~Enrique Jardiel Poncela
I recently spent nine months freelancing for a local newspaper. Through my assignments, I was given the opportunity to bring attention to local people doing good work with worthy causes. This was one of the most fulfilling challenges that I have ever experienced. The news is full of tragedy and strife, and I feel strongly that it is important to highlight the good that is happening in our community. The people that I interviewed were not just good, or even great. They are AWESOME.
When uploading these stories to the website, I had to resist the urge to weed through them and edit. They were edited before they were published, and I intended to keep them as they appeared in the newspaper. But then I spotted an errant comma, or a phrase that could easily be tweaked…..must resist the urge to edit!
These are some of my favorite articles from 2011-12. I hope that you enjoy reading these as much as I enjoyed writing them.
The North Alabama Chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation recently sponsored their first annual Run for Wishes 5K and One Mile Fun Run in the Villages of Providence.
Founded in 1980, The Make-A-Wish Foundation has granted over 200,000 wishes to children who are suffering from a life-threatening illness. The charity traces its beginnings to Arizona where a group of department of safety officers set out to fulfill the dream of a young boy diagnosed with leukemia. Seven-year-old Chris Greicius’s dream was to become a police officer. The officers planned a fun-filled day for Chris, which culminated in his being sworn in as the first honorary DPS patrolman in Arizona state history. Several days later, Chris passed away from his illness.
After witnessing the joy that fulfilling his wish gave Chris, and the solace that it provided to his parents, the public safety officers, along with Chris’s mother, began the Chris Greicius Make-A-Wish Memorial – which later became known as the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The charity now operates in forty-seven countries around the world through thirty-six affiliate offices.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Georgia and Alabama was created in 1995 and strives to grant more than 300 wishes each year to children suffering from a life-threatening illness. The North Alabama Chapter is part of the Georgia and Alabama affiliate office.
Recently, area residents gathered in the Villages of Providence to enjoy face painting, inflatable bouncers, and a 5K Run through the classic, quintessential southern neighborhood. The Mellow Mushroom and Aegis Technology also sponsored the event which raised over $20,000 for the local North Alabama Make-A-Wish Chapter.
Wish Kid, Hutch Mohr, Age 7, started off the race by firing the official start gun.
After the 5K Run was completed, children and parents participated in the One Mile Fun Run event through the streets of Providence. “The money raised will be used in North Alabama where there are currently 30 pending wishes.” said Greg Rivera, President of the North Alabama Make-A-Wish Chapter.
For more information about the Make-A-Wish Foundation, consult the Alabama and Georgia Chapter website at http://ga-al.wish.org.
Originally published: 9.2011 in the Madison Weekly News
Situated on historic Church Street in downtown Madison, Madison United Methodist Church is a small church with big talent. Musicians, singers, and ringers of all ages have created a thriving musical program that is an integral part of worship at MUMC.
“Music in worship is both a medium of expression and a means of grace. By music we give expression to the highest feelings of praise to God for all the blessings we enjoy. God also uses music to communicate with the soul and spirit of His people. Through the traditional melodies and words of hymns, the rhythmic beat of contemporary instrumentation, or the booming electronic music that you can feel thumping your chest,
God's Spirit moves people from mere observation, to true participation in the drama of worship.” said Pastor Larry Wright, Senior Pastor at MUMC.
“Madison UMC is very blessed with a variety of musical groups who present music for the worship services; as well as an orchestra, which plays several times a year for special worship events and concerts.” said Katherine Imsand, Music and Program Director for MUMC.
MUMC offers choirs for all ages. The Chancel Choir, led by Imsand and accompanied by pianist Kirk Durbin, includes youth through senior adults and is an SSAATTBB choir. In addition to the main choir, the “Church Street Boys” is an all-men ensemble that performs regularly.
For children, MUMC Music offers a Lil Notes Choir for age 4 thru first grade, and a Joyful Noise Choir for grades 2 thru 6. Youth can also participate in the Youth Praise Team, which features a combination of instruments and vocalists.
“Katherine's contribution is huge and provides leadership for the total range of music offerings at all age levels. Her expert training and background in music education and choral arts is something we highly value and benefit from. Not only that, but her faith and spiritual maturity provide a sound footing for growth to all participants not only in understanding and appreciation of the music aspects, but of the importance of Christian living and discipleship. We are blessed by God to have her on our staff.” said Pastor Wright.
The Music Ministry is also launching a new music program for the children of MUMC. “Kids Praise! is something that is new for this year, encompassing the combination of our two children’s choirs. We have joined both groups together for an opening of singing, praise and prayer time. We then split out to the two groups for individual choir time and come back together for snacks and other projects such as crafts, games or drum circle. We have a Bible verse and a weekly theme. Additionally, we also teach music basics to our kids. This is a weekly music camp concept with a touch of children’s choir and fellowship too.” said Imsand.
The MUMC Orchestra is conducted by Sandy Weisner. It is open to anyone in the community, whether it is someone who has not played for a while or a student looking for additional exposure and an extracurricular activity. The only requirements are two years experience and an instrument, excluding percussionists, whose instruments are provided by the church.
“The best part of conducting the orchestra for me personally, other than fulfilling a dream, is that this is the perfect way to worship God and honor Him. One of the best parts is watching the interaction with the kids and the adults. We have Jr. High and High School students as well as adults ranging in age from early 20s on up. I am honored that I get to work with so many fine musicians and even more wonderful people.” said Weisner.
MUMC Music Ministry also showcases a variety of bell choirs. The Chancel Bells, led by Allison Edgecomb, consists ages from teens to adults. Children bell choirs include the Young Ringers for grades 3 to 6, and the Rockin’ Ringers for grades 7 to 11.
The Chancel Bells recently performed a moving tribute to the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The piece was introduced by Chancel Choir member Col. Jeff Mockensturm, who was stationed at the Pentagon on 9/11 and survived the attack.
The music department has several exciting events coming up. MUMC will be holding its Thanksgiving Celebration Service on November 20, at 10am, with the Chancel Bells and the Chancel Choir performing. On Sunday, December 18, at 6:00 p.m., the MUMC Music Ministry will present a special concert event in the church Christian Life Center entitled “Gloria! Noel”. It will feature the Chancel Choir, Joyful Noise Choir and the MUMC Orchestra. The Chancel Choir will also be performing special music at the Christmas Eve services.
MUMC Music Ministry is always looking for fresh ideas and new ways to grow as a ministry. Imsand is hoping to add a vocal ensemble group to sing more advanced musical selections in an a cappella eight-part harmony. For more information about MUMC Music Ministry, contact the church office at 256-772-9761.
Photo Credit: Peggy Namie
Originally published 12.2011 in the Madison Weekly News
The Dance Company will present the Nutcracker on December 10 at Columbia High School.
Celebrating twenty-two years in Madison, The Dance Company was voted Best Dance Studio in WHNT’s 2010 Best of the Valley. Owners Beth Cannon and Julie George have overseen the training of thousands of local dancers. Alumni of the Dance Company have gained success as professional dancers and perform with major music stars.
George and Cannon dreamed of having a Madison Nutcracker for years. Two years ago, with the formation of the Honors ballet program, that dream became a reality. Under the direction of Susan Potts with assistance by Jessie Prescott-Potts, the program has flourished. “We have seen tremendous improvement in ballet students through this program and have plans for continued growth of the Nutcracker and the Honors ballet program for many years to come. We feel truly blessed to have Ms. Susan as part of the TDC family.” said Cannon and George.
The Honors ballet dancers will be performing selections from the Nutcracker Suite. In addition to the Waltz of the Snowflakes from Act I Scene II, the students will be performing the second act from the ballet, which takes place in the "Kingdom of the Sweets."
“The whole Second Act is a personal favorite because the Kingdom of the Sweets is such a magical place. So many parts of the world are represented. This is a wonderful way to expose the dance students to a real traditional ballet. It is festive, fun and best of all, it is a happy ballet.” said Potts.
To be accepted into the Honors Ballet program, each student is first evaluated by the instructors. Once accepted into the program, honors ballet students take at least one additional ballet class per week, in addition to their regular ballet class. “The wonderful feature of this program to me is that it is open to all students regardless of ability who meet the age and attendance requirements set by Ms. Susan. The students just must possess a willingness to learn and attend the required weekly classes.” said Cannon.
“During the first year we decided to have an Open House at the studio just before Christmas break so that the parents could watch their children perform. We decided that a dance from The Nutcracker would be appropriate. The parents and students enjoyed it so much that the following year, parents insisted that such lovely dancing be on a stage where it could be better viewed. We had fifty-four Honors Ballet students that first year and now have grown to just over ninety.” said Potts.
This year, a local artist and dancer’s mother, Gun Abele, created two thirty-foot backdrops for two scenes. The dancers will be in full costume for the performance.
“The students have been working hard attending the many Saturday rehearsals, but they really seem to enjoy the whole experience of being a part of a ballet production. We are starting a new tradition this year as well. The Russian Candy Cane Dance will be performed each year by the Honors Ballet students who are seniors in high school along with any other Honors Ballet students who have already graduated and choose to return.” said Potts.
Potts has big plans for their future performances of the Nutcracker. “Next year we plan to add the Battle Scene between the toy soldiers and the mice. Eventually we hope to perform the entire ballet and become the local performance for our very own town of Madison.”
Photo Credit: Beth Cannon
Originally published 10.2011 in the Madison Weekly News
Students and faculty across Madison are donating their time and efforts to support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Founded in 1962, by entertainer Danny Thomas, St. Jude is a leading pediatric treatment and research facility focused on children's catastrophic diseases. St. Jude is the only pediatric cancer research center in which families do not pay for treatments that are not covered by insurance. Danny Thomas believed that “no child should die in the dawn of life.” Since its inception, St. Jude has treated children from across the United States and 70 countries.
The St. Jude fundraiser is an annual campaign for Madison City Schools. “Most of our schools have students who are either current or former patients of St. Jude. This fundraiser is a way that our students can help other children in need.” said Dennis James, Student Services Coordinator for Madison City Schools.
Team Madison City Schools is participating in the St. Jude Memphis Marathon on Saturday, December 3, 2011. Administrative staff, teachers, and parents will be running in the Memphis Grizzlies House 5K, the St. Jude Memphis Half Marathon, and the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. The team fundraising goal is $50,000.
For Columbia Elementary, this year’s fundraiser is a personal mission. In September, Columbia kindergartner Emmy Harrison completed radiation treatment for Spitzoid Melanoma at St. Jude. To celebrate the end of her treatment, Emmy’s family is throwing the “Emmy's No Mo Chemo Celebration” on Saturday, October 29, 2011, from 10:00am to 4:00pm at Madison United Methodist Church.
“There will be a carnival, art classes, catering, bake sale, and silent auction. It's free to come and everything benefits St. Jude through Team Madison City Schools' fundraising goal. This is just a small amount of what will be at Emmy’s No Mo Chemo Celebration! We have so much in the works right now and we are looking forward to a fun and fabulous party for Emmy and St. Jude!” said Emmy’s mom, Rebecca.
Picket Fence Studio will be making handprint and footprint canvases for $10 and Ashley’s Creative Catering will be selling box lunches. All of the proceeds will go to St. Jude. The Harrison family will also be participating in the December run in Memphis. For more information, go to Emmy’s No Mo Chemo Celebration facebook page or visit www.mystjudeheroes.org/emmyh.
Each school in the district has created its own unique fundraiser in which students can have fun while helping to raise money for St. Jude. Mill Creek Elementary is currently selling pumpkins from Tate Farms to raise money for St. Jude. Horizon Elementary School teacher and Alabama Teacher of the Year Gay Barnes is participating in the Memphis run. West Madison Elementary students are participating in “Penny Wars”, in which the class that brings in the most spare change receives an extra recess and a popcorn party. One of the more popular St. Jude events at West Madison each year is “Sit with a Friend Day.” Each student donates $2 to sit with a friend at lunch.
West Madison Principal Valerie Jah and kindergarten teacher Kymberly Mittman will be participating in the December run in Memphis in honor of friends and former students. “Mrs. Mittman has a friend named Sasha who we are running in honor of. We are running also for Dylan, a former student of WM. He was diagnosed with cancer several years ago and is a patient as well at St. Jude.” said Dr. Jah.
In addition to the Memphis Marathon, Madison Square Mall will be hosting the St. Jude Give Thanks Walk on Saturday, November 19. The walk starts at 8:30 and registration is free. This is an event for the entire family, with activities planned for children in addition to the walk. For more information, visit the St. Jude website.
Photo Credit: Rebecca Harrison
Originally published: 2.2012 in the Madison Weekly News
Soon students at Monrovia Elementary will be learning in an outdoor classroom and reading garden, while school staff and friends will have a living memorial to honor a fellow teacher.
Jill Butler Lares taught third grade at Monrovia Elementary for six years before succumbing to a brain tumor in August 2011, at age 31. After Jill passed, the faculty wished to honor their colleague and her dedication to her students. A committee consisting of teachers Amy Atchley, Mary Boyer, Lisa Ryan, Jennifer Mellberg, and Tasha Hodgens was formed, and the idea of a living garden incorporating Jill’s love of reading started to take shape.
“Jill is my best Friend. Almost like a sister to me. I met Jill in August 2001. Our classes had lunch together that year. Jill often said that our friendship was a “God Sent”; she always said God knew we would need each other through tough times ahead and to celebrate the happiest times of our lives. She was like no one I had ever met or will ever meet again. She was always smiling, even when she became so sick, and she loved her students with everything she had, often spending extra time with students that needed it, and spending time with students whose home life was lacking, or who just needed that extra push of praise and encouragement. She was full of joy and managed to spread it to everyone who was fortunate enough to cross her path.” said teacher and committee member Tasha Hodgens.
On May 16, 2011, a ground-breaking ceremony was held in the courtyard of Monrovia Elementary. Family, friends, and students shared stories and memories of Jill.
“Our plan centers around specific books or themes for books and studies for elementary students. One area will be The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Students will actually walk through a wardrobe door to a scene in the book and have a place to sit and read. A tree was hit in the April storms and had to be cut down. We had them leave it as a stump to be The Giving Tree. This book by Shel Silverstein is about a boy and a tree. The tree gives the boy many things throughout his life, and in the end it is a stump for the old man to rest on. It will be carved with M. E. + J. L. to mimic the illustrations in the book. We will have a small pond with plants and animals to represent several books about water. We'll have a bird area with many birdhouses and plants to attract birds, a butterfly garden, a weather area, and a history area. A highlight will be a secret garden, after the book, The Secret Garden, a favorite of Jill's as a child.” said teacher and committee member Jennifer Mellberg.
Local Boy Scout Matthew Wilson is assisting with the project. “My Eagle project consists of doing all of the groundwork. After grinding several stumps, I will be tilling the dirt in the courtyard and mixing in compost. This will allow the teachers fertile and workable ground to plant flower beds. After this is done, I will be planting hydrangeas in the corners of the courtyard. I will also be planting monkey grass along about 100 feet of sidewalk to create a border. When I have completed my portion, the Monrovia Elementary teachers will take over to start their flower beds and outdoor centers.” said Wilson.
Monrovia Elementary students have also participated in the creation of Jill’s garden. “Fifth grade art students have designed and painted one of the murals to be hung in the garden, and the fourth grade students made stepping stones to be placed in the garden. During Green Week, the third grade students helped in the garden by raking the leaves and pulling up unwanted junk.” said Mrs. Hodgens.
An online blog was created by teacher and committee member Amy Atchley to share memories of Jill and detail progress on the garden. To read more about the project, visit: thejillstorybookgarden.blogspot.com.
Anyone interested in volunteering or making a donation to the Jill Butler Lares Storybook Garden can contact Monrovia Elementary School at 256-837-3628.
photo credit: The Jill Butler Storybook Garden