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Craft Revival Project receives funding from Cherokee foundation

The Cherokee Preservation Foundation recently awarded $87,700 to Western Carolina University’s Craft Revival Project to continue the university’s Cherokee crafts documentation project.

Following its initial year, which explored Cherokee baskets and basket makers, the second year of the project will focus on Cherokee potters and pottery during the first part of the 20th century. The project includes research on handcrafts made by tribal elders at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual.

The project’s primary goals are to provide documentation of early 20th-century Cherokee pottery, disseminate new educational information, build an online database of images and develop lesson plans to promote a better understanding of the role and impact of Cherokee crafts in Western North Carolina.

With the funding, the project staff will create a museum-level inventory system of the permanent collection at Qualla Arts and Crafts, photograph pottery in the collections, scan historic photographs of potters and pottery, and create individual records for each item photographed and scanned. In addition, the project staff will document the lives of the potter elders. The project plan also includes printing copies of a guidebook on Cherokee pottery. The guidebook follows one on Cherokee baskets and is second in the “From the Hands of Our Elders” series.

For more information about the project contact Anna Fariello at 828.227.2499 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Bardo declines nomination

Western Carolina University Chancellor John Bardo will not be among the pool of candidates being considered for president of the University of Cincinnati, he announced at a university board of trustees meeting June 5.

The fact that his name was among those under consideration had come as a surprise to Bardo, an alumni of the school. Bardo’s name appeared on a list of candidates compiled by the presidential search committee at Cincinnati.

“I did not ask to be nominated and did not apply,” Bardo said.

Bardo said he was honored to be considered by the search committee, and added that the decision to apply for a top position as president of another university was a serious one.

“This is not like moving from Burger King to Hardees working the cash register,” Bardo told the board of trustees. “If you’re in a role like this, you have to think seriously about applying for a position.”

At this point in time, however, leaving WCU is not something Bardo would consider, he said.

“I’m not going to think about that right now. What I am going to think about is WCU, the budget, and serving the people of this great state,” said Bardo.

Survey sheds light on WCU student vision for Cullowhee

What’s a college without a college town?

It’s an almost unimaginable scenario to those who love the unique, quirky places that grow up around major universities. But it’s very much the reality when it comes to Western Carolina University and the community that houses it, Cullowhee.

Despite its proximity to the college, students hardly frequent the commercial district. Not that there’s much to draw people in — a Mexican restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, a barber and an auto repair shop are about the only things there, and the storefronts badly need an update.

“It’s an eyesore,” says Chris Blake, a WCU assistant English professor and co-chair of the group Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE). “If you drive through, you’ll see a number of broken signs. There are no sidewalks, no streetlights. Cullowhee is dark at night.”

The community’s appearance is a major deterrent to potential student business that’s just a stone’s throw away.

“Cullowhee is the backdoor of Western, and there is right now a disconnect between the university and the town,” says Blake. “Students don’t go to Cullowhee to do much at all.”

CuRvE’s goal is to help breathe some life back into the community. But where to begin?

“What would students like to see in Cullowhee, and what would bring them down to the area?” Blake’s group asked themselves. “We want to revitalize Cullowhee, but to do so, we need to know what it would take and what kind of changes they want to be made. If we can’t get students involved, I don’t know if it can happen.”

Enter political science professor Todd Collins. Together, the men came up with an idea to survey the student body and ask what they’d like to see in Cullowhee.

“We had been needing the data for some time, and we just did not have the means to collect it or the resources to do so,” says Blake. “Todd had the perfect connection, because his group of students is involved in survey work. This was the perfect fit.”

Collins’ students were game. They knew firsthand how students felt about Cullowhee.

“We get Chinese takeout every once in a while and we love (the Mexican restaurant), but other than that, we don’t really spend much time down there,” said Caroline Wright, a sophomore political science major. “We don’t even really drive that way.”

Collins’ classes created a 26-question survey to gauge just how students felt Cullowhee could be improved.

“We thought about what questions we wanted to be asked,” says Katy Elders, also a sophomore political science major.

Asking the students what they wanted out of Cullowhee was an approach that hadn’t been tried before.

“This is the first time anybody had tried to do any survey of the student body as a whole, and reach out and talk to students collectively,” says Collins.


Students speak

The response was overwhelming. Close to 1,100 took part in the survey, which was sent out through email. It was totally voluntary — students didn’t get a prize for participating.

“I was shocked,” said Elders. “There was more response than we’ve had for other surveys on campus.”

“I was really surprised by the number of people who had things to say other than, ‘I want a bar, or ‘I want a Burger King,’” Elders says. “There were some really long, really well-developed answers, with many people saying we like the way that Cullowhee is, and we don’t want it to lose its small-town appeal.”

The survey shed some light on how often students frequent Cullowhee businesses and their opinions about the area’s current state.

Students overwhelmingly felt that Cullowhee’s appearance could use an overhaul. About 70 percent said the appearance of businesses and buildings “needs lots of improvement,” while close to zero said that it “needs no improvement.”

Some students wrote that they didn’t feel safe in the area.

“Some said they’re afraid to go there at night because it’s dark, and not well lit,” said Collins.

When asked how frequently students use the businesses in Old Cullowhee, just 11.5 percent said they do so weekly. Most students — 32 percent — said they never use the town’s businesses. Of those who live on campus, closest to the Cullowhee commercial district, 38 percent never go there.

Yet students would be willing to go to the area if there was something to offer. Seventy-two percent said they’d frequent the area weekly if new businesses were developed there.

Simply improving the area’s appearance will attract students, according to the survey.

“Students said they’d be twice as likely to use businesses if they were just cleaned up,” Elders says.

An improved look could have further-reaching benefits, students seemed to think.

“A lot of students mentioned that they thought a nicer Cullowhee area would help with student retention, and keeping students around here on weekends,” says Collins. “It also may provide more jobs.”


Smart growth

But although students indicated they’d like more offerings in Cullowhee, they’re picky about what businesses set up shop in town.

A surprising number preached smart growth, and said they don’t want to see chain stores come to the area.

“A lot of students mentioned smart growth,” says Collins. “They didn’t want huge chains and strip malls. A lot of people mentioned trying to keep the small-town feel of the area.”

Such opinions are in contrast to Chancellor John Bardo’s proposed plan to construct a “town center,” retail complex with shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and other businesses on 22 acres of WCU’s property. Bardo has mentioned the possibility of chains like Barnes and Noble and Moe’s Southwest Grill coming to the town center.

Faculty protested the idea of major chains inhabiting Cullowhee, saying such stores could make it harder for small, local businesses to survive. Elders, like many other students, shares faculty concern about the impact of chain stores.

“I personally don’t want to see a Chili’s or Applebee’s,” she said. “I think we already have a unique set of restaurants and shops here.”

Blake stressed that Cullowhee’s identity needs to be determined by the people that live there, not an outside corporation.

“Someone could come in from outside and say we’ll make this into a town that may not have the flavor of what Cullowhee is,” he says. “The identity needs to be unique to Cullowhee, not what someone thinks Cullowhee should be.”

The issue of alcohol proved to be divisive in the survey, largely because of the chain stores that could follow. Cullowhee is dry, and needs to incorporate as a town before it can allow alcohol to be served there. The survey didn’t specifically ask about bars or alcohol. It did ask students if they favored incorporation. The majority was in favor of it, and Collins thinks that was because they support bringing alcohol to the community.

In responses to open-ended questions, many students wrote about their desire to see bars in Cullowhee. Others opposed it, and the survey revealed two camps on either side of the issue.

“You have your whole big group that really wanted incorporation because they really want alcohol, and a bunch of people who want to see local businesses as opposed to chain restaurants and stores,” said Wright.


More outdoors

A number of students advocated taking advantage of what’s already there — namely, the area’s natural resources — and placing more of a focus on recreation.

Elders says that surprised her.

“There was a significant amount in favor of recreation activities, which I didn’t anticipate would equal the desire for restaurants and other businesses,” she says. “A lot of students are interested in hiking, tubing, and fishing.”

Specifically, many students expressed desire for better access to the Tuckasegee River that runs next to WCU’s campus. Currently, one must traipse through a hill of rocks and brush to get down to the river. An access point could allow for a canoe put-in, swimming, tubing and fishing in a convenient location. Elders says she and her friends routinely drive 20 or 30 minutes out of town for places to swim and fish.

Improving river access has been a long-held desire of CuRvE’s.

“Right now, students don’t use the river,” says Blake. “We have the potential to have something very similar to Cherokee, but it will take quit a bit of money.” The Oconaluftee River that runs through the nearby Cherokee Indian Reservation is a popular fishing and wading spot.


Tool for change

The survey results, the first of their kind, have the potential to be a powerful tool.

For example, said Collins, they could influence businesses to clean up their buildings, or they could help a business decide to relocate to the area by showing the untapped market that resides there. Or if a group is applying for grants to fund parks or greenways, the results are evidence of the number of people who would use them.

Plans are in the works for a second round of surveying, this time of residents in the area. For now, the survey seems to have prompted students to get on board. Many of them wrote that they’d like to volunteer in any revitalization effort.

“I just really hope that people realize we actually do care about what’s going on in the area, and that we’re not just stereotypical college students who only want to hang out and party,” Wright said.

She added that she’s personally optimistic about Cullowhee’s potential.

“It could use a little help, but I really do think that it has the potential to be a really cool little place in the mountains.”

Athletes aspire to pro ranks: Small university still packs big punch in spring sports

Western Carolina University softball star Mollie Fowler painfully remembers the day her shin broke in half playing shortstop.

She dove for a ball and collided with the second baseman’s cleat.

Drama like this plays out on the athletic fields at WCU almost daily, and with the springs sports season in full gear there is plenty of action to see.

Attending sporting events at Western can be an inexpensive outing during these tough economic times. Spectators have lots of options to choose from including baseball, tennis, track and field and golf.

The Smoky Mountain News spoke with the top athletes in each of the spring sports to learn a little bit about them, and some of them aspire to go pro.


Men’s and Women’s Track and Field

WCU track star Manteo Mitchell started running competitively in high school after he broke his arm playing football the second game of the season of his senior year. Prior to breaking his arm he said he had scholarship offers to play football at some of the top colleges, but was out of the picture after his injury.

The track coach at the high school thought he had a chance to get a scholarship for running. The coach was right, as Mitchell landed a scholarship to run track at WCU.

His track career at Western has been impressive, netting him school records in the 200- and 400-meter dashes.

Now his career at Western is coming to an end this semester, and he says he wants to run professionally.

“A lot of people think you can’t make a lot of money on the track professional circuit, but you can if you play your cards right,” Manteo said.

Manteo said his cousin is a professional runner who trains in Atlanta, was signed by Adidas, and ran in the Olympics in Beijing last summer.

He said his cousin was a part of the relay team that dropped the baton in the Olympics. It was not his cousin that dropped the baton though.

Manteo said his ultimate goal is to run in the Olympics. The next one will be in 2012, and he said he will still be young enough to compete.

He is inspired by himself and God to perform the best he can on the track, he said.

If going pro doesn’t work out, Manteo will have his degree in sports management with a concentration in athletic administration to fall back on. Going back to his old high school in Shelby to run the athletic program there might be fun, he said. But eventually he would like to work as an athletics administrator on the college level.

Unlike Manteo, women’s track and field star Janét Carothers does not have ambitions to go pro.

“I’m ready to get into the real world and get a job,” she said, adding her major is recreational therapy and parks and recreation management.

That is not to say she couldn’t make it if she tried. She has set two school records, and the team won the conference title last year.


Men’s and Women’s Golf

Hailing from Sweden Desiree Karlsson is one of the top players on the WCU women’s golf team. She has made herself comfortable as a Catamount athlete having been on the golf team for three years. She is one of three Swedish players on the team.

Universities in Sweden don’t have athletic programs for students, she said. So she visited Cullowhee and liked the small size of the university and the natural beauty of the Smokies.

“I liked the southern hospitality,” she said. “I’m not used to that.”

Karlsson, like track and field star Manteo, wants to go pro in her sport after she graduates. Her plan is to get on the Futures Tour or European Tour and try to work her way up to the LPGA, she said.

Playing golf professionally pays well, she said.

“If you’re in the top 20, you’re living good,” she said.

Since she was 14 she has been playing golf, but she joked that her dad had plans for her since birth.

“I took my first step with a plastic golf club,” she said.

The greatest accomplishment of her golf career so far is being named freshman of the year at WCU, she said.

Golf has also afforded her the opportunity to travel to England, Portugal, Spain and Italy to play in tournaments, she said.

To continue her successful career she needs to improve on her biggest weakness — bunker shots, while the best part is putting.

Golf is a mental game, she said, adding that she doesn’t curse much on the course but does play head games with herself. For instance, she has told herself that if she does not play well she will deny herself food, and it works.

As a woman golfer she has no problem admitting that men are better at the sport because they are stronger. But she said, “The women are getting better and showing they can beat male players.”

WCU men’s golf star Dustin Furnari also aspires to play pro golf. Furnari came to WCU from St. Augustine, Fla. and plans to go to South Florida after graduating this semester to play professionally.

But he admits that it will be tough to make it on the pro tour and will get his master’s in business administration to fall back on.

Originally from Miami, where golf is king, Furnari grew up playing with his dad. Golf in the mountains is different compared to courses in Miami that have a lot of wind from the ocean, he said.

The golf courses in this area are nice, he said, noting that Tiger Woods was having a course built near Brevard and Phil Mickelson was having course named after him in Cashiers.

Furnari has hit two hole in ones in his career, and can drive it over 300 yards, but the key to being a strong golfer is having a strong short game, hitting wedges and making putts, he said.



Right fielder J.C. Lyons hopes to join two other WCU grads who are currently playing professional baseball.

Lyons, a senior from Marietta, Ga., is the team captain and spoke with The Smoky Mountain News on Sunday just after a 10-5 loss to Georgia Southern.

“Hopefully I’ll get to play pro ball,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get a shot at the draft in June.”

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jared Burton played for WCU from 2000-2002 and Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mark DiFelice was a Catamount between 1995-98, according to Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations Daniel Hooker.

A faithful man, Lyons said if it doesn’t work out it wasn’t in God’s plan, and he will apply his sports management degree. And if he doesn’t go pro, it’s not like he doesn’t have his glory days to look back on. The proudest moment of his baseball career to this point is being named team captain.


Budget Cuts

WCU tennis star Amanda Massey said state budget cuts mean the team doesn’t get new uniforms and travel is limited.

WCU Athletic Director Chip Smith agreed that travel has been cut back and instead of staying over night in hotels, teams are leaving the day of their matches. As the economic decline continues, the goal is to not cut any staff or scholarships, said Smith.

The WCU athletic program has a budget of about $6 million, he said.

WCU announces faculty layoffs

Under a budget cut scenario announced last Friday (March 13), 31.75 employees will be laid off from Western Carolina University due to state budget cuts.

WCU is anticipating the state cutting the university’s appropriation by $7.64 million, or 8 percent, due to the national economic downturn.

State appropriations make up half of the university’s budget.

The university’s Board of Trustees met on Friday for its regular quarterly meeting and discussed the budget cuts.

Chancellor John Bardo said the university needs to come out of the budget crisis a more focused and stronger institution. The university also needs to maintain the quality of the student experience, he said.

Cutting employees is difficult, Bardo said.

“These are real people,” Bardo said. “They’re not just jobs.”

Many of his staff members are laying awake at night thinking about the people who are going to lose their jobs, Bardo said.

The chancellor said one of his goals was to not lay off any of the blue collar workers on campus. Those workers come from Swain, Macon, Jackson and Haywood counties and their entire families are associated with the institution, Bardo said.

Staff Senate Chair Jed Tate said an emergency assistance program to help laid off workers may be established. Tate said he thinks the administration did the best it could to make the cuts with as few layoffs as possible.

Tate added that those who will be laid off will be notified this week.

Overall, 92 jobs were eliminated campus-wide, but 53.75 of those were already vacant.

Another 6.5 positions currently funded by the state will be transferred to a category of employment supported by student fees or other sources of funding. The remaining positions are currently filled, and those employees will be laid off.

That number could change, however.

“This is a dynamic number that is changing constantly,” said Chuck Wooten, vice chancellor for administration and finance. “Consequently, these numbers could go up or down as we finalize the budget reduction.”

The university employs 1,550.

The college of arts and sciences is taking the largest cuts with 14.10 faculty positions being eliminated, followed by the business school with 13 jobs being cut. It is unclear how many of those jobs are currently vacant.

The education department will have eight jobs cut, fine and performing arts 4.6, health and human sciences seven and the Kimmel School of Engineering three. It is unclear how many of those jobs are currently vacant.

Programs are also being eliminated and suspended, including the Institute for the Economy and the Future; Clinical Lab Sciences Program; Summer Ventures Program; Legislator’s School; and the Reading Center.

In response to questions of why construction is continuing on campus while jobs are being cut, Bardo said he can’t take money out of the construction budget for operations under state rules. The construction projects are one-time expenditures approved by the university system, while staff expenses are recurring.

The cuts at the university are “targeted” rather than across-the-board, Bardo said.

Administration and Finance is cutting 17.6 positions. Of those 15.1 are currently vacant and 2.5 will be transferred to other areas, said Wooten.

Bardo said the next step is to meet with deans this week to begin implementing the cuts.


Applications increase

While Western Carolina University is having to layoff employees and cut programs to deal with budget cuts, applications to WCU have surged.

WCU applications are up 103 percent over the same time last year. So far this year more than 12,000 applications have been received.

Most of those are freshmen applications. The university can only handle about 1,600 freshmen due to requirements that they must live on campus.

The poor economy makes enrollment difficult to predict, Bardo said. It could cause more students to attend Western because it is more affordable than other schools, Bardo said. But at the same time fewer students may be able to afford school.

Bardo said he has been in higher education since 1973 and can’t recall another year like this one in which it was so difficult to predict enrollment.

Currently there are about 9,050 students enrolled at the university.

Increased enrollment won’t offset the budget cut likely to come down from the state, Bardo said. It would take an additional 10,500 students to cover a 7 percent budget cut, he said.

Building better, conserving energy

Western Carolina University is leading the way in a state mandate to cut energy production on college campuses.

WCU has already reached the state target of reducing energy consumption by 30 percent by the year 2015, making it the first and only university to reach the goal so far.

WCU Energy Manager Lauren Bishop, who has led efforts to reduce energy consumption on campus, organized last week’s fair on energy and the environment. The goal of the fair was to promote sustainability, which she defined as “meeting the needs of today without compromising future generations.”

The university is doing the best it can to reduce its energy consumption, Bishop said. While WCU had a $4.8 million utility bill last year, that’s $600,000 lower than it had been — a reduction achieved by using natural gas instead of petroleum and taking other steps such as using electric vehicles.

During the fair, WCU Chancellor John Bardo touted WCU’s energy reduction accomplishments. The 30 percent cut in fossil fuel consumption was based on 2002-2003 levels.

Universities account for 52 percent of the state governments total energy use, according to Reid Conway, program manager for the state Energy Office in Asheville, who served as keynote speaker at the event.

North Carolina ranks 12th in energy consumption and is expected to see a 28 percent increase in energy use between 2005 and 2020.

About $200 million was spent on energy in state buildings in 2006.

The state consumed 180.9 million barrels of oil in 2006, he said.

Conway believes the state will make progress thanks to a new law passed by the state legislature that requires power companies to get 3 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2012 and 12.5 percent by 2021. Using renewable resources such as wind, thermal, geothermal and biomass, can improve air quality, Conway said.

More efficient building codes and water conservation also need to be employed in the state to help the environment, he said.

People should be encouraged to conserve energy because it costs $3,555 a year for a family making $10,000 to $30,000, he said.

Bardo pledges to defer to deans

Western Carolina University Chancellor John Bardo in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News last week said that he is distancing himself from the budget cut process.

He said he is leaving it up to a “cadre of deans” and the provost to come up with areas that could be cut.

He also said, “My finance guy is going through and looking at everything.”

By having the deans and provost handle the budget cuts rather than himself, he said it is a step toward “decentralizing” the university, which he said needs to be done if WCU grows as much as he thinks it will in the next 15 to 20 years.

A lot of the decisions will be “done away from me,” Bardo said.

Bardo noted that some teachers could lose their jobs. “If we get a 5 to 7 percent cut, there will be layoffs,” Bardo said.

Minimizing the cost of athletic programs is a way the university can save money, Bardo said, adding that the band may not need to go on every sports trip.

To hold down costs, a new position to oversee development of Millennial Initiative projects has been eliminated because it is not considered “mission critical,” Bardo said.

Bardo said the university is trying to be judicious in deciding what is and is not critical. For instance, he said the position of chief diversity officer will remain.

WCU in ‘flux’ as it braces for state budget cuts

Proposed budget cuts at Western Carolina University are beginning to affect students like Will Furse, who says he won’t graduate on time if summer classes are cut.

The senior construction management student knows he has little influence over the situation.

“There’s nothing that can be done,” he said. “That’s what sucks.”

If it were left up to Furse he said he would cut pay for executives, but doubts Chancellor John Bardo will see it that way.

Bardo has asked each department to come up with scenarios that trim their budgets by 3, 5 and 7 percent. Bardo is preparing the university for state budget cuts likely coming down the pipe, although no one knows yet exactly how much that could be. Bardo wants the scenarios back by March 1.

While Bardo has pledged to defer to the recommendations of deans, the cuts likely mean the loss of professors, which translates to fewer classes and larger class sizes for the courses that are left.

The scenarios will be presented to the university’s Strategic Planning Committee for feedback, said WCU Provost Dr. Kyle Carter in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News.

The university will remain in a holding pattern, however, until state budget cuts — and the federal stimulus package — shake out. Bardo said he will be making a trip to the legislature this week to learn more about the proposed budget cuts.

Until there is a firm number passed down from the state, the university is in “flux,” said Bardo. By coming up with different scenarios of what might happen, hopefully people won’t be surprised, Bardo said.

“We’re trying to be as straight as we can with folks,” he said.

Bardo in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News last week that “A campus is only as good as its faculty,” but layoffs will likely be unavoidable.

“Depending on the magnitude of the budget reduction we could see layoffs,” Carter said.

Some teachers on year-to-year contracts have already been told they might not have a job next year, Carter said.

“My English teacher told me last week she might lose her job,” said Vanessa Abney, a junior. “A lot of teachers are being let go. My friend told me his teacher in theater got fired.”

Losing teachers is hard on students, Abney said.

“Some of us get close to our professors,” she said.

The class schedule for fall 2009 has already been put together with the assumption that there would be fewer faculty and larger class sizes. The current plan calls for 7 to 10 percent fewer classes than this year, Carter said.

Some teachers on year-to-year contracts don’t have their names on the new schedule and they take that to mean they don’t have a job. But if the budget situation improves, WCU will go back and add classes and keep teachers on board, Carter said.

Student Pamela King said if teachers are laid off at the end of the year it will mean larger class sizes, which she would dislike. Even if class sizes increase, WCU will still have smaller classes than most other schools in the state, Carter said. Fifty percent of WCU’s classes are capped at 35 or less, he said.

Carter said the university is “doing all it can” to protect the quality of education. He said the cuts will not be across the board but targeted and that no final plans or decisions have been made, despite some professors being left off the fall class schedule.

There are 582 full-time faculty at WCU. Under a 7 percent budget cut, 31 of them could be laid off, Carter said. He would not identify specific departments that may be cut, saying he would prefer to tell the faculty before they read it in the newspaper.

WCU receives about $95.5 million from the state annually, Carter said. Carter said the stimulus bill may help the state with Medicaid costs, improving the state’s budget situation and lessening the blow of cuts. The hope is that there is a clear picture of the stimulus bill in about a month.

Among other unknowns: Carter wonders what effect the economy will have on students enrolling in college, saying some may hold back because they can’t afford the tuition of $4,400 for in state and about $13,600 for out of state.

The university has already enacted one round of cuts after the state pulled 6 percent of the budget, or $5.7 million. The university is dealing with that by cutting travel, postponing purchases and leaving vacancies open.

Nonetheless, a new dining hall and residence hall remain under construction on campus because those buildings are paid for by fees generated by housing and meals, not state money.

WCU Cherokee studies professor wins Oklahoma book award

Robert Conley, the Sequoyah Distinguished Professor of Cherokee Studies at Western Carolina University, is winner of the 2009 Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Oklahoma Center for the Book.

An enrolled member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, Conley is a noted scholar and prolific author, with poems, short stories, articles and 80 books of fiction and nonfiction to his credit.

The Oklahoma Center for the Book, a state affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, encourages interest in books and reading. Named for the center’s first president, the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award is given annually and honors Oklahomans who have contributed to the state’s literary heritage. Past winners include Joy Harjo, S.E. Hinton, N. Scott Momaday and Tony Hillerman.

For more information about the Cherokee studies program at Western Carolina University, call 828.227.2306.

Singing and dancing songs of joy: African Children’s Choir comes to WCU

Bright colors, vibrant beats and contagious joy flood the room as the African Children’s Choir performs, and their boundless energy is heading to Western Carolina University Jan. 28.

The children from Uganda are eager to educate the audience with cheerful songs and theatrical moments as they share their culture in song and dance with a spirit of hope despite their hardships.

The choir is comprised of vulnerable and needy children, many who are orphans and have lost their parents to poverty and disease.

During Uganda’s bloody civil war in 1984, human rights activist Ray Barnett was compelled to help thousands of orphans and starving children who were abandoned and helpless.

Determined to share the dignity, beauty and unlimited ability of the children he met, Barnett created the choir 25 years ago after hearing a small boy sing. Barnett’s goal was to help the children break away from the cycle of poverty and despair.

Initially, the children traveled from Uganda to tour North American church communities, and now they perform internationally in many different venues, secular and sacred.

While touring the impoverished African children are exposed to a world of new possibilities.

The first proceeds of the choir’s tour funded an orphanage in Kampala, Uganda from which the second African Children’s Choir was chosen.

To date over 700 orphaned and needy children have shared their voices of joy and hope through the African Children’s Choir.


Former choir child

Among those voices was Prossy Nakiyemda who sang in the choir in 1995 at the age of 12.

Prossy means “preparation for Good Friday” in Luganda, and now at the age of 25 she is the music director of the African Children’s Choir.

She sings two solos during the concert including “Shadowland,” from the musical “The Lion King” as well as a South African song.

After two years in the choir, she completed her primary level of education and was chosen to go on tour again in high school.

In 2006, she graduated with a degree in journalism and creative writing.

Working as the musical director her duties include teaching 14 girls and 12 boys ranging from ages 8 to 10 to educate the audience about Africa through song and choreography.

There have been changes in the choir since Nakiyemda first performed. With so many differences in the music industry, the choir has become a more theatrical production, Nakiyemda said.

In their performance the children demonstrate how six different African nations dance, sing and dress. Nakiyemda noted the children share “this is how Uganda dances” as well as “beautiful, colorful and joyous costumes.”

Nakiyemda has met a smorgasbord of who’s who among her travels including President George W. Bush as well as first lady Laura Bush several times at the White House.

Nakiyemda has met Bill Clinton among other celebrities including Wyclef Jean, Shakira, Michael W. Smith and Mariah Carey.

The choir has recently recorded songs with Smith, and Nakiyemda was very excited to meet Carey having listened to her songs since she was a teen.


The singing selection

Before being chosen to be a part of the choir, the children attend a Music for Life camp.

Camp activities include games, crafts, music and devotions providing them a break from the daily adversity, including disease and poverty, they face at home.

As the children are selected, the choir teams visit their homes to better understand their needs and suitability for the tour.

After choosing the next group of children who will perform in the choir, the members spend about five months at the Choir Training Academy in Kampala, Uganda where they learn the songs, dances they will perform as well as attend school and church and play.

During their time at the academy, the children’s personalities and talents blossom as they are cared for in an environment that fosters knowledge and freedom of expression.

Breaking the cycle of poverty, the choir is committed to helping the children succeed physically, spiritually, emotionally and academically.

Many former choir members are teachers, doctors, and business professionals.

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