Buzzworm news briefs

Help where it’s needed

Rape is the ultimate interpersonal power play, objectifying and invading the victim in the most intimate and terrifying manner. And if the victim feels helpless, so, too, do well-meaning citizens who might want to proffer help. But there is a way to get involved.

Our VOICE — a regional, nonprofit rape-and-domestic-violence intervention group — needs volunteers to serve as victim advocates. A training program starts Saturday, Sept. 11. Crisis Line Coordinator Neela Rao, who organizes the trainings, told Xpress: “The main responsibility of a victim advocate is to serve a few on-call crisis-line night shifts throughout the month. These shifts consist of answering phone calls from individuals who are in crisis due to a sexual assault, and accompanying recent sexual-assault survivors to the hospital.”

The 36-hour training course addresses the issues surrounding sexual violence. Representatives of local law enforcement, other victim-services agencies, medical facilities, the judicial system and Our VOICE staff members will make presentations to the volunteers. Rao explained, “This assures that victim advocates are as informed as possible on subjects that will aid them in giving assistance to victims of sexual violence, and in providing information to the community.” Victim advocates are also required to attend a monthly case meeting.

Our VOICE’s 24-hour crisis-intervention services include telephone counseling, accompaniment through medical, law-enforcement and legal procedures, emotional support, and information and referrals to other agencies. When it’s deemed necessary, Our VOICE can assist with transportation, clothing, emergency shelter and food. Volunteers and staff maintain client confidentiality by using pagers and the local 211 referral system. In 2003, Our VOICE provided services to 1,401 primary and secondary victims in Buncombe and Madison counties. All services are provided free of charge.

For more information, contact Rao at (828) 252-0562.

— Cecil Bothwell

Writing like nobody’s watching

Choreographer Ron Brown finds inspiration in the written word, and WNC writers will be included in his next Asheville project, slated for March 2005. Brown’s modern-dance company, called Evidence, will team up with the Diana Wortham Theatre and the YMI Cultural Center. The collaborative work, which will also include local dancers and jazz musicians, will involve variations on the theme “coming from where I’m from.”

Local writers are encouraged to submit thematically related prose or poetry for the project. The deadline for submissions (maximum length: 300 words) is Monday, Oct. 11.

Brown will mull over the best work to provide a framework for the upcoming performances, and the writings will be published and included in collateral public events during the week of the Diana Wortham performances. An audience-development grant from the North Carolina Arts Council is providing funding for the project.

“The goal is to broaden community interest in dance to include people who might have overlooked dance in the past,” explains project organizer Hilarie Burke. “This project explores the connecting points between dance, the written word and jazz.”

For guidelines and more information, contact Burke at, or call (828) 281-4808.

— Cecil Bothwell

Relief from Hurricane Charley

“I’ve been in the disaster business for probably 10 years, and it was the worst natural disaster I’ve ever seen,” reports Mike West, director of operations of the Asheville-based nonprofit Hearts With Hands. West traveled to Florida on the day of Hurricane Charley to assess damages with other members of the Christian relief organization’s Field Services Advance Team.

“There were places in Punta Gorda that were just totally, completely devastated,” he relates. “There’s about 31 trailer parks in Charlotte County. It’s one of the largest collections of … trailer facilities in the U.S., and a lot of those are along the harbor and they were hit very hard.”

West and company initially spent a couple of days in Charlotte County, helping the Lighthouse Baptist Church establish an emergency distribution center.

“The members of the church are out doing some leg work to find out who in the community around there is in the worst shape and how we can help,” says West.

According to interviews conducted with disaster victims, the items needed include: bottled water, blankets, nonperishable food, convenience foods, can openers, baby food, diapers, wipes, picnic supplies, insect repellent, small charcoal grills and charcoal, tools, gloves, tarps, plastic, construction materials, over-the-counter medications, first-aid kits, flashlights, batteries, candles, generators, chain saws and hand tools. (No used clothing, please.)

Donations can be dropped off at the Hearts With Hands warehouse (951 Sand Hill Road in Asheville). Financial donations are also needed to help with transportation costs.

As of early last week, Hearts With Hands had sent two trucks filled with relief items to Florida, with many more trips planned.

“We’re training the folks there how to run a center … [and] they’ll continue on with the relief efforts,” notes West. “It’s going to be going on for quite some time.”

The Asheville-Mountain Area Chapter of the American Red Cross also deployed an emergency response vehicle to Florida with a two-person crew for a three-week assignment. It will be one of 80 ERVs moving through damaged neighborhoods offering food, drink, cleanup kits and other relief supplies.

Financial donations can be mailed to: Hearts With Hands, P.O. Box 6444, Asheville, NC 28816. Credit card donations can be made by calling (828) 667-1912 or (800) 726-9185, or online at Financial donations to the American Red Cross can be made to the Asheville-Mountain Area Chapter (100 Edgewood Road in Asheville) or by calling (800) 258-3888.

— Lisa Watters

Grand strands

Cancer survivors know all too well the heavy toll the treatment can exact. One obvious side effect for many is the loss of hair, and for patients striving to preserve their identity during this trying time, that loss can make an already difficult experience even more painful.

A new local effort is offering a pretty creative resource for people facing this challenge. The Eblen Foundation recently announced its partnership with Strands for Stars, a charitable organization founded by hair-and-makeup stylist Judy Bickerton, who has more than 14 years’ experience in the film industry. “Our main focus is to help our clients regain the confidence and self-esteem necessary to battle cancer. The courage and strength shown by our clients is truly remarkable — it’s because of this that we recognize them as the true stars,” notes Brickerton.

Assisted by Local 798 of the International Alliance for Theatrical and Stage Employees as well as other professional hair stylists, Strands for Stars has developed a strong network of volunteers who create hair prosthetics for adults and children that are comfortable, natural-looking and fashionable, the group reports.

Each Strands for Stars client is paired with a professional hair stylist; together, they discuss the client’s individual needs, including hair color, accessorizing and style. Some of the prosthetics include hats with attached hair (to accommodate a youngster with an affinity for ball caps, for example). “Wigs can be hot,” notes Eblen Foundation spokesperson Susan Riddle, adding, “The hat option is cooler — literally and stylewise.”

Strands for Stars has already begun working with cancer patients and is ready to reach out to others.

To learn more about the organization or make a donation, call 225-4045 or visit their Web site (

— Brian Sarzynski

City manager to retire

After 10 years of service, Asheville City Manager Jim Westbrook is calling it quits. The city’s CEO and highest-paid employee announced on Aug. 18 that he will retire in March 2005.

The news came as a surprise for City Council members, who first learned about it in a closed session held immediately after the Aug. 17 Council meeting. The next day, Mayor Charles Worley issued a letter to city employees, the media and the public praising Westbrook for his “unequivocal level of public service for nearly four decades.” Under his leadership, said the letter, city government was able to “evolve into a high-performance organization.”

Westbrook took the helm in Asheville in 1994, just months after a newly elected City Council had fired City Manager Doug Bean — the very night they were sworn in. That 4-3 vote sparked an uproar that led to two recall efforts (one against the Council members who fired Bean, and one against those who voted to keep him). Both efforts failed.

But the hiring process to select Bean’s replacement was plagued by allegations of backroom shenanigans. Critics bemoaned the hiring of a private consultant to screen candidates and the whittling down of the applicant field from 268 to two with no public input.

Westbrook, too, faced a possible firing last year when four Council members alleged that the city manager had been unresponsive to their requests during that year’s budget process. But after a closed-session meeting, Council opted to not vote on the matter, and Westbrook survived.

At press time, the city hadn’t indicated how the hiring process will be handled this time around. But Council member Brownie Newman told Xpress that he and his colleagues had talked briefly after the announcement and concluded that the process needs to start as soon as possible.

— Brian Sarzynski

We’re all in this together

In this life, it’s a long row to hoe if you’re going it alone.

But the folks at the Katuah Bioregional Network know that, and they’d like you to know as well. To help foster and strengthen community ties, the group will be hosting an Interdependence Celebration on Sunday, Aug. 29 at the Pearson Community Garden in Montford. The event kicks off with a medicinal- and wild-plant walk through the garden at 5 p.m., followed by a potluck based on wild, local and seasonal foods, beginning at 6 p.m. The evening will culminate in a barter circle where participants can swap goods and services.

The event is an encore for the group’s successful July 4 Interdependence Day Celebration. Like all events at the Pearson Community Garden, this one is free for all. To find the garden, take Montford Avenue almost to the end, then turn left onto Santee Street. At the T-intersection, turn right on Pearson Drive. After passing Hibriten Drive on the right, look for a “dead end” sign and park along the street. The garden is located just off Pearson Drive.

For more information, call their toll-free voice mail at (866) 460-2945, or send an e-mail to

— Brian Sarzynski


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