A few parting thank-you notes

Today is my last day here at The Huntsville Item. As I clean out my desk that’s filled with more candy wrappers than six humans should consume in a single month, I want to take a few minutes to reflect and give thanks.

I could fill this entire edition and all of next month’s newspapers telling stories of the amazing experiences I’ve had over these last three years, but there’s more important copy to print.

However, I can say this: I’ve never held a job that’s helped me grow so much as an individual. And I really don’t think I ever will.

From freezing-cold high school soccer game photo assignments to meeting some of our state and nation’s highest-ranking public servants, every moment here has been an incredible journey. I’ve had a chance to learn something new every day.

More often than not, journalists and editors endure a thankless role. The sweet thank-you notes and emails we get are lifeblood, but they can sometimes be overshadowed by the criticism that often comes with this job.

So I’d like to dole out a few thank-you notes before I go.

To our city and education reporter, Marissa Nunez: There are few beats that offer drier subject matter to journalists, but they also happen to be some of the most important and Marissa, you make that known in your work. It’s been amazing to watch you carve out your niche as a writer while covering the most vital parts of our city. You have incredible talent as a journalist and I know that you’ll find success in every aspect of life. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sitting next to you and sharing countless inside jokes that no one else will ever get. Thank you for friendship and the endless string of “Parks & Recreation” quotes. And, for the record, Kazakh-STAN!!

To our news editor, Cody Stark: I’ve never met someone who could be a friend to everyone like you are. There’s a reason we’ve always been on top of the cops-and-courts beats and breaking news. That’s because everyone who meets you knows you’re a person who can be trusted. You’ve been able to turn a wet-behind-the-ears photographer into a person who could handle almost any situation, no matter how crazy or unpredictable. I can’t thank you enough for the patience and knowledge you’ve shown me. I’ll miss your lectures via the stick most of all.

To our sports writers, JP McBride and Scott Stone: To the guys who travel the longest distances, covering every game from the first of the season to the bitter end of the playoffs, you all deserve the greatest of thanks. The press box is no piece of cake. You’re taking down every stat, every play, every score while live-Tweeting to our readers and cutting a story that puts us there in the stands. That’s a tough gig and you guys do stellar work. It’s been a blast palling around with you both as we cover our teams in triumph and defeat.

To our sports editor, Gene Schallenberg: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working alongside you, even when we butt heads. You’re a tireless worker and a phenomenal writer who has a knack for being able to do everything at once. It’s been fun driving all over this great state to cover games with you. Your dedication to the job shows through every day. Even when it seemed like we didn’t have the resources or the manpower to cover a certain event, you always found a way to make sure our local athletes get the coverage they deserve. More often than not, it was because you went out of your way to make it happen. Thanks for everything, Gene, sincerely.

To Traci Gallin: You’re undoubtedly the backbone of this office and you’ve been a godsend to me nearly every day I’ve worked here. If I didn’t know how to do something, you did, and you knew how to do it well and teach it with patience. I’m convinced that if everyone at the paper was simultaneously incapacitated, we’d still have a paper tomorrow because you can literally do every job under the sun. Thank you for all that you do and for your friendship.

To our press and mailroom staff: We wouldn’t have a paper every day without your tireless work. I haven’t had the chance to work with many of you, but you all deserve our unending gratitude. Thank you for working the late, long and often unpredictable hours and taking the time to ensure that our readers wake up to a paper most every day of the week.

To our advertising reps, office staffers, classified gurus, business managers and everyone here at The Item: Every single person at this paper plays a vital role and I’ve been very blessed to be play my small part in it. Thank you for continuing to make this paper the trusted and reliable source that it is in our community. I will miss you all greatly.

To our publisher, Rita Haldeman: Yours is, by far, one of the most thankless roles in our industry. Thank you for your unwavering support of our newsroom and your belief in me from the start. This paper is and will continue to be successful because of your leadership.

To our managing editor, Tom Waddill: Sir, you are the true definition of a leader. More often than not, you’re the first one in the office every day and the last one to leave. You are always the first to jump on an assignment and show us the way to do the job right. You consistently give of yourself to make sure the news gets out every single day and you work tirelessly to make sure that we all don’t get burned out in the process. You lead by example and I’ve learned so much about how to be an effective leader, a good listener and a decent human being just by being your employee and your friend. Thank you for teaching me how to write, edit, interview and design pages effectively. Thank you for your patience in everything you do. I’ll miss you showing me up on the golf course, but most of all, I’ll miss being able to call you my boss.

To the people of Huntsville: You are truly what has made this job special. Getting the chance to travel this town and shine a light on all the wonderful people who make it great has been a blessing. As a journalist, I’ve had the chance to meet folks who are really making a difference in this world. Whether you’re volunteering on the weekends for the animal shelter, organizing a small church event, baking cookies for a fundraiser or simply raising your voice at a City Council meeting, being involved where you live is what truly makes a town special.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have seen and documented all that I could for the past three years.

Thank you.

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.”