The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

2 weeks ago

Grace Klein Community donated $2.1 million in food in Alabama in 2020, plans to help more this year

(Grace Klein Community/Contributed)

Never underestimate the power of your vision.

More than 10 years ago, Jenny Waltman and her husband, Jason, saw integral needs in their Avondale neighborhood and wanted to help. That desire led the couple to found Grace Klein Community, a Birmingham-area nonprofit that last year donated more than $2.1 million in groceries to 25,000 households.

Before the pandemic, Grace Klein Community served as a monthly food delivery to the doors of families without transportation. Now, the group helps families with reduced incomes to offset food costs, after their wallets are emptied by mortgages, car payments and utility bills. During the past year, the nonprofit has seen more people struggling because of the COVID-19 crisis.

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“Food insecurity is when you’re afraid of running out of food, and you don’t know necessarily know where you’ll find your next meal,” said Waltman, chairman and CEO of Grace Klein Community. “No one should have to be afraid of having enough food to feed their children or themselves. Food insecurity can affect anybody – even your next-door neighbor who has a 9-to-5 job – and it causes a lot of stress and anxiety.

“We operate from eight different locations because of space restraints and to keep our staff safe,” she said. “If one location is exposed to COVID-19, we’ll not all be exposed, which protects us from closing. Our drive-through services are too important to risk losing two weeks of food support to the community.” With three full-time employees and 11 part-time workers, the nonprofit relies on hundreds of volunteers to help fulfill its mission.

Volunteers prepare food boxes from Grace Klein Community for distribution by Liberty Church in Birmingham, Concord Church in Calera and Royal Divinity Ministries Industries Inc. in Wylam. The group also provides food to 70 community partners in outlying areas.

“We can’t operate without our volunteers,” Waltham said. “Volunteers own every part of the process. GKC is a community of friends helping friends, and we’re all in. Everyone is welcome, and each person contributes their best gifts and abilities, which proves we are better together.”

Because of COVID-19, Grace Klein Community began a drive-through system to allow people to pick up food. Volunteers wear masks, keep a 6-feet distance and place the food box in the recipient’s back seat or trunk. Families served by Grace Klein Community are never charged for food, though volunteers keep a record of families served, by zip code and family size.

When the group was created, the nonprofit distributed 50 food boxes a month. That total has mushroomed to 200 or more food boxes a day. In the meantime, Grace Klein Community has grown with the community’s ever-increasing needs.

“We’re feeding about 10,000 people a week and require 200 volunteers a week to make this possible,” Waltman said. “We’ve grown five times since the start of the pandemic.”

Around April 2020, a Southeastern food service provider loaned Grace Klein Community an unused refrigerated trailer. However, as the grocery business improved during the pandemic, the company needed its equipment.

“We really appreciated their help,” Waltman said. “Later, generous donors helped us buy a refrigerated box truck where we store food. We have refrigerators and freezers at our office and drive-through locations. We receive food every day, and Monday through Saturday, we give food away at one of our locations. We’re on a fast turn-around.”

Jack’s Family Restaurants gave a walk-in refrigerator the nonprofit uses at its drive-through at Royal Divinity Ministries. Safe food storage remains a primary focus as community needs increase.

Grace Klein Community partners with several grocery stores, restaurants and the United Way’s Community Food Bank of Central Alabama. Every day, about 100 volunteers pick up food from several Publix stores, the Heavenly Donut Co.Magic City HarvestPaneraPenzeys SpicesRegional ProduceSouthern OrganicsTrader Joe’sWinn Dixie and other donors.

While these partnerships put viable food in the cupboards of needy families, Grace Klein Community helps decrease CO2 emissions by keeping good food out of landfills.

The Alabama Power Foundation recently awarded the nonprofit a grant toward the purchase of refrigeration equipment.

“We are so thankful for the Alabama Power Foundation’s generous gift,” Waltman said. “We hope to increase by 25 food-rescue partners in 2021. It’s difficult as we work to keep everyone safe and increase the capacity. This grant, along with additional fundraising, will help us secure another refrigerated box truck and a 20-foot Connex trailer to safely store 10 more pallets of food.” Their most urgent need is a larger facility, warehouse and loading docks to improve efficiency and serve more food-insecure families.

“About 90 percent of people who volunteer with us have received food from Grace Klein at some point,” Waltman said. “Our goal is not only to provide healthy food for your family, but to help people stabilize their lives, get control of debt, maintain housing and thrive at their jobs.”

‘#LoveDoes’ project honors Birmingham heroes

In time for Valentine’s Day – and throughout February – Grace Klein Community volunteers are celebrating more than 1,000 Birmingham first responders, teachers and other essential workers by providing flowers, encouraging notes and gifts through “#LoveDoes.”

“This idea grew from our day-to-day #feedbirmingham efforts to uplift someone’s day,” Waltman said. “Partnering with Beacon People, this initiative seeks to engage volunteers with meaningful ways to thank our community heroes, encourage the weary and, hopefully, in some small way, combat the mental health struggles that attack our front-line workers who work long hours and consistently serve our community.”

As part of #LoveDoes, volunteers this week are delivering handmade cards and posters, healthy snacks, flowers, baked goods and specialty gifts to more than 1,600 schoolteachers and staff. More than 200 employees at Spain Park High School received flowers. Employees at Alabaster, Bessemer and Hoover fire departments, police departments, and essential hospital workers and employees of medical facilities, including the American Red Cross, were honored last week.

Volunteers will keep the Valentine’s Day spirit flowing by encouraging postal and civil service employees. Waltman suggested placing a small gift in your mailbox to brighten a U.S. Postal worker’s day. The final week, volunteers will honor nursing home staff and residents.

“If you only have a dollar to your name, you can give a smile, you can write a note,” she said. “#Love Does” is a cool initiative, a way to love in action and truth. It’s important to honor those who came before us, who prepared the foundation that we build on.”

Grace Klein Community grew from a prayer

Every day, grateful recipients leave Facebook comments about their gratitude to Grace Klein Community. Waltman is amazed when she considers the “winding road” that birthed the nonprofit.

Early in their marriage, Waltman and her husband started Grace Klein Construction Inc. At that time, Jenny Waltman, who graduated from Samford University in 1998, was a busy mother who also served as bookkeeper for their family’s business. Around 2009, the couple bought and renovated a historic home in Birmingham’s Forest Park area, intending to “flip” the house.

“One night I was praying, and God was showing me our furniture in the house in Forest Park,” Waltman said. “I didn’t want to live there.”

The house was beautiful, in a nice neighborhood, but she had other ideas for her family’s future. But Jenny told Jason about her vision. The next day, he went to the Forest Park house, where he prayed about what to do. When Jason returned, he told Jenny that he also felt that God was telling him that they were meant to live in the house.

“We moved in,” Jenny Waltman said, with a laugh. “Our daughter was zoned for Avondale Elementary School. We fell in love with the people and the community.”

After she started school, their daughter was invited to a classmate’s birthday party. When Jenny Waltman walked into the little home, she saw only mattresses on the floor. There was no other furniture.

“What is this child’s reality?” she asked herself. Waltman realized the family had probably used their monthly food stamp allotment to feed their guests. Waltman’s following thoughts were even more sobering: “I knew the families in the neighborhood needed food support and we were doing nothing about it,” she said. “I thought about James 4:17 in the Bible: if you know to do good, and you don’t do it, it is sin.”

Seeing this need, Waltman and her husband wanted to help Birmingham’s people. She talked with four friends about how to confront hunger in the community.

“We started by visiting 50 inner city schools and asking for their support,” she said. “We talked with administrators about families they knew who needed food, and volunteers started delivering food to those families once a month. Suddenly, our family was living in every socioeconomic class, and every person we knew had a need, whether it was physical, emotional, financial, relational or spiritual. We are all broken people, and we all need a place to belong.”

More than a decade later, Grace Klein Community – which means “little gift from God” – is true to its name.

“It’s so beautiful to see the unity – our team is so dynamic and passionate about what we do,” Waltman said. “We’re grateful for all the businesses that partner with us, and for the grant from the Alabama Power Foundation, which is an investment in us. Together, we’ll feed Birmingham.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

UAB medical team saves Fultondale tornado victim with onsite amputation

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Working in what could be compared to a war zone, a team of UAB doctors and nurses performed an onsite amputation to save an injured man after the F3 tornado hit Fultondale Jan. 25.

Sometime after midnight, UAB trauma surgeon Dr. Don Reiff received a call from Vestavia firefighter and paramedic Lawrence Pugliese. The firefighter was in Fultondale, where Arnoldo Vasquez Hernandez was trapped under a tree inside his home. Pugliese likened the scene to an explosion: tree after tree, house after house, all kinds of debris were everywhere.

“Pugliese reached out to get some insight about what to do with a tourniquet if they were able to extricate the patient from the scene,” said Reiff, who, as part of a volunteer medical team from UAB, works with Pugliese and the Vestavia SWAT team. “He called back later and indicated they weren’t going to be able to get the patient out, … that he was trapped.” An infield amputation would be needed.

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Reiff contacted one of his partners at UAB Hospital to prepare surgical instruments. Fultondale paramedics also called UAB Emergency Room Dr. Blayke Gibson for help. Gibson contacted UAB Trauma Director Dr. Jeffrey Kerby, who helped her and Reiff determine a game plan for treating the patient onsite.

“The team in the Emergency Department was incredible … they had all of our supplies ready and we were ready to leave the ED in 20 minutes,” said Gibson, who did her medical residency training at UAB. “Every person in that ED that night, all of the nurses, the techs, the remaining physicians who control the Emergency Department so that some of us could go to the scene, were incredible.”

Pugliese warned that time was of the essence: “The house was actively collapsing inside. That was not good,” he said. Reiff immediately drove to Fultondale, where Fultondale and Birmingham fire departments were already working to fortify the scene.

A huge oak tree was on top of and inside the house. Paramedics from Fultondale and Mt. Olive, unable to move Hernandez or the tree, could only set an IV.

When India Alford, director of UAB’s freestanding ED in Gardendale, learned tornadoes were coming through, she went into work. Alford and UAB ED Trauma/Burns Nurse Manager Sherichia Hardy were called by UAB to help the patient in Fultondale. An ambulance took them to the site, where they assessed the trauma victim, then set an intravenous line to resuscitate him with fluids and blood to prepare him for surgery.

“When I heard for sure that Dr. Reiff and Dr. Gibson were coming, my heart was just glad because the firefighters had come to us and said that they were going to allow the patient to call his family,” Hardy said. “At that moment, prior to our surgeon and physician being able to come out, it was really looking pretty grim to be able to get him out safely.”

UAB surgical team members discuss emergency amputation in aftermath of Alabama tornado from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Hardy and Alford had everything ready for the doctors. UAB Police transported Gibson and the surgical equipment to the scene. Gibson managed the patient’s airway and made sure he was appropriately sedated and as pain-free as possible.

“From there, Blayke took care of everything that would have been the head of the bed if we’d been in the hospital doing this, so that I could focus on performing the amputation,” Reiff said. “We secured two good tourniquets, and then I performed an above-knee guillotine amputation in the field.”

Pugliese thanked UAB for coming to the rescue: “We’d exhausted all resources until the UAB team got there,” he said. “It was a miracle. It was beautiful to see all of these different groups working together.”

Hardy was glad to help perform nursing care for the patient onsite and during the ambulance ride to UAB Hospital.

“It was an honor to be a part of this team,” Gibson said. “The team effort was incredible and I’m just truly happy for the outcome that we were able to have. This provided an incredibly unique opportunity for communities all over Birmingham to play a role as their paramedics and firemen from different stations began to pull medicines out of their jump bags and make sure we had enough medication to properly sedate and treat this patient.”

The UAB ER has a red phone designated for paramedics to call doctors for information any time.

Reiff assists a UAB team that works with law enforcement on a volunteer basis. UAB plans to form a support team to work specifically for natural disasters, to be ready 24/7 to respond to this type of emergency.

“We will have a team designed and built for this, moving forward,” Reiff said. “The need for this is better understood, and there’s been a lot of support from administration in the hospital to get this done, sooner rather than later.

“We have great physicians and great people within the institution – the providers at every level of our hospital push each other forward each and every day to do a better job, and to learn more and to do better for our patients, to see UAB’s success,” Reiff said.

Considering the gravity of the medical rescue, the UAB team said Hernandez is progressing well after the onsite amputation of his lower leg.

“Overall, he’s making good clinical progress, considering he was in a nonsterile environment,” Reiff said. “He’s going to do well.”

To help Hernandez and his family during recovery, click here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama Power employees celebrate MLK Day by giving back to communities

(Tabetha Lemonds/Gaston APSO)

Contemplating ways to better the community, sharing ideals of justice and unity, and giving back are some of the ways Alabama Power employees celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic and social distancing needs, many members of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) found ways to honor King’s legacy and help their communities.

Jason Watters was among Magic City APSO Chapter members who took part in a 1-mile Freedom Walk in King’s commemoration. Afterward, he made a lifesaving blood donation to help restore the nation’s blood banks, which are running low because of the novel coronavirus.

Watters made the most of the day by involving his two young sons in MLK Day activities.

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“Especially with my eldest being 5 years old, my wife and I try to be very intentional about what we teach,” said Watters, recruiting consultant for HR Talent Acquisition at Alabama Power. “It was very important for us to show it’s not a day off or a ‘break’ because he was off from school. Although my sons are both fairly young, it’s extremely important to me that they know we don’t ‘sit around’ on King Day. We walked around Kelly Ingram Park and saw the Sixteenth Baptist Church. From a 5-year-old’s filter, it allowed me to talk about who Dr. King was and why it’s important to learn about his mission.”

Magic City’s Billy Sanford completed his 1-mile Freedom Walk at Railroad Park in Birmingham. Sanford, an applications analyst in Metering, gave blood at UAB as part of the Day of Service.

Through Jan. 31, Magic City APSO is helping keep Birmingham warm with donations to Firehouse Ministries Homeless Shelter, the Salvation Army and the Boutwell Auditorium Warming Station.

Power Delivery Project Manager Jeremy Prickett and his wife, Amy, with their son and daughter, completed their Freedom Walk at Civitan Park in Trussville. “My family and I took part in the Freedom Walk to honor the memory of Dr. King and demonstrate our support for his ideals,” said Prickett, who earned an MBA at UAB and has worked at Alabama Power nearly 18 years.

Several Magic City members contemplated the meaning of MLK Day on the chapter Facebook page, by providing videos in which they shared quotes and stories from King that promote equality, justice and service.

Eastern Division APSO members will recognize medical staff on the COVID-19 unit at Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center in Anniston by providing a free lunch on Jan. 20. About 40 hospital staff will enjoy gourmet fare from an Anniston eatery.

Some Gaston APSO members worked in individual cleanups to honor King’s legacy of helping build community. For instance, Gaston APSO chapter President Tabetha Lemonds and a friend scoured the roadside of their Chelsea neighborhood, removing garbage such as discarded cups and bags. Longtime Gaston APSO member Jodi Webb, with her husband and two youngsters, performed a mini-cleanup in Hollins to help beautify the community. Webb and her family removed debris from the roadside, collecting several sacks for a local dumpster. Gaston members Karen White and her husband, Woody, spent two hours cleaning windows in downtown Childersburg as part of their service project.

Through the first week of February, Mobile Division APSO members will fill donation barrels at 13 Alabama Power business locations, including crew headquarters. As part of the socially distanced project, employees are donating blankets and warm clothing for clients of the Waterfront Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army in Mobile.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Local service organization keeps ‘Grinch’ away from Mobile

Walley delivered ‘Grinch’ bags to Wallace Hall Elementary School students. (Photo courtesy of Barry APSO / Alabama NewsCenter)

There’s no “Grinch” in Mobile – 10 nonprofits and more than 411 happy children are proof of that.

Thanks to members of the Barry Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO), several nonprofits and Mobile-area families will have a merrier Christmas. Employees and contractors at Barry Electric Generating Plant “dug deep” to ensure nonprofits and other groups could meet community needs.

“Barry APSO members have such large hearts. We gave $20,000 to help nonprofits at the holidays,” said Barry Chapter President Krista Presnall. “Even though we were unable to hold our annual Barry Golf Tournament this year, we still raised funds for these groups.”

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Determined the coronavirus wouldn’t keep them from helping their community, Barry APSO members helped nonprofits and schools while social distancing. Unable to host their annual contributions breakfast, Barry APSO board members Tonya Byrd, Cherie Gatlin, Adam Davis, Amanda Lofton, Sharon Meier, Roger Pettis, Patrick Smith, Stacy Walley and Jason Walters individually delivered boxes of with three dozen donuts – and a check – to 10 groups.

Barry APSO’s Sharon Meier (left) gives a check to help Dauphin Island Elementary School. (Photo courtesy of Barry APSO / Alabama NewsCenter)

Dauphin Island Elementary SchoolFeeding the Gulf CoastGeorge Hall Elementary SchoolHome of GraceMission of Hope’s Taylor HouseMulherin Home, North Mobile School, Ronald McDonald HouseSalvation Army and Saraland Meals on Wheels received a donation.

While delivering a check to George Hall Elementary, which is Plant’s Barry’s Adopt-A-School, Stacy Simmons Walley brought 336 “Grinchmas” bags and donut-shaped cookies for students. In the past, Walley has helped host an Operation Santa program for Hall Elementary, visiting with children and giving each child a book. To make sure social distancing needs were met, Walley had the gifts delivered to her home, where she spent about three days assembling the bags.

“They were all over my house before I boxed them up … I had to make little walking paths,” said Walley, who ordered gifts from the Oriental Trading Co. She filled the lime-green paper bags with bookmarks, candy canes, frisbees and balls.

George Hall Elementary School students enjoyed a donut-shaped cookie for making the honor roll. (Photo courtesy of Barry APSO / Alabama NewsCenter)

For years, Barry APSO has congratulated Hall’s honor-roll students with a celebratory donut. But social distancing rules at Hall Elementary require food to be packaged for safety and to be distributed by teachers. Since the school couldn’t take boxes of donuts, Walley ordered custom-made, donut-shaped cookies from a bakery.

Students were thrilled with their unexpected gifts. George Hall Elementary School Principal Melissa Mitchell thanked Walley and Alabama Power on Barry APSO’s Facebook.

“Alabama Power (the donut lady) Stacy couldn’t bring Santa to Hall this year, but that didn’t stop her from making hundreds of gift bags for our kiddos! … The way you have always loved on Hall … it makes my heart so happy!” Mitchell wrote.

Wishes come true with ‘Gifts for Kids’ Christmas program

Members transformed into Santa’s elves on Dec. 15, delivering presents for 75 underserved children sponsored by the Mobile Department of Human Resources. Barry APSO met children’s and wants, despite not being able to host its 28th annual E.R. Covington Golf Tournament. Cherie Gatlin, a longtime Barry APSO member, coordinated the shopping project.

“We bought and delivered items on children’s wish lists, including toys, electronics and clothes,” said Presnall, who has served APSO for 10 years. “We had contractors who wanted to give – they enjoy the golf tournament and wanted to get involved. We know these kids’ Christmas will be brighter thanks to the generous contributions of Barry APSO members, friends and vendors that donated to the project.”

Plant Barry Team Leader and APSO member Roger Pettis played Santa for a day, delivering gifts for kids sponsored by the Mobile Department of Human Resources. (Photo courtesy of Barry APSO / Alabama NewsCenter)

Persevering to feed underprivileged families

In a longstanding Christmas Eve tradition, Walley and other Barry APSO members will deliver a full holiday meal to about 100 families in the Mobile area.

“We pick up the meals at Publix, which are full-course dinners with turkey and all the fixings,” said Walley, who has delivered Christmas meals to families for 10 years. The meals are funded by donations from Barry APSO members and plant vendors, “Families also get a gallon of milk and dessert. Last year, one man at a retirement home said he was able to feed people on the entire floor at his home.”

To ensure food safety while social distancing, Walley and other volunteers will wear masks and place the meals on people’s porches for easy pickup.

Presnall said she is proud of the entire team of Barry APSO volunteers, especially during the pandemic.

“This project for feeding families is a big deal,” Presnall said. “This year, we had a lot of people needing things.  I’m so very proud we were able to do what we did this year for people in our community.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

 

3 months ago

APSO members make Christmas stockings for babies born in December at St. Vincent’s Hospital

(Charlotte Garrett/Alabama Power)

Newborns at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham will receive an extra blessing during December: a hand-sewn Christmas stocking to help welcome them to the world.

Thanks to volunteers of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO), the St. Vincent’s Volunteer program and the Acts group at Gardendale Baptist Church, St. Vincent’s Hospital received about 200 handmade stockings to give to parents of newborns. Dianne Guthrie, coordinator for Volunteer Services at St. Vincent’s, was thrilled to have APSO members’ help, in what APSO leaders expect will become an annual project.

The stockings have been hand-stitched by volunteers since 1965, becoming lifelong treasures for many families. Guthrie said that last year, a young mother at St. Vincent’s Hospital told the staff she had the stocking she received at birth more than 20 years ago.

“These stockings are not ordinary red felt stockings, but works of art hand sewn by loving people,” Guthrie said. “Each stocking has the date sewn on to commemorate the year of the baby’s birth. These heirlooms are treasured by the baby’s parents. Just like our precious babies, each stocking is unique.”

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For Magic City APSO member Charlotte Garrett, the project is a way to give back. It is a perfect activity for Garrett, who enjoys sewing and handcrafting pillows to give as gifts.

“I have a 3-year-old grandbaby who is special needs, and she’s been in and out of Children’s Hospital,” said Garrett, a staff accounting assistant for 12 years at Alabama Power’s Corporate Headquarters in Birmingham. “I like volunteering for things. I love to help people and I love to make people smile.”

Garrett took pains with the stockings, adding special touches: “The ones with more detail took about 2 1/2 hours. The blue and white one took me a little bit longer because I added a little more detail. I added a dove with ‘Peace on Earth’ and angels to others,” said Garrett, who has volunteered in reading programs and Camp Smile-A-Mile for children who are fighting cancer, and taken part in runs to raise money for nonprofits.

Guthrie, who has worked at St. Vincent’s for two years, said the Christmas stocking project is one of her “most favorite ministries” at the hospital.

“We are so focused on our mission here,” she said. “We’re going to pray over the stockings, too.”

“All of the items are hand sewn,” Guthrie added. “One lady spent 60 hours doing seed beading. You have to really want to do this.”

Guthrie made sure to request more stockings this year to avoid running out. The hospital provided the fabric and beads. Some volunteers, like Magic City APSO’s Carole Myers, “fancied up” their handcrafted stockings by buying extra beads. Hydro Generation Project Manager Thomas St. John, a Magic City member, helped with the effort.

Sewing and decorating the stockings was a family affair for Myers, who enlisted her married daughter, Sara, to help. Myers spent a couple of hours each evening until she completed the work.

“I enjoy doing this type of stuff, and it’s special, being for a baby,” said Myers, Risk Services budget analyst at Alabama Power for 13 years. Myers, who for several years has volunteered for APSO’s Exceptional Anglers tournament, said the sewing project helped fill a niche.

“My daughters sewed and made little Christmas trees that I sewed on,” said Casey Camper, a Southeast/Farley APSO member for five years. Her daughters, Hailey, 14, and Hannah, 12, enjoyed helping.

“It was a fun project,” said Camper, a customer service representative at Alabama Power’s Phenix City Business Office. “With COVID going on, this is a good way to do stuff with APSO. Normally, my whole family gets involved. I was glad they could find a project that we could all volunteer for.”

While the stocking project brings joy to many new parents at Christmastime, the task brought Garrett happiness, too.

“I wanted to give back to any child who comes in the world, and help give the kids hope,” Garrett said. “They may not understand now, but maybe one day, they’ll know that someone spent a lot of time doing this for them, from love.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama Power employees brighten holidays with food donation to Revival Center pantry

(Jodi Webb/Contributed)

Sometimes a blessing comes in the nick of time.

That was the case for Build a Bridge Community Pantry in Vincent four days before Thanksgiving. Members of the Plant Gaston Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) showed up with a truckload of food just in time to feed needy families for the holidays.

Brandy Wallis, director of operations of the pantry at Revival Center Church, said the shelves were nearly bare. The pantry serves residents of Shelby County and three neighboring counties.

Jodi Webb and Tabetha Lemonds delivered 1,320 pounds of food donated by employees at Plant Gaston in Wilsonville. Every day, Nov. 6-17, many Gaston employees left gifts of food at a trailer at the plant gates – allowing contact-free giving – and donated money for food.

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As Lemonds dropped the truck’s tailgate and flipped back the bed liner, Wallis could hardly believe her eyes. The Ford 250 was filled to nearly overflowing with canned vegetables, fruit and meats. There was a huge selection of dry goods, such as pasta, beans, instant mashed potatoes, cereals, pancake mix and other shelf-stable items.

Overcome with emotion, Wallis began to cry – tears of joy flowed down her face.

“You’re not going to believe what a blessing you are,” Wallis told Webb and Lemonds. “When you see what our shelves look like, you’ll understand why I feel this way.

“It makes me very emotional,” added Wallis, who has served at the pantry since it opened during the pandemic. “We actually were able to feed 332 people for the holiday with the donation given by Gaston APSO. Without APSO, that couldn’t have happened. Our shelves had been empty.”

Since April 23, the pantry has fed more than 11,000 people.

A moment made a miracle

Webb and Lemonds didn’t expect employees’ gifts to fill several empty shelves at the pantry. As the three women began to unload the food, seven ministry members arrived to help. Lemonds and Webb worked along with them for four hours, carrying in groceries, stocking and organizing food.

“We came at that right time to fill the shelves,” said Webb, interim president of Gaston APSO. She said helping Build a Bridge Community Pantry was an easy decision.

“We always send out questions to our board about local groups, churches and ministries that need help,” said Webb, the 2018 recipient of APSO’s prestigious Patsy Topazi Leadership Award. “There’s so many people that need help.

Webb, who has served in Gaston APSO for 14 years, said the pandemic has presented difficulties because their members “like to go and do for people.”

Plant Gaston employees are givers behind the scenes

Gaston employees answered the call to help in a big way, said Lemonds, president-elect of Gaston APSO. Dropping off food at the plant’s trailer – a contact-free point – allowed employees to safely take part in the project while social distancing.

“Everybody here is so generous with giving,” said Lemonds, administrative assistant in Fossil Generation. “Our employees gave food and a contribution of $1,150, which included a gift from our chapter.”

“I’m a couponer, so I went to Publix to buy food for the pantry,” Lemonds said, with a laugh. “A friend and I got all the best items. I bought one item and got one free, too. It was multiple carloads of groceries. I was filling up my Jeep every day with groceries, then putting it all in our truck. It was a process. I was really excited.”

Before she and Webb delivered the items, Lemonds drove her truck onto Plant Gaston’s scales for weighing coal trucks. The duo was amazed to see the groceries’ weigh in at 1,320 pounds.

The project still brings a smile to their faces: “It hits home that all your hard work pays off,” Lemonds said.

Wallis agreed that every little bit “makes a tremendous difference.”

“We’ve got grandparents coming through the pantry saying, ‘I’m taking care of my three grandchildren, now I’ve got six people in my house,’” she said. “These people genuinely need the support. There are parents that are working who can’t afford to feed their children.

“We’re hearing a lot of these stories,” said Wallis, a member of Revival Center Church for seven years. “It’s heartbreaking. When we began this ministry, I said, ‘We can’t change the world, but we have the resources to help one person.’ Partnering with groups like Gaston APSO and individual contributors shows that people are stopping their day-to-day interactions to help other people. People do care.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Playtime Extravaganza goes on at Children’s of Alabama thanks to volunteers

(Phil Free/Alabama NewsCenter)

More than 150 sick kids at Children’s Hospital will enjoy a mini version of Christmas this week, thanks to employees at Southern Company Services (SCS) and Alabama Power.

Several SCS employees recently spent a couple of hours organizing boxes of toys for the 13th-annual Playtime Extravaganza for Children’s Hospital patients. On Friday afternoon Nov. 5, seven volunteers met at Patrick Snell’s home in Hoover, Alabama, to package small toys into about 150 kid-sized packages.

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Children’s Hospital Playtime Extravaganza goes on thanks to Alabama Power and Southern Company Services volunteers from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Volunteers wore protective masks and gloves to make sure the gifts were packaged in a safe environment, in keeping with rules set by Children’s Hospital.

“We’ve done our Playtime Extravaganza project for 13 years, partnering with Children’s Hospital,” said Patrick Snell, this year’s Playtime project coordinator and an applications analyst for Financial Services Information Technology (IT) at SCS in Birmingham. “We usually do a teddy bear fair, a LEGO movie event, a fantastic photos fun fair and other activities during one week in August. It’s really been a year of uncertainty. It definitely took a little creativity to make this happen during the pandemic.”

Indeed, COVID-19 turned the project on its ear. The group couldn’t host the fun-time events on-site at the hospital because of concerns about coronavirus transmission.

“Playtime Extravaganza usually gives the patients a chance to come down, hang out, have a good time and just have a little escape from their daily treatments,” he said. “Instead, we are trying to put Playtime Extravaganza in a box. We’ll take all of the gifts to Children’s Hospital.”

With employees working from home this fall, the Technology organization couldn’t hold its usual fundraisers. Instead, they sent an email to Technology Organization and Energy Management System employees letting them know they could sponsor a teddy bear for $20 and a Playtime Extravaganza kit for $50.

Technology Organization employees ordered the toys and prize-pack items from Amazon and Oriental Trading. The project benefits youngsters in the Child Life program at Children’s Hospital.

“Instead of spending a week with the kids, we’re packaging toys that represent each event into the boxes,” Snell said. “About 31 employees gave $2,205. The Magic City Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization gave $500 to the project.”

Snell’s garage and driveway were converted to work areas for assembling gift bags and boxes. SCS volunteers included Alicia Ford, Leigh Hampton Gorham, Carol Grigsby, Tracy Henderson, Serina Johnson, Melissa Ledbetter and Snell.

Grigsby and Ledbetter kept a safe distance of 6 feet in the garage while packaging hundreds of small toys. Other employees worked at tables outdoors where temperatures were comfortably warm for a fall day.

Ledbetter, who has helped with the project for four years and Grigsby, who has assisted for 10 years, agreed the work is “all about the kids.”

“Seeing how much fun they have is so neat,” said Ledbetter, an SCS employees for 15 years. “It lifts their spirits so much.”

Snell said SCS and APC employees enjoyed the opportunity to help children during the holiday season.

“We spent a couple of hours getting everything done,” Snell said. “It’s been cool to see the response from so many people. We are so appreciative of all our employees and Magic City APSO for making this happen.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Alabama Power Energizer stays busy helping Tarrant church package food for underserved

(Danny Copeland/Corporate Chapter Energizers)

A “honey-do” list may have kept him busy for a while, but after several months of the extended pandemic, one retiree found that true satisfaction comes from helping others.

When social distancing began in March, Danny Copeland happily complied. The 65-years-young Alabama Power retiree figured COVID-19 was ample reason to stay home, making repairs and handling tasks he needed to accomplish. But it wasn’t long before Copeland was yearning for interaction with others and a change of scenery.

“The pandemic limits what you can do, and there’s only so much yardwork you can do,” said Copeland, a member of the Corporate Chapter of the Energizers, Alabama Power’s retiree service organization. He joined the Energizers after working nearly 25 years at Alabama Power, from stints in Power Delivery Construction in Western Division to the General Services Complex and Birmingham Division. Copeland retired as a Fleet Services subforeman in January 2008.

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To maintain safety, members of the company’s 11 Energizers chapters ceased meeting during the pandemic. Since June, Copeland has been helping with food distribution of items donated by a farmers market.

“I was tired of being at home doing nothing. I talked to a pastor and found out that First Missionary Baptist Church-East Boyles in Tarrant needed help getting food to older folks,” he said. Immediately, Copeland thought the project was a “good volunteer thing to be involved in.”

On Wednesday mornings, Copeland and other volunteers pack the donated food in boxes and begin staging the 20-pound boxes on the sidewalk in front of the church.

By 10 a.m., about 40 to 50 older people begin driving up to the church. Each volunteer wears a mask and keeps a safe distance while loading the food into the back seat or trunk of recipients’ cars.

“It’s a pretty good bit of food for a family to have for a week,” Copeland said. “About 99% of the people who come by are the underserved in the community. It makes me feel good to know I’m helping the cause.”

Copeland plans to help through Thanksgiving, when he will deliver precooked meals to 50 to 75 families. Despite not being a member of the church, he “fits in pretty well” with the group of men, most of whom are former military members in their 60s and 70s.

The other church members told Copeland, “Man, we think you are one of our guys now.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Gloria Buie battled breast cancer and won; now she fights for awareness

(Phil Free/Alabama NewsCenter)

Sept. 11 will always be etched in Gloria Buie’s mind.

The date not only marks the destruction of New York’s Twin Towers but, for Buie, a personal day of infamy: she received a diagnosis of breast cancer. Buie recalls going to her doctor for her usual yearly checkup.

“It was found on a mammogram when I went to Brookwood Baptist Medical Center in September 2009. It came back as abnormal, and they wanted to do a biopsy,” said Buie, in calm, measured tones. “The actual diagnosis came on 9/11. It was diagnosed as stage 2.”

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The findings were a shock to her system. She’d taken part in races for the cure to benefit breast cancer research and treatment, never dreaming she’d be affected by the disease.

“I’d been an advocate for the Susan G. Komen Foundation even before I was diagnosed,” she said.

Buie, who taught group fitness classes for years and is now a yoga instructor, is fit, strong and limber. The fact she has four adult children belies her youthful appearance, and most people never guess Buie has dealt with cancer. Her pink sweater, adorned with a dark pink Komen pin, is the only evidence she had the illness.

Snuggling into an Adirondack chair in her backyard in Sylacauga, Buie radiates happiness while surveying the deep fuchsia and white petunias in a nearby pot, and talks about the pear tree that is heavy with fruit. Buie has a ready smile and an easy laugh.

But cancer is not a laughing matter, and her expression shifts.

“I did my consultation with the oncologist, and he said, ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you. You’re the epitome of health,’” she recalled.

Buie is grateful that her cancer was found through a mammogram.

“It showed up on the scan, thank God,” she said. “I instantly felt fear. You think cancer and, oh my God, I’m gonna die. But my faith is so strong – I knew I had a protector.”

This wasn’t Buie’s first rodeo with the disease: her eldest daughter had early-stage ovarian cancer, and she is well now. Her youngest daughter had a scare during pregnancy, but it turned out fine.

Buie, executive assistant in Governmental and Corporate Affairs at Alabama Power in Birmingham, immediately started planning how to handle her treatments and scheduling visits.

“I wanted to do what I needed to do and to get on with my life,” she said. Buie had a lumpectomy, then underwent radiation. When it came time for chemotherapy, she was unable to take the treatment until she had healed from the radiation and surgery.

“You get your mind prepared,” said Buie, who is methodical in planning. “My heart sunk, and I was angry. I was ready to get it over with.”

Gloria Buie talks about beating breast cancer and carrying on the fight for others from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Choosing not to “waddle in despair,” she instead pored over the internet for articles about the pros and cons of the myriad options for breast cancer treatments. She eventually knew what to expect.

“At the end of this process, I told myself I’m going to be better, I’m gonna be stronger, I’m gonna be healed.

“It was God’s intervention. The chemo was ruthless,” said Buie, who took eight rounds, the equivalent of five months of treatment. She took one drug once a week for the rest of the year. Afterward, she took a maintenance medicine, Femara, in an oral pill, for five years.

The women in her family later underwent testing for the BRCA gene, which indicates that a woman has a higher risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Fortunately, the test results were negative.

Throughout it all, Buie never lost faith that she’d make it through. Everyone has their own way of dealing with the disease, she noted.

“Everyone’s journey is different,” she said. “The ladies I’ve known that have gone through it, we’re all individuals. My whole goal was to get through the process. You’ve gotta listen to your body, listen to your doctors.”

Coming out on the other side

Last year, Buie gave a talk about her experiences during a breast cancer research fundraiser at the Harbert Center in Birmingham. Afterward, a young woman in the audience, in treatment at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, came to Buie for advice. Buie was kind, but brutally honest.

“In order to survive this, you’ve got to go through this process. Do what you need to do,” Buie advised. “And know, deep down, that you’re gonna get better. That is what you must tell yourself.”

Now, whenever a woman asks Buie about what to do, she gives the same talk.

“Dig deep,” Buie said. “It’s about coming through this disease and winning. I know God wants me to have an abundant life. Just get through the process.”

Buie is thankful to her family and many female friends who supported her during her illness. To help others, she wants to have a voice and to be an advocate for people with breast cancer. Buie volunteers with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama, finding donations to help with research. Her cars sport pink specialty license tags that support the Joy to Life Foundation. For every pink tag, which can be personalized, $50 goes to fight breast cancer.

“If one woman sees the tag, it’s worth every bit of it,” Buie said. “My whole reason is to remind women to take care of your body, be in tune with how you’re feeling. Whatever I can do to raise awareness, I will do, whether it’s public speaking or buying a car tag. Anything to raise awareness, I’m all about it.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Alabama Power volunteer firefighters strive to save lives, homes in communities

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

It’s all in a day’s work – and then some – for Alabama Power employees who put their lives on the line as volunteer firefighters.

The calls run the gamut, from fighting fires at homes and businesses to fielding medical emergencies that range from saving choking victims and rescuing people in car wrecks to giving life-saving glucose injections. Volunteers perform CPR and respond to fires, drownings and other crises. Many company employees don firefighter helmets after they leave their full-time jobs for the day.

That’s the case with Ann Marie Smith, a Plant Miller chemical technician who has volunteered at McCollum-Midway Volunteer Fire and Rescue in Jasper for three years. Smith talked with Chief David Blanton, a materials coordinator at Alabama Power’s Fayette Crew Headquarters, about joining his 20-member volunteer team.

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Smith answers medical calls about people who have stopped breathing or who have chest pain, drownings and chokings, as well as fires. As a member of Miller’s Medical Response Team, Smith has honed her keen abilities for handling emergencies.

“We often do whatever we can before an ambulance arrives, basic life-saving measures such as CPR, taking vital signs for blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen levels and other basic conditions,” said Smith, who is studying for dual master’s degrees in public health and business administration at UAB.

She and fellow firefighters ensure everyone wears personal protective equipment, such as heat-resistant clothing, air packs and gloves.

Early this year, Smith was the first responder at a car wreck in Walker County. She ran down a steep ditch to rescue an older motorist, whose car was laying on its side.

“I was pretty much sitting on top of the car to pull this man out of his car,” said Smith, who has used metal cutters and spreaders to remove trapped passengers. “The windows would not roll down. We busted out the front door passenger window and used a windshield saw to get him out of the car.”

The team carefully removed the man, who occasionally cried out in pain.

“He was conscious, so he told us what hurt,” she said. “We put him on a backboard. You’ve got to try to protect the neck and back, in case someone has an injury. He was in critical condition and had pre-existing medical conditions.”

Smith and the team took the man to a large, open space in a nearby church parking lot. They quickly set up lights for a medivac helicopter to land. Because they didn’t know the victim, there was no way to learn about his progress.

“Sometimes people will come by and thank us,” Smith said. “It’s a good feeling to know you helped someone, whether it was calming them down while their house was burning or rescuing them from a mangled car. It’s great being able to keep your community safe and keep yourself safe while doing it. We want to do everything we can to see the community continue to flourish.”

Other Plant Miller volunteer firefighters include Assistant Plant Control Operator Andy Marbutt for Bear Creek Fire Department and Safety Specialist Brandon Williams for Crane Hill Communities Volunteer Fire and EMS in Cullman County. Gaston Plant Auxiliary Reid Ezekiel, Mechanic Brent Hughes, Materialman Ricky Morris and Compliance Specialist Philip Willis serve, as well as Henry Hydro Journeyman Daniel Morrison.

Company volunteers include Field Service Representative (FSR) Wayne Flowers; Montgomery Crew Lineman Adam Brasher; Dadeville Apprentice Lineman Paul Chayka; Selma Distribution Specialist Allen Kendrick; and Montgomery Office FSR Kyle Lawrence.

Saving lives and families, in more ways than one

Shanon Graham was 16 and attending Glencoe High School when he became a junior fireman for Glencoe Fire Department. Two years later, Graham took the exam to be a professional firefighter, but instead went to work at Alabama Power, where he is a master technician for the Utility Fleet at Anniston Crew Headquarters. It’s not unusual for Graham to spend weekends and after-work hours fighting fires.

For example, instead of relaxing at home one Saturday night, he took a 10:30 p.m. call to extinguish a vehicle fire: a car had burst into flames on Old Highway 431 in Glencoe.

“We run so many fires and wrecks. We do about 900 calls a year, with medical and fire,” said Graham, a fire lieutenant for 20 years. “I attend to quite a few calls each month. Whenever I’m available and not at the power company, I try to help. It’s a full-time job.”

Graham is a certified 160 firefighter, which signifies he completed 160 hours of training through the Alabama Fire College and Personnel Standards Commission in less than 24 months.

“I do medical calls, too,” said Graham, who earned a medic license in 2000. “If someone calls in with a heart attack, I go. I’m a first responder now. We do a lot of extraction of vehicles and help mentor the younger guys, instructing them on what to do to avoid getting hurt. We’ve got to be as safe as possible all the time, just like we do at Alabama Power.”

Graham’s 24 years volunteering with Glencoe Fire Department goes beyond lifesaving. He helps organize and takes part in the department’s annual Christmas for Kids program to benefit Etowah County children. Teaming up with his wife, Kristie, Graham raises as much as $12,000 a year through cooking events. He spends about 25 Saturdays a year traveling the Southeast to competitions.

“Kristie and I compete in barbecue and steak competitions,” Graham said. In May, the couple raised $3,500 in a steak cook-off at Glencoe City Park to fund Christmas for Kids.

“Just being able to help my community means a lot to me,” Graham said. “Everybody should be involved somehow, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. I’ve always enjoyed it.”

Helping others is family affair

Firefighting is a family affair for Phillip Moman, Information Technology manager at Farley Nuclear Plant in Dothan. Moman recalls asking his then-4-year-old son about joining the Ashford Volunteer Fire Department.

“Gaither said, ‘That would be fun, daddy,’” Moman said, chuckling in remembrance. “That’s how I got started. It was a blast then, and I still enjoy it.”

Moman and one of his best friends, Plant Farley Refueling Manager Mark Kelley, joined the Ashford Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) the same day, and are senior captains. Farley Emergency Preparedness Specialist John Perkins serves alongside Moman and Kelley in the Ashford Fire Department while Instrumentation and Controls Mechanic Jonathan Nall is assistant chief in the Cowarts Volunteer Fire Department.

Throughout the years, Moman and the Ashford VFD have worked hundreds of car wrecks, which spurred him to obtain an emergency medical technician (EMT) license in 1996. He now averages 20 to 25 hours a month training and responding to incidents.

“Going to wrecks and handling other situations, you want to know how to help people,” said Moman, who spent 13 years in the EMT role. “It went a long way, because I was there to treat people in all kinds of emergencies. You never know when you’ll need that knowledge. You train enough to where things become second nature.”

Moman and his fellow firefighters average eight hours a month in training and help instruct younger firefighters.  Ashford’s 25-member team meets every other week to train on apparatus operation, hazardous materials, extraction and other fire-related emergencies.

“Training is one of the most important aspects of the fire service. For instance, you never know how a person is going to react with lights and sirens blaring,” Moman said.

While some months are busier than others, Moman said seasonal fires aren’t unexpected.

“If it’s real dry, we’ll have a lot of grass fires,” he said. “The first cold spells of the winter bring more house fires from overloaded extension cords and portable heaters.”

After serving more than 20 years, Moman is proud that his sons followed in his footsteps. Gaither Moman, 28, volunteers at Pike Road Fire Department in Montgomery County, and Parker Moman, 24, serves at Ashford with his dad.

“It’s a good feeling to see their willingness to help others,” Moman said.

Father’s service inspires son to help fire departments

Fighting fires is nothing new to Trae Caton. The longtime volunteer has served the Clanton Fire Department, helps the Chilton County Emergency Management Agency and was the assistant chief at Cedar Grove Fire Department. Caton was inspired by his father, who volunteered at the Clanton Fire Department.

“To serve as a member of Clanton Fire Department, you must be a state licensed EMT and certified as a firefighter through Alabama Fire College,” said Caton, regulatory compliance analyst for Fleet Services. “I followed in my dad’s footsteps for more than 10 years.”

Caton will never forget New Year’s Day 2018, when a fuel tanker crashed and overturned on Interstate 65.

“The trucker fell asleep and crashed in the median,” he said. “Developing a plan to mitigate that situation and call in the proper resources was hairy.”

Caton called for assistance from multiple Chilton County fire departments, along with Calera and Clanton fire departments. He coordinated with hazardous materials teams to attend during removal of 8,000 gallons of gasoline. The fuel had to be pumped out so the truck could be towed.

“That was the scariest part,” said Caton, who supervised with a wary eye remembering when he’d witnessed a tanker explode following a similar crash.

“There were more than 50 people on the scene, and their safety was my responsibility. We were there more than 10 hours. The tanker remained intact and we didn’t have any spillage.”

“As time goes on, the more I realize how fortunate I am to work for Alabama Power Company, which gives me the ability to do something I love,” Caton said. “I plan to do it for as long as time allows.”

Braun’s early dreams came true

At 3 or 4 years old, Jimmie Braun took his first ride in a firetruck in Kansas City, Missouri. That trip “sealed the deal” for Braun, birthing his lifelong love of firefighting.

“They came to our school, and I got my first ride in that big old truck, seeing it and hearing the sirens,” said the Logan Martin Hydro journeyman. “I wanted to be a fireman when I was a little kid.”

Braun, a member of Alabama Power’s Emergency Response Team since 2014, is certified to use an automated external defibrillator and perform CPR.

“We go to training once a year at work and have once-a-month intensive training,” he said.

Braun helped save the life of another employee in 2015. While working at Plant Gaston in Wilsonville, Braun and four other employees performed CPR on a heart attack victim.

“We took turns doing CPR,” Braun said. “After 10 or 15 minutes, you’re plumb worn out. You don’t really have any concept of how time passes.”

Another time, a Gaston employee had a seizure and Braun provided first aid until paramedics arrived.

Braun has worked at Oakman Volunteer Fire Department and Shelby County Fire Department.

“My job is to keep you alive long enough for paramedics to get there,” he said.

“I go to wreck calls all the time and have to extricate people. We’ve had to use the Jaws of Life to remove people from cars 10 or 15 times. That’s actually cutting cars up on the side of the road.”

After training with Alabama Power’s Emergency Response and Confined Space Rescue teams – combined with specialized training from the fire departments – Braun can handle most emergencies.

“I’m fairly confident I can take care of my family, at least long enough to get them to the hospital,” said Braun, who has a 22-year-old son. “I’m very big on fire prevention. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher in your house, you need to get out, because you’ll be amazed at how quickly a house can go up in flames.”

Having seen firsthand the devastating effects of a house fire, Braun’s mission is to prevent the loss of lives, families and homes in his community.

“It’s a lot of fun getting out there, pulling hoses off the truck and spraying the water,” he said. “You’ve got to enjoy your job to do it well. I don’t do it for fun or recognition.

“God has you do stuff for a reason,” Braun said. “God knows what’s going on, and he knows you need to be in this spot at this time.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

¡HICA! and Fiesta serve Alabama Latino community, offering free COVID testing, authentic cultural experience

(¡HICA!/Contributed)

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, ¡HICA! and Fiesta are providing a lifeline to Alabama’s Latino community.

Though it is difficult working through a major health crisis, staff of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama – ¡HICA! – have worked from home since March to serve their community. ¡HICA! champions economic equality, civic engagement and social justice for the state’s Latino and immigrant families. In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, ¡HICA! is providing free COVID-19 tests and emphasizing educational efforts to increase Latino’s health, safety and economic well-being.

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José Gutiérrez is thankful for the many services offered by ¡HICA!, particularly the convenient access to coronavirus testing. While he wears a mask in public and remains healthy, the Blount County resident finds peace of mind knowing he can receive a free test, as costs usually range from $300 to $1,000, depending on the area. Gutiérrez’s first cousin in Dallas, Texas, died in June after a monthlong hospitalization with the novel coronavirus. A few weeks later, his uncle in Houston, Texas, died from the illness. Gutiérrez is mindful about the need to take precautions.

A highly skilled construction worker, since March Gutiérrez has declined lucrative out-of-state remodeling jobs to avoid contracting COVID-19. He said that he cannot afford to bring home the coronavirus to his wife and son.

“The pandemic hit communities of color the worst,” said Isabel Rubio, executive director of ¡HICA! for nearly 20 years. “COVID-19 has laid bare the inequities in our society, hitting the Latino community very hard. The pandemic has had such a severe impact, it’s been mind-boggling. Thank goodness for the generosity of the community at large.”

¡HICA! has partnered with three community health groups to provide free COVID-19 tests in nine Alabama counties. In July, 143 residents received free testing, while more than 40 people were tested in June at Cahaba Medical Care in Birmingham and another group received free testing Sept. 11. Rubio noted that ¡HICA!’s long-term mission is to improve the access and affordability of healthcare for the Hispanic population.

“The big story is trying to provide healthcare for people who don’t have health insurance,” Rubio said. “We’re joining with other entities in thinking about how to make solutions for the Latino community. We either all succeed, or we all fail. We are determined to succeed.”

Supporting families with children is another important way that ¡HICA! works to build community.

“We’ve done online housing education workshops and had incredible attendance,” with numerous clients taking part in zoom meetings,” Rubio said. “Even in the pandemic, we’ve helped people purchase new homes. We’ve helped people make sure their kids are connected for remote learning. One of our staff has helped individuals install programs on their computer.”

In April, several staff provided drive-through assistance with income taxes.

“If it takes us helping one person at a time, we do it,” Rubio said.

¡HICA! delivered more help to underserved Latinos in April and May. Staff handed out more than 500 boxes of food donated by the United Way of Central Alabama. Underserved families picked up the food at ¡HICA!’s Birmingham headquarters.

Fiesta 2020 accents culture, safety and education

Because of the ongoing pandemic, Fiesta Birmingham on Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 will host a virtual “30 days of Fiesta” program. For nearly 20 years, the celebration was held in Linn Park in Birmingham. This year’s celebration promises daily, impactful service with numerous entertainment and/or educational opportunities through online events, said Fiesta Birmingham President Teresa Zuñiga-Odom.

“Live cooking and mixology demonstrations, seminars on health and financial wellness, a Latin film series, and family arts and crafts projects featuring Hispanic artists are just a few of the activities we have in store,” said Zuñiga-Odom, who has helped organize Fiesta since its 2002 inception.

Each day has a theme. “Wellness Mondays” features services and resources to stay healthy and safe; “Taco Tuesday and Titos” offers cooking and cocktail demonstrations; “Cultural Wednesdays” showcases the people, culture, history and traditions of Latin American countries; “Throwback Thursdays” treats viewers to 18 years of Fiesta photos; and Financial Fridays” provides insights from Wells Fargo on how to build credit and savings. On the weekend, “Celebration Saturdays” presented by Alabama Power includes Facebook Live showings with the best of Latin art, food, movies, music and dance. “Family Sundays” offers the chance to gather and observe the importance of family and community.

Zuñiga-Odom noted that Alabama Power will sponsor educational safety through its fun safety program for kids, Saf-T-Opolis.

“Alabama Power has been a presenting sponsor of Fiesta since the celebration began nearly 20 years ago,” said Zuñiga-Odom. “The company has always had a huge presence at the event, with many members of the Alabama Power Service Organization helping smooth the way. Obviously, we won’t have volunteers this year, but we are so thankful for the continued help from companies like Alabama Power which help make this event possible. We couldn’t do it without them.”

Since 2002, Fiesta has awarded more than $70,000 in scholarships to deserving Hispanic students, with that commitment continuing with this year’s “Fiesta in a Box.” For $18, families can buy a beautifully decorated keepsake box with all the goodies to revel in Fiesta at home. Proceeds will fund Fiesta’s 2021 scholarships. On Saturday, Sept. 19 at 10 a.m., viewers may watch the unveiling of the colorful, Hispanic-themed box. The lucky holders of a box containing golden maracas or golden piñatas will win a deluxe prize.

Hearkening to the success of years past, Rubio said the virtual Fiesta is a great way to highlight the Latino culture.

“We will miss the opportunity to connect with others and share our culture through the live Fiesta gathering, but we all recognize the importance of safeguarding families,” Rubio said. “Our goal is to empower Hispanic and immigrant families to integrate, engage and lead their communities to reach their families’ aspirations.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Meet Natalie Mills, chosen by Auburn University as 2020 Outstanding Young Engineer

(Natalie Mills/Contributed)

In college, Natalie Mills enjoyed the best of both worlds: math and science were her passion, and performing arts was her dream.

Since graduating from Auburn University with a civil engineering degree, that combination of skills has allowed Mills to shine. She was recently named Outstanding Young Auburn Engineer for 2020 by her alma mater.

“I started out as a theater major at New York University,” said Mills, a Regulatory Support analyst for Alabama Power in Birmingham. “But after a year, I discovered how much I missed math and science. It was a big part of my life, and I missed it. The arts were always my outlet, but I ended up transferring to Auburn University to do what I really love, which is math.”

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Because of the pandemic, Mills will be honored by the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council in a virtual program Sept. 25.

Scaling the heights of exciting engineering career

Mills’ college career was unusual in that she majored in engineering and minored in dance. Since receiving her engineering degree, Mills has put her math and presentation skills to good use.

“I was very fortunate to get a job at Southern Company after graduating from Auburn and moved to Birmingham having only visited the city once,” said Mills, who later earned a master’s degree in global energy management from the University of Colorado Business School.

In June 2010, Mills joined Earth Sciences and Environmental Engineering at Southern Company Services as a geotechnical engineer, learning about soil investigations and foundation design.

During that time, the Environmental Protection Agency rolled out proposed regulations for coal combustion residuals. Mills was involved in developing the company’s potential coal combustion residual (CCR) compliance strategy. The work led to Mills’ role as an environmental assessment engineer in SCS Environmental Affairs, where she provided the policy assessment of EPA’s suite of greenhouse gas regulations – the Clean Power Plan – for each of Southern Company’s operating companies.

After two years, Mills moved to SCS System Planning, where she performed asset valuations. Nine months later, she transitioned to the fuel forecasting and scenario planning group, a role in which her fine-tuned presentation skills came into play. In both roles in System Planning, Mills made recommendations using her knowledge of engineering, economics and environmental regulations.

In 2019, Mills moved to Regulatory Policy as a key member of Alabama Power’s team that worked on the recent filing of a certificate for new power generation, which achieved approval from the Alabama Public Service Commission.

“Approximately 2,000 megawatts of new generation was approved, including Barry Unit 8,” Mills said about the project that took more than a year to complete. “This effort was unprecedented. Our goal is to ensure we continue to provide reliable and affordable energy to our customers. It’s definitely been the greatest experience of my career to have been a part of this team.”

Sharing love of math with young women and girls

Throughout her career, Mills has won accolades for her achievements and community service.

While moving into roles of increased responsibilities at work, Mills became a leader with Alabama Power’s iCan Girls in Engineering program, helping girls discover the world of engineering. Mills is co-chair of the executive committee of 100+ Women Strong, which recruits, retains and rewards females in Auburn University’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

“One of my passions is encouraging and inspiring young girls to consider a career in engineering,” said Mills, who was among the 2017 New Faces of Civil Engineering-Professional of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “My grandfather was the only engineer I knew while I was growing up. That’s why I love the opportunity to expose more females to engineering, to let them know it can be a great career path for them.”

Empowering others and acting as a positive force for change has always been among Mills’ goals, whether as a United Way loaned executive or volunteer with the Junior League of Birmingham. Mills is on the Committee of 25 junior board of Girls Inc. of Central Alabama, where she’s tutored girls throughout the community. For two years, Mills helped plan the nonprofit’s annual Cajun Cook-off fundraiser. Their April cook-off was postponed because of the pandemic but will continue in 2021.

“I love Girls Inc. because it plays directly into exposing young girls to a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career,” said Mills, a board member for three years. “I really believe in Girls Inc. programs because they provide a positive environment for girls. It makes our communities better and stronger when we can inspire girls to grow up to be hardworking and to live their dreams.”

Because of her 13-month-old daughter, Maclaine, the mission of Girls Inc. has become even more meaningful to Mills.

“It’s really opened my eyes,” she said. “I tell my daughter every day, ‘You can grow up to be strong, smart and bold.’ That’s Girls Inc.’s mission for every girl, to reach for their dreams.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Breast cancer research is the target for Alabama Bow-Up archery event

(BCRFA/Contributed)

Hitting the bull’s-eye is never so satisfying as when the arrow’s aim is to defeat breast cancer.

So said Beth Bradner of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama (BCRFA). On Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 22-23, about 200 archers will compete in the Bow-Up Against Breast Cancer Tournament at Cullman Community Archery Park.

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“We have lots of breast cancer survivors who come out to support this event each year,” said Bradner, BCRFA executive director.

Archers will converge at the park to compete in BCRFA’s ninth annual fundraiser. Since 2012, the tournament has earned more than $182,000 to fight breast cancer, the disease that affects one in every eight women and one in 1,000 men.

This year’s event allows archers to compete while maintaining social distancing. Archers can compete from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the contest continuing until dusk.

“This is the first event we’ve held since COVID-19 hit,” Bradner said. “The great thing is that we can have a family or group compete together at Hole 1 without having other people converge at the same area. This is a wonderful family activity.”

Numerous 3D animal targets are set for adults and youngsters at 15 to 50 yards and 5 to 20 yards, respectively.

On Aug. 14, the BCRFA gave an initial gift of $160,000 to UAB’s O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center to fund two grants for breast cancer research projects during 2020-2021. The foundation’s support of the research projects will total $320,000 over the next two years, with some funds earned during BCRFA’s two-day tournament earmarked for research at UAB.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Obex Health creates tailor-made face masks to keep people safe from COVID-19

(Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

Wearing a face mask to protect your health – and others – is the new normal. The problem is finding a mask that fits to a “T.”

Obex Health CEO Forrest Satterfield and Dr. Kanti Sunkavalli may have solved that problem. Obex creates custom-made, digitally fitted masks that meld to every “nook and cranny” of one’s face. The secret is a unique crafting process that conforms to facial contours.

Since May, Obex has sold hundreds of masks, with most going to health care providers nationwide. The company has given several medical providers and nonprofits a discount, with a recent shipment going to a California nonprofit.

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“Once a year, medical providers must be checked to make sure they’re wearing the correct mask for their face,” said Sunkavalli, a physician turned entrepreneur.

With the pandemic spreading in March, an ill-fitting face mask was one more thing for Dr. Jennifer Hess to worry about. The ER physician quickly added the Obex mask to her personal arsenal for protecting herself and preventing transmission of the novel coronavirus.

“The struggle is when PPE supplies aren’t always available,” said Hess, who graduated from UAB Medical School in 2001 and was an ER physician at UAB Hospital from 2018 to June 2020. “COVID-19 is one of those viruses that is hard to contain unless you wear a mask. We know that consistently wearing masks keeps emergency providers from getting infected. With my Obex mask, I can be confident I’ve got my own PPE. This will help keep me safe and not spread the virus.

“When I’m using it, I can throw it in my bag, and it doesn’t get squished,” said Hess, who will soon begin working in the Emergency Department at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. “I put the mask in a Ziploc® bag and it holds its shape. Vanderbilt currently has adequate PPE but is flexible in allowing providers to secure personalized PPE as well.”

The Obex mask is highly protective, the CEO said.

“The big difference in our mask and others is that a cloth or fabric mask prevents only other people from being infected,” Satterfield said. “Ours prevents you from being infected and you from infecting others.”

Using innovation, high tech to fight coronavirus

Obex combines custom-molded silicone with high-tech 3D printing to make a “100% impermeable” mask.

The inventive design is the brainchild of Satterfield, who, at 25, is a rising star at the Birmingham “think tank” Innovation Depot. A biomedical engineer who makes custom 3D-printed knee and wrist braces, Satterfield went through dozens of material suppliers, custom processes and mask designs to reach the final product decisions with Sunkavalli. The comfortable, medical-grade protection is customizable for every business or customer preference, they said.

In March, Satterfield and Sunkavalli saw the need for PPE looming on the horizon. Sunkavalli recognized mask safety as an emergent need for the medical community and public. He and Satterfield talked with many doctors and nurses about the national shortage of face masks and the problems faced by those wearing them 8 to 12 hours a day.

Sunkavalli’s wife, Pallavi, is an ER physician and site medical director at Coosa Valley Medical Center in Sylacauga. “As a physician, it’s close to my heart to help out as much as possible, to keep everyone safe,” he said.

From a medical view, Satterfield saw that it made sense to stop transmission through face masks.

“The safety of ventilators was a big question mark in my mind,” said Satterfield, a University Innovation Fellow who earned a B.S. in biomedical engineering at UAB in 2018. “I’m a big believer in design thinking.

“Design thinking requires you to exist in an ambiguous state,” said Satterfield, who formed Satterfield Technologies in 2014. “I made no assumptions about what the solution should be or that I fully understood the problem we were solving. By interviewing people from different points of view – doctors, nurses, front-line workers – I created a solid definition for what problem we were solving and how our users needed us to solve it.”

Satterfield rapidly built prototypes of masks and got them into user’s hands, recorded feedback and made new masks based on comments. He repeated this until reaching a point where initial users were satisfied.

“What we immediately assume about health care is that the best, universal way to do something is already being used,” he said. “But there are lots of design problems in health care. A lot of times, people are focused on the solution rather than the problem.”

Birthing the Obex mask

Satterfield’s office at Innovation Depot already had 3D scanners and printers for making state-of-the-art braces. Those were used to help produce face masks with the tailor-made fit. Customers with an iPhone X or newer model can download the Bellus3D Face App from the App Store. They can select the “Face+Neck” option, then take a scan and unlock it for .99 cents. They can then export an HD version of the picture to Obex. Customers can schedule a 3D scan at the Obex Health Office at Innovation Depot, or an Obex employee can perform 3D scans for several people at a home or business for a small fee.

Obex makes masks in many colors and can add a corporate logo to the front cover. Each N95 filter lasts one week, which saves money. For those with a high-exposure risk needing more frequent filter replacements – health providers, teachers and customer-facing employees – Obex Health has a discounted subscription plan that automatically ships filters.

The high-grade silicone rim makes the mask easy to wear, Sunkavalli said. The mask clings to the face because it’s made for that person. There’s no bunching or gaps around the sides to allow entry of COVID-19, he said.

“The silicone we use is designed to be worn a very long time,” Sunkavalli said. “They’re also practical. You can disinfect them with soap and water every day. The filter only has to be replaced weekly.”

Finding a protective mask for children is a challenge, said Sunkavalli, whose kids are 7 and 9.

“With a custom mask, no matter how small or large the face – you always have a perfect fit,” Sunkavalli said.

The Obex mask is receiving positive feedback as demand grows for the product made with materials from America.

Creations whose time has come

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the need to protect one’s family – and self – is ever-present.

Hess said her Obex mask – in Vanderbilt University colors – provides a “unique opportunity to be prepared.”

“I don’t think that COVID-19 is going to go away anytime soon,” said Hess, who with her husband, Dr. Erik Hess, trained at and then practiced on faculty at the Mayo Clinic for 15 years. “Wearing a mask can go a long way toward keeping the people of Alabama from contracting this disease.”

For Satterfield, the desire to keep his community safe is personal. His parents – deemed high-risk for their ages and because his father has Parkinson’s disease – wear Obex masks.

His parents live in Huntsville, but, even though he wants to see them, he won’t go home, he said. “The risks are too high. It’s really difficult.”

In the meantime, Satterfield gives back by devoting his life to the mission of Obex, often working 14 hours or more each day.

This young entrepreneur is dreaming of more ways to protect the public by providing state-of-the-art face masks and braces.

“I’ve always had it in mind to be an entrepreneur,” Satterfield said. “In biomedical engineering, none of my ideas had been done yet. I see Obex as being a Johnson & Johnson health care-style company with many product lines.”

For details about how to order an Obex mask, email Satterfield.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Alabama’s Valiant Cross Academy works to propel young men to greatness

(Valiant Cross Academy/Contributed)

The world’s next Nelson MandelaBryan Stevenson or Booker T. Washington might just hail from Montgomery, Alabama.

Indeed, a generation of remarkable young men is being trained at Valiant Cross Academy, where daily learning is steeped in discipline and self-worth. It seems fitting that the state capitol is home to a school that provides outstanding education while providing boys with strong values on which to build their lives.

Seeing the “many obvious problems that plagued the community,” brothers Anthony and Fred Brock started their all-boys school, Valiant Cross Academy, in 2015. The Brocks and their staff of 26 daily pour their love, caring and high expectations into the boys, and encourage them to dream big dreams.

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“My brother and I were so blessed to grow up with a great father,” said Anthony Brock, whose dad was a school principal for Montgomery Public Schools. “It’s a calling on my life to work with young men.”

Working in education for more than 20 years, Brock’s mission is to nurture young people. This year, Valiant Cross will set 280 students on the road to a good future. Young men entering 11th grade this year began as fifth-graders and will make up the school’s first graduating class in 2022.

“These boys are all gifted and talented,” said Brock, founder of the Brother2Brother and Sister2Sister mentoring program that meets in Montgomery and Autauga counties. “They just need someone in their community to lift them up. Valiant Cross Academy is a place where a lot of guys’ confidence grows by leaps and bounds.

“We just really love on them, intentionally,” he said. “The adults in the building tell them all day long that they love them. There’s an opportunity gap, not an achievement gap. We give them an opportunity – the first step is nurturing them.”

Not surprisingly, Valiant Cross Academy has a long wait list. With campuses in the heart of downtown – at 301 Dexter Ave. and at Troy University – this fully accredited private school puts a strong focus on ACT scores.

Their students will engage in virtual learning because of the pandemic. Classes start Aug. 10, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Valiant Cross has offerings not seen in public schools: a Korean language class; a Cisco networking component; a partnership with Troy University for dual enrollment; and a partnership with Red Tails Scholarship Foundation flight school in Tuskegee. Sports aren’t left out: Fred Brock leads the athletic program with Willie Spears serving as football coach and Tyrone Boleware returning to coach the junior varsity championship track team.

Last year, nine or 10 boys took part in the Red Tails flight program. Four Tuskegee University students came to Montgomery to train the boys, who must first pass the ground portion of the class. Two students have been up in the air but haven’t yet soloed.

“Only 2 percent of pilots are African American,” said Brock, who graduated from Lanier High School and Alabama State University. “We’ll have anywhere from 10 to 15 students attending flight class this year. I believe we’re doing our little part to help improve the big picture.”

Getting by with a little help from some friends

The Alabama Power Foundation in 2019 awarded Valiant Cross a grant to buy PowerSchool software, which can help better prepare students for college success. The school has already begun using the software to track admissions and attendance and provide transcripts for college applications. PowerSchool can be used to help students keep up with their grades, their grade point average and ACT scores. The academy also used the grant to buy books.

Alabama Power employees have helped, as well. Southern Division Chapter members of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) have assisted the academy with several projects.

“APSO has sent crews over to cook out with the kids and clean the buildings before school starts,” Brock said. “They go out and do different projects for us. … We really appreciate that.”

Brock said the school is always in fundraising mode. The academy’s spring fundraiser was canceled because of the pandemic, and Brock is planning a fall event that will feature Cisco Systems Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins.

Many students rely on scholarships through the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund and the Alabama Accountability Act, in which donors get a tax credit. Tuition is $6,500 for middle school and $8,000 for high school.

“We take part in the Accountability Act and a lot of guys get scholarships,” he said. The legislation provides funds to low-income students in kindergarten through 12th grade to go to a private school.

Summoning strength from on high

Everything that is done at Valiant Cross is done in an orderly fashion, and with purpose.

Brock said the staff receives “countless stories with good feedback from parents. Their young men become more respectful, they have more mature conversations and they have conversations about God.”

“We have what we call ‘Morning Village’ each morning,” he said. “That’s where we go into the church and do our mottos. The boys go up to the altar and pray and shake off any ‘cobwebs’ from home last night.”

As head of the academy, Brock daily stands with the boys as they repeat the school motto. Their message is “breathed out” in the building so much, he said, the beliefs are part of the kids: “We are Valiant Cross Academy. Our God is mighty. We will rise above with honor. We will rise above with discipline. We will rise above with integrity. We will rise above with excellence, and we will rise above with love. We are Valiant Cross Academy: in this place, young men will rise above.”

“We revisit all those five values throughout the day,” Brock said.

While he believes students at any school will do well with greater expectations, Valiant Cross sets a standard that will propel students to a higher destiny.

“I have an unwavering belief that Valiant Cross Academy will birth the next generation of great leaders,” he said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 months 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.

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“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)

9 months 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.

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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 9 months 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.

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“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)

10 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.

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“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 uab.edu/coronavirus.

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

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

(UAB/Contributed)

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.

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“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)

12 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’

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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)

12 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.

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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)

1 year 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.

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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)

1 year 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.

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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.

Gaston

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

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)