Category Archives: The Times-News (Burlington, NC)

Planting new seeds, perspectives in the modern apparel industry

By Stephanie Butzer

Young broccoli stalks lean toward the sunlight inside the TS Designs building. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

Young broccoli stalks lean toward the sunlight inside the TS Designs building. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

In the corner of a dim T-shirt warehouse in Burlington, N.C., surrounded by buckets of colored dye and paint-splattered rotating machines, are rows of broccoli sprouts, barely an inch tall.

They lean toward the sliding door in front of them, where, on the other side, a handful of chickens nervously peck at company shop fruits and vegetables that didn’t make it to the register in time.

Back inside, Eric Henry, wearing a gray shirt reading “TS Designs,” works on a PowerPoint at his desk. The late afternoon sun brightens the room. The lights are off.

The first slide on his computer reads, “98%.”

“That’s the percentage of clothes we buy that are made overseas,” he says.

Henry is the president of TS Designs, an apparel manufacturing and screen-printing company focused on sustainable, high quality and long-lasting T-shirts. Instead of reaching overseas for cheap labor like most apparel companies, TS Designs receives almost all its blank T-shirts from the Carolinas. The entire process – from farm to finished product – spans only 600 miles, just a fraction of the distance most other shirts travel.

While this has a positive environmental, social and economic impact on the United States, TS Design customers do have to pay a little extra.

“It’s not that our T-shirts cost too much,” Henry said. “I will compete with any apparel company in the world. Just don’t bring price to the table. When people come here, if you’re only interested in the lowest possible price, we’ll have a short conversation.”

The cost of labor in the United States is much higher than what is offered to workers in countries like China and Bangladesh. This is because the United States produces better quality materials in factories where Americans require higher salaries. By paying more for better clothing, American shoppers allow for more jobs in the country and, with the methods TS Designs implemented, a healthier environment, Henry said. But many people do not understand the process or impact involved with buying clothing.

“The problem we have is that we get so infatuated with the price, we never ask other questions,” Henry said.

The aspects of a clothing purchase that aren’t questioned can sometimes be harmful, and even lethal, to those working in factories across the globe.

Henry said business can be a component of positive change, but Americans have to look at it differently than they do now and need examples to look up to and mimic.

TS Designs is striving to be that business.

Check the tag

When deciding between two similar products, most people will examine the price tag and go to the register with the cheaper item. But price isn’t limited to just that product. There is a price on production.

This is why TS Designs uses North Carolina labor at about $15 an hour. Having North Carolinians create the shirts instead of factories overseas keeps more jobs in the state and boosts the economy, even though the products cost more.

For a while in the early 1990s, TS Designs flourished. It had big corporations, like Nike and Gap, buying shirts from them. While creating mass materials for these companies, TS Designs was also able to generate a profit and support sustainable apparel manufacturing in the community.

“I felt like, as a business, we had to be good stewards of the Earth,” Henry said. “Those characteristics, instincts, were part of our business but nobody really cared about it – Nike, Tommy, Gap, Polo. All they cared about was that we produced a quality product on time.”

The normal business model of the time didn’t look beyond that aspect of production and that employees had access to health care and retirement. But TS Designs went beyond these requirements. The company focused on environmental stewardship, produced a high-quality, competitively priced product, and had employee benefits. By the mid-1990s, it had more than 100 employees.

But in 1994, everything changed.

The United States had signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, better known as NAFTA, in late 1994 and it went into effect the following January. This agreement resulted in a massive shift in the apparel industry. It was designed to promote free and fair trade between the three signees – Mexico, Canada and the United States. It also caused the “de-industrialization” of the United States, meaning more American jobs were displaced outside the country.

Apparel production moved almost instantly outside the United States’ borders, where labor was cheaper. This ended up bankrupting many small businesses and unemployed tens of thousands of people.

“I saw my business, over the period of two years, go from 100 employees to 14,” Henry said. “We were devastated because the business that we built – there was just no future for it.”

The brands TS Designs produced shirts for could not get the apparel overseas fast enough. It seemed like there weren’t any reasons to make apparel in the United States since a company would need to outsource its highest cost – which would be labor for TS Designs – to cheaper sources.

Most western brands that had previously worked with TS Designs, such as Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Gap, Polo, Ralph Lauren and Adidas, changed their business models to get their labor offshore.

Henry also had to change the focus of TS Designs while ensuring the business could still support itself and be involved in the community. One of Henry’s friends suggested he look into using a triple bottom line sustainable business model. It focuses on the three P’s: people, planet and profit. After analyzing the model and comparing it to TS Designs’ current plan, Henry realized most of the components were already in place.

ThreePsTS Designs worked to build up this model and started to spread interest in sustainability in the community.

With this new method in his head, Henry started examining the idea that the price and real cost of production had starkly different definitions. The cost of production was something American shoppers rarely took into account.

This concept became tragically clear on the morning of April 24, 2013, when an eight-story Bangladeshi apparel factory collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people and leaving more than 2,500 injured.

“Why does that happen? 26 cents an hour is why that happens,” Henry said.

Only the concrete flooring remained intact. It was considered the worst apparel disaster in history.

“People say, ‘oh my God, how does this happen? Why do we let this happen?’” Henry said. “Real simple economics: We pay those people 26 cents per hour. So don’t be surprised. When you have a publicly traded company that’s in business to maximize return for their shareholders, where are [they] going to go? [They’re] going to go to get the cheapest labor.”

Relatives of those lost in the rubble were given $700 as death benefits if they could prove they had a family member who died.

Henry did not use the event as a catalyst to change people’s minds. He said it was not his duty to tell people they shouldn’t buy something made in another country. He said he just wanted, and still wants, the information out there for public knowledge.

After the tragedy, Henry said people started realizing what the term “cheap” really meant.

“Who was responsible for that cost of [Bangladeshis] manufacturing in a facility that should never have been built?” he said. “That cost was not incurred or passed along.”

Click for an interactive graphic describing the increase in oversea apparel manufacturing between 2005 and 2011. Graphic by Stephanie Butzer.

Click for an interactive graphic describing the increase in oversea apparel manufacturing between 2005 and 2011. Graphic by Stephanie Butzer.

The cost of T-shirts from TS Designs is more than other custom T-shirt companies, but Henry said this shouldn’t be the deciding factor.

“Most people don’t understand our value proposition and only understand price,” Henry said. “They’re ordering 100 shirts for some event and they’ve been used to paying X and they see our prices are Y or X2 and they don’t understand the difference between a domestic-made product and an overseas product. Organic cotton and conventional cotton. Water-based and plastic.”

It’s similar to purchasing food from a fast food restaurant. The food is fast and cheap. But the cost of environmental degradation, obesity and energy is rarely acknowledged, Henry said.

“We run around the world chasing cheap labor so we benefit from it,” he said. “We have a broken apparel system.”

Building meaningful communities

Young saplings were one of the first additions to the new TS Designs building. When the company bought the squat building they currently own, employees planted young saplings around a grassy area around the front door.

That was 24 years ago and today, the trees are tall enough to provide ample shade.

The building sits off a small road in Burlington. It’s easy to miss it, but it’s alive with activity inside. White shirts are printed Monday through Thursday. Friday is dedicated to garment dyeing the materials. The prints are in the fabric, not on it, so buyers don’t have the scratchy material that cracks and peels after a few rounds in the washing machine, Henry said.

Before heading off to their various destinations, the shirts must go through an aggressive inspection process to ensure there are no holes or defects.

Eric Henry works in his garden beside his home. He grows multiple vegetables and his tractor, as well as his car, runs on biodiesel. Click for more photos from around his home. Photos by Stephanie Butzer.

Eric Henry works in his garden beside his home. He grows multiple vegetables there and his tractor, as well as his car, runs on biodiesel. Click for more photos from around his home. Photos by Stephanie Butzer.

Behind the building, there is a community garden, chickens and wooden bee hives. The chickens live in a fenced-in area where they help make the soil fertile by pecking and scratching at it. Henry has a similar arrangement at his near-net-zero-energy home.

“All the eggs and all the vegetable in that garden go back to our employees, including the honey [from the bees] for them to use,” Henry said.

Henry said he is interested in being a part of his community and changing the way people see the apparel industry. With clothing, once people understand a company is legitimate, they’re willing to help you, even with things not related to the industry, Henry said.

“I have everything from bee consultants to chicken consultants,” he said. “These are people that are passionate.”

One of the people Henry connected with was Ronnie Burelson, a cotton farmer in New London, N.C. Henry asked if TS Designs could buy cotton from him and he accepted the offer. This partnership would become part of a collaboration of farmers and production companies known as Cotton of the Carolinas.

Instead of traveling 17,000 miles, like most other T-shirts, all TS Designs apparel travels only 600, prompting their tagline, “Dirt to Shirt.” This collaboration produces better quality and longer-lasting shirts. It also impacts 500 American jobs.

Screen shot 2014-04-09 at 11.47.34 PM

Click for interactive graphic depicting the difference between overseas apparel manufacturing and the Cotton of the Carolinas process.

“What happens with [being] local is you’re keeping the money in your community,” Henry said. “You’re supporting the people you know.”

The entire process, from the farm to the dyeing procedure, is transparent. A buyer can use a style number on their T-shirt tag and use Google Maps to find exactly where each step of the process happened, as well as that person’s contact information. The program focuses on local economies, little transportation and complete transparency. TS Designs is the only T-shirt brand that offers this.

“We need to know where things are coming from, where our money is going [and] where things are made, but I’m very concerned with the lack of transparency that we’re having in our manufacturing and political system,” Henry said. “If we had better transparency, we might not have had that situation in Bangladesh.”

Henry’s interest in all things local narrows all the way down to the TS Designs building. The neighborly sense of community Henry shaped in the company has gone a long way.

The company’s social media director, Jen Busfield, said the garden behind the building is one of the many ways TS Designs keeps employees connected to the soil. The garden provides extra organic vegetables for employee use and also teaches a life skill.

“It’s teaching us how to be connected to the soil, which matters, especially for our in-house products that are grown here in North Carolina,” she said. “It matters in a lot of ways.”

As the social media director, Busfield knows several other companies that, like TS Designs, have a triple bottom line and a focus beyond monetary gain.

“Whether that’s giving back to charities as social enrichment or if that’s in the way they process their goods, [the companies] are paying attention to how much they may be taking,” she said.

With all the innovations TS Designs has and continues to make, there is a definite need for an ambassador, Busfield said.

“It needs a cheerleader because it’s not a popular message,” she said. “It’s not a popular product. Extra work – who wants to do that? Pay more for a product – who wants to do that? But when you hear the story and you see [Eric’s] excitement and how passionate he is about the choices that his company has made and the choices he makes as an individual working together – it’s awe-inspiring.”

Travis Clark, the screen department manager, said this direction is definitely the one the company, and other American stores, should be heading toward.

Henry is a big believer of this, Clark said. But, business aside, he’s also a good friend.

Even though his employees would never know about it, Henry also does a lot of behind-the-scene work that benefits the company, Clark said.

Clark had a heart attack in 2010 and about 15 minutes after his surgery, he said his family and Henry were standing besides his bed to make sure he was doing well.

“He’s helped me out,” Clark said. “He’s done a lot for me. He’s a good man. Eric Henry is a good man.”

Stirring significant change

On a warm afternoon toward the end of February, Henry stood on a red, circular carpet on a stage at Elon University in North Carolina.

Eric Henry speaks about TS Designs and the flaws in today's apparel manufacturing business at a TEDx event on Elon University's campus. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

Eric Henry speaks about TS Designs and the flaws in today’s apparel manufacturing business at a TEDx event on Elon University’s campus. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

Students from the university had invited him and three other pioneers in their field to speak at a TEDx event. The theme of this lecture, which was an independently organized version of the popular TED Talks, was “Innovation into Practice.”

Two television sets on either side of him lit up with a familiar PowerPoint slide. They read, “98%.”

“I remember what the apparel business used to be,” Henry said, after explaining what 98 percent stood for. “I lived through that. I remember when it used to be 98 percent [made] here. Now, it’s 98 percent away.”

His lecture ended with a homework assignment: Look at labels on clothing. Find where they’re made. Do research.

The TEDx event is not Henry’s only connection to the school. He has been involved with the Koury Business Center alongside many Elon professors, like Kevin O’Mara.

O’Mara, a professor of management, said he sees more businesses moving toward eco-friendliness and positive social impact.

“There are a lot of reasons for companies to want to do this,” O’Mara said. “There are very little negative reasons other than high cost.”

O’Mara likes Henry’s business plan because there is an actual business side of the company. It’s not just a cause Henry supports in his free time. He works with TS Designs from an economic point-of-view and knows it needs to pay off in the short term and long term, O’Mara said.

“This idea of throwing it back to the community, getting back to nature and the environment, finding ways to use this as an advantage rather than treat it as a social cause – I think it’s enlightening,” O’Mara said. “If it’s purely a cause, then there’s a cost associated with it. But if it happens to be something that works, as well as supports the environment and the people in this community, then it’s a win-win. What I think Eric is trying to capture is a lot of these win-win opportunities heavily doused on the side of environmental concerns, but not to the point where it would jeopardize his business.”

Henry said he enjoys engaging with students at Elon and beyond because they hold control of the future and will face challenges he had never confronted before. But once people start understanding the problem at hand, they can start contributing to change, Henry said.

Tag Collage w quote.jpg.jpg“If you don’t know about something, fine, I’ll cut you a lot of slack,” Henry said. “But once you’re in light and aware of what you’re doing, that action has a negative impact on others and you’re part of the problem now.”

But Henry said he sees a lot of young people looking for more from life than a big house and a nice car.

“They also understand, which I’m a big believer of, that success determines how we all do,” Henry said. “If I’m the only one successful and have a good life and everything around sucks, unfortunately my life will suck because what makes us is our community. That’s what drives me to what I want to do. This is where I live. This is where I work.”

Henry also plays a prominent role in the Burlington community. He founded the Burlington Biodiesel Co-op and Company Shops Market, a co-op grocery market where all the food is made locally. He is also working to get Burlington’s Beer Works Co-op off the ground. These shops are part of a plan to revitalize downtown Burlington and connect the community to local resources with community-owed stores.

Henry doesn’t look at this venture as a way to change the whole world and take the city back from superstores. He knows he will not convince every person he talks with to pay closer attention to the benefits of local products and the real cost of manufacturing outside the United States.

While he is not expecting all the jobs to return to America, he said he knows America can do better than 98 percent.

“I tell people it’s not all coming back,” he said. “We live in a global marketplace and I’m not going to fool myself, but we need to balance the scales.”

From awareness to action

Change starts when a switch is turned on or off, like a light bulb, after being presented with new, factual information.

In TS Designs’ case, the light switch is always off, but ideas are constantly bouncing around. Large windows let in plenty of sunlight and the electricity bill remains low.

“Typically we would have a meeting in an office and rarely do the lights come on,” Henry said. “If we need to, we’ll put them on, but it’s that awareness factor.”

Sometimes the consequences from decisions are invisible, which is why Americans aren’t paying the true economic cost of their choices, Henry said. While some people have a deep-rooted passion for sustainable manufacturing, others are not interested. And that’s okay, Henry said. With the amount of evidence that reveals society is headed in the wrong direction, Henry said he doesn’t have time to worry about those who are still on the fence.

“I’m not interested in getting involved with people that still don’t think it’s important,” Henry said. “That’s fine. Do your thing. I’m going to work with the people that say, ‘we have a problem. Let’s work it out.’”

This mindset is what created Cotton of the Carolinas and the multiple co-ops in Burlington.

Henry_TransparencyQuote.jpgCompanies like these hold a lot of power for change, but their transparency is crucial.

“There is no question I won’t answer, there is no place I won’t take you,” Henry said. “We’re not a perfect company. There’s always room for improvement. There’s always room to do a better job and change and all that and we want to be open to that.”

This is why sustainability is a journey, not a destination, Henry said. It takes time and patience to change a nation’s – or even a community’s – mindset.

Henry said there is comfort in the change since it encourages positive behavior in a community.

“We’re all in this thing together,” he said. “We have this one planet. But we become disconnected. We don’t know where our power comes from. We don’t know where our food comes from. We don’t know where our clothes come from.”

But this can change over the next few decades, just like the gradual acceptance of climate change and eco-friendly light bulbs. Without similar improvement and awareness about the apparel industry, things are only going to get worse, he said.

Luckily for Americans, it’s easy to access that information. Henry said he is thankful for that, but not many people will take the time to research the products they purchase. Finding the origin of everyday products becomes a chore. For many, it’s easier to ignore. But this attitude leads to disasters like the factory collapse in Bangladesh.

“We are ultimately responsible to the planet and society so we have to do our part and get off this mindless treadmill that everybody is on,” Henry said. “It starts with you. It starts with knowing.”

Spicing up the season: Conservators’ Center holds annual Pumpkin Prowl

Arthur Tiger plays with a pumpkin in his hammock. Guests were encouraged to carve their own pumpkins before entering the facility so they could "give" them to the animals. All photos by Stephanie Butzer.

Arthur Tiger plays with a pumpkin in his hammock. Guests were encouraged to carve their own pumpkins before entering the facility so they could “give” them to the animals. All photos by Stephanie Butzer.

By Stephanie Butzer

While it is the season of pumpkin spice lattes, something different was flavoring the atmosphere at the Conservators’ Center last Saturday.

On Nov. 2, the Center kicked off the second annual Pumpkin Prowl. The nonprofit organization rescues wildlife, preserves endangered species and provides educational tours ranging from personalized photo tours to general facility tours.  Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, pumpkins filled with scents and meat were placed in almost every animal enclosure.

“Just like us, animals need things to keep them lively and keep themselves excited about their daily life,” said Wildlife Educator Jesse Anderson, who created enrichment ideas for the animals. “It’s exciting to be able to provide them with new and interesting things and get them excited about things but it’s really important for the animal to maintain that interesting benefit between its daily life and having new things enriching its life or brought into its life.”

Pumpkins became a successful and seasonal way for animals like lions, tigers, binturongs to have sensory enrichment. Anderson said major parts of designing the enrichment included taking into account the animal’s personality and deciding how to creatively place the fruits around the enclosures. He focused on two types of enrichment when planning the Pumpkin Prowl: physical and sensory enrichment.

“The physical enrichment are the pumpkins hanging and swinging and things that are in precarious places so that if they knock them down, they will start rolling,” Anderson said. “With the young, playful cats we will use more of the physical enrichment, whereas with some of the animals that are a little bit older, they really like the sensory enrichment.”

The event was limited to the Center’s volunteer force before last year, when they decided to open the facility to visitors who would watch the animals tumble, crush and stick their faces in pumpkins, all of which were donated by multiple pumpkin farms.

Pumpkin farms from around the area donated more than 250 pumpkins to the Center's Pumpkin Prowl.

Pumpkin farms from around the area donated more than 250 pumpkins to the Center’s Pumpkin Prowl.

“We decided it would be a great opportunity for the public to see how we work with our animals and how we enrich their lives,” said Julia Wagner, senior director of administration at the Center. “The animals had a great time running around, throwing pumpkins everywhere and this year we opened it up for two days, which has been so far very successful.”

The next and last Pumpkin Prowl will be Nov. 9 and Wagner said the Center is expecting just as many people as the first event. As the weather gets colder, the animals become more active so the Center looks into doing big events such as this during the cooler months.

“This is a great event for families and for adults,” Wagner said. “We really work to make our large events like this friendly to all different types of people, whether it be a family with small children, a young couple, whether it be friends wanting something to go do so we offer food trucks, beer and it’s a really great opportunity to get out and enjoy the weather.”

Dania Ermentrout came to the Center for the first time for the Pumpkin Prowl event. She said her favorite part of the experience was the lions rolling around with the pumpkins.

“I really wasn’t sure how all the different animals would react to the stimulation, but it was funny how some of them just wanted [the pumpkins] filled with meat and the other ones thought it was just this really amusing play toy,” Ermentrout said.

She said being so close to the animals became an intimate experience for her and her 4-year-old son, Asher, who continuously claimed the New Guinea Singing Dogs were the best animals at the Center because they were his friends.

“I felt like the animals are much more active and you can see them interact with their environments more,” Ermentrout said.

One of the serval brothers plays with a hanging gourd.

One of the serval brothers plays with a hanging gourd.

The Pumpkin Prowl was a walkabout event, where visitors were welcome to explore the facility at their own pace. Meanwhile, guides answered questions, helped people learn more about the Center’s mission and animals and ensured both animals and people were safe at all times.

The Conservators’ Center will have a similar event, called the Tree Toss, Jan. 4 and Jan. 11. In the past, substituting pine trees for pumpkins caused just as much excitement.

“We are, each year, adding more and more events to the calendar,” Wagner said. “We want to ensure that somebody who wants to come visit our animals has a lot of unique ways to do that throughout the year because visitors are the main source of what is funding our operations here at this point. Coming and participating at the Pumpkin Prowl is a direct connect to helping us connect to the animals.”

Please look here for more photos and video.

Conservators’ Center holds obstacle 5K for the wild at heart

One of the obstacles in The Wild Stampede was for participants to get across a lake via fire house. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

One of the obstacles in The Wild Stampede was for participants to get across a lake via fire house. All photos by Stephanie Butzer.

By Stephanie Butzer

There are few races that incorporate balance beams, mud hill crawls and rope climbs. There are even fewer that guide runners past exotic animals.

The Conservators’ Center, in conjunction with Legend Race, a local company that constructs unique races, will host The Wild Stampede, a mud and obstacle 5K that runs along the Center’s outer border Sept. 21.

Some of the obstacles will mimic toys in the animal enclosures, such as the A-frame, a common plaything for tigers to run up and down.

Fred Augustine and his wife, Gail Augustine, created Legend Race, a obstacle racing company focused on low costs for intense local races. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

Fred Augustine and his wife, Gail Augustine, created Legend Race, a obstacle racing company focused on low costs for intense local races.

Fred Augustine, founder of Legend Race, has been constructing the course since late June. This will be the first race the Center has held, and Augustine said it will be a challenge the whole family can enjoy. He said the run is a good mud run for both beginners and experienced athletes.

“This won’t be timed because we want more families to come and tour the animals and get a feel for what’s up here,” Augustine said.

Maximus MacClennen, the Center’s coordinator, said the question his team asked themselves when planning the race was how to make The Wild Stampede more entertaining than the dozens of other mud runs in North Carolina.

“It’s like, you can go out to a field and do your mud run and leave or you can come here, do your mud run and you might hear some lions and tigers while you’re doing it and then afterwards you can take the whole family on a tour,” MacClennen said.

Two groups of Elon University students — Service Learning students and Leadership Fellows — came out to the Center to assist with digging trenches and moving large parts of the obstacles into place Aug. 16 and Aug. 23, respectively.

At a trial run, two men attempt to scale a wooden - and slippery -  A-frame. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

At a trial run, two men attempt to scale a wooden – and slippery – A-frame.

“The 23 of us not only arrived at the Center with jittery determination, but also with uneasy anticipation,” said freshman Kelly August, a Leadership Fellow. “As a member of the staff explained our tasks for the day, howls and unrecognizable growls sounded in the distance.”

After working for hours on the obstacles, August and the rest of her group were able to see the animals inside the compound.

“The dedication of the volunteers and workers at the Center left the biggest mark on me,” August said. “It was easy for the 23 of us to complain about the heat or the bugs, but to those who give entirely of themselves to this cause, it was just another day doing what they love.”

Freshman Dexter Blank, also a Leadership Fellow, said he thinks the Center deserves more recognition for its animal care, so hopefully the race will bring in more positive publicity.

“The event will be one-of-a-kind and I have no doubts that it will be a success,” Blank said. “I believe that our group was very helpful, worked hard and represented Elon in a very respectful manner.”

The race fee is $50 and includes a walkabout of the compound. Spectators can pay a small fee to enter. Sixty percent of the proceeds go to supporting the animals the Center cares for, including big cats, wolves and binturongs.

Tents from another land come to Alamance County

By Stephanie Butzer

SNOW CAMP — Yurts have been a distinctive feature for housing in Central Asia for at least 3,000 years. Now they have come to Alamance County.

Larry George, the president of Siloam Missionary Homes in Snow Camp, has added a yurt as housing for missionary families and many people are drawn to them when they visit the grounds.

A group of volunteers help to put up Alamance County's first yurt. Photo by Scott Muthersbaugh from The Times-News.

A group of volunteers help to put up Alamance County’s first yurt. Photo by Scott Muthersbaugh from The Times-News.

The round, weatherproof houses can be as large as 50 feet in diameter. The yurt at Siloam Missionary Homes, an organization aimed at helping missionaries readjust to the fast-paced style of American living, is 24 feet in diameter and can sleep 16 people.

George said he and his wife decided to build a yurt to give back to the community that had helped them continue their service as a place for missionaries to rest and recover.

“The yurt concept screams culture,” George said. “They are a Mongolian tent and usually if I tell somebody, ‘do you know what a yurt is?’ they don’t know.”

The yurt will serve as a place for volunteers to stay while they do work for the people staying at Siloam Missionary Homes. There will eventually be four yurts and they will sit on platforms on the side of a hill, like a tree house, George said. The one currently standing is a demonstration and will be moved once a volunteer group builds platforms on the hill.

“What’s happening in America is that volunteers are not as interested in materialism as they are in sharing the experience or doing things,” George said. “At one time, people just said, ‘well, I’ll just give the money.’ Now they’re saying, ‘No, I’m going to give the money and be a part of what I give to.’”

George said he hopes the yurt will help bring different cultures together, something very important for a missionary residence. Fourteen families stay at Siloam Missionary Homes and they come from all around the world. Each family has their own fully furnished houses.

“We build the houses as the funds are donated because we’re a nonprofit and so all the houses have just been built as money came,” Joyce George, George’s wife, said.

George said a lot of missionaries return to America and are overwhelmed by the changed culture. The yurt will be a way to introduce a new culture to Alamance County. Visitors who have not traveled out of the country will be able to see a small portion of another culture.

“Some young people may never have the opportunity to travel overseas so we want to bring that here,” George said. “There’s one thing about seeing something and not just reading about it on the Internet.”

All of the materials for the yurt’s construction came from the United States, aside from the skylight, which was made in Canada. Military canvas surrounds the frame and the sturdy housing may last more than 20 years. Once it is completed, the yurt will have insulation, LED lighting, a freestanding loft and a compost heater as a toilet.

George said he thinks the yurt will give Siloam Missionary Homes an opportunity to share cultures with people both and in and out of the gated neighborhood.

“We’re kind of an oasis out here,” George said.

Church celebrates 40th anniversary with senior pastor

By Stephanie Butzer

May 19 will be a special anniversary for Beacon Baptist Church, marking its 40th year under the leadership of the founding pastor, Greg Barkman.

In 1973, Barkman was invited by a group of people in the Burlington area to begin a new church. The people were members of a nearby church and, for various reasons, did not like that pastor.

“At first I was not very inclined,” Barkman said. “I didn’t really like the idea of starting a church. I liked the idea of stepping into a church better. That was what I had in mind.”

Barkman has been the senior pastor at Beacon Baptist Church for 40 years. Photo from The Times-News.

Barkman has been the senior pastor at Beacon Baptist Church for 40 years. Photo from The Times-News.

But as Barkman got to know the people better and prayed about it, he found their goals were very compatible with his.

“We had the same desire and that was to establish a church that was committed to the Bible, that would be as Biblical as we could possibly make it,” Barkman said.

When the decision was made, the church only had 19 adults and they met in the E.M. Holt Elementary School cafeteria. Forty years later, the church had a large congregation and a three-building facility.

“I can’t believe I have been here for 40 years,” Barkman said. “I can’t believe I’m 65 years old. I don’t feel that old, but it has been so richly rewarding that it seems like maybe I’ve been here for 20 years, but it’s 40. That’s what the calendar says.”

Many pastors move around to different churches a few times during their career, but Barkman said he has never had a strong urge to leave the church, even though he has had offers.

Robert LaTour, the minister of families at Beacon, became a member in 1978 and joined the pastoral staff in 2006. He and his wife first chose to join the church because they were attracted to the “serious-mindedness of the preaching of the Word” at Beacon.

Since he became a leader at the church, LaTour said he has seen how dedicated Barkman is to his study. Barkman spends hours each morning studying the books in the Bible and dedicates 12 to 15 hours preparing for each sermon.

“Even though there is a time expense, if you love doing something, you bring that love to it,” LaTour said. “His respect for the position is a humbling thing, it’s not a prideful thing.”

easelly_visualIn the afternoons, Barkman mainly prepares for future sermons and records his sermon on a radio show so people far away can listen. You can hear the sermons at the church’s web site,www.beaconbaptist.com.

One man who lived in High Point listened to Barkman’s broadcast regularly. He drove to the church one Sunday and told Barkman he had become a Christian through his radio broadcast.

“How rewarding is that?” Barkman said. “To have someone show up and say, ‘I’ve listened to your radio broadcast and I’ve become a follower of Jesus Christ as a result of listening to it.’”

His congregation appreciates all the years Barkman has led them and, as a thank you gift, they put together enough money to send him and his wife to Israel.

“I had never been to Israel before and that was wonderful to see Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and to see the Sea of Galilee and so many things. I read about them all my life and studied them in textbooks but to actually be there – that was a wonderful thing. I was very grateful for that.”

In all of sermons, both in the church auditorium and through the radio, Barkman aims to take a text of scripture, explain what it means and apply it to daily life.

“That’s what I do,” Barkman said. “That’s what I have been doing for 40 years.”

Five boys soar above and beyond with Eagle Scout projects

By Stephanie Butzer

Thanks to five boys in Boy Scout Troop 4051, Alamance County has a new picnic area, gazebo, pergola, faux bridge and educational toys for blind children.

These five boys received their Eagle SCout awards at the same ceremony. Scouts usually receive this honor individually. Photo submitted to the Times-News.

These five boys received their Eagle SCout awards at the same ceremony. Scouts usually receive this honor individually. Photo submitted to the Times-News.

Collin Scott, Jacob Bare, Brian Gold, Owen Gold and Joshua Parrish recently received their Eagle Scout badges and, in an unusual ceremony, all were awarded the rank at the same ceremony.

It took a long time for each to reach this achievement. Only 7 percent of boys who participate in Scouting earn the rank.

Scott said he remembers when he was younger and how much fun he had when he was a Cub Scout. That enthusiasm continued, and as he and the other boys rose in the ranks, they became more confident in their leadership.

“It helps you to achieve the rank of becoming an Eagle: all the different steps, the different people you meet and the new friends that you make,” Scott said.

Bare also recalls the first few times he spent time with the troop.

“Me and (Scott) were interested in Troop 4051 before we even joined because we went rock-climbing with these guys as Cub Scouts,” Bare said. “Of the nine that joined with us, we were the first two (to join the troop).”

The process to become an Eagle Scout was long and the boys said there was a lot of paperwork and interviews involved. Scouts must climb through the lower ranks, earn a set number of merit badges and plan and complete a service project.

Scott and Bare described the process as stressful, but well worth the time. There was also the waiting period to see if they had been accepted to continue the project from the Council Service Center and the Board of Review.

“My dad talked to his friends and said, ‘Right now Jacob is anxiously biting his fingernails just waiting to hear the answer,’” Bare said.

Once their individual applications were accepted, they began work on the projects. Parrish, who built a faux bridge in the Shallow Ford National Area, said one of the hardest parts was gathering people to work on the bridge.

“The most challenging part was probably getting everybody to help because it was in the middle of winter and people were busy,” he said.

With the labor of the project behind them, the boys have not forgotten how the impact will help them succeed in the future. Brian Gold said this achievement would be a big boost for his resume for college or for opportunities after his college graduation. The biggest reward for Owen Gold was the public recognition and being able to call himself an Eagle Scout, he said.

“It’s the one time you get to be cocky about yourself – when you get your Eagle,” Bare said.

Scott, 16, is a student at Western Alamance High School. He is the son Alan and Shannon Scott.

Bare, 16, is also a student at Western. He is the son of Samantha and Smokey Bare

Brian Gold, 17, and Owen Gold, 15, are both home-schooled. They are the sons of Tanya and Millard Gold.

Parrish, 15, also attends Western. He is the son Ron and Julie Parrish.

Sounds erupt from the Conservators’ Center last Saturday

Kira Lion shows off her huge teeth at The Conservators' Center "Sounds of the Center" event April 27. All photos by Stephanie Butzer.

Kira Lion shows off her huge teeth at The Conservators’ Center “Sounds of the Center” event April 27. All photos by Stephanie Butzer.

By Stephanie Butzer

With a single human yell, the Conservators’ Center comes alive. Staff and volunteers around the grounds join in before their voices are drowned by 20 lions “oofing,” three wolves howling and nine tigers chuffling.

“The ones who know them best are the best ones to get them going,” said Mandy Matson, director of communications at the Center.

Over and over, the Conservators’ Center received feedback from visitors about how the sounds they heard at the center had been the highlight of their experience.

Community members were invited to attend the Center’s “Sound of the Center” event April 27 to hear lions, wolves, tigers and New Guinea Singing Dogs communicate with each other and people.

Visitors were encouraged to wander the trails at their own pace and listen to staff members talk about how and why the different animals communicated, what they were saying to each other and to the people and why their sounds are so important.

Freya Tiger examines groups of visitors as they watch her interact with the lions that share her enclosure.

Freya Tiger examines groups of visitors as they watch her interact with the lions that share her enclosure.

Meghan McGrath, a staff member who helps in Outreach Services, organized “Sounds of the Center,” but not without a team of enthusiastic and passionate staff members behind her.

“This would not have been possible at all, with any planning that I had done, with all the execution I had, without the community and team of people we have here,” McGrath said. “You always have hiccups, but even without them, we can’t do things like this without our volunteers coming out and supporting us.”

The idea for the event first came into bloom when McGrath became fascinated with introducing the community that had already seen the Center as an entertainment destination to a more education-heavy experience.

“This was our first experiment with seeing how (far in) education we can go and how far we can go in this direction and still have people be motivated to come out and meet our animals,” McGrath said.

The staff members were scattered around the Center, each engaging in an intellectual conversation about various animals. Their passion was evident as they described the animals as they would a friend.

Kim and Frank Pyne have worked with the Conservators’ Center since 2007 and during “Sounds of the Center” they spoke to visitors from inside the wolf enclosure.

The mixed pride rests as the "Sounds of the Center" event comes to a close April 27.

The mixed pride rests as the “Sounds of the Center” event comes to a close April 27.

“Wolves make an awful lot of noise and in every bit of social behavior that they do, there are noises,” Kim Pyne said.

When wolves were in a disagreement, she said they rarely partake in a serious fight.

“What you will see is a lot of sounds, a lot of noise, a lot of posturing and suddenly huge big-sized-looking animals because they’re fluffing their fur out to make themselves look big and scary. It’s all sounds and noise and signifies nothing, to quote Macbeth.,” she said.

Staff and volunteers explained the different howls of their three white wolves and how, from across the Center, they could identify which animal had howled. Down the walkway, other members pointed out the small gruffs and “oofs” the lions and tigers made.

At the end of the night, the staff heard a lot of positive feedback about the loose structure of the evening event. Keepers stayed afterwards to talk to people who wanted to return to see another “Sounds of the Center.”

“Little things like that are what makes us so successful,” McGrath said. “It’s not necessary for us to succeed (with the event), but it really helps reinforce the idea that were community and that we all work together.”

For all pictures, click here. 

Burlington pastor leaves denomination with congregation in tow

By Stephanie Butzer

Powell and his congregation are pulling away from the PC USA and turning towards the EPC. Photo from www.jlwilliams.org.

Powell and his congregation are pulling away from the PC USA and turning towards the EPC. Photo from http://www.jlwilliams.org.

For Powell Sykes, the pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, everything started with a simple question from a member of his church: “How did this happen?”

The member was referring to how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) denomination that the church belonged to had voted to remove standards of fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness for its officers.

“This departure from what Westminster understood to be clear biblical teaching was unfathomable to its members,” Sykes said. “Now, two years later, the congregation is about to become the first church in Burlington belonging to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination.”

When this was first discussed, Mike Stewart, a member at the church, said he was not surprised.

“I knew some of the concerns I had with the PC U.S.A. and when Pastor Sykes brought it up, it wasn’t surprising that our church needed to consider making a move from a denomination that we had less in common with to a denomination that we have more in common with when it comes to our biblical beliefs,” Stewart said.

The Westminster Presbyterian Church on Webb Avenue will become the second church to make the change in Alamance County. The Mebane Presbyterian Church switched in February.

The congregation had the opportunity not to follow Sykes, but they agreed with his points and have been involved in the long process. Sykes had to explain the reasoning and background for this decision many times and decided to write a book about it.

Sykes wrote, “Out of Order: The Self-Destruction of a Mainline Denomination” out of inspiration from the member’s question. It was published Nov. 16, 2012 and explains how the old denomination has more problems than just sexual ethics in the modern day.

“Pastor Sykes’ book gave a good, clear understanding of his concerns that mirrored my concerns and several other people’s within the church,” Stewart said.

Sykes had been pastoring for 25 years and the decision to leave the denomination was not an easy one.

Sykes' book has helped members of the church understand his reasonings and feelings towards the two denominations. Photo submitted.

Sykes’ book has helped members of the church understand his reasonings and feelings towards the two denominations. Photo submitted.

“I love being in this denomination, but as the years went by it became very obvious that when I said I believed certain things and other people said they believed the same thing, they meant something different from what I meant,” Sykes said.

For example, he said when he said the phrase, “We submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ,” he interpreted this to mean that Jesus lived, died and rose again, while other people believed the phrase meant a Christ concept would appear.

Sykes compared this struggle to a married couple and discovering one of them has been cheating on the other. While both people took the same vows, one is defined as a liar.

“That’s a lot of the feeling that I have had to deal with over the past few years,” he said.

Sykes said in a world where birds of a feather flock together, the church must be a bizarre flock filled with “hawks and doves, peacocks and penguins, mockingbirds and chickens, and yes, even a few turkeys like me,” Sykes said.

Most of the members of the congregation at Westminster are convinced that in order to be a truthful to their faith, the denomination needed to be committed to the essential beliefs it had held since it was founded in 1913.

The congregation voted in February to request dismissal from Presbyterian Church (USA) to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

“Because its old presbytery adopted a gracious dismissal policy for churches in 2009, Westminster has been able to negotiate to keep all of its property, with which it will be dismissed, it is expected, in May of 2013,” Sykes said.

As of now, Sykes has heard little criticism. He has received letters and calls from around the country from people who explained how they had felt the same for a long time, but didn’t know how to say it, Sykes said.

“So far, I think it’s been really good,” said Janet Cumby, a church member. “There have been ups and downs; we’ve had our struggle. Anytime you get with a group of people and make changes, there are going to be struggles.”

Even though most of the process has remained positive, Sykes said he feels no joy for leaving the denomination.

“That’s not what I wanted to do, but I feel like the denomination left me, that I remain faithful to what I said I believe,” he said.

 

Returning the flow: Little Alamance Creek continues to struggle against pollutants

Little Alamance Creek could be seen as a typical urban stream. But, a closer look reveals something is very wrong with this creek.

Almost the whole Little Alamance Creek watershed rests in an urban or residential area, where there are many impervious surfaces, which cannot absorb water.

With the high level of developments in the Little Alamance Creek watershed, impervious areas like parking lots and roads were on the rise, meaning the creek was taking in more pollutants than before.

Stormwater runoff is the No. 1 source of pollution in North Carolina. Other factors include fertilizer, automobile maintenance residue, pet waste and pesticides.

Graphic by The Times-News.

Graphic by The Times-News.

When it rains or when snow melts, the water flows downhill, collecting harmful pollutants before dropping into rivers and creeks. These contaminants add up over time and can have a major overall impact on the quality of water.

The North Carolina Division of Water Quality (DWQ), a section of North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), considers Little Alamance Creek an impaired waterway because it violates the Clean Water Act for impaired biological integrity.

Since there were no permitted discharges in the watershed, the DWQ conducted an analysis of the water in 2000 to find what was causing the pollutants. They realized the stressor was urban stormwater runoff.

The report for the 2000 Recommendations for Little Alamance Creek asked for the creek to be resampled and for the City of Burlington to address stormwater issues. The 2005 Recommendations were similar, with the addition of the DWQ working with “Burlington and Graham stormwater programs to reduce further impacts due to new development and to implement (best management practices) and restore the instream habitat in Little Alamance Creek.”

In 2006, the Piedmont Triad Council of Governments (PTCOG) partnered with Ecosystem Enhancement Program (EEP), an initiative of the DENR, to conduct a water quality assessment on the creek’s impacts and watershed requirements throughout the area.

Photo from portal.ncdenr.org.

Photo from portal.ncdenr.org.

This project was focused on developing a Local Watershed Plan (LWP) for Little Alamance Creek. After three extensive phases, the project was completed in November 2008. The teams had prioritized projects, programs and policies to restore and conserve Little Alamance Creek and had come up with ideas for restoration activities that would work for the large project.

Little Alamance Creek is one of the few creeks where the DENR is developing an alternative strategy instead of using the typical Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process, which is usually implemented to reach the standards of water quality.

The Cities of Graham and Burlington, as well as the NC DWQ, requested “the opportunity to address the impairment through development of an alternative TMDL plan that, when implemented, will allow for the achievement of the biological integrity standard in Little Alamance Creek,” according to the DWQ.

Last August, Kathy Stecker, supervisor at DWQ, wrote a letter to Chris Rollins and Harold Owen, the city manager of Graham and city manager of Burlington, respectively, giving them a notice-to-proceed with the alternative approach for Little Alamance Creek.

The alternate method is called a Water Quality Assessment Category 4b. This alternative method is faster than a TMDL. It was also deemed more appropriate because a TMDL was not truly needed since, as it reads in the letter, the “other pollution control requirements are expected to result in the attainment of applicable water quality standard in a reasonable period of time.”

Susan Massengale, public information officer at the DWQ, said if the community is doing something to the creek that results in the same goal as the TMDL, and if the water complies with all water quality standards, a Category 4b demonstration would save money for the community.

“It’s a way to achieve what the TMDL would do before that TMDL is instituted,” Massengale said. “If you can do it, it’s a real benefit to the community and the waterway because a lot of times, these alternate strategies can get into place on a quicker time table.”

A big influence in the success of the Category 4b demonstration is how well the community works to make improvements, Massengale said.

“My understanding is that we have had a lot of really favorable feedback from Burlington and from that watershed, wanting to make the improvements to the way stormwater is managed,” Massengale said. “So, hopefully, that will yield a better quality of water in the stream.”

In preparation for Earth Day, the City of Burlington and the City of Graham organized two stream cleanup days, April 13 and April 20. Volunteers helped clean Bowden Branch Creek, a branch of Little Alamance Creek.

The Cities of Burlington and Graham invited local service groups, youth groups and residents to participate in the Stream Side Cleanup of Bowden Branch, which was sponsored by Elon University’s Lambda Chi Alpha Chapter.

With reductions in pollutant loading, sedimentation and stream erosions, Little Alamance Creek may be able to return to a healthy state. It will be important to note every small improvement, Massengale said.

But, the road of recovery for Little Alamance Creek will be long. It will last several permit cycles, each of which is five years. Stecker said she estimates the process to take ten to 20 years. There is a very small chance the creek will ever return to its original state.

“When we’re looking to see what the target is for the biology, we’re not expecting return to pre-development conditions,” Stecker said.

The DENR will not return to test the waters of Little Alamance Creek until they know the Cities of Burlington and Graham or the Department of Transportation has done something that would change the water’s quality. These three groups are all working to make sure the biological integrity of Little Alamance Creek meets the aquatic standards.

“In an urban area where the impacts have taken place over decades, until somebody takes action to address the stormwater impacts, there is no reason to believe it would have gotten better,” Stecker said.

Once an organization starts actively helping the creek, they will return to test the waters for improvements.

“(Impervious surfaces are) sending stormwater to this creek and to reduce the impervious cover, you might create some parking lots that have pervious pavements instead of impervious and putting in green areas so it would take some of the water in and stop some of the polluting impacts,” Massengale said.

The measurements of the aquatic life in Little Alamance Creek will directly reveal the progress and how close the people of Alamance County are to returning the creek’s biological integrity.

Faith Force athletes conjure power in Lamb’s Chapel

By Stephanie Butzer

In The Lamb’s Chapel in Haw River, a large countdown timer ticked down the minutes until Faith Force, a group of world-class athletes who use feats of strength to build and share faith, ran onto the stage.

Jeff Terrell twists a horseshoe into a heart. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

Jeff Terrell twists a horseshoe into a heart. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

When the countdown reached zero, intense music blasted around the auditorium and crewmembers set bricks on fire. The flames were large enough that the front row leaned backwards, away from the heat. From behind the tall flames, Russ Clear, a six-time world champion in bench press, ran up to every set of enflamed bricks and smashed them with his fists. A thick chain around his neck glinted against the fire.

As crewmembers extinguished the fire, two male and one female member of the team walked onto a raised platform, held a hot water bottle, and started to blow in it. It slowly started to expand. When the material had stretched into the size of an extra-large balloon, where the pressure was about the same as a truck tire, they popped.

The feats of strength continued when Mark Kerr, a world champion strongman, attempted to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by curling three frying pans and then breaking a baseball bat behind his back.

Just a few minutes later, Clear bent an inch-thick pole of steal in half. The heavy music and aggressive performance drifted off and the members wiped their foreheads. Kerr started talking to the audience about why Faith Force was at the chapel.

There was a bigger message behind the athletes’ physical strength. Between the high-energy crusades, they talked about personal stories involving their faith and testimonies of God’s truthfulness. Kerr encouraged members of the audience to talk to somebody who had not yet “opened their heart to Jesus.”

“All of us know somebody who needs Jesus Christ,” Kerr said. “All of us.”

Kerr introduced the upcoming acts and the team went back to breaking the physical barriers. Jeff Terrell, the founding member and a competitive bodybuilder, twisted a horseshoe into a heart, which he later gave to a child in the audience. Another member ripped through multiple phone books.

As the crew cleaned up behind him, Clear stepped up to talk to the audience. He thanked the church for helping send Faith Force to hundreds of schools in North Carolina. The athletes are currently getting ready to go to 100 to 150 schools in the region and Clear said they were looking for a miracle to get them to all those schools. He emphasized that the group was not “begging for bread,” but urged any kind of contribution.

“Your kids are priceless,” Clear said. “I know mine are – I got nine of them. I can’t keep track of all of them, I think it’s nine now.”

Jeff Terrell lists a 300-pound log over his head. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

Jeff Terrell lists a 300-pound log over his head. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

As donation buckets were passed around, Clear introduced Terrell’s next routine: lifting a 300-pound log over his head.

Toward the end of the night, Ron Waterman, an Ultimate Fighting Championship athlete, stepped up and started telling the story of his life before he embraced Jesus Christ. He described his childhood-self: a kid that was as wide as he was tall, and who struggled in school, especially mathematics. But Waterman forged a relationship with his Physical Education teacher, who encouraged him to join the wrestling team at the school. Years later, Waterman fought in UFC 20, 21, 22 and UFC Japan before he was offered a contract with the World Wrestling Entertainment.

Waterman said as he grew in popularity, he gained a lot of materialistic things: a fancy car, a big house. But he said he still felt empty.

“I was aiming to achieve a lot of things,” Waterman said. “A lot of people would say, ‘man, this guy has everything. He’s got a lot of worldly success.’ But, I was missing something. I found out it’s impossible to say ‘no’ to the things in this world unless you first say ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ.”

Burlington resident Wendy Wilkie said her sons always look forward to seeing the members of Faith Force at the church. They have gone to the performance for the past three years.

“These guys work in an amazing way with kids and adults, so to watch hearts changed is amazing,” she said. “I have a 9-year-old. It’s important to show him the way.”

While the members of Faith Force twisted metal, tore through phone books and distorted frying pans, a giant backlit cross on the wall glowed behind them.

“(Faith Force is) awesome,” Wilkie said. “Best way to say it: awesome.”

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