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.

Mother’s Day at Children’s of Alabama hospital brightened by special deliveries

(Children's of Alabama/Contributed)

While professional golfers on the PGA Tour Champions aimed for the greens at the Regions Tradition golf tournament, hundreds of volunteers packed green boxes to ensure mothers would feel like champions at Children’s of Alabama.

Birmingham’s Cheeriodicals coordinated a special delivery to the hospital on Mother’s Day in what was to be the last day of the golf tournament. A weather delay extended the tournament to Monday, which saw Steve Stricker claim his first major championship.

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Throughout the past week, volunteers from RegionsGreystone Golf and Country ClubAlabama Power Service Organization and Edgar’s Bakery joined with some golf pros and others to pack the bright green Cheeriodicals boxes. Boxes were packed with items for mothers of children staying at the hospital as well as for the children themselves.

“I could not be prouder of the volunteers from Alabama Power Company who commit year over year and time and again to give their talent to causes that really help elevate the state,” said Myla Calhoun, president of the Alabama Power Foundation.

Some surprise deliveries were made to mothers during the Regions Pro-Am tournament. But the bulk were made at Children’s of Alabama on Sunday morning. The mothers were appreciative and often tearful for the show of love and support.

“It is an amazing thing really,” said Morgan White, a mother of an 8-month-old daughter who is scheduled for heart surgery Wednesday. “It really helps. Being in the hospital is hard anyways, but being in the hospital on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, holidays is really, really nerve-wracking.”

“It’s going to be a great Mother’s Day,” White added. “I get to spend it with my daughter and now I have all of this stuff to help me cope.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 days ago

Alabama’s only living Pearl Harbor survivor celebrates 99th birthday

(Alabama Nursing Home Association/YouTube)

Alabama’s Master Sgt. Thomas Davis epitomizes the word “survivor.”

Davis, the only remaining survivor in the Yellowhammer State present at the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, marked another milestone on Wednesday when he turned 99. Members of Davis’ family gathered at Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City to celebrate his amazing life.

WSFA reported that Davis said he witnessed the first bomb being dropped on the USS Arizona as it sat in Pearl Harbor.

The United States would soon be launched into the throes of World War II, and that initial Japanese attack was just the first battle Davis would be involved in.

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In fact, he served our nation for more than 30 years in not only WWII, but the Korean War and the Vietnam War as well.

Watch the video below for more on Davis’ incredible story, courtesy of the Alabama Nursing Home Association:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 week ago

Administrators of Project Share help clients by providing hope and funds

(Keisa Sharpe/Contributed)

Alabama sees its share of extreme weather – from cold winters which increasingly include snowfall; stormy springs with high winds and heavy rains; to extreme summers with sweltering temperatures.

These peaks in weather conditions can cause Alabamians to use more energy to heat and cool their homes, which can lead to higher utility bills.

For those needing help, there is some relief through neighbors helping neighbors.

Project SHARE, Service to Help Alabamians with Relief on Energy, helps residents needing assistance with their utility, heating and cooling bills.

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The program is administered by The Salvation Army of Greater Birmingham.

One Fairfield resident who’s been living in her home for more than 30 years has received assistance from the program to help pay her bills.

“The program has really been helpful for me because it allowed me to pay my bills and provide for my family. I’m grateful for that.”

Project SHARE provides help to Alabamians in 58 counties.

The organization works with partner agencies who function as “feet on the ground” to help interview the clients and assess their needs.

Once that information is given to the nonprofit agency and a family qualifies for assistance, payments are made directly to the energy supplier on the individual or family’s behalf.

According to John Stamps, the Director of Operations at The Salvation Army of Greater Birmingham who oversees Project Share, the program provides hope and security to clients.

Stamps said the program operates throughout the year, but peak requests come in the summer and winter months. The program is sustained by the generosity of Alabamians who contribute to help their neighbors.

There are three ways to give to Project SHARE.

  • Give directly to Project SHARE through the Salvation Army by calling 205-328-2420.
  • Mail donations to The Salvation Army, 2015 26th Avenue North, Birmingham, 35234. Designate “Project SHARE” on the check.
  • Check the “Project SHARE” box on your power bill and give via mail or online.

In addition to individual donations, here’s a look at the companies which support Project SHARE:

  • Alabama Power.
  • Black Warrior EMC.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative.
  • Cullman Electric Cooperative.
  • South Alabama Electric Cooperative.
  • Andalusia Utilities.
  • Coosa Valley Electric Cooperative.
  • Baldwin EMC.
  • Wiregrass Electric.
  • Southern Pine Electric.

Project SHARE has been serving Alabamians since 1952.

(Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter)

1 week ago

Exceptional Anglers makes fishing dreams come true for students

(Alabama Newscenter)

Hundreds of special-needs children are casting a line this week – many for the first time in their lives – at Oak Mountain State Park’s Exceptional Anglers event.

The annual Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’ program is celebrating its 24th year of teaching basic fishing skills to students from Jefferson and Shelby county school systems.

Assistant Park Superintendent David Johnson said Exceptional Anglers is his favorite event at Oak Mountain all year long.

“This event gives students the opportunity to not only fish but also to socialize, connect with one another and just get outside and enjoy the great outdoors,” Johnson said.

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In addition to fishing, Exceptional Anglers offers students a day of arts and crafts, storytelling, face painting, inflatables, games and more.

However, it’s the fishing at Oak Mountain’s lake Wednesday through Friday that is the highlight for students and volunteers alike.

“To be honest with you, for most of these children, this is their first opportunity ever to get out and fish. They will catch the first fish of their life and have their picture made with it,” said Mike Clelland, an environmental affairs specialist with Alabama Power. “It’s going to be a memory that will last a lifetime. The volunteers are going to have a memory that lasts a lifetime, too.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries organize the three-day event, with support from sponsors. Alabama Power helped start the program and has been a sponsor since its inception.

“Alabama Power has been involved with this great event now for 24 years. It’s grown each year, and students are just as excited to participate in this now as they were in the very beginning,” Clelland said.

In addition to helping students fish, volunteers staffed different stations around the lake. Students fished in 30-minute rotations that included arts and crafts, playtime, music and lunch.

“Without the hard work of our volunteers and the support of the sponsors, this event would not be possible. We are very grateful for their help in enriching the lives of these students,” said Doug Darr, aquatic education coordinator for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) and Energizers retirees were among the groups providing volunteers all three days.

“These students and volunteers are as excited and uplifted as ever. The fish don’t always bite, but the effort and energy are definitely there. As always, Alabama Power is thrilled to support this great event,” said Kaylon Mikula, president of the Magic City chapter of APSO. “We truly enjoyed the opportunity to serve.”

Johnson likes to tell one story about a student who participated in Exceptional Anglers more than a decade ago.

Johnson saw the student, now a young man, and his father fishing at the marina one summer day and couldn’t help but notice the stringer full of fish they had caught.

“The young man told me he was part of this program with Jefferson County Schools 10 years prior and he had caught his first fish at that event,” Johnson said. “I feel like he was truly inspired by this event to become a great fisherman.”

Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter

1 week ago

Matt Might’s personal quest sparks UAB precision medicine revolution

The birth of Matt and Cristina Might’s first son, Bertrand, bottom left, in 2007 brought joy and, later, concern when the child began to show uncontrolled movements and other disorders. The couple’s efforts to help Bertrand in part led Matt Might to become a leader in precision medicine. (UAB/Alabama Newscenter)

For Dr. Matt Might, director of the Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the future of medicine revolves around physicians harnessing information on a scale unimagined by patients today.

“Data is the greatest drug of the 21st century,” said Might, who discovered a rare genetic disorder affecting his young son. “In terms of impact, I don’t think any drug will outperform data in overall ability to improve and extend human life.”

Of course, doctors already rely on detailed patient information when making diagnoses and creating treatment plans. But tomorrow’s medicine, as envisioned by Might, elevates and expands the power of the information at their command.

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By combining medical knowledge with computational analysis and new techniques such as genomic sequencing, physicians will be able to create customized, data-driven treatments for individual patients rather than follow protocols for attacking a certain disease.

“One of the key things to understand in precision medicine is that it is actually easier to treat a patient than a disease,” Might said. “When you are treating a disease you have to find something that works for every patient with that disease.

“If you’re treating a patient, you just have to find out what works for them. That can be very, very different.”

Powerful new tools

Might, who advised President Barack Obama on precision medicine and turned down Harvard and other suitors before coming to UAB in July 2017, believes these new tools will forever change the way physicians provide care once they are widely adopted.

Genetic testing is already helping unravel medical mysteries, especially when it comes to diagnosing rare diseases. But it will play a greater role in the future, when oncologists can routinely sequence the genome of a tumor to see if its mutations call for a specific medicine, Might said.

Already at UAB, doctors can examine a mental health patient’s DNA for clues about how he or she will respond to particular antidepressants, allowing them to rule out medications that would be less effective or cause side effects.

In addition, physicians will be able to tap into a bottomless well of knowledge. Might has collaborated with other researchers to develop an artificial intelligence agent called MediKanren that can search more than 25 million published papers for insights that can pinpoint new treatment options for puzzling medical conditions.

“Everything in medicine is changing as a consequence of the data available and the computational power to analyze that data. This is definitely a pivotal moment, a sea change moment. Medicine is not going to look the same in 10 years,” he said.

Despite his enthusiasm for precision medicine, Might never set out to become a leader in the field. In fact, at the time his voyage started, he was pursuing a career as a computer scientist, working on projects such as cybersecurity and programming languages for supercomputers.

He was also dad to a newborn son, Bertrand, born in December 2007.

The ‘diagnostic journey’

Bertrand was just 2 months old when Might first noticed a problem. His son’s movements were uncontrolled rather than circular and fluid, as they should have been. Four months later, Bertrand’s pediatrician agreed that something was wrong – he just didn’t know what it was.

At that moment, Might and his wife, Cristina, embarked on what he calls a “four-year diagnostic journey.” Over time, Bertrand’s problems multiplied. Full-blown seizures. Movement disorder. Developmental delay. And, strangely, he couldn’t cry tears.

Might was determined to solve the mystery. Eventually, Duke University scientists performed genetic sequencing on Bertrand and his parents to see if they could detect a mutation driving the youngster’s problems.

The results pointed to a malfunctioning NGLY-1 gene, which produces an enzyme needed to break down certain abnormal proteins as part of a recycling process in the body.

“Almost no one had heard of NGLY-1. It didn’t exist as a disease. It barely existed as a known gene. That gene had never been linked to human health in any way, shape or form,” Might said.

Thus, a rare genetic disorder known as NGLY-1 deficiency was discovered. Bertrand was “patient zero.” That meant doctors told Might there was little that could be done for his son until more patients with the condition were identified.

In 2012, Might published a blog post called “Hunting Down My Son’s Killer” that described Bertrand’s symptoms. It received widespread attention. Within weeks, patients began popping up all over the world, enabling research into the condition to begin.

At home, Might struggled with how to help his son.

Using his background as a computer scientist, he set up a computational analysis to identify compounds that might be useful to treat Bertrand’s condition. He quickly found 70, including 14 already approved by the FDA.

At one point, additional testing showed that Bertrand’s condition had triggered a deficiency of N-acetylglucosamine, a readily available glucose derivative. Might purchased some and, after testing it on himself, began giving it to his son.

Days later, Might noticed tears rolling down Bertrand’s face. For the first time, he had discovered a remedy to help his child. Critically, the tears halted the corneal erosion that threatened Bertrand with eventual blindness.

Other discoveries followed. Using MediKanren, Might learned that research indicated a common supplement, sulforaphane, could counter a certain molecular function triggered by NGLY-1 deficiency.

“Sulforaphane is abundant in broccoli, but not abundant enough. You’d need about 60 pounds of broccoli a day. Most fifth-graders don’t eat their own body weight in broccoli each day, but you can get it in a pill form that is highly concentrated. So he has been on that for about two months now, and for me, I think it is definitely making a difference.”

Might is now investigating whether some of the movement disorder aspects of Bertrand’s condition are similar to Parkinson’s and looking into whether treatments for that disease might benefit his son.

“I think, at last, we are moving on all fronts for Bertrand. We’re addressing seizures, eyes, movement disorders and development with this large cocktail of drugs we’ve assembled for his condition,” he said.

Creating an ‘algorithm’

Might is using the lessons he learned in his quest to help Bertrand to scale up the precision medicine initiative at UAB, using what he’s dubbed the “algorithm of precision medicine.”

At its core, the approach centers on harvesting every bit of data about a patient. Genomic sequencing is an important component because it provides a peek into the patient’s unique molecular makeup. But even information contained on a Fitbit or Apple watch can be part of the mix.

Computational technologies and deep reasoning tools such as MediKanren add a new dimension.

“We’re beginning to bring computation into medicine in a very serious way,” Might said. “Previously, it’s been largely used in a superficial way. Now we’re looking at it from more of a big data optimization perspective.”

At the Hugh Kaul Institute, made possible by a $7 million philanthropic gift in 2015, Might and his team maintain a focus on rare diseases through precision therapeutics, acting as what he calls a “clinic of last resort” for patients interested in engaging in targeted research to advance therapies for their disorders.

The institute, which has a staff of nearly a dozen, can provide physicians searching for treatment options with a research report containing recommendations personalized for an individual patient.

Precision oncology is a specific UAB focus. In one case, a genomic scan of a patient’s prostate tumor revealed mutations more consistent with ovarian cancer. Physicians were able to successfully treat the patient with medicines used to treat that form of cancer, Might said.

“Cancer is one of those things where precision medicine is the answer. Every cancer is unique,” he added. “You always need an individually tailored treatment. If you really want to treat cancer right, you’ve got to treat every cancer like a rare disease. That’s the key.”

Might sees the components of precision medicine flowing across all medical disciplines at UAB, expanding until its tactics become the standard of care for all patients.

“At UAB, we’re in the process of making everything precision medicine so that one day it won’t be precision medicine, it will just be medicine,” he said.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama System’s website.

Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter

1 week ago

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

(Donna Cope/Alabama NewsCenter)

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter)

1 week ago

Student-powered produce stand opens at Birmingham’s Woodlawn High School

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

People living in east Birmingham now have a new place to buy fresh fruits and vegetables: their nearby high school.

The Farm Stand opened Thursday afternoon at Woodlawn High School. Operated by students, the Farm Stand gives neighbors a place to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables grown at the school in conjunction with the city’s Jones Valley Teaching Farm program. Amanda Storey, executive director of the Jones Valley Teaching Farm, says the Farm Stand was made possible through a grant from Gov. Kay Ivey as part of the Alabama Healthy Food Financing Act.

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“It gives our students a chance to connect with our neighbors and also be able to provide a service to their neighborhood,” Storey said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

The Farm Stand is in a part of Birmingham the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a “food desert,” which is an area without easy access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Josh Carpenter, director of Economic Development for the city of Birmingham, says the Farm Stand solves that problem and helps students.

“Woodlawn is a great proof-point of what is possible when we really dedicate resources and time to this type of engagement,” Carpenter said. “Some of these students are thinking not just about how to grow vegetables, but then, ‘What does the irrigation system look like?’ and they’re conceptualizing their own careers as plumbers and electricians. That type of development comes foundationally through these types of experiential work-based learning, so they’ve really laid the groundwork for apprenticeships in the city.”

The Jones Valley Teaching Farm operates seven farms throughout Birmingham, engaging more than 4,500 students from pre-K through high school in a hands-on, food-based education model. Storey says the program helps students grow life skills.

“One of the biggest pieces that you learn when running a farm is that seeds take a long time to grow,” Storey said. “We’re all so used to instant gratification, the process of growing food is something that really instills leadership and patience and all of these life skills that are so important for young people. Being able to be front and center in leading a project, when you’re in high school, I think is so important for student growth and for life growth.”

The Farm Stand is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3:00-5:30 p.m. For more information, visit the Jones Valley Teaching Farm online at jvtf.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter)

1 week ago

ESPN’s Greg McElroy, Laura Rutledge lift spirits during visit to Children’s of Alabama

(Children's Hospital of Alabama/Contributed)

Lindy Hydrick was looking forward to a rare lazy Sunday, a chance to recharge, when she got the call every parent fears.

“My mom called,” Hydrick recounted. “She said, ‘Get in the car. Get to Birmingham. Ty’s been in a crash, and they’re taking him there in a helicopter now.’”

Her 14-year-old son, Ty, was in a car that crashed into a tree near their hometown of Berry, a community more than an hour out of Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city. Both legs were broken, and Ty’s ankles were crushed. The injuries were devastating for anyone, but especially for Ty, a budding three-sport high school athlete.

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Just weeks earlier, Lindy had lost her grandmother. Now, she was afraid she’d lose her youngest son. Ty had to be airlifted to Children’s of Alabama, one of the nation’s leading pediatric hospitals, for emergency surgery.

Forty-eight hours later, after 12 hours of surgery, Lindy had a chance to catch her breath. But only for a moment. Ty had two visitors who wanted to meet him: former University of Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy and ESPN/SEC Network personality Laura Rutledge.

For Ty, a Crimson Tide fan, meeting the duo became an instant highlight. McElroy led Alabama to the 2009 national title, and Rutledge is a fixture across ESPN platforms, including hosting the Saturday pregame show SEC Nation.

Rutledge, a University of Florida graduate, wasted no time talking Crimson Tide football with young Ty and seeing his eyes light up.

For both Rutledge and McElroy, the visit to Children’s of Alabama is an annual rite of passage leading into the Regions TraditionChildren’s is the major benefactor for the tournament on the PGA TOUR Championsschedule.

“This is incredibly important to me,” Rutledge said of the opportunity to visit patients and families. “Every time you leave here, you feel they’ve given you far more than you can ever give them in return.”

Before Sunday, the Hydricks knew little about Children’s of Alabama. Now, Lindy couldn’t imagine life without the doctors, nurses and personnel.

“The care here is unbelievable,” she said. “The love is felt throughout this hospital.”
And the best news of all? Doctors believe Ty has already begun to mend. “They told us he’ll be walking in two months,” Lindy added. “That’s a miracle.”

Ty’s recovery took an immediate upturn with Tuesday’s visit, Lindy said.

“Ty’s always been a huge Alabama fan, so meeting Greg is really big. He’s a role model to my child. And, being a mom, I’m especially appreciative that they give of their time like this.”

Of course, Ty wanted to talk football. McElroy, who has a show on the SEC Network and serves ESPN as a college football analyst, was happy to talk back.

“He started talking about the Clemson game,” McElroy said, referring to Alabama’s painful National Championship loss in January. “So I said, ‘Let’s change the subject. Let’s talk about how the team looks this year.’”

McElroy also gave him advice, telling him the accident would not define him.

“There are people outside this hospital, outside of Birmingham, who care about you,” McElroy said. “I’d never met Ty, but I care, Laura cares. And everyone at Children’s cares.

“Just do what you’re told, tackle rehab, and you’ll be back faster than you realized. Attitude is the biggest thing.”

This story first ran on the Regions news site doing more today.

(Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter)

1 week ago

South Alabama graduates first class of PASSAGE USA

(University of South Alabama/YouTube)

Everyone wants to be valued and contribute to society in some way, and graduates of the inaugural class of the University of South Alabama’s PASSAGE USA program have completed the two-year requirements and are ready to start their next journey filled with education and improved technology, social and work skills.

The first student to be accepted into the PASSAGE USA program in spring semester 2017 was Benjamin Pelham, now age 24, of Mobile. He was the first to complete the non-degree program in December 2018, and was one of six students to graduate and receive his certificate during USA’s May 4 spring commencement ceremony held at the Mitchell Center.

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PASSAGE USA, which stands for Preparing All Students Socially and Academically for Gainful Employment, is for entering students ages 19-25 who have been diagnosed with an intellectual disability, meaning an IQ of 70 or below.

“When we first announced this program, we shared our philosophy, ‘College is Possible,’” said Dr. Abigail Baxter, project director and professor of special education in USA’s College of Education and Professional Studies. “And now with our first graduating class, we have created a program that has strengthened each student’s independent living, technology, social and job-readiness skills. And we have proven that there are no limits for these students. We know that the research shows students do better when they’re with their typical peers, and many of those peers are studying at colleges and universities.”

Prior to PASSAGE USA, Benjamin’s parents, Lisa and Marc Pelham, reached out to Baxter and Dr. Dennis Campbell, associate professor of education, about the possibility of a college program at South Alabama, and now their son is a member of the historic first graduating class. When Benjamin started the program, he worked in the campus Registrar’s Office. After commencement, he will continue working at his dream job at the USA Bookstore on campus. And, he will continue working at Tropical Smoothie, serving the smoothies and cleaning when needed. He hopes to become a manager.

“I have had a fun and enjoyable experience at the University of South Alabama,” Pelham said. “I have learned how to use my smart phone, ride the JagTran and walk safely across campus. I went to all my classes. I love my job at the campus bookstore. I help with folding and hanging up the clothes, along with putting out other merchandise.”

Pelham has found many friendships and, perhaps, love at South. He and his fellow graduate, Kaylee Walker, are now dating.

Alexandra Chanto-Wetter is the assistant director of the PASSAGE USA program. She left the Mobile County Public School System as a special education teacher to join the PASSAGE USA team.

“These young adults have their own feelings, emotions, needs, ideas and dreams,” said Chanto-Wetter. “I have been very honored to work in this field, and I was under the assumption that most of these students were participating in some type of program following high school. But it does not happen. After high school, many of them are isolated and sitting at home. But once they enter the PASSAGE USA program, it will be the first time many of them will think on their own, make decisions and mistakes. They also learn that they are similar to other college freshmen on campus.”

Chanto-Wetter said it’s been amazing to see how they have grown over time as students at South Alabama.

“It was great to see them build confidence and learn how to introduce themselves in a classroom,” she said. “They were shy at first, but working with their student peer mentors helped them blossom. It’s like watching a beautiful garden grow. They are now able to leave campus with their unique personality and skills. They are now employees and community volunteers. It’s amazing. We have awakened that persona that’s always been there. We have given them the opportunity to walk outside of boundaries. They are ordering food by themselves and they have even applied for their library cards.”

Graduate Keith Griffith, 21, came into the program with a big video announcement on Facebook that went viral, where his mother read his acceptance letter. He garnered a large following after the post. Since being in the program, he has worked for Mobile Popcorn, where he washed dishes and bagged popcorn. He will continue to work for Ruby Tuesday in Saraland, where he serves as host and greets customers.

“I am excited about this program,” he said. “I am so excited to graduate. Everyone was helpful. I love my mama and friends. I was able to greet customers by myself at Ruby Tuesday. I work a couple of nights per week.”

Keith’s mom, Heather Griffith, said the experience was more than what she expected. USA kept them informed in advance, and she has seen an improvement in her son. “Keith was able to spend his first check buying lunch at the Hard Rock Café in Biloxi in celebration of his birthday last year. This July for his birthday, he plans to see his favorite country artist, Josh Turner,” Griffith said.

Kathryn McMaken is the mother of recent graduate Michelle McMaken, 27. She was hesitant about letting her daughter participate in the PASSAGE USA program, and didn’t think Michelle would even qualify. But a friend encouraged her to let Michelle interview for the program, and she is so grateful she did.

“We never allowed Michelle to be independent,” McMaken said. “Me and my late husband were very protective of her. The interview was the first step, and I was shocked when I was told she interviewed beautifully. After much trepidation, we decided to let her participate for one semester. But it was obvious that she was going to do the entire program. She loved the teachers, student peer mentors and the work. She loved the technology, like cell phones, iPad and laptop computers, and she enjoys her job at MOD Pizza, where she folds pizza boxes and greets customers.”

Michelle has also enjoyed being a member of the South Alabama cheerleaders when she was a student. “I am so happy my daughter was asked to cheer for the Jaguars,” McMaken said. “She had a uniform, and Michelle cheered at the home football, basketball and softball games. They welcomed her with open arms, and I just love how they included my daughter and allowed her to live out one of her dreams.”

South Alabama student Payton Parnell, a junior majoring in elementary education and sociology, has worked as Michelle’s peer mentor. She said her life has changed because of this experience, and she has many great memories of sweet friends.

“Peer mentoring gave me friendships, laughter, love and most importantly, a way to show acceptance in a meaningful way,” Parnell said. “Through the eyes of PASSAGE students, they love life. Me and Michelle spent quality time together and became friends. Michelle and I were football game and cheerleading friends. We had numerous lunch dates and study sessions. Michelle and the other PASSAGE students have given me passion and happiness. I hope I have given them empowerment. In my eyes, the PASSAGE students helped me more than I helped them.”

John Heinl is the transition coordinator. And, Lauren Perry is the student employment coordinator. She works to secure job placements for the PASSAGE USA students.

“My goal is to make sure they are placed on a job they are interested in,” Perry said. “When they graduate and leave PASSAGE, we want to make sure that they are independent and using the natural support at their job site. We want them happy, content and supported by their work family and local businesses. To see the growth of this class brings tears to my eyes. They are successful members of society.”

To support PASSAGE USA, get information about the Gaillard-Neville Reynolds Scholarship.

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

2 weeks 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.

2 weeks ago

Group to host unique country music concert in Birmingham to benefit veterans

(Red, White & Boots/Contributed)

An upcoming event benefiting veterans will take a unique approach to telling their stories through country music with the help of some of the industry’s most accomplished songwriters.

The event called “Red, White & Boots: Songs of Hope” will allow five veterans to share their stories then hear the songwriters turn those accounts into songs. After the songs are performed, members of the audience can vote on their favorites.

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Participating songwriters are Jeremy Bussey, JT Cooper, Dan DeMay, Bernie Nelson and Leslie Satcher. Chris Turner will perform a concert at the event, and everyone in attendance will receive a free copy of his new EP American Made.

Proceeds from the event will go toward helping veterans with PTSD and moral injury as a result of their military experience.

The event will take place on May 16 at Workplay in Birmingham. Anyone wishing to learn more can visit the event page on Facebook.

The evening is hosted by the Crosswinds Foundation for Faith and Culture. Crosswinds is a Birmingham-based ministry which seeks to make “biblical sense of a shifting culture” through information, instruction and influence.

Crosswinds’ program for veterans is called Warriors on Mission and is a result of the experiences of Lt. Col. Don Malin, USA, (Ret.), during his two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan as a military chaplain.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

2 weeks ago

Birmingham event raises $600,000 to help provide clean water worldwide

(Iron Tribe Fitness/Contributed)

The generosity of Alabamians showed in a major way this past weekend.

On Saturday, Birmingham’s Railroad Park hosted the 10th annual Workout for Water event, as a host of athletes came together to experience a challenging workout while also raising a lot of money for a good cause.

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Workout for Water is a fundraising event run by Neverthrist, a Birmingham-based Christian nonprofit organization that works to provide clean water to impoverished places around the globe.

This year’s Railroad Park event, in which people donated and/or secured pledges of money in order to participate in the workout, saw Neverthirst again partner with Iron Tribe Fitness, another tremendous Birmingham-based success story.

Ultimately, the event raised over $610,000; the participants raised $313,263, $300,000 of which was matched by Neverthirst.

The annual event also helps raise awareness of water security issues.

Iron Tribe Fitness CEO Forrest Walden told WBRC, “Essentially we just come and workout and recognize there are people all over the whole world that have to walk hours, literally everyday just for water, so we will replicate some of that in our workout.”

Since Workout for Water began, the event now has reportedly raised $4.4 million in total.

Neverthirst was named one of the top ten best nonprofits in 2018 by ROI Ministry for helping the most people in the world per dollar of giving.

RELATED: Alabamians are saving lives with ‘Workout for Water’ fundraiser

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 weeks ago

Watch: Alabama high school coach takes time to teach life lessons – ‘Manly Monday’

(@coachgross73/Twitter)

One coach from Athens High School has gone viral after turning the nuisance of a flat tire into an opportunity to teach his players how to properly change a tire.

In a video posted this week by head football coach Cody Gross, Athens High School’s Coach Carter took time on Monday to demonstrate and explain to the team how a tire should be changed.

Carter used a personal example to outline the importance of knowing exactly what to do if you have a tire blowout while driving. He said he was going 75-80 miles per hour on I-65 in the Birmingham area one time and that knowing what to do not only kept him safe but allowed him to get back on his way quickly.

As of Friday at 3:30 p.m., the video had approximately 3.7 million views on Twitter.

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The video is the latest weekly installment in Carter teaching his players a life lesson every Monday. Gross then posts the videos to social media.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 weeks ago

Five Alabama companies recognized for excellence in hiring veterans

(U.S. Army/Flickr, YHN)

Five Alabama companies have received awards for the 2018 Hire Vets Medallion Program, which recognizes a company or organization’s commitment to veteran hiring, retention and professional development.

This award program is the only federal-level veterans’ employment program of its kind and is an official program of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Governor Kay Ivey made the announcement in a statement.

“Alabamians have always been first to answer the call of duty. In fact, more than one in 10 Alabamians have served this country in the U.S. Armed Forces,” Ivey said.

The 2018 Alabama award recipients as follows:

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Gold Small
GBM3 in Mobile
Patterson Technology Service in Dadeville

Gold Medium
Black Hall Aerospace in Huntsville
Navigator Development Group in Enterprise
PeopleTec in Huntsville

“I’m proud of these five companies for their efforts to ensure our veterans are repaid for their service and are given the opportunity for a new career,” Ivey concluded.

The Honoring Investments in Recruiting and Employing American Military Veterans Act of 2017 (HIRE Vets Act), signed by President Donald Trump on May 5, 2017, requires the U.S. Secretary of Labor to establish a program that recognizes employer efforts to recruit, employ and retain veterans. Employer-applicants meeting criteria will receive a “HIRE Vets Medallion Award.”

Criteria for recognition vary by level (platinum or gold) and employer size. Large employers have 500-plus employees, medium employers have 51-499 employees and small employers have 50 or fewer employees.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

Birmingham student accepts $300,000 full ride to Yale — ‘You have to thank God’

(DB Plowden/YouTube)

Ramsay High School senior Jillian Jolly has dreamed of attending Yale University since she was in kindergarten, and now this 18-year-old Alabama student’s hard work has paid off beyond her wildest imagination.

“I always heard that Yale was the school where smart people went. It was the top school, and I wanted to be there,” she explained in a post on the City of Birmingham’s website.

Fast forward to today, and Jolly has accepted a full-ride, four-year scholarship worth nearly $300,000 from one of the world’s elite academic institutions. The student emphasized that this accomplishment is bigger than her.

“It’s not just a big accomplishment for me, it’s a win for the whole community,” Jolly, who’s ranked No. 4 at Ramsay High School with a 4.4 GPA, said. “I don’t look at it as, ‘Jillian got into Yale.’ I look at it as everyone benefits from it.”

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Not only did Yale accept her and offer her a full scholarship, but so did most of her 11 other colleges she applied to. Collectively, she has amassed more than $2.3 million in scholarship offers from a dozen schools: Yale, Wake Forest University, Howard University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Boston College, Tuskegee University, Boston University, Emory University, Washington University in St. Louis, Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, Berea College and George Washington University.

Jolly was also recently one of six students recognized during the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham’s Youth of the Year Scholarship Program presentation.

Sitting in the audience was Mayor Randall Woodfin, who said Jolly’s video impressed him.

“I’m proud of her. Any time you have a Birmingham graduate who is a hard worker and is motivated and supported by family, community and her school, the Mayor’s Office and the City of Birmingham are happy to support her, too,” Woodfin remarked. “She already has a local network of Yale graduates cheering for her, and she hasn’t even walked across the graduation stage yet. What she is doing has inspired me, and I hope she will inspire others.”

Jolly is a picture of resilience, and her journey has been a made-for-Hollywood story.

“I kind of made a way out of no way,” she said. “I’m from a single-parent home, where others have had to serve as a father figure for me. I have two younger sisters, and I’m a parent figure to them. I’ve given up summers to watch them because my mother didn’t have the money to send them to summer camps. I helped my mother take care of my grandmother before she died.”

“My mother, a college graduate, has a chronic illness. But every day, she goes to work to provide for us,” Jolly explained. “Like my mother, I’ve never backed down. I’m very determined.”

Not only has she worked diligently to better herself and her future, but she has given of herself to benefit others in the community, volunteering to help address youth crime in Birmingham, tutoring students, serving as a youth leader at church and collecting canned goods for the needy.

“I guess I’m a voice for the voiceless,” Jolly said.

Jacqueline Harrell, the student’s mother, emphasized that her daughter has always put school and her faith first.

“I’m so proud of her. She never gave up,” Harrell said. “She remained strong and persevered and made it to where she is today.’’

“We have had a lot of stumbling blocks along the way. She would get down, but she didn’t stay down,” she continued. “You have to thank God that she was able to see another day. With a new day comes new opportunities and another chance to follow your dreams.”

Read more about Jolly’s inspirational journey here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

‘Disgrace’: To Kill A Mockingbird ‘snubbed’ by Tony Awards

(To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway/Facebook)

Fans of Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway production of To Kill A Mockingbird are in shock after the record-breaking play was not nominated for the “Best Play” Tony Award on Tuesday.

Based on Alabama legend Harper Lee’s seminal novel, the play has received critical acclaim and broken longstanding box office records.

However, the Broadway community reacted with surprise and anger after To Kill A Mockingbird did not get the prized Tony nomination. The Los Angeles Times Entertainment division started a Twitter “moment” compiling reactions by prominent critics and fans, and The New York Times called the non-nomination amounting to the play being “snubbed.”

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The play was nominated in less prestigious categories.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

Sister Schubert awarded Lifetime Service Award by Yellowhammer Multimedia

(Kyle Carpenter/Contributed)

MOUNTAIN BROOK — During Yellowhammer Multimedia’s packed second annual Women of Impact recognition ceremony on Monday, Patricia “Sister Schubert” Barnes was honored with the 2019 Yellowhammer Lifetime Service Award.

Yellowhammer Multimedia Co-Owner and Yellowhammer News Editor-in-chief Tim Howe introduced Sister Schubert on stage, sharing her remarkable story with the hundreds of Alabamians assembled.

“Many here tonight know her remarkable story of business success,” Howe began. “She began baking her rolls, commercially, on her sun porch at home in Troy, Alabama.”

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Since the company’s beginning in 1989, Sister Schubert has built a worldwide business empire atop a humble yeast roll, using the family recipe developed by her grandmother, “Gommey.”

As the 100-year-old family recipe gained popularity, Sister Schubert moved her operation to her father’s furniture warehouse.

All the while, she marketed her unique product the old-fashioned way – Sister Schubert loaded up her wood-paneled station wagon with frozen bread products and delivered them personally to grocery stores.

This helped lead to her big break. As she established a growing clientele and her rolls began being stocked by mom-and-pop grocery stores around the Yellowhammer State, Sister Schubert caught the attention of “Southern Living” magazine, who offered this then-unknown author and chef a feature in their magazine, followed by a book deal with a national tour.

The young man who saw the possibility in Sister Schubert’s brand 28 years ago continues to represent her business today, as Alabama native Gary Wright was in attendance at the ceremony with Sister Schubert on Monday night.

The “Southern Living” boost helped allow Sister Schubert to open a baking facility in Luverne that quickly grew into an 80,000 square-foot facility between 1994-1998, when it was churning out over one-million rolls per day.

After the city lost its century-old textile industry, Sister Schubert’s bakery became the lifeblood of the community’s economy, and she became the largest employer in her area.

Business was truly booming for this “Made in Alabama” company.

That remarkable growth, guided by Sister Schubert’s leadership, made the company an attractive buy to every major food conglomerate in the nation. However, she refused to sell without guarantees to protect her grandmother’s recipe and her employees.

In 2000, Sister Schubert found her match and sold her share of stock to Lancaster Colony Corporation. She partnered with the company as they strategically managed Sister Schubert’s to become a worldwide brand, now producing over 9 million rolls per day, with additional production facilities in Saraland, AL, and Horse Cave, KY.

Today, Sister Schubert continues to serve as founder and national spokesperson for her brand and is heavily involved in all product development that bears her name.

Sister Schubert is the official culinary ambassador for the state of Alabama. She also is on the board of the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame and a member of the Alabama Business Hall of Fame.

She is a true homegrown success story.

Yet, the business prowess is only part of her tale.

Many people do not know that Sister Schubert started making her rolls as a way to serve others.

In the very beginning, while baking on her sun porch, Sister Schubert made two promises to herself and to God: that she would always give what she could to care for children and feed the hungry.

She made and delivered her rolls when people were sick, in the hospital or when there was a death in someone’s family.

Even when her business reached great heights, she continued to serve others. In fact, it was at that point where her commitment to service strengthened even more.

She now directs bread deliveries to shelters and food banks all across the country, making it a part of her regular routine to find people that she can help using her God-given gifts.

When Tuscaloosa was devastated by that tornado eight years ago this past Saturday, Sister Schubert’s trucks were the first on the scene, offering more than $500,000 of food to so many in dire need.

And just six weeks ago, when yet another tornado outbreak ravaged Lee County, Sister Schubert was on the scene again, personally delivering cases of her rolls to those impacted by the damage and to those volunteers from all of over the country.

Then there is the incredible example of this past Christmas season when one of the baking facilities in Luverne had to shut down for necessary repairs.

Rather than laying off the affected employees, Sister Schubert convinced current management to allow the employees to make blankets and assemble bikes for families in need. So, she bought up every bolt of fabric she could find and every child’s bicycle in every store in south Alabama. And Sister Schubert worked in line with all the other employees to make blankets and build bikes for Christmas gifts.

Sister Schubert perfectly exemplifies that service is transformational for not only the recipient but also for the person performing the act of service.

Several years ago, she began sending rolls to an orphanage in Ukraine.

Feeling called to visit, she then traveled halfway around the world to that orphanage. While there, a woman brought to her a child in such critical need of medical care that she feared the child would eventually be left out in the street to fend for himself.

Knowing what she had to do, Sister Schubert figured out a way to establish the necessary residency in Ukraine in order to be able to bring that child back to the United States for what would end up being a long line of surgeries and rehabilitation.

Today, Sister Schubert calls that child her son, Alexander. He is her fifth and youngest child, currently a junior in high school.

Sister Schubert and her husband, George, live in Andalusia. They also have seven grandchildren.

Patricia “Sister Schubert” Barnes truly exemplifies a lifetime commitment to service.

Accepting the award in-person on Monday night, Sister Schubert, ever humble, expressed how in awe she was of the 20 Women of Impact who had been recognized leading up to this final presentation.

“Thank you all so very much. I had a wonderful prepared speech tonight, but after listening to all the stories of all the wonderful women here tonight, I feel like if my dad were here, he would say to me, ‘Sister, you’re in high cotton tonight,'” she said.

“I do feel very, very honored, and all I have to say is that for each and every time that you picked up a pan of Sister Schubert rolls from the grocery store and honored me with that selection, you made a difference in someone’s life. Because we are trying to do that —  we give back in so many ways, not just here in the state of Alabama but everywhere. We try to share the warmth everywhere we go, in every way that we can,” she continued.

Sister Schubert concluded, “And tonight I feel very blessed to be in the presence of so many wonderful ladies that have done so many great things that I feel are so much greater than what I’ve ever been able to do. So, again I say: I am very, very grateful. Forever grateful to this wonderful state and the people here in the state of Alabama. And let’s continue to give back and share of those great and wonderful gifts that God has given us.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

Alabama town featured in national Mercedes-Benz TV ad

(Mercedes-Benz USA/YouTube)

Mercedes-Benz is showcasing a small Baldwin County town in an advertisement that began running on national television in recent days.

In the company’s 30-second ad for its 2019 GLC SUV, Mercedes-Benz features four unique “roadside attractions” across the nation.

The first quirky place displayed in the ad is Elberta, Alabama, with its “Dinosaurs in the Woods.”

Watch:

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Off of Barber Parkway in Elberta, you can find four large dinosaur figurines, along with “Bamahenge,” “Lady in the Lake” and other interesting statues in the same area.

The GLC is the smaller version of Mercedes-Benz’s GLE and GLS, which are both produced in Vance, Alabama.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

Birmingham neighborhood president named United Way corporate volunteer of the year

(Contributed)

The United Way of Central Alabama recently named Thomasine “TC” Jackson as the 2019 recipient of its Corporate Volunteer of the Year.

Jackson serves as president of the East Thomas Neighborhood Association in Birmingham and is a report reproduction supervisor for Drummond Company, Inc. where she has been employed for 34 years.

According to United Way, the award “recognizes a company employee that shows an exemplary approach to supporting and serving the community through volunteerism through their place of employment.”

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Her priorities as president of the East Thomas neighborhood have included improving parks and schools within the Smithfield community and helping to create a “Back to School Family Fun Day.”

Over the years, Jackson has advocated for numerous health initiatives and has served in numerous faith-based ministry programs, fulfilling volunteer needs in areas of music, administration, missions and health programming.

She has been a resident of the East Thomas Neighborhood for over 48 years. She is a product of the Wilkerson Elementary, A. H. Parker High School and Alabama School of Fine Arts. She has studied at Birmingham Southern, Alabama A& M University and University of Alabama in Birmingham. She is member of Payne Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Jackson is a past recipient of the Sarah Bass Allen Leadership Award from the Ninth Episcopal District Women’s Missionary Society, and she received the 2015 NAACP Award for Leadership in the Community.

She is married to Sidney W. Jackson and is the proud mother of two sons and has four grandchildren. She also helps out as a musician with the youth choir at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church.

Thomasine Jackson is frequently heard making a statement which may best sum up her attitude toward service: “Thank you for the opportunity to serve.”

3 weeks ago

State Rep. Warren on religion, gambling: Even Jesus might have gone out in the street ‘and started shooting some craps’

(Screenshot/APTV)

During an interview broadcasted on APTV’s “Capitol Journal,” State Rep. Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee) offered her views on morality and religion as it pertained to gambling.

Warren, who represents the district within which Macon County’s VictoryLand is located, has been a proponent of legalized gambling in Alabama.

The Tuskegee Democrat said she respected those who have religious beliefs that compel them to oppose gambling but added people would go to other states to gamble away from Alabama.

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“I understand those who have their religious beliefs, and I respect that – I respect it,” Warren said. “But I also know the reality what I’m trying to get in Macon County is already being done in Alabama. We say things, and we use it when it is to our advantage. But when you look at the reality, we’re not practicing what we are preaching. You go to the gaming places in Mississippi, and you see how many church buses you see there, OK? It’s OK to leave Alabama and gamble, but the whole thing is that revenue generating component that we’re concerned about. I’m pretty sure we give billions to our surrounding states.”

Warren also mentioned the Supreme Court’s ruling on sports betting and the illegal betting going on within the state of Alabama and hinted that could be legalized to benefit the state as well. She also added that her interpretation of Scripture only forbade in “God’s sight,” or in religious settings.

“Again, it’s just dealing with reality,” she continued. “And I think, you know, when it comes to your religious beliefs, you have to do what is pleasing in what is God’s sight. And the only place I can see that he talked against gambling was when it was in the churches. Other than that – that was where it was wrong because they were using the holy sanctuary to do the gambling. Who knows what he would say – he might have gone out there with the crowd in the street and started shooting some craps. Who knows what it was because he started making wine for them to drink. So he said, don’t do it in my sanctuary.”

“Once we start looking at it – sometimes, we put ourselves in a judging position, and he truly says it’s not our position, it’s his position,” Warren said. “So, you come thinking about your religious beliefs and your faith, that’s between you and your God, not you and me. We don’t judge. He didn’t give us that right, OK? He has that sole authority to be a judge and whatever you do, if a person is gambling – they can pray for forgiveness. That’s a good thing about it. He will forgive you.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

3 weeks ago

Big Spoon Creamery dips deep into Birmingham community

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

The small-batch, artisanal ice cream at Big Spoon Creamery is every bit as awesome as people say.

It’s deliciously inventive with quality ingredients: goat cheese with strawberry-hibiscus jam, fresh mint chip with Valrhona chocolate chips. Many of these ingredients are locally sourced, supporting area makers and farmers like Stone Hollow Farmstead (where they get the goat cheese) and Terra Preta Farm (where they get mint).

But this ice cream, ultimately, is a way for Ryan and Geri-Martha O’Hara to connect with people and support their community.

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“When we started the company,” Ryan says, “it was based on two big passions for us: ice cream and people. We feel like ice cream is sort of our vehicle, a platform, to be able to impact the people around us in a positive way.”

Their cart to truck to brick-and-mortar enterprise actually began with a foldout table and a deep freezer the couple hauled to the front yard of their Bluff Park home for a pop-up event that brought lines of customers down the driveway. When a neighbor, who worked at Southern Living, walked over and tasted their ice cream, she was impressed enough to write an article for the magazine’s website. That jump-started a dream business that now includes two stores and employs about 35 people year-round and 55 during the summer.

The O’Haras founded their company in 2014 with $500. They had just gotten married and bought and furnished a house. That didn’t leave much starting capital. They poured their subsequent profits into the business and named it Big Spoon because, as a kid, Ryan grew enjoyed ice cream and hand-mixed milkshakes in his grandmother’s kitchen, always asking for her biggest spoon.

In 2016, they went from an old-school ice cream cart to a truck they named Bessie. Parking Bessie at Pepper Place Market was their next great idea. “Pepper Place was our launching pad,” Geri-Martha says. “So many people get exposed to your product and learn about you. And so it was just an incredible growing tool for us, for us to really grow organically.”

They opened their first storefront – a light-filled, modern interpretation of a classic ice cream shop – in Avondale at the MAKEbhm building in April 2017. This past February, they opened a second location in Homewood’s Edgewood neighborhood. The truck and cart still make rounds for special events.

In 2017, Big Spoon was named Alabama’s Gee Emerging Retailer of the Year. One of the people who wrote a recommendation for this recognition was James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Frank Stitt, their former employer.

Both Ryan and Geri-Martha have career backgrounds in fine dining. Geri-Martha was a pastry chef at Bottega, where she made desserts for all four of Stitt’s restaurants. Before that, she spent some time in New York interning with star pastry chefs Dominique Ansel (creator of the Cronut) and James Beard winner Michael Laiskonis. Ryan began at Bottega as a line cook and worked his way up to sous chef at Chez Fonfon before the couple started Big Spoon.

This high level of training – in creative dishes and in service – influences everything they do.

Geri-Martha’s fully equipped pastry chef’s kitchen turns out a seasonal menu that changes from month to month as it relies on fresh and made-from-scratch ingredients for the ice cream, sundae sauces and add-ins like brittles, cookies, cakes and jams. Creative combinations include Snack Time 2.0 with salty, malty ice cream; brownie pieces; cookie dough; and chocolate-covered Golden Flake potato chips. There’s always something bright and refreshing like the tart Raspberry Elderflower Sorbet. There are fresh interpretations of classics like vanilla made with Madagascar vanilla beans and chocolate full of Valrhona 66% dark chocolate and strawberry made with ripe berries from Cullman.

Geri-Martha can – and will – make just about any cake or other dessert into an ice cream. She created an Italian cassata cake ice cream based on the dessert served at Bottega. One of the most popular of the seasonal flavors is Georgia Nell’s pecan pie ice cream, which is a tribute to Ryan’s milkshake-making grandmother and is available in the fall. Geri-Martha bakes the pie according to Georgia Nell’s recipe and mixes pieces into vanilla bean ice cream.

For a short time in the spring, there’s the ultra-seasonal honeysuckle ice cream with blackberry jam. “It’s one of the most special, unique flavors we’ve ever done,” Geri-Martha says. “When the honeysuckles bloom, we go out and handpick them. Fresh, wild Birmingham honeysuckles! We steep them into our milk and cream like tea and then strain them out.” After the honeysuckle ice cream is churned, they swirl Geri-Martha’s house-made blackberry jam into it.

“The milk really stretches the flavor of the honeysuckle, so you get all the beautiful notes of the honeysuckle,” Geri-Martha says. “It’s just so amazing. And then you get the tart of the blackberry. And it’s so beautiful. Oh, I can’t wait! As soon as we see some blooms, we’ll be out there picking. It’s probably my most favorite flavor!”

Staff members wearing signature, ice-cream-cone-imprinted bandanas serve Big Spoon’s ice cream in single, double or triple scoops in homemade waffle cones. Ice cream is also served in cups or in flights or spun into milkshakes and malts or as floats, sundaes or as “sammies” (Big Spoon’s take on ice cream sandwiches). But before they scoop their first scoop or hand-pack the first take-home pint, all employees receive extensive training.

“We wanted to channel all that we’ve been doing our whole careers into this,” Ryan says. “So, we take a lot of the (fine dining) approaches, whether it’s food or whether it’s service, and we’ve adapted them into our setting. When I coach and train our front-of-the-house team … a lot of the principles and the things that we do are based on things that we did in the restaurants, in terms of our flavors and menu and philosophies and cooking and in terms of service and atmosphere.”

The focus is on both teamwork and team members.

“We just put people first … that’s sort of our mantra,” Ryan says. “So, for us, that starts internally. We care a lot about our staff and never want to look at them as just like ‘What can you do for me?’ We want to care for our team as whole people and invest in them and grow them and give them opportunities to thrive and flourish and do awesome things.

“We’re going to work really hard, but we want this to be fun. I mean this is ice cream after all, right? So, we want to … create an awesome environment where people look forward to coming to work and being around other like-minded individuals. We don’t feel like we can do the service part very well if we don’t get the internal part right. So, we take that part really seriously, knowing that if we get that part right then we can get the service part right.”

“We have the most incredible people that work with us,” Geri-Martha adds. “I’m so proud of them, and it’s an honor to work beside them every day and to … grow them and help them get to where they want to go.”

“When people come here, they don’t come here by accident,” Ryan adds. “They come here with high expectations, just like any great restaurant or establishment … they don’t come here just for a cup of ice cream. They’re coming for an experience, whether it’s date night or it’s Sunday after church with the family or a special occasion. And, so, it’s on us to deliver that and give them an awesome experience.”

This graciously served ice cream has become a way for the O’Haras to directly connect with the communities around them.

“Currently, we partner with two different nonprofit ministries that do awesome work in our communities,” Ryan says. “We give a portion of our profits to The WellHouse, which fights human trafficking. The other one is Christian Service Mission, not even half a mile down the street from our Avondale shop, and they do incredible work with food and housing and practical needs for the underprivileged in our city.”

Geri-Martha and Ryan already are reaching out to organizations near the new location in Homewood. “We’re going to partner with The Exceptional Foundation,” Ryan says. “And we just did a give-back night … with The Bell Center. We want to be intentional with some of the success we’ve had and channel that into making an impact.

“In any community we’re in – whether it’s Avondale, Birmingham as a whole, the Homewood community – we want to be a pillar of our community and be a positive impact … not just a great ice cream shop. We want to be doing great things for our community.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

One man’s life-altering event leads to Sylacauga ministry, hope for others halfway around the world

(Vapor/Contributed)

Micah McElveen greets visitors walking through the door of his organization’s Sylacauga office with an uncommon enthusiasm. Most can appreciate someone who enjoys what they do.

For the founder and CEO of Vapor Ministries, there is more to it than that.

After hearing McElveen’s story it becomes apparent that his zeal for what he is doing is born out of a life-changing experience and how that experience has led to living out his faith in a very specific way.

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McElveen’s life changed one day in 1995 when he and his brother set out into the water to surf rising swells ahead of a gulf coast storm. McElveen dove through a wave as he normally would — except this time it was all different.

He felt a blow to his head, and then he felt nothing.

Having already spent several minutes unable to move and trapped underwater, his family found him and pulled him out of the surf. After being air-lifted to a Florida hospital, McElveen woke up days later to the news that he had broken his neck.

Micah McElveen (Contributed)

Regaining the ability to walk again and restoring the use of his arms required numerous surgeries and years of rehabilitation. During his recovery, he also began to focus on how he wanted to live his life – the fragility of which he suddenly understood more clearly. McElveen sought to know more deeply the type of life for which Christ calls his followers to live.

So in 2005, McElveen moved to Africa. It was there he encountered yet another life-altering experience.

“While there, I lived on the edge of a large slum where I witnessed heartbreaking scenes playing out in abject poverty daily,” he explained. “For more than a year, I had not taken a hot shower, had eaten on less than $1.50 a day and had become used to blackouts and water rationing.”

He saw human suffering on a level he could have never conceived prior to living in Africa. And it jolted him into action. That was when he knew God had kept him alive to serve the poor and advance the gospel.

Vapor Ministries (Contributed)

“I felt like I came to a crossroads,” McElveen said. “I would either waste the rest of my life trying to forget what I saw or spend it trying to do something about it.”

What came next was dropping out of graduate school and teaming up with numerous friends and supporters to form Vapor Ministries. Less than a year later, he moved back to the same African slum to build the first Vapor center.

With a name inspired by a verse in Psalm 39 (“Surely all people, even those who seem secure, are nothing but vapor.”), the ministry’s stated mission is to “establish sustainable centers for alleviating poverty and multiplying disciples in third-world environments.”

Vapor Ministries (Contributed)

Vapor Ministries centers serve as an oasis for residents of poverty-stricken areas, places where families can come for clean water and children can play sports. Not only do the centers provide opportunities for ministry staff to share the gospel, but they also provide a place for staff development among indigenous believers to further the goal of disciple multiplication.

Centers additionally offer agriculture education, as well as training with a view toward helping local citizens start small-scale business enterprises using existing skills, such as craft-making.

Vapor Ministries (Contributed)

Acquiring land, constructing facilities and employing staff for its management is a resource-intensive effort.

Even so, the Sylacauga-based ministry has seen significant growth since its inception, and McElveen sees that growth deriving from one source.

“What God has done in a short time has been incredible, and we look with hope to His plan for the future,” he said. “God has been faithful and has grown our capacity year over year.”

Vapor Ministries now has five centers  – three in Africa and two in Haiti – with 480 staff members.

McElveen continues to maintain the same perspective that set all this in motion years earlier.

“We’re not guaranteed a long life,” he said. “The truth is our time on earth is like a vapor. When you realize that, you are afforded an opportunity to live it differently.”

Watch:

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

4 weeks 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)

1 month ago

South Alabama woman donates kidney to complete stranger (VIDEO)

(WKRG/YouTube)

Alabama’s people are truly one of a kind, and the story of Baldwin County’s Michelle Tesch is just the latest example of Yellowhammer State altruism.

As reported by WKRG, Tesch recently donated a kidney to Marlin Rodriguez of Louisiana.

What makes this selfless act even better?

Tesch had never met the man before she enthusiastically volunteered to “save [his] life.”

Watch WKRG’s report: 

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In a tweet, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) lauded Tesch’s “true, selfless generosity.”

“During the Easter season, we should all reflect on small ways we can make life a little better for our neighbors and even those we’ve never met,” he added.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn