The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

1 week ago

Alabama high schooler brings clean water to Puerto Rican hurricane victims

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

When Shawn Goyal learned two years ago of the desperate need for drinkable water in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, he knew he had to help.

“We were studying Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in Spanish class the fall that Hurricane Maria hit,” said Goyal, now a senior at Altamont School in Birmingham. “As I researched Puerto Rico and dug deeper, I realized how bad the need was and I wanted to do what I could for the people there.”

At the same time, Goyal was looking for a community service effort that could serve as his Eagle Scout project. That’s when he thought, “Why not make it a global project?”

Goyal decided to partner with local nonprofits that were sending disaster relief to Puerto Rico and other hard-hit areas. The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham told him of the scarcity of fresh water and linked him with Uzima, a company that manufactures inexpensive, easy-to-use water filtration systems.

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The beauty of the water filters, Goyal said, is they are designed to last for 10 years, require no chemicals and can filter 5 gallons of water at a time.

“The filters are awesome for families who can’t use their tap water and don’t have enough money to buy water. They have to choose between buying water or buying other necessities like food,” Goyal said. “Because the filters last for 10 years, they also offer a long-term, affordable solution for these families, and not just a short-term fix.”

Through Uzima, Goyal was placed in touch with Ricardo Ufret, who was on the ground providing aid in Puerto Rico and could distribute the filters to those who most needed them. Uzima provided Goyal with filters at a reduced price.

During the summer of 2018, Goyal sent more than 200 letters to friends and family outlining his Eagle Scout project and requesting donations. He raised $5,000, allowing him to purchase 175 water filtration units.

“The response was very heartwarming,” said Goyal. “There are a lot of good people out there. I think all people needed was to realize what was happening and what the need was, and they were more than willing to help.”

After assembling the units, Goyal shipped them to Ufret, who, with help from members of his church in Puerto Rico, distributed water filters throughout the country. Ufret has continued sending Goyal photos and videos of people using the filters.

“Mr. Ufret told me that even two years after the hurricane, he is still receiving requests from pastors across Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela and Haiti,” Goyal said. “They want the filters for long-term use. They said they haven’t had clean water for over a generation. It made me see the need is still there and inspired me to do more.”

Goyal set up a GoFundMe webpage and raised enough money to buy 60 additional filters. In mid-August, just before school started, Goyal and his mom flew to San Juan for a four-day, whirlwind trip to deliver the filters.

The afternoon of their arrival, Goyal met with two Scout troops. Speaking in Spanish, he led a workshop to teach them how to assemble the filters. Then the group, in assembly-line fashion, went to work, putting all 60 filters together in less than two hours.

The next day, Goyal and some of the Scouts headed into the streets to hand out the filters.

“Some of the people were living out of their cars or camping out in the rubble,” Goyal said. “There was trash all around and mosquitoes everywhere. It was clear that they haven’t recovered from Hurricane Maria and that there was a need for water and other necessities. It was amazing to me because just 15 minutes from there was metropolitan San Juan with all its shops, high rises and hotels. If you drive just 15 minutes, it’s completely different.”

These street sessions gave Goyal the chance once again to perfect his Spanish.

“I remember when we showed up in one community, only two or three families came out at first to get the filters. And suddenly I looked up, and there was a crowd of 30 people listening to me explain how to use them,” Goyal said. “It made me sad and disappointed in myself that I never knew that people lived in these kinds of conditions in a U.S. territory like Puerto Rico.”

Goyal said he is “amazed” that as one person he could have an impact on so many lives.

“Clean water is a problem, not just in Puerto Rico. It’s a monumental problem across the world,” Goyal said. “If you look at the problem as a whole, I never would have tried to solve it. It’s too daunting. It was only after I looked back that I could appreciate what I was able to do. Even if I can’t raise enough money to send 175 filtration systems again, I can still chip away at the problem by sending just one filter at a time if I have to.”

Goyal knows his work is far from finished. He has once again set up a GoFundMe page – this time to raise money to provide water filters to the victims of Hurricane Dorian, the Category 5 storm that left devastation across the Bahamas in early September. Anyone interested in helping Goyal meet this need can contribute by visiting his Bahamas Clean Water Relief page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/bahamas-clean-water-relief.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama couple grow produce delivery service from the ground up

(Till/Contributed)

With summer in full swing, it’s the prime season for fresh fruits and vegetables. But who wants to get up at dawn on Saturday morning to make the trip to the local farmers market to buy produce?

That’s no longer necessary in the Birmingham area. In April, Will and Hayley DeShazo launched till, the city’s first-ever service that delivers produce fresh from the farm directly to your doorstep.

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The DeShazos said their idea for an online market grew out of “selfish motives.” While they were dating, they loved to cook together and eat locally grown, healthy foods, but getting to the market became a hassle.

“We love fresh produce, but we don’t necessarily love the challenges of getting fresh produce,” Will said. “We had been spending every Saturday for the past several years at the farmers market, but it was always difficult to work our schedules around it. In January, we were having brunch, and we looked at each other and said, ‘Why is buying local food so difficult?’”

Now married, Will and Hayley began their search for a better way.

The Cahaba Heights couple have a background in marketing. Will also had learned a lot about the use of local ingredients while working as a waiter’s assistant after college at Hot and Hot Fish Club, one of Birmingham’s most exclusive restaurants.

Till will shop Alabama farmers markets for you from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

With experience guiding them, the DeShazos began using Facebook and email to canvass people who enjoy eating healthy foods and to develop partnerships with local farmers. The response was overwhelming.

“We found that people not only wanted something like till in the Birmingham area, they needed it,” Hayley said. “There are stories of people who literally don’t have transportation to the farmers market, or who are disabled and can’t drive a vehicle to the market. There are people who work on Saturday mornings and can’t get to the market. We found everybody wants it, so we decided we’re doing it.”

Till offers a wide selection of produce, including fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, along with meats and pantry items, such as breads and baked goods.

The selection of available products is ever-changing, depending on the season, Will said.

“We update our website regularly,” he said. “We don’t want people to think they can only eat local in June, July or August. That’s so not true. Some of the best fruits and vegetables are found in the wintertime.”

Customers can order online for $12 a month or $99 a year. The delivery service is currently available to 10 Birmingham-area ZIP codes.

Free pickup is also available at the DeShazos’ drive-through location next to Doodles Italian ice in Cahaba Heights.

Ordering produce is easy. Customers can order online anytime between Sunday and Wednesday. When they sign up for the service, customers will receive an insulated bag, which they will fill with ice packs and leave on their porch on delivery days. On Saturday mornings, the till team delivers the goods and notifies you when they have arrived.

“Till is a metaphor for all of the options that the food industry in America gives us,” Hayley noted, explaining the premise behind the business’s colorful name. “We’ve been accustomed to getting the food we want, when we want it, without knowing where it comes from or what nutrients it has in it. Till is a metaphor for searching for all the options that are in the ground right beneath you, which is locally sourced food.”

Hayley added that spreading the word about the importance of eating nutritious food is a large part of the job.

“Teaching people to eat seasonally and change their lifestyle can be a challenge,” Hayley said. “We are used to having a wide variety of items available at the grocery store. But we have to realize that processed foods are lacking in nutrients and have been treated with pesticides that can cause health issues. But when you sacrifice these items and choose local produce, your life is changed.”

Realizing that thousands of Alabamians are going hungry every day, Will and Hayley are also giving back through their farm-to-door delivery service. They are donating a portion of the local produce to Grace Klein Community, a nonprofit that provides food to those in need. Customers can donate to Grace Klein directly through the till website.

The DeShazos said their favorite part of the business has been meeting their customers – many of whom have become friends.

“It’s fun starting at the grassroots level and getting to know our customers,” Will said. “We know that food is the one thing that connects everyone. Some of our best moments as families have been eating food around the table. Getting to know our customers while we’re still small is allowing us to create, pivot and tweak our service based upon our till members’ needs.”

Hayley said although Will is the entrepreneur in the family, she is thrilled that they took the plunge.

“I’ve never considered myself a risk-taker and probably would not have started the business without Will,” Hayley said. “But I’ve always been super-passionate about local produce and supporting Alabama farmers. Alabama is an amazing place, and you can grow amazing foods in Alabama because of our soil. I’m proud of the resources we have in our state, and I’m proud of our farmers and want to help people learn about the foods available to them.”

To learn more about till or sign up for the delivery service, click https://usetill.com. Along with ordering food, customers can check out the DeShazos’ recipe blog, which offers tasty ways to turn local produce into memorable dishes.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Camp Aliceville housed thousands of German POWs in Alabama during WWII

(Brittany Faush/Alabama NewsCenter)

During World War II, the battles raging overseas must have seemed a world away for most Americans. But the conflict was closer to home than they realized, with thousands of German prisoners of war housed at an internment camp in a small rural community in west central Alabama.

In Aliceville, 36 miles west of Tuscaloosa, the more than 830-acre camp held up to 6,000 POWs and was one of the largest of its kind in the United States. Although the camp opened in 1942, it was not until the following summer that the first trainload of POWs arrived in town.

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Camp Aliceville, which remained in operation until 1945, was almost a home away from home for the POWs, said John Gillum, executive director of the Aliceville Museum. Along with barracks for the prisoners, there was a hospital, mess halls, several small theaters and a recreation area. The prisoners had their own orchestra and brass band, produced plays, grew flowers and vegetables, and held gardening competitions.

“The United States government had resolved to maintain a high level of treatment for prisoners in hopes that the countries holding our men would do the same for them,” Gillum said. “When German visitors come to our museum, they tell us to a person that their father or grandfather who stayed at the camp said it was the best time of his life.”

Gillum said a former POW told him that his positive introduction to America persuaded him to make the U.S. his permanent home. Although authorities had asked Aliceville citizens to stay home, most everyone in town turned out at the train depot to greet the newcomers.

“He told me the Germans thought they were being taken to the United States to be killed,” Gillum said. “When they got off the train in Aliceville, there was a mob scene, but nothing actually happened. That’s when he thought, ‘If this is how Americans treat their enemies, I’m going to come back here.’”

Aliceville Museum showcases Alabama city’s history, from pop to patriots to POWs from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The little that remains of the camp is now part of the Aliceville Industrial Park. A historic marker is near what was once the camp’s main entrance. Otherwise, there is a lone chimney that was part of the noncommissioned officers club as well as the now partially collapsed maintenance building.

Although there’s not much to see at the camp, visitors can travel about one mile to the Aliceville Museum, where the German POW Camp collection is one of four featured exhibits. The hundreds of artifacts on display include POW letters, books, furniture and musical instruments, as well as their paintings, sculptures, ceramics, woodworking, metal crafts and newsletters.

Another popular exhibit is the Coca-Cola collection. It’s no wonder. The museum is housed in the old Aliceville Coca-Cola bottling plant, which operated from 1948 until 1978.

The only remaining intact small-town bottling company in the nation, the building still contains all the original equipment just as it was installed when the facility opened. Coca-Cola memorabilia, photos and documents are on display.

“The room is set up so you could walk in there and get a real good idea of how the plant was run in the 1940s,” Gillum said.

The museum features two other exhibits – the American Heroes and the City of Aliceville collections. The American Heroes room is filled with memorabilia and artifacts dating from World War I to the present and honors Alabama patriots from every branch of the military.

The City of Aliceville exhibit traces the history of the community from its founding in 1902. It includes a general store with 1930s vintage clothing, merchandise and documents from an Aliceville mercantile and hundreds of photos taken by one of Alabama’s first female professional photographers, Willie Gardner.

The Alabama Power Foundation is a longtime supporter of the museum and has provided funding to help with various improvements and upgrades, such as replacing an old air-conditioning system and installing window blinds.

“We are very pleased and thankful to have Alabama Power as one of our corporate sponsors,” Gillum said. “Their donations have been valuable in allowing us to maintain the exhibits and the building.”

Alabama Power Reform Office Manager Andrea Ellis said the company and the foundation are proud to have a hand in helping the museum share the story of Aliceville.

“The museum plays an integral part in preserving the city’s history and provides visitors a unique perspective through its various exhibits,” Ellis said. “The financial support the foundation provides allows the museum to bring in new exhibits and expand its existing exhibits with new artifacts and photographs that help further enrich the stories being told there. We are pleased that we can play a small part in helping to make that happen.”

The museum began in one room of the local public library. Today, it is housed in its own large facility in downtown Aliceville, with three buildings, a courtyard and a plaza.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 people from all over the world tour the museum every year, Gillum said. In just the past six months, visitors have included people from one-third of Alabama’s counties, 25 states, Puerto Rico, Germany, Canada, the Philippines and Israel. Many of them are family members of former German POWs or others connected with the camp.

“We get a lot of people here who are curious about what went on at the camp,” Gillum said. “We show them that we took care of our prisoners 75 years ago and, as a result, they leave with a good impression of our country. The neat thing is we’re a positive story with positive outcomes.”

For a closer look at the museum, check out http://www.alicevillemuseum.org/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Lake Jordan’s Dixie Art Colony offered inspiration and haven for artists in ’30s and ’40s

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Martha Moon Kracke remembers them as a bunch of friends having fun painting what they saw while roaming the rural countryside around Lake Jordan. But those men and women were actually shaping history and would become leaders of the Southeastern art world.

It has been 71 years since Kracke traveled with her dad, Florala self-taught artist Carlos “Shiney” Moon, to visit the Dixie Art Colony (DAC) on Lake Jordan. But her memories of those visits with that eclectic band of artists are as vivid as if they happened yesterday.

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“Daddy and I were so close, and we liked all the same things,” said Kracke, who spent time at the DAC as a 13-year-old. “To be at a place where he liked to be with all of his friends was important to me. It was a very special place where these people gathered to paint, carry on and play jokes on each other.”

Two area artists, Kelly Fitzpatrick and Warree Carmichael LeBron, founded the colony, the first of its kind in Alabama and one of the first in the Southeast, in 1933.

The idea came from Fitzpatrick, who had returned from World War I with scars on his face from shrapnel wounds and on his heart after seeing many of his comrades killed in combat.

“When he got back home, Kelly said all he wanted to do for the rest of his life was what he loved, and that was painting and teaching,” said Mark Harris, founder of the Dixie Art Colony Foundation.

Fitzpatrick, LeBron and the other artists met for the first time at a Boy Scouts camp on Lake Martin and then in various homes for the next few years. They finally settled in 1937 on what they called their “semi-permanent” home, a site owned by LeBron’s mother, Sallie B. Carmichael, at Nobles Ferry in Deatsville on Lake Jordan.

The colony was a rustic, quiet spot where artists from across Alabama met for short stays, mostly during the summer, to pursue their passion for painting and hone their skills. Along with a central lodge that housed their studio and kitchen, there were several small, one-room cabins used as sleeping quarters for the men and a dormitory for the women.

The lodge, dormitory and cabins were powered by electricity. But otherwise, conditions were primitive, with outdoor showers and an outhouse, and no running water, except in the kitchen.

“It was a kind of escape from the workaday world of the 1930s and 1940s,” said Sally LeBron Holland, who grew up visiting the colony with her mother and grandmother, LeBron and Carmichael.

Holland said it was “awesome to see those free spirits” at work.

“Every day, the artists would pile into cars and drive out into the countryside and the little community of Deatsville,” Holland said. “They would be dropped off in different places and would paint the world around them. In the evenings, they would display what they had painted outside in the yard on a wooden wall with an overhanging tin roof, and Kelly would critique their work. It was a wonderful experience.”

The artists mostly created watercolor paintings of rural scenes and landscapes, including farms, barnyards, cottonfields and old country stores, Harris said. Their works were created outdoors and were referred to as plein air, or open-air, paintings.

“It was very informal,” Harris said. “They would put their finished paintings on the walls of the studio and hang them from the rafters.”

There were several instructors over the years, including Fitzpatrick, Moon and Genevieve Southerland, an artist from Mobile. They worked with the artists individually, offering feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Art was the focus. But the artists also loved to play and pull pranks, like throwing rocks on the roof of the lodge to rouse Fitzpatrick from sleep. Because they were not together at Christmastime, they celebrated the holiday with a Yuletide costume party on July 4.

The artists continued to meet at the Nobles Ferry site until 1948, when Carmichael became ill and could no longer serve as the colony’s “hostess.” After the demise of the colony at Nobles Ferry, they met on the Alabama Gulf Coast near Bayou La Batre and Coden through 1953. LeBron tried to revive the DAC and opened her Rockford home in Coosa County to the artists for several years during the late 1950s.

Documents show that 142 artists visited the DAC at one time or another from 1933 to 1948, Harris said. Although most of them were considered “Sunday painters,” many left a real legacy.

“These artists really became movers and shakers in the art world, not just in Alabama but throughout the Southeast,” Harris said. “Many became educators on both the primary and secondary levels, while others were instrumental in starting the Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile and Jackson, Mississippi, museums.”

Fitzpatrick, who helped found the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and the Alabama Art League, was, of course, among the most notable of the group. Another standout colonist was Frank Applebee, who founded the art department at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), and acquired the pieces that became the core collection of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn.

True love, as well as friendship, blossomed at the colony. Two prominent portrait painters, Karl Wolfe and Mildred Nungester, met at the DAC and later married.

A rotating exhibit of many of the original pieces created by the artists and other memorabilia from those years can be seen at the Dixie Art Colony Museum and Gallery in downtown Wetumpka. Visitors can also step back in time by touring the old colony site at Nobles Ferry (now owned by Chrys and Robert Bowden) and see where the artists wielded their paintbrushes.

Kracke and Holland agree that the colony was almost like another world.

“Nothing was like the Dixie and nothing will ever be like the Dixie,” Kracke said. “It’s a time long gone. It was an experience like no other at the time, and I will never have an experience like it again.”

For more information about the DAC Foundation and its programs, visit dixieartcolony.org/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 months ago

Birmingham company FuelFox changes the way people fill up

(Contributed/Alabama NewsCenter)

Stealthy as a fox, Ben Morris slips in, fills up his customers’ vehicles with gas and drives away.

“It feels like magic,” said Brooke Battle, who has been taking advantage of FuelFox, Birmingham’s new on-site fuel-delivery service, for two months. “I hate gas stations. Anytime I need gas, it’s never convenient: It’s cold or rainy outside, it’s nighttime or I’m in a hurry. Now I pull into my parking place at work, and when I come out of the office at 6 that evening, my gas tank is filled up.”

Most Americans are like Battle. Filling up their gas tank is a necessary evil. It was that knowledge that led Morris to launch FuelFox.

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“I got the idea from my wife,” said Morris, founder and CEO of FuelFox. “She’d be running late for a meeting or late picking up our kids, and she would have to stop to get gas. She’d tell me, ‘I’m going to be late, and I’m going to smell like gas.’ So I thought with the advent of mobile pay on your phone, why can’t we have a service where gas can be delivered directly to you?”

With people everywhere juggling work and family obligations, Morris knew he had hit on a solution. A fuel-delivery service, said Morris, will save people time, provide convenience, increase productivity and, best of all, offer a more affordable option.

Morris added little has changed in the fuel-delivery industry since the first gas station opened in Pennsylvania in 1913. People are still forced to take time out of their busy schedules to locate a gas station where they can fill up their tank.

“Gas stations are unsafe, antiquated, unsanitary and a waste of time for the customer,” said Morris, adding that in 2016, the FBI reported 25,579 robberies at gas stations. “With FuelFox, we are bringing the way people fuel their vehicles into the 21st century.”

Morris opened FuelFox last July, first providing the service to company fleets in Jefferson and Shelby counties. Then, with the rollout of the FuelFox app on iOS and Android mobile devices in November, he began offering the service to individuals.

FuelFox is in essence a mobile gas station. Morris and his team of “ambassadors” bring the gas directly to FuelFox members, whether they are at work, the mall or the gym.

Through the FuelFox app, people can easily register for the service and then schedule their gas fill-ups at any of the five Birmingham-area “Fox Spots,” specific locations where the ambassadors stop to deliver fuel each week. Members then receive a notification on their phone the night before the delivery to remind them that FuelFox will be at their preferred “Fox Spot” the next day. The best part is that members don’t need to be present for the fuel delivery.

“We come while you are at work, exercising or shopping, and fill up your tank,” Morris said. “You never have to go out of your way to find a gas station again. Having FuelFox is like riding around with a full tank of gas every day.”

FuelFox is much more than a gas provider, Morris said. It offers full service at “self-service prices.”

That means that along with filling up gas tanks, FuelFox cleans front windshields, checks tire pressure and adds air, if needed, and notifies the member of any other potential issues.

Trip Umbach said making the decision to sign up for FuelFox was a “no brainer.”

“I’m getting gas cheaper than I otherwise would, and it’s more convenient because someone else is filling up my tank, checking my tire pressure and washing my windshield,” said Umbach. “How could you not do it? It really couldn’t be easier.”

FuelFox is also servicing company fleets throughout the Birmingham area. Each night, FuelFox makes scheduled stops at various companies to fill up fleet vehicles, thus allowing the employees to start their day with a full gas tank.

Since opening in July, FuelFox has rapidly expanded its business and is servicing nine fleets, ranging in size from 10 to 72 vehicles, Morris said.

“We are helping companies increase productivity and efficiency,” he said. “We save employees’ time. When they arrive at work the next morning, they can focus on their clients and not have to take time to fill up their vehicles.”

Morris was a partner at a local law firm for 15 years when he decided to make a 360-degree career change. Last summer, he took a chance and went from practicing law to pumping gas.

“I have always had the entrepreneurial bug,” said Morris, noting that he started his first business at 10 years old selling tomatoes door to door and spreading pine straw for neighbors. “I have been looking and looking for a new business. It took me 15 years to find one that I thought was viable.”

Opening FuelFox has been a smart move, Morris said. In just six months, the company has performed about 8,500 fuelings, dispensed more than 127,000 gallons of gas, and expanded to include nine company fleets and five individual “Fox Spots.” FuelFox has increased the amount of gas it dispenses each week by 154 percent.

“I’ve been very pleased with our success,” Morris said. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve never met one person who enjoys going to the gas station, and we are removing that unpleasant experience from their life.”

Buying gas through FuelFox is easy and economical, Morris said. FuelFox members pay the AAA average gas price for the county. And as a special introductory offer, FuelFox has waived all additional membership fees through March 31.

After that time, members will pay a $199 annual fee, allowing them to receive four fill-ups per month or one per week. Subscriptions can be canceled at any time with no penalty.

For more information or to subscribe to the individual membership service, visit FuelFox.net or download the app from the Apple Store on iPhones or GooglePlay on Android mobile devices.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

Christmas parades bring communities together throughout Alabama

(Sindey Freeman)

Christmas parades are as much a part of the holiday season in Alabama towns as casseroles during Easter.

It’s probably safe to say only Santa Claus has participated in more of these parades than Alabama Power.

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In Alabama Power’s Southeast Division, for instance, employees, with help from Louie the Lightning Bug, were filled with holiday cheer as they headed out in their company trucks for annual Christmas parades in their communities.

The offices that took part included Abbeville, Eufaula, Ashford and Headland.

Eufaula employees really got into the spirit, turning a bucket truck into a rolling Christmas wonderland with lights, garlands, bows and other decorations. Employees from the other offices waved to the crowds as they rolled down parade routes in company pickup trucks. Louie the Lightning Bug was on hand for all four parades.

Tracy Dismukes, Ashford Office manager, said the whole town takes part in the annual parade, as many people arrive with floats two or three hours before the start.

“It gets everybody into the Christmas spirit,” said Dismukes, who has ridden in the Ashford parade three years.

Brooke Goff said Christmas parades are a tradition for Southeast Division employees.

“I just love seeing the kids’ faces light up when they see our truck roll past them,” said Goff, Community Relations specialist, Southeast Division Office. “Everybody who walks or rides in the parade loves it and has a good time. It’s something we look forward to every year.”

In addition to those towns, other communities shared their parade photos with Alabama NewsCenter. Here are some of those images.

Thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

Birmingham couple brings holiday cheer to the Alabama Theatre

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Tom Cronier may not be jolly old Saint Nick. But with his Santa hat and cheerful smile, he’s a close stand-in at the Alabama Theatre during the holiday season.

Cronier’s job is to welcome the crowds as they come through the door to watch their favorite Christmas movies.

“We sometimes do silly things and have lots of fun to keep it festive. I’ve even got a ‘Cousin Eddie’ Santa hat that I wear when we show our most popular movie, ‘Christmas Vacation,’” he said.

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While Cronier welcomes moviegoers and collects their tickets, his wife, Loretta, is also hard at work. She sells souvenirs and merchandise, including T-shirts, posters, ornaments, postcards and tote bags.

“It’s amazing how many people tell us that coming to the Alabama Theatre has become a Christmas tradition in their family,” she said.

The Croniers are longtime volunteers at the Alabama. Tom has worked every season since Christmas movies became a big part of the theatre lineup in the early 1990s.

Tom said showing holiday favorites was the idea of former Alabama Theatre President and General Manager Cecil Whitmire. Although the theatre had been showing movie classics during the summer, movies weren’t as popular at other times. Adding the holiday movie series was Whitmire’s way of helping the struggling theatre regain its footing after falling on hard times during the previous decade.

“For the first one or two years, we showed a few Christmas movies, but nobody came,” Tom said. “Cecil had the idea of donating tickets to downtown businesses and encouraging them to give them to employees as freebies. People slowly started coming, and now the Christmas movies are amazingly popular. They sell out. Given the theatre seats 2,195 people, that’s pretty amazing.”

Although they are at the theatre almost every day during the two-week holiday movie series, Tom and Loretta are year-round volunteers. In addition to their regular duties, they often usher during concerts. In the old days, the Birmingham couple even popped popcorn and sold soft drinks and candy.

Tom said his interest in the theatre’s iconic Wurlitzer pipe organ is what first drew him in 1985. Although the 1927 theatre was closed at the time due to the decline of the downtown area and movie attendance, the organ was still lovingly maintained by the Alabama Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society (ATOS). When friends invited him to tour the theatre, Tom fell in love with the organ’s vibrant sound and soon joined the ATOS chapter.

“We would have meetings at the theatre and get somebody to play the organ and just have a good time,” said Tom. “I was always begging somebody to play for me.”

But those days are over, thanks to technology. Because the organ’s control system has been updated, Tom can get the experience of playing it anytime simply by retrieving songs from the thousands of files that have been stored in its memory bank.

The organ has not been Tom’s only passion. In 1987, he joined with Whitmire, president of the local ATOS chapter at the time, and others to save the theatre. The group formed Birmingham Landmarks Inc., the nonprofit that returned the Alabama to its original glory.

Coming back from the brink wasn’t easy, Tom said. He especially remembers when the theatre was literally saved by a miracle.

“One Saturday, I came into the theatre to work and heard a group of people talking in hushed tones,” Tom said. “I heard Linda (Whitmire’s wife) say we have $3,000 in the bank, and we have $15,000 in bills that need to be paid. I don’t mean next week or next month. I mean now, or the water and power will be cut off. It looked like the end.”

A couple of days later, the theatre unexpectedly received a $15,000 check from a local philanthropic foundation – the exact amount needed to pay the bills.

As treasurer of the Alabama ATOS chapter for 15 years, Tom is still at the theatre every Saturday working alongside other members to repair and rebuild the organ. He helps around the theatre with everything from hanging pictures to reattaching loose bannisters.

Tom and Loretta are retired, which gives them more time to devote to the theatre. Tom worked in the Rates and Costing area of the Finance department at Alabama Power until 2007. Loretta was a media specialist at Shades Cahaba Elementary until 2008.

Loretta said it’s the kids who bring her the most pleasure and keep her coming back as a volunteer.

“I just love seeing the wonderment on the kids’ faces,” she said. “They are so awestruck because you don’t see theatres like that anymore.”

This holiday season, Tom and Loretta will be busier than ever, with 27 Christmas favorites showing at the Alabama through Dec. 22.

“It’s lots and lots of fun,” he said. “Seeing the people having fun and enjoying themselves is great. I enjoy the crowds and the organ music, and those old films are good, too.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

AABE Birmingham Chapter brings careers to students

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

“This is bigger than cool. It’s amazing.”

That was Brianna Desirae Beverly’s reaction to the recent Energy Awareness Fair, hosted by the Birmingham Chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy. (AABE). The seventh-grader at Wilkerson Middle School already has big plans for her future, and through this fair, she saw firsthand that technology can help her reach those goals.

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“It’s hard to say what I liked best about the event because everything here is so amazing,” said Brianna, who wants to become an architectural engineer. “There’s a bunch of kids I know here, and they are enjoying what they see, especially the technology.”

More than 200 seventh-grade students and teachers from Wilkerson, Wylam and Hudson middle schools thronged the exhibits at the career fair at Alabama Power’s12th Street Crew Headquarters in downtown Birmingham on Oct. 5.

The event was designed to introduce students to careers in technology, engineering, math and science, particularly jobs in the energy sector. For those students interested in other career paths, there were booths that focused on business, human resources, marketing and accounting. The event was part of AABE’s annual Black Energy Awareness Month held in October.

Phillip Coffey, chairman of the chapter’s Education and Scholarship Committee and Alabama Power market specialist, said the organization is hoping to “generate a spark” in these seventh-graders.

“Middle school is where students typically start getting exposed to future careers,” Coffey said. “By the time they get into high school, they are already choosing classes that will help prepare them for college. We wanted to catch them at a young age and broaden their horizons by exposing them to the latest technology and energy careers.”

Circe Starks said the chapter “intentionally” invited students from the Birmingham City School System.

“We partnered with the Birmingham Education Foundation because we wanted to remove all barriers to attendance, such as lack of transportation, to maximize the opportunity for students to be exposed to future careers,” said Starks, Southern Power compliance director.

Starks said the organization is striving to open these students’ minds to a whole new world.

“As children who are trying to decide what they want to be when they grow up, what makes the biggest impact are the people they know and what they have seen,” she said. “I grew up in the Bessemer City School System, where the only professionals I interacted with on a regular basis were nurses and schoolteachers. We are hoping to expose these kids to other professions to let them know there are other career opportunities open to them.”

The fair featured outdoor demonstrations of drone technology, bucket trucks and electric cars.

After they viewed the outdoor exhibits, the students moved inside, where they took part in hands-on activities. They toured a substation thanks to virtual reality, built a circuit, used iPads to view the innovations in the company’s Smart Neighborhood, and saw a robot in action and a mock-up of the new units at Vogtle Nuclear Plant in Georgia.

The students played a bean game to learn about budgeting, participated in mock job interviews and wrote their own brief biography.

T’Marcus Threatt, Wilkerson Middle School seventh-grader, said the best part of the day for him was the bucket truck and drone demonstrations and learning the benefits of driving a Tesla.

“I wanted to attend this event so I can learn about technology and the things around me,” Threatt said.

The AABE Birmingham Chapter teamed with Alabama Power and the Birmingham Education Foundation to coordinate the event. Other sponsors included the Alabama Power Service Organization, Southern Power, the Southern Company Energy Innovation Center, UAB, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), McWane Science Center, iCan, Balch & Bingham and Bud’s Best Cookies.

“This event is huge for our students,” said Adrian Jones, operations manager, Birmingham Education Foundation. “Alabama Power and AABE are doing a great job of helping our students get exposed to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields in a fun and exciting way. I think when there’s talk about math and science, a lot of students disconnect because they are not able to see the hands-on experience they can get by coming to an event like this one.”

The AABE Birmingham Chapter works to provide energy professionals, executives, entrepreneurs and students a pathway to learn more about the energy industry through education, mentoring, community service and networking. As part of that effort, AABE provides scholarships to students to encourage them to pursue careers in energy-related fields.

“This fair is just the start,” said Coffey. “We want to make an impact in Birmingham City Schools and the community as well. We want to arm students with knowledge and resources so they can be prepared to go to the next level.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Birmingham woman’s dog becomes full-time rescuer

(K. Buchanan/Alabama NewsCenter)

Two years ago, Kelly Buchanan began to find herself on her face almost as often as she was on her feet until her German shepherd, Eirwen, came to her rescue.

“I would feel my feet going out from under me, and my first thought was to try to stop myself. But before I knew it, I would be down on my face,” said Buchanan. “It’s terrible to fall. It’s a feeling of being out of control. Having the wind knocked out of you and feeling yourself falling is very disorienting and embarrassing.”

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In fall 2016, Buchanan developed a severe inner ear imbalance after suffering three back-to-back bouts of double pneumonia. She began losing her balance without warning, putting her on the floor. Because it happened so often, Buchanan’s doctor suggested that a service dog could be her answer.

Buchanan didn’t have to look far. She and Eirwen were already a well-established team.

Eirwen made the transition from best friend and companion to service dog without a hitch. She is now by Buchanan’s side everywhere she goes.

“She keeps me steady,” said Buchanan. “If I feel like I’m about to fall, she can do a command called ‘brace,’ where she steadies her front and back legs like a sawhorse. Then, I can put one hand on her hips and the other on her shoulders, and use her to help me get back up safely.”

The two have become a familiar sight at Alabama Power’s Corporate Headquarters in Birmingham. Buchanan, who works for Randstad, a temporary employment agency, is filling in this summer for an administrative assistant who is on medical leave.

“Eirwen gives me peace of mind that I am going to be able to do all aspects of my job and not have to ask for a lot of help,” said Buchanan. “I’m going to be able to move about the office and building safely without the fear of falling.”

From puppy to service dog

In 2015, Buchanan was looking for a puppy to train as a therapy dog when a breeder contact from Iowa sent her a photo of Eirwen. It was “love at first sight.” Buchanan, who lived in Arkansas at the time, was soon on the way to bring her new puppy home.

Buchanan immediately began obedience training, teaching Eirwen to respond to basic commands like, “Sit,” “Stay” and “Lie down.” Under Buchanan’s guiding hand, Eirwen completed the requirements for the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program and was certified as a therapy dog.

“We formed a really strong bond instantly,” Buchanan said. “She has always been very responsive to anything I ask of her.”

The team began making regular visits to hospitals, libraries and schools.

But Buchanan “had an itch” to do more. She soon volunteered as a trainer for Soldier on Service Dogs, an organization in Arkansas that provides service dogs to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries.

With Eirwen by her side, Buchanan trained two puppies and helped prepare them for their future handler. In each case, it was a yearlong process, with the puppies learning skills they needed as they traveled almost everywhere with Buchanan.

“Eirwen was like the big sister showing the puppies what to do,” said Buchanan.

Thus, when Buchanan began experiencing inner ear issues, Eirwen was the perfect fit. The training that Buchanan learned as part of the “puppy raiser” program through Soldier on Service Dogs helped her prepare Eirwen for her new job.

Buchanan said she has not fallen since Eirwen took over as her service dog. Even if Buchanan is not holding her leash, Eirwen is by her side, keeping her eyes glued to her handler.

There was one instance, Buchanan said, when she could have been badly injured if not for Eirwen.

“I was walking along a sidewalk and did not see the curb because it was not marked,” Buchanan said. “But Eirwen saw it. She stopped straight in her tracks and would not move. She prevented me from having a really nasty fall.”

A service dog or a pet – that’s the question

Service dogs help many people with disabilities live more independently.

Service animals are individually trained to perform work or specific tasks for a person with a disability, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. They can be trained to pick up items for people in wheelchairs, provide stability for people who have difficulty walking, prevent a child with autism from wandering, or alert diabetic people of a drop or rise in their sugar levels. People who have seizures or hearing loss, as well as veterans with PTSD, can be greatly helped by a service dog.

“These animals are amazing,” said Frances McGowin, executive director of Service Dogs of Alabama. “They are lifesaving dogs. There’s no medical equipment that can do what these dogs do.”

McGowin said that because there is no registration for service dogs, some people are “abusing the privilege.” They are trying to pass off their pets as service dogs so they can take their furry friends on airplanes and into public places that only allow service animals. But there is a huge difference.

“Service dogs are highly skilled, professionally trained dogs,” McGowin said. “They do their job over everything else. Whether they are playing, resting or eating, these dogs will stop whatever they are doing if their handler needs them.”

Buchanan can testify to that fact, adding that Eirwen knows when her handler is especially dizzy and struggling to stay on her feet.

Buchanan said Eirwen is her key to independence.

“She has definitely been a blessing and a joy,” Buchanan said. “Knowing that I just have to hold onto her leash, and she’s strong enough to keep both of us safe and get me where I need to be, really means everything.”

Buchanan has one piece of advice for people who meet a service dog.

“If you see service dogs walking with their handler, that means they’re working, so just ignore them,” she said. “If they’re not working, you can ask to pet them. Eirwen is a ‘people person,’ so I will usually allow her to be petted if she’s not working at the time.”

For more information about service dogs, click here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)