Tag Archives: Mount Pleasant

Woman finds shelter and compassion at local homeless shelter

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Renee Benner smokes a cigarette outside of the Isabella County Restoration House on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017.

Renee Benner is no stranger to sleeping in her car.

Homeless for the second time, the 53-year-old from Shepherd, Michigan hit hard times starting five years ago when the trailer that she owned was condemned.

The ceiling and floors were collapsing in the 30-year-old trailer that Benner owned.

“I’m old and I can’t do everything like they wanted it done in lickety split time,” said Benner. “We just could not get it up to code in the time frame they gave us. When they condemned it, where do you go? It’s November.”

After losing her home Benner lived in her car and continued working her midnight shifts as a Customer Service Manager for Walmart.

“I was still working full-time,” said Benner. “I’d most of the time park my car in the parking lot at work, sleep all day, get up, get ready for work, go into work, get out of work, and then go to the soup kitchen for breakfast.”

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Renee Benner and Gary Wisniewski sit together at the Isabella Community Soup Kitchen on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 shortly after Benner got off of work from her waitressing job at Legends Diner.

Benner said she didn’t worry too much about where she parked to sleep though she said others have complained that police kick them out at night.

“I’ve slept in Mill Pond Park, one of the worst parks there is in this town,” said Benner. “I’ve slept there overnight and cops never disturbed me. They do at other parks because the homeless are not allowed there. The other parks close at 8 at night so they have to kick you out of them. I think the difference is they’re sleeping at night whereas I’m sleeping during the day.”

Benner continued that routine for two and a half months until she started going to the Isabella County Restoration House (ICRH) just before Christmas in 2013. She stayed at the shelter and continued working until she found an apartment in February of 2014.

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Renee Benner packages up the fixings for burritos and taco salad in the kitchen at the Isabella County Restoration House on Nov. 15, 2017. The food was transported to the overnight shelter where volunteers and guests were able to enjoy the meal.

The ICRH, located at 1114 W. High Street in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, provides temporary shelter and assistance to those in need in Isabella County. It is a rotational shelter and local churches provide shelter overnight and the churches where guests stay changes week to week.

“The first day I was scared out of my wits, I’d never been in that situation before. And Ryan made me feel comfortable,” said Benner.

Ryan Griffus is the Executive Director at the ICRH and has experienced the struggle of living homeless firsthand. He fled from his abusive father at age 12 and was homeless until he was 18 years old.

“My biological father was a monster,” said Griffus. “He was an addict, as violent as they come. There were a lot of events preceding my leaving that made me go, but one particular week, my fifth fistfight with him that week was my sign that I had to go. I packed up a garbage bag and I bolted.”

Griffus said his experiences motivated him to pursue a double major in child development and psychology from Central Michigan University. He later went on to study management at Davenport University.

“There was no way I was going to let what I had walked through for those years left in vain and not utilize that experience,” said Griffus.

Before becoming executive director at ICRH he worked with Child Protective Services, foster care, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

“I felt limited so I decided to go get a grad degree. I chose business because I wanted to learn how I could affect a community and the population I care so deeply about on a more macro level,” said Griffus. “It was a perfect storm because all of a sudden the homeless shelter needed an executive director, all the things fell in to place.”

The 2016 U.S. Census Bureau reports that in Isabella County, 23.4% of the 71,282 residents are living in poverty.

Griffus says the night shelter currently has 33 mats, which are essentially foldable mattresses that the overnight guests sleep on. Recently ICRH was awarded a grant for $2,000 that Griffus said will go toward ordering new mats to replace the old ones.

“We have some that are still in pretty decent shape, but they’ve been around for five years and they’re just beat up,” said Griffus. “They’re pretty pricey so that $2,000 I’ll probably use on 15 to 16 mats.”

Griffus said the shelter prefers using mats rather than cots because cots are problematic.

“When we first started this we considered cots and cots were a logistical nightmare,” said Griffus. “We talked with other shelters, visited other sites and talked about what worked good and what didn’t. Cots broke down a lot faster and were replaced constantly. It just wasn’t feasible as far as moving and storing either so we elected to go with the mats that are pretty heavy duty, but they take a beating. If you’re moved every week, you’re slept on every night, you’re going to get worn out.”

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Renee Benner enjoys a cup of coffee, what she calls her lifeblood, at the Isabella County Restoration House on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017.

Benner says her typical day when she hasn’t been working the night before begins at the overnight shelter.

Guests are woken up at 7 a.m. at the overnight shelter and the bus leaves for the Isabella Community Soup Kitchen (ICSK) at 8 a.m. Benner said the churches feed some sort of breakfast ranging from an entire spread to just breakfast snacks such as doughnuts.

The soup kitchen opens at 8 a.m. and guests can either stay there until the ICRH day shelter opens at 1 p.m. or go wherever they would like at that point.

Computers were recently donated to the day shelter so guests can use the computers to apply and check on job applications, check email, or just keep in touch with friends and family. There are volunteers there throughout the day that are able to assist.

“It’s so important for me the interpersonal care that we’re able to provide and I love that about our organization because you actually get to feel like you’re cared for,” said Griffus. “Then we start hitting the areas of need and services, but first and foremost we just got to love and welcome.”

Nighttime intake, or sign up for those who will be staying overnight at the shelter, begins at the day shelter at 4:30 p.m. and the bus comes to the ICRH between 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to take the overnight guests to the church. Once they arrive at the church, the guests are not allowed to leave, unless they have permission like Benner for work reasons. This excludes chaperoned smoke breaks.  The churches provide dinner for the overnight guests at around 7 p.m. and require lights out at 10 p.m.

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Renee Benner and another guest smoke outside the Isabella County Restoration House (ICRH) on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2017. The ICRH is located at 1114 W. High Street in Mount Pleasant which is leased from Victory Church.

During the summer of 2017 Benner found herself in hard times again when she broke her arm and was unable to work. Unable to pay rent, Benner decided to cash in $4,000 of her 401k, but she never received the check.

“There was nothing I could do to catch up. Somebody had gotten my check delivered to them by mistake instead of me and they signed the check and cashed it,” said Benner. “I took six months trying to track it down and they finally told me there was nothing they could do. I cashed in extra figuring I’d pay ahead. Well it didn’t work in that way. It worked in the way that somebody else got ahead and Renee got further behind.”

Benner appreciated her landlord who worked with her for as long as he could while she was unable to pay rent and attempted to track down her stolen check.

“I can’t blame him,” said Benner. “I mean six months with no money, what was he supposed to do? He didn’t evict me but he couldn’t keep letting me stay. I was paying rent but it wasn’t never going to get caught up. I hold no grudges against him. He could have taken me to court during all of this time, it’s been four months. He hasn’t. Sooner or later he’s going to want all of it, nothing I can do, I pay what I can. It isn’t much, but I pay what I can.”

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Renee Benner waits in the foyer on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017 while guests at the Isabella County Restoration House get onto the bus that will take them to the overnight shelter.

Benner now works midnight shifts as a waitress at Legends Diner in Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mount Pleasant, Michigan and has been there for just under four months. She lost her job at Walmart due to absences which accumulated because of illness, her broken arm, and hearing loss due to a bee sting to her ear.

The schedule of the rotational shelter is hard on Benner because she works midnights.

“It’s hard on the nights I work because unless I sleep in my car, most of the time I don’t get sleep,” said Benner. “Once in a while I can find someplace to curl up and sleep.”

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Renee Benner tries on shoes at Clothing, Inc. on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017 to replace her old shoes after the heels came off of them.

The building for the day shelter has couches, but there are no beds available for Benner to sleep. It is rented from Victory Church on a 3-year lease and they share it with other organizations such as United Way, Clothing, Inc., and The Care Center. Guests who come in to the restoration house and have need for hygiene products can find assistance at The Care Center and if they need clothing or a new pair of shoes Clothing, Inc. can assist them—all under the same roof.

“For the past two or three years we had been talking about what it would look like if we had the opportunity for all of us who deal with similar missions to not work in these silos anymore, you do this over here and you do this at that building,” said Griffus. “Last year I’d come in at intake, ask everybody what they need for clothing, take down these lists, drive down to the clothing closet across town, fill bags and bags of clothes and deliver them. It was labor intensive and cumbersome. That’s one example of how the creation of the center we have is so efficient. You get somebody in who has multiple needs and we can start to chip away within minutes we are addressing very emergent needs. What’s good about that is that it takes that initial worry off of the person who’s coming in, which is the most important, it makes them feel comfortable and cared for immediately, but also frees up our staff to be able to do different things now.”

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Volunteers at Clothing, Inc. show Renee Benner paperwork she needs to sign after picking out a pair of shoes on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017.

Griffus said he would love to have a permanent shelter and rotate volunteers rather than buildings.

“When we were researching what it would take to a community of this scale, it is about a quarter of a million dollars a year,” said Griffus. “Currently we are operating at about $117,000 budget per year for this. Some work to be done.”

The ICRH accept donations through its website and also has a wish list of supplies needed on Amazon.

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Renee Benner protects her candle from the wind at a homeless awareness event at Central Michigan University on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.

As for Benner, she has an interview with EightCAP, Inc. on Tuesday, Dec. 4 to see about getting assistance for housing. EightCAP provides a variety of services for those in need, and housing for the homeless is one of them.

Benner said she was put at the top of the list because they prioritize housing assistance for those that are homeless, but it normally could be a five-year wait. She will find out during her interview if they will pay for a portion or all of the housing and will likely be in a home again within a few weeks.

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From Army Life to Derby Wife

***Derby wife: A term coined by Kasey Bomber of the Los Angeles Derby Dolls in 2003. Urban Dictionary defines as “A roller derby soul mate, the woman who you knew from the first second that you’d been separated at birth, who will hold your hair when you throw up after drinking too much, arrange bailride in the ambulance with you and set your real husband straight on the Derby world.”
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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby hugs her 5-year-old Saint Bernard, Lady, while enjoying an after work beer on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

 

26-year-old U.S. Army veteran Cassi Ackels-Weatherby has always been a skater. As a child, she enjoyed inline skating and going to the skating rink. In 2009 Ackels-Weatherby decided to try roller derby.

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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby “Battle-Scarred Beauty” looks at her coach Chris Ryan “Thunder” during a training drill for Central Michigan Mayhem’s practice on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 at The Hardwoods in Ithaca, Michigan.

 

Ackels-Weatherby said her mother pointed out a flier hanging in the hallway of their workplace.

“She made a comment about how I should play because I’m a brute,” said Ackels-Weatherby. “I went to practice the next day.”

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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby puts on her knee pads for roller derby practice at The Hardwoods in Ithaca, Michigan on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

Her roller derby career was interrupted shortly after joining the Central Michigan Mayhem team when she was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. She was there for a year and worked as an 88M Motor Transport Operator, what Ackels-Weatherby said is just a fancy term for a truck driver.

She was deployed for a second time to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from 2015-2016 and since coming back has active with Central Michigan Mayhem and is the head of both the fundraising and event committees for the team.

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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby “Battle-Scarred Beauty” laughs with Central Michigan Mayhem teammate Candice Roestel “Vex Machine” during a break from practice on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

After returning from her deployments Ackels-Weatherby settled on Battle-Scarred Beauty as her roller derby name. She said wanted it to be feminine but also to acknowledgement to her military experience, something that had been part of her life for eight years

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Central Michigan Mayhem roller derby skaters practice at The Hardwoods in Ithaca, Michigan on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

During the day, she works as a Board Services Coordinator at the National Charter Schools Institute in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Ackels-Weatherby and her mother usually meet for lunch and sometimes carpool to work.

Since returning from her last deployment Ackels-Weatherby has been living with her mother while looking for an affordable place to live that will allow her to bring her 5-year-old Saint Bernard Lady, and her 4-year-old German Shepherd, Sheriff.

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Cassi Ackels-Weatherby talks to her mother while getting dressed for roller derby practice at their home in Sumner, Michigan on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017.

Ackels-Weatherby said she would eventually like to go back to school and pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Coffee Bean Still Life

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For this week’s assignment I decided to photograph some inanimate objects and do a still life. My boyfriend’s love for me is comparable to his love of coffee. A large portion of his coffee consumption he actually roasts at home. So we had these beautiful Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans hanging around that had this amber brown shade coffee3to them and some still had the sheen of oil from being roasted only two days prior.

I really wanted to play around with using light to shoot from underneath which I did in the image to the right. I actually took the glass from my coffee table and and lined the underside with a white sheet to use as a consistent base but doubles as a diffuser and set my speedlite to aim straight up. I also had a second speedlite set up to light up the beans from the top. I really liked the detail it brought out with really defining the shape of the individual beans while also keeping a lot of the shadows on that center cut of the bean.

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I decided to use a mirror as a base for a couple of the other images. I really liked the reflection of the coffee beans in the images and the extra bit of depth it added.

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“Painting with light” or “let’s try it again, but this way”

All I can say is that I am so grateful this assignment is done. I had a blast shooting and I am so very, very thankful for every hand that volunteered to help me out.

I shot both of my assignments outside and was relying on some good weather. I was not so lucky and nearly had to reschedule multiple times, due to rain and a random blizzard, but we made it work with special thanks to extra hands and also umbrellas and duct tape! This assignment had so many moving parts and learning how to perfect the photo by trial and error. I wouldn’t say it’s my strongest skill, but I made it out alive.

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For my first shoot I thought it would be neat to photograph something with light trails from a car which led me to the idea of shooting a hit and run scene. I had my boyfriend drive his car with his headlights off while I shot my friend laying on the ground (and it had rained that day and was still slightly raining, she really is a trooper) and I shot her at full power on the flash, then had her stand up and shot her with flash on lower power and with a blue filter, then had her exit the frame. To expedite the process I had bought a bunch of duct tape and tape the filter over the flash so that I wouldn’t drop the filter and lose it in the dark and also to ensure that it covered it completely.

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The duct tape also came in handy because it started raining just a touch during the shoot and we duct taped umbrellas over the equipment to protect it so we could continue shooting. I wanted to shoot wide but I was afraid of light coming in from the side tampering with the photo and since Amanda’s ghost figure was standing up, so to accommodate for that I would have to zoom the photo too far out, losing some of the impact of the image. I decided to shoot vertically and as tight possible, but the issue we ran into with that was Amanda was having a hard time finding the right spot in the frame to stand. Eventually we solved this by finding some random piece of paper and putting it on the ground so she would know where to stand, and the paper wouldn’t be seen in the image because her full physical body would block it.

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The idea for my second assignment was sparked by an example I saw that depicted what appeared to be either a Dragon Ball Z or Harry Potter battle. I loved the idea of doing Harry Potter and after brainstorming with a friend thought it would be neat to recreate that moment in the Goblet of Fire where the ghosts of Harry’s family come out of the wand during his first duel with Voldemort. We decided we were going to do a practice shoot so we could get a feel for what needed to be done and how to solve potential issues. I was clicking the shutter to start the exposure, running to flash her with the strobe then do the lighting at the end of the wand then lighting the characters and it was just so much. The practice shoot helped me get a system down and plan accordingly for things like needing a more effective flashlight. The one I was using had three settings so you couldn’t turn it off immediately and it ruined a lot of images because of it. The second shoot went a lot more smoothly and we were done in less than an hour.

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In class the week before Halloween we did a group project during the class. My team came up with the idea of Bloody Mary so we came armed with an assortment of lighting devices, camera equipment, and a fog machine. The most difficult parts of that shoot was honestly getting the timing down, making sure no one ended up in the shot, and the fog machine which would just quit randomly, but added a really nice touch to the photo. We had set up shop in the women’s bathroom in Wightman Hall on Central Michigan University’s campus, and since we have a late class we didn’t really have much of an issue redirecting anyone in need of a bathroom. We also didn’t need to have a super long exposure because we had enough hands which meant we were able to take more shots in the time we had available and get “the” shot.

Studio portraits

This week in the studio we were photographing portraits, images of people with props or something that tells a story about the subject. My models were Amanda and Kendra.

Amanda:

Amanda was a blast to have in the studio. She played a lot of rap music that I’d never heard of and told me a lot about modeling she had done in the past so she was really easy to work with. Amanda plays softball and in recent years has also taken up guitar so we decided to just shoot both since we had enough time.

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Amanda Kelley, 25,  just started playing guitar within the last year. “I’ve always wanted to play an instrument,” Kelley said. “I’m a person that always has to be doing something with my hands.

The image above was taken at f-stop 18, ISO 200, and a 1/160 shutter speed. We started off shooting with her guitar, mostly based on the fact that we forgot her softball bats in her car back at my apartment. (Shout out to my wonderful boyfriend for coming to the studio, getting her keys, going home to get her bats, then bringing them back to us since we only had one hour in the studio).

We also experimented with faraway shots and different poses to try something you don’t see as often when you see someone with a guitar.

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Amanda Kelley, 25, poses with her guitar. “When I was young I would listen to music and half the time I didn’t even hear the lyrics because I was too focused on the instruments,” Kelley said. “My stepdad gave this guitar to me on Christmas last year.”

The image above was taken at f-stop 16, ISO 200 and 1/200 shutter speed.

The softball shots were a lot of fun and it took me so many tries to get a photo of her throwing the ball in the air and actually capturing the ball but I finally got it.

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Amanda Kelley, a broadcast and cinematic arts major at Central Michigan University, throws her softball in the air. “Softball is something I decided to do because I was bored and I loved it,” Kelley said.

This image was taken with the same f-stop 16 and shutter speed of 200 and still at ISO 200. I thought I would have to move it up to capture the ball’s movement, but the flash helped significantly.

I really wanted to share the last photo because it was so random and I told her to give me a face showing me how much of a badass softball player she is. This image is the result of that remark.

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Amanda Kelley gives her game face posing with her softball training bats and softball. “During the summer I would practice 3 or more times per week so I would do better at the games,” Kelley said. “Every game I played was a double header so I wanted to be prepared.”

Kendra:

Kendra saved my butt. I originally had another model lined up and the model messaged me the night before saying he was too swamped and would be unable to meet in the studio anymore. Kendra worked with my boyfriend previously and she responded to an SOS message I put up on Facebook saying that she’d be available during the studio time I had scheduled and could help me out. This is what we came up with.

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Kendra Peabody, 23, is pursuing a degree in family studies at Central Michigan University. Peabody said television shows like Cupcake Wars and Baking Holiday Championships got her into baking. “When I was around 15, I actually helped my neighbor bake my parents an anniversary cake for anniversary,” Peabody said. “That was the first cake I ever got to bake that was completely homemade. It’s always been a dream of mine to own a bakery.”

The image above was taken at ISO 200 with f-stop 16 and a shutter speed of 1/200. I bumped up the shutter speed to make sure we caught the cracking of the egg considering we only brought two.

We ran out of eggs pretty quickly and the concoction that we were making was very pretty smelly and gross looking so we started messing around with the ingredients we had such as flour and we ended up with the image below.

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Kendra Peabody, from Ionia, Michigan, blows flour at the camera.

The image above was taken at f-stop 16 and ISO 200. I set my shutter speed at 1/200 again so we could blur the flour to see movement, yet still stop it enough that you could tell what it was.

For the shoot, Kendra brought her mixer from home and we had also brought measuring cups, flour, eggs, and an assortment of spatulas and anything we might end up wanting to use. But when she walked into the studio she said, “you know I really just want to throw some flour around, could we do that?” And we ended up with that image. It was so much fun to make a mess and really capture the excitement on her face, though we ended up with a lot of images of getting a bunch of flour in her hair.

SASS Burlesque Revue to Perform Post Valentine’s Day Burlesque Show

The ladies of the SASS Burlesque Revue will be performing their “Love Hangover Burlesque Show” on Saturday, Feb. 27 at Rubble’s Bar.
There will be a $10 cover charge at the adult only event, the proceeds of which according to the group are reinvested into future shows and covering costs.
The show will begin at 10 p.m. at the bar, located on 112 W. Michigan St. in Mount Pleasant.
SASS, standing for Smart and Sexy Sirens, is a mixed sex performance art group. Some of the performers were formerly part of another burlesque group in Mount Pleasant, The Pleasant Ladies.
Performers include Allie Baster, Red Deane Willing, Goldie N. Ticket, Margaret Snatcher, Etta Cetera, Johnny Shoes (previously Oliver Clothes Off), Sean Scissorkick Stout, Amber Dextrous, Raven Lamore, and Dan Gleesack. The SASS crew requested to be identified only by their stage names.
In previous performances SASS has featured interactive activities with the audience such as strip trivia and passing out candy at their Halloween show.

Mayhem at Spinning Wheels

Mount Pleasant’s Central Michigan Mayhem women’s roller derby team is competing in a home bout next month against the Bath City Roller Girls.
The event will be on Saturday, Feb. 20 at Spinning Wheels Arena located at 1241 N. Mission Road in Mount Pleasant.
The doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the skating will start at 7 p.m.
Mayhem skaters are selling tickets for $8 in advance, but tickets will be available at the door for $10.
Vicky VanHout, 21, also known by her skater name Tony Sparks is a senior at Central Michigan University. VanHout started skating with the Mayhem team a year ago. Prior to joining the team, VanHout said she had no derby experience.
“I wasn’t sure I would stick with it. When I first started out, it a lot of failure,” VanHout said.  “It was actually the support of my teammates that kept me with it. Without their constant encouragement, friendliness, and love for the sport and each other, I don’t I’d have even made it past the first week.”
VanHout said she started skating bouts in October, but the bout against Bath City will be her first home bout.
“I couldn’t be more excited to skate at our own rink,” VanHout said.
VanHout tried out for the team after a girl in her class gave her a flyer for Freshmeat February, a yearly recruitment event featuring a new-skater workshop, free drop-ins throughout the month, and a meet and greet.
According to VanHout, the meet and greet and workshop is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 22 this year at 7 p.m. during Mayhem’s regular practice time. The workshop is for skaters of all skill levels, including those with no prior experience. Equipment and skates are provided; workshop participants need only to bring a mouth guard.