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Meridian Street

There is a small community in northeast Huntsville called Lincoln Village. 15 years ago a good friend and pastor started a conversation with a little girl who turned into a commitment and lead to a big project called Lincoln Village Preservation Corporation.
Today LVPC owns that little girl’s house and dozens around it. The place has been transformed into a real neighborhood where families live and work and encourage their kids in the -rather excellent- neighborhood school, which LVPC also owns and operates. The project is, in the vernacular, Faith-Based in a way that we really mean. By Faith-based, Lincoln believes that all of the work that was accomplished belongs to God and the Holy Spirit he left here on Earth with us. That is what is happening at Lincoln, despite the involvement of the flawed and broken sinners that he calls to work and to leadership. 
So it is with some emotion other than pride that I share these stats with you. I am proud of the kids and what they have done. But I am astonished at the accomplishments of our Creator.  Something well beyond and not quite the same thing. It’s more like awe and maybe fear. Like when you stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s beautiful, yes, it’s also so much bigger than I am that it’s scary. Anything that enormous, that close to you, just gets your attention. Lincoln is that kind of place.
  
I have included some stats about the school in this post and I want to post some more in the next few weeks. I just rolled off as Chair of the Board at the end of July and I want to leave a few records of my time there. I have been blessed to be involved with some amazing people working with “non-profits” but Lincoln is a truly special place. 
So, here are some stats. My big takeaway is: our kids are as smart as your kids. Maybe smarter. That is not amazing or even surprising. It’s just that they do not come from a culture that values academic achievement, so they don’t. But when they are shown how valuable, how transformational, a book or a formula can make them. They get it. They are empowered and they excel. Check these out! 
Note: while I am super-pumped about Lincoln’s scores, it is important to realize that we have less than 100 kids compared to over 20K in the City system. We are making a difference in the lives of our families but so much more needs to be done if we are to impact the whole city like we have Lincoln. Like the Holy Spirit has I mean. I am convinced that we do little more than make things more complicated. 
Lincoln Outperforms
 
If you are inspired at all to get involved in changing the city, I’d suggest you reach out to Lincoln. Come to the website and look at the volunteer opportunities. If you can’t, and you should, you can always donate too.

Racisim and Alcoholism

So I am from Alabama, the Heart of Dixie as it was called when I was growing up. I grew up on a farm north of a mid-size southern city known for its tolerance and diversity and my private school was integrated with the kids of most of the non-white professionals in our little town. Black kids, South Asian kids, Koreans and Chinese kids were my friends. But I knew racists. My grandparents used the “n” word. I once saw a cross burning driving back from Nashville late one night and I knew people who spoke in demeaning terms about the entire black community, depicting them all as untrustworthy and lazy, things I knew not to be true.

Out on the farm, a black family lived in a rental house at the back of the property and worked the land, fixed the fences and cared for the livestock. The children of this family, 21 of them aged one to about 20, we’re my best friends and we played and later worked together every summer and many days after school. I grew up knowing there was something different about the way they lived. About their expectations of themselves and of me. It bothered me on some level I could not then understand.

Recently I have been thinking about racism in the context of the immigration fracas going on in America this year. Like the racists I knew in growing up in Alabama, there are people who legitimately believe that a Syrian Terrorist is going to move in next door to them and blow up their local church. While that is about as likely as one of my friends from school doing that, some people believe it. They read hyperbolic media reports designed to scare people and they are scared. After all, they’ve never actually met a Syrian person and they have no personal experience or context that would push back on the media reports and the statements of their less well-travelled and/or well-read neighbors and friends.

I also have also had considerable experience with alcoholism and alcoholics. My wife and I helped run a homeless ministry for five or six years, we have some alcoholism in both of our families and we own a beer and wine store. There are homeless guys I know who have lost every single thing and relationship they had and they still choose it over a better life. I don’t know many who have beaten it, most are dead of organ failure, Esophageal varices or some related malady. The ones who did beat it usually had something in common, they were inspired by someone or something to finally put it down and choose a better life. Someone got through to them and they had a transformational experience that made them see what life could be life without the drink.

In my opinion. That’s what we have to do with the racists and undereducated people who think other cultures are a threat. So let me pose a question, do you think the homeless guys would stop drinking if I called them names, denigrated their pasts, their actions, their beliefs and their culture, such as it is? I think they’d pull away from someone like that and tune them out. Worse, I think they’d be hostile towards someone like that.

Why do we think racists are different? They have a world-view that is uninformed and leading them down the wrong path. They probably inherited it to some extent from their parents and family and peer group. They honestly believe their way is the only real way to live. When we yell at them, threaten them and insist they change their views it only drives the wedge deeper and convinces them we are crazy and could never be relevant in their lives.

So here’s my takeaway. When you encounter someone who is against more immigration into America or someone who does not believe all the claims about Climate Change, try not to hit them with your “Science Matters” sign.

Instead, try and get to know them. See what makes them tick.

Maybe stop insulting them.

Introduce the anti-immigration guy to your immigrant/first gen friends, there are a lot of them in Huntsville and most are KILLING it (not killing red necks but starting companies, inventing things, hiring people and generally kicking ass).

And don’t call the Climate Change person a “Denier”, thats insulting and just incorrect. I personally do not doubt the science but I do doubt the guy with an agenda telling me about the science. The earth is warming, and I think we are contributing, but how much? Will it really stop rising if we reduce CO2 emmisions? I keep seeing that chart that shows temp rise with and without the Paris Accords but is there any evidence at all that will work? Again, I don’t doubt the science but not every climate change assertion made by Al Gore is real. There is overreach in their arguments that also happen to line up nicely with their social goals, adding more suspicion and cynicism from critical thinkers, like me.

Slowly, and with some finesse, you can convince people that a life where you include people produces a better quality of life and they will make new friends in the process. But there has to be a relationship first.

We have to learn how to do this again in our country. How to reach across the aisle and across the street to engage each other in an honest discussion. Today all we do is yell insults at each other and it won’t change the mind of a racist any more than it will change that of an alcoholic.

Behold the Lamb

I really love the Christmas album and show from Andrew Peterson and friends called Behold the Lamb. If you don’t know it, add it to your Holiday Mix. Love this song in particular. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks. So good. They have the show at the Ryman in Nashville every year, usually Sunday and Monday nights since it’s so popular.

While shepherds watched their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around

“Fear not”, said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled minds
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind”

“To you in David’s house this day
Is born of David’s line
The Savior who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign”

“The Heavenly babe, you there shall find
To human view displayed
All neatly wrapped in swaddling bands
And in a manger laid”

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Christ is born
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Christ is born

“All glory be to God on high
And to the earth be peace
Good will henceforth from God to man
Begin and never cease”

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:

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-11-09-09-am

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.

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.

 

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

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.

 

 

 

My Friend Mack

So the last few days have been a little on the rough side.  My friend Gina called me late Friday and said she was concerned about our friend Mack.  She was not sure why, she was just worried about him.  He usually calls me a couple of time each day and he had not been doing that.  I agreed, I was worried too and Gina and I promised to check on him the next morning, Saturday morning, at our usual homeless breakfast.  So I went to Johnson Towers at about 11AM and banged on the door.  I did not know then that it was too late, Mack was already gone.

In early 2009 I went with some friends from church out on a Saturday morning to do a service project.  The City arranged the event as a day of service so we made sandwiches and went to Lincoln Village.  We learned that people in Lincoln Village are not particularly hungry.  They’d like a pack of cigarettes or some gas money but ham sandwiches, not so much.  So we regrouped and tried Tent City, where the homeless are camped under an interstate highway bridge.  There, we met Mack.

The homeless men lay old carpets and boards over the rough gravel under the bridges.  Then they put down a pallet, like a little wooden box used to stack merchandise on.  The things that forklifts pickup, you know the thing.  About 5×5 feet and maybe 6 inches thick made of wood.  They put their tents on these things to keep them off the ground and out of the wet.  Although my friend Mike P says that you can hear rats moving around under there.  He likes his better on the ground.

mack

Mack lived there when we met. He wore a Carhartt coverall and a ball cap and his ears were blue in the winter.  His nose too.  I once found him face down in his tent, covered with blankets.  I was sure he was dead and sort of kicked his lifeless boot sticking out.  It startled him and he bounded out of the tent ready to “stick” someone with his pocket knife.  Mack was not a mean guy, not at all.  He lived in a jungle and some of that behavior just rubs off on a person after a few years.  And Mack lived on the streets for at least four years, that’s how long I’ve known him.

Afraid Mack would freeze to death, two years ago we decided to check him into a local flophouse motel with instructions to “cut back” and “get better”.  He made a fairly pathetic effort that was unsuccessful and we decided that getting him off the streets had helped, at first, then it stopped helping.  So, we told Mack to pack it up and head back to the tents.  That was very hard for us to do.  But, it was Spring and nice outside and maybe the shock of it would pull him out of his haze.

Back in the tents he reengaged with a local agency committed to getting these guys get housing and in short order, he got an apartment at Johnson Towers.  He called it his Little House on the Praire.  Mack was no Laura Ingals but he cherished his refuge from the camps and it helped him.  He slowed his drinking and seemed to be committed to getting better.  Until he wasn’t.  Then he started drinking more and more.  He sold his food  stamps and collected cans for money and basically sought to keep alcohol in his system, pretty much at all costs.

About a month ago Mack got out of jail for hitting his girlfriend, for the second time since August.  We told Mack that we were going to stop paying his $50/month rent at Johnson Towers.  That he was not getting better and that actually, he was getting worse.  His choices were to just go back to the streets, or to seek out a rehab facility where he could go.  We gave him several phone numbers and helped him fill out an application for The Way.  He was left with instructions to call them every day, or twice a day, or ten times a day to tell them he was dying to get better, so they’d give him a bed and save his life.

I did not talk to Mack much last week but when I did he said he’d tried to call them.  His speech was slurred, at 9:15AM, and he was not sure what day it was.  I told him to please stop drinking and call The Way when he was sober and beg them to admit him.  He said he’d try but he’d dropped his phone in the toilet and the screen was not working.  I told him that was one more excuse and reminded him that there was a phone in the lobby.  We agreed to leave it alone.  He’d call when he was ready or go to the camps.

I expected him Saturday at Tent City.  After Gina called I was more worried but still expected to see him walking up through the old Cleveland Cemetery.  He didn’t come so I stopped in to check and bang on his door again after cleaning up at church.  I tried the door and found it locked.  So I left a note and left, assuming that he was staying with someone.  But when I came back Monday morning and my note was still there, I knew he was inside.

Shirley and Huntsville Public Housing Security came up and opened the door.  Mack was sitting on his couch as if he was still watching TV.  He appeared to have just passed out.  I hope he died there, in his sleep, out of it.

He was not behaving like a man committed to life, and he got what he chose at the very young age of 49.  It’s very sad to see someone commit suicide, even a long slow one like Mack’s.  It makes me angry on some level, suicide has always made me angry.  I should probably pray about that while I am praying for Mack.

Y’all add Timothy “Mack” McElyea to your prayer lists… he and his family could use it.

Back from Orlando with Spring and a Roadmap

As we all get back to town from the big NAR event in Orlando there is much to do. First we have to rest our feet from walking the 72 miles (+/-) from Rosen North to Rosen South, from the Peabody to the Hilton and that’s not to mention the OCCC; the Orange County Convention Center which is roughy the size of twelve Super Domes. When we were there the OCCC had at least three trade shows going on simultaneously and it was not crowded. Amazing. And did I mention it’s huge? Vast, epic architecture. I am already looking forward to the relatively cozy Moscone Center next year! But I am getting ahead of myself, we have work to do.  See full post…

The Village Marketplace and the Power of Trust

Earlier this year I heard from my friend Susan Ross at Lincoln Village about an idea she had for a Thrift Store. It was really more than a thrift store, it was more like a community center/ thrift store / arts and crafts center / coffee shop. I loved Susan’s vision but ultimately our effort but we could not find a space we could afford that was big enough. So after thinking and praying about this concept for a couple of months, Julie and I decided to just get on with it and open The Village Marketplace. In the words of my friend Emerson Fann, we decided to “jump off the cliff and build our wings on the way down”.

As a paradigm for project management, I don’t recommend Emerson’s method. But, if you are setting out with the knowledge that you don’t know where you’re going, you are not really lost! That’s confusing. I mean we set off to create income for our ministries and we understood that we did not know how to make that happen, or at least we did not fully understand. My grandfather moved from Ardmore, Tennessee to Huntsville on the train in the Nineteenth Century to work in a retail store and he later opened his own. So did my father, his son, and his stores eventually grew into a chain of 17 all over the South. I grew up in the stores and learned retail since before I can remember so I know more than a little about the business. Still, we have never run a thrift store.

So after jumping off, here’s a short synopsis of what’s happened:

  1. It cost more than we thought to operate
  2. We sold more than we thought we would, at least at first (almost $40,000 so far)
  3. We needed more space, almost immediately. So we had to rent another 2000 square feet over in Lincoln Mill (thanks Wayne Bonner!)
  4. Dusty and Tristan Graham, the managers we hired to direct, manage and otherwise operate the store turned out to be capital G “Golden”. They came with hearts as big as outdoors and a totally different way of operating a business. Together, I am 100% confident that a mixture of our styles and methods will produce an amazing result. Thanks be to God for the Graham’s.
  5. Nettie and Ron, the assistant managers Dusty and Tristan found through our friends at Lincoln Village ministries are so wonderful. They work hard, ask for little and deeply care about the Mission. They have five kids at Lincoln Academy and work just down the street at the store. It’s GREAT for them to be so close. A big win-win for everyone, and Nettie has started back to school! Way to go Nettie!
  6. Pete the Person, one of the homeless men Julie and I have been working with for three years is working at the store. He’s been in jail most of the last several months on panhandling charges. He’s trying to put some sober days together that will turn into sober weeks, then maybe he can get an apartment and some traction in life. The store is a huge blessing for these men, providing clothes and much more, through the patient (!) guidance of Ron and Nettie and Dusty and Tristan.
  7. Margo also has five kids and lives in public housing. She now has a place to work and be around good, hard-working people. Her kids are at MLK hoping to get into Lincoln Academy next year.
  8. Susan our old friend and employee for the last 12 years has also started working at the store. She works her other jobs too but is working more and more in the front of the store. She has also started back to school to become certified as a nurse assistant! That’s so wonderful.
  9. Lincoln Village ministries have poured into our store with activity, donations, volunteers, mentoring, general aid and encouragement. We loved them before but now, now they are family. To show our support recently we held a fund-raiser for them featuring Nashville recording artist Ronnie Freeman. It was at FUMC a couple of weekends ago and raised over $2300!
  10. Village of Promise is also a partner who has poured into the store. They have provided donations, support and great PR on their websites and blogs. Thanks for spreading the word so often! You guys are great!!
  11. Finally, our many friends at First Stop and The Village have rallied around and helped us get started. Nancy Jackson Martin and Danielle Clemons, thanks so much.

What’s next for Village Marketplace? We have absolutely no idea! But we trust, we have faith that it’ll be amazing. We do know that we have a big Thanksgiving sale coming up as well the push to the Christmas shopping season! Get excited!

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