Profile: Rob Chiarappa of The Stolen

As I enter the venue, the feeling of comfort, unity and a love of music fills the air. The sound of ‘80s rock synthesized with alternative/indie pop music vibrates through my veins. Rob Chiarappa, guitarist for The Stolen, is used to performing at venues like The House Café. On stage in his rolled up dark blue jeans and navy blue sweater, he grips his guitar pick between his thumb and index fingers and taps his foot in his heavily worn sneakers that were once white. As the song softly comes to an end, his fingers, nails painted black, briefly work on tuning his guitar. He says to the crowd with the utmost sincerity that we must look out for each other and live in the moment. The statement leads into an introduction of the band’s new single “Rooftop” that confronts the sensitive topic of suicide.

Over the years, Chiarappa’s songwriting has evolved and matured.

“I think that this is the most important record for us, because we want to write songs that are not just about personal experiences, but it’s about experiences that not only relate to me but can relate to other people,” Chiarappa says.

Playing in The East Room in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

He goes on to tell me that The Stolen originally started as a cover band. Rob and his brother Mike, drummer for The Stolen, were next door neighbors with Dominick Cuce, the lead singer of the band, while growing up.

“As kids do, we always hung out together, played kickball in the street, you know PS1, the whole bit,” Chiarappa says.

At a young age, Chiarappa was inspired to make music and learn how to play the guitar like his father. From there, his father started to teach him how to play the guitar left handed and he just couldn’t get it. It became so frustrating to the point that he told me he almost quit, but then he tried flipping the guitar around for it to be more comfortable.

“It was a total game changer and I fell in love with it,” Chiarappa says.

At the time, the band members were in middle school, performing classic rock covers and not writing their own music. It wasn’t until Chiarappa was 15 years old that he started writing original music for the band. Chiarappa said that he was inspired to write music because of a band called Like The Stars. He saw them play at a local showcase at The Stone Pony, a venue located near Chiarappa’s hometown of Old Bridge, New Jersey.

“They wrote their own music, and watching them I was like ‘Ah, this is so cool!’ I went home that night and tried writing a song and that was kind of what started the writing process for me,” Chiarappa says.

Being the oldest band member, Chiarappa was exposed to newer music before the other band members. From a previous interview in 2016, Cuce explained that Chiarappa was the one to show them music by All Time Low, a melodic emo-pop act. Cuce continued on to say that All Time Low sparked their interest in the alternative scene when they first started as a band. The alternative music scene is somewhat diverse, and typically includes styles such as grunge, indie pop and indie rock.

The Stolen has developed a unique sound that combines alternative rock with indie pop. According to the results of a 2017 Statista survey examining consumers’ favorite music genres, the highest consumers of alternative rock/indie music are between the ages of 16 and 24. The majority of The Stolen’s fan base are around these particular ages.

Once I developed a full understanding of the band’s background, I begin asking Chiarappa about touring in itself. He tells me that the band officially began touring more and more after all the band members graduated from high school.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a tour that I didn’t like,” Chiarappa says.

He reminisces about touring on a bus while opening for singer-songwriter Jake Miller during the fall of 2017. Chiarappa tells me how different it is touring on a bus compared to touring in a passenger van.

“Touring in a van, you’re seeing whole drives and everybody’s stopping in the middle of the desert in like New Mexico or wherever we were. That was so sick!”

Last spring, The Stolen did their first full U.S. tour in a passenger van. Four band members, one photographer, and all their equipment traveled from Old Bridge, New Jersey, across the country to California. Most individuals would do such a trip as a one-time thing but not Chiarappa. He enjoys everything tour has to offer; whether it be developing friendships with other artists, sightseeing, performing for fans or even just eating the local food in the area.

Most people would think touring with their brother would be a nightmare but the Chiarappa brothers say otherwise. For Mike, the opportunity to tour and make music with his brother is what he enjoys most.

“He’s the oldest, but doesn’t act like it,” Mike says.

Rob says to me that he and Mike are polar opposites but they make it work.

“It’s great, because we balance each other out.” Rob goes on to mention that he considers the whole band to be brothers.

On and off stage, I can see the amount of history there is for the band members of The Stolen. Cuce tells me how much he enjoys being in a band with Rob, because he’s known him since he was three years old.

“Growing up throughout the years, music has been like a part of our friendship and we’ve grown as people. It’s really amazing for me as a person to watch his progression and vice versa,” Cuce says.

He tells me that while performing onstage and while creating music, the energy between him and Rob bounces off one another in a different way than the other band members. Cuce explains that as a musician, Rob has always told him to not be afraid to take chances and to write what he feels.

“It’s more just how you perceive what is happening to you and the world around you.”

Rob Chiarappa (left) and Dominick Cuce performing in the Big Room Bar in Columbus, Ohio.

The Stolen are a band built from the ground up, that never take what they have for granted. They all have worked very hard to be in the position that they are in right now whether that be working in retail or recording other artists for money in order to tour. Their hard work and gratitude is evident during their performances. While looking at the facial expressions of the crowd as Chiarappa performs his guitar solo during “Rooftop,” something he said during his interview continues to replay in my head.

“I want us to make a record that’s going to change the world…making music that has such an impact on the world.”

His dedication and persistence to achieve this dream is well underway.

Rob Chiarappa performing at the Boathouse Waterway Bar & Grill in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

What To Expect In Purdue Fort Wayne’s Honors Program

Purdue Fort Wayne’s Honors Program assists qualified students in maximizing their college education. The program helps students expand their academic horizons.

“We are here to support those students that want to get extra out of their education that they’re doing here,” Assistant Director Michele Shawver said.

Any courses that students are taking in a semester can be elevated to Honors classes. There are no restrictions on the members’ classes that can be boosted.

While their approach is different in terms of who they accept into the program, Farah Combs, Honors director, says that a high GPA is a must have to qualify. 

“They need to maintain a minimum of a 3.3 GPA in order for them to be eligible,” Combs said.

Once eligible students become members of the program, their membership becomes tentative on a semester-by-semester basis. Their membership length depends on their ability to consistently satisfy the program’s requirements.

Combs said that maintaining their required GPA each semester keeps members eligible. However, they must also successfully complete a 300 level or higher class towards their major.

For any semester, students who are not able to meet those requirements become temporarily ineligible.

Combs said these unqualified members are put on Honors probation. While on probation, students cannot continue to take Honors classes.

Members who meet these requirements for the initial semester can start applying for Honors scholarships. Multiple scholarships of up to $1,000 are available for Honors members to apply, including study abroad and internship scholarships. 

Members can only apply for one scholarship per semester.

Members will get certificates and medals with their names on them once they graduate. Both will be given out if they have met all the qualifications throughout their membership.

“They have to complete 18 hours of honors credits by the time they graduate,” Combs said.

The number of program members in a semester varies. Its size is dependent on members’ eligibility status. Combs said there are approximately 300 members in the program each semester. 

Program members meet daily in the Honors Center, located on the second floor of Helmke Library. 

How Career Services Helps Students Go Above And Beyond

Career Services is an organization at Purdue University Fort Wayne that supports students and alumni to reach their career goals by providing opportunities to connect with employers through their high-quality programs and events.

“The vision statement for career services is to be recognized nationally for its service throughout the Midwest,” Courtney Sullivan, a counselor at Career Services, said. “We will be an innovative leader in educating, developing and connecting our university and the communities we serve.”  

Career Services’s most important event happens once a semester, the Mastodon Job and Internship Fair, where students get the opportunity to build a network and market themselves in the workforce.

This year the fair will take place March 14 at the Lutheran Fieldhouse on Purdue Fort Wayne’s campus.

Career Services also administers Handshake, a platform that Sullivan said is very useful for students who are looking for job opportunities.

“We can see our students make appointments,” Sullivan said. “We have jobs posted every week, so every Tuesday we send out emails to students through handshake about different jobs in their career field.”

Sullivan talked about other events that happen more often like the Lunch & Learn’s and the Immersion Excursion.

“Immersion excursion is where you actually go to the employer. They will sometimes do a tour where you get to ask them questions. The Lunch and Learn’s are when the employer comes to campus,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan described the Career Services website as very informative for students. It has many templates for important documents that a student might need when looking for a job.

“Our website has a sample resume, how to write a cover letter, and interviewing strategies,” Sullivan said.  “Also, you can look at ‘What can I do with my major?’” 

Career Services has an Endorsed Program, which Sullivan said was not as rushed as other services they offer.

“Based on the test that you complete, you get points, and after you get so many points you’ve completed the program,” Sullivan said.“You get a certificate and then you get a recommendation from our office on LinkedIn.”

For more information about Career Services, call  260-481-0689 or visit their website at pfw.edu/career.

 

Purdue Fort Wayne Begins Planning for Annual Student-led Service Day

Purdue University Fort Wayne is set to hold their eighth annual The BIG Event on April 13. The day-long event is intended for students and faculty to show their appreciation to the community by volunteering a few hours of their day to partake in community work.

According to Purdue University Fort Wayne, The BIG Event is the largest student-led, one-day service project in the nation. The university has set their own goal for the year of getting 1,000 volunteers signed up to participate in this year’s The BIG Event.

The university began The BIG Event in March 2012. According to Purdue University Fort Wayne, the primary focus has been to thank the over 50 local not-for-profit agencies.

You don’t have to be a current student to get signed up. Kasey Price, assistant vice chancellor for Student Life and Leadership, said as long as the appropriate paperwork is filled out in time, anyone in the community is welcome to participate.

“Over the years we have had staff committees and groups of students organize the event,” Price said. “As part of the plan for The BIG Event, we are working more and more each year to have students be responsible for the planning and organization of the event. This year we have volunteers, interns, student workers, alumni and staff who are all part of the planning process.”

Planning consists of finding locations for improvements and getting all the volunteers free shirts. In order to afford this kind of improvement, there are sponsors from within the community that donate money to help with expenses. Volunteers have a variety of tasks that include painting, planting plants and cleaning assigned areas.

The event not only helps show appreciation to the community. Naomi Zipay, Purdue Fort Wayne senior, said it helped her meet new people during her freshman year. Zipay has volunteered for three years since then.

“It’s extremely rewarding to just give back to the community and to do it in a way that is so direct with hands on work,” Zipay said.

“It’s so fun,” Julie Miller, organizer and active volunteer, said. “It can get messy, but it’s a good way to get outside of your head for a few hours and do some good.”

The BIG Event first began in 1982 at Texas A&M University. Joe Nussbaum, vice president of the university’s Student Government Association, created the event as a way for students to thank the surrounding community for their support.

Since the first The BIG Event in 1982, the student-led community workday has expanded to over 100 universities nationwide and according to the Student Government Resource Center, each year there still is significant growth following the event. Universities in Italy, Spain, Germany and Pakistan have even adopted the tradition.

“Signing up on the website is easy,” Price said. “Student Leader applications are available now and volunteer sign-up will be available in a few weeks. You can sign up as a group or individually.”

Application sign ups are available on www.pfw.edu/big-event and must be submitted by March 1.

A Woman of Many Hats

It’s a nice house. Bright yellow. Well-kept yard. It’s on a busy road–so every time you drive by it you think how many wrecks might happen on it. Inside, the smell of cooking chicken fills the air. Even though you just ate, you find yourself growing hungry. You don’t necessarily notice how clean the house is, but rather how un-dirty it is.

Around the corner, in the dining room is a woman. She’s in her 50s. She’s Hispanic. She’s drinking coffee. Doing paperwork. On her screen she cycles through blueprints. A gas station. A hospital. A school. She’s bidding work.

Then it all comes together: the clean house, the blueprints, the bidding––she is the owner of Bixler Interiors, a final construction cleaning company. She calls out to her son to check the dinner in the oven before making her daily phone calls.

When a construction company like Weigand or LBC builds a high rise or a hospital or anything else, they make a mess. They are primarily concerned with constructing the building and moving on, so they leave their mess when they’re done. Someone has to clean that. Someone has to make sure the windows are spotless and that the bathrooms are shiny. That someone is Deb Bixler, owner of Bixler Interiors.

Bixler Interiors has been a steady company for the last ten years. Now, Bixler is working toward establishing herself as a minority woman in business. The Indiana Laborers Union Partnership is responsible for doling out these achievements by carefully selecting those that accurately fit the requirements. Bixler currently has her WBE, or Women’s Business Enterprise.

This year, she also won the 2018 Influential Women Owned Business Award for the State of Indiana, according to the Local 81 Laborer’s Union. Bixler said she is happy about winning the award, but it doesn’t change her outlook.

“I work hard and I’m honest with people. I feel work should just be that easy. Everything in between is just someone making it harder than it has to be,” she said when asked how she tries influence people in her field.

As Bixler further detailed her work life, it became very apparent that this positive attitude is a common theme.

The origin of Bixler interiors is an ever-evolving path of choices. Bixler’s first management position was at a Johnson Junction gas station in Decatur, IN. She then moved on to running an Angela Bridges Fitness center before eventually opening her own fitness center for six years. After closing the fitness center, she got a job at GMS construction as a “runner,” or “gofer,” as they called it.

“But I called it a go-for-it-girl,” Bixler said with a big laugh. She then moved on to start her own cleaning company, but there was another pit-stop before then.

Her mother opened a furniture company and had Deb manage it. Like most things Bixler is a part of, the furniture business evolved into something greater.

“We decided to start picking up our own furniture, so we decided to get out own semi. From there we ended up owning—within five years—a fleet of semis,” Bixler said.

Bixler’s mother then opened her own trucking company. Deb worked dispatch and accounted for payroll. Eventually, Bixler had something of a falling out with her mother, forcing her out of a job. She had nothing. She had no way to provide for her family. She was lost. Until she started Bixler Interiors. While she had dabbled in cleaning once or twice for side money in the past, her first big job was Vera Bradley. At 205,000 square feet, Bixler ambitiously bid the job and won. She said she didn’t have time to doubt herself.

“I was too excited. Cleaning big jobs is no different than the small ones, just more time consuming,” Bixler said. “You take it one room at a time and eventually, you’ll be done.”

Bixler didn’t do it alone, though. She enlisted the help of her family. Her children Jordan, James and Sayge worked for her. Since then, the business has always been a family owned company. While Vera Bradley was a big job to start with, that didn’t stop Bixler from chasing bigger and better things. She went on to win jobs like the Ash building downtown or the recently finished Parkview Cancer Center.

Bixler said working with her family is a great experience. Sayge, her daughter, said working with her mom is great because you don’t have a stranger yelling at you.

“We all appreciate and love each other,” Sayge said. “So it’s not stressful.”

Bixler said her life has been a busy one. She has met a lot of people and done a lot of things, but her biggest priority has always been being a mother and grandmother. She homeschooled her two youngest children and has worked with them at Bixler Interiors for the last ten years. Now that her two youngest children are starting their college careers, Deb is trying to let them go.

“I think it’s really sad,” said Sayge, “We’ve always worked a lot together. So it’s sad that we can’t be together all the time like we used to.”

Sayge started working with her mom at age 15. It’s work that she doesn’t mind, in fact she said it can be meditative.

“It’s nice to get out of the house and work hard sometimes,” she said.

While Bixler interiors will never truly end as her children have vowed to help whenever they can, it must begin its descent. But that’s okay with Deb Bixler.

“No matter where you’re at money-wise, you can choose to be good and happy with it or you can be miserable. I choose to be happy wherever I’m at.”

After a full day of school for her two youngest children and a hard day’s work for the oldest, Deb has finished the night’s dinner. With proper seasoning and another contagious laugh from Deb Bixler, the family sat down and enjoyed a meal together. There is no “switch” for Deb Bixler. She is always a mother. It doesn’t turn off when she’s working. It doesn’t turn off when she’s had a hard day.

“I enjoy being a mother,” Bixler said, with a confident smile.

New Micro-Brewing Trend Has Fort Wayne Hopping

Fort Wayne has more than a dozen breweries, with over half being locally owned businesses. In recent years, the trend of micro-brewing and craft beers has skyrocketed throughout the United States with Fort Wayne noticing the effects of this national trend.

Overall U.S. craft brewer sales continued to grow, reaching 12.7 percent of the U.S. beer market in terms of volume. Retail dollar sales of craft beer increased 8 percent, up to $26 billion, and now account for more than 23 percent of the $111.4 billion U.S. beer market, according to BrewersAssociation.org.

The Brewers Association also revealed there are now over 6,000 breweries operating the in the U.S., which is more than double the number from just four years ago. And in 2018, brewers and craft beer could have had their biggest year yet. Locally, since January 2018, four new breweries have opened in Fort Wayne.

Ashley Spranger, Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s stakeholder engagement and experience manager, said the trend has only just begun in the city.

“At the rate we are going, Fort Wayne has the potential to be viewed as a ‘brewery hub.’ I see people coming from outside the city, region and maybe even the state to experience what our breweries have to offer,” Spranger said.

The first brewery in Fort Wayne, Mad Anthony’s Brewing Co., was founded in 1998, according to Linda Lipp, writer for the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly. While this local craft brewery is still operating in Fort Wayne today, additional locations have popped up in other parts of Indiana, including Auburn, Warsaw and Angola. According to VisitFortWayne.com, there are now more than 14 breweries in Fort Wayne –– with more to open in 2019.

Several months ago, 17 brewers from Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana came together to form the Northern Indiana Brewers Association. The organization, founded to help strengthen relationships between brewers in the area, expects to grow as more breweries open in Northeast Indiana.

Thea Spielman, a local self-declared craft beer enthusiast with a love for Mad Anthony’s dark Harry Baals Irish Stout, was excited about all the options and the growth of local brewed beers.

“I love that I can go to a different spot every weekend, and each place has their own vibe and specialty,” Spielman said. She explained that for her it is important to support the Fort Wayne economy, so she chooses local breweries instead of national ones.

Aside from selling beer, many businesses are offering brewery tours, allowing guests to learn more about the brewing process and to see the inner-workings of the beer they are consuming. Hop River Brewing Company, which opened last February, is a 15-barrel production taproom in downtown Fort Wayne, and offers several tour times throughout the day. 

Taylor Miller, shift supervisor at Hop River Brewing Company, is passionate about representing the product they create.

“Most of us local breweries all support and interact with each other, and we love to help each other grow. More breweries, more growth,” Miller said.

And to keep the trend up and expanding, a new program has begun to help support all the local breweries and encourage the exploration of the city’s craft beer offerings. The Northern Indiana Beer Trail passport program is a multi-brewery collaboration that will offer rewards once a person has visited a certain number of breweries throughout the city.

“We get a couple handfuls of people solely coming in trying to fill their passports with stamps,” Miller said. “It gets people out of their comfort zones, getting them to new breweries.”

The launching of the passport, along with several breweries expected to open in 2019 and the “Brewed IN the Fort” craft beer festival, suggests the trend is not likely to fizzle out anytime soon.

Fighter in Recovery

Justin Garman’s kitchen smells like coffee. He’s brewing the coffee that his aunt brought back from Hawaii. Garman says he likes to serve his guests this coffee because it’s his personal favorite.

“It has a hearty and well-rounded taste, with a hint of sweetness.”

The living room is lit up by the many candles that Garman’s girlfriend, Andrea White, had picked up from T.J. Maxx. Garman says the place looked completely different until White moved in and changed things. One change he’s not a big fan of is the different scents from the candles – but he accepts it .

“It’s her place now,” Garman jokes.

White stands in the kitchen preparing their vegan dinner. Even though neither of them are vegan, Garman’s doctor suggested that he adopt a vegan diet after he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

 

Growing up in a family where everyone likes sports helped Garman “learn many lessons in life.”

Growing up in Kimmel, Indiana, Garman lived with his mother, Staci, and stepfather, Andy. At the age of 16, Garman moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to attend high school and live with his father, Dan, and stepsister, Janelle. As a kid, Garman enjoyed playing all kinds of sports but his favorite was wrestling. Garman’s entire family shares a passion for the sport of wrestling and it was one of the reasons that he began training as a boxer during his senior year of high school.

“I was always into combative sports and happened to segue into the core of combat, which is boxing,” Garman said.

Garman had his first fight in Toledo, Ohio, at the Golden Gloves Tournament. It was a nerve racking moment for him.

“I ended up losing the fight by decision. It wasn’t even close,” Garman said. “I had all the confidence in the world but when the time came and the gym was full of people, I froze up and had more energy than I knew what to do with.”

It isn’t hard to believe that Garman’s first fight wasn’t his favorite. In fact, Garman’s favorite fights don’t really involve his opponents – they involve his sparring partners when training at the gym.

“You have beat yourself up for hours next to a guy and at the end the coach tells you to get in the ring and see who still has the most energy to come out on top.”

The training itself is a battle of endurance. A normal day of training for Garman starts with a three to five-mile warmup run before the more intensive work begins.

“There is stretching, jump rope and shadow boxing. And then you lace up and do bag work, working combinations and footwork for an hour or so. And if you are lucky you get to spar.” According to Garman, sparring is his favorite part of training because he can put what he has been working on to the test.

While the training is demanding, there are other challenges outside of the gym. For Garman, cutting weight and sticking to a strict diet all the time presents the biggest challenge. According to The National Collegiate Boxing Association, boxing is a challenging sport that requires dedication, focus and time management skills to achieve a peak level of physical and mental fitness. Garman knows that very well, so he has put in the effort needed to achieve many goals in his boxing career.

Even though Garman hasn’t won many big fights or awards in his seven-year boxing career, he has learned integrity and persistence. Duncan Hale, Garman’s coach from the Hurricane Boxing Club, appreciates Garman’s hard work as a boxer and as an individual.

“When he puts his mind to something he can always accomplish it. He has a strong passion for things he cares a lot about. I believe that helped him with his boxing career.”

Boxing experiences have helped Garman to develop a unique personality.

Garman has been waiting for an opportunity. However, when he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2017, it impacted his plans in boxing. According to Mayo Clinic, Crohn’s disease causes an inflammation of bowel tissue that can be both painful and potentially life-threatening. Garman is still upset about the disease since it has affected his life in many ways.

“My Crohn’s disease came unexpected, but I found out it is something that I have had for a very long time. I had to have surgery to have three and a half feet of my lower intestine removed.”

Garman had to miss several weeks of training, as well as work, to recover after the surgery was performed in October 2017. Despite the surgery being performed over a year ago, Garman hasn’t fully recovered yet and still cannot resume training. He has been going through different treatments and tests in the past year to find the best way to cope with the disease.

Having Crohn’s disease is not only affecting Garman’s life – it’s also affecting that of his girlfriend, Andrea, who has had to adjust to the changes as well.

“Crohn’s disease has affected Justin’s and my life tremendously. We had to change our lifestyle entirely. I have to become aware of what his new diet should be, which requires a lot more thoughts and efforts.” White said. “Justin’s exercise routine had to change and he can’t over work his stomach because it’s now more sensitive. When recovering from surgery he handles it as strong as he could, and I couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Even though Garman doesn’t know how much longer he has to wait until he can get back to boxing, he’s looking forward to going back to the gym to start training again.

“Boxing has helped me achieve many personal goals that have helped me mentally day to day. It lets you see confrontation in a different perspective.”

For now, Garman continues the vegan diet he’s been on for the last four months in the hopes that he can recover and get back to training sooner. Wishing he was eating his favorite food, fried chicken, he puts the last bite of his avocado salad in his mouth.

“Man…I hate avocados.”

Converting to Catholicism

Evan Thomas came right from work. The sun shone through the window, which gave his white shirt what almost looked like a glow.

He was excited. He loves any opportunity to talk about Catholicism.

The 20-year-old LaGrange, Ind. native is a student at Purdue University Fort Wayne and also works two jobs: one on campus, as a resident assistant; and the other off-campus, as an intern with Regal Beloit, an electric motor company.

“I like to work out,” he said, regarding how he spends his very limited spare time. “I like to practice faith, play sports, watch movies.”

Of these things, one has become much more important to Thomas than the rest.

“Evan is this very joyful person,” said Nicole Rudolph, an acquaintance of Thomas. “He’s really gotten into his faith on the Summit Awakening retreat last year and then he converted recently.”

Summit Awakening, according to Rudolph, is a retreat for college-aged students in Fort Wayne to learn more about the Catholic faith. It lasts for three days, many of the details are secret, though some things are still allowed to be discussed . Staff and participants alike are under instruction not to reveal what happens on the weekend.

“He’s participating in the retreat this year, but as a leader. And he’s giving a talk on the retreat about the Eucharist.”

The Eucharist, more commonly referred to as communion, is the most important part of Catholic worship and it is the final stage in a person’s being accepted as a full member of the church, according to flameoffaith.org, a website run by the Archdiocese of Brisbane in Australia.

“At my church, it was very liberal,” said Thomas, regarding a misunderstanding between he and his Catholic girlfriend prior to his conversion. “And their communion beliefs, it was not quite transubstantiation, Jesus was not completely present in communion when we took it.”

He said this church, which was non-denominational, did not require its members to take communion; however, they did offer it.

“I went up, and she refused to take communion at my church,” Thomas said. “I got pretty upset with her at the time, you know, thinking that she was stuck-up in her faith and, you know after my formal training, then I came to understand exactly why she would not want to take communion there.”

Thomas was raised in a Methodist home until he was 14 years old, when he stopped going to church altogether.

“I think there were a lot of members of my church who influenced me in a negative way,” Thomas said. “They were what I saw as negative influences of the church, people who claimed the faith and didn’t live it. And so, for me, I thought that was very detrimental to my faith life.” Thomas said many of these people were members of his own family. He said he was also told a lot of negative things about the Catholic church.

“That priests were people that held power above the layman, as you may call it. That they had an organization that was very corrupt; a very political and hierarchical society just integrated into what it meant to be a Catholic.”

He also said he viewed Catholics as more people who claimed the faith, but did not live it.

“I don’t think I really knew anything about it,” said Thomas about the Methodist theology. “I didn’t look deep enough into faith to distinguish between the different points of what each denomination believed compared to another so I didn’t learn a lot about that until maybe this previous year or two.”

Thomas said before that, he saw Christianity in terms of Catholics and Protestants, and the Protestants were the correct side.

Protestantism began in 1517 when a German monk named Martin Luther broke away from the Catholic Church over practices he deemed could not be found in the Bible; chief amongst them the buying and selling of indulgences, which promised the purchaser would go straight to Heaven when they died. Since then, a degree of enmity has existed between those who stayed with the Catholic Church and those who followed Luther and formed their own churches.

Thomas began dating his girlfriend who got him to look into Catholic theology.

“I think it wasn’t necessarily one point,” Thomas said. “It was several points building up. I would look into a question and I would find that the Catholic church had the — to me — correct answer. And this process would happen again, and again, and again and eventually I believed it without already knowing the Catholic answer.”

Thomas said once he realized this was the case, his decision became obvious. When he made the decision, his family had mixed attitudes.

“My mom is Catholic, she was very excited. My girlfriend is Catholic, she was also very excited. The rest of them didn’t quite understand. I think a lot of them thought I was doing it because of my girlfriend was Catholic.”

Thomas said they commonly responded by making jokes, but eventually learned to accept it.

Next for him came the Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults, or RCIA for short. RCIA is the process where one is accepted into full communion with the Catholic Church, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To begin the process, the prospective convert must talk to a priest or an RCIA director. This comes after the Period of Evangelisation, in which the convert must partake in a period of deep personal reflection.

This process is difficult for many converts, including Thomas.

“I think it was because I was such a big opponent of the Catholic Church in my own mind. To owning up to that and accepting it proudly and then also dealing with the fact a lot of people thought I was converting because of my relationship.”

Thomas is a man who wants his peers to see him as someone deep in his faith and does not want that perception to change. At the end of this period, he began RCIA classes at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Fort Wayne.

These classes are just like any at a college campus. You have the instructor, usually a priest or a nun, running through the different points and aspects of Catholicism while the students take notes and ask questions. Students are generally also joined by their sponsors.

A sponsor, according to the USCCB, is a person chosen by the convert to help them through the process; one who exemplifies how to live the faith and answer questions the convert may have.

“I would say my sponsor Philip Litchfield was very helpful,” Thomas said. “It was nice to be able to turn to him and get an intellectual answer to faith.”

“People question things like the papacy and different things Catholics do,” said Ruth McMahon, a sponsor in another diocese in the 1980s.
According to McMahon, many Protestants question Catholic obedience to hierarchy, which she said is also present in Protestant churches to some degree.

The Hierarchy, which many Protestants are hesitant to get behind, is the Catholic Church’s leadership which is based in Vatican City, just outside of Rome.
It is headed by the Pope, who every Catholic around the world considers to be infallible and incapable of teaching anything wrong.

This explains why, even in the midst of accusations that the current Pope covered up a sex scandal, Thomas’s faith remains unshaken.

“I think that it motivates me to be a stronger Catholic,” said Thomas, matter-of-factly. His confidence justified his tone.

“Now more than ever, there needs to be good representatives of the faith and I think it’s important for people outside of the Catholic church to look at what we have and to see that we’re still proud, that we’re not shaken or hesitant at all, that I’m not reserved, that I’m still confident I made the right decision.”

A Guide to Dungeons & Dragons

So you want to play Dungeons & Dragons? You’ve heard about it. You’ve seen your uncle’s bag of oddly-shaped dice. You may have even seen it played on shows like “Community” and “Stranger Things.” But what is it?

What is Dungeons & Dragons?

The Player’s Handbook describes Dungeons & Dragons as a “childhood game of make-believe,” but with structure and consequences decided by dice.

According to the Dungeon Master’s Guide, D&D is a game of swords and sorcery. It’s a collaborative story telling game with heroes and villains, dragons and zombies, magic and politics. It can be anything you want it to be.

To an outsider, a game of D&D might look like a group of people sitting around talking about swords and dragons but that’s only because it’s primarily made up of imagination.

Jarod DePew, the Dungeon Master (DM) for his game, defines D&D as a game of imagination with three different parts: “the explanation of the surroundings, the players reacting, and the DM explaining the effects of their actions.”

According to DePew, a game of D&D may sound something like this:

Dungeon Master: You walk into a pitch black room. There’s a scent of smoke, but no fire. What do you do?

Player: I light a torch and investigate the area for clues.

Dungeon Master: You find a half-burned treasure chest and a pile of bones.

 

What do I need to start playing?

The two main components of a D&D game are the player and the Dungeon Master. The Player’s Handbook suggests a game consist of four players and a Dungeon Master chosen before game night for ample preparation time.

When it comes to game night, the players and Dungeon Master will need character sheets, writing utensils, and dice.

Perhaps one of the most iconic things is a Dungeon Master’s screen. A Dungeon Master’s screen can be something as simple as two binders or folders propped up in front of the Dungeon Master so the players can’t see their rolls or statistics of the monsters they’re fighting, according to DePew.

Another necessity for a game of a D&D game is food. Considering a game may last anywhere from two to eight hours on average (some play as long as 12 hours), being able to replenish calories burnt from fighting a dragon is a must, DePew said.

 

How do I become a Dungeon Master?

The Dungeon Master is “everything the players are not,” DePew said.

They are responsible for outlining a narrative, possible encounters, and potential situations for the players to react to.

There are several styles of Dungeon Mastering. Many Dungeon Masters like to prepare for any situation the players may wind up in. This means creating maps, characters and situations for anywhere the players may go.

Other Dungeon Masters find this method to be redundant.

“I prefer improv. Don’t get me wrong, I have papers full of information, but I like to improv,” DePew said.

“I like being a DM because I have a very insane imagination and I’m able to see things a majority of people can’t. I enjoy explaining to my friends and cohorts what’s going on in my imaginary world,” Depew explained.

 

How do I become a player?

The first thing you need to do as a player is create a character. This consists of choosing a race and class you think will be fun to play. For example, you could be Darius, the gnome fighter from the lost island of Loraxia, or you could be Hirron, the elvish warlock who once slayed a red dragon – with hundreds of character combinations, you can build any type of character you’d like.

Jordan Kortenber, who is primarily a player, said he likes being able to “run in, beat people up, and kick doors down, but some people like to cast a bunch of magic and spells. Some people prefer to be sneaky.”

During the character creation process you and the rolls of your dice will decide different attributes of your character like hit points, items and spells.

Game night is primarily about roleplay and pretending to be someone else, but there are many styles of play.

“A lot of people get embarrassed because they don’t want to say something embarrassing, but sometimes that’s the point. Our stories can be really dark and edgy sometimes, but more times than not, it will end up being funny,” Kortenber said.

 

Why should I play?

Kortenber explained that while there dozens of books and guides, the rules aren’t what matters. The game is really about friendship and storytelling.

“It’s a way to make new friends and even get closer to the friends you already have. Like, you’re playing for hours sometimes and getting to know a person on a whole different level because they’re expressing themselves through their character,” Kortenber said.

 

So you’re interested? Now it’s time to roll up some cool characters and get ready to dive into some dungeons. Have your dice ready and snacks prepared. And most importantly — May your swords be sharp and your rolls be high…