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.

3 days 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)

2 weeks 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 month 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)

2 months 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)

2 months 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)

3 months 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)

4 months 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)

4 months 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)

4 months 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)

4 months 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)

5 months ago

Birmingham woman lives with, helps others fight epilepsy

(S. Franklin/Contributed)

Sara Franklin’s world turned upside down on the night of Aug. 25, 2018, when she experienced her first seizure. Now she has turned what began as a scary experience into an opportunity to help others facing similar situations.

“My husband woke in the middle of the night to find me convulsing, and I wasn’t responding. He didn’t know what to do, so he called 911,” said Franklin. “When I woke up about 15 minutes later, there were firemen in my room, and I didn’t remember anything.”

Franklin was rushed to a hospital after suffering a tonic clonic, more commonly known as grand mal seizure. She visited a neurologist several weeks later to undergo a series of tests but no cause for the seizure was immediately uncovered.

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Sara Franklin leads Epilepsy Foundation of Alabama to educate, guide others from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“That was a blessing because cancer and tumors can sometimes bring on seizures,” Franklin said. “But it was also a setback to life as I knew it because state law forbids anyone to drive for six months after a seizure. I was a new mom with a 6-month-old baby and was determined not to let anyone around me down, whether it was my husband, my baby, my boss or even my extended family and friends.”

Franklin experienced several partial seizures in November, which prolonged the ban on driving. The logistics of relying on family and friends to get her to work, and organizing childcare for her infant son, became an increasing challenge. Franklin decided to step away from work until doctors could diagnose her condition and find ways to deal with it.

In April, just weeks before Franklin would be allowed to drive, the family hit another wall.

Franklin’s husband, Drew, began suffering from excruciating headaches and numbness in his arm and face. After six emergency room visits and two stays in intensive care, it was determined that he had a life-threatening brain infection. Although Drew fully recovered thanks to antibiotics, the situation took a toll on Sara, causing another partial seizure.

Meanwhile, Sara was diagnosed with epilepsy, a condition that affects more than 54,000 people in Alabama, and she began receiving medication.

“The doctor thought the stress of my husband’s illness and the stress and lack of sleep that goes with having a new baby brought on my seizures,” Sara said.

About that time, Sara, who had been scouring the internet for information about her condition, saw a posting for the position of executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Alabama. She was hired after being recommended by the board chairman. Sara went to work in September. This organization, in coordination with the Epilepsy Foundation of America, works to provide treatment, support and resources; fund research and training for specialists; and educate the public about epilepsy and seizure first aid.

“I couldn’t believe that what I once saw as a tragedy has turned into an opportunity to walk with others and encourage them through their own journeys of epilepsy,” Franklin said. “My heart goes out to them. I want to walk alongside them as they seek to end seizures in their lives.”

Nearly two months later, Sara is heading up the foundation’s Walk to End Epilepsy on Nov. 2 – its biggest fundraiser of the year. The Birmingham walk will mobilize people from across the state to affect change through care, advocacy, research and education. More than 400 people are expected to take part in the walk at Railroad Park from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 10 people will have a seizure during their life, and one in 26 will be diagnosed with epilepsy. More people have epilepsy than Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, combined. But epilepsy receives one-tenth of the research funding of those other disorders.

“We are excited to hold the walk in Birmingham to further engage and mobilize the community to be a part of the fight to end epilepsy,” Sara said. “This annual event strengthens the current efforts of the foundation and generates funding to help families living with epilepsy and seizures.”

Along with the walk, there will be a face-painting station, music provided by DJ WellDunn and a booth where walkers can suit up in purple to show their support of people with epilepsy.

Sara is thrilled she has been seizure-free for six months and been given the go-ahead to get behind the wheel.

“This has been such a challenging year,” Sara said. “None of us are guaranteed a life without health scares. I’m thankful for my family, friends and church family who have helped me navigate through this journey, and the medical professionals who are helping keep my seizures under control.”

To sign up for the walk or for more information, visit WalktoEndEpilepsy.org/birmingham.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months 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)

8 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)

8 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)

9 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)

1 year 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)

1 year 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)

1 year 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)

2 years 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)