1 year ago

State parks foundation seeks to boost Alabama opportunities

During his career, Dan Hendricks has seen first-hand the impact charitable foundations can have on a wide range of organizations.

Retiring to picturesque Florence, Ala., after a long academic career with a final stop at the University of North Alabama, Hendricks channeled his love of the outdoors and nature toward one of our state’s greatest treasures – the Alabama State Parks System.

With an extensive background in foundation work, Hendricks led a coalition of like-minded individuals to form the Alabama State Parks Foundation, which was officially launched at Oak Mountain State Park this past spring.

“I noticed when I was planning for retirement that Alabama didn’t have a state parks foundation, and they had a beautiful state parks system,” Hendricks said. “My wife (Barb) and I love to be outside hiking. We love gardens and learning about nature. As I was planning retirement, I thought of how I was going to be of use to the community, because I was going to have a lot more time. I also noticed that there were very few states where the parks didn’t have a foundation.”

Shortly after his retirement became official, Hendricks traveled to nearby Joe Wheeler State Park near Rogersville, Ala., and visited with Chad Davis, Northwest District and Wheeler park superintendent. That eventually led to meetings with State Parks North Region Supervisor Tim Haney and State Parks Director Greg Lein.

“I told Chad that state parks might need a foundation, and I shared my background in running foundations,” Hendricks said. “He showed interest, so I ended up meeting with Tim Haney and Greg Lein.”

Hendricks said in 2017 a design team was formed to determine the objectives of the foundation and work out requirements to reach those goals.

“One thing we wanted was a geographically disbursed state board so that all parts of the state would be represented,” Hendricks said. “We tried to identify strategic goals. One goal was to be able to mobilize park people and create a kind of park movement in the state. It was not necessarily that they would learn anything new, but they would realize something they already knew – that the state parks were a wonderful treasure for the state, and that other states had foundations that were important private-public partners with the state parks systems.”

Hendricks studied the Iowa State Parks Foundation and how it dealt with the continuing need for strong funding that makes parks sustainable, along with private-public partnerships that complement state funding.

“That is particularly important for Alabama, because the state parks system doesn’t receive much support from state revenue,” Hendricks said. “It is mostly a fee-based system, so parks are run almost like independent businesses. They rely on good business practices and fees for revenue.”

Hendricks said the Iowa Foundation developed a model to divide the state into regional cluster groups with one or more parks that highlight that particular region.

For example, among Alabama’s 21 state parks, Joe Wheeler, DeSoto and Monte Sano would represent north Alabama; Lurleen Wallace, the west; Rickwood Caverns and Oak Mountain, the Birmingham area; Cheaha, Guntersville and Cathedral Caverns, the east; and Lakepoint and Gulf State Park, the south.

“What we’re going to do is try to create working groups for each of these zones, focused on one or more of the parks in that zone,” Hendricks said. “Then we are going to invite municipalities, individuals, businesses and corporations that have the most interest in that particular park. Then we want to identify ways we can drastically improve the infrastructure of the parks to do two things – increase the number of people the parks are serving and create sustaining sources of revenue. One of the things that the research done by the Iowa foundation revealed is that cabin and primitive camping and recreational vehicle (RV) camping are services that can increase the number of people and, at the same time, generate additional income.”

Hendricks said Iowa is trying to mobilize businesses, individuals and municipalities to build cabins and amenities for their parks.

“To do that, they are emphasizing how important the parks are for quality of life, elevate the value of communities, provide recreational services for all Alabamians in our case, and they attract individuals,” he said. “If you have a great park in America, people are attracted to those recreational amenities.”

Lein, who has been State Parks Director since 2012, said the work of the Foundation will contribute to the ongoing success of the state’s treasured parks, which continue a current winning streak. Alabama State Parks earned a record 18 Certificate of Excellence Awards from TripAdvisor.com in 2019, and the Eagle Cottages at Gulf State Park were deemed one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.

“Dr. Hendricks has done a great job of researching the different foundation models that exist across the country and marrying that to how Alabama’s park system operates,” Lein said. “We are especially optimistic about the vision that he and other Board members share in pursuing financial support from other foundations and corporate entities who share our desire to make the parks better for the people. While we have made great strides in addressing the park’s maintenance backlog, we hope that financial support through the Foundation can lead to creating new programs, features and amenities within the parks. These are such positive times for the park system, and we are excited about having the Foundation as a new park partner.”

The Alabama State Parks Foundation officially launched at Oak Mountain State Park for a specific reason.

“The launch was to invite people to become part of a great parks movement in Alabama,” Hendricks said. “Like I said, it was not necessarily to redo their experience, but to simply say let’s join together to not only to preserve this wonderful natural treasure, but let’s see if we can actually expand it and make it better. From the kickoff, we’ve been able to identify people who have become First Friends and founding members of the Foundation. I think we have between 350 and 370 individuals who said they would like to do that. I was encouraged by that. Almost half of that number also have made gifts.”

The Alabama State Parks Foundation board meets four times a year with the next meeting scheduled for July to develop a corporate partners program to recruit charitable investors to help improve and expand the infrastructure so state parks can serve more people.

Hendricks, who was the Vice President for University Enhancement at the University of North Alabama before he retired, has extensive foundation experience. He was vice president at the LSU Foundation, VP and executive officer at Western Illinois University, director and chief operations officer for The Campaign for the University of Kentucky, and director of planned giving for Hanover College.

He has also been active in the Audubon Society in Kentucky and Indiana as well as serving as president of the Baton Rouge Audubon Society.

Hendricks said the geographical diversity he’s experienced during his career has given him a perspective on how the various state parks he’s visited are operated and cherished by the communities.

“Running three foundations also has helped,” he said. “I understand how they work and hopefully ways to make them successful. But it’s always difficult to start something new. Something in the charitable world is even more difficult. A lot of people have to be convinced something is valuable enough. So, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to start that park movement and inviting people to be a part of it. Historically, the formation of the parks in Alabama is fascinating. A lot of the parks were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Depression. In my speech when we kicked off the Foundation, I said we are also creating this Foundation as a tribute to the young men who built it in the 1930s and who left this as a legacy for us and the six or seven generations who have used those parks since they were built. We want to continue to leave a legacy for our children and their children.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

13 hours ago

A victory in court for school choice

The U.S. Supreme Court recently delivered a “big win” for school choice and religious freedom. School choice enables competition, which economists find generally improves the quality of goods and services. I believe that this result will apply to education, and specifically public schools.

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue involved 2015 legislation allowing tax-deductible contributions for scholarships to private, non-profit schools. The Montana Supreme Court struck down the act in 2018 as an unconstitutional use of public funds for religious purposes, including any school or college controlled by a church. Montana’s constitutional provision is a “Blaine Amendment” dating to the 19th century to prohibit state aid to parochial schools; 37 states, including Alabama, have Blaine Amendments.

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The constitutional issues involved were the First Amendment’s separation of church and state and religious discrimination in government policy. Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion found the Blaine Amendment discriminatory: “A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

The Montana Supreme Court struck down the entire school choice program based on the Blaine Amendment. Although Montana’s legislature could have enacted a scholarship program applying to only non-church private schools, this would have significantly restricted parents’ choice. According to the Institute for Justice, which litigated Espinoza, Blaine Amendments are often used to block school choice. Only a narrow interpretation of Alabama’s provision allowed the Alabama Accountability Act to withstand challenge.

Separation of church and state is wise constitutional doctrine. Still, I do not see the scholarships as violating separation of church and state. The public “dollars” involved are taxes foregone. Church-affiliated schools often operate at a loss, so tuition scholarships will not yield profits to support other activities and presumably provide enough education to qualify as schools.

George Mason law professor Ilya Somin offers an illustrative comparison. No one worries that tax exemptions for religious charities or police and fire protection for churches constitute state support for religion. Tax deductions for scholarships do not establish a state religion.

Church-affiliated schools provide a variety of education consistent with their doctrine and moral teachings. The goal of school reform should be, as economist John Merrifield emphasizes, a diverse menu of options to suit students’ varied learning styles and parents’ values. Church-affiliated schools accomplish this.

School choice policies will make Americans more equal. Affluent Americans, who can afford private school tuition, have long enjoyed school choice.

American higher education features school choice. Alabamians can attend any of the state’s 14 four-year universities or more than 30 two-year colleges at in-state tuition rates. These institutions offer diverse educational options. Two-year colleges offer vocational programs and inexpensive core classes. Four-year universities include one modeled after a liberal arts school, large and small campuses, and numerous online degrees. Federal student aid and loans help make private colleges affordable.

By contrast, K-12 public schools require students to attend their assigned school. After paying taxes to support government schools, many families cannot afford private school tuition. The economic case for public education stresses ensuring all students can afford schooling, which school choice accomplishes.

Choices unleash quality-enhancing competition. Some of America’s best public schools are in affluent suburbs where districts must compete for students because parents can afford private schools. It is tempting to attribute suburban districts’ quality spending, but statistics show otherwise. In 2018, Baltimore city schools spent $250 less per pupil than Montgomery County (Maryland) and $1,000 more than Fairfax County (Virginia) in suburban Washington, two of America’s most affluent counties.

In time school choice will force beneficial changes in public school curriculum. Currently, the curriculum is a political football which both parties seek to control. Teachers educate children in classrooms; politicians in Montgomery or Washington shape learning only through bureaucratic controls forcing a curriculum on local schools. School choice will empower parents to find schools that help their children learn. To successfully compete for students, control will need to be devolved to schools and teachers, which I see as a very good thing.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

15 hours ago

VIDEO: More municipalities opt for mandatory masks, schools head towards in-class instruction, Sessions/Tuberville race nears the end and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Will Governor Kay Ivey consider a statewide mask ordinance as more municipalities adopt ordinances and pressure continues to mount?

— Are parents going to feel safe sending their kids to school in the Fall?

— Who will win the Republican runoff between former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville?

Jackson and Handback are joined by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss the runoff election for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

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Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at people who think the government can’t put in more restrictions when they have shown they can, and probably will, do more if the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t get under control.

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

16 hours ago

Alabama sisters continue their family’s farming legacy

Sisters Allie Corcoran and Cassie Young loved growing up on a farm in Eufaula, but once they left home and earned their degrees at Auburn University, they realized their hearts were still at the family farm.

“I always knew I wanted to come home and be part of the farm, but I didn’t know where I would fit in,” Young said. “The only things I have ever felt close to, or had a desire to be a part of, were farming and working with people. At Auburn, I considered a career in family and adolescent counseling, but I knew it would be difficult to find work in this field near home and I was unwilling to move.”

When the sisters were growing up, their family raised crops such as cotton, peanuts, soybeans, corn, grain sorghum and wheat, along with cattle. The family managed a peach orchard.

Their childhood experiences and love of farming pushed them to find their eventual calling, and they opened Backyard Orchards near Eufaula in 2010.

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“Our father had the idea to start a u-pick operation,” Young said. “We had an exciting concept for a new family venture and found the perfect location, so we decided to become entrepreneurs.”

Backyard Orchards gave the sisters the path they longed for in fitting into the family business. They offer u-pick and freshly packed produce.

Fruits currently ripe for picking are peaches and blueberries. There is a variety of fresh vegetables available, including potatoes, onions, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, field corn, sweet corn, peppers, peas and okra.

There is an onsite cafe that serves homemade pies, fudge and ice cream – the perfect end to a day on the farm. The barn, pavilion and grounds can be rented for weddings, birthday parties, corporate events and more.

Under COVID-19 safety measures, visitors are not required to have a reservation, but should follow these guidelines:

  • Stay with your group and remember to social distance while in the fields and store.
  • When the store is busy and social distance is challenged, send one group representative into the store to pay for and/or order food and ice cream.
  • There are sinks for handwashing located in the restrooms. Hand sanitizer is located throughout the store.
  • Pick up café orders from the window located outside on the front porch.

The orchards allowed the sisters to carry on the traditions from childhood that they always dreamed of passing on to their own children.

“Some of my fondest memories are the simplest ones involving our whole family: playing in the cottonseed and corn, jumping on hay bales and cotton modules, riding around with my dad to check on pivots or crops and playing in the irrigation with my sisters and cousins,” Young said. “Farming is a difficult life, but the family experiences have made it a wonderful life.”

Young and her husband have three children: Gardner, 10, Sterling, 7, and Cade, 4.

“Gardner has been picking squash with me since he was a baby,” Young said. “He now helps his dad pick and sell watermelons. Sterling wants to start helping me at the local farmers market. Cade is still too young to help on the farm, but he loves to eat the ice cream.”

Young sees them creating memories and experiences like she had with her sister as a child.

“I hope they all want to play a role in either the orchard or the family farm one day, but only if that is where their hearts lead them,” she said. “Right now, they are growing up the same way I did and enjoying the simple joys of childhood on the farm.”

The sisters continue looking for ways to enhance the orchards and develop the business. Plans are in place for planting blackberries, expanding the peach orchard and increasing the strawberries plants.

To learn more about Backyard Orchards and plan a family outing, visit the website or follow them on Facebook.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

21 hours ago

Alabama native Rachel Baribeau is Changing the Narrative and expanding her own

Sportscasting is a tough business for anyone, but has been traditionally even more difficult for women. That’s why the change in direction for Rachel Baribeau won’t make sense … until you hear her explain it.

“I am always evolving – as a woman, as a queen, as a daughter and a friend and as a fiancee and a future wife – I am always trying to be better. I’m a lifelong learner.”

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Rachel Baribeau is Changing the Narrative in college sports and beyond from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Auburn graduate and former Pell City resident had a career many would consider perfect: covering SEC football and other sports, from the sidelines and from her college football talk show on Sirius/XM (where she was the network’s first female college sports host).

Baribeau was well-respected enough among her peers to be granted a Heisman Trophy ballot. But it was her work away from the microphone that made the most noise.

“The idea that there is royalty inside of all of us; that there is legacy and purpose and greatness.” Baribeau beams as she describes the impact of the conversations she had been having with college athletes.

Changing the Narrative” was Baribeau’s passion project – a movement that promotes positive mental health and inspiring people to build a positive legacy for others. She took her “Purpose – Passion – Platform” message on a nationwide tour of college football programs, filled with candid heart-to-heart conversations.

After spending four years on this consulting journey, Baribeau announced last October that she would be walking away from sports to concentrate on Changing the Narrative full time.

“I started with this desire and belief that athletes could trend for something other than bad news,” Baribeau said.

Now a nonprofit, Changing the Narrative has expanded further. Baribeau is now in demand in locker rooms, board rooms, law enforcement agencies and entire athletic conferences. “We already have the Big Ten on board; how great would it be to be in all of the Power Five conferences?”

Baribeau is scaling the program in several ways. First, the pandemic has forced a shift to more online training and modules. Second, the material is being tweaked to skew younger for high school audiences. Finally, Baribeau is training a network of other speakers including former athletes who can bring their own experiences of Changing the Narrative to even more audiences.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

21 hours ago

Alabama entrepreneurs can apply now for Walmart’s Open Call for products

Walmart’s seventh annual Open Call is underway for entrepreneurs dreaming of landing U.S.-manufactured products on Walmart shelves by successfully pitching their wares to company officials during online meetings.

“Walmart’s Annual Open Call event gives us a unique occasion to identify new suppliers who can meet our customers’ needs with unique and innovative products manufactured or produced in the U.S.,” said Laura Phillips, Walmart senior vice president for Global Sourcing and U.S. Manufacturing.

“During this year of unprecedented challenges for U.S. businesses, Walmart remains committed to sourcing products made, grown or assembled in the U.S.,” Phillips said.

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In 2013, Walmart announced a 10-year commitment to help boost job creation and U.S. manufacturing through buying an additional $250 billion in products supporting American jobs. Walmart’s Open Call is one way the company continues to invest in the commitment.

“By Investing in products that support American jobs, we are able to bring new exciting products to our customers, support new jobs in our local communities and invest in small business across the country,” Phillips said.

The Open Call, scheduled for Oct. 1, kicks off Walmart’s celebration of U.S. Manufacturing Month and will include programming similar to previous years. In addition to one-on-one pitch meetings with Walmart buyers, participants will have an opportunity to hear directly from Walmart executives and learn from company leaders during small breakout sessions designed to inform, empower and encourage suppliers.

“For the first time, this year’s Open Call event will be virtual, enabling even broader participation from potential new suppliers,” Phillips said. “We know how important this opportunity is for many small businesses, especially this year, and we are looking forward to seeing the new product submissions and meeting potential new suppliers.”

This year’s Open Call attendees could secure deals ranging from a handful of stores in local markets to supplying hundreds, or even thousands, of stores, Sam’s Clubs and on Walmart.com.

Gwen Hurt, owner of Shoe Crazy wine, participated in Walmart’s 2018 Open Call, where a Walmart buyer decided to test her product in 66 stores.

“We were walking into an entirely new and welcoming world,” said Hurt. “Everyone was so professional and kind throughout the process.”

“We’ve been thrilled to work with Walmart and are excited about the continual growth of our product,” Hurt continued. “Thanks to this relationship, we’ve been able to expand our operations to 15 employees while reinvesting in our community through the purchase of a once-abandoned warehouse and additional resources.”

“It’s a dream come true for our family,” Hurt said. Walmart is expanding Shoe Crazy Wine to 118 stores across Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia.

The deadline to apply to participate in this year’s Open Call for U.S.-manufactured products is Aug. 10. The application and information about the event are at Walmart-jump.com.

Information about Walmart can be found by visiting corporate.walmart.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/walmart and on Twitter at twitter.com/walmart.