Service

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.

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.

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.

Lincoln Academy Taking Applications

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 2.16.58 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 2.14.10 PM

 

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.

EOY Giving Thoughts…

The_Giving_Hands_by_therealzack

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

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.

Marion Wright Edelman, or how to Fix Your Own Truck

So I have lots of conservative friends.  Dyed in the wool Republicans who hunt and fish and love America and barbecue and Bear Bryant as much as they love their mamas.  The idea of accepting a handout to them is about as foreign as sushi.  They are self-sufficient to a fault.  They will fix their own truck even if they posses no mechanical aptitude.  Because it’s bad form for another man to be messing with your truck.

What does that have to do with Dr Edelman?  I doubt she has a truck.  But she does know something about self-sufficiency and that’s a value system that I understand, that my guys understand and that the South understands.  When there is a problem, she set out to fix it herself.  She didn’t rely on someone else.  She didn’t wait on Washington, or Chicago, to fix the problems.  She just created a solution.  Her, and about a million friends.

We have a problem in Huntsville.  A really big problem.  There are schools in the north and west side of the city. that have not been successful in 20 or 30 years.  Elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.  A school with a 45% graduation rate is like a cancer in the neighborhood.  Or like a neutron bomb.  Remember those?  They were nuclear bombs that would leave the structures mostly intact but destroy all life.  Failing schools are like that and the good people of Huntsville have allowed this situation to exist for years.  For decades.

So what would a good ole boy do about that?  They’d insist on a government program to come in and remedy the situation!  Of course they would!  We know they just want more Washington DC in their lives!

No.  No they wouldn’t.  They’d do it themselves.  They’d see the problem, decide on a solution and get to it.

That’s what we’re doing at Village of Promise.  We saw a problem (failing schools) and we acted.

But first, because we’ve actually been successful ourselves, we stopped and thought about it.  We traveled to New York and Atlanta and St Louis and everywhere in between.  We met national leaders and brought them to Huntsville to see our schools and tell us how they have affected change in their cities.  We brought education reformer Geoffrey Canada to Huntsville and learned how he’s changed Harlem. We’ve partnered with the City Schools and we work with them, inside the school buildings.  But we’re not willing to wait for someone to fix it for us.  As Geoffrey said “no one is coming to save your children”.  If they are to be saved from generational poverty, we will have to do it.

Dr Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund have taken this approach.  They work with government and schools every day, and they also overlay their own programs on top of the school’s programs to fill in the wide gaps that exist in the inconsistent fabric that is American public education.  That’s what Village of Promise is all about.  Finding the failing schools (did that), learning from the best in the field (doing that) and making a difference in our own neighborhoods, doing Whatever it Takes to pull the next generation out of the cycle.

With your help, Huntsville can avoid the fate of Montgomery’s public schools.  Of Mobile’s public schools and Memphis public schools and so many other cities around the south where everyone who can goes to private school and the public schools get what’s left.  That’s not the Rocket City.  That’s not the Huntsville I know.  How can you help? You can donate to your favorite politician who says they have the solution, or you can donate to Village of Promise where essentially all of your money goes into educational programing.

You can also sponsor a table at the next Village of Promise speaker event where Dr Edelman will tell us about the Children’s Defense Fund and it’s work, and about the Freedom Schools.  See www.villagepromise.com for details.  I know who reads this blog so I will be calling for your sponsorship.

Teach a Kid to Learn

So I am kind of overcommitted in my personal life.  I am a little obsessed with people.  People in general.  I like people.  People are some of my favorite…  oh you get the idea.  So because I love people so much, I find it very distressing that some people don’t think they have a chance in life.

Some people are not aware that they have what it takes to live a happier, more productive life within them.  It bugs me.  Because it’s not true.

Most people are self-limiting, held back by their own nagging doubts and passivity.  But it’s not hard to wake people up from this stupor.  It only requires that someone draw near to them, look them hard in the eye and say WAKE UP!  You can read a book and you can be inspired and you can get an education and BOOM!  You can live in a house, own your own car and send your kids to a decent school, where hopefully they won’t have it as hard as you did.   For almost any poor person, that is possible.  Not easy but possible.

So because I have seen people benefit from this path so often. I am very committed to education.  In addition to my real job as CEO of a real estate technology company, I am also (over)engaged in several projects to try and make Huntsville a smarter city.

I am Chairman of the Board of Randolph School, the premier K-12 education institution in the area and the only Independent School between Nashville and Birmingham.

I am also Chairman of the Board of The Village of Promise, a 501(c)(3) focused on intervening in the cycle of generational poverty in Huntsville, specifically University Place Elementary School.  Village of Promise was started by a friend of mine and a friend of the Randolph family, Bobby Bradley in who’s own life education was transformational.

Also, I am on the Board of a “second hand store” owned by my wife Julie and I in the Lincoln Village neighborhood.  It’s called Village Marketplace and it’s mission is to provide: recovery employment, low-cost goods to the area and steady funding to our partners, the Boys & Girls Club of North Alabama, The Village of Promise and Lincoln Academy, a christian school in the Lincoln Village neighborhood.

What all these things have in common is an effort to help people who want to help themselves.  Education across the spectrum is helpful and life-changing and people have to be taught that no one can stop them from living a better life, unless they just don’t go.

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.

Guest Post: Alberto Aguilar

Many things had happen this semester so far. I’m enjoying college every day more and more, but I am no only busy with school, Im also working in church and other extracurricular things.

Right now I’m taking many cool subjects in college like data bases and mobile application development, I am working on both iOS and Android Projects and its really awesome. I like this class a lot and I am learning cool things here. I also have a networking class, and what I am trying to achieve here is to get the first CISCO certification, I have to read a lot but I’m hoping to get the certifications by the end of this semester, It is a really good thing to have of you are on any IT mayor. I’m working on matlab too, for my numeric methods class which its interesting as well. I only have one and a half month left for this semester, i’m getting ready for finals next month.

I always like and want to serve in church. I have participated in many ways. The church that I go to its Shalom, this church its growing very fast, indeed we opened a mission on Blas Pascal. I worked with the kids ministry for the past three years at shalom, I’m on the team that do the service for the kids, I used to do that on shalom but now I’m doing it on the new mission at Blas pascal. we are 6 people on the team, and its going really well. Some sundays a lot of kids go but some others only like one or two, we have faith on God that more people start to going to this new church. I feel that is a blessing, I’m am thankful that god give me this opportunity. The church invited me to go to a Christian conference in North Point in Atlanta on spring, It’s to learn more about service, and it think its a really great think and that I can learn a lot from that, so I’m looking forward to go. It’s called Drive conference and it’s an event for church leaders.

We recently had an event here for parents and children, and I was part of the production team. Many blessings in this church.

On the beginning of september I worked for a week at a golf tournament part of the PGA Tour Latinoamerica at Yucatan Country Club. I was working with the logistics and production team. It was hard work but I had fun and I learned a lot about many things. It was a cool experience.

I’m very thankful with God for all the opportunities that he is giving me and my family, all the blessings He gives us and all the love that He show us everyday. I can’t be more happy with my family, friends and school.

Southern Women, or why kids behave at Cracker Barrel

Read an article this morning on Garden & Gun and had to re-post here…

“I was raised to understand that taking care of children was as natural and inevitable as sneezing, that when we were infants, somebody looked after us, and thus we should clutch hands and complete the circle without any fuss. I was also taught that your children are not supposed to be your best friends. Southern women do not spend a lick of time worrying about whether or not their kids are mad at them. They are too busy telling them “No” and “Because I said so,” which might explain why there are rarely any Southern kids acting a fool and running wild around the Cracker Barrel.”

Too awesome.  That’s fantastic.  Love the South.

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!

Lincoln Academy Tutoring Schedule

Passing along a message from our friend Susan Ross at Lincoln Village Ministry.  Lincoln Academy, the new school in Lincoln Village, is starting their new school year TODAY — Praise the Lord!  The building is ready thanks to 100’s of volunteers and the teachers are excited! 
Lincoln Academy has 60 students this year and we would like each child to have a weekly tutor.  Tutoring will be from 11:30 to 12:00 once a week. 
These are the number of tutors needed for each day as of last week thursday:
  • M – 10
  • Tues – 7
  • W – 8
  • Thurs -11
  • Fri – 11
The commitment is small but the impact is HUGE and God is always faithful to grow your faith through this ministry!  If you are able, or know anyone who would be please contact Natalie Faught at Lincoln Academy, she is the tutor coordinator.  Her number is 256-527-1701 — you can text or call her.  Blessings,  Susan Ross
%d bloggers like this: