Ever since the emergence of COVID-19, times have been hectic for nearly everyone, pushing many people to get creative and find a way to spend their time. Anna Miller and Jerrod Niles discuss their quarantine hobbies and give an inside scoop on how these activities have helped them build their new normal.
Boxes of medical equipment fill Mandy McAllister’s small, quaintly decorated home in Brainerd. There was no preparation for her mother’s diagnosis of metastatic cancer or for her eventual stay in hospice care.
As the machines, slings, and medicine become more necessary the answers become all the more grim. Ushering a loved one through their final days is a task no one is truly ready for, but through family and communication, the McAllister’s stayed together.
“In a matter of two or three days, she went from being pretty healthy—going to garden club, going to church, hanging out with family—to having conversations about going into hospice care,” says Mandy McAllister.
McAllister, an administrative specialist at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, was the primary caretaker for her mother, Susan Reggin, while in hospice care. She was flooded with guilt, grief, and unfamiliar medical responsibilities all at the same time, so she greatly appreciated the support and validation of her family.
Her son, Jacob Paige, speaks on the family’s close connection that only grew stronger through these hardships.
“We communicated as frequently and as in-depth as normal,” says Jacob. “Knowing that it doesn’t matter what’s going to happen, and it doesn’t matter if the cancer is going to get better or worse, we’re still the same people. If she’s got eight months to live or two weeks to live, we are still on the same level all the way through, and that just creates a smooth transition.”
Although death is never an easy confrontation, the McAllisters have felt eternally grateful for their limited, but cherished time with Susan. Mandy’s mother and family were forced to face mortality in a slowed and intimate state.
“This could be the last time I really hug her. Is this going to be the last time she remembers who we are? Is this the last birthday? Is this the last ‘X’—whatever it is,” Mandy said.
Susan Reggin served as a clergywoman for over 30 years. Her philosopher’s brain and her dedication to others was passed down to her family.
“I adored my mom, so everything about me that’s good, I would attribute to my mom,” says Mandy, “I think she gave me tools and a model for how to work with other people. We all carry her around in our hearts.”
Mandy reminisced on those quiet moments, sitting at her mother’s bedside reading old poems and laughing through fading memories.
She smiled thinking about her niece and mother playing with stuffed animals, forgetting about the future. It’s those moments that stay with family till the end. It’s the seconds of quiet, vital peace in the midst of the storm, that they look back on and wish to relive.
Meet The Storyteller
Mark Drinkard has 3 years of experience in student media. From those experiences, he has gained skills as a videographer and video editor. He has used his knowledge of creative tools such as Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, and Audition to make and produce videos and audio projects. He is also adept in his knowledge of lighting, audio recording, and audio editing. Mark Drinkard currently lives in Chattanooga TN as he attends college. Photography is a passion of his and the rural landscapes offer a great backdrop to find and make photos. His goal is to provide a voice to everyone and use his skills to tell the stories of the voiceless. For questions, collaboration or to hire Mark Drinakard, contact him at markdrinkard2@gmail or (865)407-3317
Campus is beginning to look the way it did before COVID-19 pushed students, faculty, and staff to return home and begin learning and teaching classes online. The students of Rising Rock Media were tasked with a project for UTC’s Student Government Association: A Year of COVID-19. The class was split into three groups and covered the past, the future, and a general overview of life in the pandemic. Our hope is that this series helps our friends, classmates, and teachers to feel stronger about the challenges that we overcame together, and provide a light into an unknown, but brighter future.
The world is now over a year out from the devastation of COVID-19, the novel Coronavirus that swept through the Earth in 2020, touching and changing every hemisphere. Though we are moving and looking on to a newer normal, our world is still recovering from the ways that COVID-19 has impacted our lives, and there is an opportunity to reflect, and to begin to make sense of the chaos around us, and how students have found new ways to cope.
How can a man use his disability to inspire others to be a better version of themselves in a world filled with so many obstacles?
Lyndon “Linny” Stamper, a Chattanooga local, has cerebral palsy but that does not stop him from working out every day. Stamper has become a local celebrity at the YMCA for his dedication to fitness. Nearly every member that he comes across greets him warmly as he makes his way to the gym floor. Stamper is a beacon of inspiration for many of the other gym members, as he does not allow anything to get in his way.
Stamper says that he does not feel like he has a disability, “People look at a disability as something that brings them down, but I look at Cerebral Palsy as like God has given me this ability to shine the light on people with disabilities and show what we can do.”
Local gym members now know Stamper as “Mr. No Excuses” because he drives 15 minutes everyday to work out despite the obstacles that stand in his way. He says that he stays motivated by seeing how his actions are impacting others. “When I first started working out, people told me that I inspire them, or I motivated them to be here.”
When COVID-19 hit, Stamper had no source of income, so he started his own clothing brand called Grind Over Disability. His brand quickly became popular when the YMCA reopened and the members saw his new merchandise. Since the start of his operation, he has sold between 200 and 300 shirts. “What can I do to inspire other people, so I came up with this brand, Grind Over Disability. Something that people can wear and look themselves in the mirror and see no excuses on the shirt. Hopefully it pushes people a little harder,” Stamper says.
Stamper has no plans to slow down. He wants to expand his merchandise beyond just shirts. His hoodies and stickers will be available later this year. You can buy his merchandise and support his journey through Instagram @Lyndonmrnoexcusesstamper.
A massive wooden door waits to be opened as friends and participants gather around a fire burning in the alley way. Alice Waller, with her poodle Fin in hand, greets everyone warmly and opens the door to not a room, but to some place ethereal, some place where magic lives.
Hundreds of pink and white roses, eucalyptus and baby’s breath are entangled and bursting out of over five hundred body castings–a visual representation of sexual assault survivors and their journey through healing.
The name of the installation is a call to victory, as well as a call to action, “I Will Not Let Him Win in Death,” urging onlookers that the fight is not over and there is much more to be discovered and reclaimed beneath the surface.
“I wanted it to look overgrown,” Waller says, “as if it had been here for a really long time. People speaking out has been around as long as injustice has been around. It’s listening that is new.”
Alice Waller is a local Chattanooga artist and voice within the community, fighting for the liberation of female bodies.
Waller sits in the dead center, with her back to her creation and explains the origin story of how this intimate installation came to be.
“I wanted to do something that was an homage to how my body has experienced sexual trauma but then re-experience it through physical pain. So I started that during quarantine and then I asked my close friends if I could cast them,” Waller says.
Waller began this journey by casting the breasts of 200 women, for the 200 dollars that Jeffrey Epstein paid his victims to recruit other minors to be subject to sexual abuse. While originally, the installation was fueled by Epstein’s crimes, she says that she could never give Epstein that much credit.
On a post made from her Instagram, she says, “the installation is a part of my heart and a part of theirs.”
“Anytime something like Kavanuagh, or R. Kelly, or Weinstein comes up, you feel this universal groan of survivors — that I have to do something and so it felt really urgent that I had to involve other women and other survivors and make it something where, ‘this is what has made me feel empowered, here you try’ and it grew naturally. After that I hit 200 which was my original goal within 2 months and doubled it within the first month of viewings.”
As Waller looks towards the final viewings of her installation, she offers insight on moving forward in the healing process of being abused, “it was about feeling safe in my body again because I think what people don’t talk about with sexual trauma specifically is that everytime you see your own body — you’re revisiting the ways that it’s been abused.”
Waller says that the whole project was to help women who may also feel that way, and to redeem that and feel safe again when they look at themselves. She weighs in that there is something deeply spiritual about having a cast done, as well as physical, once the cast has been lifted off.
“Each woman who sits across from me shares something that they have never shared before,” Waller says, as she revisits her meetings and interactions with survivors, “they spiritually and mentally get something off their chest and then by the end of the experience they are having something taken off their chest.”
Waller says she isn’t angry anymore, but a dominant emotion of peace, rest, and joy has taken its place. She believes that people must have grace and patience with oneself during the healing process. She says, “have grace for the ebbs and flows. I’ve just grown in grace and flow through the periods of time where we’re gross and we’re angry and I just allow that now. I’ve developed ways to still include people in my life and not shut people out but let them know that this is a season that I’m in and I allow space for the joy and the laughter.”
There are baskets of apples, squash, garlic, and zucchini waiting to be picked up as natural light pours into a small and charming room tucked away in the historic St. Andrew’s Center.
Holly Martin, executive food director of the Chattanooga Sustainable Food Center, opens Gaining Ground Grocery, bringing fresh and localized produce to Highland Park’s table.
The shop aims to celebrate and share the value in local food producers and entrepreneurs, and engage the community with food that you can feel good about.
Martin says there are three main points that the Chattanooga Sustainable Food Center focuses on food access, food education, and the engagement of local food. Her vision is to pair these ideals with Gaining Ground and provide better food access to the community that is grown as locally as possible.
“I felt like my heart has always been in community nutrition,” she says, “and after I worked for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank for a long time, I started managing the Main Street Farmer’s Market and saw that I really wanted something that increased access to fresh food — especially for low-income families.”
Areas in and around East Chattanooga have been considered ‘food deserts,’ which are places where fresh and healthy foods are inaccessible. Martin, though, holds food deserts to be just a small piece to a bigger picture – a “puzzle piece to poverty.”
“It’s kind of a ‘buzzy’ word. If you look in an area that is truly defined as a food desert, food is not the only limiting resource,” she says, “usually there is a lack of good medical care, good transportation, and affordable housing as well.”
And, while access to fresh and healthy food is deeply important to Martin, she believes that food goes further than nutrition.
“To me, food means community,” Martin says, “I think food goes way beyond nourishment to our bodies. It’s family. It’s getting together. I find it fascinating the things that you can do with food and what it means to different people. Food is the ultimate way to share things. That’s what food means to me.”
As the day ends at Gaining Ground Grocery, she offers freshly ground peanut butter and a word of advice depicted on the official T-shirt for the store, “Keep your friends close and your food closer.”
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.