Boys and Girls club provides home away from home

by Marlena Chertock, November 18, 2009

Program Director Xylda Gee tutors Josh, a fourth-grade student at the Boys and Girls Club. Photo by Lauren Ramsdell.

Several elementary and middle school children scribble away at their homework. Some shift in their seats, while others draw pictures on their papers instead of completing their math problems. After a few minutes of restfulness, one child cracks a joke and the entire room bursts out in laughter.

This is a typical Thursday afternoon for Xylda Gee, or as the kids call her, Mrs. Gee. Gee is the program director at the Burlington Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club. She is one of the three full-time staff members at the club.

The Boys and Girls Club has been around since the mid-1950s, Executive Director Sherri Henderson said. The building in Burlington was constructed in 1979.

The club acts as an after school care program for children in the community. Salvation Army buses pick up children from 11 elementary and middle schools in the surrounding area, Monday through Friday from 2:30 – 6 p.m. The club takes care of high school-age children as well, though it does not have a pickup program in place for them.

Gee has worked at the Boys and Girls Club for almost 15 years, long enough to have seen many of the children she works with grow up.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with children,” she said.

Gee said the best part of working at the club is getting to know the children, seeing them excel and “being a part of their lives as they grow up.”

“They’re so proud when they do good,” Gee said. “They want you to see that. Awards they win in school, they want you to be there for. Birthdays, they want you to come.”

Gee is a living paradigm of the club’s mission statement: “To inspire and enable all young people, especially those that need us the most, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens.”

She said the children truly need the club and its members.

When the children have functions at their schools, Gee said many glance around with looks on their faces asking, “Where’s my grandma?”

“We try to remedy that kind of feeling,” Gee said. “We try to be there for the parents. I know what it’s like to be a working parent. There’s so much you can miss.”

An ad in the paper asking for help drew Gee’s attention to the club.

“I was a bookkeeper,” she said. “I don’t like sitting behind a desk.”

Gee said she needs to be on her toes, always expecting something new the kids might cook up.

“At least days are never the same,” Gee said of working at the club.

The Boys and Girls Club only has three full-time staff members and relies mostly on outside volunteers.

Many Elon students volunteer at the club for work study programs or simply to help out.

“We couldn’t do the program without Elon,” Gee said.

But running a program on a volunteer basis can be unreliable. The number of volunteers that come in daily can vary. There is no concrete list of volunteers who are always available, and Gee said the club needs more assistance.

Henderson said there needs to be more advertisements around Alamance County to “let the people in Burlington, Gibsonville (and) Elon know what we’re doing.”
Gee agreed, saying non-profit organizations often have a difficult time securing funding.

BioBus proposal prompts discussion

by Marlena Chertock, November 3, 2009

As senior Dan Miller promised in his Facebook group “Late Night BIOBUS,” he has written a proposal and met with members of the administration to talk about possibly extending the time the BioBus would run into the night.

So far, more than 1,000 Elon students have joined the group, which aims to improve student life and safety through nightly BioBus transportation.

“Essentially, 1,000-plus students supported this idea without any means of advertising other than word-of-mouth,” Miller said. “That is nearly 20 percent of the student body of Elon.”

He said this is proof a late night BioBus “will be used to its full potential.”

“Last year, SafeRides had 12,139 requests for transport. Only 64 percent (7,844) of callers were actually transported,” Miller’s proposal said. “The remaining 35.38 percent chose not to pursue that destination, or decided to walk or drive themselves to where they needed to go. One must also take into consideration those who chose not to even call SafeRides because they knew the wait was too long.”

Miller said he believes the solution would be to run the BioBus from 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., in addition to SafeRides and E-rides. He is suggesting a one-month trial period of the BioBuses at night.

Senior Kimberly Duggins, director of SafeRides, said she hopes instead of competing with a possible late-night BioBus, the programs could work together to help solve the issue of drunk driving on campus and to help keep the community safe.

She said she doesn’t see the implementation of a late night Biobus having any negative effects on SafeRides.

“We will still be here for students when they need a ride home, and that’s not going to change,” she said.

Miller said the goal of the Late Night BioBus is simply to support SafeRides and E-rides by providing more service to more students.

But there are some challenges that might come with running the BioBuses at night. Miller said potential issues could be bus cleanliness, drinking on the bus, transporting intoxicated underage students and funding.

He has tried to address these issues by coming up with potential solutions, such as having trashcans on the bus, forming a cleanup crew to work after 2:30 a.m. and prohibiting open containers on the bus.

He also suggested charging students $1 to ride the bus so a profit can be made.

But, these proposed suggestions have not yet been decided upon.

Last week, Miller had a meeting with key Elon figures such as Smith Jackson, vice president and dean of student life, Keith Dimont, director of automotive services, Justin Peterson, Student Government Association president, Duggins and others to discuss the proposal’s feasibility.

“We had one meeting, but a really good meeting,” Jackson said. “(Miller) made his presentation. No decisions were made. This was more of a listening, framing the question (meeting).”

Jackson said the administration would continue to look at the issue of student safety after 7 p.m., when the BioBuses stop running.

“We didn’t make any firm decisions,” Jackson said. “We might do some of (the proposal) or we might not. There are no clear timelines.”

Extensive planning, discussion and logistics need ironed out before they can try even a test-run of the system, he said.

“I think it’s a logical plan that the university should consider if one of its priorities is the safety of its students,” Duggins said. “However, I’m not sure that we’ll see the BioBus late at night just yet. There are numerous obstacles that must be overcome before a proposal like this takes place.”

She said Miller raised an important issue about the university needing to do more to provide transportation either through a BioBus or by further supporting SafeRides.

Jackson said he wasn’t aware SafeRides did not have enough manpower or efficiency to transport all of the students who call in.

“We have a (new) 15-passenger vehicle right now, with six wheels,” Jackson said.

He said volunteers would need to go through training to drive bigger vehicles if they will be used. Currently, SafeRide’s only performs a license check.

Jackson said he may confer with the SGA to turn over more student opinion on the issue.

“Peterson said he thinks SGA would want to help with this,” Jackson said. “I suggested we do a student referendum.”

Jackson said it’s up to students to decide how they want to spend their SGA money and fund such an effort.

Riding to hit the bottle

The implications of nighttime BioBuses

by Marlena Chertock, October 13, 2009

Let’s be honest. On the weekends, many intoxicated students roam the campus, walking or driving to and from various parties. Some walk home alone, putting themselves at risk. Others choose to catch a ride with their friends, thus engaging in drunk driving. Students have opened their inboxes to find  warnings from Vice President and Dean of Student Life Smith Jackson about accidents caused by drinking.

Should Elon come to terms with reality and try to change these habits? Is it the university’s responsibility to ensure party-goers’ safe return home?
Safe Rides and E-Rides were created for this very reason. Both services provide nightly rides to students for free.

But are these services enough? Not according to senior Dan Miller, who has recently created a Facebook group entitled, “Late night BIOBUS!”

Miller is proposing one of three phases, as he called it. He is currently writing up a formal proposal, to be finished once the Facebook group reaches 500 people, along with a petition. As of press time, the group has already reached more than 900 members.

Junior Katie Metts is working toward the same goal by trying to make BioBus routes more beneficial. For example, she proposes adding another stop at the Koury Business Center to the Trollinger route.

Phase 1: Add BioBus service late at night with a few stops. This can help with the safety and convenience of students. Have the buses run 11 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. This would take the load off of E-Rides and Safe Rides.

Phase 2: Reverse the roles of the BioBus and Safe Rides. Have the BioBus at night and the van and two sedans in the morning, as a call-request sort of setup.

Phase 3: Keep the BioBus during the day, add it at night and get rid of E-Rides and Safe Rides.
Miller feels that Phase 1 has the fewest problems.

“I asked one of the drivers at the peak throughout the day how many students are on the (BioBus). He said seven. The buses can hold 30 to 50 people,” Miller said.

He believes students choose not to ride the BioBuses because the stops are infrequent, are 20 minutes apart and there is no straight-shot back to campus.

“It feels like a waste of time to wait … it’s almost better to walk,” he said.

For the nightly van services “there is a huge demand and not enough supply … usually the wait is between 20 minutes to over an hour,” Miller said.

One of the reasons for this wait is the call-request model the nighttime services provide.

“Students move around a lot, cancel … it takes a lot of manpower versus having one bus,” he said.

Is the issue at stake safety versus reputation?

“There are a lot of intoxicated students walking around the streets at night in low-lit places,” Miller said. “If safety is one of the number one factors, (implementing these plans) would increase safety. It’s very tempting to just drive home. We don’t want to promote that. That’s worse than a bus of drunk people.”

Miller makes a good point, but is it up to Elon to ensure the safety of drunken students? It’s a person’s own responsibility to stay safe. These students would be taking advantage of the university, getting a form of special treatment as a result of the choices they are making.

The rest of the population, and those who choose not to drink, shouldn’t have to suffer because of those who do. The buses would possibly become rowdy and hazardous. This may mean hiring additional security and police staff, which could be costly.

The nightly vans that Safe Rides and E-Rides provide are voluntary. Elon should not be endorsing this sort of behavior, which would be a side effect of using BioBuses at night to transport drunken students wherever they need to go.

What Elon has to keep in mind when making a decision about BioBuses at night or keeping the current system as is, is whether or not it would promote safety or make the school look like a clown. What would benefit the most students is one way to decide. Upholding the school’s alcohol policy is the other.

The media’s trustbusters

Partisanship, scandal run perception aground

by Marlena Chertock, September 22, 2009

The Pew Research Center has found the public’s trust in the accuracy of news stories to be at a 20 year low.

But in an age when more students are going into the field of journalism and communications, according to an article by the Washington Post, and with new methods to deliver information, why should there be such lack a of trust?

“Our survey shows that the public views of the accuracy of news stories — not overall trust in the press — is at a two decade low,” said Carroll Doherty, associate director of the Pew research center. “The proportion saying that news stories are often inaccurate has been below 40 percent for quite some time and now stands below 30 percent.”

David Copeland, associate professor of communications, said he is not surprised by the findings.

“The media has become the scapegoat for everything,” Copeland said.

This runs counter to the journalistic ideals of truth, accuracy, impartiality and reliability. The core journalistic ethics are to remain objective, give all sides a fair presentation and report only the truth.

But obviously, not everybody agrees with this. Changes in the past two decades have acted as catalysts for this loss of trust in the press.

“In the 24-hour news cycle, the rush to be the first one to get the information, the story out, (journalists) don’t always verify information,” Copeland said.

Doherty echoes this.

“As we note in the report, more Democrats now question the accuracy of news stories, which factored into some of the decline between 2007 and 2009,” Doherty said. “Moreover, there is considerable public frustration with the press’ performance — and this is seen in declining views of accuracy and other measures.”

Journalists Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass’ fabrications of portions of stories also contributed to this frustration.

Additionally, the media is increasingly driven by entertainment.

“Even in 9/11 reporting, (there was) the need for a logo for news, for a music theme, to package as entertainment. (This makes people) start to question if it’s true or not,” Copeland said.

When everything is shown in an entertaining way, the result is a media that is not as accurate as it would like to be. This focus on entertainment value instead of quality journalism, in turn, affects the public’s trust.

“There is greater polarization in news audiences — especially for cable news outlets — and as our report shows, there are sizable partisan divisions in favorable opinions of cable news outlets,” Doherty said. “There also is more scrutiny generally of press performance — some of this probably has been positive in that it cast light on errors … but some of the criticism clearly is rooted in partisanship.”

Copeland said there used to be a collective voice.

“Years ago, 50 to 75 million people watched the nightly news,” Copeland said. “Twenty-five million watch it today. (America) used to get news collectively, when we get news fragmented, it helps us to perceive that there’s error and bias in what we’re receiving.”

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“The public’s dim view of press performance has not caused more people to turn away from the news entirely,” Doherty said.

Audiences instead access a variety of news sources, not just one.

This is an important change, and instead of merely accepting the bias, the public must research, and reflect to find the most trustworthy media sources on ethical merits.

There is still hope the media can regain the public’s trust, despite Copeland’s reticence to look to the future with optimism.

For the media, admitting mistakes is the first step. The next is persisting with dignity and the journalist’s code of ethics, and hoping that the public catches on.