Beautifully and Wonderfully Made: Inspirational Recording Artist, DJ Coles

Recently, I stumbled on the cool, jazzy jams of a local artist, DJ Coles. I think it is so good that I can’t keep it to myself. Watch this short music video and see if you don’t agree.

DJ Coles Music (C) 2012

Vocally, DJ Coles is clearly gifted, but what impresses me most about him as an artist is his lyrics. As you listen to more of his work, the positive message promotes a Bible-based self image–in a way, I have never heard before. The beats are catchy. The words are uplifting. It’s hard not for these songs to get stuck in your head and linger.

So why haven’t we heard anything from this artist since 2012?

All three of DJ’s albums were recorded between 2005 and 2012. They are streaming now everywhere. Prior to, during, and following that time, the artist served in ministry as a youth pastor, military chaplain, husband, and father. While he was happy to wear all these hats, he was actively looking for a way to connect them all in one area of service and have the room to invest more energy in his family. That role presented itself in 2013 with the launch of his 501 c(3) non-profit, The 4 Day Movement.

While the music production has paused on new content, we expect it hasn’t stopped all together. Expect to see something new from DJ Coles music in the near future.

See below for a direct link to play the music on Spotify.

Source: Spotify

If you would like to connect with the artist, he is available on Facebook and Instagram.

The Story of The Bohemian Princess Journal: How This Blog Came to Be

I’ve heard a lot of stories about stay-at-home moms, traveling writers, photographers, and techies starting blogs to earn money, but that’s not my story. My story begins in a little town in western North Carolina: Morganton. While visiting the town for the first time in 2014, I was overwhelmed with the warmth of the people; everyone had a story to tell and was eager to tell it. As a graduate of a prestigious writing program and a life-long writer, I felt a hunger to reconnect with the writer roots I had let go dormant. So the blog began.

I began writing on a private website for the students I taught in adult education. I shared the blogs with friends and family, but I still kept the words privately circulating amongst my friends and students for over a year. Nevertheless, the website got traffic and even pulled in business for some of the people I talked about on the blog. That’s when I decided to take it a step further.

Between 2014 and 2019, I blogged publicly on three different blogs and two class websites. I became well known for it and was even featured in a cover story by a local newspaper for my writing. I was writing in seperate places to keep ideas and branding seperate, but it became quickly overwhelming. In 2019, I decided to take stock of my blog inventory (over 50 blogs at the time) and define my content areas. Using the tools available to me through WordPress, I consolidated the blogs into one site under my name and organized the content by categories and pages.

2021 was a big year for us. Early in the year, I left over eight years of teaching to pursue other career options and, ultimately, start my own entrepreneurial business in writing. We finally gave the blog her own name, The Bohemian Princess Journal, and gradually increased publication frequency to weekly then bi-weekly posts.

Readership continued to grow. By the grace of God, in 2021 we crossed unimaginable boundaries. We were able to touch readers across the entire United States and over 30 countries with 10,000 views and counting.

Before the year was done, I had written more content in one year than almost all previous years combined. It is humbling to realize just how far I have come from the dormant writer I was in 2014 to the prolific book-length content creator I am now.

New Location Celebrates Growth and Community at Southern Ground Coffee Shop, Mount Olive, NC

When you walk into the new location of the Southern Ground Coffee Shop at 1037 N. Breazeale Avenue in Mount Olive, NC, you immediately notice it is not your normal commercial experience. Farmhouse style home decor, handmade hardwood tables, a corner booth filled with pillows, and plush, earth tone couches and chairs welcome you. Girls behind a long colonial blue beadboard counter with coffee beans epoxied into the top greet you by name and take your order. These girls are more than baristas; they are family to the owners, Amy and Robbie Brogden. The personalized care they put into their service is a trademark quality of the location. They don’t just know their regulars by name, they know what they want to drink and what temperature they want to drink it.

The Journey Here

Before we can celebrate where Southern Ground is today, we need to tell the story of where they have been. Owners Amy and Robbie Brogden did not see coffee in their future when they met and started dating 8 years ago. Amy was a successful independent woman in the securities industry in Wilmington. Robbie was a father with four teenagers and his own construction business in Mount Olive. Though they saw the potential for partnership in each other, they took their time getting to know each other before they were ready for marriage. When they did marry, Amy took a position in insurance sales in Duplin county. Amy’s manager encouraged her to increase her sales by working from a local coffee shop and letting the busyness lead conversations and potential sales to her. The problem was that there were no coffee shops in Mount Olive. That need birthed the idea for Southern Ground.

When Amy told her husband about the advice from her manager and the idea of a coffee shop, he took her driving around the town of Mount Olive. Coming from a family with deep roots in the community and over fifty years of knowledge serving it himself, Robbie knew that the right location for a business like that would be near Interstate 117 and the University of Mount Olive. With no business plan and no money in the bank to fund it, they found the perfect location, made the decision to act on it, and did every sort of odd job they could to pay for it.

Robbie and Amy Brogden, owners of Southern Ground Coffee Shop.

My husband is the kind of person that you don’t tell something to unless you really want it. He is an encourager and will move heaven and earth to make that thing come true for you even if it means he has to work hard, long hours to do it. His confidence empowers me. We are a team, and when we work together, the dream happens.

Amy Brogden

I’m not scared to take a chance. If you don’t play the game, you know you’re going to lose. I make a decision and live in the reality of it, not the fairytale.

Robbie Brogden

Faith in Business

Both Amy and Robbie Brogden were raised in Christian homes, and that faith is the root of their business. Southern Ground is not overtly religious nor does it hound guests with the Bible, but neither are they ashamed of who they are and hiding it. Most of the girls serving are Christians as well as the owners, and they are kind and respectful to everyone. They genuinely don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings; nevertheless, what you see is what you get with them. They won’t sugar-coat things or change who they are to please others. Southern Ground knows they won’t be liked by everybody, and that’s okay.

The Brogdens are also hard-workers with giver mindsets. Often working 80-100 hour weeks, they give most of what they make to the community because it is what they feel they are supposed to do. They are not perfect people. “I disappoint God everyday,” Amy says. “I am so not worthy. But He knows we are trying hard, and He is honoring that not just for us, but for the others that come in here.”

How Covid Affected Their Business

While Covid-19 caused many small businesses to close their doors, Southern Ground found its start in it. Campus closures and quarantine caused less traffic to come in from the university and businesses, but something surprising happened to fill the gap: Google. People began to intentionally Google search for them because they wanted to support a local small business. From this traffic, a loyal following developed, and many of those people still patron the business today.

Supernatural favor protected and blessed Southern Ground because God wanted them to be there. Far more than a cup of coffee, they are a place of service and ministry to the community. At Southern Ground, students congregate and study, small groups meet, and families hold celebrations. Southern Ground is a launching place for fellowship and wholesome, healing community. The impact of their business has only just begun.

Supporting Small Business

When they were just starting out, Amy had to learn everything she could about coffee. She researched the business and learned how to operate her business well. Amy and the girls on her team were mentored by other established coffee shops. They learned how to properly make and serve gourmet coffee and smoothie drinks, play with the ingredients, and make their own recipes. Those recipes are featured on their menu today, and Amy is now mentoring two women wanting to open two coffee shops in eastern North Carolina.

Southern Ground supports many small businesses and an example of this is in the fact that they source everything they can locally. “We are a small business and couldn’t make it without the small businesses supporting us,” says owner, Amy Brogden.

Southern Ground takes pride in the uncompromised quality of their products. Their coffee is exclusively sourced from a North Carolina roaster, Cactus Creek. Part of their partnership includes a proprietary blend, Southern Sunrise, that can only be purchased at Southern Ground Coffee Shop. The milk used is sourced locally from Simply Natural. Cinnamon rolls and other pastries come from local bakers, many of whom are in-home makers. Supplies used to remodel their shop came from local hardware stores including Jones True Value. Even their social media presence supports a local business, Daily Testify.

The First Location

The first location at 997-E Henderson Street, Mount Olive, was a beautiful hole in the wall that opened in 2020 and holds a lot of fond memories. Everyone at Southern Ground recalls times when the whole shop–every guest and employee–contributed to the same conversation. They loved that sense of community engagement, and they hope the new location will see more not less of it.

The first location was the place where standards of excellence in customer service and branding were established. In this place, Southern Ground Coffee Shop became known as a home away from home with Farmhouse Style similar to Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Fixer Upper and Magnolia Network. The commitment to make everything welcoming even extended to the bathrooms.

Advice for Business

Both Amy and Robbie agree that being in business for yourself is not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth it. The step of faith that started their business is still a step of faith today; all the profits from Southern Ground’s first location were put back into the business.

We knew God wanted us to open the shop because He kept putting the right people in our path to make it happen just when we needed them to be there.

When God does that, you have to go; don’t question it. It is a day-by-day step of faith and trust in Him. You figure it out along the way.

Amy Brogden

What’s New

The new location more than doubled the space for Southern Ground from 1200 sq. ft. to over 2600 sq. ft. That extra room brings some exciting new perks along with favorites from the old shop.

For example, the large round Magnolia Co. clock iconic from the first location fills part of the back wall while a new stone fireplace and magnolia log mantle fill the other.

A large black and white conference room sits tucked behind a warm rust wall to the left of the fireplace featuring the signature dry-erase board from the old location.

A new white board gives the shop the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of their patrons. Guests are welcomed to sign it and share where they are from.

A drive-thru window welcomes guests to get service on the go without leaving their vehicles.

What’s Coming Soon

  • Artists from the Art Department at the University of Mount Olive are currently working with Southern Ground to put a mural on the side of the building.
  • A copper framed hood behind the counter welcomes a stove to expand the menu. Later this fall, Southern Ground plans to add soup, sandwiches, and salads to their gourmet coffee and smoothie menu.
  • Online ordering will soon make it possible to offer quicker service.

For the latest updates on Southern Ground, check out their social media on Facebook, Instagram, and Daily Testify.

Make plans to stop by the shop on Breazeale Avenue. They are closed on Sundays but open 7am-7pm Monday thru Friday and 8am-7pm on Saturday.

Advice for Artists Pursuing Art Full-Time: A Discussion with Tracey Penrod, Acrylic and Mixed Media Artist, Downtown Goldsboro

Disclaimer: This article is written in conversation with the artist. It is not meant to be a representation of her voice but, rather, of what the author learned from her.

In the thriving arts district of Downtown Goldsboro, NC, acrylic and mixed media artist, Tracey Penrod, is making a name for herself and living out her calling as a full-time artist. If you missed it, here is a link to her story. Today, we share insights into the business side of being an artist full-time and some of the advise and life lessons that got Tracey to where she is today.

Shared Space vs. Studio Space at The Arts Council of Wayne County

When Tracey began to take herself seriously as an artist, she entered a transitional period of working out of her home using her dining room table and part of her kitchen as her studio. None of that space was dedicated to the art exclusively. If she needed the space for dinner or guests coming over, she would have to move all of her art and set it up again later. Constantly moving her work made her lose time doing the work because she struggled to find supplies disorganized by the move. She also struggled to get back into the head space to create the work.

When Tracey moved to a dedicated studio space at The Arts Council of Wayne County, everything changed. Not only did she have everything where she wanted it and didn’t have to move it anymore, but she had a community of other artists to influence her work. The ability to walk out next door and ask another artist for a quick opinion on something was an invaluable resource for her.

The Arts Council of Wayne County is the hub of artistic expression in downtown Goldsboro, and the arts bring in so many other things to the community in business. People familiar with (what the artists and Arts Council has to offer) will come here for it. There is a visibility here that can’t be found somewhere else or out on your own.

Tracey Penrod

Audio Inspiration

Part of Tracey’s unique process is that she creates with music. Many of her pieces have playlists created for them, used to inspire them, and often sold with the piece.

In addition to custom playlists, Tracey considers herself addicted to podcasts and Instagram accounts. She follows artists she likes and those who influence the techniques she uses. Many of the visual artists are contemporary and abstract painters influencing her landscapes.

Of the 1,000+ Instagrams that she follows, she recommends the following Top 3 for inspiration:

Of all the podcasts on the subject of art, Tracey recommends the following Top 4 on Spotify:

The Business of Art

In consideration of the keys to being a successful art business not just a hobbyist, Tracey suggested the following four points to consider.

1. Figure Out Your Branding and Identity

Though it is tempting to think you have to be everything to everyone when you are in business, specialization is actually preferred. People want to know what makes you special, what makes you unique. To clarify your brand identity, Tracey recommends that you spend some time connecting with what you feel makes you unique, where it came from, and why your story is what it is.

An artist can duplicate any other artist, but that is not the same thing as your identity. You have to know yourself and how you want to put yourself out there. Ask yourself: What is my eye drawn to and how am I supposed to relate it?

The more you create, the more you know your voice.

Tracey Penrod

2. Get Your Financials In Order

Before anyone else can take you seriously, you have to take yourself seriously. Opening a business account with your bank can help you tell yourself you are legitimate.

Whether or not you have a lot of money to start your business, you do have to be a responsible steward of what you have. Make time to track your expenses and keep accurate records of your sales and expenses. You can invest in money management tools later, but even just a Google Spreadsheet is better than nothing at all when tax season comes.

3. Establish A Designated Place and Time To Create

One of the biggest things that turned me into a business was establishing a regular studio space and schedule outside of the home.

Tracey Penrod

If you are not ready to afford a space outside of your home, what can you do to make a dedicated space for your work–a place away from distractions–with what you have? Jane Austen created some of her best work including Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility at a tiny round table by a window in her family home. It doesn’t have to be elaborate to be successful.

4. Make Room For Self Care

When you are doing something you love, it is something you want to do seven days a week, but you have to pay attention to your other needs like family, home, doctor appointments, etc.

If you are still in transition, however, your art can be your therapy. When she was not able to work full-time as an artist, Tracey noticed that creating art was therapeutic self care for the stress she experienced teaching. Looking back on it, she wished she had started creating sooner in her teaching career so that her teaching would have been easier.

It is important that you are intentional about filling your well of creativity. Tracey enjoys experiencing new restaurants, museums, destinations, and art with the people she loves. She also enjoys reading good books and attending art events with other Christian artists.

Take care of yourself first, and then everything else. Don’t make yourself the sacrifice.

Tracey Penrod

Final Thoughts from Tracey to Artists Starting Out

Are You Ready? Are You Coming? by Tracey Penrod

Don’t believe the lies!

Put yourself out there.

Make yourself available. Seen.

Stretch beyond your comfort zone.

Pursue a career in something that brings you joy not something that drains your spirit.

Let your work be a place that inspires curiosity in others. In my work, I take things like books pages, and I repurpose them into something that causes people to give a second thought to objects they otherwise ignore. They wonder about the stories behind my work, and they ask questions that lead into conversations about God.

There is nothing overtly religious about my art, but it is still enabling those moments to happen.

Tracey Penrod

We hope this story inspired you. If so, please take a moment to leave a comment below. If you would like to connect with Tracey Penrod, visit her website, Facebook, Instagram, or studio.

From Dream To Reality, A Night With Justin Williams Pope

I am here with Justin Williams Pope, Wayne County native and graduate of Charles B. Aycock High School and Wayne Community College. Justin and I went to college together, here at Wayne Community College, and followed each other to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Justin has a Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and has made a successful life for himself pursuing his passion for writing and communication. He has come back to Wayne Community College (and this blog) to share a little of his story and knowledge of the writing industry and motivate us to pursue our dreams.  

Justin, tell us a little bit about yourself and who you are.

Source: Wayne Community College

Thank you for joining us!

We hope you found this event to be an encouragement towards your own life goals.

For more about Justin and his writing, don’t miss the follow up blog interview here.


The Freelance Life: Editing Services with Andrea Barilla

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the mid-1980s, a young Andrea Barilla with brown wavy hair and wide eyes sits at a kitchen table nibbling on cookies and drinking Coke. In a nearby room, she watches her daddy talk to his clients about their life insurance. He’s one of the top salesmen in the company, and it’s not because he has charisma, it’s because he knows his clients’ kids. He knows their birthdays. He values them as individuals. The young girl smiles from the other room; she doesn’t even know yet that this moment is teaching her the secret that would later make her business.

Today, Andrea Barilla starts her coffee, grabs her planner, and steps outside in a pair of her favorite LuLaRoe leggings. “The best investment I made,” she says, “was my outside table because we so often have trouble getting outside in this line of work, and you need things to force you to get outside.”

Andrea Barilla is an established freelance editor and writer. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from UNC Wilmington and a BA in English from Westminster College in Pennsylvania. She is a member of several editing groups including the American Copy Editors Society, Editorial Freelancers Association, and Publishers Marketplace.

She has edited 300 health articles for Healthline.com, over 100 courses for Savanah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and served on the staff of three literary magazines, including Ecotone (now a national publication) and the trilingual El Protagonista in Puerto Rico. But if you ask her what she loves the most…it is the books.

Helping someone bring their book to life is like bringing a child into the world. It takes time and gentle nurturing care; it’s not something you want to rush through. It takes attention to detail like the ability to see how a punctuation mark can be misinterpreted in print.

I love working on books. I love critiquing projects, or discussing the big-picture issues of plot, characters, setting, etc. I love fixing things with copy edits—which can be very meditative and fulfilling too.

Andrea has edited book manuscripts (of various genres and types, including textbooks) for Stackpole Books; Paradigm Publishing (a division of EMC Publishing, LLC); Dorrance Publishing Co., Inc.; and individuals. One of the books she worked on, A Girl Named Nina, went on to win Best Young Adult Fiction Book in English at the 2014 International Latino Book Awards. Andrea attended the 2016 Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writing Conference and was a guest panelist at the 2017 Professional Networking Symposium at Westminster College. Andrea also loves to help clients create query letters and book proposals to pitch to agents. She keeps her finger on the pulse of the publishing world and helps her clients take their writing to the next level.

On Life As A Freelancer

Andrea starts her day the night before with coffee grounds ready to brew in the pot and her planner set up with her next day’s schedule.

“The beauty of freelancing,” she says, “is that you have your own routine and the freedom to do what works for you. Nothing is wrong as long as it makes you productive.”

For Andrea, that is a task-oriented schedule and whatever clothing makes her as comfy as possible. Outside with her coffee and planner, she centers her day around the tasks she needs to complete that day.

“Over time, I’ve learned how many pages I can edit in an hour and how long different types of editing take me. That’s a really great thing to learn because it helps you know how many projects you can take on and how to break them down to make them manageable.” When Andrea looks at her schedule, she sees the manageable chunks of the projects she is working on. She can decide which work needs her time the most and structure her day around the goals she has to complete.

“I try to balance my schedule with critiques and copy edits. They use different parts of the brain and require different levels of energy.”

Business Coaches

One of the things that really helped Andrea early on was working with business coaches, particularly those with SCORE, a nationwide free and low-cost nonprofit supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). She worked with these coaches to create processes and systems to streamline the things she does over and over again in the business.

“I used to panic when I got an email,” she says, “now I don’t have to panic because having these systems, these templates, makes it easier and keeps my responses professional and pretty much the same for everyone, save a tweak or two. I’ve had people thank me for being so professional because of them.”

With potential clients, Andrea starts with a paid sample edit. She likes to show the clients what they will be getting with her services and the quality of the care and work she will give their project. She treats the clients and their work as gingerly as if it were her own; that is a lesson she learned from her father, and it is the lesson that keeps clients coming back to her for repeat business.

Determining Worth

It took time for Andrea to learn how to determine her worth. “I can’t believe I am an editor,” Andrea says. “In grad school, I was surrounded by amazing authors and didn’t always give them my critiques in workshops because I didn’t feel I was worthy of giving them my opinion. It’s crazy to see where I am now versus then.”

When Andrea started her freelancing career, she thought she wanted to be a freelance writer. She would send out queries and pitches and wait anxiously for responses. Sometimes editors would take her ideas and give them to their own staff writers. It was very stressful. She had to try a lot of things to figure out what she was good at. One day she got a chance to take on a large editing job for Healthline.com. She wasn’t sure she could handle it, so she called me. I encouraged her to try because I knew she was capable of doing the work.

“I really thought I would fail,” Andrea says looking back, “but then I realized I could really do it and I enjoyed it. My whole career shifted to editing and it all hinged on one job I thought I couldn’t do until I tried it.”

On Bridge Jobs

“You’re going to have some failures,” Andrea advises, “that’s just a part of being an entrepreneur.” Nevertheless, she wishes that she would have kept a part-time job in the beginning when she was still trying to build up clientele. “There is nothing wrong with working another job while you are freelancing,” she says, “and many freelancers maintain part-time jobs for the consistent steady paychecks.”

On Rates

Andrea has an hourly rate, but she didn’t charge much and even did a few jobs for free when she first started editing. “I wanted to put feelers out there and build up my confidence and portfolio,” she says. Confidence and time can help you learn how much to charge, but there are also reference guides to know where your prices should fall. The Editorial Freelancers Association website and the Writer’s Market yearly guidebook both have respected information about industry standard rates. Andrea used both of these to help create a list of rates and services that she offers. They also give her professional leverage when she is negotiating her worth with potential clients.

Making the Budget

Being your own boss can be exciting when you control your own freedom, but there is also a huge responsibility to acquire new clients to be able to keep the bills paid. Andrea keeps a spreadsheet to see exactly how much money she has coming in and how much she needs to make to stay ahead. She knows how much each current and potential project is worth, and the spreadsheet can help her determine what kinds of projects she should pursue. “It is not good to depend all on one project,” she advises, “you need to have a couple of projects going at all times.”

A key component of Andrea’s business is repeat business with clients she refers to as her “bread and butter” clients.

Andrea says, “you want consistent work from a few bread and butter clients coming in every month. That gives you a consistent revenue to work with and room to be a little more choosy about the projects you take on with the rest of your time.”

Building Clientele

Though the field of editing can be competitive, Andrea’s organic approach is dependent on the fact that the quality of her work will create repeat business. “Try to build relationships with people who could become bread and butter clients. Try to build repeat business and, in that way, it isn’t about competition at all but about creating a product people want to come back for.”

Trust God

Andrea does not worry about where the next source of income will come from; her faith directs her business. Andrea has been amazed by the way clients always show up when she needs them, and she credits this timing to her faith.

“I have a faith in Jesus Christ. I tithe and try to put Him first in my life. I don’t stress,” she says. “I know God will provide; He always does. Still, it’s up to me to do my part, and that means sowing seeds.”

Andrea advises that you should “constantly be sowing seeds” when it comes to your business. She is constantly making connections and networking with people who can become future clients. She also keeps a list of potential clients whom she can reach out to—for example, people who are working on books, people she has worked with before, and people she has met at functions. She always tries to get testimonials from happy clients that she can put on her website and point potential clients to.

Job Boards

In the world of freelancing, a lot of jobs are posted on job boards in organizations where freelancers maintain memberships. Jobs vary widely and are filled quickly from the boards. Many scammers also fill the boards with fake or low paying ads. Nevertheless, when you are just starting out, you try anything, and you take any job you can get.

There are safe ways to navigate through job boards now. Some of the advocates for their use recommend verifying the posters are verified accounts. Others avoid foreign posters entirely.

Specialization

Andrea advocates trying as many things as you can, but she also advocates specializing in particular fields and learning what you do not want to work with. Specialization doesn’t mean you work in one area of interest only–sometimes you have to work outside your specialty. It does, however, bring you unsolicited business.

“Creating a reputation in an area is huge in this business,” Andrea says. “You become the go-to person for that area based on your reputation. Clients know to come to you.

Determining Projects

Experience has taught Andrea a lot in this business. She has learned what kinds of projects she will enjoy and what kinds of clients will be difficult to work with. She avoids the problem clients and the projects too-far outside her comfort zone, such as poetry. She navigates to books that she feels will make a difference in the world–especially memoirs, business and education titles, Christian living and inspiration, and literary fiction. She is able to sift through potential clients by the level of their commitment. “The people who are serious,” she says, “will be willing to pay the price and sign the agreements.”

Contracts

Andrea has learned the hard way the value of having clients sign contracts. Without them, she experienced some clients disappearing mid-project and “ghosting” her on payment. “It is important to have contracts to avoid getting caught with people who will ghost you,” Andrea says.

Making Room To Write

Because Andrea is also a writer, one of the things she had to learn the hard way was not to take on work that is too similar to her own. In one particular project, she realized that it was “pulling energy away” from her own work.

Editing is usually relaxing for Andrea; it helps her maintain some mental space and energy for her own work. “I want to conserve energy for my own writing projects,” Andrea says, “and editing helps me do that.” If a project is too close to her own work, Andrea will now tell a client up front that she is not the best editor for their project. In the first few years of the job, Andrea didn’t have any time or energy to write her own stuff. Now, over eight years into her business, Andrea tries to keep one day in the week free to pursue her own creative work. She had a very popular relationship blog, and now she is working on a new Nonfiction project.

Social Life

“It is really easy to let freelancing take over your life,” Andrea says. “It helps if you have some involvements that force you to get out and have a life away from work.”

Andrea maintains active involvements with social groups in her church and community. She also has a lot of friends who pull her away from her work when she needs it. She claims that the breaks help her avoid burnout, isolation, and loneliness that are often side effects of her job.

The Benefits of Freelancing

In 2013, Andrea’s aunt states away was diagnosed with terminal cancer. However, Andrea was able to go home and spend the last month of her aunt’s life with her. She was able to be with her family and go through the grieving process with them while she worked. She was never so thankful for her job than in that moment.

Andrea also loves the fact that she is learning something new in her job every day. “I get to work on fascinating things and I’m constantly learning and meeting really cool people from diverse walks of life,” she says. “I love that I’m always learning and that people are trusting me with their stories.”

Connect

If you would like to know more about Andrea Barilla and her editing business, you can check out her services at: http://www.andreabarilla.com/

Sonja Redmon, Director of Transitional Programs to College and Career at Wayne Community College

Hello readers! Today we are talking with Sonja Redmon, former Director of Transitional Programs at Wayne Community College. Ms. Redmon has 30 years of experience in education including 22 years in the director position. During her tenure, she saw the program through many changes and helped it grow to one of the Top Ten in Enrollment in the State of North Carolina and Top Three in State Performance Measures.

The end of June 2018 marks the end of Ms. Redmon’s educational career. As she looks forward to retirement and the new adventures there, she has taken a moment to reflect back on her career and her legacy and share some wisdom with us.

How long have you worked in education? At which colleges? In what roles?

I’ve worked in education since 1988 when I was hired as a part-time Adult High School English instructor.  I worked as an instructor for a few years and was then hired as the lab coordinator. In 1996 I was hired for the director’s position. All of these roles were in the Basic Skills department at Wayne Community College.

What made you choose a career in education?

As the saying goes, I fell into education sideways. In other words, I did not choose education as a career, it chose me. My mother worked at the college in 1988 and heard about a need in the Basic Skills department for an English instructor. I was ready to get into the job market at that time since both of my children were in school and I had an English degree so the rest is history. No pun intended since I also have a history degree!

You have worked in both instructor and administrative roles in your career. How did these different roles help you become a better educator and communicator with others?

Working as an instructor helped me tremendously once I became an administrator. I could still identify with the needs of the instructors and that is something that stayed with me throughout the years. Sometimes, budget or higher ups would get in the way, but I always tried to do what was best for instructors and students.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned from teaching?

Ha ha. I quickly learned in the beginning that I didn’t know everything and that if I only listened, the students had a lot to teach me as well.  Another lesson learned was that I couldn’t save them all no matter how hard I tried. It took me a few years to learn that bitter lesson.

Besides advancing your career and salary, what made you change roles from teaching to administration?

That change was primarily about career advancement and salary. Back in my day as a teacher, the maximum pay for part-time was $9.00 per hour and that was even with a masters degree.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned from leading other educators?

I’ve learned that like the students, other educators had much to teach me. Even after all these years, I was still learning from other educators including my teachers as well as teachers and administrators from other colleges. I never attended a meeting or workshop that I didn’t learn something. That’s why I have always been a strong proponent of professional development.

You have worked in fields outside of adult education. What made you choose to work in Adult Education?

I liked helping people. It was just that simple. I liked making a difference in a student’s life, and I liked making a difference in my instructors’ lives. I cannot even count the number of times an instructor has said thank you to me for hiring them. That has been special.

You chose to not only work in adult education but get your degree in it. How did that help your career?

Being in education administration, I knew I needed to go back to school myself and earn a masters. Adult Education seemed the only way to go since I enjoyed what I was doing. I also knew an Adult Ed degree allowed for multiple career opportunities. When I applied for the director’s position, a Master’s in Adult Ed or a similar degree was a requirement, so I can safely say that my degree helped me to get hired as director.

I’ve always been glad I made that choice.

You have been an avid supporter of professional development for your team. In your opinion, why is professional development important?

Lifelong learning is important in all aspects of life and especially in this career field. Change in adult education is constant whether it’s a better way to teach math or new requirements from WIOA and OCTAE. Learning from an expert and learning from peers at other colleges is vital to stay on top of the game. Teachers and staff have been fortunate to have access to the strong adult education staff at Appalachian State University. Like I said in a previous question, I’ve never been to a workshop or even one of our weekly meetings that I didn’t learn something. For those of you reading this, if you think about it, neither have you.

We all know that education is a challenging place to work in because it is often thankless, politicized, and changing. In the past few years alone, we saw a lot of changes in adult education that affected our budget. What advice can you give to current and future administrators navigating their way through shrinking budgets?

All you can do is keep a positive attitude and plan, plan, plan. By planning ahead, you may be able to save a job or two when in a low budget year. You do this by trimming out the non-producing areas. That is hard for me to say because I’ve always thought that a class with only one student was a class that was a gift to that one student. He or she needed the one-on-one at that point in life.

Communication is also critical. Instructors and staff must realize that they hold the power to make or break a program. Enrollment and retention are 90% instructors and staff. The best recruiter is a satisfied student and the best retention is when a student learns and doesn’t feel the class is a waste of time.

When negative changes happen, it is hard to stay motivated. What advice can you give for motivating your team when circumstances are demoralizing?

I believe communication is the key. Just keep everyone updated on what is happening. Often not knowing leads to imagining even worse circumstances. Communication also allows for input from everyone on how to deal with the situation. We all like to feel useful and when we do, it’s a natural motivator.

In your experience, what has been the biggest thing that helped you adjust to changes when they happened as well as help you lead others through those difficulties?

Patience. Patience with the changes. Patience with teachers and staff protesting the changes.

A lot of the changes in adult education have influenced educators to leave adult education or retire before their positions were cut. With so much fear over job cuts, why should anyone stay in adult education?

Adult education is a worthy cause and a good career. Job cuts can and do happen in all areas of education as well as in the private sector. There were positions cut this year in curriculum. It’s just a fact of life, especially in this day and time.

Think positive and make yourself valuable to the team is my best advice to anyone whether in adult ed, curriculum, or K-12.

You have been the Director of Transitional Programs to College and Career for many years and many of the current employees you leave behind have only known you as their leader. What do you hope will be your legacy as you leave this role?

I hope that I’ll be remembered as someone who cared for both students and employees. I also hope to be remembered as the director who grew the program into one of the top ten in the state enrollment-wise and one of the top three in the state performance-wise.

As you retire and look back on your career, what advice would you give to younger educators working in adult education now?

Accept change.

Persevere through the bad times. You’ll have more good times.

Hire the best team possible. The instinct for that will be gradually learned.

Stress professional development. Knowledge makes everyone’s jobs easier.

Thank you, Ms. Redmon, for sharing your time with us today. We appreciate your insights and all you have done for your program at Wayne Community College. We wish you much joy and success in your retirement. 

Azucena Rodriguez: DACA Student Graduate

In 2012, a young mother with small children tried to come back to school and finish her high school education. She took the entrance exams and received the sad news that she had “zero knowledge” and “needed to go back to middle school”. She felt disappointed and ignorant.

Azucena left the school, and a friend referred her to Literacy Connections of Wayne County. That’s where she met Brandy Ross. Brandy was a member of the Air Force who volunteered her spare time to tutor at the center. “Brandy was tough,” Azucena said, “she gave lots of homework and took no excuses. One time I couldn’t finish my homework because my daughter was sick. She said, ‘Look, I need you to be serious with this. I want you to do your homework and next time, don’t even come if it’s not done.’ Then she walked out and left me to do the work.”

Brandy was demanding, but she wasn’t always so tough. Learning English as a second language, Azucena struggled with grammar and vocabulary. When she didn’t understand what a word meant, Brandy would look up different ways to explain the words to her. She bought her gifts to encourage her too like boxes of pencils and erasers and Dr. Seuss books.

Brandy Ross showed me a different way to see life, and she gave me hope. –Azucena Rodriguez

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Azucena (left) with Brandy Ross on the last day of her tutoring

Another person that helped during this time was the then director of Literacy Connections, Ms. Pat. Whenever Azucena got discouraged, Ms. Pat was there to encourage her and push her to find hope when there was no hope.

Ms. Pat taught me that the only thing that can stop you is yourself. –Azucena Rodriguez

Because of Pat and Brandy’s investment, Azucena got the knowledge–in a year–that she needed to enter the High School Equivalency program at Wayne Community College. That’s where I met her.

When I first met Azucena (pronounced as-zoo-see-nuh), I stumbled over her name. “Call me Lily,” she said with a smile, “that’s what it means anyway.” It was 2013, and I was fairly new to teaching. I began to look forward to seeing Lily’s bright, enthusiastic spirit in my classroom. She inspired her peers, and she inspired me.

Nevertheless, the need to work won out for her. Lily got offered a job that took her more and more away from school until, finally, she quit school altogether. “I knew school was important,” Azucena said, “but I didn’t realize how important it was to the big picture of what I wanted to do.” As the responsibilities of her job increased, so did the gnawing guilt of knowing that she was giving up on her education. She wondered how she could ever expect her children to finish school if she didn’t do so herself. She was making good money and moving into management, but she was working 24-7. “I felt like I was married to my work; I didn’t even realize how much I was tearing down my own body and hurting myself. It was crazy to work that much without rest.”

Lily had the opportunity to meet some of the executives in the company that she worked for. It was at that point that she realized that she meant nothing more than the manual labor that got the job done for them. Education would make all the difference.

Lily had further confirmation of this idea when she discovered that her work permit would not be eligible for renewal unless she was enrolled in school. So, reluctantly or otherwise, Lily came back to us in November 2016.

Azucena was a focused and devoted student, but her resolve was different this time. This time she was staying till she finished her degree. She came to every class, led small groups, and worked over 80 hours online in supplemental work. She wasn’t the cheerful Lily from before either. She was pensive and angry at herself for ever letting go of her education in the first place. She was also annoyed by the apathy of her peers. She had seen the real world and how little it had to offer to someone without an education. Why didn’t they care more?

I thought that, in life, all you had to be was a hardworking person, but it’s not true. You need education to learn what you don’t know. Being a hard worker burns you (takes all your energy), knowledge doesn’t. Without school, you’re nobody. –Azucena Rodriguez

In May 2018, Azucena Rodriguez finally achieved her goal. She walked across the auditorium stage in her cap and gown and felt the pride of a dream being fulfilled. Her mother, husband, and three children were there to love and support her.

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Azucena has some fun with grad pictures with her children (left to right): Miranda, Cruz, and Fabian

For now, Azucena is enjoying time with her family. She hopes to get a part-time job and come back to school for a degree in Industrial Systems Technology.

What It Means To Be A Teacher: Wisdom from a Mentor, Dr. Gerald Parker

He comes in early in the morning to share a cup of coffee and meet new people. He is always smiling; the wrinkles behind his white whiskers leave a trail upwards. He is enthusiastic and kind; he loves to sit and just listen to people, but he usually has a word of advice to give them too. No one would know he ever struggled with education and reading; he went on to get a doctorate degree. He doesn’t claim to be of special importance, but he founded the first ABSPD Institute. Though he is retired, he comes out of retirement every summer to share with other younger instructors at Institute. He is a treasure of wisdom and experience. He is a man who had every excuse to be disgruntled in life but remains optimistic. He’s an inspiration. That’s who Dr. Gerald Parker is. Here’s what he said about teachers.

Who are WE? What are WE doing here? Where are we going?

In Soviet times, an old Rabbi was approached by a young man from the local militia. “Who are you? What are you doing here? Where are you going?”

The Rabbi responded, “How much do they pay you to ask those questions?”

“Two rubies a day,” was his proud reply.

“Each time you see me, I’ll pay you two rubies if you’ll keep asking me those questions.”

So–Who are WE? What are WE doing here? Where are we going?

We are gifts…

To the one who fears rejection — we show acceptance.

To the one who fears inadequacy — we guide step by step as their fears melt away.

To the one who feels disconnected — we build community.

To the one who feels lonely — we listen.

To the one who has experience failure — day by day, we celebrate success.

To the powerless — we give a pen and a voice.

To those who feel defective — we celebrate their uniqueness.

To those who feel worthless — they see reflected in our eyes — they are priceless.

To those who feel abandoned — we help reclaim as treasures.

Who are we? We are adult educators!

What are we doing here? We are making a difference that really matters!!

Who are we — roots on a tree, quiet and mostly unseen, giving life and nurture.

Who are we — air under the wings of a bird — lifting those who were caged to new heights.

Who are we — gifts — precious gifts of hope, fostering transformation of lives who will never be the same.

Who are we — bridges to expanding opportunities.

Who are we — high touch in a high-tech world.

Who are we — God’s instruments — giving “wings to caterpillars”

Who are we –blessed–far beyond what we deserve.

Where are we going? Intentionally pursuing what MATTERS!! Helping ourselves and others become more than we ever dreamed we could become!


More Wisdom from Dr. Parker

What if you could buy someone for what they think they are worth and resell them for what they are really worth? –Dr. Gerald Parker

Your fruit grows on other peoples’ trees. –Dr. Gerald Parker

The most effective professional development for me was becoming good friends with my students and finding out what worked for them, what didn’t, and how I could have done it better. –Dr. Gerald Parker

I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t teach me something. Ask people: “What are you really good at? How did you learn to do that?” –Dr. Gerald Parker

The best tutor I have ever had is the one that married me. –Dr. Gerald Parker

One person with passion can accomplish more than many with a mere interest in something. –Dr. Gerald Parker