Clash of values prompts debate over birth control mandate

April 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Across the nation and at Elon University, a dispute over church-affiliated organizations, hospitals and colleges having to cover birth control in their employees’ health insurance plans has resulted in a debate that stems from two arguments: the lack of contraception availability for some women versus a violation of religious liberty for employers.

In light of the Obama administration’s federal requirement that employers include complete contraception coverage under all health insurance plans, conservatives and some religious organizations not exempt under the original rule — any that are not considered a church or house of worship — expressed disproval of the mandate. The Obama administration has announced an accommodation for these organizations, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Most Catholics think (the accommodation) is a Band-Aid to the problem,” said Gerry Waterman, the university’s Catholic campus minister. “We feel as though it’s an infringement of religious liberty, and the rule is taking our rights away.”

The Obama administration said the accommodation would require insurance providers, not the religious organizations themselves, to offer women complete coverage of birth control.

But some conservatives still believe that the root of the issue — the government’s infringement on religious institutions’ right to refuse actions that contradict the Church’s teachings — is not being solved.

“This health care bill should be viewed as a serious threat to religious liberty,” said freshman Austin Faur. “Usually, people say churches are forcing their beliefs into government policy, but now, the government is attempting to force its policy into churches.  Right now, it may just be contraception, but this could set a precedent for future mandates that will allow the government to force religious institutions to do something more extreme.”

Leigh-Anne Royster, director of health services and health promotion, said though Elon students would not be affected by the measure concerning birth control purchases through the university’s health services, which doesn’t accept insurance as a form of payment, the availability of contraception to all women is something she supports.

“I don’t view it as a religious liberty question,” Royster said. “I view it as a preventative health care strategy.”

Royster said taxpayers in America already indirectly support federally funded programs that provide reproductive health services.

“Things like Plan B and abortion services are health care options for women that are available in our country,” she said. “If you are someone employed and paying taxes and contributing to federally funded programs, you are contributing to that. In addition, you are contributing to emergency health care for people who don’t necessarily have access to preventative health care strategies.”

Senior Elisabeth Maselli said the issue is complicated, and though church-affiliated organizations shouldn’t be required to compromise long-held beliefs, other non-religious organizations shouldn’t be able to take advantage of any exceptions to the mandate.

“If the government can legally mandate the activities of religious organizations, this violates the separation of church and state,” Maselli said. “But the way the law is worded now, any private employer can claim any vague religious reasons to skip out on providing female employees a more comprehensive, and thereby more expensive, health care plan.”

Religious organizations’ objective to not have contraception as an option under employer-associated health plans is a concern of senior Kelly Little, who said women who want to use birth control should easily be able to purchase it under their company’s insurance plans.

“It is important to respect people for their beliefs and allow them to express their opinions,” Little said. “However, I passionately believe that every woman should have access to birth control and the ability to choose for herself.  Choosing not to use birth control yourself because of religious beliefs is one thing, but inhibiting others from making their own choice about birth control is another.”

But Faur, who along with other Catholics is not completely confident in the Obama administration’s guarantee that religious organizations will be able to avoid even indirect funding of birth control, believes the universal contraception coverage rule has more implications than some realize.

“This would be extremely harmful to the United States, because many of the Catholic hospitals, universities and charities that take a burden off the government would no longer be operating,” he said. “Some of the best universities in the country would be forced to close or pay astronomical fines. Charities which would have no way of paying these fines would no longer be able to operate.”

Additionally, Faur said a major component of his and other Christians’ stance on the issue comes from the notion that birth control is not health care.

“Health care is something that prevents or treats some sort of ailment,” he said. “Birth control does neither. Birth control prevents pregnancy, which has never been considered a disease. In fact, pregnancy is the opposite of disease — it is the earliest stage of new life.”

Royster said the dilemma between private institutions and the government’s funding of conscience-violating programs is one that may have no easy fix.

“The whole separation of church and state in our culture is hard,” she said. “We do have nationally funded programs and you just can’t get away from the fact that things are probably against some people’s ideals. If we really look down at funding related to ideology, there’s no way to protect or guard against that in a blanket sort of fashion.”

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Sparse snowfall means savings for local municipalities

April 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Less-than-average snowfall during the winter may equal fewer days off school for children, but for local municipalities, the lack of inclement weather means resources saved.

This year’s winter was much milder than usual, according to the National Weather Service. In February, Burlington received a single inch of snow, which is below the city’s annual average.

“A normal winter would probably give you about seven inches of snow,” said Nick Petro, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Raleigh.

The city of Burlington budgets $20,000 each year for snow and ice removal, and an additional $6,500 in case outside contract workers are needed for the job. In addition, a portion of the city’s overtime budget for workers may be used for inclement weather.

Nolan Kirkman, public works director for the city of Burlington, said though the money saved is important, the city doesn’t immediately apply the funds toward another part of the budget.

“We’re not necessarily going to use that part of the budget for anything else,” Kirkman said. “The money goes into the appropriated fund balance, and is basically savings for the city that year. If other needs arise, from time-to-time we’ll see a budget amendment go through.”

Even when Alamance County does experience multiple snowstorms or snowfall during a winter, Kirkman said the city’s budget for snow removal still isn’t typically exhausted.

The 2010-2011 winter, which Kirkman described as “pretty busy,” for the city, included three events for which the city had to remove snow and ice, but used only 65 percent of that portion of the budget.

Chris Rollins, city manager in Graham, said the city budgeted $12,000 this year for snow and ice removal materials after last winter’s storms depleted most of the salt supply. The city spent $7,762 on the materials, a supply that Rollins said should last the city a few years.

Graham uses its own public works department workers to spread salt each winter during inclement weather — the only cost associated being overtime pay, when necessary.

“When we work overtime, we try to balance it out so people get time off instead of paying out overtime,” Rollins said. “Sometimes we can’t, but the big cost still just ends up being salt. Once we fill up our shed, depending on the storms, we could go three years without buying any more.”

Though the town of Elon also relies on its own public works staff to tend to roads during inclement weather, the town doesn’t use salt, but a sand mixture that’s put at intersections, said Mike Dula, town manager.

“We don’t usually set aside actual funding for snow removal, but we do use the equipment and personnel time,” he said. “We do budget some overtime each year for the public works department, which is paid hourly.”

Dula said the town’s workers are usually able to complete most of the work during normal hours, however tending to roads during inclement weather means the employees get behind on other work.

“It’s hard to put a dollar figure on that,” Dula said. “They’re all people who are here already, but who are used for (ice prevention) instead of something else. Many things related to public works are caused by nature — and a lot of it is unpredictable.”

*This article originally appeared in the (Burlington) Times-News.

Burlington florist moves to new location after decades of business

April 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

After 55 years of business, Roxie’s Florist has found a new home in Burlington. The florist, formerly located on North Church Street, moved to a new location on Alamance Road after finding out in mid-February that its old building  was going to be sold.

But not much else about the business has changed — including its longtime customers.

Patti Black, the owner of Roxie's Florist pulls a flower arrangement out of the back of her van during a delivery Tuesday.

“A lot of it is third-generation business,” said Gay Sharpe, who helps out at the florist and is the aunt of owner Patti Black. “Their parents and grandparents before them were customers, and now they are.”

Roxie and Alvis O’Ferrell opened Roxie’s Florist in Burlington in 1957. The O’Ferrells were friends of Black — who worked as an assistant at the florist after graduating from Elon College in 1983.

When the business went for sale after the O’Ferrell’s nephew, the florist’s owner at the time, died suddenly in 1999, Black and her husband, Steve, decided to make the purchase.

Her only experience was answering the phone at the florist and working with silk flowers, Black didn’t know anything about designing arrangements or working with flowers.

“Boy, has it been a ride,” said Black, who taught herself about designing floral arrangements, though she mainly delivers.

Shannon Peters, a floral designer who has worked in the industry for 25 years, nearly half of those at Roxie’s, said the way Black secured the florist’s new building earlier this year was almost as unexpected as the way she wound up purchasing the business.

“She found a penny heads up, put in her pocket and said, ‘I hope something good happens today,’” Peters said.

Later that day, Black found out their current Alamance Road building was available.  The business re-opened at the new location at 414 Alamance Road on April 2.

“All of our customers are really excited to see it,” said Wendy Grady, the florist’s assistant.

When cleaning out for the move, Peters said the staff found antiques they never knew were in their old building — ranging from a November 1963 newspaper from John F. Kennedy’s assassination to an old crank-operated cash register and a corsage box with “Roxie’s” written in flower power font.

Peters said they would display some other memorabilia, including old pictures from the former building and its property deeds, in a shadow box for longtime customers to see.

“It was a family thing then,” Sharpe said. “It’s always been a family-owned thing.”

*This article originally appeared in the (Burlington) Times-News.

This year’s early spring producing strawberries sooner in Alamance County

March 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Jameeka Chambers places a marker at the end of a row of strawberries at Iseley Farms in Burlington Friday.

Recent mild weather has meant early garden blooms and shorts-appropriate temperatures, but is keeping some farmers on the edge of their seats.  Though warm temperatures have signaled unusually early blooming, a frost could put growers in danger of losing crops, and weather patterns aren’t always predictable.

“Nobody has a crystal ball and can tell you for sure it’s not going to freeze,” said Roger Cobb, director of Alamance County office of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

Locally, the main crops in fields right now are small grains, primarily wheat, Cobb said. Usually harvested sometime in June, many of the plants have grown to heights unusual for this time of year.

Mark Danieley, horticulture agent for the county’s Cooperative Extension office, said his primary concern is for fruit trees and grape vines that are blooming early. With the average last frost date being April 20, Danieley said chances are slim of Alamance County seeing no frost for another month.

“Another 30 days without a killer freeze seems unlikely,” Danieley said Thursday. “It’s possible we could lose some of our tree fruit — apples, cherries, pears — things like that.”

The worst freeze the area has seen in recent years was around Easter 2007, April 15, 16 and 17 of that year, when many fruit crops were destroyed.

“There were no grapes, no peaches, and few apples around here,” Danieley said. “It has happened in the past.”

Cobb said the low reached 19 degrees in parts of Alamance County that Easter morning.

“That was a really devastating freeze that came in,” said Jeremy Pattison, strawberry researcher at N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute in Kannapolis. “Normally with strawberries we always budget for several nights of frost protection. It’s just the nature of growing that particular fruit in this part of the world.”

North Carolina strawberry growers experienced a range of loss that year, anywhere from 25 to 50 percent, depending on the farm and the location in the state, he said. Farms in eastern North Carolina lost more in 2007 because their strawberries had become fruit, as opposed to blooms in the western part of the state.

When it comes to preventing damage from a freeze, strawberry farmers can depend on two technologies, Pattison said: overhead irrigation and row covers — or a combination of the two.

Jane Iseley, owner of Iseley Farms in Burlington, uses both overhead irrigation and canvas row covers to protect their strawberries during frosts. She said they have left their row covers in the field this year, though they aren’t covering the strawberries unless needed.

The farm uses overhead irrigation to protect the fruit if temperatures reach 34 degrees, though Iseley said she prefers only to do so if the frost lasts one night, to prevent disease from extra water. Canvas row covers protect the crop down to about 22 degrees, and any temperature lower than that requires both forms of protection, she said.

“You can’t just rely on weather services,” Iseley said. “You have to keep up with what’s going on at your place.”

She said temperatures recorded and predicted by weather services are typically done at airports, which often vary greatly from temperatures in rural areas.

This year, their strawberries are running almost two weeks ahead of schedule.

“Our field is full of berries,” Iseley said. “We normally start picking in the third week of April, but this year we’ll start the first week. (Wednesday) we started putting up our tents and we’ve been down there putting out our cash registers and scales today.”

Iseley said traditionally, people expect strawberries to be ripe for picking on Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May — a date much later than the farm needs customers to start coming.

“Everyone is expecting them Mother’s Day weekend,” she said. “Here we are, going to have them a month earlier, the second Sunday in April. I hope people know that they’re going to be ready that much earlier.”

*This article originally appeared in the (Burlington) Times-News.

Elon volunteers target local schools’ need for help, serve as mentors for struggling Alamance County students

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sophomore Eryn Gorang tutors T.C. Jones after school at Cummings High School in Burlington. Gorang is the coordinator of Leaders in Collaborative Services, a program that works to tutor and mentor students at the high school. Photo courtesy of The Pendulum.

When sophomore Eryn Gorang began riding the BioBus to tutor at Burlington Housing Authority her freshman year, she noticed that no one got off at the Cummings High School stop.

Gorang asked the director of BHA’s Leaders in Collaborative Services tutoring program about the school, located in East Burlington. With a history of high staff turnover and low test scores, Cummings had been on the verge of closing in 2006 for failing to meet progress requirements. Gorang learned that the school was also at risk for being removed as a LINCS site unless a new leader came and turned the program around.

Though Cummings underwent curriculum and staff restructuring over the course of the following years, the school still faces low student achievement levels. Such a scenario was exactly how Gorang wanted to make an impact during her time at Elon, and was able to through the Kernodle Center’s Elon Volunteers! program.

Gorang, now a human services major, started Elon majoring in strategic communications. After becoming involved with Elon Volunteers! and spending her time as a tutor for BHA, she realized her passion for helping young people succeed.

“I think my involvement in the Kernodle Center solidified to me that I was in the wrong field,” Gorang said. “All of my extracurriculars focused on human services. My heart and soul have been invested in the Kernodle Center and in Cummings High School.”

As the LINCS coordinator for Cummings, Gorang oversees almost 30 student volunteers with different majors and career plans. LINCS, one of several opportunities for Elon students to volunteer at local schools through the Kernodle Center, involves different types of tutoring methods.

Though after-school tutoring is available for students, Gorang said much of the tutoring occurs in the classroom because many students have to ride the bus home from school or have other obligations in the afternoons.

Eryn Gorang first became involved with tutoring at Cummings High School at the start of her sophomore year at Elon. Here, she works with student T.C. Jones. Photo courtesy of The Pendulum.

“Some kids work jobs to help out the family,” Gorang said. “A lot of parents have two, three jobs and students have to be home to babysit other kids. There’s a high dropout rate for Latinos because family is so important in the culture, they have to stay home and help the kids.”

Eryn Gorang first became involved with tutoring at Cummings High School at the start of her sophomore year at Elon. Here, she works with student T.C. Jones. Photo by Al Drago, staff photographer.Graduate!, a program designed to focus on 30 Latino students at-risk for dropping out of school, is another facet of LINCS that Gorang oversees. Founded by the North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals, the program offers participants academic tutoring as well as life skills and parent-student interaction sessions.

Out of the three North Carolina high schools participating in Graduate!, Gorang said parents at Cummings are the least involved.

“It’s common across school in general,” Gorang said. “The PTA isn’t overly involved in the school. The parents who do show up are excited and some move around work schedules to be there. But it’s extremely sad to see that having to take place. No more than half have their parents with them.”

Since becoming the LINCS coordinator at Cummings at the beginning of the fall 2011 semester, Gorang said students in the Graduate! program have improved their grades, and very few continue to fail any classes.

“It’s extremely difficult to measure, but I definitely feel that a lot of the Cummings students feel like they don’t have stability in their lives in a lot of ways,” Gorang said. “Parents are coming in and out of their lives and things are changing a lot. Having a special tutor coming in on a regular basis is a confidence booster.”

Opportunities for working with Cummings students are not limited to education or human services majors, Gorang said. From English to business to music, teachers at the school are requesting tutors for core and elective classes.

“You don’t have to be involved in the Kernodle Center to be involved in this,” Gorang said. “Which is a shame, but you don’t have to be an avid, crazy service person who’s constantly in the Kernodle Center. People can come from any major — anywhere — and be involved in Cummings.”

Mary Leigh Frier, associate director of the Kernodle Center, said there are other opportunities for Elon students to volunteer with children and teenagers in the area. EV! Tutoring, America Reads and Lunch Buddies are in-school programs designed to help elementary school students. Volunteers can also go to after school sites to mentor and tutor children, such as The Salvation Army Boys and Girls ClubPositive Attitude Youth Center, the Avalon Trace Development Center for immigrant families and Burlington Housing Authority, including the “Transition to Manhood” program for young boys.

Nicki Watkins, Class of 2002, was an education major at Elon and currently teaches first grade at Grove Park Elementary in Burlington.

“These kids that the volunteers are working with are usually the kids who are struggling more,” Watkins said. “They’re not going to get it in one or two lessons, and I know that, but any extra help those students can get will benefit them.”

The Kernodle Center offers an open-door policy to school administrators seeking volunteers for ongoing and one-time needs, according to Tammy Cobb, assistant director for community partnerships. Schools can post requests throughout the academic year, and the Kernodle Center works to promote the opportunity to Elon students.

“Our Alamance County K-12 students are strongly influenced by students in higher education and oftentimes see (Elon) students as role models,” Cobb said. “While classroom support and student teaching is one way our students engage in the Alamance-Burlington school system, students also provide other kinds of support that touches on needs outside the classroom.”

Gorang said giving much of her time to be a mentor and tutor for low-income, at-risk high school students has been worthwhile, and wishes more students at Elon would become involved in local schools to understand the challenges they are facing.

“Everyone is spread thin in all different areas,” Gorang said. “There are so many needs in the school and not enough people to fill them. If I can be the person to help fill those needs, I fill like I’ve accomplished something really great.”

Elon students experience others’ struggles through poverty simulation

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

At Elon University, to experience is to learn — and studying the issue of poverty is no exception. For 10 years, religious studies and human services classes at Elon have participated in poverty simulations, hour-long events during which students are presented with the problems and decisions people living in poverty face on a daily basis.

Participants in the program are broken into fictitious families, ranging from single adults to families of five. Each person becomes a member of the family, and a packet details each family member’s name, age and role.

Groups learn about what life would be like for that family for a month by having to pay bills, work or find jobs, find childcare and make decisions during four 15-minute sessions during the simulation.

“It’s one thing to learn about poverty and another thing to experience the different choices people have to make day-to-day when they have very limited means and lots of stressors in their lives,” said Pam Kiser, a professor of human service studies who has incorporated the simulation into her classes. “It gets at that different kind of learning that is more likely to help students go beyond intellectual understanding to have a greater level of concern.”

Toddie Peters, associate professor of religious studies, introduced the simulation to Elon approximately a decade ago with her Winter Term class that year. Though the university initially brought in a consultant to lead the activity, Elon now owns a copy of the simulation for itself.

“When people go through the simulation, they get a more developed, more intimate understanding of the struggle and choices people (in poverty) have to make and the questions they have to juggle,” Peters said. “I can’t pay this bill because I have to pay that.”

Senior Evan Peleaux participated in the simulation earlier this semester as a part of Peters’ Christianity and Social Justice class. Peleaux served as the father of a family of five who struggled to meet their basic needs.

“I felt very hopeless as each week passed, getting behind on our bills and having to choose between putting food on the table or fending off the collection agencies,” Peleaux said. “Tough choices needed to be made every week as to how we were going to survive. Living in that kind of fear was overwhelming and paralyzing at some times.”

Peleaux said after engaging in the simulation, his perspective of impoverished people was broadened, and he learned that even some who work full-time jobs are still stuck in the cycle of poverty.

“Before the simulation, I was under the assumption that people living below the poverty line were just not putting enough effort into getting themselves to a sustainable lifestyle,” he said. “After the simulation, I realized how little time there was to possibly go back to school or find a job or apply for government aid.”

On Thursday March 8, several classes of The Global Experience will participate in the poverty simulation. Peters said the program is set up to handle up to 85 participants, in addition to the 15 or 20 people who serve as community members, such as a teacher, bank employee or pawn shop owner with whom participants must interact.

“(As a participant), I am having to make a decision about whether I’m going to leave my child alone to go to a job or just not go to my job and risk losing it,” Kiser said.  “I think that you never forget it’s a simulation, but you also realize that, yes — I am thinking about doing things I never would have thought about doing before.”

Biscuitville attracts college students hungry for business challenge

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

The combination of a $5,000 prize and a create-your-own menu item at Biscuitville calls to students’ imaginations. Elon University students made up more than half of the entries in the Brand Your Biscuit product development challenge, a contest open to students at seven universities in the Greensboro area.

Image courtesy of Action Greensboro.

The challenge is one part of the Greensboro Collegiate Biscuitville Bowl, a series of events and competitions sponsored by Opportunity Greensboro, a consortium of local businesses and university leaders and an initiative of Action Greensboro.

Each participant submitted an idea for a new Biscuitville menu item, and the restaurant will feature the winning product for a limited time. The creator of the winning product will receive $5,000 to go to a campus organization of his or her choice and a breakfast with Burney Jennings, Biscuitville’s CEO, an Elon trustee and Class of 1987 alumnus.

Of the 80 students who entered the contest, 41 students were from Elon University.

“The idea (for the Biscuitville Bowl) came about in discussion about how we bring students together locally,” said Cecelia Thompson, director of projects for Action Greensboro. “There are 50,000 students in Greensboro, but there isn’t an opportunity for them to get together socially or for academic purposes.”

In addition to Brand Your Own Biscuit, the Biscuitville Bowl includes Scratch-Made Success Week, the week of April 16, during which Opportunity Greensboro encourages universities to have a speaker or special programming to encourage entrepreneurship.

The week will culminate with the 7 Campus Scramble, a relay race through Center City Park in Greensboro featuring biscuit-themed obstacles. Among the obstacles, Thompson said, are the flour shower, powered by industrial fans; grit tires, a high-knee challenge through tires full of grits; the buttermilk slipping slide, a 27-foot slope with artificial buttermilk; and the jelly belly crawl, an army crawl through artificial strawberry jelly.

The relay race perked senior Jordan Lee’s interest about the Biscuitville Bowl. Lee entered her deep-fried bacon and sausage biscuits idea into the contest after seeing a display about the contest at College Coffee.

A member of the track team, Lee said if she won she would give the money to her team. Though the exercise science major wouldn’t recommend frequently eating at Biscuitville — or eating a deep-fried bacon biscuit —  Lee said the contest was an entertaining way to encourage participation.

“(My idea) was really contradictory with what I want to do with my life, but it’s fun,” Lee said. “It’s a fun concept and I’m a competitive person. It’s so much more fun to design a biscuit than, say, a book.”

Kimberly Gersh, a freshman business major, also entered the competition. Having studied entrepreneurship, Gersh said the real world, hands-on experience of these competitions is helpful for learning about business innovation.

“Sure, you can learn a lot in a classroom, but it’s not until you actually get to try something you’ve learned that you can really know if you one, enjoy the topic, and two, really understand what you’ve learned and can apply it,” Gersh said.

The deadline for the Brand Your Biscuit contest was March 2. Thompson said three to five semifinalists per university will be announced by March 16. Those students will submit videos promoting their products via YouTube, and then one student will be selected from each school to give a formal presentation to the executive staff of Biscuitville.