Editor’s note: The Durham VOICE and the Durham NGO Partners for Youth Opportunity teamed up this summer with the Ocracoke Observer to bring six Durham high school student interns 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, the 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.
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, a 17-year-old Jordan High School grad who plans to join the Army after attending Durham Tech, wrote about the island’s only judo master, who dreams of sending one of his young students to the Olympics.
Bruce Wilkerson, a 17-year-old rising senior at Voyager Academy who wants to be a dancer, wrote about how journalists Connie Leinbach and Peter Vankevich, both transplanted northerners, came to own the village’s newspaper.
Gwen Payne, an 18-year-old Hillside High School grad who is entering Durham Tech this fall, 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, immediate past teen editor-in-chief of the VOICE, interviewed a local woman who does HIV prevention work in Africa. The 18-year-old Northern High School 2016 grad has started her college career this fall at Wells College in Aurora, N.Y.
Christian Lawrence, 17 and a rising senior at Hillside New Tech High School, spent a day with a 17-year-old entrepreneur who runs her own smoothie stand.
Yusuf Shah, an 18-year-old Hillside High School grad. told the story of the Hutcherson family, owners of the village’s iconic “Variety Store,” and how they donated a valuable piece of prime property for the location of the new volunteer fire department building. This fall Yusuf has begun college at UNC-Pembroke.
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.
At trip’s end the young journalists were asked about 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. Durham is not a together community and I do not like that; I wish Durham was like Ocracoke. Then it could help the community rise.” – Bruce Wilkerson
“I’ve had so many firsts on this trip…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.
“Community matters more than anything, because have those close bonds are great. Community rules! Plus, 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. Being able to go to the beach and look at the stars next to the firelight. 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. The way the community embraced me — Y’all are like family here.” — Yusuf Shah
Their stories and photos have begun appearing in the fall editions of the Ocracoke Observer.