It’s A Wonderful Life In Mount Olive: How I Launched Into a Full-Time Writing Business in 2021

In 1946, Frank Capra told a story about how the life of one ordinary man in one typical small town made a difference that impacted the world. This story went on to become an icon of the holiday season and a movie many of us watch every year, but this year became the year I lived it.

For eight and a half years, I taught proudly at Wayne Community College. It was a job I had prayed for and thanked God for daily. Then Covid-19 happened, and we all shifted to working remotely. I worked primarily from home but went into my office occasionally. When I did, everything had changed. Fellowship was truncated. Everyone kept masked in their separate offices and rarely socialized anymore. Covid-19 stole the heart of our connection to each other. That impacted me more than I realized.

I thought the grass was greener in other departments, but I had no opportunity to move there. Then I thought the grass was greener outside the pasture, and I left Wayne Community College.

It was a golden opportunity that promised to pay me double what I made teaching and let me stay home all day building curriculum. Within three months, I was putting down money on land and finally building my house. Before the land was fully in my name and the contractor was hired, I was fired.

Closed Doors = Opportunities

I didn’t see it coming, and I was in shock. Then I got angry. God and I had a few choice words as I walked my property and realized I couldn’t move forward with the dream and everything I had longed for was on hold once more.

I felt so foolish. If I had known it would end like this, I would have never left Wayne Community College. Sitting in a field full of weeds looking like I’d lost my mind, I cried out to God for answers.

God didn’t answer me in that moment or even the next ten, but He did answer. First of all, He showed me that the cost of building during Covid was so high that I would have been upended if I started the house build when I wanted to. It was better to let the ground rest for now.

Secondly, He showed me that He had to let me go through all that to pull me out of my comfort zone and into my calling as a writer. As a teacher, I didn’t make time for writing. I thought I would just wait till I retired. God said, “nope, I need you now.”

The Difference One Life Can Make

What proceeded to happen was a series of open doors that only could have happened by God’s hand. I walked into small businesses, corporate offices, and local government and found favor to tell stories about all sorts of people and places. The blog grew to an international readership in over 30 countries with over 10,000 views. That gave me a platform to talk about social issues and advocate for change on a national and global level. All of a sudden, this little ordinary girl in a little ordinary town was making a big world difference.

Doing the right thing doesn’t always pay you back monetarily. In fact, this year closes out on the lowest bottom-line in my bank. But what God and I have built together this year on faith is something I couldn’t have imagined with thousands of dollars and plenty of job security.

What God Saw That I Couldn’t

In the Fall, parents across the country were enraged with Covid-19 restrictions hurting learning for their kids, LGBTQ agendas forced into education, and Critical Race Theory being taught in school. Even at the college level now, curricula are being rewritten to divide people over issues of race and sexuality. As I watched the news unfold, God spoke to me:

If you had stayed in that curriculum creation job, you would have been forced to write something you didn’t agree with. I took you out before that could happen.

God

I was contacted by a K-12 school in Minnesota. The administrator and I had met in a small group online, and she had been reading my work at The Bohemian Princess Journal. She called and asked me to write her school’s entire curriculum.

With 75 committed families on the line, it just got serious. God started putting people in my path to partner with me in the vision. All of a sudden, I knew what to do and who to pull in to help make the best curricula possible for them. The biggest project of 2022 will be creating this curriculum.

Simultaneously over the summer and fall, I was busy networking with small businesses, local government, and non-profit organizations. God opened doors for me to walk into places I never thought I would go, and He gave me favor with important people when I went there. Out of those meetings came paying writing gigs and networking connections that would build into 2022 and beyond. From those opportunities came bigger opportunities to help my town and community in tangible ways including partnerships with Wayne Community College to bring classes into the community. That’s when God revealed another truth.

Your time at Wayne Community College in the specific department you were in was strategic. I needed you to have those relationships to form the alliances we need now in ministry to the community. Your faithfulness there created a bridge here now that will help people in crisis as well as your friends back at the college, and that couldn’t have happened without removing you from your comfort zone and putting you in this place of complete dependency on me.

God

What’s Next…

This year didn’t start out to be anything I thought it would be and, like George Bailey, I had some dark moments where I didn’t want to be part of it anymore. But God saw me and all the talents I was hiding and called me out of hiding forevermore. Rebecca J. Whitman Writing Services and The Bohemian Princess Journal are here to stay. I can truly say, now, that it is a wonderful life in Mount Olive.

I am not sure about God’s timing, but this year has taught me to discern God’s voice and follow it no matter what it tells me to do because there is always a reason for it. God has sent me on some crazy adventures this year and shown His hand in more ways than I can count. Here are some of the adventures slated for 2022:

  • Build a non-denominational Christian curricula for K-12 instruction that is also applicable to Adult Education
  • Launch The Bohemian Princess Journal into weekly podcasts on Mondays.
  • Streamline the content and change the look of the website; make blog posts follow a theme and post once a week on Fridays.
  • Work with non-profits, churches, and small businesses to write promotional materials and branch into social media marketing.

Please pray for the success of these adventures and consider donating to keep the work going.

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May you be blessed and may God shake your own foundations and send you on new adventures in 2022.


For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:6-18, NIV

The 4 Day Movement: A Non-Profit Serving People in Crisis

Pastor DJ Coles and his wife, Ruth, have been givers and servers in ministry for as long as I can remember. Chaplain, youth pastor, recording artist, public speaker, mentor, father, husband, and a friend are just a few of the hats that Pastor DJ has worn. In 2013, Ruth began to pray that they would find something that used all their gifts. God answered that prayer audibly on June 4, 2013, at 4:00 in the morning:


I’ll do more in four days than normally happens in four years by My hand.

Message from God to Pastor DJ Coles

The Roadmap of Matthew 25

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:35-36, 40 NIV

God got really specific with what He wanted The 4 Day Movement to look like. He set up a structure for service that would strategically position The 4 Day Movement to serve the underserved populations in Wayne and surrounding counties in North Carolina. It would be a structure based on Matthew 25 that spread the good news of hope and Jesus Christ to the North, East, West, and South. It would be a ministry that sought neither glory nor fame; a ministry that served in the shadows with many people not even knowing their name.

In the early years of The 4 Day Movement, it was just Pastor DJ and his wife, Ruth. Before they had the means to do much, the Coles were “hope dealers” by themselves. They connected people in need with resources to the best of their ability. Over time, God added volunteers to the team as well as funding to expand their efforts. 

Focused on sheltering and feeding, The 4 Day Movement strives to see that no child goes hungry, no house sees a deficit in food, and short-term housing options are available for the homeless, displaced, and/or single-parent families in Wayne County and surrounding areas in North Carolina.

Pastor DJ Coles

Today, The 4 Day Movement is  moving towards the creation of its own affordable housing community with wrap-around services to assist and empower their clients within a structured environment. These efforts fall into four categories called the pillars of 4 Day.


The 4 Pillars of 4 Day

We were told to spread the Good News to the North, East, West, and the South. Wherever we get an “assignment”, we step in, plant a seed of hope, and God does the rest. He brings prosperity and provision to the people we serve, 4 Day itself, and all those who volunteer with 4 Day.

Pastor DJ Coles recalling the 2013 vision from the Lord

Assisting in Crisis and Emergency (Project A.C.E.)

The biggest pillar of need seen on a daily basis is the one where people are in a crisis and need help. This is the area that helps single-parent families and individuals find temporary shelter and food when their resources are limited or unsafe.

The phones ring off the hook for this need, but The 4 Day Movement uses discernment and a team assessment approach to determine which cases fit the scope of its mission. Requests for assistance must go through an intake process to screen out those aiming to misuse resources versus those with a legitimate need.

Serving and Assisting Veterans and Elderly (Project S.A.V.E.)

This pillar involves reinvesting value in the aged community as well as those who have served our country. This is the area that helped a veteran evicted from his three-bedroom home after missing just one payment. It is also the pillar that gives Food with Favor Boxes to the vulnerable elderly  populations within the community.  When we are all safely on the other side of Covid-19, one of the operations in this area is to go into the homes of the elderly and build relationships between the young and the old.

E4: Employment, Education, Enrichment, & Empowerment

Education and employability are key components of everything that The 4 Day Movement does to help people get back on their feet and become successful members of society. This is the area that helped pay an adult’s college tuition and books as well as sent six students on a school trip to a ballet.

Education is an important value to The 4 Day Movement and will be a requirement going into 2022. However, it can be a source of pain to the clients because many of them have repressed dreams that require education. The clients have lived in survival mode for so long that they have forgotten how to dream. With the help of The 4 Day Movement, the client pictured here went from being homeless living on the streets to graduating with his G.E.D., becoming gainfully employed, and having an apartment of his own.

Caring and Loving Every Adolescent and Teen in Sports (Project C.L.E.A.T.S.)

This pillar involves adopting a team or individual and paying for their gear to play in sports. This is the area that saw a child in tattered clothing show up to tryouts, got him new clothes and gear, and saw him become that team’s starting pitcher. It is also the area that took on feeding 12-15 players on a bus trip where no one had the money to buy food following a game.


4 Day Heroes: Volunteer and Paid Staff

Some 4 Day Heroes are here for a reason, some are here for a season, and some are here for a lifetime. We thank God for all of them.

Pastor DJ Coles
2021 4 Day Hero Team

It is no secret that The 4 Day Movement couldn’t be where it is today (or where it is headed) without volunteers. While some of those volunteers have moved into paid staff positions over time, most started as unpaid volunteers and were happy to do so. 

Volunteers and businesses that partner with The 4 Day Movement to accomplish the vision are known as 4 Day Heroes. A great example of this relationship is the partnership between The 4 Day Movement and Cornerstone Church. Pastor Ryan Rasmussen and the church have welcomed 4 Day to house its food pantry as well as staging for events and many of its meetings at the church. They are a truly giving congregation with a heart for the military and for the needy. 

From providing 1100 Thanksgiving hot meals to the second and third shift active-duty airmen at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base to providing weekly Food With Favor Boxes into the community, The 4 Day Movement can’t do what it does without the help of business partners, prayer warriors, financial investors, and volunteers.

The Heroes of 4 Day are a tribe of their own. They come to serve because they want to give back to people who are struggling in areas they have personal experience with as well. The sacrifice of their time and resources is an investment, not a burden. They find joy in the fellowship they have with each other and in the service they are able to provide to the 4 Day clients. Most of the Heroes serve because it is something God led them to do, and, when they obey that direction, God has provided for their personal needs as well–even supernaturally.


The Burden and the Need

Leading a non-profit is a navigation of faith, funds, and communication. You have to be a good communicator because you are asking people to come in for a portion of what they could make in the for-profit sector. I believe what we are doing is more rewarding; you can have hundreds and thousands of dollars and still feel empty at the end of the day. Dollar amount aside, at 4 Day we feel very full like we have done something that meant something. You can’t put a dollar amount on that.

Pastor DJ Coles

Moving into 2022, The 4 Day Movement has several initiates in play to expand its role and influence in the community beyond Goldsboro, NC. It is also actively working to remove barriers to education for its clients.

In 2022, they are set to partner with a non-profit tutoring organization to provide K-12 tutoring to all the clients that need it.

It also will begin a partnership with Wayne Community College to bring classes to its clients and provide pathways into the college for further education.


We Need You!


Please consider helping The 4 Day Movement in one of the following ways:


Contribute financially to The 4 Day Movement online by PayPal or send a financial gift to: Attn:  4 Day Movement, Inc., 2822 Cashwell Dr., Box #146, Goldsboro, NC 27534 

Tax deductible receipts are available.

Go shopping with 4 Day through Amazon Smile.

Volunteer with 4 Day by mentioning this article and requesting an application via email to: 4daymovement@gmail.com

Pray for 4 Day. We know prayer softens hearts and opens doors, and many areas where The 4 Day Movement will stretch will require God’s providence and movement on their behalf.

Justin Williams Pope: A Follow Up To The “From Dream To Reality” Event

We are back with Justin Williams Pope, journalist and writer of the Henry and Matilda’s Adventures children’s book series.

Justin visited us earlier in a live interview in October. We decided to follow up with him here to learn a bit more about his experiences.

Let’s jump back in!

On Education And Success

You have to dare yourself and challenge yourself to grow. If you don’t ask to do it, how will you know if you might get the opportunity? Most people miss out on these things because they are afraid to ask how they can pursue it!

Justin Williams Pope

You spent five years at Wayne Community College, in part, because you didn’t put your best foot forward in your work. What motivated you to take your education seriously? 

My dreams and desires to be successful. I knew that Education was the only route for me to attain success in the area I wanted to be in and I needed to buckle down and get my education.

You struggled with a lot of different career path ideas before you ever left Wayne County. How did you focus enough to pursue a degree in Communications at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington?  

I certainly did struggle. Honestly, I fell into communication studies due to my love for writing as well as my disdain for Math. I knew to be a Communications (Com) major, I could just take statistics and I could still pursue Public Relations or Journalism.

Looking back on the successes you have had so far, how important has college education been to your success as an artist in multiple genres? 

A college education is invaluable because, if anything, classes teach you the best skill of all: time management. It may help teach you something specific to your major, yes. However, the biggest takeaway, in my opinion, of obtaining an undergraduate degree is the ability to manage and balance your time successfully. It is so important. Yes, you may have the skills, but if you don’t know how to manage the time you have, you can never obtain any degree of success.

What advice would you give to students like you that struggle here in their studies today? 

Keep on keeping on. Take advantage of the tools and resources that are on campus: Writing Center, Math Lab, tutors, advisors, etc. to get advice from along the way.  All of those are to your advantage in your educational journey. USE THEM.

You have an amazing gift for pursuing dreams and passions without fear of failure because you believe in yourself and know you can’t fail or succeed without first trying. You have not always felt this way. What helped you take such a positive approach to living your life?  

You have to find that within yourself.  I may not be the smartest person ever, but I have just enough about me to ask the question. For example, I think about how I ended up in the internship at One Tree Hill. I was folding washcloths at Belk one afternoon when I realized I was going to walk into my intern advisor’s office the next day and ask for that internship. Those more daring things have only served to assist in building my confidence. I also credit my yearning to know about things and to dare myself to do it. i.e – dangling nine stories up from the WFD fire tower or wading out into the intracoastal waterway without a lifejacket just to try to help find an endangered species.  You have to dare yourself and challenge yourself to grow and if you don’t ask to do it, how will you know if you might get the opportunity? Most people miss out on these things because they are afraid to ask how they can pursue it!

On Journalism And Acting

There are many different types of writing, but you really fell in love with journalism from the beginning as a student writer and editor for Wayne Community College’s Campus Voice. What made you realize this career was one you really wanted to pursue?  

I have two favorite mediums of writing – the first is that journalism/quasi-editorial of telling a story in a very interpersonal way. I had loved writing since 2nd grade and even when I look back at that now, I was writing very interpersonally then. I thank God for that talent and aim to use it to the best of my ability.  If you can convey a story to a reader, you can change a life! The second type of writing is Public Relations writing. I love writing Press Releases. I excelled at this in college as it was a professional, clear-cut form of writing but if you can make it sound good and clean, it will wow your readers.  It’s also nice to be on both sides: press release writer and then as a journalist, take that press release and create a story out of it. 

Journalists used to take pride in telling well researched, honest stories that were meticulously fact checked and edited for typos. Today, simple typos appear in every article and journalists intentionally report false news as much as real news. What do you think is the cause of this change? 

Sensationalism, unfortunately.  I think Social Media has added to this as many people fancy themselves as journalists when they are not.  Sadly, our world has changed with the advent of social media. We live in a 24 hour a day news, news, news and the need to fill space is there. Unfortunately, journalists are going so fast and there are so few of them for multiple platforms – on cam, on web, print, blog, etc. The medium is no longer just tv or the afternoon newspaper.  
As far as bias in journalism, all stories can be slanted to appeal to a certain audience or persuade a certain group. Or to make someone look bad. If you look back at a broadcast of the news from the 1970’s, Walter Cronkite reported just the facts of what happened.  Today, journalists often insert their own opinion or feelings when they should just report the facts but they want to have their story clicked on so the word sensationalism comes to mind because ultimately, journalism is a business. 

I remember pitching a story to freelance write for a local paper, and the editor took my idea and gave it to his own staff writers to complete. How competitive is journalism today and how can someone new get into it?  

I feel like that was hi-jacking your idea and that’s not nice on that editor’s part to take your idea and give it to a staffer. I have never had that happen to me, yet.  I feel like it is becoming harder and harder to break in as a freelancer in print media at least. There used to be 11 of us and we are now down to 3 in the Wilmington Market. Sadly, the newspapers are shrinking and the need for stringers are not needed like it was in previous years and there is just not the funding for them as advertising dollars are down. 

You have said the landscape of journalism is changing as less and less readers buy print media and the publishers are converting to online subscriptions. How has this changed how writers are managed today?

In my market, I write about happy/community things so it has not affected what I do. I write about church anniversaries, school events, etc.  As we have grown smaller in numbers, my area has increased. Years ago, I was only allowed to write for Pender County but now I cover all three counties. It has been a pro for me because I can cover all three areas but the problem is that if you are looking for immediate news, your phone is the go to. By the time the newspaper comes out, Trump has tweeted something new. The online version is the way to go for instant find out!  I have not been asked to not cover something because I write about things that people will go to the box and pick up a paper.

How has the transition to online readers changed the types of stories you tell? Do you feel you have more or less readers now than you would have had twenty years ago?

No real changes on my story types. But size is much smaller than years ago. I used to write 850 words per story. Today – I cannot go over 350-375 or it will be cut. This is because reader’s attention span is much shorter and they will not take the time to read a longer story.  I feel like 20 years ago – the print subscriptions were much stronger, but online has only increased and the print editions have decreased. 

You were introduced to acting through local theatre here at Wayne Community College and, in the community, through Stage Struck Productions. One of the first things you developed to pursue a career in acting was a professional portfolio of pictures and acting experience. How important was this step towards opening the door in the acting world for you? 

Eh. I never saw myself as an actor. I only developed my portfolio because I needed to as part of my senior seminar at UNCW. It was indeed helpful but it wasn’t the direction I was going in. Whatever you do, however, it is good to have a professional portfolio. 

You had an internship with One Tree Hill in Wilmington. What you expected to be an open door into the world of performance art ended up being a dead end. How did you handle that seeming failure and reshape it into a positive experience?  

I just kind of felt it wasn’t meant to be. There are times in life when you know that it just wasn’t meant to be and that another avenue will open up if you keep pursuing.  I wasn’t going to act. I wanted to write but it didn’t seem to happen and now looking back I wouldn’t want it any other way.  

You have a gap between your two front teeth that is a rather endearing identifying mark, but it hasn’t always been treated that way. What negative comments have you received about your appearance and how have you handled them without letting them derail you?

I find my gap inspiring and I never wanted to change it. I did have it closed in as it was once even larger. It was hurtful when I was told that I would never be on television because it was so large. But there are people with that opinion. I like to think of it as a unique thing because not everyone has it. I’m special!! And again, you just keep going no matter what!!!

You joined a Writers’ Guild to improve your opportunities in the field of writing. There are professional guilds for many artistic careers including acting and writing. What is a guild and how can it be beneficial for an artist to join one?  

I never joined an actors guild, but I joined the Writers Guild. (It is good because) there are tons of resources that benefit a fledgling writer including agent opportunities and writer’s groups. It also gives you a professional standardization that resonates with those in the writing world. 

You transitioned from acting to creating and hosting a show you are pitching to The Discovery Channel now. You proudly claim the show, Sacred Places, will be a lasting legacy of something good you will give back to the world. How difficult has it been for you to take on this role, and what has been your best help in fulfilling it? 

I have had the good fortune to be able to utilize lots of resources to get this off the ground.  My University of North Carolina at Wilmington resources as well as my Wilmington Star News background.  The churches themselves are really the star of the show. They tell the story of our history and our time. I am just like the viewer, along for the ride but I am fortunate to be able to help share these stories with the audience and if picked up, hopefully the world. It has not been a hard task as it is something I love and I am thankful for the opportunity. 

On Creative Writing

You may have the skills, but if you don’t know how to manage the time you have, you can never obtain any degree of success.

Justin Williams Pope

You have explored different types of writing including short stories, screenplays, and children’s literature. How do you determine what genre a story should be in? 

It usually just starts with an idea in my head. It definitely varies as I have lots of ideas. I then use the clustering system to develop the idea and story. For my journalism stories, I use a set formula that makes it easier to write but still compels a reader in.  

You were inspired to tell a travel story as a children’s book that is now a published, ongoing series about a country dog and chicken exploring historic locations in America. How do you determine locations for the series to explore while still making them believable journeys for your characters?  

We have so many great places in America that I want them to travel too.  The first book was a no-brainer. New York is not your average market – it is a global market so I wanted it to be a “larger market” book that would sale lots of books. As we search for new locations, I try to look at what may educate our readers as well as take them to a place of new exploration, somewhere that is fun yet still with great learning opportunity.  Our 4th book that will publish in late 2020 will be in the mid-west and will be the first time we have adventured to that area. 

Some of the best advice given to young writers is to write from what you know. You have done that with the Henry and Matilda’s Adventures series because you grew up on a farm (around farm animals) and used real people to inspire your work. How similar are your literary characters to the real inspiration for Henry and Matilda? 

Henry and Matilda are best friends much like the real Henry (Me) and the real Matilda (my good friend Drucilla) are as we set out on an adventure to New York City. As far as what they are doing, the characters do take on a life of their own.  I like to think of Henry as being very loyal and Matilda as being very sassy but they both certainly love their adventure. 

As simplistic as a children’s story may be to an adult reader, it is actually far more daunting to write. What are the key factors that have to be considered when writing a children’s book?  

A large part is being in harmony with your illustrator. You have to ask ‘can she draw this?’  Henry and Matilda’s illustrations are fantastic painted by a professional artist who met with me in depth over periods at the farm to capture what I wanted. The story is formulated as Henry and Matilda will always go on an adventure together, the artist is the one who brings my story and vision to life. 

The market for children’s literature today is both saturated and competitive. How do you find and create a niche in that genre?  

You follow through and don’t give up.  You keep pushing and develop not only the story but if you want to last, you create a brand. 

In the past, writers wanting to get published would submit work to publishers directly and wait to hear back. Over time, less and less publishers have accepted unsolicited work, and many of them have closed up their doors. You used an agent to help market and get your book published. How did you find an agent, and how has that helped you?   

Any quality presentation would seek out assistance from the Writer’s Guild (yes, it costs money to do so) and their assistance is invaluable.  The Writer’s Guild brings a prestige and professionalism to your work. 

Many writers today are turning away from traditional publishing houses in favor of self-publishing and self-promotion. Presses like Amazon make it possible for writers to do their own layout and print only on demand as copies are sold. How has this made the world of writing better or worse as a whole?  

I don’t think it has made it worse. I think it has actually provided an outlet for people who may just want to see their story come to life. They may have no interest in being a professional writer or a lifetime story teller. I think online has encouraged creativity and has allowed people to see themselves as an author. They may never make tons of money from it but they got their dream of having their book published. 

Some writers feel they are not writers till they can write full-time and live off their writing income, but that is a pressure that often strangles creativity and is unrealistic for most writers. Do you feel writers shame themselves and each other into unrealistic goals?  

The reality is that most writers have another 9-5 job until they can become professional writers in some medium. I don’t know about “shaming themselves”. I can only speak for me, and I look at it as a business just as much as it is a creative passion. Some writers can never discern the two. 

Many writers benefit from the stability of a regular job and write around it. You currently write while working a 40-hour week in Public Relations in the healthcare industry. How has that job enabled you to be a better writer?  

Both are so different – I’m looking at things from two opposite spectrums so I feel l can write from both arenas and it strengthens my writing. 

Many of our readers are aspiring writers too (of all ages). What is your best advice to young, yet unpublished, authors?  

Keep writing. Remember, that there is no plot that has not been done. What can you do to make it unique but sellable? Who is your target audience and follow the correct business steps to get published. 

This concludes our two-part interview with Justin Williams Pope. You can find his Henry and Matilda’s Adventures series available wherever books are sold including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

We hope you were enlightened and encouraged by what was shared. Please leave a comment below and share how we have encouraged you and any questions you may have to continue the discussion.

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.


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. 

Karen Burnette, Program Quality and Accountability Coordinator for Transitional Programs for College and Career at Wayne Community College

Hello readers! Today we are talking with Karen Burnette, Program Quality and Accountability Coordinator for Transitional Programs for College and Career at Wayne Community College. Ms. Burnette has 27 years of experience in education including four years of teaching in public elementary and high schools. Her experiences in the community college system include work with literacy skills and instructional team leading. Prior to entering education, Ms. Burnette worked for seven years in scientific and agricultural research.

The end of June 2018 marks the end of Ms. Burnette’s educational career. As she looks forward to retirement and the new adventures ahead for her there, she has taken a moment to share with us some insights from her long career and advice. Thank you, Ms. Burnette, for sharing your time with us today. We appreciate your insights and wisdom.    

What made you choose a career in education?

I had always wanted to be a veterinarian, but when I took Chemistry at NCSU, I decide to become a Biology Teacher!

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? 

It helps to have worked on both sides of the desk!  I have implemented and developed curriculum as an instructor and then used this knowledge to assist others and develop ways to manage and streamline the process from an administrative view.

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

Never prejudge a student.  Listen and be patient. Always remove a student from a situation before reprimanding or discussing.  There are always two sides to a story and the truth is usually somewhere in between.

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

I have always enjoyed technology part of education combined with; learning and making decisions, improvements, or adjustments to programming based on data.

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

It’s OK to make a mistake, but learn from it and don’t keep making the same mistake! Don’t procrastinate on a deadline. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Give others the trust and allow them to be creative. Be empathetic. It’s OK to ask for advice. Make a decision, because sometimes, no decision is worse than a wrong decision.

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

Actually, Adult Education found me.  I was looking for something at a community college when I lived in Virginia and was working at an elementary school in Roanoke Rapids. The Literacy Skills Specialist position at Halifax Community College was advertised and I thought my diverse background would be a good fit for that job.  I had experience as a student teacher in a Middle School, taught high school biology (Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced), and worked in an elementary school as a reading teacher for 3rd graders.

I got the job and loved it!

You worked in the private sector before coming into education. Tell us a little about your other career experience and how that job influenced your career in education.

The private sector was where I learned all about technology and computers.  I ran High Pressure and Gas Chromatography, used large databases to run reports for manufacturing facilities, used computers back during the “DOS” days to run our robot named “Tobor” (Robot spelled backward), and was sent to school to learn SAS programming at Research Triangle Park.  I was also trained with Lotus 123 and WordPerfect the popular programs at the time.

All this experience gave me the knowledge to use computers, software, and new technology in the education field.  

What advice would you give to those currently working in another career field but wanting to work in education?

The reason I left the private sector was the frequent turnover in the industry of buyouts, mergers, and name changes.  When your company is bought out you do not have the security of a job. The state does not merge with other states and so job security was better at the time.  The unfortunate part of working for the state is the pay. It took 17 years working at WCC before I matched the salary I made in the private sector. But the benefits are good for me, due to the fact I started with the state in time to get health benefits and a pension when I retire.  

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?

Hard decisions have to be made, but always make sure we remain student-centered.

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 in involving the team and giving them a chance to communicate ways to implement change.  I think the “Huddles” we started have been good to voice opinions and listen.

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?

I have experienced several major changes over time from testing changes, WIA and WIOA, to personnel changes.   I think the first time you go through major changes is the hardest. Once you have experienced a successful change, you are better able to implement and support future changes.   You can understand the anxiety for those going through a change the first time but can talk about previous changes and how they were hard at first, but eventually work out just fine.  

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?

Good question!  You have to love what you are doing to help others!

ALWAYS keep your resume up to date!

You have led a very diverse career in both business and education. Now you are retiring to start another career in real estate with your sister. What advice can you give to those looking forward to retirement someday?

Set up an NC 457 plan now.  DO NOT procrastinate. It is very easy to do!!!  Just let Melanie Bell know you would like to do so and it’s a piece of cake.

The NC 457 is a place you can stow away as little as say $25 a month, tax-deferred, and you will never miss it, but you will be glad you did when you are ready to retire. You can access this money as soon as you retire.  It’s not like a 401K where you have to wait till you are 59 years old.

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

Karen’s Top Ten Advice for Younger Educators (in no certain order):

  1. Keep a notebook of your accomplishments and certifications.
  2. Every week, give a compliment to someone you work with, work for, and works for you.
  3. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or try something new.
  4. You can’t do it all in one day….it will be there tomorrow to finish.
  5. For the above, don’t wait until the last minute to get something done.  Work on it and have time to sleep on it before it has to be complete for a deadline.
  6. Leave your personal problems at the door!
  7. Be flexible and always have a backup plan.
  8. Spend money on good shoes, a good chair, and a good mattress.  
  9. Be a good listener.
  10. When making a big decision, go with your “gut” feeling, because it is almost always right!

Google Classroom: An Approved Online Learning Environment for Adult Education in North Carolina

(This post was presented during a live workshop presentation at the 2018 ABSPD Institute at Appalachian State University.)

If you are a teacher like me, you are constantly looking for a way to help your students be more engaged in their learning. Let me tell you a little about my history with Google Classroom.

A little over two years ago, a student came to me and asked me why we were not using Google Classroom. She had read an article about a chemistry instructor using it on campus, and she wanted to know why we, in Adult Education, were not on the boat with the rest of the college. To be honest, I was floored. I was partly impressed that my student was so motivated to learn, and I was partly embarrassed that I didn’t know more about this product being used on my own campus. I took the initiative to set up a meeting with that chemistry instructor. He graciously showed me all he knew and pointed me to the guru, Alice Keeler, to learn more. I became curious and I started to play with creating classes.

Courses launched in January 2016 for Adult High School English 3 and 4. Then courses launched for High School Equivalency in math, social studies, science, reading and writing, and digital literacy. The courses were tested by over 100 students and time was meticulously calculated and averaged for reporting and getting the courses approved by the State.

When you are considering any form of online learning, you have two major questions to answer. While Google Classroom had wonderful answers to the first question, it presented problems for the second.

1: How are my students going to access it?

Google Classroom offers free access to their platform online and through a free mobile app. Students can access their work on their phones and do their work on their phones without the need of a computer. The app does require internet access so they will need to work with their data plan and/or in a wifi area.

At first, students could only access Google Classroom through .edu accounts. These emails are made automatically for all active students of our college, but they are also deactivated every semester that a student is not actively enrolled in. It takes time to find the accounts, set up passwords, and enroll the students. If a student takes a semester off and their account is deactivated, we have to start all over with the enrollment process.

There is talk that Google is now opening Google Classroom to non-edu accounts. I have not seen that work yet, but it could resolve the access issue if students could use their existing Gmail accounts instead of ones set up for them by the school.

2: How are we going to track their time using it?

Google created the tool and gave it to us for free, but they do not plan on entering the game of telling us dates and times that students log in to do their work. The bottom line on this issue is to either use an external time clock or experiment and test your times and get them approved by the State for proxy time. While you may have a physical time clock for your program, that cannot work for students logging in to work remotely. What we did was test and submit average times for proxy approval to State. In 2018, we finally got our approval.

Here is the document we submitted for approval that includes detailed descriptions of how the courses were created, the outline for each course, and the time allotted for each assignment in each course.

WCCs Google Classroom for ASE Learners_updated 09-16-16.docx

What Got The Ball Rolling for Approval

During an auditor’s visit from State, I was asked to show the auditors what I was doing with Google Classroom. The people were highly impressed and asked me if I would be willing to share my work with other schools. Of course, I said yes. 😉 A few months down the road, I was invited to present during a Webinar. I shared this presentation.

Google Presentation

We submitted the document “WCC’s Google Classroom for ASE Learners” for approval and, two years later, we finally have it! In April 2018, Arbony Cooper, Adult Education Coordinator of Integrated Technology and IEL/CE Programs for College and Career Readiness at the North Carolina College System Office, wrote my director to say our program has been approved for use starting July 1, 2018 and the information has been submitted to the NCCCS Compliance Review team.

This means the hours as specified in the document above are approved for use in North Carolina for the courses as specified! This is a BIG leap forward in Adult Education. It was approved for our program at Wayne Community College, but I see no reason why it could not be used for any other program in the state. I would reach out to Ms. Cooper for clarification if needed.

How do I Create Classes Now?

Now, when I want to use Google Classroom to teach a course, I create it following the approved outline and allotted hours earned. I create a new course and post assignment using priorly approved content and/or content equivalent that meets the standards and time requirements of the approved lesson. I schedule each assignment to be at least a day apart so they will show on the reports. I also include the approved time in the assignment title so the time will show on the reports. I can adjust the due dates as need be for my course, and use the reports generated by Google to suffice for the end of course reporting.

How do I Handle Reporting Now?

If I am using Google Classroom in combination with other courses in Odysseyware–another platform I create content in–then I create custom reports and update them weekly. For assignments completed in Google Classroom, I give credit for the approved time according to the report submitted to and approved by the State. At the end of the course, I will present my custom reports as well as the Google Classroom reports as proof of the time recorded during the term in Web Advisor.

What are some helpful resources for learning more about Google Classroom?

In addition to the links above, I recommend starting with the source itself–Google–and reading all they have to say about Classroom, apps that work with it, and their other interesting projects here.

Next, I recommend reading blogs from teachers that are currently using it. Alice Keeler is a go to in the industry. She is a big supporter of technology, blended learning, and flipped learning. She believes Google Classroom should be used to connect and interact with students. You can read more from her on her blog at http://www.alicekeeler.com/

I’ve created a YouTube playlist of several videos that teach more about Google Classroom and how to use it. There is also an introductory version of my presentation for students. You can access my playlist here.

How can Google Classroom help prepare students for College and Career?

At Wayne Community College, we have asked businesses in the community what they see most lacking in their new hires that are also our students. The overwhelming response was that they were very well trained for their jobs, but lacked soft skills like responsibility, teamwork, professionalism, and showing up to work on time. Transitioning from Adult Education to College, I have asked professors what they see most lacking in their new students. The overwhelming response was that they are not prepared for the online learning environment and the level of discussion and collaboration that they will be required to do there. Google Classroom can help with all of this.

I find that the best way to better soft skills with students is not to teach it directly–like lessons about time management–but indirectly–in the level of expectation we expect from them in their existing classes. In my classes, grades (in Adult High School) and practice tests (in High School Equivalency) are dependent on their attention to their work, class attendance, and participation. Many of the student assignments involve teamwork and a professionally organized presentation. If students play around, leave early, or don’t do their work, their ability to practice test and/or earn good grades will suffer for it. Furthermore, all students are required to enroll in Remind, a free texting app, and let me know if they are running late or going to miss a class. When they notify me, I arrange for work to be available online to make up for their missed time. If a student misses more than four classes, they can be dropped from the course. All of these requirements raise the bar of expectancy for my students; most of them will rise to that level. Having high expectations on them now will help them be better employees and students in the future.

As far as preparing them for online learning in college, I like to do this through the applications I have them use for student assignments. Not all students have computers, and those that do are not always equipped with expensive software programs. I like to stick to using mostly the Google Suite–Google Docs, Sheets, Forms, Open Docs, etc.–because I know students will need to be familiar with them for college and career and they have free access to those programs with their Gmail accounts. In addition to familiarity with collaborative tools, students need to understand how to make constructive feedback comments on discussion posts. To help them learn this, I use the questions feature in the Google Classroom environment to host discussion boards. I also teach a lesson on blogs and how to respond to them using my own blogs and those of a few trusted friends.

What can I do for course content in Google Classroom?

Google Classroom makes it easy for you to use any type of information that you want to use to build a course. You can link websites, upload YouTube videos, insert docs from your Google Drive, insert self-grading tests from Google Forms, and more. What is super cool now, is that several web content sites are joining in on creating content that will add directly to your Google Classroom. My favorite for this is Khan Academy

You can find a lot of good material in other places too such as OpenEd, EdPuzzle, Ted Ed, and several other apps mentioned on the Google Apps for Education website.

Here is a list of some of my favorite content sources based on subject area:

English and Writing

Social Studies

Science

Math

Test Prep & Transitions to College and Career

 

In addition to all of the websites and information linked here, I hope you will consider my blogs as a resource for course content. Sign up to follow this website, and be the first to see new content post specifically for teachers of adults on Whitman’s Academics. Consider following Bairn’s Bard for original children’s stories and Rebecca Whitman for inspirational non-fiction and commentary.

 

Copyright Permission

Users are free to use the content from any of my blogs for educational purposes as long as the use credits Rebecca Whitman as the author and links directly to the online blog for use. Content is not to be printed or copied without the express written permission of the author.

Uniquely R’s and The Gladstone: A Local Treasure Gives Culture to WCC Students

Just beyond the curtain door at the back of a little shop, there is a special place for art and history in downtown Goldsboro, NC called The Gladstone. Dark wood walls and a crystal chandelier hanging from an antique tiled ceiling give this place a Golden Age feel. An upright piano frequently plays classical music and artists that serve coffee, tea, and pastries often sing along there. Occasionally a visitor pops in with his/her instrument, sits in one of the tall wingback chairs, and belts out a series of folk tunes.

Making a place for artists and people to feel welcomed and inspired was part of the owner’s vision. Her welcoming heart is present in every creative display, quirky item selection, and ornate fixture. Uniquely R’s offers customers an opportunity to experience a richer culture than their own and buy things they couldn’t possibly find anywhere else. Guests are drawn in by the quaint, enchanting floral patio entrance. They are curious about what lies beyond the water fountain and tables. They come to support a local business, but they end up transported to another time and place. The Gladstone gives guests an opportunity to sit and soak in that different time and place; it is the pride of the shop, Uniquely R’s, and the heart of its owner, Ruth Glisson.

In such a place, I get big ideas.

As an English teacher, I always struggle with making British literature relevant to my students. They have a hard time grasping the concepts and language of classics like Austen and Shakespeare. They don’t understand Victorian customs and practices; all things British seem old and unnecessary to them. How could I make them see the beauty in a bygone era? How could I make them truly understand and love the classics they had to read? The answer: let them experience it.

My big idea: bring students to The Gladstone and let them experience a foreign culture firsthand. l mentioned the idea to Ruth Glisson, and she loved it. Many months later, a travelling show was set to come to Paramount Theatre and present “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged”. It was the perfect timing and opportunity to take my English 4 students out for a cultural experience. I wrote a grant to the Foundation of Wayne Community College, and got approved! I was never so proud as when I got to walk into Uniquely R’s and talk business with Ruth. The party we planned was special, but the end result exceeded my wildest imagination. On April, 16, 2016, nine students and myself were treated like royalty.

My students had just read Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, so we made a high tea themed around Pride and Prejudice. We had custom menus and music from the movie version–which we had watched in class–of the book. Courses came out in shiny tiered trays as the host (me) gave the nod to move forward. Ruth explained the history of tea and tea parties during the Victorian era as well as the history behind each food choice in our course. We began with savories then sweets with three drink choices along the way.

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The students were encouraged to dress up for the occasion. While some were not able to do so, others dressed up in suits, dresses, and hats. Regardless of their dress, every person there sat a little bit taller and prouder that night. They felt special…treasured…loved.

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Much thanks to Uniquely R’s and the Foundation of Wayne Community College for making this experience possible.