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.

1 hour ago

Alabama’s Helen Keller was more than a hero for the disabled

(Library of Congress, YHN)

She could neither see nor hear. But her vision influenced countless millions.

Helen Keller’s influence reached far beyond her native Alabama. She became a celebrity at an early age and remained so throughout her life.

Born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Keller was 19 months old when an illness left her deaf and blind.

With the help of Anne Sullivan, her teacher for 49 years, she was able to learn how to communicate.

In her prime, she was traveling across the world making appearances and giving inspirational speeches.

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She became known for her tireless activism on behalf of workers’ and women’s rights, her literary work, and her tenure as an unofficial U.S. ambassador to the world.

“Helen Keller lived her life as an example of what people with disabilities could accomplish,” said Keller J. Thompson, her great grand-niece. “She so desired within her innermost being that people with disabilities be given a chance to prove the many things that they could do in this life. By her own experiences, she knew that people with disabilities could have great impacts on the world around them and every day of her life she was eager to be someone that impacted the world in a positive way, leaving it a better place than she found it.”

Keller attended several educational institutions and was accepted at Radcliffe College, where she graduated with honors, becoming the first deaf person to obtain a university degree.

According to an Encyclopedia of Alabama account, in the decades after college, Keller become increasingly involved in politics. She became an advocate of suffrage, unemployment benefits and legalized birth control for women.

She blamed industrialization and poverty for causing disability among a disproportionately large number of working-class people and became increasingly concerned about racial inequalities. She expressed her views through public speeches, newspaper and magazine articles, interviews and appearances at rallies.

Keller entered the 1920s seeking a meaningful public life and financial stability. The newly created American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) supplied both. Working on behalf of blind people with the AFB, Keller became a successful fundraiser and political lobbyist.

From the 1920s through the early 1940s, she worked to raise funds and lobby state and national legislatures. She emphasized educational and employment possibilities for people with disabilities, particularly those who were blind.

A trip to Japan in 1948 was the catalyst for Keller’s transformation from tourist to semi-official ambassador for the United States. Thrilled by her reception in Japan, the State Department worked with the AFB to fund and facilitate her travels and promote her as a representative of Americanism.

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson awarded her the Congressional Medal of Freedom. When she died in 1968 at the age of 88, she was one of the most famous people in the world.

Keller’s journey from a deaf, blind girl to graduating from Radcliffe and becoming a prominent writer and political activist provided inspiration to millions of people with disabilities.

Although she left Alabama at the age of 8, she always claimed Ivy Green, her family’s house in Tuscumbia, as home, and she continued to identify herself as a Southerner throughout her life and travels.

Keller said: “Your success and happiness lie in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”

Throughout March, Alabama NewsCenter is recognizing Alabama women of distinction, past and present, in celebration of Women’s History Month.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

SAIL delivers strong academic gains in challenging environment

(Summer Adventures in Learning/Contributed)

The pandemic forced many schools to switch to remote learning in spring 2020. But it also forced a virtual shift in critical summer academic programs.

The big question: Would those summer programs be as effective in keeping kids on track?

Results from one major statewide summertime academic initiative indicate the answer is yes. That’s encouraging as leaders with SAIL plan for another summer of virtual programming.

Formed in 2012 as a project of six Alabama-based philanthropies, SAIL, which stands for Summer Adventures in Learning, operates in 15 Alabama counties, including in the Black Belt, metro Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville. The Alabama Power Foundation is among the nonprofits supporting SAIL.

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This summer, SAIL will support 37 independent academic programs in the Birmingham area and in Black Belt counties. In the Huntsville area, SAIL is supporting three partners that will operate programs at 14 sites.

Academic summer programs have always been important, said Jim Wooten, chairman of the SAIL board of directors. But they proved even more critical after schools closed because of the pandemic.

Educators have long realized and confirmed that summer learning is vital to supporting and maintaining academic progress. In 2019, state lawmakers passed the Alabama Literacy Act. The law incorporated student summer reading among its requirements. In 2020, Gov. Kay Ivey promoted the Alabama Campaign for Grade Level Reading, which also supports summer learning programs.

Two Alabama school systems are collaborating with SAIL to meet Alabama Literacy Act summer reading requirements. Blount County Schools is using SAIL funding to offer reading camps for K-3 students, also in support of state education goals.

“State law requires school systems to offer summer reading camps, but leaves the implementation to each district,” said Mitchie Neel, executive director of the Blount County Education Foundation. “We know from research that how you structure a summer learning program influences how much students will learn. Partnering with SAIL allows us to meet students where they are while nurturing the whole child and bringing them up to grade level.”

In summer 2020, SAIL supported 34 programs: 14 provided in-person programs, 17 were virtual and three offered at-home curriculum. With COVID-19 health restrictions, enrollment was limited because physical distancing required smaller classes and because many families chose to keep their children at home.

For the programs that pivoted to online programming, lack of internet access in underserved, rural communities limited enrollment. As a result, enrollment dropped from SAIL’s typical participation of more than 2,500 students to about 1,250.

Last year, many SAIL programs conducted online programming for the first time. Educators had to adapt to a steep learning curve, requiring close collaboration. Wooten said extra effort was required to keep children engaged in the virtual classes. Texts, emails and one-on-one Zoom calls were used to ensure students attended classes and stayed attentive. The strategies also demanded greater parent participation. Many SAIL-funded programs reported their best-ever family involvement.

In the end, a review of the results from last summer showed that academic gains were about the same as in recent years, proving that online classes can be effective. SAIL students in 2020 gained an average of 2.3 months in reading skills and 1.6 months in math, Wooten said.

They were so effective many SAIL programs intend to keep using online strategies even after students are able to fully return to in-person programming.

SAIL’s successes are especially salient this year because the novel coronavirus is exacerbating academic losses for at-risk students. Research shows students from low-income families typically lose two to three months of reading and math skills every summer. Most of SAIL’s students come from low-income households, with 84% of the students enrolled in 2020 qualifying for free or reduced-cost lunches.

The Alabama Power Foundation is supporting SAIL’s planning for this summer’s programs.

“The foundation also provides valuable leadership,” Wooten said. Tan Grayson, Community Initiatives program manager at the foundation, is on the SAIL board. Grayson worked with SAIL leaders last year to help the organization acquire devices that allowed students to participate in programs remotely.

To learn more about SAIL and to find a summer learning program near you, visit https://sailalabama.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

From Slapout through ‘American Idol,’ Jessica Meuse is an Alabama Music Maker on a journey

(Phil Free/Alabama NewsCenter)

Jessica Meuse would love to become “the dark version of Carrie Underwood.”

That might seem ambitious for an Alabama Music Maker from Slapout. But her talents have already taken her from Elmore County to Hollywood for her “American Idol” experience, and she is enjoying a career as a singer-songwriter.

“Alabama is definitely the prettiest place I have ever lived,” said Meuse. “I’m grateful to call such a beautiful state my home.”

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Jessica Meuse is an Alabama Music Maker enjoying her post-‘American Idol’ journey from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Meuse was born in Round Rock, Texas. She moved several times as a child, since her mother worked for the government.

When Meuse was in the seventh grade, she moved to Slapout where she joined the Montgomery Youth Orchestra, eventually becoming principal second violin. She taught herself how to play the violin, guitar and piano.

“I was not the most accepted kid in school,” said Meuse. “I was the nerdy kid. Music was the thing that I had when I went home.”

At age 18, Meuse began writing music. Her first song was called “What’s So Hard About Bein’ a Man?” She went on to self-release a CD by the same name in 2011 and has written about 60 original songs.

“I’m definitely country, but I’m more on the spectrum of Southern rock,” said Meuse.

She auditioned for “The Voice” before her “American Idol” run, but, didn’t pass the judging rounds of the “Voice” mentors.

Meuse finished in fourth place on the 13th season of “Idol.” She became the first person in the history of the series to perform an original song during the finals.

Meuse calls herself a spiritual person and has said she is driven by her faith. She has eight tattoos and designed seven of them herself. She has two on her right arm: one of a phoenix and one of a dove surrounded by three stars. She has said that these represent spiritual rebirth and the Holy Trinity. On her left arm, she has a tattoo of the word “Faith.”

“A lot of my music is about finding your inner strength, of being tough, even when you don’t feel it,” said Meuse. “There’s always a song to write.”

The effects of the coronavirus on musicians have been swift. “It’s imperative now more than ever to support one another,” said Meuse. “Our livelihood comes from performing. The importance of a fanbase and local support is more important than ever. All I ask is that people be kind to one another in this weird time we’re all living through together. Be safe. Be healthy.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Alabama Power’s Scotty McKelvey is an unsung hero managing our forests

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Growing up in Tallapoosa County’s Eagle Creek, Real Estate Specialist Scotty McKelvey was naturally drawn to playing outside. He loved it so much as a kid, he turned it into a career at Alabama Power.

McKelvey’s been a member of the forestry/surveillance team at the Dadeville Shoreline and Forestry office for 37 years. His job responsibilities involve supporting the company’s forestry program through timber and land management activities, heavy equipment operation and surveillance of company land.

McKelvey is well-known throughout the company as a subject matter expert who can be counted on to assist with many situations, including park and boat ramp maintenance, hunting club issues and storm restoration. His soft-spoken demeanor and wealth of knowledge have been instrumental in the resolution of many customer issues. Whatever the need, McKelvey is willing and able to help.

“It’s a great place to work,” McKelvey said. “I’ve enjoyed living here all my life. It’s a great state to live in.”

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McKelvey has been heavily involved in the community, especially through youth sports programs and local schools.

“I’ve worked community projects with the Quarterback Club, the Diamond Club, Eagle Creek Baptist Church and Renew Our Rivers,” he said.

His wealth of experience and knowledge of the company’s history in the Lake Martin area make him an invaluable member of Corporate Real Estate. McKelvey is respected in the community and his demonstrated values make him an ambassador for Alabama Power.

“Scotty is a hero to me because of his total commitment to the company,” said Team Leader Brian Seale. “We all love being around Scotty. He makes everything better.”

The forestry team manages over 140,000 acres of timberland, maintains boundary lines and conducts surveillance on about 170,000 acres of company-owned property. In addition to producing high-quality timber, they are responsible for enhancing wildlife habitat, maintaining over 3,000 miles of boundary lines and performing surveillance to identify trespassers and encroachments.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

From Three on a String to Ken Burns documentaries, this Alabama Music Maker is making history

(Phil Free/Alabama NewsCenter)

Bobby Horton has been interested in the Civil War since he was 9 years old, igniting his lifelong love of history.

“Every adult male in my life, from my dad to my uncles to my baseball managers and even my band director were all World War II veterans,” said Horton. “When you understand that history is a story of real people, it pulls you in like nothing else.”

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His passions are music and history, and Horton has built a career weaving the two together. He especially loves film recording. Horton plays with the country-bluegrass band Three on a String and provides music for Public Broadcasting Service documentaries by Ken Burns.

Bobby Horton is an Alabama Music Maker providing soundtrack to Ken Burns documentaries from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Burns’ new 16-hour PBS series “Country Music” will be released by Florentine Films Sept. 15. It tells the history of country music from the early 20th century through the 1990s. Horton is credited with about 40 minutes of his music in the upcoming documentary.

Horton and Burns have worked on many projects together since the ‘90s. They connected through Richard Snow, the editor of American Heritage magazine, who had published an article about the work Horton was doing. Horton had produced a series of recordings sung by people who lived during the Civil War.

Snow ran into Burns on the streets of New York City. When Snow heard Burns was working on the Civil War documentary, he told Burns “there’s a guy in Alabama you need to listen to.”

The director-producer Horton is a Birmingham musician and historian. For about 20 years, his home studio in Vestavia Hills has been a one-man music workshop.

Over the years, Horton has produced and performed music scores for 18 PBS films by Ken Burns, including “The Civil War” and “Baseball,” two films for the A&E network, and 25 films for the National Park Service. Horton’s series of recordings of authentic period music has been acclaimed by historical organizations and publications throughout America and Europe.

Horton is widely recognized as one of America’s leading authorities on music from the Civil War period. Horton was a bugler for the Marine Corps when he was in high school. He has played taps for more than 60 burials of Marines. He is still active in Bugles Across America, an organization that provides a live rendition of taps by a bugler for veterans during their funerals.

Horton has been in a band since he was in the seventh grade. Jerry Ryan, the founder of Three on a String, approached him to play the banjo at the Horse Pens 40 music festival in the ‘70s. They’ve been playing together for nearly 50 years.

Horton can’t imagine doing anything else. “There are very few jobs you look forward to going to,” he said. “It’s still pretty fun.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Clarence Carter is a legendary Alabama Music Maker still performing the hits

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Clarence Carter taught himself to play guitar while attending the Alabama School for the Blind in Talladega. This Alabama music maker, a rhythm and blues singer from Montgomery, still performs at age 83.

Carter is best known for his 1970 hit “Patches,” about a boy who was forced to care for his family after his father died, which the child does by working the fields and continuing his education. Carter didn’t grow up on a farm and never worked the fields, but he was so convincing many listeners thought he was telling the story of his life. His 1980s hit “Strokin’” is also a fan favorite.

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His earliest releases were with Clarence Thomas: They were known as “C and C Boys.” The blind duo made seven singles. When Thomas suffered serious injuries in a car accident in 1966, Carter became a solo act.

In the late ’60s, he became a hitmaker at FAME Studios, where in addition to “Patches” he recorded the popular “Slip Away” and “Too Weak To Fight.” He received a degree in music at Alabama State University.

Carter said he used to have a lot of fun recording in Muscle Shoals, where Percy Sledge also recorded.  “Sledge woke up a lot of eyes to black artists with ‘When a Man Loves a Woman,’” Carter said. “Back in the day, when he would sing it to an audience, they would stand up like it was the national anthem.”

Music was not his first love. “I wanted to teach school,” Carter said. “I admire teachers because they have to have so much patience.”  He views his job as a musician as much easier than teaching.

Singer-songwriter Ray Charles was one of Carter’s first musical idols. He also was influenced by Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gay, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and Robert Clifford Brown, known professionally as Washboard Sam.

Carter continues singing regularly to his base in the South as well as internationally. He enjoys performing but says, “If I ever gets to the point where I don’t enjoy it, I won’t get on stage anymore.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Alabama Power hosts iCan Girls Engineering Conference

(Breanna Fogg/Contributed)

Teen girls think chemical engineering is a world away, but, actually, it’s as close as their lips.

Making lip gloss with household items like honey and shortening was one of the ways used to introduce students to chemical engineering at the annual iCan Girls in Engineering Conference April 13. More than 100 sixth- through eighth-grade students participated in a series of hands-on activities at Corporate Headquarters while getting to know female engineers from Alabama Power and Southern Company.

The program introduces students and their parents to engineering through workshops led by professionals in the field to establish connections and friendships with other girls of the same age. The annual event is designed to present STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) as a viable career path for girls.

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Alabama Power Market Specialist April Sibleywho led the popular lip gloss activity, has been a volunteer with iCan for six years at Erwin Middle School and Phillips Academy. A graduate of Tuskegee University, she realizes the importance of reaching girls early and providing mentoring opportunities to help guide their career decisions.

During the conference, other engineering disciplines were introduced with the following activities:

  • Electrical engineering: Students learned about basic electrical circuits and DC motors while building a small car powered by a propeller.
  • Software engineering: Students learned the importance of details in computer programming through developing written instructions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
  • Electricity and power demonstration: Students participated in hands-on demonstrations while learning about electricity.
  • Civil engineering: Students worked in teams to build a tower from straws and competed for prizes while learning about the engineering aspects of building a structure capable of supporting weight.

While the girls were participating in activities, parents were given the opportunity to ask questions to a panel of educators and company engineers. Parents play a pivotal role preparing their daughters for a career in engineering as they select classes in junior high school. It’s important to start early with math and science classes to prepare for advanced courses in high school, panel members said.

Guest speaker Zoe Dwyer has spent more than 30 years with the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Engineering. Since 2012, she has been associate professor of materials science and engineering, and associate dean for undergraduate programs.

The number of female engineers has greatly increased nationally, but many people are surprised how low the overall percentage remains, according to the Society of Women Engineers. The National Girls Collaborative Project estimates 15 percent of the U.S. engineering workforce is female.

Reasons for the disparity between males and females include lack of female engineering role models, misconceptions of what it is like to be an engineer and having fewer technical problem-solving opportunities through K-12 compared to men.

“Engineering is thought of as a man’s field,” said event organizer Kelsey Stephens, engineer, Alabama Power Substations-Birmingham. “Women think differently. We have a different way of approaching subjects and a different way of problem-solving.”

“The goal is to expose the girls to the vastness of engineering and for them to see women who look just like them working in areas that they may have considered off limits or not even considered at all,” said Sibley. “If I can inspire just one girl to consider engineering, then my work is done.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)