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Exotic ownership regulations threaten local animal rescue

It’s not the exotic tigers that pose a threat to the safety of the Conservators’ Center. It’s the law.

The Conservators’ Center, a nonprofit organization in Caswell County dedicated to caring for abandoned or injured exotic species, is currently facing a threat from pending federal legislation that would jeopardize its existence.

A caracal comes to the front of its cage to get a good look at the tour group.

In recent years, many states have tightened restrictions against the private ownership of exotic animals.  Twenty-one states already have comprehensive bans on private ownership, and eight more ban most exotic animals as pets. But if private ownership is deemed illegal nationwide, which the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act proposes, only citizens who are registered by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) would be able to breed large cats, according to Mindy Stinner, co-founder of the Conservators’ Center.

The Conservators’ Center is not accredited by the AZA for a number of reasons.  A large part is due to the expense, which is heightened by the AZA stipulation that the Center must look a certain way for the public. The Center would also be required to put its tigers in nightly lockdown in a small concrete area and would lose the ability to make decisions for its animals.

“The AZA being a private club makes me really leery,” Stinner said. “I don’t like a private club being the only organization that has the right to do anything. If the government is going to pass new rules about something, then it should say all the people that our government agency licenses should be exempted.”

Stinner is referring to the USDA, the government agency that licenses the Conservators’ Center.  Stinner isn’t opposed to putting a limit on who owns large cats, but thinks instead of shutting down USDA licensed facilities, the government should simply tighten the USDA’s criteria.

“I have no problem at all with someone saying you shouldn’t have a pet tiger,” Stinner said. “But I think if you have a licensing agency that comes in and looks at you and says animal welfare and public safety are taken care of, then it seems to me that you should be able to continue operating.”

The two lemurs are among the most intelligent animals at the Conservators' Center.

North Carolina is regulated county by county, so there is no state law banning private ownership of a  tiger. Every second or third session, a bill is introduced that would prohibit all ownership of exotic animals, Stinner said. But the bill has failed because the lawmakers often overreach and add as many as 10,000 species to the bill. Stinner has come up with a potential sponsor for a state-wide bill that would exempt USDA licensed facilities and hold non-licensed facilities to the same standards by having them regulated by a local animal control officer.

“We would support a bill in North Carolina that would put one standard on all the counties saying there is the expectation of what is good for the animal and safe for the public,” she said. “That way we don’t rip away animals from people who are bonded to them and love them and have good homes.”

In North Carolina, there are about a dozen facilities that own large cats. If the federal bill is passed in its current form, only three facilities would remain open. The bill wouldn’t immediately shut down the non-accredited facilities, but once the current group of big cats owned by the private sector die out, the only ones left would be at AZA accredited facilities. Private facilities whose big cats attract visitors would close, and the rest of the animals would need to be rescued.

But if the Conservators’ Center didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be able to take in the miscellaneous animals that most facilities turn away.

“As long as there are businesses that use animals, there will be places that need to take the animals that the businesses can’t keep anymore,” Stinner said. “It’s a good need.”

The legislation, which is an amendment to the Lacey Act, exists due to amplified media coverage of private ownership of exotic animals, Stinner said. When 49 animals from Terry Thompson’s wildlife preserve in Zanesville, Ohio were shot dead, people begin assuming all private ownership was of a similar nature.

A red fox takes a nap in the shade after feeding time.

“That kind of situation makes people angry and upset and scared, and so bills always fall on the heels of that,” Stinner said.

Another misconception is that animal rights organizations have the same mission as animal welfare organizations. Animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Human Society of the United States believe animals shouldn’t exist in captivity at all, whereas animal welfare groups, such as the Conservators’ Center, believe in doing what’s best for the species.

“Animal rights sounds great, but it doesn’t necessarily have to do with protecting an individual animal and certainly not with protecting a species,” said Kim Pyne, an English professor at Elon and long term volunteer at the Conservators’ Center.  “There are other political agendas involved.”

These well-funded national organizations make campaigns that are hard for animal-lovers to argue against, Stinner said. They advertise that they are shutting down ill-managed circuses and taking down farms with abusive practices, actions most people agree with. But what they don’t specify is that they also support taking away a pet dog and the eggs people eat for breakfast.

“(PETA) has the worst adoption rate out of any shelter in the five state region,” Stinner said. “They have a 95 percent kill rate. People leave their entire estate to PETA, and PETA euthanizes the animals and says well, some animals can’t be re-homed. And I think that’s appalling. To call yourself People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and not treat them ethically is really abusive.”

Most of the lions take an afternoon nap after feeding time.

In addition to misleading campaigns, statistics are often manipulated in order to sway people’s opinions on private ownership, said Mandy Matson, who manages communications at the Conservators’ Center. When a statistic such as 7,000 tigers are currently in private hands is thrust into the spotlight, there comes with it the implication that all 7,000 are backyard tigers, she said.

“When you see a statistic like that, what you need to keep in mind is that not all of them are dangerous to the community,” Matson said.

Because of this, banning private ownership of exotic species sounds normal on the surface and is something many people would say they agree with, said Rebecca Pope-Ruark, an Elon professor who works closely with the Conservators’ Center. But if there isn’t enough free space in the wild, having the animals in captivity is better than not having them at all, Stinner said.

“I know there are some people who, as a matter of principal, don’t believe in the ownership of exotic animals, (and think) that they should be in the wild and that humans have no business putting them away in cages,” said Martin Fowler, who teaches a philosophy course at Elon entitled Animal Captivity: Zoos, Sanctuaries and Asylums. “But those who run these facilities would say, well that sounds very good in principal, but there are real animals alive right now in need of our help.”

The Conservators’ Center differs from a zoo in that its mission is focused on the needs and well-being of the animals, and not on being an exhibit for the public.

A staff member at the Conservators' Center explains the eating habits of a binturong.

“(A zoo) is seen as a public institution, like a public library, whereas the Conservators’ Center is more like a battered animal shelter; it’s (the animals’) well-being that comes first,” Fowler said. “Since that was their first motivation, they were slower towards becoming visible to the public. They like public support, they need it, but they don’t want to do it to such an extent that the needs of the animals are compromised.”

Zoos will often choose which animals are presented to the public based on what people want to see, Fowler said. The Conservators’ Center didn’t intend to have the diversity and type of population they now have, but have found a way to meet the needs of the animals.

“The Conservators’ Center never wanted to have tours, that was not the mission,” Pope-Ruark said. “The mission was to be a place of last resort for animals who were otherwise going to be killed. It was never supposed to go public.”

The Center opened to the public in an effort to raise money to accommodate 14 lions and their offspring in 2004. The lions were seized from breeding groups in Ohio, where they lived in a square area of just 20 feet on each side and were physically and verbally abused. After the health department ruled that the management of the facility violated health codes, the USDA was asked to help place the animals in a new facility.

One of the ten tigers wakes up from an afternoon nap.

One of the lions was Maggie, a submissive lioness who was the omega of the pride.  Maggie drew the attention of Shelly Benson, a resident of North Carolina who has adopted a number of animals from facilities similar to the Conservators’ Center. When Benson met Maggie, she immediately signed up to be a Lifetime Adopter, allowing her to form a special relation with Maggie and have unique access to certain parts of the facility after going through training on proper safety measures.

Benson now visits Maggie at least once a month and finds herself constantly thanking the Conservators’ Center for providing Maggie, and the rest of the animals at the Center, with a safe home.

“I have this opportunity to not only see (the animals) up close, but to get to know them and their personalities, and that’s such a gift,” Benson said. “It’s been a delight to see (Maggie) and build a relationship with this beautiful animal. My (husband and I) are so fortunate, and the animals are so fortunate that they ended up at the Conservators’ Center. “

Benson and her husband pay a fee of $100 a month, all of which goes directly back to the Center in order for them to provide for the animals and constantly make room for more.

“We never want them to say ‘I’m sorry, we can’t take in this animal, we don’t have enough funds, we don’t have enough support,’” Benson said. “Because we don’t know what would have happened to Maggie if they didn’t take her in.”

The caracal, whose fur was shaved so it could receive diabetes shots, paces back and forth.

The Conservators’ Center, whose annual budget is less than $200,000 a year and receives no government funding, relies on the Lifetime Adopters for much of its income. The largest source of income, however, comes from its increasingly popular tour program.  Transitioning from a private to a public facility was difficult, both physically and financially, Matson said.  But having seen what the money has been able to provide for the animals put the majority of the staff on board, and the animals were quick to follow.

“The first concern was how are the animals going to react,” she said. “Because it built slowly the animals adjusted to it, and what we’ve discovered is that the animals really like it. It’s really worked out well for both human and animal.”

Now more than ever, the tour program is especially vital in bringing in support for the Center and showing more people that the Center isn’t someplace to be fearful of.

“Until you come here, you can’t know,” Stinner said. “We’re not crazies in the woods with lions and tigers running around everywhere. I don’t want people being afraid of our animals or thinking we are a threat.”

Both Congressman Brad Miller, who recently visited the Center, and Senator Kay Hagan believe the bill is too radical to pass in its current form. Julie Stainback, an Elon Law Leadership Fellow whose capstone project focused on the legislation, said she isn’t opposed to the bill passing if it takes a different form.

The jungle cat paces in the afternoon sun.

“I think there should definitely be some type of legislation or some type of regulation regarding the issue,” she said. “I don’t think that anybody should be able to go out and be able to buy a tiger because it is a threat to public safety and public health. But I definitely think that the bill they are proposing right now is not practical.”

Stinner is similarly hopeful that the bill will pass in a form she agrees with.

“I’ve never been an activist until all of these bills started coming and I went, ‘oh, this could actually shut down our business,’” she said. “But it’s so radical that it makes me think it won’t pass in its current form.”

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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.

Enthusiastic reporter shares advice, experience with Elon students

Tina Firesheets, retail and general assignment reporter for the Greensboro News & Record, visited our upper-level reporting class Monday to provide us with some advice about finding success in the field of journalism.

Tina Firesheets, a reporter for the Greensboro News & Record, talked to Elon University students Monday about how to succeed as a journalist. Photo couresty of news-record.com

Firesheets first became interested in journalism in high school, where she worked on her high school newspaper. However, it wasn’t until she spent a week with students from a small town in western Carolina that she discovered her true passion for the industry.

Firesheets attended Brevard College for two years before receiving her B.A. in Communications at The University of North Carolina in Greensboro.  The summer after her freshman year, she had her first internship with Hendersonville’s Times-News.

As an aspiring journalist, I was excited to hear Firesheets’ advice and felt fortunate to have the opportunity to personally interact with a seasoned journalist. Below are 10 tips that resonated with me from her visit to Elon.

1. “If you don’t like being rushed and having to do things really quickly, this is not the job for you,” Firesheets said. “If you want more time, maybe a magazine is the thing to work for.”

But Firesheets also explained that if you are naturally curious and enjoy meeting new people, journalism is a great field because it gives you the opportunity to temporarily step into someone else’s life. You also get to learn about a variety of topics that you may not have otherwise explored.

2. “Internships are necessary — be on the ball when it comes to looking for internships.”

Internships are crucial in that they can help you figure out what you want to do after you graduate, she said.

3. “Don’t give up — there is more than one way to get into the industry.”

After college, Firesheets applied to the Greensboro News & Record multiple times but was never offered a position. She began freelancing for local magazines and then for the News & Record entertainment magazine, and found out about a part-time opening at the newspaper through her editor at the magazine

4.”Always be on time,” Firesheets said. “Be early if you can.”

Often times, you might not be familiar with the area you are traveling to, so you have to allow for something to go wrong such as not finding a parking space or being delayed in some way.

5. “As you do the job, it’s more fun to do the reporting and the research than the writing.”

Firesheets said went into the field because she was told she was a good writer, but over time she’s discovered the other components to developing a story can be just as rewarding as the writing. Firesheets also explained that how much energy you can get from your sources often determines how easy it will be to write the story.

6. “Talking with my editor helps if I’m conflicted or don’t know how to start the story,” Firesheets said. “Sometimes you get so embroiled in what you’re doing that you’ve lost your ability to think as an outsider.”

Talking to another reporter or one of your peers can also be extremely valuable, she said.

7. “You got to say what you got to say, quick.”

Firesheets said her stories range from 40 to 65 inches, but even those are longer-form pieces written for the Sunday paper. Interesting details can’t always go into the story if they don’t fit, so being flexible in terms of cutting your story is a necessary trait to have.

8. “If you think (a story idea) is interesting, and you tell other people and they think it’s interesting, that’s enough reason to write.”

Be creative when it comes to finding stories, she said. Sometimes, you are assigned a story by your editor, but other times it is up to you to come up with a great story idea. Look in the ads section of the paper — that’s where some of the most unique stories can come from.

9. “Put a sports jacket and tennis shoes in the car.”

You never know when you’ll have to dress up for a formal interview, or dress down to go report someplace outside.

10. “The more prepared you are when you go into an interview, the more respect you’ll get.”

It’s obvious when you don’t know what you’re talking about, Firesheets said.

Although I am still in college, much of Firesheets’ advice is still extremely relevant. I am looking forward to implementing her strategies for coming up with story ideas, and I will undoubtedly follow her instruction regarding internships and interviews.

Bustling downtown atmosphere overshadows unique jewelry shop

Mary's Jewelry Box is located on 108 W. McGee St., right off of Elm Street in the heart of downtown Greensboro. Though the shop is just around the corner from other popular joints like Just Be and The Green Bean coffee shop, it often goes unnoticed.

Although Mary’s Jewelry Box offers a seemingly endless supply of handmade earrings, necklaces, pendants and other trinkets, those who know the store exists number significantly less than the pieces of jewelry for sale. The store is located on West McGee Street in Greensboro, NC which runs perpendicular to the bustling Elm Street. But according to Nocomus Williams, who has worked at the store for five months, many people pass right by and don’t even glance in the store’s direction.

Elon University junior Molly Carey makes frequent visits to The Green Bean Coffeehouse but says she has never spotted the jewelry store just around the corner. She even said she’s stopped into Just Be, a retail store directly across the street, but still never noticed Mary’s Jewelry Box.

“The traffic on this street is not very good,” Williams said. “Hopefully we may be moving to Elm Street. We’ve been thinking about that. Seriously.”

Mary Garvey opened Mary’s Jewelry’s Box in February 2011. The opening of the store came shortly after the closing of Clothesline, her discounted vintage clothing store.

“Mary owned the Clothesline on the corner and she actually sold the business name and decided that she wanted to get out of the business for awhile,” Williams said. “But it wasn’t a year before she opened this place.  And I had worked for her when she owned the Clothesline, so she called me and I’ve been here ever since.”

The store offers a wide variety of second-hand jewelry, the majority of which ranges in price from $2 to $5. Garvey buys a lot of the jewelry on eBay and also from individuals selling their own jewelry, Williams said. Because the prices are so low, the store does not work on consignment; Garvey pays the sellers upfront.

Due mainly in part to the excess inventory left over from Clothesline, Mary’s Jewelry Box has begun offering clothing.

“(Mary) had so much of a carry-over when she owned the clothing business that she started bringing groups of clothing,” Williams said. “And we’re gonna have even more clothes, hopefully soon.”

Although Garvey and Williams are looking forward to attracting more business, Williams said she is pleased the store brings in such a diverse group of people, including college students from University of North Carolina at Greensboro and North Carolina A&T State University, as well as elderly customers.

“It’s just a variety of people,” she said. “Sometimes people will be going out to eat and they spot the little rack and the mermaid and they’ll come in. Unless it’s raining, the mermaid is usually there.”

But being greeted by a stuffed mermaid isn’t the only thing that keeps customers coming back. From the employees to the jewelry to the music selection, Mary’s Jewelry Box is a true find for those who take the time to turn the corner.

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The smartphone addiction: overdosing on connection

There are multiple things I find extremely unsettling about mobile phones.  They are spying on us, which is extremely creepy, they are becoming more and more indistinguishable from the human brain, which is downright scary, and they are negatively affecting day-to-day human interaction, which is just depressing. The relationship people have with their mobile device is becoming increasingly dependent and controlling, and it worries me.

Ever heard of Carrier IQ? Well, they’ve heard of you. Carrier IQ is software that is installed in most Android, BlackBerry and Nokia phones that chronicles the user’s phone experience, including sent and received text messages and web searches. But you can’t get rid of it without replacing the operating system of the phone, and even then you may not be able to escape, according to WIRED, a print and online magazine dedicated to breaking the most updated innovations that are changing the world.

Just two days ago, examiner.com posted an article concerning Facebook’s admission that they been on spying on its phone users’ text messages.  According to the article, Facebook stated it had engaged in this activity to use the information to develop its own messaging service, but the question is, why did it need to read specific, personal messages to develop this technology?

Even the entertainment industry acknowledges the power (and often times evilness) of cell phones. In the movie “One Missed Call,” an unknown voice calls people’s cell phones to tell them they are going to die, and they will still get the messages even if the battery is out of the phone. In the season finale of the popular television show “Dollhouse,” the evil masterminds discover they can remotely wipe and reprogram people’s brains via cell phone, making all human brains part of a computer network. In Stephen King’s book “Cell,” everybody receives phone calls that turns them crazy. Many people consider these stories unrealistic. But there are parts to all of them that ring eerily true.

I’m not hesitant to call people’s constant need to have their phone an outright addiction. People are so used to having their phones with them that when they are cut off from them, they experience anxiety and hypervigilance, according to Shari Corbitt, a psychologist specializing in addiction behavior. And instead of being looked down upon for being so connected, cell phone addicts are often praised for their quick responses and up-to-date information. Alcoholics or drug addicts are encouraged to go to rehab. People with a cell phone addiction go unnoticed because it’s such a widespread issue that it’s not even recognized as a problem.

Simply walk around Elon’s campus (or any college campus) and count how many students are talking on their cell phone. When students walk alone from building to building, they feel the need to call or text someone.  Next time you get dinner with a group of friends, count how many of them are using their phone at any given minute. A game called “cellphone stacking” has been invented to test how long people can be without their phone at the dinner table. The rules are simple: everyone stacks his or her phone onto the others and are forced to have a person-to-person conversation. The first person to reach for their phone buys everyone dinner.

What has our society come to that we need to invent a game in order stay off of our phones? Talking to our friends and family without being distracted should be motivation enough. People are no longer engaged in the moment or active participants in conversation. We are losing each other.

What scares me even more is that you don’t even have to go to a college campus to see this pattern. An elementary school would yield the same results. A survey from the Center of Media and Health showed that 22 percent of kids age six to nine have cell phones, 60 percent of 10 to 14 year olds have cell phones and 84 percent of 15 to 18 year olds. I have no doubt that the age kids get their first cell phone will continue to lower.

Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with my cell phone.  I love it because it gives me a way to talk to my family, who I don’t get to see very often. If I’m on the go and need to call someone, I can do so. If I’m ever in an emergency and need help, it’s there for me.

But I hate that I feel like I can never be without it. I secretly love when my phone dies or I accidentally leave it in my room so that I have an excuse to be disconnected from it. It’s legitimately a liberating feeling, which is extremely worrisome. I want that feeling to come from skydiving or bungee jumping, not from being away from my cell phone for a couple hours.

Because I’m so used to having it with me, I know how many emails I get in a certain time period or how many calls I would miss if I didn’t carry it with me. I therefore feel like I have to have it with me at all times. If someone needs me, I want to be able to take their call. When I wake up in the morning, I immediately check my email on my phone to see if there’s anything I need to respond to right away. This just starts my day off in a stressful manner.

 

So friends: If i don’t answer your call or text right away, I promise I’m okay. I’m just taking a nice, hour long break from the monster that is my phone.

Gay marriage is a ‘must’

On May 8, 2012, North Carolinians will vote on Amendment One, the North Carolina Same-Sex Marriage Amendment.  Amendment One will appear on the ballot as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment, which means it was initiated by the state legislature but will be rejected or approved by voters.

The House gave voters the power to decide whether a ban on same-sex marriage should be written into the state constitution in a 74-42 vote on Sept. 12, 2011.  Two days later, the amendment passed though the N.C. Senate in a 30-16 vote.

Proponents of the bill say the amendment needed to be passed so the people, not the courts, can define marriage. But opponents argue that the majority should not vote on the rights of the minority.

Marvin Ellison, a gay ordained Presbyterian minister and a Willard S. Bass professor of Christian Ethics, recognizes that the controversy surrounding the amendment was inevitable.

“It seems that almost whenever two or more are gathered, there will likely be conflict or at least intense conversation about marriage, family rights and same-gender loving people,” he said.

Ellison argued that there are three voices in the public debate concerning same-sex marriage. The first voice is that of marriage traditionalists, who resist marriage equality because they fear it will erase gender differences.  A second voice is that of marriage advocates, who, Ellison said, find marriage exclusion to be a form of discrimination that violates the principal of equal protection under the law.

The third voice is that of marriage critics, who support the right of same sex couples to marry, but are not persuaded that it will automatically lead to greater relational justice.

“For marriage critics, same sex marriage is an ambivalent good,” Ellison said. “If not quite a bust, not entirely a must.”

I myself am a strong advocate for gay marriage. I wholeheartedly believe that if this amendment passes, hundreds of thousands of North Carolina families who fall outside of the “marriage between one man and one woman” definition will be harmed, because a heterosexual marriage will become “the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” The proposed amendment will interfere with will and trusts, end-of-life arrangements, hospital visitation privileges and would interfere with the state’s ability to recruit businesses and jobs.

But more importantly, why is it the state’s right to choose who can marry whom? Choosing who you want to marry is a basic personal freedom.

“What it means to be human is expressed most fully in this remarkable capacity to love and be loved,” Ellison said. “To enter into intimate connection with others. To deny therefore a group of people…the freedom to marry and the moral right to love and be loved is therefore not a minor inconvenience or merely unpleasant, it is rather an exclusion that is dehumanizing, unjust and wrong.”

Focusing solely on gaining equal access to marriage, however, could be detrimental if other requirements of justice are ignored. So, vote against Amendment One on May 8.  But let’s remember that the larger issue is gaining equality in all aspects of our society.

Because Bill Clinton served as president when I was just a kid, what I know about him is limited to what I’ve heard from my parents, read in history books and been taught by teachers. I think the same can be said for how a number of college students view Clinton; we have little knowledge of Clinton’s presidency beyond the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal.

I have to admit, his allegations of sexual misconduct and his affair with Lewinsky are what come to mind when I think of Bill Clinton. And it’s hard for me to justify that what he did was okay, because it’s a fairly straightforward situation without much room for forgiveness, in my opinion. What he did was wrong, and I believe it’s fair for people to consider this aspect of his character when making a judgement on how they feel about him.

In my Media History class last semester, we were asked to make a list of what we thought were the top five major news events since the 1980s. The Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal (1998) was fourth on my list, because it validated the possibilities of the Internet and changed the media landscape in the 21st century.  This is due to the way that the story was broken: Matt Drudge exposed Clinton on his website called the Drudge Report, and although the rest of the story was false, the information had entered the public sphere. From January 1 to April 1998,  46 percent of stories on the nightly news on ABC, CBS or NBC focused on the Clinton sex scandal, according to David Copeland in his book “The Media’s Role in Defining the Nation: The Active Voice.”

Because Clinton is a public figure, the media can criticize his behavior and publicize it in their news outlets without being accused of libel, because public figures, such as government officials and celebrities, are required to prove actual malice. The fact that Clinton would do something so defamatory to his when he is representing the entire country comes almost as an insult to the American people. Was he not taking his role seriously? This point is made in the documentary “Clinton,” written and directed by Barak Goodman. The documentary begins with Clinton apologizing on camera to the American people for his inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky, signifying how much emphasis is placed on this aspect of his presidency. The people interviewed in the documentary went on to ponder, how many second chances does one person deserve?

But Clinton was able to recover. He didn’t completely regain the popularity he had at the beginning of his term, but rumors of extra-marital affairs had also surfaced during his campaign for presidency, so he never really started with a clean slate.

Clinton has to be recognized and remembered for the way he changed political campaigning. He appeared on the “Arsenio Hall Show,” a late-night television program, wearing sunglasses and a saxophone around his neck and jammed on an Elvis Presley tune. Afterwards, he had a conversation with Hall where he talked casually to people, all the while being witty and charming. His appearance on an entertainment program changed campaigning forever. He was able to discuss issues that the United States in an informal setting. He realized that the television offered a candidate a way to have direct access to millions of Americans without the conversation being filtered by the gatekeepers of the media. True, his appearance created controversy: many thought playing the saxophone and talking about marijuana was not something a potential president should be doing. But his ability to appear as an everyday person worked, and forced the way that news media approached those running for office to change.

Clinton may have disappointed the majority of America. But he was able to stand up and attempt to make it better. His ability to comeback — his resilience — is central to who is as a man, according to the documentary. In fact, the first part of the documentary is titled “The Comeback Kid.”

Although Clinton’s reign as president may be over, he has not disappeared from from the media or from politics. Even if college students had not given him much of their attention, before, they should now. In 2011, Bill Clinton launched a Facebook App to help college students get funding. an announcement made at the Clinton Global Initiative University, which engages leaders on college campuses around the world.

And Clinton’s popularity has increased since his presidency. According to survey results released by Gallup politics on July 21, 2010, 61% view Clinton favorably, with 52% for Obama and 45% for George W. Bush.

So I don’t think it’s unreasonable that my generation may view Clinton unfavorably.  They have good reason to. But Clinton must be acknowledged for both the good and the bad. Referred to as “Secretariat” when he was received favorably and “Slick Willy,” when people were skeptical, Clinton no doubt divides the American people. But this assignment allowed me to see more to Clinton than just a man with a severely tarnished reputation. And I am thankful for that.