Jeremy Blackman’s shirt choice has the sole purpose of showing support and raising awareness during National Suicide Prevention Month.
Blackman, 46, is a Fort Wayne native and hair stylist at 6002 The Salon at Professional Village. He makes connections and talks with over 100 people each month. On Sunday afternoon, he made a new connection and shared the story behind his shirt.
Blackman’s shirt is grey with an outline of the state of Indiana in a green, white and blue combination. The imagery and coloring inside the outline are what could be described as galaxy with the purple, green and splashes of white. Also inside the state outline is a large semicolon with the words Hoosier Buddy Project.
“The representation of the semi colon is why I wear it. It means something in my group of family and friends,” Blackman said.
According to the Project Semicolon website, the symbolic meaning of the semicolon is to show support for those that suffer from mental health issues, have attempted suicide, or have lost a loved one to suicide. Survivors have embraced the symbol as a reminder that their story is not over but a pause before continuing with their story.
Blackman explained that this is just one of several shirts he wears to show support to those who have lost loved ones to suicide or attempted suicide. It is a purposeful thought because September is National Suicide Prevention month.
“Many of our family members have been affected by it,” Blackman said.
Blackman and his wife attended the 2019 Breastfest at the Fortlandia Brewing Company in Fort Wayne. The event is held to raise awareness and funds to help fight breast cancer. His wife, Emily, is a breast cancer survivor.
“My wife and I go every year to the event to try new beers and donate to a good cause,” Blackman said.
That year the Hoosier Buddy Project group also participated in Breastfest. The Hoosier Buddy Project is an Indiana-based suicide prevention program. According to the organization’s Facebook page, they are a group of Indiana brewers that come together to make beers, form support groups, talk about suicide, and help fund existing non-profit groups.
Blackman’s wife is the one who purchased the shirt at the fundraising event. She wanted to add to his collection of meaningful shirts that raise awareness.
IN.gov says Indiana’s suicide rate has been higher than the national suicide rate since 2000. In addition, around 1,000 Hoosiers are lost to suicide every year and have been since 2016.
For more information on the Hoosier Buddy Project, go to their Facebook page: Hoosier Buddy.
Purdue University Fort Wayne welcomes international students every semester, and while some students might be coping well with the new environment, others face challenges at some point during their stay in the United States.
The university is a diverse campus consisting of about 300 international students representing 51 countries from all around the world. As of the fall semester, around 80 to 85 international students were enrolled at PFW.
Among the many challenges and changes that international students have to go through, culture, daily habits, language and religion are some of the main struggles that they have to deal with during their stay in the United States.
Janice Kumala, the only international student from Indonesia, said that she faced homesickness and challenges due to the difference in weather when she first arrived in Fort Wayne.
Kumala, who is majoring in business marketing, came to the U.S. for better education in 2016 and has also experienced a difference in culture compared to her country. ““In the U.S., people are so much friendlier to strangers or to others in general, Kumala said. “It would be weird to say hi, back in Indonesia, but here it would be weird if you don’t say those things.”
Min Namgung, an international student from South Korea who is currently pursuing her master’s in computer science, also talked about some differences in culture. In her country, she said that people who are in the same major will sometimes have gatherings to get to know more about each other or build connections after classes.
“However, here, America, people do not care about each other even though they are in the same major, and do not have any gathering as a group,” Namgung said.
Namgung talked about some culture shocks that she experienced here in the U.S. Coming from a more conserved culture, she said she was surprised when one of her classmates talked about sex as a presentation topic whom later “gave a box of condoms to all classmates including lecturer.”
Not just culture, but daily routine is also somewhat different in the United States compared to what international students have in their countries. Namgung said that people back in her country recycles and separates their trash. She was shocked when she realized that recycling is not widely practiced in the United States.
“I did not know how to throw away my leftover food, and my friends just told me to throw away in the normal trash can,” she said.
Yi Mei Lam, an international exchange student from Switzerland who came to PFW during the fall semester, said that one of her main struggles was not being able go to places independently due to the low accessibility to public transportations.
“While the international office offered shopping trips, I missed having the independence to go wherever I wanted to whenever without relying on others,” Lam said.
Lam also struggled with the heavy workload that the university requires at first and had to get used to the consistency of assignments and tests.
Students also struggle with language when they first arrive in the United States. Namgung explained that even though she has her qualifications in English, it is different and more challenging in real life to take in the language.
Namgung talked about her experience with stereotyping that came from some of the international students while she was in the United States. “I would say it was from their ignorance of my culture, but they asked me if I did any plastic surgery ever or have eaten a dog. And they said they heard all Koreans did that,” Namgung said.
Kumala talked about the different religions in her country and Muslim is the most popular among other seven religions.“Although I’m not a Muslim, it is still different for me to not see a lot of Muslims,” Kumala said. She also said that she experienced culture shock from how early most restaurants or businesses close here and earlier during the weekends.
Both Kumala and Lam said that friends helped a lot in coping with the new environment, while Namgung said that she coped by copying others’ lifestyle and attitude.
Maureen Linvill, assistant director of the international student services, gave some tips and advice on how to cope with new environments. She said that students should get involved more on campus even though academics is the focus. Getting involved in student organizations or getting a job on campus helps with homesickness, Linvill said.
The office of international education provides different events throughout the semester, open to all local and international students and faculty to experience different festivals and cultures in the United States together. They also offer workshops and panels to help international students adapt to the new environment and educate local students about international cultures, religion, etc.
One of these events is “a day in their shoes,” held on Nov. 20, where everyone gets the chance to experience challenges that international students go through to study in the United States. Through the simulation, students who participated faced challenges like having their visa rejected, being rejected to entry at the border or problems with bank statements.
During the panel discussion, students and faculty gave advice to international students or those who plan to study abroad to be prepared in advance with all the paperwork, answers to give during a visa interview, the weather, etc. International students are advised to be flexible and open to new and different things.
Linvill advises students to not “stay in country bubbles,” which are groups of students who do not often get involved in meeting people from other cultures or local students. She also advises students to not hesitate to ask for help when needed.
“I feel like some students make assumptions and then find themselves into problems, maybe they didn’t take 12 credit hours or things that they have to do to maintain their status,” said Linvill.
College Activist Group—Challenges, Misconceptions and Overcoming Obstacles
By Moriah Weaver
The women’s studies and feminist activist group, Campus Feminists in Solidarity, had its first call-out meeting of the Purdue University Fort Wayne fall semester last Tuesday, Nov. 12.
The group seeks to create a community which can relate through common values regarding feminism and gender equality. They also hope to provide educational opportunities for students wanting to better understand the goals of the women’s studies program.
“Our goal is to provide a safe space for feminists on Purdue Fort Wayne’s campus,” said CFS president Shelby Thomas.
Thomas said the group strives to initiate discussions in which students do not feel held back in sharing what is on their mind regarding feminism-related issues. They are also particularly interested in helping non-feminists come to a better understanding of the movement.
“For me, when I think of feminism, I think everyone is equal. Men, women, people of the LQBTQ community, people of color, people with disabilities, everyone,” she said.
When speaking with Dr. Noor Borbieva, an anthropology and women’s studies professor at Purdue University Fort Wayne, she defined feminism as gender differences not creating inequality in and of themselves.
She also said that there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings associated with feminism and the women’s studies program. The most common she hears is that women are equal in our society.
“The kinds of harassment and dehumanization and tribalization that I see all around me, in the media, in what my students suffer…is troubling,” she said. “Not a semester goes by that I don’t hear horrific stories of gender oppression from my students.”
CFS treasurer Sam Schubert said that she has heard many false accusations regarding CFS, but the most troubling is that they serve no purpose.
“People think that we sit around and complain about stuff, but we don’t actually do anything,” she said.
Other misconceptions discussed by sources include that feminist group meetings are just “man hating sessions” and that the women’s studies program is useless in the academia environment.
It is likely that these stigmas contribute to many of the obstacles faced by CFS and the women’s studies program at Purdue University Fort Wayne. The group has dealt with repeated hostility from campus community in the past.
Thomas said that she had first-hand witnessed CFS posters being taken down by other people, one being a professor at the university.
The women’s studies program has also run into issues like this, almost being removed from the university as a major in 2017.
Professor Borbieva said that she saw someone had graffitied negative words about women’s studies on one of the department’s posters just the day before our discussion.
“It took major student mobilization to preserve women’s studies,” she said. “It’s a constant battle.”
Thomas said that when the program was under threat, the women’s studies students came together to advocate and petition for its protection. This led to a change in decision from the university to keep women’s studies as a program for students.
Professor Borbieva said that women’s studies are valuable courses for students—their goals being for women to understand the challenges they face, for students to be educated on the workings of power more broadly, to foster in students a commitment to activism, and to empower students and help them understand the workings of power in their own lives.
It is these principles which are enforced by Thomas and other CFS members. They hope to further interact with the Purdue University Fort Wayne community throughout the rest of the fall and spring semesters.
Next steps for CFS includes the start of a feminist book club and what the group calls, “The F Word”, in which women’s studies affiliated faculty is interviewed and explains how their research relates to feminist ideals. They hope to have these started before the end of the school year.
Schubert said that the group also hopes to get connected with other Purdue University Fort Wayne clubs and organizations to work together in hosting events for students.
“People need to come together with people who share their views, that’s where you find power. That’s where you find affirmation and you can feel good about who you are as a person and get through social connection with other people,” said Professor Borbieva. “That’s the joy of being a human, what else is there?”
As the new strategic plan for the future of Purdue Fort Wayne is defined, one of its main focus is to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion. A new center on campus provides a better visual reference of the campus becoming a more inclusive place.
The LGBT+ Resource Center opened in early October in Walb Student Union on Purdue Fort Wayne’s campus.
The center serves as a space for students to hang out and study, but also serves to be a “first-stop shop” for people with questions about the LGBTQ community, said Jordan Sanderson, coordinator of the Resource Center.
“We wanted a safe space for students, but we also wanted to educate people,” Sanderson added. The center hosts multiple workshops throughout the year on various topics related to gender identity, sexuality, and LGBTQ history. The Center also has a small library filled with LGBTQ literature.
Sanderson said that the center is usually full of students either swinging by between classes or studying in the back room. However, he was somewhat surprised by the amount of people who decided to visit the office. “I didn’t expect people to come in so frequently with questions,” said Sanderson. He added that many of them were not a part of the LGBTQ community, but they were “so willing to learn, which is something we don’t see very often.”
The center opened just prior to the Strategic Planning Committee sending out a campus climate survey focused on embracing diversity, equity and inclusion. Sanderson believes that the survey is a step in the right direction and more research is needed on the campus climate to identify needs within the campus community for LGBTQ students and staff.
“With 19% of the freshman class identifying as a part of the LGBTQ community or preferring not to answer, there is a significant part of our student population who could utilize this center,” Sanderson said. Although the center is open to everyone, the demographic justification added to the need for a student center after years of having various LGBT+ groups working to represent students on campus.
Hugo Mata, a student who frequently visits the Resource Center, said that the Center is a great place to provide a safe and affirming environment for LGBTQ students and he is spreading the word about the Center.
“Whenever I meet someone in the [LGBTQ] community, I tell them about the office. It’s usually just by word of mouth that I’ve seen more students come to the office,” Mata said. In addition to word of mouth, some students stop in after walking past the office.
As one walks through the hallway, the office emanates rainbow light from the signature Pride wall and all of the rainbow décor within. The walls are adorned with pictures of LGBTQ icons including Sharice Davids, a United States Senator from Kansas, and Billy Porter, a fashion icon and activist.
Vic Spencer, the Center’s director, explained in an email that their current priorities are “to elevate the visibility of both the Center and our LGBTQ population.” They said that the center plans to “expand [the center’s] programming” to include other aspects of LGBTQ health, history, and advocacy activities.
A 2019 Human Rights Campaign report, the Municipal Equality Index, also recently rated Fort Wayne with a score of 40 out of 100. This report is “based on its laws, policies, and services of municipalities on the basis of their inclusivity of LGBTQ people.” Out of nine cities scored in Indiana, Fort Wayne had the worst score. Terre Haute scored 42, while other major cities like Indianapolis and Bloomington scored 89 and 100 respectively.
Irwin Mallin is truly an unforgettable man. Throughout his time on campus, whether it was known as Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne, he has always had everyone call him Irwin. No matter what relationship he had to the person, he was always just Irwin. It would feel wrong to call him anything other than that. Being on a first name basis with everyone speaks to his character and overall personality very well. In spite of his doctorate in communication and law degrees, Irwin never felt that he was above anyone else and made sure that everyone felt like they belonged when they were around him or his beloved department of communication.
Now, 20 years after he first arrived, Irwin is set to leave the university. Irwin has been battling cancer for nearly two years now. His diagnosis is terminal and as of this writing, he has transitioned to hospice care.
Irwin was born June 20, 1962 in Syracuse, New York. According to Irwin, Syracuse was a good place to be a kid, but not so much fun as an adult. His father and uncle taught him his sarcastic and unapologetic sense of humor, and he described himself as a very ordinary high school student who enjoyed watching sports and goofing off.
After high school, Irwin went to Syracuse University where he studied communication. He found communication to be very interesting. “Communication allows you to be a part of people’s lives in ways that you otherwise wouldn’t,” Irwin said. After graduating with a degree in communication, Irwin went back to Syracuse University to get a law degree.
Irwin has always loved being able to help people through difficult times. After getting his law degree, Irwin spent five years as a bankruptcy lawyer. During that time, he estimated that he assisted around 70 people. He enjoyed his time as a lawyer because he was able to spend some time helping people. Helping people was always Irwin’s strong suit.
In 1999, Irwin continued to find ways to help people during challenging and transitional periods – this time as a college professor and head advisor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. He no longer found joy from his career as a lawyer and wanted to do something more fun.
“I wanted to teach because it was easy and seemed fun,” Irwin said. For Irwin, the excitement and passion for teaching never faded.
For the better part of 20 years, Irwin has devoted himself to his students and his work. His level of expertise and ability to connect with anyone he met set him apart from every other professor on the Purdue Fort Wayne campus. He genuinely cared about each and every student he interacted with on campus and would do anything to make sure they would succeed.
Dr. Marcia Dixson, Professor of Communication and Associate Vice Chancellor for Teaching and Learning at PFW, was the chair of the Communication Department for nine years from 2006-2015. As Irwin’s former department head, Dixson experienced many years of Irwin’s sometimes-awkward social abilities, sarcastic humor and commitment to student success.
“For the most part [being Irwin’s boss] was easy. Unless he was really fired up, he just works hard and does what’s best for the students and the department. He was always doing what’s best for the students and he was always willing to put the effort in,” Dixson said. For Irwin it was never hard to go above and beyond at his job, because it was fun for him.
One of Dixson’s most unforgettable Irwin moments was back in the early 2000s, when checks were still printed and picked up in an office. Dixson recalled Irwin walking down the hallway holding his check high while loudly saying, “Can you believe we get paid for this?” This statement really showed Irwin’s character. His sarcasm, humor and genuine personality have always made him someone that was easy to connect with on campus, no matter who you were.
In February, Irwin was recognized for his commitment to the campus and his service to its students with the Featured Faculty for Service Excellence award for the 2018-2019 school year. The award recognizes those who “demonstrate extraordinary and sustained dedication to engagement with the community,” according to the nomination form.
“He fought to have advising recognized as a part of student success. He changed the culture of the campus in terms of how much we value advising and its recognition of his importance to student success,” Dixson said.
“This institution became part of his soul – the students, faculty and place. It’s what he wanted to do with his life and he did it,” said Dr. Michelle Kelsey Kearl, Chair of the Communication department. “I admire that Irwin made this place part of who he is, and his commitment didn’t waver. He is enduringly optimistic. He has faith in this institution and people that is profoundly unique.”
“Irwin will be remembered on campus as a person with a strong commitment to students and advising with an odd sense of humor. He was passionate about his students and about teaching,” said Dixson. “Whatever he did, it was always going to be good for students. He does things that he thinks matter and matter to other people and he loves that.”
Irwin would update his office hours each week, sometimes daily, on his website so that students knew when he was around. He always welcomed students and would do anything he could to make their experiences better. At the beginning of a class, he asked his students how they felt and a student answered “hungry.” Irwin immediately left the room without saying a word and came back shortly after with a Snickers bar. Irwin did whatever he could to make his students enjoy their time, even if it was just a silly gag.
Whether it was in the classroom or in his office with a student, Irwin was extremely passionate about his job and made sure other people felt the magic that he did. He walked into every class with an excited “Stars!” and the class would chime back “Hi, Gene!” as a homage to an old cheesy game show. Each and every class felt special with Irwin. He made you feel like you were supposed to be there, no matter your age or how much expertise you had on the subject. As you walked out of the classroom or his office, he would simply say “peace.” Irwin said he appropriated this saying from a Lutheran girl he dated 30 years ago. He always made students and colleagues feel welcome.
“Here in this department, my experience of him is he wanted everyone here to feel like they belonged. Every time a student would become a communication student, he would introduce them to everyone in the office and would root for them down the hallway ‘you’re one of us,’” Kelsey Kearl said. “It gave the students a sense of belonging. It did good work for the students and was great morale for the faculty. His rooting made it clear what our value was to the students.”
For many current students, alumni and faculty, Irwin has made an extremely lasting legacy.
“He has been a champion of teaching. There is no way to articulate it in a quantitative way. His award for outstanding advising is a career’s worth of effort into changing the entire culture of this campus,” Kelsey Kearl said.
“This campus will lose his passion for advising and his high valuing of advising. We have to hope that the culture has changed and that he has made a lasting legacy,” Dixson said.
The communication department and PFW in general will lose a phenomenal faculty member and stellar advisor upon Irwin’s departure. Everyone that encountered Irwin learned something – even if they didn’t know it at the time. He is genuinely a wise and down to earth man that never stopped sharing his knowledge with students and colleagues.
“You can’t have a conversation with Irwin and not take something out of it that is helpful or purposeful. He was so focused on students, making their experience here productive and a meaningful part of their lives,” Kelsey Kearl said. “He always seemed persistently invested in helping people do better. You would have to try hard not to learn something from him or find some productive tool that he knew about.”
As Irwin’s time at PFW draws to a close, he will greatly miss the university and its students. Irwin’s wish for the university is that it will continue to thrive and take care of students. He left a lasting legacy on this campus and on anyone that has ever encountered him; one that will hopefully continue to impact PFW for many years to come.
When asked what advice he has for students he simply said, “Do well.” As an educator and as a person, Irwin’s lasting impact has set the example for what it truly means to “do well.”
Editor’s note: This article was submitted for publication several days prior to Irwin Mallin’s passing on May 6, 2019.
Eli Paulk sat alone outside of Purdue University Fort Wayne’s International Ballroom. A handful of students filtered in and out of the banner event September’s Suicide Prevention Week: a resource fair with over a dozen different community organizations and groups hoping to engage students on the topic of mental health. Dressed in black shorts and a purple Louisiana State University hoodie, Paulk appeared to be unaware or uninterested in the event going on in front of him. A surprising observation to me because, as he would later share, although he has made it his goal to help others struggling with depression, Eli still battles with it himself.
“There was honestly, two years straight where every day, it just seemed like there was a cloud over me,” Paulk said, fighting back tears. “I couldn’t enjoy anything.”
Paulk did not share exactly what circumstances affected his life during these two years other than a short-lived break up with his girlfriend. But he said he credits her, as well the music of J-Cole and Mac Miller for helping him work through that time in his life. This is why he says Miller’s death last September affected him so deeply.
Paulk said although he didn’t meet him, talk to him, or even consider him his favorite rapper, Miller and his music were a big part of his life growing up. When Miller’s album, “Swimming,” released last September, he said he listened to the song “Wings” on repeat while crying for a half an hour.
“He was very transparent,” Paulk said, as he teared up. “Everybody knew his struggles. He didn’t hide from anything. And that’s why people connected so easy.”
And by sharing his own personal challenges on YouTube, Eli is trying to do the same.
Last July, Paulk announced a change in the direction of the content on his YouTube channel, “Eli Is Broke.” Once a mix of personal adventures, hip hop and rap album reviews, and a short film about self doubt, Paulk started to post videos focused on success and happiness. One of his longest uploads, a conversation about depression in millennials, runs 17-minutes long.
Paulk said he wanted to stop making clickbait and focus on producing more substantive content that could make a difference in people’s lives.
“I don’t wanna try to fix anybody,” Paulk said. “But I wanna be there in case anybody needs affirmation.”
Paulk said he has always had the urge to help people. Born and raised in Fort Wayne, one of his clearest memories as a kid was not being able to understand why there are homeless people in the city. He took notice of the juxtaposition of homeless people asking for money along Coliseum Boulevard, while high-end car dealerships existed nearby. This led him to pursue a career in social services, before becoming an English major and focusing on communication after encouragement from his professor, Dr. Kate White.
However, his mission of reaching out to and helping others is proving harder than he thought.
During the first week of the fall semester, Paulk passed out over 1,500 business cards on campus to promote his channel. Since then, he has not seen any increase in views or heard from a single person who may have found his card — until I contacted him.
Paulk took a four-month break from making videos to focus on himself.
Josué Loya, Paulk’s longtime neighbor and friend, said this is something Paulk doesn’t often do. Loya says Paulk is always doing what he can to help others.
“He’s a very caring person,” Loya said. Anytime he has needed a ride, run out of gas, or just needed help cleaning his yard, Paulk has always been there to help.
Paulk’s desire to reach out to those struggling with their own mental health is not without need.
Judy Tillapaugh, Coordinator of Fitness and Wellness at Purdue Fort Wayne, said suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students. Tillapaugh said one of the best things students could do for their own mental health is to reach out to others.
“You’re talking, you’re sharing, you’re laughing, you’re connecting,” Tillapaugh said. “That can make a difference in helping a person cope through something that they might be facing.”
At a time when it is easier for us to be closed off and pulled into our own little words through smartphones and social media, Paulk said he hopes his content can break through and make it easier for those of his own generation to connect and reach out to others. He aims to meet people where they are, rather than wait for them to come forward.
Paulk hopes to find the right balance between positivity and entertainment. He knows kids won’t want to watch videos of him solely lecturing about mental health. He wants it to be easier for audiences to digest, so he can make a meaningful connections and accomplish what he set out to do in the beginning.
“That’s the goal,” Paulk said. “Give people hope.”
Editor’s note: The names in this story have been altered to protect the subject’s identity.
“Imagine living the past 18 years in fear of whatever you do wrong you get kicked out of your own home,” he said.
For the many children who are not officially documented citizens in the United States, this is a very real fear. Despite not holding American citizenship, immigrant children often live like average Americans. They go to school, they spend time with their friends, and they eventually get jobs. Yet for these immigrant children, the persistent fear that anything they do wrong, no matter how inconsequential, could result in the deportation of them and their families, is an always looming concern. This is the reality that Esteban, 22, has lived with for more than 18 years.
On the surface, Esteban’s life seems to be that of a normal American.
“I really enjoy watching shows on Netflix like Daredevil, and playing NBA 2K games on my PS4 when I have some free time,” Esteban said. “I also try to keep a healthy fitness routine by going to the gym and doing some weight lifting several times a week.” Since 2015, Esteban has been pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science at Purdue University Fort Wayne. “I was immediately drawn to programming because I saw it as using digital Lego blocks. I was into Legos at a young age so it was very appealing to me,” Esteban said. Currently, Esteban is an intern at Lenovo Software, applying and expanding his programming education as a member of their build and install team. None of this however, is indicative of the daily burden he carries regarding his citizenship status.
Born in South America, Esteban has been living in the United States with his family since they immigrated to the U.S. in 2001. “I do have some memories of living in South America, but living here is the only life I have a real memory of,” Esteban stated. “I remember feeling confused at the time. I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on at first.”
Although it was only his second visit to the U.S., Esteban and his family would not return to South America. At that time Esteban would have fallen under the proposed DREAM Act, which according to the American Immigration Council meant that as a young immigrant he would have eventually been eligible for citizenship through a three-step process. This however is no longer relevant to Esteban’s circumstance since he now has a U visa.
Ever since moving to the United States, Esteban and his parents have been making efforts to become official citizens. However, in early 2013, Esteban’s journey to citizenship took a dramatic, although unfortunate turn. Esteban’s mother was victim to a robbery and stabbing. His mother’s injuries required her to undergo many extensive surgeries and the effects of the attack have stayed with her ever since. As a result of the attack, Esteban’s mother became eligible for a green card, per a section of U.S. immigration law. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. immigration law allows non-citizens who have been victims of certain crimes to get a Green Card. Esteban and his parents are now residing under a U visa which allows them to apply for residency.
During Esteban’s junior year of high school, his family met lawyers who offered their services at no cost to him and his family, eventually getting them official work visas. They are currently in the process of applying for residency; a process that requires many documents and much patience. For this process, the government needs proof of residency, passports, pay stubs, tax records, school records, medical certificates/ examinations and any other identifying documents the applicants may have. Presently, Esteban is in the process of getting his Documento Nacional de Identidad, or DNI, which is a national identity document for citizens from South America. After getting his DNI, Esteban then must go to Chicago to renew his passport. Once that is complete, Esteban and his parents present their documents to their lawyers, who then continue the process by presenting the documents to the immigration center.
“After that it’s pretty much just a waiting game,” Esteban said. His citizenship status is still working against him. “I was taught that life is always going to kick you in the butt, especially since you’re from another country, but you have to make the best of the worst situation.”
In spite of the difficult process, Esteban says he wouldn’t change anything since his efforts are worth the reward. “I’ll be one step closer to living a normal life.”
A normal life like that of his younger brother Theo, 17, who is an American citizen by birth. Theo thinks very highly of his older brother.
“Esteban is a great guy. He likes to help people a lot and lends a hand when it’s needed. He’s a happy guy in general with an overall positive outlook and a family first mentality,” Theo said.
Theo, currently in his junior year of high school, looks to Esteban for wisdom and guidance. “Esteban is my biggest role model in life. He is very relatable because he’s gone through the same things that I am going through. He would drop everything and help me out if I needed it.”
One of Esteban’s close friends, Scott, 22, related how Esteban inspires him. “He inspires me to do better in life because he has it harder in life and has lived in fear of being deported. I admire his willpower. He pushes through a lot to get to what he wants to do,” Scott said. “Esteban is also extremely reliable and I like that in a friend. I enjoy his humor, wit, athleticism and he is just an all-around good guy.”
Although Esteban and his parents are in the process of applying for residency, their non-legal status remains a lingering concern. Fortunately for Esteban, his U visa allows him to continue to legally work in the United States. Ultimately, Esteban is not someone who is defined by his citizenship status. His brother Theo certainly agrees.
“I don’t think it will slow him down in any way. Esteban is determined. He is a hard worker in general and since he isn’t a natural citizen it makes him more determined to succeed. I feel that it may be a driving force behind his success.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.