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TARCOG News & Headlines

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

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 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.

TARCOG Loans Help Small Businesses



What do clothes and accessories, trampolines, RV’s and a 14-person pedal powered party trolley have in common in the Tennessee Valley?

They’re all businesses which received funding from TARCOG’s Revolving Loan Fund so entrepreneurs could start, buy, or grow a business, making an impact on the local economy.

Lee Terry, TARCOG’s director of Economic Development and Planning, said two new loans were recently approved to create a new trampoline park in Jackson County, and another for the purchase of an RV adventure rental company in Madison County.

Elevate Scottsboro will be the first trampoline park in Jackson County after a $175,000 loan was approved to help get the business started. Owners Nick and Dolores Hambrick hope to see the new business open in August.

A loan for $165,000 was also approved for Tony Stark to purchase the existing My RV Adventure RV Fleet, an RV rental center for travel and adventuring in Harvest.

Success Story: Ann’s Apparel and Accessories

Faith Curby received a $50,000 loan in 2021 to buy Ann’s Apparel and Accessories in Scottsboro.

“I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without the funding that I received,” Faith says. “This loan allowed me to continue working my dream job by purchasing new inventory, and get updated technology needed to run my business smoothly.

Last year she was able to launch a new e-commerce website that allows online shopping and she’s currently remodeling the store to create a more modern look.

 “The process with the loan was easy and any questions I had were answered in a timely manner,” she said. “I would do it again if needed and would encourage other small business owners to apply if they need help.”

Visit Ann’s Apparel in person at 1509 South Broad Street or visit the online store.

Success Story: Rocket City Rover

Tori Moore started the Rocket City Rover, which is a 14-person pedal-powered party trolley that travels downtown Huntsville. It features 12 bike seats, two of which are pedal-free, and a two-person bench in the back. If you don’t want to pedal, there’s an on-board electric motor.

A $23,000 loan in 2018 helped her get started and she refinanced it through the program in 2023.

​The Rocket City Rover offers rides seven days a week between noon and 11 p.m. The Rover does pub crawls, holiday-themed rids, Huntsville history rides, progressive dinners, brunch rides and customizable private tours.

For more information or to book a trip contact via email at or call 256-679-1739.

How  the fund works

Terry said TARCOG partners with Neighborhood Concepts, Inc., to administer its Revolving Loan Fund through the North Alabama Revolving Loan Fund, LLC.

The Loan Fund provides loans ranging from $5,000 to $350,000 to small businesses and nonprofit organizations in north Alabama. Eligible uses include machinery & equipment; working capital; leasehold improvements; real estate acquisitions or rehab; business acquisitions, and the refinance of higher-interest business debt.

Tannisha Orr, small business loan officer, says the flexibility of the NARLF program can be a game changer for small businesses.

“We are helping our community and helping our small businesses grow by having the flexibility to change payments, a extend or modify loan terms truly givers small business owners the flexibility they need to sustain their business.”

Terry says anyone interested in learning more about the RLF may learn more or fill out an application. 

February 2024 Employee of the Month


Name: Phoenicia “Phoenix” Robinson

Title: Principal Planner, Economic Development and Planning

How long have you been at TARCOG and what do you do? It will be four years in April.

What did you want to be when you grew up? As a kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian because my mom worked with animals for the first 16 years of my life as a veterinarian technician. In high school, I discovered a love for architecture and decided to pursue that.

What do you hope to accomplish within the next year? I will obtain my certification with the American Planning Association; complete half if not 75 percent of the projects on my plate; and travel to a least one place on my bucket list this year, Canada.

Who is your hero and why? My hero is anyone that gets up and chooses to seize the day — in whatever capacity. This takes courage and not everyone makes that choice. I’d also like to give a special shout out to my team. It’s a pleasure to serve with these folks every day, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank them for being who they are.

If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be? I would spend the day exploring temples across Kyoto, Japan. The architecture nerd in me would be very happy.

What is the best piece of advice someone has given you? Learn how to rest. This is a lesson I am definitely still learning.

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done? Start a new job in an unfamiliar city during the height of a pandemic.