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The Scrap Exchange is pleased to announce the addition of Jillian Lea as Scrap Shop Retail Manager. Jillian fills a crucial supervisory role that was vacant for several months and has plunged into her new role making many positive changes that staff and customers are sure to appreciate.

A loyal Scrap Exchange customer for years, Jillian has an MA in Arts Administration and 6 years of experience in nonprofit management. Jillian is passionate about creativity, community, and kindness. In her free time, she loves to sew, knit, ferment veggies, study and teach yoga, paint, read tarot, and garden. Jillian lives in Durham with her 3-legged cat, Devo.


Twenty-five years ago Acme Plumbing decided to close their downtown showroom. Competition from big box stores had cut into that part of the business. Lee Ann Tilley called The Scrap Exchange knowing that we would find a way to reuse the items. She’s been a loyal shopper and supporter ever since and Acme continues to serve Durham from its location in downtown.

When her grown daughter left items at home Lee Ann brought them over to The Scrap Exchange so they could be enjoyed by others. Sure enough, someone called her daughter to tell her that we were displaying some art she had made in 3rd grade on our walls! Today Lee Ann brings her granddaughter over to shop and create in our Make N Take room. 

“The Scrap Exchange is such an asset to the Durham community. I am so proud of how it has grown,” stated Lee Ann.

We are so grateful for Acme and the long time support from the Tilley family!


L-R: Tirzah Villegas, Workforce Associate with partners for Youth, Tatyana Kasperovich, Scrap Exchange Volunteer Coordinator, and Laura Nicholson, Scrap Exchange Executive Director

On May 15, Tirzah Villegas, Workforce Associate with Partners for Youth (PYO), presented Volunteer Coordinator, Tatyana Kasperovich with an Honorarium for the continued opportunities that The Scrap Exchange provides for their clients. PYO: Durham, an initiative of Durham Congregations in Action, serves local at-risk teens who are currently enrolled in high school or a GED program. Students receive on-the-job training and coaching through paid internship positions that last from September to May.

Interns like the PYO students and community volunteers provide vital assistance processing materials for creative arts programming and general operational assistance. Scraps’ volunteer base includes young people and adults with disabilities, students, seniors, court-ordered community service volunteers, church and community groups, and service-oriented individuals from across the community. With insightful planning and excellent management provided by Ms. Kasperovich, Scrap volunteer and intern hours have grown consistently in 2019. We are very grateful to Tatyana and to everyone who gives of their time in service of our mission!

An interview with John Cearnal

By Lacey Music 

John Cearnal grew up in Hillsboro, NC. He doesn’t remember any art teachers or arts programs in his segregated school, but he does remember a music teacher. He studied education at NC Central University where they offered a rigorous program, which included everything as advanced as physics and geology, to the everyday skills like writing cursive on a chalkboard.  

Today, Cearnal’s classroom, empty of children late in the afternoon is decorated with fabrics, crafts, motivational phrases, story books, art supplies, and all manner of projects from floor to ceiling. Cearnal’s little dog, Timba, is here too. Cearnal brings him in on exam days to help the children calm down before testing. Timba sits off quietly by the desk while I start asking about what his retirement will look like. Currently, Cearnal is taking a cooking class in Hillsboro’s Senior Center and then will follow that teacher on to another art class. He’s looking forward to having time be his own again. After travelling for a while, he’ll come back and volunteer. He says George Watts is a Montessori School with a supportive PTA. If the students have a need they meet it. They provided chrome books (essentially mini-laptops) for the students to use I READY; a learning program designed for elementary age children. According to Cearnal, Hillsborough does not have nearly as many school resources. 

“So why teach in Durham?” The answer is part of a long journey. 

Cearnal joined a program after college and taught for about five years in Braggtown, NC. The program helped diverse groups of 6th graders with reading comprehension. The pay wasn’t enough to live on so he also waited tables and found other side jobs where he could. And then he decided to do what a lot of young people do. He went off to discover life.  

In the early 1980s He moved to Minneapolis. He stayed in community housing and with friends. He worked odd jobs like shampooing dogs, clerking, more table waiting… He read the Quran, and about Islam and Taoism. One Longtime friend introduced him to the New Thought movement (the idea that thoughts create reality) while another was telling him about the E-Ching. “It blew my little country boy mind!” And when his friends, who had more money, and better-paying jobs would want to go out and maybe see a movie, he had to turn them down. But Cearnal didn’t seem to miss out. He says he would just go somewhere to sit and watch the sky. “You can’t rewind. Can’t record.”  

For a while, he volunteered at the  African American Cultural Center. This, he says, was his introduction to the arts. There was visual art from Africa, performers, musicians, and storytellers. He told them, “I would pay you to let me come!” He met everyone coming in the door and would interview everyone, from everywhere. 

He didn’t teach for 6 years during this time, and his parents were not thrilled. Cearnal says they were going nuts that they had spent so much on his education. They said, “You’re shampooing dogs!?” But, Cearnal says, Minneapolis had a small black community and it was easy to make connections. “They called it the mini-apple.” Eventually, a long-time friend recruited him to teach at Lincoln fundamental. He taught 5th and 6th grade in a school he describes as being strong in its academic and arts programs. Cearnal says that when he was recruited to a program in the school to help struggling African American children, everything changed.

 It was called the Afrocentric Education Academy. “The vision was to come up with an alternative approach [to teaching]. We were blending teaching styles with learning styles.” He listed a host of people he worked with, describing them as “Phenomenal women.” They include, Grace Rogers his co-teacher, Willarene Beasley, the principal, Mary Sudduth, a social worker, Neil Collier, and Dr Betty Web who recruited him to the program. They would go offsite to do research and make a game plan, then teach in the afternoon. The program itself sounds like an educator’s dream. Sudduth paired students with people of color in the community who could act as mentors. There were field trips to cultural events, and actors who had performed in Sarafina visited the school. Students had an “Ebony Notables” project that tasked them with researching, creating costumes, and then presenting themselves as African American historical figures. The program also created community opportunities for the parents to help support one another. Cearnal says “It was about creating an experience that [students] could carry forth…It was fun but exhausting.” 

Teaching children on the verge of adulthood was a unique challenge and eventually, Cearnal returned to teaching elementary students at Lucy Craft Laney Community School under Principal, Dr Sandra Woods. This was a school steeped in arts education. They paired classes up with local organizations and Cearnal was chosen to work with the Minnesota Children’s theatre. At the time Jack Zipes (a German professor at the University of Minnesota) and Maria Asp (actor, and teacher) helped develop an educational program that involved storytelling, writing, and performance. Backgrounds were made out of painted tarp and costumes were forged from “treasures.” Staff helped students create hand-bound books of their stories. Cearnal was glad that they had that to take home. “In high school, my family moved and threw everything away.” All of the old school papers and projects had been tossed.

In 2008, Cearnal’s father died and he moved home to help take care of his mother who had suffered a stroke and would need full-time care. With the economy in rough shape, he felt lucky to find a substituting job at George Watts through the recommendation of his neighbor. He was popular with the teachers and would volunteer after work in the library. Eventually he did get hired and began an intense regimen of training and learning the philosophy of the school. Going to almost daily classes and taking care of his mother was, “extraordinarily challenging,” but ultimately rewarding.  

John Cearnal has taught at George Watts Elementary for 10 years. He’s been running their poetry program for 8 years.  He says he’s learned a lot from other teachers. Throughout our interview, he hasn’t hesitated to name and describe the people who’ve helped him out along the way. When asked if he had any advice for schools that have fewer resources, he offered this: “Once kids are interested, the community will follow. Start with the basics. [Ask kids] ‘would you like to make a pinwheel?… Ask yourself how you can make common core more interesting … Share … Be willing to try something different.” He lists DPACMr.Thrift, and The Scrap Exchange among his favorite local resources. “The Scrap has a wealth of things you can make if you are willing to open your mind and see the possibilities.” 

Cearnal has been opening his own mind to the possibilities of art in education for 30 years. After taking some time off to be alone with his thoughts, he plans to return to volunteer both at George Watts and in the Hillsboro School system, because, he says, “You’ve got to share the wealth.”