Volunteering for the soul – features story

            It’s easy to feel the hope. In fact, it’s everywhere – in the labor, the voices, the smiles and even in the neat stacks of food that line the walls, ready to be taken home to Alamance County’s hungry. The whole atmosphere is warm and positive; a friendly buzz fills the air. It’s true, the energy and volunteer spirit is contagious here at Loaves & Fishes, and it’s nearly impossible not to catch the bug – just ask the volunteers.

            Volunteers say that they began lending a helping hand for a number of reasons, but the relationships and the bonds they form while doing so is the reason they stay. Loaves & Fishes is a local independent food ministry situated in downtown Burlington, N.C., that provides groceries to hungry families in Alamance County as well as the five surrounding counties. They could not operate without their family of hundreds of dedicated volunteers. It’s clear from the friendly chatter and warm smiles that volunteering here is not only good for the community, but it also helps for the volunteers themselves.

            “It gives you a good feeling to think that maybe you’ve been able to make a difference for some people who really needed some help this week, and we were able to lend a hand. That’s a good feeling,” said Ray Pollard, an older gentleman with square glasses and a kind smile who has been volunteering at Loaves & Fishes for a year and half.

            Pollard worked as a minister for 45 years and has done a lot of volunteer work in the past, but he feels that Loaves & Fishes is different. He says that there’s more of a community feel here and he really believes in the organization.

            “It’s special because it helps people who are our neighbors and folks that we feel are a part of this community…it’s not like we’re just giving to a cause – these are people. And we put the food in their cars and hear their responses,” said Pollard.

            There’s no question that the spirit of goodwill is alive and well in Loaves & Fishes, but it’s the spirit of family that really serves as the glue for this organization and allows it to thrive. The volunteers here proudly call themselves a family and that love for each other is evident through the passion that they put into their weekly work.

            “They’re great, I love ‘em. Best bunch of people in the world and that’s the truth,” says Gregg Sullivan about her fellow volunteers, who one time even bought her a cake on her birthday. Sullivan has been volunteering at various places her whole life, but holds a special place in her heart for Loaves & Fishes and all of its volunteers.

            “We are very diverse, all of us that work, in age and you know, how we see things. But it’s wonderful to be with a group of people that the issue that we’re working for is bigger than our little differences. And I think that that is rare. But you do find that in this place…. I love the people. I really do,” says Sullivan with her trademark smile.

            The volunteers are the spirit and personality of this organization, and their love for helping others binds them together and creates lifelong relationships. About 7000 individuals and families receive services from Loaves & Fishes each month, and all of that is made possible because of this inspiring group of people.

            Says Aggie Owen, a Loaves & Fishes volunteer since the summertime, “Volunteering here has been a blessing to me. I receive joy from doing it and I encourage others to volunteer. I encourage others to volunteer in whatever their heart leads them, whatever they want to do.”



Broadcast news story – Maureen Dowd speaker


According to Maureen Dowd, who spoke at Elon University last night, our country has daddy issues.

Dowd, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, said in her exact words, quote, presidential campaigns have an underlying paternal theme, end quote. Dowd went on to talk about how someone’s quote, daddy, is always looming over the nation and how the American people want someone to protect them.

Dowd is known for her witty and insightful portraits of powerful figures, and last night she highlighted Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. By referencing figures in pop culture, she spoke about how that father son relationship affects our society and our leaders.

When it comes to scrutinizing political figures, like Dowd does for a living, Dowd told her audience, quote, every president gets the psychoanalyst he deserves. It has to be done for the good of the country. 

America’s virginity obsession

America is obsessed with sexuality, which ultimately leads to the hatred and discrimination of women. According to a feminist author who spoke at Elon University Wednesday night, this obsession needs to stop.

According to self-proclaimed activist, Jessica Valenti, the problem is that girls and women are being taught that society links a woman’s worth to her sexuality rather than her values and characteristics.

Valenti, who was named one of the most inspiring women in the world by The Guardian, believes that there are overt and hidden ways in which our sexist society belittles women. One of these ways is what she refers to as “the purity myth,” which is also the title of one of her books.

To Valenti, the purity myth is all about America’s obsession with virginity, and how that obsession is hurting young women. Valenti refers to this phenomenon as a “moral panic” over women’s sexuality that is sweeping the country.

Valenti said it is a combination of forces – our media and society-driven virginity fetish, an increase in abstinence-only education and the tactical political backtracking of women’s rights that are among the primary culprits that have created unrealistic sexual expectations for young women.

It is these expectations that lead to society’s hatred of women.

“If we’re to truly understand the purity myth, we have to recognize that this modernized virgin/whore dichotomy is not only leading young women to damage themselves by internalizing the double standard, but also contributing to a social and political climate that is increasingly antagonistic to women and our rights,” Valenti said.

According to Valenti, this virginity “fetishism” has made its way into politics and legislation through anti-abortion laws, legislation that limits reproductive rights through assumption that women should be pure before marriage and a media that demonizes victims of sexual violence.

“The purity myth in America underlines more misogyny than most people would like to admit.”

While Valenti views the definition of virginity as abstract, she made it clear that its consequences for young women are not, and that is evident everywhere a young girl looks.

“Our daughters deserve a model of morality that’s based on ethics, not on their bodies,” said Valenti. “It’s time to teach our daughters that their ability to be good people depends on their being good people, not on whether or not they’re sexually active.”  

Valenti believes that young people taking action is the best cure for this widespread panic.

“I really want people to take action – whatever that means to you,” said Valenti.

Valenti, the creator of Feministing.com, a site set up for younger feminists who felt their voices were ignored, blogs, authors books and speaks about feminism across the country, and on Wednesday night she encouraged her audience to do the same.

Although Valenti said that sometimes “we don’t have the energy to think in a forward fashion,” what it truly comes down to is spreading the word.

“We do have to change mainstream culture. We do have to think bigger,” said Valenti.  

Political polarization – a sharply divided nation

It is the gorilla in the room of American politics and it will majorly influence many factors in the upcoming election, yet remains a topic that politicians do not typically address. It’s polarization, and it leaves the American people sharply divided, now more than ever before.

Party polarization in the United States has never been higher. In fact, according to Jason Husser, assistant professor of Political Science at Elon University, it is almost mathematically impossible for Congress to be as divided as it is today.

Husser, who spoke at Elon University on Thursday night along with Robert P. Jones, founding CEO of Public Religion Research International, spoke to a full auditorium about religious influence in the upcoming presidential election and how America’s political polarization helps guide such influential religious views.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, political polarization is the process by which the public opinion divides and goes to the extremes, i.e. the two major political parties in the U.S. –Republican and Democratic. Husser said that these two political parties have never disagreed more.

This polarization has trickled down, dividing the public on political issues, which in turn influences the impact that religion has on this election. Husser said that the relationship between religion and politics flows both ways, however, the current trend is that political preferences are now influencing religious behavior instead of the other way around.

There are three basic patterns of religion, belonging, behaving and believing. According to Husser, all three behaviors are linked to voting behavior in a fairly predictable way. For example, heavy churchgoers who are also white tend to vote Republican. 

The 2008 presidential election was heavily influenced by race and religion. It came down to white Christians v. religious minorities and unaffiliated individuals. President Obama captured 96 percent of the black Protestant vote and 78 percent of the non-Christian vote. According to Jones, the 2012 presidential election follows a similar pattern.

While President Obama appears to have a lock on certain religious groups, Governor Mitt Romney has an equal hold on different religious groups. According to Jones, Romney currently has 74 percent of the white evangelical Protestant vote.

Jones said the nation is divided about the importance of religion. Forty three percent of Americans say that their religious views are different from Romney’s, while 40 percent say that their views are different from Obama’s.

Both Romney and Obama have been criticized throughout their campaigns due to their religious practices. Therefore, religion stands to be a topic that is neither candidate’s strongest talking point. “The reason we’re not going to hear more on faith is that they have a disincentive to bring it up,” said Jones. 

Eat your bugs…or no dessert

Eighty percent of the world today eats insects. On purpose. And according to Marcel Dicke, an insect enthusiast who spoke at “TED” in London recently, that number will only continue to rise. Dicke predicts that by the year 2050, you will also be indulging in these six-legged creatures.

“We’re not on a planet of men,” Dicke said, “But we’re on a planet of insects.”

Dicke’s argument, why not eat insects, emphasizes insects’ importance to not only the environment but also the economy. The nutrients found in insects are extremely comparable to other animals such as pigs and cows, and insect meat production is less intrusive and destructive to the delicate ecosystem. Dicke claims that once one’s attitude is changed, the answer is clear and simple, and even quite delicious.

“It’s just a matter of mindset; we’re not used to it,” said Dicke.

The world is rapidly growing, and with an increasing population comes a stronger demand for food – essentially meat. According to Dicke, 80 kilograms of meat is consumed per person each year in the developed world. By 2050 however, the world’s developed population is predicted to increase by 1/3, and that will result in an even more massive demand for meat.

According to Dicke, insects benefit the US economy by approximately $57 billion each year, and they are doing this without much notice from mankind – not to mention completely free of charge. Insects control pests, they’re food for animals, they pollinate plants and they fertilize with their dung, along with other important tasks.

In fact, insects are so present in the environment that they can be found in places that may seem surprising to some, such as processed foods. Essentially we are already eating 500 grams of insects per year through products such as peanut butter and tomato soup, said Dicke. Chocolate for instance can contain up to 60 insect components – that’s 100 grams of insects.

“Anything is a good protein source already,” said Dicke.

Insect mean takes fewer resources than pig meat to produce, and yet there is no added risk of diseases such as swine flu or mad cow disease. Grasshopper meat for example, is equally as valuable as beef is, said Dicke. They both contain the same essential nutrients and proteins, and the calorie-value actually swings more in favor of the grasshopper.

So Dicke’s question remains – “Why not eat insects?” After all, Dicke reminded his audience that grasshoppers are known as the shrimp of the land, and shrimp are considered by many in today’s society to be a delicacy. All it will take is a simple outlook adjustment said Dicke. Once that is accomplished, the world of 6 million insect species opens up to us, and to our stomachs. 

A flare for fashion

Meet my friend Alison! She has her own fashion blog called The Flare and she’s a wonderful person with a fabulous sense of style. I had a lot of fun shooting this short profile of her and it taught me a lot about not only video techniques and editing but also about the world of fashion!

A little inspiration

I have always really loved quotes and for years whenever I see a good one, I write it down. I have a notebook filled with inspirational quotes on every subject imaginable, I have quote books, and I also have quotes written down on my phone by the dozens. To me quotes are very special because they express exactly how you’re feeling and say exactly what you want to say, but in the most perfect way possible. You may not have the words, but someone else before you did.

I decided to put together this gallery of some of my favorite inspirational quotes, and as a background I saw it fitting to put different pictures of the sky. The sky represents no limits and clarity, and that’s what I think these quotes stand for and are trying to get at. I took the photographs myself and designed each layout. Everyone can use a little inspiration so enjoy!

Cupcake- a stop motion

This is my first stop motion video and I really enjoyed creating it. Photography is one of my favorite expression outlets, and this stop motion technique allows for the best of both worlds when it comes to combining photography into a video format. I especially like the control that stop motion provides and how a separate audio track is added later. I enjoy baking and so I thought documenting the process of baking cupcakes would be a fun topic that others can relate to. The personified objects is my favorite part because it looks as if the cupcakes are baking themselves.

Surreal photography

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These photo creations are images that I manipulated using Photoshop. This type of photography is categorized as surreal because the goal is to create an image that is impossible in real life, however the image looks so true that our eyes believe it anyways. So far this has definitely been the hardest type of photography that I have experienced. It’s not so much about the actual photos but more about the editing and the processing of the images. For me, that was hard to master. It’s very difficult to make surreal photos look real. Surreal photography requires a very creative process, which I enjoyed, but making the photos turn out as well as you envisioned them is another challenge entirely.