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Splash Page | Comic Phenomenon | Notables


You never know where you might run into a TCU alum -- although Bolivia probably wouldn't be your first guess. But for Lucy VanBelois '80 and Alesia Wiggs '87, Bolivia is a country where miracles happen. It didn't surprise them to find a fellow Frog there at all.

For two weeks in April, 2005, Wiggs and VanBelois were part of a team of surgical volunteers with Operation Smile. Although the medical mission has been thrust into the spotlight recently thanks to singer Jessica Simpson, Operation Smile has provided free reconstructive surgery to 98,000 children and young adults since 1982. The two-week missions take place in 30 countries 25 times per year, sending Western medical teams to treat children and young adults suffering from facial deformities.
The Bolivia mission was Wiggs' second stint; it was VanBelois' 26th trip in the past nine years. Unknown to each other, the two Frog nurses were on the same ward--and both wearing purple scrubs--when they discovered that they had both attended TCU.

VanBelois currently serves as chairman of the council that sets nursing policies for the organization. During the April 2005 mission, she was clinical coordinator, responsible for all clinical areas: screening and scheduling the patients for surgery as well as ensuring that the operating room, recovery, pre and post op were set up and ready to go. On top of that, she also oriented another nurse to the position.

During Wiggs and VanBelois' stay, 147 children, whose problems ranged from cleft palates and cleft lips to tumors and burns, underwent life-changing surgery. Recently returned from a June operation in Russia, VanBelois says that each mission is hugely rewarding. But the Bolivia trip with Wiggs will stand out for her "as a wonderful experience of sharing the nursing skills we both learned at TCU." -- NA

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Business goals for Charlsye Lewis '04 and Marcus Brunt '98, '00 (MLA) have gone to the dogs -- and they couldn't be happier about it. The couple opened Metro Animals, a doggie day care, in Fort Worth at the beginning of the year and the tails won't stop wagging.

"When we adopted our dog, we found that we needed a place for him to go during the day. So I began looking into day cares in the area," said Lewis, who had operated a part-time pet-sitting business for six years. "When I found only a few options in Fort Worth, I decided to solve the problem by opening an upscale day care of my own. I researched the possibility, ran the numbers and scoped out locations. Marcus thought it was a great idea from the very beginning."

Apparently other animal lovers agree. Metro Animals ( landed two long-term dog customers its first week "and it just keeps growing steadily as the word gets out," Lewis said.

Located near downtown and the medical district, Metro Animals is open 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. It offers air-conditioned indoor space, an outdoor yard and plenty of play, exercise and socialization for its doggie clients. A full day of care is $25, while services like nail trims, baths, ear cleaning, teeth brushing and vitamins are available for additional fees. They even offer discounts for multiple-dog families.

"A few of the dogs' favorites are a big blue couch, the wall-mounted TV playing "Animal Planet" and dog movies, the shady yard and, of course, our never-ending supply of tennis balls," Lewis said.

And the best part for Lewis and Brunt is knowing the dogs are getting good exercise and staying healthy. "That is important to us. Also, seeing shy dogs come out of their shell when given the opportunity to romp around and make friends," noted Lewis, who is working on the venture full time, while Brunt also owns a software consulting company and telecommutes from Metro Animals.

Looking ahead, Lewis and Brunt are exploring the possibilities of a second, larger location and even franchising. (Lewis also plans to begin work on her MLA in the fall.)

Lewis and Brunt's own "children" include Wynton, a Weimaraner/German shorthaired pointer mix; Ella, a Catahoula Leopard dog; Zorro, a Siamese who likes both dogs; Odie, a 16 year-old blue-front Amazon parrot; and Boogie, the bullfrog who lives under the porch.

"Since Marcus plays jazz trombone, we named the dogs after his favorite artists -- Wynton Marsalis and Ella Fitzgerald," Lewis said. -- RSM

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When Susan Sawyer Sitton's '86 triplets began bringing home chapter books in first grade, it wasn't unusual for them to enjoy a popular title so much that they would want mom to read it too. But her response was often quite different. "I hated them. They were crude, stupid or worse, evil," recalled Sitton, who lives in the Austin area with husband Brent and their triplets and toddler.

Determined to help her kids make better reading choices, Sitton previewed titles, bought books that reviewed children's books and volunteered at the school library for three years -- where she discovered that other kids and parents were also having trouble finding stories that supported their families' values.

One night she told her husband about her concerns. In January 2005, the couple began working on, a site that reviews children's books and movies. The site went live that June, and the company began marketing efforts this year. "We average over 100 unique visitors per day and have already received a page ranking by Google of five," she said.

Reviewing the good, the bad and the ugly -- because "some of the trashy books are very popular and parents need to find information about those books too" -- Sitton and her team of reviewers provide evaluations of children's books and movies. Each title is given a "Character Score" -- ranging from 0 to 100 -- based on how strongly it reflects 10 positive character traits. Titles lose points for negative behavior influences like violence, profanity, nudity, sexual content, and the promotion of drugs, alcohol or tobacco.

While initially focused on preschoolers and elementary age children, going forward pre-teen and teen titles will make up the majority of reviews because it's the area "that is the worst," Sitton said. -- RM

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When your child is ill and all you can do is wait and worry, you need a space that treats you kindly, lifts your spirit, and offers some welcome distraction. That's exactly what Tracy Null Pipes '03 had in mind when she re-designed the game room at Houston's Ronald McDonald House. A member of Young Friends, an organization that supports the RM House with funds and volunteers, Tracy recently put her design skills to work for free.

The Young Friends had raised $50,000 to revamp the game room, and Pipes was chosen as both designer and contractor for the job. She produced illustration boards for two designs and was thrilled when the Young Friends board chose her favorite, which includes a custom-designed mural by Jon Flaming. Pipes used "cheerful bright colors" that would appeal to all ages throughout the room, and designed the Italian-inspired sofa herself.

"The RMH is a great cause, and it makes me so happy to see that the room is being used by teens and adults. They love the uplifting vibe from the room now," she added. Diversions like air hockey, a juke box, arcade games, a pool table and cable TV "help take their minds off more serious matters." -- NA

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Tim Shane '95 and Christie Beckham Shane '99 have a more dramatic marriage than most. You'd expect that of a couple of actors who also direct, though, wouldn't you? At least they keep it all in the family: the Shanes own and operate the Dallas Hub Theater in Deep Ellum. It's an exciting life. Especially when The Fringe -- alternative theater -- is on. Fringe at the Dallas Hub means "riskier shows than those in mainstream theaters," says Tim, exhausted by staging 13 eclectic shows in four weeks.

But The Hub is only part of the story. Tim founded Shane-Arts in 1993 while still a student at TCU. "I wanted to experiment. I was excited by the idea of nomadic theater," he says. The tag line for the venture is "A Theater Coming Near You." So if you'd like a troupe of trained actors to bring a play to your door, you got it. Have a yen for murder? Shane's Comedy Killers will do you at the venue of your choice. Need to send a singing telegram, or find an act for your festival? You guessed it: Shane-Arts is there with bells on, whatever theatrical itch needs scratching.

The Shanes think of it as hiring your own personal Pay Per View with live actors. See more at: For upcoming shows at The Hub, call 214.749.7010, or click -- NA


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