Strength in Differences

Friendship can look very different than you would expect it to. Though similarities draw many people together, differences between us can do the same. People who are different from one another can be just as close as those who are incredibly similar. Today, divisiveness is prevalent since we must physically be apart to protect those we love and ourselves. It is important to remind ourselves of the love and connections we have in these trying times. Strength in Differences is a ten-part project featuring portraits and interviews with friends who are close despite their differences. In it, we at Rising Rock Media, aim to look at togetherness while staying six feet apart.

(Written piece by Charles Bledsoe.)

Sandi Bledsoe and Julie Dennis have an unbreakable friendship that will last the rest of their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has separated many loved ones, but not Julie and Sandi.

The unbreakable friendship between Julie and Sandi has lasted for over 15 years. Through the years Julie has faced adversity in her fight with MS (Multiple Sclerosis), but through it she has maintained a mindset that makes her invincible. Julie’s strength comes from her faith in God and striving for better health through her diet intake.

A little over a year ago Sandi gave up her quick and easy commute to work to move in with Julie. Julie’s husband, a truck driver, is often gone for weeks at a time. Sandi holds Julie accountable in her positivity and drive to increase the movement in her legs. They spend their weekends in their pool doing intense leg and core strength training in hopes that Julie will walk with a walker soon. Their love for each other and their ability to keep each other uplifted is truly inspiring and heartwarming.

It just goes to show, when you give someone kindness and constant positive support, they feel like they are special and strong. Julie never lets her disability change the way she loves and shows kindness to everyone she comes in contact with. Sandi is the ultimate giver of love and time. Together their friendship can bring tears to anyone’s eyes.

Next time you think about helping someone you see struggling, don’t think about it. Be more like Julie and Sandi, and do everything out of love—especially caring for others.

(Written piece by Tierra Web.)

There are approximately 7.5 billion people that exist in the world. Of those 7.5 billion people there are no two people on this planet that are exactly the same. 

There is something distinctively unique about every individual that walks this earth that sets them apart from their peers. For Alexis Hodge and Moriyah Wimbley this distinct characteristic happens to be the shade of their skin.

Walking through life together for almost  a whole decade, Alexis and Moriyah have lived through some of the same life experiences. Although the experience was the same, the impact it had on each of their lives was completely different.

For Alexis growing up as a biracial female in the heart of the south, discrimination based on her gender and the color of her skin has had a huge impact on the person she is today.

At the age of five Alexis had her first encounter with the cruel act of racism. She was told by an uneducated little girl that because her skin was dark there was no way her mother could be white. As a five-year-old little girl this encounter left Alexis feeling confused and she was constantly second-guessing why the color of her skin set her apart.

Hodge said, “If I could go back and give my younger self any piece of advice, I would encourage her to love the skin that she is in and that the discrimination would only get worse as she got older.” 

Moriyah Wimbley had a similar experience in the first grade, but she was discriminated against by her elementary school teacher. At six years old Moriyah, along with several of her African-American peers, was told that she would never make it anywhere in life. The same teacher would constantly make fun of Moriyah because of how big her lips were.

Wimbley said, “Hearing such derogatory things about yourself at six years old really has an impact on the way you view yourself in life.”

Unfortunately for both Moriyah and Alexis this would not be their first encounter with racism and discrimination. 

Wembley sail,“Being discriminated against made me feel like I had something to prove. I wanted to prove to my first grade teacher that regardless of the color of my skin I will be something great in life.” 

Although discrimination is something that these friends have experience most of their lives, The impact discrimination has had in both of their lives has resonated in a different way. 

(Written piece by Luke Dammann.)

Two life-long friends prove that no matter what you share in common, the uniqueness of one another is what truly strengthens friendships.

Hannah Dammann and Summer Ghaffari, a sophomore and junior in college respectively, have been friends for as long as they can remember, and both share a bond that truly exemplifies the word “friendship”.

Hannah and Summer first met when they were in elementary school, as they both attended the same church. 

By simply observing these two “peas in a pod,” you might conclude that they have everything in common, but that is far from the truth.“Our friendship makes no sense,” Hannah proclaims, “But differences make our friendship what it is. But it just feels like we really needed to be together and connected and we’ve stayed connected through everything. I couldn’t see it any other way”.

The difference in the backgrounds of these two young women alone is striking, with Hannah being raised in Tennessee her whole life, and Summer being from a different country entirely.

Summer is originally from Russia and was adopted when she was five years old, living in Memphis for a while, until finally ending up in Chattanooga.

“Everyone’s always wondering how that was for me, because I lived in Russia until I was five”, Summer says, explaining her experiences and the adoption process, “It’s still part of me you know, I still have memories of Russia. I remember a lot of snow and the orphanage I stayed at and friends I made there”.

Another big difference between the two are their hobbies and interests, with Summer being very athletic and Hannah being a more artistic type.

“I would call myself creative. I’d rather create things than do anything else really”, says Hannah, who is majoring in art education at Tennessee Tech University. 

Summer grew up as an incredibly athletic girl, playing soccer and basketball throughout middle and high school. While she majors in physical education at UTC, Summer still engages in sports with an intramural flag football team. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between these two young women is their unique experiences in school. 

Hannah was homeschooled until arriving at college, growing up with three other siblings who were all taught by their mother.

Summer attended Loftis Middle School and Soddy Daisy High School which is where she played most of her sports.

When asked why she thinks they make such good friends, Summer’s answer was almost identical to Hannah’s, saying, “You get to learn new things. The differences are what make you grow close and connect. We’ve connected through different life experiences and have supported each other through everything.”

Hannah and Summer’s relationship is a story of true friendship despite many differences in their lives. Their hobbies, passions, backgrounds, and schooling could not be more opposite of each other, but their willingness to learn, grow respect, and support one another is always on full display. 

Long(est) Tree Hug

Adrienne Long, a Chattanooga resident, raises $1,105 while hugging a walnut tree for 10 hours.

How to raise over 1,000 dollars by hugging a tree?

Chattanooga resident Adrienne Long broke the Guiness World Record on September 19th for the longest consecutive tree hug and raised $1,105 for the Chattanooga Audubon Society. Adrienne said it was a New Year’s resolution and a way to honor her mother’s strength. The event took place at Heritage Park from 8 a.m to 6 p.m., where Adrienne wrapped her arms around a black walnut tree for 10 hours and 5 minutes, breaking the previous record of 8 hours and 15 minutes.

The Chattanooga Audubon Society is a nonprofit organization that helps preserve and protect various sanctuaries around Chattanooga. Long said the nonprofit had been “hit hard” without donations and volunteers because of COVID-19.  Long said that when she mentioned the world record to Sarah Medley, friend and owner of the all natural Chattanooga salon Studio 59, Medley suggested turning it into a fundraiser to benefit the Chattanooga Audubon Society.

Adrienne Long attempts to break the Guinness World Record for the longest time consecutively hugging a tree. (Photo by Dewayne Bingham)

Adrienne said tree hugging was a way to honor her mother because they were always outside and  active together. Long’s final message to everyone was to “get outside and enjoy Chattanooga,” because that was something she and her mother loved doing together. Following the event, Adrienne said, “I feel grateful because it was a goal of mine that many people helped me achieve. I feel equally happy because it was something I wanted to do in a small way for my mom, and I think she would be happy.”

Adrienne has plans to break her own record in the future.

Missy Crutchfield (left) leads guided meditation and yoga as Adrienne Long (right) attempts to break the Guinness World Record for longest time consecutively hugging a tree. (Photo by Dewayne Bingham)
Adrienne Long wraps her arms around a black walnut tree. (Photo by Dewayne Bingham)
A podcast setting the scene of Heritage Park on September 19, 2020. ( Audio by Sierra Wolfenbarger)

Reading Together

Kelsey Butler, Founder of Homebound Books prepares bookshelf for delivery. The bookshelves designed and painted were distributed this summer. June 24, 2020. Photo by Charles Bledsoe.

Kelsey Butler, a UTC graduate and the owner of Homebound Books, specializes in bookshelves and giving back to schools in Chattanooga. Butler first decided to do a book drive for Christmas almost four years ago. After doing her student-teaching at an inner-city elementary school, she saw the need for books since the students were not able to take them home. The book drive was such a success that she decided to start doing it for many inner-city elementary schools in Chattanooga.

Kelsey began researching how to create a nonprofit and what all it entails. She decided to begin the process. The schools had many regulations regarding what kind of books students were allowed to read so Kelsey had to keep that in mind when preparing to bring the books to the schools. 

The first part of the process starts with gathering gently used books by placing plastic bins in locally-owned restaurants and coffee shops in downtown Chattanooga. The bins come with a Homebound Books sign and pamphlets of information regarding the nonprofit and its goals for the elementary schools. She leaves the bins for a few weeks and then returns to collect the donations.

The steadiness handwork from Kelsey Butler as she paints the bookshelves made for distribution to the local inner city schools. The process of painting the shelf took over hours. June 23, 2020. Photo by Charles Bledsoe.

Eventually, after gathering enough books, Butler decided to build bookshelves. Each bookshelf has three white shelves with a three-dot logo on the side. She fills each shelf full of books and delivers them to the schools. Along with the bookshelves is a teacher’s guide to Homebound Books. This guide states the goal of Homebound Books – to improve each student’s reading level. The students are free to use the bookshelf as a library where they can rent and even keep the books that they enjoy. The schools’ feedback on Homebound Books was so positive that she knew this was something she wanted to continue for the kids. She now has seven bookshelves installed at seven different inner-city elementary schools and will celebrate four years of Homebound Books this September. After receiving her Master’s in teaching in July 2021, Butler will not only run Homebound Books full time, she will also be teaching a third-grade class at Red Bank Elementary. Her work for the inner-city elementary schools in Chattanooga will continue to be appreciated as Homebound Books expands within the community.

Homebound Books Founder, Kelsey Butler reads to local inner city student. All the books on this bookshelf were donated by the local community in Chattanooga. Tuesday, June 23, 2020. (Photo by Charles Bledsoe)
Evi Mauonis enjoys time with conversating while reading a book. This book was provided by Homebound Books. June 23, 2020. Photo by Charles Bledsoe.

A New Normal: A Quarantine Commentary

Two to fourteen days. That is all the virus is supposed to live for, but the inability to stop our fast pace capitalist society from going keeps the COVID-19 going. Small businesses hurting, stock market crashing, unemployment rate increasing, people social-distancing, colleges closing. Not just the nation, but the world is having to learn new ways to live their day to day lives. The digital age has taken a whole new level of meaning. Every person is affected by the coronavirus in different ways. Rising Rock, a group of students from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga seek to tell their stories on how this pandemic shapes their experience, and what this extraordinary moment in history looks like from their perspectives. A New Normal: A Quarantine Commentary is a creative and documentative project by the students of Rising Rock. Step foot into the perspective of college students as they share what their world now looks like in this rapidly changing society because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Scroll to the bottom of this page to click on individual stories.
By clicking one of the names below, you’ll see a glimpse of how this global pandemic has now shaped each of our lives.

This week’s featured story:  A New Normal by Elian Richter

Waverly Hunter poses for a photo from her back yard in Hendersonville, Tenn. on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (Photo by Elian Richter)
“As the days blur together and the heavy weight of isolation builds, it’s easy to dwell on the negative emotions brought out by the current situation: boredom, loneliness, depression. These emotions are certainly overwhelming at times but there’s also a brighter side to this too. … I’ve recently realized that the pandemic has also brought at least one positive outcome during this strange time; the opportunity to spend time with one of my favorite people in the world, my little sister Waverly.” To continue viewing more of this post, visit A New Normal by Elian Richter.
Produced By Rising Rock Media

Exotic Paws and Claws

Dr. Shannon Dawkins examines stuck eye caps on a ball python, Snickers. The snake had been unable to shed properly due to a previous injury causing discomfort. Tuesday, July 7, 2020. (Rising Rock/Cat Webb.)

While most prospective pet owners will opt to have a cat or dog, others may opt for something a bit different. Some may choose a pet that is categorized as an “exotic”. This broad category of pets includes common pets such as snakes and other reptiles, rodents, tropical birds, and amphibians like axolotls and salamanders.

While there are plenty of vets in Chattanooga that will perform regular examinations on exotic animals, it may be harder to find emergency veterinary care for exotic pet owners. 

Dr. Shannon Dawkins aims to make emergencies easier for exotic pet owners with Claws and Paws Mobile Veterinary Services. She has formal training with exotics and has worked with wildlife rehabilitators and vet since a young age. Claws and Paws began as a side gig while doing relief work at overburdened animal hospitals, and slowly grew into what it is today. She sees all kinds of animals, from cats and dogs to snakes and opossums. Exotics make up a large amount of her business.

“I would say maybe 20 percent are exotics,” she said, “I tend to actually get more surgeries that are exotic because I don’t know that there are a lot of people that are doing surgeries.”

Dr. Dawkins’s setup is small, confined to a trailer she pulls behind her pickup, and therefore isn’t set up for handling most emergencies. During the week, she can handle most routine procedures, but off-hours are a different story. She has no staff on weekends and due to lack of space, she doesn’t have a setup to keep animals overnight. 

“I recently had a rabbit client, for instance, that I had to send all the way to Knoxville because it needed to be seen by a vet that could hospitalize it on the weekend,” Dawkins explained, “and I couldn’t get anyone here. I couldn’t get any of the emergency clinics to do that.”

Because Chattanooga lacks emergency exotic vets, pet owners may have nowhere to turn. Not everyone can drive two hours for veterinary care, and not every emergency can wait two hours. According to Dr. Dawkins, that is why she may sometimes see exotics outside of regular hours.

“It’s not that I want to see emergencies on the weekends,” Dawkins said, “I just know that sometimes people are really left high and dry with no other options.”

Dr. Shannon Dawkins attempts to take the weight of her patient, a ball python named Snickers. He was underweight and hadn’t fed in a while due to discomfort from an injury. Tuesday, July 7, 2020. (Rising Rock/Cat Webb.)
Dr. Shannon Dawkins prepares pain medication for home administration for her patient. The patient was a ball python which had sustained an injury previously. Tuesday, July 7, 2020. Photo by Cat Webb.
Snickers, a ball python, awaits the end of his appointment. He visited Claws and Paws Mobile Veterinary Service for a follow-up on burns due to equipment failure and stuck shed related to that injury. Tuesday, July 7, 2020. (Rising Rock/Cat Webb.)

A New Normal by Elian Richter

Journal Entry 4

Selfie taken using the reflection in a mirror on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (Photo by Elian Richter)

After today, my college experience will be over. One last zoom meeting and a brief ten minute presentation are all that stand in front of me graduating from UTC. College has been the absolute best time of my life so far and I’m uncertain how to feel about leaving.

Continue reading “A New Normal by Elian Richter”

A New Normal by Margo Zani

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Julie Dunn assembling a wooden cross decorated with live flowers to celebrate the Easter holiday. Dunn explained that because her family couldn’t attend church they decided to celebrate by building this cross. April 11, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani)

Saturday, April 11th was my youngest brother Eli’s birthday. He turned 18 which is a pretty significant birthday to be quarantined for. He spent most of his time inside trying to make the most of his special day. At one point, Eli’s friends drove by in their cars outside of our house and honked their horns as a way to celebrate his birthday from afar. It was really sweet but I couldn’t help but feel bad that my brother wasn’t allowed to appropriately celebrate his birthday in a “normal” way.

I thought about how radically different our eighteenth birthdays looked like. Almost three years ago I turned 18 and it happened to be the same day I was graduating from high school. My whole senior year, the thought of sharing my day of celebration with all 400 students of my graduating class bothered me. When the day actually arrived, it turned out to be one of the best birthdays I’d ever had. We were all celebrating something and got to be surrounded by so many people with lots of hugs and socializing. Now fast forwarding to April 11, 2020 Eli wasn’t even allowed to spend the day with his friends or even think about having a party if he wanted to because of COVID-19. Don’t get me wrong my family and I celebrated him as best as we could but this is just another example of how this pandemic has disrupted what we know to be normal.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Paul Zani, Eli Zani, and Donna Zani celebrating Eli’s 18th birthday. Since quarantine was still going on Eli stayed at home rather than going out and celebrating. April 12, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani)

In the same weekend, millions across the world celebrated Easter on Sunday, April 12. Churches have not been allowed to gather for weeks now meaning they wouldn’t be able to celebrate one of the most significant days of the year for Christians in the typical way. This was the first time I haven’t gone to church for Easter in as long as I can remember, but that didn’t make the day any less important for me or the millions across the world. Instead of gathering at churches, many of my neighbors placed crosses in their yards or used chalk art as a way to celebrate.

These two celebrations were a bittersweet reminder that life is still moving forward day by day, and that there will be many more birthdays and holidays to come. Hopefully, sooner rather than later we can get back to celebrating the way we used to, but now with a new-found appreciation for being surrounded by friends and family.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Zani family gathers to eat brunch together. They were celebrating both a birthday and Easter during COVID-19. April 12, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani)

Journal Entry #3

Last week, I was in a meeting for my internship with The House, and my boss asked us to reflect over some questions concerning grief. I was confused. I hadn’t lost anyone so what was I grieving? But grief doesn’t always mean death, and quickly, I began to realize what I actually had lost over the last month. The rest of my spring semester, proximity of friendships, summer plans and much more. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Student interns for The House campus ministry gathering together over Zoom for their weekly intern meeting to discuss all different things pertaining to the ministry. During this meeting, they were told the story of the bible from Genesis to Revelation through different types of foods. April 7, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani).

I have done a decent job at not letting the craziness of this whole situation get the best of me. I have tried to control my emotions, but sometimes it’s hard to deal with so many feelings when they’re happening all at once. In a time where I have the space to process what I’m feeling, the task of discerning each different emotion that comes hand in hand with grief seems overwhelming. They say there are five stages in the grieving process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some days it feels like I am processing all stages at once. However, I have slowly begun to accept this pandemic for what it is. 

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had any hard days during the past month. Some days are productive and some days are lazy. Some days I’m motivated and others I procrastinate until the sun sets. Some days I feel really good, but lately a lot of days have felt heavy. I think it’s because i’m beginning to accept my losses.

However, in my acceptance these are the things that I still know to be true. I am healthy and safe. I have my family who hurts with me, but refuses to let me slip into a funk for too long. I have friends to return to in Chattanooga, and in the meantime phone calls and letters will have to be our best bet at staying in touch. I have simple pleasures that still bring me moments of peace like music, writing and reading. Lastly, I have faith. Faith that this pandemic will eventually end and the process of healing will soon begin for all.

Saturday, April 4, 2020 – Monday, April 6, 2020

Continue reading “A New Normal by Margo Zani”