• Cabarrus mayors lend a hand to Meals on Wheels

    By Jessica Groover
    [email protected]
    Elaine Williams of Harrisburg met Mayor Tim Hagler for the first time on Wednesday when he came to her house and delivered two meals.

    “I’ve never laid eyes on him,” Williams said. “Right here (at home) is where I stay.” 

    Williams is one of the 350 residents of Cabarrus County who receive food and beverages from Meals on Wheels. She was one of the many clients who met her mayor when he participated in Mayors and Others For Meals Day.

    “It’s a national program that the national Meals on Wheels does,” said Kimberly Strong, executive director for Cabarrus Meals on Wheels. “Mayors across the nation participate. There are over 1,000 mayors and other council members delivering today.” 

    And in Cabarrus County, mayors Hagler, Scott Padgett, John Crump and Troy Barnhardt and County Commissioner Jay White participated, each riding along with one of the almost 700 volunteers for the organization. Kannapolis Mayor Bob Misenheimer usually participates but was out of town.

    The event began in 2006 as a way to raise awareness of senior hunger and promote community action. 

    Before the mayors rode with the volunteers on Wednesday, they talked about how surprised many of the people who received the meals from them in the past were when they saw their mayor at the door.

    “When I do this, I get to see the people I know, and they are surprised, but the credit goes to the people that do this on a regular basis,” said Padgett, mayor of Concord.

    Padgett also saw the other perspective when he visited his aunt and uncle in South Carolina who are homebound and receive food from Meals on Wheels.

    “They were excited to see me, but when the Meals on Wheels people came, that was the focus,” Padgett said. “That Meals on Wheels person is a regular part of their life, and I will never forget that simple meal and how much it meant.”

    Meals on Wheels has noticed an increase in the amount of people it serves. Paula McManimen, a volunteer with the organization for four years, delivered food and beverages with Hagler to the 11 stops and 15 people on her route. 

    “This route has grown quite a bit in the past eight months,” McManimen said. “At first, it was about seven (stops).”

    McManimen said she thought the rising need was due to the economy and the aging population. Most of the clients she and Hagler delivered to were elderly residents.

    She and Hagler said it was important to remember homebound residents and help in any way possible.

    “There’s so many different ministries, and this is one of the great ones,” Hagler said. “It’s sad to know if you weren’t getting in the car and hand delivering (a meal) to them, they may not eat that day. You could impact a life today.”

    In his past few years of participating in the Mayors and Others for Meals Day, Hagler was surprised at how inviting the clients were to those who delivered meals.

    As he went to the 11 stops on Wednesday, he spoke with the residents about the weather, their health, and he was even recognized as a former Central Cabarrus High School football player.

    “That was unbelievable,” Hagler said about being recognized. “Those are the kinds of surprises you like.”

    At the last house, he received another surprise when he and McManimen delivered a meal to Jean Hamm of Harrisburg, who met him two years ago and had her picture taken with him. Hamm had saved the published photograph and showed it to him.

    “This is the only way I see the mayor,” Hamm said. “I thank (Hagler and McManimen) for coming. Meals on Wheels has been a lifesaver for me.”

    • Contact reporter Jessica Groover: 704-789-9152.

  • The two sides of Whit Whitley

    Funeral director by day, comedian by night

    By Robin L. Gardner
    [email protected]
    Stop me if I’ve told you this before. A stand-up comedian and a funeral director go into a bar… No wait they’re both the same person. Oh, and that person is William “Whit” Whitley Jr. of Whitley’s Funeral Home in Kannapolis.

    No it isn’t really a joke. Whitley, who, at 53 years old, has found a way to release some of the tension that goes with the seriousness of his day job as funeral director and vice president of a third-generation, family-run funeral home. 

    Growing up, Whitley had a love for entertainment, and he would make Super 8 movies with his friends. 

    “I was always a happy-go-lucky guy. Kind of adventurous,” Whitley said.

    In college, such fancy took a back seat to a more serious future. Whitley wanted to be a dentist, but eventually he graduated from mortuary school in 1979, and joined the family trade. 

    In 1980, he was asked to talk to a nursing home about the funeral business. 

    “I didn’t feel right going and talking about that at a family event,” Whitley said. 

    He called and told them he would be more comfortable talking about something else and answering questions about the funeral business if they had any, but they insisted. 

    Whitley found an amusing story in a “Reader’s Digest” about how the moon affects your mood. 

    “The beauty of the whole event was the faces, Whitely said. “If you could be in my body and see the disappointment of having to hear someone talk about the funeral business, then hearing me talk a bit and seeing their faces light up.”

    He was severely stricken by the entertainment bug, and created a series of revues that he would put on at churches and schools. There was a 1920s style revue, with singing and dancing, and he also played a cowboy called “Black Bart” in what he described as a one-man show. 

    “I had a monologue about cowboys, and a gun that shot blanks that I would use. That was before schools kept me from coming in with it. It was great. 
    Then I would play ‘Happy Trails’ on a guitar,” Whitley said as he described the revue.

    In 2003, he was in “Animal Crackers,” the first of three productions he was involved in for the Piedmont Players through 2006. 

    Stand-up came along in 2007. Whitley took a class at the Comedy Zone in Charlotte. They offer a six-week course to learn stage presence, timing, delivery and writing. The classes are open to anyone. It helped Whitley develop his routines, which he types out and keeps folded neatly in a book.

    “He is a character. He’s very different. Like a one-man Saturday Night Live,” Comedy Zone head booker Joel Pace said. “He definitely has a future if he sticks to it. The Comedy Zone has 50 locations nationally. It depends on the person just how quickly they move up.”

    It’s important to Whitley to respect his family business, and never uses it in his stand-up.

    “I won’t go there. It’s disrespectful,” Whitley said.

    “I don’t really follow the rules of stand-up. I don’t do current events or self-deprecating humor,” Whitley adds, “I like character sketches, humorous routines, monologues and props.”

    Besides stand-up, Whitley worked on a musical short that won the International Indie Award for Best Musical Short. It was called “The Mesmerizing Affair” about a girl who wishes to be a famous harpist and vocalist and who meets the strange and mysterious Svengali who promises her fame. Patty Lake plays Tribly, the young girl, and Whitley plays Svengali. 

    Whitley’s father, William L. Whitley Sr., who is an 85-year-old WWII vet, comes from a different time.

    “He doesn’t really comment on what I’m doing,” said Whitley. 

    Whitley’s wife, Karen, who is a court coordinator in the Superior Court, is very supportive, and so are their four daughters, who range from 22 to 30 years old, and all enjoy watching their father perform. The other funeral directors in town may not be aware of what Whitley practices on his off time.

    “I didn’t know he did it. It’s a little unusual, but as long as it’s clean comedy it’s great,” Steve Clark, of Clark Funeral Home, Kannapolis, said.

    He was a bit surprised at what his colleague was doing, since he hunts and fishes in his spare time. When he can find spare time.

    “Everyone needs a release. Comedy is a good way to do it.  Death and dying seven days a week, you need something to help you get away from it,” Clark said.

    “I’m a novelty nutty buddy. I get a rush when I do it. It is a thrill.” Whitley said.

    Whit Whitley will be appearing at Club Alive in NoDa, on Thursday, March 26. He will perform his routine in the David L’s Fresh Faces Comedy Showcase, at 2909 N. Davidson St., Charlotte. Seating will begin at 7:45 p.m. with the show starting at 8:15 p.m. For more information call 704-930-2200.

    • Contact reporter Robin L. Gardner: 704-789-9140.

  • Key Club commotion!

    Morgan Britton
    Special to Harrisburg Horizons
    Hickory Ridge High School’s Key Club gives back to the community through its generous work with local and national organizations. The extra time, effort, and hard work that they put forth has both excitingly and graciously paid off; they are now an official, chartered club and, with all this adrenaline, are planning a wonderful, upcoming event that everyone in the county can be involved in.

    On Thursday, Feb. 12, the HRHS Key Club had their first-ever induction ceremony, inviting around 100 of Hickory Ridge’s very own students to become official members of the club. With Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”  playing through the speakers, the students walked down and took their seats for a rewarding night. The students received their certificates and pins, and the school proudly took hold of the official banner and gong that they had been so avidly working toward. The ceremony ended with a recession of desserts and was both casual and enjoyable for all those who attended. 

    As for upcoming events, Key Club is excited to have been chosen as a stop along the Invisible Children tour. Invisible Children is an organization that is trying to save children from the war in Uganda. They have filmed three documentaries, and on April 2 at 2:45 p.m., the most recent film will be shown in the auxiliary gym at Hickory Ridge. Everyone is invited to come out and see what it’s all about and find out ways that you can help. Donations are accepted official merchandise will be on sale.

    Finally, Key Club is fervently preparing for a spectacular occasion in celebration of Relay 4 Life. Relay 4 Life is an event that is put on by the American Cancer Society in hopes to raise money and awareness for the fight against cancer. On May 2, the entire community may come and enjoy a day of fun and excitement at Hickory Ridge High School. People who sign up will make a team, set up a personalized, themed tent, and trade off walking the track continuously throughout the event. This is going to be a great, family-friendly time that allows everyone to come together and give to a great cause. The Ragin’ Relay will be held from 3 to 9 p.m. at the football field of Hickory Ridge High School. There will be live performances, including a local up-and-coming band called Good Day Reflection.

    For more information on this event or any other events in the future, please feel free to email Heidi Johnson at [email protected].  Also, if at anytime, you or someone you know could use volunteers for an occasion, to raise money or donations, etc, please feel free to ask for assistance; Key Club would be willing to help in anyway possible! For more information on Kiwanis or the Key Club family, you can log onto http://www.keyclub.org or http://www.kiwanis.org

    Key Club is a great way for students to get involved in making a difference, and Hickory Ridge is proud of their Bulls for giving back to the community in such a positive way!

  • Cannon School builds chess club one piece at a time

    By Jonathan E. Coleman
    [email protected]
    Fabio Hurtado knows how to build strong chess programs. For nearly a decade, he has coached teams in south Florida to four state titles and two national championships.

    Now he’s looking to build a new program in his first year at Cannon School.

    “We really just got serious about it when we decided we wanted to play in states,” he said. 

    When the state competition came to Charlotte in early March, his young team finished third out of 12 teams.

    As for how his team will compete in future competitions, Hurtado doesn’t have to look far. 

    While some of the older chess club members split their time between the club of other sports teams, Hurtado works with a small group of younger players to help hone their skills.

    “Nothing is hidden in chess,” he said. “You see the same board as your opponent. I believe it all comes down to seeing, being disciplined.”

    Brothers Reid and Logan Herrera, of Harrisburg, are in fifth and eighth grade respectively, and have been playing chess as long as either can remember. 
    They work with Hurtado to understand strategy and improve themselves as chess players.

    “For me, it’s a mental problem,” said Logan about why he enjoys the game. “It matters how much you study, not how much you train (physically). It’s a mental challenge.”

    To help train his team, Hurtado issues “homework,” that has each student consider different chess scenarios and figure out which move would be best in the given situation. The team also practices regularly, facing each other in different chess games that test their understanding of the game and quick thinking.

    “I like the strategy and how fast the game progresses until you hit the end game,” said Reid. “The end game is my favorite part.”

    Reid, who finished in 12th place in the state competition, plans to compete in the Super National Chess Tournament in Nashville, Tenn. in April. The Super National tournament — which combines national championships for elementary, middle and high school players — happens every four years, and is viewed as the top competition for young players. 

    “In states, there’s about 500 players,” Hurtado said. “In nationals, it’s more like 3,000. This year is Super Nationals, so there will be about 10,000 players — the best in the world.”

    And while Hurtado said he would enjoy seeing Herrera play well, he knows there’s much more to chess than winning.

    “Chess is not the end,” he said. “It’s the means.

    “As you play chess, you get to know yourself better because you play your strengths on the board. You grow as a chess player in skill almost as you grow in self-awareness.”

    • Contact editor Jonathan E. Coleman: 704-789-9105.

  • Pony rides raise money for juvenile diabetes

    By Jessica Groover
    [email protected]
    Four-year-old Lexi Purser, from Indian Trail, did not realize that her first pony ride on Sunday would go toward finding a cure for juvenile diabetes. But the $5 her parents paid for the ride will do just that.

    The Purser family and others went to Hollow Oak Farm for pony rides hosted by the farm’s Kickin’ Tails 4-H Club. 

    The club participates in several community service events a year, and when 12-year-old Midland resident Lauren Buchanan joined in the fall, the club added another cause.

    Combining two of Buchanan’s interests for the event fit.

    “We wanted to support the cause, and Lauren loves horses,” said Laura Harper, owner of Hollow Oak Farm. “We had the idea to host some pony rides and send the proceeds to juvenile diabetes.”

    Lauren was 5 years old when she was diagnosed with juvenile, or type I, diabetes. Since then, she has participated in walks to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

    Lauren and her family and friends participate in a variety of fundraisers to donate money to the foundation on behalf of her team, Lauren’s Gallopers for a Cure. Her team raised $7,500 last year.

    The Buchanan family will continue to raise money for the cure.

    The team will participate in an April 18 walk at Carowinds and an April 25 walk at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium. Leading up to those walks, Lauren’s mother, Angie, and Peak Fitness in Harrisburg will host an open house on March 30 from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

    As for Hollow Oak Farm and its 4-H Club chapter, Harper said Sunday’s pony rides may become an annual event.

    “It’s good to see people enjoy the horses and help people like Lauren,” Harper said.

    To donate to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation on behalf of Lauren’s team, visit http://www.jdrf.org or call Angie Buchanan at 704-888-3507.

    • Contact reporter Jessica Groover: 704-789-9152.

  • Harrisburg Elementary hosts hundreds for cultural event

    N.C. PTA grant, volunteers make school’s second annual event a success

    By Jessica Groover
    [email protected]
    Local residents and family members of Harrisburg Elementary School students were able to visit Greece on Saturday while listening to Scottish bagpipes.

    “Yiasou, welcome to Greece,” Gwen Politis said while standing beside a booth decorated in blue and white, the colors of the Greek flag. Nearby, a man entertained the crowd and represented Scotland by playing the bagpipes.

    Politis greeted people by saying, “Yiasou,” the word for “hello” and “goodbye” in Greek and informed passersby about Greece’s history, other Greek words and famous Greek people.

    She and other members of the Harrisburg Elementary PTA hosted the second annual Multicultural Celebration on Saturday at the school.

    The free event was put on in part by a $1,000 Parent Involvement Grant from the North Carolina PTA, and with the help of countless volunteers and PTA staff who gave of their time over the more than two-month planning process.

    Forty countries were represented with booths of information and items from the country including food, clothing and jewelry. 

    Behind every booth, one or more volunteers answered questions about the country, offered food samples and stamped each participant’s event passport. At several booths, there also were opportunities to have names written in another language.

    More than 450 passports were handed out to eager students and community members, many of whom had family members in tow as they toured displays that filled the school’s cafeteria and gymnasium. 

    At the back of each passport were questions about countries, including the capital, the colors of the flag and an interesting fact. Once participants completed the questions about three countries of their choice, they were entered in a raffle to win one of three globes.

    “We’re really implementing the passports and making them more educational,” said Iris Friends, one of the three chairs of the programs committee for the Harrisburg Elementary PTA.

    Friends’ co-chairs, Viki Hojnacki and Charisse Carter, raced from booth to booth, ensuring everything went smoothly for the volunteers and the participants.

    At Politis’s booth, she answered a question or offered a piece of information about Greece before she stamped each passport. Politis noticed it was not just the children who learned about the cultures. The parents also participated.

    “Families like learning together,” Politis said. “I’ve heard parents say, ‘I learned about that when I was in school.’ It’s very much a family activity and not just the kids going from booth to booth.”

    Trying the food from the countries was a bonus for the parents and children.

    “We wanted to come out and sample different things, different cultures and good food,” said Cartess Ross, parent of three Harrisburg Elementary students. “You can never turn that down.”

    Ross’s daughter, Kayla Ross, 9, enjoyed seeing shoes from Ghana, and daughter, Skye Ross, 6, liked drinking tea at another booth.

    Attendees were also able to watch a variety of entertainment, including Irish dancers, Greek dancers, African drums and dance, a Honduran poetry reading and other presentations.

    While attendees enjoyed the entertainment and food, the common feature most people appreciated was learning about the various cultures.

    “Not everyone can afford to travel,” said Melanie Wallace, mother of three students at Harrisburg Elementary. “It’s nice to get to visit different countries.”

    • Contact reporter Jessica Groover: 704-789-9152.

  • Learning Center raising community awareness

    Nonprofit officials hope school tours will help community see how funds are used

    By Jessica Groover
    [email protected]
    The Academic Learning Center will be offering school site tours to the community to raise awareness about its program, starting this week and continuing through the school year.

    LeeAnn Miller, director of development for the nonprofit organization, will take a group of people to visit Fred L. Wilson Elementary School.

    The school is one of five that receives funds from the Academic Learning Center for a free after-school program that targets improving math and reading skills for area students.

    Fred L. Wilson, Woodrow Wilson, Jackson Park, Shady Brook and Beverly Hills elementary schools are all partnering schools with the Academic Learning Center, or “ALC,” as some of the children refer to it.

    Every year, the organization allocates money to participating schools of an amount up to $10,000. This year, schools received $8,000, with $7,500 going toward the program and the rest from a grant that will buy the children a book from the book fair.

    Recently, the Academic Learning Center hosted a New Year’s Eve fundraiser and raised $25,000. Money from fundraising, grants and United Way go toward money for the schools’ programs.

    Once the schools find out the amount allocated for them, they submit a budget proposal. Some schools, such as Woodrow Wilson, use most of their money for the staff of certified teachers so that there are smaller groups of students with each teacher.

    This week, Miller and Alice Steele-Robinson, the executive director for Academic Learning Center, visited Woodrow Wilson to observe its after-school program.

    At Woodrow Wilson, there are 48 students in the program and eight teachers. Every week, students rotate to a new teacher and activity. 

    The students begin with 20 minutes after the school day for a snack and activity to unwind. Then, they work on homework and practice testing. 

    The participating students are ones who have usually been identified by a teacher as performing below grade level. 

    “You can see a difference (in performance) once they start coming,” said Katharine Winchell, a fourth grade teacher at Woodrow Wilson who participates in the Academic Learning Center.

    As Miller and Steele-Robinson visited the school, there were small groups of students working with teachers to practice math and reading exercises and tests in a small group. Winchell said these smaller numbers allow the teachers to better observe how the students work, and they let the students learn from each other. 

    Focusing the program on elementary schools is especially effective, Winchell said.

    “If they are turned away in elementary school, it’s going to make it harder for them,” Winchell said.

    Steele-Robinson agrees, which is why the program targets elementary school children, focusing on strategies early in a child’s education.

    “We strive for 80 percent improvement in reading, and we have received and exceeded that,” Steele-Robinson said. “We know if we can ge them to feel good about learning, we can create lifelong learners.”

    For more information about school site tours, contact Academic Learning Center at 704-782-2301.

    • Contact reporter Jessica Groover: 704-789-9152.

  • RCCC nears deal for building on research campus

    By Ben McNeely
    [email protected]
    Rowan-Cabarrus Community College is very close to signing a lease agreement for a building on the North Carolina Research Campus.

    RCCC President Carol Spalding said, after further negotiations with campus developer Castle & Cooke, the lease agreement could be ready by the end of this week.

    Friday, the N.C. Community College Board gave its approval for RCCC to move forward with a lease agreement. 

    Once signed and construction started, it will take about 15 months to get the building constructed and open. The project’s stimated cost is about $26 million.

    The building will house RCCC’s biotechnology degree programs. The building will feature a flex lab, where students will learn lab procedures in an industry-standard environment.

    In November 2008, Duke Energy gave RCCC a $250,000 grant to purchase equipment for its new education building at the research campus.

    The college hopes the building will be open for the Fall 2010 semester.

    The construction delay of the building has only been exacerbated by the worsening economy. Castle & Cooke hasn’t been able to get financing for the building, Spalding said.

    “This is the fourth time we’ve been close, then the bank has said, ‘We can’t do it. We can’t put out $26 million right now’,” Spalding said on Thursday.

    Yet the need is there, she said. 

    This semester, RCCC has 5,978 students enrolled — 900 more students than Spring 2008 semester. It is the largest semester enrollment increase since Pillowtex closed, college officials have said.

    RCCC also has reactivated its foundation to start asking for private contributions for programs and equipment.

    Spalding said they are looking for a part-time foundation director to get the fundraising effort going.

    But the funding request effort comes when legislators are facing a $2 billion budget shortfall.

    State Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, r-Concord, said in January legislators really don’t know what the budget situation will look like until about April, when tax collections start coming in.

    Cabarrus County, a primary source of funding for the community college, has cut $58,600 frrom its allotment of about $1.9 million this year.

    And RCCC has already cut $1.2 million out of its budget this year, as per state directives.

    • Contact reporter Ben McNeely: 704-789-9131.

  • Senior’s graduation project a chance to learn, grow

    Editor’s note:For his senior project, required for graduation, Hickory Ridge High School senior Albert Chang is studying photojournalism and working with Harrisburg Horizons editor Jonathan E. Coleman to improve his skills as a photographer and learn about the history of photography. Throughout the remainder of the year, some of his photos, and self-reflections about his project will be published and shared with our readers. Below is his first self-reflection.
    By Albert Chang
    Special to Harrisburg Horizons
    What are your initial thoughts about the Graduation Project?
    I find this project to be somewhat irritating at first, which leads me to being very ambivalent towards this project. I personally find it to be a complete distraction from real English class as a whole and this leads me to be distracted from more worthwhile pursuits. The work isn’t necessarily hard or demanding, but I don’t like how the due dates are so squished among each other. I guess that being busy with many pursuits and coupling that with this project takes away from my precious free time, but that is the price I pay to become someone big in life. I feel that this project is only there for me to just keep busy and prevent senioritis.

    What goals and objectives do you hope to achieve with your specific research topic and product?
    I want to be able to pursue and develop the artistic and linguistic parts of myself through this project and research. I find that this project will let me pursue something of interest, and also possibly discover another passion I want to explore as a whole and become wholeheartedly into it. From these discoveries of my passion and development of my artistic and linguistic parts, I can possibly develop lifelong hobbies and thoroughly enrich myself as an individual.

    Now that you have started the research process, describe an interesting fact or idea that you have discovered about your topic.
    Since I started researching this process of photojournalism, I learned that photojournalism is extremely involved. When one takes a picture, one often encounters several questions that stem from the law and ethics. What rights do I have to represent this subject of my photograph? How will I portray this subject in my story? Will I stay with the truth? A perfect example of how this can possibly come into play was the photographs of the explosion of the Maine before the Spanish-American War. We often credit William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer for starting “yellow journalism”, which incited the start of that very war. That “yellow journalism” stated the Spanish attacked us, but it distorted the truth in that we did not know what truly caused the Maine to explode.

    Evaluate the work you have completed to this point and discuss the challenges you are facing.
    I am very pleased with the progress I have made so far. I have finished the research process for the required research paper. I shall be starting that very soon. I have already begun completing the required product. This requires 15 hours worth of work, and for my product, I will be covering several events for the Harrisburg Horizons and possibly, the Independent Tribune. I will collect the papers that feature my pictures to present to the committee along with a videotape of me in action. The challenges I have to face are simply managing how I use my time, finding events to cover, and bringing the equipment of camera and camcorder around. Don’t forget to remember my press badge on top of that! 

  • A rewarding win for Victory!

    By Jessica Groover
    [email protected]
    It was confidence, repetition and a close bond that cheerleaders from the Victory! Cheerleading all-star senior team credit for their recent win at the 2008-09 Cheersport National Championship in Atlanta.

    The team of 20 girls, ages 14 to 18, competed against eight teams in the senior small, Level 4 Division II. There were 842 teams at the entire championship.

    The team was judged on tumbling, stunts, dance, presentation and other factors during its routine, which was two minutes and 32 seconds long. 

    Lauren Peetz, the co-owner and director of Victory!, choreographed the routine, and Jazmin Skipper and John Tomlinson are the coaches.

    After the first round of the championship Feb. 14, team members found out they were in first place.

    “It was definitely a lot of pressure knowing we had to keep up that (placement) and not mess up the second day,” said cheerleader Kelly Tinsley, 17.

    The next day, the team finished and won by 18.5 points.

    “It was amazing because we really wanted it, and we worked hard for it,” said cheerleader Katherine Dry, 18.

    For Tinsley and Dry, the win was especially important because they, along with six other team members, are seniors in high school, and it was their last time participating on this team in the competition. 

    It was also memorable for Victory! after nine years of competing in the championship and coming in seventh place last year.

    “To say it is a big deal is an understatement,” said Jason Peetz, co-owner and director of Victory! “It’s something we’ve waited for for nine years.”

    • Contact reporter Jessica Groover: 704-789-9152.

  • Participants sought for historic MURDOCK Study

    By Ben McNeely
    [email protected]
    The MURDOCK Study, Duke University’s longitudinal study that promises to “rewrite the textbook of medicine,” will begin enrolling participants on Monday. The study is looking for 50,000 participants from Cabarrus County.

    The study proposes to look at individual differences in how human disease affects the population. Researchers are focusing on cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, cancer, obesity and hepatitis and want to use the entire population of Kannapolis and Cabarrus County as their study group.

    Beginning Monday, Duke will set up appointments for potential participants at the Cabarrus Health Alliance. 

    On Tuesday, they will be at the Community Free Clinic and expand to other sites, like CMC-NorthEast and the health clinic on McGill Avenue, said Lavenia Dash, clinical research coordinator with the Duke Translational Medicine Institute.

    Participants must be 18 years old and residents of Kannapolis or Cabarrus County for at least six months.

    Brochures are available in physician’s offices with contact forms that participants can fill out and mail back, Dash said.

    From there, Duke will contact and do a phone screening, then schedule an appointment for a participant to come in and get enrolled. After filling out consent and medical history forms, participants will give a blood sample which researchers will keep and use for the various research studies, Dash said. 

    Researchers will contact participants four times a year and do an annual check-up.

    “We’re very excited to get to this point, where we are enrolling participants,” Dash said.

    Duke will be enrolling for four years, Dash said, and may open the study to other counties in the area.

    Project leader Ashley Dunham said researchers want a “good representation of the population in Cabarrus County.”

    “We want healthy people, #### people, young and old,” she said, adding they are not enrolling children. There is a nationwide children’s study that is tackling some of the same questions the MURDOCK Study is going after and Duke doesn’t want to duplicate efforts, Dunham said.

    As for potential participants from around the area, Dunham said there are people interested from Rowan, Stanly and Mecklenburg counties, but right now they are only focusing on Cabarrus County.

    “But I can’t imagine we won’t expand our catchment area at some point,” Dunham said. “We’ve given ourselves four years and funding for 50,000 people.”

    Dole Food Company owner David Murdock gave Duke a $35 million gift to start the study and pledged his support to find other grant funding to keep the study going. The study is centered at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis and will use the advanced scientific equipment in the Core Research Laboratory to help identify genetic differences of the diseases.

    Duke and partner LabCorp are building a biorepository on Cannon Boulevard to store biosamples from participants. For right now, Duke researchers are shipping biosamples — which can include blood, hair, skin, urine and other bodily fluids — to a biorepository facility in New Jersey. Dunham said once the facility in Kannapolis is complete, scientist will be able to store their samples there for easy access.

    For more information, contact the MURDOCK Study office in Kannapolis at 877-673-2508.

    • Contact reporter Ben McNeely: 704-789-9131.

  • Cabarrus officials agree to reduce summer camp fees

    By Karen Cimino Wilson
    [email protected]
    Cabarrus County park officials don’t want the economic downturn to prevent residents from sending their kids to camp this year, so the county has lowered registration fees for the 2009 Discovery Day Camp program.

    “In light of what’s been going on, we want to be proactive and still encourage people to come to camp by making it not cost quite as much money,” said Londa Strong, director of the Cabarrus County Parks and Recreation Department. 

    The 2009 Outdoor Discovery Day Camp at Frank Liske Park is a nine-week program designed to be a fun learning experience about the local natural environment. Online registration begins Monday. Campers can register for a single week or for all nine weeks.

    The Cabarrus County Parks Commission approved the fee changes to keep participation strong despite the economy. 

    The county reported that 575 children participated in the 2008 Discovery Day Camp program. An average of 63 children participated per week. There were 13 siblings enrolled.

    Those who sign up for all nine weeks of camp will pay $765 this year, a $90 savings over last year. Participants who pay by the week for nine weeks will pay $1,000, a $125 savings over last year. Multiple family members attending camp will receive a 15 percent discount if they pay up front.

    The 2008 Discovery Day Camp program generated $61,423 in revenue and had $55,702 in expenses. 

    Revenue is expected to be about $51,000 this year if the participation remains about the same as last year. 

    Supply and rental fees, trips, miscellaneous expenses and staff hours will be reduced to ensure the program does not go in the red, Strong said. Staff hours will be reduced by not taking field trips.

    The Discovery Day Camp begins June 15 and ends Aug. 14 this year. The camp is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

    Each of the nine weeks will have a different theme and will include educational sessions, arts and crafts, trips, games, sports and movies.

    Spaces are limited each week and registration is first-come first-serve.

    For more information, call Ben Sharpe at 704-920-2702 or visit the Cabarrus County Parks and Recreation Web site at http://www.cabarruscounty.us/Parks/discoverydaycamp.html

    • Contact reporter Karen Cimino Wilson: 704-789-9141.

  • IKEA Charlotte prepares for busy opening day

    By Karen Cimino Wilson
    [email protected]
    The only IKEA furniture store between Washington and Atlanta opens in University City on Wednesday with more than 400 new employees, more than 10,000 products and no worries about the economy.

    The new 356,000-square-foot IKEA Charlotte store is located at the City Boulevard exit off Interstate 85. 

    The store is big — really big. Imagine two super stores stacked on top of the other and you’ll get a sense of the scale. It contains 49 showrooms, three model homes and several design areas to help patrons remodel their kitchen, home office or bathroom. 

    It also contains a 350-seat restaurant and a supervised play area for children.

    Swedish meatballs are the most popular dish. They can also be purchased in the small food section of the store, which features Swedish foods. The store sells some Swedish cheeses that are only available in the United States at IKEA stores, said Tom Lancaster, the food services manager. 

    While so many retailers have shut their doors because of declining sales following the stock market decline of 2008, the opening of a new store is welcome news to many. 

    But IKEA officials say it’s just business as usual for them.

    “It’s the economy that’s uncertain, it’s not the IKEA concept that’s uncertain,” said Joseph Roth, director of public affairs for IKEA. 

    IKEA is a Swedish company and is selective about where it opens new stores. Roth said that’s one reason the furniture retailer isn’t worried the economy will negatively impact the store’s grand opening. The IKEA Charlotte store will be the only store in the Carolinas. It’s also only the 36th store in the United States. Other retailers have multiple locations in the same city, Roth said, which can make a weak economy tougher to handle.

    IKEA also is privately held and does not rise or fall with the stock market as some other retailers do, Roth said.

    “We’re in 36 countries around the world. You name it and we’ve already seen it,” he said.

    IKEA also has unique ideas about customer service and how to help shoppers save money. The store keeps prices low on home furnishings by having customers do some of the work. Much of the store’s furniture comes disassembled in flat boxes. Once you pick out an item, you go to the store warehouse, get it, pack it in your car and take it home, where you assemble it yourself. The furniture is supposed to be easy to assemble, but home delivery and assembly is available for a fee.

    IKEA continues to try to be environmentally conscious, store managers said Wednesday. All wood used for the furniture it sells is from sustainable forests. The store recently stopped using plastic bags. And customers can bring used light bulbs and batteries to the store for recycling regardless of where they purchased them, said Jackie DeChamps, the Charlotte store’s human resource manager. DeChamps helped give media tours of the store Wednesday.

    IKEA generally draws a large crowd for its grand opening and is expecting folks to start lining up early for the 100 free Scandinavian armchairs it will give away to the first 100 customers in line when the doors open 9 a.m. Wednesday. IKEA Charlotte allow shoppers to camp out at the new store starting Monday morning.

    The store planned to have impromptu activities and entertainment for customers who came Monday and Tuesday. 

    • Contact reporter Karen Cimino Wilson: 704-789-9141.

  • Commissioners OK budget cuts despite school concerns

    By Karen Cimino Wilson
    [email protected]
    CONCORD — Cabarrus County Schools Superintendent Barry Shepherd cautioned commissioners that he would have to cut 90 teaching positions to make a 2.9 percent budget cut eight months into the school year.

    Commissioners heard Shepherd and Kannapolis City School officials’ objections, but then voted unanimously to trim their budgets by 2.9 percent and review the cuts as the year progresses.

    The 2.9 percent cut will mean a $1.65 million reduction in Cabarrus County Schools’ $44 million budget. It would be about a $199,000 reduction in Kannapolis City Schools’ $6.1 million budget.

    It’s still unclear whether Cabarrus County Schools will cut positions or find other areas in the budget to trim, but Shepherd made the statement to show what 2.9 percent would equal this far into the school year.

    Earlier this year, Cabarrus County manager John Day recommended an across-the-board 2.9 percent reduction in the county’s $209 million budget for fiscal year 2009. The county is facing a $6.1 million shortfall for the current fiscal year and anticipates a $12.5 million shortfall for fiscal year 2010.

    Day had recommended a flat reduction rate for all county budgets and appropriations, because he said it does not require approval from the local school boards.

    Monday’s meeting was mostly a chance for school officials to explain the budget implications.

    “If there is a way we can return some of the money that has not been spent in our construction project, we’d rather do that,” Shepherd said. “Or please pass this cut onto next year. We’re not in the position that you or others might be. We cannot dip into our fund balance. We will have to make some cuts.”

    Kannapolis school officials said they’re concerned about the cuts, but will work to do more with less.

    “The timing for us is what’s so difficult to accept, because we’re already eight months into the fiscal year,” said Kannapolis school board chairperson Danita Rickard.

    The county is facing a shortfall largely because of declining revenue from building permits and inspections, register of deeds fees, property taxes and sales tax. Growth has slowed in the housing market. Unemployment has reached 8.5 percent in Cabarrus County.

    Folks who still have their jobs are spending less, which is lowering the amount of sales tax local communities are collecting. Property taxes aren’t being paid on time or sometimes at all as foreclosures become more prevalent.

    Cabarrus is fairing better than some neighboring counties, because commissioners have paid about 16 percent in cash for its construction projects. But the reductions to the school budgets will be felt, officials said.

    • Contact reporter Karen Cimino Wilson: 704-789-9141.

  • Talking school bus teaches safety measures

    By Jessica Groover
    [email protected]
    The Cabarrus County Board of Education received a unique visitor at last week’s meeting. 

    Buster, the robotic school bus, greeted board members and reviewed safety tips as a part of “Love the Bus” week, a national campaign that began Feb. 9.

    Throughout the week, Buster visited R. Brown McAllister, Harrisburg, Pitts School Road and Wolf Meadow elementary schools, as well as Long Pre-School.

    Buster is a miniature version of a school bus with a stop sign arm, yellow lights and big eyes that move and blink when he speaks. He has a remote control attached to him and speaks through an operator with a microphone.

    Jim Helf, assistant principal at Wolf Meadow Elementary School, arranged for Buster to visit kindergarten and first-grade classes. 

    “The kids seemed to be mesmerized,” Helf said.

    Helf said having Buster review tips, such as where to stand when children are waiting for the bus and how to sit on the bus, are important to learn early.

    “When we start teaching them at young ages, we hope it continues,” Helf said. “Transportation is the one area, when you’re talking about education, that can be potentially fatal.”

    At Wolf Meadow Elementary, the teachers reviewed the safety tips in the classrooms after the presentation. The school also honored its bus drivers with certificates as part of “Love the Bus” week.

    Some school board members recognized Buster last week from past safety events. That’s because Cabarrus County Transportation had borrowed another robotic bus from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction office in Raleigh.

    Cabarrus County now has its own robotic school bus, thanks to an $8,000 grant NCDPI received from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program.

    George Douglas, transportation director for Cabarrus County Schools, introduced Buster to school board members and thanked Derek Graham, transportation chief at NCDPI for helping the county receive Buster. 

    Graham told the board why Buster is so effective with young students. “When it comes to talking to young children about school safety, there’s something special about getting down on their level,” he said. 

    Board member Andrea Palo agreed.

    “I saw (Buster) last year, and you could hear a pin drop when the kids were listening to him,” Palo said.

    • Contact reporter Jessica Groover: 704-789-9152.