Labor Day love

"Labor Day love" Continued...

Every day for the next 12 years, Vetro woke up at 6 a.m. and didn’t fall into bed until 11 p.m. Money rolled in. They expanded and purchased a house on a golf course with a pool—but the economy tanked soon after. The couple tried to refinance their loans, but in 2009 they lost their business, and their marriage fell apart. Depressed, Vetro stayed at home for a year living off money from her ex-husband, then took the poor-paying retirement home job. 

But then she examined her paycheck and decided, whatever it took, to reopen her own bakery. She would be her own boss again. She sold her luxury car and jewelry, and begged loans from friends and banks. She started up her new business two years ago, now has a manager and a full-time pastry chef, and loves to bake: “Isn’t it a good thing that a customer could come in and have a warm cookie?” 

While Lori Woods, 45, was volunteering at the school her two sons attended, someone told her she should volunteer at New City Christian School, formed to help minority children falling through the large cracks in the public school system.

That suggestion changed her life. She loved New City and eventually became principal. Now, with her black hair tightly pulled back into a bun, she exudes an air of authority. Her sharp, amber eyes seemed to see everything. Woods talks about the school’s primary mission: reaching the “under-resourced” kids in the city: “I want them to get a sense of God’s purpose in their lives. If we can do that and help them academically, then we’ve done a lot.”

With two sons, 21 and 18, Woods applies her mothering skills to a new—and much larger—set of children with more needs. Some students struggle academically, others come from rough backgrounds. Between requests to pass the crayons a little girl mentioned, “I was on TV once—that was when my daddy died.” Woods combines academic learning with spiritual lessons to help the students grow: “I say I have 58 little babies,” she said. “I can hopefully influence them for Christ, that’s the bottom line.”

The school meets in a small Baptist church. Backpacks hang underneath colorful handprints in the corridor, waiting for students who should have left already. Students tell stories of how Woods prays with them about family and academic problems. Others talked about kindness when they were in trouble. One girl who had skinned her knee shrugged and said, “She said that everything was going to be okay … I feel safe around her.”

Tyrone Phillips, 54, uses his wildlife knowledge to protect people and animals. For the past 10 years the state-certified Animal Damage Control agent has gone from property to property removing, trapping, or killing damage-causing wildlife: “I evaluate the property to see if there is a way for them to coexist without me having to use trapping or killing.” He says people and animals can coexist if the people remove birdfeeders and trash that attract mice, bats, woodchucks, coyotes, and snakes. 

Wearing jean shorts, utility belt, and full beard, Phillips slaps on a pair of gloves, hefts a ladder over his shoulder, climbs 20 feet to the ceiling, and seals off any cracks and holes that provide entry to defecating bats. Bat removal is a frequent job for Phillips, but not a job he does every day. At other times he throws open the covering of a customer’s grill and removes a possum with his bare hands. Or, he might snatch a snake off a hot water heater before it realizes he’s there. On one job Phillips had to trap and kill two parasite-ridden foxes to end their incurable misery.

Phillips also catches skunks. He clearly announces his presence to the skunk by loudly entering the room. Next, he places a cage three feet from the skunk and chats with the skunk as if it were a puppy. He scrunches his finger to attract the interest of the naturally dim-eyed skunk, using its poor sight to his advantage. Seconds later, he walks out with a full cage as onlookers stare with dropped jaws. He also keeps a fake one in his black, equipment-packed Chevy truck to pull a squeal out of his passengers and give himself a laugh or two.

—Rachel Aldrich, Andrew Branch, Graham Gettel, Alissa Robertson, and Aimee Stauf wrote these vignettes as World Journalism Institute students


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