Journalism Writing

Bowling Green Funeral Director Puts a New Twist on an Old Tradition

by Whitney Spicer

BOWLING GREEN, Va. — When you’ve been in the funeral business for as long as David Storke, you learn a few things.

For Storke, it was how many flowers go to waste after a funeral.

“I saw firsthand how much money was spent each year on flowers — flowers that were beautiful, but that were just going to go to waste,” Storke said.

According to the Society of American Florists, sympathy bouquets and flowers account for 22% of retail florist’s business.

David Storke set out to find an alternative to giving flowers as sympathy gifts.

“I started looking for ways to offer food as a sympathy gift on my funeral home website. I went online to research the idea and found that no one else had thought of it.”

In 2008, he launched Sympathy Food. The online business allows customers to choose from over twenty meals that they can have delivered to anyone who is grieving or has lost a loved one.

The Sympathy Food website states, “There is a timeless tradition of bringing over a meal to someone during a time of loss or grief, but sometimes distance prevents you from doing so. Sympathy Food takes away the distance.”

The business was an instant success. So much so that Storke launched two more sister companies in April — the Meal Stork and Get Well Meals.

These websites offer meals that can be sent as a “get well” gift, or as a congratulatory gift on a new baby.

“Having four boys made me appreciate how nice it was when someone gave me a meal as a gift,” said Storke.

Storke, who is also the mayor of Bowling Green, Virginia, has been a funeral director for twenty-seven years.

“My business motto is ‘Don’t say it, do it’,” said Storke.

“So many businesses think that it’s so important to have a mission statement or advertisement telling how good they are. Don’t say it, do it…every day and every time you come in contact with a customer.”

This motto has served Storke well and has gained him a noteworthy reputation in the town of Bowling Green.

Carolyn Lane, vice president of Storke Funeral Home, has worked for Storke eighteen years out of the twenty-five she has known him.

“He is very good at working with people and knowing how to handle most situations,” she said.

Mark Bissoon, a family friend of Storke’s and business owner in Bowling Green, said, “David’s professionalism in his line of work sets him apart from others.”

As far as David Storke is concerned, “My favorite job will always be my role as a funeral director in a small town. It has allowed me and prepared me to do all the things that I do now.”


Richmonders Say Yes to Backyard Chickens

by Whitney Spicer

RICHMOND, Va. – City residents voted Wednesday night to support a recommendation allowing backyard chickens in Richmond.

The recommendation was one of the most popular out of 30 recommendations presented in a community meeting by the Food Policy Task Force, launched last summer by Mayor Jones.

“Groups have worked almost a year to come up with these ideas,” said Carolyn Graham, co-chairwoman of the task force and Richmond’s deputy chief administrative officer for human services.

“We are very excited about the work we are undertaking tonight.”

Over 90 participants helped narrow the list of 30 recommendations down to six. The recommendations that made the cut included creating a community food hub, hiring a community food director, and developing programs for food preservation and preparation within the communities.

These recommendations, which help focus the task force’s plan of action, will be presented to the mayor as a part of the task force’s report.

Anne Darby, the task force’s co-chairwoman, informed the audience on “food deserts” — neighborhoods where people have no access to healthy food. They usually do not have a grocery store, so residents rely largely on corner markets where this is not many healthy options available.

“These people don’t have a lot of money to buy fresh healthy food, but they also don’t have access to this food,” Darby said.

The Food Policy Task Force was created last summer in an attempt to give all Richmond city residents access to healthy, nutritious food.

“Richmond is a tier one city,” said Mayor Jones, referring to his goal of pursuing a Triple-A bond rating for the city.

“But we cannot be a tier one city if we are not a healthy city.”

As the crowd of Wednesday’s meeting prepared to vote on the recommendations presented, the mayor said, “If it’s not too expensive, we’ll do it.”


VCU’s Language Exchange Program Continues to Grow

by Whitney Spicer

RICHMOND, Va. — VCU expanded its new language exchange program, known as “Teletandem”, to three other languages this semester.

“We started with Portugese, and now we have ‘Teletandem’ programs for Chinese, Italian, and Spanish,” said Tony Brinckwirth, director of the World Studies Media Center at VCU.

“Teletandem” was introduced to VCU in the fall of 2009 by Brinckwirth. Communicating via Skype, the program allowed VCU students to develop their Portugese language speaking skills, while Brazilian students practiced their English speaking skills. The program was small and partnered only with the Universidade Estadual Paulsita-Assis in Brazil.

“We had to start small,” Brinckwirth said, “I think it’s a great program and I have a lot of confidence that it’s going to continue to grow.”

And growing it is. The success and popularity of this program has led to VCU’s partnership with three other universities around the world – the Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages in Taiwan, the Universita del Salento in Italy and the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

The effectiveness of the “Teletandem” program has been largely attributed to the ability students have to develop their foreign language skills with a native speaker.

According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, research shows that effective language learning must provide interactive feedback in the target language in order for students to develop language and cultural proficiency.

This interaction with native speakers is what makes “Teletandem” so effective.

“If you can’t quite get it out the way you want, they can interject and help you with it. Soon you start to see where you can make improvements,” said Brinckwirth.

The program has become very popular with students as well. Maria Lulu de Panbehchi, a Spanish instructor at VCU, spoke of her student’s disappointment one day when the connection was not working with the computers.

“As soon as the connection came on, their faces just lit up,” she said.

Students have also become engaged in the program because of the opportunity “Teletandem” offers them to create new friendships with students abroad.

“One of the reasons why we think it is so effective is because the partners have very similiar interests,” Brinckwirth said.

“In almost all cases, they are within a five year age range. The students abroad have the same level of English as our students have of the target language. So the goals are the same. The skill levels are the same. The age range is the same. Students just have a lot in common with these people, even though they don’t speak the same language,” he said.

This ability to communicate with native speakers and form friendships almost brings “Teletandem” to the same scale as study abroad programs. Almost, but not quite, says Marcia Fontes, a VCU Portugese instructor who directs the study abroad program in Brazil.

“Nothing is better than going and living in a place, but if we cannot go and spend a whole semester there, then ‘Teletandem’ is really amazing. You can talk with a person, they can see your face, they can see your gestures.”

Professors at VCU hope that this innovative program will continue to expand and grow.

“We’re in the process of extending the program to many other different languages at VCU,” Brinckwirth said.


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