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 months ago

Introducing Birthday Stories from Facebook — including free doughnuts

(Flaticon, YHN)

Facebook wants to help you celebrate your birthday and the special birthdays of your loved ones in more creative, meaningful ways.

Over time, Facebook’s platform has become synonymous with sharing special life milestones, more specifically birthdays. How many times do you log on to your profile, receive the prompt from Facebook that one of your friends is enjoying the spoils of another trip around the sun and think: “Wow. I’m sure glad Facebook reminded me because I had no clue!”

Beginning today, you can celebrate your friend in an even more memorable way. Introducing: Birthday Stories from Facebook. After doing some intensive research and test trials, Facebook discovered that over 100 million people use Facebook Stories to share “everyday moments.” Realizing the impact audio-visual content has on its members, Facebook wanted to find a way to offer a more creative, authentic way for friends to connect and recognize one another’s birthdays.

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Going forward, users will have the ability to contribute to a friend’s “birthday story” by adding their own digital birthday cards, photos, videos or other creative content and Facebook will deliver all contributors’ content to the birthday guy or girl in the form of a “Birthday Story.”

It’s very easy to participate.

You can access the feature in one of three places: your Facebook home screen along the top, on Facebook’s daily birthday reminder page or on the person’s individual wall. Participants will have access to special filters, stickers and recording features to make their contribution to a birthday story even more special.

This feature is particularly unique because the content will only be available for 24 hours (keeping in tradition with regular story content), and the person celebrating has complete control over their own birthday story. The birthday person can manage visual controls, meaning they can limit who can contribute to their birthday story, as well as select the “approve story” option giving them complete editorial control over what is visible to their followers.

Facebook is so excited to share this new feature that they are traveling to 50 bakeries across the country to give away free treats for one special day. On May 10, Facebook will be in Homewood at local favorite, Hero Doughnuts, giving away free doughnuts. You can find out more information about the Facebook launch event here. All are invited to come and get a first look at the new birthday feature and celebrate with a free treat.
Click here to find all 50 participating bakeries.

Erin Brown Hollis covers faith and culture for Yellowhammer News. She is an author and host of the “Cheers to That!” podcast. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @erinbrownhollis.

3 months ago

Pardis Stitt is a 2019 Woman of Impact

(Cary Norton/Contributed)

Pardis Stitt is living proof that success is sweetest when earned after years of hard work and dedication.

She and her husband Frank are co-owners and operators of four renowned Birmingham restaurants, including the 2018 James Beard Award winning Highlands Bar and Grill. The restaurant earned its first James Beard Foundation Award nomination for Outstanding Restaurant in 2009, which Stitt recalls as “thrilling and terrifying at the same time.”

“We felt a great responsibility to ourselves and our community and pushed even harder to provide an incredible experience for our guests. Nine nominations later, we won,” Stitt said.

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Stitt’s hospitality, which has roots in her southern upbringing and Persian heritage, helps to set her restaurants apart. Her parents immigrated to the U.S in the late 1970s and she grew up in Birmingham’s community of Iranian families.

“Without her, the Highlands is not the Highlands,” Frank Stitt told The New York Times in 2013.

Upon winning the prestigious James Beard award, Pardis illustrated her humility by telling ABC 33/40, “It is just an honor for our staff, for our guests who come and see us night after night, week after week, month after month who have been supporting us and we’re just so happy to bring a medal home to Birmingham.”

Stitt reflects on the 2018 James Beard award as a nod to hard work and something that inspires her every day.

“Having our dedication to hospitality affirmed on a national level continues to motivate us,” she shared with Yellowhammer News.

In addition to Highlands Bar and Grill, the Stitts own Bottega Restaurant, Bottega Cafe and Chez Fon Fon. The Stitt restaurants are truly icons in Birmingham’s Southside community and have become some of the country’s most sought after dining destinations. While the food is exceptional, guests know the Stitt restaurants for their exceptional service and unique dining room experiences. Pardis focuses on the front-of-house operations and makes all guests feel welcome.

“We want this to be a respite for our guests,” Pardis explained. “No matter what’s happened outside these walls, you may have had a difficult day at work. You may have had a disagreement with your significant other. But when you walk through our doors, we want this to be a place of beauty and of rest and peace. So, if we can create a little happiness in someone’s day, that’s really what we strive for.”

When not entertaining guests at her restaurants, Stitt enjoys gardening with her husband Frank at their farm about forty miles outside of Birmingham. She stays extremely active in the community serving as board member of the Pepper Place Farmers Market. She is a founding member of the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and a former board member of the Southern Foodways Alliance. She also remains active in the SFA and is passionate about their mission to document and celebrate the diverse food cultures of the American South.

Stitt enjoys volunteering for Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF), a community based, nonprofit teaching farm in the heart of downtown Birmingham.

“Jones Valley Teaching Farm is important to me. I’ve watched the evolution of this organization from its early years as an urban farm to the teaching farm it is today, providing transformative lessons for thousands of students in the Birmingham City School system each year. A new challenge this year is the Ready to Grow Campaign, which will allow a permanent structure to be built on the downtown farm, providing even more opportunities for students to be positively impacted. I’m proud to serve as co-chair for this exciting campaign,” she shared with Yellowhammer News.

Amanda Storey, executive director of JVTF, said about her, “Pardis has been a thoughtful champion of our work at Jones Valley Teaching Farm since its inception. Not only is she one of our loyal customers at Pepper Place Farmers Market every Saturday, she also lends her talents, expertise, and passion for our food-based education program, Good School Food. She has believed in and contributed to our work in so many amazing ways. Pardis Stitt is a volunteer who is always willing to go the extra mile and to do the hard work. Pardis and Frank are Birmingham’s culinary leaders and Jones Valley Teaching Farm would not be who we are today without their vision for what our community could be with food as the foundation.”

Stitt values challenging herself and mentoring others, counting them as some of the most significant aspects of her success. “I believe valuable traits of successful women are always showing-up prepared; being respectful of others; showing compassion; and challenging yourself every day. It’s also important to find a mentor, as well as being a mentor,” she shared with Yellowhammer News.

When reflecting on what she wishes to leave as a legacy for future generations, Stitt shared the following inspirational words: “Surround yourself with the best and the brightest—they will inspire you. Don’t take yourself too seriously and have a sense of humor. Observe and listen and embrace conflict and change. I’ve also learned it is okay to show my vulnerabilities, as it provides an opportunity for others to relate and allows us to search for solutions together.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Pardis Stitt a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

Erin Brown Hollis covers faith and culture for Yellowhammer News. She is an author and host of the “Cheers to That!” podcast. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @erinbrownhollis.

3 months ago

Mary Wyatt is a 2019 Woman of Impact

(Wyatt Builds/Contributed)

Mary Wyatt has chosen to live her life with grace and gratitude after surviving personal tragedy. She is CEO and owner of Wyatt General Contractor, LLC (WGC). However, Mary did not grow up dreaming of working in the construction business.

WGC was founded in 2012 by Mary’s late husband, John Wyatt, who had learned the construction business from his father, Gary. With his father by his side, John grew WGC steadily from 2012 until August 2015. On August 27, 2015, John told Mary he was going to the Shelby County Airport to practice some maneuvers in his single-engine airplane. Devastatingly, John never returned home that evening.

At the age of 38, John died in an airplane accident just south of the Shelby County Airport runway leaving behind Mary and their two daughters. Before the fatal plane crash, John often used the construction company to help those affected by natural disasters. Wyatt was determined to continue John’s legacy by turning her focus to building the family business.

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“I went from being a stay at home mom to owning a commercial construction company in the blink of an eye. We were four months into a $13 million hotel in Five Points and just two weeks after John’s death I broke ground on a church he had negotiated earlier in the summer. I was committed to seeing these projects through to completion and knew our team had all the expertise needed to make it happen,” Wyatt shared with Yellowhammer News.

Wyatt’s story perfectly illustrates the promise of hope in the face of tragedy and grief.  She diligently made it her mission to learn the construction business from the ground up. Her efforts paid off as WGC won new projects to keep the company open, including the UAB policy headquarters.

Mary said, “That was just incredible. Leading up to that job, I was going to do everything I could and let the Lord do the rest. I knew then we were going to make it.”

The stability and success that WGC has experienced over the last several years is truly a testimony to John’s legacy and Mary’s leadership. As a woman-owned general contractor, she looks to grow the company’s footprint while broadening community involvement. Mary was named a Future Leader in Construction for Associated Builders & Contractors of Alabama (ABC of AL) and one of the BBJ’s Fast Track 30, which also named WGC the 10th fastest growing company in Birmingham.

Jay Reed, president of ABC of AL, said regarding Mary, “It is exciting to watch Mary Wyatt make her mark in the industry.  She is becoming a key player in construction and earning it the old fashion way-work ethic, compassion for others and excelling at customer service.  In our industry your word is your bond and Mary understands that and operates in that manner. While Mary could easily have chosen simpler paths, she didn’t. She decided to go with her heart and mind and the results are before us today, success. I’ve enjoyed watching her find her place and earn her seat at the ‘leaders table’ of commercial contractors. That’s not easily done in construction, in Alabama and as a female. What an amazing story she has.”

Mary is a member of the National Association of Women in Construction, Associated Builders and Contractors Young Professionals, Women Business Leaders (WBL) and the Lovelady Auxiliary.

“The first time I ever shared my story was in front of the Loveladies. Looking out and seeing a room filled with women who were doing the hard work required to be their very best despite incredible obstacles was inspiring and uplifting!” Wyatt shared with Yellowhammer News.

Wyatt often reflects on her faith as the primary force driving her success. Colleagues across town recognize the way Wyatt lives out her faith on a daily basis as well.

Amy Patillo, executive director of WBL, said, “Mary is an extraordinary woman of faith. Several years ago, the Lord entrusted her with intense grief and a unique leadership role. Rather than shrinking back, Mary relied on her faith to give her supernatural wisdom and resolve. Through her leadership, Mary has preserved her husband’s legacy both personally and professionally.”

When reflecting on the legacy she wishes to leave, Wyatt shared with Yellowhammer News, “I recognize that I have been handed a tremendous opportunity through very unfortunate circumstances. It has been my prayer since my husband died three years ago, that this pain and heartache would not be wasted. Making the most of my life, as a mother, friend, and business owner has been my greatest desire. Not allowing tragedy to define me in negative terms, but rather changing me for the better.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Mary Wyatt a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

3 months ago

Neeysa Biddle is a 2019 Woman of Impact

(UAB/Contributed)

Neeysa Biddle is uniquely familiar with the level of sacrifice and dedication required to leave a substantial legacy. She has spent her career focused on advancing the care of the chronically ill and compromised. At an early age, she fell in love with healthcare as a radiology report transcriber and worked hard to finance her education to progress in the field.

Biddle spent the first 25 years of her career in health information management. She received her B.S. degree in Health Administration from the University of Alabama, a decision she says left a definable impact on her family.

“Sacrifices were made so that I could go back to school full-time and the jobs that followed were miles away from the home base.  But the sacrifices were evidence to our sons of the value of and appropriate timing of one’s college education,” Biddle shared with Yellowhammer News.

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Following graduation from graduate school and completion of the required residency, Biddle’s career skyrocketed, as she was named the vice-president of operations at Medical Center East in 1992 and later progressed to chief operating officer of St. Vincent’s Healthcare System in 2005.

In 2011, Biddle attempted to retire by working from home for Ascension – St. Vincent’s Health System’s parent. During that time, she helped create the National Ascension Leadership Academy, a highlight of her career as she had always wanted to be a teacher.

“This period was just so much fun!  I enjoyed interacting with national thought leaders on healthcare reform to shape the curriculum of the Academy and interacting with young executives from across the nation as they completed that course of study,” Biddle shared.

In 2014, she received an unexpected phone call from Ascension asking if she would return to St. Vincent’s in the CEO position, due to an unanticipated vacancy. She served as CEO for three years working to stabilize the leadership team and recruit a new leader. After orienting the new CEO, Biddle went to the 13-hospital system in Austin, TX, where she provided interim leadership during a period of transition and change.

As an advocate for others, Biddle is familiar with battling limitations in the corporate world. She promises not to give up her fight to ensure a brighter tomorrow for career women in our state and beyond.

“Being an encourager and supporter of women is extremely important to me, and I feel I have the responsibility to continue in the role of advocate.  I survived in a male-dominated field and did see some growing acceptance of women and the gifts they bring to leadership.  But, there is still much to do to bring about equality both personally and professionally, and it is my responsibility to make that happen,” Biddle shared.

Mrs. Biddle has been married to her high school classmate, Tommy Biddle, for 53 years. They share two sons and are overjoyed with their expanding family. It is one of her greatest joys to watch her four grandchildren grow up. Aside from spending time with her family, Biddle enjoys gardening – calling it her passion – especially in the beautiful Spring weather.

Biddle spends a great deal of time using her talents to inspire others. The American Heart Association, the March of Dimes, American Cancer Society and the Komen Foundation are a few of the organizations very dear to her heart.

“The gift of being able to impact the lives of others in a positive way is, in my opinion, is the most meaningful of all contributions,” she told Yellowhammer News.

She loves volunteering at her church by teaching Sunday School, chairing the Administrative Council and leading the Discipleship Team. She also sings on the church’s music team and in Snead State Junior College’s Community Choir. She serves on the District Operations Team for the Mountain-Lakes District of the United Methodist Church and was a member of the inaugural class of Momentum, a women’s leadership group that continues to promote growth in leadership of the women across the state.

When reflecting on what she wishes to leave as a legacy for future generations, Biddle shared the following inspirational words: “Go for it!  Many of the limitations I experienced were self-imposed and resulted, to a large degree, from my lack of self-confidence.  My advice would be to stay open to possibilities.  Do not assume that you ‘can’t do something.’  One can do more than ever imagined if only willing to step through the door of possibility.  Be bold and prepare.  Become your very best self and the world will come to you!”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Neeysa Biddle a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

3 months ago

Katie Boyd Britt is a 2019 Woman of Impact

(BCA/Contributed)

Katie Boyd Britt is swiftly becoming the leading expert on breaking through barriers and paving the way for those to follow.

At the beginning of 2019, Britt was named the first female president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) – a prominent statewide association advocating for companies of all sizes across the state. She is also the youngest person to serve in that role in BCA’s history.

Britt is hopeful to make a difference by creating an environment that provides opportunities for people to better provide for their families.

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Britt’s rise to leadership at the BCA is not her first foray in breaking ground for female leaders. Prior to taking the reins at the BCA, Britt served as Senator Richard Shelby’s deputy press secretary and ultimately became his press secretary serving as the head of his press department. At the time, Britt was only 23 years of age, serving as the youngest press secretary on the Senate side of Capitol Hill.

As the daughter of two small business owners, Britt was a born Alabama leader.

After growing up in Enterprise, a place she fondly refers to as the “Wiregrass,” she attended the University of Alabama where she served as president of the Student Government Association and later received her law degree at the University of Alabama School of Law.

Following graduation, she practiced law at Butler Snow, LLP in both Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama. During her time at Butler Snow, she founded and led the firm’s Government Affairs practice in the state of Alabama, again showcasing her willingness to take on high levels of responsibility.

In November of 2015, she took a leave of absence to serve as deputy campaign manager and communications director for Senator Shelby’s most recent reelection campaign, which later turned into her role as his chief of staff – a role affording her the privilege to reach across party lines to successfully negotiate complex issues and legislation.

She served as Senator Shelby’s top advisor on all legal, policy, communications, strategy, leadership and campaign matters including all fundraising, leadership PAC and campaign operations. In her role, Britt directed long-term legislative strategy, plans and tactics, specifically surrounding Alabama appropriations issues.

Reflecting on her newest leadership role with the BCA, Britt says she is committed to promoting unity amongst Alabama business leaders for the betterment of the state.

“I am working to build coalitions and promote unity among the Alabama business community. I am also working to build bridges with elected officials and policy makers at the local, state, and federal levels to support pro-business, pro-economic growth policies that support all segments of Alabama’s economy, including industrial, commercial, small business, tech and health care entrepreneurs,” she shared with Yellowhammer News.

Britt has truly hit the ground running at the BCA. In the most recent special legislative session in Montgomery, she helped spearhead the bi-partisan passage of Governor Kay Ivey’s Rebuild Alabama Act.

She was so instrumental throughout the process that Tim Howe, editor and owner of Yellowhammer News, named her hiring at the BCA as one of four events leading to the passage of Rebuild Alabama.

This legislation was the State’s first investment into infrastructure since the early 1990s. As Britt stated in the BCA’s press release on the date of passage, “Today is a terrific day for the State of Alabama. … The quality of our infrastructure system affects everyone, every single day.  From safety to jobs and prosperity, we know that the road to our future must be paved, and now it will be.”

Outside of her corporate presence, Britt is committed to making a difference in her community.

“Some of my most rewarding community work was as a member of the YWCA Central Alabama Junior Board serving women, children, and families. As a mother, the mission of the YWCA, providing shelter, dignity, hope and a strong foundation to women, children and families in adverse circumstances is vitally important to me. Day in and day out, the YWCA Central Alabama truly makes a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable in the Birmingham area, and I was proud to work alongside so many caring, committed and generous individuals,” she told Yellowhammer News.

Britt is grateful to be among an incredible group of women making a difference in the state of Alabama. She recognizes the need for women to lead with determination and cut a trail for those who will follow.

“As a whole, recognizing the personal and professional accomplishments of women helps to broaden the horizon of what a little girl thinks she can accomplish. A woman who never underestimates herself will always make an impact. A woman of impact not only leads but brings others along with her,” Britt said.

As a mom to young children, Britt prioritizes the special time she spends at home with her family.

“Being a wife and a mom to two young children, my hobbies these days tend to be watching youth soccer games, going to Little League baseball practice, and making slime with my daughter. As anyone with a career, you are focused on your job and your work, so I try to be present with my children because the time flies. It is something I make my highest priority,” she said.

When asked to share some words of wisdom for the generation of young women rising to leadership behind her, Britt shared the following with Yellowhammer News: “You are only as good as your word, and you can’t be afraid to come to the table to advocate for the needs of those you serve. Your opponent on one issue may very well be your ally on the next. While you need to fight hard and adhere to your goals, treating people with respect goes a long way. Never underestimate yourself. Don’t let society place boundaries on you. No matter your position, find a way to make a positive impact on those around you.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Katie Boyd Britt a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

3 months ago

Dr. Rebecca Boohaker is a 2019 Woman of Impact

(R. Boohaker/Contributed)

In a quiet lab in downtown Birmingham, a team of scientists are engaged on the front lines of one of the world’s most deadly battles — the battle against cancer.

Right at the center of that war is Dr. Rebecca Boohaker.

As an assistant fellow in the oncology department at Southern Research, an organization that has already been involved in the discovery of seven FDA-approved cancer drugs, Boohaker’s lab continues to build upon that success through a commitment to creating generational change within the science community and beyond.

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Founded in 1941, Southern Research (SR) is an independent, nonprofit, scientific research organization with more than 400 scientists and engineers. SR supports the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, defense, aerospace, environmental and energy industries through the pursuit of entrepreneurial and collaborative initiatives to develop and maintain a pipeline of intellectual property and innovative technologies that positively impact real-world problems.

Solving real-world problems is what fuels Dr. Boohaker. What began as a love for research, quickly developed into a passion after she became directly impacted by the cruel effects of cancer when her grandmother and aunt were both diagnosed.

Like so many others, she watched as the diagnosis changed their lives in ways she wouldn’t wish on anyone. Her grandmother worked through a “brutal,” yet successful, treatment plan, but her aunt lost her life to breast cancer several years after her original diagnosis due to a lack of advancement in treatment at the time.

Dr. Boohaker recalls those experiences shaping her career path in a meaningful way.

“Thankfully, my grandmother lived a long life into her 90s without recurrence,” she said. “But after my aunt’s passing, my research shifted from basic science to a disease-based approach. That tragedy gave purpose to everything we were doing in the lab. In my capacity as a cancer biologist working in drug discovery, I have learned that understanding why something is broken – a pathway, a protein, a gene – is so critical in the rational design of the fix.”

Dr. Boohaker’s love for science began in early childhood. Rather than playing with dolls and coloring books, she recalls her mother and aunt equipping her with pocket microscopes and chemistry sets.

Her interest in science grew when she had the opportunity to learn from Dr. John Kearney as a student at John Carroll High School. Dr. Kearney said, “I’d say that what struck me the most was that Rebecca had a very well-developed work ethic at a very early age/career stage.”

Dr. Boohaker’s experiences in the John Carroll lab led her to study biology and chemistry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and later obtain her graduate degree from the University of Central Florida.

Dr. Boohaker joined Southern Research in 2013 to complete her postdoctoral fellowship. In 2016, she became a research scientist in the Oncology Department within the Drug Discovery division. She is currently interested in investigating the processes by which cancer cells exploit their own regulatory machinery to promote tumorigenesis as a means to develop novel therapeutics.

For Boohaker, diversity is a crucial element for success.

“That’s where my success in my education and career has come from: working in a diverse environment where multiple perspectives contribute to solutions. So many of my experiences, from learning under the great Ada Long at the UAB University Honors Program to working at Southern Research, have been reinforced by a philosophy that different perspectives open the door to better solutions,” she shared with Yellowhammer News.

Art Tipton, Southern Research president and CEO, said about Dr. Boohaker, “Rebecca is emerging as a significant oncology scientist for Southern Research as part of our notable cancer research efforts.  The discovery of seven FDA-approved cancer drugs cemented SR as a national and global resource in this field and I am enthusiastic about the role Rebecca is playing to further our ongoing advancements.  Her research program, interests and accomplishments without a doubt make her one of our state’s Women of Impact and I am proud to have her as part of our organization.”

When asked about her personal life, she shared about the joys of teaching an annual immunology class at John Carroll and preserving time for her family with a special beach trip each summer. She applied to the NASA astronaut program making it all the way to the second tier but says rejection from NASA was the “coolest rejection letter” she’s ever received.

In her spare time, Dr. Boohaker said she enjoys the Star Wars franchise and even builds lightsabers as a hobby.

“Carrie Fisher is a personal hero and Princess Leia is the best Disney Princess,” Boohaker stated.

Reflecting on the notion of making an impact in our community, Dr. Boohaker mentioned her gratitude for several people who made an impact on her life, saying, “When I think about the women of impact in my own life, I think of my mother and her sisters who all immigrated to the U.S. and found success through their own determination, and their willingness to outwork anyone.”

“I also think of the late Janet Houghton, a pioneer in cancer research and a woman of impact in her own right, who came to Southern Research in 2016 and was so supportive of me and my fledgling career – so supportive that she essentially willed her lab to me before her passing. If I were to try to encapsulate the traits of these women that I emulate, I would say that a Woman of Impact is persistent in the pursuit of a goal and maintains a vision of positive change to her community in achieving that goal,” she told Yellowhammer News.

Dr. Boohaker wishes to share some inspirational words with the next generation of leaders following in her footsteps: “Whether or not it’s in the classroom, any opportunity to learn has value, and even in failure, when the path to success isn’t always clear, there is always a way to a solution.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Dr. Rebecca Boohaker a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

3 months ago

Judy Ryals is a Yellowhammer News 2019 Woman of Impact

(J. Ryals/Contributed)

Judy Ryals is paving the way for a brighter future in Huntsville, Alabama.

The Huntsville/Madison area has experienced tremendous growth and success, particularly in the travel and hospitality industry over the past few years. Serving as the president/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Judy Ryals is one of the most influential leaders impacting the growth.

Ryals joined the Bureau in 1978 and is the longest serving director of a tourism bureau in the State of Alabama. But her impact in the industry goes well beyond the Huntsville region. Over the course of her career, there is little in Alabama’s tourism sector she has not touched.

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Ryals has been appointed by six governors to serve on the Advisory Board of the Alabama Tourism Department due to her success in promoting the Huntsville/Madison areas. She currently serves as the chairman and was one of the first females to serve as a board member of the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus, which is now Destination Marketing Association International.

Ryals has served on a number of statewide boards, including the Alabama Council of Association Executives, Alabama Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus and Alabama Travel Council. She received the state’s top award and was inducted into the Alabama Tourism Hall of Fame, the first CVB representative to receive this award.

The Huntsville/Madison County CVB was chosen as the organization of the year by the Alabama tourism industry, as well as by Alabama Mountain Lakes Association, the north Alabama regional tourism marketing organization.

She is a graduate of the University of Alabama where she received a degree in public relations in 1976. Mrs. Ryals, an Alabama native, is married to Davis Ryals, Jr. and they have two sons.

She finds it especially satisfying to make a difference and improve the quality of life for the community in which she lives, works and plays. In a recent article, she points specifically to “the expansion at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the growth of Huntsville Museum of Art and the emergence of the old textile factory at Lowe Mill into a nationally recognized arts and entertainment area,” as improvements she sees paying dividends.

Regarding the growth and success of Huntsville/Madison, Ryals states, “Looking back, it becomes evident that much of our success as a city is due to our ability to rise to the challenge of change, to recognize the need for growth and to embrace it”.

When asked about Mrs. Ryals, the leaders in the Huntsville/Madison area praise her leadership and service.

Mayor Tommy Battle said, “Judy Ryals has been one of the City’s most active and dedicated leaders.  Through her role championing Huntsville as a prime tourist destination, Judy has elevated our brand throughout the Southeast and the world.”

Similarly, Chairman of the Madison County Commission Dale Strong states, “For more than 40 years, Judy Ryals has been a leader in executing a distinct vision to not only grow tourism in our region but to also position Huntsville and Madison County as the premier tourist destination in the State of Alabama.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Mrs. Judy Ryals a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

3 months ago

Dr. Michele Kong is a 2019 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

(UAB/Contributed)

Dr. Michele Kong has dedicated her life to serving others.

In her own words, “Service is the foundation of our life, our people, our community.  Ultimately everything is about service. Service is what connects you to the next person. Service should be at the core of everything we do.”

She is an associate professor in Pediatric Critical Care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama.

In 2015, she was selected the junior faculty recipient of the Dean’s Excellence Award for Service, which recognizes contributions made by faculty across the UAB School of Medicine. This honor was due to her service to the autistic community with the nonprofit she and her husband co-founded, KultureCity.

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Kong and her husband’s passion for autism acceptance began when their son, Abram, was diagnosed with autism at age four. Recognizing the needs of families impacted by autism, they felt the challenges that so many experience and immediately began working to create permanent inclusive spaces.

KultureCity is an impact-driven nonprofit founded in 2013 in Birmingham with the mission to create a world where all individuals with autism and their families can be accepted and treated equally. KultureCity fundamentally believes that these children are not limited by their diagnosis and deserve a future without limits. The programs reflect the mission which is “to change the culture on how autism is viewed in our world today.”

To accomplish KultureCity’s mission of awareness and acceptance, Kong’s relationships and partnerships have been key. These include local organizations like the Birmingham Zoo, the McWane Center and the Alys Stephens Center, as well as national groups like the NBA and NFL.

The impact of the organization can be seen well beyond Alabama. In 2019, KultureCity was ranked fourth on Fast Company’s list of the most innovative companies in the world.

The recognition is well deserved, considering the scope and impact of the solutions the organization offers to families affected by autism.  Solutions such as lifeBoks, technology-centered products designed to prevent wandering and wandering-related accidents. Or, the Sensory Inclusive certification program and app that partners with major events and venues across the country to create experiences that can be enjoyed by all.

Each year the organization hosts The KultureBall, a fundraising gala that draws hundreds of attendees, including professional athletes such as Dwight Howard, Tiki Barker and Tracy Johnson.

Kong credits her parents and her humble upbringing for her incredible work ethic and passion. She was exposed to great poverty in her home country of Malaysia. Her mother was a school teacher and her father started vocational training schools which required a great deal of travel.  Kong said, “Traveling so much exposed me to the diversity that exists in our world.”

Not unfamiliar with defying the odds as well as valuing education, Kong did her pre-medical studies in Australia and worked hard to receive a scholarship to attend medical school at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.

As fate would have it, she met her husband Julian Maha, also a physician, on a flight from Malaysia to Calgary.  They were both attending medical school there but had never met before that flight. Following a residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, she came to Birmingham in 2005 for a critical care fellowship and was recruited by UAB.

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Dr. Michele Kong a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

3 months ago

Melanie Bridgeforth is a 2019 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

(UA/Contributed)

Melanie Bridgeforth has dedicated her career to fighting for equitable systems that impact vulnerable populations.

She is drawn to organizations who are disrupters for change including The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham and VOICES for Alabama’s Children. “Both [organizations] I’ve had the privilege to lead after admiring from afar. Women and children are the most vulnerable populations in any society,” Bridgeforth shared with Yellowhammer News.

An exchange with a professor in college spurred a burning mission in Bridgeforth’s heart to change her community. When asked about her future plans, Bridgeforth expressed her sole desire was to “change the world.” Her professor responded without missing a beat, ‘Then you must change policy.” Those simple words struck a match that would light a path to servant leadership in a career that has spanned from direct service to systems change, from local to national stages, and from neighborhoods to boardrooms.

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Since March 2018, Bridgeforth has served as the president/CEO of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham – the state’s only philanthropic foundation investing with a gender focus. Their mission states, “The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham accelerates economic opportunity for women and their families through philanthropy, research and advocacy.”

Tracey Morant Adams, TWF chair-elect and chief community development officer at Renasant Bank, says “Melanie Bridgeforth is a remarkable champion for women and families in our community as leader of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham.  She works diligently to advance solutions to women’s issues in our state through innovative and creative strategies which promote effective fund development and policy legislation.  We are thrilled to have her expertise at The Women’s Fund.”

Bridgeforth works with community stakeholders to bolster opportunities for women to thrive. She believes that everyone benefits when women are economically secure. Bridgeforth and her team identify critical needs of women and then find direct-service organizations that can help address those needs.

As a philanthropist, Ms. Bridgeforth studies evidence-based programming policy and programs that can solve complex social problems. She also spends time studying trends on giving and has discovered patterns which point to a need to invest in women.

“What we see is that in modern day, women are at the forefront of philanthropic engagement and impact, which is to be applauded. Yet, those same giving patterns demonstrate that less than 7% of U.S. philanthropy targets benefiting the lives of women and girls. Gender impact investing has immense potential for positive social change, not only for women, but for their families and communities. It lifts everyone. Everywhere I go, I encourage people to give and target your gift in a way that lifts all ships. Investing in women produces that outcome,” she told Yellowhammer News.

Prior to taking the helm at the Women’s Fund, Bridgeforth was executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s children, where she led a transformation of public policy and doubled its operating budget. She also has prior service as government relations director with the American Heart Association and involvement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Bridgeforth is a founding member of the board of Partnership for America’s Children, and she is on the national steering committee for the KIDS COUNT network, an advisory council of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Her current and past board memberships include Preschool Partners, Project Horseshoe Farm and the Chemical Addictions Program. She is a member of the Rotary Club of Birmingham and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. She is also a dedicated volunteer at the American Heart Association and member of First United Methodist in downtown Birmingham.

A native of Athens, Melanie is a fifth-generation Alabamian. She credits her parents, John and Catherine Bridgeforth, as the two greatest catalysts and contributors to her success. She is a graduate of the University of Alabama, where she earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees.

When asked what legacy she hopes to leave for future female leaders, Bridgeforth would like to invite them to the table.

“As a young lobbyist starting off in Montgomery, one of my dearest mentors taught me, ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’ Wise words that stick with me to this day. So, for me, the Woman of Impact award signifies that in some way each of us and those who will follow are ‘at the table,’” she shared with Yellowhammer News.

Once at the table, Bridgeforth has some encouraging words for those who will follow in her footsteps of inspiring change: “Be fearless and don’t sit on an iota of your privilege. Use any influence you have for the common good. And never give in to scarcity mentality, as you create your path to greatness, build a sturdy bridge so that other women can follow. There’s enough room for all of us at the top, and if there’s not — make room.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Melanie Bridgeforth a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

3 months ago

Dawn Bulgarella is a Yellowhammer 2019 Woman of Impact

(UAB/Contributed)

Dawn Bulgarella recognizes the value of continued learning and willingness to adapt to changes in her industry as key factors in effective leadership. Bulgarella serves as the CFO of the UAB Health System and senior associate dean of administration and finance at the School of Medicine.

Bulgarella has over 25 years of experience in operations and finance. Prior to serving UAB, she received her undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Alabama and Master’s in Healthcare Administration from UAB. She is a licensed CPA in the state of Alabama and was previously employed with the Ernst & Young accounting firm. She recalls observing how her colleagues in the private sector handled stressful moments with poise as well as their willingness to mentor others as leaving a lasting impact and shaping how she serves in her career.

Today, Dawn Bulgarella is responsible for combined budgets nearing $3 billion. She monitors the financial status of UAB’s budget and provides oversight of the financial performance of departments, including a 1,157-bed public teaching hospital, the only specialty hospital in the state focusing on eye care and a faculty practice plan of an estimated 1,300 employed physicians. She uses her skills and experience gained from serving in all areas of accounting to maximize performance across UAB Medicine.

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As a liaison for the medical school, Dawn has cultivated and deepened relationships across the entire campus by participating in the recruitment of department chairs and senior leaders. She remains highly engaged as a member of multiple organizational boards and committees. She is a liaison and general business officer to the Association of American Medical Colleges Group on Business Affairs.

Bugarella has experience in adjusting and adapting to industry changes for the betterment of UAB. When asked how she adapts to those changes she said, “The industry has experienced tremendous change over [her 25 years with the organization], particularly with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. To be effective in the area of healthcare finance, it now takes a knowledge base of more than just ‘debits and credits.’ Having skills or expertise in operational and workforce challenges, insurance reimbursement, strategic planning and even consumerism are almost a necessity.”

Outside of Mrs. Bulgarella’s incredible leadership at UAB, she values giving back.

“My husband, Joe, and I are members of the Tocqueville Society of the United Way of Central Alabama. We are firm believers in giving back to others and this allows us the opportunity to both direct funding to a variety of charities as well as provide opportunities for “hands on” volunteer activities,” Bulgarella told Yellowhammer News.

She credits years of experience coupled with valuable mentors for her success.

“My years of experience are helpful, but the wisdom and guidance of the strong leadership team of Drs. Ray Watts, Selwyn Vickers and Will Ferniany are what has really helped me in tackling challenges and participating in leading our enterprise forward,” she said.

Bulgarella’s love for her family is evident as she shared, “The love and support of my husband and children have allowed me the career success that I have achieved. Having a successful career as a wife and mother is a balancing act. My family has kept me grounded and encouraged me along the way. They deserve the recognition more than I do!”

Bulgarella feels honored and inspired when reflecting on the Woman of Impact designation.

“When I think about a Woman of Impact, I think about someone that moves things forward, someone that works to make a difference, someone that positively influences others. I think about a woman that is paving the future for other women.  Within UAB Medicine, it is my role to solve problems, to find a way to ‘yes’ when faced with financial challenges, to support the important work of our faculty and staff. I am grateful for the support of these individuals and that of our board members in allowing me to serve in this role,” she told Yellowhammer News.

When asked how she would guide future female leaders, Bulgarella shared, “I think the best advice may be the simple things that we’re taught from our earliest years: do the right thing, treat each other well, live a life you can be proud of. Specific to pursuing a career path, I would advise young women to seek out companies or organizations where they can see other women succeeding. Once you’re there, actively seek mentorship to help recognize opportunities for personal growth and identify personal ‘blind spots.’”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Mrs. Dawn Bulgarella a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

3 months ago

Dr. Martina Bebin is a 2019 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

(Child Neurology Foundation/Contributed)

Dr. Martina Bebin fights for those unable to fight for themselves – in the fight for their lives. As a professor of neurology at UAB and a pediatric neurologist at North Alabama Children’s Specialists in Huntsville, Dr. Bebin spends her days caring for the youngest and most impressionable minds in our state.

She strives to make a difference in the future of neurological care. Serving on the Board of Directors for the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance and as the co-director of the UAB Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC) clinic, Dr. Bebin oversees the comprehensive care of individuals suffering from a rare, multi-system genetic disease that causes benign tumors to form in vital organs.

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Despite the rarity of the disease, Dr. Bebin makes it one of her missions to contribute to advances in treatment for the 50,000 individuals in the United States and more than one million worldwide diagnosed with TSC.

In 2013, Dr. Bebin’s contribution to TSC research earned her the Manual R. Gomez award, an annual honor presented to the individual who has made significant breakthroughs in TSC research, from the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.

The award was particularly special for Dr. Bebin.  Dr. Gomez was instrumental in her career by encouraging her pursuit of pediatric neurology and served as her mentor during her residency at the Mayo Clinic.

“I have had tremendous mentors, specifically, Dr. Manuel Gomez, Dr. Fritz Dreifuss and Dr. David Standaert, throughout my career that provided me with unique opportunities and the encouragement to pursue clinical research ideas that could have tremendous impact for thousands of children with neurologic disabilities,” Bebin told Yellowhammer News.

In addition to her incredible work with TSC, Dr. Bebin is a member of the Department of Neurology and Epilepsy Center at UAB and a member of the Child Neurology Society Legislative Affairs Committee. Her primary research interest is the early identification of epilepsy in infants, particularly discovering new therapies and treatments for these children.

Most recently, Dr. Bebin has collaborated with HudsonAlpha to pinpoint a previously unknown case of a serious seizure disorder most common in babies, potentially opening the door to new diagnostic and treatment options for infants who show signs of epilepsy.

Dr. Bebin and other scientists worked to assemble enough cases to link their discoveries. The initial patient was enrolled in HudsonAlpha’s Clinical Exploratory Research (CSER) project. The project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, aims to identify the genetic causes of undiagnosed conditions.

Dr. Bebin recognizes the value of her UAB family for playing a large part in her path. When asked what factors contributed to her success she states, “The value of being on faculty at UAB for 25 years and developing the collaborative research efforts across an array of research disciplines within UAB, HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology and TSC Clinical Consortium.”

Outside of Dr. Bebin’s incredible contributions to neurology, she was a five-time All-American member of the Southern Methodist University (SMU) Women’s Swimming Team, where she obtained her undergraduate degree.

Dr. Bebin later earned her medical degree from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, her MPA from Harvard University, and completed her residency work at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine.

She also attributes her career achievements to a specific milestone on her educational journey.  Bebin took a mid-career step outside of medicine to pursue a Master’s degree at Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. This translated into a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowship in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee under the leadership of then Chairman Senator Mike Enzi.

“This step allowed me to develop a 360-degree perspective of healthcare and I can better serve my patients,” Bebin stated.

In addition to her skill in swimming, Dr. Bebin has been a “Vizsla enthusiast for over 20 years and loves all aspects of dog sports.” She and her husband, Rick, enjoy spending time hunting with their 2 Vizsla in North Alabama.

When asked about her support system, Dr. Bebin reflected on being told to ‘aim high and never give up’ by her parents.  “My fabulous parents provided structure, discipline and the steadfast encouragement to pursue [my] passions in life with humility and empathy,” she said.

Her love for her family is evident and Dr. Bebin values the true partnership she finds in her closest relationships, “Fred Bickley is my husband of over 20 years and we appreciate and encourage each other in our pursuits. My lovely sister, Mary Ellen Warner, is the best source of support, love and encyclopedic resource for all my questions.”

Dr. Bebin is grateful to be recognized among such an incredible group of women and looks forward to continuing her work on behalf of Alabama’s children.

“This is a tremendous honor and a wonderful surprise to be recognized with this group of accomplished women in our state. It is also a great motivator to continue to pursue my efforts to improve the lives of children in Alabama,” she said.

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Dr. Martina Bebin a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.  

Erin Brown Hollis is an author and speaker. Her latest book, The Remarkable Housewives of the Bible is available on Amazon. Follow Erin on Instagram @ErinBrownHollis ; Facebook  @ErinBrownHollis ; or Twitter @ErinBrownHollis.