2 months ago

Central Alabama community needs evolving as COVID-19 crisis unfolds

As president and CEO of United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA), Drew Langloh is often at the center of conversations about meeting critical community needs.

But as the coronavirus expands its reach, it’s clear this crisis will demand significant resources to tackle multiple issues – some familiar from past disasters, and some the community has rarely or never experienced.

“When people call us, they are usually having a bad day,” said Langloh, referring to UWCA’s 211 Connects referral center. But with COVID-19, the real and immediate needs of people – and fear about the future – have triggered a dramatic influx of inquiries from across central Alabama, the region of the state where the largest number of COVID-19 infections have been recorded.

“There are two faces to any disaster – the first is the first responders’ response – addressing lifesaving and stabilization efforts. The second is the long-term recovery: how to help people get back on their feet,” Langloh said.

United Way of Central Alabama adjusts Meals on Wheels during coronavirus pandemic from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Langloh said the response during these first few weeks has focused on maintaining critical services — for example, making sure meals continue to be delivered to homebound seniors, while instituting precautions to protect volunteers and the vulnerable, older population receiving food.

Another immediate need was ramping up the 24-hour, 211 call center so it could handle the crush of requests for help. In the past two weeks, the center has gone from a normal three to five operators manning phones and computers to up to 30 operators, working remotely from home.

“Those pieces have fallen into place,” Langloh said.

But just as the impact of COVID-19 is evolving, so is the response. Volunteers are still delivering hot meals. But over the longer run, putting the volunteer team in daily contact with seniors – even if maintaining a safe distance – can increase the health risk. So, UWCA volunteers are preparing to make bigger deliveries of food, but less frequently.

On Thursday, volunteers with vehicles lined up at UWCA headquarters in Birmingham to receive the first of nearly 7,000 boxes of “shelf-stable” items, including cans of stew and tuna, beans and rice, packaged snacks and single-serving cereal containers. The packages, to be delivered over the next two weeks, will provide life-sustaining food to the most vulnerable populations: older and fragile individuals who can’t leave their homes and may not be able to receive visitors for an extended period while the virus moves through.

Becky Wright, director of Meals on Wheels for UWCA, said volunteers typically deliver 1,100 hot meals daily. She said the shelf-stable packages will provide “extra support … extra assurance” as the organization temporarily shifts away from delivering daily meals. UWCA has lined up volunteers to make daily phone calls to all meal recipients during the crisis to ensure things are OK.

Scott McGlaun of Hoover was one of the volunteers who packed his pickup with food packages. An executive at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, like many people he is working remotely through the crisis and has flexibility in his schedule to help with this special food delivery.

“Our community is only as strong as our most vulnerable population,” McGlaun said. “Those of us who can, we should be doing what we can to help.”

Langloh said the No. 1 concern of those calling United Way is food insecurity – “fear of running out and not knowing where to go to get food.” He said while local school systems are doing a tremendous job of getting meals to vulnerable children, there’s a serious and growing need for meals among younger adults, ages 18 to 55, who live paycheck to paycheck and are getting laid off as businesses close. At the same time, food pantries and soup kitchens that rely in part on large supermarket chains and brand food companies to help fill their shelves are seeing their supply chain choked as companies focus on keeping retail stores stocked.

Langloh said as unemployment deepens in the next few weeks, families of laid-off workers will have pressing needs beyond food, such as paying for housing and basic services. “This is a real crisis that is just starting to hit us.”

And there’s another growing need, Langloh said: sustaining many smaller nonprofits that provide a host of important services in the community but are seeing their own revenues squeezed.

“Most nonprofits – a big part of their budgets come from fees for services,” Langloh said. But many of those agencies are having trouble providing fee-paid services because the virus has cut them off from direct contact with clients. Canceled fundraisers and donors turning their attention to other organizations focused on critical coronavirus-related relief have only compounded the problem for nonprofits.

“People don’t think about nonprofits as small businesses, but they are just as hamstrung right now,” Langloh said. “The needs these organizations address is not going away. We need to keep these nonprofits in business now, so they are here to serve us when all this is over.”

To generate financial resources for the many challenges around COVID-19, United Way of Central Alabama and United Way organizations across the state have launched a network of community crisis funds to provide grants for immediate human needs and local nonprofits. Donations can be made to support a United Way operating in a particular community, or to help multiple United Way organizations across a broader stretch of the state.

Langloh said UWCA is working with other nonprofits and charitable organizations, such as the Alabama Power Foundation, the Birmingham Strong small business loan initiative, corporations and others to coordinate and address the many critical needs.

Learn more about United Way of Central Alabama’s emergency relief efforts and its other, ongoing initiatives at uwca.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

Virtual K-12 school options see increased attention as pre-existing growth hastened by pandemic

Since the state legislature passed a law creating the option in 2015, attending an Alabama public school over the internet has become an increasingly popular choice for students across the state.

The year 2020 saw the first graduating class of students who learned virtually for all four years of their high school education.

Additionally, online schools are seeing increased attention as the coronavirus pandemic creates concern among some returning students.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey told WBRC that school officials are looking to expand virtual learning options. Mackey highlighted specifically that virtual options would let immunocompromised students learn without the fear of contracting COVID-19.

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State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), who chairs the House Education Policy Committee, told Yellowhammer News that the consensus number among Alabama educators, as of now, is around 5% of students may not return to the classroom this fall.

Estimated enrollment in Alabama’s public schools is around 740,000 students. Five percent of that would be 37,000 school kids.

“We’re just going to have to see what that looks like, and it may look different in different places,” added Collins on the coronavirus’ impact on enrollment.

The pioneering class that learned virtually for all four years graduated from Alabama Virtual Academy (ALVA), a project of Eufala City Schools. ALVA began with 50 students in 2015 and grew to over 3,000 students by 2019.

The Academy plans to raise its enrollment to 3,500 this fall to help accommodate increased interest during the coronavirus pandemic.

Students can enroll in ALVA regardless of where they live in Alabama.

Alabama Virtual Academy is done in partnership with the company K12 Education Inc., a firm that specializes in building online learning programs.

K12 Education Senior Director of School Partnerships and Compliance Perry Daniel told Yellowhammer News that ALVA is especially popular for students who live in Huntsville and Birmingham.

Daniel said 80% of nongraduating students who enrolled in ALVA last year have chosen to return this fall.

Students enroll in ALVA similarly to how they would at any other public school. The necessary supplies are then shipped to students at home.

Instruction at ALVA is conducted through a platform named Online School, with a supplement of video conferencing with certain teachers. It is available for students in grades K-12.

The Limestone County school system operates the Limestone County Virtual School Center, which is roughly similar in enrollment and course offerings to the Alabama Virtual Academy.

Athens City Schools and Conecuh County both operate much smaller virtual learning options.

The Chickasaw City school system in Mobile County opened a virtual academy focused on career training at the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

The school, called Alabama Destinations Career Academy, serves students in grades K-9 and aims to present “hands-on learning experiences in growing career fields” such as “information technology, heath and human services, and advanced manufacturing,” according to a release provided to Yellowhammer News.

Reporting by Alabama Media Group indicates there were 6,100 Alabama students enrolled in the virtual schools during the 2019-2020 school year.

ALVA from Eufala City Schools led the way with 3,091 students and Limestone County Virtual had 2,298.

A source of tension in the development of online schools is that the system providing the school gets the allotment of resources the State of Alabama allocates for each pupil enrolled, even as the costs for providing a virtual school are much less than a physical location.

The Alabama Department of Education recently issued a request for proposals to see which organizations could offer a feasible statewide online school. The proposals are due Friday, June 5.

“[I]n an abundance of caution, we want to have a virtual option in place that school systems across the state can take advantage of in the event it is needed,” Alabama State Department of Education Communications Director Michael Sibley recently told Alabama Media Group.

Collins commented to Yellowhammer about the statewide digital school, “I hope we’re just not looking for a bargain basement price, but that we’re actually looking for quality online education. Because it is available, and we want to make sure we’re getting something that is best for the students of Alabama.”

At the encouragement of Superintendent Mackey, multiple school systems across the state are also developing their own local virtual schools for this fall and beyond. Such efforts would be independent of the statewide virtual academy.

Collins told Yellowhammer that systems in Decatur City and Hartselle City, which she represents, are both building local virtual options.

Alabama State Senator Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) recently addressed the ALVA graduating class that learned virtually for all of high school.

Gudger told the graduates, “We will talk about what happened these past few months for the rest of our lives, especially new phenomenon like social distancing.”

The state senator continued, “But one term that did not surprise any of you was virtual learning, because you all are the pioneers for virtual education here in Alabama. The skills you have learned at ALVA will undoubtedly serve you well as you advance to the next stage of life. Congratulations again a job well done.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

5 hours ago

Alabama Farmers Federation endorses Jerry Carl in AL-01

The Alabama Farmers Federation’s political arm, FarmPAC, on Tuesday announced the endorsement of Republican Jerry Carl in Alabama’s First Congressional District.

Carl, a Mobile County commissioner and businessman, is set to face former State Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) in a GOP primary runoff on July 14.

Per FarmPAC’s process, congressional endorsements are recommended by county federations in each district based on the candidates’ positions on key issues impacting farmers and rural Alabama.

“We take pride in being a grassroots organization with local leaders driving the endorsement process,” Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell said in a statement.

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“After a careful consideration, county Federations in southwest Alabama made their recommendation, and I am pleased to announce the Alabama Farmers Federation has endorsed Jerry Carl,” he advised. “Alabama’s 1st Congressional district has a rich heritage rooted in agriculture and timber, and Jerry will be strong advocate from those industries in Washington.”

Carl expressed appreciation for the federation’s endorsement.

“It is an incredible honor to have the endorsement of the Alabama Farmers Federation,” Carl remarked. “With agriculture being our state’s largest industry, our farmers are the backbone of our state and our economy. They represent the hard-working interests of the district that I will fight for in Congress as we work to get our economy back on track.”

“The Federation knows I will fight tirelessly for the president’s agenda and will do what is needed to support the hard-working men and women who put food on our tables and clothes on our backs,” he concluded.

Other candidates previously endorsed by the federation who are running in the July 14 Republican runoff are Tommy Tuberville for the U.S. Senate, Jeff Coleman for Congress in AL-02 and Judge Beth Kellum for Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 2.

RELATED: Merrill: Absentee balloting still an option for runoff voters concerned about coronavirus

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

5 hours ago

City of Mobile cleans Confederate statue after overnight vandalism; Suspect arrested, charged

The statue of Admiral Raphael Semmes in downtown Mobile was defaced on Monday night, with a suspect already being booked and the monument restored.

Local media outlets reported that 20-year-old Mitchell Bond, a white male, has been arrested and charged with a misdemeanor after graffiting the base of the statue.

A two-person crew from the City of Mobile reportedly spent more than an hour power-washing the statue, and the spray paint can no longer be seen, per WKRG.

Bond, apparently sporting a t-shirt depicting former President Bill Clinton firing a gun, was hauled off to jail in handcuffs on Tuesday. His arrest came after investigators utilized surveillance footage of the incident, per NBC 15.

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Semmes commanded the CSS Alabama in the Confederate Navy. He died in Mobile in 1877.

Originally dedicated in 1900, the statue of Semmes is covered by the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.

George Talbot, director of communications and external affairs for the City of Mobile, told Fox 10 that “the statue was vandalized last night and a suspect has been identified. The graffiti is being cleaned, as we would do with any public property. Any decision on moving it would be collaborative in nature. There is a process for that, and we are listening to the community’s voice as part of that process.”

Semmes is a member of the Alabama Hall of Fame. The City of Semmes in western Mobile County was named after him, as was The Admiral Hotel (a Curio by Hilton property) in downtown Mobile.

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

6 hours ago

Dale Jackson: Politicians taking a knee display performative wokeness, performative weakness

Why would an American politician take a knee as protesters chant “take a knee” or publish a picture of them taking a knee to social media?

There are only two reasons: performative wokeness or performative weakness.

There is a difference, but every single time some sad white politician thinks he or she can quiet a mob or show solidarity by taking a knee they are sadly mistaken.

That never appears to be the goal. This appears to be about pandering acquiescence and nothing more.

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Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, a public official of one of the most progressive non-college towns in the state, took a knee at a “mostly peaceful protest.”

Why?

According to Battle, he was attempting to show he supported the protest to keep his community safe.

“You know, I walked up and they said ‘kneel with me,'” Battle said on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show.” “I didn’t know if they wanted to pray or if they wanted to kneel, but I was fine with it. You know, there’s no pride in this thing. The pride is getting through the event and getting through it with our community intact and without shots being fired and without windows being broken. If it takes kneeling, I’ll kneel to try to make sure our community is safe.”

That is performative wokeness.

When asked about the chants and demands that cops kneel at this same protest, Battle said he never saw that and felt there was no need for it from Huntsville police.

“They kept saying, ‘They need to kneel, they need to kneel.’ There wasn’t a need for them to kneel. They were standing there doing their job and they were standing there as a blue line in front of everybody to make sure people were safe,” Battle explained.

They did not kneel.

But some cops have taken a knee.

Either way, Mayor Battle can support their cause and be a part of it. He can, and does, support the removal of the Confederate memorial on Madison County Courthouse grounds but these protesters still wanted an image of him on his knees.

They got it.

Did he get what he wanted?

Nope.

Tear gas was needed, rocks were thrown, rioters went to another part of the city, and attempted to attack a shopping center.

So it is now performative weakness on Battle’s part. We will see how it plays out at the next scheduled protest in Huntsville on Wednesday.

Nationally, Joe Biden visited a church in Delaware and took this photo:

Now, this is performative wokeness!

Mask on tight, even though it was off earlier in the visit. Biden centered in the photo, down on one knee, while black leaders stand behind him.

It might as well be this episode of “South Park,” where a main character attempts to atone for a racial slur by kissing Jesse Jackson’s backside (it didn’t work).

Joe Biden is doing whatever he needs to win an election, nothing more.

That is performative wokeness.

When it comes to a politician or any other figure being cajoled to take a knee in solidarity with protesters, it can only be a sign of performative wokeness or performative weakness. Those are the only options.

Americans do not want their leaders “taking a knee” to anyone. They want strength and someone who stands tall.

As cities burn and threats to businesses and communities remain, the last thing people want is the appearance of wokeness from their leaders and they definitely don’t want weakness.

That’s what this is.

Whether you like Trump or not, walking out to a burned church after ordering a park cleared of a disruptive element is a statement of power and leadership.

The media hates this. They wanted Trump trapped in the White House while they cheerlead for chaos and carnage.

They all want Trump to look weak, but he is engaging in performative strength.

The question is about what Americans want from leaders.

Americans want more strength, more law and order, less violence and a sense of normalcy.

Trump has to deliver this, not with words and photo ops but in action, too.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

7 hours ago

Jefferson County issues curfew; Most Jeff Co. cities also under curfew

The Jefferson County Commission on Tuesday voted to impose a curfew on the unincorporated portions of its jurisdiction, as most cities within the county are also under curfew.

Following the violence, vandalism and looting that occurred in Birmingham on Sunday night, municipalities in the metropolitan area quickly moved to prepare against potential civil unrest.

WBRC reported that the unincorporated areas of Jefferson County now have a curfew from 7:00 p.m. until to 6:00 a.m. The curfew currently runs through June 9.

This mirrors the curfew of many cities within the county.

Per WBRC, here are current city curfews in the Birmingham metro area:

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Mountain Brook — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Birmingham — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Hueytown — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Hoover — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Tarrant — 6:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Homewood — 8: 00p.m. – 5:00 a.m.
Leeds — 6:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Adamsville — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Gardendale — 7:00 p.m. – 5:00 a.m.
Irondale — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.

Hoover has also been dealing in recent days with tense protests, culminating in at least 45 arrests as of Monday, according to The Hoover Sun. A state of emergency has been declared by Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato.

The newspaper reported that Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said that officers had bottles of water, bottles of urine and eggs thrown at them during demonstrations, and one police officer was injured. Two retail stores reportedly had glass doors and/or windows smashed.

The Hoover Sun further reported that Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Coker made a request on the county’s and multiple area cities’ behalf to the Alabama Emergency Management Agency to have the National Guard available to assist any part of the county that may need help in maintaining the peace.

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens and the respective mayors of Hoover, Homewood, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills all requested this action, Coker told the newspaper.

This came after Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced that she has given authorization to Adjutant General Sheryl Gordon with the Alabama National Guard to activate up to 1,000 guardsmen, should the need arise in response to violent civil unrest.

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