Buzzworm news briefs

After the fire

In the early morning hours of Dec. 15, James Cassels and his family — his wife, Brenda, and their three children, Derrick, 13, Ashley, 12, and Amber, 10 — lost everything they owned when a fire destroyed the house they’d lived in for 14 years.

The Cassels were alerted to the danger by their dog Amber, who was upstairs (where the fire broke out) with her eight puppies.

“She barked and raised Cain until she woke my wife up,” recalls Cassels. “I started upstairs to check on her and there was just too much smoke and fire … I think the smoke killed them before the fire got to them.”

Fortunately, Cassels’ daughters, who usually slept upstairs, were sleeping downstairs that night.

“I just told my wife, I said, ‘Get them out!’ I told her the house was on fire, and we all got out,” says Cassels, adding that Josh Dicky, a 2-year-old whom the family often babysits — and who was staying over that night — also escaped.

The Cassels are now rebuilding their lives. A community member donated a mobile home to the family, which is trying to raise funds to transport the home and set up a new household. The Eblen Foundation has established a fund where both donations of money and household items can be made.

To make a donation to the Cassels family, call the Eblen Foundation at 255-3066.

— Lisa Watters

Hospitality help

A-B Tech’s hospitality-education department has earned a reputation as one of the best in the country. The gourmet lunches and dinners the students prepare for the public attract foodies from across the region, who flock to the school for multi-course meals that wow the palate while barely putting a dent in the wallet.

The school’s growing reputation reflects a trend in education nationwide. Culinary and hospitality schools like the one at A-B Tech, as well as bigger programs such as those offered at Johnson and Wales University and the Culinary Institute of America, are gaining popularity among career-minded students.

But like any good meal, higher education comes with a bill. To help defray that cost while acknowledging the hospitality industry’s important role in Western North Carolina, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce has increased its Hospitality Scholarship to $2,000. The award recognizes an outstanding student from WNC who is pursuing a hospitality or culinary-oriented degree.

Eligible applicants will be assessed based on work experience, academic studies and extracurricular involvement. To be eligible, applicants must be full- or part-time college students or high-school seniors whose permanent residence is in WNC.

Nominations (which must be postmarked no later than Wednesday, Feb. 2) may be sent to: Hospitality Awards Committee, P.O. Box 1010, Asheville, NC 28802. The winner will be announced Tuesday, May 10, during this year’s National Tourism Week.

Online forms, as well as more information about National Tourism Week, are available online at or by calling 258-6102.

— Brian Sarzynski

Exporting drama to Cuba

Two years ago, Deborah Scott of Asheville Playback Theatre traveled to Cuba to share her passion for playback theater with actors in Havana.

“Playback is good for Cuba, partly because it is very low cost — the spotlight is on the storyteller and actors and very few props are needed –and because it is a community-enhancing art,” says Scott. “People in Cuba have limited freedom. Yet I find playback to be empowering because it validates people’s experiences.”

In playback theater, members of the audience tell a story from their lives and then the actors use improvisation to act out the story. Playback theater is an international phenomenon with troupes and companies around the world, Scott notes, including a state-sponsored company in Havana that Scott helped form and emerging companies across Cuba.

In February, Scott and fellow Asheville Playback Theatre member Sharon Bigger will fly to Cuba to teach an intermediate playback theater course in Havana and to visit playback theater companies across the island. They will teach “The Story Beneath the Story,” a course aimed at deepening the work of the Cuban actors by helping them “put stories into a bigger context, and to open up all of the dimensions of the stories they perform,” reports Scott.

Donations to raise money for playback supplies to take to Cuba will be accepted at the Asheville Playback Theatre’s next monthly performance at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 21, at the BeBe Theatre on Commerce Street.

In addition, the Asheville Playback Theatre will hold a fundraiser at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 29, upstairs from the French Broad Coop. The special performance, entitled “Stories of the People,” will highlight stories of activism and work for social change. The space is not wheelchair accessible, and those needing special assistance should contact Scott.

The money raised will go toward purchasing equipment that the Cuban players need: small musical instruments, pieces of fabric, and black pants and shirts. Equipment donations will be accepted as well. Scott and Bigger are taking what they can carry, and Pastors for Peace, a nonprofit organization that makes an annual caravan to Cuba to deliver supplies, will take any additional donations.

For more information, contact Deborah Scott at 274-8315.

— Megan Shepherd

Arctic defender tours WNC

In 1991, Chad Kister carried a 90-pound backpack on a lone hike through 700 miles of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to document environmental damage from the Alaskan oil pipeline and from global warming. He has written and published two books about his sometimes harrowing experience — Arctic Quest: Odyssey Through a Threatened Wilderness and Arctic Melting: How Global Warming is Destroying One of the World’s Largest Wilderness Areas.

Today, Kister coordinates Dysart Defenders, a group working to save one of the last ancient forests in Ohio, and also coordinates the Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign. He has lobbied senators and representatives with his firsthand experiences of ANWR, organized political walks ranging from 70 to 849 miles long and collected thousands of petition signatures.

Starting on Jan. 23, the activist author and lecturer will make presentations in Sylva, Asheville and Boone. The Canary Coalition will sponsor the first two, while Appalachian Voices will present the final talk. Admission is free to all of the events.

Here’s Kister’s speaking schedule:

• Sunday, Jan. 23, 2 p.m., City Lights Bookstore, Sylva;

• Monday, Jan. 24, 6:30 p.m., Lord Auditorium, Pack Library, Asheville. (The Canary Coalition will hold its monthly membership meeting there at 5 p.m.); and

• Tuesday, Jan. 25, 7 p.m., Raley Hall, Room 1020, Appalachian State University, Boone.

For more info, call (866) 422-6279 (or 866-4-CANARY).

— Cecil Bothwell

Buyer be aware

First-time homebuyers must deal with a wide array of new factors in their lives: real estate agents, mortgages, down payments, contractual obligations, inspections, insurance and taxes, for starters. This basketful can be daunting, and it all revolves around what is, more often than not, the largest investment in a person’s life.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a class for homesteader wannabes? There is.

The Affordable Housing Coalition of Asheville and Buncombe County, Inc., offers a homebuyer education class that covers “the A-Z of buying a home,” and includes a Saturday tour of affordable homes. The next series of classes will be held at the Asheville YWCA on four consecutive Tuesday evenings, beginning Feb. 1, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

For more info, phone 259-9518, ext. 120 or 108.

— Cecil Bothwell

Art in the park

The Pack Square Conservancy has picked six contributing artists to join lead artist Lorna Jordan in developing proposals for the pending makeover of City/County Plaza. The conservancy’s Arts Steering Committee selected the six after putting out a call to artists in 24 Western North Carolina counties last fall.

The chosen artists are: Robert Gardner, Hoss Haley, John Payne, Sally Rogers, Randy Shull and Kathy Triplett. The group is now working with lead landscape architects Fred Bonci and Jane Alexander and arts facilitator Jean Greer to identify sites for art in the park and ways original work can be integrated into water features, walkways, walls and benches.

Gardner is known for his sensual hot-glass sculpture; Haley works with steel, bronze and concrete; Payne creates traveling mechanical dinosaur exhibits and uses found objects to create fences and other structures. Rogers’ mixed-media sculpture are made of steel, stainless steel, glass and stone; Shull’s work includes inventive furniture, architecture and landscape design; and Triplett produces one-of-a-kind sculptural ceramic tiles and teapots.

The planning process will continue through the first part of 2005, after which the conservancy’s board of trustees will make the final selection of art projects to include. Construction of the park is expected to begin in July, with completion scheduled for the end of 2006.

— Cecil Bothwell

Joining the “culturally competent” club

Over the years, Western North Carolina has become much more culturally diverse than it once was. But are we really equipped to relate to folks who are that different than we are?

The nonprofit Mountain Stewardship Alliance in Dillsboro is sponsoring an upcoming seminar to help people sharpen their skills in relating to people of all colors, faiths, nationalities, communities, lifestyles and traditions — especially in the workplace.

Billed as a way to become more “culturally competent,” organizers say the workshop can help area residents understand a wide variety of people, whether it’s their traditional mountain neighbors or the growing Latino community or folks with orange hair and body piercings. The workshop will feature Bryson City native Janice Inabinett, an experienced trainer, group facilitator and storyteller who’s worked with Shell Oil Co., the city of New York and the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh.

Specifically, the seminar aims to:

• help participants understand their own heritage and cultural background;

• explore who we are as a community in WNC and how that plays a part in how we relate to one another, both at work and in other settings; and

• help participants see and celebrate their differences while learning more about what experiences and needs they have in common.

The seminar runs 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 28, at Southwestern Community College’s Swain Center near Bryson City.

The registration deadline is Wednesday, Jan. 26; if payment is received with registration, a $5 discount applies to the $40 fee. Lunch is included. For more info or to register, call Sheryl Rudd at (828) 586-8745, write P.O. Box 131, Dillsboro, NC 28723, or e-mail

— Tracy Rose


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