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TARCOG News & Headlines

Read on for recent happenings, announcements, and notable headlines from TARCOG and its communities throughout the region.

Registration is now open — Your Town Alabama Workshop — April 3-5

Your Town Alabama inspires and educates Alabamians to use asset-based design for setting and achieving community goals.

Come and learn how to preserve and grow our ‘sense of community,’ explicitly that which makes our physical surroundings worth caring about.

Participants will learn how to work with a wide range of personalities and overcome barriers that prevent communities from seeing real economic development. You’ll learn how to use writing, drawing, and conversation to effectively shepherd big ideas through the complicated and strenuous process of project development. Oh, and you’ll have fun, too! Learn more about the workshop here.

Workshops are 2-1/2 days of thinking creatively, trying new things, listening to good ideas, being heard, laughing, and meeting interesting people from all of Alabama.

Register here.

Seniors Are Young at Heart in Pisgah

Oh, What Singing!

It’s been said that there’s power in a name and the Young at Heart Activity Center in Pisgah is proof with its steady attendance of caring and fun-loving participants.

The senior center is in a town of about 681 that sits along the western edge of Sand Mountain in Jackson County. At age 98, Ed Gant is the center’s oldest participant.

“I think I’m as old as the mountain,” Ed said, explaining that he’s lived in Pisgah since he was 14 and his family moved there from Scottsboro. He goes to the center every day and often shares poems or Gospel songs he’s written.

There are several activities for seniors at the center, like a workout room, Bingo, dancing, card games, a penny auction and puzzles. Center Manager Glenda Shiflett said about 24 show up each day between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. The center provides lunch and snacks.

“We really try to make everyone feel welcome and enjoy themselves,” said Glenda, who has managed the center about 17 years. She was instrumental in keeping things going when the center burned down in an overnight fire in 2019. Today, the rebuilt center remains a hub of activity.

On a recent Wednesday, a special musical guest stopped by, and the participants sang, clapped and danced.

It was the first time that musician Jimmy Ray Weatherly of Scottsboro played his guitar and sang a variety of songs from different genres like country, gospel and rock-n-roll.

“When I was a kid, I hated country,” Jimmy told the group after singing Silver Wings by Merle Haggard. “Country was all my Mama and Dad listened to. I was only interested in rock-n-roll, and they were upstairs listening to songs like this,” as he belted out another Merle Haggard tune, Mama Tried.

One of the ladies shared that her son has the words “Mama tried” tattooed on his finger.

Something changed when Jimmy hit his 30s, and he realized there was something special about country music.

“I’ve been to the Grand Ole Opry, and I’ve seen Elvis,” said Gayle Lambert, as Jimmy started singing the George Jones classic, He Stopped Loving Her Today.

Jimmy said he never appreciated classics like that song until he got a little older. And he launched into Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama as the crowd clapped and sang along before he switched it up with Three Wooden Crosses by Randy Travis.

“Sing some Alabama songs,” one participant yelled out. “How about some Good Ole Rocky Top, another one requested as Jimmy started playing Old Flame, followed by a rousing rendition of Rocky Top.

Jimmy also got the crowd going with the old Gospel favorites, I’ll Fly Away and Amazing Grace. It seemed like everyone knew the words to most all the songs that Jimmy played.

“I’m so thankful for the gifts the Lord Jesus has given us,” Jimmy told the group. “The gift of life, he showed us the way and he gave us one commandment that you love each other as I have loved you … so we should love as Jesus loved, unconditionally …”

Jimmy sang Make the World Go Away and George Jones first hit, White Lightning, which prompted a a lively conversation about family members or people the participants have known throughout their lives who made home brew.

Every song Jimmy sang resonated with the group from “Dixieland Delight,” “Devil Woman” and “Sweet Caroline”, to “Country Roads” and “It’s Only Make Believe.”

“This was a lively group and I’d like to come back here as part of my ministry,” he told Glenda and the group, who told him he’s welcome any time he can work it in his schedule.

Gayle Lambert, who is in her late 70s or early 80s, said she used to play and perform guitar, piano and sing. Jimmy Ray told her he appreciated her harmony.

“I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed this today,” Gayle said.

While Jimmy’s performance was something new, Glenda said they bring in different types of entertainment from time to time, along with their regular activities.

“Everyone enjoys staying active and we really enjoy our center,” she said.

Alice Reed, 74, has been coming to the activity center for two years after Glenda invited her when they ran into each other at the dollar store.

“I didn’t know if I’d come. I had just lost my husband, but Glenda told me she knows where I live so I came and I’m still here,” Alice said. “Everyone made me feel so welcome and look, I am a very, very, shy person but coming here has got me out of some of that and it’s a good thing. We sit around and visit, play cards and we have fun”.

Brenda Shealy, 72, enjoys playing card, doing puzzles “or just doing something. We come as often as we can if we don’t have doctor’s or other appointments. It’s part of our routine and we enjoy it.”

Johnnie Smith, 83, been coming to Young at Heart about 13 years.

“I was going to Ider for 10 years before that and then started coming here because it’s a little closer,” she said. “Being with other people and socializing is important.”

Glenda and assistant manager, Wanda Roberts who started about a year ago, both love what they do at the center, and it shows before you ever walk into the front door. The parking lot is full. Once inside, you find a group that’s as close as family. Everyone understands and is accepting of each other’s challenges and they’re supportive of each other.

“We welcome anyone who wants to join us,” Glenda said.

TARCOG Employee of the Month — March 2024

Jeanne Hayes

Name: Jeanne Hayes

 Title: Medicaid Waiver Case Manager

How long have you been at TARCOG and what do you do? One year. I ensure services are provided for participants to reside in their home near family and friends — and try to prevent long-term placement.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Something in the healthcare field.

What do you hope to accomplish within the next year? Visit my daughter who lives in Hawaii and pursue my graduate degree.

Who is your hero and why? My mother. She made it all look easy.

If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be? Volunteer to help with the floats for the Rose Bowl Parade. All flowers and plants are attached to the float the week leading up to the parade.

What is the best piece of advice someone has given you? Yes. You can.

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done? Monthly — drive up and down the mountain in Jackson County.

Who knows you the best? My husband.

What would you do if you won the lottery? 1) Debts 2) Donate 3) Save 4) Share

Regional Safety Action Plan Progress

Traffic crash data has been analyzed and mapped for a new Regional Safety Action Plan currently under development for DeKalb, Jackson, Marshall, and portions of Limestone and Madison counties.

TARCOG staff along with Alta Planning + Design consultants are planning focus groups in mid- to late March, with in-person engagement tentatively planned for five locations in April to conduct surveys as part of developing the overall plan.

Lee Terry, TARCOG’s director of economic development and planning, said focus groups are being scheduled for this month. They will be virtual hour-long calls for public health, emergency response, and safe routes to schools focus areas.

The next Safety Committee Meeting will be March 27.

The Safety Committee is comprised of technical advisors with a particular focus on roadway safety across the region. Committee members include representatives from local city and county public safety staff, local city and county engineers, local economic development agencies, and local planning departments and agencies.

Lee said the Safety Committee’s goal is to guide the Regional Safety Action Plan development process by providing local, on-the-ground guidance of the safety challenges faced by the region.

“We are excited about the progress we’re making on this plan that will improve safety for the region’s roadway users,” Lee said.

The project is funded by a Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

Lee encourages drivers to participate by completing a survey that will provide input for the safety plan. 

For more information or any questions or information requests about this process please contact TARCOG Economic Development & Planning Staff at 256-830-0818.

Finance Director Gerald Carter, featured conference speaker

Gerald Carter speaking at SERDI Conference

TARCOG’s Finance Director Gerald Carter was a featured panelist at a regional conference designed to take a deep dive on financial training in early February.

Carter, who has been with TARCOG since 2010, starting as a payables clerk before advancing to positions in payroll, and as an accounting assistant. He became the agency’s Finance Director in 2015.

At the Southeast Regional Directors Institute’s 2024 Fly-In held in Greenville S.C., Carter served on a panel with Michelle Allen, executive director, Kentucky River Area Development District in Kentucky, and Dan van Doornik, director of Finance for PlanRVA, which is the greater Richmond, Virginia, region.

Together, the panelists presented “Dear Diary:  What Finance Directors WANT Executive Directors to understand about their positions and responsibilities.”

“It’s a great topic and conversation starter, especially for executive directors who may be new to their position,” Carter said.

During the presentation, the panel discussed the Top 3 Things they believed are important like:

  1. Tone from the top matters: Professional Trust and Respect are Important.
  2. There is Purpose in the Processes and Procedures
  3. Understanding the Value and Responsibility of the Finance Department

Carter said the theme went along well with the overall conference developed to highlight Industry trends, best practices and continued development of financial leadership for regional councils and development districts in the SERDI region.

At TARCOG, Carter oversees all aspects of the company’s financials; as well as, building operations and fleet management.  He is a graduate of the University of North Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting.

SHIP saving TARCOG Seniors >$2.5 million

There are 2,749 people in the TARCOG region collectively saving more than $2.5 million this year on their Medicare insurance premiums thanks to the Alabama State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).

“This program is especially important because seniors have the opportunity to get their medicine free or at a cheaper rate than they might otherwise have to pay for it,” said TARCOG SHIP Resource Specialist Teresa Hazzard. “The SHIP program provides seniors with hope. Hope that they can afford medicine and still be able to get groceries and other household items with the extra monies that the SHIP program has allowed them to save.”

Open Enrollment for Medicare programs that are in place this year began last year on Oct. 15, and ended on Dec. 7. The TARCOG team responsible for answering questions and helping all TARCOG clients includes:

  • Teresa, who works out of TARCOG’s headquarters in Huntsville, and Kathryn Kestner from Studio 60 Senior Center in Huntsville in Madison County.
  • Veronica Woodall in Jackson County; Lynn Hixon and Emily McCamy in DeKalb County.
  • Tammy McElroy, Susan Bishop and Kennedy Cooper in Marshall County.
  • Carla Sims, Helen Carter and Madison Herron in Limestone County.

The specialists are responsible for answering questions and helping all TARCOG clients in their respective counties. They are also among the certified counselors and volunteers throughout the state who are committed to helping Medicare beneficiaries make informed choices regarding health benefits at no charge to Medicare recipients.

Together, the TARCOG team met or talked with 2,749 seniors during the 2023 Open Enrollment period. The total savings for those clients during 2024 will amount to $2,558,151.58.

SHIP counselors and volunteers are committed to helping participants make informed choices regarding health insurance benefits and options for ages 65 and older. One of the biggest areas of concern for seniors is finding the Medicare prescription drug plan best fits their needs. Teresa said it often changes from year to year, depending on the medications a person is taking.

“I love what I do because the joy in the voices of the seniors when they are told that their medicine will be free or greatly reduced is priceless,” Teresa said. “The savings allows our clients to be able to pay other bills as well as purchase food.”

Additionally, clients were counseled with information that would allow them to make decisions regarding their Medicare in the future.

What’s important to know about the Alabama SHIP program through TARCOG, is that the counselors are not affiliated with an insurance company and will not attempt to sell insurance to Medicare beneficiaries, like the places consumers call in response to TV commercials featuring famous people like Joe Namath, Jimmy “JJ” Walker, William Shatner, and George Foreman.

How to win grants, fund projects

The Building, Electric, and Aviation Technology (BEAT) Center at Fort Payne City Schools is an example of how ARC funds can be utilized. The building was completed in January 2024 thanks to ARC funding totaling $1 million. The BEAT Center is a STEM-focused vocational building to provide students with career specific training in three pathways: construction, electric vehicles, and aviation/drone technology.

 

TARCOG’s Economic Development and Planning staff is staying on top of new grant requirements to guide its member governments more effectively through the application process, project implementation and administration.

Michelle Jordan, executive director, Lee Terry, ED&P director, Phoenix Robinson, principal planner, and Leslie Wright, economic development specialist, recently attended a one-day Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Getting the Grant Workshop held in Birmingham.

The workshop was designed to assist prospective applicants identify and learn the best strategies to win grants from the ARC and other federal agencies. Participants also had the opportunity to meet potential partners and funders.

“We like to win funding that improves our member communities and attending this workshop helps us identify and learn the best strategies to win grants from the ARC,” Lee said. “Making sure our staff has enough time to devote to an application is critical.”

The training focused on three grant types.

  • Appalachian Regional Initiative for Stronger Economies – ARISE. Funded by the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 that invests $1 trillion to fix our nation’s infrastructure while creating over two million jobs through 2031. Qualifying projects: large scale regional economic transformation, multi state collaboration, for business and industry. Up to $500,000 for planning and up to $10 million for implementation.
  • Investments Supporting Partnerships in Recovery Ecosystems Initiative — INSPIRE.

Substance use disorder crisis in Appalachia by creating or expanding recovery ecosystems that will to workforce entry or re-entry.

  • Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization Initiative — POWER. Targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations and coal related supply chain issues.

Lee said the training was beneficial because staff got to:

  • Hear from initiative leads on program specifics, new and upcoming changes to 2024 Notice of Solicitation of Applications, application review and scoring criteria.
  • Meet ARC staff and discuss best practices in project development and implementation.
  • Learn from successful grantees on how they translated their project ideas into award-winning proposals.
  • Receive training guidance on complex application components and associated requirements.

Eligible funding activities with the ARISE, INSPIRE and POWER funding pots include:

  • Water/Sewer improvements and/or expansions ($500,000 cap must be tied to business/economic development)
  • Planning/training funding to develop comprehensive plans.
  • Funding for workforce training opportunities/resources.
  • Capacity building
  • New construction/building rehab leading to economic development/increased resiliency.
  • Coalition grants: Longer term applications.

Lee said anyone interested in pursuing ARC grants this year should contact staff early in the process. Grant deadlines may not be until June or later, but staff needs a minimum of three months to prepare a competitive application. For more information contact Lee at lee.terry@tarcog.us or 256-830-0818.

Ardmore Senior Center — Where staying active is fun

Ardmore Senior Center’s oldest participants are Earl Nichols, 92 and Willie Emma Billions, 96.

In a bright red “Bama” shirt, Willie Emma Billions doesn’t look her age. She’s 96 and loves to play the board game Aggravation. It’s hard to beat her.

Earl Nichols sits to her right as a game is underway. He says he’s 72.

“No, he’s not, he’s 92!” says his wife Deborah, who is 72. Earl looks up and grins. Then Willie Emma sends Earl’s playing pieces back to the beginning and moves one of hers to home.

Willie Emma and Earl are the oldest participants at the Ardmore Senior Center, where there was a lot of joshing around on a recent Thursday morning when a guest drops in for a visit at 8 a.m. when the center opens.

“We’re the best looking too,” Earl says of himself and Willie Emma.

Center Manager Jim Bonner, 88, goes from table to table and plays different games with the participants. Soft bluegrass music plays in the background while a billiards game is going on in one corner of the room, a puzzle is being worked on at one table, while a game of Rook is underway at another table and Gin Rummy is going at another.

It may be a small center, but Jim says most days of the week that there are 12 to 14 participants who attend out of the 28 total who are signed up. Attendance is higher in the warmer months, he added.

“Basic Instructions before leaving earth, that’s what the Bible is,” Georgia Wessling, 87, is saying as the visitor approached a table where she, Deborah, and Mildred Mitchell, 76, insist on teaching the visitor how to play Rummy. The conversation among the ladies is effortless and informative.

Mildred stops by most every morning before she goes to work at Blondie’s Beauty Shop or fixing hair over at the nursing home. She takes time to help the visitor learn the card game, while Deborah shares a story about how she ended up bringing home a stray cat from the parking lot of Walmart on Jordan Lane in Huntsville.

“It was young, running around dodging cars about to get killed when a young boy stopped and jumped out of his pickup truck and grabbed it,” Deborah said. “I asked him if he was going to take it home and he said he couldn’t and he asked me if I could take it. I said my husband will kill me if I bring home another cat, but I took her anyway.”

Then she woke up one morning feeling something cold next to her in bed. The cat had three kittens next to Deborah in her bed.

Deborah described her new cat as being pretty with long white hair and a little gray patch on her head. She named her Sadie. Two of the kittens were white with a gray spot on their heads and one was black. She named them Nina, Cassie and Tootie. She’s keeping all of them, plus her 10-year-old gray and white cat Sissie.

When asked about the cats later, Earl joked that he should have killed his wife and the cat, but then he reluctantly admitted he enjoys the kittens.

As Mildred heads out to go to work, Evelyn Hubbard, 87, has just arrived at the center and takes Mildred’s chair at the card table. Georgia says she can put up with anything “I worked seven years with the criminally insane at Fulton State Hospital in Missouri.”

About that time, Louie Daly also arrived, and everyone says his name as he walks through the side door and heads over to the pool table.

There’s always a game of Rook at the center. On this day, Tom Brannon, 76, Dale Mitchell, 76, Lordel “Lori” McClain, 87, and Roger Harvell, 81, are playing their last hand.

Roger says he and Jackie Billions, the center’s bus driver, have played bluegrass music at “Picking and Grinning” night at Tennessee Annex Building every Thursday night for the past 18 years. It’s open mic and anybody who wants to can play.

The points are tallied up and Tom gets up to leave saying “It was good beating you,” as he walked out the door.

Lori is one of the newcomers to the area. She and her husband moved to the area to be closer to their daughter when her husband became ill about four to five years ago. Her husband died about a year ago.

She started coming to the Senior Center to stay active and rides the bus to get there.

“Sometimes our games last three or four hours,” Lori said, adding she enjoys the company of the others.

Jackie drives the bus and is Willie Emma’s son. In between rides, he’s working on the last pieces of a puzzle.

“I’m thinking about keeping this one and taking it home. I like it,” Jackie says. “About four years ago we did a big one that was all Alabama football … I framed it and took it home.”

Jackie said he doesn’t mind doing all the driving because everyone has a good time at the center. He also does the driving when they take day trips to the Amish Country or other places to get out and about.

Right next to Jackie, Roger has moved from the Rook table to the pool table where he and Louie are racking up the balls and getting ready for another game. Jim reminds everyone to pick up some free chocolate that was dropped off by Russell Stover.

Jim says there’s something for everyone at the Ardmore Senior Center. Ardmore is located on the Alabama-Tennessee state line with nearly 2,600 residents combined in the Town of Ardmore in Alabama and the City of Ardmore in Tennessee. Both sides are welcome at the Senior Center.

Free refreshments are provided each day, but no hot meals are served at the center. Jim said several participants pick up a week’s worth of frozen meals each week. However, Jim bakes goodies and from time to time they often have a soup or chili day, he says. And there are days they also go out to a restaurant and eat together.

Jim said he thinks people who have never been to the Senior Center may have a misconception about what it’s like.

“We’ve got a varied supply of people already attending that cover all socio-economic groups, education and income levels,” Jim said. “There’s something that will fit almost anybody, one way or another. In addition to the games and activities, there are places for conversations, exercise equipment, a television and a small library for reading.

“When the weather is warmer, we will take trips and we go out to eat together too,”

Last year, the Senior Center took trips to the Amish communities during harvest season and when it was time to make molasses. They also went to the Milky Way Farm in Tennessee and to the Yesterdays Dinner Theater near Athens. Photos from different events hang around the center’s bulletin board.

In addition to the fun and engaging activities, Jim says he also stays up on what resources are available for seniors.

“If they call and ask, if I don’t know the answer, I’ll locate the resource they need,” Jim said.

But it’s the comradery that keeps this group coming back day after day.

“It’s a place to talk a lot and it’s a lot better than sitting at home alone talking to yourself,” Evelyn said. “And we have fun.”

The Town of Ardmore Senior Center, is located at 29920 Park Ave. For more information, call 256-423-2099.