Proper disposal

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CHRISTIANSBURG, Va., April 26—The Town of Christiansburg hosted its annual “Spring Cleanup” for fourteen days beginning on April 14. Photo: Alexis L. Walsh

by Ellie Matthews, Alexis Leianna Walsh —

Appropriate waste disposal is important for the overall health of the environment, people and animals.  The Montgomery Regional Solid Waste Authority, MRSWA, continues to work towards educating the New River Valley community on proper waste disposal.

According to DoSomething.org, “The EPA estimates that 75 percent of the American waste stream is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30 percent of it.” DoSomething explains that it is time for individuals to take actions against careless and improper waste disposal.

Teresa Sweeney, MRSWA Education and Training Coordinator, stated, “Plastic bags are still a problem; People put things in the plastic bags that can end up in the trees and waterways because they easily blow away when trash vehicles are emptied.”

Sweeney works to educate businesses, schools, industries, the general public, etc., on how to recycle, setup recycling programs and develop proper waste disposal habits that are necessary for a healthy atmosphere. She explained that people often do not realize the effects their actions can have on the environment. She said that even the smallest changes—such as eliminating the use of plastic bags—could make the environment substantially healthier.

According to Healthfully, “properly disposing of waste is not just a personal responsibility; some kinds of waste, usually hazardous, must be properly disposed of according to law set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency.” Healthfully explains, “toxic waste can seep into the ground and contaminate water supplies, and sometimes cause widespread disease.”

Sophia Lee, an Undergraduate Research Assistant at Virginia Tech, works with Dr. Marc Edwards and his team on mitigating the Flint Michigan Water Crisis. Her lab explores chemical and microbial contaminants in water due to corrosion. Lee stated, “The longterm pollution of the Flint River, through runoff and treated/untreated waste dumping, made the water incredibly toxic.”

Lee explained that due to the high corrosion potential, caused by the harsh disinfectants and waste dumping, the water exposed the old lead pipes of the Michigan town, and contaminated the water with lead—poisoning Flint’s residents. She stated, “If this river had been cleaner to begin with, a large part of this problem could have been avoided.”

Lee also works as an intern for the Office of Sustainability at Virginia Tech. Through her internship she explained that she learned about the importance of carefully sorting what one puts into a recycling bin in order to avoid the whole batch ending up in a landfill.

She stated, “Recycling facilities are actually fairly selective, and if there is a certain level of food, moisture, or other materials that can’t be recycled, it makes the bin too difficult for the facility to sort.” She added, “Try your best to remove caps from bottles, dump and rinse anything filled with liquid or food, and check labels to make sure you sort your waste correctly.”

Active Minds raises their voice on mental health awareness

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Blacksburg, April 19 – LOBBY CHECK-IN: Members of Active Minds check students tickets before they enter the benefit concert and give them a raffle ticket. Photo: Ricky Lam.

by Ricky Lam–

With more counts of depression and suicide looming across universities, a group of students remains resilient in starting a conversation on the issue.

Active Minds is a nonprofit organization aimed at spreading mental health awareness across all college campuses. With the chapter at Virginia Tech, the organization hopes to create a comfortable environment for students to speak openly about mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, 41.6 percent of students struggle with anxiety while 36.4 percent struggle with depression. Emily Wills, the president of Active Minds, hopes to reduce the percentages by rectifying issues present on the Tech campus.

Everybody knows that the counseling center is full and they’re trying to work on that, but it’s just not fast enough. You go saying you need help and your first appointment is a month out. It’s just not the level of care that we really need on this campus,” Wills said.

According to Neumann, suicide is the second-leading cause of death amongst 20 to 24-year-olds. CBS News reports that most public colleges don’t collect suicide statistics.

“Suicide is kind of shunned. Everyone thinks that if you talk about it then it’ll increase it more, but really, hiding it doesn’t help at all,” Wills said.

On April 19, Active Minds hosted a benefit concert to raise money and bring “Send Silence Packing” to campus. Project manager, Siddhi Kodolikar, led the event with a small team and managed to accumulate $800 to go towards Active Minds’ efforts.

“It is a tour that comes and sets up backpacks in an area and it symbolizes the amount of college student suicides in a year. It’s kind of a big display to show, ‘hey it’s okay to talk about this. It’s not just something we hear about in the news every once in a while,’” Kodolikar said.

By providing information to students about other resources they can access and hosting other events to promote a stress-free environment, the organization hopes to end the mental health stigma and tell students in need that they see them and hear them.

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Blacksburg, April 19 – PRESIDENT OF ACTIVE MINDS: Emily Wills greets students entering the benefit concert at Haymarket Theater. Photo: Ricky Lam.

Online activism

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BLACKSBURG, Va., April 2 — ONLINE DONATION: Rachel Malloy, senior mechanical engineering major at Virginia Tech, prepares to click on the donation button for a contribution toward Noshin Abedin’s UNICEF fundraiser. Photograph: Aly De Angelus

by Aly De Angelus —

First came poodle skirts and bomber jackets. Then came scrunchies and no-tie sneakers. The question is, does the new generation define coolness as more than a commodification of objects, but rather of goodness and activism?

The answer may not be as clear as you think.

2018 has been a rigorous year for protesters and Parkland shooting survivors Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg have taken the political arena by storm. The Atlantic for example even goes as far to say that these kids are model children that just happen to service the general public as advocates for gun reform. Is it fair to say that Gonzalez and Hogg are cool when their activism might only resonate with the political orientation of liberals?

William Taggart is an instructor for the department of modern and classical languages and literature at Virginia Tech. In 2000 Haggart conducted research about online activism and the phenomenon of hacktivism at the start of the millennium.

“I think social media has changed the way people think about politics,” Haggart said. “I kind of think in this country we are almost descending into this sort of tribalism, at least along some political lines  … so activism for whom and by whom is part of the question.”

Since March 2017 social media has aided the role of fundraising on a digital platform. According to The Guardian, an influx of cash toward charitable causes is most likely traced back to the influence of big businesses and their manipulation of current cultural trends. But is that what this is for the younger generation – Is activism merely a trend for happening Instagram photos and buzzworthy tweets that will inevitably fade over time?

Noshin Abedin, a sophomore environmental horticulture major at Virginia Tech, doesn’t think so. Abedin argues that online activism is what has allowed introverts to find their voice and stake a case in a particular movement without all of the hustle and bustle that may turn other potential supporters away.

“I feel like social media makes it easier to be more of a social activist,” Abedin said. “I can’t really do that so easily as a person on my own. I am not a big fan of pushing people like, ‘Hey, donate to me.'”

Abedin is just one in a sea of social media users that have decided to opt out of birthday gifts in exchange for donations to a non-profit organization.

Abedin’s family comes from Bangladesh, a third world country that often struggles with high poverty rates and little introduction to good hygiene practices. She hopes that her contributions to UNICEF will provide the resources needed before activism can even become a possibility.

With Nike’s equality commercial, and Starbuck’s employment pledge to hire refugees, there is no debate that business approval is skyrocketing. Are activists, on the other hand, using their platforms efficiently?

“I think a lot of people get involved in activism that is fashionable but it’s not clear that real gains can be made,” Taggart said. “To what extent can real gains be made on national issues standing down on the corner across from Moes?”

At the end of the day, will this concept of coolness cloud judgment to the brink of political collapse?

And worse, when the door to activism closes, will we be left with no choice but to return to a closet full of meaningless merchandise?

For more information on activism in 2018, check out the infographic below.

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Animals in need of Ut Prosim

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Christiansburg, Va,. Feb. 27-Volunteer Papers: The Animal Care and Adoption Center is located on Cinnabar Road in Christiansburg. Photo: Rachel Freeburger

The Virginia Tech motto, Ut Prosim or “That I May Serve,” is lived out every day by students who volunteer to help the people in the Blacksburg and New River Valley Communities. While helping our two-legged friends is important, sometimes we forget that our four-legged friends could use some help too.

There are 14 animal shelters or humane societies in the New River Valley and two of them are located close to Virginia Tech’s Campus. These two organizations are the Montgomery County Animal Care and Adoption Center and the Humane Society of Montgomery County.

Both of which offer numerous opportunities for students to volunteer.

The Humane Society is a no-kill shelter and some of the animals there stay there for months and even years. Volunteers are needed to keep the animals happy and socialized while they wait to be adopted.

Jamie Burton, the Shelter Manager at the Humane Society says, “We are blessed with many fantastic student volunteers from VT and RU. So that everyone can enjoy their time at the shelter, we ask our students to sign up online for a time to visit the shelter.”

Burton emphasizes the importance of signing up online for a time on Fridays and Saturdays for groups to volunteer.

Another opportunity for students to volunteer is through dog walking at the Animal Care and Adoption Center. Volunteering there, however, requires a training session.

Marilyn Wheaton, Volunteer Education Coordinator at the Adoption Center, says, “The training session is easy and well worth it.” She encourages everyone to tell their friends to volunteer and help the animals.

If a student cannot make it out to the shelters, they are encouraged to set up supply drives for the animals. The Humane Society’s website says that the shelters are always in need of dog/cat food, non-clumping cat food, bleach, laundry detergent, paper towels, etc.

Students can also visit the Second Time Around store in Blacksburg. According to their website, the store sells a wide variety of items and all proceeds go directly towards helping the animals at the Humane Society.

 

The humans behind “Humans”

by Haley Williams, Harvey Creasey–

Blacksburg, Va., Dec. 13, 2017: Humans of Virginia Tech — Posts like these are featured regularly on the organization’s Facebook page. Photos courtesy of Humans of Virginia Tech.

 

To many, Virginia Tech’s student population of 30,000 feels overwhelmingly big — not to mention the thousands of faculty and community members in Blacksburg. One Facebook page is using its platform to showcase the different people in the area.

“Humans of Virginia Tech,” based on the popular “Humans of New York” page, aims to remind Hokies that there’s more to each of us than meets the eye. “Humans of Virginia Tech” regularly displays Blacksburg community members with a portrait and a story, sharing different personalities and personas to perfect strangers on the Internet.

From students with unique hobbies — like unicycling — to eccentric professors — like VT’s John Boyer — to some more serious posts, the editors of Humans of Virginia Tech try to make campus feel a little smaller.

Editor and incoming Vice President of “Humans of Virginia Tech,” Maddie Ide, said her most impactful posts came last year, when the page did a full week focusing on victims of sexual assault.

“[The community] will see a story that’s kind of hard and personal to share and they just flood [the subject] with love and support, it’s really nice,” Ide said.

With over 50 photojournalists, subjects aren’t too hard to find. Using their networks and friends of friends, the photojournalist and editor team has posted over 700 portraits of Blacksburg community members.

The page has a strong following of over 17,000 “likes,” but organization president Ricky Lam hopes that will soon reach 30,000.

“I hope we can reach up to the amount of the student population,” Lam said about the page’s number of likes. “We’re about halfway there.”

Lam also detailed his most powerful post, which featured a graduate student impacted by President Trump’s travel ban earlier this year.

Some other post subjects include a street poet, a student with a popular Golden Retriever, and a musician who has played on College Avenue for decades. The only thing any of them have in common is their pure originality.

According to the “Humans of Virginia Tech” website, community members can request that they or someone they know be featured on the page.

Lam said that the University recognizes the “Humans of Virginia Tech” page, and that President Tim Sands has referenced it more than once. If the page were to be an official university institution, however, the name would have to change to “Humans at Virginia Tech” — something Lam and Ide agree could kill their brand.

Life in the fast lane

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BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 29 – Students that choose to bike around and to campus have numerous bike lanes to use which helps create a safer commute around town. Photo: Nathan Loprete

by Nathan Loprete–

Virginia Tech has grown continuously over the years. With an increased student population comes increased revenue. However, that also meant increased traffic and a need for additional transportation methods. Luckily for Virginia Tech, Deborah Freed, who works for the school, recognized this problem in 2000 when she created the Alternative Transportation program.

One of the programs associated with the Alternative Transportation program is the Hokie Bike Hub which is located on Perry Street.

Alternative Transportation Assistant Chitti Raju has seen the biking community increase over the past few years at Virginia Tech.

“I think with more students, the number of bicycles will continue to increase,” he said.  “People are realizing it’s an easier way to get around and to campus.”

Now in 2017, the Bike Hub has helped Virginia Tech become of the better biking campuses in the country. In 2013, Virginia Tech was named as a “Bronze Bicycle Friendly University,” by the League of American Bicyclists which accounts for bike lanes, bike routes and fix-it stations.

Raju contributes the growth in cyclists to the size of the campus and the traffic which makes it safer to bike than in a heavily populated metro area.

The Hokie Bike Hub is one of the contributing factors to Virginia Tech being named a bicycle-friendly campus. Raju says The Bike Hub helps students repair problems with their bikes and according to student intern Mary Frazier it all starts with the willingness to learn.

“Having these tools for free is amazing because these are some very specific tools,” she said. “It empowers you to fix your own bike and learn more. The biggest part is learning how to fix your bike.”

The Bike Hub maintains a consistent flow of customers, especially while the weather is suitable but there are still those that brave the elements.

“Whenever it gets colder there’s less people that come in…but people that come in have more stuff going on,” said Frazier.

Raju talked about the idea of creating a “self-sustaining bicycle culture,” and the mission for the Bike Hub.

“Our goal is to get people and keep people on bicycles,” he said. “The idea of the alternative transportation department is to support and grow the community that takes any form of transportation that isn’t one person in a car.”

“What makes this place so awesome to bike, is the area itself because it’s so beautiful,” said Frazier.

There are other programs in the New River Valley that help promote cycling. The NRV Bike Kitchen is a non-profit organization in Christiansburg, “that distributes bicycles to those that can’t afford other means of transportation,” according to Raju.

With programs such as these and a campus that is focusing on alternative transportation, it’s no wonder why Virginia Tech’s cycling community is continuing to pick up speed.

Goat Yoga! Blacksburg’s new fitness trend

By Virginia Pellington 

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Blacksburg, Va., Sept. 28— Goat Yoga: The new fitness trend Goat Yoga is taking on Blacksburg. Hoof Hearted Farm has over 25 goats ready to interact with their yoga guests. Photo: Virginia Pellington

by Virginia Pellington–

The art form of yoga has been around for centuries, but recently, it’s taken a new twist. Goat Yoga is the new craze in the fitness community, and residents of Blacksburg are jumping on board.

After a Facebook video went viral, Goat Yoga events began popping up in yoga studios around the country. In April 2017, the Blacksburg Yoga Collective (BYC) decided to give it a try; what they thought was going to be a one-time event, has turned into a weekly occurrence.

Kacy McAllister, a BYC yoga instructor, mentioned that they started Goat Yoga after someone posted the viral video to their Facebook page.

“We did it once and the turn out was so huge that we knew we had to make it a regular thing,” McAllister explained.

Goat Yoga is essentially a regular yoga class with goats roaming around the studio and interacting with the guests. The inspiration comes from Lainey Morse, who started the trend on her farm in Oregon. Currently, her classes are so popular that there’s a waiting list of 1,200 people that grows every day.  According to Morse, Goat Yoga is no different than taking your dog on a walk; the combination of exercise and interacting with animals is apparently very therapeutic.

CiCi Sobin, a regular BYC yoga attendee, said her favorite part about Goat Yoga is that it gets people who aren’t normally into yoga outside and active.

“Yoga is so great for the mind and body, and I really enjoy seeing people get into it—even if they are just here for the goats,” Sobin said.

What Sobin says about its health benefits is true according to research. One study conducted by Harvard Health found that participants who spent three months doing yoga experienced a 30 percent decrease in anxiety and depression. In addition, GoatYoga.net, Morse’s website, explains that Goat Yoga is not actually curing any diseases, but offering a necessary distraction from day-to-day stress.

Morse and  the Blacksburg Yoga Collective are taking advantage of this fitness trend while it’s still relevant. Morse quit her job in marketing and photography to devote her full attention to this new idea; she currently works full-time developing her new Goat Yoga business. McAllister from the BYC says she is just excited to see more people get into yoga.

“My goal is to see at least one new face at every event,” McAllister said.

 

 

Bounce over to Xtreme Springz

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Christiansburg Va. Sept. 18 -Ninja Obstacle Course: The featured course is a high intensity obstacle course that requires physical and mental stamina. Height and age requirements may apply.

 

by Alexis Johnson–

In early September Xtreme Springz Trampoline Park opened its doors to the New River Valley becoming the first park of its kind in the area. According to the owner, Terry Stike, the project had been underway for, “a little under two years.”

According to the owner, Terry Stike, the project had been underway for, “a little under two years.”

Stike also owns the NRV Superbowl in Christiansburg, Va. “The trampoline park was just the next step for family entertainment in the New River Valley because trampoline parks are the number one entertainment right now in the country,” stated Stike.

Not only does the park serve as entertainment for the community, but it has also created a total of 45 new jobs to date with 15 more positions still open. At the center of two major universities, the NRV it is a prime location for a growing workforce. “Most of our employees are teenagers,” Stike commented, “young and energetic is what we’re looking for.”

“Most of our employees are teenagers,” Stike commented, “young and energetic is what we’re looking for.”

As for JJ Devaughn, a sophomore at Radford University, the new job openings were right on time. “When I first heard of the park coming to the New River Valley area I was pretty excited seeing as though the closest trampoline park is in Roanoke.” When asked why he applied for the job he said, “I knew it would be a fun job to have, and it worked out great for me because I told a lot of my friends to come up here and apply. We ended up all getting hired together.”

“When I first heard of the park coming to the New River Valley area I was pretty excited seeing as though the closest trampoline park is in Roanoke,” Devaughn said.

Devaughn said he was anxious to apply for the job. “I knew it would be a fun job to have, and it worked out great for me because I told a lot of my friends to come up here and apply. We ended up all getting hired together.”

Currently, the remaining open positions include overseeing the courses, working the registers, waiver administrators, kitchen, DJ openings, and more. Stike said that they already have plans for expansion including batting cages and putt-putt golf.

 

 

Keeping businesses open in a college town

 

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Blacksburg, Va., May 1– Items in the window for sale at t.r. collection, a downtown shop that specializes in Blacksburg tourism gifts. Photo: Carson Bartlett

by Carson Bartlett, Katt Carter–

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Downtown Blacksburg businesses all face the unique challenge of being in close proximity to a large university. There are multiple benefits to being so close, such as heavy foot traffic and an active night scene, but there are also some drawbacks, such as a dead summer season and the competitiveness of such a small area.

Over the course of this academic year for Virginia Tech, several businesses have closed while others have just opened. Mad Dog, a downtown boutique, recently closed, while Bottom of the Stairs, or BOTS, had its grand opening in April.  BOTS is the downstairs sister-store of Top of the Stairs, or TOTS, which is a popular Blacksburg bar. The heavy amount of student traffic is what encouraged the owners of TOTS to open their downstairs space as a more family friendly venue, as a way to get more business.

t.r. collection is a downtown business that features home goods and gifts for student families and New River Valley locals.  The store opened 19 months ago and owners say that due to their positive experience in the community, they are looking to open another store within the area.

Michelle Raub, co-owner of t.r. collection, says that there is a sweet spot with price points that work well with the nearby student customers as well as Blacksburg locals.  “We did a lot of research on college towns before opening the business. It really is a different mindset than opening in other towns,” Raud said.

According to the official website for the Town of Blacksburg, the area has a daily population of 50,000 people, with a good portion of that being the students at Virginia Tech.

“With downtown shops, they have to change out their stock often. Some people go out every week, and if you always have the same stuff for sale than those people won’t come back in,” said Nicole LaFlamme, a junior political science major at the university.

Downtown stores also hold events throughout the year to engage the community and not just the college students. Many of these, such as the Downtown Trick or Treat event, and the Winter Lights Festival are used as a means to bring out locals of the New River Valley in order to help vendors reach past the collegiate population.

 

 

To Our House: Making a difference in the NRV

 

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Christiansburg, Va., May 3 – HOME TO A HOME: To Our House is located alongside a number of community organizations on Roanoke Street in Christiansburg.

 

by McKenzie Pavacich, Bria Cook–

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. –   Homelessness is something that is often overlooked but extremely prevalent in the New River Valley. How do those in need of assistance survive the harsh winters faced by the valleys of Appalachia? Where do homeless people go when they are in need of food, clean drinking water, or clothes in an area that seems to be prospering in seemingly all areas of life?

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Christiansburg, Va., May 3 – SEEING AND DOING: New River community action serves the community in a number of different ways.

To Our House is a non-profit organization, tackling the obstacle of assisting the homeless
in the New River Valley.  With the help of local faith communities and local business in the NRV, To Our House is able to provide homeless men with shelter through the winter months, as well as food, support, and help with employment search.

Carol Johnson, Executive Director of the New River Family Shelter and Program Coordinator for To Our House, believes that if it were not for the generosity and genuine care found in the Blacksburg and

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Christiansburg, Va., May 3 – HUMBLED AND GRATEFUL: Carol Johnson, warmed by the generosity of the local communities, is optimistic about the organization’s future.

Christiansburg communities,  “To Our House wouldn’t exist.” Churches throughout Blacksburg and Christiansburg open their doors to the guests of To Our House with hopes of truly making a difference, while organizations within Virginia Tech often donate time, food, or supplies to keep the donations-based program running.

“We have over 50 churches that participate, whether that be housing the guests, which is a host church, or a church can participate as a support church. They provide the food and some evening activities,” Johnson said.

Donations and volunteers are utilized during the winter months in the NRV. To Our House runs a sheltering program from November through March to assist the homeless during some of the most dangerous months to be without shelter.

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Blacksburg, Va., May 3 – EATING OUT FOR A CAUSE : Percentage days were held on April 25, 2017 to benefit To Our House and the New River Community Action

Participation by local businesses adds to the generosity of the Blacksburg and Christiansburg communities. Businesses peppered throughout the NRV hold percentage days, where a percentage of the profit is automatically donated. The ultimate goal To Our House hopes to achieve is creating a larger sense of awareness of homelessness in the NRV community, so that shelters and assistance programs can grow and evolve from a seasonal functioning program to an organization that can provide assistance all year round.

“It’s not that visible. Sporadically you may see someone standing on the street holding up a sign. But typically, it’s almost like camping for some people. It’s not like in the Richmond area or a city where you’ll see someone on every street corner who is in need of assistance. Most of the men we service stay in secluded spots camping until we open up in November,” Johnson said.

With 19.1 percent of individuals living below the poverty level in Southwest Virginia, according to Virginia.gov, there is plenty of room for improvement. With the help of local businesses and influential organizations within the Blacksburg and Christiansburg communities, To Our House hopes to grow and continue to combat homelessness in the New River Valley and beyond.