What if you could scholarship a kid to Lincoln for free?

What if you could redirect half of your taxes to your kid’s school? You can! We’ll sort of. In Alabama there is something called the Alabama Accountability Act and it allows  taxpayers with an Alabama Income Tax Liability to choose for themselves where their tax money goes! I know it sounds too good to be true and there are some hard parts for the schools but the bottom line for the taxpayer is easy: put your money in the general fund or in your local schools, your choice. Oh and if you are fortunate enough to be an AMT filer, this is cashflow positive for you, ask your accountant or tax preparer.

If you are interested in doing this, estimate your Alabama Income Tax Liability before the end of 2016 and go to
myalabamataxes.alabama.gov. There you will see a menu on the left that includes a Donate to an SGO option, it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 1.00.26 PMWhen you click Donate to an SGO you see a screen like this:

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That screen shows that Alabamians can still donate up to $22 million more before the cap of $30 million is hit. It works like this: If you owe the state $1,000, you pay $500 using the screen above in calendar year 2016. Then, after you pay your $1,000 taxes in April of 2017 you will receive a $500 rebate from the state. It is cash flow neutral for the taxpayer and due to some rules, it is cash flow positive for Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) filers. Ask your tax professional about that part.

So there is no catch, no more paperwork, just this one screen and a month or two without your rebate check. If you owe $13,000 in income tax to Alabama your “donation” could scholarship a child. Imagine doing that while having it cost you nothing at all.  Please. Take the time to do this.

Redirect your Alabama taxes to local schools legally

Last year I posted about this in December. This year I am a few months earlier because I am going to beat the drums on this one until everyone hears me! Here’s the simple truth of the matter: Alabama has a poor track record educating our kids. We have challenges on this front to be sure, we have a poor population without a tradition of educational advancement. We have a subculture, white people and non-whites too, that lacks a culture of academic achievement. Still, we spend less on education that most states, tie funding for schools to an antiquated property tax structure and struggle to re-zone our communities to match the patterns of population shifts. As a state, we have a big problem and poor track record of being able to solve that problem.

In Alabama we have a mix of public schools, private schools, independent schools, church schools and now charter schools. Public schools are funded by the Alabama Legislature and by local ad valorem taxes (ad valorem taxes mean that you have to pay a portion of the value of any real estate you own to the county each year). As a way to help fund schools that are trying something different in poor neighborhoods, the Alabama Legislature voted a few years ago to create a fund of up to $30 million dollars. Families with children zoned for a Title 1 school (that is a school with a high percentage of free lunch kids) can apply to one of several Scholarship Granting Organizations approved by the State for a scholarship to a competing private school.

This structure empowersScreen Shot 2016-09-06 at 1.00.26 PM the parents of kids living in or near poverty to do something about the difficult school environment in most Title 1 schools. Now, instead of moving across town, they can apply for a scholarship that will allow them to pay $6,000, $8,000 or $10,000 a year for elementary, middle or high school kid respectively to attend a private school. To me, this is a great way to try and see if those kids can do better in another environment, without having to be wealthy.

So, here is your task for today. Call your tax advisor and tell them that you want as much as the law allows to be redirected to one of the Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs). There are two that support Lincoln Academy so please choose one of those. They are RocketSGO based in Huntsville and Scholarships for Kids (S4K) based in Birmingham. Either will work for our purposes. Your tax advisor will use the My Alabama Taxes website to enter the amount of your “donation”. It’s not really a donation since you were going to pay it to the general fund anyway if you had not been allowed to redirect the funds. If you need help with this or if your tax advisor has questions please send them to me.

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Time of Transition

To the Lincoln Community, Staff, Faculty, Donors, Volunteers, Parents and kids.

It is again my great pleasure to write to the entire community in my capacity as the Chairman of the Lincoln Village Preservation Corporation Board of Directors. With this letter the Board is announcing what will surely be a bittersweet moment in our ministry. As much as it is bittersweet, it is also a necessary and proper developmental step in the life of the ministry that is to be celebrated like the change of seasons. While there is sadness certainly, there is also the thrill of anticipation for the promise of Spring and new life that He has in store for us.

You may not know that it has been three years since our sister Karen Parks was asked to work part-time at LVPC. For one year. Now three years later the position of Executive Director has grown into an essentially full-time job with myriad responsibilities not even contemplated with she accepted. Karen has performed all of those tasks and more with a quiet strength that carried us through difficult times. I personally am not sure anyone else could have done this job, certainly not as well as Karen.

So, recently, Karen shared with the Executive Committee of the Board that it was getting close to the time for her to retire and spend more time with the “grand chickens” as our friend Connie Stearns calls them. To that end, the Governance Committee of the Board began work on a transition plan preparing for a formal search process. But the preparations stopped abruptly a few weeks ago when we were approached by one of our own. The fit was immediately recognized by the entire board to be providential and the motion was made to cancel the search and make the hire.

So, it is my distinct pleasure to tell you of a miracle that He has wrought in our midst yet again. Lakshmi Nallamala has resigned from the Board so that she could apply for the position and was unanimously approved at the last meeting. Lakshmi will serve as the second Executive Director of LVPC beginning in April and she and Karen will work out the timing so that the maximum amount of continuity and momentum is maintained going into 2016-2017.

I know you will all join me in thanking Karen for her years of service to the ministry. Let me also hasten to say that there will be a time for celebration of Karen and her time at the ministry, watch for more on that soon.

Please also join me in congratulating Lakshmi on her transition from Director to Executive Director. Mark and everyone on the Board has full confidence in Lakshmi and we are all excited to see what God will bring to the ministry through her.

Humbled by his grace and In His Service,
Matt Fowler

Ocular Melanoma, Five Years Out

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This is Deadly, We’re Sorry

So they started by saying “This is deadly, we’re sorry.”  Five years ago today, February 23rd 2011 is a day that forever changed my life, for the better. I will retell the story briefly, so I can guide others to survival and also have the opportunity to thank a few amazing people who helped me along the way.

First. On the fateful Wednesday February 23rd, I went to see Dr John Cox for a routine eye exam. I was experiencing what I describe as “looking up from underwater” out of the corner of my  right field of vision. John was sure what I had, he told me it was cancer and sent me immediately to the next step, an Ophthalmologist/Retina Specialist.

So on the same morning that I went to see John, I was sent over to Dr Jim Byrne, a family friend, who happened to be off that day. John and I called Jim and he met me at his office anyway. After a few minutes looking at the tumor, Jim confirmed the diagnosis and said I needed to go to Birmingham or Vanderbilt, my choice. He said they would likely refer me on to another center, probably Wills in Philadelphia. Jim also asked me that day what I was afraid about the most. I told him that was an easy one, the loss of contact with my loving family, and the waiting for test results. He told me that Doctors have a name for that period between the scan and the results. It’s called “life”. You can choose to spend those hours or days however you choose, the outcome does not change those days. It was excellent advice.

Next was a visit to Dr Paul Sternberg at Vanderbilt Hospital the next day, Thursday. Dr Sternberg is a wonderful guy and he spent lots of time with me. At the end of the tests he told me to go back home and get a chest x-ray, a liver MRI and bloodwork to see if the cancer had already metastasized into the body. If it was they would recommend a different course of treatment since melanoma mets is universally fatal. Dr Sternberg also said that sometimes a doctor’s best course of action is a good referral.  Due to the seriousness of my case he recommended Wills Eye in Philadelphia as Dr Byrne had expected.

High Scanxiety

The next day was high-scanxiety Friday as my doctor, Ramann Nallamala, scheduled the tests. By mid-afternoon we were cleared for the trip to Philadelphia after a very tense and stressful period of “life” as Dr Byrne called it. By Sunday night we were in Philadelphia preparing for our appointment at Wills the next morning.

Monday morning February 28th we met with The Doctors Shields, the team of Jerry and Carol that wrote the textbook on treating eye cancer, literally.  They were professional and reassuring and deeply knowledgeable about their field. Being there gave me a comfort I can’t explain but it was empowering and timely. They told me to come back the next day for more measurements and to plan on two surgeries: one Thursday to install a radioactive plaque opposite the tumor inside my eyeball, and another one the following Monday to remove it.

After surgery we went home and tried to get back to life in the new normal. To help with local emergencies should they arise I reached out to a local oncologist and old family friend to help me schedule tests etc. Dr. Marshall Schreeder at Clearview Cancer has since helped me navigate treatment, he’s wonderful and I love his whole family.

70% Chance of Death from Metastatic Melanoma

Three months later we went back to Wills to receive the results of the genomic testing. Those results indicated that I had a 70% chance of metastatic spread and death from the disease within 48 months. That was the roughest news we received during the whole treatment period but it put us on a path of aggressive treatment to which I credit my survival.

That treatment included Avastin shots into the eyeball, one every three months for two years. In year two I also started on oral chemo called SUTENT prescribed by my Medical Oncologist at Thomas Jefferson Dr Takami Sato. Sr Sato is a rockstar in the treatment of metastatic melanoma and a great guy too. Also, to finish treating the tumor after plaque radiation I had TTT (Transpupillary thermotherapy), a laser beam aimed through your pupil to burn tissue on the back of the eye. Together these treatments have beaten the odds, I am still alive and not metastatic, and I have 20/40 vision in the “bad” eye. Amaxing.

So, after all of that, I am 60 months out today from diagnosis. Drs Cox, Byrne, Sternberg, Nallamala, Shields, Shields, Sato, and Schreeder have formed the dream team for me and I thank them so much for my site and my life.

 

Power Tip: Redirect 1/2 of your State Income Tax to Lincoln Village

End of Year Appeal, with a Twist

Over the weekend, you are likely to have gotten an appeal from a charity, perhaps one you’ve supported in the past. But, Lincoln is different from other things you support. Lincoln is completely Local. It affects families you probably encounter at some point living in Huntsville. Families with whom your kids will play ball. With whom you share a roadway and with whom you vote. Personally, I am big supporter of the Nature Conservancy and The Land Trust of North Alabama but I am bigger supporter of Lincoln. Why? Because it’s about people, specifically kids, that need the help and guidance of successful families if they are to be productive citizens and share in civil society. Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 11.47.25 AM

Lincoln is not a hand-out. It’s a hand-up. We understand what enabling looks like and we work against it. Instead, we offer families who legitimately want to engage in their own success to come to our school and to our neighborhood. If they meet their goals, they will succeed and break the cycle of generational poverty. Lincoln Village is working to transform a small part of Huntsville by building up one family at a time and it’s working.

Not Asking for a Check

But, we are not asking you to write us a check. We’ve done our homework and we are going to work smarter than that. Because of a law called the Alabama Accountability Act, Alabama Taxpayers can redirect a portion of their state tax liability to one of several Scholarship Granting Organizations, or SGOs. SGOs are authorized by the state to accept these payments and then to provide scholarships to families with K-12 students currently attending a low performing school. The parents of those kids can apply with an SGO and if they qualify they can receive $6,000 to $10,000 per year to attend certain private schools of which Lincoln is one.

Too Good to be True

To be clear, this is not a donation, it is a way for a limited amount of money, up to $30 million, to be redirected to local private schools. It is money that you would be paying into the general fund of the State of Alabama anyway. This law allows you to redirect up to half of your Alabama Income Tax Liability into these SGOs. They are allowed a small administrative fee to process the scholarships and both of the groups with whom Lincoln works are exceptional managers of the funds. This really is a too-good-to-be-true opportunity for Lincoln, there is no downside for the taxpayers or for the school.

So, finally, when you go to pay your Alabama Income Tax. Please please please choose to redirect the maximum amount allowed to one of the SGOs with which Lincoln Academy has a relationship: Scholarships for Kids in Birmingham or RocketSGO in Huntsville. For this last push, we would ask that you please choose Scholarships for Kids over RocketSGO as they are still a little short of their budget and they are our valued partners in education.  Thanks for reading. If you have a question please comment on this blog post and I’ll reach out.

Dad, fifteen years later

peacock-90051_640So my Dad has been gone 15 years this morning. He squeezed more than most out of 74, almost 75 years and touched many many people. Many of them have written great stories and posts on the “I Worked at Bill’s London Transit” FaceBook Page, and the Huntsville Revisted FaceBook page.

He taught me so many things: how to be a Dad, how NOT to be a Dad (and a husband) and too many things to list about business. He said that for someone in sales, and most people are in sales, that you want fans, not just customers. People who will come and find you, whatever you happen to be selling at the time. Not because you are the cheapest or the fastest or the closest, but because you have come through for them so many times in the past that they could not see themselves going anywhere else.

So I miss the guy very much even 15 years later. I’d love to show him Old Town Beer Exchange and the latest big website project we have published at Solid Earth. He’d have a lot to tell me, some of which I feel sure I need to know.

I’d love him to see “baby Sarah” going to Medical School, and Hannah getting on so well in her career in the Big City. He’d be so proud; just as I am.

I’d also like to invite him to my upcoming 30th wedding anniversary and talk about how Julie and I were able to pull that off with no periods of separation or drama; well not too much drama. He and Mom made it to 36 years but there were gaps, sort of. I think he’d be proud of that too.

So on the anniversary of his departure into whatever is next, I thought I’d post this article written by my old friend Bill Easterling, who also has left us, and run on the Local page in the Huntsville Times on July 7, 2000. Bill captured it pretty well I think. Here goes…

The other side of a man’s life shines a light on his character

Bill Easterling’ – 07/06/00 – Huntsville Times

The peacocks watched him through a bedroom window Saturday morning. They hadn’t done that before. He died before day was done, making their gesture more remarkable.

But Bill Fowler was an exceptional man, so the uncommon thing the peacocks did didn’t surprise his wife.

”He loved animals,” Janice Fowler said. ”Especially birds. He always said animals were God’s main creation, and people were just a sideline.”

If Bill Fowler wasn’t a legendary figure, he was at least mythical.

In the 1970s, he opened London Transit in Huntsville, a men’s clothing store way ahead of its time.

He built a chain of 14 Bill’s London Transits across the Southeast before financial problems closed all except the Atlanta store, which he kept going until 1986.

But Fowler could always overcome problems. He bounced back, opening K&G Men’s Center in Atlanta with three friends. When that store merged with what’s now Men’s Wearhouse, Fowler ”kind of retired” from the clothing industry.

Clothes were his legacy. His father, William M. Fowler, owned a series of clothing stores here. But the son never went into business with the father, choosing instead to become partners with Hilding Holmberg before opening his own store, Bill’s Men’s Wear.

Gossip spread like wildfire when Fowler, chasing bigger markets, moved to Atlanta in 1980, leaving his wife to raise their three children, Matt, Laura Fowler Cope and Bill II.

The meddlers didn’t know the flamboyant clothier with the black eye patch came home nearly every Friday, returning to Atlanta on Sunday nights. Not only that, said his wife, ”We married in 1963, and not a day ever passed that he didn’t call me on the phone at least once. It didn’t matter if he was in London or Atlanta or wherever.”

They met because of an animal. Bob Ward, then a reporter for The Times, invited her to accompany him to see an ocelot Fowler was said to have at his store. Ward said, ”If it (the ocelot) isn’t there, just act like we’re shopping and then we’ll leave.”

When Fowler was diagnosed with latter-stage cancer last August, he came home to finish living his life with his wife, his children and his grandchildren.

Mrs. Fowler said oncologist Dr. Marshall Schreeder ”is such a wizard, he gave us 11 months we would not have had otherwise.”

They were ”the best 11 months we ever had together.”

Bill Fowler, a man with a warm personality and a cutting sense of humor, was generous to a fault. He loved helping the needy. In fact, one note he left his wife asked her to ”keep an eye on (so-and-so), he might need a little help.”

Janice Fowler said her husband ”lived his life to the fullest. He said he had no regrets for the choices he had made. He also said he’d marry me again today.”

She said he was ”just a wonderful gift the Lord gave us.”

 

Lincoln Academy Taking Applications

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Who We Are

Lincoln Academy is a church school which seeks to provide a high quality Christ-centered education to K-8 students who are zoned to public Title I schools.

With the efforts of a devoted administration, faculty and staff, all students receive standards based, data driven instruction in a supportive environment to achieve their maximum potential. It is our commitment to ensure deep academic content knowledge, critical thinking skills, and Christian character building to have students prepared for high school and college.

Scholarships

Our students receive scholarships based on income. The scholarships are granted from “Scholarships for Kids” which is a state scholarship granting organization. Scholarships may only be granted on behalf of students who meet the eligibility requirements of the Accountability Act:

  • The student is a member of a household whose total annual income meets the requirements of the Accountability Act.
  • The student was eligible to attend a public school in the preceding semester or is starting school in Alabama for the first time.

Does my child qualify for a scholarship?

Scholarships are available for students transferring from “failing” public schools to qualified nonpublic schools, and, under some circumstances, to other students that meet the income requirements. Income Requirements.

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If you have questions about the school or about applying just ask me or send an email to mfowler@solidearth.com. I will forward it to the right people at Lincoln.

We also have a pre-school if your kids are not ready for elementary yet.

Four More Years

imagesSo its February 23, 2015, a milestone for me and my family.  Four years ago this morning I was diagnosed with Ocular Melanoma (OM), specifically a 14mm x 16mm x 2.9mm choroidal melanoma tumor inside my right eye. Most people who know me remember that I had an issue with my eye and often ask me how my sight is doing.  I want to take this opportunity to provide an update and some nuggets from my now four year journey with cancer.

First an update: OM is not really about eyesight. An OM tumor is highly likely to spread outside the eye into vital organs and lead to death. I was told that I had a 30% chance of living longer than four years by a genetic counsellor who gave me the prognosis. That kind of message made me much less concerned about eyesight and more concerned about the spread of cancer. The tumor in my eye is still there but after being irradiated, bathed in chemo and lasered repeatedly it is shrinking and should no longer pose a threat. I have had CTs and MRIs often since 2011 and to date no cancer has been found outside of the original site. If there is no cancer found this year, my risk will go down to around 10%.

So, if nothing else happens, I may have survived a very deadly disease.

Now for the take-aways. Like me, Oliver Sacks has Ocular Melanoma too. His recent Op Ed in the New York Times is a great read and describes pretty well how I feel about receiving a terminal diagnosis.

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written.

Dr Sacks has an amazing mind and clearly has a deep appreciation of the life he has lived. Still, at 81 he is lamenting his situation. That is understandable since he is human and will miss the only life and family he has ever known. But in a way it is sad; less grateful than one should be for the privilege of living eight decades.

I don’t know Dr Sacks and should not criticize but here’s what makes me say that.

One day I was sitting in the Ophthalmological Oncology Waiting Room at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia feeling sorry for myself. I was about one year into regular treatment and not looking forward to getting another shot in the eyeball.  A little girl wearing an eyepatch came in with her mom and sat down across from me. She was about 10, about the age of my little niece.  In that moment I realized that I had not been thankful. I felt like a petulant kid at Christmas who did not get the requested present. It was not a good feeling.

As Dr Sacks said, he has traveled, written, read, lived, loved and has been loved. Me too. I have two daughters who have grown into healthy, productive adults. They are really pretty cool people too, people I love to spend time with. My wife of almost thirty years is a constant companion and my best friend in the world. I miss her right now and we’ve only been apart for about three hours and that relationship is a gift from above. It’s also something that the little girl at Wills may never know.

So, how long is long enough to live? I don’t know the answer to that but I want to strive to be the person who is thankful for however long it is. It reminds me of this song “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry.

If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song

The sharp knife of a short life, oh well
I’ve had just enough time…

But I am pretty sure no one really feels that way; even if you die in your 80’s like Dr Sacks probably will.  It’s hard not to covet more time but that’s my prayer for my fourth anniversary. That I can listen to that Band Perry song and sing along with those lyrics with an honest voice. A voice that says, yep, I’d like more but I’ve had just enough time. Thanks be to God.

EOY Giving Thoughts…

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So we’re coming in on the end of another year. If you are thinking of making a bit more of an impact this year, consider an end of the year gift to one of these  movements in Huntsville, they are all amazing. Want to add one?  Just post it here.

  • Village Marketplace, Inc. – A 501(C)(3) Organization in Lincoln Village area just north of downtown. VMP is engaged in 1) providing employment for people who can work but need a good first (or recovery) job; 2) providing low-cost goods to the neighborhood and 3) providing long-term funding to three local charities but mostly to Lincoln Academy and Lincoln Village Ministries. Donate by donating money, or goods or your time to the effort. Talk to James Warren at the store.
  • Boys & Girls Club – What an amazing ministry! There are clubs all over the county serving kids with after school care, summer programs and all sorts of homework help, transportation, meals, mentors and basically a whole support system for a group of kids that really depend on them.  My friend Lisa Downs is involved with them as an education coordinator.  Several other close friends have served on their board including Jodi Adams, Bill Fowler and I am sure more I don’t know about. They do good work. Donate here. 
  • Lincoln Academy – A Christian school in the Lincoln Village area just north of downtown. My Dad went there in the 30s when the Lincoln Mill was still operating. Since then the neighborhood went way down and was the scene of depravity and poverty and hopelessness.  Then, in 2005 some crazy people from Southwood Church led by their chief crazy person my friend Mark Stearns began to pour into the area pledging to do whatever it took to drag the people out of the darkness that was overtaking their world. It worked, now they own the school and it’s a center of hope and excellence. Give till it hurts folks, these amazing people are changing lives every day down there. I am also incoming Board Chair at Lincoln, so I’ll be fully engaged making your donations count.
  • Village of Promise – So Bobby Bradley grew up in the neighborhood, graduated from Butler High School and Vanderbilt University. She’s a smart, focused, dedicated business person and that talent allowed her to build a big company and then to sell it. Now, refocused on her hometown, she’s determined to break the cycle of generational poverty in the University Place Elementary School area. She’s gathering support and supporters (and Board Members like me) to work on a data-driven, strategic initiative to tutor, mentor and otherwise push 1700+/- kids into college and into a better life.  Donate here.
  • Randolph School – The only K-12 Independent School in North Alabama, Randolph is the leading primary and secondary educational institution in the area. As a Trustee of the school and an alumnus it’s my sincere belief that no organization can do more to advance the pursuit of excellence in primary education in the area. As part of an effort to take that leadership role Randolph has established the Randolph School Community Learning Fund with the Community Foundation of Huntsville/Madison County.  It’s a great way to donate to the School and to focus those funds on an effort that benefits the whole city.  Donate here.
  • Land Trust of Huntsville & North Alabama – Driving east from the airport into Huntsville you see the city nestled against the rolling green hills of the lower Cumberland plateau.  Those hills overlooking the town are for the most part undeveloped, creating a nearly unbroken “emerald necklace” surrounding the city’s downtown. That land, plus more than 5,000 acres in three counties, was preserved by the Land Trust. It’s still today offering one of the best Urban Trail systems in the country because of the tireless advocacy of the Land Trust.  Want to help? Sign up for the Land Baron’s program that deducts a small amount from your account each month earmarked solely for the purchase of open space.
  • The Nature Conservancy – The Conservancy is the Land Trust writ large. The Conservancy has a big presence in Alabama and I joined the State Board of Trustees last year. I can’t say enough about the professionalism and dedication of their staff. Wow. The lands in Paint Rock Valley all the way down the Cahaba and the Coosa down into the Delta where Alabama spreads out to meet the Gulf. The lands and micro-habitats preserved by the Conservancy maintain the very life that makes up our world, and is so additive to our own experience in ways that we don’t fully understand. Donate by becoming a member, it’s easy and cheap. If everyone I know did this, we could live in a measurably better State and you won’t miss a small auto-debit each month.

The Land Trust & The Nature Conservancy

Photographer Steve Babin
Photographer Steve Babin

The outdoors are very important to me. I grew up on a farm north of Huntsville that was about 650 acres mostly leased out to a local cotton farmer called Buddy Darwin. The parts that Buddy did not use for row crops was a strip of mountainside that was heavily wooded and filled with deer and squirrels and woodland animals. Thirteen miles north of town, I was pretty much alone to wander the place and discover the beauty of the simplest things in life.

As I got older, I was always interested in conservation and supported the Natural Resources Defense Fund, The World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club. I learned that those organizations are great but they are far removed from Huntsville.  So, after meeting them during some appraisal work in the early 90’s, I joined the Board of Directors of the Land Trust of Huntsville and North Alabama and served as Chairman in 2000. They do amazing work and have preserved literally thousands of acres in and around Madison County.

Now, 14 years later, I am still interested in conservation and because of that interest I accepted a position on the Alabama board of the Nature Conservancy. We meet in amazing places around the state and talk about how to best preserve habitat and develop more interest in conservation. I have met a great group of people on the Board from all over the state who are deeply involved in preserving the best parts of our beautiful state. They are committed, connected to the national conservation movement and they are smart, really smart.

One of the best examples of how smart they are is a new partnership between the Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy is responsible for preserving over 50,000 acres in North Alabama and still manages about 3,000 acres.  The Land Trust manages about 4,000 and it was hard for the Land Trust to be able to afford a Full Time Land Manager by themselves. The Conservancy had a Manager at one time but also struggled to keep the position funded.  With the new partnership in place, partially funded by a grant from the Jane K Lowe Foundation, the Land Manager is now fully funded and shared by the two organization. That’s a smart use of the scarce funds we have available for the mission. Very smart!

So, if you like the ring of pretty green hills surrounding Huntsville, or the Greenways that everyone loves for walking and biking, maybe you’d consider joining both organizations as a monthly sustaining member. If you’re loaded and want Alabama to stay beautiful, consider larger gifts or even land donations and estate plans but even if you are not, these organizations will do more with your money than almost anything else. Locally too, this money stays in Alabama.

 

Photo Credit: Photographer Steve Babin. Clingman’s Dome TN

What Matters Most?

PoohLast Sunday a small group gathered in the entry to Leslie Rhett Crosby’s (’83) lovely antebellum home downtown to honor departing Randolph Head of School Byron Hulsey.  As the current Board Chair, I followed the three prior Chairmen in rising to say something about Byron. City Councilman Mark Russell gave Byron a plaque from the City, a football signed by Nick Saban and an Auburn baseball cap. Foster McDonald wrote and read a poem that was the highlight of the night for me. Bob Thurber read a heartfelt letter describing how transformational Byron had been for the school and how much Byron had meant to him personally, it was wonderful, and a little emotional.

Then I stood on my friend Leslie’s graceful stairs and read a quote from A A Milne, a quote that reminded me of Byron and how he approaches his work at the School:

“There are some people who begin the Zoo at the beginning, called WAYIN, and walk as quickly as they can past every cage until they get to the one called WAYOUT, but the nicest people go straight to the animal they love the most, and stay there.” A. A. Milne

Byron acts like this. He and his staff know our kids; really, really knows them. He feels their successes in his heart,  as if they were each his own son or daughter. Likewise, he feels their failures like a cut, like a physical assault to his person. It’s painful for him to expel a kid for cheating, or to learn of a tragedy affecting our large family. He tries not to because he understands that a certain detachment is healthy. But he can’t help it. His genuine attachment to these kids will not allow for that kind of distance. He simply knows what matters most and it’s the kids. That concern is authentic and genuine and cannot be simulated.

What Byron wants for each kid is what we want for our own. He wants them to fail, and then learn. He wants them to be safe and then to get outside of that zone and grow into something they could not have imagined. He wants them to be curious and persistent; resilient, intellectually honest and morally grounded. He wants them to be loved and then to have their expectations for themselves challenged and expanded.

Byron and Jennifer have accomplished each of these and more in their eight years at Randolph and they leave us in a far better place than they found us. I cannot think of any higher praise.

So, as a grateful member of the larger Community of Learners that is now vibrantly growing and expanding at the School, I’ll quote A. A. Milne one more time:

“I wrote somewhere once that the third-rate mind was only happy when it was thinking with the majority, the second-rate mind was only happy when it was thinking with the minority, and the first-rate mind was only happy when it was thinking. A. A. Milne – Macmillan War Pamphlets 1940

Byron is only happy when he’s thinking and learning and growing as a person. I will miss being around that kind of character and will have to work hard to maintain the level of excellence with which Byron simply lives his life.  Thanks for everything Byron, we will follow your success with eagerness and not a little pride that we had your attention for a season.

 

PS. I was inspired to use A A Milne to tell this story by my daughter Sarah Fowler (’11). She has always told me that Byron reminds her of Christopher Robin’s little bear. He’s a serious guy by any measure but Sarah saw through it even as a child. She understood that under the neat suit and Headmaster’s bearing, there was clearly a loving and lovable, undeniably wise and cuddly bear-y best friend. I cherish that image and her relationship with her School. Byron was a big part of creating that atmosphere and we are all eternally grateful.

Mapathon for Downtown Huntsville

Sketchup ExampleThere is a new event coming up in Downtown Huntsville called a Map-a-Thon.  It’s a competition put on by Downtown Huntsville, Inc along with several friends and partners, including Solid Earth. Basically we are dividing the city into zones and recruiting teams to build models. Then, we’ll score them on several criteria including accuracy and the level of detail etc.   At the end of the competition all the models will be submitted to the GIS guys at City Hall so they can submit them to Trimble’s 3D Building Warehouse.

The teams will hopefully bring together modelers, engineers, geographers, photographers and other disciplines that can contribute to a successful modeling team.  It’s typical Huntsville stuff, Art meets Engineering; Lowe Mill meets Cummings Research Park. All intersecting in the newly rejuvenated downtown sector.  And when we’re done, we’ll upload the submissions to  Google Earth so Huntsville looks even better online. Site location people use Google Earth all the time and if the models are detailed enough, a virtual   of the blocks might be enough to cause them to choose the city for their project!

So if you know a photog, or a modeller, or a hacker of any kind tell them to head over to Downtown Huntsville and sign up to create a team.  Go here for info: www.facebook.com/mapathon

 

Pray for Ukraine

When I was 18 I went to Russia. It was 1983 and before the Berlin Wall fell and communist kleptocracy that was the old Soviet Block came crashing down.  Like most 18 year olds I was spoiled and had a very US-centric view of the world. When I came home, I was a very patriotic, very thankful young person with a much deeper knowledge of the special place and time God chose to place me on this earth.

One of the highlights of the trip was Kiev.   It’s a lovely, old city with onion domes as well as European architecture and I remember it felt more like Vienna than Moscow. The Red University stands out in memory because it’s actually red.

kiev-shevchenkouniv

But the real highlight was the people. I remember them correcting us when we said we were excited to be visiting the Soviet Union, they preferred to think of themselves as Ukrainian, not Soviet and certainly not Russian.  They talked about how close they were to central Europe and you could tell, longed to focus their society to the west, not the east.

Now, 30 years later, Kiev is torn apart by violence. Those desires of the people to face west have run afoul, again, of the old guard tied to the colonial influence of Moscow. I am certain that the leadership in The Ukraine and the leadership in Moscow have no intention of loosening their grip. And the will of the people is clearly unwilling to return to the status quo. This could get much worse before it gets better for the people of The Ukraine. Please add them to your prayers and maybe drop a donation off for their support. See Twitter for the latest.

 

 

 

End of the Year Giving Ideas…

So we’re coming in on the end of another year. If you are thinking of making a little bit more of an impact this year, consider an end of the year gift to one of these social movements in Huntsville, they are all amazing. Want to add one, just post it here.

  • Village Marketplace, Inc. – A 501(C)(3) Organization located in Lincoln Village area just north of downtown. VMP is engaged in 1) providing employment for people who can work but need a good first (or recovery) job; 2) providing low-cost goods to the neighborhood and 3) providing long-term funding to three local charities: Boys & Girls Club, Lincoln Academy and Village of Promise. Donate by donating material or your time to the store. Talk to Marisa Suarez-Stearns at the store.
  • Boys & Girls Club – What an amazing ministry! There are clubs all over the county serving kids with after school care, summer programs and all sorts of homework help, transportation, meals, mentors and basically a whole support system for a group of kids that really depend on them.  My friend Lisa Downs is involved with them as an education coordinator. Pat Wynn is the Director and a powerful advocate for the kids.  Several other close friends have served on their board including Jodi Adams, Bill Fowler and I am sure more I don’t know about. They do good work. Donate here. 
  • Lincoln Academy – A Christian school located in the Lincoln Village area just north of downtown. My Dad went there in the 30s when the Lincoln Mill was still operating. Since then the neighborhood went way down and was the scene of depravity and poverty and hopelessness.  Then, in 2005 some crazy people from Southwood Church lead by their chief crazy person my friend Mark Stearns began to pour into the area pledging to do whatever it took to drag the people out of the darkness that was overtaking their world. It worked, now they own the school and it’s a center of hope and excellence. Give till it hurts folks, these amazing people are changing lives every day down there.
  • Village of Promise – So Bobby Bradley grew up in the neighborhood, graduated from Butler High School and Vanderbilt University. She’s a smart, focused, dedicated business person and that talent allowed her to build a big company and then to sell it. Now, refocused on her home town, she’s determined to break the cycle of generational poverty in the University Place Elementary School area. She’s gathering support and supporters (and Board Members like me) to work on a data-driven, strategic initiative to tutor, mentor and otherwise push 1700+/- kids into college and into a better life.  Donate here.
  • Randolph School – The only K-12 Independent School in North Alabama, Randolph is the leading primary and secondary educational institution in the area. As a Trustee of the school and an alumnus it’s my sincere belief that no organization can do more to advance the pursuit of excellence in primary education in the area. As part of an effort to take that leadership role Randolph has established the Randolph School Community Learning Fund with the Community Foundation of Huntsville/Madison County.  It’s a great way to donate to the School and to focus those funds on an effort that benefits the whole city.  Donate here.
  • Land Trust of Huntsville & North Alabama – Driving east from the airport into Huntsville you see the city nestled against the rolling green hills of the lower cumberland plateau.  Those hills overlooking the town are for the most part undeveloped, creating a nearly unbroken “emerald necklace” surrounding the city’s downtown. That land, plus more than 5000 acres in three counties, was preserved by the Land Trust. It’s still today offering one of the best Urban Trail systems in the country because of the tireless advocacy of the Land Trust.  Want to help? Sign up for the Land Baron’s program that deducts a small amount from your account each month earmarked solely for the purchase of open space.
  • The Nature Conservancy – The Conservancy is the Land Trust writ large. The Conservancy has a big presence in Alabama and I joined the State Board of Trustees this year. I can’t say enough about the professionalism and dedication of their staff. Wow. The lands in Paint Rock Valley all the way down the Cahaba and the Coosa down into the Delta where Alabama spreads out to meet the Gulf. The lands and micro-habitats preserved by the Conservancy maintain the very life that makes up our world, and is so additive to our own experience in ways that we don’t fully understand.  Donate by becoming a member, it’s easy and cheap. If everyone I know did this we’d live in a measurably better State and you won’t miss a small auto-debit each month.