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Meeting Susie

June 17, 2014

Even though her ears are no longer able to perk up when she listens and her back is scarred where second and third degree burns scorched her body, Susie is still a tail-wagging happy canine. If it wasn’t for the physical signs left behind, one might never know she had been abused and left for dead.

But she was, and fourth graders at Kernersville Elementary School (KES) heard Susie’s story on Wednesday, June 11 as they wrapped up a six-week program about pet responsibility. They even got to meet the famous pooch.

Susie and her fellow doggy companion, Babygirl, were at KES with their owner, Donna Lawrence, and others from Susie’s Hope, a non-profit organization founded in honor of its namesake to foster awareness of the animal abuse that exists in society and to provide education about the issue to people of all ages.

Both Lawrence and Susie have stories forged in terror. Five years ago, Lawrence was attacked by a dog and almost killed, creating in her a fear of dogs that she might never have recovered from had it not been for Susie.

A little less than a year after Lawrence’s attack, Susie was found nearly dead in Greenfield Park in Greensboro in August 2009. She was only eight-weeks old and had been beaten, set on fire and left for dead, Lawrence explained to the group of students.

When one of the children asked if they ever caught the person who abused Susie, now a certified therapy dog, Lawrence said they did, but because North Carolina’s laws were so old, they didn’t adequately punish people for animal abuse. Her abuser was charged only with a misdemeanor and let go.

It didn’t matter that Susie had second and third degree burns over 60 percent of her body. She had been beaten so severely that her teeth had been knocked out and her jaw broken. She was only eight-weeks old and it was learned that her owner became angry when Susie licked his newborn baby.

“She was a mess when she was found,” said Lawrence.

Because of the risk of infection to her injuries, Susie was placed in foster care and required daily treatment for the next three months. The Guilford County Animal Shelter set up Susie’s Fund to help pay for her care.

The people who saw Susie knew she had to be saved because despite everything – that included 10 days suffering in the park before anyone found her – Susie had a will to live, said Lawrence.

“She had a strong will to live. She was a born leader,” said Lawrence.

Lawrence said she was terrified of dogs after being attacked, but when she met Susie, something special happened.

“She brought healing to me,” said Lawrence.

Lawrence and Susie became advocates for changing the punishment in N.C. for first-time offenders who commit animal abuse. Together they lobbied the General Assembly and met with Gov. Beverly Perdue. When Perdue signed the stricter legislation into law, she asked that Susie’s paw print be there with her own signature.

“It passed unanimously and Susie’s paw print is on the bill,” said Lawrence. “It was a big deal. This dog brought big change in North Carolina. It used to be that it was a slap on the wrist to abuse an animal, but because of Susie, they go to jail.”

Since then, Lawrence and Susie have traveled near and far to get their message across. Susie has also starred in her own movie, “Susie’s Hope,” and Lawrence has written two children’s books about Susie and she even has a couple stuffed animals made in her likeness.

Lawrence, Susie and Babygirl visited KES as part of the Guilford County Pet Responsibility Program, an educational program based on a similar one developed in Moore County, N.C. The program is taught entirely by volunteers, and includes a total of six lessons for fourth grade students. During the lessons, students learn about the basic needs of animals (nutritious food, fresh water, warm and dry shelter, exercise), the importance of having pets spayed or neutered to prevent pet overpopulation, how to keep their pets safe and healthy, and how to safely handle encounters with unknown animals.

According to the organization’s website, students discover they can be advocates for animals by sharing the information they learn about responsible pet care with their friends and family, so their communities can be a safer place for people and animals. Guest speakers (including animal control officers) and visits from insured therapy dogs and their owners enhance the learning experience.

Following Wednesday’s presentation at KES, students and teachers visited with Lawrence, Susie and Babygirl and had their pictures taken showing their support for a contest Susie is competing in that requires voting support from the community.

Susie is trying to move on to the second round in the Hero Dog Award competition sponsored by the American Humane Society. Lawrence said Susie was among the top 24 semi-finalists, but she hopes that with enough votes, Susie can move on to the top eight, each of which will be invited to California to walk the red carpet at the awards ceremony. Voters and a panel of judges will decide the final winner.

“Ask people to vote for Susie,” Lawrence encouraged the students.

To find out about how to vote in the Hero Dog Awards, visit

A Hero’s Welcome

June 17, 2014

More than 100 World War II veterans received a hero’s welcome on Friday evening, June 6 at Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem. For many, it was the first time they’d been so warmly welcomed home since returning from the war.

“That was great,” said Robert Grier, one of at least eight Kernersville residents who traveled to Bedford, Va. to visit the D-Day Memorial there on Friday, June 6, the 70th anniversary of the largest military amphibious invasion in history.

The group left Hanes Mall at 6 a.m. Friday morning and then returned 12 hours later to hundreds of flag-waving supporters cheering their arrival.

The Patriot Guard provided escort for the five charter buses, each named for one of the codenames of the Normandy beaches – Juno, Gold, Omaha, Utah and Sword – where the assault began, and lined the sidewalk around their arrival point at 6 p.m. that evening.

Two red carpets lined their path into the mall and honor guards and patrons lined the way to center court. Women dressed in 1940s attire greeted each of the veterans as they made their way inside. Many sported lipstick on their cheeks by the time they got through the opening line.

It was an emotional moment for many, both veterans and those there to welcome them.

“I saw so many with tears in their eyes,” said Grier.

Grier was in the Army Air Force serving in the China, Burma and India theater during World War II. That campaign is oftentimes referred to as the “forgotten theater,” but on Friday, Grier was thrilled at having had the opportunity to visit the D-Day Memorial on such a momentous anniversary. He knows there aren’t too many anniversaries left for veterans like himself, all in their late 80s and 90s.

“What stood out most was being alive to do it, and I know there won’t be another,” Grier said of an 80th anniversary.

He continued.

“It was a great trip and they 100 percent honored us,” said Grier of a day when thousands of veterans, their families and dignitaries from around the country converged on the memorial to pay homage to those who lost their lives in the invasion.

According to organizers of Friday’s trip, the D-Day Memorial staff anticipated a crowd of over 10,000 people. In honor of the 70th anniversary, there was a special D-Day ceremony, honor guard, guest speakers and a USO show.

Harvey Griffin grew up in Kernersville, raised on a farm just a little ways out of town. He was 18-years-old when he was drafted into the Army and was a part of General George S. Patton’s 3rd armored division that advanced into Germany during a campaign that lasted from late summer of 1944 and through to the end of the war in Europe.

On Thursday last week, Griffin said he was looking forward to visiting the memorial.

“It means a whole lot to me. I am going to feel honored,” said Griffin. “I am looking forward to the trip.”

World War II Army veteran Ivey Redmon was making his second trip to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, but it had been several years since his first visit.

“It’s a beautiful place,” said Redmon.

Redmon was in service in Florida when the D-Day invasion began and by the time he arrived in France, the Allied forces had already established a threshold against the Axis forces. He traveled through Belgium and Holland before moving into Germany.

“We traveled 2,000 miles in 17 months,” said Redmon.

Thinking back on the war makes Redmon think about those who did not make it back.

“I know a lot of guys that didn’t come back,” said Redmon. “I was lucky enough to come back without any injuries.”

T.D. Brann of Kernersville attended Friday’s trip. Like Redmon, he had been to the memorial before, but this time was different.

“I have never seen such a demonstration as that before in my life,’ said Brann as he talked about the throngs of veterans, their family members and others who visited the memorial on Friday. “It was a huge presentation of people, thousands.

Brann, an Army veteran, was in Fort Hood, Texas on D-Day but it wasn’t long before he and his fellow soldiers were on their way to Europe, joining in the last push of the war, with troops making their way into Germany. Brann would go all the way to Berlin and remain there as a military police officer even after the end of the war in Europe.

He was appreciative of the people who turned out Friday to welcome the veterans back to Winston-Salem. When Brann was discharged from the Army, there were no parades or fanfare for returning soldiers. He and a buddy just caught a bus home, he said.

“I thought it was the most wonderful thing anyone had ever planned for us,” said Brann.

Burch Idol of Colfax also made the trip to the memorial on Friday, as did Army veteran Harvey Rachael and Navy veteran Rodger Williams, both of Kernersville.

“It’s a beautiful place,” said Idol, who was making his second trip to the memorial. “I think knowing the circumstances, a lot who didn’t make it back, it was quite an honor to be with this group.”

It was Rachael’s and Williams’ first trip to the D-Day Memorial.

As World War II veterans, both wanted to be a part of the special occasion.

“I wanted to be a part of it. It was a beautiful service,” said Rachael, adding that the welcome home was “wonderful.”

Williams thought the program at the memorial on Friday was great and the arrival to waving flags and cheering crowds was just as memorable.

“Coming home, that was good,” said Williams, who had previously participated in a Flight of Honor trip to visit the World War II veterans memorial in Washington, D.C.

Williams should know a great homecoming when he sees one. Who met Williams and his ship when it returned to the United States after World War II? None other than President Harry Truman.

Friday’s D-Day Honor Trip was made possible by Rotary District 7690, the same organization responsible for the Triad Flight of Honor trips.

Bringing Joy to All Walks of Life

March 25, 2014

Erica Fox uses her talent to help inspire and enrich the lives of others.

Fox, a 1999 East Forsyth High School graduate, had always wanted to be a teacher, but after attending the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, she followed a different passion and became a fine arts major with a concentration in sculpture.

Although she had a passion for art, it fell by the wayside when she started a family. She and her husband have three children: Austin, Brett and Colton.

It wasn’t until she decided to leave her job and stay home with her children that art entered her life once again; this time her passion shifted toward painting.

“I used painting as a form of relaxation,” she said. “I painted to learn more about it since I had spent most of my time in college working with sculpture.”

When Fox realized that painting allowed her to express herself, she wondered if she could use painting to help others.

“Painting helped me through my own unique self-expression,” she remarked. “Once I realized that, I started praying about how God could utilize my art to help others. I started to brainstorm about the people I wanted to help.”

Fox said she was really close to both of her grandmothers, so she decided she would like to work with people going through the late aging process as a way to remind her of the time she had with her own grandmothers.

Since she had no formal training in painting, Fox taught herself how to paint by watching videos, through observation, practicing, and by watching senior adults who are established painters.

After reaching out to several organizations, Fox began working with Arbor Ridge at Kernersville in October 2011 and created “Creative Expressions Through the Ages.”

“I started out going once a month, and now I go three Wednesdays a month for one hour,” she said, noting that she now gives classes at other locations. “I think they would do it every day if they could.”

Fox not only works with small groups, but also provides private art lessons for residents who are unable to attend the group classes.

“Families will contact me and request I work with their mom or dad on a weekly basis as a therapeutic activity for them to enjoy,” she said, noting she always travels to her students. “Giving them something enjoyable to focus on during the hour we meet really helps relax their mind, body, and soul.”

When working with aging adults or those with physical and cognitive disabilities, Fox said they start with inspiration, whether from her sources or their sources, such as clippings of pictures from magazines or other things they like.

“Most of them do realistic or impressionistic paintings, and we spend time sketching our work before we paint,” she said. “I am there to help guide and encourage them. I constantly praise them and sometimes have to tell them not to take it so seriously.”

Fox also plays music while giving a class.

“I usually try to play music they like or music from their era,” she stated.

Fox said her students get enjoyment and relaxation out of her classes.

“When they become focused on the painting, they forget about their ailments or the situations they are in,” she remarked.

Fox enjoys giving her students, which she calls her friends, the opportunity to share their stories and past memories with her.

“To bring these memories back to life again, making them tangible in the form of art, gives them an extraordinary sense of hope, fulfillment, and identity in the life they are still living,” she remarked. “Going through the late aging process can be rather isolating, so I like to use the encouraging, ‘I am; I have a purpose; and I still matter’ motto that helps uplift their sense of belonging.”

Along with working at retirement and assisted living centers, Fox works with the severely disabled and people battling hardships of homelessness. She will soon be working with people in rehabilitation centers to offer them a form of therapy through art.

Fox stated that although there are obvious challenges to her job, she loves everything about it.

“I enjoy forming relationships, friendships and hearing their stories,” she said. “I love knowing that I am giving them the opportunity to do something beneficial to them, not only mentally, but physically and spiritually.”

Fox is working on her master’s degree in art therapy so she will be able to use art and psychotherapy together as a form of counseling.

“After I get my masters, I hope that through what I do, I can eventually use art to benefit the lives of people of all ages,” she said.

When Fox isn’t working to bring joy to the lives of others, she continues to enjoy painting on her own, mostly painting with acrylic and creating abstract pieces.

“I also like to make story paintings because I also love to write,” she said. “I like to write a story that goes along with the painting.”

She noted that she created a story painting for her church and donated for “A Christmas in the City” event to Crisis Control Ministry.

The painting for “A Christmas in the City” depicted Christ holding up the city of Winston-Salem.

If interested in learning more about Fox, visit her on Facebook at CETTA – “Creative Expressions through the Ages,” or contact her at or 336-782-5979

Eager Reader

January 30, 2014

Tammy Chisolm can tell you the exact day that reading became a delight for her son, Kayden.

It was the day in December that Crystal Browning, his first-grade teacher at Sedge Garden Elementary School (SGES), sent home several short picture books that she had made just for Kayden. Browning chose the stories so that they were at Kayden’s reading level, and, before printing them out, she edited the stories so that one of the characters in each story was named after him. In one story, Kayden rode a dinosaur. She then turned the printed stories into little books.

At home that night, Chisolm said, Kayden – much to her surprise – devoured those books. When Browning sent home several more custom-made books the next day, he devoured those, too.

“He hasn’t stopped reading,” Chisolm said. “He read for an entire weekend.”

Kayden loves math. But learning to read has been a struggle, Chisolm said, and Kayden has not always behaved as well in school as he should have. The people at SGES have all worked hard to support him, she said, including Don Wyatt, the school’s assistant principal, and Bryant McCorkle, the school’s home/school coordinator. Mrs. Browning has worked especially hard. “Her patience has got to be beyond human.”

Chisolm was so excited by Kayden’s transformation from struggling reader to enthusiastic reader that she sent an email to Superintendent Beverly Emory’s office praising Browning and the others at SGES and asking that every member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education be told about what the people at SGES had done for Kayden.

It began this way: “I am emailing you this morning as the HAPPIEST mother in all of Winston Salem and Forsyth County Schools.”

She went on to write about what happened when she handed Kayden the first book that Browning had made: “Once he saw it was a story about himself, he was eager to see what he did in the story. He read the book start to finish with no assistance. He asked to read another, which was a small miracle. He read another and again asked to read more. He kept pointing to the pictures saying ‘Look mom, I am riding a dinosaur!’

“Once we got to the fourth book, he noticed his best buddy was in it. He could not stop laughing in excitement because he and his buddy were in a book together. After four of the books she made for him, I told him we could stop for the night. He begged to keep reading! I thought only a miracle would make my head-strong little boy want to read! And a miracle Mrs. Browning was for us!! The time, effort and detail she took putting into those books left me in awe. She is already a very organized and hard-working teacher but to see this level of dedication to a failing student brings me to tears.”

In person, Browning was quick to spread around credit for the success of Kayden and other students at SGES.

“I am just one piece of the puzzle,” Browning said. “My colleagues do these same things.”

People, such as Alicia Flynt, the school’s primary reading teacher, also work to help Kayden and other students, she said.

“Every child gets reading on their grade level at this school,” she added.

And having parents, such as Kayden’s mother, who work with their children at home and who communicate with the people at the school, makes all the difference, said Browning and SGES Principal Ramona Warren.

“It is so important for the parent to have the child practice at home,” Warren said.

And Kayden’s and other students’ willingness to work hard is crucial, Browning said.

The books that Browning sent home with Kayden were part of a series created by a company called Pioneer Valley Books. Each story in the series targets a particular reading level and is designed so that the child’s name can be inserted into the story before it is printed out.

“I didn’t create the books,” she said. “I just personalized them.”

Browning makes the books for many of the 21 students in her class. Handing a child a book in which he or she is a main character can be quite powerful, she said.

“I wish you could see when the kids get their very first book and they notice their name – that is priceless,” she remarked.

At this point in the first grade, there can be quite a range of reading levels, Warren said.

“She has children in here who are starting to read chapter books and some who still need phonics,” she explained.

Browning has been a teacher for about 20 years. She is in her seventh year at SGES, the school she attended when she was in kindergarten. She met her husband Andy Browning, when they were both third-graders at Cash Elementary.

Both grew up to become teachers.

“It’s a family affair,” Browning said.

Andy is the band director at South Davidson middle and high schools. They live with their son Daniel, a ninth-grader at South Davidson, and son Joseph, a fifth-grader at SGES.

“He goes one direction and I go another,” she said.

Browning has known she wanted to be a teacher since she was in first grade.

“I played school all the time,” she recalled.

For her classroom, she set up a chalkboard and bulletin board in the basement. Early on, she drafted her younger sister, Amy, as her student. When her sister wasn’t as cooperative as Browning would have liked, she moved on to teaching imaginary students.

She graduated from East Forsyth High School in 1989 and went on to High Point University, where she majored in elementary education. After teaching third and fourth grades, she ended up teaching in kindergarten, where she discovered that she finds helping beginning readers particularly rewarding.

“You can see the joy she takes for that child and his or her progression,” Warren said.

“It is my passion,” Browning remarked.

Others at SGES are the same way, Warren said. People at the school work as a team to help each other find ways to help students, Browning said.

As an example, she pulled out some illustrated math cards she uses. They were created by kindergarten teacher Kristine Brixius, who has made a series of materials that are available online on a teacher-to-teacher website called

Learning to read can be hard, Browning said, and, in the beginning, many children think they don’t like reading because they don’t know how. She likes being present when they start to make connections and discover that they do, indeed, enjoy reading and may even start sneaking a read when they are supposed to be doing something else.

Browning doesn’t stop working to help children when the school day ends. Browning’s “school brain,” as she calls it, seldom shuts down, and, while she is driving home or fixing supper or watching a baseball game, she will find herself thinking about the best ways to help a particular student learn.

“It’s my life,” she said. “It’s what I love to do.”

Miraculous Shot

January 30, 2014

Victories in high school basketball are always a valued commodity, but the Villains’ boys basketball team’s win over Mt. Airy on Friday transcends the game and put the very worthy spotlight on a special player and a special person.

On Friday, Bishop McGuinness junior Spencer Wilson and the Villains simply refused to lose and Wilson made one big shot and one miraculous shot to secure the win. Wilson sank one three-pointer with three seconds left to force overtime, and then banked in a 50-foot shot at the buzzer to give the Villains an 84-82 overtime victory.

Wilson has gone through treatment twice for an aggressive and malignant tumor called Rhabdomyosarcoma, which attacks muscles and bones, and certainly didn’t envision making game-winning shots a few years ago.

“I was diagnosed in August of 2009. I’ve gone through treatments twice. The first time through kemo (therapy) and the second time it was kemo and radiation. Four years ago when I was getting kemo in the hospital I did not think I would be hitting the game-winning shot. It is amazing to see how God works,” said Wilson.

Wilson credits his own determination to get on the basketball court for part of his recovery but believes various other factors were at work.

“I have had a real strong support system with parents, family and friends, and they were very encouraging and prayed for me. My passion for basketball…that is what really got me back on the court. Basketball was my escape from kemo and radiation,” said Wilson.

Wilson wasn’t the only Villain player inspired at Friday’s game.

“It was a dedication game for us. Every player wrote a letter to a person, living or passed away, that had an impact on their life and they gave the letters to that person. Before the game on Thursday they shared their stories with the team. Some of the players dedicated the game to their parents. One dedicated it to his Uncle that had passed away with muscular dystrophy. One player dedicated it to his grandmother who was blind and never saw him play. Spencer dedicated it to Josh Rominger from Davie County that passed away last year. Josh was a teenager that battled cancer like Spencer did. He knew him through that and they had traveled the same road,” said Bishop McGuinness head boys’ basketball coach Josh Thompson.

Wilson believes all of the players were as inspired as he was on Friday.

“I knew Josh for about six months before he passed. I visited him in the hospital and he would come watch me play. We texted frequently, so we became pretty good friends. I definitely think every body played with more emotion and intensity on Friday. We were playing for something outside ourselves and did what we thought we could never do. Josh has inspired me with everything he went through. He lived every day to the fullest and valued every day of his life. I want to live my life like that,” said Wilson.

Wilson’s game tying three-pointer was a big play but was not totally unexpected. The 50-footer at the end of the game was another story.

“On the one at the end of regulation, we actually run that play in practice every day. After the time out Coach Thompson said we will run it and you will knock it down. Coach T has a lot of confidence in me and Nick (Efird) hit me with a perfect pass. On the last play it happened so fast I really did not know what would happen. When it first went in I thought this had to be a dream. It was incredible. Will (Gardner) got a big rebound and hit me with a perfect pass. I think God used this as a platform for me to share my story and share my faith,” said Wilson.

Wilson and his story have received a lot of print and television media attention since Friday’s game. In addition to attention from local networks and print media outlets, CBS News has sent a crew down from New York to Bishop McGuinness and a segment on Wilson is scheduled to air on Friday night.

“CBS actually sent a crew down from New York and they interviewed five players. They followed Spencer around school on Tuesday. They said the segment would run on Friday at the end of the evening news around 6:45 p.m.,” said Thompson.

Wilson played basketball and attended High Point Wesleyan last year, but neither Thompson nor Wilson believes it is a coincidence he is now at Bishop McGuinness.

“We are happy with the attention obviously. It is a story that can make people feel good and that is always a good thing. I have always believed the Lord has placed Spencer at Bishop for a reason. I don’t know if he cares who wins basketball games, but Spencer and the team want to give our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ all the credit for everything,” said Thompson. “Having a guy like Spencer on the team inspires everybody and makes them better. Besides that, he is a real good basketball player. We are blessed to have him on the team and are looking forward to the rest of the year and his senior year.”

While Thompson believes Wilson is at Bishop McGuinness for a purpose, Wilson himself felt compelled to come to the school.

“Some things are hard to explain. I felt like God was calling me to go over to Bishop. I played AAU basketball for Coach Thompson and I though it would be best for me to go there. When God calls you to go somewhere you should follow his lead, so that is what got me to Bishop. We have a great group of guys. This is the most fun I have had playing basketball in my life. With Coach Thompson and the guys everyone has gelled real well. We have had a lot of fun this year and we hope to continue winning,” said Wilson. “I just want to continue working, getting stronger and improving my game and see where it takes me. But my dream is definitely to play in college.”

VA Groundbreaking

January 30, 2014

The sacrifice made by veterans in service to their country and the importance of honoring them was a recurring theme during Friday morning’s groundbreaking ceremony for the new VA Health Care Center in Kernersville.

Officials from throughout the state and local community paid homage to the nation’s veterans as they talked about their excitement that the 280,000 sq. ft. facility will one day provide state-of-the-art care and easy access to an estimated 34,000 veterans in the Piedmont Triad area.

“This is a great day for Kernersville and great thing for the VA,” said Kernersville Mayor Pro Tem Joe Pinnix as he arrived at the groundbreaking ceremony shortly before 11 a.m.

Bruce Sprecher, communications director for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network, served as emcee of the program and welcomed the hundreds of guests to Friday’s event, including dozens of veterans as well as Town of Kernersville officials such as Mayor Dawn Morgan, Pinnix, Alderman Tracey Shifflette, Town Manager Curtis Swisher, Town Attorney John G. Wolfe, III, Kernersville Fire Rescue Department Chief Terry Crouse, and Kernersville Police Chief Scott Cunningham.

Also, in attendance were Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Linville, Vice-Chair Gloria Whisenhunt, Commissioner Mark Baker, County Manager Dudley Watts; Joanne Allen, president of Novant Health Kernersville Medical Center; and a representative from the office of U.S. Senator Kay Hagan.

Featured guests who spoke included Morgan; Forsyth County Commissioner David R. Plyler; U.S. Representatives Virginia Foxx and Howard Coble of the state’s 5th and 6th Congressional Districts, respectively; Mike Fendley, field representative for the office of U.S. Senator Richard Burr; Gary Buechler, president and managing director of development for Lend Lease (US) Healthcare Development, LLC, the company developing the VA Health Care Center; Kaye Green, medical center director of the Salisbury VA Medical Center; Ilairo Pantano, director/assistant secretary of the N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs; and keynote speaker Daniel F. Hoffmann, director of the VA Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network.

Green told those in attendance that N.C.’s is one of the busiest and fastest growing VA systems in the country and that just a short three years ago, she would have never imagined that a health care center such as the one planned in Kernersville would be needed in the area.

“We are thrilled beyond words to see this VA center come to fruition,” said Green.

Fendley offered Senator Richard Burr’s regrets that he was unable to attend Friday’s groundbreaking, but said the senator has long supported veterans.

“Senator Burr has been a champion of those who have served our country,” said Fendley.

He continued, “We applaud the local community leaders who worked so hard to make this a reality.”

Buechler thanked the country’s veterans for their “tremendous service to our nation,” and called the work that has gone into bringing the new VA facility to the Triad a team effort by all those involved.

“We’re all working as one team to bring a facility here that caregivers and veterans can use to their benefit,” said Buechler.

Pantano spoke at the groundbreaking on behalf of Gov. Pat McCrory. As a veteran of the U.S. Marines who re-enlisted because of 9/11, Pantano said that at times veterans feel as if their sacrifices have been in vain, but he was there to tell them they will not be forgotten in N.C.

“We are not going to forget our veterans. Sometimes society forgets. I will not forget,” said Pantano.

Morgan said Kernersville’s wish for a veterans’ facility in the community dates back decades to when a group first rallied around the need in 1939. An article was even published in the Kernersville News about the group, she said.

“This has been something the people in the community have hoped for a long time. It has been a dream here to provide better health care for veterans,” said Morgan.

Morgan also called upon the words of President Abraham Lincoln, who in his second inaugural address called on the nation to begin healing its wounds from the Civil War:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Plyler, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said county representatives were delighted to be at the ceremony, which marked the beginning of a “perfect marriage and perfect opportunity for all of us.”

Foxx and Coble both gave their thanks to the veterans attending the ceremony.

“We take our freedom for granted because of the wonderful job our veterans have done supporting us,” said Foxx. “It is important that we acknowledge every day our gratitude to those who have served. It is also fitting that this health care center will be in this district where we do have so many veterans and need to make sure they get proper care.”

Coble said the facility’s impact will be wide reaching across the state, especially where jobs are concerned.

“The direct result of this Health Care Center is creating many, many jobs,” he said.

Hoffmann, in his keynote address, said it is no secret that projects like the new VA Health Care Center in Kernersville don’t happen on their own but in N.C., there is definitely bi-partisan support when it comes to the state’s veterans.

“I have felt it ever since I came to North Carolina,” said Hoffmann.

Hoffmann said plans for the facility are the manifestation of conversations about growth among the veteran population in Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

“There are nearly 800,000 veterans in North Carolina. It is a veteran friendly state. Our mission is to honor veterans by providing exceptional health care,” said Hoffmann, which includes providing the greatest access to highly skilled doctors, nurses and staff in the best facilities with the best equipment possible.

Hoffmann said that in the past, distance was the greatest barrier to that care.

“It was a road too far to travel for most, but we are eliminating a great deal of this barrier,” he said.

Hoffmann said it took years of pouring over mountains of data to determine what was needed, where in terms of service to veterans. Today, the Kernersville site is one of three major Health Care Centers planned for the state, with one in Charlotte and another in Fayetteville.

“Today, we gather to demonstrate the VA’s commitment to veterans living in the Piedmont Triad,” said Hoffmann. “One day, this pile of dirt will be home to a modern facility and modern health care.”

Student Generosity

January 30, 2014

The kindness and generosity that was displayed in front of Webster Brothers Hardware in Walkertown last week was enough to bring a grown man to tears.

Walkertown Middle School science teacher Edward Stickney said he didn’t know what to say when a group of his sixth graders presented him with nearly $400 cash to help pay the medical expenses his 19-year-old nephew has incurred while battling a rare form of cancer known as Rhabdomyosarcoma. He said knowing that his students went out of their way to help a complete stranger was more than he could handle.

“As a teacher, you want to instill in your students the value of helping others during their time of need, and when you get to see that take place, it’s very rewarding,” Stickney said. “To know they took it upon themselves to help a complete stranger is amazing.”

Stickney said the only clue he had at all about what Grant Norman, Lydia Stroud, Heather Fulp, Blake Stockton, Austin Amos and Ryan Jones were up to was a quick conversation he had with them a few weeks ago. Stickney shared with the class what his family was going through after receiving word that the news was not good. He said Stroud and Norman asked him that same day if there was anything they could do to help, and all Stickney said was to keep his nephew in their thoughts and prayers.

Stickney said he figured that would be the end of that conversation. But he was wrong.

“I walked into my office the other morning (January 22) to find a group of parents and students standing there,” Stickney said. “I figured I was in trouble. Instead, they handed me a jar full of money. I was completely dumbfounded.”

“What these kids don’t realize is that this money will benefit more than just my nephew,” Stickney added. “My family has decided to use that as seed money for an ongoing fund to benefit others who suffer from the same disease.”

Stickney said the money will be used for research at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in honor of James Kellar, who dreamed of one day becoming a doctor. Stickney said it is rare for someone Kellar’s age to be diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma since it typically starts in the sinuses of infants, but it is a reality that his family has come to grips with.

Stickney said they choose to focus on the positive.

“Anytime I talk with (the family), their response is, ‘How about them children,’” Stickney said. “They, too, are surprised these students spent their day out of school helping someone they’ve never even seen a picture of.”

Norman said the idea of collecting donations in front of the hardware store came about after a dream he had. He said the group of friends knew they didn’t have much time to put something together, so they decided to make bracelets and pass out lemonade to everyone who gave them a donation. Norman said it was rewarding to see the response of the Walkertown community over the course of just a few hours.

“We had a few people stop and ask what we were doing and why it was called ‘His Wish,’” said Amos, who enjoyed raising money for a good cause. “We even had one guy clean out all of the change from his truck to help us out. It was close to $20.”

Stroud said another lady made a donation and then asked them to let her know how much they raised after the fact. Stroud said it made her proud to know that others were taking an interest in helping their teacher.

“To know we made a difference is very rewarding,” said Fulp, who helped make many of the bracelets. “I don’t think any of us thought we would make as much money as we did, but I am glad we did.”

Stockton and Jones said this project was extra special because it was something they came up with as a group. Stockton said they discussed it in homeroom and gym class and had already decided they wanted to help before talking to their parents.

Stockton said they spent three days making the bracelets, painting posters and developing their plan of action. They then spent about two and a half hours outside Webster Brothers Hardware during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday taking donations.

“We raised about $266 during that short time. I think we all felt very proud,” Norman said.

Amos agreed

“I think we learned that if you are willing to put in the work, you can achieve your goal,” he said. “It was a very rewarding project, and I am glad I was able to be part of it.”

Love Hideaway

January 9, 2014

Nicholas Conley, a 2004 graduate of Glenn High School, decided to build a dating website,, after coming across a box full of research from his undergraduate years.

Conley explained that when he saw the research, he didn’t know what to do with it, and even pondered about whether he should throw it away.

“That’s when my wife pitched the idea of a dating website,” he said. “It started out as a joke at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew I could create something new and exciting.”

During his undergraduate years spent at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Conley explained that he had an overwhelming response from his friends about how frustrated they were with online dating.

“(Back then) I thought about doing a dating site because I wanted to make the dating scene fun again,” he said.

However, it took a few years of settled dust before he revisited the idea.

Conley, who is currently earning his Doctorate of Pharmacy at Wingate University, saw creating the dating site as a fun side project.

Fittingly, Conley noted that his undergraduate work was in psychology.

“I used dating websites while researching social networks for my psychology degree,” he said.

Although Conley has never used a dating site to find love, he did meet his wife, Meredith, through an online social networking website.

“Meredith is actually the inspiration behind the website,” he said. “I remember the experience as incredible and hope to put the same fun and excitement into my website.”

Conley said there are currently a little over 100 members on the site, which was released in November.

“As of now, there are over 100 members and over 15,000 website views. I’ve been partnering with local clubs in an attempt to have them test out the website,” he said. “I’m planning a national release later in 2014.”

The theme of the dating site is an island setting and is meant to remind those looking for love that dating should be fun.

“I want to remind users that dating is supposed to be fun,” he said. “The first thing you see is an island that suggests some type of adventure is about to take place. This is what the website is all about; it’s about the excitement of meeting someone new, without all the stress other websites bring.”

Conley said the site is completely free, but noted there is a payment option for those who seek additional options to interact with others.

When it comes to setting up a profile on a dating site, Conley’s suggestion is to be yourself.

“Upload a couple of pictures, write a couple of statements about who you are as a person, and just be honest,” he said. “I think the most important thing people want on a dating website is honesty.”

Conley said has two features that are unique.

“The first feature is called ‘levels,’ in which everyone starts off as a Tourist at level 1 when introduced to the island. The more active they are within the website (more pictures they upload, the more people they rank, etc.), the higher the level they become, as well as the more capabilities they obtain to interact with others,” he said. “This encourages people to be active on the website and increases the quality of active members within the island.”

The other feature is called “Desirability XP.”

“These are points the user gains by how other people interact with them. The more someone sends them a message or rates them a high ranking, the more Desirability XP they will receive,” he explained. “All of these are tracked and encourage users to interact with others in a positive way so they can increase their desirability.”

He added that users with a high level and a high desirability would more likely be a better match for a potential date.

With more and more people meeting online today, Conley said the reason online dating has become more popular is due to many people’s busy lifestyles.

“I think people often get stuck in the same routine everyday: wake up, go to work, come home; they do the same thing everyday. Unfortunately, this narrows someone’s social circle quite a bit and makes it difficult to meet someone new. A dating website is a great idea because it opens the door to a new social setting filled with new possibilities.”

For more information about the dating site, visit or send an email to

Keeping a Pest Free Home

January 9, 2014

When Christie Steele, owner and manager of A All Animal Control, first started looking for a job dealing with trapping animals, she never knew how different each day would be for her.

Steele had always worked with animals and owned several cats, dogs and horses and so naturally she thought working with animals, as a career, would be something she would enjoy.

“I thought working with wildlife or working in a zoo would be fun,” she said. “Everyday is crazy because you never know what you’re going to catch.”

Steele explained that with biologists on staff they make it their priority to take care of the animals as they trap them and ensure their safe return to the wild.

Steele said she mostly encounters bats, squirrels and raccoons, as well as the occasional opossum and skunk, when investigating a home.

“Every once in a while we’ll get a coyote call, but we haven’t had any in a while,” she said. “Our other office in North Carolina has had a few bobcat calls, but we have not had any yet.”

Although not a routine house call, the most interesting animal Steele has encountered was a blue heron.

“We did a rescue job for a blue heron a kayaker found. We had to crawl through a bunch of muck to get to it,” she said, noting that going on that type of rescue mission isn’t something they usually do. “It’s not everyday that you get to pick up a blue heron and carry it around. After we rescued it we brought it to a rehab center.”

So far, in the time Steele has been working in animal control, she has not encountered any vermin that have had rabies.

“We’ve had a couple raccoons that seemed very sickly and one that looked like it had mange,” she said. “We had it tested and it came back negative. We have never had one that tested positive, but we have had some that have been pretty scary looking.”

Steele noted that what she enjoys most about her job is seeing her clients relax after she and her team have solved the pest problem and knowing it won’t happen to them again.

She noted that while it is their job to take care of a pest problem, they make it their priority to take care of the animal in the time that it is trapped, and thereafter, until it is released back into the wild.

“We do our best to take care of the animals,” she said. “We check the traps, usually every 24 hours, and catch most of them overnight, so they aren’t left out in the heat of the day. The last thing we want to do is to harm the animal if that’s not necessary.”

Due to N.C. law, not all animals can be relocated after being caught and released, so the animals are released in the same location they were caught.

Once a varmint is ridden from a home, Steele and her team clean up any mess left behind by the team and make sure no other animals can get into the home.

She noted that different animals can cause different types of damage and cause harm to humans.

“Squirrels will chew everything from electrical wire to wood. Squirrels need to chew to keep their teeth from growing too long,” she said. “Raccoons defecate and urinate a lot and pack down the insulation in your attic. They can even fall through the ceiling if they have weakened the dry wall with urine. They don’t do a lot of chewing but they can do a lot of damage to your (air) ducts.”

Steele said that when bats get into the home, the amount of guano (bat feces) they leave behind is deadly.

She explained that there are precautions one can take in order to deter animals from entering the home, such as removing debris from the yard, which attracts animals. She also recommended that people keep tree branches off of their roof, which is an “animal highway.”

“Take away easy access,” she said. “Shrubbery should be kept away from your home. Keep a clean cut yard and keep branches off of the house.”

She also noted that those who enjoy watching birds should keep squirrels from eating from the bird feeders.

“It’s an easy way to lure them in without even knowing it because it is food right next to your house,” she said, noting this should be done year round, especially right before spring when animals search for a place to raise their babies.

Joyce Farm

January 9, 2014

Joyce Farm is a landmark to many people who drive along Kernersville Road each day.

The home that resides on the farm is said to have been built in 1776, according to the deed, but Mike Joyce and his son (also Mike Joyce) have questioned whether that is accurate.

“My grandfather bought the property in the early 1900s, and we’ve questioned whether the deed is correct,” Joyce’s son said. “We’ve done some restructuring work and found logs behind the main structure, which would suggest the date is correct.”

During the time Mike was growing up, his farm had 100-150 acres of land, of which his family of 16 children, parents and 10 – 12 share croppers worked.

Mike’s wife, Mary, explained that Mike’s father (Elbert Lee Joyce) and his first wife had seven children, but after she passed away from rheumatic fever, he remarried.

“He remarried and he and his second wife (Claudia Glidewell Joyce) had eight children and adopted one, so they had a total of 16 children,” she said, noting that Mike was the youngest of the 16 children.

“Daddy had his own army,” Joyce’s son joked.

Mike explained that the farm was a true working farm, where they grew and raised almost everything they needed.

“This was a real working farm. We raised and grew everything we needed right here,” he said. “The only thing we needed to go to the store for was sugar, coffee and salt. We had to take our grain to the mill to grind it. I remember my father used to go to Winston and peddle any extra produce we had.”

Mike noted how much things have changed over the years.

“When 421 came in, it came through the farm. I can remember when Mom would hook up the mules and go to work,” he said. “I (also) remember you could hunt in the fields and walk several miles into Kernersville without seeing anyone. We would walk into town and all that there was on this side of town was Peddycord Equipment and Ivey Hedgecock Auto Repair.”

He noted that traffic has picked up tremendously since he was a boy.

“For entertainment, I remember sitting on our front porch and watching the cars go by,” he said, as he noted that all the surrounding roads were dirt at the time. “Back then, about 10 cars would go by in an hour, and now about 10 or more cars go by every minute.”

Joyce’s son explained that since there were so many children in his dad’s family, his grandfather decided to deed the farm to Mike.

“It was too much to try to divide it up between the 16 children, so the land was sold off and Daddy just divided the money, since they couldn’t decide what to do with the land,” he said, noting that much of the land was turned into housing developments. “As the kids grew up, Grandpa would help all the kids get started by giving them land and help them build a house.”

Mike noted that his father passed away in 1966, and he took care of his mom until she passed away in 1976.

“My dad was 16 (years-old) when his dad died,” Mike’s son said.

Once Mike started his own family and his son came along, the farm was no longer a fully self-sustaining farm. Instead, they were growing mostly tobacco and a little bit of hay.

“We had barns here that we would cure the tobacco in,” said Mike’s son. “Daddy would work through the winter and get the summer off.”

By the time Mike’s son was 15-years-old the regulations on tobacco had changed so much, that the Joyce family was forced to find another means of living and so they transitioned to horses.

“Things changed so much with government regulations that it became too difficult to raise tobacco anymore,” Mike’s son explained.

Mike said if his father had seen how they were raising tobacco at the time, he would have been sick.

“When we started raising tobacco, we would cure it on a stick. Then we went to tying it on a stick, and then sewing it, and finally racking,” Mike said. “They were charging you for everything and making you do things a certain way and it didn’t always mean it was better for you.”

Mike’s son said the Joyce family always had horses to ride on around the farm, but around 1984, they decided to have a full service horse farm.

“We raised and sold horses; we boarded and bred them; we had a tack shop; and we gave lessons,” he said. “We had a full-service farm.”

At the age of 16, Mike’s son decided to start showing horses, after working for San UP Farm as a glorified stall cleaner.

“Kelly Sapp was the trainer,” he said. “That’s when I got my start in riding and breaking horses.”

During the first year he showed horses he was a Reserve State Champion.

After working with Sapp, he went to work for his uncle, Lawrence Joyce, for about a year and a half and was named the All Age Reining Champion and Youth Champion for the Blue Ridge Quarter Horse Association that year.

“I then went to the Quarter Horse Congress and was ninth in the world.”

The following year, he made a transition to working with Bob Mac training stables, where he stayed for another year.

“That year I went to the All American Quarter Horse Congress again and was a Futurity Finalist. I was 21-years-old and was a limited open rider,” he said. “When I came out of the pen I had people that wanted to know how much they could have for my horse. She ended up somewhere in Italy.”

After having so many accomplishments, Mike’s son decided to return to the family farm to help train horses.

“We probably had about 40-50 head of horses at the time,” he said.

In 1999, Mike’s son moved away from horses and decided to focus more on family life and later went into law enforcement. His sister has worked in law enforcement for 22 years.

Today, the Joyce Farm is a bit quieter and sees fewer horses, but Mike noted there’s always something to do.

“We board a few retired horses and I take in horses that need some rehabilitation,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Joyces spent an entire day putting up new fencing on the farm.

“There’s always something to do around the farm,” Mike said.