Love INC descends on poverty through rappelling event

Reporting

This piece was featured on the front page of the digital edition of the Missourian as a centerpiece.

People walking or driving along Broadway or Cherry Street on Saturday might have noticed several figures dangling from the Tiger Hotel.

Window washers? Spiderman? Nope, just Gary Pinkel, Paul Pepper and other local daredevils.

Over 50 people rappelled 140 feet down the front of the Tiger Hotel to raise money for Love INC, a local nonprofit with the mission of helping impoverished Columbia residents. The event also featured inflatable slides, bounce houses and a food truck.

Love INC raised more than $60,000 by Saturday afternoon, which brought them within striking distance of their $80,000 goal.

“This is actually our first big fundraiser,” said Jane Williams, a co-founder of Love INC. “I love the way this event is titled because we are trying to help people not go over the edge.”

The organization teamed up with the Tiger Hotel — which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year — and Over the Edge, an adventure experience company that works with charities and nonprofits.

Williams said Love INC exists to help make life better for those who don’t have the means to do it immediately for themselves. She was one of the first to make the descent, along with former MU football head coach Gary Pinkel and local TV legend Paul Pepper.

“I’m not sure I would do it if I could see,” said Williams, who lost her eyesight five years ago. Williams set a fundraising goal of $10,000 for herself — the highest goal of the campaign — which was reached when she was in a harness halfway down the hotel.

Williams said the fundamental message of Saturday’s event and Love INC is simple, yet universal: Help those in need however you can.

“Poverty is complicated,” Williams said. “Sometimes they need a person, sometimes they need a car.”

Mike DeSantis, Love INC’s mobilization director, said Over the Edge reached out to the organization during their search for a fundraising opportunity, and he could tell right away that it was exactly the type of experience they were looking for.

“This is a little wild and willy, and so are we,” DeSantis said, adding that most of the event’s volunteers are Love INC coaches who work directly with people in need.

In order to rappel down the front of the hotel, people who signed up had to raise at least $1,000.

A crowd of community members acted as a cheering section for those tasked with going down the building as families flooded the street Saturday afternoon. Onlookers also had the chance to take a slightly less intimidating trip down a 27 feet tall, 120 feet long inflatable slide.

Greg DeLine, president of Love INC’s board of directors, said the organization’s goals come straight from the heart.

Williams said plenty of problems that might seem small to people who are better off can close doors to those struggling with poverty — things like not knowing how to file taxes or find a consistent job.

She said the guidance Love INC provides is similar to the support she received in rappelling down the Tiger Hotel.

“I’m up there, I’m totally blind; (the help is) exactly what people need sometimes,” Williams said.

DeSantis said the nonprofit has also created a fund in tandem with banks across the city to allow Columbia residents access to zero percent loans.

However, he said, Love INC does more than just provide people with financial assistance.

“We sit down with people and interview them for an hour or two to get to know them,” said DeSantis, who frequently works with the organization’s volunteers.

Williams said it’s clear that people who say those in poverty should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” don’t work directly with the type of people who are helped by Love INC or understand what they are going through.

“What I did today wasn’t half as courageous as the people we work with every day,” Williams said.

In the following days, the post received a barrage of comments, some in support of the idea and some against it. And on Monday, Sycamore posted again, canceling the offer because of “the threat of legal action in response to our voter promotion” and thanking customers for their support.

A big pair of scissors makes it official: Grant’s massive renovation is history

Reporting

This piece was featured on the front page of both the print & digital editions of the Missourian as a centerpiece.

A song rang out Friday morning through Grant Elementary School’s packed gymnasium as a chorus of all ages celebrated a recently completed addition:

“We are one, standing hand in hand,” they sang.

In addition to Grant’s 300 or so students and their teachers and staff members, the event drew a vibrant range of guests: an alumna from 80 years ago, construction workers who labored on the yearlong project, Columbia City Council and Chamber of Commerce members, parents, former teachers and residents of the South Garth Avenue neighborhood.

In the moments leading up to the ribbon-cutting — complete with the requisite pair of oversized scissors — teachers and students did a call-and-response rendition of the school’s unifying motto: “I am Grant School.”

“It’s beautiful, it’s so beautiful,” said Betty Kemper, who attended Grant in 1935 and 1936 and happens to be the grandmother of school principal Jen Wingert.

Kemper, a former Hickman High School teacher, said her family has a long history with Grant, and she still lives “just down the road.”

After the ceremony, alumni and guests were invited into the school’s new cafeteria, where they were shown a sneak preview of a documentary about the construction made by Grant’s fifth-graders. It was produced with the help of Columbia Access Television and will be more widely shown at a later date.

Among those highlighted in the documentary were Brian and Mitch Stockman of Little Dixie Construction, who were honored at the ceremony for helping make the construction process a learning experience.

“One of the first things I remember is a kid coming up to me and saying, ‘Hey, when are you gonna get done with my playground?’” Brian Stockman said, adding the student couldn’t have been older than 5.

That was only one example of the extent to which Little Dixie became a part of the Grant community last year, Mitch Stockman said. He recalled a day he got to read a book about construction to a roomful of first-graders; the students had picked out the book, and it just happened to have equipment they were seeing outside their windows — cranes, plaster casts and the like.

“I cannot emphasize enough the community’s support for this school,” said guest Robert Winkelmann, whose two daughters attended Grant and who plans to volunteer there.

During tours of the new space, alumni frequently popped in and said hello to classes, pointing out rooms in which they used to learn and play.

On display in the front entrance are two desks from Grant’s original building, circa 1910, complete with intricately designed iron legs and inkwells.

Grant’s historic addition totaled $5.6 million, which voters approved as part of a 2014 bond issue, and included a new playground, cafeteria and kitchen, several classrooms and two elevators.

Four trailer classrooms are now part of Grant’s history — having been hauled away and put up for sale.

Kavanaugh hearing brings back painful memories for local survivors

Reporting

This story was written with the help of two other reporters. I conducted all of the interviews with the survivors.

For some survivors of sexual assault, the way Christine Blasey Ford’s story has progressed is all too familiar.

“The process she’s gone through these past few weeks is exactly what it’s like,” MU student Rachael Diehm said.

Diehm said the grueling criticism and character attacks Ford has endured throughout the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh remind her of why she had trouble speaking up about her own assault.

“I think everyone who comes forward like this knows what they’re getting into,” Diehm, 20, said, adding that she didn’t talk to anyone about what happened to her until she got to college.

A 21-year-old MU student who said she is a survivor of multiple sexual assaults agreed, saying that she wants to know what’s going on in the news but that it’s hard to relive her experience through Ford’s account and the ensuing response to the allegations.

The recent coverage “dredges up the same memories of not being believed,” she said.

The student, who wished to remain anonymous, said she has noticed a change in dialogue in recent years as more men show support for women, and more women continue to share their stories.

Diehm said the problem is now being better addressed, but that doesn’t mean everyone with a sexually traumatizing experience will speak out.

“The ones who come forward, it’s not because they don’t have those fears; it’s because they’re facing them,” Diehm said, adding that part of what made it so hard to speak out is her small hometown is one where everyone knows each other and news travels fast.

“I think visibility is important. Just talking about it, like, making sure people can’t ignore this. Because it’s a problem people face every day,” Diehm said.

There has been an increase in discussions about sexual harassment and sexual assault as a result of the #MeToo movement, MU spokeswoman Liz McCune said in an email.

However, McCune said that she did not have enough information to specify whether there has been a recent increase in students looking for support regarding sexual violence in correlation with the allegations against Kavanaugh.

Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark also said in an email that the district does not have any data that would indicate the number of students recently seeking help, “nor could we correlate this to any specific national incident.”

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) stresses that reading others’ stories does not mean you are obligated to share your own.

RAINN has published other tips for survivors consuming media. These include “remembering that you are in control of the media you consume,” so if something is upsetting, there is no obligation to read or view it.

The organization also stresses the importance of talking to people you trust.

Jessica Henderson Daniel, president of the American Psychological Association, issued a statement that said sexual assault “is likely the most underreported crime in the United States. About two-thirds of female sexual assault victims do not report to the police, and many victims do not tell anyone.”

Daniel said that some memories can be recalled in excruciating detail, while others may be forgotten. “The American Psychological Association is concerned that public statements questioning the integrity of Dr. Ford and the veracity of her allegation due to her prior lack of reporting will make it even more likely that other sexual assault victims do not report their experiences,” she said.

Diehm said she doesn’t know if the Kavanaugh accusations will be taken seriously by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“And the thing is, the most shocking part I’ve seen is that even if it is true, a lot of people don’t care,” Diehm said.

Diehm said she has been affected by seeing the recent pushback regarding the Kavanaugh allegations. She said it reconfirms “personal fears of sharing stories like this.”

Dustin Knight, a senior at MU and survivor of sexual assault, said seeing the Kavanaugh accusation story in the news brought back difficult memories for him.

“Personally, this is an immediate trigger,” Knight said. “It brings back these emotional scars that I’ve of course dealt with, but it’s still there.”

Richard Sindel, president of Sindel Noble law firm in St. Louis, represents clients who have been accused of sexually violent crimes.

Sindel, whose firm handles cases in Columbia, is aware of how important it is to make his employees feel safe in the environment in which they work. He has seen examples of this importance as far back as 1991.

“I remember I was an attorney when Anita Hill came into testify, and we heard all that testimony,” he said, referring to Hill’s Senate testimony at the Supreme Court nomination hearing for Clarence Thomas. “We had a meeting at my office of all the staff — which was a fair number of women — to say, ‘Look, if this is going on, if we are joking around and kidding, but it is offensive, we need to know so we can address it.'”

Knight also emphasized the importance of talking about subjects like sexual assault and that coming forward is by no means an easy thing to do.

Diehm said it’s completely understandable when the costs outweigh the benefits.

“She was brave enough to come forward — most people can’t say that,” Diehm said of Ford. “It’s great that it can get to the top of everyone’s news feed. But, at the end of the day you have to wonder what she feels when she sees that too. Because that’s on her newsfeed, too. That’s trending on her Twitter,” Diehm said.

Trans ally workshop educates in a polarized time

Reporting

Here is a link to the published version of my story about Transgender Awareness Week.

A workshop helping people learn how to better support the transgender community kicked off national Trans Empowerment & Awareness Week on Monday, the day before highly anticipated midterm elections — the outcome of which may directly impact the transgender community.

On Oct. 21, President Donald Trump proposed legally changing the definition of gender to mirror that of sex. This would narrowly define gender as male or female based on physical characteristics present at birth, a determination that couldn’t be changed later. Such a change would effectively erase transgender people in the eyes of the United States government.

“We need cis people coming out for us. We need cis people standing up for us,” Espen Mullen, MU senior and treasurer of Oasis, a transgender support and advocacy group, said before the workshop. Cisgender refers to people whose gender identity corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth.

Mullen said the strained political climate makes it all the more important to outwardly support the trans community. He said the workshop was an opportunity to answer general questions people may have about the trans community.

“We have a lot of people who are really well-meaning within the LGBTQ community who aren’t trans, and they really want to show up for the trans community, and they don’t quite know how to do it, and they don’t know how to ask,” he said.

Participants moved through five stations focused on the following considerations:

  • What is gender?
  • How to use pronouns.
  • Who are trans people?
  • How to be accessible.
  • How to protest.

Mullen pointed out that cisgender people often fail to recognize many ways they can directly show support for the trans community; for example, sharing or asking for pronouns in everyday conversation, even between two people who aren’t members of the trans community. The workshop provided a chart of pronouns, such as she/her, they/them and ze/hir.

“OK, you might make somebody feel bad if you ask for their pronouns or if you try to set a tone that it’s OK to share pronouns. But, like, that’s it. That’s all it’s going to do. It’s only going to hurt someone’s feelings,” Mullen said.

“It’s important to start hurting people’s feelings because it brings into the social norm asking for pronouns, offering pronouns as something that’s not only transgender,” he said.

The Trump administration also has attempted to ban trans people from the military, roll back discrimination protections for transgender people and eliminate protections allowing people to use the restrooms that best correspond with their gender identity.

Mullen said that although these things usually don’t amount to official policy changes, the effects of the administration’s anti-trans rhetoric are becoming clearer every day.

“People who disagree with the transgender community’s existence — just us existing in public, going about our daily business — are more empowered by an explicit public acceptance of discriminating against transgender people,” Mullen said.

Writing the Monday Briefing

Newsletter

When I was selecting my editing shifts over winter break, I made sure to keep my eyes peeled for any potential opportunity to utilize writing. Luckily, I was assigned a daytime shift on Sundays and was placed in charge of writing the Monday briefing, a Missourian newsletter that gets sent to the inboxes of subscribers every week. Immediately, I knew this would be an incredible opportunity for me to help bridge the gap between the Missourian and our subscribers. Writing the newsletter afforded me the perfect chance to humanize our reader base and speak directly to them in a way we can’t do through regular stories. In fact, writing the newsletter gave me a better chance to engage with our audience than writing on social, even though social media is supposedly a direct platform. Because I had more space to work and my job was to aggregate, I was able to use my own voice as a writer to summarize and tell the week’s stories in a personal and human way. In particular, my favorite part of writing the newsletter was having the opportunity to create it on or around a special event. I figured this out early, as in the very first newsletter I wrote I began counting down the days until Valentine’s Day. With this method, I tried to find something each week that the readers could look forward to — something we can generally all use on a Monday morning. In the same vein, when I wrote a briefing that was released on April 1, I made an extra effort to include a silly joke that would ideally get a few chuckles out of our readers as they embark on their work week. As the semester went on, I got better at summarizing descriptions for stories and finding the right places to paraphrase. I also continued to get better at writing headlines as time went on, and became more comfortable including jokes, puns and lighthearted language in my brief descriptions for each story. I’m really going to miss sending a little piece of myself out to the public every week on behalf of the Missourian — I wonder if readers will notice when somebody else starts writing it.

Here are the links to the newsletter from every week so far excluding week 2, which I missed due to illness.

Constructing Effective Social Media Posts

Social Media

One of the many things I was tasked with doing this semester was creating social media posts for stories we wanted to be shared across the community. Creating a compelling social post takes a lot of experience reading the news — especially when it comes to stories with consequences within the community. In order to grab the attention of readers, who are scrolling faster and more mindlessly every day, posts on social media must be both creative and informative. As a copy editor, it’s important that I recognize what the most fascinating and important part of a story is. Once I’ve identified the quote, statistic or excerpt from the story I want to feature in the social post, it must be cut down to a size that allows it to be read quickly. I became better at more quickly identifying the most colorful parts of stories and bringing them front and center in a way that our readers couldn’t ignore. In many ways, the process for writing an effective social post is similar to that of writing an effective headline — the goal for both is essentially to capture the readers’ attention as quickly and concisely as possible. I will say that although the Missourian gets more digitally savvy every day, one thing we fall short on is an effective Twitter presence. Every time we Tweet, we post a link to the story we’re talking about, which doesn’t sound like an ineffective method. However, upon closer inspection, it’s clear that because we prioritize getting people to click on the link over interacting with the Tweet itself, we don’t often gain traction on Twitter at all. An exception would be the weather haiku, which is a good example of how people —people on Twitter, at least— prefer the Missourian’s “fun” side. Our Twitter account’s best use right now is that of a news aggregation source in that we retweet breaking news from community sources. However, as a publication we have the option to become that first source without trying to get people to click on the link. Building trust with the community is a two-way street, and because Twitter is such a casual digital medium I think the Missourian could be doing a better job of being present and human on the platform. The following are some of my best-performing social posts from the semester:

Post 1:

Finding the right part of this story to include in the social post was simpler than I initially thought. After scanning the story in-depth for good quotes and compelling statistics, it finally occurred to me that the most interesting part of this story was the novelty of it all. The fact that Boone County had no wind farms of this kind and the sheer amount of power that would be generated were two things that I knew would draw the attention of readers in and around Columbia. I also made sure to keep my description concise and informative, because I know the attention span of a Facebook scroller is not much longer than that of a goldfish.


Post 2:



This story probably did well both because of its content and the way I chose to promote it. In this instance, I decided to feature information within the social post that was not immediately clear from the headline alone. By tying the name Ian Thomas to the story, I made it easier for readers to connect the dots between this story and some of our older ones about potential corruption by the councilman. On top of that, by mentioning Thomas’ deal, I made a reference to previous reporting by the Missourian and tested people’s knowledge of the situation. If somebody were to see the Facebook caption and realize they don’t know the Ian Thomas deal being referenced, they might go back and find previous Missourian coverage of the story. People love hot gossip, and as far as city council goes, it doesn’t get much hotter than this.

Post 3:

I chose this story for social media because I remembered how shocked I was the first time I read the initial story, which was also reported by the Missourian. I was so taken aback that there was a full-functioning brothel seemingly right in the middle of town that I read the Missourian’s coverage of it over and over again. When I saw Manthe’s name pop up in another story, my heart jumped at another development in this story that has powerful local reach. Choosing which material from the story to include in this social post was much easier here, as I felt like all I really had to do was remind readers of exactly what Barry Manthe did, which was inundate women with drugs, impairing their decision making to the point where they were dependent on the establishment and couldn’t leave.

Post 4:

This story was the crown jewel of my social media work for the Columbia Missourian. This is the best example I have of the work I did making sure I read and absorbed the entire story, and selecting the most interesting part to feature in the social post. The headline and picture are very telling about the subject of the story, but they really don’t communicate the extent to which Missouri has fallen behind. When I saw the sentence citing the NCAA documents, I did a double-take. MU is a really important pillar of the community, and Columbia’s residents — students and otherwise — care about the University and its reputation. Columbians also most certainly care when the university misleads the public, and framing the truth in a way that left the university exposed garnered excellent viewership and engagement numbers.