Monthly Archives: December 2016

Different Blood, Same Hearts

Photo Cutline: The hands of Monica and Dave Kelly's adopted children Photo Credit: Courtesy of Monica Kelly
Photo Cutline: The hands of Monica and Dave Kelly’s adopted children
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Monica Kelly

By Jessica A Todt

Meet The Parents Who Adopted a Dozen Special Needs Children

You might be a large adoptive family if you walk out in the front yard and can hear other parents in the neighborhood whisper to their children, “That’s the house with all of the kids,” says Monica Kelly, adoptive mother of twelve special needs children. For those who know the Kelly family, otherwise known as the “Kelly Krew,” it is never a surprise to see the seven boys and five girls, all under 11 years old, jump into the Kelly family bus and drive to elementary school each morning.

Over the last 10 years, Monica and Dave Kelly fostered and eventually adopted a dozen children in foster care systems from South Carolina’s Department of Social Services. Typically, the adoption process is long, stressful, and outrageously expensive for those willing to adopt. Newborn babies are usually adopted quickly, while older and emotionally disturbed children are likely to stay in foster care for years. Nothing could hold the Kellys back, they have always had a strong desire to offer a normal life to the kids who are overlooked.

Monica and Dave Kelly met while working together in a social work program after they attended graduate school. They knew from that moment on that they would become foster parents at some point in their lives. After raising their two biological children, Brianna and Hunter Kelly, who are now out of the house and successfully independent in college, the family wanted to fully dedicate their lives to help special needs children in foster care. They believe it is important to keep fostered siblings together, so they worked hard to find siblings who were previously separated from each other.

Aside from her job raising 12 kids, Monica Kelly works full-time as the regional director for a non-profit company that works with state agencies to care for foster children in South Carolina.

Most people assume the Kelly family is a large church group or a class field trip when they see them in public. Going to dinner in a restaurant, hanging out on the playground or even taking a quick stop through a fast-food drive thru always creates sudden chit-chat and a few strange glances. With 12 growing children and hungry mouths to feed three times a day, Dave Kelly took this challenge and now has it down to an art. He spends the majority of his time preparing meals for the whole family.

“The amount of food we go through in a week is unbelievable. Grocery shopping takes up an entire day for our family,” says Brianna Kelly, the oldest sibling, “When we grocery shop at Sam’s Club, people stare because we have to push a big dolly to hold all of the food. My dad is always in the kitchen cooking when I come home from college.  He is able to do it so quickly now it is like a legitimate restaurant.”

The family travels to purchase meat twice a year at the “Chef Store” in Columbia,. This store typically sells meats to restaurants and food providers in bulk, but luckily for the Kelly family, it sells to the public as well. Each time they travel to purchase meat, they spend thousands of dollars at once. The meat is preserved in a large freezer in the garage for about six months until it’s time to go back for another round. The family eats with plastic silverware, plates, cups and bowls to reduce dirty dishes in the kitchen. Dave Kelly serves the kids “cafeteria style” and each of them uses tray to make the meal process quick and easy.

A typical school day for the “Kelly Krew” is well planned out and always on schedule. When the alarm goes off in the morning,  everyone knows to get up and get ready for school. After making 12 breakfast meals, Dave Kelly drops the kids off at elementary school. While the house is empty, he cooks, cleans and runs errands. The family has a tutor who comes four days a week and helps with the kid’s homework each afternoon. Aside from therapy appointments, doctors’ appointments and sports, that is a complete day in the life of this busy family.

Running the household in the Kelly family sounds like an unattainable challenge to most. To add more stress, each of the children experiences mental disorders or severe behavioral problems.

“Typically, when families adopt, they look for young and healthy children with no behavioral issues,” says Kelly.“ As their mother I have to find a way to explain to them why their old foster parents didn’t want them anymore.” Eight of the kids were born addicted to narcotic drugs by their birth mother’s drug abuse during pregnancy. The other four were physically abused from by birth parents and then later abused by their foster parents. “These kids come into our home and only have the clothes on their backs. It’s so rewarding to watch them finally realize that in our home they will never have to worry about being hurt or sent back to foster care,” wiping away a tear, she says. “I want my kids to grow up knowing they are loved unconditionally no matter what troubles they have.”

Therapy is a necessity for this family. A child coming from foster care at an older age may have multiple emotional problems.  “Behavior extremes, speech disorders, anxiety, bedwetting, poor self-esteem, learning disabilities, pulling out clumps of hair and temper tantrums are seen in almost all neglected or abused children who end up in foster care,” says child psychiatrist Elizabeth McLaughlin.

“Without the proper behavioral therapy to help enforce healthy coping mechanisms for stress, anger and sadness, children are more inclined to become drug users or violent people themselves.” It’s not surprising to see very serious eating disorders, anxiety problems, intense depression or attention deficit disorders in foster care children. Some of the kids are more emotionally disturbed than others from different levels of childhood trauma. Marcus Kelly, an autistic 6-year-old who suffers from severe post traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD, requires more attention and care than the other siblings.

He rides a private school bus and attends an independent school specifically meant for children with special needs. Kelly teaches her children to always be open about their feelings and to ask questions if they are confused. Since seven of the kids are African-American or Hispanic, she explains to them that even though their skin color is different, that they are still one family no matter what.

When curiosity about their biological parents arises, she explains to them that they were born from another “tummy,” but that she is their “forever mommy.” Most of the children still remember their biological parents and it takes months for them to accept their new adoptive parents as permanent caregivers.

The Kelly household is built on patience, love, kindness and support for one another. Although Monica and Dave do not plan on adopting any more children of their own, they hope to foster again when these children are grown.

“Monica and Dave are resilient people,” says neighbor, Ana Smith, “Brianna, Hunter, Josh, Cooper, Brice, Cameron, Marcus, Braxton, Bailey, Leeya, Lindsey, Laken, Jazz and Michael. I know them all. Each of them are so special in their own way. They are a constant reminder that love can overcome anything and that our hearts beat the same no matter where we came from.”

Todt is a public relations senior

 

Susan DeVenny: A Woman With a Cause

Susan DeVenny Courtesy of Susan DeVenny
Susan DeVenny
Courtesy of Susan DeVenny

By: Abigayle Morrison

Susan DeVenny is a wife, a mother of four (one son and three daughters), and the president and chief executive officer of the J. Marion Sims Foundation, one of the largest foundations in South Carolina.

The foundation has assets valued at about $70 million, which it uses to fund nonprofits, as well as education and health initiatives in Lancaster county and parts of Chester county. DeVenny starts each morning at 5 a.m. and goes to sleep around midnight. The other 19 hours of the day are spent speaking with her board of trustees, working on the budget, going to meetings with community leaders, reviewing grant requests and volunteering wherever help is needed in the community.

She grew up in Newtown, Connecticut with her parents and four younger sisters. After she graduated high school, DeVenny’s family moved to Savannah, Georgia. Wanting to put family first, DeVenny followed her parents to Georgia to help her sisters’ transition to their new surroundings.  She began her freshman year of college at the University of Georgia. DeVenny then transferred to Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina where she met her husband, Alston DeVenny.

If you met her fresh out of college, and told her what path her life would take, she wouldn’t have believed you. With a bachelor’s degree in education and a masters in counseling and student personnel higher education, DeVenny expected to become a teacher. As so often happens, life had other ideas.

After receiving her master’s degree, DeVenny moved to Columbia to join her husband, who was finishing law school. She hoped to find a job teaching in higher education, but did not. Searching for any way to help pay the bills, DeVenny found herself working for the American Red Cross as a volunteer coordinator. “I think those first jobs out of college really shape who you will become,” she says.

After leaving the Red Cross, DeVenny took a job with Colonial Life, where she stayed for nearly 15 years. After Alston DeVenny graduated from law school, the couple moved an hour away to Lancaster in search of a small-town atmosphere. When DeVenny began having children, she took a break to stay home. During this time, DeVenny spent her days with her family and volunteering in her community.

In 1999 DeVenny got a call from Jim Hodges, then governor of South Carolina. Hodges asked DeVenny to sit on the inaugural board for First Steps. That agency, with branches in each county, works to improve early childhood education. Sitting on the board for First Steps, DeVenny discovered a passion for early childhood development. When Gov. Mark Sanford was elected he asked DeVenny to head the First Steps.

Lancaster residents were proud to have one of their own in an influential position. “When Susan accepted the position with First Steps she became, without even knowing it, I think, a leader in our community and a champion for children,” says long-time friend, Donna Mobley.

Working at First Steps allowed DeVenny to make positive changes in the state, to grow professionally, and to learn important lessons. She says working with the state legislature to create a plan to provide preschool to children in impoverished districts was a major victory. Her greatest failure came when she had a new idea for funding but failed to get the support of First Step branches around the state before moving forward.  “I learned it’s wonderful to have a great idea, but you have to get other people in on it or you’re left standing alone at the end,” she said.

After 12 years with First Steps, DeVenny accepted a position as the president and chief executive officer of the J. Marion Sims Foundation, a health and wellness foundation with an asset base of nearly $70 million. It devotes most of its funding to improving the lives of people in Lancaster county and part of Chester county. The foundation has a staff of three: DeVenny, program officer Holly Furr, and administrative assistant Karen Ormand. They call themselves “small but mighty.”

Since coming to the foundation, DeVenny has completely changed the way the it operates. In her first 11 months, the foundation has joined a major fundraising campaign for local nonprofits to raise money, brought in six college interns for the summer, started a community engagement effort and repositioned the foundation from quiet overseer to active participant in the programs it funds.

Currently serving as the foundation’s program officer, Holly Furr met DeVenny in 1999 when both were on a committee of the Children’s Council. Working with her now, 17 years later, Furr looks back on that time and can see how DeVenny has changed. “While Susan has always been a free spirit, there is now a clear intentionality about her that I didn’t always see, ” says Furr. “I sometimes think how funny it is that our lives have intercepted again.

While DeVenny has had much professional success, her friends, family and colleagues speak even more highly of who she is outside of work. Mobley’s favorite memory of DeVenny comes from nearly 15 years ago, when she threw a tea party for mothers and daughters in their neighborhood. There were quite a few people in attendance, each in a dress with matching hat and gloves. The children helped make some of the food, and DeVenny was a gracious host, going out of her way to make everything fun. The house wasn’t perfectly clean and a few of the cookies were burnt, but everyone was happy and had a great time.

Sarah Katherine DeVenny is Susan DeVenny’s eldest daughter. Looking back, Sarah Katherine DeVenny’s favorite memories are the mornings spent getting ready, with her mother by her side.

“Me and my sisters would be doing our makeup and getting ready for the day, and our mom would be asking us if we want a cup of tea and what we want for lunch. There’s a confidence in always knowing that she’s there and that every day she’s going to give me a kiss when I leave and try to take care of me.”

When Susan DeVenny accepted her position at the foundation, she had them push office opening from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. so she could continue to see her children in the morning.

With a life this full, DeVenny admittedly struggles with time management. She tends to over commit and describes herself as a terrible housekeeper. “I can’t help it,” says DeVenny, “I know it sounds cliché but I wake up every morning thinking gosh the sun is up and I’m so lucky to be alive. We owe it to our maker not to waste time, and I think food and sleep and cleaning are overrated.”

Looking towards the future, DeVenny is looking forward to helping the foundation continue its work by promoting a healthy and robust community focused on resident engagement, youth empowerment and philanthropy. Next year the J. Marion Sims Foundation and the Orton Family Foundation of Vermont, a foundation which works to restore pride in small towns across the country, will become partners.   “As for our family, Alston and I are incredibly proud to see our adult children continuing their educations and making their mark on the world,” said DeVenny.

 

Morrison is a public relations junior

Big Homie Mentorship Program

"Students attending the program's first annual back to school bash." Courtesy of: Big Homie Mentorship Program
Students attending the program’s first annual back to school bash.
Courtesy of: Big Homie Mentorship Program

By: Carrington Murray

Kavon Barger and Jamarcus Little never expected a simple idea to work with youth to grow into full-fledge mentorship. Now as the two sit and prepare for year two of the Big Homie Mentorship Program, they reflect on its success with astonishment. According to Barber, “Everything really happened so fast.”

A big homie is defined as an African American college male who is dedicated to changing the lives of young boys in the community  through mentorship. The program known as the Big Homie Mentorship program started out as a tour of some elementary guys. “I remember calling Kavon and asking him whether he wanted to help out with a tour for about 50 boys,” said Little.

Little said he knew that Barber really loved kids and thought that it would be an opportunity he would love being a part of. Barber said he accepted with no hesitation. “I mean I jumped at the opportunity to help out, I plan to work with elementary guys as an educator, so I knew the tour would be something I would enjoy.”

What Barber nor Little knew is that these 50 boys would be the inaugural class of the program. “Watching how much my boys really loved them I knew that Barber and Little would be perfect mentors to jumpstart this program.”  said Christopher Williams, director of Partnership Development for Tiny Techz.  He said it wasn’t long after the tour that he called Little and offered him the opportunity to mentor he 50 guys that he and Barber had served as tour guides for a few weeks earlier.

Barber said he still remembers the day Little called him and asked him would he be willing to start a mentorship program.

“I was so torn in making my decision, I knew I loved working with kids and wanted to be a part of their growth, I just wasn’t sure it was enough guys who felt like me and Jamarcus did about kids to want to be a part of the program.” Needing time to think, Barber finally agreed ,

The “Big Homie’s” mentorship program meets afterschool every Monday and Friday from 3-5:30 p.m. The program caters only to young men in the third through fifth grades. Little says he loves youngsters in those grades.

“This is the age where mentorship in young men is very important. Lots of time we lose our guys because we try and mentor them after they have gotten too old.”

In mentorship sessions the students undergo a series of activities. One primary activity related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and one activity catering to professional development. These activities include bow tie 101, etiquette dinners and creating success plans for college. “It’s very important to keep students motivated about their academics, but it is also equally important to offer them tools that can help them in the professional world as well,” said Williams.

Jobs as mentors for the Big Homie Program are open to all African American males who are enrolled in college. Shay Malone, director of the USC Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, says that she loves that the program reaches out to African American males. “It seems like once a week, sometimes more, guys come into my office asking of any mentorship opportunities that they can be a part of,” Malone says.

From her many interactions with Barber and Little, she always refers guys to the Big Homie  program.  “I’ve had to work really closely with Barber, as well as Little, in my positon as director of OMSA and I find myself referring so many willing young men to the program because I believe they can grow while providing growth to the young boys.”

Sam Wilson is a perfect example of the growth that one can gain by serving as a mentor in the Big Homie Program. “I knew when I agreed to serve as mentor that this would be something completely new for me, because I didn’t have much experience working with kids.” Through his desire to give back to the community, Wilson agreed to serve as a mentor and he attests to the change he has made within. “I really have grown much fonder of my interactions with youth as well as my patience increasing tremendously.”

Just like Wilson, Barber believes that he has learned just as much from the boys as the boys have learned from him. “I mean each day I’m with them it’s something new. Nothing is ever the same. I leave each day with a new story and a new experience.” Barber says that these experiences have only deepened his love for education and his determination to help elementary aged boys.

Little and Barber want to expand the program, so do others. Currently Big Homie is implemented at three elementary schools, J.P Thomas Elementary School, Burton and Pack Elementary School and Carver Lyon Elementary Schools. “I want the program to be implemented at more and more schools each year so that we are reaching more young boys who want to make something of themselves,” Little says.

According to Devin Carter, Barber and Little’s fellow mentor, nothing is more rewarding as a mentor than seeing the positive progression in the young men. “When teachers come and talk to us about how well our guys are performing academically and behaviorally, it really makes me happy. It really allows me to see that my efforts are not in vain.”

As January slowly approaches and the Big Homie Program prepares for another year they hope that community involvement improves. That there will be opportunities for the guys in the program to give to their community what they get back. “I just really want the community to take more interest in the program and the program’s overall mission to push young boys to be great, because it really takes a village,” said Carter.

When asked what they dislike most about the program they all agreed that two days a week is simply not enough. “Having the program on more days would really increase mentor participation, and hopefully limit the issue of class scheduling conflicts,” Little said.

With the help of many aids along the way Barber and Little have successfully created an afterschool program. Barber and Little agree that they will remain motivated and committed to their aspirations to serve as lifelong educators and mentors. The Big Homie Program exemplifies how such help can make a difference.

Murray is public relations senior

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The track to success

Sandi Moore, the bride featured in the center of the photograph, stands beside her husband, Rocky Moore, brother-in-law Ricky Moore, and In-laws Elizabeth and William Moore, on the day of her wedding in 1986. Photo by: Janice Howell
Sandi Moore, the bride in the center, stands beside her husband, Rocky Moore, Also pictured are brother-in-law Ricky Moore, and In-laws Elizabeth and William Moore, on the couple’s wedding day in 1986.
Photo by: Janice Howell

 

By Madison Oswald

On a foggy Friday morning in 1990, Sandi Moore graduated from the University of South Carolina-Aiken, becomingthe second in her family to do so. She was close behind her older sister, Sybil. Moore recalls taking her place among fellow graduates that morning, radiating joy with a giant smile.

She recalled looking into the crowd to find her husband standing with a large video camera pressed up against the right side of his cheek, a smile plastered on his face. For Moore and her husband, that graduation day  was a major turning point.

Following graduation Moore went to work at the Savannah River Nuclear Solutions Site in Aiken, South Carolina. She has spent d 22 years in its formation technology department. In that time, she reached various goals including climbing the corporate ladder and traveling around the United States for training sessions. How she got to where she is today is inspiring.

As a child, Moore grew up the younger sister in a family that lived paycheck-to-paycheck. Although tifficult, she says it a major pieces that led to her now completed puzzle. She said, “Living within a household that struggled to provide a stable living environment, showed me how important education is, but it has also made me into the person I am today and I wouldn’t change a thing.” She went on to say that although her parents struggled financially she still lived in a loving household.

When her family moved to Jackson, South Carolina, Moore remembers the morning she was in the fifth grade and her father walked her on to the school bus with a shotgun.

“My dad actually walked my sister Sybil and I onto our school bus one morning with a shotgun in his hand, just because the boys in the seat behind us had been bothering us. I remember at the time I was mortified, but looking back I love him more for it.”

With a comical sigh, Moore shifted her weight on the couch and said, “That’s also the year I met my husband.”

Soon a chuckle came from the kitchen as her husband, Rocky, unloaded the dishwasher. He craned his neck and yelled, “Met my soul mate at 14.” Several years later, Rocky, 22, and Sandi, 18, were married in fall 1986. A marriage this young shook up Moore’s life in more ways than one.

She said, “My parents were not happy. They told me that if I got married they wouldn’t pay for my college tuition. But I was young and in love and I went for what my heart told me to do.”

However, Moore had to work harder than ever before to pay for her car, school, and meals. Living in a singlewide trailer on her in-law’s land, she would drive back and forth between school and work, all while maintaining a steady GPA and staying afloat financially.

“There were so many times I almost quit or went begging to my parents for money. I just had so many people telling me I didn’t need college. But in the end I graduated, and it felt amazing to know that I did it all on my own.” Today she is able to provide for her family and not worry about where their next meal is coming from. She said, “What makes me happy, is seeing my family happy. They’re what fuels me.” Her husband later said Moore changed their entire lifestyle. He then said, “I deeply regret ever telling my wife to quit college. All I knew at the time was that she was never home and working too hard. But Sandi persevered, and it’s what has made our family into the people we are today. I’m so grateful.”

Following graduation, throughout her twenties, Moore lived within the jurisdictions of her little black planner. A time came in the middle of her career when the Moore’s received news not within the confinements of Moore’s planner.

On October 3, 1997, she gave birth to a baby girl named Paige. Moore said the most monumental moment in her life was when she had children.

“Originally, my doctor had told me that kids were not an option for me due to the cervix cancer I was diagnosed with at eighteen.” This devastated Moore and her husband, but they eventually grew to accept it. Slowly they began to accept that God had different plans for them. Little did they know kids would be a part of their life, which is why Moore recalls being completely shocked when she became pregnant with Mattie and then Olivia, her second daughter, a year later.

But working for eight years in a taxing career definitely made balancing two daughters and a demanding career difficult. Moore had to learn to get more work done in less time, which she says strengthened her as a wife and mother, giving her a stronger insight into what’s most important, family. But even with family being her top priority, she has still found ways to excel in her career.

Moore wakes up every morning at 6 a.m. so that she’s able to check her emails before her 8 a.m. meeting at work. Following the meeting, her days consist of many interruptions from members of the team she manages.

“People come in all day long for direction on issues or to just talk. It can be difficult at times but showing compassion in a work atmosphere is so important.”

John Schill, a current part of Moore’s team said, “I’ve worked with Sandi for roughly two and a half years now and I strongly admire her work ethic and tenacity. I’m amazed at how much work she accomplishes every day, even with constant interruptions.”

Moore has many tasks to complete throughout the day, and although at times, she is swamped she still takes the time to listen and reach out to her team members. Moore’s advice to aspiring business professionals is to, “Stay steady, nothing is as important as it seems. Continue with patience and perseverance.” After a long day she finds this to be what keeps her motivated.

Moore even inspires her children, Olivia Moore said, “My mom is the most optimistic person I have ever met, and although it annoys me at times, that’s what I love most about her.

Food in the Air

Lobster roll in Martha's Vineyard featured on Food in the Air. Courtesy of Food in the Air.
Instagram post featured on Food in the Air.
Courtesy of Food in the Air.

By Elizabeth McKinney

The concept is very simple, and millennials, being self-proclaimed “foodies” love it. Food in the air, is the simple act of photographing mouthwatering food while holding it in the air to capture  a scenic background. That’s the ideology behind what started the popular the social media account Food in the Air, LLC. It began in August 2013

It all started on a 5-hour road trip to the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Four sisters, Charlotte, Patty, Meg and Carolyn Niemann, all close in age and full of wit, were traveling to their annual family vacation retreat, when the sisters felt inspired by the scenic drive while perusing various food Instagram accounts.  They discussed, how photos of food and people’s meals had become a trending topic on various social media platforms, in particularly Instagram. The Niemann sisters agreed that people were indulging in posting photos of their food.

“Why just take a boring bird’s-eye photograph of your food on a plate, when you can capture your delicious meals with your fun setting, by photographing your food in the air,” said Charlotte Niemann.

From that very road trip and onward, the Niemann sisters’ food account hit Instagram by storm and practically went viral. Word of their account began to quickly spread, solely by word of mouth through friends of friends. “Through a very pure and organic process,” said Charlotte Niemann. The account took off and practically “spread like wildfire,” said Patty Niemann.

Within a year the account accumulated a fan base of over 10,000 followers. Fast forward to today, and the account has accumulated around 359,000 followers and counting. Food in the Air is considered to be one of the top 15 food Instagram accounts, ranked as no. 3 by Cosmopolitan Magazine.

The sisters receive hundreds of photo submissions daily through multiple media outlets. The photos posted on Food in the Air are a compilation of submissions from its followers, the Niemann sisters and partnerships. Photos vary in content and range in food, but every post consists of some sort of delicacy paired with a postcard worthy backdrop. Each photo is paired with witty caption.

“It’s a combination of basically everyone’s two favorite things: food and travel,” said Charlotte Niemann.

What started as a hobby, has turned into a major business opportunity for the sisters.

Niemann said that her sisters and she had a reality check that their account had the potential to be more than just a little hobby, after Anheuser-Busch approached them about  partnering on a marketing campaign. It was then that the sisters realized their account had financial potential.

“We really started it as kind of a fun joke for us to do, and then all of our friends heard about it and just sort of caught on,” said Meg Niemann. “And then it just turned into this ridiculous, sister business!”

Since then, they have partnered with different corporations in the restaurant industry and have had the opportunity to explore the rapidly, growing industry of food and social media. Partnerships have become extremely diverse for Food in the Air, ranging from teaming up with nonprofit Unilever to curb world hunger, to working with McDonald’s, the mecca of the fast food industry, Food in the Air has evolved into something more than just a leisure account for the sisters. From being invited to McDonald’s headquarters and meeting the CEO of McDonald’s, to being flown to Mt. Rushmore to take a FITA (food in the air) by Giovanni Rana Pasta, an Italian food brand, the opportunities for Food in the Air and the Niemann sister have become limitless.

“As social media influencers, we have learned how much of a value and asset we can be to companies and its products,” said Charlotte Niemann. “Social media is such a valuable asset, for it allows you to put your own voice behind their product, which targets our demographic of followers.”

Managing a successful food account certainly has its perks. Last spring two of the sisters attended the Miami Food and Wine Festival where they had the opportunity to chat and meet with celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli, as well as many other big names in the food industry.

In addition the four of them live in three of the country’s biggest food hubs: New York City, San Francisco, and Charleston. The sister’s inboxes are flooded with invites to restaurant openings and tastings.

Working and managing their account from three cities and two different time-zones, certainly has not been the easiest task, Patty Niemann shares. But communication is key in any business, and the need for it between one and another has not only strengthened their business, but has also impacted their relationships as sisters. Patty Niemann jokingly explained, whether they want to talk to each other or not that day, they have to put differences behind and go on with business.

“We were definitely a close family to begin with, growing up close so close in age and being sisters, but you can’t doubt it definitely has strengthened our family even more,” said Niemann.  “Whether it’s about FITA or not, relationships have definitely strengthened.”

The success of Food in the Air  has significantly shaped the future plans for some of the sisters. Charlotte Niemann, a senior at the College of Charleston, has made her concentration entrepreneurship because of  Food in the Air. Meg Niemann, a former photo editor for Lord and Taylor, has been able to combine her passion for photography with Food in the Air as well.

“The fact that it’s possible for me to potentially have this as a job is really crazy,” said Charlotte Niemann, “but I think as millennials, we are really creative and I think it’s awesome that we can do things like this.”

 

Elizabeth McKinney is a public relations senior

Blue Top: Making it Just Right

Not as elegant or grandiose as some franchise competitors, what Blue Top lacks in outward appearance it makes up for with hospitality and excellent hamburgers. Photo by Andy Napier.
Not as elegant or grandiose as some franchise competitors, what Blue Top lacks in outward appearance it makes up for with hospitality and excellent hamburgers.
Photo by Andy Napier.

By Andy Napier

In Graniteville, South Carolina, a town built around industry and hard work, there are several unspoken truths. Some of these maxims—that the Gamecocks reign supreme, for example—are more widely-acknowledged than others. There can be no doubt, however, as to what the most accepted one is: the Blue Top Grill has the best hamburgers in the known world.

A modest, plain blue building tucked deep in the conifer forest surrounding Graniteville, the Blue Top might look like a “hole-in-the-wall” from an outsider’s perspective. True, it certainly doesn’t have the streamlined, market-tested design of a global fast food franchise or restaurant chain. However, the plain white walls and simple décor does carry one advantage: it does an excellent job of showing off the dozens of Aiken county annual first place awards for best hamburger and hotdog.

Tradition is very much a part of the Blue Top’s success. Current owner, Renee Lutot, began working in her grandparents’ diner when she was just 12 years old. “I literally grew up in this place,” said Lutot. “For nearly 38 years, I’ve been the first person to walk through the front door and the last to leave almost every single day.” Lutot decided to work for her family’s business because, like all teenagers, she realized that finding a job was a fast-approaching inevitability. As a child, she had spent countless hours scurrying around the kitchen and surrounding areas. She said, “Some of my earliest memories come from this building.” With the passage of time, however, she would one day be running the kitchen, rather than exploring it.

After taking the reins from her mother, Linda Smith, in 2008, Lutot represents the third generation of the original owning family to continue running the restaurant. Observing Lutot in her element, it becomes obvious that she knows every inch of the kitchen and knows nearly all of the locals who routinely stop by for an after-work burger even better.

According to 19-year-old Blue Top employee Vanessa Miller, “Most of our customers are regulars who come by at least once a week, if not more than once. We have loyal customers; we know what they’re going to order before they even sit down.” Although she is one of Blue Top’s newer employees, Miller’s words ring true. On week nights, they’re rarely any booths open past 6 p.m. Yet, no matter how crowded the cramped dining area gets, there’s always a crowd of people happy to wait.

 

From Humble Beginnings

Like most of the town’s buildings and homes, Blue Top lies in the shadow of the once-thriving Graniteville Mill. In many ways, the town of Graniteville itself was a direct product of the textile mill. According to the South Carolina Department of Archives, the Graniteville Mill was established by entrepreneur William Gregg in 1845 and was for many years the South’s largest cotton factory. By the early 1900s, around 90 shack-like homes were constructed around the mill, their foundations composed of the cheaper “blue” granite from local quarries (hence, Granite-ville). These tiny huts earned the nickname “shotgun houses” because a shotgun round could supposedly pass through the front and back doors cleanly when they were both opened simultaneously, the living room being so small that the spread of a shotgun round would have no effect on the cheaply-made walls or floor. (One can only wonder how this discovery was made).

A staggeringly overpriced mill store which accepted only company “script”—currency that could only be spent in the company store—and two small churches were also added to the community in the first quarter of the 20th century. After several decades of profits and growth, the Graniteville Mill had essentially built an entire town around the company. The mill owned the small houses. It owned the store and the products inside. It owned the churches and In some ways, the workers inside. However, it goes without saying that with such a large flow of laborers working long shifts, some workers are bound to get hungry.

After years of working at the Graniteville Mill, Renee Lutot’s grandfather—Jimmy Overstreet—decided to transform his hobby and talent of cooking for friends and fellow mill workers into a legitimate business. In 1951, Jimmy and Emmie Overstreet purchased the extra lot next to their own home at 212 Aiken Road and opened the Blue Top Grill. Over 65 years later, the quaint, one-story building stands, nearly unchanged: white paint, blue siding and an unmistakable and fantastic aroma of hand cut French fries. Today, a large portrait of Jimmy and Emmie’s warm faces greets customers as they enter and silently bids farewell as customers leave.

 

More than Burgers

A well-known fixture in the community, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Graniteville native who has never experienced the life-changing taste of a Blue Top burger. Blue Top employee Wanda Hayden remembers visiting the diner regularly as a kid. “I think that was probably the very first hamburger and French fry meal that I actually paid for myself,” said Hayden. Now known by patrons for her especially excellent batches of golden fries, Hayden was once a high school girl who met new people, went on dates, and hung out with friends, all at the local “spot”—Blue Top Grill.

Another longtime customer, 78-year-old Mildred Frye also remembers visiting Blue Top Grill as a highschooler. A student in the 1954 Graniteville High School graduating class, Frye can’t repress a guilty smile as she reminisces on her frequent trips to the diner during school hours. “We were allowed to leave and come back for lunch for around 30 minutes, so we always piled as many people as we possibly could into my friend’s car and drove to Blue Top. My favorite thing was the pinball machines,” said Frye. “And I can’t think of a single time we made it back to class in 30 minutes.”

For Mildred Frye and the large swath of loyal customers who love the Blue Top Grill, it’s not just about good hamburgers and French fries. Nor is it simply the excellent service or welcoming atmosphere. Granted, those things are important parts of Blue Top’s success. However, the true reason the Blue Top Grill stands out to customers is because it represents the heart and character of a small town like Graniteville. It isn’t the fanciest or most visually-stunning restaurant. There are no expensive pieces of abstract art on the wall and the food isn’t made by some gourmet, world-class celebrity chef. But for an overworked, tired mill worker or group of excited high school students racing to avoid detention, it’s just right.

Napier is a graduate journalism student at usc.

 

Tailoring through Triumph and Defeat

Cutline: Nick Nicolau stands in the front of his business Nick's Tailoring. Photo by Donni Robinson.
Cutline: Nick Nicolau stands in the front of his business Nick’s Tailoring.
Photo by Donni Robinson.

By Donni Robinson

Nick Nicolau, the owner of Nick’s Tailoring in Columbia, South Carolina, says that if he could share one thing with everyone it would be I love you. Nicolau says, “Love is very important. Respect and love for me is the best thing.” Nick’s Tailoring is successful business and customers enjoy the services because of Nicolau’s genuine heart and his willingness to satisfy all customers.

When you walk into Nick’s Tailoring the atmosphere is warm. It is as though you walked into a family member’s house. You will never step foot into Nick’s without a warm welcome from Nicolau or one of his seamstresses. Usually you will see Nick working diligently with a customer that is standing in front of the mirror trying to obtain the perfect fit. He looks serious and focuses heavily on what the customer wants. Though he looks serious, warmness overcomes as soon as you hear him answer the phone or engage in conversation with anyone.

Nicolau’s tailoring career started at the age of 11 when he worked under his father as an apprentice in Portugal. As a child he learned how to create and also how to run a business. Tailoring was essential in Portugal because clothing was not store bought. Instead fabric, lining, thread and all other supplies were sold to make clothes until 1975. In 1975 Portugal transitioned from a dictatorship to a democratic nation and the need for tailors declined. After 1975 everything changed and clothing could be store bought. This drastic change led Nicolau to Massachusetts and then to Columbia, South Carolina in for the warm weather. Nicolau opened Nick’s Tailoring, Columbia, in 1985. Being an apprentice for 9 years under his father taught Nicolau that the quality of work is important and gave him the love to create.

Nicolau loves that his job allows him to create for people. He enjoys making his customers feel amazing. He says, “The most rewarding thing that I feel in myself is when someone sends me a letter and it says thank you very much for what you did. This feels good.” Nicolau takes pride in his work and finds joy in his customer’s satisfaction. He says the time in his life that he felt the most triumphant was in 1990. He says, “My mind was so full of designs and creative styles. It was a good time.”

In contrast to his heightened time in life, Nicolau says that he once felt defeated when life in Columbia reminded him of how unfair people can be. He says, “You used to see some immigrants in the past, but not many today.” Nicolau does not believe that Columbia is always immigrant friendly, and that some people judge immigrants unfairly and that it is important to respect all people.

Nicolau says, “Still people do not believe that I am a tailor, it used to bother me more than now.” There is a difference between a tailor and a seamstress. Tailors are essentially designers and have a lot of talent. It takes years of training and expertise to become a respected tailor. “Some people just do hems in pants and waist inseam, but when it comes to big jobs they do not know how to do it. I do everything from simple hems to wedding dresses,” says Nicolau.

Nicolau believes all people should love first, be kind and respect others. If he were president for a day he says that he would “Be serious, be honest, and be a good person.” He says that honesty and respect are important. He also believes that is it important to be nice to all people. “Honesty is the best key to run a small business or a country,” says Nicolau. He says those aspects are important because corruption in politics exists all over the world, and the aspect that is missing is honesty. “Hate and jealously are not good. A lot of people try to overpower somebody else and I do not like it,” says Nicolau. He believes all people are equal, that people in power should lack bias and sho uld not allow negative thigs to motivate them. He believes people should have others’ best interest at heart. Nicolau genuine heart is one of the reasons Nick’s Tailoring remains successful.

Teresa Ngo, a seamtress at Nick’s Tailoring says, “He is very serious about getting things done correctly and on time.” Ngo described him as serious perfectionist. She also explains that he takes customer satisfaction seriously and never wants to get behind schedule. Ngo says he expects nothing but the best from his employees.

Nicolau’s warm personality is what all of his customers see, but his employees are able to see the side of him that is more serious. To run a successful business you do not have the pleasure to be nice all of the time. To ensure efficiency Nicolau makes sure everyone buckles down and does things correctly.

“I remember one time I needed buttons sewn on to my blazer. I took it on Monday and he had it done by Wednesday,” says Jessica Hosey a University of South Carolina senior. “Nick got it done for me without any complaints. He assured me he could do it quickly. He got it done on time and he charged two bucks,” says Hosey. Nicolau has many loyal customers that enjoy his services and have the ultimate respect for his craft. Lisa Whitener says that Nicolau’s tailoring is an addiction. She says, “It’s like once you have Nick tailor your clothes, you never want to wear then untailored. I had to bring in these pieces now so that they can be ready for my London trip and Christmas time.”

With the holidays quickly approaching Nicolau says this particular time of the year is the busiest. He says, “It’s crazy and you can say crazy because it’s true. Right now I am asking my customer’s to be patient with me. I’m asking for three weeks.” Nicolau says his services are at the highest demand when the weather is changing and around the holidays.

Nicolau enjoys the holiday season and finds peace in the holiday rush around this time of year. He says that his favorite Christmas movie is A Christmas Story. “Yesterday I was talking to a customer and playing with him I said is this frageelay,” says Nicolau “That movie is beautiful and there’s so many quotes.” He says that his favorite Christmas song is the classic Jingle Bells. Although he follows many American traditions, he says for Christmas dinner the Portuguese eat Codfish. Nicolau enjoys eating fish and mixes that tradition with his American ones. Nicolau says that in Portugal around Christmas time, they sell roasted chestnuts in the streets and that people also enjoy various pork products.

Nicolau names this chapter of his life fulfilled. He says “I am fulfilled. Of course I’m still working, but I’m healthy. I do not know when I will retire but I think about it.” Nicolau has everything that he needs and is satisfied with life. He finds happiness by looking at the success of his children, watching his grandchildren grow and feeling the unconditional love of his wife. Although he has ran a successful business for decades what brings him the most joy is love. “Love for me is very important,” says Nicolau.

Robinson is a public relations senior.

Pet Food Feeds his Soul

Kirby and Jean Leitner vacationing in New York City  Courtesy of Kirby Leitner
Kirby and Jean Leitner vacationing in New York City
Courtesy of Kirby Leitner

By Eric Butler

            You can usually find Kirby Leitner behind the counter of the pet store that he owns, Mill Creek Pet Food Center. Greeting dogs that are headed to the grooming area to be cleaned up or showing a customer the newest dog food, Leitner and his store have become a pillar of the local community. Relocating no more than a mile from its old location in 2004, Mill Creek can now be seen on a busier part of Two Notch Road. Leitner’s goal is to be competitive while also offering something he says most other pet stores do not. Customer service. That has always been important to Leitner, the personalization of the shopping experience.

Business partner and long-time friend, Eric Austin, says that is just how Leitner was programmed. “The product is of course very important, but so is the experience. Customers can get the supplies they need anywhere, including online now, so you need to provide a reason for them to keep coming to your store, and Kirby makes sure that he does that.”

Austin has been Letiner’s business partner for all 15 years the store has been open and claims Kirby is, “everything I’m not.” When asked to elaborate he smiled wide while setting down his cup of coffee and said, “I just did.” Austin paused for a moment and then laughed. “Kirby knows how to deal with the sales reps and the banks. He is just a very smart business man. I am so fortunate to have him as my partner.”

One of the sales reps Austin is referring to is Bob Clark, a regional rep for Phillips Supply Company. Clark said he has known Leitner for many years and that he knows he has to bring his A-game when dealing with him. “Kirby is a very tough sell; I mean that in a positive way. He is always very well-prepared to discuss product and pricing with me and I know that before I meet with him.” One thing Clark says Kirby does well is predict how well a product will be received by his customer base. “He can figure out how much he will most likely sell the product and at what price he feels he would be able to, and most of the time he is right.” Clark also says Kirby makes his job easier because he does not have to spend as much time talking pricing because he knows Kirby will already be prepared.

Leitner did not always want to be the owner of Mill Creek Pet Food Center. Growing up in northeast Columbia, Leitner always wanted to be an architect. After graduating from Richland Northeast High School, where he played quarterback on the football team, Leitner enrolled at Clemson University. Leitner was a member of the Kappa Alpha Fraternity at Clemson and worked many late hours at the local bar on campus to help pay for school. Leitner says he would go to school all day and then work all night, a routine that he says would help him later in life when he needed to work late. While in his senior year at Clemson, Leitner had a change of heart and decided that architecture was not for him. He switched his major to business management and graduated in 1988.

After college, Leitner began to work as the manager of a cafeteria at a big business. An experience that has created a prejudice against Wise potato chips. For Leitner, it is Lays or nothing. Leitner ran this cafeteria for a few years, but knew he wanted to have a business of his own one day. Leitner was married and is now a father, so he knew he needed to make a change that would give him the opportunity to support them.

His close friend and future business partner, Eric Austin, would help change Leitner’s path forever. Leitner jumped at the opportunity to open a pet store on the rapidly growing northeast side of Columbia. Austin had been running a Mill Creek on the downtown side of Columbia and wanted to expand. So, the two of them partnered and created Leitner-Austin Incorporated. This was a huge leap of faith for Leitner, and he jumped in feet first.

Fast forward a few years and Leitner’s business is flourishing. Leitner used his business skills and personality to grow Mill Creek each year and today it is one of the most well-known stores in Columbia. Mill Creek has won multiple awards from local magazines and newspapers for “Best Customer Service” and “Best Groomers.” The awards are displayed on the windows and around the store. “We work hard for those, what do you see when you go into a sports arena? A bunch of banners listing accomplishments and that is what we do here. Too much hard-work has gone into earning those and we will put them up proudly” Leitner said. Along the way, Leitner has had plenty of competition. Three pet stores within a few miles of his store have all gone out of business selling the same products he does, in the same area. So how does Leitner manage to stay open for so long? Leitner insists it is customer service and reasonably priced supplies.

He has also always been very involved in the community. Whether it is a fundraiser for the local schools or charity work being done by a local church, Leitner always takes part, “This community has supported me for years and it is the least I can do,” he said. People in the community recognize that and it makes them want to shop and support Mill Creek.

Of course, Leitner does not accomplish all of this by himself. Working for Leitner is also a pleasant experience. Current employee Joey Hyngi, says, “Kirby is the best boss I have ever had, and I have had a few.” Hyngi also said that seeing the boss man show up and work like he does makes you not want to be the weak link. Leitner leads in a way that makes you not want to let him down, according to Hyngi. “He is very fair and goes beyond the responsibilities of being the boss on a daily basis,” says Hyngi. Leitner has been known to help his employees pay for college, get auto loans and is almost always used as a reference when employees are moving on.

And, Leitner is also a family man. Despite being as busy as he is on a daily basis, he still is there for his family. Leitner picks his son up from school every day and never misses a ball game, recital or family dinner. “My dad is my hero,” Leslie Leitner says. Leitner says her dad was always there for her growing up. Now an 18-year-old, Leitner says her dad attended every softball game and is her biggest supporter. “I know that he will always be there for me and that whatever I need, he will do what he can to help.” Leitner says her father’s work ethic has rubbed off on her and that she applies herself to her everyday responsibilities the same way her father does.

Kirby Leitner is a father, businessman and major part of his community. He contributes his time and money to make his community a better place while giving customers a shopping experience they continuously return for. Eventually Leitner will sell the store and start the next chapter of his life. Whatever it is, it is safe to assume he will do it well.

 

 

Butler is a senior broadcast journalism major

Moritz Creates a New Era in Gamecock Athletics

Head Coach Moritz Moritz talking to Jade Vitt and Delaney Wood during match  Courtesy of Gamecocks Online
Head Coach Moritz Moritz talking to Jade Vitt and Delaney Wood during match
Courtesy of Gamecocks Online

By Shannon Donohue

A former surfer in California, an indoor volleyball assistant coach in Idaho, a Colorado State graduate, a dual citizen in the United States and Germany, a family man, and the founder of one of the first collegiate beach volleyball programs in the country, Moritz Moritz has a story to tell. He’s funny, easy-going, and a people person. He can be shy in uncomfortable situations but laughs off the awkward. He strives to achieve goals but never puts himself before others. His players call him “Mo.” Moritz has gone from a free spirited man to a respected coach in the collegiate volleyball world. But “…being the best mentor, friend, son, husband, father and person that I can,” is what Moritz says motivates him the most.

Four years ago, if you had told Erin Neuenfeldt, a senior and captain of the University of South Carolina beach volleyball team, that she would be playing for a top 20 ranked team she would have laughed. “When Mo approached me with the opportunity to be on the beach team I was nervous about going into the unknown with someone who had never been a head coach, but I had to trust him,” says Neuenfeldt.

“From the time he recruited me I knew he was a family man and how humble he was. Some coaches will change as soon as you commit to their program but Mo never did which is the reason I took the leap of faith to switch from indoor volleyball to the beach team,” she says. The nickname “Mo” comes from Moritz’s players and friends in an effort to shorten his given name of Moritz Moritz. But this distinctive name is well known across the country to referees, players, and coaches of indoor and beach volleyball.

Spring 2017 marks the beginning of the team’s fourth season. Faith in Moritz has led the beach team at South Carolina into the top 20 programs in collegiate volleyball.

The team began their quest for success in the 2013-2014 season when they went 5-12. “We were just happy to be winning games,” says Moritz. But then with a dramatic turn of events they went 14-7 in their second year. The team ended last season 20-16 overall. “Hard work is important and it’s ok to fail – in my mind if you aren’t putting the effort forward to stretch your limits than you aren’t getting better or even allowing yourself that chance for growth. I believe that everything has its place and that thru relentless pursuit and focus we can find improvement. At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about – striving and working to get and be better,” says Moritz.

Assistant Coach R.J. Abella, attributes these past few years to the coaching duos way of hurdling obstacles head on. “Moritz does a good job of finding a way to get it done. There’s no blueprint to run things. If there’s an obstacle in front of us lets find a way to get around it,” says Abella. This ties well with the reoccurring theme of “the big picture” that many of the coach’s former players and friends say he stresses.

“His greatest strength as a coach is looking at the big picture. We have a lot of goals both broad and specific but at the end of the day it’s about the big picture and setting a sound foundation,” says Neuenfeldt.

“Mo has taught us that without building relationships and investing in the small things we won’t be able to progress so I think by him starting this program slow is also how we’ve progressed so quickly.”

Beach volleyball isn’t Moritz’s first language. He bounced around club and assistant indoor volleyball jobs in California, Colorado, and Idaho before settling down at South Carolina as a defensive specialist with the indoor team for one year before being asked to be head coach for the beach team. Abella says that Moritz is all about personal growth. While beach volleyball programs all over the country are growing, he enjoys seeing his very own grow here at USC.

Moritz is married his wife Kevann after meeting her while he was at Colorado State. They have two children, Curren, 6 and Gracyn, 4. “This program was an infant when he first got the job, so he gets to see his kids grow up while at the same time getting to see his program grow up,” says Abella. He’s not lying when he says he’s watching the program grow from birth. While this spring will be the team’s fourth year, the 2016 season marked the sports first as a NCAA sponsored championship sport.

Paige Wheeler, a former indoor and beach player as well as former assistant coach for the beach team, says she owes a lot to Moritz. “My life would absolutely have been different without Mo. If he hadn’t joined South Carolina, who knows where Gamecock beach volleyball would be? And if it weren’t for him, I may not have switched to beach full time,” says Wheeler. Being that beach volleyball is such a young sport many didn’t know how well the program would fare. Much like Neuenfeldt, Abella was also skeptical of joining such a young and unpracticed program. “I climbed the Division I coaching ladder very quickly with indoor so to go to the beach side with Moritz was honestly a big gamble, he says.

Moritz got his team to where they are now by hard work. Wheeler goes on to say, “One of his greatest strengths is the kind of leader he is. You don’t see many coaches like Mo. At 7 a.m. before a home tournament, he is the first one on the beach courts raking to make sure they are perfect come game time and he’s out there with the student volunteers.”

A reoccurring theme in Moritz’s attitude is life beyond volleyball. Abella mentions that he’s been lucky to work under many great coaches but like most sports those coaches were extremely structured while Moritz urges his staff and players to “leave the office” or in this case – the court. “He talks to us a lot about being good people before being a good athlete. Being a good student, friend, eventual mother and wife, those things are important to him. Personal development is big for us,” says Neuenfeldt.

“Service and selflessness,” is what Moritz says he stresses to his team. “At the end of the day it’s about what you give and not what you take,” he says. His peers recognize him as a humble but philosophical guy, something he would never admit to. “He always says before enlightenment chop wood, after enlightenment chop wood,” says Neuenfeldt. It’s a phrase she says she’ll keep with her along with all the other “Moritz-isms” the team is told on a daily basis.

“He grew up so much differently than I did. Such a free spirit while I was so structured. But somehow it works. The girls respond to and respect him because he treats them as equals and his knowledge comes out so fluidly. It’s not like he’s boasting about how much he knows,” says Abella.

Donohue is a public relations senior

Making It In The Golf World

Lauren Dunbar swings her golf club as she tee's off on hole #1. Photo by Alex Williams
Lauren Dunbar swings her golf club as she tee’s off on hole #1.
Photo by Alex Williams

By Alex Williams

Waking up every morning and going straight to the golf course is her favorite thing to do. Lauren Dunbar has been playing the game of golf ever since she can remember. Ever since the age of 5 to be exact. She is now 23 and pursuing a professional golf career. Lauren Dunbar says it is hard for her to imagine herself not playing the game.

“I’ve been playing for so long now, I feel like it’s all I know”, says Dunbar.

She owes her love of the game to her dad and her grandfather. Dunbar says, “They pretty much gave me a kid’s golf club when I was little and I never seemed to put it down after that.” She practiced all the time and started to take lessons and began to get serious. Dunbar’s dad, Greg Dunbar says, “I was so happy she was pretty good because that meant I had a playing partner all the time.”

Fast forward to her playing golf for her high school, the A.C. Flora Falcons in Columbia. Ultimately the team won the state championship. “That was such an exciting time for me, and winning that gave me so much confidence.” Dunbar was a senior in high school when they won that title and was on her way to play college golf. She was set to spend her next four years at Wofford College where she was going to play for the terriers.

Getting to Wofford was not an easy task. Just ask Dunbar’s mother, Lisa Dunbar. “That was a very long and hard process, with going through all the recruiting,” she says. She explains everything about the recruiting process. It meant going to out-of-town tournaments and sending videos to colleges. But it was all worth it in the end, because Lauren Dunbar played college golf on a hefty scholarship. She was just about 90 minutes away from home, which her mom was happy about.

Dunbar says, “While I was so excited to play golf at Wofford, it was a lot to juggle at first.” Team workouts were held very early in the morning along with weekend trips for away matches. She was able to do it and even joined a sorority her sophomore year.

College flew by. “I was either playing golf, going to class or hanging out with friends, and sometimes it felt like a blur.” Next thing Dunbar knew, she was graduating from Wofford. Dunbar recalls that as a scary time. “I knew I wanted to push the golf thing a little farther, but I kept wondering if I could actually do it.”

After graduation Dunbar moved back home to Columbia so she could play golf and save money. She worked to earn a little money, but she focused on her golf game. She also goes to an instructor in Greenville several times a month for help.

Becoming a professional female golfer is not easy, and takes dedication. There are many steps to be taken to reach the Ladies Professional Golf Association status. Very few people make it to that level right away. Dunbar says, “Right now I am technically in what they call Q-School and I hope to keep moving up.”

The LPGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, or “Q-School”, is the starting point. This is a way for up and coming female golfers to make a name for themselves. It involves multiple stages that provide a way for the players to ultimately make it to the LPGA.

Dunbar was set to go through the first round in fall 2015, and she did not make it. “Obviously I was disappointed I wasn’t able to move on but I knew that I could keep practicing and shoot for next year,” said Dunbar. And that is what she did.

So when fall 2016 came around Dunbar was ready for round one of Q-School. She was able to make it past that first step this time. “That moment right there made it so worth it for me because it solidified what I had been doing for the past few years.” But she wasn’t done; she was on to round two.

Dunbar had another person helping her and in her corner this go around. She had a caddy. It worked out so that a retired family friend could help Dunbar and go on the road with her. Pat Crowley was the one. “I was more than happy to help Lauren out; I am an avid golf guy and wish nothing more than to see this young lady go all the way,” Crowley says.

Unfortunately Dunbar did not make the cut to go on to the next step, but she was able to take something out of it. By making it past the first stage, Dunbar is able to compete on the Symetra Tour. That is essentially a mini tour within the LPGA. That means she can still compete and look to climb the ladder to where she wants to be.

Dunbar has moved out on her own and returned to Spartanburg, where she spent those four years in college. “It felt like the right time to move on out; the golf courses suit me better anyways in Sparkle City,” she says.

Williams is a mass communications senior