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.

2 weeks ago

Alabama female mathematician blazed new trails at NASA

((NASA, MSFC/Contributed)

Astronauts who walk on the moon or take flights into outer space capture lots of attention. But few people think about the people who have spent hours working behind the scenes to make those “giant leaps for mankind” happen.

Jeanette Scissum was one of the behind-the-scenes contributors. Like those early explorers of the last frontier, she broke through barriers as the first Black female mathematician at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Scissum, 81, believes the opportunity to work at the space flight center came because she was “at the right place at the right time.”

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While in college, a classmate who worked at Marshall told Scissum that the space flight center was looking for Blacks for its co-op program. Learning there were no openings in her field, she got a job teaching at Councill Training School (now Madison County High School) in Huntsville in 1961 but quickly realized it was not for her.

“I put too much stress on myself,” she said. “I was very young, with high expectations. I took every student’s problem to heart and ended up with an ulcer.”

Wanting a change, Scissum continued to apply for a job at Marshall until she finally got a break.

“My mother worked for the mother of the personnel director at Marshall,” said Scissum. “She told my mother to tell me to give her son a call, and I did. I told him I had been applying and had not received a response. He said, ‘We’ll take care of that.’”

The result: Scissum came on board as a mathematician at Marshall Space Flight Center in 1963.

During those early years, Scissum worked on a team doing mathematical and statistical analysis of space environment data/parameters.

Then, in 1967, Scissum received an assignment that led to one of her most significant contributions to the space program. She wrote a computer program that could be used to forecast the sunspot cycle and then published her findings in a NASA report called, “Survey of Solar Cycle Prediction Models.”

Scissum moved to the Space Environment Branch of Marshall’s Space Sciences Laboratory in the mid-1970s. As a space scientist, she led activities in the center’s Atmospheric, Magnetospheric and Plasmas in Space project.

Scissum said as a Black woman at Marshall, she faced “pushback” from some of the men in the early days of her career.

“I was harassed a little bit, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle,” she said. “Some of the men felt I had no business in the workforce because my husband had a job.”

Leaders at Marshall recognized Scissum’s passion for promoting inclusion and diversity and invited her to become an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officer at the facility in 1973.

“I was successful in resolving cases involving white men and women, but I had a harder time helping the Black people,” she said. “A lot of times, it wasn’t an EEO problem but a communications issue. All it required most of the time was sitting down together and talking about the issue and working out a solution.”

Scissum said her efforts to fight for other employees almost put her career in jeopardy. She was warned that management was not happy because she handled so many complaints.

“That didn’t stop me,” she said. “I told them ‘I thought you wanted me to resolve problems.’”

In the end, Scissum’s work in this area did not go unnoticed. In recognition of her contributions, she received NASA’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program Award. Scissum wrote an article in 1975 for the National Technical Association noting that the key to avoiding most discrimination complaints is good communication.

Looking back, Scissum said her career path was no surprise. Her father, a sharecropper and farmer in Marshall County, saw his daughter’s promise soon after she began elementary school.

“My dad used to tell me all the time that I would go to college,” said Scissum. “I was a good student, and I think he saw my potential with numbers.”

After high school, Scissum had no idea how to make that prediction come true, since her father was in a Tuskegee hospital and her family struggling to make ends meet. But thanks to a work scholarship, she made her father’s dream a reality, becoming the only one of the family’s six children to attend college.

Scissum received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics at Alabama A&M in the 1960s and 1970s. While working at Marshall, she taught herself how to use the computer.

“I enjoyed math. But after a while, I wanted to move on to something else, and that’s how I got interested in computers,” she said.

Scissum moved to Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland in 1979, where she worked as a computer scientist for 18 months. She transferred to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., as a computer systems analyst. Scissum managed the development and implementation of technical support systems for NASA headquarters and NASA centers until her retirement in 2005. She and her husband live on a farm in Brownsboro near Huntsville,

Like her father, Scissum has encouraged her four children and six grandchildren to pursue higher education. Her grandson, Kuni Scissum, said his grandmother is his inspiration.

“My grandmother was very encouraging and always believed that we could do great things,” said Kuni, an engineer for Southern Company Research and Development. “Growing up, she was always my kind, sweet grandmother. It was not until high school that I realized she was a great scientist and mathematician. She is one of the motivators that led me to become an engineer.”

Acting NASA Chief Historian Brian Odom said Scissum made her mark at NASA as a mathematician and a counselor working on behalf of her fellow employees.

“Born into the segregated world of a pre-civil rights era South, Jeanette overcame tremendous obstacles not only to come to work for the space program but to make important contributions to our knowledge of the solar cycles,” he said. “Beyond that, Jeanette continued the fight for diversity and inclusion at the agency to ensure those who came behind her would also find a place at NASA.

“Jeanette is an excellent example of someone who refused to submit to the constraints of her circumstances,” he added. “She is a true trailblazer who never gave up on the idea that the world could be made a better place and, in the process, held open the door of opportunity for those who came after her.”

Scissum looks back on her career with pride, saying the opportunities she received were “almost unbelievable.”

“It was the Lord’s hand at work,” she said. “Working at NASA was a good experience, and I’m thankful for it.”

Throughout March, Alabama NewsCenter is recognizing Alabama women of distinction, past and present, in celebration of Women’s History Month.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

University students at Auburn, Alabama team to put food resources at families’ fingertips

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

When it comes to feeding the hungry, the state’s two fiercest football rivals are on the same team, working together to offer a helping hand.

Last summer, Auburn University’s Hunger Solutions Institute (HSI) launched the End Child Hunger in Alabama (ECHA) County Food Guide Project, a centralized clearinghouse of food resources for struggling families, and then partnered with the University of Alabama (UA) School of Social Work and others to update and maintain the project.

“We developed this project in response to the increased need for food throughout the state during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Malerie Goodman, graduate research assistant at HSI. “We were seeing so many changes – the opening of food banks, new grocery store operating hours and policies, and new requirements for nutrition programs. But you had to Google endlessly to find all these resources that were becoming available.”

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Goodman and HSI Managing Director Alicia Powers got the idea to create the food guide project to address the growing food needs in Alabama. HSI developed the county food guide project, an interactive, one-stop shop where people can find all the food resources available in their county.

ECHA is a network of state leaders in the public and private sectors working to address hunger and food insecurity among Alabama children and young people. Part of Auburn’s College of Human Sciences, HSI works to further the university’s efforts to wipe out food insecurity  domestically and globally.

Goodman said getting the project off the ground was a team effort, with support from Share Meals, the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter CollegeAirTable and more than 85 volunteers and community partners across Alabama.

“Our goal is to get all these resources in one place so families in crisis can find food,” Goodman said. “Basically, we have been doing all the legwork that we don’t want families to have to do.”

To help with this massive undertaking, HSI called on social work students from Auburn University and the University of Alabama. Since last fall, the students, known as county ambassadors, have been working to populate the online database with comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date information on sources of food throughout Alabama.

“I think the project is really amazing,” said Asia Suttle, a graduate student in the UA Master of Social Work Program. “I know hunger has always been an issue, but it has become a bigger problem since the pandemic. It’s nice to know that I’m helping give people the information they need to find food.”

Suttle, who has been attending college remotely from her home in Talladega, is calling grocery stores statewide. She updates the database with revised store policies, including special operating hours for seniors and the availability of curbside pickup or delivery.

Kimberly Gibson said the project came at a perfect time for UA graduate students, who needed remote internship opportunities during the pandemic.

“It has offered meaningful field hours for our students,” said Gibson, field coordinator in UA’s Master of Social Work Program. “Food security is always a challenge in Alabama, but especially now with so many people out of work. Our students recognize the importance of having access to food, particularly in rural Alabama, and connecting people to resources plays an important role in what they will do as social workers.”

“The students are receiving a valuable remote internship experience, and we are getting the assistance we need in keeping our database up to date,” she said.

Gibson added, “Anytime Alabama and Auburn can come together and work on projects is great, especially when they are helping improve the lives of Alabamians.”

Goodman said the database has grown to 7,000 resources. It includes food banks, soup kitchens, grocery stores, senior centers, child nutrition programs and food resources for pregnant women, children and struggling college students.

Goodman said HSI’s goal is to spread the word about the database to as many people as possible.

“When a family is in crisis, they need food now,” Goodman said. “We’re here to help the organizations doing the work in the trenches get the word to families that they exist and they can help.”

HSI’s next step is to expand the project, offering food resources via automated text and phone for those who don’t have Internet.

The food guide project will be a vital resource long after the pandemic ends, Goodman noted.

“In Alabama, one in four children are food insecure, and that was even before the pandemic hit,” she said. “While we realize that people need resources in times of uncertainty, we also realize that families will continue to need food when things get back to the way they were.”

Goodman is grateful for the help HSI has received to make this project a reality.

“We are proud of the students and volunteers who have given countless hours to this project,” she said. “It just speaks to the sense of camaraderie that we have seen throughout the state. Food insecurity is not limited to families in extreme poverty at this time. You may have friends and neighbors who are experiencing hunger, and you wouldn’t even know it. Our county ambassadors are making sure these people have the resources they need.”

Visit the ECHA County Food Guide at aub.ie/foodguides and click on your county on the interactive map to find a list of food resources in your area.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama Power’s Southern Division Energizers stand in for Santa, bring cheer to four nonprofits

The Montgomery Area Food Bank is one of four nonprofits to receive funding this season from Alabama Power's Southern Division Energizers. Each organization received $3,000 to help people in need. (Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

Children at Adullam House in Wetumpka may have had a white Christmas this year, thanks to a recent donation from Alabama Power’s Southern Division Energizers.

Angie Spackman, director of Adullam House, said the unexpected funds will help make it possible for the children to travel to Gatlinburg for the holidays. Adullam House is a ministry that provides a home and school for children of incarcerated parents.

“In 2020, we plan to make memories for the children in our care,” Spackman said. “Rather than giving gifts this Christmas, we will be taking them on a trip to ‘find snow.’ This generous gift from Southern Division Energizers will enable us to do some fun activities with the children as well as simply taking care of basic needs. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making so much possible for so many kids.”

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It’s no surprise that Southern Division Energizers are continuing to help those in need, despite social-distancing restrictions and springtime shelter-in-place rules due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Southern Division chapter gave $12,000 to four nonprofit organizations to help support their efforts during the holidays. Energizers is a companywide service organization made up of Alabama Power and Southern Company retirees and spouses and includes 11 chapters.

“This year was completely different,” said Southern Division Energizers President Marvin Salter. “We only had one Energizers meeting, and at that time we had no clue about COVID. We also had to cancel our annual spring auction. But we still wanted to support the charities.”

The chapter’s board turned to members for help with donations. The members came through by giving $2,200.

The chapter also added to the pot some of the money from membership dues, along with funds usually earmarked for meeting expenses and a contribution from the state Energizers board.

Thanks to those efforts, Salter and Michael Smith, Southern Division Energizers president-elect, delivered on Dec. 10 $3,000 checks to four organizations – Adullam House, Project Lifesaver-Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, Montgomery Area Food Bank and Alabama Sheriff’s Department Youth Ranches.

“It was very gratifying to be able to go and give those charities money,” Salter said. “We try to select charities that are far reaching rather than those that only help a local area. Although we haven’t been able to meet this year, our money is still helping people far beyond our local communities.”

Smith said he and Salter “felt like Santa Claus” as they distributed the checks.

“As an Energizer, handing someone a check and seeing that person’s smile is something that money can’t buy,” Smith said. “I’ve never seen people so excited to get money in my life. They were so thankful. Even though we’re retired, being an Energizer gives us the chance to continue to be good stewards in the community and help these organizations.”

Southern Division Energizers are not the only company retirees who have been making a difference during the pandemic. As of Nov. 1, Alabama Power’s 11 Energizers chapters have donated $79,100 to 56 charities statewide.

Organizations that have benefited include food banks, libraries, humane societies, child advocacy centers, women’s and children’s shelters, Department of Human Resources gift drives for kids and disabled veterans.

“The members knew that in these COVID times, they couldn’t get out and volunteer and raise funds. Yet now is when the nonprofits need the money the most,” said Don Franklin, Alabama Power’s Energizers coordinator.

That’s when the state Energizers board stepped up to lend a hand.

When the organization was forced to cancel its annual leadership workshop, Franklin said the board divided the money budgeted for the event among the chapters. They, in turn, passed the funds to charities in their communities.

“I’m really proud of our members,” Franklin said. “Hundreds of people are being helped because of their generosity. While they can’t volunteer now, the Energizers are trying to do as much as possible. It’s not that they feel they have to do it; they are proud to help their communities.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Gadsden, Anniston Alabama Power employees say ‘thanks’ to health care workers

(Spencer Williams/Contributed)

Eastern Division Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) members recently celebrated local health care workers with waves, smiles and a special “thank you” parade.

On Oct. 1, 15 Gadsden APSO subarea members hosted a drive-by parade at Riverview Regional Medical Center in Gadsden to thank the health care workers for their dedicated service and long hours of work since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Riding in 12 Alabama Power trucks, employees rolled through the parking lot while waving, honking horns, cheering and smiling at about 60 doctors, nurses and other hospital staff who lined the front entrance and sidewalk. APSO volunteers gave the staff a lunchtime treat by providing 100 meals from local eatery Little Bridge Marina.

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“Although the virus has impacted all of society, health care workers have had to serve throughout the pandemic,” said Willette Chambliss, Gadsden APSO subarea chairperson and an Alabama Power real estate specialist. “They have given their time and effort to save and protect us. It was great to do something even as small as giving them lunch to show them that we appreciate them, we are behind them and we thank them for their sacrifice and heroic efforts.”

Susan Moore, director of Marketing and Business Development at Riverview Regional Medical Center, said the recognition from Alabama Power “meant the world” to hospital staff.

“Our employees were extremely honored,” Moore said. “It was very uplifting to see that the community still cares and is praying for us, especially knowing that your guys were just on the Gulf Coast restoring power after Hurricane Sally. It’s uplifting to know that your guys took time away from helping others to make us feel special, loved and appreciated.”

The two lead trucks were decorated with a banner that said, “Thank you, health care workers.” Additionally, Spencer Williams, Alabama Power Eastern Division community relations manager, and Jerri Bain, Gadsden customer service representative, presented a giant thank you card signed by employees to Riverview Regional Medical Center CEO John Langlois.

The idea for the parade came from Eastern Division Vice President Terry Smiley, who challenged employees to find a special way to recognize these front-line workers.

“it was an absolutely awesome experience,” Williams said. “It was great to recognize these guys for their effort and sacrifice because they have not slowed down at all throughout this crisis.”

Meanwhile, Anniston APSO subarea members brought a ray of sunshine to a rainy day, treating local health care workers to a thank you lunch on Sept. 16.

Although their drive-by parade was rained out, APSO volunteers provided 100 meals to Regional Medical Center in Anniston. The meals from area restaurant Rosie’s Gourmet to Go were distributed to nurses, doctors and staff in the COVID-19 unit, emergency room and intensive care unit, as well as the respiratory and occupational health departments. APSO gave 25 meals to the staff at Anniston’s Stringfellow Hospital.

“We have learned a lot of new information concerning COVID-19, the pandemic and these unprecedented times,” said Lagina Fillingim, executive director of Regional Medical Center Foundation. “But there are a few things that have remained the same and those are community support and kindness. Alabama Power is always here for our local health system and we value their partnership.”

Eastern Division APSO is not finished spreading cheer. Gadsden APSO volunteers will soon distribute meals and have a drive-by parade for staff at Gadsden Regional Medical Center.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Alabama Power unsung hero Katie Glenn shines in her community, at work

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

H. Neely Henry Hydro Plant Superintendent Jeff Harris calls Katie Glenn the “Mama Hen” of the facility, adding that her caring support of her co-workers and community shines through everything she does.

“Katie takes care of everybody here at the plant,” said Harris. “She is the one who makes sure we are comfortable and have everything we need, and calls to check on us when we’re not at the plant. She also leads in her community through her church and her participation in the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO). She has a love for people.”

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Katie Glenn is an Alabama Power unsung hero at work and in her community from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Glenn’s love for others has been evident since the pandemic began, Harris said. With many people out of work and struggling to buy groceries and other necessities as a result of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 crisis, she is doing her part to help lift that load.

Every other Tuesday morning, Glenn can be found at her church, Mountain Home Baptist in Sycamore, helping bag and hand out fresh fruits and vegetables to people in need. The church has been hosting weekly food drives since July.

“We are giving the food to anybody who wants it,” said Glenn, plant auxiliary at H. Neely Henry Dam. “People just drive up in their car, we load the food into their trunk, and they keep going. It’s very safe because there’s no contact between us and them.”

Distributing food at her church has not been enough for Glenn. When she came across a flier in June seeking volunteers for a drive-thru food and supplies giveaway at the Talladega Superspeedway, she knew she wanted to help.

The NASCAR Foundation, the Joey Logano Foundation and Elevation Outreach Ministries brought a “Convoy of Hope” tractor-trailer with more than 38,000 pounds of food and hygiene products to the superspeedway to help people in the community affected by COVID-19. The event was three days before the much-anticipated NASCAR race at the superspeedway. Convoy of Hope is a traveling faith-based relief organization whose mission is to feed the hungry worldwide.

Glenn spent five hours on the evening of June 17 helping unload the trailer and fill bags with food, water, juices and toiletries. There were stuffed animals and sweets placed in bags for kids, she said.

Glenn returned to the superspeedway the next morning, where she helped load bags into the trunks of vehicles. Each family received four bags during the no-contact giveaway.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

Children’s of Alabama doctor offers tips for keeping kids safe during pandemic

(Contributed)

Although it’s no picnic, wearing a face mask gets easier.

That’s Elizabeth Perkins’ message to kids who have not yet started back to school. After more than a week of wearing a face mask for about six hours a day at school, the eighth grader at Bessemer Academy advises other students to practice wearing their mask at home as much as possible before returning to the classroom.

“Wearing a mask was hard at first,” said Perkins. “The first day, I tried to get away from people for a few minutes so I could pull it away from my face just to try to breathe. Now it’s still a little weird, but I think I’m getting used to it.”

Dr. Gigi Youngblood, a pediatrician at Pediatrics East – Children’s of Alabama, agrees that encouraging kids to practice social distancing and wearing face coverings, and reminding them to thoroughly wash their hands are the keys to keeping them safe. Whether they are in the classroom or taking part in remote learning at home, children need to understand the importance of practicing these safety measures, she said.

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But how do you get kids on board?

“First and foremost, we have to model good behavior for our kids,” said Youngblood. “Kids never respond to ‘Do what I say, not what I do.’ Then, we have to help kids understand that they are protecting their family, friends and neighbors as much as themselves.”

Youngblood said even the youngest child knows what it means to get sick.

“Kids are taught early on that we are susceptible to germs,” she said. “We can help them understand COVID-19 by explaining that there’s a new germ, and we don’t know how susceptible our bodies are to it. We don’t want them to be terrified of getting sick. So we take the focus off them and encourage them to focus on doing these things to protect others to keep them from becoming overwhelmed during these scary times.”

Youngblood said children and teenagers alike are susceptible to the virus.

“From the data we have available now, we think young kids are less likely to become severely ill, but they can spread the virus to the adults who care for them. That’s why masking and social distancing are so important,” she said.

Youngblood said wearing a mask is one of the most straightforward, effective strategies for keeping children safe. Other ways to prevent the spread of viruses like COVID-19 include physical distancing, good hand hygiene, health screenings and rapid response to any symptoms. Using these tools can greatly reduce the spread among kids.

Youngblood said universal masking is one of the best ways to prevent large-scale school quarantines or closures. But learning to adapt to a mask takes time.

She offers tips to help students become comfortable with their masks before entering a classroom. These tips will also help kids who are learning at home because they will need to wear a mask when accompanying parents outside the home.

  • Allow children to pick their mask. There are many styles and designs. The key is to choose a two- or three-layer mask that covers the nose and mouth, and stays in place during normal movement. Avoid masks with an exhalation valve because they allow droplets to pass from the wearer to other people.
  • After washing the mask, encourage your child to wear it for a few minutes in a stress-free environment. With young children, parents can often convince them by donning their own mask. Then, use positive reinforcement and praise to reward children for meeting their goal.
  • Begin slowly increasing the amount of time that your children are wearing a mask. Don’t be concerned if they are constantly touching or adjusting the mask at first. That’s normal. They will adjust to wearing a mask over time.
  • Have children wear a mask while performing indoor activities, like watching TV or playing games on a tablet. Next, take it up a notch by asking them to read aloud, talk on the phone, jump up and down or dance while wearing a mask.
  • Have children practice wearing a mask outside in case they are required to wear it on a playground or while taking part in sports.

Youngblood said these tips can be adjusted, depending on a child’s age. She said the only children who should not wear a face covering are those younger than 2 years old or with special needs who can’t remove it without assistance.

Youngblood said adults and kids have to do their part to beat this pandemic. She added that even for a health professional, becoming accustomed to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) all day is not easy.

“When I first started wearing a face mask and face shield in March, it felt very cumbersome,” said Youngblood. “Now, if I go into a patient’s room, and I forget to put it on, it doesn’t feel natural. Now wearing PPE is second nature.”

Youngblood said giving other people “grace and support” is crucial.

“Remind your kids that they are doing an important job by helping to keep others in their community safe and healthy,” she said. “We need to help protect each other so we will have a healthy, thriving community when this pandemic is over.”

Parents should consult their child’s pediatrician to answer questions or get more information.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 months ago

Talladega’s Union Village provides homes, independence to people with disabilities

(Union Village/Contributed)

Jim Bob Rutlin has come home at last.

Rutlin is one of the first residents of Union Village, an innovative community in Talladega for low-income blind, deaf and deaf-blind individuals.

“It gives me a sense of independence,” said Rutlin, a blind part-time Braille transcriber at the library at the Alabama School for the Deaf.  “It says we’re grown, we pay taxes and we can have a place of our own. This is home for good, and I thank God for that every night.”

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The Presbyterian Home for Children (PHFC) is partnering with the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB) and two Birmingham-based foundations to expand the village, which features affordable, safe, secure and accessible housing for people who are blind, deaf and deaf-blind.

Since 2017, PHFC has owned and operated the village on part of its 80-acre Talladega campus for AIDB consumers. The rental income from the houses goes back to help support PHFC’s programs for homeless children, at-risk teens and young adults, and families in crisis from across Alabama and the Southeast.

Meanwhile, AIDB provides the community’s residents with services including job assistance, transportation, employment opportunities and on-site medical care.

“Union Village is an example of how organizations working together can do something extraordinary,” PHFC President and CEO Doug Marshall said. “There are very few, if any, communities like this in the country. Now more than ever there is a need for safe, secure and affordable housing for low-income men and women who are deaf, blind or deaf-blind. And income from the rentals will help to offset a portion of PHFC’s operating costs to serve children, which is and will always be its core ministry.”

Alabama nonprofits unite to create Union Village for deaf and blind residents from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Now, the Daniel Foundation of Alabama and the Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC) Foundation are stepping in to lend a hand and help the village grow. They are donating funds to PHFC to build two additional houses.

“We are excited to partner with these organizations in support of Union Village,” said Maria Kennedy, Daniel Foundation executive director. “Our mission focuses on improving quality of life and meeting basic needs. It’s heartwarming for us to know that we are part of an effort to offer houses that are affordable and designed to meet the specific needs of blind, deaf and deaf-blind people. It’s a win-win for all four organizations.”

IPC Foundation Executive Director Denise Moore said her organization is proud to help these residents step out on their own.

“The IPC Foundation is committed to providing people with hope and the tools to lead full, happy lives through education, medical assistance and safe housing,” she said. “We have a long history of supporting the work of the Presbyterian Home for Children and Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. We are honored to partner with them again to help provide safe, affordable housing and necessary services for the people at Union Village.”

Beth Adams added that the IPC Foundation is excited about this project.

“We are thrilled to be a part of this much-needed program to meet the needs of our blind, deaf and deaf-blind neighbors in Alabama,” said Adams, president of the IPC Foundation board. “The foundation continues to seek partnerships with nonprofits that work to make a critical difference in the lives of Alabamians.”

The all-electric village is a three-phase project, Marshall said. The first phase has been completed and includes five large cottages with 28 residents. Plans are to add 42 tiny duplex-style, accessible homes during the second and third phases.

The first two 475-square-foot houses were built this past fall, one of which is Rutlin’s home. The second two houses are under construction and set to be completed in September.

“The houses are fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Marshall said. “They feature zero-step entry into the house, minimal thresholds, 9-foot ceilings and strategic placement of lighting. They are also very energy efficient, which will help lower power bills.”

Shaded by large oak and pecan trees, the community will eventually include walkways, gardens and picnic areas, making it easy for residents to meet and enjoy the outdoors.

Tamara Kidd, social worker and AIDB Support Housing Program supervisor, said she is thrilled to see this village take shape. A recent survey conducted by the AIDB Regional Centers showed that a significant percentage of AIDB’s consumers were interested in living in this type of community.

“For years, we’ve wanted to have safe, affordable housing for our consumers,” said Kidd, who has worked at AIDB for 16 years. “Finally having a safe community that is affordable and accessible within the city limits is a dream come true for our residents and for AIDB. Safety is the No. 1 priority for our consumers, and the Presbyterian Home for Children has been a blessing to provide that for them.”

Marshall said he is looking forward to the continued expansion of the village.

“It’s pretty amazing that the Lord has put these two very different institutions – PHFC and AIDB – side by side, and now we’re working with two more nonprofits – the Daniel Foundation and IPC Foundation – on something so wonderful,” he said. “This village gives these residents a chance to be independent and all they can be. Together, we’re changing lives.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 months ago

Alabama Power Gadsden employee enlists friends’ help to feed kids, neighbors during pandemic

(The Community Food Pantry/Contributed)

In the midst of the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Misty Kerr has found joy by helping to feed hungry kids in her community.

“With all the bad news on TV, I had to have something to smile about,” said Kerr, an automotive market specialist at Alabama Power’s Gadsden Office. “When all this is over and I think back on the pandemic, I wanted to be able to think about the good that came out of it. There is nothing more fulfilling than feeding children.”

When schools abruptly closed in March, Kerr became concerned. Knowing that many of the children in her Gadsden community depend on free or reduced-priced lunches at school, she turned to Facebook to see how she could help. That was the start of a fast friendship among Kerr and four Gadsden-area women who share a passion for making sure kids’ bellies are full.

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“We decided that action was the only option,” said Kerr. “We started with a food drive at Noccalula Falls and, to our surprise, droves of neighbors came out and donated food and, more surprisingly, they made monetary donations.”

Their success led Kerr, Serena Gramling, Stacey Yates, Stacy Harris and Krista Ashley to launch the Titan Community Food Pantry, named for the mascot at Gadsden City High School.

The night of the food drive, Kerr began researching how to form a nonprofit. Later that week, the five friends distributed the 225 bags of food they had collected to students at Emma Sansom and Litchfield Middle schools – two of the Gadsden schools that had not yet restarted their food distribution program.

“In the first week, we held a food drive, started filling out the paperwork and developing the articles of incorporation for our nonprofit, opened a bank account and handed out food,” Kerr said. “Behind every decision concerning the food bank, serving others was our mission.”

The women then reached out to principals at schools across Etowah County and set up the Titan Community Food Pantry Facebook site to raise awareness and offer assistance. As word spread, they learned of more needs both at schools and in the community.

Kerr said one request came from a pastor in east Gadsden. Tymetric “Ty” Dillon, of Living Truth Christian Center, said people were coming to the church to ask for food for their families, but he couldn’t find any businesses or people who could help. When the women offered to bring 150 bags of food, Dillon was amazed.

“I reached out to Misty to see if we could replicate the things they were doing,” Dillon said. “But she was so gracious to say we would love to partner with you and feed the kids in your community. They have really embraced us. It means so much to us. The east Gadsden area can be overlooked because of the demographics. When you have people take a genuine interest, it means a lot to me and to the community.”

Since then, the women have continued to keep the church supplied with food for the community.

Chance Goodwin, principal at C.A. Donehoo Elementary School, was overwhelmed by the women’s generosity. During their food giveaway at the school, they handed out 190 bags of food to students.

“That was huge,” Goodwin said. “A lot of our parents were not working at the time, and the ladies were giving away a lot of food that could be used to feed their families. It really made a difference in their lives.”

Kerr said her friends have involved their children in the mission. Noa Yates; Riley Kerr; Kaelyn, Ethan, Dalton and Kendall Harris; Emma and Tommy Gramling; and Anna Kate and Carson Ashley helped pack bags and distribute food.

“Our kids’ lives had changed as well,” Kerr said. “On distribution days, cars would line up, and we would pass the bags through the window to keep social distancing intact and wear masks to further enhance safety.”

Kerr said the community stepped up in a big way, with individuals and churches making donations.

“Krista Ashley started the Titan Community Food Pantry GoFundMe page, and within three days, $500 had been donated,” Kerr said. “I had one lady call me twice and say, ‘Go look in your mailbox. I’ve left something for you.’ When I looked, she had left a $500 check.”

Using the donations, Kerr and the other women began shopping for grocery deals. They took advantage of coupons and compared prices to get the best bang for their buck.

The food pantry, housed in a garage apartment at Kerr’s home, quickly began filling up with nutritious prepackaged food, such as pudding and fruit cups, granola bars, peanut butter and jelly, crackers and cans of soup. On the day of the giveaways, the group dropped by a grocery store to pick up milk, pizza, sausage biscuits and other frozen foods to give children. Since March, they have distributed more than 1,200 bags with three-day meal supplies to schools and others throughout the community.

The women learned that children weren’t the only hungry ones during the pandemic. They delivered more than 300 boxes of food to homebound or immunocompromised people. Among them were an elderly couple with a disabled adult, and a family of seven who have no transportation.

“We go where the needs are,” Kerr said. “We don’t ask questions. If they need food, we give it to them. It just breaks my heart to see anyone go hungry.”

Kerr said the women will keep the pantry open as long as there is a need.

“It has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Kerr said. “To you, this might just be a pandemic but, to me, I’ve found a new passion by truly loving my neighbors and community.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 months ago

ALtogether Alabama and its partners lend support to Alabamians during COVID-19 crisis

(Pannie-George's Kitchen/Contributed)

When Alabama shut down in April to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Lorine Askew and her four daughters did their best to keep their two restaurants’ doors open, even though it was a struggle for their families.

“Like everybody else, we were affected by the shutdown,” said Askew. “But we never gave up because we had people working for us. Those people had families to feed and bills to pay, and they needed to work. When you care about your employees, you try to sacrifice for them, even if you are not getting paid. But God has continued to bless us.”

Askew and her daughters, Mary Key, Kia Tyndale, Jerelene Askew and Rewa Ford, together run Pannie-George’s Kitchen, a family-owned restaurant with locations in Auburn and Montgomery. It is named for Lorine’s parents, Pannie and George Taylor, who often welcomed church friends into their kitchen for a home-cooked “Sunday supper,” and passed their love of serving others to their children and grandchildren.

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“We didn’t start out to open a restaurant, but God led us to it,” Key said. “We started out doing plate sales to raise money for our family reunion trip. We sold them at the local hospital and car lots. But people loved the food so much that they wanted us to continue, so my mom, sisters and I opened the restaurant in Auburn 15 years ago.”

Pannie-George’s Kitchen has become a favorite spot. Its new Montgomery location, which opened in January, was catching on fast. Then, the coronavirus hit.

During the shutdown, Pannie-George’s Kitchen was forced to close its dining rooms and reduce hours of operation, but it never stopped serving customers. Like other restaurants, Pannie-George’s Kitchen offered takeout and curbside service at both locations. Customers could order prepackaged meals they could reheat at home.

It was at this time that the family learned from a longtime customer and friend about the help available through ALtogether Alabama, a one-stop shop where Alabamians can ask for assistance or lend a hand during the COVID-19 crisis.

Established through a partnership with Gov. Kay Ivey’s officeOpportunity Alabama and the Alabama Power Foundation, ALtogether Alabama directs businesses, nonprofits and municipalities harmed by COVID-19 to partners that can help find relief. It connects program partners with those who most need help.

Pannie-George’s Kitchen was connected with the Alabama Power Foundation, which, through its new COVID-19 Technical Assistance Program, directed the business to a variety of funding and grant opportunities.

“When the foundation reached out to us, I said, ‘Look at God. He’s so awesome,’” Jerelene Askew said. “We had no idea there were so many resources we could apply for through the Small Business Administration (SBA). The foundation has gone above and beyond to help us, and I’m just so thankful.”

The foundation provided Lorine Askew and her daughters guidance on how the federal coronavirus relief act and other state and federal assistance could help as they navigate the hardships they face. The pandemic unemployment assistance program was created by Congress to provide financial aid to businesses and families affected by the coronavirus.

The foundation helped Pannie-George’s Kitchen pursue a forgivable loan through the Payroll Protection Program and assisted the restaurant owners in completing an application for an Emergency Injury Disaster Loan from the SBA. Additionally, the foundation offered advice on how Pannie-George’s Kitchen could take advantage of other benefits, including the employee retention tax credit and the payroll tax deferral programs offered under the coronavirus aid bill. The foundation also introduced Pannie-George’s Kitchen to leaders from Hope Credit Union, a community-based bank that has been helping small Alabama businesses.

Lorine Askew said the funds will be a “blessing,” especially since the pandemic is far from over.

“It means that we can breathe,” she said. “The funds will allow us to pay our bills, keep our employees working, and keep the lights on and the restaurant open. It’s a blessing that people care about us, so we must tell others.”

What happens when the money runs out?

The Boys and Girls Ranches of Alabama were also hit hard during the statewide shutdown and received a helping hand from the Alabama Power Foundation and ALtogether Alabama. Sponsored by the Alabama Sheriffs Association, this nonprofit provides Christian, family-style homes for the state’s abandoned, abused and neglected school-aged children.

“A lot of people view our ranches as a halfway house or a delinquent facility, but that’s not the case,” said Candice Gulley, director of the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch. “We provide these kids a safe home with ‘moms and dads’ to give them the best chance at life as possible. We see our ranches as a first chance at life for a lot of these kids, rather than a second chance.”

Children ages 6-18 live as part of a “family” unit on one of three working ranches. The kids help care for the livestock, work the farm, handle daily household chores and take part in regular devotions with their “ranch family.”

Gulley said the ranches are funded primarily through donations from individuals, civic organizations, churches and foundations. But when Alabama shut down in the spring, it brought a halt to much of that funding.

“Because the nation was hit so hard by the coronavirus, our economy just tanked,” Gulley said. “People were just struggling to put food on their own tables. When the funding stopped, we were faced with some hard decisions about how we were going to continue.”

Gulley said the administrative staff and the nonessential employees on the ranches were temporarily placed on furlough. Additionally, the ranches cut costs by adjusting their thermostats to 78 degrees, canceling their cable subscription and looking for other ways to reduce bills.

That’s when the Alabama Power Foundation stepped in to help the ranches find answers. Through its COVID-19 Technical Assistance Program, the foundation helped the ranches apply for loans through the Payroll Protection and other federal tax programs. The foundation directed them to available private and federal grant opportunities that could help meet their needs.

“The foundation introduced us to a lot of resources that we didn’t know were out there,” Gulley said. “When the foundation reached out, we were really struggling. It’s nice to have someone step up alongside us to help us care for these children.”

Gulley said things have been “looking up” in recent months. Furloughed employees are back on the job and the ranches are finding new ways to raise funds, such as the third annual Duck Norris Derby. The race, sponsored by the Tallapoosa Girls Ranch and the Tri-County Children’s Advocacy Center, will be streamed live on Facebook from Lake Martin Aug. 8.

“We’re just thankful for the tremendous amount of support we’ve received from the community during this time, even though it’s been difficult,” Gulley said. “It really does take a village. When community members come out here and cut grass, drop off meals or give graduation gifts to these kids, it means a lot.”

Myla Calhoun said the foundation is proud to help businesses and nonprofits like Pannie-George’s Kitchen and the Boys and Girls Ranches find the resources they need to successfully move forward during these difficult times.

“The Alabama Power Foundation is committed to supporting communities across Alabama and our technical assistance efforts are an extension of this commitment,” said Calhoun, president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “As we witnessed the negative effects the pandemic had on communities, we were able to quickly provide a viable solution by expanding our existing technical assistance program to connect small businesses and nonprofits with available resources and collaborative support.”

Check out www.altogetheralabama.com, along with this video, for more about how businesses, nonprofits and municipalities affected by the COVID-19 crisis can secure federal and nonprofit resources and receive a helping hand.

Here is how to use the ALtogether Alabama site to get assistance from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

Alabama Power Foundation grant makes ‘virtual learning’ a reality for rural Greene County students

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced Alabama schools to close their traditional classrooms in March, Corey Jones said it hit his students in rural Greene County doubly hard.

“We’re one of the poorest school districts in the state, and most of our students don’t have computers or access to the internet,” said Jones, Greene County School System superintendent. “We had to print out instructional packets and use buses to deliver them to students. Having to rely solely on printed materials put them at a significant educational disadvantage.”

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Jones said because most parents in his school district are still concerned about sending their children back to the classroom in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, remote learning will continue during summer school and most likely through the fall semester. But thanks to the Alabama Power Foundation, Greene County students will soon have the technology they need to navigate their new virtual classroom.

The foundation provided a grant to the Greene County School System to help pay for Chrome books for 600 students in grades K-12. The funds will help purchase hot spots for students living in the most rural areas where broadband is unavailable. This technology will be used by students at Eutaw PrimaryRobert Brown Middle and Greene County High schools.

“The pandemic has created many challenges for education in our communities – especially in rural areas,” said Alabama Power Western Division Vice President Mark Crews. “This grant will help Greene County schools overcome barriers such as access to the internet and computers as they prepare for distance learning. We’re proud to be a partner to our schools and thankful that the Alabama Power Foundation’s grant will be utilized in such an important way.”

Jones said the grant will be a real “game changer” for his students.

“It has been a godsend to have the Alabama Power Foundation partner with us,” Jones said. “The grant will allow us to provide resources to our students during this critical time so they can continue instructional learning and receive educational opportunities. Now every student will have access to devices and the internet, and will be able to use them anytime in the comfort of their home.”

Greene County School Board President Carol Zippert added her thanks and said the Alabama Power Foundation’s gift will make all the difference.

“We value our students and are deeply committed to providing the best educational services and opportunities for each one,” she said. “We also recognize that to accomplish our goals, we need partners who are sensitive to our student and community needs and aspirations, and are willing to reach out and share with us. Alabama Power Company is a longtime friend and supporter of the Greene County School System, and we take this opportunity to acknowledge the goodwill spirit of this relationship.”

Jones said some students will begin using their new Chrome books immediately during summer school.

Additionally, plans are to offer a summer learning program to help students catch up on the curriculum they may have missed from March through May. There will be an enrichment program to boost learning during the summer and support students who are struggling academically.

Jones said the Chrome books – fully loaded with all necessary programs and ready to use out of the box – have been ordered and are in route to students’ homes. The school system is working closely with internet providers to set up the permanent hot spots.

Jones believes that virtual learning is here to stay – even after the coronavirus is no longer a threat.

“We already know that students are affected by the ‘summer slide’ and lose much of what they have learned,” Jones said. “But with COVID-19, it will be worse this year because summer started in the middle of March, and students will have been away from school for a much longer time. Even after COVID-19 goes away, we will be using these devices to extend learning time to week nights, weekends and the summer.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

Alabama couple aims to heat up your dinner table with Get a Little Hot

(Jeff and Bethany Meadows/Contributed)

Jeff and Bethany Meadows are opposites when it comes to their taste in hot sauce. But they agree on one thing: No family dinner is complete without it.

Jeff is what his wife calls a “serious chili head.”

“I’ve always loved hot sauce, and over the years I’ve built up a tolerance for a lot of heat,” Jeff said. “I enjoy experimenting with different flavors and food combinations. There is such a wide range of flavors and every hot sauce recipe is different.”

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Bethany, a native of Canada, said she likes to spice up her dishes with a lot less heat. “I didn’t grow up eating a lot of seasoning and spices on anything, so I’m on the other end of the spectrum.”

It’s no wonder that hot sauce takes center stage on the table when the Birmingham-area couple, their seven children, sons-in-law and two grandchildren gather for their family dinner every Sunday night.

“We cook a big meal, play cards, sing karaoke, have a bonfire or watch a movie on the deck,” Bethany said. “We love hot sauce, and it’s always on the table.”

Bethany said it was at a recent Sunday dinner that the idea originated for turning the family’s passion for hot sauce into a company.

On May 12, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple boldly stepped out and launched their new subscription service, Get a Little Hot. It promotes and sells handcrafted Southern products to people who want to “eat with fire” and spice up their meals.

“There’s never a perfect time to start a business,” Bethany said. “You just need to start, work hard and be passionate. You can’t wait just because there’s something going on like COVID-19.”

Bethany said she and Jeff are looking at their new company as an opportunity.

“With social distancing, more people are shopping online,” she said. “We are filling a gap by helping do what we can to meet the changing needs of this new environment.”

What sets Get a Little Hot apart?

Bethany said when the family started talking about their new company, they decided the key ingredients would be “Southern culture and family traditions.”

“The hot-sauce industry can sometimes be edgy, but that’s not who we are,” Bethany said. “We came up with the idea of promoting Southern hot sauce companies and Southern culture because the South is something we can fully embrace as a family.”

Get a Little Hot features hot sauces made by small Southern companies, many of which got their start crafting products in home kitchens and selling them at farmers markets.

Bethany and Jeff have been connecting with hot sauce companies through their Facebook group, “Fire-Eaters.” They have also gotten word about companies from other businesses, friends and family. In only a month, the couple has added more than 50 brands to the product lineup, with sauces ranging from extremely mild to “hot enough to roast a lizard.”

“When we get in an order of a new hot sauce, I start thinking about what I can put on the grill to taste test the new brand and flavor,” Jeff said.

Bethany and Jeff are doing more than selling hot sauce. They are sharing the unique stories behind each company.

“It makes it that much more fun to try the hot sauce when you know the story behind it,” Bethany said. “It’s the stories of people who are handcrafting their meemaw’s recipes; a brother and sister who grow their own peppers and turn them into hot sauce; and a veteran who, for every bottle he sells, sends one to a soldier overseas. These owners are passionate about what they do, and they are excited to tell their stories.”

The Meadows are posting the stories on their website blog and social media. They are including a “teaser card” in each box to give customers a taste of what makes the hot sauce different.

“People who like hot sauce really like hot sauce, and they love talking about it,” Bethany said.

The Meadows’ story

Starting new ventures is not unusual for the Meadows family.

Eight years ago, Bethany, a single mom with five kids – four of whom are adopted – met and married Jeff, who has two children of his own. Bethany was already operating a marketing agency. Several years later, the couple launched their real estate and construction companies.

The Meadows and their family now have big plans for the future of Get a Little Hot, like adding barbecue sauces and marinades to the product lineup. But more daring than that, they want to take their story nationwide by creating a YouTube reality series with their family dinners and love of hot sauce at the center.

“Since other activities like sports have been taken away during the quarantine, people have been home with their families and have had more time to reconnect,” Bethany said. “I think a reality show based around our family and hot sauce will resonate with people right now.”

Jeff said getting their new business off the ground has been hectic but fun.

“Since we are also working full-time jobs, time is probably our greatest challenge,” Jeff said. “However, we are getting our adult kids involved and making it a family company. As with any new business, we are working hard to get our name out there and build our reputation as a seller of quality Southern hot sauces.”

Customers can choose from three subscription services (one to three bottles of sauce mailed monthly or quarterly), select a gift box or basket, or buy individual bottles of a sauce. To sign up for a subscription or make a purchase, go to www.getalittlehot.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

Alabama doctor treats, then beats COVID-19

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Dr. Brandon White has never drowned before. But after fighting the battle of his life with COVID-19, he has experienced the closest thing to it.

“Just sitting on the bed, I felt like I couldn’t get my breath. While I have never drowned, that would be the best way I could describe the sensation,” White said. “I was on oxygen, and I still wasn’t getting any better. That was the most concerning part of it.”

White, a doctor at UAB Medical West in Bessemer, was working long hours in the hospital’s intensive care and isolation units treating some of the worse coronavirus cases when the unthinkable happened: He was knocked down by the disease. Now, nearly a month later, with much of that time in the ICU, he is back on his feet and has returned to his job on the front lines of the pandemic.

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“I’m a pretty young person,” the 42-year-old said. “I don’t have any underlying medical conditions, and I have never been a smoker. I would never in my wildest dreams have expected to be one of the folks who ended up that sick.”

Alabama doctor talks about surviving COVID-19 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

After the pandemic began, White’s schedule became more hectic than ever.

Along with working 12-hour shifts for seven days every other week, White was on call around the clock as a hospice doctor and had a telemedicine practice. In addition, he launched BHMCares, which he was overseeing almost single-handedly until his illness forced him to pass the reins to his friends. BHMCares is a coordinated effort to provide meals from local restaurants to health care workers at Birmingham-area hospitals, cancer centers, COVID-19 drive-thru testing sites and labs.

It was in late April during one of his weeks away from the hospital when White started feeling tired and a bit lightheaded – symptoms that were short-lived.

“If nothing else had developed, I wouldn’t have thought of myself as being sick,” he said. “I live by myself, and I hadn’t been anywhere since I had left work on Sunday. I would have just chalked it up to being tired and underrested.”

By the next night, White, who had been experiencing body aches and a lack of energy earlier that day, began running a fever of about 104 degrees F. He woke up, with his sheets and clothes soaked with sweat. That happened again and again. From that point, it was a “rapid downhill decline,” White noted.

Two days later, White tested positive for the virus at a nearby COVID-19 drive-thru facility. He then began experiencing a shortness of breath and was extremely fatigued.

“I couldn’t eat or drink, and I lost my sense of taste and smell,” White said. “I felt so bad I didn’t even want to get out of bed. It was a struggle to walk from one end of my small apartment to the other.”

That’s when White drove himself to his hospital in Bessemer, thinking that some intravenous fluids and oxygen would put him on the road to recovery. When nothing seemed to work, he was moved downtown to UAB Hospital’s ICU for more aggressive treatment.

As the days passed, White continued to grow worse.

“I’m not an excitable person,” he said. “But as a doctor who works in ICU every day, I knew what my chances were. It was also alarming to see the doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and nurses hovering outside my door, and cautiously looking in at me. I knew exactly what that meant. They’re just waiting for the bad thing to happen.”

White said the turning point was when the doctors decided to treat him with “convalescent plasma” that has been taken from patients who have recovered from the disease. The hope is that the plasma is filled with antibodies that will fight the infection.

The plasma was not an instant fix, White said.

“For a couple of days, I continued to get worse,” White said. “The fevers were worse, the body aches were persistent, and I could feel myself being more short of breath, just lying in bed – not speaking, not moving, not doing anything. Then, a couple of days after I received the plasma, I felt myself plateau.”

White said that’s when his stamina and energy began to increase slowly, day by day. He has lost 15 pounds and has not yet regained his sense of taste and smell.

“I get hungry and so I eat,” said White. “But I don’t taste it, so I eat until I’m not hungry and go on to something else.”

Although White took a lighter patient load when he returned to work last week, it was business as usual. His first stop was to treat a patient who was in the worst throes of COVID-19.

White said as an added precaution, he now wears a full-face respirator, instead of an N95 mask, while treating patients.

“I wear a mask everywhere except at home,” he said. “The thing that bothers me the most is the number of people walking around who don’t have a mask on and are not social distancing. Take it seriously. Just because the restrictions are being lifted, it doesn’t mean the disease has gone away by any stretch of the imagination.”

White said no one is immune.

“If you don’t work in health care and don’t see it, most of us don’t think it will happen to us,” he said. “I’m proof that somebody relatively young and healthy can get severely sick. You can die from it.”

White has also returned to lending a hand with BHMCares, which has now delivered more than 4,800 meals to area health care workers.

“It’s probably the most fun thing I’ve done in my life,” he said. “I never thought it would be as big as it is, and I never thought it would be as rewarding as it is. It has been really fun.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

Altamont School uses technology to make PPE for Birmingham medical community

(Altamont School/Contributed)

Giving back to her community is not new to Meghan Goyal.

That’s why the 10th grader at Birmingham’s Altamont School quickly embraced the idea when she read an online article that volunteers are needed to help make plastic face shields for health care workers fighting the battle against the deadly COVID-19 disease. Local organization Bham Support was calling on area makers to help produce these face shields using 3D printers.

“Both my parents are doctors, and when I saw this, it struck a heart chord. I thought it would be a great project to take on,” said Goyal. “I’m involved in a lot of service projects, and I didn’t want to stop just because school has stopped.”

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Knowing that the equipment she needed was at her school, Goyal turned to Altamont’s computer science teacher, Ryan James, and head of school, Chris Durst, in March. She wanted to use Altamont’s 3D printer and laser cutter to produce the shields from a prototype file she had received from Bham Support.

Meanwhile, Noah Warren, another Altamont School student, approached James with his own proposal.

The ninth grader’s plan was to use a prototype to produce 3D-printed adapters that could be attached to full-face snorkel masks to convert them to reusable medical masks for health care workers. The adapter attaches the fabric lining to the plastic snorkel mask, thus turning it into a single piece. Warren also needed access to the school’s 3D printer for his project.

“The nurses and doctors have to put on both a mask and a face shield,” said Warren, whose mother, a nurse anesthetist at UAB Highlands, had learned about the prototype from a co-worker. “This mask is simpler and quicker to don in emergency situations.”

James volunteered to work with both students, who are in his classes at school this year. James is teaching Goyal and Warren in his Web Design and AP Computer Science Principles classes, respectively.

“I’ve taught Meghan and Noah for three years, and so when they came to me, it really wasn’t a surprise,” James said. “It makes me feel good that the students are the ones who are pushing the adults to this level. I think it may be rare at some schools, but we have a lot of kids at Altamont who want to give back.”

James has worked with Goyal and Warren every step of the way, training them on the proper use of the equipment and helping them to develop and fine-tune the prototypes. He also purchased plastic online for the students’ projects and allowed Goyal to take one of the school’s 3D printers home to help make the project easier.

Since then, James, Goyal and Warren have been holding regular virtual meetings and chats on Microsoft Teams to work out the kinks in completing the personal protective equipment (PPE).

James said the biggest challenge has been safely handing off the various parts of the project to one another while maintaining social distancing.

“This has been an Altamont community effort,” James said. “Noah received a 3D file and sent it to me on Teams, and I created a printable file for our 3D printer. The file was then printed on our 3D printer by Meghan, who arranged for the finished print to be picked up by Noah.”

Goyal uses the 3D printer at her home to make the face shields and the adapters for the masks. James then shapes the face shields using the school’s laser cutter, and Warren assembles the PPE.

“It takes three to four hours to make a print,” Goyal said. “When one print is done, I take it off the printer and start a new one.”

The teamwork has paid off. Warren has made face masks for a group of nurses at UAB Highlands.

Goyal has provided face shields to hospitals across the Birmingham area. She even sent a box of face shields to an Atlanta doctor who requested them after reading about the project on Altamont School’s Instagram account.

In addition to these projects, James recently responded to another request that involved turning a prototype into PPE for medical professionals. At the request of a fellow teacher at Altamont, James made ear savers for a military medical facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. Ear savers are thin plexiglass headbands that can be worn behind a person’s head to take the pressure off the ears, he said.

“When nurses and doctors wear masks all day long, the rubber bands around their ears can be uncomfortable,” said James. “When they wear these headbands, there’s no more rubbing on their ears, and that’s why they are called ear savers.”

James said in just two hours, he turned out 200 ear savers with the laser cutter.

Along with their own projects, Goyal and Warren are helping Bham Support deliver PPE made by other volunteers to area hospitals. They both agree the project has been rewarding and plan to continue the effort as long as it is needed.

“It’s reassuring to know that we are helping to keep my mom and others in the medical field safe from the coronavirus and that we are helping to stop the spread of the disease,” said Warren. “I am grateful that Mr. Durst and Mr. James let us use the school’s computer science equipment and that they encourage us to use that technology to help our community.”

Warren added it is Goyal’s commitment that has spurred him on throughout the project.

“Meghan has worked really hard. She has inspired me to do more than I would have done on my own.”

James said before the pandemic, he had never dreamed of making medical PPE. But in future, the project will be an integral part of his 3D printing class.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 months ago

Alabama family farm pampers health care workers with a special gift

(1818 Farms/Contributed)

With nurses, doctors and other health care professionals working every day in the thick of the fight against COVID-19, 1818 Farms decided to give them a little pampering.

On Tuesday, April 14, this small Mooresville farm will join with the community to recognize these men and women for their commitment and hard work. It will award its Health Care Hero Gift Box to 10 medical professionals.

Decorated with a bright red ribbon, the keepsake boxes are filled with a selection of 1818 Farms’ all-natural, handmade beauty products designed to give these workers comfort and an extra lift after a long day on the job. Five men and five women will receive these gifts.

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“Over the past few weeks, we have watched health care professionals work tirelessly during the pandemic. Each day they go to work, they are putting their lives in danger to help those in need,” said Natasha McCrary, owner and operator of 1818 Farms. “We can’t imagine the stress that the workers and their families are feeling. 1818 Farms wanted to show our appreciation for their dedication and commitment to their jobs by giving away 10 of our Health Care Hero Gift Boxes. We wanted the health care workers to know we are thankful for them.”

Started in 2012, this family business is a working farm with sheep, pigs, hens, cats, Great Pyrenees dogs, a goat and a huge garden with more than 10,000 flowers of all varieties. It also hosts dinners, workshops and other events year-round.

But perhaps 1818 Farms has become most known for its line of handcrafted bath and beauty products, ranging from unscented shea crème, bath soaps, essential oil roll-ons, face serums and lip balm. The products can be found online as well as in 450 stores in 45 states.

Anyone can nominate a health care hero to receive one of these boxes. Simply nominate that individual by tagging him or her in the comments section in the 1818 Farms post on Instagram. The family invites you to share that person’s story, although it is not a requirement to win. 1818 Farms will announce the winners in its Instagram post on April 14.

McCrary hopes these boxes will show, in some small measure, 1818 Farms’ gratitude to these health care workers.

“Our hope is that those who receive a Health Care Hero Gift Box will take time to care for themselves,” McCrary said. “We want them to know that their daily sacrifices are not going unnoticed. Our small farm, along with the rest of the country, is watching and we are grateful for them.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama animal shelters still on the job meeting pets’ needs in midst of COVID-19 pandemic

(Greater Birmingham Humane Society/Contributed)

This year, 7-year-old Diana Bailey received an early birthday surprise – a new furry friend to help fill her days at home during the nation’s coronavirus crisis.

“I told Diana that if she was good, she could have a dog for her birthday in August,” said Jeannine, the girl’s mom. “But when we were sequestered, I thought this would be a good time to get a dog because we would be at home and would have more time to housetrain it.”

After scouring the web, Jeannine, a talent and employment manager at Alabama Power’s Corporate Headquarters in Birmingham, and Diana found their “dream dog” at Crossing Paths Animal Rescue Center in Cleveland, Alabama.

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Jeannine completed an application, and on March 25 she and her daughter headed to Crossing Paths Rescue to meet their new friend, a mixed-breed puppy named Lindsey.

“Having a dog has been great for Diana,” said Bailey. “She is an only child and is out of school. This has given her something fun to be excited about while she is at home. She has been super cute about taking the dog out to play, and we’ve been taking her on walks.”

Bailey encourages others to consider following in her family’s footsteps.

“I think all of us are trying to find ways to make the best of this situation,” said Bailey. “Getting a dog was a really great way to turn a negative into a positive. We’re stuck here, and now we’re stuck with a cute new puppy.”

Fido needs a home

Mary Ellen Tidwell, president and founder of Crossing Paths Rescue, said with so many dogs in need of a “forever” home, the door of this small center is remaining open during this difficult season.

“A lot of people want to feel like they are making a difference during this time,” she said. “Everybody is working at home, so what better time is there to foster or adopt a pet and have more time to socialize it? Why not step up?”

Crossing Paths Rescue, founded in 2007, is a group of volunteers who find loving homes for hundreds of dogs every year. The no-kill center rescues dogs in Blount and Jefferson counties that have been abandoned or have little hope of finding a home.

Crossing Paths has established a satellite facility in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to raise awareness in the Northeast about the great need of homes for Alabama dogs. Through this partnership, Crossing Paths Rescue has delivered dogs to families living as far away as Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, New York and even Canada.

Tidwell said the center’s staff is taking every precaution and practicing social distancing during this time. The adoption contract and fees can be completed online, and the dogs are microchipped in advance.

“When people arrive, their dog is ready to go,” she said. “We bring the dog to the car, or they can come in and get it and go. We do everything within 15 seconds.”

Tidwell said people who cannot adopt or foster a dog can meet another need – purchase pet supplies, pet food or litter, and donate it to a local shelter or rescue center.

“Even though we’re in the worst of times, we’re seeing the best of people,” Tidwell said. “These dogs don’t have a voice, but we can take up the gauntlet and fight for them and make a difference.”

Check out the available dogs or apply to foster or adopt one by visiting www.crossingpathsanimalrescue.org.

Speaking of pet food

Meanwhile, the Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS), like some other major animal shelters in Alabama, has temporarily closed its doors to the public while the COVID-19 epidemic continues. The shelter has delivered its more than 200 pets to foster homes but now has another way to help dogs and cats.

On Thursday, April 2, GBHS turned its Adoption, Outreach and Education Center on Snow Drive in Birmingham into the COVID-19 Regional Pet Pantry. The drive-through pantry provides food to financially strapped pet owners as well as to rescue centers and shelters that need help to feed animals.

GBHS is feeding the hungry pet community with more than 40,000 pounds of food it received from the GreaterGood nonprofit.

“We’re very lucky that we have this bulk amount of food that we can distribute to animals in need,” said Lindsey Mays, GBHS director of marketing. “Many people have been furloughed or laid off, and we don’t want them to have to worry about feeding their pet. It is important that we help each other during this stressful time so we will be stronger when we come out on the other side.”

GBHS is looking for “community captains” to identify needs of neighboring pet owners who may be shut in or not have transportation to pick up food or supplies. Community captains will safely check on neighbors, report which pet supplies are needed to the GBHS COVID-19 Regional Pet Pantry and schedule a time for pickup.

“We are grateful to be able to serve pet owners, fosters, rescues and other shelters,” said Allison Black Cornelius, CEO of GBHS. “We know that many families are struggling financially right now, and it is our hope that the GBHS Regional Pet Pantry will alleviate a little of their stress and ensure that our community’s pets are not forgotten.”

To receive pet food for yourself, neighbor or rescue facility, and schedule a date to pick up the items, complete an application at gbhs.org/regionalpetpantry. Anyone who does not have internet access can drop by the facility Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Donations of pet food are welcome and can be delivered to the pantry Monday-Friday between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Full Moon Bar-B-Que brings cheer, warm meal to Birmingham families

(Full Moon BBQ/Contributed)

During this period of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 outbreak across the nation, Full Moon Bar-B-Que is offering Alabamians a way to reach out a helping hand to neighbors and friends.

Through its new “Feed a Friend” initiative, Full Moon is choosing 10 families in the Birmingham area to receive a free meal. Each family will receive Full Moon’s value meal, which includes a pound of pork or chicken, fresh bread, two sides and the restaurant’s famous cookies. The program will run through Friday, April 4.

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“Now is the time to help people in need,” said co-owner David Maluff. “Full Moon Bar-B-Que is blessed by a loyal, supportive community. During these trying times we want to focus on our own Full Moon Bar-B-Que community and help them meet the needs of people they know that may be struggling. These times are an opportunity to spread light every day in our communities and that is just what Full Moon Bar-B-Que aims to do. It doesn’t matter if it is a family of two, four, six, eight or 10, Full Moon Bar-B-Que looks forward to feeding them and delivering hope during this stressful season.”

Nominating a friend for the free meal is easy: Follow Full Moon Bar-B-Que on Facebook and Instagram. Then help spread the word and keep the momentum going by tagging two friends to Full Moon’s “Feed a Friend” social media post.

Finally, send a message through Facebook or Instagram to Full Moon Bar-B-Que with a brief description of why your friend deserves a free meal, along with that person’s address and the number of members in the family.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

History professor looks back on four Alabama suffrage leaders and their fight for the vote

(AlabamaWomen100.org/Contributed)

Alabama women today hold political office at local, state and national levels. In 2018, Alabamians elected Gov. Kay Ivey as the state’s second female governor, raising her to the top leadership post.

But it has not always been that way. More than 100 years ago, a woman’s place was in the home. She had no legal rights, and it was considered by many unnatural for her to take part in political affairs.

That began to change with the passage of the 19th Amendment giving American women the right to vote. This year, Alabama and the nation will celebrate the centennial of that pivotal, life-changing moment.

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Alabama history professor shares importance of 19th Amendment from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Alabama women stand up and fight

The women’s suffrage movement in Alabama began in 1892 in Decatur and later became a statewide crusade. It was launched by women who were battling social issues, such as wiping out child labor and eradicating alcohol consumption and the ills associated with it.

“These women all realized they would never be able to change these social problems until they could vote,” said Valerie Pope Burnes, associate professor of history at the University of West Alabama in Livingston. “They knew that instead of trying to do cleanup once the damage had been done, they had to vote for the people who made the laws and stop the problems before they start.”

Burnes pinpointed four Alabama women who were most instrumental in bringing about change. Frances Griffin, a teacher from Wetumpka, led the way. She was the first woman to address a legislative body in Alabama when she spoke at the state’s Constitutional Convention in 1901.

During her speech, Griffin effectively shot down the men’s excuses for refusing to give women the right to vote, such as they were not educated and didn’t want to vote. She pointed out that more women attended secondary schools and colleges in 1901 than men, and women “neither steep themselves in tobacco nor besot themselves with liquor, so that whatever brains they have are kept intact.”

Griffin spoke out against men’s actions in the political arena.

“Frances Griffin told the audience that ‘politics is corrupt because women have been kept out of it, and women will clean it up,’” Burnes said.

Burnes said there was one short-lived victory for women during the convention. The delegates voted to give women the right to vote on municipal bond issues. But the men changed their minds the next day and rescinded the decision.

Griffin took her message outside the state, speaking to the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She ran the suffrage movement in Alabama during 1903-1904. Griffin then stepped back from the fight in 1905, temporarily slowing down the movement in Alabama.

The women’s suffrage movement was renewed in 1910 with the founding of the Selma Equal Suffrage Association (SESA). Another activist, Hattie Hooker Wilkins, who later became a state legislator, was one of the movers and shakers in SESA, and helped spread the word by setting up a traveling library with suffrage books and pamphlets.

Pattie Ruffner Jacobs was both a state and national leader in the movement, founding the Birmingham Equal Suffrage Association (BESA) and later serving on the NAWSA board.

Believing that women could accomplish more by working together, the Birmingham and Selma groups joined forces to create the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association (AESA) on Oct. 9, 1912. The new organization aligned its views with those of NAWSA.

AESA held “voiceless speech demonstrations” in Birmingham department store windows. Members stood in the windows and turned the pages of suffrage pamphlets, making it easier for passersby to read them. AESA opened a tearoom downtown where working women could eat lunch and take a break.

“The suffragists were upper-class white women, but they didn’t want voting to be a class issue,” Burnes said. “The tearoom was a place where girls who worked in the factories and shops could come and read suffrage materials while they took their lunch break.”

Burnes said along with class, race played a role in the movement. “Many Southern white women who advocated the right to vote did so at the expense of African American women,” she said.

Adella Hunt Logan, an African American writer and educator at Tuskegee Institute and another Alabama crusader, was the woman who made the biggest impact in fighting the racial battle, Burnes said. Logan fought for universal suffrage for all women, no matter their race. She joined NAWSA after being inspired by a speech given by women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony at the 1895 convention in Atlanta.

AESA members persuaded Joseph Greene, a Dallas County state representative, to bring forward a suffrage bill in the Alabama House in 1915. When the representatives began to debate the issue, he gave a speech against his own bill and withdrew his support. Although the gallery was full of suffragists and legislators wearing yellow roses in support of the issue, the bill to add an amendment to the next ballot granting women the right to vote failed.

The suffragists nicknamed Greene the Dallas County Acrobat because he “flip-flopped” his position. In a twist of fate, Wilkins later defeated him when she was elected in 1922 as the first female Alabama legislator.

In 1919, the issue had moved to the national front when a federal suffrage amendment was sent to the states for ratification. Alabama led the drive in the South to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But the state legislators refused to pass it, rejecting any infringement on their authority by the federal government.

“People were really watching Alabama. They figured if Alabama could break open the ‘Solid South’ for suffrage, the rest of the Southern states would follow,” said Burnes. “Alabama women had called and written their legislators, and packed the gallery in the house on the day of the vote. But they were ignored.”

Despite opposition from Alabama legislators, the federal amendment was ratified by two-thirds of the states, giving women nationwide the right to vote. It was officially adopted on Aug. 26, 1920. It was not until 1953 that Alabama ratified the amendment, although it was simply a formality by that time.

Burnes said the suffragists faced many challenges throughout the movement, but the biggest hurdle was the men and their attitudes about women.

“Women had to go through men to get the right to vote,” she said. “The legislators and the citizens who were voting were all males. The women weren’t voters, so the legislators didn’t have to pay attention to them. They didn’t care.”

Of the four women who played instrumental roles in the movement, Burnes believes Griffin had the biggest impact. She died in 1917 and never saw her dream become a reality.

“Frances Griffin is my hero in this whole thing,” said Burnes. “She was smart, witty and broke through the barriers, and she honestly didn’t care what anybody said about her.”

Alabama is celebrating this momentous milestone for women with many centennial events across the state. Vulcan Park and Museum kicked off the celebration in January with a year-long exhibit, “Right or Privilege? Alabama Women and the Vote.” To check out other events on tap this year, visit the Alabama Department of Archives and History Women’s Suffrage Centennial website at alabamawomen100.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

INROADS CEO Forest Harper Jr. leads young people from the classroom to the board room

(INROADS/Contributed)

As a young boy living within a stone’s throw of Cape Canaveral in South Florida, Forest Harper Jr. reached for the stars.

Although he never realized his childhood dream of rocketing through space as an astronaut, Harper broke through another “stratosphere” when he became the first and only African American vice president at pharmaceutical manufacturing giant Pfizer. Now, through his leadership at INROADS, he is helping today’s youths find their own place in the corporate world.

“After I had been vice president for a while, I woke up one morning and looked in the mirror and said, ‘There’s nothing I can do about being the first African American in this role, but there’s something I can do about being the only African American,’” Harper said. “What I wanted to do was give untapped and underrepresented youths opportunities to come into corporate America.”

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Harper took a two-year leave from Pfizer to work as a leader at INROADS, the nation’s largest nonprofit source of corporate internships and leadership development for minority youths. After only two months at the organization, Harper learned that a co-worker suggested him as the organization’s next CEO.

It was nine years ago when the then 55-year-old left the corporate world for good to take the reins as CEO and president of INROADS. Since then, Harper has helped thousands of minority high school and college students prepare for jobs at major corporations, including Alabama Power and Southern Company.

“To me, INROADS is not a job. It’s literally a ministry,” Harper said. “It’s a ministry because you are a servant to the needs of the mission, no matter how big or how small it may be. It’s about how do I get to that one more kid. If I can get that kid into the program, there’s no doubt in my mind that I can get him or her into the pipeline and on the pathway. We want to give young people boot camp training, help them develop leadership skills and mentor them until they get to where they want to go.”

INROADS carves a path for future leaders from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Harper said his vision for INROADS is twofold.

Along with increasing awareness about the program, Harper wants to wipe out what he calls America’s greatest affliction: the “IDK (I didn’t know) disease.”

Since its founding 50 years ago, INROADS has placed high school and college students in more than 154,000 paid internships. Additionally, about 30,000 INROADS alumni have professional and managerial jobs at more than 1,000 companies. But there’s still work to do, Harper said.

“What keeps us up at night is the IDK disease,” he said. “Students tell us they didn’t know that companies like Alabama Power offer so many careers. We envision expanding our program to middle school students so they will already know about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers and the major companies in their backyard. Going into the pipeline earlier will help build a more inclusive 21st century workforce and knock that IDK out the window.”

Harper said INROADS has already made tremendous progress in creating an inclusive workforce.

As an example, research conducted by Careertrackers shows that nearly 50 years after the Fair Housing Act was passed to boost black homeownership rates in the U.S., the rates have fallen from 42% in 1970 to 41% in 1917. In contrast, 76% of INROADS alumni were found to own at least one property, providing a platform for generational wealth creation, Harper said.

“This shows that if you get kids early in the pipeline, put them on the path that we’ve designed and give them the leadership skills they need, you can completely close the wealth gap that has traditionally separated the races,” he said.

It’s no surprise that Harper has a passion for helping these underserved youths. While growing up in Fort Pierce, Florida, he lived in public housing. Harper’s single mom held down multiple jobs to support the family, while he often made a few extra dollars by picking tomatoes and oranges in the nearby fields.

Despite the hardships, Harper was determined and in 1972 won an athletic scholarship to Morgan State University in Baltimore, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in social work. After graduation, he served six years in the U.S. Army before his family’s continuing financial struggles back home in Fort Pierce prompted him to take a job as a sales representative at Pfizer.

For 28 years, Harper worked his way up through the ranks at Pfizer, ending his stint there as the vice president of Capability Development in Worldwide Public Affairs and Policy.

“My family always encouraged me that I could get out of the projects and do anything I wanted to do,” Harper said. “But when I left, I always planned to pay it forward by coming back one day to help the community. The opportunity to lead INROADS was that chance.”

Alabama Power and INROADS have a long relationship, Harper said. In the past decade alone, the company has hired more than 100 INROADS summer interns.

In addition, one of the company’s top leaders – Jonathan Porter, senior vice president of Customer Operations – got his start thanks to INROADS. Porter was an INROADS intern in the Birmingham Division for four summers beginning in 1991.

“My INROADS experience allowed me to build relationships at Alabama Power while I was in college,” Porter said. “These relationships, coupled with increasing responsibility, allowed me the opportunity to grow during this process. I later worked for INROADS as a manager of Recruitment and Student Services, which provided an inroad to come back to Southern Company as the lead diversity recruiter, and then served as president of the Southeastern Regional Board of INROADS. So, from an intern to an alumni to an employee to a board member, I have been involved in all aspects of INROADS and believe in its mission and objectives.”

INROADS turns dreams into reality from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Another INROADS alumni, Alabama Power Southern Division Power Delivery Support Engineer LaShundra Pettway, said the organization “nurtured” her professionally and paved the way for her career at Alabama Power.

“INROADS prepared me for a world that I was not yet familiar with, and gave me a trial run of what it would be like in a professional setting like Alabama Power,” said Pettway, who worked as an INROADS summer intern in Alabama Power Prattville Engineering in 2011 and 2012. “I’m 100% sure it kept me from making a lot of mistakes that most interns, co-op students and first-time college graduates make when coming into the workforce. I would not have been ready professionally without the INROADS experience.”

Harper said INROADS could not prepare these youths to become tomorrow’s leaders without companies like Alabama Power.

“One of the key attributes to the successful impact of the INROADS program must be done with a commitment and collaboration from corporate America,” Harper said. “For close to 30 years, Alabama Power has been a role model for hundreds of students and leaders. We are grateful for the partnership with Alabama Power to help build the 21st century workforce.”

Harper said ultimately, INROADS strives to show young people that “someone cares about them and their future.”

“We have to be really patient with them, understand their passion and not try to force a round peg into a square hole,” Harper said. “They are really talented. They just need to know that someone cares. All Alabama Power needs to do is keep the light bulb constantly on for these young people and say, ‘We welcome all.’”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama Power employees, retirees dive in to help make special swim meet a success

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

For kids and adults who are rarely in the limelight, victory was sweet as they splashed across the finish line at the natatorium in the Birmingham Crossplex.

On Jan. 24, 160 athletes and their unified partners — family members, relatives and friends — competed in the Special Olympics Alabama Birmingham Swim sectional. Special Olympics is a year-round sports training and competition program open to children and adults with intellectual or physical disabilities.

There were 13 teams from across the state with athletes, ages 8 to 67, competing in 27 swim events, ranging from the 25-meter backstroke and breaststroke to the 800-meter freestyle. The competitors swam in 39 races in various divisions, based on age, gender and ability.

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A regional meet, it was one of four state qualifying events. That means all participants, whether or not they win an award, are automatically eligible to compete in the Special Olympics Alabama State Summer Games at Troy University May 15-17.

“Most of our athletes would not be given the opportunity to participate in mainstream sports,” said Finlay Witherington, Special Olympics Alabama sports coordinator. “These events give our athletes their own sense of accomplishment and well-being.”

The Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) and the company’s Energizers teamed up for the day, with 20 employees and retirees lending a hand.

Some volunteers were timers for the swimming events. Others monitored the action and directed the athletes to their start positions.

“This is a great opportunity for Alabama Power, the service organization and the Energizers to provide social support to our community and our state,” said Curtis Bowden, rate specialist in Alabama Power Regulatory Pricing. “Events like these bring joy to the athletes, their families and volunteers. It’s an honor to serve and support the Special Olympic organization.”

Alabama Power Market Specialist Jeanne Gallagher said volunteering was a “real pleasure.”

“There’s no way I could do what these swimmers are doing,” she said. “They have worked so hard. They are very competitive and want to win. But even if they don’t win, they are still happy and have a very positive attitude.”

APSO and Energizers are the company’s nonprofit charitable arms comprised of employees and retirees, respectively. Members of the groups volunteer thousands of hours every year in Alabama communities.

The meet culminated with an awards ceremony where ribbons were presented to swimmers who finished first through eighth place in each division. APSO and Energizers volunteers assisted the winners at the podium.

Witherington said she is grateful to APSO and Energizers volunteers for the role they played in making the event a success.

“We have only five employees in our office, and we are serving 16,000 athletes across Alabama,” she said. “To have volunteers help us with our meet is tremendous because it allows our staff to put a lot of our resources back into our athletes. The volunteers are our superstars.”

Witherington said the efforts of the volunteers also mean a lot to the athletes.

“It allows our athletes to see new faces and a new crowd cheering for them,” she said. “When our athletes make friends with you, you’ll have a friend for life. We couldn’t do what we do and benefit our athletes without our volunteers.”

Alabama Power Information Systems Analyst Shelby Mitchell said she was bowled over by the swimmers.

“Seeing the level of excitement and the dedication from the swimmers and coaches has been amazing,” she said. “You can just see the time they have put into making sure they perform well. I’m already looking forward to volunteering next year.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama Power Anniston employees help Santa give holiday surprises to seniors

(Alabama Power Company/Contributed)

Some senior citizens in Oxford recently learned that good things come in small packages.

On Dec. 20, Eastern Division Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO)-Anniston sub-area members teamed up with Santa to deliver shoeboxes packed with gifts to seniors at the Diversicare of Oxford Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center. Employees filled 151 boxes – one for each resident – and gave them to Santa to distribute at the facility’s Christmas party.

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Terry Smiley, Alabama Power Eastern Division vice president, sponsored the project as part of his annual holiday reception for employees on Dec. 12. He invited them to bring their wrapped shoeboxes and place them under the Christmas tree in his office.

“It is wonderful to have our employees working together to make the holidays special for the residents at Diversicare,” Smiley said. “We are so fortunate to be part of a great company that believes in giving back to the community. I’m very proud of our team for supporting this worthwhile project. The holiday reception was a way to show our appreciation.”

Keisha Chapman, Eastern Division APSO president and Alabama Power Customer Accounting analyst, said employees gave everything from toiletries, lotions, tissues and non-slip socks to jigsaw puzzles, flashlights, Bibles and coloring books.

“We put one stuffed animal in every box so they would have something to hold close during the holidays,” said Chapman, who co-coordinated the project with Evan Rogers, Alabama Power Eastern Division market specialist. “Many of those people may not have family or friends to visit them. We hope that we can, in some way, bridge the gap. We wanted to make the holidays special and show them that someone cares.”

Christy Bombard, activities director at Diversicare of Oxford, said the residents were excited to receive the gifts from APSO.

“Our patients and residents turn into little kids at Christmas time,” she said. “They love seeing Santa and getting presents. It meant the world to us that, thanks to Alabama Power, everybody got a present. I love seeing the community reach out to the elderly.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Arc of Tuscaloosa choir spreads joyful music for the holidays

The Sounds of Joy Choir from the Arc of Tuscaloosa County has been spreading holiday cheer. (Contributed)

Earlier this holiday season, the happy voices of the Arc of Tuscaloosa County choir rang out at the Alabama Power Western Division Office, ushering in the holidays for Karen Burklew and many of her co-workers.

The choir, known as the Sounds of Joy, performed its annual holiday concert for employees on Dec. 11 in the office auditorium. About 35 employees turned out for the concert, enjoying the music while sampling morning coffee and doughnuts.

“I feel like my holiday season doesn’t start until the choir comes,” said Burklew, Western Division Marketing team leader.

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Founded in 1998, the choir is made up of adults with intellectual and/or physical disabilities, along with Arc of Tuscaloosa County staff members and volunteers. The choir has performed at United Way of West Alabama, Alabama Special Olympics, United Cerebral Palsy and the University of Alabama, among other locations. The group has also spread joy at numerous nursing homes, assisted living facilities and senior centers.

Vickie Brown, the volunteer director of the Sounds of Joy and a retired special education teacher and administrator, said the 12-member group averages about 65 performances annually.

“We sing somewhere almost every week, and during the Christmas season, we do about 20 to 25 performances,” said Brown, who took on the role as director after her retirement in 2014. “We have a repertoire of about 20 to 30 songs, and we’re always adding to our playlist. And the choir members memorize all that music.”

During the concert at the Western Division Office, Burklew presented the choir with a $500 grant from the Alabama Power Foundation. The funds, Brown said, will be used to help cover the cost of replacing sound-system equipment, as well as travel expenses and shirts for the group.

“The Sounds of Joy love to share joy with other people,” Brown said. “When we sing, I can see their music gives a lot of joy and happiness to other people. This donation from Alabama Power means that we can continue to spread joy throughout the state of Alabama.”

“We love Alabama Power and we love Mrs. Karen,” Brown said. “Alabama Power has been one of our main supporters, and Karen has been our friend and advocate.”

After the concert, choir members were treated to lunch at the Tuscaloosa eatery, Cookout, compliments of the Western Division Alabama Power Service Organization.

The Sounds of Joy’s concerts have become a favorite holiday tradition at the Western Division Office, with the choir performing for employees for the past six years.

“Employees start asking me in the fall when the group will be here because they don’t want to miss it,” Burklew said. “The choir members have special talents. There’s not one person who leaves the concert without their heart being warmed.”

Brown said serving as director for the group has been a “true blessing.”

“I can’t quite describe what it means to me just to see the love and joy the choir has in sharing the gift of music,” Brown said. “I thank God every day for leading me into this volunteer position that makes such an impact in the community.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama Power retirees recreate the North Pole at home

The Hoover home of Steve and Patti Knain transforms into a North Pole village every year. (Brittany Dunn / Alabama NewsCenter)

The North Pole is closer than you think.

In the heart of Hoover, Santa, his elves and his workshop take center stage at Patti and Steve Knain’s home throughout the holiday season.

After Halloween, Steve begins his massive holiday pet project – the transformation of the couple’s 16-foot-wide living room into his own version of a miniature North Pole village. The winter wonderland, which Steve began with one piece about 30 years ago, now stretches from wall to wall in what the couple calls their “Village Room.”

Along with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, the village features 87 lighted buildings and large accessories, 75 to 100 elves and more than 200 trees. There’s even an electric company, a gondola that travels up and down a mountain and a hot air balloon that floats above the miniature village.

“It’s usually about 100 hours of work,” said Steve, adding that his goal is to finish building the village by Thanksgiving. “I blow snow and glitter over everything, so the living room is kind of a mess throughout the process. But it looks very nice when it’s finished.”

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Steve said there’s a lot of planning that goes into building the village. He begins by moving the pieces around on a specially designed, multi-layered table until he has created the perfect layout. He then snaps photos and draws a blueprint of the design. Using the blueprint, Steve lays out the wiring that powers the village.

“It’s never the same. I change it up every year,” he said. “It’s a lot of planning just to make sure everything works and none of the wires are showing.”

Patti said their family, friends and, especially, their granddaughters, ages 7 and 8, look forward to the new creation every year. But it was perhaps an exchange student from Brazil who years ago was most mesmerized by the animated village.

“He would lay on the living room floor and watch them,” Patti said. “He would say, ‘Miss Patti, do you think they move at night, too?’ I would say, ‘In your mind, you can make them move.’ He had never seen anything so magical.”

The Knains, both Alabama Power retirees, take great pleasure in sharing their village. Each year, they open their home, inviting co-workers and friends to view the newest version of the North Pole.

“Some people ask to see it every year, so we’ll invite them over and I’ll fix desserts or hors d’oeuvres,” Patti said.

The village started in 1989 with a gift for Patti.

“I came across a village piece from the Department 56 collection, and I thought, ‘Patti might like to put this out at Christmas,’” said Steve. “It was Boston’s Old North Church. Then, I bought her another piece, and from there, it took on a life of its own.”

The couple has added to their collection every year, starting with pieces from the Department 56 New England village. But when they began their North Pole village collection, it quickly became their favorite.

“We used to put our Christmas tree in the bay window in the living room, and set up the New England and North Pole villages on each side,” Patti said. “But we have bought so many North Pole pieces that now we just set up the one village.”

Steve said because the village has grown so large, it can be a challenge to fit all the pieces together.

“The hardest part is building the back section because the village is 8 feet deep,” said Steve. “I have to pull the whole thing out from the wall. I crawl underneath it several times a day, which puts a lot of wear and tear on this 64-year-old body.”

When the village is completed, Steve sets the mood with Christmas music and adds blackout curtains so the lighted village shines around the clock.

While Steve is building the village, Patti is in charge of shopping for gifts, baking holiday goodies and decorating the remainder of their home. She decorates two Christmas trees – one in the den and another in the basement. There are also lighted trees on the deck and in the front yard.

Patti scatters bits of the season throughout the house, including a grouping of miniature houses and trees from the couple’s New England village in the center of the dining room table.

Steve and Patti both have their favorite North Pole pieces. Patti loves the newer ones Steve has added to the collection, including a chapel and Nativity scene. But Steve said it’s their oldest pieces, like Santa’s workshop and the post office, that means the most to him.

“I just like the way it all looks,” Patti said. “We sit in here at night and eat breakfast in here in the morning. We watch all the intricately moving parts and enjoy the music. It’s very peaceful and serene to start and end your day with something that’s kind of magical.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Mobile APSO gives gifts to children, seniors

(APSO/Contributed)

The Mobile Division Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) has stepped in for Santa in Bayou La Batre this holiday season.

APSO members are making Christmas brighter by providing gifts for Vietnamese-American seniors and children living in the community.

“There is a large Vietnamese-American population in Bayou La Batre, and many of the people are fishermen,” said Sharon Murrill, community relations manager in Alabama Power‘s Mobile Division. “Because the fishing in Bayou La Batre is not what it once was due to the oil spill in the Gulf several years ago, I thought that perhaps our chapter could help those families.”

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To that end, Murrill reached out to Boat People SOS (BPSOS)-Bayou La Batre, a nonprofit organization that provides direct services and resources to Vietnamese-Americans in Mobile County. Murrill learned that some of the Vietnamese-American children in Bayou La Batre would not receive Christmas presents. She asked BPSOS to provide the Mobile APSO Chapter with a wish list, limiting the gift amounts to $75 to $100 per child.

“I told the kids they could pick out anything they wanted, within this limit. They were really excited,” said Dave Do, program coordinator, BPSOS-Bayou La Batre. “They don’t usually get to pick the present of their choice.”

With the list in hand, Murrill shopped online, buying everything from tennis shoes and clothes to keyboards, Paw Patrol toys and bicycles.

Mobile Division APSO bought gifts for 28 children with the $2,500 that had been set aside for the project.

Do said BPSOS is planning to give the presents from APSO at a Christmas party.

Meanwhile, Murrill learned about another need facing the community.

“When I was delivering the presents to Dave, he mentioned that the seniors living in one of the apartment complexes down there had no way of getting to the store to buy groceries, and BPSOS could not afford to buy them a vehicle,” Murrill said. “He wondered if we could help them get bicycles equipped with baskets for their groceries.”

The Mobile Chapter stepped up to meet this need as well. The chapter worked with the Delta Bike Project in Mobile to get five bicycles for the seniors.

“Our APSO members volunteered at the Delta Bike Project’s annual Gears and Beers fundraiser about a month ago, so they allowed us to use those volunteer hours to earn bicycles for the boat people,” Murrill said.

BPSOS-Bayou La Batre is part of a national organization established in the 1980s to rescue Vietnamese boat people who were escaping across the ocean to seek freedom in the United States. Since then, the organization has rescued more than 35,000 people. Along with rescues, BPSOS provides academic support and educational resources, helps point Vietnamese-Americans to healthcare services, and assists victims of domestic violence.

“I’m really grateful that Miss Sharon and APSO offered to help our seniors and our kids,” said Do. “The economy is really bad down there, and we couldn’t afford to buy cars for the seniors or enough presents for all the kids.”

Murrill said APSO was thrilled to help these families.

“With me taking on this new role as community relations manager, it has afforded me the opportunity to reach out on behalf of the Mobile Chapter to populations we haven’t served in the past,” said Murrill. “Helping the children and seniors in this community is important because it lets them know they’re not forgotten.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama piano teacher named among nation’s top music educators

(Brittany Dunn/Alabama Newscenter)

Although Dr. Kevin Chance has tickled the ivories on concert stages around the world, including at the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City, he said his greatest satisfaction comes from watching his students grow into successful, confident performers.

“One of my greatest memories is the first time I had a student perform their first solo recital,” said Chance, assistant professor of piano at the University of Alabama. “The process of putting together an hourlong recital is daunting for some students. It’s a lot of music to put in your head and then feel confident enough to play it in front of people. For me, teaching is the opportunity to see the potential in every student and often take them to heights they didn’t know they could achieve. When I see the joy and satisfaction they get out of that, it gives me eternal gratification.”

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Chance is on campus seven days a week teaching his students and perfecting his art. As chair of the Gloria Narramore Moody Piano Area, he also helps recruit the “best and brightest” music students from across the country and works to motivate them to attend the university.

Chance said his students range from freshmen to those working on doctorates. He even has a 7-year-old student.

Under Chance’s guidance, many protégés have been named winners or finalists in state, regional and national music competitions.

His commitment to students and passion for piano recently garnered national recognition. Chance was inducted into the inaugural class of the Steinway & Sons Teacher Hall of Fame on Oct. 24.

Alabama’s Kevin Chance is working to safeguard the future of music from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Chance was among 43 piano teachers from the United States and Canada who received this honor at the Steinway Factory in New York City. Their names are displayed on a commemorative wall inside the iconic piano factory.

“It was my distinct honor to nominate Dr. Chance to the Steinway Teacher Hall of Fame,” said Jon McClaran, director of Educational Services at the Alabama Piano Gallery in Vestavia Hills. “He is a highly skilled and compassionate teacher. He has produced many wonderful musicians and numerous award winners. Dr. Chance is beloved by his students and the entire music community.”

Chance was one of the youngest piano teachers to earn Steinway honor.

“I don’t know if I have the words to describe how I felt when I received this recognition,” Chance said. “However, I felt incredibly validated for the work that I do. But it also gave me great hope for the future of music because I saw the terrific passion that was in that room. It gave me hope because I know there are students throughout the country who are benefiting from our expertise.”

Along with teaching, Chance is a world-renowned concert pianist. He has taken curtain calls in Japan, Mexico, Canada and nearly all 50 states in the U.S.

Born and raised in Dora, Chance said he began playing the piano as soon as he could reach the keys.

“When I was a small child, I would come home from church and try to play by ear all the hymns I heard that morning,” Chance said. “My mother recognized that I had some talent and called her former piano teacher who lived in Troy.”

Chance said because his teacher lived so far from Dora, he received those early lessons by phone. At age 6, he began studying piano at the Birmingham-Southern College Conservatory. By age 15, he had moved to the teacher’s chair and started passing his skill on to other students.

Chance received his bachelor’s degree in English from Birmingham-Southern in 2000, his master’s in piano performance from LSU in 2002 and his doctorate from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, in 2011.

Chance has served on the University of Alabama faculty since 2010. He took that position after teaching for four years at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham.

In addition to the recognition from Steinway & Sons, Chance has received the 2019 Music Educator of the Year Award from the Arts and Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa and was named the 2015-2016 Teacher of the Year by the Alabama Music Teachers Association.

Chance said his parents have been his greatest music mentors and supporters – especially during his childhood.

“I am very grateful to my parents,” Chance said. “It was 45 minutes from Dora to Birmingham, and they drove me every week – sometimes two or three times a week – to Birmingham-Southern. That was a lot of driving.”

Chance said music and teaching will always be an integral part of his life.

“I’ll never stop teaching. I love it,” Chance said. “As much as I identify as a concert pianist, my heart is in teaching, and that’s where I find my identity the most. I’m really passionate about trying to build the quality of music instruction among pre-college students throughout our state, and I love seeing my students go out and teach others, because that’s the future of music.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)