The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

1 week ago

Alabama Power partners with Chorus SmartSecure for Smart Neighborhood Builder program

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Power is partnering with Chorus SmartSecure as a trusted home equipment provider for the Smart Neighborhood Builder program.

Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood homes feature energy-efficient construction and appliances, connected devices, innovative security solutions and home automation designed to simplify homeowners’ lives and give them more control over their home and energy use.

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“We are excited to serve Alabama Power and the builder community with the latest advances in SmartHome technologies,” said Rob Hardman, president of Chorus SmartSecure. “We look forward to bringing connectivity to each home in these neighborhoods.”

Chorus SmartSecure will work with Alabama Power on three neighborhoods under development:

“Our Smart Neighborhood Builder program focuses on bringing comfort, convenience and control to the homes of our customers through forward-thinking builders and innovative partners like Chorus SmartSecure,” said Caitlin Hilliard, Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood Builder program manager. “Chorus SmartSecure will be a great partner with its fully integrated smart technology solutions and strong focus on customer service.”

Birmingham-based Chorus SmartSecure specializes in security, automation, access control, low-voltage wiring and custom audio video solutions for homes and offices. The Chorus team delivers state-of-the-art equipment designed to simplify and enhance life at home and work.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

Signs, countdown clocks reflect new dates for Birmingham World Games

(The World Games/Contributed)

A global pandemic postponed the 2020 Olympics and, in turn, the World Games Birmingham was to host in 2021.

Despite the one-year delay, organizers of what is now the Birmingham World Games 2022 want to start building the public’s anticipation again with new signs and updated countdown clocks leading to July 7-17, 2022.

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There are new countdown clocks at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, Birmingham City Hall and the Uptown entertainment district.

The Birmingham CrossPlex and Legion Field – two of the venues for the World Games 2022 – have new signage.

The Waites Building has a World Games 2022 mural.

New city and state roadway signs identify Birmingham as “Home of the World Games 2022.”

More than 3,600 athletes from around the world are expected to compete in more than 30 sports. The 11-day event is projected to have an economic impact of $256 million. The World Games was established by the International World Games Association, an organization recognized by the International Olympic Committee. The Birmingham event will be the first time the World Games have been held in the U.S. since the inaugural games in Los Angeles in 1981.

Keep up to date with the World Games 2022 at twg2022.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

Alabama students, teacher have strong showing in National History Day Contest

(Alabama Humanities Foundation/Contributed, YHN)

Alabama History Day representatives made their presence known in the 2020 National History Day Contest with winners emerging on the student and teacher levels.

Following an intense competition among middle and high school students from across the nation, Alabama participants had a strong showing in the virtual awards ceremony that was held Saturday.

Eli Stapler of Hampton Cove Middle School near Huntsville won the History in the Federal Government Special Prize for his exhibit project, “CCC: Roosevelt’s Tree Army.” The prize is awarded to the best entry in any category, in either division, which illuminates the history of the American federal government.

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Savi Fistein and Aiden Seabrook of Phillips Preparatory Middle School in Mobile won the distinction of Outstanding Alabama Junior Entry. Savi and Aiden’s group performance, “Raven Wilkinson: The Black Ballerina Who Broke Ballet Barriers by Braving the Jim Crow South during the Civil Rights Movement and Inspiring Others,” was the highest ranked Alabama junior project at the national contest.

Joy Kim of Huntsville High School earned the distinction of Outstanding Alabama Senior Entry for the contest. Her paper, “Foot Soldiers for Freedom: The Little Rock Nine and the Youth of the Civil Rights Movement,” was the highest ranked Alabama senior project at the national contest.

Alabama students weren’t the only standouts during the contest. Sarah Woltring of Murphy High School in Mobile was a finalist for the Hannah E. (Liz) MacGregor Teacher of the Year award.

“This teacher and these students exemplify the magic of National History Day,” said Alabama History Day Coordinator Jerald Crook. “They truly embodied this past year’s NHD theme, which was Breaking Barriers in History.” This year’s contest was historic, going virtual on the state and national levels.

“It wasn’t easy working through the challenges of this year’s NHD contest season because of the coronavirus pandemic,” Crook noted. “They had to navigate technological obstacles to participate in new virtual contests, and they missed the opportunity to travel to Montgomery and Washington, D.C. for the state and national competitions, but they endured, put in hard work, and it all paid off in the end. I am so proud of our Alabama NHD winners and all who represented the state on the national level.”

National History Day promotes the teaching and learning of history through a variety of programs for teachers and students in middle and high schools. Its largest program is the National History Day Contest, which was created in 1974 to encourage middle and high school students from around the world to conduct original research on historical topics of interest. They then present projects at the local and affiliate levels.

“With the NHD2020 contest coming to a close, Alabama students and teachers are already preparing for next year’s contest, which will explore the national theme of Communication in History: The Key to Understanding,” Crook said.

Alabama teachers who are interested in getting their students involved in the National History Day program are invited to attend one of the upcoming AHD training webinars on July 8 or July 15. Visit the Alabama History Day Educator’s page on the Alabama Humanities Foundation website to learn more and register.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Alabama Power Foundation accepting Good Roots, Gateway grant applications

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

As part of its longstanding commitment to Alabama communities, the Alabama Power Foundation is accepting applications for the 2020 Good Roots and Gateway grant programs.

“Good Roots and Gateway grants represent an investment in the communities we serve,” said Myla Calhoun, president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “These programs not only contribute to the economic and cultural well-being of our cities and towns, they also promote civic pride.”

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Good Roots grants provide up to $1,000 to help cities, towns, schools and nonprofit organizations plant trees to enhance community green spaces. New to this year’s program is the option to use the grants to support community beautification efforts. To date, the foundation has awarded more than 690 Good Roots grants totaling more than $620,000 to plant trees at schools, parks and other community locations.

The Gateway grant program helps revitalize communities by supporting and advancing city and town promotion efforts. Grants of up to $2,500 provide funding for signs that greet visitors, as well as marketing materials and website development. Since 2012, Gateway has awarded more than $100,000 to cities, towns and communities throughout Alabama.

The deadline to apply for Good Roots and Gateway grants is Aug. 10. To access online applications and learn more, visit www.powerofgood.com and click on “Grants.”

Since its creation in 1989 with funds donated by shareholders, the Alabama Power Foundation has supported Alabama communities, educational institutions and nonprofits through more than 20,000 grants and scholarships using nonratepayer dollars. Learn more about the Alabama Power Foundation and its charitable initiatives at www.powerofgood.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Atmore wins jackpot with Main Street Alabama designation

(Chris Pruitt/Wikicommons)

Many travelers along Interstate 65 in southwest Alabama recognize Atmore as home of the Wind Creek Casino, but travel just five more miles to find the pride of the community – the historic downtown district.

On June 6, Main Street Alabama announced that Atmore had been selected as a new Main Street Alabama Designated Community.

Using the National Main Street Four Point Approach, Main Street Alabama helps communities focus on organization, design, promotion and economic vitality with strategies unique to that community that are centered on market-based outcomes.

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“Setting achievable goals using community input and market data is critical to the revitalization of the district, but it’s also equally crucial to bring stakeholders to the table to work towards a common goal,” said Mary Helmer, Main Street Alabama state coordinator.

“Main Street works 100% of the time if the community is willing to work,” Helmer said. “Atmore impressed upon the selection committee that they had the work ethic to become a successful Main Street program that will bring jobs, dollars and people back to the district.”

The dedication of the continued revitalization of the district made the case for designation and was demonstrated during the five-month long application process, through partnerships with community organizations, the city’s commitment and proven track record of many projects, including the ongoing renovation of the Strand Theatre.

Atmore’s historic notable figures and events include being the birthplace of boxer Evander Holyfield; the site of Railroad Bill’s death, an infamous train robber who was killed following a shootout with the law in 1896; and the home to Luverne Wise Albert, who in 1939 became the first female football kicker to score in an American football game. In addition to the Strand Theatre, the former Atmore Hardware Store serves as a focal point of the district.

Atmore was originally named Williams Station, in 1866, after William Larkin Williams, a logging entrepreneur who set up shop along the spur of the Mobile and Great Northern Railroad. The town was renamed in 1897 in honor of C.P. Atmore, the general railroad ticket agent.

“These facts, along with the capacity to maintain a Main Street program, scored major points with us,” said Main Street Alabama’s social media announcement. “This bustling railroad town is ready for renewal and Main Street Alabama is ready to provide a game plan for success.”

Main Street Alabama will begin work immediately in Atmore to provide board development, goal setting, work planning, market study with economic development strategies, targeted design assistance, and training related to downtown development.

Atmore joins Alexander City, Anniston, Athens, Birmingham, Calera, Columbiana, Decatur, Dothan, Elba, Enterprise, Eufaula, Florence, Foley, Fort Payne, Gadsden, Headland, Heflin, the Historic Fourth Avenue Business District in Birmingham, Marion, Monroeville, Montevallo, Jasper, Opelika, Oxford, Scottsboro, South Huntsville and Wetumpka in using Main Street’s comprehensive and incremental approach.  Each designated community listed above reports its success by tracking reinvestment statistics.  Main Street Alabama’s designated communities have reported 976 net new businesses, 5,040 net new jobs, $419,950,397 in private investment, $51,592,047 in public improvements and 105,789 volunteer hours in their districts collectively since June 2014.

Main Street Alabama application workshops are held in January each year.  Communities interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to join the Main Street Alabama Network. More information can be found at www.mainstreetalabama.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Scam targeting Alabama Power customers resurfaces

(PIxabay, YHN)

Alabama Power has seen an uptick in scams aimed at customers.

The most recent scam is similar to one identified in March, with scammers calling customers and claiming to be a representative from Alabama Power, demanding immediate payment on accounts. The caller requests a customer’s bank or credit card information, warning if payments are not received within 30 minutes service will be disconnected.

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A variation of the scheme includes scammers directly contacting customers who recently made a payment on their Alabama Power account and falsely claiming the payment did not process and they need to repay immediately.

“Any contact of this nature is a scam and an attempt to take advantage of our customers during a vulnerable time,” said Alisa Summerville, Alabama Power Customer Service Center director. “If customers are unsure if a call is a scam, we encourage them to hang up and contact Customer Service at 1-800-245-2244.”

These scams are cyclical, with scammers often reusing the same tactics or deploying new ones every few months to prey on residential and commercial customers.

As always, Alabama Power works with each customer to determine the best service option for their account. The schemes that criminals use are not part of the company’s business practices.

Alabama Power is sharing the following tips to help customers protect themselves from false tactics used by scammers:

  • We will never call you and demand an immediate payment.
  • We will never call you and request bank or credit card information.
  • We will never come to your door and demand an immediate payment.
  • If you ever have any question about the status of your Alabama Power account, do not hesitate to call us at 1-800-245-2244. The automated voice system is available 24/7 to check account balances and status. You also can reach a Customer Service agent weekdays from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. at 1-800-245-2244.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Ashley Robinett to lead Alabama Power Public Relations

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Ashley Robinett has been named Alabama Power’s vice president of Public Relations, effective immediately.

In this role, Robinett will oversee the company’s corporate communications and brand management, providing strategic communications counsel that ensures messages reach employees, customers and key stakeholders.

Robinett most recently served as vice president of Corporate Real Estate where she was responsible for managing the company’s land holdings in support of business objectives through land management, acquisition and sales.

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Prior to leading the company’s corporate real estate efforts, Robinett was the area manager for Alabama Power’s Birmingham Division, where she was responsible for business office operations, customer relations, community development and external affairs.

“Ashley is a proven leader with a strong commitment to the community. She brings invaluable experience to this role that will help shape how we communicate with our employees and customers, and adapt strategies based on their evolving preferences,” said Mark Crosswhite, Alabama Power CEO.

Robinett joined the Southern Company system in 2001 as an engineer at Southern Power. She worked several years in Southern Company’s fuel services organization, managing emission allowance, procurement and other strategic environmental issues for the generating fleet.

In 2008, Robinett returned to Southern Power to manage its resource planning, risk analysis and business case development functions, including renewable energy. She has served as the assistant to the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Southern Company and to the president and chief executive officer of Alabama Power.

Robinett is a graduate of Leadership Birmingham and is active in the community, serving on the board of directors for Preschool Partners and Children’s Harbor. She is involved with the Kiwanis Club of Greater Birmingham and the 2019-2020 Class of International Women’s Forum Fellows Program.

Robinett is a member of the Auburn Alumni Association board of directors and remains involved with the university through the Auburn Engineering Alumni Council and 100 Women Strong, an initiative supporting female students in the College of Engineering. She is a leader on the Alabama Power Council on Culture and Inclusion and serves on the Southern Company Diversity and Inclusion Alliance, overseeing the alignment and execution of D&I strategies.

Robinett received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a minor in business from Auburn University. 

Alabama Power Company, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company (NYSE:SO), provides safe, reliable, affordable electricity to more than 1.4 million customers across the state. Learn more at www.alabamapower.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama farmers and ranchers affected by coronavirus can apply for monetary relief

(Alabama Farmers Federation/Flickr)

Alabama farmers and ranchers affected by coronavirus can apply for monetary relief through the Farm Service Agency (FSA).

The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) will provide up to $16 billion in direct payments to American agricultural producers who have suffered losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Farm and Agribusiness Management team will be working closely with FSA offices and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Centers to guide producers through the application process.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged many of our farmers into more difficult situations,” said Jessica Kelton, regional extension agent and Farm and Agribusiness Management team leader. “So many producers were already struggling after a dry year with an uncertain market. Now, there are a lot of producers with wasted products because of the market declines related to the pandemic.”

The CFAP program specifically targets producers of agricultural products who have suffered a 5 percent or greater price decline, as well as losses, because of market supply chain disruptions.

Eligible commodities are divided into five groups.

  • Nonspecialty crops
  • Wool
  • Livestock
  • Dairy
  • Specialty crops

A complete list of specialty crops is available at Applying for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program through Farm Services Agency.

Alabama Extension economist Max Runge said unprecedented is a word used to describe many aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, but the payments to farmers as a result of this virus really are unprecedented.

“In my years as an agricultural economist, we’ve not seen assistance payments as a result of a pandemic,” Runge said. “While we’ve been in uncharted territory for an extended period of time with COVID-19, the farmers in Alabama have continued to operate their farms as usual facing adversity and uncertain markets. I am thankful that the importance of their work is being recognized through these payments.”

Applications

The USDA will begin accepting applications today. Producers may submit applications through Aug. 28. Applications will be accepted by email, scan or fax.

Extension professionals recommend contacting the local FSA office before sending applications. Runge said FSA offices will have an increased volume of applications and phone calls, so patience on the part of the producer will be appreciated.

USDA Service Centers will schedule appointments by phone only. Farmers can prepare for appointments by gathering records of recent farm sales and agricultural product inventories. Required application information includes:

  • Name and address
  • Personal information, including Tax ID number
  • Farm operating structure
  • Adjusted gross income
  • Direct deposit information

Necessary forms are available at farmers.gov/cfap.

Shortage fears this spring

According to Alabama Extension economist Ken Kelley, the financial assistance for producers comes at a time when many livestock and dairy producers find themselves receiving prices well below the 10-year average, even as consumers see higher prices in the grocery stores.

“There were significant supply chain and processing issues earlier in the spring,” Kelley said. “However, the U.S. was and is amid record production of beef, pork and poultry. The issue was not availability of animals, but the logistics of processing and movement.”

While the situation is improving, Kelley said it will be a while before processors catch back up to supply.

“In the meantime, the backlog of supply will continue to hold producer prices at lower levels,” Kelley said. “CFAP will be a welcome assistance as producers work through the effects of COVID-19 on agricultural processors and markets.”

Payment structure

In order to ensure the availability of funding throughout the application period, producers will receive 80 percent of the maximum total payment for their operation when their application is approved. Producers will receive remaining payments as funds are available.

More information

Find more information from Alabama Extension’s Farm and Agribusiness Management team at Applying for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program through Farm Services Agency.

Read more about the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program at www.farmers.gov/cfap. Additional and more detailed information from the USDA is available at its website, www.usda.gov.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama businesses hope for a quick recovery after COVID-19 pandemic, survey finds

(Pixabay)

Nearly half of Alabama businesses are anticipating an improved business climate in the next six months despite the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey found.

The survey conducted by AlabamaWorks! and the Alabama Workforce Council revealed Alabama businesses are struggling with laying off employees, a lack of market demand, disruptions in the supply chain and a fear of being forced to permanently close.

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The survey was conducted in April, before most businesses were allowed to at least partially reopen. Nearly 1,800 businesses responded to the survey, with the vast majority (68%) being small businesses with 25 or less employees. The largest swath (41%) said three-quarters or more of their employees are paid by the hour.

“We are grateful to the business owners who took the time to help us identify critical needs and priorities for a full workforce recovery,” said Tim McCartney, chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council. “Utilizing the survey results, the Alabama Workforce Council will continue with our important work of assisting the state to the fullest extent possible with all workforce recovery efforts and continue to push career pathways and programs that are most resilient to create a more agile workforce.”

Not surprisingly, 82% expect this pandemic to have a negative financial impact on their business. A third of respondents have laid off employees as a result and 53% have implemented a hiring freeze.

One important finding for AlabamaWorks! and the Workforce Council going forward was the 53% who expressed a need for more employer-delivered, skills-based training to help in the recovery.

Other findings included:

  • 53.4% of businesses reported that their current business climate is “bad,” but 49.6% expected their climate to improve in the next six months.
  • 49.4% of businesses expect that their workforce size will remain relatively constant over the next three months.
  • 35,9% of businesses reported that the biggest factor limiting business activity is a lack of market demand, making it the most common limiting factor.
  • 46.3% of businesses felt at least somewhat equipped to handle the COVID-19 pandemic at its outbreak, indicating that most responding businesses felt inadequately prepared to some degree.
  • More businesses (46%) are facing supply chain disruptions than not (39%).

A three-page report of the survey results can be found here and at www.AlabamaWorks.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama Power and B.A.S.S. award scholarships to two Alabama students

(B.A.S.S./Contributed)

Two Alabama students were each awarded a $5,000 scholarship from B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power, the companies announced.

“We are proud to partner with Alabama Power to support students who want to further their education in a trade,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. “And, we’re even more pleased to provide additional scholarship opportunities for students.”

Alexis Grandstaff of Headland and Tanner Shelton of Warrior are the recipients.

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Grandstaff is completing her junior year at Headland High School while taking dual enrollment classes at Wallace Community College in Dothan.

“I am so grateful for the opportunities this scholarship gives me to further my education,” said Grandstaff. “After completing my time at Wallace Community College, I plan to achieve a bachelor of science degree and then apply to an ARC-PA program to become a pediatric physician assistant. My ultimate goal is to return to Dothan and work for a pediatric clinic.”

Grandstaff has been an active member of the Headland High School bass team the past five seasons, after she began competing for the team in the seventh grade. In addition to serving as president of the Headland bass team, Grandstaff is a Headland High School ambassador and is involved in the Student Government Association, National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America and yearbook staff.

Tanner Shelton, a senior at Hayden High School, will enroll this fall at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, where he will join the bass fishing team. Shelton has been fishing for his high school team since seventh grade and looks forward to continuing that competition during the next phase of his education.

“I appreciate receiving this scholarship as it gives me the opportunity to continue my education, along with pursuing my fishing goals,” Shelton said. “I am amazed at the growth of high school fishing that I have seen in the past four years, and it is a great thing that students can receive scholarships because of the sport.”

Shelton is highly involved in his community, both through his involvement with the Leo Club and service projects through the fishing team. Shelton marks the most impactful event he has worked with as the annual Kampfire For The King, which takes kids in foster care out fishing.

As an officer with the fishing team, Shelton has participated in lake and roadside cleanup efforts as well as habitat conservation projects.

“Congratulations to Alexis and Tanner for this acknowledgement of their hard work in the classroom and commitment to their community,” said Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite. “These scholarships continue to help students develop the high-demand skills needed for a career in the future workforce of Alabama, and we are proud to partner with B.A.S.S. to make it happen.”

This is the third consecutive year that Alabama Power and B.A.S.S. have awarded these scholarships. Applications were open to students attending, or planning to attend, a technical school or community college in Alabama. The winners must reside in an Alabama Power service area and be a member of a B.A.S.S. High School Club or the B.A.S.S. Nation, a worldwide network of affiliated B.A.S.S. clubs whose members are active in conservation initiatives and youth programs.

The scholarship recipients are able to apply the award toward tuition, textbooks or living expenses.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

BhamStrong fights COVID-19 by partnering with local nonprofits

(BHAM Strong/Facebook)

BhamStrong has launched a program to fight COVID-19 by providing Birmingham Strong Service Corps members to help staff local nonprofits performing relief services. In the BhamStrong Nonprofit Partnership, service corps members work under the supervision and direction of approved nonprofit organizations for two to eight weeks, while being paid a living wage by BhamStrong.

BhamStrong’s mission is to empower workers and support the Birmingham community to build resilience through the coronavirus pandemic. Through this new program, BhamStrong amplifies the impact of nonprofit projects that meet COVID-19 relief needs for Birmingham residents.

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“Birmingham’s main asset is our community,” said Suzanna Fritzberg, executive director of BhamStrong. “Through the BhamStrong Nonprofit Partnership, we are proud to bring together organizations driving COVID relief efforts and service corps members who are eager to support their work. We are grateful for the support of local donors and the city of Birmingham that enables the service corps to continue to meet community needs during this challenging time.”

During a two-week pilot, BhamStrong placed five corps members at Breakthrough Birmingham, which provides free summer programming for Birmingham City middle school students, and the Offender Alumni Association, which empowers former offenders and their families to actively engage in reducing crime and restoring communities. Following the pilot program’s success, BhamStrong has officially opened its online portal to take applications from organizations seeking support.

“Service corps members have assisted us with hosting our virtual support discussions, transcribing audio meetings to text for records and contacting clients to provide guidance with referral resources. We have additional hands on deck, which allow us to be responsive to emergency needs without feeling overwhelmed,” said Deborah Daniels, president of the Offender Alumni Association.

Mariohn Michel, executive director of Breakthrough Birmingham, said her organization is thrilled to have additional hands to help with its programs.

“With all of the uncertainty that this COVID crisis brings, Breakthrough Birmingham knew that it would be even more important to make sure student programming took place this summer,” said Michel. “Partnering with BhamStrong allows us to continue providing the quality our students and families deserve and have come to expect. It’s exciting to see Birmingham support its community members and nonprofits during this difficult period.”

Nonprofit organizations can apply for the program and to be matched with service corps members at www.bhamstrong.com/corp-nonprofit.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

New design of freshwater fishing license plate now available

(Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources/Contributed)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announces that its freshwater fishing distinctive license plate has been redesigned and is now available through probate offices statewide. The new design replaces the original freshwater fishing license plate (tan background) and features an Alabama bass and white crappie on a blue underwater background. The vehicle tag can be personalized with up to six alphanumeric characters.

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The cost for the new license plate is $50 annually. Proceeds from the sale of the license plate will support freshwater habitat enhancement, aquatic wildlife species protection and restoration, conservation education, bass genetic research, sport fish disease research, invasive species management and public water fish stockings.

Please join the effort to fund aquatic wildlife management and protection by purchasing a freshwater fishing distinctive license plate for your vehicle. For more information about the license plate, please contact your local probate office or the ADCNR Fisheries Section at (334) 242-3471.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Yard signs in Birmingham suburb comfort, inspire during COVID-19 crisis

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Fred Rogers, who helped raise millions of American children over three decades as public television’s icon of kindness, offered the following advice for helping them – really, all of us – deal with disaster:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,’” said Rogers, better known to all as Mister Rogers. “To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the words of the revered host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” not only comfort, they inspire. Over the past few months in Alabama and around the world, we’ve seen countless examples of “helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Many risk their own lives to help the sick survive. Others race the clock to develop treatments or vaccines to save lives. Still others keep the peace, put out fires, deliver the mail, pick up garbage, or offer small comforts to our lives as many of us continue to shelter in place. They deliver meals, groceries and packages that help us weather an unprecedented time in our history.

In recent weeks, residents of Wellington Road in the Mayfair neighborhood of Homewood, a suburb of Birmingham, decided to salute the coronavirus helpers with signs that blossomed in yards like springtime flowers.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Mercedes-Benz donates over $500,000 in funds, goods and services for COVID-19 relief efforts

(Made in Alabama/Twitter)

Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. (MBUSI) team members and the plant have been busy the past few weeks with COVID-19 relief activities. Once all donations are complete, the plant expects to have donated more than $500,000 in funds, goods and services to area nonprofits and health care agencies in Alabama.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is placing an incredible amount of strain on families and on the nonprofits and groups trying to assist them in making ends meet,” said President and CEO Michael Goebel. “We are all connected and we have to pull together to help get this community through this crisis.”

In partnership with the Community Foundation of West Alabama, MBUSI has donated $100,000 to assist with COVID-19 relief efforts. Six local organizations will share in the funds to help provide critical needs to individuals and families impacted by COVID-19. Eligible families can go to these organizations and apply for grants to cover bills, get food vouchers and get other services.

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Governor Kay Ivey offered her appreciation for MBUSI’s work in the community.

Recipient organizations to benefit from the financial donation include:

United Way of West Alabama ($40,000)
Temporary Emergency Services of West Alabama ($15,000)
West Alabama Food Bank ($10,000)
Community Service Programs of West Alabama ($10,000)
American Red Cross / American Red Cross West Alabama Chapter ($10,000)
Tuscaloosa City and Tuscaloosa County Schools ($15,500)

“United Way of West Alabama established the West Alabama COVID-19 Community Response Fund (WACRF) in response to our 2-1-1 Helpline calls for assistance with basic necessities (food, rent and utilities) increasing by 400% due to the COVID-10 crisis,” said United Way President and CEO Jackie Wuska. “Most of the increase in 2-1-1 Helpline calls are coming from individuals who never asked for help and, for the first time ever, find themselves unable to work and make their mortgage or utility payments.”

Wuska says awards to individuals and families have ranged from $180 – $920.

“Mercedes-Benz U.S. International’s generous gift in support of our WACRF will enable us to help many more families during these stressful times and go a long way to provide much-needed hope and peace of mind,” she says. “We are so grateful for Mercedes’ support and all they do to help our community no matter the extent of the need.”

In addition, MBUSI has held blood drives and donated personal protective equipment: surgical masks, medical gowns, N95 masks, N100 reusable filters, Tyvek full bodysuits and face shield headbands to local hospitals and emergency agencies amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Other planned in-kind donations to be made by MBUSI include:

DCH Hospitals in Tuscaloosa and Northport – 18 ventilator boxes and 2,000 N100 sewn masks created by the MPS team. The hospital provided the material and team members sewed the masks in the Continuous Improvement Shop.
The Tuscaloosa County Emergency Management Agency – 80,000 surgical masks, 12,000 N95 washable masks, and 30 N95 masks to first responders and medical personnel in the region.
Bibb County Emergency Management Agency – 10,000 surgical masks and 1,000 N95 washable masks to protect health care workers.
Alabama Department of Public Health – 100,000 surgical masks and 7,000 N95 washable masks.
UAB Hospital – 20,000 surgical masks, 5,500 N95 washable masks and 12 ventilator boxes to protect health care workers.
The Alabama Productivity Center – 600 Face Shield headbands to be distributed to health care workers at DCH and UAB hospitals.

Article courtesy of Alabama News Center. Yellowhammer News also contributed to this report.

2 months ago

St. Vincent’s East nurse helps medical superheroes express individuality with custom masks

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Not all superheroes wear capes – some wear masks.

Instead of fighting felons, they battle truly deadly forces: COVID-19, cancer and other diseases or illnesses.

Wanda Roden is a registered nurse with a passion for her patients and a desire to make the work shift brighter for her co-workers. When she’s not at work, Roden enjoys sewing colorful face masks with inspirational messages for medical staff at St. Vincent’s East Hospital in Birmingham.

“I like making the masks,” said Roden, a nurse for about 30 years. “It’s fun, and it lets me be creative. A lot of co-workers and friends would ask me where I got my face mask. I made my own. Everyone enjoys them.

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“That’s how I started making masks for my co-workers,” said Roden, who took a home economics class in high school and upholsters her furniture. “I ask what colors they like and try to tailor the design to their personality. Sometimes even patients ask where I got my mask.”

Nurses are all heart

For a month, Roden has made face shields for several of her oncology co-workers and many staff throughout the hospital. With her trusty Husqvarna sewing machine, she’s outfitted family, relatives and friends with protective gear. Thanks to Roden’s creativity, her sister and cousin – admitted Francophiles – sport masks with the Arc de Triomphe. She adds inspirational messages and scriptures to the designs.

Roden drew a pattern from which to cut fabric and keeps about 30 pre-cut masks in her craft room. Using a Cricut® Maker, she creates graphics – stethoscopes, hearts, crosses and flowers – and heat-glues them onto brightly patterned or solid-color cloth. These special touches let medical staff express their individuality, though their faces are covered.

“I wear a mask with my name on it to make things easier for my patients,” Roden said. “We all know how important it is to correctly wear our masks, to prevent anyone from breathing in droplets that can cause or spread infection.”
On the oncology floor, nurses wear surgical masks covered by cloth masks, such as those Roden makes. On the COVID-19 floor, medical staff wear an N95 respirator mask – preventing the entry of 95% of particles – covered by a cloth mask. Roden, along with many co-workers, has treated patients with the coronavirus. St. Vincent’s East converted several medical units into COVID-19 units to provide specialized care.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s April 28 ordinance passed by the city council requires people to wear a mask in public, which includes hospital grounds at the eastern end of the city.

“We must wear our mask at all times on hospital property,” said Roden, who noted that many people in the medical profession are making face masks.

When staff from other departments admire her and her co-workers’ colorful face shields, they ask where to buy them. The masks are never for sale – they are gifts, only.

“I make them just for fun,” Roden said. “They brighten people’s hearts in some tough situations. With the pandemic on everyone’s minds, we can all use that right now.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama Goodwill safely reopens all locations and services

(Alabama Goodwill Industries/Contributed)

Alabama Goodwill is safely reopening all nine retail thrift stores and five donation centers, and is resuming career services to start rebuilding communities and “Get Alabama Back to Work!”

“Now more than ever, our career services will play a critical role in assisting the most vulnerable segments of our community who have been laid off or displaced from employment,” said President and CEO David Wells. “Providing these community services requires funding, and our Goodwill retail thrift stores provide a direct financial source to support free career services.”

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Locations and services reopened Wednesday, May 6, at normal business hours but with additional safety measures. Team members control the number of shoppers entering stores based on Gov. Kay Ivey’s physical-distancing guidelines. Goodwill workers wear masks and other personal protective equipment, sanitize shopping carts and clean high-touch surfaces throughout each day. Directional signs will guide shoppers through the stores and at the cash registers to encourage social distancing.

Donors, shoppers and job seekers are encouraged to call 205-323-6331 or visit AlabamaGoodwill.org to find the nearest location, hours of operation, career services and available jobs.

Alabama Goodwill Industries (AGI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that offers employment opportunities, job placement and skills training for people who are disabled and/or disadvantaged. Alabama Goodwill, incorporated in 1927, is operated by a local, volunteer board of directors and recognized with GuideStar’s Silver Seal of Approval. Donations to Goodwill create jobs to process and sell donated items, and fund development programs for those in need.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama Power employee learns to sew during COVID-19 pandemic to protect neighbors

(Darlena Battle/Contributed)

“I grew up in the house next door to where I live now so I know most of the residents,” said Darlena Battle, vice president of the Fountain Heights neighborhood association and who is in the Corporate Affairs department at Alabama Power. “I choose to remain in this neighborhood. I want to make a positive impact in my community.”

The close connection to her neighbors and neighborhood gave a unique perspective on how to help during the spread of COVID-19. With many facing unprecedented challenges, Battle went to work to protect the people of Fountain Heights.

“I noticed a neighbor wearing a disposable mask for days at a time and knew that face coverings and personal protection equipment were an area of need,” Battle said. “I didn’t know how to sew before the pandemic started, but I could see that people needed a way to protect themselves, and others, and I knew that I could help my community.”

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Battle’s commitment to help those in need turned into an adventure that most would be hesitant to undertake. Despite facing lengthy, socially distanced store lines to purchase fabric and then finding there is a shortage of elastic, Battle’s creativity and ambition kicked in.

“I spent hours watching videos and reading reviews trying to figure out how I could make a mask that would provide the highest level of protection, was reusable and would utilize materials that were not in a supply shortage,” Battle said. “After trying different techniques – and making more than a few sewing mistakes – I was finally able to make a mask that was ready to be distributed to those in need.”

Battle’s 100% cotton face masks are washable, have filters sewn in and are pleated to ensure improved breathability and safety. She has produced more than 300 masks that have been given at no cost to family, co-workers and people in the community.

“Taking care of where I live, and where Alabama Power serves, is important to me,” Battle said. “Providing masks may help someone remain healthy during this time and will let them know that they have a neighbor who cares.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Cooper named Alabama Power’s vice president of Corporate Sustainability

(Alabama Power/Contributed, YHN)

Stephanie K. Cooper has been named Alabama Power’s vice president of Corporate Sustainability, effective Friday, May 1.

In this new role, Cooper will oversee the development and implementation of the company’s strategic initiatives related to social responsibility, governance and sustainability. She will work with teams across the company and the Southern Company system to address resource conservation, energy usage and other sustainability efforts, ensuring organizational effectiveness and compliance.

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“Stephanie’s leadership and experience will be invaluable as we integrate sustainability efforts across our business, helping to advance solutions that meet the needs of our customers – not only for today, but for the future,” said Mark Crosswhite, CEO.

Cooper currently serves as vice president of Public Relations, overseeing the company’s corporate communications and brand management, providing strategic communications counsel that ensures messages reach customers and key stakeholders.

She joined the Southern Company system in 2007 as a real estate attorney at Georgia Power Company. Before joining Alabama Power in 2016, she served as assistant to the vice president of Environmental Affairs and as a regulatory attorney for Georgia Power and director of Corporate Communication for Southern Company.

Cooper previously worked as an assistant district attorney in the Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit, DeKalb County, Georgia, and deputy press secretary for the governor of Georgia.

She is a board member of the Friends of the Birmingham Botanical GardensFriends of WBHM and Alabama Power Foundation, active with Jones Valley Teaching Farm and United Way of Central Alabama and a member of the 2018 Leadership Birmingham class, the Women’s Energy Network and the Lawyers’ Club of Atlanta. She has served as president of the State Bar of Georgia Young Lawyers Division and the State Bar of Georgia Board of Governors representing the 6,000 attorneys who live outside Georgia and are licensed to practice law in that state. She remains active in committee work for the State Bar of Georgia.

Cooper earned her Juris Doctor from Georgia State University and graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

New name, same games: The World Games Birmingham updates official moniker

(IOC/Contributed)

The World Games 2021 Birmingham has a new name to go with its new date. With the announcement of The Games’ shift to July 7-17, 2022, organizers have decided that the international multisport event will officially become The World Games 2022 Birmingham.

“After careful consideration, we are excited to move forward as The World Games 2022,” said Nick Sellers, CEO of the Birmingham Organizing Committee (BOC). “Ultimately, we wanted to ensure consistency and brand recognition for our event. But, more than that, our hope is that The World Games 2022 will stand for something more than a date on the calendar; that it will become a time of reconnection for our community and the world.”

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The decision to adapt the moniker, which was made collaboratively between the BOC and International World Games Association (IWGA), comes after the International Olympic Committee postponed the Summer Olympics until 2021, but agreed to retain the name “Tokyo 2020.”

“The excellent relationship between the BOC, the city of Birmingham and the IWGA ensured the quick move of the 11th edition of The World Games to 2022,” said IWGA CEO Joachim Gossow. “The flexible organizational structure of the event and our teams makes it easier to manage such a challenge in such a short time: we trust each other and know that we can lean on each other. We wanted to announce the new name of the event now as well and start promoting The World Games 2022 in Birmingham. We look forward to organizing The World Games 2022 in Birmingham, USA, from 7th to 17th July in 2022.”

The World Games 2022 Birmingham today also unveiled its new logo and website, which have been updated to reflect the rebrand. The redesigned website, TWG2022.com, features an enhanced navigation and user experience.

The World Games 2022 Birmingham will be an extraordinary Olympic-style sports experience where elite athletes from all over the world compete for gold in 32 unique, multidisciplinary sports. Featuring 3,600 athletes from more than 100 countries, the international event will unite global fans with the Birmingham community, more than 25 unique venues around the greater metropolitan area. The World Games 2022 Birmingham, which marks the 40th anniversary of the event, will take place July 7-17, 2022, and generate an estimated $256 million in economic impact. The World Games was established by the International World Games Association, an organization recognized by the International Olympic Committee. For more information, visit TWG2022.comFacebook, Instagram or Twitter.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Birmingham law firm launches effort to honor unsung heroes of COVID-19 pandemic

(Alexander Shunnarah/Contributed, YHN)

Despite the continuing spread of the COVID-19 virus, many Alabamians are still working hard, delivering mail, ringing up grocery orders, protecting citizens and fighting fires.

Despite the continuing spread of the COVID-19 virus, many Alabamians are still working hard, delivering mail, ringing up grocery orders, protecting citizens and fighting fires.

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“From the beginning of the pandemic, while it has been on the rise and at its peak, these brave workers were and will continue to be exposed to the threat as they work for all of us,” said Shunnarah. “I wish we could do more as a firm. We recognize that at our firm, due to technology, we are able to shelter in place, work remotely and not be exposed to COVID-19. Therefore, it is important to recognize and give back to those on the front lines who can’t work at home, because they are helping to keep things moving during this time.”

Birmingham’s Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys launched a social media give-back campaign to honor and thank essential workers for their sacrifices and bravery as they work every day to keep the community moving while facing the deadly disease.

Through Thursday, April 30, Shunnarah is giving $50 Visa gift cards daily to unsung heroes, such as mail carriers, firefighters, police, waste collectors, bank tellers, delivery drivers, grocery store clerks, gas station employees and cooks.

To nominate an #UnsungHero in for recognition, complete the form at https://forms.gle/TKfW9ScriL94X78S7 [forms.gle].

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama Power Mobile Division delivers meals to University of South Alabama hospital

(Alabama Power/Contributed)

Mobile made it through the Easter storms with minimal damage and the Alabama Power crews there were dispatched to harder-hit areas of the state.

That left Alabama Power’s Mobile Division with an excess of meals it had ordered from expecting to feed more people longer. Thankfully, that food was put to excellent use today.

Alabama Power officials immediately thought of a group of people in Mobile who are not getting less work than expected. In fact, they’ve been working hard since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The division’s various teams worked together to reach out to a local hospital and make a lunchtime delivery Monday. Community Relations Managers Clinton Johnson and Sharon Murrill worked with the division’s Marketing team and provided boxed lunches to USA Health’s University Hospital in Mobile where some of the staff are treating COVID-19 patients.

The hospital is an acute care facility with centers for Level 1 trauma, burn, stroke, cardiovascular disease and sickle cell disease. The hospital also serves as a teaching and research facility for the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, playing a key role in developments of new technology and providing training for future health care professionals.

To date, Mobile County has reported the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in Alabama at 17, followed closely by Jefferson County at 15. The Alabama Department of Public Health has confirmed nine of the deaths in Mobile County and eight of the deaths in Jefferson County were caused by COVID-19.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

‘The Slave Who Went to Congress’ tells the story of Alabama’s Benjamin Turner

(NewSouth Books/Contributed)

This Friday at 6 p.m., join award-winning author Frye Gaillard and education and curriculum specialist Marti Rosner on Facebook Live to learn about their new illustrated book, “The Slave Who Went to Congress,” based on the inspirational true story of Benjamin Turner.

“The story, written for children aged 7-12, shares the struggles and accomplishments of Benjamin Sterling Turner, who lived as a slave for 40 years before being elected as Alabama’s first African American congressman and one of the first in the House of Representatives following Emancipation,” said Lisa Harrison, of NewSouth Books.

Turner, born into slavery in North Carolina in 1825, relocated with his widowed owner, Elizabeth Turner, to Selma when he was 5 years old. It is believed that Turner received some education as a playmate of the family’s white children. Around age 20, Turner was sold to Major W.H. Gee.

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According to the U.S. House of Representatives, “Major Gee owned a hotel and a livery stable and permitted Turner to manage the businesses and keep part of the profits.” Following Gee’s death, his brother James inherited Turner, whom he had continue to manage the hotel.

During the Civil War, Union troops destroyed about two-thirds of Selma, including land owned by Turner. Following the war, in an effort to rebuild, Turner established a school for African American children to provide them with the same education and opportunities that he had been afforded.

Within his first five years as a free man, Turner was elected to serve as the Dallas County tax collector and as Selma’s first African American city councilman.

In 1870, Turner was elected into the U.S. House of Representatives. According to the U.S. House of Representatives, Turner spent much of his congressional career seeking financial aid for Alabama, while also supporting universal suffrage and universal amnesty. Regarding amnesty, Turner said, “I have no coals of fiery reproach to heap upon them now. Rather would I extend the olive branch of peace, and say to them, let the past be forgotten.”

Turner lost re-election and returned to his businesses in 1873. The harsh economic swings of the late 1800s caused Turner to die, nearly penniless, on March 21, 1894.

“Through The Slave Who Went to Congress, Gaillard and Rosner bring the lesser known story of the courageous and accomplished Turner to life,” said Harrison.

On the heels of the Alabama’s bicentennial celebration, this book provides an opportunity for reflection and recognition of an important chapter in Alabama history, at a level suitable for younger readers. In addition, NewSouth Books has provided a free lesson plan to help teachers and home-schoolers share this engaging book with their families or students.

Join authors Gaillard and Rosner on Friday, April 17 at 6 p.m. for a Facebook Live conversation about the life of Benjamin Sterling Turner. The authors will discuss the inspiration behind the book, read a selection, and answer questions from the online audience.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Defeat cabin fever and learn new things with UAB virtual classes

(UAB/Contributed)

Don’t let cabin fever get you down – express your creativity with help from UAB artists-in-residence as you stay safe at home.

You’ll find myriad playlists from UAB ArtPlayArts in Medicine and AEIVA that offer something for everyone. Best of all, UAB teachers guide virtual learners every step of the way. None of the classes are longer than 20 minutes, which helps to mesh activities into an evolving home-school routine.

You’ve got the time – learn a new skill

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Ten ArtPlay classes let you grow skills you can use. A hand-stitching class teaches the basics of sewing, instructing about the simplest way to thread a needle. Basic techniques given in this class could be handy when making a cloth face mask. Relax while painting with watercolors or map out your life plan. Let your mind roam as you design beautiful art patterns suitable for home decoration. Keep your hands busy while learning to create paper hexagons for gift-giving and enjoyment.

Boost your child’s home-schooling routine

Keep the kids entertained with UAB’s storytelling and the “Storytime” book series, which includes Spanish selections. Subscribe for updates to see new subjects each week.

You can help guide kids through fun art activities – perfect for beginners – but still allow youngsters to do the work:

Enhance your children’s home-schooling routine with ArtPlay writing lessons from professional writer Audrey Atkins:

Become an AEIVA subscriber and develop a stronger art appreciation

After the kids settle down, feed your artistic leanings with selections from AEIVA. Many people don’t realize the university has a permanent art collection. Enjoy AEIVA videos including Staff ChatsObjects from the Collection and a guest chat with Emmie Megan Hicks as she examines “Le Seigneur et la Dame,” a famous lithograph by Pablo Picasso.

Visit UAB’s Alys Stephens Center on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Visit AEIVA on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Sozo Children’s Choir from Africa making best of time ‘stuck’ in Alabama due to COVID-19

(Sozo Children/Contributed)

In these extraordinary times of change and uncertainty, imagine being quarantined over 7,800 miles from home.

Fourteen children from Uganda, Africa, have been staying with a family in Indian Springs, Alabama, since early March. They are part of Sozo Children, a nonprofit Christian organization founded in Uganda by Birmingham native Suzanne Owens.

Initially working in the mortgage industry, Owens had a change of heart that would transform hundreds of lives.

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“In 2003, I had a calling on my life through a sermon at a leadership conference and that message was, ‘Am I going to fish for perch or fish for men?’ This was from the passage in the Bible in Matthew 4:19,” said Owens.  “Soon after that calling, I began working as a youth minister at a local church in Birmingham and worked there for seven years.”

During that time, Owens’ church encouraged college-age students to visit and help in an area of the world with need. “We felt strongly about being the hands and feet of Christ. … There were two recent college graduates, Jay and Allen, that asked if they could serve longer somewhere in the world,” Owens said.

At that same time, a Ugandan couple that had housed mission teams in Uganda was in the United States, staying with Owens while their daughter received medical care. The medical procedures were unsuccessful, and the daughter died, so the couple returned home. Soon after, they welcomed the student missionaries to Uganda.

When the missionaries reported back to Owens that there were children suffering from neglect and hunger, she worked with the Ugandan government and rented a new family-style home and established Sozo Children on May 13, 2010. A Greek word, “sozo” means to “save, keep safe or rescue from harm.” Sozo Children’s mission is to disciple children into the next generation of Christian leaders.

“In the beginning, the kids came from a poorly run home that the government shut down,” Owens said. “Today, we are governed by the Ministry of Gender and they assign children to Sozo.”

According to The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 56% of all Ugandan children live in poverty. Some of the challenges include: 43% of children are unable to read or write, 77% of multidimensionally poor children are unable to go to a health facility or afford prescribed medicine when ill, and 48% of all children do not receive three meals a day due to a lack of money.

The need was apparent, and Sozo expanded, renting three additional family-style homes between 2011-2014 and purchasing 28 acres of land in a Ugandan village. Last year, Sozo Children completed the first phase of a building project and moved the children from the rented homes in multiple locations to eight family-style homes on Sozo’s land. Today, the nonprofit, with the help and love provided by a team of Uganda caregivers, delivers proper nutrition, healthcare, quality education and spiritual development and life skills to over 120 children.

To further expand the opportunities for the children, Owens began a Children’s Choir in 2016.

“At the church I served at in 2007, we hosted a choir from Africa,” Owens said. “We saw firsthand the good in the kids coming to the U.S. and spreading the love of Christ.

“After we started Sozo, we knew that we would love to do the same for our kiddos,” Owens continued.

During that inaugural four-month tour, the children gave 102 performances in 43 cities, across 10 states.

This year, on Sozo’s 10th anniversary, the Children’s Choir returned in early March to tour for several months throughout the U.S. However, the precautionary measures caused by COVID-19 have led to the cancellation of many of their performances and required them to stay in Alabama indefinitely.

“For now, all of the choir and several of us are staying in Indian Springs,” Owens said. “The kids are on a schedule with school and practice, but they also have time for playing outside, riding their bicycles, playing in the creek and watching movies. We spend the mornings and evenings in praise and worship and studying God’s Word.”

Fortunately, the children’s Ugandan Child Development Director, Aggie, is with the students in Indian Springs and assists them with Facetiming Sozo family members in Uganda. So, they are able to keep in touch and share the new experiences they are having in America.

“They love the bikes that were donated to them,” Owens said. “They also say school is fun sometimes. They love the food and trying new things.”

While the pandemic has allowed the children the opportunity to experience life in Alabama, like so many others, it has also prevented some of the revenue sources for the nonprofit.  Along with the postponement of the choir tour and cancellation of other special events, the pandemic guidelines have forced the temporary closing of Sozo Trading Company, a thrift marketplace that Owens opened in 2015 to help provide sustainable income for the nonprofit.

“We are praying for drop-offs of clothing and household donations for Sozo Trading Company to continue even though our retail operation is closed for now,” Owens said. “And we are grateful for those who continue to give financially to ensure our mission continues.”

Owens welcomes support for the Sozo Choir and caretakers staying in Indian Springs with the donation of meals or supplies listed on Sozo Choir page on their website. To donate supplies, text Suzanne Owens at 205-401-8968 for drop-off directions. Monetary donations for Sozo Children and Sozo Choir can be made directly through the website as well.

“We are so grateful for the outpouring of love for Sozo Choir.” Owens said. “For the protection of our kiddos and friends, we ask that all supplies and food be left outside the front door … and we welcome your waves and virtual hugs, and hope to visit with everyone once it is safe.”

The Sozo Children website offers additional opportunities to support the nonprofit, through one-time giving, recurring monthly child sponsorships or purchasing supplies.

“Every donation helps to empower these children for future success, so that they can impact further positive change within their communities and in Ugandan society,” Owens said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)