About Us

“I think that someone needs to come in and open their eyes a little bit.  You know?  Maybe go and interview families and say, ‘These are people on welfare.  This is what this is about.’  And put the good and the bad in there.  Yes, there are some people that are taking advantage of the system, but it’s not everybody.”

—Andrew, Aid recipient, Alamance County, NC


In order to create a deeper understanding about issues related to poverty both here in Alamance County, North Carolina and around the country, Elon University’s Program for Ethnographic Research and Community Studies (PERCS) has partnered with community agencies to launch a multi-year, collaborative ethnographic research project to examine perceptions and realities surrounding the welfare system.

During our work together, we will be listening carefully to the people who are the recipients and providers of government economic aid.  Our goal is to help ensure that policies and perceptions related to public assistance are based on a more complete understanding of the lived realities of people living near or below the poverty line.

The results of our work will be shared with the public, policy makers, and other researchers, in various venues, including here on this website.

Public Forums & Presentations

  • “Re-envisioning Welfare in Alamance County.” Community-wide discussion of research findings with panelists from that included participants and community partners of the VOW project. January 14, 2016. Part of the Community Connections series.
  • “BHA Community Meeting Presentation.” Discussion of initial research results with Burlington Housing Authority residents and staff. April. 16, 2014. Kristen Bryar, Elon University student.
  • “Voices of Welfare Community Project.” Community Council monthly luncheon. Twin Lakes Community. Elon, NC. March 1, 2014. Tom Mould, Elon University faculty and Nikki Ratliff, Burlington Housing Authority.
  • “Powerful Perceptions: Healthcare and Welfare in Alamance County.” Underserved Populations Symposium. Elon University. December 11, 2013. Tom Mould, Elon University faculty.

 Publications, Exhibits & Documentaries

  • “The Welfare Legend Tradition in On and Offline Contexts.” 2016. Tom Mould. Journal of American Folklore, 129 (514).
  • “Portraits of Hope.” Photo exhibit at Elon University. Co-sponsored by Allied Churches and PERCS. December 14, 2015 – March 11, 2016.
  • “Collaborative-Based Research in a Service-Learning Course: Reconceiving Research as Service.” 2014. Tom Mould. Partnerships: A Journal of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, 5(1):1-21. A journal article describing the creation, challenges and successes of developing an undergraduate service-learning course around a collaborative research project. Available online: https://libjournal.uncg.edu/index.php/prt
  • The Faces of Welfare. Documentary film. 2012. Heather Cassano, Elon Student. A brief documentary film on the origins and initial stages of the project. Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSjR6Rm-d1c&feature=youtu.be

Conference Presentations

  • “The Third Truth: The Generalizability of Contemporary Legends.” International Society for Contemporary Legend Research Annual Conference. San Antonio, TX. May 27-31. Tom Mould.
  • “Welfare Narratives and the Challenges of Contemporary Legend Research.” American Folklore Society Annual Meeting. Providence, Rhode Island. October 16-19. Tom Mould.
  • “Re-imagining service-learning through collaborative research.” The 2013 International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) Conference. Raleigh, NC. October 4, 2013. Tom Mould and Elon student Gloria So.
  • “Collaborative Ethnography: Multidisciplinary Research in the Context of Service Learning.” Civic Engagement Institute. Elon University. February 12. Tom Mould and Elon students Greg Honan, Gloria So and Laura Lee Sturm.

This project is supported by grants and funding from Elon University and The Turnage Fund.

Project Development & Consultation

  • Elon University: Tom Mould, Mark Enfield, PERCS Steering Committee
  • Allied Churches: Kim Crawford
  • Burlington Housing Authority: Nikki Ratliff
  • Department of Social Services: Linda Allison, Latawnya Hall, Susan Osborne, Michelle Poole
  • Housing/Mental Health Advocate: Lynn Inman
  • Open Door Clinic: Tracy Salisbury
  • United Way: Heidi Norwick


  • Elon Faculty: Tom Mould
  • Elon Students: Kristen Bryar, Hannah Hyatt, Jamie Albright, Heather Cassano, Kit Connor, Jessica Elizondo, Greg Honan, Hannah Hyatt, Caroline Miller, Alex Sherry, Chessa Simpson, Gloria So, Laura Lee Sturm, Ben Waldon, Sophie Rupp


  • Elon Faculty: Tom Mould
  • Elon Students: Kristen Bryar, Sophie Rupp, Sara Blough, Emily Thomas

Top Truths

  • Elon Faculty: Tom Mould
  • Elon Students: Chelsea McQueen
  • Community Contributors: Latawnya Hall, Linda Allison


  • Elon Faculty & Staff: David Morton, Tom Mould