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, 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.


Happy Humans help students stay positive

Blacksburg, Va., May 3 – VT Happy Humans at the Finals Extravaganza: Students stop at the booth for free pizza, candy, and to write what their happy place is on a white board for the VT Happy Humans to share on social media. Photo: Ashley Cimino

by Ashley Cimino, David Jones —

The Happy Humans at Virginia Tech are known for hosting a variety of events around campus to put smiles on the faces of students and faculty on campus. Co-leaders Jayne Ross, Jojo Kidane, and Lauren Ritchie participated in the Finals Extravaganza on the Drillfield to ease the stress of students passing by.

According to the New York Times, there is a “record-level of stress” found in college students, but specifically in college freshman, many of who face stress, anxiety, and depression before even coming into college. In light of this fact, the Happy Humans aim to bring just a bit of positivity to the Virginia Tech campus with small actions that can turn around a student’s day. 

This year, the Happy Humans asked Hokies to share where they were most happy. Common responses included “in my bed” or “with a dog,” and students hinted that this would be where they retreated to as soon as the summer officially begins. While the Happy Humans mostly cater towards students, some of their best events have targeted the dining hall workers on campus.

Last semester, the Happy Humans gathered in front of the Pylons to write “thank you” notes to dining hall employees and they later met to personally distribute them.

“That was a really important event for them because the first time they tried it, I think the semester before last, they got an overwhelmingly positive response,” said Jacob Long, Vice President of Service for a service fraternity that Happy Humans operates under.  

Though small, the group has garnered a lot of positive attention. During an event last semester, the VTPD Chief of Police, Kevin Faust, stopped by their booth in front of Squires Student Center to take a photo with the group and to commend them for their efforts in keeping Virginia Tech and Blacksburg a happy place to work and live.

Happy Humans Audio Slideshow from Ashley Cimino on Vimeo.

Students recharge in the Energy Pod

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Blacksburg, Va., May 3 – Energy Pod: Hokie Wellness released a new energy pod at Squires Student Center as a part of their Hokies Sleep Well campaign. The energy pod allows students to recharge with a 20-minute power nap as they prepare for their finals. Photo: Johnny Kraft

by Johnny Kraft, Anna Friesen–

Hokie Wellness launched the Hokies Sleep Well campaign by releasing an energy pod at Squires Student Center. The energy pod allows students to take a quick 20-minute power nap to recharge their battery and finish the semester strong.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, college students need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. However, research shows that on average most college students get only six to seven hours of sleep per night, and the college years are notoriously sleep-deprived due to an overload of activities, which negatively affects academic performance, according to the University Health Center at the University of Georgia.

The Student Government Association (SGA) health and wellness team at Virginia Tech came up with the idea for the Hokies Sleep Well campaign. They wanted to focus on one health issue and landed on sleep, as it is the first thing to go for college students.

“It’s not really a priority and it’s almost a badge of honor if you don’t sleep, so we wanted to change the narrative of that a little bit,” said SGA co-director of health and wellness, Anna Pike.

The energy pod allows students to sit, sleep, adjust seat tilt and play relaxing music to refresh with a quick power nap to help balance the end of semester stress.

According to Pike, the energy pod was to get attention, but their campaign also included signs on the Drillfield with different sleep deprivation facts such as how memory attention goes down by 40 percent as well as handing out ENO hammocks to any students that would listen to the information they had.

“Even 20 minutes is equivalent to having a couple of cups of coffee, you might even just need to rest your eyes, so the nap pod is good if you can’t fit in a full night sleep just to rejuvenate you and get you back into a full state of mind,” said Pike.

While it is impossible to measure if the campaign has led to students sleeping more, the energy pod has been a huge hit garnering a lot of excitement around it from students. Hokie Wellness released a video introducing the energy pod that has over 20,000 views and has been shared multiple times demonstrating the positive feedback from students.

While the energy pod is in Squires for a limited time, Hokie Wellness expects to get four more pods soon.

Alcohol abuse prevention: a wasted effort?

Blacksburg, Va., April 26, 2017 – Top of the Stairs: Tots is one of Blacksburg’s most popular bar hangouts and home to TOTS Tuesday, where students and residents can come together to sing and listen to karaoke, as well as drink alcohol every Tuesday night.  Photo: Kameron Kopecky

by Kameron Kopecky–

Underage drinking is one of the biggest problems on college campuses throughout the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth each year, and cost the U.S. $24 billion in economic costs in 2010.”

Virginia Tech has groups for students whose main goal is to combat underage drinking, as well as classes to teach incoming students about alcohol before they arrive on campus. They, along with other colleges are taking initiative and coming up with ways to try to combat underage drinking.

Universities, including Virginia Tech, are testing out various methods, such as Hokie Wellness and AlcoholEdu, to try and educate and prevent underage drinking by addressing it early on. At the beginning of each student’s freshman year, they are required to take the online AlcoholEdu course.  Their main goal “…is to create a welcoming and inclusive campus, and to reduce the negative consequences of alcohol misuse and abuse on campus as well as the incidents of unwanted sexual behavior.”

Virginia Tech junior Evan Burton said he recalls his experience with AlcoholEdu as a time that he rushed through the online course and called the course a joke.

If most students are like Burton, the effectiveness of the online course is clearly in question and it seems Virginia Tech may need to look for alternative methods to educate students on the dangers of alcohol abuse.

While college can be rigorous, stressful, and overwhelming at times, some students may search for ways to help them relieve their stresses through the consumption of alcohol.

For some it becomes more than simply a way to alleviate stress.

“I feel like it’s out there [alcohol] and I’m doing it. I am not going to stop [drinking],” Burton said.


LIFE/STYLE: Enjoying summer on a budget

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by Courtney Snukis, Carson Bartlett, Haven Lewis–

Attending college can be incredibly expensive and the demand of coursework often leave students with little time to get a job. According to a study from Ohio State University, 70 percent of students feel stressed about finances.

Additionally, the average debt for college students in the United States has increased. According to a report from the Institute for College Access and Success, the average borrower owes more than $30,000.

With mounting debt and inconsistent incomes, frugality is essential for college students during the summer. There are plenty of activities, indoor and outdoor, that can keep students entertained.

Low funds don’t have to mean no fun for college student during the summer, especially if you’re willing to take advantage of free events and low-cost activities.

Happier animals, happier community

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Christiansburg, Va., April 25- New and Improved: The new Montgomery County Animal Care and Adoption Center has increased space for animals and volunteers. Photo: Becca Tedesco

by Becca Tedesco, Hayley Olivenbaum, J.B. Wright–

According to the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), approximately 6.5 million animals enter U.S animal shelters every year. One shelter in the New River Valley area is working to make the lives of those animals happier and healthier.

The grand opening of the new Montgomery County Animal Care and Adoption Center was April 29, 2017. The new shelter is over 16,000 square feet, a 288 percent increase in space compared to the previous shelter. With this increase in space, there is obviously much more room for animals to be housed. Due to the larger facility, the center is moving towards a no kill policy and focusing more on making sure the animals are either adopted or sent to a rescue.

“It’s so much brighter and there’s so much more room. The animals are going to be more adoptable because they are so much happier,” said Director Eileen Mahan.

The staff and volunteers are proud of their new center and hope that it will be a place that adds more community involvement. Not only will the center be a place that houses animals, but it also includes a community room to hold meetings,  paint nights and other community events.

Mahan has already seen the impact the new facility has had on the volunteers and animals. The center has a greater ability to keep the shelter clean and this has a direct effect on everyone that comes in contact with it.

The shelter can now hold 68 dogs and 64 cats, a 310 percent increase in the number of animals housed. Not only that, but the shelter stays open much longer during the week.

The new shelter includes a shower for staff to wash off in after working with animals, a laundry room to wash animals blankets and dishes, a surgical room for vets to come and perform minor surgeries on animals and an indoor food room, all things the previous center didn’t include.

There are many ways that people can help at the new center – from walking and bathing dogs, to doing laundry and caring for recently abandoned or adopted pets. Even Montgomery County inmates are able to come in and help around the center.

This shelter is one of many that is working towards helping to lower the average of euthanized animals each year. It is also hoping that it can teach the community the importance of making sure that stray animals are taken care of properly.


RLRO Radio: Community policing one Monday at a time

Blacksburg, Va., April 24 – Officer Arkeif Robinson cues up his next track during the Monday broadcast of the RLRO Nation radio show. Photo: Ashley Cimino

by Ashley Cimino —

RLRO (pronounced rolo) Nation is the group of three Virginia Tech Police Department officers that are designated as Residence Life Resource Officers. Officers Arkeif Robinson, John Tarter, and Kenny Ball come together every Monday from 2 to 3:30 p.m. to host a radio show on WUVT FM, Virginia Tech’s student-run radio station.

The purpose of this weekly radio show is to connect with the community that they serve. On the show, the officers highlight special programs that the RLROs host or attend. Popular events from the semester include Relay for Life, Friday wallyball games in War Memorial Gym, and the RLRO Fried Bologna and Cheese Night.

Each Monday, several guests, often times people who work in residence life at Virginia Tech or other VTPD officers, fill the small WUVT studio. The RLROs host small interviews with the guests and include them in the typical layout of their show, like having them read sections of a prepared script.

“I catch the show every Monday while I’m working. I’m glad that it’s on WUVT because I would never have found it normally, or even thought I’d be interested in it really,” said Katie Pierce, a junior at Virginia Tech.

The officers started the show back in 2013 and haven’t missed a semester since, and they’ve built a following. While it’s a common joke on the show that only 20 people are listening in, the RLRO Nation Facebook page has over 1,000 likes.

“I never would’ve imagined that a show by cops exists on WUVT, but it does. It just goes to show how much WUVT sticks to their ‘radio for everyone’ motto and I know the RLROs are a good part of the WUVT community,” said a current DJ at the station.

Some listeners and community members wonder why the Virginia Tech Police Department would dedicate officers specifically to the on-campus residents as resource officers, and the answer is simple. According to Bureau of Justice Assistance, community policing is a way for the community and law enforcement to engage in a trusting, mutually beneficial relationship that can be used to solve problems within the community. For the RLROs, WUVT is just one way that they can reach the people they are aiming to help.

You can listen to RLRO Radio every Monday from 2 to 3 p.m.  from anywhere at or locally at 90.7 on your radio dial.

RLRO Radio from Ashley Cimino on Vimeo.

VT Thrift gives back

Blacksburg, Va., April 6, 2017 – Founder of VT Thrift: Junior Virginia Tech student Carter Davis holding up one of his vintage thrift store Reebok jackets, which he sells on his Instagram page, @vt.thrift. Photo: Kameron Kopecky

by Kameron Kopecky–

Thrift store shopping, or “thrifting,” has become much more than a way for individuals to save money on clothing.  Over the past decade, thrifting has turned into what many would consider a “fad” or “trend.”  Individuals, mostly teens and young adults, head to thrift stores in search of vintage finds and retro threads at bargain prices.  However, one Virginia Tech student is taking it all a step further.

Carter Davis, a junior at Virginia Tech, has started a small business called VT Thrift.  Entirely operated through the social media photo sharing app Instagram, Davis uploads all of his thrift store finds to his profile and his followers can direct message him if they are interested in making a purchase.

The majority of purchases on VT Thrift come from Virginia Tech students.  However, he has sent clothes to buyers from Tennessee, New Jersey, and even Texas.  One offer even came from a follower in Germany.

A big reason Davis started VT Thrift was to give back.  He is a member of an organization at Virginia Tech called Out of the Darkness, which works with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or AFSP, to help spread awareness of depression and prevent suicide.  The organization holds an annual Out of the Darkness Walk where individual walkers and teams walk around the Drillfield to raise money for the AFSP.  This year, Davis used a percentage of VT Thrift’s earnings to put towards his donation to the Out of the Darkness walk.

“I wanted to show that I didn’t care so much about the money.  I figured why not donate some of it to AFSP,” said Davis.

Davis donated $100 of VT Thrift’s earnings to the Out of the Darkness Walk and plans on donating a percentage of his earnings to a charity chosen every month by the VT Thrift followers.

The Big Event: A bridge between Blacksburg, Virginia Tech


Blacksburg, Va., April 8 — Students give back:  The Big Event is held each April, giving students an opportunity to say “thanks” to the Blacksburg community. Photo: McKenzie Pavacich

by McKenzie Pavacich-

The Big Event is held each year in April, serving as an opportunity for Virginia Tech students to live out Ut Prosim.  The Virginia Tech motto, translating to “that I may serve,” is brought to life on an enormous scale each year, as students trade in their textbooks for tools to give back to the community.

Blacksburg, Va., April 8– The Big Event: Erin Stenger and her husband, both graduates of Virginia Tech, have signed up to work with the Big Event for 5 years. Photo: McKenzie Pavacich

According to the Big Event’s website, over 8,200 student volunteers completed nearly 1,200 projects across the Blacksburg community.

Although the Big Event is fueled by students, what makes this event truly special is the town of Blacksburg’s perspective and appreciation for the tradition.

“When I was a student I think it was probably the first or second year… It felt really nice to give back to the community,” said Virginia Tech alumna Erin Stenger. “Being on the other side, I can’t tell you how much we appreciate having all of these extra hands to do big projects that would take a whole weekend, done in a few hours.”

The Stengers, both graduates of Virginia Tech who participated in the early years of the Big Event, requested help with basic landscaping tasks. A project that would’ve taken weeks for the couple took just three hours with the help of eight extra hands.

The experience goes well beyond yard work. The Big Event gives students a chance to make connections with members of the Blacksburg community, further strengthening the relationship between the town and university. Often community members will take their volunteers to lunch after the culmination of a project, just to learn more about the students themselves.

Blacksburg embraces many of Virginia Tech’s rich traditions, regardless of the impact it can have on the community at times. The Big Event, however, is a tradition that every member of the Blacksburg community can get behind.

“I think it’s fantastic that it’s still going on, and that it’s gotten bigger. It’s amazing that there’s so many people who are willing to just go and help the community. It’s neat to meet other people and see the culture and service still being cultivated within the university,” Stenger said.

The student-run event has successfully kept the tradition of Ut Prosim alive and relevant in the Blacksburg community for sixteen years, with no signs of slowing down.

From fashion truck to Main Street boutique

Blacksburg, Va., April 3 – Things Come Together: Ashleigh Garnes, owner of Sundee Best, poses in front of the store’s newly organized clothes racks. Photo: Haven Lewis

by Haven Lewis–

Sundee Best, a local retail business, is taking over the previous location of Clothes Rack on Main Street in Blacksburg, Va. The boutique is set to open its doors April 8.

The business began as an online store in April 2015. By the end of that following summer, Sundee Best launched their fashion truck.

According to Stacey Jischke-Steffe, co-founder and president of American Mobile Retail Association, the industry is growing significantly with nearly 1,000 fashion trucks nation wide.

“A lot of it’s been blood, sweat and tears,” says owner, Ashleigh Garnes. “We refurbished the truck ourselves. It took us all summer but it was paid with love and hugs and free dinner.”

Sundee Best’s fashion truck has traveled to numerous festivals and fairs within a two-hour radius. It’s made additional appearances on Virginia Tech’s Drillfield and Radford University’s campus.

Despite the opening of the boutique, the fashion truck will still be an integral part of the business.

Garnes says it was her goal to open a store within 3-5 years of her online launch, but she wasn’t looking for a spot at all when she heard about the Main Street location.

“It’s meant to be because of the way that it fell into place and all of the things that have happened to lead up to this point,” says Garnes.

The property’s “for rent” sign went up at the end of January. Garnes toured the site and thought it was the perfect size – not too big, not too small. Everything was finalized by February 1 and she was given the keys on the second week of March.

Garnes is enthusiastic about the future of her business. She says that she wants Sundee Best to be known not only for great clothes, but for great customer service.

An in-store celebration is planned for April 29 with new arrivals and surprises.

Blacksburg, Va., April 3 – Passion for People: Ashleigh Garnes says that she doesn’t necessarily have a passion for fashion, rather, she’s passionate about people, especially those in the Blacksburg community. Photo: Haven Lewis