Thanksgiving’s Angels

For folks who don’t have a place to call home for the holidays, or a hot meal to eat, any joy the holiday season brings can quickly disappear.

To help spread a little happiness throughout the community, the Alpha Omega Angels held their annual Thanksgiving dinner Tuesday at the Walker County Democratic Headquarters.

“It was a continuous dream I was having for six months,” Angels founder Alpha Ashley said Tuesday. “I can’t feed people because I don’t have any money, so I reached out to the community and my friends. They reached out to me on Facebook. One of my friends said they had a building to use anytime I needed too.”

During its first year in 2015, Ashley and the other members of the group were able to feed more than 400 people from around the community. The group also hosted a Christmas dinner where they were able to feed another 800 people last year.

“We were also able to give out gifts, too,” Ashley added. “It was a community effort.”

Now in its second year, the annual Thanksgiving dinner keeps getting bigger and better. The group is made up of 35 members, with each one contributing a dish to the traditional feast. Dishes such as turkey, ham, green beans, mashed potatoes and all of the usual fixings lined the tables at the Democratic Headquarters on Tuesday as hungry patrons came to eat and join in the fellowship.

“I’m really pleased to be a part of this,” Angels member Yolanda Scott said. “I’m excited and I was excited when (Ashley) first came and asked me. I love to give and help because that is what we’re all about. We’re just trying to be somebody’s angel.”

The Angels will be hosting another dinner on Thursday at Unity of Faith Missionary Baptist Church, 336 Watkins St., starting at 9:30 a.m. The dinner is open to the public.

The group is also planning to continue with its annual Christmas dinner, which will be held sometime in December.

“This means the world to me,” Ashley said. “One thing a person should never be is hungry. My goal in life is to make sure there are no empty bellies because it is a horrible thing to go to sleep or walk around hungry. We just want to make sure that everyone gets a hot meal every day or at least on Thanksgiving. There are so many people who do not have anybody.”

For more information about the Alpha Omega Angels, or any of their upcoming events, visit www.facebook.com/alphaomegaangels.

Rita B. Huff dissolves city contract

After more than two decades of being operated as a traditional shelter, the Rita B. Huff Adoption Center opted to become a no-kill facility after the board voted to make the transition in April of this year.

The Rita B. Huff Board of Directors went before the Huntsville City Council in July to ask for an increase in funds for operating costs, specifically to include veterinarian care, medicine and animal cages. Board members asked the Council for an increase from the annual $36,000 donation to $100,000 to help alleviate the issue, but the shelter was awarded $44,900 annually.

That has led to a major change in the services Rita B. Huff offered the city.

As of last week, the shelter made the decision to dissolve its contract with the City of Huntsville. In an open letter published by the shelter’s board members, they stated that it was not financially feasible to continue the partnership.

Under a contract with the city, Rita B. Huff was responsible for taking in animals caught by the city’s animal control officer. After making the switch to no-kill, the shelter was unable to take in animals from Huntsville residents and has been at capacity, but was still responsible for taking in animals from animal control.

“After much time and consideration, we have chosen to end our contract with the City of Huntsville,” Rita B. Huff board president Misty Harrelson said. “We have never been large enough to support the volume of animals brought into our facility. After a financial analysis, we determined that it was costing us more than $18,000 per month to intake an average of 50 animals from the city’s animal control operation.

In return, the shelter was receiving $3,700 per month from the contract. This only covered expenses for 10 animals that we were receiving from animal control. We have always been at capacity, the difference was they were killing healthy animals to make space for the next animal coming in to take its place.”

According to a public letter printed in Sunday’s edition of The Huntsville Item, between 1990 and 2014, the shelter took in 110,213 animals. Out of that intake, 87,157 were euthanized and only 16,947 were adopted at a rate of 15 percent. After dissolving the contract with the city, the shelter will now look to concentrate on education and adoption efforts while undertaking more fundraising.

“Animal control is there to protect people from animals,” Rita B. Huff executive director Deborah Turner said Tuesday. “Rita B. Huff, as an organization, is here to protect animals from people.”

“We are a private, nonprofit organization that was founded with the intent to rescue animals and find them forever, loving homes,” Harrelson added. “We intend to do that by accepting animals from private citizens as intended moving forward.”

City Manager Matt Benoit says that the decision was not a surprise but came suddenly. He said the city is currently looking for alternatives.

“As a private organization, I respect their right to determine their mission, vision, goals and services they wish to provide. I wish the city wasn’t in this position at this point, but I’m resolved to move on,” Benoit said. “We’re evaluating a number of different options. Right now, we have not been successful in identifying another city, county or private organization who is willing and able to accept animals who may come in contact with animal control. That possibility is not closed, but I’m not optimistic at this point that we’ll find another place to bring stray or abandoned animals.”

Huntsville Police Chief Kevin Lunsford mirrored Benoit’s comments stating that the police department is currently evaluating options, and that it’s too early to tell how the decision will impact animal control services.

“First and foremost, Rita B. Huff is a private entity and they are free to run that as they see fit,” Lunsford said. “At this point we are still evaluating options on how we are going to deal with this situation. It is way too early in the process to see what were going to do. We are taking everything by a case-by-case basis and then making an evaluation on how we’re going to proceed.”

Currently, the shelter is receiving funds from Walker County in the amount of $2,000 per month with $1,000 guaranteed for operating costs and $1,000 allocated for low-cost spaying and neutering programs. The shelter does not have a contract with the county to take in stray animals as the county does not have an animal control program.

“We acknowledge that our new directions for our organization are not popular with everyone and are misunderstood by many,” Harrelson added. “All we can do is continue our path forward with the goal of giving our animals a chance at a better life.”

College students, Huntsville residents reflect on election

In stunning fashion, the Electoral College dealt a loss to presumed presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton early Wednesday morning as key battleground states fell far from poll predictions. 

Securing the most electoral votes than any Republican president in nearly three decades, brash businessman Donald Trump overwhelmingly won the office after a long, tumultuous campaign season that often saw politics overshadowed by mudslinging. 

Key battleground arenas in North Carolina and Florida, which seemed to trend toward a Clinton win, cut her path to victory short as early voting numbers trickled into Trump’s column as he notched victories in Ohio and Iowa, as well.

States like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which have backed a Democratic president for nearly a full generation, also turned red as Clinton underperformed expectations in nearly every key demographic. 

As early as the primaries, one important demographic was the millennial and college-age voter block, which helped push Obama to commanding victories in 2008 and 2012. The polls showed early on that they were again set to play a big role in 2016. 

Students on the Sam Houston State University campus reflected on Tuesday’s election results. 

“I think it is going to bring up more conflict. I think people are going to start to show their true colors,” sophomore health science major Kenya Kabadan said. “I’m just waiting to see what happens, because I know he stated that he was going to do a lot of outrageous things — banning Muslims, deporting people and building a wall. People who voted for him based on that, I’m waiting to see their reaction over the next four years. That is not something you can really accomplish; it’s not going to get done.”

Given Trump’s often derogatory rhetoric on women during the course of his campaign, female voters were especially vocal in both opposition and support. Sophomore chemistry major Ashley Dee voiced concerns over the fate of women’s rights over the next four years. 

“My first thoughts as a college student, I was definitely concerned over my social rights as a young, millennial white woman who is currently trying to get her undergraduate’s degree,” Dee said. “I was like ‘Wow, are my rights as a woman going to be affected?’ If I get into the workforce when I graduate with my chemistry degree, am I still going to be hired and treated as an equal within the work force, or am I going to be degraded even more within the work force and not being taken seriously? I feel like there is a lot of pressure under the millennial age group. I think this motivates us to be better individually instead of us having to be dependent on our government.” 

Protests erupted Wednesday on college campuses across the country. Students at the universities of California at Santa Cruz, Irvine and Oakland, along with the University of Texas at Austin, University of Oregon and others were protesting Trump’s win. 

Sam Houston senior general business major Hassan Tariq reflected the emotions of the opposition with a simple, “We’re screwed.”

Senior accounting major Tre Smalls, however, had a more positive outlook on the billionaire’s possible effect over the next term.

“It’s America and America is going to be America. I feel like we, as a people, will pick who we think best fits and that’s what we did,” Smalls said. “I feel like he is going to run the White House differently. He is a businessman, not a politician, so it’s going to work more like a business.”

While the American public begins to digest a Trump victory, conversations quickly turned to how parents would be able to explain his win to their children. Huntsville ISD Board of Trustees member Karin Olson Williams described conversations between her daughters after news broke of his victory.

“Last night, while watching the election returns, my always very sensitive 12-year-old began to cry in disbelief,” Olson Williams said. “I didn’t realize at first that she was crying about the outcome of this election. She said, ‘I don’t understand how this is happening’ and I told her that I don’t understand it either, but that it is a reflection of distrust in the other candidate and of the desire many people have for change for our country after eight years of Obama’s presidency.  

“I also told her that I will hope only in our next president’s success and that our country will come together and become better than it ever has been, but not ‘great again’ because there is too much hurt in our history. 

“Today I feel disheartened to discover that so many fellow Americans were able to support someone whose words and actions I find so unacceptable. I can understand the difficult choices we make when we vote, but I cannot understand how Donald Trump has become our president when we have held celebrities and athletes to higher standards regarding their words and actions. Words matter. Our words reveal the thoughts of our hearts and lead to actions. 

“Today I have shared hugs with people I work with and talked about what this means to me and to us and to marginalized people in our country. I will continue with great hope that his leadership will be better than I fear and good for our country, even though it is hard for me to believe that this will be.”

From Marlboros to marathons

Like most war stories, it all started on gravel and dirt.
Huffing, puffing and wheezing my way toward a single mile, any attempt to run made my blackened lungs burn and my legs feel as if they’d personally experienced the second rapture of their Lord and Savior, Glycogen Christ.
A mere three days before, I had sat stagnant — as I so often did — high atop my regular seat at the bar, sucking down cheap whiskey and cheaper beer as I funneled sweet nicotine into my lungs, courtesy of a never-ending string of Marlboro Blended No. 27s.
A pack each day had become a sad common courtesy to my foggy existence, a decade’s worth of practice congealing into one phlegmy, stinking and slightly rotund man, straight down to my bread-like midsection.
My futile attempt at a “brisk” 13-minute mile pace painted the portrait of a newly-minted 27-year-old manboy who had all but given up on athleticism.
I felt defeated.
Bloated, tired, hot, and oh, so defeated.
As cliche as it sounds, at that moment, I breathed in my own mortality.
Gasping and sick, my lanky and wire-thin frame that had never failed me before did just that.
A wire had snapped.
That very night, I became an expert in nicotine vaporizers, the toxins that plagued my body’s circuits — although, being the son of a physician it was more of a refresher course in a class that I had never paid attention in — and what I had done to myself to be where I painfully collapsed that day.
Like I had done one thousand times before, I formulated a plan for cessation and sent it spiraling into motion. This time, as I had so desperately hoped — proved to be different.
This time, I had the run and the run showed me how hurt I was.
Painfully, one mile turned into two, which then glided toward a seemingly impossible 5k.
Every step and punctured breath broke a new barrier. Every burnt tobacco wrap passed and substituted by glycerol vapor was a massive victory.
Within two short months, I felt ready to carry a banner with my now acne-ridden and sunburnt face at the mast.
Five, six and seven mile increments fell to my now unfrozen lungs. On the first dawn of 2016, I ran my first 10k in a gloriously sloppy 59:17, just barely under my hour cap.
There was no runner prouder, and none so ecstatic as I crossed my first finish line to receive, with bended head, the cotton-strung and pewter-clad fruits of my labor.
I was in love, head over heels striking.
As the son of a Boston marathoner and an Ultra, Ironman and trail-ridden, Barkley-like badass, I felt that I had finally realized what drove my father to traverse endless miles.
There is a certain meditative property to distance running. At a certain point, the world seemed to melt directly into my Spandex pocket.
The rhythm, the pace, the music and the ever-changing environment blends together in unison, always the same, and yet, somehow, always different.
Every heated blast from a passing car who didn’t change lanes, each extended twig that gently brushes my torso and every mile chirped into my ear by a melodic British voice places me farther away from the chaos and smoke that once consumed me.
The time each run takes is an escape into a world I wish I had visited from birth.
I have goals now, future accomplishments that I would have scoffed at mere months ago. For the first time in a decade, I have something to work for.
After a decade of sucking down smoke, I was trained and ready for my first marathon in Waxahachie, Texas after a mere six months off the coffin nails.
After that, my eyes are wide to set the fastest known time on the Lone Star Trail, 128 miles of Texan awesomeness that begs the speedy foot traffic and bounding cadence of me and my trusted trail partner, Lea, my sleek black lab. Even further, I happily plan to bear the heat, humidity and humiliation of the Habanero 100 50k, and once again in the Blazin’ 7s 100k in the same year.
No matter where I place, or even if I finish my first 26.2, I have guided a once shoddy vessel to a new, uncharted destination.
One that begs to be seen and then asks, ever so forcefully, to be left behind for something even greater than what I have just passed.