Ayden Winter 2018 Sounds in the Town

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Contents 6

Sounds in the Town


Chargers Band


Darlene Pollard




Langley Computers


Southwest Bypass





photo by Amber Revels- Sto c ks The Green Grass Cloggers demonstrate a kick-step on the West Avenue Stage during the August 2018 Sounds in the Town.









AYDEN © is published biannually by The Times-Leader newspaper. Contents are the property of this newspaper and the town of Ayde n a nd m a y not b e reproduced without consent of the publisher. To ad v e r t ise in t his p ub lica t ion please contact The Times- Leader at 252- 7 46- 6261. 5

Main Street Committee uses

g n i c an


to help revitalize

Downtown Ayden

By Amber Revels-Stocks



yden’s downtown used to be a vibrant shopping center, featuring plenty of shops and restaurants. Over time, that has faded, but one group is working to bring back downtown as the heart of town. The Main Street Committee is part of a national program for small towns with a population under 35,000 called Main Street America, according to Ayden Manager Steve Harrell. The committee consists of approximately 20 people, who attend most meetings. “In 2015, Ayden became part of the Main Street Program,” Harrell said. “The purpose of the program is to provide economic development activities to revive downtowns. Downtowns have died. When I was a kid in the ‘60s, downtowns were where you’d go to shop. Now we’re trying to bring that back.” The Main Street program consists of economic vitality, design, promotion and organization to form a transformation strategy to bring people back to downtowns throughout the nation, according to Main Street America. “The purpose of the committee is to try and revitalize our downtown,” Harrell said. In addition to helping the Chamber of Commerce with Christmas Town, the Main Street Committee facilitates a façade grant program that will match up to $2,000 to improve the look of downtown buildings. It also provides recommendations to the Ayden governing board, serves as a forum for downtown’s stakeholders and provides promotional activities, including a mission statement for downtown. The town provides $13,500 per year to the committee to help it achieve its goal of revitalizing downtown. “Main Street is starting a new endeavor called BOLT or Businesses Open Late on Thursday,” Harrell said. “Businesses downtown will stay open until 8 p.m. There will be food vendors, crafts and other things to invite people to walk around downtown and see what Ayden has to offer.” Crafts range from coloring pages to making Christmas ornaments, according to Ayden Chamber of Commerce

director Laura Todd. “The whole idea behind those kinds of things is to get people excited about coming downtown,” Harrell said. One of the Main Street Committee’s most popular ideas is Sounds in the Town, a summer dance series that started in 2017. “Sounds in the Town was birthed out of the Main Street Committee,” Todd said. “We were talking about programs that had been successful in other communities that could possibly work in Ayden. Our new town manager came up with the idea. He has a real love of beach music and shagging.” Harrell added, “I suggested at a Main Street Committee meeting that we have three beach music nights, one each in June, July and August.” Harrell is an avid Carolina shag dancer, so he reached out to the ENC Shag Club in Greenville. Instructors taught participants how to dance before having an open dance where dancers could show off their skills. The committee had a specialized dance floor built, so avid dancers would not have to worry about ruining their shoes on the streets. “We attempted to do it three times that first year, but only managed once because of weather. The other two got rained out,” Todd said. “That first time was very successful, and we had a great response and turnout that night.” When Sounds in the Town proved to be a hit, the committee decided to have it return for summer 2018 with four different types of music.

“We wanted to spread the wealth in terms of the kinds of dancing rather than three beach music dances,” Harrell said. “We have a great diversity in Ayden, and we wanted to tap into all of our communities.” Dan and Brenda Tew of the ENC Shag Club came to Ayden in June to teach Carolina shag dancing. DJ Layman Elks provided music. The Tews met at a shag dancing event and decided to start teaching it. They taught shag dancing during the 2017 season and decided to come back in 2018. “Steve Harrell called us and wanted to know if we’d come back. We remembered how hot it was last year; other than that, it was fun,” Brenda said. “We want younger people to learn (the Carolina shag). That’s why we want to have dance lessons, so younger people can join in too.” Dan added, “(Sounds in the Town) is a very safe atmosphere for younger people when you go out to dance. The people range from very young to very old.” Shag is performed to music with a four-four time signature, which means it can be performed to almost any type of music. “There might be a few kinds that are impossible to shag to, but you can shag to almost everything,” Brenda said. “You just have to vary the speed to match the beat.” If one can count to six, one can shag, according to Dan. He managed to teach two Russian girls visiting Ayden how to


shag even though neither spoke much English. For the next two dances of 2018, the Main Street Committee partnered with the Folk Arts Society of Greenville. “The partnership with the Folk Arts Society came about because of a personal contact I have with them,” Harrell said. “My girlfriend has been contra dancing with them for 15 years, so I went to contra with her a few times and met a lot of the people in the Folk Arts Society. When I started talking about the possibility of doing a contra night out here, they really got on board.” The Folk Arts Society holds monthly salsa and contra dance nights at the Jaycee building in Greenville. They were excited to come to Ayden, according to society treasurer and secretary Elizabeth Smith. “We love to come out into the community and show them what the Folk Arts Society has to offer,” Elizabeth Smith said. “Ayden’s very close to us, so when Steve (Harrell) called to see if we would come out for the last two events, (the society) was excited to come out and show people what’s available in Greenville.” In July, Procopio Serrano and Heidi Diaz-Serrano of Greenville taught salsa


dancing with music provided by DJ Ramon. The Serranos have been teaching salsa for the Folk Arts Society for 18 years, but they have been dancing for longer than that. “Heidi has been doing this forever, but I started in college,” Procopio said. “We love to dance, so when the society asked if we would teach, we jumped on board.” The Serranos love to teach salsa because they love to spread their culture. “Any chance to get out here and teach people about our culture, about the Hispanic culture, is a good one,” Procopio said. Salsa is a Caribbean-inspired dance with an odd number of steps per four-beat count. It lends itself to several different moves and artistic expression, according to the Serranos. “There’s the world traveler. He wants to go everywhere,” Procopio said, taking large steps. “Then there’s the cool guy. He doesn’t do anything but move his hips.” Heidi added, “The cool guy makes us work harder, ladies. He doesn’t do anything, so we have to do all the work.” Even people who think they cannot dance can salsa, according to Heidi. It just takes practice. “The basic steps are fairly simple, but

you can add more personality and more difficulty as you go along,” Procopio said. The Green Grass Cloggers performed contra dancing while also helping people learn the moves in August. They were supported by caller Gerry Prokopowicz and folk band Lane Hollis and Friends. Contra is an Appalachian folk dance similar to square dancing with a caller giving directions. The main difference between the two is that contra dancing takes place mostly in lines that move towards or away from the band. Dancers will interact with most of the other dancers during a single song instead of staying with a particular partner or small group. It involves a lot of “traveling,” according to Prokopowicz. It is basically a form of exercise for people who like to dance, he added. While most dancing involves memorizing multiple steps and the order in which they must be performed, contra dance is less taxing on the memory, he said. “I call it out, and people do it,” Prokopowicz said. “It’s a lot less taxing on people’s brains and memories. If you can follow directions, you can contra dance.” Sounds in the Town returned for a surprise dance in September with Susan Waldo from Stage of Grace, who taught classic line dances, such as the Hustle and the Bikers Shuffle. Harvey Wade from Touch of Class DJs provided music.

“We had such a blast that someone came up with the idea that we should have one more dance before the end of the series, so we added an extra dance with line dancing,” Harrell said. Sounds in the Town has been a great promotional tool for Ayden. “It’s shown up on Facebook, it’s on some Greenville blogs and we’ve advertised on multiple websites,” Harrell said. “We’ve had a really great turnout, and we plan to keep it up next year, too.” People came from all over Pitt County for the dances. The ENC Shag Club and the Green Grass Cloggers brought everyone associated with their clubs. In addition, the Serranos brought out several members of the Latina community, including Greene County residents. “I had people who told me they came down to learn the dances and had never been to downtown Ayden before,” Harrell said. “The Folk Arts people, after they were finished, I know all went down to Gwendy’s Goodies that night to grab

coffee and snacks before they had left. There is definitely an economic impact from the event.” Sounds in the Town will definitely return in 2019, Todd said. “We try to get bigger and bigger every year. This year in downtown Ayden, we had an event every month from May to November. May was the barbeque festival, which Main Street and the chamber help with. June, July, August and October were Sounds in the Town. September was the Collard Festival, and November will be Christmas Town,” she said. “Next year, we may expand it even further. I don’t know what next summer will bring yet.” While the Main Street Committee has not started planning 2019’s dances yet, it does know one thing it will be keeping the same – The signs. “What’s so cool

about the signs is that they’re a very oldfashioned way of sign making,” Harrell said. “Craig Malrose, an art professor at ECU, literally cuts wood blocks out and stamps the signs by hand. They’re old fashioned wood blocked signs, and you don’t see those very often.” Todd added, “We actually had people keeping those (after the events).” Ayden’s Main Street Committee meets at 6:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month at Gwendy’s Goodies, 514 Second St., Ayden. Membership is open to anyone who wishes to participate regardless of whether one is a business owner, a property owner, a resident or a stakeholder.

Far left: Lane Hollis & Friends perform folk music in August 2018. Far left, below: People dance to “The Cupid Shuffle” in June 2018. Left: Heidi Diaz-Serrano (second from left) and Procopio Serrano (second from right) teach dancers an open step in July 2018. Right, top: Sophia Henning, 5, and Gary Ambert put their new salsa movies to the test. Right, below: Brenda Tew (left) critiques a few steps during shag lessons. Far right, top: Dan and Brenda Tew demonstrate how Dan signals Brenda for turns, using taps on her hand. Far right, below: Instructor Procopio Serrano spins Tolisha Solis.


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g Marchin Chargers

By Donna Marie Williams

The Marching Chargers, under the direction Michael Blackmon (front row, third from left) have improved since he became the band director.

The Marching Chargers of AydenGrifton High School are making a comeback. In 2016, the marching band lost its teacher Michael Parton, who resigned from his position mid-way through the school year. A substitute teacher filled in before Michael Blackmon was hired. Blackmon started in the fall 2017 semester. “Things were kind of disorientated and unorganized. A lot of the traditions had fallen by the wayside. It was a challenge to get things going again,” Blackmon said. Blackmon faced the challenges of lack of student interest and lack of student 12

trust in him. “There is just a subculture around marching band that I am trying to change. In general, the students not in marching band see it as social suicide or a joke,” Blackmon said. During Blackmon’s first year leading the Marching Chargers, the band did not compete. “Last year, they didn’t compete at all. We couldn’t even get a full halftime show on the (football) field. It was a struggle to get students to go to rehearsal,” Blackmon said. Since becoming the band director, Blackmon has worked to revamp the

marching band program. “This year, by doing good music and doing that music really well, competing, winning the trophies, and students having so much fun, it has started to change that culture. It’s still a battle,” Blackmon said. Students in marching band began the 2018-19 marching band season in summer 2018, when they attended summer band camp. Summer camp provided the students the opportunity to learn basic marching commands and begin learning the music for the field show. “Most of the time, we take students who have never marched before and have them marching half of the field show in

two weeks,” Blackmon said. One basic marching command that was learned was how to backwards march, which requires a student walk backwards while using only the balls of their feet. Their upper bodies must remain straight without movement. A sense of belonging began to foster within the students. “Because we start before school starts with band camp, you get to start the first day of school knowing a whole room full of people. You get to know people, so you don’t feel so alone. You have that support system and know you have these people to help you,” said junior flutist Makayla Buckalew. Some students were apprehensive at first when they learned the routines. “There is a certain move in one of our movements when we had to go in between other people. The first time I was skeptical. I used another student as a shield. There are a bunch of other instruments on the field, and you could get hit. There is always the possibility that you may fall or get hit. Just save your instrument,” said junior alto saxophonist Lily Baker. Color guard junior Jayla Phillips was also worried the first time she had to incorporate her flag work with the movements of the band. “When Mr. Blackmon told me, I looked at him like he was crazy. The first time I (marched and had movement with the flags), I almost hit myself with the pole. Then it got easier,” Phillips said. Not only does marching band require coordination and synchronization, but it also requires physical and mental abilities. “It’s extremely tiring, especially while you’re doing a show or parade. You’re trying to give it your all. Sometimes you march at different tempos. You have to keep up with the music. It’s a mental strain as well as physical. There is just a point in the season you just march. You don’t have to think about the moving part of it,” said senior Emma Clemmons. Clemmons has been a Marching Charger for four years and is the band’s drum major, who is responsible for conducting the band throughout the performance. “In your average 8-minute show, you march almost a mile while playing instruments and music that you

memorize,” Blackmon said. Students participated in their first competition Oct. 19, 2018, at Greene Central High School’s Band Day. Unfortunately, they did not take home any trophies. “Their first competition at Greene Central High School when they walked off the field after completing the full three movements of the halftime show, I couldn’t have been more proud of them at that moment,” Blackmon said. Marching band competitions consist of eight judging categories, including music effect, music performance, visual effect, visual performance, general effect, color guard, percussion and drum major. “Judges are looking for a high level of musical and visual performance and an entertaining show concept,” Blackmon said. Before the competition even begins, students meet at Ayden-Grifton High School for an early morning 2-hour rehearsal session. Then students load all the equipment, instruments and uniforms into the buses and travel to the competition. There, they dress for their performance and have a 30-minute warm up session. Finally, it is time to compete. “It’s one of the most fun things in my life. I didn’t expect competitions to be as much fun,” said sophomore Paige Stallings. This is Stallings’ third year in marching band. She plays the clarinet. The students competed in their second competition Oct. 29, 2018, at the White Oak Band Classic. This time, the students took home seven trophies. “My proudest accomplishment is my first place trophy for drum major I got at the White Oak Band Classic. I led (the entire band) and conducted them during the show. It’s something I have to do individually. It’s a solo endeavor,” Clemmons said. Along with Clemmons’ trophy for drum major, students received trophies for color guard performance, visual performance, music performance and general effect. The students competed Nov. 17, 2018, at West Craven High School. The Marching Chargers took home four third place trophies in music, percussion, visual and Overall Class A. They also placed

Marching Chargers Andrew Sutton (left) and Paige Stallings are ready to show off their skills.

second for general effect. “This is the largest number of bands we’ve gone up against since our first competition at Greene Central,” Blackmon said. Competing remains a favorite aspect for marching band members. Band members also enjoy the shoutouts. Students have the option to pay a dollar to write a note to another band student. The note is then read over the loud speaker before or after the competitions. “It’s really great. Everybody gets a laugh from it, and it shows pride. It’s an adrenaline rush. Everyone is waiting to hear their name. When they do, it’s an amazing feeling,” Buckalew said, explaining the notes contain inside jokes or can be words of encouragement. The Marching Chargers also participate in local parades and local community events and perform during halftime at Ayden-Grifton’s football games. Each year, they perform at the Winterville Watermelon, Ayden Collard and Grifton 13

Top: A fellow competitor congratulates (L-R) Marching Chargers Gabby Baker, Lily Baker, Makayla Buckalew, Emma Clements, James Morgan, Jayla Philips, Leondria Olds and band director Michael Blackmon on their seven-trophy win performance at the White Oak Classic band competition. Bottom: Marching Chargers (left: L-R) Emma Clements, Lily Baker and Makayla Buckalew prepare to compete in the Greene Central Band Day at Greene Central High School.


Shad festivals, plus at Ayden’s and Grifton’s Christmas parades. They have also performed at Caswell Development Center in Kinston. “We probably do at least 20 to 30 public performances a year,” Blackmon said. The Marching Chargers consists of five percussion players, 14 wind players and seven color guard members. “They’ve grown so much since I’ve been here. In the last month, they’ve made really good improvements,” Blackmon said, adding marching band is much more than the routines, music and instruments the students learn to play. “It teaches them so many different skills aside from movement and music. It teaches them teamwork, cooperation, time management and dedication far past something they would do in their normal classes.” Baker added, “I learned how to manage my time better. I just learned to respect others a bit better. I’m a very opinionated person. Marching band has helped me respect other people’s opinions and choices a lot better.” Students have also learned their skills can reach to other aspects. “I learned that I’m not constrained to only one instrument. I can also play other instruments okay. It boosts my confidence and makes me think I can pursue other things besides music,” said first-year Marching Charger sophomore electric bassist Macy Speight. Marching band also helped students establish better communication skills. “I learned how to get along with people in a group better and be able to communicate with people I don’t really know,” said sophomore flutist Meagan Carraway. Marching band also provides students a school family. “It just comes down to family because this isn’t a thing someone can do themselves. Everybody has to work together 100 percent of the time,” Clemmons said. Freshman percussionist Sam Huxel added, “I just recently moved here from Arkansas. I didn’t know anybody at the school, but I already decided I wanted to do marching band. The Friday before school started, Mr. Blackmon invited me to sit with the band for the football game.

The Marching Chargers compete in Greene Central’s Band Day and later celebrate.

He let me play a bass drum. It was really fun because it gave me a chance to make friends … otherwise, I might not have had as many friends.” The Marching Chargers continue to strive for excellence. “Next year, I would like to have more students in band and have five competitions instead of three,” Blackmon said, adding he already has next year’s show theme picked out. The Marching Chargers consists of Huxel, Baker, Buckalew, Carraway, Speight, sophomore flutist Samya El-shaer, junior clarinet player Emily Connor, trumpet players junior Christopher Kay, junior Marcus Hawkes and freshman Kevin Rodenbaugh, sophomore tenor saxophonist Andrew Sutton and percussionists sophomore James Morgan and junior Gabby Baker. Ayden Middle School and Grifton School eighth-graders Sarah Clements on alto sax, Anthony Garcia on trombone, Jamari Darden on baritone sax and Micha Phelps on tuba also perform with the Marching Chargers. Colorguard members include Phillips, freshmen Ya’Niyah Edwards and Lillian Baker and juniors Leondria Olds, Neriah Little and Taizhe Darden.


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Darlene Pollard BY ANGELA HARNE Darlene Pollard is a fixture in the Ayden community. If the Ayden Christian Care Center is open, Pollard will definitely be among the volunteers. She has volunteered at the center for the past 10 years. Pollard, 63, moved to Ayden 12 years ago. She is a 1974 graduate of AydenGrifton High School and attended college, studying home health.


Volunteering is in her blood, Pollard said. “Anywhere a volunteer is needed, I’m there. I get strength from God to help others. I let God use me and keep me in good health, so I can help others,” she said. Pollard volunteers four times a week at the Ayden Christian Care Center, a local food pantry. She helps stock the

pantry and pack food boxes for clients. She also frequents local nursing homes to visit the residents. “Sometimes our elderly are left alone and put out to pasture. I want them to know there are people who care about them. I assist them with their hair and tell them about God,” Pollard said. “I am a servant of God and a woman of many hats, loving what I do.”

Darlene Pollard is a fixture in the Ayden Christian Care Center where she volunteers with Dennis Levin (above) and Bill Norris (right). She volunteers her time stocking boxes with nonperishable foods for the center’s clients.

Volunteering gives Pollard an adrenaline rush, she admits. “When I hear there is a need, I rush to the call. My stuff doesn’t matter; I’m out the door, if I can help,” she said. Pollard also volunteers at her church, Ayden Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). “I love my church. It is like one I’ve never been to before. Everyone loves everyone; there is so much love,” Pollard said. “It doesn’t matter what the church function is, I’m here to help. I’ll cook food. Help with a yard sale; they call me their yard sale promoter. Whatever is needed to help a program along. They also say, ‘You know everybody.’ Being a servant goes beyond the four walls of a church.” Pollard’s assistance also goes beyond a helping hand. Sometimes it comes in the form of advice, tidbits or fun facts. Take for example an election cycle. Pollard will tell others they need to “exercise their right and vote,” she said. If she is at the grocery store and notices a good bargain, she will tell her neighbors and strangers, alike. “I never keep my mouth shut,” Pollard said with a smile. “I’m big, bold and beautiful. I’m one of a kind and very unique. My motto is: ‘Tell somebody. Tell everybody because guess what? They are telling everyone

else.’ I try to encourage others to be their best. When I go into a store, I’m upbeat and try to uplift others. People seem to like what I do and how I am. “My spare time is other people’s time. I always fit in others with my daily schedule.” Pollard seeks out others to help, too.

“If I’m at the supermarket, I’ll sit in my car and wait for my mission. It is embedded in me — a gift from God. If I see an elderly person, I will get out of my car and help them,” she said. “It is heartwarming. I have never met a stranger. I get excited to make others feel excited.”

I am a servant of God and a woman of many hats, loving what I do.


Pollard relies heavily on her faith. “All depends on God’s will. I’m glad to be a servant of God, and I thank God He gives me strength,� Pollard said. Pollard is a staple in the food pantry and a “caregiver of many,� said center volunteer Shirley Swaggerty. “Darlene is a hard worker and very dependable,� she added. Dennis Levin has volunteered with Pollard for at least 10 years at the Ayden Christian Center. “Ms. Darlene is always here and brings joy to our clientele. There isn’t a client here who she doesn’t know. She knows their story and personality. She’s out in the community interacting with them,� Levin said. Fellow volunteer Bill Norris added, “She’s a true angel. We go back a long way. We laugh and joke a lot, but when it comes down to hard work, Darlene is right there.� Aside from her avid volunteerism throughout town, Pollard is also known as the Collard Queen. For three consecutive years, Pollard held the title of collard champ, consuming the most

Darlene Pollard (left) and volunteer Jackie Jones review the client list.

collards by a female in a set time in the Ayden Collard Festival’s collard-eating contest. Her highest consumption weighed in at 6.5 pounds. “I lived to tell about it but never again. Now I coach other competitors,�

Pollard said. Pollard knew she had to compete at least once because of her name. “Pollard, collard,� she said with a chuckle. Pollard also enjoys gardening and cooking.


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s r a t S By Donna Marie Williams

For 15 years, STARS Twirl Studio in Ayden has been teaching the fundamentals of dance and baton. Owner and lead instructor Heather Griffin has been teaching dance since 1999. She began by offering dance and baton classes as an after-school program at W.H. Robinson Elementary School through Winterville Parks and Recreation. Griffin then moved her classes to Ayden Elementary School. Both classes were well received by students, and soon there were too many students for Griffin to continue teaching at the school. “We needed a place to do more


extended hours. I don’t even remember how it started, and now here we are traveling across the world,” Griffin said. It did not take Griffin long to find a building that would accommodate the studio’s needs. “People wanted something where they didn’t have to drive all the way to Kinston or Greenville that provided something to do,” Griffin said. Griffin opened STARS Twirl Studio in 2002 and has been offering classes ever since. “There is not another baton studio in Greenville. (STARS) is a different opportunity than what most other

people get,” said Kennedy Roach, 12, of Greenville. Roach has been with STARS for eight years. “It’s a rare thing that people do as a talent. Baton is more difficult than dancing because you have to master it and catch the trick,” said Ava Scott Johnson, 10, of Greenville. Over time, STARS evolved to incorporate collegiate level training. “Ten years ago, I capped the amount of students for technique training in order for me to do a good solid technical training at a collegiate level,” Griffin said.

(clockwise from top) STARS performers (L-R) Kelsey Cortright, Hannah White, Kaylee Grubbs and Hailey Forehand dazzle audiences with their twirling skills. Emma House is the youngest twirler, who participated in Dance The World Broadway. Ava Scott Johnson practices the choreography. Kesley Cortright practices a dance. Skylar Kinion (left) and Emily Grubbs wave in a number. Ava Scott Johnson and others perfect a dance rountine. Hannah White (front) and Kennedy Roach perform at Dance the World Broadway.

STARS maintains 40 slots for twirlers and dancers with each student having to audition for the spot. “Every child auditions every year,” Griffin said. The studio accepts students as young as 3 years old; however, they are typically siblings of dancers already in the program. “Our training program works better when they are 5 or older,” Griffin said. STARS does offer an acro-jazz and tumbling class for students in grades K-3. “We use it as building blocks,” Griffin said. Students may train at the studio until one year after they graduate from high school.

“Age 18 is where they end their student year and transfer to alumni. Most of the kids dance one year after they graduate. They work for their competition fees. They can continue to compete and participate in all the travel opportunities,” Griffin said. STARS Twirl Studio offers classes in contemporary, lyrical, Broadway jazz, tap, baton and pom. Contemporary dance is the newest style offered at the studio, which was added in 2017. “Last year was the first time we were exploring contemporary and won awards,” Griffin said, adding the studio received the award for the highest scoring


team at Show Stoppers Regional in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The routine the twirlers performed at Show Stoppers coincided with Griffin’s daughter, instructor Megananna, leaving the studio. “I felt that last year’s contemporary dance was very different than what I’m used to. I come from more of a ballet background. It wasn’t easy for me, but it wasn’t the hardest thing either. Choreography went with the music … and went with a feeling how we felt. Megananna was leaving. It definitely meant a lot to me,” said Brooke Paramore, 12, of Greenville. Contemporary dance builds on techniques learned in earlier classes and incorporates modern dance and ballet skills. “You have to tell a story with contemporary movement, and you have to incorporate a lot of skills,” Griffin said. Skylar Kinion, 14, of Washington added, “You’re letting your body feel the music and letting your body move to the music. It’s like feeling free.” Along with dance and twirling class, STARS also offers an acting class, which also requires student audition. During the class, students learn about script writing, participate in acting exercises and perform plays. Students are also presented with travel opportunities. “They are more intense because there is a lot of prep,” Griffin said. Students have had the opportunity to perform in the Walt Disney World Parade at EPCOT, Dance the World Disney and Walt Disney World's Main Street Electrical Parade in Orlando, Fla. In August 2018, twirlers traveled to New York City, where they performed in Times Square and on stage at the New Amsterdam Theater as part of Dance the World Broadway. They were also able to attend a celebrity cruise. “I’m from a smaller town and a lot of people don’t get out. Being able to come back and say ‘Oh, I performed on a Broadway stage and saw my favorite Broadway musical; (that is) the opportunities that STARS offers you,” said Kinion. 24

Students have also participated in several parades along the east coast, including National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade and America’s Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C., the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, N.Y. and Miss America "Show Us Your Shoes" Parade in Atlantic City, N.J. “It’s a lot of work and effort on the kids’ part and sacrifice on the parents. We try to make sure travel opportunities have multiple advantages for students,” Griffin said. The travel opportunities change frequently. “I do the same (event) for a few years, but then I move on to other things. I try not to be repetitive. If we

went to Disney every year, it would be the same,” Griffin said, explaining she wants to keep the opportunities interesting. Not only do the students get to travel to different places to perform and compete, but they are able to receive training as well. When students traveled to Dance The World Broadway, they participated in a Disney theatrical “Movement & Music” workshop and participated in a master class where they learned professional choreography. While attending the classes, the Twirlers were able to dance with celebrities from “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Dancing with the Stars” and “World of Dance.” STARS also performs at various

(Left) STARS coaches (front row: L-R) Megananna Griffin and Kaylee Griffin celebrate their twirlers (second row) Hannah White, Kennedy Roach, Ava Scott Johnson, Emma House, (third row) Emily Grubbs, Julieanna Edmundson, Kailee Grubbs, Kelsey Cortright, (back row) Skylar Kinion, Brooke Paramore, Heather Griffin, Carissa Donica and Hailey Forehand, who traveled to New Your City to perform at Dance the World Broadway in August 2018. (Right) STARS twirlers (L-R) Emma House, Kennedy Roach, Hannah White, Emily Grubbs, Ava Scott Johnson ,Kailee Grubbs, Julieanna Edmondson, Brooke Paramore, Kelsey Cortright, Hailey Forehand, Skylar Kinion and Carissa Donica love performing and putting smiles on their audiences’ faces.

events and places in the local community. “We’re dedicated to the local community opportunities that we have,” Griffin said. The STARS participate annually in three local parades, including the Ayden Christmas parade, Grifton Shad Festival parade and the Winterville Watermelon Festival parade. With the dedication to provide local opportunities, community service also plays a large role at STARS. “The students will make us aware. When a student sees a need or sees an opportunity for us to perform, we love to help them out,” Griffin said. In the past, students have helped raise money for postage for NCPacks4Patriots and created cards to send to troops overseas. Students have also participated in the Pitt County Special Olympics, Greenville Chapter Multiple Scoliosis Walk, Riley’s Army Volunteer Banquet and the Buddy Walk for Down Syndrome, along with other events. STARS staff also volunteers at the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Coastal Plain-Dr. Ledyard E. Ross Unit

in Ayden and offers a free class to students who attend. An end of the year performance is held each year with dancers from the club and STARS dancers both participating. Dancers also perform for senior citizens at Britthaven and Ayden Court nursing homes. Not only does STARS offer students

family,” said Emily Grubbs, 14, of Winterville. Paramore, added, “I came from a studio where there was over 200 people and nobody knew anybody. I came here and everybody knows everybody, and you definitely grow friendships with other people.” STARS maintains a family atmosphere that will help foster student improvement in dance and life. “Dance is more than technical training. We’re a family here. You feel more comfortable with the people going through the same training,” Griffin said. Hailey Forehand, 15, of Grifton added, “All of the friendships I have made has helped me build my confidence.” Travel opportunities, both near and far, allow the students to meet dancers and twirlers from other parts of the county. “When we went to New York for Dance the World Broadway, we met people from Louisiana. I talk to them and still keep up with them,” Paramore said. While learning dance and baton technical skills, students are also learning valuable life skills like commitment, determination and the 25

You’re letting your body feel the music and letting your body move to the music. It’s like feeling free. - Skylar Kinion

the ability to learn technical dance and baton skills, but also is a place where community and friendship are established. “You’re friends with everybody, and it doesn’t matter who they are. It’s a

Julieanna Edmondson performs a solo on the stage of the New Amsterdam Theater in New York City.

knowledge that practice makes perfect. “To be successful you have to practice every day,” Griffin said. Julieanna Edmondson, 14, of Greenville added, “ You learn a bunch of skills while you learn baton. You mostly learn coordination…and patience. Everyone thinks that once they learn a new trick, they will get it every time.” Another acquired skill is confidence. “I was very shy. I didn’t smile at all on stage for the first two years. Before I would go on stage, I would cry. My older sister danced here my first two years I was here. She would always try to make me stop crying. Now I’m a lot more confident,” said Kelsey Cortright, 12, of Greenville. Student Hannah White also allowed her shyness to affect her performance at the beginning.

STARS Twirlers perform at the New Amsterdam Theater in the Dance the World Broadway event.


“I’m very shy. Twirling has helped me become more confident on stage, especially with my solos. I had to be bigger with my movements,” White said. Griffin added, “We try to help each dancer learn the best way for them.” Emma House, 8, of Greenville was the youngest twirler to participate in “Dance The World Broadway” and struggles with shyness. “Emma had the assignment to show 15 people where their lats (latissimus dorsi muscles) are. She could not only show people where their lats are, but also to work on being shy,” Griffin said. Learning how to cope with fear is another skill that dance teaches the students. “I used to be really hard on myself. I try to tell myself to stay positive. Dance has helped me be more positive,” said Kaylee Grubbs, 14, of Winterville. STARS provides many opportunities to students who attend with each opportunity being earned by the students. “I like that you have so many different opportunities. You might not be able to do all of them. It depends on what you’re good at,” said Carissa Donica, 15, of Greeneville said. STARS employs six, including Griffin. “The staff here is really great because they keep you coming back even if you go home crying because you didn’t learn something. They support you, and they want you to be the best you really can be,” Kinion said. STARS is located at 4033 Lee St., Ayden. For more information, email Griffin at starstwirlstudio@yahoo.com.




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W Langley Computers owner Raymond Langley (left) and his assistant Lauren Callicutt discuss a customer’s computer problem.


hen Raymond Langley got computer parts to work in a Tandy computer after a Radio Shack technician told him they would not, he lost all confidence in the so-called expertise of others. “Because of that one guy who told me that, I didn’t trust people to know what they were doing,” Langley said. That’s when he set out on his own to learn computer science from the inside out. The rest, as they say, is history. Langley Computers sales and service has now been in business in downtown Ayden since 2005. While serving in the U.S. Army, Langley began tinkering with computers. He took every class available to him. “This was in the mid-1990s, so

there wasn’t a lot available in computer science, but I took all that I could,” Langley said. He used his knowledge to work on computers where he was stationed, and continued to take courses as needed. “The Army didn’t have enough computer technicians. If you had a problem, you had to wait to get somebody there,” Langley said. He became his military company’s personal computer geek. While stationed in Hawaii from 1997 to 2000, Langley Computers was born. “I had a local company there that I operated out of some, but I would do a lot of customer builds out of my quarters. I sold a lot of computers in Hawaii,” Langley said. He retired from the military in 2002

COMPUTERS with 20 years of service. He kept the Langley Computers trademark for years to maintain an online presence, but eventually incorporated as America’s Choice Computers. The Norfolk, Va., native has roots in eastern North Carolina and decided to open Ayden Computers in 2005 on Lee Street. He later moved the business to its present location on the corner of Third and Lee streets. By 2009, he had expanded to include a store in Kinston as well. The Kinston store closed in 2013. Along the way, Langley and his assistant Lauren Callicutt continue to stay up to date on all the latest technology and support training. Callicutt is an Ayden native and Pitt Community College computer science graduate. “She was my first intern in 2009. She soaked up everything like a sponge. She learned so much on how I do the business, when she got her degree, I offered her a job part time, and she’s been here ever since,” Langley said. He and Callicutt hold a number of certifications from Microsoft, HP, Dell and Apple technology and are registered Microsoft refurbishers. Langley’s goal is to be a one-stop shop. “We are full service. We do everything. There’s nothing we can’t do,” he said. “We set up networks in your home or office. The only thing we don’t do is work on printers.” Langley Computers custom builds computers according to the owner’s needs and specifications and around specific software, such as that required for serious online gaming. “Some software requires a certain

amount of hardware; so we build those systems. We custom build anything you want,” Langley said, adding he can save some customers up to 18 percent of the cost elsewhere. “I’ve been building systems since 1997. The experience comes with that, and I’m locally owned

We know how to do

everything. If we don’t, we get

trained on it. - Raymond Langley

and operated. I’ve been in Ayden almost 14 years. If I build it and you have a problem, you take it back right here. We don’t ship it out for someone else to fix it. We do it all right here.” Langley Computers sells new and used and refurbished desktop and laptop computers, parts and accessories. They are trained to work on tablets

and all Apple products. He also sells cell phones and replaces cracked screens. Langley takes pride in wanting to share what he knows with his customers to help them save money, protect their data and know what they are getting for their money. “If it’s not worth fixing, I will tell you. I want your money, but I want to be able to sleep at night,” Langley said. He takes pride in the way he operates his business. He may not be the least expensive computer manufacturer, retailer or repair service in eastern North Carolina, but his experience, trusted reputation, honest practices and personal interest go a long way in value, he said. “Our business in built on integrity. People know that I’m not going to take advantage of them. I’m not the cheapest in eastern North Carolina, but people trust me,” Langley said. A variety of services are offered at Langley Computers. The business offers home or in-store tutoring by appointment. “We know how to do everything. If we don’t, we get trained on it,” Langley said.

The showroom at Langley Computers is stocked with new and refurbished desktop and laptop computers and accessories.


Copies can be made for 15 cents. They also fax, scan, email and print documents. At a time when online transactions are the norm, Langley Computers can help those who do not own a computer or are not technology savvy. For example, a distraught citizen recently came into the store with his cell phone in hand. Disappointed because he had made errors on an online form he was completing, Langley had a solution. Using the man’s cell phone, Langley accessed his email account and printed the blank form for the man to fill out again. Langley is also a public notary. Langley Computers also is a N.C. Education Lottery ticket retailer. “We want to keep people from leaving Ayden. We want them to shop in Ayden,” Langley said. “I want the citizens of Ayden to get as much as they can in our town and not have to go somewhere else. We do it all.” Langley Computers participates in events to promote the town, such as the


annual Christmas Town in Ayden. In addition to donating a tablet to be given away as an event prize, Langley holds instore drawings for a free laptop. Langley’s support and promotion of the town is more than business. He is also an Ayden town commissioner. As both a town commissioner and downtown business owner, Langley wants to see Ayden thrive and grow. Since being

elected a year ago, Langley has helped the town create ordinances that regulate vacant commercial property as well as initiatives to support business owners to make improvements to their property. Langley Computers, 542 E. Third St., Ayden and is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday. For more information, call 252746-9600.

Langley makes copies for customer Teresa Cox, a local hairdresser.

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By Amber Revels-Stocks


The Southwest Bypass is a four-lane, 12.6-mile highway that will begin at the U.S. 264 Bypass west of Greenville, extend around the western side of Winterville and end approximately two miles south of Ayden on N.C. 11. It began construction in September 2016 and is expected to be complete in June 2019. The bypass will relieve congestion and improve traffic safety, provide improved access to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville and will help improve regional travel time along the U.S. 264/N.C. 11 corridor, according to Eric Gooby, Pitt County’s senior planner. The Southwest Bypass is expected to greatly impact the town of Ayden as the town will have two major interchanges with the highway, including one at N.C. 102/Third Street, the town’s main thoroughfare. “Ayden and Grifton are literally going to be a lot closer to the hospital

and to Greenville than they have in 40 years,” said Jake Petrosky, the project manager for Stewart Inc. This allows more residential growth in those towns because hospital staff can get to work more easily. There could be a demand for roughly more 5,500 homes in the area by 2034, he said. Ayden is already seeing residential growth near Ayden Country Club further down N.C. 102. More than 140 single-family lots in two different subdivisions have been approved in the area. Construction began in November. “There is no doubt being 8 to 10 minutes from the hospital, especially with them finishing 10th Street in downtown Greenville so you can get right off the bypass and be in downtown Greenville in 12 minutes or so, will generate people who will want to live in the Ayden area and commute to Greenville for their jobs,” said Ayden Manager Steve Harrell. “Of course, we want jobs to develop here as well, but

there’s going to be a definite impact (from the bypass).” To help manage the growth, the county created the Southwest Bypass Future Land Use Map. “Development of the Southwest Bypass Land Use Plan took approximately 11 months and was a collaborative effort between Pitt County, the Greenville Urban Area MPO, the City of Greenville, the Towns of Ayden and Winterville, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation,” Gooby said. “A steering committee comprised of appointed officials from Pitt County and its partners met frequently during the planning process to provide oversight and to review elements of the plan. Throughout the process, significant public input was received via meetings with key stakeholders within the study area, as well as at two public workshops held at Pitt Community College and an online survey that was completed by over 340 respondents.” Ayden was involved every step of the way, with Harrell and Ayden Planner Stephen Smith serving as advisors and Buddy Bulow serving as a steering committee member. A land use plan guides future growth and development in the area; it can be amended by municipal planning boards, according to Petrosky. “The county wanted to be proactive and think about, ‘OK, the bypass is going to be built and is going to be open soon. Let’s get ahead of it, and talk to folks, talk to citizens and find out what they want the area around the bypass to look like,’” Petrosky said. Bulow, Harrell and Smith helped figure out what would have a positive effect on the county as a whole in addition to Ayden. “From an Ayden standpoint, we were particularly interested because we have a major intersection right here on (N.C.) 102 and a second intersection down here at Littlefield near the high school. They are both basically in Ayden,” Harrell said. During the open houses, people decided what they wanted to area to look like. They wanted mixed-use zoning areas that combined residential

and retail spaces, greenery, conservation development, high-quality building materials and lots of open space. This gives future development a small town feel, according to Petrosky. “We’re not trying to make Pitt County look or feel like Cary,” he said. The county also wants to preserve as much of the agricultural development as possible. Agriculture is a $215 million business in Pitt County, according to Petrosky. Most of the agricultural growth will be located west of the Southwest Bypass. Ayden will be able to provide some

utilities, such as water and electric, to those agricultural entities, according to Smith. But Ayden is also interested in seeing industrial and commercial growth. “The bypass here at 102 was identified by everybody, whether they were from Ayden or not, as being the interchange that most likely will have the most commercial development because of its location,” Harrell said. “We’re very interested in the development of that interchange.” The interchange further south near Littlefield is zoned industrial, which


should also be a benefit to Ayden. “Having an interstate-level bypass that connects to (U.S. Hwy. 264) and ultimately connects to (U.S.) 70 will make industrial growth much more likely,” Harrell said. Smith and Harrell are excited about an upcoming tour of the area with some land developers; this will enable them to see what is available, which will make economic growth more likely. The land use plan was endorsed by the steering committee Aug. 16, 2018. Bulow voted to endorse the plan. “This is a great example of partnerships. To get four jurisdictions to come together,


sit down and go through these sessions and come up with a good plan is remarkable,” said Pitt County’s planning director James Rhodes. The Pitt County Board of Commissioners adopted the plan Oct. 15, 2018. Ayden will be using the Southwest Bypass Land Use Plan to inform its land use plan. “The goal is to take the land use plan the county did and see how it plays with our land use plan, which we are currently updating, and bring that back to the Ayden governing board,” Harrell said. “Our board will look at it and compare it to what we want to do in Ayden. … The

county adopted a plan for the corridor, but the town board can decide if they like that plan or they could disagree and do something different in our land use plan.” The Ayden Board of Commissioners received an update on the plan and endorsed it. In addition, several board members attended the county’s stakeholder meetings to express their opinions. “The town was involved in the land use plan, including where it overlaps with our (extraterritorial jurisdiction),” Harrell said. All of the municipalities involved in the Southwest Bypass hope it improves Pitt County, making it a great place to live, according to Stewart Inc.

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“The Pool Room� a common name heard throughout Ayden, has been in operation in downtown Ayden since the 1940s. Renamed Andy’s Grill & Recreation in 1971, the Stocks family bought the iconic business and expanded its services from a pool hall to a restaurant that also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. “We were Andy’s way before the chain and outlasted them,� said owner and manager Johnny Stocks, whose father, Andy, bought the business in the early 70s. Stocks has watched his customers grow up over the years and their families expand. “Being in business 50 years, you develop relationships. Friends and family come to Andy’s when they are in town from D.C. and New York, just like they do at Bum’s and Skylight (Inn). “I have seen generations grow up, like kids who used to come in with their grandparents and now come back with their kids. I love it.� 35


“One of America’s Best Small Communities to Raise a Family.”  U.S. MEDIA GROUP  2013

A clean, safe and attractive community that encompasses the characteristics of a village. Our town features an economically thriving retail and service district located in the historic downtown area that’s populated with a variety of residential neighborhoods; all within walking distance to both downtown and a multitude of recreational opportunities. We are also surrounded by a flourishing commercial and industrial corridor. For more information about our town, visit us online:


36 4144 WEST AVENUE | PO BOX 219 | AYDEN, NC 28513 | 252-481-5817