Cyma Shapiro

Bintou Ceesay: The Muscle Whisperer

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

In her childhood homeland of Gambia, Bintou Ceesay’s grandfather would make his grandchildren massage his feet at the end of a hard day. When her own mother was pregnant and took a bad fall, Bintou watched her remedy this by placing warm, wet towels on her aching low back. Growing up, her father placed high value on a healthy lifestyle and always being active. The importance of eating right, self-care, and all the other aspects of “maintaining the physical being” became a high priority in Bintou’s daily life.

At age 15, during a time of great political unrest, her parents sent her to live with her sister in Maryland. By 21, she yearned to be with schoolmates and enjoy better weather, so she moved, again – this time to Charlotte.

More than a handful of years later, she had her first professional massage – an experience which set the course of her life in an entirely new direction.

“When I got my massage, I said, ‘That’s incredible, when done the right way!’ ” So, she set out to investigate this as a possible new career, with the idea that she might offer this same experience to others. Within a few years, she had signed up for massage therapy school; nine years ago (during her pregnancy!), she received her license.

Bintou, 40, is now in her sixth year as a full-time professional massage therapist. Having lived in Matthews for more than two years and working in town for six, Bintou finds it to be “a good balance of location and a good balance of people.” She says it has also provided a home for both her family and her business. “Matthews has a lot to offer!” Bintou said.

But, it is her love of massage combined with her love of helping people that fuels her passion for getting up and going to work each day. “This is a career that is very much tied to who I am as a person,” said Bintou. “The muscles and anatomy are underappreciated and overlooked. Massage is the perfect balance of everything.”

“I believe in [this],” she said. “They come and try massage therapy and find it meaningful for themselves...addressing the whole being.” Recently, a client asked her how she knew where to focus on.  She responded with a laugh, “You can call me the ‘Muscle Whisperer.’”

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Setting the Stage for Selling Your Home

Home staging by    Stage It!

Home staging by Stage It!

When Realtor Karen B. Mendenhall entered the real estate business in 1993, she envisioned working alongside her husband in the field forever.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) surveys show 77% of buyers’ agents said staging a home made it easier for a buyer to visualize the property as a future home.

However, by 2005, she saw an opportunity to capitalize on both her love of furnishings and her love of real estate by entering the field of home staging. Around since the 70s, home staging has gained popularity in recent decades thanks to the proliferation of real estate reality TV shows. The goal of staging is to make the home appealing for a faster sale and, theoretically, for more money. In home staging, a variety of techniques are used, ranging from adding furniture and accessories to painting and renovations. The end goal is to give potential buyers a more attractive impression of the property. “It is a fallacy that only high-end houses need or deserve this 'facelift' in order to get top dollar,” Karen said, adding that, “all houses deserve it.” Within one year of starting her business, she secured another employee, and by 2008 she decided to quit real estate altogether and go all in with home staging. She has never looked back. 

Home staging by    Stage It!

Home staging by Stage It!

According to the NAR, staging the living room for buyers was found to be most important, followed by the master bedroom, then the kitchen.

Today, her company, Stage It!, in Matthews, is one of at least 30 Charlotte-area home staging companies.

Tina Whitley, a local realtor with Allen Tate, agrees with Karen. Whether through a professional stager or simply taking advice from a realtor, every home needs a thorough decluttering. Tina elaborated, “Every home should be "staged" to some degree before putting it on the market. I tell my sellers that they are moving, so pack up what extras are in the house, make it look like a magazine and get ready to move!” That well-appointed, pared down interior helps buyers see their own furnishings in place, creating a more dynamic connection.

According to several sources, 2019 is trending toward creamy whites with pops of mid-tone blues, natural materials such as rattan on furniture, brushed gold light fixtures and hardware on cabinets, wood flooring, and quartz or marble counters.

Though trends may change, Karen doesn’t see staging “going by the wayside. The way you live at home, and the way you sell a home and the way you market [it] are two different things. I think we’re almost a relief in allowing us to do this work for them.”

I.T.S. Athletic Training: The Extra Mile is Built on Character

In 2014 Felando Clark was at a crossroads in his life. His pastor asked him a few questions: 1) What do you dream of doing? 2) What do you feel when someone else does something really poorly? (And, in what field would this be?) 3) What would you do even if you could do it for free? The answer was simple. Within days he quit his job and became a personal trainer. He opened I.T.S. (Impact Training Systems) Athletic Training.

Today, at 50, the Mint Hill resident has numerous successes under his belt – all won through I.T.S.

Last year, one of his clients was a first-round draft for the NFL; this year, three of his clients/kids are entering the NFL draft. Another client was just signed to play professional arena football.

In 2014, he started an eighth-grade football training program designed to help athletes prepare for high school football. Of the 13 kids enrolled in that program, eight of them went on to play football in college.

During football season (July – October), he helps train kids who come from all over the country to attend the nearby Jireh Prep School, hoping to shore up their sports or academic skills necessary to transfer to a Division I team.

His current success? A female middle school student who is one of the top middle school soccer players in North Carolina, playing on a state team which travels to and competes with other state-teams. Felando believes she’s so good that she might end up qualifying for the USA soccer team, in a future Olympics.

Although Felando clearly has a fire in his belly to win (as do many of his kids), he places as much emphasis on the character and leadership qualities he has helped instill in them. He says he knows that talent, alone, will not take them very far (or give them longevity) in the professional leagues – it is the innate qualities which will also help make sports stars. And, in many cases, both he and they are aiming for the top.

But, Felando does not just measure success by his client’s professional achievements, he also helps senior citizens, and dozens of other adults get fit, find confidence and become healthier. He takes innate pleasure in assisting them to reach their own goals and seeing them push through to conquer their personal challenges.

Retelling his four-year journey, Felando marvels at his fork-in-the-path story, his subsequent life-choice, and his well-deserved happiness with its successful outcome.

What are Felando’s favorite quotes? “Go the extra mile – the lines are shorter,” and “I can’t’ is not an option!”

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

I.T.S. Athletic Training
640-E Matthews Mint Hill Road/Matthews Executive Park
Facebook: @ITSCoachClark

Meet Your Neighbors: The Milledges

Photo courtesy Sarah Milledge

Photo courtesy Sarah Milledge

In 2011, when Sarah Milledge (née McAuliffe), now 37, met Jermaine Milledge, now 34, the disparity in their lives couldn’t be greater. She came from a small town. He came from a big city. Sarah is Caucasian and petite and loves to talk. Jermaine is 6’7”, was working on a Master’s Degree (she had her BA), is African-American and doesn’t love to talk. He is also a few years her junior.

“It was like ‘yin and yang,’ “said Jermaine.

What they did share was a common employer (State of Michigan); the fact that both had lost their fathers at an early age and, most importantly, that both are blind. Sarah suddenly lost her vision from Type I diabetes at the age of 23. Jermaine has been visually impaired since birth.

What they found, together, was love, commonality, a life dedicated to promoting awareness of the possibilities for those experiencing vision loss (and other disabilities) and the importance of community, diversity, and inclusion.

Together, they have a handful of degrees, certifications, sit on several state boards and have significant job experiences to their credit. (They both also sit on the town’s Diversity Council). Moving to Matthews four years ago for work has been a blessing. They recently purchased a new home in town which they share with Sarah’s Yellow Labrador, Echo, 12.

“Community is huge,” said Sarah. “We get a lot of help from a lot of people in Matthews. We love Matthews.”

Today, the pair knows they are role models for others with challenging disabilities. “It’s not something I tried to be,” said Jermaine, “but you just become that by having certain successes. You kind of become a trailblazer in a way. To show people that you can succeed despite barriers.”

“We advocate every day for ourselves and our clients who are also visually impaired,” said Sarah. “Living in a world with disability – that won’t stop. We’re always setting goals; I think we have empathy. We know what it’s like to be misrepresented; to overcome barriers.”

In the end, it is their love and connection that will remain. “I absolutely love my husband,” said Sarah. “We work so well together as a team…. There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. We have climbed the mountain. We feel like we have an army around us with family and friends.”

Michelle Sigler's Trifecta of Healing

I felt like I could [originally] help people with just their muscular-skeletal issues. Many think acupuncture is [just] for pain – but it’s actually so much more – anxiety, infertility, allergies… It treats the mind, body, and spirit.
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To long-time massage therapist, Michelle Sigler, 56, of Charlotte, simply doing massage therapy on her clients did not seem to satisfy her deepest desires to help her patients find optimal pain relief.

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“I loved that I was helping people on a very deep level,” she said. “I wanted them to really relax, de-stress, and heal. However, I felt limited by how I could help – I wanted to help them in other areas.”

And so, after trying acupuncture, herself, and finding help and personal relief, she returned to her school, nearly one decade later (this time, at the Jung Tao School of Classical Chinese Medicine in Sugar Grove, NC), to become an acupuncturist. That was 2010. She sequentially furthered her education by going on to complete a two-year program of Chinese Herbal Studies at the Academy for Five Element Acupuncture in Gainesville, Florida.

Today, she feels she can offer the best possible services – a trifecta, really, of massage, acupuncture, and Chinese herbs - all specifically individually designed for her clients’ health. (She’s also a Reiki Master.) Add in her other specialties such as pregnancy massage, hot stone massage, and facial rejuvenation acupuncture and Michelle feels more than satisfied with the wide range of services she can offer.

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“I felt like I could [originally] help people with just their muscular-skeletal issues,” she said. “Many think acupuncture is [just] for pain – but it’s actually so much more – anxiety, infertility, allergies….. It treats the mind, body, and spirit.”

At the heart of her work is the knowledge that these treatments and modalities offer an Eastern perspective and an alternative to traditional Western medicine-care.

“I want people to know that they have an alternative to their healthcare,” she said. “That they have health freedom and that they can choose which direction they want to go.”

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Michelle realizes that some people’s fear of needles or, of the unknown, is something she must navigate while providing care. “I think that people are scared about acupuncture because they associate needles with getting shots at a doctor’s office,” she said. “[Those types of] needles tear the skin, these needles are [small and] solid.”

However, her overarching philosophy remains fundamental to her work. “[Acupuncture] is based on a Daoist philosophy - the perspective is very different – it’s very holistic cosmic energies of cold, wind, heat, damp, dryness and existing in us,” explained Michelle. “We are born from the earth and so the energies that we see in nature are a part of us – and they resonate with us.”

While acupuncture is used for pain relief and musculoskeletal problems, it can easily be used for any number of other ailments ranging from infertility and hormone imbalance to sleep and digestive function.

The history Chinese acupuncture dates back a few thousand years; it was first referenced in 100 BCE. Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine in which thin solid needles are inserted into the skin at various “acupuncture points” along specific pathways, called meridians, located throughout the body. It is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine which states in order to achieve optimal health, good “qi” or “chi” (energy/life flow), a person’s yin/yang must be in balance. The very light, small needles (smaller than a sewing needle) used are of various sizes and lengths. Sessions range from 20 minutes to one hour. The number of needles used corresponds to the condition being treated, its severity, and the philosophy of the practitioner.

While acupuncture is used for pain relief and musculoskeletal problems, it can easily be used for any number of other ailments ranging from infertility and hormone imbalance to sleep and digestive function.

“I have seen miraculous things,” Michelle said. “I’ve seen people who are very discouraged by the western medical system and get the runaround by one specialist and another… They are not getting relief. I can help people – that’s what keeps me motivated to do this kind of work.”

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Michelle Sigler, LAc LMBT
1118 Sam Newell Rd, #D3

Mark Frye: Alchemist of Love

They had endured innumerable crises and experiences; their love was a story for the ages. Harry and Carla Workman turned to Matthews jeweler Mark Frye to capture their constant faith and love in wearable form.

Photo courtesy Mark Frye

Photo courtesy Mark Frye

When long-time jeweler, Mark Frye, manager of Trade Street Jewelers (100 West John Street), was asked to create a one-of-a-kind necklace for the Workman family, last fall, he knew little about the back story and the long journey which was about to unfold right before his eyes.

His clients, Harry and Carla Workman of Mint Hill, had previously lived a 15-year family journey – starting with Carla taking on Harry’s three children at marriage, to Carla’s subsequent diagnosis with cancer. Then, four years ago, her mother was diagnosed with brain cancer (and passed).

The original design created by Harry Workman’s daughter.

The original design created by Harry Workman’s daughter.

They had endured innumerable crises and experiences; this was a story for the ages, said Harry, who had all along imagined an infinity symbol with an anchor as an indelible image reflecting their constant faith and love.

And, so, he asked his daughter to create such an image; they also toyed with getting matching tattoos on their ring fingers. Then, one day, last year, he got a tattoo of such an anchor on his forearm and went home to show his wife.

She said, “I’m not going to get a tattoo like that!” But, she had a thought: to create a likeness of that same image using pieces of both her mother’s jewelry and her own. Who better to ask this of but her beloved jeweler, Mark.

By using the images provided, Mark would make a three-dimensional piece of what was two dimensional. Together with a designer from Texas, who cast the piece, the result would allow “the full design with the breaks and wraps” which you can’t see on the flat image.

At points, Mark says, he and the Workmans were in touch so often that their conversations eclipsed those he’d usually have with his family or children. One month later, the final creation was born.

Photo courtesy Mark Frye

Photo courtesy Mark Frye

“I love the symbol of all of it,” said Carla. “It’s beautiful,” she said, adding that she wears it all the time. To secure the free-dangling hooks, Mark eventually put the three-dimensional piece on a solid shape of white gold so that the fragile end pieces wouldn’t break or get caught on clothing.

“The tattoo has become a story of our love story,” Harry said. “The emblem has become a family crest. [Now] Carla wears precious metal from the precious family. [Our symbol] is memorialized from this medallion that Mark made so beautifully.”

Although Mark is often asked to make custom pieces, this experience has touched his heart and cemented his relationship with the Workmans. “This was a unique experience,” he said. “This was different because it had a story that had deep sentiment to them - that was the significance.” Add in the request “coming from an already great customer,” and the result meant a lot to Mark, too. It is work which gives his talents and skills even greater meaning.

In the future, Harry doesn’t think that any more anchors will be created for family members, but he and Carla have their own design, forever. “It’s something really special between us,” said Carla. “That we’re always going to be bound together…in infinity.”

Kind of like their relationship with Mark.

Photo courtesy Harry Workman

Photo courtesy Harry Workman

Trade Street Jewelers
100 W John St, Matthews
(704) 321-7944

M - F 10 a.m. til 5 p.m.
Sa 10 a.m. til 4 p.m.

Stacks Kitchen: Matthews' Modern Diner

I want people to feel comfortable here. That everyone is smiling and they don’t feel out of place.
— George Gagis
Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

When George Gagis’ brother-in-law moved from New Jersey to North Carolina 10 years ago to open a breakfast place, George decided to follow. With a lifetime of hospitality experience with his family in restaurants and catering, it stood to reason that the family would enter another business venture together. This one was called Stacks Kitchen, and it was in Waxhaw.

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Seeking other opportunities, his father and brother-in-law drove the surrounding areas looking for a second, larger, more visible location. Eight years ago, Stacks Kitchen in Matthews (11100 Monroe Road) was born. To hear George, 50, tell it, this would be his modern-day diner. Together with his wife, his relatives, and often his teenage sons and nephew, it would be another home away from home filled with good food, a homey atmosphere and full of heart. The menu would reflect that of a diner, with a smattering of specialty items, including those from his childhood - Greek favorites (moussaka and some desserts, for example).

Today, Stacks is one of the most popular breakfast/lunch restaurants in Matthews. On this weekday brunch hour, the restaurant was nearly filled, with many regulars and almost one dozen staff (he has 30 employees) diligently doing their jobs. He says his turnover rate is very low. “I love it here,” said waitress, Ashley Peters, 19, of Matthews. “The people are great, and they care about you.”

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

At the heart of it all is George, who, together with his wife feel this as their pride and joy – an extension of their lifeblood and an opportunity to make all who enter feel more than welcome.

To continue with this sense of connectedness, George has intentionally kept the restaurant hours to a minimum – no dinner, drinks, or late-night meals - the restaurant is open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. so that he can stay home with his family. “It is a diner,” he said, “but does not have the hours of a diner.”

However, he works seven days a week, nearly 365 days a year, patiently and meticulously overseeing all facets of the organization, circling the room, making sure that diners are happy, content and well-fed. “I want people to feel comfortable here,” he said. “That everyone is smiling and they don’t feel out of place.”

It is a sentiment echoed by many of those interviewed in the restaurant. “This is good food and good people,” said Michael Keith, of SouthPark. A regular customer who has been going to Stacks six days a week for the past five years, Michael referenced that his 18-mile daily roundtrip commute is always well worth it. He echoed George’s sentiments entirely, too: “It’s a great place to be at. It’s more like a real diner.”

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Stacks Kitchen
11100 Monroe Rd, Matthews
Open 7 Days a week: 6 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Morning Minute: Monday, February 4, 2019

News About Town: Matthews Fire & EMS is launching a new community education effort called #ScenarioSunday. Head over to their Facebook page to take Sunday’s poll and learn more about the fire safety ordinances in Matthews. This week they want to know if you know whether or not it’s legal to burn yard waste in town.


News Around Town: Pro Active Chiropractic PA (300 East John St, Ste 130) is hosting a wellness mini-expo tomorrow, February 5, from noon until 3 p.m. Meet local wellness experts, get a free physical exam, and learn about the benefits of chiropractic care.

One Good Thing: Beloved Beacon writer Cyma Shapiro is a finalist in #QueenCityPodQuest, a contest sourcing WFAE’s next local podcast. Cyma’s podcast project, “Women Speak,” will be a weekly talk radio show dedicated to interviewing women in area (from the well-known to the unsung heroes), talking about real issues facing women in the #CLT. Voting begins today and runs through February 17. The proposal with the most votes wins. Please support Cyma and vote for “Women Speak”.

Pappy's Cuts, Downtown Matthews

A step into Pappy’s Cuts is a step back in time.

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

A step into Pappy’s Cuts (208 West Matthews Street) is a step back in time. Old-fashioned toys on shelves, older photos on walls; sports memorabilia proudly displayed around the room. A sparsely decorated waiting room, an inner room with two hairdressing chairs (only one is still used) and original wood paneling make it all feel like yesteryear.

Add in the spirit of the beloved original owner, David Large, Sr. (who passed in 2017), but remains in the hearts and minds of many clients (now in their 70s, 80s, 90s and even over 100), and you get the feeling that time has truly stood still – what remains is the ever-steady presence of David’s son, David Large Jr., 49, of Mint Hill, who chose, more than one dozen years ago, to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

The only noticeable differences: the original $5 haircuts are now a fixed $10; a 2018 shop name change from Barber Shop to Pappy’s Cuts – was done in memory of and in tribute to David Jr.’s dad.

In truth, very little else has changed since the Large’s originally took ownership of the building in 1996, itself already frozen in time with much of the original 1950s décor. (His mother originally used a significant portion of the house for her finance business; only small two rooms encompass the barbershop).  

A dry-wit abounds here – a gentle, but constant ribbing of and by the owner, as his many long-time clients revolve in and out of the front door. David’s title on his business card: “Cranium Sculpting Engineer;” a specialty price, $7 for “Follically Challenged” patrons (balding or sparsely-haired) all attest to a place where stories are shared and camaraderie appreciated and encouraged.
Many older clients come through just to sit in the waiting room and/or the shop to banter about stories; as long as paying clients aren’t in the seat, David obliges.

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

David is more than a barber – a therapist, friend, buddy, and confidant. If only the walls could speak…

The end result for David, like his father before him, is the “tons of best friends…and golfing buddies” he’s gained, many of whom share his love of sports (he was also a marathon runner).  He says that to many repeat clients, he’s more than a barber – a therapist, friend, buddy, and confidant. If only the walls could speak…

Choosing to remain silent on many stories, one of his most memorable moments was shaving off the hair of eight buddies (two with long braided hair), who wanted to support a good friend struggling with the after-effects of cancer treatment.

The father of a 14-year-old daughter, David says that her Saturday presence - to mop and sweep floors - gives him the inkling that she may choose to go to hairdressing school and potentially follow in his footsteps. If not, it remains an all-in-the-family operation with his wife also in and out of the shop. (His early end-hours reflect his need to get his daughter from school and spend quality time with his family).

On this day, an 85-year-old long-time client and his 80-year-brother were getting their hair cut. “I just want to get a good haircut!” ribbed the older brother as he finally got his turn in the chair. Speaking loudly, David asked him to take out his hearing aids so they wouldn’t get cut. It was another fine day at the local barbershop.

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We provide men’s haircuts with great skill at good prices. No up-charges, no bull. And we throw in some laughs, a lot of sports talk (ok, maybe there’s some bull going on here), and random conversation.

At the shop, we “do” simple. No online appointments, no answering machine. If we answer the phone, we’re here.
— @pappyscutsmatthewsnc

Pappy’s Cuts

Mondays from 8 a.m. – noon
Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m
Saturday from 7:30 a.m. – noon


Coming Out in Matthews

...we have a unique experience, and that’s not something to be overlooked or made unimportant.
— Alex Brookins
Photo courtesy Alex Brookins

Photo courtesy Alex Brookins

When Alexander Brookins openly began his transition four years ago, both his Providence High School administrators and his family and their friends did not know how to cope.

His parents anguished over how they might best respond to his needs.

His teachers did not know what pronoun to use with him or what bathroom to offer him. They also did not have a vehicle for his subsequent request to change his name legally.

Alex was adjusting to his new public gender identity while many of his friends were also coming into their own undefined identities and sexualities; a few were just “coming out.”

Everyone needed support; most especially the kids.

Also at Providence in 2015 were senior Derby Belser and her then-girlfriend, Kelly Berenfeld, a sophomore. While they didn’t walk down the hallways holding hands or show “PDA” (public displays of affection), they did tell their friends and family and posted their relationship status on social media. One of the very few gay couples to openly come out in high school in Matthews, they now both consider themselves unexpected role models.

According to several educators, these young adults have changed the landscape of how these issues are addressed in school. Kids, now young adults, who, in openly exploring their sexuality and questioning concepts of gender, started a broader public discussion.

Society is progressing. Matthews is, as well, especially being so close to Charlotte... I’m glad that we were able to pioneer in our high school and set the example.
— Kelly Berenfeld

“In high school, they are trying to figure out who they are and how they identify,” said Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Advisor Sharon Walker, who came onboard in 2006. “The population you would see in August would be different than May,” she explained. “The stigma about talking about these issues 20 years ago doesn’t exist today. And, when you take away that stigma, it takes away the ‘charge.’ ”

“It’s important for adults who work with students to just be aware of new studies and new information coming out about these students,” she said. “There are so many different ways that students identify [themselves]. The fluidity of that is different than [a generation ago],” she said.

To stay abreast of trends and an increasing amount of information, Sharon regularly attends conferences and diversity workshops and takes the GSA group each year to the Carolina Conference for Queer Youth/Queer Conference at UNCC.

Derby Belser and Kelly Berenfeld.  Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Derby Belser and Kelly Berenfeld. Photo by Cyma Shapiro

While adults in the oldest generations might be struggling for ways to cope with these changing mores, those in the youngest generations and the adults working with them have increasingly developed a vernacular and support systems designed to provide comfort and guidance.

“I believe, in the last five years, [all of this has] become a much more relevant conversation,” said PHS’s guidance counselor, Lindsay Walker. “Our Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) has become a very supportive group on campus. Students have become much more aware of the LBGT community – it’s a more comfortable conversation. The students are more supportive of all [of the] students.”

I think that Matthews is being forced in a new direction. When Christians support the community, a whole lot changes. If there’s a change, I think the whole society will change.
— Derby Belser

Initially, the Providence High School club was called the “Ally Club” (as in, a person who supports someone else). About one year later, the group became the GSA. The original handful of kids were “quiet, timid, sullen,” said Sharon. “I was very concerned about these youth,” she said, adding that many of the original participating students were faced with bullying of all kinds.

Noting that this population is at a higher risk for suicide (the rate is 4x higher for the LGBTQ+ population in general, and 40% of transgender individuals have attempted suicide), and because, as a counselor, she is ethically obligated to advocate for any students who are in need of services or at-risk, she became even more passionate about her work and helping keep the kids safe. “My passion comes from a point of being an advocate,” said Sharon. “I can’t educate my students if they aren’t alive.”

In the spring of 2016, following a ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., CMS adopted regulations designed to allow students to use locker rooms and restrooms that fit their identity. Those regulations also permit students to use their preferred name and pronouns in yearbooks and during graduation ceremonies. That same year, gender identity was added to CMS’s bullying policy.

My passion comes from a point of being an advocate. I can’t educate my students if they aren’t alive.
— Sharon Walker

When CMS passed its new anti-bullying policy, it became necessary for teachers to address the issue and receive staff training. Although many (especially older) staff members were initially resistant to this change in societal mores – referencing faith and other personal beliefs – the PHS administration was very supportive of the students and the GSA group.

Now, Sharon’s GSA group numbers 30 to 40 students who officially join each year, with 20 to 30 students who attend weekly meetings. Student officers present a variety of topics ranging from historical perspectives to how to be with relatives during the holidays. Occasionally, speakers from Charlotte’s Time Out Youth (the area’s largest LGBTQ+ nonprofit resource center) will also provide workshops. Students also participate in Day of Silence, a campaign to raise awareness about the shame and silencing issues surrounding the LGBTQ+ community.

Across town, Butler High School’s GSA was started about ten years ago with a handful of students requesting the opportunity to just meet and talk. Now, there are 30 to 50 kids in attendance, according to GSA Adviser Marcia Smith. The group meets twice a month – once for educational purposes and the other as a social gathering.

“I think we’ve made a lot of progress,” said PHS’s Sharon Walker. “We’re here as a resource and support – part education, part advocacy, and support.“

As a junior at Providence High School, Alex became the first publicly transgender student at PHS. He was also the first Matthews student to achieve the opportunity to change his name on the school roster without a corresponding name on his birth certificate. (He later became Vice President and Co-President of the GSA group at school.)

Today, Alex understands the importance of shared experiences but does not necessarily navigate toward trans-individuals and groups. “The experience we share is grief and upset, and that’s not a really good way to build relationships,” he said, continuing: “I don’t want to be that negative…we didn’t know how to support each other. We didn’t know how to handle our own feelings, let alone help [one another].”

“I’m grateful to have this experience of being trans and having a different perspective of the world than a lot of people have,” he said. “I spent a lot of my life feeling like I’m not one thing or another – [that] we are not ‘normal,’ ” said Alex.

“But, we have a unique experience, and that’s not something to be overlooked or made unimportant.”

In the past few years, Kelly has provided guidance and support to friends and acquaintances discovering their sexuality (many of whom acknowledge that they could not share this fact with their parents).

Derby has become the chair of her college sorority’s diversity and inclusivity arm. She also recently posted a coming-out Youtube (and Facebook) video titled, “Just a Southern Gay Sorority Christian Coming Out,” which now has more than 2,000 views.

“It is important to stay actively gay and open in the community – not to show that this is a passing phase,” said Derby. “I think that Matthews is being forced in a new direction,” she added, indicating that when she lived in town, she felt judgment from her church. “When Christians support the community, a whole lot changes. If there’s a change, I think the whole society will change.”

Kelly echoes Derby’s sentiments: “Society is progressing,” she said. “Matthews is, as well, especially being so close to Charlotte... I’m glad that we were able to pioneer in our high school and set the example. I know there are a lot of people who are more comfortable being out because of us. I appreciate that we could have done that for people.”

In the end, it is Sharon Walker’s perspective that best captures the current status of this movement and group: “A lot of the students in public schools are pioneers in what this is going to look like,” said Sharon. Whether it’s HB2 (bathroom policy) or something else, she said, “this has become a much bigger conversation, and it’s only going to continue to grow.”

According to 2015 CDC data regarding LGBTQ+ students:

  • 10% were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property;

  • 34% were bullied on school property;

  • 28% were bullied online;

  • 23% of LGB students who dated during the 12 months before the survey had experienced sexual dating violence in the prior year;

  • 18% of LGB students had experienced physical dating violence;

  • 18% of LGB students had been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point in their lives.

Bethany Salisbury: Capturing Pets in Paints

Photo of Bethany Salisbury courtesy the artist

Photo of Bethany Salisbury courtesy the artist

I’m lucky to be able to do [this work]. It’s been my passion since I was a kid. I love animals and I love to paint.

Bethany Salisbury, 31, of Matthews, knows a thing or two about pets and pet portraits. That would be nearly 900 things to be exact – the number of pet portraits painted by Bethany in the last handful of years.

A commercial artist, illustrator, and designer, Bethany has had much success with her pet portraiture, illustration and traditional paintings. And, while it is “80% dogs,” it’s also cats, rabbits, horses, birds, elephants, goats, a few ferrets, and sometimes people.

The series "Beer Dogs" will soon be on display at Temple Mojo in downtown Matthews.  Photo by Cyma Shapiro

The series "Beer Dogs" will soon be on display at Temple Mojo in downtown Matthews. Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Since her mainstay is on social media, and with online orders, her clients come from all over the world (Australia, Africa, Hong Kong, to name a few places) and throughout the country. “I get a lot of repeat customers,” she said. “Many buy these for gifts.”

A childhood spent at art camp and in private art lessons, with minimal TV watching and maximum encouragement to create, combined with a love of animals led her to do just that: create paper dolls, make graphic novels and comic books about dogs.

“I’ve always grown up with animals,” she said.

The series "Beer Dogs" will soon be on display at Temple Mojo in downtown Matthews.  Photo by Cyma Shapiro

The series "Beer Dogs" will soon be on display at Temple Mojo in downtown Matthews. Photo by Cyma Shapiro

While she captures the often impassioned and enamored looks of her subjects - “I think dogs are expressive,” she said. “I think it’s kind of second nature (to intuit their) emotions” - she is also not immune to the whiles of animals, herself. Bethany and her husband are the proud owners of one Miniature Long Haired Dachshund, Mochi, and an Australian Cattle Dog named River.

“I’m lucky to be able to do [this work]” said Bethany. “It’s been my passion since I was a kid. I love animals and I love to paint.”

Giant Genie Pharmacy and Community-Based Health Care

Here we have solutions that nobody else has... We’re applying the knowledge that we learned in school; not many pharmacists can say that in a daily setting.
Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

To Bill Henning, Pharm.D., pharmacy manager and minority partner of Giant Genie Pharmacy (2925 Senna Dr.), compounding is both an art and a bonus to offering traditional pharmacy services. The pharmacy is one of two compounding pharmacies in Matthews and has been in town since 2010.

“People have to go back to believing the pharmacy is a health-care provider,” said Bill. “We need to be that point of contact in the community because people can reach us.”

In the 17th to 19th centuries, compounding in the US was a function of physicians who prescribed and created their patients’ medications. In the 20th century, with the advent of mass-drug manufacturing, compounding decreased. Today, the industry is experiencing a resurgence as the importance and need for custom-made medications becomes more prevalent.

According to Wikipedia, pharmaceutical compounding is the creation of a particular pharmaceutical product to fit the unique need of a patient. To do this, compounding pharmacists combine or process appropriate ingredients using various tools. This may be done for medically necessity, such as to change the form of the medication from a solid pill to a liquid, to avoid a non-essential ingredient that the patient is allergic to, or to obtain the exact dose needed (not already readily available). It is also the basis for creating bio-identical hormones.

Approximately 5-10% of Genie Pharmacy’s business involves prescriptions for animals.

“It’s exciting…that we can have an impact on so many people from pediatrics to geriatrics,” said Bill. “I have a lot of colleagues who work for big-chain pharmacies…they are put in a more [prescriptive] role where they are expected to fill [a certain number of] prescriptions a day and can’t pick up the phone to talk with people. Here we have solutions that nobody else has... We’re applying the knowledge that we learned in school; not many pharmacists can say that in a daily setting.”

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

The pharmacy retains a staff of four pharmacists and a few drivers – a staple since they offer free delivery.

While the downside of compounding is the cost – approximately $40 - $60 more per month, the individual attention to medication, coupled with a drive for customer service and a “family feel” often makes these Mom and Pop pharmacies more desirable.

“I enjoy it because I wake up each day and get to be excited to come to work,” said Bill.

Meet your Neighbors: Jeff Turk

There are universal experiences, but viewing it through the unique lens of the Jewish experience, around the world, does give greater understanding, great empathy and greater connection with [all] our neighbors.
Photo of Jeff Turk by Cyma Shapiro

Photo of Jeff Turk by Cyma Shapiro

When long-time Matthews resident and a recent Matthews 101 graduate, Jeff Turk, co-chair of the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival Screening Committee, attends the opening of the upcoming festival, he will again “kvell” (Yiddish for “feel happy and proud”) that another year of Jewish movie going-greats will again be offered in the city.

Now, in its fifteenth year, the festival will offer thirteen films between February 9 and March 3. More than 5,000 film-goers are expected to attend. Five writers/directors/actors will also be present to promote and lead discussions regarding some of the films. This year’s biggest draw will be former Houston Astros player, Josh Zeib – on hand for one of the movies.

As co-chair, Jeff and 15 others work year-round to find and screen films, concentrating on the months between June and October. At the end of this period, they will have vetted and watched 200 films, paring them down to what they believe will be the “best” choices available.

For Jeff, the current president of the Board of Directors of the Levine Jewish Community Center (JCC), this involvement, and decades of prior significant volunteer service, provides the satisfaction that comes from both building bridges in the community and helping present the Jewish experience. He has also volunteered his time with various other arts organizations. The film festival remains a long-time endeavor and one in which he’s especially proud.

“There are universal experiences,” said Jeff, “but viewing it through the unique lens of the Jewish experience, around the world, does give greater understanding, great empathy and greater connection with [all] our neighbors.”

“The film festival provides illuminating cultural opportunities….stories with universal appeal, (but) with a Jewish (slant),” he said. “I’d like to reach out to the greater community to become an audience member. Because anybody who has an interest in good films, other cultures and religion, will have a real appreciation for [this]…It really does illuminate the Jewish experience and, I hope, it makes a positive impact on our community.”

For more information, e-mail

Birdwatching in Matthews

To be in the natural environment, it’s inherently relaxing. When you know the sounds, you are much more aware of what’s around.
— Tony Lombardino
Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

When Matthews resident, Tony Lombardino, repeatedly appeared in Laurie Horne’s bird supply-store, Backyard Birds (1819 Matthews Township Parkway), the shop owner began to take notice. Tony didn’t ask many questions but knew much about birds, fowl, and wildlife.

Hawk photo via Unsplash

Hawk photo via Unsplash

As time went on, Laurie realized he seemingly had all the answers. She also learned that he was an avid birder who has lead many bird walks for visitors to the Rockefeller University Field Research Center in Millbrook, NY, and as a docent at the Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University. She asked if he would lead her monthly bird walk group, and, so, the second-Saturday-of-the-month bird walks at (first Squirrel Lake and now) Colonel Francis Beatty Park began. That was more than three years ago.

Today, a dedicated group of between five to twelve individuals regularly join Tony, and, of course, Laurie. Not all are bird aficionados; some are photographers. But, all share a love of the wild, nature, and, of course, birds.

"This is very informative,” said Laurie, “and not just the birds you see in the back yard feeders.” Over the years, the group has seen dozens of seasonal birds, waterfowl and even a bald eagle.

On this frigid day, eight people joined Tony to walk the park. Conversation excitedly turned to what birds people had seen recently, and then to the specific birds right near them: Ruby-crowned ringlet (only here in winter), gadwall (duck), song sparrow, chipping sparrow, red-tailed hawk, and brown-headed nuthatch. Each sound and visual spotting produced a flurry of discussion with rapid-fire identification and other ancillary, but related information.

Also present was wildlife biologist and avid birdwatcher, David Crowe, on his first meet-up with the Matthews group. “This is a fun travel hobby,” he said. “You can stay watching birds all year.”

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

With an education in neurobiology, and experience working on a 12-acre wildlife refuge, Tony learned decades ago about the lifestyle of birds in the wild, how they reproduce, and nearly all the bird songs and calls. (Tony’s original work focused on the song of birds and how their brains produce the sounds). Ornithology remains a deep love and passion.

“When I’m hearing them, I know it’s part of the communication system,” said Tony. “[It’s] what allows them to propagate…and continue to be here….Everything we are seeing and tracking helps us appreciate what’s been here longer [than we have].”

Part of Tony and Laurie’s joint mission is to offer an experience which is both fun and informational. “People don’t realize how easy the bird walks are,” Laurie said. “They think you need hiking boots and dress. [In this case, you] walk from the parking lot to the field and stand watching.” The two picked Colonel Francis Beatty Park for “the terrain and the habitat it offers,” she said.

Tony explained, “There is consistency [in returning to] one area, be in nature, in something that’s deeply resonant for human beings. To be in the natural environment, it’s inherently relaxing. When you know the sounds, you are much more aware of what’s around.”

Backyard Birds
Matthews Festival Shopping Center
1819 Matthews Township Pkwy Suite 800 704-841-9453.

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Tammy Schoolcraft: Reiki for Wellness

Energy therapies like Reiki and Biofield Tuning work at treating the whole person body, mind, and emotions.  People are starting to think outside of the pillbox – they are sick and tired of being sick and tired and are finding relief and results outside of the traditional model.  I am passionate about helping client’s bodies to remember its own potential for healing itself naturally.
Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Seven years ago, Tammy Schoolcraft’s son was plagued by chronic ear infections and incessant anxiety; she tried every method possible to alleviate his symptoms. Thinking outside the box, she ended up taking him to a Reiki specialist. The outcome was immediate and transformative. While he changed for the positive, she changed, too.

According to the International Association of Reiki Professionals, Reiki is a spiritual healing art with Japanese roots. The word, “Reiki” comes from the Japanese word, “Rei,” which means “universal life” and ki” which means “energy. Not associated with a religion or religious practice, the modality is a subtle and effective form of energy work using guided life force energy. Reiki practitioners believe that everyone has the ability to connect with their own healing energy to strengthen energy within themselves. The goal is to achieve strong and free-flowing “ki” (or “chi”).

Reiki is associated with Mikao Usui who is credited with rediscovering this system, passed down by generations. A session is usually 60-90 minutes. The client can either choose to lie on a table or sit in a chair. The practitioner will apply a light touch or hands-off, holding hands slightly above the body.  The practitioner will go through specific standard Reiki hand positions starting at the head or feet. Reiki can be used for relaxation or stress reduction. It is also used to stimulate healing.

Photo courtesy Tammy Schoolcraft

Photo courtesy Tammy Schoolcraft

“My mom was always very open to feelings…so I was a little open to [things]…not in my realm,” she said. A series of subsequent related experiences changed her more fully, guiding her toward an even more natural philosophy and perspective. At first, it was considered “woo-woo,” she said, as family and friends wondered where her new approach might take her. But, after she began doing energy work on some of these same people, perceptions began to change.

She began studying the technique of Reiki and subsequently became a Reiki Master. In 2016, she took a Medical Reiki Training class which helped combine her previous experiences as a medical billing supervisor and pharmacy technician with her new-found energy work. She also met her future Reiki partner, Miri Klements. Together, they decided to introduce Reiki into the greater Charlotte medical community.

They were first offered the opportunity to bring Reiki to the staff at Mercy Hospital. Later, that summer, they were invited to participate in a pilot program offering Reiki to orthopedic trauma patients as an alternative to opioids at Carolinas Medical Center Main (now, Atrium). Subsequently, they were invited in to Levine Children’s Hospital Inpatient Rehabilitation to work with patients recovering from traumatic and nontraumatic brain injuries.

Most recently, she and her Reiki partner have also begun work at the LCH’s Hematology, Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic. To date, they have given over 1,000 treatments to children admitted to that unit. This year, they will again provide Reiki to Levine Children’s Hospital HEMONC/BMT patients.

One year ago, she opened her own office to provide clients with Reiki and to further concentrate on her newest passion -the modality of Biofield Tuning.

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Biofield Tuning, using tuning forks, is based on the principle that everything in the universe is made of vibration. When a body is out of sync or dis-ease, this methodology assumes the body has lost its rhythm. Tuning forks can be used to assist the nervous system and help stimulate the body to heal itself. By addressing the body on a cellular level, it is believed that a combination of sound and energy waves can help heal areas being addressed. Utilizing sound waves, tuning forks produce sound and vibration which engage the nervous system to help revert the effects of stress and increase energy.

“I wasn’t looking for a career, and I don’t [need] to work,” said Tammy. “It just has evolved into something I’ve developed a passion about. It’s something I’ve become so passionate about it’s not work. It’s about being a light for somebody who is trying to make it through their own journey.”

Explaining further, she amplified her belief in her work and the modalities she espouses. “The traditional healthcare model works beautifully for emergencies and treating ‘symptoms,’ but does little for overall continued well being,” Tammy said. “Energy therapies like Reiki and Biofield Tuning work at treating the whole person body, mind, and emotions.  People are starting to think outside of the pillbox – they are sick and tired of being sick and tired and are finding relief and results outside of the traditional model.  I am passionate about helping client’s bodies to remember its own potential for healing itself naturally,” she said. 

In the end, Tammy’s ongoing personal and professional journey toward wholeness and wellness continues to flourish and grow.

“I can’t imagine being without this [work] now,” she concludes.

 Tammy Schoolcraft , Reiki for Wellness, 325 Matthews Mint Hill Road, Matthews.