2 years ago

Dr. Michele Kong is a 2019 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

Dr. Michele Kong has dedicated her life to serving others.

In her own words, “Service is the foundation of our life, our people, our community.  Ultimately everything is about service. Service is what connects you to the next person. Service should be at the core of everything we do.”

She is an associate professor in Pediatric Critical Care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama.

In 2015, she was selected the junior faculty recipient of the Dean’s Excellence Award for Service, which recognizes contributions made by faculty across the UAB School of Medicine. This honor was due to her service to the autistic community with the nonprofit she and her husband co-founded, KultureCity.

Kong and her husband’s passion for autism acceptance began when their son, Abram, was diagnosed with autism at age four. Recognizing the needs of families impacted by autism, they felt the challenges that so many experience and immediately began working to create permanent inclusive spaces.

KultureCity is an impact-driven nonprofit founded in 2013 in Birmingham with the mission to create a world where all individuals with autism and their families can be accepted and treated equally. KultureCity fundamentally believes that these children are not limited by their diagnosis and deserve a future without limits. The programs reflect the mission which is “to change the culture on how autism is viewed in our world today.”

To accomplish KultureCity’s mission of awareness and acceptance, Kong’s relationships and partnerships have been key. These include local organizations like the Birmingham Zoo, the McWane Center and the Alys Stephens Center, as well as national groups like the NBA and NFL.

The impact of the organization can be seen well beyond Alabama. In 2019, KultureCity was ranked fourth on Fast Company’s list of the most innovative companies in the world.

The recognition is well deserved, considering the scope and impact of the solutions the organization offers to families affected by autism.  Solutions such as lifeBoks, technology-centered products designed to prevent wandering and wandering-related accidents. Or, the Sensory Inclusive certification program and app that partners with major events and venues across the country to create experiences that can be enjoyed by all.

Each year the organization hosts The KultureBall, a fundraising gala that draws hundreds of attendees, including professional athletes such as Dwight Howard, Tiki Barker and Tracy Johnson.

Kong credits her parents and her humble upbringing for her incredible work ethic and passion. She was exposed to great poverty in her home country of Malaysia. Her mother was a school teacher and her father started vocational training schools which required a great deal of travel.  Kong said, “Traveling so much exposed me to the diversity that exists in our world.”

Not unfamiliar with defying the odds as well as valuing education, Kong did her pre-medical studies in Australia and worked hard to receive a scholarship to attend medical school at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.

As fate would have it, she met her husband Julian Maha, also a physician, on a flight from Malaysia to Calgary.  They were both attending medical school there but had never met before that flight. Following a residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, she came to Birmingham in 2005 for a critical care fellowship and was recruited by UAB.

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Dr. Michele Kong a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

1 hour ago

UA’s CrossingPoints receives $4M in grants to enhance education efforts

The University of Alabama’s CrossingPoints Transition Program has received two federal grants totaling more than $4 million to enhance education efforts for young adults who have intellectual disabilities and to assist special education teachers and rehab counselors.

“Our ability to provide excellent preparation of our students in order to improve outcomes in their desired adult goals of employment, independent living, community participation and, not to mention, have a great college experience while they are preparing for their futures, is something we have worked hard to achieve,” said Kagendo Mutua, director and co-founder of CrossingPoints. “We want our students to have an enviable life after college.”

The first award from the U.S Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education is a five-year grant totaling nearly $2.5 million that will allow CrossingPoints to expand and enhance the scope of its inclusive transition services and opportunities for accessing higher education by students with intellectual disabilities. CrossingPoints is one of six nationally recognized programs to receive this competitive funding for a second time.

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In addition to expanding services, the grant will allow CrossingPoints to significantly reduce the program fee for its Tier 3 program to $3,000 per semester. Peer institutions with similar programs have fees ranging from $9,000 to $15,000 per semester.

The project core team is Mutua, Amy Williamson, John Myrick and Jim Siders.

The second award from the Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services is a five-year grant totaling more than $1.5 million that will prepare teachers and vocational rehabilitation counselors to work with secondary/transition-age students with high-intensity needs within a model called Service, Teaching, Advocacy and Rehabilitation (STAR).

The goal of the STAR project is to recruit, train and place 30 master’s-level scholars in positions as special education teachers and vocational rehabilitation counselors to work with transition-age students with severe disabilities and evaluate the impact of an evidence-based approach to interdisciplinary training.

“The grant will make it possible for UA’s College of Education to support graduate students to earn a master’s degree in either special education, severe disabilities or vocational rehabilitation counseling,” said Mutua. “STAR scholars will receive full tuition funding through the grant, as well as a stipend to enable them to participate in an on-campus summer institute hosted in the CrossingPoints program.”

The project team for this grant is Mutua, Williamson and George Mugoya.

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

State Sen. Elliott: Ivey prison proposal funding scheme prevents new facilities from being built at existing locations

All three of the locations named in Gov. Kay Ivey’s prison proposal in Bibb, Elmore and Escambia Counties have raised some local residents’ level of concern as some have said they were blindsided by the announcement.

While there are existing facilities in Bibb, Elmore and Escambia Counties, none of the proposed new facilities, which would be privately owned and leased by the State of Alabama for prisons to be operated by the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), are adjacent to existing ADOC infrastructure.

The reason according to State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne) is the private entities named by the Ivey administration to build the new facilities, Alabama Prison Transformation Partners and CoreCivic, can legally build on state-owned land, which has presented challenges.

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“I suspect the initial answer as to why we’re not building on state property is the nature of the administration’s funding scheme, and that is the private companies are going to own this facility,” he explained during an interview with Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show.’ “That means you can’t build it on state land. Right out of the gate, even if the state has land on existing prison facilities or near existing prison facilities, the state can’t simply give that to a private entity and build on. That’s not allowed. The scheme that is set up now to lease these prisons, for the state to lease these prisons, precludes building on state land. That means you’ve got to go out and buy additional land, and finding a track of that size in a lot of these areas close by has really proven difficult, and again negates new infrastructure, not just roads — sewer, water, power — everything that it takes to essentially build a small town, you know, when we start talking about the size of these facilities, you’ve got to start over. And that’s all being driven by the administration’s choice to go down this particular delivery method of these leasebacks instead of owning them and doing them ourselves.”

Elliott’s colleague State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) has previously expressed skepticism whether there was much the legislature could do given the timing of Ivey’s efforts. Elliott acknowledged that difficulty but said Ivey proceeding would have consequences.

“I think Senator Ward is likely right,” Elliott said. “But that is probably because of the timing here. The Governor has indicated they’re going to sign these deals and break ground prior to the legislature coming back into session in February. Well, if that’s the case, then the horse is out of the gate, and I don’t know that you can undo that, even with consensus among legislators. Now, if the Governor slows up a little bit — even just a few months — I think there is an opportunity to compare and contrast the delivery methods being offered here with some state funding as opposed to this long-term leaseback, this 30-plus year leaseback. And we talk about the devil being in the details — we haven’t seen the details of this contract, what it really looks like. There could be significant pushback on that. The problem is the administration seems to not be willing to release the details of the contract until — ready for this — after it is signed. That’s going to be interesting to see what we’ve gotten ourselves into with the administration signing the contract the legislature is going to be on the hook for without ever seeing the details of it. And if all of that happens like that, the legislature is not going to have an opportunity. The Governor is going to have beaten us to it, if you will, and probably done so at a significant cost to the taxpayers.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

4 hours ago

Historic storm cleanup: Alabama Power linemen working around the clock to restore service

Alabama Power now has more than 300,000 customers back online after Hurricane Zeta tore through the state, and lineman from Alabama and 19 other states and Canada continue their efforts to finish restoration of power.

The damage left behind from the historic storm, which left nearly one-third of all Alabama Power customers without service, is comparable to that of Hurricane Katrina and the April 27, 2011 tornadoes, according to the company.

“Since early Thursday morning, we’ve been working to restore service for customers affected by Hurricane Zeta,” Scott Moore, Alabama Power senior vice president of Power Delivery, told Yellowhammer News. “We’ve made significant progress and are working through some tough conditions due to the number of downed trees and extensive damage across our state. I’m proud of our team members and their commitment to serving our customers. During this challenging time we will not stop until our customers’ service is restored,”

Alabama Power expects to have service restored to 80% of its affected customers by noon on Sunday. More than 500,000 of its customers were without service, at one time.

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Past storms have seen Alabama deploy more than 1,500 team members across the state. Those same crews were joined this week by than 1,700 lineworkers and support personnel from outside the state.

Service to Lamar, Franklin, Winston, Barbour, Covington, Coffee, Geneva, Dale, Houston, Henry, Clayton and Russell counties has been fully restored, while restoration for customers in the hardest hit areas of Eastern, Central and Southwestern Alabama could extend into next week.

The company issued a statement on Friday apologizing to customers for some confusion surrounding information on power status for certain locations:

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

6 hours ago

Study highlights link between depressive symptoms and stroke risk

People with multiple depressive symptoms have an increased risk for stroke, according to findings recently published in Neurology: Clinical Practice. The collaborative study led by investigators at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Alabama showed that individuals who scored higher on a test designed to measure depressive symptoms had a higher stroke risk than those with lower scores.

The study involved 9,529 Black and 14,516 white stroke-free participants, age 45 and older, enrolled in the UAB-led REGARDS study. REGARDS is a national, population-based longitudinal study designed to examine risk factors associated with racial and regional disparities in stroke incidence and mortality.

Depressive symptoms were assessed using the four-item version of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, known as CES-D-4, administered during a baseline evaluation of each participant. The four-item scale evaluates a subset of symptoms and assesses how often respondents felt depressed, sad or lonely or had crying spells.

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There were 1,262 strokes over an average follow-up of nine years among the study cohort. Compared to participants with no depressive symptoms, participants with CES-D-4 scores of one to three had a 39 percent increased stroke risk after demographic adjustment. Participants with CES-D-4 scores of more than four experienced a 54 percent higher risk of stroke after demographic adjustment. There was no evidence of a differential effect by race.

“There are a number of well-known risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease; but we are beginning to understand that there are nontraditional risk factors as well, and having depressive symptoms looms high on that list,” said Virginia Howard, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the UAB School of Public Health and senior author of the paper. “These nontraditional risk factors need to be in the conversation about stroke prevention.”

One goal of the study was to see if depressive symptoms might help explain the increased risk that Black populations have for stroke, especially in the southern United States.

“The traditional risk factors don’t explain all the difference in stroke risk between races,” said Cassandra Ford, Ph.D., R.N., Capstone College of Nursing at the University of Alabama and the study’s first author. “The results have been mixed among the few studies that enrolled Black participants and examined race and depressive symptoms in relation to stroke. Depression often goes undetected and undiagnosed in Black patients, who are frequently less likely to receive effective care and management. These findings suggest that further research needs to be conducted to explore nontraditional risk factors for stroke. The implications of our findings underscore the importance of assessing for this risk factor in both populations.”

The takeaway, according to Howard, is that medical professionals need to recognize that stroke risk from depressive factors is high.

“The standard questions asked in the typical physician/patient encounter need to be updated to include questions regarding depressive symptoms,” she said. “Physicians in primary care, internal medicine and geriatrics need to consider asking their patients about depressive symptoms.”

“As nurses, we care for the entire person,” Ford said. “When a patient has a particular condition, such as diabetes, hypertension or stroke, that is the focus of diagnosis and care. Our study provides support for considering nontraditional risk factors during patient assessment, particularly conducting some mental health screenings.”

The study was funded by grant No. U01 NS041588 co-funded by the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health. Additional support was provided by the Deep South Resource Center for Minority Aging Research grant P30AG031054.

In addition to Ford and Howard, co-authors on the paper are Martha R. Crowther, Ph.D., University of Alabama; and Marquita S. Gray, MSPH, Virginia G. Wadley, Ph.D., and Michael G. Crowe, Ph.D., University of Alabama at Birmingham. Additional co-authors are Audrey L. Austin, Ph.D., Tuscaloosa Veterans Affairs Medical Center; LeaVonne Pulley, Ph.D., and Frederick Unverzagt, Ph.D., Indiana University School of Medicine; and Dawn O. Kleindorfer, M.D., and Brett M. Kissela, M.D., University of Cincinnati School of Medicine.

(Courtesy of UAB)

8 hours ago

Kith Kitchens to open cabinet factory in Florence, creating 131 jobs

FLORENCE, Alabama — Kith Kitchens, an Alabama-based maker of high-quality cabinets, plans to invest $11 million to open a new manufacturing facility in Florence that will create 131 full-time jobs.

Kith Kitchens will purchase a 150,000-square-foot speculative building pad and 11.5 acres in the Florence-Lauderdale Industrial Park. The company plans to start construction soon with a goal of beginning operations next summer.

“We are excited to work with the Shoals Economic Development Authority, the State of Alabama and the Tennessee Valley Authority to build this facility and hire a new team in Florence, which, working in conjunction with our team in Haleyville, will help us continue the growth and success of Kith Kitchens,” CEO Mark Smith said.

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GROWTH PLANS

According to the Shoals EDA, demand for Kith Kitchens’ cabinets has outgrown the capacity at the company’s current facility in Haleyville. The organization says the company chose the Shoals because of the availability of a first-class workforce and shovel ready industrial property.

“A couple of years ago the Shoals EDA developed an aggressive product development plan that included the construction of a new road and speculative building pad in the Florence-Lauderdale Industrial Park,” said Adam Himber, vice president of the Shoals EDA.

“The speculative building pad will allow Kith Kitchens to become operational quicker to meet the ever-growing demand in their industry,” he said.

The Shoals EDA said the success of the project can be attributed to a collaborative effort with the Alabama Department of Commerce, AIDT, and TVA.

The Shoals EDA  began building this 150,000-square-foot speculative building pad earlier this year in preparation for future development.

Kith is a family owned business, founded in 1998.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)