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This story was originally published on KBIA

Boone County began reviewing bids this week for a new contract for its inmate phone system in the county jail. The county is looking to overhaul its current system after critiques of the high costs to detainees and their families making calls.

County jails across the state contract with private companies to provide phone services for inmates, in return the jail gets a cut of the phone charges.

The last time Boone County got a new contract was in 2009. It picked a company called Securus, which it has renewed until October of 2017. According to the contract, Securus offered the county 53 percent of all revenue generated from collect calls and a signing bonus of $20,000, among other services. Boone County makes nearly $60,000 a year by charging for phone calls, according to the county’s 2017 annual budget.

The 2009 contract stipulated that the inmate phone system must, “generate maximum financial return,” to Boone County.

However, in the current search for a phone service the county has a different goal.

The new request for proposals states that its goal is to keep the cost down for users, while still providing necessary safeguards and “generating sufficient revenue to support the phone system services,” according to the request.

Northern Boone County Commissioner Janet Thompson said the costs of supporting the phone system often come from information requests. She said the goal is for the phone system to be revenue neutral, so it would not cost the county any money, but would not generate a revenue either. Thompson said the estimated cost of support the phone system will be around $10,000 to $15,000 dollars a year.

Some have criticized the high costs that fall on the detainees and their families. Gary Oxenhandler, a retired Boone County judge who studies the Boone County Jail, found the high phone rates to be a problem.

“The amount that they’re being charged for a phone call is simply exorbitant,” Oxenhandler said. “There is not a good rationale for it other than the fact that the counties motivation in the 2009 request for proposal was that maximum revenue be generated, which just flies in the face of everything Boone County can be so proud of for how we have been able to operate the jail system so effectively with the prisoners in mind.”

The Federal Communications Commission has tried in the past to enact regulations that would cap the price of phone calls for prisons and jails. In 2016, they set new rate caps for local and long-distance inmate calling. However, in a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that the FCC lacked authority to set rates for calls between inmates and people in the same state.

Aleks Kajstura, legal director for the Prison Policy Initiative, has studied the rates across the nation.

“This is really a point in time where the FCC has started taking a look at these rates and started to regulate out of state rates,” Kajstura said. “But especially for jails, a lot of calls are in-state, so it’s really up to the jails and the individual states to start taking a look at internal regulations to clamp down on these rates before they get even more out of hand, and hopefully to get them back to some sort of rational pricing.”

Melinda Bobbitt, director of the Boone County Purchasing Office, said in an email that an evaluation team selected by the county is reviewing bids. She said the bids will be evaluated for approximately three months and the county expects to implement the contract in early 2018.

This story was originally published on Mizzou News

Sophomore Melanie Graves was officially accepted into Mizzou’s athletic training program at the end of last year. Before her classes had even started Graves was already getting hands-on, clinical experience working for the Missouri Tigers football team. She’s been with them ever since. As the team travels down south over winter break to play in the Texas Bowl, Graves will be joining them to work on the sidelines.

Melanie Graves, MU sophomore, on Faurot Field.

“I was nervous when I first found out I’d be working with them,” Graves said. “Football is a lot to handle when you’ve never worked with a collegiate team before. It was just nerve wracking. We have a lot of talented athletes.”

Graves has traveled with the team once before, working the Vanderbilt game in Nashville. As a Houston native, it only made sense that she would be joining them for the Texas Bowl as well.

“I reached out to our head athletic directors to see if they needed athletic trainers,” Graves said. “They told me they’d love to have me.”

Athletic training has been her calling ever since high school. Graves spent a lot of time hanging out in the training room while she was in cheerleading. So much so that she eventually quit the team and enrolled in an athletic training class at her school. When it came time to apply for college, Mizzou wasn’t even on her radar. Graves had always planned on staying close to home for college. Her school’s counselor encouraged her to apply anyways.

“I came to interview for the Brooks Scholarship and just fell in love with the campus,” Graves said. “It’s beautiful. I love the environment, the energy, the school spirit. Once I stepped foot on campus I was sold. You could just tell the students loved Mizzou.”

It’s now a common joke between Graves and her mother—how she can’t imagine being anywhere else. She’s even a student ambassador for the School of Health Professions, a role that includes convincing potential Tigers to attend Mizzou. Fortunately, Graves has plenty to say.

“I like the school because it’s such a different pace and the athletic program has challenged me in such a positive way,” Graves said. “I’m 13 hours away from family. I came here all alone. I had to make new friends. I had to learn how to journey out on my own and to try new things. It’s made me a stronger student and a stronger all-around person.”

By Megan Liz Smith, Betsy Smith, Tana Kelley and Emily Kummerfield

Boonville, Missouri is a vibrant tourist destination. Situated along the Missouri River, attractions like the Isle of Capri Casino and the Warm Springs Ranch, home of the Budweiser Clydesdales, draw thousands of visitors to the small community.

A hundred years ago however, Boonville was well known for its higher education.

Since 1844, Boonville had been home to the Kemper Military School. It was open until 2002, after it was forced to close due to low enrollment.

The loss was felt by many citizens. “We sort of lost our identity– for a lot of people Kemper is what Boonville was associated with,” said Kate Fjell, assistant to the city’s administrator.

The City of Boonville purchased the property for $500,000, hoping a single entity would purchase the entire campus. After many years of waiting, people realized the city would have to focus on renovating each building one at a time.

“That’s about all the city has the financial resources to handle,” said Fjell.

Although closed, the campus maintained a presence in the Boonville community. The Booneslick Heartland YMCA was already housed on the Kemper grounds. It moved into the Johnson Fieldhouse, the former gymnasium and shooting range in 2000 before the school closed.



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Ashley Buerky (front left), 31, teaches a hip-hop class on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 at the Boonslick Heartland YMCA in Boonville, Missouri. Matt Schneringer, the CEO of the Boonslick Heartland YMCA, said reusing an old Kemper Military School building was a cost-effective way to add a community recreation center to the city.

“When we do renovations in there and fix things up, we’ll find old case shellings from the firing range,” said CEO Matt Schneringer. “But it serves our needs, it serves the needs of the Booneville Community.”

The Kemper campus is also a rich source of local folklore. Mary Barile, a writer and storyteller from Boonville, recalled one legend of a murder victim from the 1980’s who is seen running on the jogging track late at night.

“I’ve had several people tell me they’ve experienced it and they didn’t realize what they were seeing until they went back and realized nobody was there,” said Barile. There has (have)been reports of more hauntings on campus as well.

Utilization of the campus grew with the city’s partnership with State Fair Community College. The college first moved into the Library Learning Center building, right before the school closed. When the college wanted to expand, a federal grant from the Economic Development Administration allowed renovation of the Science Hall building.

Some buildings however, like the iconic Kemper Administration building, were beyond the possibility of renovation and contained contamination. But in order to begin the expensive clean-up, Boonville would need help.

Like an estimated 450,000 other sites in the United States, the Kemper Administration building was considered a “brownfield,” or a site whose development is complicated by some type of real or possible contamination.

“It’s just that there’s a stigma associated with that property. There’s something wrong with it. That’s the definition of a brownfield,” said Christine O’Keefe, environmental specialist with the Department of Natural Resources and case manager of brownfield sites. “As long as that stigma is there, then people don’t want to approach the property and buy it.”

The Kemper Military School K Barracks building remains contaminated with asbestos in Boonville, Missouri on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. The building will be demolished through the Brownfields/Voluntary Cleanup Program, and it will be converted into a green space to improve accessibility for the YMCA soccer fields.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources oversees brownfields clean-up and redevelopment through the Brownfields/Voluntary Cleanup Program (BVCP). A certificate of completion is issued to the site after clean-up meets state standards.

To spur initiative for developers to clean-up sites, the Missouri Department of Economic Development began the Brownfield Remediation Program, which issues tax credits up to 100% for the remediation costs of a brownfield site.

However, the Kemper building was not eligible for the Remediation Program. Although it fulfilled the requirement of acceptance by the BVCP, it did not fulfill such requirements such as non- public ownership, nor would it create 10 new jobs or help to retain 25 existing ones by a private commercial entity.

But the Kemper site was eligible for other state programs and Boonville would not be left alone to manage the cost. The EIERA, or the Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority, gives assistance for brownfield clean-ups through the Missouri Brownfield Revolving Loan fund. One stipulation of assistance is oversite of the clean-up through the BVCP.

The maximum grant the EIERA can issue is $200,000. It also has its own requirements, which rely heavily on who owns the property.

“We try to clean up sites that probably wouldn’t be cleaned up unless it were for our involvement,” explained Kristin Tipton, the director at the EIERA.

Delaney Russell, 24, lifts weights at the Boonslick Heartland YMCA in Boonville, Missouri on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. The YMCA moved into the old Kemper Military School Johnson Fieldhouse, and it continues to bring community members to the old Kemper campus.

Often clean-up in rural communities is more challenging, explained Pat Curry, project manager in the Extension Community Economic and Entrepreneurial Development (ExCEED) program with University of Missouri Extension.

“They’ve got a serious resource problem in many rural places when they’re dealing with things like brownfields,” he said. “So often Brownfields just sit in rural communities for long periods of time, sometimes decades with no remediation at all.”

Boonville successfully applied to the EIERA for funds to abate the asbestos in the Kemper Administration building. Afterwards, the building was torn down due the city’s assessment that it was beyond further renovation.

“It was the most iconic, so it was a really hard decision for us to do,” said Fjell.

Boonville plans to turn the site into a park with historical markers of Kemper Military School and the admin site.

The asbestos-contaminated Kemper Military School K Barracks building stands next to the Boonslick Heartland YMCA and State Fair Community College in Boonville, Missouri on Monday. Nov. 13, 2017. The YMCA and State Fair Community College buildings on the Kemper campus were renovated years ago because there were no contaminants in them.

The city is now in the process of removing contamination in the Kemper barracks building. The building has been accepted into the BVCP program, and is currently receiving bids to remove the asbestos. So far the estimates are over $400,000, but with assistance from EIERA, the city can cover the rest of the cost and proceed with its plans to turn the site into greenspace for the park.

“The city does take our historic preservation and our legacy very seriously, so we’re committed to keeping Kemper,” explained Fjell, “we want to rehab it and we can.”

And with assistance from state resources, small communities in Missouri have the prospect of transforming their towns. Some, like Boonville, also have the chance to preserve their past.


This story was originally published on Mizzou News 

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Before Hurricane Maria rolled over the island of Puerto Rico, destroying homes and cities, Willie Bidot, a resident in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, liked to follow the same routine every morning: He would wake up at 5:30 a.m., go to the gym, and spend a few minutes on an exercise bike followed by weights. After the hurricane, Bidot still goes to the gym, but he doesn’t have time for weights anymore.

“Going to the gym has turned into me sitting on an exercise bike, talking to people on the phone from Puerto Rico,” Bidot said. “This is all that I do now, mornings and afternoons.”

Bidot, along with Aida Vientós-Plotts, a fellow resident in the College of Veterinary Medicine, are cofounders of Veterinarians for Puerto Rico, a relief effort aimed at helping a typically underserved population — animals.

“We knew that helping people was going to take precedence,” Vientós-Plotts said. “But we felt that starting something right away would ensure that when people were ready to shift their focus, we’d already be mobilized.”

Both Vientós-Plotts and Bidot grew up in Puerto Rico. They attended high schools only 20 minutes away from each other. Vientós-Plotts’ dad and Bidot’s uncle were business partners for many years, but it wasn’t until veterinary school at Tuskegee University that the two finally met and became friends. When it came time to apply for residency programs, both were matched with the University of Missouri.

Their friendship has lasted ever since. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20 and their families were unreachable, Vientós-Plotts and Bidot leaned on each other for support. By the second day, they already were discussing ways they could help.

The first order of business was to reach out to veterinary supply companies and start a group on social media to which they invited veterinary professionals on and off the island. This allowed them to organize supplies such as pet food, crates, medications and bottled water. They started scheduling events with Puerto Rican veterinarians in areas that typically were being overlooked. The animals that come to these events get a physical exam, flea and tick preventive medicine, and are tested for some infectious diseases, in addition to receiving regular vaccinations.

To date, the team has distributed 8,000 pounds of food and provided veterinary care to more than 1,500 animals since the hurricane hit.

“I think for us it was just a way to channel that feeling of powerlessness, like we’re working, we’re going to class and the world here didn’t stop,” Vientós-Plotts said. “Everything kept going and so did we, but our brains weren’t here; they were at home. In Puerto Rico, the world had stopped.”

Natural disasters sometimes point out problems in veterinary care that need to be addressed. For example, cases of leptospirosis, a zoonotic disease that affects both animals and humans, highlighted the need for vaccinations in communities affected by the hurricane.

“After the hurricane it’s been really interesting talking to veterinarians who’ve been in their communities for years,” Bidot said. “It’s been a wake-up call. We need to educate those communities.”

“We’re providing basic first aid care while also including local veterinarians,” Vientós-Plotts added. “If we establish a relationship between the members of the community and their local veterinarian these owners are more likely to seek medical care for their pets in the future. “We first reached out to one veterinarian, who was more than willing to help us get started, and we are so proud to say that in the last 2 months 30 veterinarians have helped in our events.” This isn’t just a post-hurricane relief effort; that’s how it was born, but that’s not the long-term goal. To put even a dent on the overpopulation would be amazing.”

With the help of Vientós-Plotts’ mother, a licensed veterinary technician, who manages an emergency veterinary hospital on the island, they have been able to hold an event nearly every weekend since the hurricane. Now that they’ve officially been recognized as a nonprofit organization by the IRS, Bidot and Vientós-Plotts want to see their efforts, which now can be supported by charitable contributions and deductions, expand further. Even with their already packed schedules, they’re committed to seeing Veterinarians for Puerto Rico grow.

For now, Bidot’s free-weight routine will need to wait a little longer.

For more information on “Veterinarians for Puerto Rico,” and to make a tax-deductible donation (which recently was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit), visit: http://veterinariansforpr.org/how-to-help.

This story was originally published on the MU News Bureau’s website 

MU researcher finds association between volunteering and improved cognitive functioning, especially among women and those with lower levels of education

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Older adults worried about losing their cognitive functions could consider volunteering as a potential boost, according to a University of Missouri researcher. While volunteering and its associations with physical health are well known, less has been known about its associations with mental functioning. Now, Christine Proulx, an associate professor in the Human Development and Family Science Department in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences, has identified a link between volunteering and higher levels of cognitive functioning in older adults.

“Cognitive functions, such as memory, working memory and processing are essential for living an independent life,” Proulx said. “They’re the tools and methods the brain uses to process information. It’s the brain’s working memory and processing capacity that benefit the most from volunteering.”

Processing is how fast the mind is able to take in and store information. Working memory, which is different from long-term memory, is what the brain needs to temporarily store and manage information.

For this study, Proulx used national data from the Health and Retirement Study, which has been collected for the past 25 years. Looking at results from more than 11,000 adults aged 51 and over, Proulx found significant associations between cognitive function and volunteering among all participants, regardless of the amount of time volunteering. However, adults with lower levels of education and women seemed to benefit the most from volunteering.

“Prior research has shown that older adults with lower levels of education are at greater risk of cognitive decline,” Proulx said. “Engaging in volunteering might compensate for some of that risk.”

Proulx suggests that volunteering benefits people because it stimulates the brain. When volunteering an individual must follow directions, solve problems and be active, all of which engage the mind’s working memory and processing.

“Longitudinal Associations Between Formal Volunteering and Cognitive Functioning” was recently published in The Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences. The Health and Retirement Study is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration.

By Megan Liz Smith, Michelle Stoddart, Meg Cunningham and Cecilia Cao


Terri Prugh and her father Richard laugh on their porch on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 in Lenox, Missouri. Prugh also lives with her fiancé, and they are set to be married on November 18, 2017, two days after she finishes treatment.

For Missouri Medicaid beneficiaries with hepatitis C, getting treated can be tricky. The state will only cover the treatment if a patient’s condition has reached a certain level of severity. They claim the cost of providing treatment is too high to treat everyone who has the disease. Three Missourians under Medicaid who have hepatitis C, are suing the Missouri Department of Social Services for refusing to provide treatment. The plaintiffs say that withholding treatment costs more because of what it leads to, like cirrhosis, liver transplants, cancer and even death.


In the United States, up to 3.9 million people are infected with chronic hepatitis C, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. Fortunately, there are now drug treatments available with an almost 100 percent cure rate. In the past five years alone, new drugs have come to the market that treat all six types of the virus.

While more treatment options are becoming available, they come at a price of upwards of $95,000. A single pill of Harvoni, a leading hepatitis C treatment, costs $1,125. Competition

Terri Prugh holds her treatment and diagnosis results for hepatitis C on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 in Lenox, Missouri. The entire process, from her diagnosis to follow-up care, will take about six months. After she is finished with the 12 weeks of treatment, she will get an MRI of her liver every six months for the rest of her life.

is slowly driving prices down, but states are still having trouble affording the lifesaving treatment. In 2015, Missouri entered an agreement with Sovaldi, which reduced the price of the drug by 30 to 40 percent, according to the Department of Social Services.
Although the lower prices make the drug easier to afford, the Medicaid budget is tight.

“No one has an extra five or 10 percent of their budget just lying around,” Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, said.

Because of this, states set requirements for who they can and cannot treat. They do this by grading the severity of liver scarring.

“It’s called a Fibrosis Score, or F Score,” said Ghassan Hammoud, a hepatologist and gastroenterologist at the University of Missouri Hospital. “If you have a higher score, like F3 or F4, you’re on the verge of having your liver fail, getting liver disease, or even cancer. If the scarring is still in its early stages, like F0 or F1, that means there’s not much damage.”

The state tries to save money by only treating those with advanced scores. In Missouri,

Terri Prugh stands by her pond at her home in Lenox, Missouri on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. Prugh is a Medicaid beneficiary receiving treatment for hepatitis C. She is in her seventh of 12 weeks of treatment for cirrhosis and hepatitis C. She said her diagnosis caught her by surprise after routine blood tests showed her liver enzymes had skyrocketed.

treatment is withheld until a patient has reached a score of F3, at which point severe liver damage has already occurred.

The Missouri Department of Social Services is being sued by three patients waiting for treatment under Medicaid. The plaintiffs argue that the state has an obligation to cover the cost of their treatment.

John Ammann, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said it is proven that follow-up care is cheaper for the state if the disease is addressed early on. A recent study from Gilead Sciences, Inc. looked at this issue from a national level. They produce the hepatitis C drugs, Harvoni and Sovaldi, and wanted to find whether a “treat all” method really was cheaper. What they found was treating all eligible Medicaid patients with hepatitis C, regardless of the fibrotic stage, would result in 16,173 fewer hepatitis C related deaths and $3.8 billion in national savings.

“Collectively, most states are definitely relaxing their criteria. Some of that is in response to lawsuits, some of it is in response to the fact that prices are coming down,” Salo said.
The trial is set for February 2018. Many advocates hope the outcome of this case could change the status of thousands of patients waiting for treatment.

Terri Prugh and her father Richard stand on their porch on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 in Lenox, Missouri. Prugh said living with her father is a challenge for her because she worries about exposing him to the hepatitis C virus. She said she takes many precautions like wearing gloves while she cooks and bleaching the shower every day to help ensure she keeps her father safe.

By Megan Liz Smith, Michelle Stoddart, Alex Li and Di Pan

A version of this story aired on KBIA

A correction’s officer at Callaway County Jail sits at the front desk of the jail in front of a passel of handcuffs in Fulton, Missouri, on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. Inmates are allowed to make phone calls within the four hours that they are not locked down each day.

One of the most common tropes that appears in popular media when depicting the criminal justice system is the idea that anyone who’s arrested has the right to make a phone call. But what’s not common knowledge is how much that phone call actually costs, and where the money is going. It’s the story of how counties are profiting big time by charging high costs to inmates who have no choice but to pay. For the people who know the story well, like MU law professor Rodney J. Uphoff, it’s about the moral cost of a county putting money before all else.


“This is not a question of whether or not it’s legal, this about what’s right,” he said.

Uphoff first encountered this problem when teaching a clinical program back in the 1980s. His job was to help law students get experience as public defenders. By the end of his first month, he said, they’d already blown the entire year’s budget on phone calls from the county jail. In the years since, it’s only gotten more expensive.

To know where the problem begins, you have to start with the contracts.

Counties hire private companies to manage their jail phone systems. Those companies handle furnishing, delivery, installation and on-going maintenance of the entire inmate phone system. Counties decide on the company through a bidding process. And it’s a competitive marketplace. Boone County is in the bidding process for a new phone company and at least three companies are interested: CenturyLink, Telmate and GTL, according to county documents.

The last time Boone County was looking to update its phone systems was 2009. It ended up picking a company called Securus. According to Boone County’s 2016 purchasing contract,  Securus was willing to offer 53 percent of all revenue generated from collect calls as

A letter, a jail uniform and a cup of water are placed on a table at an empty cell at Callaway County Jail in Fulton, Missouri, on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. Today, inmates can communicate with their families and attorneys by writing letters or even email, but phone calls are still their best connection to the outside world.

commission, along with a signing bonus of $20,000. Five months after the contract was signed, Boone County had already made $37,000.

A former circuit judge, Gary Oxenhandler presided over the 13 Judicial Circuit, which includes Boone and Callaway Counties, until 2016. This last year he did a study on the Boone County Jail, looking for ways it could improve.

“I think that we run a great model here,” Oxenhandler said. “Where we’ve fallen off the high podium is telephone calls. The amount that inmates are being charged is simply exorbitant,

and there is not a good rationale for it. I’m really brought to my knees in regard to this.”

A 15 minute phone call from Boone County Jail costs $28, which is still on the lower end compared to some counties.

Aleks Kajstura is the legal director for the Prison Policy Initiative and she’s studied the changing costs over the years. She says the prices keep climbing because of competition among the phone companies. The companies that offer higher commissions get chosen first, which leads to higher and higher costs for inmates. There’s then additional expenses because the phone companies tack on other charges to make up for the money they lose from the county commission.

“They’ll charge family members  to set up an account, to put money into the account, to take money out, even to close the account,” Kajstura said. “So every which way you’re getting fees slapped on on top of these rates.”

Robert Harrison, a jail administrator of the Callaway County Jail, gazes at a hands-free phone for inmates in Fulton, Missouri, on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. Harrison said local calls are $0.30 per minute, out-of-state calls are $0.25 plus a $0.30 per minute fee, and international calls are $0.55 per minute with a $0.55 fee at Callaway County Jail.

The Federal Communications Commission has tried in the past to enact regulations that ensure prices stay reasonable, but they’ve had little success. In 2016, they set new rate caps for local and long-distance inmate calling. However, in a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that the FCC lacked authority to set rates for calls between inmates and people in the same state. That left the decision up to the counties.

Boone County will announce their choice for the new phone provider after bidding closes on October 24. Whether the rates go up, down or stay the same, one thing is certain, inmates will have to pay it if they want to make a call.

Columbia, Mo.– The University of Missouri announced the creation of a new School of Visual Studies last Wednesday during a reception at Sager Braudis Gallery. The school combines four programs within the College of Arts and Science into one department. The programs include art, art history, digital storytelling and film studies.

The reorganization was timed to coincide with budget cuts to the university, but the idea originated long before that. Jo Stealey, director of the School of Visual Studies, first began planning the for school back in 2015. For Stealey, combining the programs just made sense.

“Art in the 21st century is very interdisciplinary,” Stealey said. “It’s also very collaborative. The merger will create more inventive educational opportunities for all students by linking disciplines that are already related to each other.”

One of the benefits of combining programs is creating a single community for all visual studies students and faculty. Pat Okker, interim dean of the College of Arts and Science, feels that the programs are stronger together than they are apart.

“The College of Arts and Science has the most areas of study out of any school at Mizzou,” Okker said. “The Visual Studies School creates a community for all visual arts students and faculty within the much larger college.”

The mission of the School of Visual Studies is to explore the visual arts in their full complexity through interdisciplinary studies in history, cultural theory, and foundations of practice.

Columbia, Mo.– Every September in Columbia, the witches gather, as do the wiccans, the druids, the magpies and more. They all come together for Pagan Pride Day, a Mid-Missouri tradition since 2000. This year’s celebration was held Sunday, September 17 in Peace Park. Hearthfires Spiritual Alliance, has been putting it on since the beginning.

Alex Gonzalez is one of the organizers of Mid-Missouri Pagan Pride and her spouse is the lead coordinator. She’s been a member of Hearthfires for years.

“It’s a group for people of all spiritual paths and everyone is welcome,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve been meeting every month for years. A while back the group decided that it would be really great to be able to have a Pride Day right here in Columbia.”

Both Kansas City and St. Louis already had their own Pagan Pride Day. Columbia was the perfect meeting point for everyone in between, partly because of it’s already diverse atmosphere.

Dee Sanfilippo has been coming to Pagan Pride Day for years. She’s a founding member of the band Elvendrums and provided the music for this year’s festivities. She likes Pagan Pride Day for it’s open and inclusive atmosphere.

“One member of my band is trans, and that’s my ex-husband,” Sanfilippo said. “When I first got divorced it was really rough. This group has always been accepting and that’s why I like them. It doesn’t matter what you look like, who you are or even if you change who you are. You’re always welcome.”

Sanfilippo’s 15-year-old daughter is also a member of Elvendrums. This past Sunday was one of her first times performing with the group live. Sanfilippo was raised in a Jewish-Christian household and was taught to be open-minded from a young age. She tries to raise her own daughter the same.

“I want my child to grow up around people who make her comfortable being completely herself. Around this group of people, she does,” Sanfilippo said.

“Really the purpose of having a Pagan Pride Day is so people of all walks of faith can come together as a community, and understand that we actually have a lot in common,” Gonzalez said. “Pagan’s aren’t scary, we’re just people.”