4 months ago

Alabama children’s homes coping with school closures

While schools across the nation have sent students home for the rest of the school year, it’s a more difficult equation in homes that are essentially part of a campus.

Many facilities nationwide care for children who have lost parents or have troubled family situations, providing youths a stable home environment headed by foster parents in houses grouped together on large properties. In Alabama, churches often have led these efforts, in some cases for more than a century.

Hundreds of students who live on Alabama children’s home campuses came home last month to find themselves not only isolated from schoolmates but quarantined from the family-like neighbors they’ve been growing up with in places similar to a college dorm quad.

“We can’t simply ‘send people home,’” said Doug Marshall, president and CEO of the Presbyterian Home for Children in Talladega. “This is their home and one we’ve worked to make secure. This is a balancing act between being realistic about the threats and reassuring the children and families in our care that they are safe.”

Presbyterian Home for Children (PHC) was ready for the coronavirus, implementing its existing pandemic and influenza plan at the outset of the outbreak in America. A month ago, the more than 20 staff members began extensive training specifically to deal with COVID-19, Marshall said, setting aside one large apartment to quarantine any family at the children’s home that was diagnosed with the disease.

PHC has 32 youths in homes on the 20-building campus but can take in up to 13 new residents after a 14-day isolation period. In partnership with the state, the PHC Family Bridges program aids 10 families, totaling another 42 children and parents in seven counties.

The Talladega home differs from many children’s facilities in that it has an off-campus private school, the Ascension Leadership Academy for K-12 students. Daily classes continue from 9 a.m. to noon online between teachers and students who are all separately sheltering in place.

Marshall said PHC children have always received three daily meals and two snacks, so there has been no new need for food purchases. The pandemic, however, has brought an unexpected purchasing financial burden not seen since the home opened in 1868: He said they have never needed mass sanitary supplies in the amounts now required.

“We will continue to do the work that God has called us to do,” Marshall said. “That work is to provide a path of hope and a place of healing to at-risk teenagers, young female adults and homeless children along with their families who have come to us for help.”

A decade ago, the United Methodist Children’s Home in Selma closed its doors as its parent organization moved to supporting foster and group homes, as well as at-risk families, through in-home counseling. It is a transition being undertaken by many traditional children’s home organizations nationwide.

Today the 130-year-old United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH) headquartered in Montgomery has 90 employees serving five group homes in Alabama, caring for six to 10 youths at each. UMCH supports 40 foster families, provides transitional living apartments and serves 20-30 women and children at Mary Ellen’s Hearth in the Capital City.

“Our group homes and foster homes are managing shelter in place like many families,” said Kristin Alberda, senior VP of programs. “We are focusing on health and safety first.”

Alberda said children’s daily schedules have been revamped to accommodate home education, mental health, fun in the sun, art, music, dance and daily household chores. She said they are learning to cope with social distancing and home quarantines.

“Our kids are not able to see their siblings or parents during this time,” she said. “This is especially hard for our younger kids who are not able to understand shelter in place. We have purchased additional play equipment for the youths for extra downtime in our homes.”

UMCH homes are facing higher food bills and, among other pandemic expenses, the cost of “ordering gallons of hand sanitizer” and other cleaning and safety goods. Staff are wearing personal protective equipment to venture into the community. After a potential coronavirus exposure, two sites underwent medical-grade cleaning.

“Just as many homes are experiencing new and unexpected expenses due to kids being home from school, we are making adjustments,” Alberda said. “Thankfully, all of our kids have healthy snacks and meals each day.”

Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries (ABCHFM) has 37 children in eight homes across the state, with another 202 in its network of foster homes. Seven college students who grew up in the homes remain under ABCHFM guidance and aid. Thirteen formerly homeless mothers and their children live in three family care homes.

“Our houses are in lockdown mode,” said Rod Marshall, president and CEO of the Baptist homes headquartered in Birmingham. “Our house parents are experienced in handling communicable diseases like flu, strep throat and chicken pox, so this is not a new experience for them.”

The children in ABCHFM’s traditional family-style cottages live with a married couple who are full-time house parents. Counselors, social workers, and support and administrative staff are working remotely during the coronavirus crisis. The early school shutdowns, multiplied by church closings when normal Sunday contributors are not being passed an offering plate, could create a brief financial challenge, Marshall said.

“We feed the kids all of their meals during the summer, so it is like our summer season is lengthened this year,” he said. “Our house parents are very skilled at managing their food budget and keeping the children well-fed and well-cared-for. … Several churches are stepping up to provide extra care for the children in our homes.”

No staff members or children under the care of any of the homes contacted by Alabama NewsCenter have contracted coronavirus. Each of the facilities has undertaken all of the steps recommended by state and federal health organizations to combat COVID-19. All of the administrators are anticipating exiting the crisis without harm to their children, staff or mission.

“I do not know of a time in our history where we have had as many employees working from home,” Marshall said. “Our employees are doing an excellent job of continuing to provide excellent care for the many children we are serving and are admitting new children into care, though at a slower pace.”

As Easter approaches, children’s homes are preparing for separate celebrations outside their familiar church sanctuaries, without traditional large-scale egg hunts and public parades decked out in holiday attire. The disruption in plans this week has been surmounted for some by a surreptitious visit from the Easter Bunny in the guise of UMCH employees.

“Foster care staff have been ‘egging’ locations and foster homes with Easter eggs filled with candy, and then letting the staff and families know they have eggs to find,” said Alberda, noting that all the colorful eggs were disinfected prior to delivery. “The kids are delighted to have eggs to find and the families don’t have to do anything but supervise the hunt.”

Felcia Storey, PHC vice president of program operations and services, said it seems like just yesterday their students were excitedly planning for spring break, school open house, graduation and summer vacation. Today, students are uncertain about what will come next, but Storey is certain of what the children’s home staff can provide.

“People need a sense of belonging and love,” she said. “We are working against allowing this crisis to be one which fosters loneliness, social anxiety and clinical depression.”

That sentiment is echoed by UMCH CEO and President K. Blake Horne, who sees the pandemic as necessary practice for the future.

“Our biggest concern is the safety and welfare of our families, children and employees,” he said. “We are a ministry that never closes its doors. We care for children 24/7, 365 days a year. We’ve gone through a lot of ‘what-if’ scenarios regarding an outbreak of COVID-19 among our children and/or staff. We gather no great pleasure from doing so, but planning for such circumstances will be a significant part of our risk management exercises from this point on.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

15 hours ago

VIDEO: Alabama coronavirus numbers drop, 200,000 students will be tested before class starts, Tuberville and Trump have huge leads and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Are the masks working?

— How will the state react to the numbers after 200,000 college students are tested before school starts back?

— Are President Donald Trump and GOP U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville sitting on insurmountable leads in Alabama?

Jackson and Handback are joined by Alabama Arise’s Jane Adams to discuss Medicaid expansion and progressive politics in Alabama.

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Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” directed at all the education officials who want to cancel classes without thinking about the long-term ramifications of that decision and how people will respond politically to this in the future.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

16 hours ago

UAB employee Tara Bowman: Empowered by loss, committed to cancer education

Tara Bowman knows the statistics by heart. She can also recite health manuals nearly from memory when it comes to cancer awareness, health disparities and the need for early screening and treatment.

Bowman’s own family history is a painful lesson in the urgency of cancer screenings and health awareness, which she generously shares.

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“I do it both from the book and, personally, from the heart,” said Bowman, program manager in the Office of Community Outreach & Engagement at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB. “When you are real with people, they listen to you better.”

Bowman knows the devastating effects of cancer at its deepest levels after the deaths of her own father, stepfather, stepmother, aunt and uncle, all from 2015 through 2017. Bowman recalls that she later flipped through her calendar and was shaken by all the notations made for funerals within such a short time.

Bowman is not defined by her loss. Instead, she has become empowered by it in her daily mission to provide essential information about cancer to help save lives.

“At first, it made me numb,” Bowman said. “At the same time, it gave me an internal drive for the job that I was doing. When I started telling people about my stories, they wanted to know, in detail, what happened. They wanted to know more about it, and that has led to them wanting to get screened.”

Bowman’s official job title understates her multiple roles in the office where she works with individuals in the community to remove barriers related to cancer screenings. She is responsible for developing and implementing several cancer outreach and research programs that focus on increasing cancer screening rates and healthy lifestyle efforts.

Bowman is especially passionate about creating awareness for lung cancer, the illness that claimed the life of her father, Joseph Henry Bowman III, who died in 2016.

Her father’s death came just six weeks after her stepfather died from bone cancer following previous bouts with prostate cancer and throat cancer.

On June 16, Bowman took part in the 2020 Virtual Lung Cancer Voices Advocacy Summit, where she helped deliver messages to members of Congress about the importance of federal funding for lung cancer research.

“Our voices were powerful, and without a doubt, our personal stories helped their offices understand what it’s like to live with or care for someone with lung cancer,” Bowman said. “My drive now is to get as many people screened for all of these cancers because early detection saves lives.”

At the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, Bowman manages six coordinators who oversee more than 178 Community Health Advisors. She also coordinates 44 CHAs on her own in Jefferson County.

Claudia Hardy, program director of the Office of Community Outreach & Engagement, called it remarkable that Bowman could channel her own loss into an even greater determination to promote cancer awareness.

“Tara is a good health educator because she knows the information and how to deliver it to audiences of all sizes and varieties,” Hardy said. “What makes her an exceptional educator is her ability to connect one-on-one with individuals and explain on a deeply personal level why cancer awareness and cancer screenings are so essential.”

Bowman doesn’t mind sharing her stories of family loss and said she hopes that they motivate others to take action for themselves and their own families.

“When we had a breast and cervical project, I did pretty well to share the message and say, ‘Hey, my stepmom ignored the signs. Take advantage of the opportunity,’” Bowman said. “I think I got a lot of people to sign up for testing because I shared my story. It was my calling to come to the O’Neal Cancer Center.”

While Bowman is known to dispense her own style of awareness and education, she said her energy comes from everyone around her and their shared vision of reducing cancer deaths and cancer disparities.

“They trickle down energy, and I feed off positive energy,” she said. “Any time they ask me to do something, I know it’s a good project. I don’t realize how much work I’m doing because there’s so much energy surrounding it.”

Bowman said she never anticipated changing her path to focus on cancer awareness and community outreach. She was originally trained as a social worker and spent years working with children and families, but she said she’s found her niche at the O’Neal Cancer Center, where her skills are being used and expanded to include health advocacy.

“In this field, it’s like you are doing some social work because you refer them to resources, and it’s a personal conversation. It’s about relationships,” Bowman explained. “It’s something that has to come from the heart. If you don’t have a natural heart for this, you can’t teach it.”

Bowman remains excited about her work to spread the message of healthier living, whether she’s doing so in person or virtually, and to ensure that the people of Alabama have access to life-saving health care and educational information.

“There’s so much to be done. I don’t have time to get tired now,” Bowman said. “My dad always said that he would rest when he dies, and that’s literally what he did. He would be proud of me.”

To learn more about services offered by the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Office of Community Outreach & Engagement, contact Claudia Hardy, director of Community Outreach, at chardy@uab.edu or 205-975-0003.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Power Foundation 2018 annual report wins Silver ADDY award

The Alabama Power Foundation’s 2018 annual report was recently honored with a Silver ADDY for print at the American Advertising Awards, one of the world’s largest creative competitions. Titled “Stories from the Field,” the report features the work of nonprofit agencies throughout Alabama and the stories behind them.

“It is an honor to have our annual report recognized with one of the creative industry’s most prestigious awards,” said Myla Calhoun, president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “This award represents the important work of our nonprofit partners and their unwavering commitment to improving the quality of life for all Alabamians. It is a privilege to tell their stories and illustrate them through stunning photography and design.”

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As the second installment of the “Stories from the Field” series, the 2018 report includes eight booklets – seven stories about nonprofits and one summarizing the work of the Alabama Power Foundation. Featured in the report are The Literacy Council of Central AlabamaThe Nature Conservancy, the city of OzarkStorybook FarmTuscaloosa’s Police Athletic League and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Also highlighted in the report are the volunteers of the Alabama Power Service Organization and Alabama Power Energizers, two organizations of current and retired Alabama Power employees dedicated to serving communities through volunteerism.

Cayenne Creative managed the design and production of the report and, in addition to the Silver ADDY at the national level, received five ADDYs at the local and district levels for its work on the report. At the local level, the report won a Silver ADDY in the Printed Annual Report category, a Gold in the Corporate Social Responsibility Annual Report category and a Gold for Best in Show. The report received two Gold ADDYs in the printed annual report category for District 7, allowing it to advance to the national level.

Another Birmingham-based agency also received honors at the national awards ceremony. Big Communications earned a Silver ADDY for Illustration for its work on the 2019 Sidewalk Film Festival’s sponsor trailer. The trailer was the opening credits before the films to highlight the festival’s sponsors.

Drawing nearly 40,000 entries each year from 200 markets, the American Advertising Awards is hosted by the American Advertising Federation and consists of a three-tier competition comprising local, district and national levels. Winning at the national level is achieved by winning at the local and district levels.

For more information about the Alabama Power Foundation and to view the 2018 annual report and others, visit https://powerofgood.com/about/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

20 hours ago

Obex Health creates tailor-made face masks to keep people safe from COVID-19

Wearing a face mask to protect your health – and others – is the new normal. The problem is finding a mask that fits to a “T.”

Obex Health CEO Forrest Satterfield and Dr. Kanti Sunkavalli may have solved that problem. Obex creates custom-made, digitally fitted masks that meld to every “nook and cranny” of one’s face. The secret is a unique crafting process that conforms to facial contours.

Since May, Obex has sold hundreds of masks, with most going to health care providers nationwide. The company has given several medical providers and nonprofits a discount, with a recent shipment going to a California nonprofit.

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“Once a year, medical providers must be checked to make sure they’re wearing the correct mask for their face,” said Sunkavalli, a physician turned entrepreneur.

With the pandemic spreading in March, an ill-fitting face mask was one more thing for Dr. Jennifer Hess to worry about. The ER physician quickly added the Obex mask to her personal arsenal for protecting herself and preventing transmission of the novel coronavirus.

“The struggle is when PPE supplies aren’t always available,” said Hess, who graduated from UAB Medical School in 2001 and was an ER physician at UAB Hospital from 2018 to June 2020. “COVID-19 is one of those viruses that is hard to contain unless you wear a mask. We know that consistently wearing masks keeps emergency providers from getting infected. With my Obex mask, I can be confident I’ve got my own PPE. This will help keep me safe and not spread the virus.

“When I’m using it, I can throw it in my bag, and it doesn’t get squished,” said Hess, who will soon begin working in the Emergency Department at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. “I put the mask in a Ziploc® bag and it holds its shape. Vanderbilt currently has adequate PPE but is flexible in allowing providers to secure personalized PPE as well.”

The Obex mask is highly protective, the CEO said.

“The big difference in our mask and others is that a cloth or fabric mask prevents only other people from being infected,” Satterfield said. “Ours prevents you from being infected and you from infecting others.”

Using innovation, high tech to fight coronavirus

Obex combines custom-molded silicone with high-tech 3D printing to make a “100% impermeable” mask.

The inventive design is the brainchild of Satterfield, who, at 25, is a rising star at the Birmingham “think tank” Innovation Depot. A biomedical engineer who makes custom 3D-printed knee and wrist braces, Satterfield went through dozens of material suppliers, custom processes and mask designs to reach the final product decisions with Sunkavalli. The comfortable, medical-grade protection is customizable for every business or customer preference, they said.

In March, Satterfield and Sunkavalli saw the need for PPE looming on the horizon. Sunkavalli recognized mask safety as an emergent need for the medical community and public. He and Satterfield talked with many doctors and nurses about the national shortage of face masks and the problems faced by those wearing them 8 to 12 hours a day.

Sunkavalli’s wife, Pallavi, is an ER physician and site medical director at Coosa Valley Medical Center in Sylacauga. “As a physician, it’s close to my heart to help out as much as possible, to keep everyone safe,” he said.

From a medical view, Satterfield saw that it made sense to stop transmission through face masks.

“The safety of ventilators was a big question mark in my mind,” said Satterfield, a University Innovation Fellow who earned a B.S. in biomedical engineering at UAB in 2018. “I’m a big believer in design thinking.

“Design thinking requires you to exist in an ambiguous state,” said Satterfield, who formed Satterfield Technologies in 2014. “I made no assumptions about what the solution should be or that I fully understood the problem we were solving. By interviewing people from different points of view – doctors, nurses, front-line workers – I created a solid definition for what problem we were solving and how our users needed us to solve it.”

Satterfield rapidly built prototypes of masks and got them into user’s hands, recorded feedback and made new masks based on comments. He repeated this until reaching a point where initial users were satisfied.

“What we immediately assume about health care is that the best, universal way to do something is already being used,” he said. “But there are lots of design problems in health care. A lot of times, people are focused on the solution rather than the problem.”

Birthing the Obex mask

Satterfield’s office at Innovation Depot already had 3D scanners and printers for making state-of-the-art braces. Those were used to help produce face masks with the tailor-made fit. Customers with an iPhone X or newer model can download the Bellus3D Face App from the App Store. They can select the “Face+Neck” option, then take a scan and unlock it for .99 cents. They can then export an HD version of the picture to Obex. Customers can schedule a 3D scan at the Obex Health Office at Innovation Depot, or an Obex employee can perform 3D scans for several people at a home or business for a small fee.

Obex makes masks in many colors and can add a corporate logo to the front cover. Each N95 filter lasts one week, which saves money. For those with a high-exposure risk needing more frequent filter replacements – health providers, teachers and customer-facing employees – Obex Health has a discounted subscription plan that automatically ships filters.

The high-grade silicone rim makes the mask easy to wear, Sunkavalli said. The mask clings to the face because it’s made for that person. There’s no bunching or gaps around the sides to allow entry of COVID-19, he said.

“The silicone we use is designed to be worn a very long time,” Sunkavalli said. “They’re also practical. You can disinfect them with soap and water every day. The filter only has to be replaced weekly.”

Finding a protective mask for children is a challenge, said Sunkavalli, whose kids are 7 and 9.

“With a custom mask, no matter how small or large the face – you always have a perfect fit,” Sunkavalli said.

The Obex mask is receiving positive feedback as demand grows for the product made with materials from America.

Creations whose time has come

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the need to protect one’s family – and self – is ever-present.

Hess said her Obex mask – in Vanderbilt University colors – provides a “unique opportunity to be prepared.”

“I don’t think that COVID-19 is going to go away anytime soon,” said Hess, who with her husband, Dr. Erik Hess, trained at and then practiced on faculty at the Mayo Clinic for 15 years. “Wearing a mask can go a long way toward keeping the people of Alabama from contracting this disease.”

For Satterfield, the desire to keep his community safe is personal. His parents – deemed high-risk for their ages and because his father has Parkinson’s disease – wear Obex masks.

His parents live in Huntsville, but, even though he wants to see them, he won’t go home, he said. “The risks are too high. It’s really difficult.”

In the meantime, Satterfield gives back by devoting his life to the mission of Obex, often working 14 hours or more each day.

This young entrepreneur is dreaming of more ways to protect the public by providing state-of-the-art face masks and braces.

“I’ve always had it in mind to be an entrepreneur,” Satterfield said. “In biomedical engineering, none of my ideas had been done yet. I see Obex as being a Johnson & Johnson health care-style company with many product lines.”

For details about how to order an Obex mask, email Satterfield.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

22 hours ago

Doug Jones: ‘Tommy Tuberville hasn’t been tested yet — Jeff Sessions didn’t hardly touch him on issues that I think are very important’

On Friday’s episode of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” incumbent U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) dismissed polling that showed him down 17 points to his GOP challenger Tommy Tuberville in November’s U.S. Senate election.

Jones questioned the poll’s methodology during an interview with APTV’s Don Dailey, saying they were not a “good barometer.”

He also argued former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville, his Republic opponent, had not been tested. He mentioned that Jeff Sessions, Tuberville’s Republican opponent in the GOP primary runoff, did not “hardly touch” him on particular issues.

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“I don’t put any stock in those polls,” he said.” We’ve been following things for a really long time. Polls are really crazy. They were wrong in my race in 2017. They were wrong in the presidential race. That one in particular — that 17-point poll — is almost laughable because they started weighing past presidential votes, which is not a really good barometer at all of what’s going on on the ground today.”

“The fact is that Tommy Tuberville hasn’t been tested yet,” Jones continued. “Jeff Sessions didn’t hardly touch him on issues that I think are very important. We’re talking about leadership. We’re talking about the issues of the day — how you would deal with this pandemic. I’ll put my votes, my experience in the United States Senate up against his votes, his unemployment compensation of $5 million. I’ll put my record up against his any day of the week.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.