Monthly Archives: April 2013

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

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

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

Photo from

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.”

Burlington woman leads the charge against Lupus

By Stephanie Butzer

ImageOn April 21, the North Carolina Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America will hold its 5th Annual Walk to End Lupus Now in Raleigh.

Last year, more than 1,100 people participated in the walk. This year, Susan Corbett of Burlington, participant and “Lupus thriver,” said there are more than 60 teams registered to participate

Lupus, also known as ‪systemic lupus erythematosus, can affect any part of the body. The immune system attacks cells and tissue, which causes inflammation and tissue damage. Lupus is incurable, although current research is looking for a cause, cure and better treatment for affected people.

“It’s very hard to raise money because so many people don’t understand the disease,” Corbett said.

Corbett, a captain, has had her team for several years. She said some other captains have Lupus, or have a family member who is fighting or died from the autoimmune disease.

“(The participants) all come together and just have a day to celebrate and raise money trying to find better treatments and find a cure,” Corbett said. “It’s a day we can all get together and be ourselves and not somebody with a disease. We’re all fighting for the same reason.”

The teams have been raising money for the past four to five months. Corbett said each walker aims to raise at least $100 through fundraisers or donations. This year, her team raised $20,000, a new record in North Carolina.

The Walk to End Lupus Now gives Corbett a chance to personally thank family, friends and team members around the state who have supported her in her fight against Lupus, she said.

The walk will be April 21 at 3 p.m. in North Carolina State University Centennial Campus in Raleigh. There will also be a walk in Charlotte April 28 and one in Ashville May 18. More information is available at

Faith Force breaks physical, mental barriers to form relationship with Christ

By Stephanie Butzer

There are few instances of athletes flipping a 700-pound tire across a stage, punching through 12 feet of ice or breaking free of two police handcuffs — especially in a church.

The members of Faith Force, a group of athletes who perform feats of strength to symbolize the walls that hold people back from a relationship with Jesus Christ, will speak and perform at The Lamb’s Chapel in Haw River April 18, 19 and 20 at 7 p.m. and April 21 at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

The Faith Force team has been together for about 15 years and as they travel around the nation and world, the group meets other athletes interested in participating. Today, there are more than a dozen athletes on the team from all over the country.

Faith Force holds school and evening programs focused on making good choices, on anti-bullying, anti-drug, and anti-alcohol programs and on other issues students and the community may face every day.

By destroying physical barriers, Faith Force visually shows an audience how other types of barriers, such as fear, racism or addiction, can be overcome. In between these powerful messages are the feats of strength.

Jeff Terrell founded Faith Force and has traveled the country and world since its creation. Photo from

Jeff Terrell founded Faith Force and has traveled the country and world since its creation. Photo from

“There are so many things in our world today that build barriers in our lives, that hold us back from our true potential,” said Jeff Terrell, a founding member or the group who lives in Burlington. “That’s not the purpose for our lives. We’re supposed to be overcomers and conquerors.”

Terrell said he thinks the longing of every human heart, young or old, is to be free. When he or other members of Faith Force speak at schools, they find they have to slightly adjust their message for the audience’s general age.

“You have to change your message a little bit with the different grade levels, but with elementary schools, especially elementary and middle, we focus a lot of anti-bullying since it’s gotten to be such a hot topic and we’re seeing more and more of it now in our schools,” Terrell said.

The kids in elementary and middle school usually get really excited about the feats of strength, but Terrell said they have been in churches where senior adults were cheering and jumping, too.

Michael Kerr holds many strength awards and honors and uses these talents to break physical barriers. Photo from

Michael Kerr holds many strength awards and honors and uses these talents to break physical barriers. Photo from

“I like to get personal with (the audience) because we’re there for them,” said Mark Kerr, a member of Faith Force, a five-time world power-lifting champion and a two-time drug-free Strongest Man. “It’s a lot of fun to look at those expressions on their faces.”

Kerr had a particularly special experience when a troubled 16-year-old girl gave him a bullet from her pocket after Faith Force’s presentation.

“She gave it to me and said, ‘I came to school today to tell my friends goodbye. I was going to put this in my dad’s gun tomorrow and kill myself. Now, I know I have a purpose in life,’” Kerr said.

Faith Force’s assemblies have become one of the nation’s top assembly programs, Terrell said. They have had students email, call and write them thanking the athletes for showing them how Christ can help ease their struggles.

“We really want to see lives changed and barriers broken,” Terrell said.

Verbal, non-verbal conversation about eating disorders explored in Elon senior’s thesis

Senior Cecilia Potter's "Reflections" examines eating disorders through a unique viewpoint: theatre, dance and dialogue. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

Senior Cecilia Potter’s “Reflections” examines eating disorders through a unique viewpoint: theatre, dance and dialogue. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

By Stephanie Butzer

Dancers in Cecilia Potter’s senior thesis, “Reflections,” emitted several emotions related to eating disorders throughout the performance Friday night: anger, guilt, wonder and hopelessness.

“It’s that constant negative cycle that everybody who has had an eating disorder can relate to,” Potter said.

The dance follows the story of a young woman struggling with bulimia, how it affects her friends and how she ultimately overcomes it.

Potter, a theatre studies major and dance minor, dedicated the performance to one of her best friends from home is currently struggling with bulimia and anorexia. She said “Reflections” is for her friend and for other dancers in Potter’s demographic who have an eating disorder.

“People say it’s limited to adolescents but I really believe it’s a college thing, too,” Potter said. “I’ve noticed it on Elon’s campus and other campuses. This is my way of bringing awareness to the community as much as I can.”

Initially, Potter and the other dancers participated in acting exercises. Then, she transferred them to learn how to get the same message across, but through dance. Potter hoped this would serve as a bridge between verbal and non-verbal expression.

“It trained them to communicate better and be aware of each other rather than just dancing,” Potter said. “It was communicating – having a movement dialogue.”

Eating disorders are a big problem for dancers, Potter said. Many of the dancers in “Reflections” can relate to the issue through their own lives or through people they have seen struggle with it. The dancers did many exercises where they could explain these battles.

“It’s definitely unlocked a different level of emotion that I don’t think could be brought just through movement,” Potter said. “We needed to talk it out and we needed to have these kinds of exercises to get it out.”

Potter decided to do an independent senior thesis because she wanted to do a show that wasn’t “straight-up acting,” she said. She wasn’t interested in writing a script and performing it; she wanted to dance. While there are theatrical elements in the show, the story is told through dance.

Jane Wellford, professor of the performing arts, and Kevin Otos, associate professor of theatre, have advised her through the process. Potter said it was helpful to have professionals help her with both the theatrical and dance sides of the production.

“I was really proud of her for going for it and making it happen because she had to make it happen by reserving the space, getting the dancers and seeing her vision through,” Wellford said.

Potter is expecting a mixed review from her audience. She described the performance as a movie when a truthful thing is exposed and people giggle because they are uncomfortable.

“I think the subject is pretty forward so it might bring some discomfort but that’s kind of what I’m going for,” Potter said. “It’s not a dance where you leave and think, ‘oh, that was fun and happy.’ It’s something to think about it and I just wanted to have some resonance in the audience’s mind.”

Potter had a certain picture of the show in mind when she started planning the performance and as practices started, this picture slowly changed into something she said she is happier with. She said she hopes the message in “Reflections” will help spark conversations about the prevalence of eating disorders. Dancing helped the conversation become both verbal and non-verbal.

“What could be more personal or more revealing than the human body as the instrument for portrayal?” Wellford said.

All photos by Stephanie Butzer.