The Wire

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


    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


    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


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

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

2 weeks ago

Alabama Power’s John Smola honored by Public Utilities Fortnightly Magazine

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

John Smola is among the utility industry’s “shining stars” taking top honors as a 2020 Fortnightly Forty.

Public Utilities Fortnightly Magazine annually recognizes the next generation of leaders in the utilities industry – people who could be responsible for the operations of the electric grid and regulatory systems. The magazine, which is read by top managers in the energy industry, presented Smola with the Fortnightly Forty award during a program online.


“We are excited John has been recognized among future leaders in our industry by Public Utilities Fortnightly,” said Jeff Peoples, Alabama Power’s executive vice president of Employee and Customer Services. “His visionary leadership is a tremendous asset for both the company and our state as innovation and technology play an important role in how we evolve to meet customers’ needs of the future.”

For the past two years, Smola has been Alabama Power’s director of Business Transformation, focused on business growth development, innovation and new ventures. He leads a team focused on expanding innovation, infrastructure and market position to support and enhance core electric needs. The group is vital to improving Alabama’s economic development potential, increasing the profitability of existing revenue streams and generating new revenue.

Smola and his team partnered with Birmingham and Montgomery on smart city initiatives, resulting in Smart Cities Readiness Challenge Grants awarded in 2018 and 2019 by the Smart Cities Council. They provided the “jump-start” to smart cities solutions, facilitating the installation of LED lighting, high-speed internet and public safety infrastructure in Birmingham and Montgomery. The initiative has improved the safety and quality of life for residents while delivering efficiencies to municipal partners.

With the goal of attracting to Alabama leading edge energy startups from around the world, Smola and his team played a crucial role in Alabama Power’s work to form the Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator in Birmingham in 2019. Alabama Power teamed with state leaders and Techstars – a worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs – and is Techstars’ first electric utility partner.

The Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator will attract startups that are building technologies and business models to enhance the future of energy. Focus areas include smart cities, utility operations, industrial electrification, connectivity, customer engagement and electric transportation. The inaugural cohort will begin in late 2020.

Additional project’s Smola and the Business Transformation group have led include Alabama Power’s strategic partnership with Mississippi-based C Spire to support high-speed internet, energy services contracts with commercial customers including hospitals and military facilities, and the conversion of more than 100,000 lights to efficient LEDs in communities across Alabama.

Smola began his career at Alabama Power in 2008 and has held roles of increasing responsibility in Marketing, Regulatory and External Affairs. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Auburn University in 2007 and a master’s degree from UAB in 2011.

He is actively engaged in the local entrepreneurial community and how Alabama can further develop a technology-driven economy. Smola is on the boards of Alabama Capital Network and Birmingham Venture Club, is a Catalyst Fellow for the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and member of the Rotary Club of Birmingham.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Hero German Shepherd from Alabama vies to be country’s top dog in American Humane contest

(Corey Speegle/Contributed)

A mom’s reaction to being reunited with her lost child – found by Küsse, a German Shepherd rescue dog – was to smother both with kisses and hugs.

Indeed, the name Küsse – German for “kisses” – fits Corey Speegle’s rescue dog to a “T.” With her innate ability to find lost people, Küsse has earned huge praise during her short career.

Nearly half a million dog lovers across the country have cast their votes for Küsse, one of three semifinalists for the American Humane Hero Dog prize in the Search and Rescue category. Other categories include Therapy Dogs; Service Dogs; Military Dogs; Law Enforcement Dogs; Shelter Dogs; and Guide/Hearing Dogs.


Küsse and Speegle live in Sheffield, Alabama, and she’s the only dog representing the Yellowhammer State. Supporters can vote for Küsse once a day through July 16.

Training the nation’s ‘top dog’ 

Speegle got Küsse as a pup and began training her at a year old. Küsse’s innate ability to find individuals has primed her to win the national contest this fall, which concludes with a gala and a two-hour special on the Hallmark Channel.

“Küsse is a beautiful dog, and she loves to serve and help find missing people,” said Speegle, state coordinator for the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons and a volunteer firefighter for Spring Valley and White Oak Volunteer Fire departments. “Her mother is a German Shepherd from the Czech Republic and the father is a second-generation explosives dog out of Fort Hood, Texas.”

Speegle has trained with the Federal Emergency Management Association, and he and Küsse have completed numerous search and rescue classes.

“I’ve taken advanced building search classes through detection services, and I’ve had boat training to locate bodies in the water,” Speegle said.

He’s accustomed to receiving calls for help from Colbert County Sheriff Frank Williamson. On March 4, Speegle and Küsse were called to work search and reconnaissance efforts in Cookeville, Tennessee, after a powerful EF4 tornado decimated the town in the early morning. Cookeville is the county seat of Putnam County, 79 miles east of Nashville.

“Küsse and I worked for hours on end to help find survivors and bring closure to families with missing loved ones,” said Speegle, who volunteers with the White Oak Volunteer Fire Department’s K-9 Search and Rescue crew. The team also uses highly trained cadaver dogs.

“It was like a bomb went off there,” he said. “We stayed until the last person was accounted for – it wasn’t pretty, as you can imagine.” Despite their round-the-clock search March 4-6, Küsse and Speegle found no survivors among the 27 people missing.

Speegle trained Küsse with the “recall/refind” method.

“I say, ‘show me,’ and she will return to me and lead me to the person,” he said. “When she finds somebody, she gets her purple kong wubba, her favorite toy in the whole world.”

“The new thinking is you don’t want the dog to bark at someone and scare them, so she’s trained to find them and, depending on the distance, she returns to me and makes me know she found them,” he said.

Speegle uses a handheld detection module linked to Küsse’s GPS-monitored collar, which can track her up to 9 miles.

“Occasionally, with small children, the dog won’t leave the child,” he said. “It will lay down and stay with the subject, so we can still track where the dog is.

“She also does scent article finds,” Speegle said. “Küsse locates a person using a scent article – a sock, hat or shirt, for instance.

“Küsse will work on- or off-lead,” he said. “If you have someone lost in a national forest, she can use that scent to find them.”

Küsse recently helped in the search for a 20-year-old marathon runner from Colbert County near Muscle Shoals, Alabama, whose family reported him missing.

“He’d gone running in the evening and it had stormed all night,” Speegle said. “We tracked him 200 to 300 yards but Küsse lost his scent because of the rain. But she assisted law enforcement to go in the right direction to find him.”

Using video, the sheriff tracked the man’s run. The marathoner had been caught in the storm and sheltered overnight in the field house at Muscle Shoals High School. He borrowed a phone the next morning to call his parents.

Honoring the past at LaGrange Cemetery

Colbert County Commissioner Darol Bendall asked Speegle to locate unmarked historic graves at the historic LaGrange Cemetery in Leighton, Alabama. He and Küsse volunteered a weekend in April.

“The descendants would like to know where they’re at – it’s rough terrain,” said Speegle, who assisted other members of the LaGrange Living History Association. “There are probably 100 graves that are unaccounted for, some of which date to 1815.”

The project was an excellent training opportunity. Speegle, Küsse and his other dogs located nine lost gravesites. During the years, headstones for a man and his wife, dating to the 1800s, had been moved about 50 yards from their resting place. Volunteers reset the headstones properly. Other graves were found outside the cemetery.

“My cadaver dog found an unmarked grave in a wooded area,” he said.

During the work, a volunteer’s child went missing.

“This little 6-year-old girl had wandered off 200 to 300 yards,” Speegle said. “Küsse found her at the back of the cemetery, at the wood line. It was a little scary for all of us.”

Speegle finds a lot of satisfaction in helping others.

“There was no happy ending in Tennessee, but finding the little girl was a good one,” he said. “Küsse is at the beginning of her career. I hope she serves her community well. If she wins in her overall category, I will be one proud daddy.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

and 4 weeks ago

Florists decorate Birmingham Rotary Trail in an act of beauty and healing

(Ike Pigott/Alabama NewsCenter)

Flowers bring joy, and they can heal the soul.

On Friday morning about 25 florists joined in decorating the Rotary Trail in Birmingham. As a beautiful start to the weekend, said Cameron Pappas, florists swathed the trail in greenery, roses and colorful blooms of all sorts. People even brought flowers from their yards.

The effort was to bring “light and joy” to Birmingham residents. And the 46-foot-tall sign with the words “Rotary Trail in the Magic City” was the perfect place to begin.


“I was laying in bed Sunday night, watching these scenes unfold where Birmingham was in chaos. Seeing this was so sad,” said Pappas, owner of Norton’s Florist in Birmingham.

When Carolyn Chen called Pappas later, an idea was born. The owner of Wild Things Flowers & Curiosities in Homewood, Chen thought that decorating the entrance of the Rotary Trail could be a start to bringing emotional healing to the Magic City.

Area florists put Birmingham’s Rotary Trail in full bloom from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Random acts of botany

“Carolyn wanted to figure out how to help the city heal after this past weekend and the coronavirus,” said Pappas, owner of Norton’s Florist for more than four years. Between the two, giving flowers in a difficult time is a natural response: “Flowers bring joy. Whether it’s a sad time like a funeral or a happy occasion like a birthday, flowers bring happiness,” he said.

Pappas and Chen invited more than 50 florists from a 40-mile area around the city to help. Three wholesale flower distributors in Birmingham – DavisR&W Wholesale Inc. and Hall’s Birmingham Wholesale Florist – donated flowers and greenery.

“It’s cool to have everyone in an industry come together,” he said. “We want to make people happy, and give them something to look at besides broken glass and boarded up windows.”

What started as a simple gesture bloomed into something memorable. Several of the participating florists were livestreaming to Facebook. Several people from outside of Birmingham saw the videos and posts on social media, and came to take their own pictures.

Pappas said that seeing people join together to help was an amazing sight.

“People were cutting flowers, using their talents to help,” he said. “Everyone was busy beautifying the Rotary Trail with one thought: We love Birmingham. We love this city and our people.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

2 months ago

Alabama nurses use technology, drop off supplies for first-time mothers in need

(Holly Grainer/UAB)

The coronavirus may be keeping people at home, but it has not stopped nurses from providing prenatal and postnatal care to first-time mothers in need.

The program, which has been in the Birmingham area for almost three years, connects nurses who support pregnant women having their first baby. The nurses provide weekly or biweekly home visits during pregnancy and throughout the first two years of the child’s life. It is run by the UAB School of Nursing and the Jefferson County Department of Health.

While the nurses are not able to see their patients in person, they are using FaceTime, Zoom, texting and phone calls to keep up with appointments.


“The crisis has caused mothers to reconnect with their nurse if they had been missing appointments in the past,” said Candace Knight, an obstetric nurse at the UAB School of Nursing and the director of the program. “In many cases, those mothers have come back to us. The moms seem to be really positive about connecting this way. They want to protect themselves, their babies and us, in the same way that we want to protect them.”

Aside from making sure the mothers and babies are safe, the nurses are ensuring they have enough to eat, supplies and are prepared to continue providing for themselves and their families.

“We are focusing on connecting our moms with resources for food. Our nurses have been delivering diapers and formula when needed,” Knight said. “If the mother has been laid off, we are making sure they are plugged in and receiving unemployment benefits and have resources to find other jobs.”

The Jefferson County Committee for Economic OpportunitySafeCare and the Children’s Policy Council have helped provide formula to the mothers and babies.

Lactation consultants are reaching out to new mothers via FaceTime to make sure they have information to breastfeed.

While the nurses are eager to visit their patients, Knight said the overall morale of mothers and nurses has been good.

“They want to get back out there and actually see their moms and babies, but it has been a blessing that we can still provide care and connect with our moms,” Knight said. “Everyone is glad to be able to take care of our moms and their babies.”

For more information about the Nurse-Family Partnership of Central Alabama, visit its website. For more information about the novel coronavirus, visit

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Heroes at UAB Center for Nursing Excellence work to protect fellow nurses


Nurses at UAB Hospital’s Center for Nursing Excellence (CNE) are committed to ensuring their colleagues have the latest information and best practices to treat patients amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

About 55 nurses work behind the scenes to safeguard UAB nurses in 14 different specialties, day and night. These nurses train and monitor other nurses to make sure they correctly wear personal protective equipment in the fight against COVID-19. Masks, shields and gloves that nurses and doctors wear are crucial to preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.


“As we progressed into preparing for COVID-19, things changed so rapidly, we were educating our nursing staff about something new almost every three to four days,” said Connie White-Williams, senior director of the center. “The CNE developed and is teaching ongoing, daylong classes to prepare acute care nurses to work in the intensive care setting if the situation arises.”

Strong community support for frontline health care workers continues with help from companies, including Alabama Power, as they produce protective equipment and supply meals for nurses and staff.

CNE staff were recently treated to lunch to thank them for all they do for fellow workers and patients, said Meaghan Childs, meeting and event specialist at Alabama Power, who helped coordinate the meal service. The lunch was provided by Alabama Power’s Corporate and Administrative Services department.

White-Williams thanked Alabama Power for its support.

“We in the Center for Nursing Excellence were so appreciative of the meals, and everything worked out perfectly,” she said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Women’s History Month: 18th U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin has roots in Alabama

(Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

The little town of Bayou La Batre – home of swaying palms and warm sunshine – has a lifetime commitment from Dr. Regina Benjamin to help heal and uplift its less privileged residents.

Benjamin, the 18th surgeon general of the United States, has deep roots in the bayou. The village at the end of U.S. Highway 1 dates to 1786, near the time Benjamin’s forebears were planted in the marshland area. In a town historically devoted to shrimping – but mostly, to each other – the bayou’s most famous descendent has invested her life in helping the medically underserved.

Benjamin’s medical career has earned fame and taken her to Washington, D.C., London and beyond. But she always returns to the bayou. After serving 30 years in rural family practice medicine, Benjamin in October 2019 opened Bayou la Batre’s new Gulf States Health Policy Center, a health and resource center for less privileged residents that focuses on the social determinants of health.

Rural health is Benjamin’s ‘passion’


Bayou La Batre doesn’t have many public spaces for people to come together for conversations about rural health.

“Opening this center was my dream for a long time,” said Benjamin, the 2009-2013 U.S. surgeon general under President Barack Obama.

As surgeon general, Benjamin’s focus was on improving health disparities, prevention, rural health and children’s health. She advocates for walking and exercising: Benjamin plans to build walking trails at the Gulf States Health Policy Center, allowing residents to exercise safely. Benjamin wants to see her longtime patients and neighbors improve their health, and this often begins with conversation.

“We’ve got a big community room so that people have places to meet, have events so they can come in and have this conversation on rural health, and they can ask questions,” she said. “One of the signature places is our kitchen, because we like to teach people how to cook healthy, prepare their foods and how to read labels.”

Bayou residents receive free, basic diagnostic services such as blood pressure and blood sugar checks. The center’s computer room has free internet and several workstations for students and families. Other conference rooms are suitable for small group meetings and activities.

The purpose of Benjamin’s free clinic and resource center is to prevent health problems. She’s spent her life treating residents whose chronic diseases – diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease – often are caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices.

“Prevention is what I’ve always been about,” said Benjamin, who earned her medical degree at the University of Alabama in 1984. “I’ve always been interested in the community’s health. Prior to being surgeon general, I’ve been in Bayou La Batre as a primary care physician and a family physician.”

Dr. Regina Benjamin talks about her latest initiative to prevent health problems in South Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

It was her love of people that led to Benjamin’s successful medical career. As an outgoing person – she attributes her gregarious personality to her mother – Benjamin said that “divine intervention” was behind her decision to study medicine at Xavier University of New Orleans.

“The only reason I went into pre-med at Xavier University was the social aspect,” Benjamin said. “They had the best club, and I wanted to meet people. It really was divine intervention, because in medical school I realized there was nothing I’d rather do with my life than be a doctor.” Nearly 40 years later, Benjamin is the Endowed Chair of Public Health Sciences at her alma mater.

She emphasizes the importance of prevention in community health.

“Through the years, I loved treating patients one on one,” said Benjamin, founder of the Gulf States Health Policy Center, which aims to reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes among people in the Gulf region. “I’ve always loved that. But my time as surgeon general taught me about population health, and that we can treat more and more people with more and better policies and better programs.”

When Hurricane Katrina in 2005 destroyed Benjamin’s Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, she mortgaged her house to make the clinic serviceable again. While rebuilding, Benjamin made house calls to patients.

Avidly interested in the causes of disease, Benjamin said that health doesn’t occur in a doctor’s office alone.

“Health occurs where we live, where we learn, where we work, where we play and where we pray,” Benjamin said. “Health is in everything that we do, everything from clean water to safe highways to healthy foods. This new clinic is about getting the community involved, interested in getting healthier and taking control of their lives. We’ve been doing this for several years, and the community is very engaged in that. What’s really exciting is that we’ve developed a relationship with more than 150 organizations.”

Benjamin has won many awards throughout her career. She received the 2000 National Caring Award, inspired by Mother Teresa. In 2008, Benjamin received a $500,000 MacArthur Genius Award Fellowship for improving medical care for the disadvantaged. Readers Digest ranked her No. 22 of the “100 Most Trusted People in America” in 2013.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Gov. Kay Ivey and Association of the U.S. Army honor outstanding Tuscaloosa women

(Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

The Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) honored five exceptional women in Tuscaloosa Feb. 26.

During the Women’s Leadership Luncheon at the Tuscaloosa River Market, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey gave awards to Army National Guard 1st Lt. Kayla FreemanBecky YorkLaTonya Jemison, Dr. Khristina Motley and Ellen Potts.

Nicolas Britto, president of the AUSA West/Central Alabama Chapter and a retired Army lieutenant colonel, welcomed the 270 guests.


Leadership Luncheon recognizes Alabama women from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Ivey said she was thrilled to honor the nominees, who she thanked as “trailblazers who knocked down barriers, one by one.” Because of these female leaders who prepared the way, Ivey said there are now many female CEOs, politicians and business owners who are examples to generations of incoming women.

“As a girl growing up in Wilcox County, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without the stories of trailblazers like former Gov. Lurleen Wallace,” Ivey said. “She was a mentor and a dear friend. The women who have gone before us have showed us that lasting change is possible if we work together toward a common goal. Working toward a common goal is something special I hold in my administration, and that is what we do to get things done in our great state.”

Freeman, the first African American female helicopter pilot in the 200-year history of the Alabama National Guard, was awarded Veteran of the Year for 2019. She said the award was “beyond all my dreams.”

“It’s just a blessing to see my hard work and dedication and many, many sacrifices many people don’t see the final product, but all of this was in the making and it’s a blessing to be recognized,” said Freeman, who flew more than 250 combat flight hours during Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq.

“I never thought I’d be in this position, but I knew I had a dream, I had a goal,” said Freeman, who graduated from Tuskegee University in aerospace science engineering and was enrolled in ROTC. “I wanted to fly and I wanted to engineer, and it took a lot of hard work and some of it looked impossible. In the beginning. I even told myself, there’s no way, there’s no way. But I kept my faith in God, and I kept pushing.”

Jordan Plaster, who was instrumental in establishing Tuscaloosa Rotary Club’s Honor Flight, called York “superwoman.” During the past 10 years, Plaster and York have worked tirelessly to send 850 World War II and Vietnam War veterans to Washington, D.C.

“Each Honor Flight costs about $100,000, but all of our veterans go for free,” courtesy of Tuscaloosa Rotary Club’s sponsorship, Plaster said.

York’s family has a long heritage of military service: her father, uncle and father-in-law were all World War II veterans. She said it has been a tremendous honor to work with Honor Flight.

“It’s been very important to me because I come from a family of veterans,” said York, state president of the EnergizersAlabama Power’s retiree service organization, which has 11 chapters statewide. “I can trace the veterans in my family to the American Revolution, so I’m really proud to recognize veterans and help repay them for the things they’ve done for me and the life I get to live.

“It’s been an honor to provide for our veterans and give them an opportunity to go somewhere and do something they haven’t done before,” said York, who was a manager for Alabama Power’s Aliceville and Reform offices for 37 years.

Motley has been a teacher in Tuscaloosa for 23 years and oversees Hillcrest High School’s Choral department. She directs the school’s all-inclusive choir of multidisabled students. More than 30 members of her Women’s Choir sang at the awards program.

Jemison is a guidance counselor at Hillcrest High School and a mentor to Army Junior ROTC students. She earned a master’s degree in school guidance from the University of West Alabama and has served the Alabama school system for 18 years.

Potts is executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa. She has served the organization since 1997

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

APSO paints happier world with service benefiting 11 Alabama nonprofits

(Wynter Byrd/Alabama NewsCenter)

Everyone is beautiful and unique, in their own special way.

That’s the message Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) members are sharing through a colorful painting they created for Glenwood, inscribed with the slogan “You are Beautiful.”

During APSO’s Jan. 29-31 convention in Birmingham, members took part in dual service projects. Several APSO volunteers applied loving touches to a cheerful portrait of smiling children for Glenwood’s Allan Cott School, and more than 100 members painted wooden benches to be given to nonprofits statewide.


APSO leaders asked artist Portia Williams to pencil sketch a painting to be completed for the service project. Williams, a commissioned artist who paints oil portraits and whimsical paintings with acrylics, has sold her art since 2015. She has gained quite a following.

“When APSO reached out to me to do the painting, this was right up my alley,” said Williams, Human Resources associate for Labor Relations at Alabama Power and a Magic City APSO member for about 10 years. She created a drawing of five youngsters of different nationalities and backgrounds, allowing members to fill in the colors, similar to a coloring book.

APSO art project delivers powerful message from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Williams helped APSO members “put paint to canvas” for about 2 hours. She added finishing touches to the canvas at her home studio.

Glenwood Inc. Development Manager Tracee Nix talked with APSO members and was thrilled to see their outpouring of support. Since Glenwood’s founding in 1974, Nix said the organization has served a lot of people who have had nowhere else to go. Started by several families with children who had mental health needs, Glenwood today touches 2,000 lives annually by providing diagnostic and educational services for children, all the way through residential services for adults. Another 16,000 families receive training or referral services.

“We asked APSO to use the theme ‘You are Beautiful’ because we have some individuals at Glenwood who aren’t always told that, or don’t always hear that,” said Nix, who has worked at Glenwood for four years. “You don’t have to do a lot – add a small piece from your heart to this piece of art. Aren’t we all made more beautiful as we are woven together?”

Magic City Chapter member Kimberly Maryland was happy that APSO selected Glenwood for a service project.

“I didn’t know I’d be seeing this today,” said Maryland, a communications specialist for Public Relations at Alabama Power. “This was a divine appointment. Glenwood saved my life back in 2002.”

Maryland’s son, Matthew, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and his pediatric neurologist referred her to Glenwood.

“He wanted me to connect with counselors and also other parents who were going through some of the same things I was going through,” said Maryland, whose son is 22 and in college. “I was able to go to Glenwood and meet some awesome people, parents that really helped me navigate through all the changes going on in my life. I’ve told numerous people that – emotionally – Glenwood saved my life.”

Paul Agostini, vice president of Education and Applied Behavior Analysis Services at Glenwood, is excited to welcome the artwork to the Allan Cott campus.

“Art is so impactful and has a calming effect on people,” said Agostini, who has served Glenwood for seven years. “It’s so important for our students. We deliver top-tier services at Glenwood.

“In everything we do within our school, we want to create an environment of learning that fosters support,” he said. “We work to create a calm, supportive environment. Each one of our students – each person – is beautiful, and we want to reinforce that message with them on a daily basis … It’s great to be able to partner with APSO to further this mission.”

Williams felt much joy in adding her artistic talents to the APSO service project.

“This painting will tell children they are important, they are special,” she said. “It’s a great way to come together as a community to help someone who can really use our help and share this message. We’re all made better because of it.”

Other activities of the APSO convention included installing 2020 statewide APSO President Kodi Belford, and the 10 chapter presidents: Krista Presnall, Plant Barry; Keisha Chapman, Eastern Division; Jason Miller, Plant Gaston; Dion Oliver, Plant Gorgas; Kaylon Mikula, Magic City; Rachel Edgil, Plant Miller; Cynthia Tatum, Mobile Division; Rolanda Jones, Southeast-Farley; Wendy Barnes, Southern Division; and Susie Harris, Western Division.

Jodi Webb, 2019 president of the Plant Gaston Chapter and an environmental compliance specialist at Gaston, won APSO’s prestigious Patsy Topazi Award for excellence in serving one’s community.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

APSO volunteers answer call to serve in celebration of MLK Day

(Gaston APSO/Alabama NewsCenter)

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Those words expressed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1957 in Montgomery, Alabama, find resonance across the nation as people celebrate his legacy through the MLK Day of Service. Indeed, thousands across the country and Alabama on Jan. 20 will answer King’s call to action.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, many Alabama Power employees will answer the call by helping in projects that strengthen their communities. Volunteers from several chapters of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) will work throughout the state.


Eastern Division

  • In an event that has become an Eastern APSO tradition, volunteers will prepare plates and serve food at the Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast in Talladega. The event starts at 8 a.m. in the Family Life Center at the Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church. Eastern Division Vice President Terry Smiley will be the keynote speaker.
  • Volunteers will serve Calhoun County residents at the annual MLK Breakfast at 9 a.m. at the Anniston City Meeting Center.


The Gaston Chapter will celebrate King’s life and legacy by cleaning the town of Wilsonville from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Meeting at 8 a.m. at the town pavilion, members will pick up trash along Shelby County Road 103, Hebb Road and Highway 25.

Magic City

  • Magic City APSO members will join Friends of Moss Rock Preserve in Hoover to clean up and remove invasive plants along walking trails from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Members will prepare and serve lunch to about 60 families at the Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on MLK Day. The members will split into teams, cleaning the kitchen pantry, cabinets and drawers, refrigerator, playground and around the building’s exterior. A team will disinfect the toddler area and toys, as well. To prepare for the event, a team will spend time Saturday, Jan. 18, buying food, paper plates, cups and utensils.
  • Volunteers will work from 8 a.m. to noon at the downtown YWCA, cleaning and refreshing the lobby and second-floor chapel. They will perform heavy-duty cleaning, such as sprucing up the chapel, baseboards and stairwells. If the weather permits, members will clean the first-floor interior windows and exterior windows.


Miller APSO members will work at Cordova Health & Rehabilitation, a long-term care and rehabilitation center, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. as part of a beautification project. Volunteers will clean the facility’s courtyard, and several Miller APSO members will pressure-wash, perform landscaping and repair the gazebo.

Mobile Division

Mobile APSO volunteers will join together for Keep Mobile Beautiful’s communitywide partnership for the MLK Day of Service. The project will benefit the Strickland Youth Center, which assists troubled teens. Members will plant trees, some of which were funded by the Alabama Power Foundation’s Good Roots Grants project to improve the quality of the environment in communities, towns and cities across Alabama.

Southeast Division

Members will take part in the Eufaula Barbour County Chamber’s Day of Service from 8 a.m. to noon. Volunteers from other groups will help in serving the Boys & Girls Club of Lake Eufaula, Barbour County Humane Society, Fairview Cemetery, Jewish Cemetery and more.

Southern Division

In what has become an annual project, Southern APSO volunteers will assist at the Davis Theatre for the Performing Arts at Troy University. Volunteers will help seat guests attending the MLK Celebration at the 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. shows.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

City of Lights Dream Center restores women seeking freedom from substance abuse in Alabama

Pastor Jamie Massey is a woman on a mission. Since September 2019, she and her husband, Sumiton Church of God Pastor Victor Massey, have operated City of Lights Dream Center, which provides substance-abuse counseling and recovery to women in Dora, Alabama. The Masseys hope to expand the center’s program to include men with substance-abuse issues in September 2020. The center focuses on whole-family care, additionally providing day care and after-school care to needy families. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

Life can sometimes squash one’s dreams.

Especially for people suffering from substance abuse, hope gets lost in the problems of daily life, said City of Lights Dream Center founder Jamie Massey. But scratch below the surface, and everyone has a story about how they got there and hopes – even though clouded – for a better life.

For the past year and a half, Massey has listened to the hopes and dreams of the facility’s 12 women clients, who are part of the center’s Celebrate Recovery program for people fighting addiction.

“I wish you could hear their stories,” said Massey, who operates City of Lights Dream Center with her husband, Victor, lead pastor at Sumiton Church of God. “A good 90 percent of people have something in their background that left them broken.”

Most clients come from a dysfunctional upbringing, have a history of sexual molestation, or domestic abuse and violence.


“People say others choose drug addiction,” said Massey, who mentors the women into new lives. “You don’t know their stories. There have been things that have gone on that have caused the behavior. We have clients from different states, and even have a woman from Russia. Some girls struggle with a lot of anger. I see people in emotional and physical pain.”

The rehabilitation center provides clients a free 12- to 18-month treatment program, including drug counseling and therapies provided by doctors, nurse practitioners and counselors who volunteer their time.

“We had a girl with a serious mental illness,” Massey said. “With help from our volunteer doctors, counselors and medication, the woman is now getting to a place where she can work through the issues of the past.”

Massey has found that emotional and mental health issues are a leading factor in drug and/or alcohol addiction. Left untreated or misdiagnosed, she said, many people self-treat through prescription medications, which can lead to hard drugs.

People need mental health help, and treatment will prevent addiction, she said. Untreated or undiagnosed mental health issues can be a big factor in addiction, Massey believes.

“I see God work here every day,” Massey said. “We’re here to tell people they don’t have to live that way anymore. Your brain thinks that emotional pain is the same as physical pain, and you’ve got to confront the pain. Some feel almost helpless. We encourage the women to stay in recovery.”

Clients find recovery and new life

Massey and her team have created a homey atmosphere where clients – many of whom were homeless – find respite and healing. Such was the case for Melissa Lamb, who left her home in North Carolina when she was 16 years old.

“There are ones who have been in domestic violence,” Lamb said. “I ran.”

A few years ago, Lamb attended the Massey’s church in Atlanta, before they were led to start a ministry in Alabama. When Lamb briefly relapsed into substance abuse, she lost custody of her daughter. She found it very difficult to regain her parental rights.

“I spiraled downhill,” Lamb said. “I needed a fresh start.”

Searching the internet for the Massey’s new church, Lamb saw that the couple had founded the City of Lights Dream Center. Lamb packed up her belongings and made her way to Alabama, sometimes living in a tent along the way.

“I called Jamie and told her, ‘I’m coming to check myself in,’” Lamb said. Massey picked up Lamb at the WalMart in Sumiton.

The past few months, Lamb has worked hard to re-stabilize her life. She wants to earn an associate degree from Bevill State and has plans to become a commercial truck driver.

“My daughter is that important to me,” said Lamb, who has a part-time cleaning job with a commercial company. “Once I could focus on what I needed to do, I can use healthy coping skills. I know now what to do to prevent a relapse.”

“The determination, heart and passion to succeed is influential with the women here,” Massey said. “We want to see moms reunified with their children. People have to get on their feet. They just need that chance.”

Lamb is grateful for the opportunity to start anew.

“Jamie is a miracle soldier, a warrior woman,” Lamb said.

Birthing the Dream Center

The Masseys moved from Atlanta three years ago to pastor Sumiton Church of God. Performing a demographic study of the area, they discovered needs within the community that couldn’t be handled on a Sunday morning. For several years, Jamie Massey had desired to provide a center where people could receive treatment for substance and alcohol abuse.

“Starting the City of Lights Dream Center has been an amazing journey,” said Massey, who operates the center through Jamie Massey Ministries. “This is definitely a God thing.”

Searching for a location, Victor Massey found the old T.S. Boyd school property, which had been closed a few years before and had been put up for bid by the city of Dora. The couple placed a modest bid on the property. The Masseys learned they were the only bidders.

Massey said the center has received much help from the Walker Area Community Foundation, the Walker County Coalition for the Homeless, and other churches and organizations seeking to improve conditions not only in Dora and Sumiton but all of Walker County.

For example, several members of the Miller Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) helped prepare the center for opening. Miller APSO members volunteered 400 hours. In 2019, Miller APSO gave a donation for school supplies to help with the Dream Center’s Back 2 School Bash for needy families.

Massey plans to use the entire 18 acres of the property. Coming phases, which will require property improvements, will include housing for single mothers and battered women and children. Behind the Dream Center, Massey added a new mobile home that will house a current client when her baby is born. She hopes to expand the center’s program to include men with substance-abuse issues in September 2020.

A Bevill State Community College instructor provides onsite job training to clients, helping with computer training and teaching business skills. Several clients are receiving tutoring to earn GEDs.

The Dream Center provides free day care after-school care to about 30 children of approved families, picking up the children by bus after school and delivering them home at 5:30 p.m. daily. The children are fed a nutritious meal made in the center’s community kitchen and engage in learning activities on computers donated to the center.

Many members of the Sumiton Church of God have volunteered their help.

“I thank God for a church family that is so supportive of this,” said Massey, who has shared the Dream Center’s mission with several churches and other groups. “I always say God must love this place. God has said, ‘I want you to love these people like I love them.’ We are helping change outcomes in Walker County, one person at a time.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Alabama cuts ribbon on Birmingham’s new interstate bridges

(Gov. Ivey/Flickr)

Birmingham is rejoicing as the new Interstate 59/20 interchange reopened on the evening of Jan. 17.

Celebrating the completion of the city’s $700 million Bridge Replacement Project at 2 p.m. Friday, Gov. Kay Ivey, Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) representatives and civic leaders took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the interchange. Ivey praised the team effort by ALDOT, contract firm Johnson Brothers Corp., and state and city leaders instrumental in the yearlong work.

Ivey said the state’s infrastructure is an important factor in maintaining Alabama’s economic participation and production. The governor noted that the rehabilitation of Alabama’s bridges and infrastructure creates thousands of jobs each year and provides a more attractive appearance, encouraging businesses to relocate and to expand in the state.

“To the ladies and gentlemen of the city of Birmingham, I want to thank you all for your patience, and your help with this as we have been trying hard to finish before the deadline,” Ivey said. “You’ve been a great asset to the effort, and I am grateful.


“All of these bridges were 45 years old,” she said. “Now, when they were built, they were designed to carry a capacity of 80,000 vehicles a day. Well, here we are today, and there’s over 160,000 vehicles traveling on these roads.”

City of Birmingham Transportation Director James Fowler attended for Mayor Randall Woodfin, who was out of town. Fowler said city leaders are thankful for the magnitude of the investment in Birmingham.

“We are grateful for ALDOT’s efforts in communities with our residents and to people present,” Fowler said. “We are grateful for relationships we’ve built in this process, and we’re grateful to the workers and the large personal investment and sacrifices they made to this huge project.”

Alabama Sen. Rodger Smitherman said he is thrilled to see the completion of the interchange. He said that the new roadways will make travel safer for residents and visitors.

“This interchange will be a new standard moving forward,” Smitherman said. “I commend Governor Ivey, who recognized the need for upgrading, and for all of her work on this project. This will move our region forward. It was a monumental task.”

DeJarvis Leonard, regional engineer of ALDOT-East Central Region, said more than 500 workers were onsite throughout the project.

“We want to thank all of the workers who came early and stayed late, taking away time from their family to complete this on time,” Leonard said. “They endured long hours to make this project happen. We are grateful to God for the success of this project.”

Johnson Brothers beat its March 21, 2020, deadline by about two months. Every day the bridges are open before the deadline, the contract firm gets a $250,000 per day bonus, with a maximum bonus of $15 million.

Johnson Brothers Operations Manager Mike Brown called the job “unprecedented,” saying his team met the challenge of restoring I-59/20 in “just shy of a year.”

“We set a world record for safety in this given time span,” said Brown, a project manager at Johnson Brothers for about six years. “I’m proud of our team, I’m proud of our people, the men and women who poured their hearts and souls into making this happen. Without these folks, clearly this wouldn’t be possible. Tremendous execution and planning went into this, so much sacrifice. We are elated and ready to see the roads open. I’m ready to share this moment with my team. They’ve put a lot into this. It’s a long time coming.

“I’m excited for the residents, the locals and the traveling public that comes through here,” he said. “I hope that people will be proud of the structures here – I think they will be. … I think they’re the best in Alabama.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Have yourself a merry little Victorian holiday at Birmingham’s 1898 mansion B&Bs

(Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year at the Hassinger Daniels Mansion Bed and Breakfast (B&B) and Cobb Lane B&B in Birmingham.

Guests and passersby who venture into the Magic City’s only B&Bs are greeted with glorious bursts of holiday color. The gracious old homes, which date to 1898 and are on the National Register of Historic Places, pay tribute to Christmas with festive red, green and gold trimmings. Greenery and holly berries, along with touches of red and gold ribbon, adorn many doorways and bannisters throughout the homes.

The ornate iron fence of the Hassinger Daniels Mansion – decked with garland, pine cones and shiny red bells – clues visitors to delights within. Curious folks often stop to gaze at these beautiful Queen Anne Victorian mansions seated among shops and award-winning restaurants in Birmingham’s historic Five Points South neighborhood.


“It’s like a real-life dollhouse. A lot of times, people aren’t looking for us because we’re off the beaten path. Most bed and breakfasts are in rural areas,” said assistant innkeeper Kathleen McAlister, who assists proprietor and owner Sheila Chaffin, former executive director of Campus Planning at UAB.

B&B guests seek proximity to Birmingham’s five hospitals, concert venues, restaurants or for rest during a road trip. McAllister has served guests from Canada, China, Norway, Switzerland and Africa.

“It’s homey and you feel comfy, which is especially welcome before stressful events such as a doctor’s appointment,” McAlister said of Hassinger Daniel’s 10 bedrooms, four of which are two-bed suites.

“We get a lot of football traffic, and some people stay before a job interview at UAB,” McAlister said. “Some people are very interested in the architecture of churches here, and some are interested in seeing the Civil Rights Institute.” One favorite recurring guest stays several times a year to host a civil rights tour.

The mansion was designed by Thomas Walter, grandson of the architect for the U.S. Capitol dome, for William Hassinger, president of Southern Iron and Steel Co. He and his wife, Virginia, lived in the mansion until they moved to Hassinger Castle in Birmingham’s Redmont Park. Years later, the 12,000-square-foot mansion was a dual optician office and residence. The Chaffins are the third owners in 121 years.

The Chaffins toiled through a four-year restoration, including electrical wiring and plumbing, that oversaw the addition of 14 bathrooms. A photo album attests to the home’s earlier disrepair.

The restored mansion is a treat for the eyes. Guests enter the mahogany “doorway back in time” when they see the boysenberry red foyer with soaring 20 foot ceilings adorned with sparkling crystal chandeliers. The stairway to two upper floors, wreathed in holiday greenery, is lit by 16 heraldry themed stained-glass windows original to the mansion. True to the home’s vintage, there are no elevators.

The spacious, sun-drenched parlor is steeped in late 1800s design. At the large windows overlooking Highland Avenue, a wooden “hippogriff” – a winged horse-like figure with an eagle’s face, hand-carved by Ira Chaffin – is decorated with a huge gold bow, its outstretched wings seemingly in welcome. Two carved mahogany settees drenched in velvet invite one to admire the angel-topped tree, where 15 dolls and a nutcracker pay homage to the holidays.

Sheila Chaffin, ever mindful of the home’s Victorian heritage, curated the antique furniture throughout the home.

“Sheila scours the South and the Birmingham metro area for antiques,” McAlister said. “She goes all over to estate sales and auctions.” An iron gazebo in the backyard, dotted with Parisian-like touches of gold, came from Tuscaloosa.

All bedrooms have a theme and their own character:

  • Blue Serenity – Sleeps three guests.
  • Camelot – Contains carved carousel horses by renowned sculptor Ira Chaffin.
  • Enchanting Turret – Provides a four-post king-size bed and a queen-size bed inside the turret.
  • Garden View – Has a kitchenette and a clawfoot tub.
  • Hera’s Loft – Has a daybed and a couch.
  • Peacock Room – A magnificent stuffed peacock presides above the bed.
  • Seraphim – Features cherubs and an ornamental fireplace.
  • Southern Belle – The two-bedroom suite has fashionable decor and a balcony.
  • Victorian Chamber – Features a queen-size Tudor bed, antiques, ornamental fireplace and pendulous chandelier.
  • Vulcan Vista – Allows views of the “Iron Man” from a dormer window or clawfoot tub.

Singularly Southern

McAlister likes to provide “good old-fashioned Southern hospitality.” Raised in Birmingham, she has worked for Chaffin off and on for 10 years, starting as a student at UAB.

“I enjoy chatting with guests at breakfast – it’s like starting the day with a tea party,” McAlister said. The calming elegance of the pale blue dining room, its formal table set with gold and green antique china and glassware, makes breakfast a special occasion.

“Meeting people from all over the world and getting to be their Birmingham tour guide is a really neat experience,” she said. “You never know who you’ll meet. I remember once, we had two guests from Auburn who turned out to know each other. Neither knew the other one was here, and one woman heard her friend talking in another room and realized the world is, in fact, quite small.’”

McAlister delights in helping guests, whether she is placing home-baked cookies in the parlor or helping select a restaurant.

“We’re a small operation with two inns. But there are lots of odds and ends to running a bed and breakfast,” McAlister said, with a chuckle. “You may spend one day walking around with a ladder and installing light bulbs. The next day, you’re a plumber.”

The mansions have seen many proposals, weddings and formal teas. Offerings of personalized service, comfort, lovely décor and easy walking distance to about 40 restaurants and shops earn the B&Bs high ratings on Trip Advisor.

A recent guest wrote about their stay at Hassinger Daniels B&B: “A once-in-a-lifetime experience. This place is like sleeping in, or staying in, a castle. The stairs were restored perfectly, and the stained glass was awesome to look at.”

Relax at Cobb Lane

Cobb Lane B&B’s gracious veranda beckons guests to stay awhile. It’s easy to imagine guests lounging in wicker chairs, indulging in people-watching while sipping a mint julep or sweet iced tea.

Like its sister mansion, Cobb Lane is warm and welcoming. Built by Birmingham’s then-tax collector, the 4,500-square-foot house has seven guest rooms.

The deep wine-colored walls of the entry rooms are both elegant and relaxing. In the parlor, 10 Christmas Village houses illuminate a corner. The elegant dining room, framed in Christmas ornaments and holiday greenery, displays a silver tea service on a large china hutch and a gracious table set with red antique glasses and china. An 1860s-era carved mahogany chair is on display.

The house has several themed bedrooms, such as Bird of Paradise, Camellia, Country French Suite and Periwinkle. True to its name, the Romantic Rose room is draped in satin-smooth wallpaper, its seating area and table featuring delicate pink blooms. The downstairs Zebra Room, decorated in modern black and white furnishings, offers privacy and easy parking access.

A former Cobb Lane guest wrote, “When it comes to breakfast, Sheila puts the second B in B&B. Sit, enjoy the meal and the conversation. The surroundings have history, mystery and magic.”

Reserve your stay

Rooms: Priced at $99 to $159 per night, plus tax.

Amenities: Free Wi-Fi and free parking; daily maid service. Free, hot breakfast is served in the formal dining room with fresh flowers and candles. Enjoy complimentary beverages and cookies in the parlor.

Contact: Hassinger Daniels at 205-930-5800; Cobb Lane at 205-918-9090.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Gaston APSO brightens Childersburg shop window with holiday cheer

(Jodi Webb/Alabama NewsCenter)

The Grinch can’t steal Christmas in downtown Childersburg.

To help catch shoppers’ interest, members of the Gaston Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) spruced up an empty shop window with trees, lighting and bright pops of holiday color. Indeed, the Gaston Grinch transformed a forlorn window into a joyful holiday scene.


Karen White, a Plant E.C. Gaston scheduler, said the decorating project helped propel members into the Christmas spirit. Trish Wesson, the wife of Childersburg Mayor Ken Wesson, spurred the plan to decorate empty shops in the downtown area. With these efforts, merchants and many townspeople in Childersburg – the nation’s oldest continually occupied city, dating to 1540 – hope to attract more shoppers this holiday season.

Gaston APSO members were among 12 teams that spent several hours decorating. Another building resembles Santa’s workshop.

White, Barbara McGinnis, Kamber Nwransky and Sarah Hansen created the Grinch theme with paint, Christmas trees and ornaments. Gaston Maintenance Team Leaders Jason Bailey and Jason Blackerby safely strung and wired lights to illuminate the scene from dawn to dusk. Gaston APSO volunteers gave 18 hours to the mini-revitalization project.

“There are lots of empty storefronts, and these decorations helped revitalize our little town,” White said. “We pulled what we had in our closets and sheds. Our window looks great.”

White thinks that it would be helpful to keep displays in the town’s empty shops year-round.

“It brought joy to people in Childersburg, and we had so much fun doing it,” White said. “It makes you feel good when you go through town and see all of the windows brightened up.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Alabama Power employees help disadvantaged have happier holidays

Employees at Alabama Power Plant Miller have been preparing all year for holiday giving. (Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

As the holidays loom and temperatures slide downward, many Alabama Power Plant Miller employees are warming the hearts of less fortunate folks. That’s the case for members of all 10 chapters of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO), who pull out all the stops to assist during the Christmas season.

The unwavering focus of Miller APSO’s board and 300 chapter members is helping meet community needs in one of Alabama’s poorest areas.

“The need is real,” said Miller APSO President Kevin Chappell. Indeed, about 22% of Walker County’s 64,000 residents live below the poverty line.


In freezing weather, the homeless seek a warm place to stay at the City of Lights Dream Center in Dora. In January, the center opened 20 beds to the public, along with providing hot meals and showers. Miller APSO members volunteered for 400 hours in helping prepare the center for opening.

Jamie Massey, founder of City of Lights, said that volunteer hours and donations by Miller APSO members are making life more bearable for the center’s homeless and needy clients. When temperatures go below freezing two or more consecutive nights, the center opens its warming stations.

Adding touch of home for the hurting

“It’s not just the homeless,” said Massey, who operates the center with her husband, Sumiton Church of God Pastor Victor Massey. “We have families that are cold and don’t have running water, for instance. With it being this cold, we want to make sure it’s for anybody that needs to get warm.”

In August, Miller APSO provided a donation for school supplies to assist with the center’s Back 2 School Bash for needy families. More than 800 families picked up free paper, pens, pencils and backpacks before school started. The City of Lights Dream Center provides free day care services to approved families and a Celebrate Recovery program for people fighting addiction.

“It’s our dream to make life better for people in Walker County,” Massey said. “I can’t thank Miller APSO enough for their kindness.”

Working for others

When APSO members met for the 2019 APSO Convention, Miller board members assembled 150 hygiene bags to give to the Walker County Coalition for the Homeless in Jasper.

“Our board is so dedicated, they make it really easy to accomplish what we’re working to do in our community,” said Chappell, electrical and instrumentation journeyman.

The chapter holds several “big earning” fundraisers annually: cake auctions on Halloween and Valentine’s Day; a Sporting Clays Shoot; the Miller Open Golf Tournament at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, Oxmoor Valley, that earned $19,000; and a bowling tournament at Vestavia Bowl that earned $1,700.

Miller elves scramble to fill Christmas lists

Miller APSO members know that Christmas holidays can be a sad time for the less fortunate. That is why, throughout November, Miller APSO puts a heavy emphasis on its Adopt A Child program, Project Coordinator Beth Shumate said. Miller members give Christmas gifts to Salvation Army Angels for Jefferson County and children sponsored by the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) for Walker County.

“We always do two days of Christmas shopping for the kids,” Chappell said.

In Sumiton, Miller APSO will sponsor 200 children, spending $75 for each child. Project coordinators Shumate, manager – SCM Transactions Procurement, and Tina Valles, buyer – Generation, lead shopping sprees for Angel kids. Miller APSO will write a $15,000 check to the Salvation Army. In Jasper, employees will spend $150 each on Christmas gifts for 100 needy kids.

Miller APSO took part in the West Jefferson Festival of Trees earlier this month. The proceeds benefit West Jefferson Elementary School. The theme of Miller’s APSO tree was “Night before Christmas,” and displayed organizations the chapter has supported throughout the year, Miller APSO Project Coordinator Rachel Edgil said.

Miller APSO has a long-standing relationship with area senior citizen centers. Project Coordinator Jamie Driver said members will fill more than 250 bags for seniors who visit the center, as well as homebound seniors.

“Gifts include personal hygiene items, paper, pens, candy and seniors’ favorite item, which is postage stamps,” Driver said. Each year, APSO members wear their red logo shirts and Santa hats while delivering bags at each center.

“For some, our smiling faces and the Christmas bag may be the only gifts they receive this year,” Driver said.

Paying good forward

Thirteen years ago, Chappell recognized APSO as the perfect avenue to make a difference. He joined the employee volunteer group during his first month at Gaston.

“In my own life, so many people have helped me along the way,” Chappell said. “When I started working here, I knew that Alabama Power would be a great job for me and my family. I knew I’d be able to help others.”

Longtime Power Generation Analyst Edgil said serving in APSO has given her the means to “pay it forward” in life. She’s enjoyed many opportunities to meet people inside and outside work.

“Being in APSO is my way of giving back for what I’ve received,” Edgil said. “I love helping people.”

This story originally appeared in Powergrams.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Alabama Power Foundation shares strategies for securing best investments to support communities, workforce growth

Alabama Power Foundation President Myla Calhoun (left) said that investing in communities and strengthening the state is a major goal of her organization. About 30 representatives of charitable groups met with Alabama Power Foundation representatives to discuss ways to bring economic growth and new jobs, and develop the state's workforce. (Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

As the state’s largest corporate foundation, the Alabama Power Foundation is a force for good, investing nearly $13 million in communities in 2018.

As the Alabama Power Foundation celebrates three decades of service, that focus includes sharing strategies to make the greatest impact possible in Alabama communities. Foundation members held an impact investing roundtable that included about 30 investment partners, who exchanged ideas about investment strategies.


Myla Calhoun, president of the Alabama Power Foundation, said the foundation is pleased to share its work in impact investing with its community partners. During the meeting, the foundation asked its partners from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to provide expert insight around impact investing with local foundations, investment firms and nonprofits.

“We wanted to discuss how it can work to really help grow our communities, which is fundamentally very important to the work we do in the foundation. We spend a lot of time in documenting this work – we’re very thoughtful, both from a workforce and business development aspect,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun noted that investments are made with the intention of generating social impact alongside a financial return. A foundation advisory group considers the charitable impact, profitability and the cost of debt.

The foundation’s 2019 investment portfolio has supported projects addressing such issues as opioid addiction, community development and workforce education. The foundation is now starting to see a desire for this type of tool grow in communities across the state.

Charitable Giving Specialist Allison Swagler-Webb said that the foundation – uniquely positioned to help communities and nonprofits with its assets – wants to grow an impact investing network in Alabama in 2020.

“Our project pipeline is growing rapidly,” Swagler-Webb said. “There’s a real appetite for this type of funding across our state so we want to use what we have learned over the past year to help other foundations get started using these financial tools, as well.”

The meeting provided new insight and inspiration for Daisy Homolka of Alabama Capital Network, a community economic development organization that facilitates growth of Alabama’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“I’m really excited to see investing in for-profit business that have financial investments in charitable works, with the focus on helping nonprofits achieve their goals,” said Homolka, ACN business analyst and Venture for America Fellow.

“The work is a great opportunity to marry those philosophic interests with charitable and philanthropic interests,” said Homolka, who graduated from Barnard College in New York with a math and economics degree. “Now, when I see a company that will bring jobs to Alabama, that has social impacts, as well, it can provide dual roles. I know that the Alabama Power Foundation will also give more opportunities to those types of companies to get funding.”

A newfound approach

Greg Ratliff, vice president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors in New York,said he appreciates Alabama Power Foundation’s role in convening this group of investors and peers to help make philanthropy more thoughtful and effective.

“The Alabama Power Foundation’s approach is really exciting,” said Ratliff, who worked at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation before joining the RPA team. “They’ve identified a handful of nonprofit and for-profit companies that are bringing goods and services to the region that are really helping address the needs of the low-income population in the area.”

“One of the more exciting things that we talked about is the idea of a collaborative fund that would bring outside investors into the region, pool their capital, and invest in important areas such as education, improving health outcomes, community and economic development, workforce development and areas that would create a more vibrant economy in Alabama,” he added.

Ratliff was excited take part in the roundtable meeting and to hear the plans of other philanthropic groups: “You want to shift to net positive benefactors for society. We want to generate both social and financial returns.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

Local ‘elves’ bring Christmas cheer to Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital

(Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

Angels are among us, in the form of volunteers.

Such is the case at Children’s of Alabama, where more than 50 “elves” from across Greater Birmingham met on Nov. 10, busily running to and fro to decorate Christmas trees on the hospital’s mezzanine and first floor. It’s all for the annual Children’s of Alabama tree display, a major fundraiser that helps the hospital buy equipment.

For volunteers Prissy Daly, Tammy and Jordan Reece, Cindy DeArman, Melissa Springfield, and Laurie and Haley Heath, the effort was a labor of love. The project was courtesy of the Magic City Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO).


Children’s of Alabama hospital gets Christmas tree cheer from Alabama Power volunteers from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Young patients, their families, hospital staff and visitors are in awe of Alabama Power’s “Santa Claus Tree,” the “Pop of Color” tree and a tree trimmed with elegant, rust-colored ornaments. Through their work, last year they helped contribute $30,000 to the hospital through bids for trees during the fundraiser.

The team pours their hearts, time and money into the project. Magic City APSO members Daly and Reece, Alabama Power retiree and Corporate Energizer member DeArman and Springfield consider the event the official start of the holidays.

Daly calls the project a chance to share the Christmas spirit. The team invests many hours of work and planning months before they hit the floor at Children’s.

“We shop all year at thrift stores and sales for the best deals,” said Daly, administrative assistant for Environmental Compliance at Alabama Power.

This year’s decorations included gifts bequeathed by a friend of Springfield’s, whose mother had insisted that she wanted her elegant decorations to benefit Children’s. For several years, Springfield worked at Connections, an APSO-sponsored gift shop that benefited charitable endeavors in Birmingham.

Children’s Community Development Coordinator Shelly McCarty said, “At Children’s of Alabama, we get community partners to decorate trees. We are so thankful to Alabama Power for decorating three trees this year. The trees are auctioned off to raise money for the hospital through our Children’s Ball. The trees will stay here until right before Thanksgiving, then be delivered all throughout Birmingham, spreading Christmas cheer.”

Most team members arrived around 9 a.m. Sunday, carrying ornaments and lights. Taking only a lunch break at Children’s Harbor auditorium, the group was absorbed in the task to make the trees as lovely as possible, to bring in high bids for Children’s.

“It’s always a fun time,” said Daly, a longtime Magic City APSO member. “There’s lots of in-house traffic that goes by. It’s a very upbeat, happy and positive time.”

Reece, who is 2019 secretary of Magic City APSO, and her 16-year-old daughter, Jordan, enjoyed the time together. During their three-hour decorating stint, she noticed her daughter’s dance teacher working on trees with another volunteer group. Reece is ensuring that her daughter, also a Magic City APSO member, learns the joy and value of helping the community.

“We got to meet some of the children who came by in the wagons,” said Reece, executive secretary for Environmental Compliance at Alabama Power. “There were extra toys for decorating, and we handed out some of the toys to the kids. It was a lot of fun.”

Daly is thankful for the many volunteer opportunities afforded by APSO and Energizers.

“I’m very, very blessed to do this through APSO,” Daly said. “Our Magic City APSO Chapter does so much for so many groups all year. This really speaks to our hearts.”

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

9 months ago

Alabama breast cancer survivor Carla Youngblood: Don’t let illness define you

(Phil Free/Alabama NewsCenter)

The path of life isn’t easy for everyone. But the lens in which one views their circumstances is all important.

For Carla Youngblood, keeping a positive perspective helped her beat a deadly, triple-negative breast cancer nearly four years ago. A professional comedienne, Youngblood releases her 174-page book, “Cancer Ain’t Funny! Laugh Anyway …,” on Oct. 20.


When she was diagnosed, Youngblood knew a tough road lay ahead. But she vowed to face adversity head on, through a positive outlook and laughter. Having won her cancer battle, Youngblood has made it her mission to help others fight the good fight. The comedienne has taken her message cross-country, telling other women and men that they, too, can and will beat the odds.

The picture of health, Youngblood is defiantly vibrant: Her face lights up with a broad smile, she bubbles with laughter and she jokes about cancer. Indeed, Youngblood calls a “merry heart” and a good attitude a form of medicine. She knows from experience that patients need a “spirit lifter.”

“I figured I had to share my story, and see if I could give others a different perspective,” said Youngblood, who in 2015 discovered she had one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer.

“It’s doom and gloom for some people, even after they’re OK,” Youngblood said. “They act like it’s all their life story. But if you’re alive, you’re moving, you’re still breathing, you still have a chance. That’s what I want people to see.”

Facing up to cancer

Cancer led Youngblood down a path of numerous therapies: mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and preventative medicines.

A trained breast cancer advocate for Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center in Birmingham, Youngblood shares her experiences and her time with newly diagnosed patients. She attends doctor visits, takes notes and asks questions that a shell-shocked patient may forget. Most importantly, Youngblood listens and encourages women after their diagnosis.

“I give a positive outlook,” Youngblood said. “When I’m on stage, I try to make people smile and forget their troubles, even if for a small while, to put their thoughts elsewhere. I’ve always been a happy-to-lucky person,” added Youngblood, who attributes her spirit to being the baby in a family of five children.

“I always cut up and make people laugh, and make my family smile,” she said. “I always see things a little differently. I have thoughts about stuff that puts a smile on my face. If you learn to laugh at yourself and not be so serious, you can handle life a whole lot better.”

Youngblood’s strategy has always been to be upbeat, even when she realized in September 2015 that she had a health problem. She felt an odd pain in her chest, but only at night. For a few days, she cast off her worry as heartburn. When she visited Dr. April Maddux at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center, she got the news.

“It was two tumors that had been connected – one was at the 2 o’clock position and the other was at the 10 o’clock position,” she said.

From there, Youngblood underwent a battery of tests: mammograms, ultrasounds, blood work and a biopsy. From Nov. 5 to Aug. 8, she had 16 rounds of chemotherapy, followed by 28 radiation treatments. In December 2016, she underwent a hysterectomy.

“I couldn’t wait to see the end of 2016,” Youngblood admitted.

Thriving after adversity

Youngblood advises women to listen to their bodies. Since she got her clean bill of health following breast cancer, Youngblood has given many motivational speeches about how to move forward after adversity. On Oct. 11, Youngblood spoke to about 50 businesswomen for the Women’s Network at the Harbert Center in Birmingham.

“No two people are alike: The cancer is different, the doctor is different, the body is different,” Youngblood said. “Adversity has its own weight – it depends on who’s having to carry it. You have to find a way to move forward.

“One thing that I always share is that people have different kinds of adversity,” she said. “Having a spouse that dies after 75 years – now that’s adversity.”

Always seeking the bright side, Youngblood said her life experiences have provided plenty of material for her comedy show.

“There’s a joy that’s inside of me,” she said. “When I volunteer at Forge and share with the other ladies, or when I’m on stage, I give a positive outlook. Most things you have no control over, but you have control over your response. That’s how I choose to live.”

Meet Youngblood at her book signing on Sunday, Oct. 20, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Little Professor Book Center, 2844 18th St. South in Birmingham.

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

9 months ago

Southeast Energizers donate $9,250 to Alabama charities

(Southeast Energizers/Contributed)

Rapunzel could spin straw into gold. Southeast Energizers have their own take on the beloved children’s tale: They turn homemade items into donations for their community.

Earnings from the Southeast Energizers’ annual charitable auctions allowed members to donate $9,250 to several worthy nonprofit groups this summer. Energizers is the charitable arm for retiree volunteers of Alabama PowerSouthern Company Services and Southern Nuclear in Alabama.

In August, Southeast Energizers gave donations of $250 to $1,500 to these nonprofits:


It’s all thanks to spirited bidding from attendees of Energizers’ auction in March at Alabama Power Southeast Division Headquarters in Eufaula. Bidders compete for pint-size jars of honey and syrup, as well as cakes, candies, handcrafted wooden items and other pieces.

Southeast Energizers Treasurer Dan Farmer presented a $500 check for Landmark Park in Dothan to Executive Director Laura Stakelum. Throughout the years, Farmer’s handcrafted items, such as a mirror with a coat rack, swings, University of Alabama- and Auburn University-themed cornhole games and stools, helped with the donation.

Stakelum said the gift will help with operating costs. The 135-acre Landmark Park, the state’s museum for agriculture, hosts some 50,000 visitors annually.

“We have about 10,000 to 14,000 schoolchildren from public, private and home schools who visit for field trips,” said Stakelum, who has worked at Landmark Park for 10 years.

The park’s Fall Farm Day on Oct. 19 will bring a crowd. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors can enjoy the sights and sounds of an 1890s farmstead while volunteers demonstrate sugar cane grinding and syrup making, peanut picking, stacking and digging, an antique tractor pull and parade, household chores and more. Fall Farm Day is an Alabama 200 Bicentennial event.

“Southeast Energizers have been a great supporter of the park for several years,” Stakelum said.

For the House of Ruth in Dothan, the $1,000 gift from Southeast Energizers came at the “perfect time,” said Programming Coordinator Tera Vinson. House of Ruth normally accommodates about 20 women and children but has recently housed about 30 people. With more women and their kids at the shelter, the funds will go to buy paper products, toiletries and food. The facility assists residents in a nine-county area.

“We don’t turn individuals away,” said Vinson, who has worked at House of Ruth for eight years. “If they say they’re a victim of domestic abuse or a victim of assault, we serve them.”

“We are truly appreciative of this gift from Southeast Energizers to help women and families,” she said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Plant Gaston APSO members cheer special-needs children with fishing days

(Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

Most anglers head to the lake for relaxation and sport: Even on a bad day of fishing, one leaves in a better mood. Catching some fish – big or small – gives a feeling of accomplishment.

Multiply that feeling by 100. That’s the joy felt by special-needs children from six elementary, intermediate and high schools, including Jemison, Vestavia Hills, Thorsby and Wilsonville.

The past two weeks, school systems have bused special-needs classes to Wilsonville, where Plant Gaston members of the Alabama Power Service Organization hosted children and school staff. Across the highway from the plant, a bucolic scene awaits. A 3-acre pond holds bream and bass up to 2 pounds and more, perfect for holding by small hands.


Gaston APSO hosts Jemison kids in fishing from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

More than 60 APSO members, including several employees from Local 2077 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), helped during the six fishing events. Gaston folks helped youngsters bait their fishing poles with bits of hot dogs and helped them reel in the catch.

(Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter)

1 year ago

UAB Health Disparities Research Symposium aims to improve health with multi-level approach

(Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

“You’re in the belly of the beast now.”

That was the response of a Birmingham cab driver in welcoming author and health and social welfare policy expert Dr. Jonathan Engel to Birmingham. Engel, author of “Fat Nation: The history of obesity in the United States” spoke to about 65 health experts at UAB’s 14th annual Health Disparities Research Symposium.

Indeed, Engel’s mission was to spotlight the numerous health problems caused almost entirely by obesity. Alabama ranks No. 5 among the nation’s 10 fattest state populations.

“Overweight is highly correlated with type 2 diabetes, cancer, hypertension, arthritis and other health issues,” said Engel, a professor at Baruch College at the City University New York (CUNY). “Too much weight puts enormous stress on joints and on the heart. It’s a long-term, chronic strain on the body.”


Engel said more than 50 percent of meals are eaten outside the home, a huge departure from American norms as compared to the middle of the 20th century. Noting that he and his wife made concerted efforts to ensure their four children ate healthily, Engel said it’s much easier to control what you eat by cooking your own food and avoiding processed foods.

“My main message is the obesity epidemic is largely environmental,” Engel said. “We’ve created a food environment where it’s very difficult for anyone to be thin.”

Sponsored by UAB Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center (MHRC), the symposium included oral presentations and poster sessions featuring original research by academic investigators, scholars and community partners in the fields of basic science, clinical research, social and behavioral science, and community-based research.

“Your environment has a huge aspect on your behavior and health,” said keynote speaker Dr. Karen Glanz. A member of the U.S. Task Force on Community Preventive Services for 10 years, Glanz’s research focuses on cancer prevention and control, theories of health behavior, obesity and the built environment, social and health policy, and new health communication technologies.

“We know that physical activity can prevent heart disease, cancer, depression and cognitive decrease across the life span,” said Glanz, director of UPenn Prevention Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “There are real disparities in areas of the South and Southeast, which fare less well in physical activity.”

Glanz recommends design changes and health policy intervention to influence urban design that incorporates sidewalks and parks; encourages land-use policies such as zoning that allows residents to be more active; increases access to public parks and outreach; and adds prompts and signs that encourage stair usage.

On April 18, UAB’s Dr. Mona Fouad took part in a roundtable discussion with Dr. Ben Carson, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and community leaders about creating a social services hub for five housing communities in greater Birmingham.

For nearly 30 years, MHRC Director Fouad has worked to reduce health disparities in vulnerable communities, whose troubles are compounded when located in food-imbalanced areas.

“Areas without grocery stores are more often found in underserved communities,” Fouad said in 2017, and are often created in part by residents’ lack of purchasing power and transportation to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
Researchers share their findings

About 20 researchers shared their studies in breakout sessions: policy and system influences of health; disparities measurement and methods; and social and environmental determinants of health.

Brittney Davis, a postgraduate fellow in the UAB studying in the HudsonAlpha Genomic Medicine Training Program, dreams of doing research that will bring positive health outcomes for Alabamians. She discussed her findings diagrammed on a poster.

“I want to learn how to use pharmacogenetic data in making clinical decisions,” said Davis, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from UAB and her doctor of pharmacy degree from Samford University in 2018. “I have learned a great deal about how drugs work at the molecular level, and how they can be profoundly influenced by genetic factors.”
During a breakout session about clinical and social factors of excess hypertension risk, Dr. Suzanne Judd said diet definitely matters. The disparity for stroke is worse, at younger ages, for black Americans. Among 30,239 white and black participants, a high-fat and high-cholesterol diet was the most powerful risk factor for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, cancer and cognitive decline.

“There are reasons for geographic and racial differences in stroke; African Americans have more strokes,” Judd said.

“The Southern diet score is the most potent mediator of the black/white difference in hypertension risk, accounting for 51.5 percent of the excess in men and 25.8 percent in women. We can attribute the Southern diet as the biggest factor for hypertension and diabetes.”

Dr. Peng Xu discussed the mutational landscape of cancer patients with overweight and obese tendencies, whose findings were part of a cancer study led by Dr. Zechen Chong of the UAB School of Medicine.

“There’s a contribution of excess body weight to different cancer cases,” Xu said. “We found more endometrial cancer in obese patients and more somatic mutations of BMI in cancer patients. BMI was higher among the different cancer patients.”

Healthy diet, physical activity equal healthier future

Wallace said it’s important for everyone to know their health numbers, such as blood pressure and blood sugar readings, and cholesterol levels, and to take control of their diet and increase physical activity.

“We need to do these things before the person presents at the ER with high blood pressure,” she said. “Our state is called ‘Alabama the Beautiful,’ but Alabama can also be healthy, Alabama can be well.”
Decreasing health disparities in Alabama

UAB MHRC has a track record of improving areas where residents live, work and play through policy systems and environmental changes. Sometimes, the barriers seem nearly insurmountable, said Dr. Theresa Wallace.

“About 20 years ago, lots of emphasis was placed on the individual and their choices, but we know and appreciate that individuals live in a larger context,” said Wallace, program director for UAB Preventive Medicine. “The determinants of health include many things. We look at the context of where health happens – at home, school and work.”

She said physical activity, eating healthy, and prevention and wellness are the three pillars of good health. Those tenets are the building blocks of UAB’s “Healthy Alabama 2030: Live HealthSmart” Grand Challenge, in partnership with 90 state and federal agencies and groups.

She believes the program has the makings to propel Alabama from the bottom of national health rankings to the top.

“It takes partnership and everyone being at the table for the collective good of the community,” said Wallace. “Right now, our state is always at the bottom, 48th or 49th, and that’s just unacceptable. It’s time to change our trajectory through our policy systems and improvements. Our goal is to put Alabama at the top, healthwise.”

Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter

1 year ago

Foxhound Bee Co. in Birmingham enjoys ‘honey of a success’

(Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

Just call Adam Hickman the “bee whisperer.”

After five years in the beekeeping business, Hickman has learned most of the secrets of the trade. While some folks see beekeeping as a farming practice that’s fallen out of vogue, Hickman recognizes that managing bees is necessary to food production. He calls beekeeping a needed skill that’s as on-trend today as it was 50 years ago.

“We need more honeybees for our environment,” said Hickman, who fell into the business naturally. His great-grandfather in North Carolina kept bees.


“When he passed away, I got his old equipment,” said Hickman, who set up his first hive about eight years ago.

Through Foxhound Bee Co. of Birmingham, Hickman teaches beekeeping classes and tends bees for multiple clients, in addition to his own hives. He sells equipment such as the boxes to hold honeybees, and the suits and smokers used by beekeepers for tending their hives.

The business has been very successful, said Hickman, who earned a business degree from UAB and a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales. He also is a recipe developer and tester for a national food media brand. He and his wife, Stephanie, have two children and run Foxhound Bee Co. as a team. Though they sell raw honey made in Homewood and Hoover as a secondary product, their business is built on sales of equipment, tools and classes. Foxhound Bee Co. products include beekeeper suits, smokers, and long-lasting Cypress wood hives and stands.

“Our business has expanded each year as more and more customers come back,” Hickman said.

‘Honey do’: Creating apiaries for homeowners

In April, Hickman created an apiary for a Trussville homeowner whose woodsy acreage intersects near Camp Gertrude Coleman, operated by the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama.

He said that beekeeping from one’s home often isn’t practical, unless there’s enough space and plenty of flowering plants to support the hives. Wide-open areas are best, allowing the insects to make a “beeline” to and from their home.

“It’s got to work for the neighborhood, to set up hives in a community,” said Hickman, who manages hives in a subdivision in eastern Hoover, a local university and two other clients.

With some help from Daniel McCurry, a project manager for Father Nature Landscapes in Birmingham, Hickman set up a stand for two hives. He carefully measured the area, ensuring that it was level, then centered the wooden stand on which the hives would rest.

“Each hive has about 25,000 bees, with one queen that lays all of the eggs,” he said of the installation. “The worker bees take care of all the eggs, taking care of the young bees and going out and getting nectar and pollen, and coming back to the hive.”

Bees are kind of on “automatic” and take care of themselves, increasing in size during spring. One of a beekeeper’s main jobs is to manage the hive and ensure the bees aren’t overcrowded.

“Honeybees are really livestock,” Hickman said. “Sometimes they have a mind of their own. That’s what makes beekeeping interesting, because when you think you understand everything, that’s when they throw you a curve ball.”

Demystifying the ‘swarm’

Hickman compares the trade to farming, with honey as the delicious product.

“Beekeeping is like any farming – sometimes, if there’s a drought or it rains a lot, it’s more difficult,” he said. “There’s a moment for every beekeeper, when you have to say, ‘Is this what I want to be doing right now?’ because they’re less happy with you taking their honey.”

Hickman checks his hives every two to three weeks in the summer, especially when they are expanding.

During spring and summer, bees begin to “swarm,” with the queen leaving with half the bees. It’s not uncommon for homeowners to discover a swarm has made themselves a new home under a deck or in a tree. It’s best to call in experts to move a hive – some beekeeping club members will help relocate bees.

The good news is that there are no Africanized bees in Alabama. Hickman manages his hives, which he numbers, to prevent overcrowding of the hive and to ensure they have enough space.

“As a beekeeper, I’ve got to know the season, and know what they’ are going to do before they even do it,” Hickman said. “You’ve got to stay ahead of them.

“It’s really natural for them to divide the hive,” he said. “When bees swarm, they are the most passive they will be in their lifespan. The goal is to reproduce and spread their genes as they divide. Bees must swarm, or separate the colony, to reproduce. When the queen lays eggs, that’s the equivalent of our bodies making cells. They reproduce by swarming, not when the queen lays eggs.”

Hickman manages his hives conservatively, so the bees have what they need to make it through the winter. Harvesting the honey in late summer, he usually gathers enough honey to sell about 500 bottles starting in August, depending on the year and the number of hives. The honey usually sells out by November.

“I’ve got to plan for winter and make sure they have what they need to survive the winter, that they have enough food, so they don’t starve,” he said. “They don’t make honey for you and me – they make it for themselves to eat so they don’t starve when plants aren’t blooming.”

Sharing the love of bees

Beekeeping is an art that reaps delicious rewards, but it requires knowledge and skill to be successful.

To that end, Hickman teaches short and one-day beekeeping classes. His three-hour class covers the basics of setting up a bee hive, tools and the annual life pattern of bees in the Birmingham area. The one-day class provides students with the fundamentals to go from knowing nothing about honeybees to leaving prepared and excited about a new adventure. The 1.5-hour “beekeeping experience” allows the would-be beekeeper to suit up and experience the industrious, secret lives of bees.

Hickman’s focus is on teaching sustainable beekeeping practices that help safeguard the country’s troubled bee populations.

“I need to make sure I’m a responsible beekeeper and the bees have all their needs met first before we meet our own needs,” he said. “Part of being a good beekeeper is being a good steward of your bees.”

Foxhound Bee Co. can be found online and on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

On a wing and a prayer: Alabama Gold Wing Association motorcycle riders on trip of a lifetime

(C. Brown/Alabama NewsCenter)

There’s nothing like riding the highway, the sun on your face, the wind at your back … just you and your buddies:

“Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way …” – Steppenwolf, “Born to be Wild,” 1967

More than 100 members of the Alabama Gold Wing Association, including cyclists from other Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) chapters, are taking the ride of a lifetime.

On March 25, the Gold Wing motorcycle enthusiasts met in Wilmington, North Carolina, for the annual GWRRA cross-country tour. Some Gold Wingers came from as far away as Iowa, New Mexico, New York and Quebec, Ontario, to join in the 2,776-mile trek from Wilmington to Chula Vista, California.


Ten years ago, GWRRA’s four original bikers rode from Wilmington to Phoenix in only four days.

“We’re on our “40 to Phoenix’ trip,” paralleling I-40 from Wilmington, North Carolina, all the way from Arizona and into Phoenix,” said longtime Alabama Gold Wing member Danny Baker. “We’ll take 10 days, though.”

During the journey, club members will sleep in eight states, including North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Dave Whortman, a rider from Elizabethton, Tennessee, said the trip is part of his “bucket list.”

“There’s a lot of camaraderie in the club,” said Whortman, who retired from Edward Jones Investments after 35 years of service. “One of the items on my list was to do some type of long-distance trip on my Gold Wing. I was reading about last year’s trip in the GWRRA magazine and I thought, that’s my ‘in.’ I knew that people in GWRRA are good, nice people, and I knew I’d be with others in the event that I would have a break down or whatever.

“I get to see this beautiful country of ours, one day at a time,” the former investments counselor said. Before leaving the Volunteer State, Whortman had a complete tune-up on his Gold Wing motorcycle to make sure it could handle the mileage.

‘Heavy metal thunder’

Riding about 5,552 miles on a cross-country motorcycle tour isn’t for the faint of heart. Indeed, Whortman agreed that stamina, endurance, sheer guts and determination are required.

“It’s fun, but you need to be mentally and physically prepared,” he said, with a laugh.

On March 28, the motorcyclists spent a grueling eight hours on the road, logging 410 miles on the first leg of their journey, on the way to Conway, Arkansas. The only stops: breakfast, lunch and breaks for “a quick snack, Coke or coffee” on the road. Most of the bikers pull heavy-duty, air-ride trailers loaded with soft drinks, bottled water and high-carbohydrate snacks for brief road stops.

“The longest day we had was last Thursday, when we left from Barber Motorsports in Leeds to ride to Conway, Arkansas,” Baker said. After the long drive, club members wound down with a barbecue cookout at a Day’s Inn, where many stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, talking about the trip.

“It’s been a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime kinda thing for me,” Baker said, recalling his excitement at reaching snowy Moriarty, New Mexico, on March 31. “I had on my winter Thermosuit. I was prepared for the cold.”

Riders converged in Phoenix, Arizona, on April 3 for a tour of GWRRA International Headquarters. GWRRA has more than 72,000 U.S., Canadian and international members, with more than 800 chapters that foster safe, enjoyable riding. Alabama has 14 GWRRA chapters.

After a day of sightseeing, club members rested at a Days Inn. On April 4, they were “hugging the road” to Chula Vista, with plans to enjoy a beach weekend.

Baker plans to “dip his toes in the Pacific Ocean” and fill a couple of bottles with sand and salt water.

“I’m going to make a little memorial for my Dad,” said Baker, 68. “He saw the Pacific Ocean, but never got in.”

They visited Mexico on April 5, with more beach time planned for April 6. Finally, on April 7, riders will begin the journey home to their families.

Safety on highways and byways

“This ride is a dream come true for many of us,” said Baker, a member of the Hueytown chapter of GWRRA for more than 30 years. He bought his first Honda Gold Wing in 1986.

He enjoys helping teach the community to ride safely. GWRRA has more than 72,000 U.S., Canadian and international members, with more than 800 chapters that foster safe, enjoyable riding. Alabama has 14 GWRRA chapters.

“We promote a positive image of cycling,” said Baker, GWRRA’s state officer for membership enhancement. “I’ve rode pretty steadily since 1985. It’s therapeutic. You become almost one with the road.”

Baker has devoted much of his spare time through GWRRA in helping educate people about the importance of motorcycle safety. The GWRRA’s rider education program, Riding Safely and Sharing the Road, helps keep motorcycle riders and drivers cognizant about possible road hazards.

Baker, who sports bright, neon yellow and green clothing while motorcycling, shares safety tips with his riding buddies. To prevent traffic congestion, the bikers are riding in groups of seven, leaving at staggered times.

“Every morning before we leave, we have a little discussion on how we’re going to ride safely during the day, based on any route we want to take or anything we’d like to stop and see,” Baker said. “I say a prayer before I get on my motorcycle.”

“We look out for each other,” he added. “We have a good time together, being safe and enjoying good company while riding. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama Power helps make Arbor Week perfect for tree planting

(Ethan James/Alabama Power)

With spring nipping at winter’s heels and Southern days growing longer, it’s the perfect time to plant trees.

Arbor Week in Alabama comes after some cities received up to 8 inches of rain, meaning that soil is soft and well-primed for seedlings, said Doug Sheffield, utility arborist supervisor at Alabama Power’s Eastern Division Office in Anniston.

Hundreds of residents are planting seedlings provided by Alabama Power and forestry and conservation groups in honor of Arbor Week, celebrated in Alabama during the last full week of February.


More than 150 people lined up on Feb. 22 at Jacksonville Square to meet Sheffield and his team of arborists, who handed out several kinds of trees, including native species such as dogwoods.

“As foresters and arborists, we love trees and are committed to maintaining a healthy environment,” said Sheffield, whose team of experts gave away saplings for three hours. “We do a lot of educational efforts, giving people advice on planting certain types of trees in the right places.”

While giving away more than 3,000 trees at Jacksonville Square, the team shared how to create a sustainable urban environment through tree planting. The project helped Jacksonville maintain its “Tree City” designation.

“We’re trying to get the message out about planning the right tree in the right place,” said Sheffield, who has worked at Alabama Power for 15 years. “People see this little tree and don’t consider how much it will spread across their yard, or whether it will drop acorns everywhere, as a fall hazard.

“Trees will be self-sustaining if they’re put in the right place,” he said. “Right now is a good time for planting because after the rain, it’s better for the tree.” Trees gain needed nutrients from wet soil and spread their roots more easily.

While many homeowners consider trees as being an upgrade that may increase the value of their property, It’s important to think about what you expect from a tree, Sheffield said.

For instance, consider whether you want to provide shade for your home; hide heat pumps or air conditioners; or to create privacy. Residents who desire a “windscreen” to help shield the home from the elements would do best to select evergreen trees, Sheffield said.

Contributing to communities with education, sound advice and trees

Starting in mid-February, company foresters and arborists held tree giveaways throughout the state. In Alabama Power’s Western Division, Utility Arborist Supervisor Jeffrey Poston and his team distributed 5,000 seedlings in Jasper on Feb. 15 and in Tuscaloosa on Feb. 16.

Utility Arborist Ethan James, a member of the Autauga Forestry and Wildlife Stewardship Council, helped give away more than 1,000 trees at Pratt Park in Prattville, and another 400 trees to residents at the city of Clanton Courthouse Feb. 19. Utility Arborist Phillip Lambert gave trees to Southeast Division residents on Feb. 29, and Josh Smalley distributed trees to Montgomery residents on Feb. 16.

“Alabama Power donates trees every year, and this is my fifth year to do it,” James said. “We do several tree giveaways across Southern and Southeast divisions, from Clanton to Eufaula.

“This is a good way to give back to our communities,” James added. “A lot of people think we only cutback trees, but we do so much more. We tell them to consider planting the trees a safe distance from utility rights-of-way. It helps the homeowner in the long run.”

On Saturday, Feb. 23, Vegetation Manager Scott Roddy shared valuable tree-planting information at the Chelsea Community Center, handing out Alabama Power’s “Right Tree Right Place” brochures. Roddy, a member of the Chelsea Tree Commission, advised residents about best practices for planting native trees.

Shon Walters and his team of arborists will be at Aldridge Gardens on Saturday morning, March 2, to discuss tree-planting strategies with Hoover residents.

“We want to give back to the community by providing planting tips to help ensure they have a successful planting,” said Walters, utility arborist supervisor, Power Delivery Distribution – Birmingham.

In Mobile, Eric Garrett and his three-member team of arborists will greet the public at the annual Creek Fest at Tricentennial Park on May 11. During the four-hour celebration, the team will give away 500 azalea bushes, answering questions and giving advice about how to care for the plants.

“This will be a day of outreach to educate the public,” said Garrett, utility arborist supervisor in Saraland. “We want to interact with folks and help our customers.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

APSO’s sensory room at Jones Elementary is a hit with kids, teachers

(Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

With the addition of the new sensory room at John S. Jones Elementary School in Rainbow City, it’s not unusual to hear peals of joy — and the excitement isn’t coming only from students.

The school’s six special-education teachers are just as thrilled about the 300-square-foot addition, said longtime Principal Tanya Clark, who has been at John Jones Elementary for several years.

Members of the Eastern Division Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) installed equipment for the new sensory space on Jan. 17-18. The room is designed to meet the needs of the school’s 80 students with autism and sensory issues.


“We are so excited, because we could have never afforded this on our own,” Clark said. “We have a large special needs population to begin with.”

“The sensory room will be a place for them to go in and explore and engage,” she said. “The sensory items in there will hopefully give students that are distressed or over-stimulated a place to calm down, to be able to come in and sit in the swings or walk on the floor tiles, listen to the sounds and see the lights.”

Eastern APSO President Varnestra Jones, with president-elect Casandra Maudsley, brought the sensory room to life. Maudsley, who researched items for sensory rooms to create the space, said she now knows how to establish a sensory room on a budget. Jones said the chapter invested about $1,500 in the equipment, which members earned through many fund-raising projects.

Eastern APSO supplied two ceiling-to-floor hanging swings, gel floor tiles that “move” with children’s steps, bean bag chairs, a calming light projector, a bubble lamp with colorful fish that “swim” in the water, a swing for two children, earphones, loads of fidget toys to keep little hands busy and five weighted blankets to calm and comfort kids.

Maudsley recruited Brad Wilson of Pier One Piledriving to install the swings. Bryan Holderfield painted the walls a pale, calming shade of blue to match other school walls, compliments of Sherwin-Williams.

Jones, who served as Eastern APSO president in 2018, was pleased to see the sensory room come together.

“We knew this is something we definitely wanted to do,” said Jones, training coordinator – Accounting, Eastern Division Office. “Everything has come together so beautifully. We are so thankful to all the people who pitched in their time and energy and donated things to this project. I can’t wait to see pictures of the kids interacting in the room, because I know it’s going to be an awesome time.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)