In total concentration, Durham VOICE staff writer-phographer Bruce Wilkerson zooms in a shot while on assignment in Ocracoke. (Jock Lauterer photos)
In total concentration, Durham VOICE staff writer-photographer Bruce Wilkerson zooms in a shot while on assignment in Ocracoke. (Jock Lauterer photos)
 
Earlier this month, the Durham VOICE and the Durham NGO Partners for Youth Opportunity teamed up with the Ocracoke Observer to bring six Durham inner-city teens to the Outer Banks island to spend the better part of a week learning about island culture and documenting the stories of some of the fascinating people there. All six teen journalists have served for a year as staff writers for the Durham VOICE,  durhamvoice.org,   a seven-year-old gang intervention community journalism project, website and newspaper created by UNC-CH and NCCU in partnership with Partners for Youth Opportunity.

  • Project leader Jock Lauterer, senior lecturer, UNC-CH School of Media and Journalism

 
Take six inner-city urban teens, send them to a remote island village far across the water from the mainland, take away their smart phones, put cameras, pens and computers in their hands… and set them loose to photograph and write about island life — and what do you get?

A little chaos, a dose of culture shock, a boatload of surprises — plus lot of what the locals call “the Ocracoke Effect,” in which community connectivity produces a sort of invisible free-floating chemistry of serendipity that pervades island life. In short, everything there is connected.

 

Getting an earful: VOICE reporter Yusuf Shah listens as 83-year-old Julie Hutcherson relates the long history of Ocracoke's iconic Variety Store. (Jock Lauterer photo)
Getting an earful: VOICE reporter Yusuf Shah listens as 83-year-old Julia Hutcherson relates the long history of Ocracoke’s iconic Variety Store. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

Connie Leinbach and Peter Vankevich, co-owners of the Ocracoke Observer, the local community newspaper, get the credit for coming up with the novel idea of bringing the Durham VOICE kids out to work on their beach newspaper.

Co-sponsored by the Durham NGO “Partners for Youth Opportunity,” and the UNC-CH School of Media and Journalism, the beach newspaper work trip, Aug. 3-7, enabled the six teens from the Durham VOICE to be immersed in island life and then to create story-photo packages about the fascinating people they met there.

LaMon Jones wrote about the island’s only judo master, who dreams of sending one of his young students to the Olympics.

 

On the job: VOICE staff writer LaMon Jones takes notes as he listens to Gustavo Sanchez, the only judo sensei on Ocracoke Island as he says, "My dream is to see one of my students in the Olympics!" (Jock Lauterer photo)
On the job: VOICE staff writer LaMon Jones takes notes as he listens to Gustavo Sanchez, the only judo sensei on Ocracoke Island as he says, “My dream is to see one of my students in the Olympics!” (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

Bruce Wilkerson wrote about how journalists Connie Leinbach and Peter Vankevich, both transplanted northerners, came to own the village’s newspaper.

Gwen Payne wrote about a 10-year-old who has her own radio show on the village’s low-watt community access FM station WOVV-FM 90.1 (which Publisher Vankevich helps anchor!)

Natasha Graham interviewed a local woman who does HIV prevention work in Africa.

Christian Lawrence spent a day with a 17-year-old entrepreneur who runs her own smoothie stand.

Yusuf Shah told the story of the Hutcherson family, owners of the village’s iconic “Variety Store,” and how they selflessly donated a valuable piece of prime property for the location of the new volunteer fire department building.

All six teens have spent the last year as writer-photographers for the Durham VOICE, the community newspaper serving central Durham. Their internships are supported by the Partners for Youth Opportunity, led by Executive Director Julie Wells and Workplace/Mentoring Coordinator Carlton Koonce. Other mentors serving as volunteers on the trip included Eric Johnson of the UNC-CH Office of Student Aid, Assistant Professor Joe Cabosky of the School of Media and Journalism, and yr. fthfl. svt. who thanks all of the above for making this amazing experience so rich, layered and robust.

At trip’s end I asked the kids what were their take-aways from the experience. Some of their comments:

“I really have learned a lot. I love the vibe of this island and this community. I wish Durham was like Ocracoke. Then it could help the community rise.” – Bruce Wilkerson

 

With the wind in her hair, Natasha Graham savors her first boat ride as the ferry crosses the sound from Swan Quarter to Ocracoke. (Jock Lauterer photo)
With the wind in her hair, Natasha Graham savors her first boat ride as the ferry crosses the Pamlico Sound from Swan Quarter to Ocracoke. (Jock Lauterer photo)

“I’ve never been on a boat before, never been to a bonfire, never been on a beach trip…and I learned I’m good at adapting to new situations.”

— Natasha Graham.

“I have gained new skills as a reporter by being here.” — LaMon Jones

“I’ve never gotten off the mainland before so that’s pretty cool. And this place is better than Durham. There’s a lot of culture here.” — Gwen Payne

“This experience really brought me out. Everybody knows each other and are so friendly. Y’all are like family here.” — Yusuf Shah

Once completed, their stories and photos will appear in the Ocracoke Observer and the Durham VOICE. Stay tuned.

We are indebted to the following patrons and donors who made the trip possible: Charles Broadwell of the Fayetteville Observer, Walter Phillips of the Carteret County News-Times, Connie Cohn, Frances Shetley, Bruce dePyssler, Andy Bechtel, Roger Coates, Pam and Bob Winton, Richard and Lonna Harkrader, Courtney Price and friends, Lynn Blanchard, Anne Johnston and Sam Miglarese.

 

AN OCRACOKE PORTFOLIO

Young VOICE staffers scramble as Partners for Youth Opportunity Executive Director Julie Wells, center, hands out story assignments. (Jock Lauterer photo)
With Ocracoke Observer Editor Connie Leinbach, left, looking on, VOICE staffers scramble as Partners for Youth Opportunity Executive Director Julie Wells, center, hands out story assignments. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

WritingLockDownLoRez
Putting the pedal to the metal: during a writing lock-down on the last day, VOICE staffers bang out their final stories, clockwise from bottom, Christian Lawrence, Bruce Wilkerson, LaMon Jones, Gwen Payne and Yusuf Shah. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

Multi-media man: Ocracoke Observer co-owner Peter Vankevich who also doubles as a local public radio personality, talks to the VOICE team at WOVV-FM 90.1 FM. (Jock Lauterer photo)
Multimedia man: Ocracoke Observer co-owner Peter Vankevich, who also doubles as a local public radio personality, talks to the VOICE team at WOVV-FM 90.1 FM. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

UNC Prof Joe Cabosky shoots a "selfie" with the Durham VOICE Ocracoke team: from center clockewise, LaMon James, Julie Wells, Bruce Wilkinson, Christian Larence, Natasha Graham, Carlton Koonce, Yusuf Shah and Jock Lauterer.
Departing from Durham Wednesday morning, Aug. 3, UNC Prof Joe Cabosky, front right foreground, shoots a “selfie” with the Durham VOICE Ocracoke team: from center clockewise, LaMon Jones, , Bruce Wilkerson, Julie Wells, Gwen Payne, Christian Lawrence, Natasha Graham, Carlton Koonce, Yusuf Shah and Jock Lauterer.

 

Part of the purpose of the trip is to develop writing skills. The Durham VOICE team, sponsored by Partners for Youth Opportunity, keeps a daily journal to record the sights, sounds, feels and impressions of Ocracoke Island. Young writers, left to right, Bruce Wilkinson and LaMon James take pen in hand to put thoughts on paper. (Jock Lauterer photo)
Part of the purpose of the trip is to develop writing skills. The Durham VOICE team, sponsored by Partners for Youth Opportunity, keeps a daily journal to record the sights, sounds, feels and impressions of Ocracoke Island. Young writers, left to right, Bruce Wilkerson and LaMon Jones take pen in hand to put thoughts on paper. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

With sun setting and the lovely Ocracoke harbor for their backdrop, the PYO/Durham VOICE team strike a pose, left to right, Natasha Graham, Yusuf Shah, Gwen Payne, Chistian Lawrence, LaMon James and Bruce Wilkinson. (Jock Lauterer photo)
With sun setting and the lovely Ocracoke harbor for their backdrop, the PYO/Durham VOICE team strike a pose, left to right, Natasha Graham, Yusuf Shah, Gwen Payne, Christian Lawrence, LaMon Jones and Bruce Wilkerson. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

Getting to know you: Ocracoke Observer co-owner Connie Lienbach lends a hand, tying back PYO intern Christian Lawrence's braids during a tour of historic Ocracoke. (Jock Lauterer photo)
Getting to know you: Ocracoke Observer co-owner Connie Leinbach lends a hand, tying back PYO intern Christian Lawrence’s braids during a tour of historic Ocracoke. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

The VOICE team gets some beach-time, as Partners for Youth Executive Director Julie Wells gazes out to sea. (Jock Lauterer photo)
The VOICE team gets some beach-time, as Partners for Youth Executive Director Julie Wells gazes out to sea. (Jock Lauterer photo)

 

At week's end, after five days "on island," O-Cockers say, the VOICE team enjoys a final bonfire by the Atlantic. (Jock Lauterer photo)
At week’s end, after five days “on island,” as the natives say, the VOICE team enjoys a final bonfire by the Atlantic. (Jock Lauterer photo)

From the Partners for Youth Opportunity website, written by Carlton Koonce, Workforce Director.

With thanks from Partners for Youth Opportunity

Two years ago PYO interns with the Durham VOICE were invited out to Ocracoke Island by the two owners of the Ocracoke Observer to work on a few stories, learn more about the inner-workings of a very special community newspaper and to have a little relaxation.

What has been created is a unique bond between our students interested in pursuing communications careers and those in the communities around the state who would love to help them get there.

Via the help of several generous donors, students arrived on the island after taking the two and a half hour ferry ride (for most their very first ferry ride) from Swan Quarter on the mainland and spent their time not only mingling with the locals, known as O’cokers, and getting intimate with island life.

The trip was half work in which students each took on a project to write about ranging from two-fourth grade girls who have their own radio program to learning how food is transported to the island.

In addition to talking with local business owners and citizens, students toured the community, learned about the island ecosystem, met local celebrities like a judo master and a folk music band and spent time visiting nooks and crannies the average tourist never sees.

And if that wasn’t enough, UNC-Chapel Hill is spending time this summer and the school year interviewing Durham VOICE student interns. The purpose is to discover what kind of effects the newspaper has had on not only their lives but their families and community. A completion date has not yet been set.

The stories from the trip will be in several publications including the Durham VOICE, the Ocracoke Observer and PYO’s website and newsletter.

 

 

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