3 months ago

University of West Alabama freezing tuition

The University of West Alabama is freezing its tuition rates in an effort to maintain enrollment.

The Tuscaloosa News reports that trustees recently decided to keep the annual tuition rate for in-state students at about $8,450 for the fall and about $16,000 for out-of-state students.President Ken Tucker says increasing tuition could hurt enrollment, which is currently listed at about 2,300 students.

He also says higher costs would put a burden on first-generation college students, who are a significant part of West Alabama’s student body.

Trustees at the school approved a roughly 1% tuition hike a year ago.

According to Tucker, positive revenue projections allowed the school to avoid another increase.

Tucker says enrollment in online programs increased by about 550 students compared to last year.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 hours ago

Itty Bitty Bakers makes cooking fun and informative for Alabama kids

It starts with a special ingredient – in this case, registered dietician and educator Jessica Hamby.

Combine with the children willing to learn and participate. Flavor in a mix of art, crafts, reading and hands-on learning. Then top off with the capable hands of proven instructors and assistants, and you have Itty Bitty Bakers.

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Hamby started Itty Bitty Bakers in 2018 to bring her own love of cooking with healthy and fresh ingredients to children in her neighborhood. The belief was that if the children had a hand in preparing healthy foods, they would be more inclined to try and then enjoy foods that are better for them.

It worked. Hamby, who has a master’s in health education, created a curriculum that reinforces the recipes and helps teach children about where food comes from, how ingredients are used to make a dish and how cooking can be a fun and creative outlet for people of any age.

Itty Bitty Bakers has the recipe for making cooking fun and educational for kids from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

What started as a couple of summer camp classes quickly grew into monthly classes and then multiple classes for students of different ages.

“It really took off,” said Melissa Carden, an instructor with Itty Bitty Bakers. “It seemed to be something that the community really had a need for. There was always a demand.”

Today, the program has two instructors, teaching assistants, a team of youth helpers and even students from the University of Alabama nutrition program who intern during the summer.

At one recent bakers camp, the students picked basil, used it in a recipe, learned about growing fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables during story time, colored pictures of herbs and even took recipes and basil seeds home with them. The basil was used to make basil-cheddar biscuits, which they got to enjoy during snack time.

Each class and camp teaches children to be comfortable in the kitchen, builds on their understanding of where food comes from and encourages creativity.

“It’s really fascinating how much they enjoy the hands-on – the mixing, the pouring – every child gets to add at least one ingredient to the recipe,” Carden said. “It’s fun to see how capable they are. They’re capable of a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for.”

Itty Bitty Bakers offers classes for preschoolers, grade schooler and pre-teens. There are camps during the summer, classes during the school year and special workshops throughout the year. Prices vary and registration is done online. Itty Bitty Bakers will even organize parties.

Itty Bitty Bakers can be found online, on Facebook, on Instagram and Pinterest.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Birmingham’s Alie B. Gorrie puts spotlight on disabled performers in new Amazon series

When Alie B. Gorrie moved to New York in 2015 after graduating from Belmont University, she was not unlike other young performers trying to find their way in the big city.

Armed with a resume that included shows at Birmingham’s Red Mountain Theatre Company (RMTC), Gorrie taught yoga and worked part-time as a teacher, all the while auditioning for (and getting some) roles at theater companies in the area.

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But look at Gorrie’s resume, and you’ll see something listed that provided some extra challenges. Under “Special Skills,” she notes that she’s “legally blind/visually impaired,” having been diagnosed at an early age with low vision.

“When I moved to New York, casting directors would say, ‘Why is one of your eyes crossed?’,” Gorrie says. “I didn’t expect to hear that after singing a song. … I’ve faced having to learn how to speak about it and articulate what I needed around it very quickly.”

Gorrie is not alone, and her latest project showcases other performers dealing with their own disabilities in the arts world. Gorrie co-hosts and co-produces, with Kallen Blair, “ABLE: a series,” which is now streaming on Amazon Prime. There are eight 15-minute episodes, each of which focuses on a performer with a disability, including recent Tony Award winner Ali Stroker, who is in a wheelchair.

The series was conceived after Gorrie saw a musical called “Sam’s Room” off-Broadway.

“I‘ve never been so moved by something,” she says of the show about a teen with non-verbal autism. “I had this impulse to buy 10 tickets and invite people I knew to see the show.”

One of those people was Blair, who has a brother with non-verbal autism.

“After the show, she was weeping, and she said that it was the first time she had seen her brother represented so well in a story,” Gorrie says. “That got us started in these inclusion discussions.”

Later, when Gorrie was working in California and Blair in Boston, Blair sent her an email.

“She pitched a documentary series shedding a light on inclusion in theater,” Gorrie recalls. “I said, ‘Yes, yes, sign me up.’”

Each episode features one guest interviewed by Gorrie and Blair. The guests include Evan Ruggiero, a dancer who lost a leg to cancer at age 19; John McGinty, a deaf actor who starred on Broadway in “Children of a Lesser God”; and Danny Woodburn, an actor with dwarfism known best for his role on the sitcom “Seinfeld.”
The two interviewed Stroker prior to her Tony nomination and win for “Oklahoma!”

“She is the one who is truly paving the way for disabled artists everywhere now,” Gorrie says.

Gorrie and her family created Songs for Sight, an event that raises money for the Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The fundraiser, which has included performers such as Vince Gill, Sara Evans and Grace Potter, celebrates its 10th anniversary with a free concert at Red Mountain Theatre Company in October.

Gorrie really found her calling at RMTC, where she performed for a number of years. She counts RMTC Executive Director Keith Cromwell among those who helped her realize she could pursue a performing career while dealing with her vision issues.

“It took me a while to find teachers and mentors who knew how to not make too big a deal out of it while also not ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t exist,” Gorrie says.

Cromwell is one who recognized Gorrie’s talents early on.

“When you meet ‘special,’ it has no age, it’s timeless,” he says of Gorrie, who is now 26. “As I watch her grow into a magnificent adult and amazing artist who is changing the world, I could not feel more privileged to witness her advancing her cause, her art, her center – the truth of who she is.”

That’s really what’s at the core of “ABLE,” too, as artists talk about embracing their disabilities and finding opportunities to shine, even though it’s still an uphill battle to get casting directors to cast disabled actors.

Gorrie and Blair are already planning Season 2 of “ABLE,” looking to focus less on individuals and more on theaters and other groups that are embracing inclusion of disabled performers.

“We want to go to theaters and film sets and do documentary-style episodes going into the places that are inclusion champions,” Gorrie says.

“ABLE: a series” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 hours ago

Alabama Habitat for Humanity chapter builds 14 homes in 1 week

To say Tonya Torrance is happy would be an understatement.

“It feels great. It’s a feeling that can’t be explained.”

Torrance and her family are one of 14 families who received a new home Thursday as part of this year’s Home Builders Blitz from the Greater Birmingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The chapter chose to celebrate its 14th anniversary by building 14 homes, a new record according to chapter President and CEO Charles Moore and a task that requires a tremendous amount of organizing and planning.

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“We knew if we followed that plan and stuck to schedule with everybody doing their part, we could complete it on time,” Moore said. “We have hundreds of volunteers helping us, along with skilled tradesmen, professional homebuilders and many more behind the scenes helping with meals and sponsorships. Some of the big corporations in Alabama, such as Wells Fargo and Alabama Power have been with us year after year, as well as the Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builders — we couldn’t do it without our home builders who volunteer and give us this week of their time and help direct the house that they’re building.”

One of those home builders for this year’s blitz was Danniell Burton, a superintendent and project manager at Taylor Burton Company. Burton grew up helping his dad at Habitat builds, but this was his first year leading a build. He said the experience of building Torrance’s home was awesome.

“It gets stressful throughout the week — tons of subs and your mind is going a bunch of different ways, but to be done with it is awesome,” Burton said. “Seeing the homeowners’ faces walking in and just getting done with it is such a relief.”

Torrance said working with Burton was great.

“He didn’t ask for nothing he wouldn’t do,” Torrance said. “I love him.”

“It really does feel great,” Burton added. “As you make progress every day and seeing their faces is just a great feeling. You work late hours but the drive home at night you realize what you got done for the day and knowing they’re happy is what it’s all about.”

Moore said seeing people come together to help each other is what makes him most proud of the blitz builds.

“There’s no way we could do this without people pitching in to help,” Moore said. “We like to see ourselves as coordinators, as people who bring people together to help make it happen. We recognize that without the volunteers, without the financial support, without all of the folks that make this happen, that this would not happen.”

To learn more about the Home Builders Blitz program from the Greater Birmingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity, visit habitatbirmingham.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 hours ago

United Way of Central Alabama kicks off fall campaign

In a world where superheroes dominate pop culture, it’s good to be reminded that real, everyday heroes are making a difference in our communities.

That’s one reason United Way of Central Alabama has chosen “Be an everyday hero” as the theme for this year’s fall fundraising campaign.

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The organization has set this year’s goal at $36.5 million, which will help support more than 100 agencies throughout the region. They range from the A.G Gaston Boys & Girls Club to Alabama Goodwill Industries, from the American Cancer Society to the American Red Cross. Other agencies supported by United Way of Central Alabama include the Birmingham Jewish FederationChildren’s of AlabamaGirl Scouts of North Central Alabama, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, and the volunteer support organization Hands On Birmingham.

“To raise this amount of money is truly a community effort,” said Drew Langloh, president and CEO of United Way of Central Alabama. “It’s everybody in the community coming in together, saying, ‘I want to help my neighbor, I want to help people less fortunate than myself.’”

Langloh has worked his entire 32-year career with the United Way of Central Alabama.

“I am a social worker, and to have the opportunity to work with individuals and corporations throughout our community and find better ways to change lives and help our community is a social worker’s dream come true,” Langloh said.

United Way of Central Alabama has been a part of the community since 1923. This year, Charity Navigator awarded the organization with its the highest rating, four stars, for the 17th consecutive year. The award acknowledges strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency.

“When people give to the United Way, they are helping with the fight for better health, better education, and greater financial stability,” Langloh said.

The need is real:

  • One in six people in Alabama struggles with hunger, and 24% of those are children.
  • Only 21.4% of four-year-olds in Central Alabama have access to the state’s highly recognized First Class Pre-K program.
  • An estimated 15.6% of the population live in poverty in Central Alabama.

But so are the positive results supported through last year’s campaign:

  • Nearly 93,000 people received services from United Way partner agencies and programs.
  • More than 387,800 meals were served to seniors and those with disabilities through Meals on Wheels and the Senior Nutrition Program.
  • A total of 1,126 children received meals daily through the Summer Feeding Program, and seven new feeding sites assisted with food distribution.
  • More than 2,420 seniors received Medicare counseling through United Way’s Area Agency on Aging.
  • More than 13,900 children received literacy support in kindergarten through third grade from United Way partner agency programs.
  • Nearly 7,000 people received job training from United Way partner agency programs.
  • There were 30 financial workshops conducted, reaching 300 individuals.
  • Priority Veteran, a program specifically created to help homeless veterans find stable housing, assisted 555 veterans.
  • There were 39,200 calls received through the United Way of Central Alabama’s 24-hour call-in and referral center.
  • Nearly 6,400 seniors called the United Way Area Agency on Aging of Jefferson County to connect to senior services.

Learn more about United Way of Central Alabama and this year’s campaign by visiting https://www.uwca.org/.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 hours ago

From Three on a String to Ken Burns documentaries, this Alabama Music Maker is making history

Bobby Horton has been interested in the Civil War since he was 9 years old, igniting his lifelong love of history.

“Every adult male in my life, from my dad to my uncles to my baseball managers and even my band director were all World War II veterans,” said Horton. “When you understand that history is a story of real people, it pulls you in like nothing else.”

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His passions are music and history, and Horton has built a career weaving the two together. He especially loves film recording. Horton plays with the country-bluegrass band Three on a String and provides music for Public Broadcasting Service documentaries by Ken Burns.

Bobby Horton is an Alabama Music Maker providing soundtrack to Ken Burns documentaries from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Burns’ new 16-hour PBS series “Country Music” will be released by Florentine Films Sept. 15. It tells the history of country music from the early 20th century through the 1990s. Horton is credited with about 40 minutes of his music in the upcoming documentary.

Horton and Burns have worked on many projects together since the ‘90s. They connected through Richard Snow, the editor of American Heritage magazine, who had published an article about the work Horton was doing. Horton had produced a series of recordings sung by people who lived during the Civil War.

Snow ran into Burns on the streets of New York City. When Snow heard Burns was working on the Civil War documentary, he told Burns “there’s a guy in Alabama you need to listen to.”

The director-producer Horton is a Birmingham musician and historian. For about 20 years, his home studio in Vestavia Hills has been a one-man music workshop.

Over the years, Horton has produced and performed music scores for 18 PBS films by Ken Burns, including “The Civil War” and “Baseball,” two films for the A&E network, and 25 films for the National Park Service. Horton’s series of recordings of authentic period music has been acclaimed by historical organizations and publications throughout America and Europe.

Horton is widely recognized as one of America’s leading authorities on music from the Civil War period. Horton was a bugler for the Marine Corps when he was in high school. He has played taps for more than 60 burials of Marines. He is still active in Bugles Across America, an organization that provides a live rendition of taps by a bugler for veterans during their funerals.

Horton has been in a band since he was in the seventh grade. Jerry Ryan, the founder of Three on a String, approached him to play the banjo at the Horse Pens 40 music festival in the ‘70s. They’ve been playing together for nearly 50 years.

Horton can’t imagine doing anything else. “There are very few jobs you look forward to going to,” he said. “It’s still pretty fun.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)