The Wire

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

4 weeks ago

Hand in Paw learns new tricks to overcome COVID-19 challenges

(Hand in Paw/Contributed)

“Out of challenge comes great opportunity” has been the guiding principle for Hand in Paw as it navigates changes in operations due to COVID-19. Many nonprofits have had to shift the way they operate; some have closed their doors for good. The leadership and staff at Hand in Paw credit their success to a commitment to provide valuable programs and services and being willing to pivot.

Serving people of all ages across central Alabama, Hand in Paw provides animal-assisted therapy to help those in need deal with emotional and physical life challenges. Over the years, the organization has been supported by Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation.

When Gov. Kay Ivey mandated statewide health safety measures in March 2020, the Hand in Paw team shifted to working remotely and was no longer able to conduct programs in public. However, it quickly mobilized to put together a careful and intentional strategy to move forward during the pandemic. With schools moving to virtual learning, that strategy included a focus by Hand in Paw on literacy through its Sit, Stay, Read program.


Sit, Stay, Read was designed for struggling readers and provides a nonjudgmental atmosphere where students read aloud to a furry friend, helping the students gain confidence and improve skills. In its move to a virtual format, the student and therapy team work from a copy of the same book and interact over Zoom or Google Meet. Students who achieve their reading milestones are rewarded with a “paw-tographed” book from their therapy dog.

Luisa MacPherson is a therapy team volunteer for Sit, Stay, Read with her dog Mooc and works with students who speak English as a second language.

“Sometimes students may feel anxious about reading out loud in a language they are not familiar with,” said MacPherson. “But when they read to Mooc, that anxiety seems to melt away. The continuing practice they get reading to Mooc during our virtual visits will undoubtedly have a positive impact on their reading proficiency.”

 Kiersten Atkinson, Hand in Paw’s director of volunteers and programs, and her furry therapy partner Bhindi work virtually with Better Basics, a central Alabama literacy-focused nonprofit also supported by the Alabama Power Foundation, to tutor a second grade student each week. “Seeing ‘the light come on’ and being able to celebrate successes with him is incredible,” she said. “If you can just give kids the nudge they need and the support to stick with it, it helps tremendously to keep them interested and engaged.”

The Hand in Paw staff’s attitude toward change has proved that it’s never too late to learn “new tricks.” Staff, volunteers and even therapy dogs were more than willing to do the necessary training to learn how to conduct virtual therapy sessions. Before moving to virtual visits, teams recorded personalized videos for program partners to share with participants in schools, nursing homes and medical facilities. Therapy dogs were trained in new ways to engage and hold attention online equally as well as in-person.

Hand in Paw Executive Director Margaret Stinnett said, “I’ve been so inspired by the willingness of everyone to learn so they’re able to continue to help. Our volunteers have jumped right in to learn how to use the necessary technology and have adapted so well. It’s also not natural for a dog to sit in front of a laptop, but it was critical for engagement with our participants.”

Another major shift for Hand in Paw during the pandemic was in how to conduct fundraising efforts, the lifeblood for any nonprofit. “We had to do some out-of-the-box thinking,” said Development Director Ashley Foster. “We needed to come up with something totally new to raise the necessary funds and keep everyone safe in the process.”

Through the challenges came a great opportunity and “Tail Waggin’ Takeout” was created. Hand in Paw partnered with Tito’s Vodka and a local catering company to package an appetizer, wine and cocktail kit that was offered to donors at a drive-thru event on the Hand in Paw campus last August. More than 200 tickets were sold, and the positive feedback was through the roof.

“After our event, we saw a lot of other nonprofits starting to do similar things,” Foster said. “It felt great to know that we had come up with a safe alternative to our larger, in-person events that people really loved. It went so well that we held another cocktail kit drive-thru called ‘Paw-liday Spirits’ over the holidays.”

It was wins like these that the organization chose to focus on in its donation outreach and other communications. “We’re focusing on what we can do rather than our limitations,” said Brittany Filby, Hand in Paw director of communications. “People have been really excited to see how we’ve transitioned and have been happy to support us. With all of the negative things going on in the world, it’s been our goal to focus on the good.”

Up next for Hand in Paw will be its 11th annual Mutt Strut, a dog-friendly 5K and 1-mile fun run that will take place virtually April 17. The nonprofit will provide several dog-friendly race route options across Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, as well as curating music playlist options to make the virtual race experience even more fun for participants.

To register or learn more about Mutt Strut, visit

Hand in Paw staff members plan to spend the summer getting therapy teams and volunteers ready to resume in-person programming as soon as possible.

“We realize now more than ever that the world we live in really needs us,” Stinnett said. “Our focus is preparing for better days ahead.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

2021 Birmingham Heart Walk goes virtual

(Unsplash, YHN)

COVID-19 has forced many nonprofits to shift gears in their fundraising efforts and the American Heart Association (AHA) is no exception. The AHA’s 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk has been reimagined as a digital experience this year to maintain necessary safety protocols due to the ongoing pandemic.

Through the event design, AHA is striving to get more people moving in Birmingham while continuing to raise life-saving funds and keep participants safe in the process. The Birmingham Heart Walk is Saturday, June 12, from 9-11 a.m. and participants can walk from anywhere.

Leading up to the event, participants are encouraged to track their activity through the “Move More Challenge” using the free Heart Walk activity tracker app that can be downloaded from Apple or Google Play. Once registered, users have 30 days to log minutes, and any activity counts. Top movers and fundraisers will be recognized on Heart Walk day.


“The American Heart Association holds a special place in my heart,” said Southern Company Vice President of Technology David Coxwho will chair the walk for the second time. “They have done so much for my family and for my daughter, Emily, who was born with multiple congenital heart defects. I’m pleased to partner with this outstanding organization in their efforts help our community connect and stay active as we adapt to this virtual world.”

More than 600,000 Americans die each year from heart disease, and the risks have only been compacted by the pandemic. Among COVID-19 hospitalizations, 40% are heart or stroke patients, so this year, donations from the Heart Walk will help fast-track COVID-19 research and train front-line workers in addition to the many other research projects and resources funded by the AHA.

Fundraising and activities for the Heart Walk are beginning to ramp up as the warmer months approach.

“Now is the time to sign up, lace up and start fundraising for the 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk,” said Hannah Carroll, Heart Challenge director of the Birmingham AHA. “Signing up now ensures you won’t miss any of the fun this year, like Rally Days and our new activity tracker.”

On Feb. 18, Cox hosted a virtual kickoff for business leaders in the Birmingham area who will be fielding teams at this year’s Heart Walk. He encouraged counterparts to begin their fundraising efforts by saying, “We’re here for a reason – to fight for a world of longer, healthier lives.”

To view Emily’s story, click here. To learn more about the 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk or to create a team, click here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Alabama’s Workshops Inc. rebrands as Workshops Empowerment Inc.

(Workshops Empowerment Inc./Contributed)

Workshops Inc., a staple in the Birmingham nonprofit world for more than 120 years, has announced a new name signaling a shift toward better representing the organization’s mission and impact: Workshops Empowerment Inc.

Established in 1900 as Workshop and Rehabilitation Facilities for the Blind and Disabled, Workshops originally employed people with vision impairment to make brooms and mops. The nonprofit later expanded to operate sewing rooms and secured government contracts during both world wars. Woodworking, upholstery and general craft work followed as the organization tackled workforce development in Alabama.

Throughout its history, Workshops has trained and placed thousands of workers who faced a variety of barriers to employment, from visual impairment to traumatic brain injury to recent incarceration. Over time, the nonprofit felt its name just wasn’t standing up to the real impact it was making in the community and its true mission of empowering people with employment barriers to enter the workforce and achieve their vocational potential.


“The milestone of our 120th anniversary brought the opportunity to assess the organization’s name and realign it with our work and our mission,” said Joel Blackstock, president of the board for Workshops Empowerment.

“We empower people to reach their potential,” Blackstock added. “The shift to Workshops Empowerment honors our history and casts a vision for our impact moving forward. People continue to face barriers to employment, while our state faces a vast shortfall in the skilled workforce. We have experience meeting one foundational need with the other.”

“Our driving force is to see that every person in central Alabama with a disability who wants a job, gets a job,” said Executive Director Susan Crow. “The name shift reinforces our focus on people. Our success is wrapped up in the success of so many individuals that it’s been our honor to support. So, we’re partial to our new initials: WE.”

In 2017, Workshops, a United Way-affiliated agency supported by the Alabama Power Foundation, expanded programming to include handmade products under the name Avondale Mercantile. The organization has rebranded the line to “WE Made” and expanded its product offerings, from handmade wood fire starters, stinky dog sprays, linen and room sprays and an all-natural insect repellent to now making a line of bread mixes.

Emily Thornton West has been brought on to lead WE Made as program manager. “I believe in the power of meaningful employment and community to enrich people’s lives,” said West. “I am excited to build a new program and product line, but I am most excited to work alongside the WE Made participants as they gain the skills and confidence to reach their vocational potential.”

The expansion of the WE Made product line will allow Workshops to train an additional 24 people per year.  Trainees will learn about product development, manufacturing and inventory maintenance. They also train to receive their food handler’s license and “serve safe” designation. The six-month program offers trainees a chance to specialize in other areas, such as social media or learning to drive a truck. The enterprise produces quality products while providing job training to people with significant barriers to employment. Products will be available for purchase on the Workshops Empowerment website or from local retail partners.

Last year’s global outbreak of COVID-19 had a severe impact on nonprofits across the state, causing many to close their doors temporarily. Workshops shut down following Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide order in March, leaving the nearly 1,000 people who depend on its programs in a state of uncertainty. However, after putting strict safety measures in place, Workshops welcomed back program participants after seven weeks.

“We had to really make sure that everyone understands the fact that we are completely reliant on one another right now to keep things going,” said Crow. “The last thing we want is to put anyone in harm’s way and we’ve been so grateful, and lucky, that we’ve been able to continue to offer our programing through this unprecedented time.”

The pandemic, which forced many companies to ask employees to work from home, created a unique opportunity for Workshops to fill more orders by preassembling items into ready-to-ship kits or gift boxes. Some local companies are sending pandemic-related and team-building care packages to employees’ homes. This uptick in business, as well as receiving a federal coronavirus relief loan, has helped Workshops continue its mission during tough times.

“We’re very fortunate to have ended 2020 on good footing, but we are always looking to the future and open to new opportunities,” said Crow. “Whether that be new business customers or creating relationships with local businesses who have an interest in hiring graduates of our programs. We’re always striving to find new ways to help our participants reach their full potential.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)