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.

14 hours ago

Watch: Nick Saban gives master class on leadership, team building

(BBA/YouTube)

The Birmingham Business Alliance recently presented a virtual business forum featuring University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who shared his candid insight and tips on a range of topics.

The event was sponsored by Red Diamond Coffee & Tea and was moderated by bestselling author Jon Gordon.

The legendary football coach discussed leadership, team building, creating a winning strategy and other lessons that can be taken from athletics and applied to the business world.

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“To be successful in whatever you choose to do is probably pretty similar,” Saban advised. “I think culture is the most important thing. I think mindset is a very important part of culture. Obviously, whatever your business is you have to define the culture. To get people to have a vision for what they want to accomplish and what they want to do — to get them to understand the things you have to do to accomplish that, ‘here’s what you have to do to edit your behavior to be able to do it,’ and then having the discipline to execute every day is important in being successful in anything you do. And I think the hardest thing for most folks is the discipline piece.”

He defined discipline as “do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it the way it’s supposed to get done — do the right thing the right way the right time, all the time.”

“But self-discipline is really more about, you know we make hundreds of decisions every day that really boil down to two questions,” Saban continued. “Here’s something I know I’m supposed to do that I really don’t want to do, and you make yourself do it; and then here’s something I know I’m not supposed to do but I want to do it — can you keep yourself from it? To me, if you can make those choices and decisions the right way, you’re always going to be able to stay on the path of doing the things you need to do to accomplish the goals that you have. … I think the mindset, the culture, what it takes to be successful in business or in football or in any sport is probably very similar.”

Watch the full 38-minute video of the forum here or below:

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Birmingham’s Adjacent Space building bridges between the deaf and hearing communities

(Adjacent Space/Contributed)

Joe Kaplan’s hands come together, fists first meeting in front of his chest in a pantomime of clasping hands. Then, in one swift. graceful movement, his fists twist in midair, fingers spreading wide but hands staying connected.

Although this movement might look like a choreographed part of a dance routine, in reality it is the American Sign Language (ASL) name for Adjacent Space, a Birmingham-based nonprofit dedicated to improving accessibility and equity for local deaf, deaf-blind and hard-of-hearing residents.

Adjacent Space recently announced that Kaplan’s sign was the winner of its monthlong name contest. He was honored to win and said he put a lot of thought into the winning sign.

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Joe Kaplan’s winning submission for Adjacent Space sign name competition from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“I was looking at the goal and the mission, and I thought, Adjacent Space and the community together. It is like they clasp hands,” Kaplan signed. “Each finger represents something.”

One hand represents Adjacent Space’s mission – to advance public spaces, to make communication more accessible for all communities and to make Birmingham a more equitable place. The other hand represents the communities that Adjacent Space serves and the bridge the organization is building between those residents and the hearing community.

“It also means that the organization will change. Organizations never stay the same,” Kaplan said of the sign, which includes a motion similar to the ASL sign for “change.”

Major changes in a short time

Adjacent Space has undergone major changes since its first iteration as the brainchild of Angelica Dill, a certified sign language interpreter and Birmingham resident.

In 2018, Dill started doing “Adjacent Space Nights Out” to offer networking and social opportunities for ASL users in the Birmingham area.

“I’m a connector by nature and enjoy coordinating things that bring people together,” Dill said. “It was big for a while. We educated some bars and restaurants about having deaf patrons, but I started realizing that a lot of people in the area just weren’t exposed to the deaf community.”

At that point, Adjacent Space started holding informal community discussions, known as “Think Tanks.” Trey Gordon, a deaf Alabama native and Birmingham resident, saw the potential for more.

“In 2019, Trey became really interested in what was happening and he said, ‘Let’s make this a nonprofit,’” Dill said. “Adjacent Space, as it stands now, wouldn’t be here without him.”

Gordon said he was inspired by the “clear need” for such an organization in the Birmingham community.

“We’ve heard stories of inaccessibility from friends, community members and people that we’ve come to during our work,” he said. “I’m always driven by the idea of leaving someplace better than it was when I came along.”

Since its official inception as a nonprofit in February 2020, Adjacent Space has carried out several community events and initiatives, perhaps none more impactful than the ClearMask Campaign, which distributed thousands of masks to area businesses and organizations in an effort to promote accessibility and communication during the pandemic. Typical nonclear masks prevent deaf and hard-of-hearing community members from seeing speakers’ lips and facial expressions.

“The official ClearMask company caught hold of our initiative, and they’ve been incredible in donating their masks to us for us to distribute to our communities,” Gordon said. “Overall, it was a gem of collaborative effort.”

Improving accessibility in times of grief

Next up, Adjacent Space will focus on a push to educate funeral directors statewide about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and what’s required of funeral homes under the law.

“We received some reports that some deaf people were not getting the access they need in funeral homes. Deaf people have to experience the grief of loss of their loved ones, and they have to face inaccessibility in getting what they need?” Gordon asked.

“One of Adjacent Space’s values is proactive action. If we can work with funeral homes in providing access deaf people need, then they can be comforted knowing they can focus on supporting their families and loved ones during such an emotional event in their lives,” he said.

Adjacent Space plans a Think Tank community discussion on April 23, a captioned drive-in movie event for the summer and an Americans with Disabilities Act Q&A session with ADA lawyer Ed Zwilling, among other events.

Dill said members of the Birmingham community have several ways they can support Adjacent Space.

“I think the most important thing that hearing nonsigners can do is ask the right questions. Just ask yourself, ‘Is communication important in this moment?’ I would say that almost 100% of the time, it is,” Dill said. “And hopefully that can lead you to other questions. ‘How can I make this person feel like a person?’ ‘How can we communicate most effectively?’ ‘What would be the best practice here?’”

Dill said community members can share Adjacent Space’s social media posts, support the deaf ecosystem of deaf-owned businesses to build up the economy and create opportunities in the deaf community, sign up for newsletters and donate.

“You don’t need to know ASL to support our mission,” she said.

To find out more about Adjacent Space and the larger deaf, deaf-blind and hard-of-hearing community in Birmingham, visit Adjacentspace.org. The organization can be found on Instagram @adjacent_space_bham and on Facebook at facebook.com/adjacentspacebirmingham/.

Amy Jones is a member of the Adjacent Space Leadership Team and is the sister of Trey Gordon.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 days ago

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

(Hand in Paw/Contributed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To register or learn more about Mutt Strut, visit www.handinpaw.org/muttstrut.

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

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 days ago

Mural unveiled in Montgomery during Embrace Alabama Kids Week

(Embrace Alabama Kids/Twitter)

In conjunction with Governor Kay Ivey’s proclaimed Embrace Alabama Kids Week, a new mural was unveiled this week in downtown Montgomery.

Embrace Alabama Kids, a 501(c)(3) faith-based agency based in the state’s capital city, commissioned the project and joined Mayor Steven Reed, city officials and local artists at an unveiling on Wednesday.

The mural, located at 420 Clay St. adjacent to the Nat King Cole mural, is dedicated to shining a light on critical issues facing Alabama’s vulnerable children.

“The City of Montgomery is proud to partner with Embrace Alabama Kids and our visionary artists on this meaningful project to help raise awareness of Alabama’s children who suffer from abuse, neglect and abandonment,” stated Reed. “The mural enhances Montgomery’s vibrant and growing downtown by transforming what was once a vacant building into a colorful, diverse and symbolic celebration of Alabama’s children and families.”

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Founded in 1890, Embrace Alabama Kids is a ministry of the United Methodist Children’s Home headquartered in Montgomery. The mural is meant to mark a new chapter in the organization’s mission to serve vulnerable children, youth and families through providing homes, healing and hope.

“What started as one orphanage in Selma back in 1890 has grown into a vast network of many programs and many locations across Alabama and Northwest Florida,” explained Embrace Alabama Kids president and CEO Blake Horne. “We feel confident this new chapter of our organization will help us expand our impact and develop lasting partnerships like we see today with the City of Montgomery and our talented artists.”

Local artists and entrepreneurs from The King’s Canvas and 21 Dreams, including lead muralist Nathaniel Allen, collaborated on the mural installation on a downtown building owned by Kyser Property Management.

Volunteers from the Beta Upsilon Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. were also reportedly instrumental in supporting the artists to help complete the project. The permanent mural was revealed alongside a unique traveling mural created by artists and community volunteers in Mobile, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham to help further raise awareness of Embrace Alabama Kids Week throughout the state.

Each year, more than 28,000 incidents of child abuse, neglect and abandonment are reported to the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR). During National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, Embrace Alabama Kids encourages communities across the state to come together to help break this vicious cycle.

“Alabama’s children experience hardships no child should have to face,” concluded Horne. “We can’t change the wrongs our children have experienced in the past, but through our ministry we can help change the trajectory of their future by providing homes, healing and hope.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 week ago

Watch: House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, Minority Leader Anthony Daniels featured in Our Yellowhammer 360 video series

The third video in the Our Yellowhammer 360 series was released on Monday and features Alabama House of Representatives Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) and Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville).

Our Yellowhammer 360, announced at the beginning of this year, is a partnership between Yellowhammer News and Our 360 News created in an effort to bring the people of our great state together, regardless of individual differences.

Part of the Our Yellowhammer Speaks storytelling aspect of the series, videos like the one released Monday, will highlight prominent elected officials in Alabama speaking about times they have worked across the aisle to address the needs of all of their constituents.

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The conversation with McCutcheon and Daniels centered on building bridges. Both leaders spoke about the shared public service and community values that extend beyond political affiliation and strike at the heart of what it means to be southern — and human.

WATCH:

RELATED: Watch: Gov. Kay Ivey featured in first video of Our Yellowhammer 360 series

Watch: Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin featured in Our Yellowhammer 360 video series

1 week ago

Wetumpka officials thrilled about HGTV ‘Home Town Takeover’ premiere May 2

(HGTV/Contributed)

Wetumpka is ready for its close-up. Almost a year after it was announced that the city beat out 2,600 other small towns to be the focus of HGTV’s “Home Town Takeover,” the show will air its first of six episodes May 2.

“Home Town Takeover” follows Ben and Erin Napier, stars of the hit home-renovation show “Home Town,” as they give Wetumpka’s downtown and historic district a facelift, with a focus on how renovation and preservation can revitalize a small town.

The Napiers’ passion for small towns has been playing out on “Home Town” since that show began in 2016 and is built on their belief in the big worth of American’s smaller places.

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“It’s too bad that small towns are so often undervalued because you can live a beautiful life in them,” Erin said in a news release announcing “Home Town Takeover’s” premiere. “People really want to believe in a bright future in the place where they live, but rebuilding a town is no small feat. It takes every member of that community using their gifts and skills coming together to make a difference.”

In Wetumpka, leaders and residents did just that, getting behind the work and filming of 12 projects with a cohesive team spirit that made the Napiers’ and HGTV’s film crews’ jobs easier. “I just didn’t expect people to be so grateful and so willing to help,” said Liz Kerrigan, the show’s executive producer. “Everyone was thrilled to work with us.”

According to HGTV, all that work went into “major renovations” on a diverse array of projects, including restaurants, shops, historic homes, public spaces, a new farmers market and an entire downtown street.

Jenny Stubbs, executive director of Main Street Wetumpka, a nonprofit that helped jumpstart downtown revitalization efforts in Wetumpka in 2017, has strong feelings about finally seeing the finished show and seeing Wetumpka’s progress shared with so many others.

“It’s excitement, pride, jubilation!” she said. “I’m thrilled for the world to see how a small town can come together and make true change. Sure, we had a network behind us, but I don’t believe they would have given us a second glance had we not put in all of the time and effort before they got here. The idea of showing off our beautiful little town in front of such a large audience makes all of the time, energy and love we poured into it completely worth it.”

Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis echoed Stubbs. “I am thrilled at the excitement the show has brought to this community already. The momentum has brought so much interest to Wetumpka,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what happens after the premiere.”

He also hopes Wetumpka’s unity is evident on the screen. “I hope they will see our unique qualities and what a tight-knit community we are,” Willis said.

Jane Latman, president of HGTV, believes watching the transformation in Wetumpka will motivate other small towns to follow in the city’s footsteps. “’Home Town Takeover’ will inspire small towns across America because it will show them the impact that neighbors, local leaders and a few friends working together can have on their community,” Latman said. “We’ve seen the power of that in Laurel, and we want to spark that same change in more small towns.”

Stubbs hopes viewers take in her city’s “never give up” attitude. “Never count yourself out,” she said. “I look back to five years ago when the struggle and the real work began, and I never would have guessed we’d be where we are today. Whether it’s a hope for your town or a dream for yourself, the impossible can be possible. You just have to hang in there, do what needs to be done and be patient.”

Many dreams have been made true in Wetumpka in recent years; “Home Town Takeover” is simply the sweet icing on an already delicious cake. And the city is inviting everyone to come take a bite.

“I am excited for people to come and feel the energy and see just how much has been accomplished here,” said Shellie Whitfield, executive director of the Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce. “It is an exciting time waiting for the show to air. While we are waiting, we are focusing on making sure that when people come visit, they have a great experience.”

Whitfield is happily anticipating increased tourism and the ensuing positive economic impact, but she knows the Wetumpka “Home Town Takeover” story is broader than dollars and cents, noting that the show’s true message isn’t how to choose the right paint or tile color.

“The big takeaway is to help one another,” she said. “People that were strangers to us came in and helped us achieve our dream. The long-term effects of this will bless our community beyond measure forever. I hope that people understand that the point that Ben and Erin are trying to make is that we should all work together to build our communities and make them places our children want to live.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 week ago

Award-nominated Southern National restaurant brings global influence to Alabama dishes

(Southern National/Contributed)

The ups and downs early last year for Duane Nutter and the Mobile restaurant he co-owns, Southern National, could be fodder for a caustic comedy routine by the Mad Chef, Nutter’s alter ego back when he moonlighted as a standup comic.

Late February 2020 brought national plaudits when the James Beard Foundation named him a semifinalist for its Best Chef South award. The year before, Southern National was a Beard semifinalist for Outstanding New Restaurant.

But Nutter also blew out a tendon, requiring foot surgery that hobbled the 6-foot 6-inch, 320-pound Louisiana native. Then the pandemic hit. Amid all the buzz prestigious Beard nominations bring, Southern National had to shut down.

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“You get a James Beard nomination and you’re trying to figure out how to walk again,” muses Nutter. “One of the biggest things in your life and you can’t feed nobody.”

Finally, COVID-19 forced cancellation of both the 2020 and 2021 Beard Awards. “All I can say is just my luck,” Nutter says, delivering his punchline with precision. “It always happens to me.”

Southern National, a casual chef-driven restaurant in a historic building in Mobile’s Arts District, reopened in January after a 10-month hiatus. But for now, service is limited to Fridays and Saturdays.

Nutter’s partner is Reginald “Reggie” Washington, a Mobile native whose family roots run deep there. They met as top chefs at One Flew South, the groundbreaking fine-dining restaurant at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Born in Morgan City, Louisiana, and raised in Seattle, Nutter has cooked in south Florida, Kentucky, Georgia, and now Alabama. He traces his culinary roots to his birthplace, but says he puts a little of everywhere he’s gone into his food along with international inspirations.

A current dish, Loaded Sweet Potato, starts with one of Alabama’s top crops (the state ranks fifth nationally in production). It’s baked and loaded with north African flavors from lamb cooked in tomatoes, fennel, cumin, smoked paprika, and garlic. Other elements include curry-spiced yogurt, and garlicky-spicy chimichurri made with mustard greens instead of the usual parsley.

“I try to elevate local cuisine to a global scenario or a contemporary outlook where you see something familiar through a different lens,” he says.

Southern National has abundant outside tables on a patio and its courtyard, nicknamed the Court of Versailles. Nutter describes the interior as old-school New Orleans with modern touches, enlivened by a soundtrack heavy with 1980s-era rock and some hip-hop.

“When the Bee Gees come on the whole dining room goes, ‘I remember that song,’” Nutter says, finishing in a falsetto. “It’s a fun atmosphere.”

The menu includes shareable small plates and traditional large plates. Options are scaled down for now because the kitchen staff is just Nutter and another cook.

When Southern National was fully operating, Nutter’s station was more in the dining room than the kitchen. He says his standup comedy experience makes him comfortable being so center-stage in the restaurant.

“I’ve been booed by 300 people on stage at the comedy club,” he jokes. “I can handle a few diners.”

While Southern National was shut down last summer, Nutter and Washington sold barbecue on the patio as Steel Smokin’ BBQ, including ribs and chicken, a dip with cold-smoked catfish, and slow-cooked duck legs for risotto.

“I was doing different things, treating the smoke as an ingredient,” Nutter says. “I wouldn’t say it was classic. It’s more like if a chef was barbecuing.”

The duo originally planned to open a barbecue joint first and follow with Southern National. But after the right space for a fine-dining restaurant appeared, priorities flipped.

It’s anyone’s guess when Southern National will return to normal. Finding quality help may be the driver. “It’s going to be a slow go,” Nutter says. “You have to start all over.”

But for now, Nutter and many loyal diners are happy to have it back in some capacity.

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

2 weeks ago

Alabama now offers opt-out for ‘so help me God’ portion of voter registration oath

(YHN)

In response to a lawsuit from the out-of-state Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office is now offering an opt-out for individuals seeking to register to vote that do not want to include the final four words of the voter declaration oath: “so help me God.”

FFRF announced the lawsuit on October 1, 2020, asserting that Alabama was the only state that requires would-be voters to swear “so help me God,” without allowing any secular alternative, on the registration form.

The defendant in the lawsuit was Secretary of State John Merrill in his official capacity. The lead plaintiff was an atheist who lived in the state.

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In a statement on Wednesday, Merrill confirmed that the State of Alabama now offers an option that settles the issue. FFRF released a statement saying the lawsuit has ended.

Voter registration forms, an example of which can be found here, still feature the same oath, which reads as follows:

I solemnly swear or affirm to support and defend the constitution of the United States and the State of Alabama and further disavow any belief or a affiliation with any group which advocates the overthrow of the governments of the United States or the State of Alabama by unlawful means and that the information contained herein is true, so help me God.

However, there is now included a check-box underneath that reads as follows: “OPTIONAL: Because of a sincerely held belief, I decline to include the final four words of the oath above.”

Merrill said, “Following the introduction of this lawsuit, our Office took action to see that an option was provided to voters to either swear a religious oath or opt out when registering to vote.”

“While the language ‘so help me God’ has been included on voter registration applications since well before I took office, this issue was just brought to light, and we remain willing to accommodate all voters of Alabama. All registration applications, online or on paper, were updated on March 8, 2021 to include the option to opt out, if interested,” he concluded.

FFRF hailed the news as a “huge constitutional victory for secular voters in Alabama.”

“Millions of Alabamians were being asked to swear a religious oath as a fait accompli,” stated FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We warmly thank the plaintiffs, without whom we could not have put an end to this unconstitutional mindgame.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 weeks ago

Alabama Power donates 375 meals for hungry in Birmingham through Food For Our Journey

(Food For Our Journey/Contributed)

Waste not, want not: When Alabama Power line crews restored power earlier than expected after heavy tornado damage in and around Birmingham and surrounding areas, the company on March 29 was left with 375 boxed breakfasts.

Alabama Power’s Storm Logistics Team made sure the food didn’t go to waste. Engineer Christy Hyche of Power Delivery Budget and Planning, contacted Food For Our Journey (FFOJ), a Birmingham nonprofit that daily supplies meals to homeless and food-insecure residents.

“After exceeding our original power-restoration estimates, we were able to shut down the Birmingham Division staging site after dinner on March 28,” said Lindsey Crawson, a meeting and event specialist at Alabama Power. “Breakfast had previously been ordered for the staging site and couldn’t be canceled.”

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FFOJ got its start in October 2018, when Kelly Greene and Christine Golab began delivering food to the homeless from their cars. In January 2020, FFOJ got a cargo van. Last year, the 501(c)(3) group donated more than 153,000 meals to the Magic City’s underprivileged. FFOJ is on target this year to accomplish even more, Greene believes.

Greene said the food donation from Alabama Power came just in time to feed hungry Birmingham residents.

“We were glad to pick up the food,” said Greene, FFOJ executive director. “We received the plated breakfasts and got on the road to hand out the meals. We hand out a minimum of 400 meals a day.”

The meals made by Full Moon Bar-B-Que – which Alabama Power would have supplied to line crews – included eggs, biscuits, bacon, sausage, milk and orange juice, along with individually packaged utensils and condiments.

Greene and her team met the Full Moon delivery trucks Monday. After transferring the packaged meals to their cargo van, Greene and FFOJ Assistant Director Christine Golab began their cross-town route. Greene and Golab are on the road by 9 a.m. weekdays. Numerous volunteers help with food donations and assist in delivering meals on weekends.

The team’s route starts at 22nd Street at Fourth Avenue North, where they deliver food at a stationary location, then go to Brother Bryan Park, staying about an hour to distribute meals. From there, they crisscross avenues and streets up through Avondale, all the way to the Red Mountain area. The team often drops off meals to homebound and quarantined residents.

“We start on the northside, move to Southside, and hand out meals under the interstate and at tent cities, anywhere the homeless or food-insecure people are living,” Greene said. “Our overall mission is to eliminate food waste by using food that’s been prepared. Through breaking bread with one another, we get to know the needs of the food insecure. Food is an innate right we all have to be nourished.”

FFOJ gets to know the people and is required to improve their lives. Partnering with city and state agencies, FFOJ helps the homeless to obtain a driver license, which is required for housing and to get a job. Greene said they’ll occasionally see people at one location, then won’t see them for a day or more, depending on people’s transportation or employment.

“We’ve worked with the homeless for years. We get to know the people and know what they need,” Greene said. “We plug people into partner agencies where they can get help in things like applying for a drivers license, applying for housing, receiving medical care, help with filing for the stimulus, taxes or unemployment, and filling out job applications.”

FFOJ’s work never ends. During Easter weekend, volunteers will deliver fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, bread and dessert to the homeless, thanks to Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Hoover.

Greene pointed out that FFOJ’s mission is built on love, as an action – not a feeling.

“Just being able to share in the lives of our friends on the streets is humbling,” Greene said. “They’re just like you and I, they’ve just got different circumstances. Our goal is to be able to talk with them and share with them, so we can help them to reach their dreams.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Alabama Symphony’s Carlos Izcaray composes virtual symphony for ASFA students

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Early on in the COVID-19 crisis, Carlos Izcaray, music director of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, composed a piece for the American Youth Symphony, where he’s also music director.

“It was written for a virtually recorded ensemble,” the maestro says. “We recorded it remotely.”

As the pandemic continued, administrators and faculty at the Alabama School of Fine Arts were looking for ways to engage their students, and they reached out to Izcaray for ideas involving their music students.

“I said, ‘Well, I just did this kind of project,’” he recalls. “’We could do something similar with ASFA and explore this new way of generating something for this internet medium that we’re all watching now.”

And “Symphony of Colors,” a virtual piece involving all 53 of ASFA’s music students, was born.

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Izcaray composed the eight-minute piece with the virtual nature of its performance in mind.

“Breaking them up a little bit into teams made sense, otherwise you’d be looking at 50 different screens,” Izcaray says. “So I thought of ‘Symphony of Colors.’ A rainbow has seven colors, so we divided the piece into seven sections, each one a color. We had six musical teams – red, yellow, orange, green, blue, indigo – and the last one, violet, I put them all together. … Each color has a mood and a personality.”

The piece was also composed with the 53 ASFA students in mind – each and every one of them.

“They have students from age 12 to seniors in high school, so there’s a wide range of where each student is musically,” Izcaray says. “That was a challenge, but it was fun, too. It is 100% custom-built for this student body at this time. For example, right now they have a number of pianists and guitarists, a couple of violinists. There’s a specific number of players per instrument, so I wrote it like that.”

The process gave Izcaray, the conductor, composer and performer, the opportunity to become teacher.

“It gave me a chance to be didactical, to teach through the music,” he says. “It’s a traditional approach. Bach and Beethoven would write pieces for students at their level. I’m a huge fan of other composers from the past who took this approach of writing for their students.”

Students rehearsed and recorded their parts at home, and Paxeros, a Los Angeles video production company, put it all together in a video. (The video will be available on the school’s social media and YouTube channel beginning April 8).

For the students involved, “Symphony of Colors” was a way to hone their musical skills with an acclaimed conductor, but it was also a way to keep up their playing while they were studying from home.

“This was a great experience,” says Clarisse Nacilla, a senior who plays the piano. “It was nice to learn music outside of my piano repertoire and collaborate with other musicians. It was also interesting to work with Maestro Izcaray. He was so supportive in the process, and his enthusiasm for the project was inspiring and motivating.”

Lujue’la McEntyre, a ninth grade bassoonist, called the project “amazing.”

“It was definitely challenging, but I fortunately had amazing musicians surround me and amazing music faculty who supported us every step of the way,” she says.

Izcaray, for his part, called the process inspiring.

“There’s that uncertainty with anything new, but I was very, very inspired by the students, the school and the faculty,” he says. “How lucky we are as a community to have such a great asset like the Alabama School of Fine Arts. … We’re very lucky to have great, great music teachers there and to have this fantastic school. This was with the music department, but I know the other departments are very vibrant, too, and that’s something we should all feel good about.”

Izcaray hopes “Symphony of Colors” brought some brightness to the darkness of the past year.

“I just wanted to be sure we did something meaningful during a dark period we were all facing,” he says. “What better way to bring us out of this grey feeling than with a lot of colors.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

‘He has risen!’: Gov. Kay Ivey shares 2021 Easter message

(Gov. Kay Ivey/YouTube)

Governor Kay Ivey has released her annual Easter message.

In a video posted on Good Friday, Ivey spoke directly to the people of Alabama.

“My fellow Alabamians, just last week severe weather ripped through several counties in North Alabama and left a devastating path of destruction of homes, businesses and much more. More significantly, families and friends are missing loved ones, and we join them in their grief,” she began. “These tragedies are in addition to what has been an incredibly hard 13 months. And while we think there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and maybe even discouraged as we head into what is a joyous season in the Christian faith.”

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“As we celebrate Good Friday with Christians around the world, we’re reminded that while all can look dark and be discouraging, Sunday is coming,” the governor continued. “Scripture reminds us that while in this world there may be trouble, we can take heart for He has overcome the world.”

“Friends, Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection reminds us of the hope that we can find in Him. As you join others on Sunday in-person or at home through your electronic device, let us give thanks to the Lord for His countless blessings on our lives. Remember, He has risen! May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama,” Ivey concluded.

WATCH:

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 weeks ago

Learn the history behind Alabama’s 136-year-old Middle Bay Lighthouse

(Alabama Historical Commission/Contributed)

When it comes to lighthouses, Alabama isn’t exactly the Northeast, where around 150 of the country’s 1,000 lighthouses reside. Nor are we Michigan, where 115 lighthouses stand along the Great Lakes. However, what we lack in quantity, we make up for in rich history. Case in point: Middle Bay Lighthouse, located off the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, has been in operation since the 19th century.

One of three remaining lighthouses in Alabama, Middle Bay Lighthouse is quite different from the tall, tubular structures typical of traditional lighthouses. And you won’t find any black-and-white candy striping either. If you’re on the lookout for Middle Bay Lighthouse, you’ll want to search for a structure that resembles a near-circular house on stilts. The one-and-a-half story hexagonal wooden structure is built on metal pilings screwed directly into the seafloor. Known as a screw-pile lighthouse, this style of lighthouse is commonly used in bays and estuaries with soft, muddy bottoms. Today, Middle Bay is one of only 10 remaining screw-pile lighthouses in the U.S.

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Middle Bay first began operations on December 1, 1885. At the time, it was built as a lighthouse and residence for a lighthouse keeper. It used a fourth-order Frensel lens to alert ships, and Mobilians could see a white light that flashed red every 30 seconds in the bay. When fog covered the bay, a bell sounded every five seconds as a signal.

By 1935, the lighthouse was automated with electric lights and a lighthouse keeper was no longer needed. Middle Bay Lighthouse was in operation for the next 30 years, until it was deactivated in 1967. The Coast Guard planned to demolish the structure, but the Mobile Bar Pilots Association and other local citizens fought to keep the landmark, arguing that it still played a pivotal navigational role, as it was more readily picked up on ships’ radars than small, modern buoys.

The lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and was transferred to the care of the Alabama Historical Commission in 1977. In the almost 50 years since, the Middle Bay Lighthouse has undergone a series of repairs and renovations, including a near $350,000 undertaking in 2002 that included a new slate roof, the replacing of damaged wood, and swapping the 15-foot-tall pyramidal structure atop the lighthouse for a six-foot pole supporting a solar-powered red light.

Today, the lighthouse serves as a private aid to navigation for leisure boats, as well as for bar pilots as they guide ships in and out of the Port of Mobile. Middle Bay has also housed a real-time weather station for the Dauphin Island Sea Lab since 2003.

Wendi Lewis of the Alabama Historical Commission says that while the landmark doesn’t offer tours, it’s well worth a visit by private boat or via one of many bout tours offered in the surrounding area.

“Middle Bay Lighthouse is an important part of Alabama’s—and the nation’s—maritime history,” she says. “It’s an unusual attraction … but the thrill of seeing this historic structure up close and personal is worth the voyage.”

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

2 weeks ago

How ‘white sauce’ became Alabama’s signature barbecue sauce

(Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que/Facebook)

Big Bob Gibson created a distinct style of barbecue in 1925 when he started combining mayonnaise and vinegar as a sauce for chickens that he pit-cooked whole at his restaurant in Decatur.

To this day, the pit crew at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Que dunks cooked chickens into a vat of white sauce before portioning them and serving them with more white sauce.

The whys behind white sauce are shrouded in mystery. Many folks believe Gibson figured out that the fat in the mayonnaise would keep the birds’ white meat from drying out after smoking for three hours over hickory.

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Four generations of the Gibson family have built the reputation of their restaurant’s legendary Alabama white sauce, which became widely available after they started bottling and selling it retail in the mid-1990s.

White sauce distinguishes north Alabama ‘cue in the same way that thin tomato-vinegar sauces do in the eastern Carolinas, mustard-based sauces in parts of South Carolina, and the thick and spicy sauces of Kansas City.

Rich and tangy with sweet heat, Big Bob Gibson’s white sauce accents the smokiness of its barbecued chicken. Some customers even like it on the pork.

Chicken with white sauce also is a signature dish at Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q in Birmingham’s Cahaba Heights community. Covering the chickens with metal lids while cooking on the pit provides an extra measure of smoke.

Founders Myra Grissom Harper and her husband Clark lived in Hartselle—about 12 miles down U.S. 31 from Decatur—before they moved to suburban Birmingham and opened their barbecue restaurant in 1984.

It’s become sort of a thing these days for smoked-meat restaurants throughout Alabama to include a white sauce in their liquid lineup. You’ll find it at the various locations of Full MoonMoe’s, and Jim ’N Nick’s statewide; Saw’s and Martin’s in greater Birmingham, and dozens of other local Alabama barbecue joints.

Rodney Scott’s take on white sauce, which he calls White Rod, is served as a wing dip at his whole-hog barbecue restaurant near the Avondale neighborhood in Birmingham.

White sauce is one of the simplest to make since there’s no prep or cooking involved. Miss Myra’s version has four ingredients: mayonnaise, white vinegar, salt and enough pepper to give it some bite.

Big Bob Gibson’s recipe adds apple juice as a sweetener, lemon juice, prepared horseradish, and cayenne pepper to the mix. The result is creamy and tangy, with a slight kick.

The original version from 1925 is included in “Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book,” written by Chris Lilly, who is married to the founder’s great-granddaughter, Amy, and has played an instrumental role in expanding the family business.

Slather on some white sauce the next time you grill chicken, and capture that taste of north Alabama.


Try these recipes:

Chris Lilly’s recipe for Big Bob Gibson’s white sauce

2 cups mayonnaise

1 cup distilled white vinegar

1/2 cup apple juice

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix ingredients, and use to dunk the chicken after cooking. Serve more as a sauce.

 

Miss Myra’s White Sauce

Myra and Clark Harper’s daughter, Rennae Wheat, shared the recipe with al.com in 2008. This will feed a crowd, or scale it down.

2 quarts heavy-duty mayonnaise
1 quart white vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons pepper

Slowly pour vinegar into mayonnaise, using a whisk to work out all lumps. While whisking in vinegar, also mix in salt and pepper. Once lumps are gone, place mixture in refrigerator. Allow sauce to thicken before serving.

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

2 weeks ago

Wetumpka readying for impact HGTV’s ‘Home Town Takeover’ will bring

(Brittany Dunn/Alabama NewsCenter)

When Freddie Lynn and Webb Smith met at church, they quickly became friends, thanks in part to complementary careers; Lynn is an architect with Goodwyn Mills Cawood and Smith owns a contracting firm.

They started looking for a way to collaborate and recently partnered to form Bridge & Hill Holdings and launch the company’s first project: transforming a 1950s-era corner building in downtown Wetumpka into seven short-term rental units (like Airbnb properties) with a restaurant and retail space on the ground floor. The duo knew from the beginning they wanted to play a part in the continuing revitalization of Wetumpka’s city center.

And then HGTV came to town.

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The network arrived late summer 2020 to film six episodes of a new series called “Home Town Takeover,” which features renovation experts and small-town enthusiasts Ben and Erin Napier giving Wetumpka’s downtown area a face-lift. HGTV announced this week that the show will premiere May 2. Thanks to the city’s starring role in the show, city leaders anticipate a meteoric rise in lodging demand in the near future.

“There should be a big uptick in visitors when the show airs,” says Jenny Stubbs, executive director of Main Street Wetumpka.

“We’ve already seen a rise in tourists, and we’re expecting a flood,” Mayor Jerry Willis adds.

Smith and Lynn believe Stubbs and Willis are both right; it’s why they tweaked their original plans. “We’d been thinking of loft apartments for the space, but the city and Chamber gave us the idea of doing lodging instead,” Lynn says. “There’s a need for more accommodation options now, but we all believe it is only going to increase due to the show.”

That’s good for their project, but their project is also good for the city if it keeps more people staying downtown, people who’ll walk to nearby restaurants and shops and add lodging taxes to the city’s bottom line.

These thoughts of an expanding tourism industry are not wishful thinking; to get a more concrete idea of what’s coming, Stubbs recently visited with her counterparts at Main Street in Laurel, Mississippi, site of “Home Town,” the highly rated HGTV show that has spun off “Home Town Takeover.” “They seem to believe we can expect an overwhelming amount of foot traffic when the show premieres,” she says.

To be ready, Wetumpka leaders have been preparing for months, creating new signs, visitor guides, maps and digital enhancements to ensure visitors can easily make their way around downtown. They’re serious about welcoming the possible torrent of first-time guests, but they’re not taking themselves too seriously, as Stubbs explains.

“We have this really fun project called ‘The Tourist Trap’ that we’re hosting in the small shop Main Street Alabama gifted us in late 2019,” she says. “We plan to use it as an information hub and gateway to the downtown experience.”

Wetumpka is getting ready for its HGTV closeup from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Tidal wave

The tidal wave of travelers that’s likely on its way will be a boon for area businesses. Some downtown establishments have already experienced increased traffic, according to Lynn Weldon, Wetumpka’s economic development director, as people, particularly those from out of town, came hoping to get a glimpse of the Napiers and the HGTV crews when the show was filming from August 2020 through January 2021.

“This has translated to increased sales and revenue,” Weldon says. “And this activity really gave our businesses a boost, even in the midst of the pandemic.”

Pam Martin owns Market Shoppes downtown, a store housing more than 30 vendors featuring local art, gifts, women’s fashion and home décor. She backed up Weldon, noting she saw more interest and more customers last fall.

“There have been more people and more tourists downtown lately,” she says. “And I think what’s still to come is going to be huge for businesses like mine.”

Martin’s success and that of other downtown businesses has driven up demand, making space in downtown a rare commodity. “Right now, it’s really hard to find an empty building downtown,” Weldon says. “Our vacancy rate is currently only around 10-15 percent.”

While “Home Town Takeover’s” positive effects are evident, according to Stubbs, they aren’t and won’t be limited to downtown. “We’re working closely with other entities and experiences in town and have included everything there is to know about Wetumpka in our visitor guide and other promotion elements, listing all of our locally owned and operated retail and dining businesses in the guide.”

Once the initial wave has crested, smaller swells will keep rolling in and spreading out, according to Stubbs. “Tourism can make such a big difference in a small town like Wetumpka,” she says. “We expect to see its benefits most directly for our small businesses, but for our supportive larger businesses as well, like Hampton Inn or Wind Creek Wetumpka. One thing affects another, and if our businesses are experiencing success, that helps the owners, employees, their families and so on.”

Shellie Whitfield, president of the Wetumpka Chamber of Commerce, agrees with Stubbs on the powerful effects of tourism. “Tourism increases quality of life across the board and brings in revenue without totally changing a city’s character, and knowing that, we were focused on tourism dollars even before the show,” she says. “But now, the show will serve as a real catalyst for continued efforts.”

An influx of visitors is exciting, but “Home Town Takeover” was not the beginning of good things in downtown Wetumpka. In 2017, Main Street Wetumpka, in coordination with the city and the Chamber, started work on a multiphase plan to reinvigorate downtown.

‘Total transformation’

Grumpy Dog has been serving its traditional and eclectic takes on the classic hot dog for six years, and owner Will Lanum described the impact of not just the show but these initial phases of revitalization.

“I’ve watched a total transformation from when I opened,” he says. “We were already drawing tons of new people downtown, and that just keeps going up. I expect a big bump from the show, and that makes me happy not just for more business, but because I love getting to share my food with more people.”

When the credits roll on ‘Home Town Takeover’s’ last episode, the work in Wetumpka will continue. Willis listed additional streetscape work, like sidewalks, lighting and a roundabout, as pieces of the next phase of downtown redevelopment, plus a new parking plan to make the best use of limited space.

“We’re also going to get public input on how to utilize 40 acres right across the river from downtown,” he says. “What we’ve done, what we’re doing, what the show brought and what we’ll tackle next, it all goes hand in hand.”

Weldon cited the trust that’s been built between business owners and municipal government, stressing the willingness to get creative to help businesses with funding and incentives. “We do our best to not say ‘no,’” she says.

“Our merchants know that we care,” Willis continued. “They know the city, the Chamber, Main Street will all help them be the best they can be. We know if we invest in them, they invest in us.”

Past progress has spurred additional private development, like that of Smith and Lynn, who say their first project will not be the last. “We’re already looking forward to doing more,” Smith says. “The city has been so supportive; they wanted locals doing this. And the community has been very enthusiastic.”

Smith’s sentiments are more evidence of Wetumpka’s ample supply of the characteristic Willis deems essential to the city’s previous, present and future success.

“We have built this team of the city, the Chamber, Main Street Wetumpka and the Downtown Development Authority,” he says. “We made a plan and worked the plan.” He has been asked the same question from multiple leaders in other cities throughout Alabama: “How did you do this?” His reply: “It’s not me. It’s not any one person. It’s the teamwork.”

The impacts of the teamwork Willis touts may be most obvious in the economy, but while money certainly matters, the benefits of the show aren’t all so quantifiable. “I believe the show has helped to instill a pride and hope that was not necessarily felt quite as keenly before the announcement,” Stubbs says. “It’s helped us all to take a step back and realize what an incredible place we live in.”

Martin has experienced what Stubbs describes firsthand. “My 34-year-old daughter is my business partner, and this is the only home she’s ever had,” she says.

“Everything that’s been happening, and just top it off with the show, means so much to her. I think it’s the same for other younger people, and I hope it keeps more of them here,” Martin says. “We’re all seeing and feeling this amazing unity, and that’s the best part.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Alabama high school students design technology to help adult with disabilities

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Daniel Creech doesn’t talk much. When he does, it packs a punch.

Creech doesn’t have to talk to communicate how he feels. When he’s excited, his eyes shine. And when he’s happy, his contagious, full-throated laugh draws in anyone who is near.

His friends and professional relationships at United Ability, the Birmingham nonprofit agency that serves people with disabilities, are alternately charmed and amazed at what Creech, 43, can do, despite his significant physical disabilities. Since birth, cerebral palsy has severely limited Creech’s motor skills, making it impossible for him to walk, talk or use his hands.

Creech uses technology to access almost all parts of his life. He uses a head array to drive his new motorized wheelchair and communicates by using a speech-generating device produced by Tobii-Dynavox. This device tracks Creech’s eye movements and predicts the words and phrases as he begins to type and then generates them as spoken words, giving Creech his voice.

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Using the eye-gaze-enabled keyboard appears easy, but it can be very tiring for the user, said Alyssa Scharf, a speech language pathologist at United Ability. “Daniel makes it look flawless.”

And now, thanks to the creative minds at Hoover High School’s Engineering Academy, Creech’s world is opening up even more.

A student team of four from the academy worked closely with Creech and his support team at United Ability to design a headpiece that Creech uses to perform several tasks more efficiently. The headpiece, combined with Creech’s other technologies, has moved him closer to a personal goal: landing his dream job as a front desk receptionist at a school.

Hoover High School works with United Ability to support man with cerebral palsy from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

In an interview, Creech said the headpiece makes it much easier for him to perform his current jobs at United Ability, where he spends five days a week as both a client and paid employee. One job is to shred confidential correspondence and medical files at “Gone for Good,” United Ability’s document-destruction company that employs agency clients. Creech’s other job: serving as a receptionist at United Ability’s Community Integration Academy, a facility at the agency’s Birmingham campus.

“I really like my new helmet,” Creech said. “It is much better because it is lighter. It really is comfortable now because my neck doesn’t get tired. The students at Hoover High School took the old design and created something that really meets my needs.

“I am able to move things easier, like when things get in my way on the table. The new design makes it easier for me to do my job, which is important.”

In a recent, socially distanced gathering at United Ability, Creech was able to personally thank one member of the student team and the teacher who heads the engineering academy. COVID-19 restrictions had prevented the group from gathering until now.

“I want to say, thanks very much for taking the time to create a better helmet for me,” he told former Hoover High student Andrick Raschke, now a student at Jefferson State Community College, and engineering academy teacher Robert Nidetz. “I know it took a lot of work. Thank you for getting to know me and helping me meet my goals.

“I want technology that helps me access the world around me,” Creech added. “I want to be very independent so that I can help other people.”

Raschke said of the headpiece, “I’m really happy with it, as long as Daniel is happy.” He said the student team, which included Seth Davis, Christopher Upton and Garrett Hogan, began working on the project in fall 2019. By spring 2020, the group was closing in on a final design when COVID-19 forced the students to attend school remotely and put the project on pause. It wasn’t until fall that the device made its way to Creech for testing and tweaking.

“It really changed his life, it sounds like – and I couldn’t be happier,” said Raschke, who earlier this month got to watch Creech use the headpiece.

Nidetz said the engineering program at Hoover High takes students through a progressive course with a focus on “user-centric design.” He said the program encourages students to “work with individuals with unique needs to help develop products and solutions for their everyday lives.”

He said during their four-year journey through the academy, students learn about engineering principles, drawing and design, technical writing and computer programming, among other skills. And then, “we bring it all together” with entrepreneurship and product development.

Nidetz said the experience gained with Creech in designing his new headpiece has led to another project, in which students are developing a device for another person with similar needs.

Jill Smith, manager of vocational services at United Ability, said Creech’s new headpiece is several notches above the heavier, hotter and more clunky helmet Creech used before. Smith first visited with the Hoover engineering students in fall 2019 to see if they’d take on the task of designing a better device for Creech.

“I have to say, the team that we worked with – they were awesome,” Smith said. “They were so involved with Daniel himself, and really wanted to get to know Daniel, which was the really, really great part.”

Smith said Creech described to the students his work responsibilities and the pros and cons of his old headpiece – “exactly what he liked about it, how it felt,” and what he would like the updated device to be capable of doing to help him become even more independent.

Through that process, the Hoover team not only improved on the helmet but devised an improved wand that attaches to it. They also created a special attachment for the device, using computer software and a 3D printer, that makes it much easier for Creech to push a button to open the entrance door at the Community Integration Academy – which is part of his responsibilities as the receptionist.

Smith said the student-designed device has practical applications for other United Ability clients who can use it to better perform a variety of tasks.

As for Creech, he’s never been one to shy away from expressing himself, those who know him said. Before COVID, Creech was an eager public speaker and advocate for the services provided by United Ability – something he looks forward to continuing after the pandemic wanes.

At the recent gathering to celebrate the success of his headpiece, Creech relayed his life story. Born in Georgia and raised in part by his grandmother, he initially attended special-education programs but was soon able to join regular classes. He later moved in with his mother in Alabama and was referred in 2002 to United Cerebral Palsy in Birmingham, which in 2017 changed its name to United Ability.

Creech eventually moved into an adult group home. Today, he lives in his own apartment with his wife, Belinda, who also is a United Ability client. The two met at the agency and married in 2015. “It was the best day of my life,” he said.

While the number of clients United Ability can serve at its campus has been reduced during the pandemic – and has forced the agency to provide more virtual services – Creech and his wife continue to come to the agency for services and to work.

The gregarious Creech not only is active in his personal and professional circles; he is also involved with church and is prominent on Facebook, posting updates regularly. He also reads to children at United Ability’s Hand In Hand Inclusive Early Learning Program.  

He said his new headpiece, combined with his other technologies, have helped him lift his abilities to greater heights, with the ongoing care and attention he receives from United Ability. The Alabama Power Foundation is among United Ability’s many supporters, along with United Way of Central Alabama.

“I have very good support at United Ability,” Creech said. “United Ability has helped me so much since I’ve been coming.”

Learn more about United Ability at https://www.unitedability.org/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Alabama female mathematician blazed new trails at NASA

((NASA, MSFC/Contributed)

Astronauts who walk on the moon or take flights into outer space capture lots of attention. But few people think about the people who have spent hours working behind the scenes to make those “giant leaps for mankind” happen.

Jeanette Scissum was one of the behind-the-scenes contributors. Like those early explorers of the last frontier, she broke through barriers as the first Black female mathematician at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Scissum, 81, believes the opportunity to work at the space flight center came because she was “at the right place at the right time.”

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While in college, a classmate who worked at Marshall told Scissum that the space flight center was looking for Blacks for its co-op program. Learning there were no openings in her field, she got a job teaching at Councill Training School (now Madison County High School) in Huntsville in 1961 but quickly realized it was not for her.

“I put too much stress on myself,” she said. “I was very young, with high expectations. I took every student’s problem to heart and ended up with an ulcer.”

Wanting a change, Scissum continued to apply for a job at Marshall until she finally got a break.

“My mother worked for the mother of the personnel director at Marshall,” said Scissum. “She told my mother to tell me to give her son a call, and I did. I told him I had been applying and had not received a response. He said, ‘We’ll take care of that.’”

The result: Scissum came on board as a mathematician at Marshall Space Flight Center in 1963.

During those early years, Scissum worked on a team doing mathematical and statistical analysis of space environment data/parameters.

Then, in 1967, Scissum received an assignment that led to one of her most significant contributions to the space program. She wrote a computer program that could be used to forecast the sunspot cycle and then published her findings in a NASA report called, “Survey of Solar Cycle Prediction Models.”

Scissum moved to the Space Environment Branch of Marshall’s Space Sciences Laboratory in the mid-1970s. As a space scientist, she led activities in the center’s Atmospheric, Magnetospheric and Plasmas in Space project.

Scissum said as a Black woman at Marshall, she faced “pushback” from some of the men in the early days of her career.

“I was harassed a little bit, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle,” she said. “Some of the men felt I had no business in the workforce because my husband had a job.”

Leaders at Marshall recognized Scissum’s passion for promoting inclusion and diversity and invited her to become an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officer at the facility in 1973.

“I was successful in resolving cases involving white men and women, but I had a harder time helping the Black people,” she said. “A lot of times, it wasn’t an EEO problem but a communications issue. All it required most of the time was sitting down together and talking about the issue and working out a solution.”

Scissum said her efforts to fight for other employees almost put her career in jeopardy. She was warned that management was not happy because she handled so many complaints.

“That didn’t stop me,” she said. “I told them ‘I thought you wanted me to resolve problems.’”

In the end, Scissum’s work in this area did not go unnoticed. In recognition of her contributions, she received NASA’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program Award. Scissum wrote an article in 1975 for the National Technical Association noting that the key to avoiding most discrimination complaints is good communication.

Looking back, Scissum said her career path was no surprise. Her father, a sharecropper and farmer in Marshall County, saw his daughter’s promise soon after she began elementary school.

“My dad used to tell me all the time that I would go to college,” said Scissum. “I was a good student, and I think he saw my potential with numbers.”

After high school, Scissum had no idea how to make that prediction come true, since her father was in a Tuskegee hospital and her family struggling to make ends meet. But thanks to a work scholarship, she made her father’s dream a reality, becoming the only one of the family’s six children to attend college.

Scissum received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics at Alabama A&M in the 1960s and 1970s. While working at Marshall, she taught herself how to use the computer.

“I enjoyed math. But after a while, I wanted to move on to something else, and that’s how I got interested in computers,” she said.

Scissum moved to Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland in 1979, where she worked as a computer scientist for 18 months. She transferred to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., as a computer systems analyst. Scissum managed the development and implementation of technical support systems for NASA headquarters and NASA centers until her retirement in 2005. She and her husband live on a farm in Brownsboro near Huntsville,

Like her father, Scissum has encouraged her four children and six grandchildren to pursue higher education. Her grandson, Kuni Scissum, said his grandmother is his inspiration.

“My grandmother was very encouraging and always believed that we could do great things,” said Kuni, an engineer for Southern Company Research and Development. “Growing up, she was always my kind, sweet grandmother. It was not until high school that I realized she was a great scientist and mathematician. She is one of the motivators that led me to become an engineer.”

Acting NASA Chief Historian Brian Odom said Scissum made her mark at NASA as a mathematician and a counselor working on behalf of her fellow employees.

“Born into the segregated world of a pre-civil rights era South, Jeanette overcame tremendous obstacles not only to come to work for the space program but to make important contributions to our knowledge of the solar cycles,” he said. “Beyond that, Jeanette continued the fight for diversity and inclusion at the agency to ensure those who came behind her would also find a place at NASA.

“Jeanette is an excellent example of someone who refused to submit to the constraints of her circumstances,” he added. “She is a true trailblazer who never gave up on the idea that the world could be made a better place and, in the process, held open the door of opportunity for those who came after her.”

Scissum looks back on her career with pride, saying the opportunities she received were “almost unbelievable.”

“It was the Lord’s hand at work,” she said. “Working at NASA was a good experience, and I’m thankful for it.”

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

University students at Auburn, Alabama team to put food resources at families’ fingertips

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

When it comes to feeding the hungry, the state’s two fiercest football rivals are on the same team, working together to offer a helping hand.

Last summer, Auburn University’s Hunger Solutions Institute (HSI) launched the End Child Hunger in Alabama (ECHA) County Food Guide Project, a centralized clearinghouse of food resources for struggling families, and then partnered with the University of Alabama (UA) School of Social Work and others to update and maintain the project.

“We developed this project in response to the increased need for food throughout the state during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Malerie Goodman, graduate research assistant at HSI. “We were seeing so many changes – the opening of food banks, new grocery store operating hours and policies, and new requirements for nutrition programs. But you had to Google endlessly to find all these resources that were becoming available.”

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Goodman and HSI Managing Director Alicia Powers got the idea to create the food guide project to address the growing food needs in Alabama. HSI developed the county food guide project, an interactive, one-stop shop where people can find all the food resources available in their county.

ECHA is a network of state leaders in the public and private sectors working to address hunger and food insecurity among Alabama children and young people. Part of Auburn’s College of Human Sciences, HSI works to further the university’s efforts to wipe out food insecurity  domestically and globally.

Goodman said getting the project off the ground was a team effort, with support from Share Meals, the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter CollegeAirTable and more than 85 volunteers and community partners across Alabama.

“Our goal is to get all these resources in one place so families in crisis can find food,” Goodman said. “Basically, we have been doing all the legwork that we don’t want families to have to do.”

To help with this massive undertaking, HSI called on social work students from Auburn University and the University of Alabama. Since last fall, the students, known as county ambassadors, have been working to populate the online database with comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date information on sources of food throughout Alabama.

“I think the project is really amazing,” said Asia Suttle, a graduate student in the UA Master of Social Work Program. “I know hunger has always been an issue, but it has become a bigger problem since the pandemic. It’s nice to know that I’m helping give people the information they need to find food.”

Suttle, who has been attending college remotely from her home in Talladega, is calling grocery stores statewide. She updates the database with revised store policies, including special operating hours for seniors and the availability of curbside pickup or delivery.

Kimberly Gibson said the project came at a perfect time for UA graduate students, who needed remote internship opportunities during the pandemic.

“It has offered meaningful field hours for our students,” said Gibson, field coordinator in UA’s Master of Social Work Program. “Food security is always a challenge in Alabama, but especially now with so many people out of work. Our students recognize the importance of having access to food, particularly in rural Alabama, and connecting people to resources plays an important role in what they will do as social workers.”

“The students are receiving a valuable remote internship experience, and we are getting the assistance we need in keeping our database up to date,” she said.

Gibson added, “Anytime Alabama and Auburn can come together and work on projects is great, especially when they are helping improve the lives of Alabamians.”

Goodman said the database has grown to 7,000 resources. It includes food banks, soup kitchens, grocery stores, senior centers, child nutrition programs and food resources for pregnant women, children and struggling college students.

Goodman said HSI’s goal is to spread the word about the database to as many people as possible.

“When a family is in crisis, they need food now,” Goodman said. “We’re here to help the organizations doing the work in the trenches get the word to families that they exist and they can help.”

HSI’s next step is to expand the project, offering food resources via automated text and phone for those who don’t have Internet.

The food guide project will be a vital resource long after the pandemic ends, Goodman noted.

“In Alabama, one in four children are food insecure, and that was even before the pandemic hit,” she said. “While we realize that people need resources in times of uncertainty, we also realize that families will continue to need food when things get back to the way they were.”

Goodman is grateful for the help HSI has received to make this project a reality.

“We are proud of the students and volunteers who have given countless hours to this project,” she said. “It just speaks to the sense of camaraderie that we have seen throughout the state. Food insecurity is not limited to families in extreme poverty at this time. You may have friends and neighbors who are experiencing hunger, and you wouldn’t even know it. Our county ambassadors are making sure these people have the resources they need.”

Visit the ECHA County Food Guide at aub.ie/foodguides and click on your county on the interactive map to find a list of food resources in your area.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Jones Valley Trail extension nearing groundbreaking in Birmingham

(Freshwater Land Trust/Contributed)

Progress continues toward groundbreaking for the Jones Valley Trail extension, which will connect downtown Birmingham to the Avondale neighborhood’s entertainment district. The new connection, spearheaded by the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust, will provide a car-free extension along the popular trail.

“The extension of the Jones Valley Trail is a project we are excited about,” said Rusha Smith, Freshwater Land Trust executive director. “We look forward to making progress on the extension, providing a new space and trail that individuals and families can use and spend time together on while supporting our community.”

The planning and development of the Jones Valley Trail extension has received support from public and private partners, including the Alabama Power Foundation.

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Freshwater Land Trust and Alabama Power Foundation partner on Jones Valley Trail extension from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“We are honored to support the Freshwater Land Trust and their efforts to thoughtfully and intentionally connect downtown Birmingham through beautiful green spaces that can be enjoyed while walking, running or by bike,” said Tequila Smith, Alabama Power vice president of Charitable Giving and president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “This effort will help unite the area by linking landmarks, such as Railroad Park and Sloss Furnaces, with tree-lined space.”

The goal is to complete the Jones Valley Trail extension by the start of the World Games in July 2022. Learn more about the Freshwater Land Trust at http://freshwaterlandtrust.org. For information about the Alabama Power Foundation, please visit http://powerofgood.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Alabama company enhances environment with pandemic-friendly project

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A Mobile business has found a way for their employees to help the environment amid COVID-19 restrictions on normal volunteer activities.

Evonik Corporation (EC) recently built and deployed more than 70 bird boxes on its property in Mobile County. EC Logistics Manager Helen Bush says the idea came about during a Partners for Environmental Progress membership meeting last fall.

“We watched a member talk about their quest to be certified for a National Wildlife Habitat Council project,” Bush said. “I realized we were already doing a lot of the same things so I looked at how joining that program could make our projects more meaningful to the Mobile community and natural wildlife here.”

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Evonik Corporation builds bird habitats from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Bush and other department leaders settled on a project to replace more than 70 bird boxes on EC property. The boxes, constructed years ago to enhance habitats for bluebirds and ducks, had deteriorated.

“One of the projects we did in the past was to build natural habitats for birds – ducks, bluebirds, purple martins and osprey,” Bush said. “We realized some of our birdhouses needed to be replaced.”

Because COVID-19 restrictions prevented company employees from voluntarily gathering together to assemble the boxes, Bush enlisted the help of the company’s maintenance department to create a kit employees could take home. EC Water Compliance Specialist Chris Bolling said employees quickly signed up.

“We were very amazed we got that many volunteers,” Bolling said. “It’s good to see an industrial company cares about the environment and is willing to involve their employees to do something like this. It’s really been fun.”

“I didn’t even get one,” added Bush. “We ran out. People were eager to get one.”

The boxes were installed throughout the company property in January and February. EC Environmental Health and Safety Specialist Brian Bennett said employees are excited to see them.

“We actually had more people calling and asking when could we build more, when are you going to do this again,” Bennett said. “It’s been great so far. Just being involved in putting them out and then starting to see the birds interested in them, getting closer and closer and then starting to use the boxes – it really shows the importance of that to the company and to the employees.”

Bush said plans are underway to replace aging osprey nests and artificial habitats for bats and purple martins on EC property. She said the new osprey nests will need to be mounted on taller poles to get them higher than surrounding trees. Bush looks forward to resuming normal volunteer activities after the pandemic, but admits this project has been fun.

“It has been nice in a year where we haven’t been able to see each other every day to be able to do something for each other and for the site that enhances not only the environmental benefit we can make but also something the employees enjoy doing,” Bush said. “Hopefully it’s more beneficial for the birds but it has been a lot of fun for us and pretty rewarding.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

‘God was with all these people, and us’: Amid tornado destruction, cross stands tall

(Derek Van Dam/Twitter)

One Shelby County family has found their faith in God strengthened after a tornado tore through their Eagle Point neighborhood on Thursday, severely damaging their home and several others.

CNN reported that Dena Cook and her husband “rode out the tornado in a closet in their two-story home” and “could see the storm clouds above them when the roof gave way.” The tornado has been preliminarily rated as at least an EF-3.

It was, perhaps, a miracle that no one died in Eagle Point on Thursday, as Cook’s story underscores.

Last year, her husband reportedly constructed a wooden cross in their backyard. Cook recently draped this wooden cross with a purple cloth for Lent.

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As she emerged from her battered home on Thursday, there was the cross — still resolutely standing — and the purple cloth — still hugging the cross.

“It’s just God,” Cook told CNN on Friday. “It’s still there and my cross is still there, because God was with all these people, and us.”

For Easter next Sunday, Cook plans to replace the purple cloth with a white one.

“This is what God is all about,” Cook reportedly said while pointing to the cross. “Lent is a sorrowful time but then on that Easter Sunday, it will be beautiful all again.”

Dena Cook (Derek Van Dam/Twitter)

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 weeks ago

Rock the South returning this summer — ‘Excited to welcome everyone back’ to Cullman

(Rock the South/Contributed, YHN)

The South’s biggest party will be back this year, event organizers announced on Monday.

Rock the South is slated to return August 13-14, 2021, with a top-flight lineup of musicians that fans can enjoy hearing live from Cullman, Alabama. Last year’s event was unable to be held due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After intensive planning and research over the past several months, event organizers and the City of Cullman believe that late summer will be the perfect time to bring the high-profile event back for its tenth year.

“With the recent announcements made concerning Alabama’s mask ordinance ending on April 9 as well as The University of Alabama’s decision to return to traditional in-classroom instruction for fall 2021 and plans to open Bryant-Denny Stadium to full capacity for football games, we are following models that predict COVID-19 herd immunity will be achieved by late spring or early summer,” stated Shane Quick, a Pepsi Rock the South partner. “We feel confident that we are on the right track to safely hold our outdoor event in August.”

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Pepsi Rock the South was founded in 2012 to celebrate the spirit of people helping people and continues to support charities that help people every day in our local communities.

“The spirit of giving has always been the backbone of our festival year after year and last year we were proud to give our ticket buyers the opportunity to donate their refunds to local partners,” said Nathan Baugh, also a Pepsi Rock the South partner.

Artist announcements will begin on April 5 at 8:00 a.m. CT. Tickets will go on-sale on April 9 at the same time. Ticket buyers who held on to their 2020 tickets will automatically be emailed tickets for the 2021 festival by April 19, per a press release.

“We are excited to welcome everyone back this August and are excited about the huge lineup for 2021,” commented Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs. “The health, safety, and well-being of our employees, guests, and event participants will remain a top priority for both the City of Cullman and Pepsi Rock the South organizers.”

The event’s return is a huge win for the Cullman area.

To gain an accurate account of the economic impact of the festival on the local businesses and governments of Cullman and Cullman County, Rock the South organizers have worked in the past with the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research and Younger and Associates, a respected economic analysis firm.

“An analysis of past festivals concluded that Rock the South has $13.4 million in economic impact per year,” advised Dale Greer, director of Cullman Economic Development Agency.

“The revenue that Pepsi Rock the South consistently brings to our area hotels, local small businesses, and charities are significant,” added Cullman City Councilman Clint Holingsworth. “Through the years, the event has donated or raised more than $600,000 for local charities and organizations from festival proceeds.”

During the seven years that the festival has been held, an average of 31,000 people attended each day of the festival, spending a total of $4.5 million in Cullman County over the two-day event.

“The overall impact of this event is tremendous for both the City of Cullman and the State of Alabama and we believe we can hold this outdoor event safely,” concluded Jenny Folsom, president of the Cullman City Council.

Rock the South will continue to follow CDC and Alabama state health guidelines.

Stay up-to-date with the event here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 weeks ago

Helping people eat healthier is a growth business for Alabama’s Papa Vince and family

(Doing More Today/Contributed)

When it comes to extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), Vitina Feo knows her stuff.

“We hand pick everything, which is very costly, but what it does is it keeps your tree happy and they keep producing good olives,” Feo said.

As CEO of Papa Vince, a small, family-owned business based out of the Alabama coastal town of Gulf Shores, Feo knows her product from growing up around olive oil production in Sicily. Her family has been making olive oil since 1935, but it wasn’t until decades later, when she was now living in the United States, that the idea to actually sell that olive oil came to be.

“When we started Papa Vince, we were committed, but the biggest problem we had is we were short on capital,” Feo said. “In the beginning, our brand was unknown; the sales were slow and when you have slow sales, your fixed costs eat the profits. That’s when Regions really helped us.”

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Feo says her cousin Vito in Italy, who suggested to begin the brand, provided the initial inventory. Then, along with her husband Stefano, she carried out the legwork of launching the business. Selling at food festivals and in some local grocers eventually led to selling on their own website, and finally, Amazon. When five-star review after five-star review put their product in a prominent placement on Amazon, sales took off. But the increased demand for inventory led to cash-flow challenges.

“I had a relationship with Regions, and I was in Regions one day updating an account for Papa Vince and the officer at the bank said, ‘Do you by chance need a credit line?’” Stefano Feo recalled. “I said, ‘Well sure it would be very handy right now because our inventory is growing; we can’t keep up with the growth of inventory so the extra cash flow will help a lot.’”

Vitina credits the quality of her family’s EVOO with its stateside success.

“We use Nocellara del Belice (olive), that’s what Papa Vince used to like, and the reason is because of all the varieties, it’s the one that has the least amount of bitterness,” Vitina Feo explained. “Then the thing is how you press it – if you don’t take the juice of that olive the best way, you’re not going to have the nutritional value.”

Feo says Papa Vince learned the art of making EVOO when he was working as an apprentice for the Knight of De Stefani at the medieval Castello of Rampinzeri. This experience, she shares, helped him really know how extra virgin olive oil was meant to taste.

“When we entered the market in the U.S., we really wanted to bring a product that delivered the nutritional values that people expected from it. I believe in excellence – I believe that when you give your best, you are bound to bless everybody around,” Vitina Feo said. “It wasn’t about money; it was about keeping our family tradition. We really wanted to keep alive this olive oil because we felt it important.”

Vitina Feo says talking to her customers is one of the best parts of her job.

“The part of this business I really enjoy is we can make a difference in people’s life by bringing an EVOO that actually delivers the benefits they expect,” she said.

But most importantly, it is providing a product that gets families around the table.

“I’m giving people an opportunity to get around the table and have fellowship, and it’s just an opportunity to restore family time.”

(Courtesy of Regions Bank’s “Doing More Today”)

4 weeks ago

Alabama’s Cindy Head is a legendary world champion foosball star

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

The century-old sport of table soccer is played by millions worldwide, yet no player has exceeded the standard of excellence set the past four decades by Birmingham native Cindy Head.

She’s won 50 world championships (more than 70 major titles) and “many, many” local, state, regional and national tournaments stemming from the day Head first turned a steel rod on a foosball table in Woodlawn. She’s won playing alone, teaming with men, teaming with women, often representing the United States and always representing Alabama.

“Cindy makes a very strong case for being the best player the entire world has ever seen,” said Jim Stevens, a member of the Foosball Hall of Fame and editor of Inside Foos magazine, who is the sole commentator for foosball broadcasts.

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When she was a 16-year-old Banks High School student, Head teamed with a Tuscaloosa man to win a national mixed doubles tournament as she played forward against a male, marking the first time that feat had been accomplished. Four years later, she won her first world championship in Chicago. That was during the height of American foosball popularity, when there was a $1 million professional tour with a new Porsche going to the champion. It was the eighth biggest sport in the U.S., but foosball was getting pushed by video games by the time Head joined the pro circuit that went under after 1981.

Although Head never got in on the riches won by foosball’s early stars, she rose to the top nonetheless. She won nine straight women’s singles championships and eight doubles titles from 1986 to 1994. At the 1986 Tornado/Dynamo World Championships, she won six championships in one weekend, three each on the nation’s two most popular foosball tables that gave the tournament its name.

“You know she’s really made it because they stopped talking about her gender and started talking about her legacy,” said Kristin Grogan of USA Foosball. “She’s someone we can all look up to as a friend and admire as the most decorated in the sport.”

Watch Alabama’s Cindy Head defeat Estelle Jacquot for the world foosball championship from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The governing bodies of the sport aren’t sure how many championships the 59-year-old has captured, much less do they have the slightest guess at how many career matches Head has won. Her most recent world championship came in 2015 playing with a repaired right thumb that had nearly been ripped off when she broke up a dog fight. She was inducted into the Foosball Hall of Fame in 2006 and the USA Table Soccer Hall of Fame in 2016.

When Joe Heslinga began filming the award-winning documentary “Foosballers,” he was following the top five American males as they prepared for the world championships. He phoned Head, who thanked him for his interest but said she wasn’t interested. She’d been burned by previous interviews, but it was news to Heslinga, who’d had no trouble convincing the guys to go on camera: “I think he was a little stunned,” Head said.

“So  about a month later, he calls me back and says, ‘Listen, all the guys are telling me that you have to be in it or it’s not going to be complete,’” Head said of their second conversation in 2016. She turned him down again. Heslinga later called a third time, asking Head to meet him and talk it over. She did and in 2020 Head was the star of the Sidewalk Film Festival premiere of the movie that was soon nationally broadcast on ESPN.

That was high cotton for Head, who’d grown up in a poor household on the wrong side of the tracks. She said her father “was not a positive influence.” When she started playing foosball at the Someplace Else game room in Woodlawn, the sport became a saving grace for a kid who had to stand on wooden crates to play. She went most every afternoon for an hour or so after finishing her homework. She would take on all comers, looking for any chance to play foosball.

“These three guys came in one day and I thought, ‘Oh boy, I can go play a game with them,’” she recalled. “So, I go running up and was like, ‘Hey, you guys need somebody to play?’ And I’ll never forget, this one guy looks at me and says, ‘Uh, not this time, sweetheart. We need somebody just a little bit better.’ And it just crushed me, I mean it just hurt my heart. And I remember looking up at him and thinking, ‘Mister, one day you will not be able to say that to me,’ and from that moment on I was determined to become a good player, and I did.”

Head’s mother eventually bought a foosball table to practice on at home. Soon, she didn’t have to bring any quarters to put in the game room machines, since winners don’t pay to play. After graduating from school, she worked eight years at a printing business and then 21 years as a Birmingham Police officer, continuing to play professional foosball tournaments around her work schedule when possible.

“You don’t win a lot of money for the women’s tournaments; it’s more about the glory,” Head said of a career where her top winning prize was $2,200 and most championships earned her in the $500 range. “But, I have traveled. I got to go to Europe and play on the USA Team. I’ve been to Italy.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

South Alabama launches School of Marine and Environmental Sciences

(USA/Contributed)

The University of South Alabama will begin a new era of coastal education and research with a newly created School of Marine and Environmental Sciences. Plans call for new undergraduate and graduate programs to complement the existing degrees that have been offered by the department of marine sciences.

“We can make a much larger impact by developing younger scientists,” said Dr. Sean Powers, director of the School of Marine and Environmental Sciences. “We can use the draw of the marine world to attract good students to South.”

A proposal for the new school within the College of Arts and Sciences was submitted in the fall and approved on Friday by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

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South is the only four-year state university in Alabama that is near the Gulf of Mexico. Many of its marine science faculty members are also senior marine scientists at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, which offers marine programs for 23 public and private colleges.

“It is with great enthusiasm that we announce the establishment of the School of Marine and Environmental Sciences,” said Dr. Andi Kent, interim provost and senior vice president. “The school capitalizes on our strategic location on the Gulf Coast, and allows us to expand opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students in these areas. It will help further our mission to provide exemplary educational opportunities with extraordinary faculty and leading research in the field.”

This fall, the School of Marine and Environmental Sciences will move from the lower level of the Life Sciences Building to the second and third floors of the Education Outreach Building on Clinic Drive, east of the Glenn Sebastian Nature Trail on the north side of campus. There will be 20,000 square feet of space, which will include a teaching auditorium, classrooms and laboratories.

Four professors of environmental science will be hired over the next four years. The School hopes to draw 80 new undergraduate students.

Marine science researchers at South bring in $5 to $7 million a year in new research grants, Powers said. A new school will make that kind of work more prominent on campus. It should help recruiting, too.

“Our faculty does research from Alaska to Antarctica,” said Powers. “We have an international reputation. We want to bring new students to South, students who wouldn’t have come without these programs.”

In addition to the School of Marine and Environmental Sciences, the Alabama Commission on Higher Education approved an interdisciplinary Ph.D.  program in chemical and biomolecular engineering at South.

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)