Audio Feature | KCUR

Audio Feature

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / Side Effects Public Media

It’s the middle of summer but Harrisburg Middle School is a hive of activity. Between summer school classes and renovations, it’s a little chaotic for counselor Brett Rawlings, who just wrapped up his first year at the school.

Harrisburg is a town of fewer than 300 people, midway between St. Louis and Kansas City. But the school also serves the surrounding area, which is primarily farmland. As the K-8 counselor, Rawlings is responsible for some 400 students, and he deals with a range of issues.

Meg Williams / San Francisco 49ers

In the best of times for the Kansas City Chiefs and through the worst, the organization has heard women’s voices loud and clear. Since the 1990s, the team has been conscientious about listening to the players’ wives and girlfriends when it comes to family concerns.

“It was amazing … to hear them and their side of it,” said Lamonte Winston, the team’s former executive director of player development until 2009. He first joined the Chiefs as a scout in 1993.

Powerful women have risen from Kansas City’s hard-driving blues scene in recent years. The latest to make her mark is Heather Newman, whose first record earned national attention three years ago and whose new release is even stronger.

After moving to Kansas City from Omaha five years ago, Newman has joined the ranks of Samantha Fish, Danielle Nicole Schnebelen, Katy Guillen and Amanda Fish, who have all earned a global base of fans.

Rylie Koester / KCUR 89.3

Learning to play an instrument as an adult can be difficult, especially when many beginner level classes are geared toward kids. 

However, a Kansas City class allows adults to learn how to play the violin with an added component made clear in its name.

Drunken Fiddles is a no-pressure and relaxed environment, says Laurel Parks, who started the class in 2015. Besides string instruments, it’s about socializing, making friends and drinking a little wine, too. 

Dan Loarie / Creative Commons

This year’s catastrophic flooding has created hard times for many people in Midwest, but it’s created a nirvana for mosquitoes.

Kansas City and the surrounding region could potentially become a hotbed for mosquito-borne viruses like West Nile virus in the coming years due to increasing temperatures and more frequent flooding, which are predicted by climate experts.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

People who live around Kessler Park, just a few blocks from the Kansas City Museum in the Historic Northeast neighborhood, say it's the city's biggest front porch for listening to music in Kansas City.

“We have a lovely view of this day after day," said David Joslyn, who has lived in the neighborhood with his wife Elaine for more than 30 years. "The beautiful Concourse, the Esplanade, the wonderful playground and the fountain. We’re very blessed.”

Ricardo Bufolin

Three women gymnasts from the Kansas City area — Leanne Wong, Kara Eaker and Aleah Finnegan — have a shot at making the United States' Olympic team when the USA Gymnastics national championships get underway at the Sprint Center on Thursday.

None of the three is scheduled to graduate from high school until 2021.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Missouri workers providing care for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities make less than a Walmart or Target worker, even after a pay increase that went into effect last month. 

The low pay is the main reason about half of Missouri workers quit each year, according to Missouri Developmental Disabilities Division Director Val Huhn.

Rylie Koester / KCUR 89.3

The Douglas County Fair last week featured many typical animal-showing competitions: cows, goats, pigs —plus llamas. 

The Douglas County 4-H Llama project consists of five classes where exhibitors lead their llamas around a show pen as a judge assesses the exhibitor’s relationship with their llama and the training they’ve done together. The classes include showmanship, obstacle, pack and public relations. 

The Douglas County Llama project also includes a class that’s unusual — a costume competition. 

Library of Congress

Though Langston Hughes began his writing career nearly a century ago, Anthony Bolden says Hughes continues to speak to the current social and political climate — better than most contemporary writers do.

"In many ways, the current group of writers, that is to say creative writers and scholars, have yet to offer meaningful critiques or explanations for why we’re experiencing some of the things that are happening, or to demonstrate a clear understanding of the critical problems that we face," Bolden says.

Alex Smith/BB&T Atlanta Open

Jack Sock is back on his singles game, looking to rekindle a career that peaked in 2017 with a No. 8 world ranking, then sliding to 9-22 in 2018. 

Atkins-Ingram family

One year ago a 19-year-old football player from New Jersey arrived in western Kansas to start his dream of playing in the pros. But after just one practice Braeden Bradforth was dead of exertional heatstroke, leaving his family devastated and Garden City Community College (GCCC) to explain how it happened.

“It's like nobody wasn't looking out for him,” said Joanne Atkins-Ingram, Bradforth's mother.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3

Angela Boykin watched her cousin die from cancer in 2016. Loretta — or Lo, as everyone called her — suffered through significant pain. So when Missouri voters passed the medical marijuana law in November, she wanted in on opening a dispensary in Kansas City. 

Missouri starts officially accepting applications for medical marijuana businesses Saturday, and it’s a potentially lucrative business: A cannabis data research company estimates that by 2025, Missouri could see $111 million in medical marijuana sales yearly. 

But Boykin and other applicants are black, and even though Missouri by law can’t factor in race or gender when awarding licenses, the national trend is that pot business owners and founders are overwhelmingly white. 

Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Dena Duffin, 53, pulls her teenage son close as she looks into the trailer stuffed with tables, tubs of housewares and whatever else they were able to salvage when the tornado ripped their home off its foundation the night of May 28.

“I gave that to my dad,” she says, pointing to a dented copper tub. “And there’s a stepstool and shelf my dad made for us. You can’t replace those kinds of things.”

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

Maddie Waldeck’s family has been entwined with the city of Kansas City, Kansas, for six decades. 

Her grandfather was an assistant fire chief and her dad spent 35 years at the Board of Public Utilities. Both of her brothers work for the city and her sister-in-law is a deputy police chief. 

So when Waldeck got a job at the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, in 2013, she was over the moon.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Inside the Rabbit Hole, a national museum celebrating children's literature set to open in North Kansas City in March 2020, visitors will encounter something unexpected. 

Past the two-story front door, limestone steps will lead down into the burrow of a magical creature named Fox Rabbit. 

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City has long been a prime example of state tax incentives gone awry — the question now is if Kansas and Missouri can change the dynamic with a new agreement.

“Corporate welfare. It's a race to the bottom. It's wasteful spending. All of those really are true," says Angela Andreson Smart, vice president of the Hall Family Foundation in Kansas City.

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

Between the time they’re born and age 3, babies’ brains are literally mapping, making the connections they’ll need to learn later on.

In fact, 80 percent of a child’s brain develops in the first three years.

There’s millions of dollars to be made from growing hemp, which for years was lumped in and vilified with its sister plant, marijuana. With the government loosening laws around growing hemp for the first time in more than 80 years, some states are charging ahead and letting farmers plant it — even before federal regulations are in place. 

Those states aren’t just getting a head start, though. They’re seeing significant challenges that hemp farmers will face for years to come, things like seed fraud, weather and a lack of machinery.

Drone photo by Don Ipock / The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

If there was a soundtrack for the sculptures on the lawn at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, what would it be like?

Christina Butera thought about that a lot while writing her dissertation in composition at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance.

Laura Robeson quit her job as a fourth-grade teacher to care for her son, who has cerebral palsy and other health problems. But as politicians considered cuts to various health care programs, she felt compelled to become an activist, working with others to speak out for families like hers.

That culminated at the State of the Union Address in February. Kansas Congresswoman Sharice Davids chose Robeson to attend as her guest, providing a real-world example of the role federal healthcare policies play in a citizen's life.

Kyle Palmer / KCUR

Every Wednesday night, 20 or so pinball enthusiasts gather at The 403 Club in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas, to play a weekly tournament. 

Nearly a dozen pinball machines line one wall with themes like Deadpool, Metallica and The Twilight Zone. The place buzzes and blinks with energy as players clatter away on the machines' buttons, frantically trying to keep their games alive.

Amid this jangling hubbub, Keri Wing stands out. She's the one the other players call "champ."

Every summer, thousands of Midwestern kids as young as 13 load onto school buses early in the morning to do one of the hottest, dirtiest temporary jobs out there. They are the corn detasselers.

But this year, there’s a snag: Detasseling season is being pushed back due to a wet spring.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Anyone who has been to Kansas City's Country Club Plaza has likely seen the work of Arthur Kraft, who sculpted the trio of bronze penguins near the corner of Pennsylvania and Jefferson streets. Even though his name has largely been lost to history, his work is still all over town.

Some Kansas Citians who do remember Kraft's significance argue that he should be as well known as the famous hometown painter Thomas Hart Benton.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

Across Missouri, hundreds of people have applied to grow, manufacture and sell medical marijuana. On Thursday, the Kansas City Council decided how far the businesses can be from schools, churches and day cares.

Under the constitutional amendment Missouri voters approved in November, the buffer zone for cannabis cultivation farms, testing sites and dispensaries can be no greater than 1,000 feet.

“When you close down such a large part of the city with the distances, you have almost no landlords left to lease to. And the ones that want to, want to charge $30- to $40,000 nonrefundable,” said Bianca Sullivan, an attorney looking to get into the medical cannabis business.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

When Porter Hall of Raymore, Missouri, was a year old, he broke out in hives after eating a spoonful of peanut butter. It led to a scary night in the emergency room and a diagnosis of peanut allergy.

But today, Porter, who’s now five, is giving peanuts another shot with the help of Kansas City doctors, who have been giving him tiny doses of peanuts over the course of months.

This oral immunotherapy treatment isn’t a cure, but doctors say these tiny exposures may help to reduce or prevent severe reactions – although some critics are warning families to consider the risks. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Crews are hard at work at Kansas City International Airport tearing down Terminal A and recycling its components to make way for a new, greener single terminal.

There have been no explosions, no big building collapse — and for good reason, says deputy director Justin Meyer.

Midwestern fish farmers grow a variety of species, such as tilapia, salmon, barramundi and shrimp, all of which require a high-protein diet. The region grows copious amounts of soybeans, which have a lot of protein, but these two facts have yet to converge.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

For many in the transgender community, use of their birth name to refer to them after they have transitioned is a no-no, a sign of disrespect.

But Merrique Jenson, a transgender woman working in the LGBTQ community, knows she is in a unique situation. She started her transition in October, but she is best known, both in Kansas City and nationally, as Randall Jenson.

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

All kids get stomachaches from time to time, but 14-year-old Joey Sigrist’s pain was different.

When it would hit, he’d spend hours locked in the bathroom, clutching his stomach in agony.

“When you’re in that much pain, you just kind of take in the surroundings. I could hear a clock in a whole different room clicking away on the very back wall, and I could hear the shuffling of feet upstairs,” Joey said.

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