Building our Community

Strange factoid: I am the only Rocket writer without a journalism degree.

I instead possess that double threat of a bachelor’s of science in sociology and criminal justice administration. Many years ago at Middle Tennessee State, I thought that I would graduate, go to work for a nonprofit and save the world. But post-collegiate real life often doesn’t turn out the way we envision when we are young and idealistic and upon graduation I went with the guaranteed criminal justice job with the guaranteed paycheck. The sociology degree gathered dust until earlier this year when I took over the Rocket’s Building Our Community column -- our yearlong series related to volunteers who are making the Tennessee Valley a better place to live and work.

For the last several months, I stepped off the Arsenal for a different type of assignment and immersed myself in the nonprofit world. It has been the most rewarding project of my career.

I had the opportunity to write about the amazing work that Fran and her team are doing over at Manna House ( feeding the hungry of Huntsville. I cuddled kittens at the Humane Society ( I spent some time at 305 8th St. ( learning about their mission to provide a happy and safe home for disabled adults. I sent our photographer Ellen Hudson to hike the beautiful trails of Madison County with the North Alabama Land Trust (, we watched children become musicians at the Huntsville Youth Orchestra ( and also explore their artistic side at the Fantasy Playhouse Children’s Theater (

We spotlighted several animal charities this year  but one dear to my heart is the Basset Hound Rescue of Alabama (, which brought the Skelley family our second basset in July, an 87-pound tank of a dog named Fletcher. We also took to the countryside to the Happy Trails Therapeutic Riding Center ( and featured some four-legged equine therapy assistants helping youngsters with disabilities.

There are roughly 41,000 people working on Redstone Arsenal. Much of our workforce has moved to the area from other parts and might not know about the vibrant volunteer community that we have here in Madison County. It is my hope in the past year that you have picked up an issue of the Rocket and one of these organizations resonated with you. They need our help. Many of these groups depend on donations to keep their door open. Team Redstone knows a little about missions and duty. Think of this as a new type of operation -- Mission: Giving Back.

Although this series is drawing to a close, the organizations we have highlighted will remain in our archive and available to you. If you are looking for ways to give this holiday season, please visit and go to our e-edition archive where you can search through each week’s Redstone Rocket and read this complete series. Each feature will include contacts and information on how you can help. Who knows? You might find your very own basset hound to wrap in a shiny red bow and place under the Christmas tree this holiday season. Warning: they like to drink the tree water.

It has been my honor to shine a light on good people doing good work this year. I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of them for their tireless efforts to make our community a wonderful place to live. Fletcher and I wish you a very merry Christmas.

From 2014.

Veterans Day Behind the Scenes

It is no secret that Huntsville is a patriotic community. Due to the presence of the Army and the huge number of veterans that live in the area, we are all about saluting Soldiers and anyone who has protected our nation. But I truly did not realize what went into planning the Veterans Day festivities until I went to work for the Redstone Rocket newspaper. Because in Huntsville, we don't celebrate Veterans Day, we celebrate Veterans WEEK.

About a week before Veterans Day, the Vietnam Veterans Commemorative Partner Program series kicks off the events. Once a year for eleven years  -- the length of the Vietnam War -- a commemorative event with speaker is held to honor local Vietnam vets. It is especially poignant as the country was a very different place in the '70s. Think about the support that our nation's military receives today: the parades and welcome home celebrations at airports, the quilts and care packages and school projects for our deployed troops. They received none of that. I attended the event last year and was educated. Side note: when a Medal of Honor awardee tells you that he likes your shoes, it is an interesting day. Col. Thorsness was a charmer, I tell you.

Veterans Week is our busiest week of the year. It is part of the reason that I have a larger than normal amount of red, white and blue dress clothes in my closet. My last event of Veterans Week was the Patriot Mosaic this afternoon. Number two in a planned series of ten, the local EarlyWorks Family of Museums again created a giant mosaic image, consisting of 1296 5 in. by 5in. pictures of service members. Mosaic tile FF25 is close to my heart.

My dad is wearing the Air Force uniform in the middle.

Watching all of the family members point toward their service member and smile and take photos with their images ... I might have teared up. It makes me so very proud. Proud of my dad,  proud of my job and proud of my community.

Army Strong. Happy Veterans Day.