The dreams of the homecoming queen

This was posted on exodusmagazine.com on November 26, 2013*

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Homecoming Queen Rachel Gregory with young girl.

After four years at Samford University, Rachel Gregory will graduate with more than just memories – she’ll graduate with a crown.

Crowned homecoming queen for the 2013 to 2014 school year, Gregory was excited and honored, adding the event to her list of favorite Samford memories.

Other moments that made the list include playing on several intramural teams, participating in Step Sing, joining Alpha Delta Pi and leading a small group.

“I lead an incredible group of freshman girls who encourage me and challenge me daily in my walk with Christ,” Gregory said.

Extremely involved on campus, Gregory has not only led a small group but has been the chaplain for her sorority, served as a Rho Gamma and a Connections Leader and was involved with the Student Government Association.  As a freshman, Gregory competed in the SoCon Track and Field Indoor Championship and jumped her personal best in the pole vault.

Although she has accomplished many things in her time at Samford, Gregory has several dreams for the future.

“I dream of being used in supernatural ways to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to this earth,” Gregory said. “Most of my dreams kind of scare me, but maybe that’s because I cannot attain them on my own. I have to trust that God will provide me with opportunities and that He will equip me emotionally, spiritually, and physically to accomplish the dreams He has placed in my heart.”

She has more serious dreams like living overseas or going to seminary for a degree in Christian Education, but she also has dreams of entering a swing dancing competition and working as Belle at Disney World.

As an elementary education major, one of her biggest dreams is to teach in an international school. After graduation she will be certified to teach children in grades PreK – 6 and special education. She hopes to use her teaching degree as a means of ministry and aspires to be like Mrs. Robbins, her fourth grade teacher.

“She loved me so well and inspired me to want to be a teacher just like her. Since fourth grade, I have always had my heart set on being a teacher just like Mrs. Robbins,” Gregory said.

Already making an impact not only on Samford’s campus but in the lives of children, one of Gregory’s most recent favorite Samford memories happened during Homecoming weekend.

“After being crowned Homecoming Queen,” Gregory said, “a little girl asked, ‘Are you a real princess?’ I told her yes and asked if she was a princess, too.” When the little girl responded “Yes,” Gregory asked if she would like to try on the crown. “I gingerly placed it on her head,” she said. “She then ran over to her dad shouting, “Daddy! Daddy! I just met Miss Alabama!”

With a long list of Samford memories and accomplishments, Gregory has enjoyed her years at Samford. She said that her achievements have been by the grace of God and trusts Him to lead her toward her dreams. The recent addition of a crown is just a bonus among many wonderful college memories.

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Kara Young: a singer who doesn’t want to be famous

This was posted on exodusmagazine.com on November 14, 2013*

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Kara Young poses for her new CD cover.

She has been singing for years and recently debuted her new CD, yet Kara Young has no desire to become famous.

Growing up in a family that sings together as a hobby, Young has always considered music to be part of her life. “I always tell people I started singing in the womb, but I really don’t remember the exact time I started singing,” Young said.

She began taking guitar lessons in eighth grade and was soon asked to lead worship for an event in her hometown of Tupelo, Miss. “I definitely loved the Lord and I loved music, so it made sense, but I didn’t really know what I was doing at first,” Young said.

However, that changed the summer before her tenth grade year of high school when she was asked to lead worship regularly for her church youth group. “I felt very inadequate,” she said. Recognizing that it was much more than simply singing, she thought other people had more talents than she did and would be better equipped.

“Knowing how to follow the Spirit and lead a congregation is so much more than performing a concert,” Young said. Even with all of these doubts, she felt called to lead and told her youth pastor, “I don’t want to, but I will.” Since then, multiple doors have opened and Young has been given the opportunity to sing for thousands of people.

During her senior year of high school she debuted an EP called “Take A Stand” with five original songs and one hymn. In the fall of 2013 she released her first full-length album titled “Familiarity”, which she describes as chapter two of her story. The songs on her new album follow her journey as she leaves home, begins life as a student at Samford University, struggles with picking a major and each new season that comes along the way.

Although she now has two CDs out and leads worship regularly, her goal has remained the same through the entire process.

“Ultimately, my goal is not to be a famous Christian singer,” Young said. “My goal is not to be well-known.” Instead, her “main goal is to open my heart and use the light of Jesus and allow myself to be a vessel for Him to reach others and lead others to a state of worship through the gifts He has given me.”

As she continues to take opportunities to sing, her mind-set remains that her talent is a gift. “It’s not about performing and it’s not about the songs and the vocals. He gave me a heart and a passion for leading the Body of Christ in a state of worship through the gift of music.”

Young currently works at a church in Birmingham by leading retreats and worship services on the weekend. She founded Let It Shine Ministries and continues to write and sing music while working through her ministry.

Kara Young’s music is available on iTunes and CDBaby. To keep up with her, visit her Facebook page.

Photography by Elizabeth Bacon

Tip top grill: good food, great views

This was posted on exodusmagazine.com on October 22, 2013*

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Fall is officially upon us. As temperatures drop, scarves make their reappearance, and leaves begin to change, satisfy your craving for a great meal with a view at the Tip Top Grill.

Located in Bluff Park just six miles from Samford University, this old gas-station-turned-restaurant has been attracting locals for years. And it’s easy to see why – the food is very reasonably priced, with hot dogs at just $1.65 and cheeseburgers only $2.25.

But we all know that a good restaurant is not just about the food – it’s about the atmosphere. While the inside of Tip Top Grill is eccentric, as it is decorated in a retro style, it’s really the outside view that keeps locals coming back.

TipTopGrill3The restaurant sits on the edge of a mountain, overlooking a golf course, tons of trees and of course, the city skyline of Birmingham.

Caban Irbine, a new employee at Tip Top, can’t recall a time when he didn’t come to the restaurant on a regular basis. “I’ve been here as long as I can remember,” Irbine said.

Another new employee, Joey Digiorgio, commented that there are many regulars that come in every day for a cup of coffee – which is only $0.95. The same people have been coming in for years.

“It’s a Tip Top thing,” Digiorgio said.

Whether stopping for a hearty meal or a light snack, you’ll surely find something for the right price at Tip Top Grill. While the locals recommend either the hotdogs or the cheeseburgers, Tip Top serves a legendary breakfast as well.

With such competitive prices accompanied by amazing views, you can’t go wrong with a taste from Tip Top!

A coffee shop famous for its cookies

This was posted on exodusmagazine.com on October 8, 2013*

Known for their famous “break-up” cookies, Church Street Coffee & Books is quickly becoming a popular coffee shop in Crestline Village. With a loft upstairs, a patio outside, ample seating inside and a host of desserts and drinks, it’s hard to find a time of day when regular customers aren’t visiting with the staff. At Church Street, there’s no such thing as “just a customer.” Instead, everyone is treated like family.

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Cal Morris, a Samford University graduate and co-owner of Church Street, said, “We attract a lot of different people [with] different age groups and backgrounds.” During the short interview, he stopped several times to say hello to regular customers, calling them each by name.

Morris and his wife, Heather, along with their close friend, Carrie Rollwagen, opened Church Street a little more than two years ago. Previously, the establishment had been a Starbucks. Morris worked there for eight years and when they closed, he and Rollwagen decided it was the perfect time to go after their dream of having a coffee shop that not only sold great desserts and drinks but also maintained a passion for books.

Morris said that he and his partner have no plans of opening new shops elsewhere. “Honestly, I think we are living our dream. Our dream is here,” Morris said. “I want to become the O’Henry’s of this area.”

Looking ahead for fall, new products including a gluten-free granola and trailmix called Mango Monkey Mix will make an appearance. The shop’s pumpkin bread is delicious, but you can’t go wrong with the famous chocolate chip break-up cookies either. Their catchy name comes from an actual break-up story.

Before Heather Morris switched the recipe a little bit, a friend who was a baker had made and delivered the cookies to her boyfriend before breaking up with him. Although the cookie probably holds bad memories for him, it’s clear that the break-up cookie story has a silver lining, as it’s Church Street’s most popular item.

From cookies to book clubs, Church Street Coffee & Books has built up quite a loyal following. The dream to remain small and be a welcoming place for the community is one Morris is living out. “We believe in community and art,” Morris said.

Whether you go to study, grab a cookie, or join one of Church Street’s book clubs, you’ll be sure to find both a welcoming atmosphere and friendly faces at this local hang-out.