham believes that this is one of the scariest statements that this group could make. She says that teachers will never be authorized to teach something like that in the classroom.

“If you’ve been taught in your church that homosexuality is a sin, you don’t want your children to be taught something different in school, I totally understand that, but that is not going to happen,” Kethcam said.

Ketcham believes that whether this amendment is passed or not, gay marriage is still going to be illegal.

“Some people have the feeling that if this amendment is defeated, (homosexual) marriage will then become legal in North Carolina and that, of course, is not true,” Ketcham said.

O’Keefe believes that this amendment is going to hurt all kinds of people.

“It hurts pretty much everybody I come into contact with on a daily basis,” O’Keefe said.

He hopes that people understand the amendment before they go to the ballot box on May 8 with a skewed perception of it.

“I don’t want people I know to be harmed by this and I can only imagine that anybody else who understands the outcome of this legislation would feel the same way and would want to tell their friends, would want to tell their family, to get active against this,” O’Keefe said.

Contradicting this statement, Waterman believes, “every Catholic in their right mind is for the amendment.”

All O’Keefe asks is that “people should do their research before they get to the ballot box that day and they should understand what the true implications of the amendment should be.”

Medical waste in North Carolina, part two

Health care facilities often spend too much treating medical waste that isn’t regulated, which ultimately increases the cost of health care and wastes resources, according to Bill Patrakis, an environmental biologist at the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.

“Incineration is a pretty expensive way to get rid of something when there are less expensive options,” Patrakis said.

Patrakis is called upon often by hospitals and health care facilities that are looking for ways to cut expenditures on medical waste. Patrakis suggests monitoring what waste is being sent to incinerators and paying careful attention to the law, which says that only one type of non-hazardous medical waste, pathological waste, must be incinerated.

A flow chart of medical waste from the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.

“If I was as an environmental manager at a hospital and I wanted to save money,” Patrakis said, “I would be very interested in knowing what it is that I have to send to the incinerators and what I don’t have to.”

According to Peter Orris, chief of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois Hospital, it’s important to set up “a system of adequate separation in the waste stream.”

“If you can get people to segregate the garbage appropriately — and that’s not just preaching to people,” he said, “it’s setting up a system — you save millions of dollars.”

A look at the Salisbury Veterans Administration Medical Center

The W.G. (Bill) Heffner Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salisbury, N.C. drastically cut expenditures on medical waste by looking at what the facility was actually putting in the waste stream.

“Most of it wasn’t medical waste,” said Victor Cocco, Green Environmental Management Systems Coordinator at the Salisbury VA Medical Center. “We went back to state regulations and basically said, ‘well, this is what has to be in medical waste and right now we’re allowing some other things to go in there.’”

By cutting back on the amount of waste sent for incineration, the hospital cut costs dramatically, Cocco said. For instance, they stopped sending sharps for incineration, because according to the law they may be properly disposed of in a landfill.

Other than incinerating pharmaceuticals, the only type of waste the Salisbury VA Medical Center incinerates is hazardous waste, which includes pathological waste. Regular medical waste is sent to an autoclave, where it is steamed for sterilization and then sent to a landfill.

The Salisbury VA Medical Center holds about seven different contracts for medical waste disposal. Some hospitals, however, only use one contract.

“At some hospitals they come and pick everything up and everything goes to an incinerator,” Cocco said. “It’s very, very cost ineffective. I think that’s probably the worst way to handle it.”

Carole Troxler, a Professor Emeritus of History at Elon University and a member of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), agrees.

“If you’re negotiating a contract about what to take from your company it’s easy to let them just take all of it and then say you’re done with it,” she said, “but if you want to be responsible you need to figure out how to separate out what needs to be burned and what doesn’t.”

Recycling alternatives

Because the Salisbury VA Medical Center is under the federal government, it is regulated by federal mandates that don’t affect state owned facilities. For instance, the facility follows presidential orders to minimize unregulated medical waste with a recycling program.

One item particular Patrakis notes that does not need to be incinerated is “boxes and boxes of hospital records that they want destroyed for one reason or another,” he said.

One effect of burning chlorine-bleached paper products is the creation of dioxins, a highly toxic chemical. According to a BREDL report, Stericycle regularly burns paper and medical documents, which also serve as a source of fuel to keep the incinerator running.

Some health care facilities insist on burning medical documents to protect patient information. Health care facilities that choose this method tend to do so because the total destruction of waste offered by incineration is comforting, according to Haley Campbell, environmental health and safety technician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, a private hospital run by Wake Forest University.

“The easiest way to track it and make sure no one gets a hold of it that’s not supposed to is to send it off to get burned,” Campbell said. “You know that once it’s there, it’s burned, it’s gone.”

The Salisbury VA Medical Center, however, recycles paperwork and medical documents with a shredder, which they contract through a local agency that hires disabled people.

“They come with a truck and shred everything on-site,” Cocco said. “It leaves the site shredded and we get credit for the paper. On top of it, not only do we get paid for it, but the handicap people who handle the process get paid for it, so it gives jobs for the handicap people in town.”

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center also keeps their patient information secure by disposing of medical documents through shredding, according to James Brunner, an industrial hygienist at Wake Forest Baptist Health. In addition, patient information is blacked out on pharmaceutical bottles so that they can be recycled rather than incinerated.

Who is in charge of medical waste?

Cocco notes the importance of health care facilities designating specific jobs in environmental and waste management positions, he says, that are sometimes forgotten by public facilities.

“Overall, most public hospitals are in trouble,” Cocco said. “They do a great job at industrial hygiene, but when it comes to environmental it kind of gets slid off to maybe the head of engineering who might not have the training or the time to focus on it.”

Alamance Regional Medical Center was called for contact on more than eight occasions. When asked to speak with someone knowledgeable of medical waste disposal at the facility, the same two source names were offered by various telephone operators at the hospital: Bill Payne, director of facility engineering and safety, and Don Scott, director of plant operations. Scott was available briefly by phone once. Succeeding attempts to contact either Scott or Payne were not successful.

As the GEMS Coordinator at the Salisbury VA Medical Center, Cocco helps make environmentally conscious choices that save the facility more than twice Cocco’s salary, he said. However, before the GEMS Coordinator position, no one was reviewing the facility’s contract for medical waste disposal.

The hospital originally held its contract with Stericycle, but when Cocco began reviewing it he noticed a dramatic increase in what Stericycle charged the hospital from year to year.

“The company is allowed to have a cost of living raise,” Cocco said. “but when I came in and reviewed it, it wasn’t a normal cost of living increase like 3 to 7 percent — they were putting a hundred percent cost of living on it and maxing it without justification because we didn’t have anyone reviewing the contract.”

Cocoo also discovered surcharges of $450 that were unknowingly being placed on certain waste containers.

“They were getting away with it until I caught them,” he said. “That was one of the reasons I kicked them out of the contract.”

Cocco soon redid the contract with a minority company, who hired Stericycle as a subcontractor, putting Stericycle on closer watch and under stricter rules. The Salisbury VA Medical Center went from being charged $1.50 per pound of medical waste, to 0.37 cents per pound.

According to Cocoo, providing specific hospital jobs for environmental management not only saves money, but keeps waste that has harmful effects on the environment from being sent to the incinerator.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center also strives to cut costs by monitoring what is sent for incineration, according to Brunner.

“We have millions and millions of pounds of waste every year,” he said. “We have to find ways to curtail costs and one of the ways is that you don’t incinerate everything because it’s very expensive.”

Alternatives to incineration

There are alternative methods for treating and disposing of medical waste. With the exception of pathological waste, other types of non-hazardous medical waste can be treated by at an autoclave, which uses steaming as a sterilization process, compacts the waste and then disposes of it in a landfill. Stericycle owns and operates an autoclave facility in Concord, N.C., but according to a report by BREDL the autoclave facility operates under capacity.

Stericycle’s website indicates, “regular medical could be treated in an autoclave, but generators who prefer treatment by incineration send the waste to the Haw River facility.”

Alamance Regional Medical Center is one of the generators who prefers treatment by incineration. Their sole contract for disposal of non-hazardous medical waste is with Stericycle, according to Don Scott, director of operations at Alamance Regional Medical Center.

“We think incineration is the best method,” Scott said. “It’s an approved method and there’s nothing wrong with doing it. It’s better than throwing it in a trashcan. You can’t do that.”

Why some health care facilities continue to choose incineration for waste that has viable disposal alternatives is hard to say.

“For medical people, it’s very satisfying to burn something that may be infectious,” Orris said. “All of a sudden it doesn’t look infectious at all, it looks gray. Nothing survived the heat and it’s very comforting for them to look at, but as we learn more about it, we see it’s really not a good idea.”

Scott said that the hospital has considered alternatives to incineration, but right now it continues to incinerate.

“We think incineration is a better method,” Scott said. “If you just look at it, you’re better off to burn it. You still have a lot of material left when you microwave waste, and when you’re dealing with medical waste, the cheapest way isn’t always the best way.”

No matter what method hospitals and health care facilities choose for disposing of their waste, it’s important to consider the role community members can play in the process.

“No one is speaking up for the environment in the halls of the legislature and businesses,” Troxler warned. “Is it the patients who go to the doctors who need to ask the hard questions?: ‘Excuse me nurse, what happens with your red bag waste? Excuse me doctor, do you separate your plastics or incinerate them?’ That may be the only way for change to happen.”


Catholics, Contraception and Contradictions

In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued the “Humanae Vitae” reaffirming the Catholic Church’s stance on artificial contraception,

“Excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”

In other words, Catholicism teaches that sexuality is for the sole purpose of creating life. The use of contraceptives, both hormonal (i.e. pill) or barrier (i.e. condom), are not allowed because they prohibit the natural law of procreation. One form of birth control that is encouraged and supported by Catholic Church officials is Natural Family Planning. This refers to fertility awareness, and is based on the fact that a woman is most fertile around the time of ovulation. Through determining her ovulation period, a woman understands what days she needs to abstain from sexual intercourse. Natural Family Planning does not interfere with the biological process of conception; therefore, it is accepted in the Catholic faith.

A recent study done by the Guttmacher institute produced results contradictory to fundamental Catholic beliefs. It reported that 98 percent of American Catholic women admit to having used contraception. Though the Vatican openly professes its view on contraception, Catholic parishioners seem to follow a different set of rules.

Source: bemusedlybespectacled.tumblr.com

In January 2012, the Obama administration issued a mandatethat would require Catholic institutions to provide free contraceptive services to their employees. The U.S. Bishops Committee immediately responded in defense of their beliefs, saying that the proposal violates freedom of religion.

The ongoing debate sparked media interest in Catholicism. Several reporters, including Keith Soko of CNN.com, recalled a similar argument from the 1960’s, which involved Catholic Church officials disagreeing with the pope on his issuing of the “Humanae Vitae”. “The pope formed a committee to evaluate the stand against contraceptives. The result: 75 out of 90 on the committee recommended that the church allow for contraceptives. Even so, Pope Paul VI issued the letter,” Soko said.

U.S. Bishops Committee
Source: CNN.com

Because the Catholic ruling on contraception was unfairly reinstated in the “Humanae Vitae”, several parishioners have disregarded its legitimacy. Supporters of Obama’s proposal also claim that the U.S. Bishops Committee has no right to judge public policy pertaining to birth control, because it is comprised of all male.

Questions pertaining to Catholic doctrine were raised again when research surfaced proving that Catholic officials have little consideration for their parishioners. A poll done by The Public Religion Research Institute, found that 58 percent of Catholics agree with Obama’s proposal (Figure 1).

Figure 1

In today’s world, there is an obvious disconnect between Catholic officials and Catholic parishioners in terms of contraception. Despite criticism, the Vatican continues to follow tradition. The Vatican trusts that consistency has led to their success and they don’t intend on making any changes.

The idea that parishioners are rejecting certain aspects of their Catholic faith comes as no surprise to Catholic Officials. Father Paul Gabriel of Blessed Sacrament Church in Burlington recognizes that some laws are just never accepted. “Contraception is one where people say I know what the church teaches and I know what will work for my family,” said Gabriel.

Father Gerry Waterman of Elon University Catholic Campus ministry agrees with Gabriel. “People have to form their own conscience,” said Waterman.  He explained this concept by using an anecdote.

“Sometimes when people see a yellow light, they choose to speed up, even though they no the law states to slow down.” For Waterman, the same concept applies to Catholic parishioners’ decision to use contraception in that they know contraception is wrong, but choose to use it anyway.

Currently, Catholicism is world renown for its strict ideals, but in the past it was not the only religion to ban the use of contraceptives. According to Jennifer Sokol of the Catholic News Agency, the founders of various Protestant Churches also disapproved of contraception. “John Calvin once called it  ‘a monstrous thing’ and Martin Luther described it as ‘a sin greater than adultery or incest,’” Sokol said.

Sokol discussed the point of dissension in which people began ignoring the idea of no contraception. “For centuries the vast majority of Catholics lived according to church teaching,” said Sokol. ”But the sexual revolution, fear of over-population and economic collapse, and especially the availability of the newly introduced birth control pill in the 1960s changed everything.”

At this point, many Catholic parishioners began to deconstruct their religion and choose which aspects of Catholic theology were important to them personally. A New York Times article by Laurie Goodstein describes the division that formed within the Catholic Church. “On the one side are traditionalists who believe in upholding Catholic doctrine to the letter, and on the other, modernists who believe the church must respond to changing times and a pluralistic society,” Goodstein said.

Catholic officials encourage tradition; however, they also recognize the value in change. Waterman refers to himself as “progressive.” He insists that change is good if the motivation is God, not popular demand. “The Holy Spirit inspires us to continue to go forward in the church,” said Waterman.

Natural Family Planning chart
Source: pregnancyandbaby.com

One example of the Catholic Church making advancements while also fulfilling God’s will is Natural Family Planning. It became an accepted form of birth control after the Vatican realized it didn’t inhibit procreation.

Sis Steffen coordinates the Respect Life Committee for Blessed Sacrament. She sponsors pro-life events throughout Alamance County. “Natural Family Planning was discovered in the 70’s,” said Steffen. “It is 99% effective and works with God in his natural way.”

Aside from religious reasons, some couples choose to practice Natural Family Planning because it requires both the man and the woman to take responsibility in preventing pregnancy.

Pope John Paul II was an advocate for Natural Family Planning. In a 1984 address to two international congresses he said, “The use of natural methods gives a couple an openness to life, which is truly a splendid gift of God’s goodness. It also helps them deepen their conjugal communication and draw closer to one another.”

Catholic officials know that Natural Family Planning requires attentiveness and that artificial contraception would be easier, but they maintain that sometimes sacrifices have to be made to respect religious doctrine. “We have to take serious our role as Catholic Christians in a world where society says its ‘have it your way’ all the time,” said Waterman

In the midst of societal pressure, the Catholic Church continues to flourish. The National Council of Churches published the 2011 yearbook that ranked Catholicism as the largest religion in the United States. It also reported that Catholicism was one of the few churches whose membership increased, growing .57 percent.

Waterman thinks that tradition has been the source of their prosperity. “Catholicism offers structure and people want to hold on to something meaningful,” said Waterman.

Gabriel believes tradition is the foundation for all religions, not just Catholicism. “It’s what defines us,” said Gabriel. “If nobody knows what we stand for, than we don’t stand for anything.”

Medical waste in North Carolina, part 1

As long as we have hospitals, medical waste will be unavoidable; the question is, what do we do with it? 

Imagine 27 million pounds of medical waste: blood stained bandages, syringes, IV bags from chemotherapy, human tissue, organs and limbs. Now picture it being incinerated by the largest medical waste treatment company in the United States less than 15 miles down the road from Elon University.

Turns out, you don’t have to imagine it.

There are 57 medical waste incinerators still in operation in the United States. 14 of them are commercially owned and the medical waste treatment company Stericycle operates eight of them, one of which is located in Haw River, just east of Burlington. Since Stericycle took over the facility in 1999, this is the site where many producers of medical waste in North Carolina, and 26 other states from Vermont to Wisconsin, send their medical waste to be burned.

What exactly is medical waste? This chart breaks the waste stream up into its different categories. Graphic by Katy Steele.

The environmental impact of incineration

According to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, medical waste incinerators are the leading producer of dioxins, a highly toxic chemical that’s formed when organic substances are burned in the presence of chlorine. Dioxins are known carcinogens and the main substance in the chemical warfare gas, Agent Orange. They are one of many air pollutants emitted from Stericycle’s smokestacks that environmental advocates consider a public health concern.

Tom Mather, a spokesman for the North Carolina Division of Air Quality (DAQ), the department in charge of issuing the air quality permit to the Stericycle facility at Haw River, said that the DAQ pays very close attention to emission from the facility.

“It has an up-to-date permit,” he said, “and we’ve made changes to the permit and feel like we are addressing the concerns.”

Incineration still creates air pollutants, however, according to David Mickey, former Zero Waste Coordinator for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL).

Smoke stacks at Stericycle's facility in Haw River.

“Incineration involves risks for public health regardless of how well the facility is run, or how well the state might monitor their permit,” he said. “They’re still going to have emissions — it’s part of the system.”

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics and chlorine-bleached paper are non-regulated medical waste products that often end up incinerated, yet it is known that they produce dioxins when burned.

“If you incinerate a lot of the plastics and industrial chemicals we use today you get dioxins,” said Peter Orris, chief of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois Hospital. “Every bit of dioxin that is added to the environment is not a good idea.”

Other emissions coming out of Stericycle’s smokestacks include: lead, a heavy metal that can damage the brain; particulate matter linked to lung cancer, also known as soot and dust; arsenic; and mercury, a potent neurotoxin that can hinder brain development.

Since 2000, Stericycle has received 11 permit violations from the DAQ, more than half of them for violating pollution and emission standards set by the EPA. Violations issued in both 2002 and 2004 were for exceeding the allowable level of mercury emissions. Data released by the DAQ ranking the top 60 mercury emitters in the state from 2007-2010 ranks the Stericycle facility in Haw River at number 21.

Medical waste incineration and local government          

According to, Carole Troxler, a member of BREDL and professor emeritus at Elon University, it’s up to local government to protect their citizens and the environment.

“Local government used to think that the buck stopped in Washington and that all they had to do was comply with rules from the EPA and Congress,” Troxler said. “But the buck starts in Washington and heads in this direction — it comes right back to our local government and they don’t exactly have a track record for caring much about protecting our environment.”

In Nov. 2010, the state Environmental Management Commission adopted rules making stricter emissions guidelines imposed by the EPA enforceable on July 1, 2013 instead of Oct. 6, 2014. Before this however, Alamance County Commissioners voted not to pass a resolution that would have forced Stericycle to meet the stricter guidelines even earlier — by 2012 instead of 2014.

Linda Massey, an Alamance County commissioner voted against the resolution and reiterated that she doesn’t believe pollution from the Stericycle facility is an issue.

“I know people who have worked [at Stericycle] for 14 or 15 years and they don’t even wear a mask in there,” Massey said. “If the people who work there aren’t afraid of what they’re doing, I think that’s a good sign there’s no contamination coming out that affects them.”

Air pollutants from the smokestacks can accumulate in the air and travel through wind currents. The elderly, pregnant women and young children, people with asthma and those within five miles of the incinerator are at the greatest risk for being aversely affected by the emissions.

“I wouldn’t live there,” said Therese Vick, community organizer at BREDL. “I wouldn’t want my children to live close to it either.”

At least 13 schools and 23 daycares are located five miles or less down the road from the incinerator. Alamance Community College, which also houses a childcare facility, is 0.7 miles away.

Massey noted that she depends on the EPA to monitor if Stericycle is meeting the set guidelines.

“You’ve got to get rid of all that waste somehow,” she said, “and if Stericycle can do it and still be in compliance with the EPA, then I don’t have a problem with it.”

According to Troxler, however, it’s the city commissioners’ responsibility to protect the environment and their local citizens, yet they often get so caught up in only meeting state regulations that they don’t see the bigger picture.

“They’re still in the mindset that all we have to do is satisfy the state regulations and we’re home free,” Troxler said. “Well, they may be meeting state regulations, but they’re exposing citizens to harm.”

Medical waste incineration and North Carolina state law

According to North Carolina state law, the only type of medical waste required to be incinerated is pathological waste, meaning human tissue, organs, body parts and carcasses of infected animals.

Of the 27 million pounds of waste burned at Stericycle in the 2009-2010 year, only a portion of it was actually pathological waste, according to Bill Patrakis, an environmental biologist at the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.

“All this other stuff they are incinerating, as far as we’re concerned, does not need to be incinerated,” he said, “but they choose to incinerate it anyway.”

According to Stericycle, 40 percent of the waste they handle is pathological, 40 percent is regular medical waste, 15 to 20 percent is chemotherapy medical waste and 1 to 2 percent is pharmaceutical waste.

For non-pathological waste there are alternative treatment and disposal methods, such as autoclaving. Stericycle runs an autoclave facility in Concord, N.C., which uses steaming as a sterilization process, compacts the waste and then disposes of it in a landfill.

Currently, no state law exists mandating that hospitals and waste generators use incineration alternatives for waste that doesn’t fall within the pathological category— instead, it’s up to the waste generator to decide where their waste goes.

“I’m just guessing if hospitals understood the law, they could probably save themselves thousands of dollars,” Patrakis said.

According to a report by the EPA, 2 to 3 percent of hospital waste has no treatment alternative to incineration, but this does not mean only 2 to 3 percent of total hospital waste is incinerated.

“Often, inadequate waste segregation due to poor waste management techniques and lack of staff training will result in more waste sent to incinerators than necessary,” the EPA report said.

Patrakis noted that Stericycle might not necessarily know exactly what is going into the incinerator.

“What goes to Stericycle for incineration is whatever the hospitals send them,” he said, “and Stericycle isn’t obliged to check every box that comes to their incinerator and say, ‘This can be incinerated and this can’t.’”

Patrakis said this responsibility rests on Stericycle’s clients — those actually generating the medical waste.

“Stericycle is just hired to do a job,” he said. “It’s really the health care centers that need to do a better job determining what needs incinerated and what doesn’t.”

According to Patrakis, there are no state laws through the N.C. Division of Waste Management mandating waste generators make environmentally conscious choices by segregating their medical waste.

“The Division of Waste Managment doesn’t get involved in waste segregation, and I’ll tell you why,” he said. “Up until the waste leaves the hospital or facility, it’s their responsibility. Once it gets to the treatment plant, at that point, it becomes the waste hauler’s problem. Its’ up to the hospital administration to tell their staff, ‘This is how we want you to segregate it.’”

Across the board, the segregation, treatment and disposal of medical waste is handled differently at federal, private and public health care facilities.

 

 

 

Is Local Industry History?

By Don Granese

Alamance County has long been an area where industry not only succeeded, it thrived. Burlington in particular was a main hub of the American textile industry for the greater part of the 20th century. But Alamance County and the United States in a larger sense have changed. No longer are we a society driven by manual labor and the exportation of goods. We have become a nation of consumers, and in this we may have possibly killed the ‘made in America’ concept.

According to Jim Barbour, the chair of the Economics Department at Elon University, we are a nation that has changed for the best, or at least we’ve changed for what best suits us today. Manual labor jobs like working in mills or on farms have become a thing of the past for most American families. Agriculture, much like mill and factory work, is an industry that drove our economy for a long period of time.

“We went from the 19th to the 20th century. Roughly 60 percent of the population was engaged in agriculture,”Barbour said “It is less than 3 percent now. Do we really want 60 percent of the population engaged in agriculture right now?”

Working in agriculture may have been an average American job in the past, but now those jobs have moved overseas. According to the United States Department of Agriculture the amount of processed grain that we import from other nations has nearly doubled from 2002 to 2007.

In the specific example of the textile industry in Burlington, Barbour believes that it’s not the fault of the ‘fat cat’ business owners that manufacturing jobs have moved to other countries, but that the blame can easily be traced back to us, the American consumers.

“You and I wear inexpensive shirts at the cost of people who’ve been laid off in this area and we owe them,” he explained. “But the way to repay them is not to preserve the expensive shirt.”

A considerable push in America is to buy “local”. At first it seemed like a trend. Buying local was something that the young and hip were doing. But economically, buying local is more than a trend; it’s a tactic and a form of survival. This is where local business can get creative in their advertising.

Worker at the Se7en plant owned by Burlington Technologies

Companies like Glencoe Mills in Burlington, NC that expanded too quickly in the 20th century weren’t able to find their footing and they collapsed in the early 1950’s. But some survived. In Burlington the textile industry had almost completely dried up, but some companies like Glenn Raven Mills, Holt Hosiery and Burlington Industries have found a way to continue manufacturing their goods.

Burlington Technologies is not too big of a company, but they are making headlines with their recent expansions. In the current economic state of our country not many companies are growing, but with the help of a large grant of about $120,000 Burlington Technologies will more than double its workforce of textile manufacturers. Currently they employ about 90 workers, but the grant will help them take on about 110 more. “It’s really just an opportunity to save some jobs,” explained Marvin Gaines, the co-owner of the company. His business has made it through tough economic times because they are able to adapt with changing industry trends. He believes they have a few tricks up their sleeves.

“We feel like we have a business model that the Chinese do not want. and that is making…if you want 30 yards, we’ll make you 30 yards of a custom color, custom pattern” said Marvin “That’s not something the Chinese or Asian or South American (markets) wants to mess with because you have to ship it overseas.”

The weaving machines at the Se7en plant

Barbour thinks that companies like Burlington Technologies can hang on through tough times because they can find their strengths in creativity. “There are smaller organizations that have done well by specializing in some little niche market,” he explains “and they’ve managed to do quite well at these things.”

Gaines explained that his company’s greatest strength has been their ability to design and then create interesting patterns for fabrics that people will find new and on the cutting edge of style. But he feels as though the style choices aren’t necessarily their own decisions. They’re forced to go with the trending fashion flow. They’ve started having to make custom orders for individual buyers just to keep profit margins going up. “That is a niche that has kind of been imposed on us but it’s something we’ve embraced that keeps us around for the future,” Gaines said.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Labor Statistics show a severe decline in job opportunities for Americans trained to work in textiles. In the 1990’s textiles was the largest manufacturing employer in the U.S. economy, providing jobs for nearly 1.4 million workers up until even 1999. This included employment in textile production, wool growing, cotton growers, apparels, and man-made fibers. According to the NCTO (National Council of Textile Organizations) as of June 2010 only 412,000 Americans are currently employed in textiles.

Bo Chrisco, Burlington Technologies

Bo Chrisco, who works for Marvin Gaines at Burlington Technologies, is one of those Americans. “We’ve taken a 20 percent cut in pay, lost a lot of benefits,” Chrisco said. “You know at one time I had as many as four weeks of vacation time and now it’s nothing…no vacation time.”

Chrisco is well aware that his industry is shrinking. When he started working at the Se7en plant in Guilford County the building was packed from wall to wall with machines that weave the yarn into fabric. Today half of the working floor that he is stationed on is completely empty.

Despite the visible cutbacks, Chrisco is determined to hold this job. “I’ve had a job offer here or there talking to people and I made the decision to stay,” Chrisco said. “I’m hopeful that it will pick up because this is where most of my experience in life has been… in textiles.”

According to Jim Barbour there is a chance for the industry to pick up. It’s not a new business model, but it’s just simple creativity. Barbour explains that if business owners like Marvin Gaines keep up with today’s fashion trends that customers will keep buying from American textile producers. “Textiles as previously practiced in Alamance county are destined to fail. Textiles practiced in new ways may succeed.”

Sew Succesful

Jack Smith, Costume Designer

By Don Granese

His office is decorated with life-sized dolls, posters, paintings, baskets, a fake lamb, nude portraits, and costumes. It’s immediately obvious to anyone who visits Jack Smith on the second floor of the Performing Arts Center at Elon University that he’s a designer.

“I would have never in a million years looked at all of the pieces (of my life) and said that these were all going to come together and I’m going to be a costume designer,” he explains. When he first started college as an undergrad at Eastern Illinois University, he was studying journalism with a second emphasis in graphic design. He loved the design courses but never completely fell in love with journalism.

“I was in a journalism class my first semester of my sophomore year,” said Smith. In this class his professor wanted them to be willing to do anything for a story no matter what their moral compasses were telling them; even if that meant chasing ambulances. Smith just couldn’t commit to this. “You’ve got to be able to look yourself in the mirror and say I’m a human being,” he said. “My professor said ‘look around you. There are 29 other people in this class that are willing to do what you wont.” Smith quickly decided that journalism just wasn’t going to be his profession.

At the same time he was taking the journalism class Smith was also in an Intro To Theatre class. Theatre was always something he had done, but he’d never seen it as a possible career. As part of this class he was required to work in one of the design shops. When the teacher asked the students if they could sew, Smith was the only student in the class who raised his hand. He was sent to the costume shop.

“My mom had taught me how to sew when I was five” said Smith “My mom and dad didn’t believe that there was men’s work or women’s work, just work that needed to get done.”

The first time he went to the costume shop changed his life. “To this day I can tell you the song that was playing on the radio, the smell of the shop, the lights that were burned out, what people were working on, the layout. I walked into the shop for the first time and thought ‘this is where I belong!’”

The next step for Smith was convincing his parents that being a costume designer could actually be a career. In his own mind he knew that design was the only thing he wanted to pursue, so he set out for graduate school to get his MFA (Master’s Degree of Fine Arts) at Southern Illinois University studying costume design and construction and paid his own way so that his parents couldn’t have the control over him.

“Right out of grad school I started teaching,” said Smith “I taught because it seemed like the sensible thing to do.” He thought that by teaching he might be able to still hone his craft in an academic environment. But at this point, so early in his career, he felt as though he didn’t quite have the professional experience to share with his students. So he took a chance. He calls this part of his life “stepping into the abyss”.

     When he left this first job his employer asked him what he was going to do. He explained, “I don’t really know, but as long as I don’t end up designing for Shakespeare in the Deep South I think I’ll be happy.” Two days later Smith got a call from a friend who was looking to hire someone to design for a Shakespeare festival in Orlando, Florida. He took the job. He didn’t care if it was a job designing for Shakespeare in the south. He was stepping out into the unknown and he was excited.

“I really count that as my first real world experience,” he said “Suddenly your career and how it runs is your responsibility… your credibility, your ability to deliver becomes really important. It also became really important to be able to work efficiently.”

     Smith decided he would work professionally in this way for five years of his life and then at that point he would make the decision as to whether he wanted to continue down that career path or return to academia.

When he reached the five year point in September of 2001 he had six corporate “gigs” lined up. “The corporate stuff was a lot more fun,” Smith said. “You made more money and it was a lot less work.” On September 12th, the day after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 all six of the corporate jobs disappeared. “They dried up, they were just gone,” he explained. “One of the places I was going to do some corporate work for…their head office was located in Tower One.” Smith found that time to be difficult to get work while so many companies took their time to rebuild themselves.

Smith was getting by with the jobs that he was still able to hold down, but he missed teaching. He started applying for academic jobs at various universities including one at Elon. When he got a call for an interview at Elon he was already interested in working at another school, but he thought that he could use the Elon job offer as a bargaining tool.

At that time Elon didn’t have a costume shop in place. Smith had seen how much work it was to create a shop from nothing when he was at other jobs. He wasn’t interested in having to do that kind of building from the foundation up. But when he visited campus he didn’t know what to expect and he admits he was extremely surprised at how quickly he came to love the Elon students and faculty. “I had no intention of taking this job at all. But I absolutely fell in love with this University and their mission statement and the fact that from the president down everyone’s first concern is ‘what is right for the students.’ and that is amazing to me” Smith said. “It shouldn’t be shocking that in academia the students needs are the first priority, but it is rare that a University really does put the student first.”

Smith has found a good home here at Elon for most of the past decade. He describes his career path and his life path as one intermingled journey. Considering himself a man of many successes, he tries to make decisions at every turning point of life based on what is best for him and his happiness. “Life is a very short game. Don’t waste your time on people and things that are not worth your time. Find the things that are important to you, find the people that are important to you and pursue life in the largest way you can.”

Operation Education Improvement

Students, teachers, administrators discuss education funding, initiatives in Alamance County

In the past few years, the amount of federal, state and local money put toward funding education in various school systems across the country has decreased. The Alamance-Burlington School System, the local school system that surrounds Elon University, is no different. Federal and state budget cuts for ABSS for the 2012-2013 school year equals about $5.4 million overall, and this number affects teaching conditions, supplies in the classroom, technologies accessed and other items that directly affect a child’s education.

Elon faculty opinions

Elon University President Leo Lambert said the university works with ABSS to improve education and believes there are multiple benefits to this relationship. However, he also believes there are things that could be improved in the school system.

“My perceptions are that in an ideal world, I would want the faculty and staff of Elon University to live in Alamance County and have their families and children involved in the ABSS school district,” he said. “But I see more and more of our families choosing not to live here. They’re choosing to live in Orange County, attend Chapel Hill schools. I don’t fault anyone for the choices they’re making, but I just don’t believe that Alamance County aspires to have a world-class school district — and it should.”

Faculty and staff members at Elon who have children in the school system have their own opinions about not only the education provided at various schools in Alamance County, but also the services and facilities that children receive. Associate professor of English at Elon Paula Rosinski has two children, one of whom is in school at Elon Elementary. Jake, 6, is in the first grade.

“We intentionally bought a house in the Elon Elementary district, because we liked the idea of living, working and sending our children to school in the same district,” she said. “We wanted to be a part of supporting education, at all different levels, in our community.”

Rosinski emphasized the leadership at Elon Elementary is strong and that Principal Jack Davern is working hard to improve education at the school. One of the main successes, she said, is the SPLASH program, which is a Spanish immersion class.

The problem, Rosinski said, is that the school is underfunded, and the district needs to think about the amount of tax money that goes toward funding education.

“The district needs to seriously consider this issue, because Elon Elementary is working hard to educate, our children well, but the school is underfunded,” she said. “That is a shame and it is an embarrassment. Parents have to donate basic supplies, like toilet paper, tissue, Band Aids, cleaning supplies, paper, crayons — how sad is that? The Parent Teacher Organization also raises money to pay for the art teacher’s salary. So yes, while I’m happy with my son’s education and I know the teachers and principal and parents are working hard to give our children a good education, the district needs to invest more in supporting the school.”

Chris Leupold, associate professor of psychology, agreed, and said that although there are great teachers and that his children have had a good experience so far, the overall school system is “weak.” This is partly partly because it is so poorly funded, he said.

“There are things that I wish we had — more languages, more resources for specials,” Leupold said. “But in terms of pure education, my kids have had great teachers and have been appropriately challenged. I am also very happy with the Spanish immersion program, which is an incredibly progressive thing for ABSS.”

Superintendent’s proposed budget and goals

In North Carolina, 37 percent of the overall state budget goes toward funding K-12 public schools. Although this sounds like a significant part of the N.C. state budget, many school districts have had to cut their individual budgets, which include both state and federal money.

ABSS has a total of 36 schools and is the second largest employer in Alamance County, according to the superintendent’s 2012-2013 proposed budget. Not only are budget cuts affecting 2,619 ABSS employees, but the school system is the workplace to more than 22,000 diverse students. Those students and teachers are dependent on federal, state and local money to help create new education initiatives and opportunities, but major federal and state budget cuts — about $5.4 million for this next year combined, according to the state budget — have prompted ABSS to make some major alterations to its budget, according to ABSS Superintendent Lillie Cox.

“We are going to build our budget on what we need to spend, not what we have to spend,” Cox said, referring to what she calls zero-based budgeting. “This way, we will

have a more accurate picture of what we need to operate as a school system. We are trying to find some funds and save some money. I’m still going to have to cut positions, but hopefully this will make the major cuts of $5.4 million a little more manageable.”

Information compiled by Kate Riley
Graph by Paige Gregory

These cuts affect numerous aspects of the school system, including teaching and other staff positions, classroom supplies, per student spending and other changes that students might not be able to see directly, Cox said. She pointed out that some of the changes include things like less custodians per school or the grass of a school not being cut as often — not always things that children might be able to name, but things that can impact child’s school experience. There are more classroom-related items that might affect a public school experience, like more children in a classroom, which leads to less one-on-one attention. This also might mean a teacher that isn’t trained in a certain reading program, Cox said, and these items vary across the state.

“What I think that people need to understand is that you can’t just make money up,” she said. “It’s going to take us years to get back to where we were, to improve the quality of teaching.”

One of the ways that Cox says ABSS is trying to “get back” to the way things were is through the Common Core curriculum. North Carolina adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative in 2010, which were “developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce,” according to the Common Core Standards website. The program offers a common curriculum across North Carolina that standardizes what is taught in each grade.

According to Cox, this program has enhanced student learning despite budget cuts, even if students have to transfer schools, because each teacher will have similar curriculums. This program also defines the skills and knowledge that students should gain during their K-12 years; some of this includes the alignment with college and work expectations, rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills and building upon strengths and lessons of current state standards, according to the Common Core website.

Along with the continuation of the Common Core curriculum, one of the school system’s big initiatives is an investment of technology. Four million dollars in the 2012-2013 proposed budget are allocated to investments in technology. Although these new initiatives are occurring, Cox said, ABSS still has a lot of work to do to fully understand and use the new items the best it can.

“We put a SMART Board, laptop, overhead projector and a document camera in every classroom grades 6-12,” she said. “I could see how appreciative the teachers are. It helps with lesson plans and let’s children get up and do things on the SMART Board. We are nowhere near where we need to be as far as its use.”

Cox said that one of the main reasons that this is a problem is a lack of professional development within the school system. Professional development “helps teachers to increase their expertise in their fields and assists them in improving their teaching methods,” according to the Annenberg Learner website, an organization devoted to teacher professional development. These programs enhance the abilities and qualities of teachers overall but because of funding issues, have been cut. ABSS is trying to make up for this loss in various ways, Cox pointed out, but it does affect the quality of education for students in the classroom.

In the classroom

Though budgets have a great impact on a school system as a whole, direct teacher-student interaction is what produces certain test scores and graduation rates. In End-of-Grade tests specifically, the school system aims to improve. In the 2010-2011 school year, 65.1 percent of students grades 3-8 scored at or above a Level III on their reading EOGs and EOCs, or End-of-Course tests. The lowest a student can receive in N.C. on an EOG is a one, the highest is a four and to pass, a child must receive a three or above. ABSS hopes to increase those scores by an average of 6.5 points, from 65.1 percent to 71.6 percent for the 2012-2013 school year, eventually having a 100 percent passing rate in the public schools system.

Information compiled by Kate Riley
Graph by Paige Gregory

One of the problems (and solutions) for these test scores comes simply from teacher and student interaction, and how material is taught, said Western Alamance High School English teacher Stephen Stiegel.

“It’s not supposed to be the mere memorization of facts,” he said. “We have to think about what it really means to be educated. People can memorize long strings of things, but they really need to know what questions to ask. It’s scary how little critical thought there is.”

Stiegel then pointed out that ABSS can’t really do anything about it specifically, but the emphasis needs to be more on how teachers teach in the classroom. Principals monitor teacher progress and initiatives, Cox said. She said that ABSS works closely with principals to instruct them how to best coach teachers to make them better which, in turn, helps education for children overall.

“We have to teach children how to think, not just how to learn,” she said.

It’s this idea that could help improve test scores and overall education.

“In middle school, it would have been great to have more hands-on learning,” said high school senior Deann Bradsher. “I think that the teachers could have put more effort into their students to help them understand the concepts. But high school has been much better. Most of the teachers will work with you and help you. They didn’t really push you in middle school, but now they do.”

Bradsher and freshman Melina Meza, both students at Graham High School, believe that the difference in primary and secondary education is significant, in terms of teacher quality and helpfulness.

“When I was in elementary school, teachers really didn’t help me as much,” Meza said. “In math classes, I still have trouble with basic multiplication sometimes. It’s hard for me, but I can do it now. In middle school, you can pretty much get away with anything. When you get to high school, it’s hard and the teachers push you more.”

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus

One of the major problems in how teachers present information to their students is that they do not trust new initiatives, Stiegel said. These include things like the Common Core. He emphasized how it’s not going to just fix everything automatically — teachers have to take the time to learn new information and how to present it in order for it to be effective. This attends to the lack of professional development and the effect that it truly has on teachers and students.

David Cooper, dean of the school of education at Elon, says that there is no magic solution to fixing overall education standards and that it really needs to be a community-wide effort, as there is evidence that school reform alone is not sufficient.

“We have to do a better job at recruiting highly qualified teachers,” he said. “We need those new teachers coming in more and more but they’re coming in less and less. First-year teachers are among the lowest performing teachers, and half of them leave within five years.”

Cox realizes this as well. She said that are a number of things that could be done to improve overall education standards, as well as education directly in the classroom. She also said she realizes that ABSS has flaws and that she, along with her administration, is trying to improve them.

“I am constantly pushing for innovation and new ideas, but not just to be new and different,” she said. “It’s because sometimes I feel like the rest of the world is moving past Alamance County and innovation is easier to implement in other school systems. But it’s really important that our children here can compete with children across the state and across the country. We have to help this community understand that we have to teach our children in a different way, and that’s a major challenge for me.”

Initiatives

It’s not just the individual schools and school systems that can aid in pushing new initiatives and improving education standards in the classroom. Elon University has a great number of outreach programs that cater to the public school system in Alamance County.

Cooper realizes how vital a partnership between the university and the local community is — it’s mutually beneficial, he said.

“More than three-fourths of teacher candidates do some sort of student teaching or other practical work,” Cooper said. “It prepares student teachers in partnership with the teachers in public schools in research activities.”

One of the most widely known of these programs is the Elon Academy, a “college access and success program for academically promising high school students in Alamance County with a financial need and/or no family history of college,” according to the Elon Academy website. Ninety-eight percent of students who complete this program are enrolled in college.

Many Elon students act at mentors to students who are enrolled in the academy, whether college access team mentors (CAT mentors), Elon Academy Ambassadors or other tutors/academic coaches. These scholars have become experts in college planning and skills and are spreading that message further, said John Pickett, Elon Academy assistant director of scholar support.

He said that though the Elon Academy is strong in its initiatives, but is also a small program. It’s going to take a push from a lot of students and faculty to create a solid, lasting relationship with the public school system and its students.

“What has to happen is that there has to be a real commitment as a whole,” Pickett said. “I try to go to an elementary school once a week to each lunch with students. It should be a university-wide initiative to go to local schools and volunteer. But it should be inspired, not mandatory. It’s a small thing you can do.”

Pickett emphasized the importance of getting off Elon’s campus and going into the community, into the public schools as a student at Elon.

“Alamance County is full of diversity,” he said. “This could connect students with our neighbors. You are living here, but you may not know about the diversity or have been exposed to it. Our number one initiative is supporting the students, but this is a real opportunity for Elon students is to use it as a vehicle to experience diversity.”

Information compiled by Kate Riley
Graph by Paige Gregory

Information compiled by Kate Riley
Graph by Paige Gregory

James Barnett, a man who gave up everything he owned to live on the streets and love the poor

James Barnett never imagined that he would be homeless. Yet for two years he found himself sleeping on the streets with the poor — by choice.  It was the only response to his faith that seemed to make sense.

“To me, the only rational response to a God who says, ‘Give up everything and follow me,’ was to give up everything and follow him,” James said.

So he did.

The Beginning

James was born into a Christian home in Boynton Beach, Florida one Easter morning in 1985.

“When he was born I remember thinking, ‘God’s got a special plan for your life,’” James’ mom, Jeri Lynn Barnett, said.

Growing up, James attended a Methodist church with his family on Sunday mornings and went to Bible study on Wednesday nights. He didn’t do “bad things,” he said, yet his faith didn’t cause him to live in a way that stood out the way that he believes Jesus calls us to.

“I was raised in the church, but that’s kind of where it ended for me,” James said. “In my attempt to look like Christ, I simply didn’t look like the world.”

James did service work and went on mission trips throughout high school and college, often volunteering at homeless shelters, but he couldn’t get past the feeling that something was missing.

“I wasn’t friends with the poor,” he said. “I knew they were poor and I was wealthy, but I didn’t know them.”

Not long after graduating from Florida State University, James took a job with J.P. Morgan & Chase. He was making almost a six-figure salary, but he wasn’t happy. He called up a buddy he knew was taking a mission trip to Latin America, got a couple of days off of work and three weeks later left the country for the first time on a plane heading to Nicaragua.

The turning point

Nicaragua’s city dump is called La Chureca. It’s the final destination for most of the city’s garbage, including mountains of fecal matter, medical waste and battery acid. Hundreds of people live inside the dump, where families construct their homes out of the trash. It was here, in the middle of the wasteland, that a Jamaican prophetess named Mrs. Ruby had come to live among the poorest of the poor, praying over them and speaking to them on God’s behalf.

A photo James snapped inside the dump where hundreds of families build their homes out of the trash in Nicaragua’s city dump called La Chureca.

“She would pray over people as if the Lord were speaking,” James said. “I didn’t really believe in that stuff before I went. It’s very different from what we’re raised to believe, but it’s actually very biblical. Looking back, it’s kind of shocking that I wasn’t taught about it in church.”

His last day in Nicaragua, James went to see Mrs. Ruby. As James kneeled on the floor of her home just outside the gates of the dump, she poured oil over his head and began speaking in tongues.

“I was expecting something transformational,” James said. “I mean, how often do you get outside of the country to be prayed over by a prophetess in the middle of a dump?”

James with Mrs. Ruby, the Jamaican prophetess who changed his life when she prophesied over him during his mission trip to Nicaragua.

Finally, the prophetess fell silent. She looked at James and said, “Child, the Lord wants you to know you haven’t been obedient.”

James was furious. He had worked so hard to live a good life; he didn’t understand how he had not been obeying.

“My child,” she said calmly, “your obedience isn’t defined by what you don’t do, but by what you do for the world your God so loved.”

Slowly, James began to feel convicted that there was a difference between admiring Christ and following him.

The decision

James walked into the kitchen and hopped on top of the counter, not sure how his mom was going to react to what he was about to tell her. He sat there quietly watching her cook at the oven. James had been restless lately. She knew something was up.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Mom,” James said, “I feel like I want to be homeless.”

James remembers her response was simple, yet profoundly beautiful.

“She’s got these beautiful big, round eyes,” he said, “and she started tearing up. She nodded her head and just looked at me, and said, ‘OK.’”

James’ dad said it would be a neat adventure. His boss thought he was a fool, but he quit his job in September of 2009 and put some of his belongings up for sale on Craigslist, the rest up for sale in the driveway.

James (right) and a friend wearing the Clothe Your Neighbor As Yourself shirts that James designed and started selling to raise money to help the homeless.

Before he hit the road, James stayed at home to gather support. He started sleeping on the streets in Tallahassee, handing out socks and clothing to those in need, but eventually he ran out of items to give and money to buy more with.

A graphic design major in college, he made a t-shirt design and had some shirts printed that simply read, “Clothe Your Neighbor as Yourself.” He began selling them, and pouring all the profits back into helping the homeless.

At first, Mrs. Barnett was terrified.

“I was in fear for my child,” she said. “I just prayed and prayed that if it was God’s will for him then I would feel a peace about it.”

Almost immediately, she felt a light calmness about her.

She felt God saying, “He was mine before he was yours, and I’m going to take care of him,” she said.

The entire time James was away from home she was overwhelmed by a sense of peace that never left her.

 Meeting love face to face

The first week James spent on the streets it rained.

James lies on the street in downtown Atlanta one night before falling asleep on the concrete.

On the streets of Gainesville, Fla. he handed out rain ponchos to the wet and cold. After receiving a poncho, one man replied, “Let me give you something,” and signaled for James to come with him behind a building. A little nervous, James followed. The man pointed to the bathroom, and again said, “Follow me.”

James was hesitant, but he felt a voice say, “Go in. Trust in my peace.” Inside, more homeless men were gathered around the wall in a tight circle. Unsure of what was about to happen, James watched as the man pushed through the group and pointed at the wall.

“I noticed your socks were wet,” he said reaching out toward a hand dryer. “This is how we stay warm and dry our socks. I wanted to give something to you.”

James just looked at him, amazed.

Georgia on my mind

After three and half months, James headed to Atlanta, a city known for having some of the most dangerous streets in the country.

“I heard I was going to die in Atlanta,” he said. “So before I took off for Georgia, I swung back home to see family and friends — just in case.”

It was in Atlanta that James met Joe McCutchen, a volunteer at SafeHouse Outreach, an urban program committed to helping those on the margins of society. When the two met, the first thing Joe noticed about James was his feet, wrapped up in a

James wore the same pair of burlap Toms shoes for two years straight while he was out on the streets.

pair of burlap canvas shoes — the only pair of shoes he wore for two years straight.

“I remember looking down and seeing his shoes held together with duct tape and I thought, ‘I really like this guy.’”

James worked with Joe in the SafeHouse Outreach mail center for two months, reaching out to the more than 12,000 homeless who live on the streets and under the bridges of the city.

“It was a joy having him around,” Joe said. “They still talk about him on the streets here.”

Although James was getting the hang of life on the streets, street life wasn’t always easy — or safe.

Back in Gainesville, James had become good friends with a homeless woman named Laurie whose boyfriend would come back to the alley some nights drunken and angry. He usually hit Laurie and eventually, she told James she was afraid for her life. Thinking about how he could help his friend, James remembered the way that Jesus often “disarmed people with creative thinking,” he said.

So he got creative. Thursday nights he started showing up in the alley with board games.

“I ended up just having to hug him every time I saw him to disarm his anger,” he said. “The first time I went out there he came at her furious and didn’t even see me. I stepped out in front of her and just hugged him, held onto him for a few seconds. I said, ya know, ‘Lord, bring peace.’”

Eventually, the boyfriend calmed down and the three of them sat together in the streets playing Mancala.

When two paths cross

Matt Follman was pouring soup into someone’s bowl at a shelter when he told the homeless man he was serving to have a good day.

“Easy for you to say,” the man replied, adding how easy it must be for Matt to go home to his nice house, drive a nice car and eat out of his nicely stocked fridge.

Matt Follman, 25, grew up in Michigan, but today is living on the streets traveling to different cities to live with the poor. His first stop was Melbourne, Florida. He is now in Atlanta before heading home to Michigan for the summer to raise support.

The man’s comment tugged on Matt’s heart and within a few months Matt had sold everything he owned to live on the streets among the poor. He heard that the homeless flocked to the south like birds, and he’d always wanted to see the beach anyway, so he picked up from Colorado and headed to a little surf town in none other than Melbourne, Florida.

It wasn’t long after he hit Melbourne that he heard about James Barnett.

“I kept hearing this name echoing around,” Matt said, “and I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’”

Matt was hanging out in a coffee shop one day when James came up and gave him a hug. It’s not hard to imagine they became fast friends.

“I told James this is going to be a great friendship,” Matt said, “and he looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘It already is, man.’”

This March, James took Matt with him on a trip to visit SafeHouse Outreach in Atlanta.

“I’m learning from James in the way that Timothy learned from Paul,” Matt said. “It gives me chills to think that I’m going to meet the same people that James has already met along his journey. It’s funny, all God wants to do is just to use us — if we would just open our eyes and ears. God is writing; we’re just the pencil. All we need to do is ask to be used.”

The Clothe Your Neighbor movement

By the end of 2010, Clothe Your Neighbor As Yourself had become an

Little girls in Haiti hang out with James in their own Clothe Your Neighbor shirts.

official non-profit organization.

All of the profit goes to benefit either The Kenyan Knitting Project, which pays the salaries of Kenyan women who knit uniforms for Kenyan orphans, or The Brigade Project, which provides a way for community members to request and then hand deliver basic goods to the homeless in their area.

Today, James lives in a parsonage in a little surf town in Melbourne, Florida, where some 70-plus kids at First United Methodist Church call him their youth pastor. Others call him a saint. Some call him crazy. But the homeless who James met along his journey will always call him by the nick name they gave him on the streets: Mr. Butters — because as they say, “he spreads the love like he spreads the butter.”

Check out James’ personal blog, the Clothe Your Neighbor website and CYNY shirts!

One-Armed Dance Major Determined to Succeed

During Tapped Out! in January, Julie danced front and center during a 90s themed dance mix.

Songs from her childhood blast from the speakers during a ‘90s themed dance piece, one of many dances performed during Tapped Out! in January 2012. Other girls, and a lone male, join her on stage, all donned in overalls, neon, scrunchies and sweatbands. She’s the female lead, front and center with a giant grin on her face. As she does a few shuffles and riffs, her mother gazes at her from the audience, knowing she made the right choice to allow her daughter to keep dancing. She hears a sweet, old lady sitting a row behind her make a remark about her daughter: “Did you see that girl? Her hand doesn’t move.”

Julie Crothers, a sophomore dance major and arts administration minor at Elon University, was that girl.

“I never thought of myself as different,” said Julie, about her noticeably missing left arm.

On March 27, 1992, Crothers was born in Nashville, Tenn., to her parents Janet and John. Most of her left arm was missing at birth.

“We had had two ultrasounds, which didn’t show that there were any problems,” Janet Crothers said.

Julie was breach before she was born. The doctors were able to turn her around but they still didn’t know what caused her to be breach in the first place.

Janet recalls her obstetrician being very calm and relaxed when he told the family what they were dealing with.

“He acted like it was nothing. She’s fine, everything’s fine, she’s just a little different,” Janet said. “I think his reaction helped us come to terms with it.”

It was discovered that Julie had amniotic band syndrome (ABS). According to amnioticbandsyndrome.com, “ABS occurs when the fetus becomes entangled in fibrous string-like amniotic bands in the womb, restricting blood flow and affecting the baby’s development.” If wrapped tightly enough around a limb, the band can amputate it.

Janet remembered the day she left the hospital. She was sitting in the waiting room with newborn Julie, waiting for her husband to bring the car around.

“I remember looking at some children playing and thinking, ‘My baby will never do that, she will never be like these children,’” she said. “Which, of course, is ridiculous, but I just didn’t know what it was going to be like having a child with only one hand.”

Julie’s two older siblings, Jamie and Jenny, handled meeting their one-armed baby sister well.

Janet remembers when Julie’s oldest sister, Jenny – age six at the time – was holding her new sister for the first time and said matter-of-factly, “Mommy, that arm that didn’t grow all the way is poking me.” Jenny even begged to bring her special little sister to her class for show and tell one day.

Telling others about their new little bundle of joy was hard on the family.

“Some people were really sad, and that was kind of hard because we weren’t sad. We had a beautiful, healthy baby girl,” Janet said.  “I don’t want somebody acting like this is a tragedy.”

Julie was five months old when she got fitted for her first prosthesis at Myoelectric Arms of Houston, Texas (now called Pediatric Prosthetics), that was recommended to the Crothers family by some family friends, whose daughter had an arm that needed to be amputated because she had cancer.

Currently Julie has four different arms in her possession: a very real looking arm, a party arm, an arm for many occasions, and her dance arm that's not afraid to get a little dirty.

“For the first 17 years of my life, I got my arms from a lady named Linda Bean,” Julie said. “Linda became very close with my family and I because she saw me through the whole process over the years.”

Julie said Bean even flew out to the Crothers’ home in Nashville a few times to fit her for a new arm.

“My initial reaction was, ‘Well, Julie has a problem and we’re going to go get it fixed,’” Janet said about getting Julie a prosthesis, but the Crothers actually got some negative reactions from members of their community.

“That’s the way God made her,” and “She’ll be fine without it,” were the typical responses community members made.

“We never really felt that way,” Janet said. “I look at it like God made you with eyes that aren’t 20/20. You’re not going to get a pair of glasses so that you can see better?”

Janet explained that her and her husband John didn’t want Julie to think that something was wrong with her by getting her a prosthesis. They just wanted her to have the opportunity to use a prosthesis to her advantage.

“I was really self conscious when I was little,” Julie said, “I would wear [my prosthesis] all the time.”

One day, the Crothers family was going to church and Julie had forgotten to put her arm on.

“Some children forget to put their shoes on and she forgot to put her arm on,” Janet said with a laugh as she remembered the event.

Julie was embarrassed to be without her arm that day and wouldn’t go inside the church until her dad ran home and got her arm for her.

But now, Julie is much more confident and if one day she is annoyed with her arm, she just doesn’t wear it.

Janet tried to treat her daughter as much like any other child as possible, but some people in their community didn’t realize that Julie was capable of more than she seemed.

During a church gathering, the kids were playing games and one child decided to play Twister – a game that requires the use of all four limbs. The mother of the child apologized and suggested that the children play a different game, but Janet said not to worry and the game remained a go.

“Julie ended up doing really well in that game because when it would say left arm on red, she would take her arm off and put it on that color, so she ended up winning the Twister game,” she said.

Julie was never hindered by the protection of her parents because there was never anything they didn’t allow her to do because of her disability.

Julie even got her license at age 16 like everyone else, only needing a special knob that has been on her car since training, which allows her to make sharp turns and pull in and out of parking spots easier.

But the one thing that Janet was a little wary of at first was allowing Julie to take dance lessons.

“I mainly started [dancing] because my older sister danced and I wanted to be just like her,” Julie said.

Janet was nervous about letting her daughter dance until Ann Carroll, the owner of Ann Carroll School of Dance in Franklin, Tenn., told her that if Julie wanted to dance, to let her.

Niki Pennington, the head instructor of the lyrical department at the school since 1999, had never encountered someone with a prosthesis before Julie enrolled in her class.

Pennington started teaching Julie around age seven or eight. Neither Julie nor her parents ever asked for special treatment.

“She just kind of blended in with everybody and she was truly a phenomenal kid,” Pennington said.

Julie always seemed to blend in with the other dancers. She never showed a sign of weakness in her classes and was always determined to dance as if she had both arms.

Even though Julie was determined in letting nothing get in her way, there were still some things in dance that were difficult for her.

In 2003, she was a toy soldier in the Nashville Ballet’s rendition of The Nutcracker.

“We had to dance with the cane, holding it together, for half the number and then once the rats broke it, we had to hold it in two pieces in both hands,” Julie said.

She was worried that she wasn’t going to be able perform the role to the same level as everyone else, but with the help of the choreographer, rehearsal director and a helpful amount of Velcro, they made it work.

“Nothing’s impossible and issues can always be figured out,” Julie said.

Among Julie’s family, friends and professors, she’s known for three things: being determined, funny and caring towards everyone.

Julie is full of life. Her humor and good spirits keep her going as she fulfills her dream of becoming a dancer.

“I liked her immediately,” Jane Wellford, professor of performing arts at Elon, said.

Wellford first met Julie at spring orientation before Julie’s freshman year at Elon. She described Julie as personable, outgoing, sweet and well-mannered.

“Yes, I couldn’t help but notice that she had a prosthesis but when I started teaching her in classes, I noticed there was absolutely nothing different about her than any other person at all,” Wellford said.

In a piece Wellford choreographed in the fall, she required the dancers to do some very physical things and catch each other. It was a strenuous dance that involved a lot of contact improvisation.

“It was really hard for anybody with two arms that were whole,” Wellford said.

But Julie did that dance, in Wellford’s opinion, more vigorously than most.

“She was always so determined and won’t let anybody down or show any sign of weakness,” Wellford said. “Never ever.”

For Pennington, it was tough when Julie graduated high school because the two of them had become so close.

“She inspired me on a daily basis with her positive energy and her perseverance,” Pennington said. “She is an amazing individual and I am honored to have been her teacher and her friend.”

Senior dance and English double major Jess Duffy couldn’t stop praising Julie and her determination.

“It’s her attitude that shows me her drive and passion,” Duffy said. “It’s really inspiring.”

One time when Duffy was on tech for black box with Julie, they were cleaning up the set and Julie was messing around with the push broom, pretending to be struggling as she pushed with only one arm.

The stage manager noticed what Julie was doing and said, “You know it would help if you had two arms.”

“It was silent for a while but then Julie says something like, ‘I just have the one!’ and everyone started laughing, well, except for the stage manager of course,” Duffy said.

Julie shows her humor about her missing arm all the time. Sometimes she plays pranks on people – her youth minister at church would go around telling people that Julie only shook hands with her left hand. Once people would grab her hand, she would pull away so that her arm would detach itself.

One year for Halloween, Julie got creative and dressed up in all camouflage, taped her old prosthetics all around her, and called herself an “army man.”

As Julie grew as a dancer and showed her determination and her love for it, Janet grew out of her wariness of letting her dance and knew she made the right decision.

“I think initially I was scared her arm might fall off,” Janet said, but now she is glad that Julie can do something that she enjoys, and do it well.

“I love watching her dance, as any mother would,” Janet said. “It’s an extra special level with Julie because her road hasn’t been as easy as some.”

Julie, who was the fastest typist in her fourth grade keyboarding class – despite the lack of five fingers, she never let her disability stand in her way. She even wants to open her own dance studio someday so she can teach others how to live the dream of being a dancer.

“Being different than everyone else, especially in the dance world, there’s tons of times I could have made an excuse, and been like, ‘I can’t do that because I don’t have an arm,’ but not letting anything stop me and not getting stuck when something isn’t going right is the thing keeping me going,” Julie said, and a smile spread across her face.