Military police officers tested their skills against each other Wednesday on an obstacle course at Dyess Air Force Base.
It was one of the activities planned for National Police Week, an annual acknowledgment of law enforcement and the ultimate sacrifice many of them have made.
The teams first were required to make a breach-entrance into a converted C-container, to rescue a large, filled sandbag. Then, each member carried one on their shoulder for the rest of the course.
The first obstacle was pushing a humvee 50 yards on a road, then another 50 back. The sandbags stayed in the vehicle with a driver, who was not part of the team, but who at least once accidentally steered the humvee into the grass when it was being pushed back.
Next was a box strung with rope that team members had to crawl through, followed by two giant tires they had to flip together several times. The final obstacle was an indoor target range similar to a video game. Each person shot at computer-generated "bad guys."
Senior Msgt. Pablo Rodriguez, of the 7th EMS at Dyess Air Force Base, fires an electronic M-16 during an obstacle course on base during a National Police Week event Wednesday. The military police officers were shooting with a computerized simulator. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
She remembers those days at Taylor Elementary, the product of the Abilene Independent School District said. For her, it was her kindergarten, second- and third-grade teachers.
And she’s hoping somewhere down the line, a student will approach her with the same idea she had seven years ago when she first began in the noble profession.
“Maybe one day one of my students will look back and say ‘I can do what Mrs. Harless did,’” she said.
Harless was named 2019 Abilene Education Foundation Elementary Teacher of the Year at a late-April Teachers in the Limelight Celebration. With it, she’ll be entered into the statewide competition next year for Texas Teacher of the Year, with an opportunity to move on to the national competition.
Today counts for 'shining stars'
For Harless and her classroom, though, the focus is on the here and now.
This second-grade class at Lee Elementary starts the day with greetings. They each greet Harless with a hug and find two other students to exchange pleasantries with, whether through another hug, a fist bump or a high five.
Molly Harless assists Hailey Shaw (left) and Layla Mangum during Harless' second-grade class at Lee Elementary School on Wednesday. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
They say their class motto, which the students decided at the start of the school year, and a daily chant to build up the energy.
Her “shining stars” spend more time in her classroom with her than they do at home with their parents or guardians, so it’s important, she said, to get things off to a good start each day.
Sure, it’s an economics lesson for the second-graders. They learn supply and demand, profit vs. expenses and more. But it’s also a lesson on compassion.
“Each year, I choose a nonprofit, and the students make keychains to sell,” Harless said. “This is an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. It’s awesome seeing their faces when the organization comes to pick up their check.”
Her students still are selling the keychains, which are made with beads. She said the students have a goal of $700, with the donation set to be made just before the end of school. They haven’t quite reached the figure, but there’s still time.
Outside of guiding little ones, Harless is a bit of an adventurer. She’s taken several mission trips to continents far away from her home city, along with study abroad opportunities when she was in college.
She’s even bungee jumped four times in Africa, possibly the most adventurous activity anyone can perform. Oh, and she’s also taken the plunge in Corinth, Greece.
What started when she was 12 has evolved, with her enjoyment coming not from being a tourist but from experiencing life in these other cultures as much as possible, she said.
“My favorite part of it is being dropped off in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “It’s not doing typical travel things but going into someone’s home, seeing how they live, eating food with them.”
While the very pregnant Harless – her child is due in July – isn’t sure exactly when her next trip will come, she’s hoping to eventually check another dream destination off her list soon: St. Petersburg, Russia.
Guiding other teachers, too
Harless has another mission, too. She’s interested in making sure young, first-year teachers have the support to turn their career choice into the life-fulfilling opportunity they likely thought it would be when going through training.
It stems from her own love of the profession, and she has no intention of letting that joy slip away from others.
“It crushes me when teachers who once felt like I do have it slip away,” she said. “So I want to work with them, encourage them, help them understand that they’re a professional teacher. There’s nothing better than that.”
In Harless’s classroom, the students are exposed to more than just the information a book tells them they need to know. Take, for instance, their recent fundraiser for the local branch of Cancer Services Network.
Kaylee Pitcher with her mother Darla Sterling at McMurry University. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
Editor's note: Saturday is college graduation day in Abilene.
One took the traditional route to graduation at McMurry University; the other took an extremely nontraditional route.
Meet the mother/daughter duo, Darla Sterling and Kaylee Pitcher.
A family affair
Sterling is 42 and her daughter is 22.
Pitcher graduated in 2015 from Hawley High School and will be graduating from college Saturday in the traditional four years, which she said have gone by quickly.
Not so with mom.
“I feel like it drug out for 20 years,” Sterling said.
And, indeed, it did. Sterling has taken a remarkable path to graduation when she will earn a degree in nursing, with a minor in business. She wanted to make sure that her three daughters, Amber, Kaylee and Carlee didn’t have it as rough.
“My kids didn’t have an option,” Sterling said.
They knew they were going to college or into the military as soon as they graduated from high school. All three chose college.
Amber graduated from McMurry in 2016 and Carlee is on track to graduate next year from Hardin-Simmons University — the only non-McMurry graduate in the bunch.
“She didn’t want to do the same thing as the rest of us,” Sterling said. “And, her boyfriend went to Hardin-Simmons.”
The future begins Saturday
Sterling will pick up her nursing degree and Pitcher will get her degree in finance, with a minor in criminology. The evening will be spent at Sterling’s home, 16 miles north of Abilene, with a full house expected for the celebration.
Soon, both mother and daughter will be moving to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Sterling wants to get a job as a nurse at a hospital and Pitcher will look for a job, probably in business.
“We’ll get there and then I’ll decide,” she said.
Sterling is glad that her daughter had the easier track to getting her degree. At Hawley High School, Pitcher was a star athlete in volleyball, basketball, track and softball.
“She was voted Iron Woman,” her mom added, proudly.
At McMurry, Pitcher ran track and played soccer before giving up both to concentrate on her studies and a job. She also is a member of TIP social club and Women’s Interclub.
Pitcher enrolled at McMurry in the fall of 2015 and her mother followed in January 2016. During the 2016 spring semester, Sterling and two of her daughters, Kaylee and Amber, were on the McMurry campus at the same time.
Pitcher was undaunted when she learned that her mother would be a college student on the same campus at the same time as she was.
“Cool, go for it,” was Pitcher’s reaction.
Way to work, mom
Sterling was 19 when Kaylee was born. She dropped out of high school and later earned a General Education Development certificate. She enrolled at Texas State Technical College and got training as a paramedic. She also worked overnight shifts at the Abilene State Supported Living Center to take care of her three girls during the day.
Sterling later worked at the Presbyterian Medical Care Mission, which led to her decision to become a nurse. After leaving that job in 2014, Sterling became a full-time student, taking classes at Cisco College for 1½ years before enrolling at McMurry.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she joked.
When Sterling enrolled at McMurry in January 2016, she was in for a surprise. Everything was done on the computer, unlike the last time she was in school.
“Trying to figure out how to do algebra online was crazy,” she said.
But she overcame that obstacle and many others en route to graduation. After Saturday, Sterling will settle into one job, with no homework to do and no children to watch over.
There were 11 motor vehicle crashes in Abilene in which unbuckled occupants sustained fatal or serious injuries in 2018, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
TxDOT's annual Click It or Ticket campaign seeks to reverse that trend.
From May 20 to June 2, Texas law enforcement officers will be increasing efforts to ticket unbelted drivers and passengers, especially those on the road at night, TxDOT said in a news release.
"Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of dying in a crash by 45 percent in a passenger vehicle and up to 60 percent in a pickup truck," according to the TxDOT news release.
To kick off the campaign in Abilene, a flipped, airborne sedan with mannequin passengers was set up Monday in the parking lot south of the downtown Abilene library branch.
The display included video kiosks that recounted the of a 16-year-old Spring girl who was killed in a crash after unbuckling to take a selfie.
A flipped, airborne sedan with mannequins was set up in the parking lot south of the downtown Abilene library branch for the Click It or Ticket seat belt safety campaign. The Texas Department of Public Safety set up the interactive display with video kiosks stations for a few hours Monday. The kiosks recounted how a 16-year-old Spring girl was killed in a crash after she unbuckled to take a selfie. (Photo: Laura Gutschke/Reporter-News)
It's an iconic line from the comic books from which the world's most successful film franchise draws its inspiration.
In Abilene on Friday night, they did. On the big screen, with the premiere of "Avengers: Endgame." But they also assembled in front of the Cinemark Abilene theater on East Overland Trail.
There, a group of about a dozen costumed actors gathered for fun. Sure, they were heading into the 7 p.m. showing of the most anticipated movie of the summer season. They also wanted to make a little magic beforehand.
"It adds another element to (seeing the movie)," Jonathan Baker said. "When you're there and you see the kids, you see their faces light up when they see the person they're about to go watch, it's worth the price of some of these costumes."
Baker, 20, dressed as Captain America, in the movie played by Chris Evans. He started cosplaying (costume playing) thanks to his being hired as a birthday party entertainer. At first, he was not dressing as superheroes.
Eventually, Captain America fell in his lap and he ran with it.
Kaden Kerby, dressed a Star-Lord of the Guardians of the Galaxy, joined Jonathan Baker (Captain America) and Christian Jay (Spider-Man) in costume for a showing of "Avengers: Endgame" at Cinemark Abilene Friday. The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the talk of the world this past weekend while earning a record $1.2 billion in its opening five days. (Photo: Contributed photo)
Christian Jay, 20, and Peyton Scroggins, 19, were part of the group with Baker.
Jay, who dressed as Spider-Man, said he remembers his favorite Marvel character's introduction to the movie universe like it was yesterday.
First appearing in a trailer for "Captain America: Civil War" in 2016, Jay said he rushed to show his sister the video. Both students at Wylie High School at the time, he burst into her lunch period to share the joy.
"I ran out of my class and into my sister's lunch period," Jay said. "I showed her the trailer and at the end, when Spider-Man shows up, we both screamed."
It's that level of appreciation from fans such as Baker and Jay that catapulted the movie Marvel universe into the stratosphere. "Endgame" beat box office records after just one weekend.
Worldwide, the movie earned more than $1.2 billion, by far the highest-grossing first weekend in cinema history. In Abilene, all three major showplaces — Cinemark, Premiere Lux Cine 10 and Century — offered multiple showings.
The three-plus hour run-time couldn't possibly scare away any of these die-hard fans.
It's an important series of movies, offering more than just entertainment to those who invest their time and money in the films being produced.
"It’s an escape, a place to go when I don’t have one, a family and friends when I don’t have any," Scroggins, 19, said. "It’s nice that no matter what is happening, be it stressful or sad or whatever, I have that place to escape to, these characters that I relate to and love so much.
"I grew up reading comics so it’s also my dreams kind of coming true, and reliving a sense of childlike wonder."
Dyess Big Country AirFest 2019 will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 4 at Abilene Regional Airport, 2933 Airport Blvd.
Opening ceremonies will begin at noon, followed by an air show from 12:30-4 p.m., with performances by Ron Cain and High Sky. Static displays, vendors and demonstrations also will be available.
Admission is free.
For information, go to bigcountryairfest.org.
Big Day Downtown
The Abilene Downtown Association will conduct Big Day Downtown at 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. May 4 in downtown Abilene. This year's theme is "Star Wars." Activities include a crawfish boil, vendors and a children's area.
For information, go to abilenedowntown.com.
Big Country CASA will conduct its third annual Superhero 5K Fun Run at 8:30 a.m. May 4 at the Williams Performing Arts Center at Abilene Christian University. Participants are encouraged to dress in costume.
Registration is $25 for adults and free for children. To register, or for more information, go to BigCountryCASA.org.
Celebrations Singers go country
The Celebration Singers will present its annual spring show, "Whole 'Lotta Country Goin' On!," at 7 p.m. May 3 at the Paramount Theatre, 352 Cypress St.
The choir will highlight more than 25 pieces of music in ensembles, duets and solos. Admission is free.
'Music City Hit Makers'
The Abilene Philharmonic will present its "Pops III" concert, "Music City Hit Makers," at 7:30 p.m. May 4 at the Abilene Convention Center, 1100 N. Sixth St. Rivers Rutherford and Brett James will be the featured guest artists.
For tickets or information, go to abilenephilharmonic.org or call 325-677-6710.
'Wings on the Wind'
The Big Country Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists will conduct its third annual "Wings on the Wind" festival from 1-4 p.m. May 4 at Abilene State Park, 150 Park Road 32 in Buffalo Gap.
The festival will celebrate everything that flies or floats in West Texas, and will include information on birds, bees, planes and weather. Games, art activities and concessions will be available.
Regular park admission of $5 per car will apply.
Chris Christian, who grew up in Abilene before making it big as a singer-songwriter and music producer, will sign copies of his new book, “A Grandmother’s Prayer: Moments in a Music Life,” from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday at Texas Star Trading Company, 174 Cypress St.
For information, call 325-672-9696.
In celebration of National Day of Prayer, a community prayer breakfast will begin at 7:30 a.m. Thursday in Mabee Gym at Hardin-Simmons University. Kevin Roe and the Prodigal Sons will perform.
A dance for mothers and sons will begin at 7 p.m. May 3 at the Rose Park Senior Activity Center, 2625 S. Seventh St.
Tickets are $8, and space is limited. For tickets, go to abilenetx.gov/signup.
And more ...
-STEPHENVILLE — The Tarleton State University Jazz Ensembles will present "The Night Sky" at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Clyde H. Wells Fine Arts Center on campus. Tickets are $5, or free with Tarleton ID.
-The local AIA, Texas Society of Architects chapter will conduct a tour of buildings designed by David S. Castle from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 4 at The Grace Museum, 102 Cypress St. Admission is free.
- Praise Fest, a night of community singing featuring choirs and gospel groups from around the area, will begin at 6 p.m. May 4 at the Red Dirt Pavilion, 1302 Pecan St. in Buffalo Gap. Proceeds will go to Camp Able. Admission is free.
ABILENE, Texas — The City of Abilene has announced which hotel franchise has been chosen for the city’s downtown hotel project.
On Thursday, the Abilene City Council will vote on whether to enter into a Master Development Agreement with Garfield Public-Private for the development of a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel.
“What that means is, this sits out the term of the agreement. It’s really the foundation document that we will move forward with the downtown hotel," said Deputy City Manager Mindy Patterson. "Once council approves this agreement, we'll wait for confirmation from the comptroller’s office saying that we are approved and these are eligible funds. Once that happens, then we will submit a franchise application to Hilton for a DoubleTree hotel.”
This is a three-phase project.
During the first phase, construction drawings and plans will be completed. That could take up to nine months to complete.
The second phase is the construction phase, which could take up to 18 months.
The grand opening of the hotel will be the during the final/post-construction phase.
The city’s financial commitment for the downtown hotel is $23.1 million.
According to the city’s agenda memo, the downtown hotel project will be funded by “$7.5 million in grants from our local foundations, approximately $4 million in cash on hand from the City of Abilene and approximately $11.6 million in proceeds from a $12.4 million debt issuance by the city.”
The $12.4 million will be repaid by state and local hotel occupancy taxes, and state and local sales taxes generated by the convention hotel.
This project includes public conference rooms, meetings spaces, ballroom, parking facility, and hotel.
1. Easter happenings. Easter weekend is one of the quietest in Abilene during the year, with few competing events scheduled. Egg hunts are popular, as are daybreak worship services. Every other year, Pioneer Drive Baptist Church stages its pageant at the Abilene Convention Center. The final two performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday. It's free and open to the public, but tickets are required. Call 325-692-6776 or go by the church, 701 S. Pioneer Drive, before noon Friday.
The Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden could be a nice Easter weekend destination. (Photo: Joey D. Richards/Abilene Reporter-News)
2. How about art? With a light entertainment schedule this weekend, it may be a good time to check out the exhibitions at The Grace Museum or Center for Contemporary Arts, both downtown. And if the weather is nice, perhaps a stroll to visit the sculptures at Everman Park and the Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden.
3. Time for a movie. With "Avengers: Endgame" looming on the horizon (next weekend), no big movies are planned to open against the blockbuster. Until then, there's "Captain Marvel" and four movies related to pets — "How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World," "Dumbo," "The Mustang" and... "Pet Sematary." The latter may not be exactly family entertainment.
The Rotary Club of Abilene will present its annual Taste of Abilene all-you-can-eat food showcase from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Abilene Convention Center, 1100 N. Sixth St. Around 50 area restaurants and vendors will offer food and drink samples.
Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the door, with proceeds going to community organizations and culinary scholarships. For tickets or information, go to tasteofabilene.com.
The annual Abilene StrEATs outdoor fundraiser meal benefiting the United Way of Abilene will be served at 7 p.m. June 1 on the 200 Block of Cypress Street. Food and wine will be provided by Cypress Street Station, The Local, Taylor County Taphouse, Birdie and Rancho Loma Vineyards. Participants must be at least 21 years old.
Tickets are $125, and must be purchased by May 24. Tickets are available at eventbrite.com. For information, call 325-677-1841.
Piano students of Kathie Goodrich will present spring piano recitals at 5 p.m. May 12 in the Amy Graves Ryan Recital Hall at McMurry University. The high school showcase will begin at 7:30 p.m., followed by an awards ceremony. Admission is free.
Robert E. Howard Days
Project Pride will conduct the annual Robert E. Howard Days June 7 and 8 at locations around Cross Plains. Events include panel discussions, tours and a symposium. A banquet and auction featuring guest of honor David C. Smith will begin at 6:30 p.m. June 7.
Registration is $15. For information or registration, go to rehupa.com or email ProjPride@yahoo.com.
In conjunction with the event, the Barbarian Festival Parade will begin at 6 p.m. June 6, with the festival open from 9-4 p.m. June 8 at Treadway Park.
ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) - Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge has been honored with the Hero Award from Interested Citizens of Abilene North (I-CAN).
Mayor Anthony Williams presented Chief Standridge with the award at the I-CAN luncheon.
Standridge issued the following statement about receiving the award.
"This award is a direct reflection of the daily efforts of our Police staff, sworn and civilian. I am convinced of this truth: for this City to be successful, its Police Department must be successful. We are linked, precisely because “we” are community.
I work very hard to be inclusive. I echo our Mayor’s belief that people need a seat at the table. The issues facing us are huge and require authentic partnerships. You will see such partnerships in our alliance to end domestic violence, our homelessness initiatives, our radical changes to mental health response and crisis prevention, our Child Advocacy Center, and the increasing use of technology to enhance efficiency.
I-CAN is a group of dedicated leaders who believe they can make a difference. So is your Police Department, and we are committed to working alongside our neighbors to bring about change, one family at a time."
Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
That's Darrin Cox's goal for the homeless student population in the Abilene Independent School District.
Cox, the district's homeless student liaison, welcomes the responsibility to make sure no student has an excuse for not attending class.
So far, he said, the hard work is paying off in segments. Much more work, momentum and money is needed to transform his efforts into tangible success.
"I'm counting this year as an improvement," Cox said. "Our attendance vs. the overall attendance is about one percentage point below the general population. For me, one of the first things I set out to do was remove barriers.
"And it's happening."
A numbers game
Cox and social worker Heather Melchor — a team of two under the federal programs umbrella of the school district — have seen increases in homeless students each year they've been involved.
Melchor serves as the district's McKinney-Vento social worker. She works exclusively with students who qualify under federal law as homeless.
The position originated under the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, a federal law that provides federal money for homeless shelter programs and determines if a student is considered homeless by school district standards.
These federal regulations are far broader than simply not having a permanent roof overhead at night.
Through February, Cox said 1,216 students from early childhood education through to 12th grade have been identified. And there's more to come in the final months of the school year.
Last May, Cox reported 1,495 students identified. The year before that, 1,217 students. Fewer were identified the year before that.
According to Cox's data, the overwhelming majority of the students are in elementary school in "doubled-up" situations.
Doubled-up means the student possibly is couch surfing or the family lives in another family's home or apartment. Slightly less than 90 percent of the total homeless student population in AISD is in this type of dilemma.
So far in 2018-19, kindergarten has been hit the worst with 113 students reported homeless. Of those, 102 are listed as doubled up.
Data also tracks students who are unsheltered, living in a motel or hotel or in homeless shelters.
Cox's numbers show Hispanic students account for the most homeless situations.
As of February, 485 Hispanic students (40 percent of the total homeless student population) reported being homeless. Meanwhile, 330 white students and 265 black students reported the same situation.
Mixed race/ethnicity students account for 110 homeless students, while small numbers were reported for Asian, Native American and Hawaiian within the district.
Melchor said boys suffer more in elementary while girls catch up in the later grades, as serious issues such as sex trafficking key on young women at higher rates than young men.
Melchor focuses much of her attention at the high school level, she said. Those students find themselves in situations where they can't or won't be at home, either because something happened to prevent being there or they've been pushed out.
"They've been kicked out for any reason," Melchor said. "They don't have anywhere to go. They end up couch surfing where they have to worry about getting kicked out again from where they're staying."
Melchor said one of her students was kicked out of the house because the student consumed the last doughnut at breakfast. Just like that, a student becomes a statistic, as long as he or she reports their situation.
Cox and Melchor hope more and more students, and their families, follow through on reporting, not just to track the numbers, but also to receive some of the benefits they can take advantage of while they're in these messy situations.
Less of a problem to the south
While Abilene ISD figures continue to increase each year, Wylie ISD said its homeless student population is not an issue.
Superintendent Joey Light said there are students in the district who are using the services the district provides, but the numbers are small.
"There has been no problem I'm aware of, and we haven't had difficulty working with the kids," Light said. "The numbers are low but we do have options to meet the needs of those kiddos. We just don't have many."
One of the most publicized benefits Abilene ISD can offer its homeless population is access to its store.
However, these items aren't for sale — they're available to everyone.
New socks and underwear, shirts and shoes, backpacks and school supplies. They're available thanks to a number of donors who have stepped up over the course of the past three years to turn the store into a full-fledged shopping experience for anyone who walks through the district's administration center doors at 241 Pine St.
"There's not a day where somebody doesn't bring me something," Cox said. "And there's not a day someone doesn't come in to get something."
Cox started the store small, with whatever he could gather in an effort to provide some form of support to some of the neediest students who came through his office.
As word spread throughout the community of Cox's efforts, donations started coming in by the truck load. With the increased support, those emotional barriers to success started coming down and students became supported in ways they struggled with before.
"We've moved forward a lot," Cox said. "Everything a student needs to go to school is here, and we have help for them every day. There's no reason anymore for a basic need to get in the way of going to school."
Cox said the store, which now occupies multiple rooms in the district's Federal Programs offices and a storeroom in the administration building's bottom floor, is completely incapable of holding on to enough socks and underwear for the student needs it faces.
It's always running short in that department, he said.
School supplies are another struggle, as students continue to go through paper, pens and pencils throughout the school year.
Part of Cox's inability to keep the shelves stocked might be his attitude toward providing these items to those who ask.
"I don't say 'No,'" Cox said. "Every time someone asks. It's crazy, it's fun and I'm enjoying my job."
Hierarchy of needs
In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed a new look at human motivation. It's a scientific theory that permeates all aspects of the student homelessness issue within the district.
Maslow believed that human needs best fit on a triangle. The base of the shape is where basic, physiological needs reside. Above are the security needs, such a food, water and shelter.
You have to climb the triangle to the top to find areas where education becomes a need, with self-actualization being the peak. This is where a person studies morality, creativity and is able to concentrate on fact-finding.
Maslow's theory suggested people — young children or adults — need base needs fulfilled before they are motivated to seek these higher goals such becoming educated.
"When a child is coming from that sort of situation, when they come to school, the first thing on their mind is not learning," one AISD first-grade teacher said.
(The Reporter-News granted anonymity to focus on the issue, not the teacher's school).
"If they don't have a place to sleep that's warm in the wintertime or comfortable in the summertime, they're not going to sleep," she said. "If they're exhausted, they're not able to learn. Many times, these kids are way behind where they should be when they're coming in."
This is where Cox's store comes in, the teacher said. Maybe it's getting the students clean clothes to wear so they're not ridiculed or their own set of crayons so they feel they belong. But each barrier that's broken allows the students to focus on education a little more than the day before.
The teacher said day-to-day work with these students to build relationships with them. Working in small groups helps, allowing them to form relationships not just with the teacher but with a few others in the class.
The goal is to make sure the student feels accepted in the classroom.
"Often, their behavior issues are the result of something that's gone on at home," the teacher said. "It's something they have no control over. So, before we can close those gaps, we have to build those relationships so they trust us.
"Often, we modify some of our expectations to get that relationship going. We start where they are and get them to where we need them to be. It's helping them understand that we all make mistakes, we're not perfect. We help them feel safe here, that they're not going to have this held over their head all day or all week.
"We know if those basic needs aren't met, their minds are on those things and not in a place where they're ready to read."
Big need, big ask
While day-to-day life requires undergarments and students need new tools to complete their school work, there's a much bigger problem at play that both Cox and Melchor said needs immediate attention.
"The biggest thing Abilene needs is a youth shelter," Melchor said. "A 17-year-old kid who leaves home because his mom is on drugs goes to a friend's house, then is told they have to leave because of an argument or something.
"You don't want to put a 17-year-old in the system. But they're just regular kids, just like all of the rest, from the valedictorian on the tennis team to the kid in trouble. They're all the same with the same basic desires."
Abilene has created facilities for homeless adults. And the foster care system addresses needs for young children. It's the teens who fall through the cracks, Melchor and others say.
It's like that all around the country and throughout the world. Abilene is no different than other communities, they say.
Cox also is working on expanding some of the programs that help get food into the hands of the students who need it the most. It's another barrier that could come down if he's able to expand programs such as the Taylor Snack Pack program, which provides students food for the weekend.
Improvement, but not finished
Abilene ISD has taken steps to address its homeless population's needs.
And with interest brewing in expanding the food programs and building up a new youth and teen shelter, there might be hope for bigger things in the future.
"We need to take some serious steps in the next two years," Cox said. "We've seen drastic improvement over the last two years but we still have some who are below where we can even help them. Some of our students are in drastic situations."
That's where getting the word out, spreading the message of AISD's programs, can help, Cox said.
Community groups have played a tremendous role in helping expand the store. He's enjoyed having an intern, Samantha Pennese of Hardin-Simmons University, spending part of her time organizing and restocking the store when she's not working directly with Melchor.
The more the word spreads about the school district's efforts and what they want to do in the future, the more they'll be helping, Cox said. And it'll end whatever negative stigma gets attached to seeking help when unable to help yourself.
"It's not a disgrace or an embarrassment to come in here for help," Cox said. "We don't want anyone to feel that way, because it's not. We're just here to help. We just want to help."
And “as the health of it goes," City Manager Robert Hanna continued, "So does the rest."
“Downtowns are special places,” he said, serving as a cultural, social, commercial, and residential centers. “Abilene is blessed to have all of these components in the downtown because of the work of those that came before us.
"Our job now is to capitalize on that work and leverage it into further growth and prosperity.”
Building on a legacy
Abilene is thankfully, “beyond the days of worrying about our city center being on a respirator,” Abilene Chamber of Commerce president Doug Peters said.
Many still remember Abilene's downtown in the 1980s, said Lynn Barnett, executive director of the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council. The area was a "boarded up, lifeless area attracting no residents or visitors."
“One by one, beginning with the Paramount, then the Grace, The Center for Contemporary Arts, the (National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature), Abilene Ballet Theatre, Frontier Texas!, etc, a new and vibrant life was brought to an area that was on life-support,” Barnett said.
Today, a still-in-the-works downtown convention hotel is expected serve as the major “catalyst” for new development, Mayor Anthony Williams said in his recent State of the City address.
That project expected to be funded through a mix of private donations, Hotel Occupancy Tax dollars, $1.5 million in public sector funds and $40.5 million in private sector development.
Hanna said at a recent council retreat that he planned to bring discussion about the hotel project to the council by spring.
The chamber, Abilene Downtown Association, city of Abilene and others have committed to help advance the cause of downtown, Peters said.
But while many consider the downtown hotel to be essential to the city's future, it's not — by far — the only card in the deck.
An effort of the chamber, the city and more than 1,000 area residents created the City Center Growth and Development Plan, a four-part planning document that identifies key development, infrastructure, and public/private partnership opportunities to spur the successful redevelopment of Abilene’s downtown core, he said.
In recent City Council actions, Williams also created a Downtown Task Force, charged with studying the plan, identifying ways to implement it and recommending realignment of on-street parking in the downtown area, with the aim of increasing the number of parking spaces available.
Among manifold focus areas of chamber's efforts, Peters said are focus on housing, making certain downtown is a clean and safe environment for people to invest in and to visit, improving walkability, and identifying opportunities to leverage public and private investment for the greater good of the community.
“We want to help downtown Abilene to become a recognized to live, work and play, and as a partner we are focused on the elements of an 18-hour downtown rather than one where the population drives home to the suburbs at 5 p.m. each day,” Peters said.
Many already are working directly to bring what Hanna termed their own "sweat equity" toward downtown endeavors.
For example, at 202 Cypress Street is the future home of a 30,000 square-foot commercial development that will include a brewery, Grain Theory, along with other tenants, Hanna said.
Alex Russell and her husband, Justin, are renovating the old Busch Jewelers into a taco bar featuring local produce and fresh ingredients with an interior highlighting pieces by local artists and stocking Texas spirits.
The goal is to have an "updated atmosphere, good food, and a celebration of all things local," Russell said, noting in early March that remediation and abatement had been completed and the couple were in the process of collecting bids to start construction.
And they and others work to bring businesses online, efforts continue to beautify downtown's public image in eye-catching ways.
Based on those successes, nascent plans were recently discussed at a Parks and Recreation board meeting to revivify Minter Park, with ideas floated such as a performance area, digital water curtains and/water mist projection systems, a tree-and-trellis structure that would allow for projector systems, security cameras,or lighting, and seat- and stool-height stones.
Committed to the cause
The yearly Children’s Art & Literacy Festival, venues such as the NCCIL and the city boasting the largest collection of storybook sculptures in the United States have created new opportunities for visitors and helped cement an identity for the community as the “Storybook Capital of America,” Barnett said.
That designation conveys to the rest of the country the value that our community places on art, literacy, and family.
“The arts should remain a strategic partner and focus moving forward, and an anchor for the on-going development of a possible downtown hotel, new restaurants and other businesses,” Barnett said.
But neither the community's storybook components and theme, nor the arts by themselves can be a successful strategy for downtown development, since a downtown is “far more complex than just its cultural elements,” she said.
Creating a "unique urban vibe" that can help attract workforce necessary to long-term economic success is a vital goal, Peters said.
Downtown is the first impression of Abilene many visitors get, "and for those of us who call Abilene home, our downtown’s vitality is a big part of what retains us," said Megan Dobbs, marketing and communications director for Community Foundation of Abilene and a member of the Downtown Association.
Dobbs said that in her opinion, the more the community bolsters imaginative and capable small entrepreneurs, the better downtown and other pockets of town thrive.
From a city perspective, "we need to be careful not to create a regulatory environment that messes up much of what the private sector is already trying to accomplish," Hanna said.
"We need to meet the private sector where their ability to solve a problem is limited, and work with the private sector to solve it," he said. "It's going to take the city and the business community working together to continue to make our downtown into the best version of itself."
Offense was hard to come by for the purple-clad Wildcats who got on the board with Hayden Farquhar's 3-pointer three minutes, 36 seconds into the game after Kentucky scored the first eight points. ACU trailed 39-13 at halftime before having its season end with a 79-44 loss.
And while it ended, this is a season and team that will be celebrated at ACU for years to come.
"I think it was the best season in ACU history," ACU coach Joe Golding said. "I don't think it was one of the best, I think it was the best season in school history. And we're going to celebrate those three seniors and this team like it was the best because they deserve it."
ACU missed its first four shots before Farquhar got his trey to fall. But it would be five minutes before ACU scored again, at that point Kentucky built an 18-5 lead and took away any hope.
"In this tournament, (starting well is) really important," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "What happens when teams are desperate, they'll do stuff they don't usually do, and if you let a team hang around, something stupid, crazy, like what just happened, can happen ... We got out of the gate really guarding and blocking shots and did a pretty good job and shot a high percentage."
That left ACU looking for answers, and it took until the second half to find them. ACU was just 5 of 26 shooting over the first 20 minutes of the game and had eight turnovers — leading to 10 Kentucky points — at halftime.
"We just couldn't make shots, shot 19 percent in the first half," senior guard Jaylen Franklin said. "And then the second half we pretty much shot 45 (percent) — 45? Yeah, I guess. And just the first half, turning the ball over first half really hurt us."
Senior forward Jaren Lewis was one constant for ACU, finishing with a team-high 17 points and pulling down an ACU-best five rebounds. The result is a hard pill to swallow, but playing on the biggest stage in college basketball against a premier program is something to be proud of.
"I mean, it was a great experience being out there for March Madness and everything," Lewis said. "It was great knowing it was the first time in our school's history, but at the end of the day, it stings losing like that. And being me, Jaylen and Hayden's last game, it hurts, but it was a great experience, probably something we'll never forget."
And as much as Golding stole the show from a torn suit at the end of the Southland Conference championship game through telling his team, "I love you. And thanks" before the game, he wanted to make sure the real story was his team.
ACU was led by its three seniors all year long and battled through two players being removed from the team late in the year. They battled through it all to win the Southland tournament and reach its first-ever NCAA Tournament.
"I want to make sure moving forward that this team is celebrated," Golding said. "It's not my hole in my pants, it's our team, and it's our university because they deserve it, man. These guys have been incredible, man. I'm fortunate to coach them. They took me on a hell of a ride, one that I'll never forget the rest of my life."
Payten Ricks scored all nine of his points in the second half while Franklin scored seven of his nine in the second half. ACU was more itself over the final 20 minutes of the game.
"It's tough adjusting to all the length at the rim, and we knew what we had to do," Lewis said. "It was just a tough challenge for us getting on the glass. But yeah, the turnovers killed us, and then we just couldn't see anything fall in the first half, so it was tough."
It was the final game at ACU for seniors Franklin, Lewis and Farquhar. And when the time comes to shift focus to the 2019-20 season, ACU will do so with an experienced group coming back, but a question on how to round out the roster.
With two rising seniors no longer with the program, Golding doesn't need to just find bodies. He needs to find experienced bodies who can have an instant impact.
"I mean, time will tell with that, but we have a bunch of young kids back," Golding said. "We're also losing three really good seniors, but we've got some good young kids back ... We've built this on high school kids and a culture and really developing, evaluating talent and trying to develop, and so we might have to get creative in recruiting here through grad transfers, JuCo or something, but we're not going to change who we are, and I think our program is going to move forward."
Cliff Waters couldn’t have been happier when a representative for the private company developing a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston offered to buy his Freestone County land. With power lines slicing his property in two, he had already been itching to get rid of the land before Texas Central Partners LLC approached him.
“The people were very professional,” said Waters, who also owns land in Mexia and Galveston. “It was a good thing for me for sure.”
But 100 miles away, Liz Machac has been adamant about holding on to her 235 acres of Grimes County property in the path of the proposed bullet train. Texas Central asserts that state law gives it the right to use eminent domain and force unwilling owners to sell their land, but Machac isn't so convinced. As legal battles and bureaucratic processes that could resolve such key disagreements play out, Texas Central is holding off from condemning anything — and Machac is holding on to her property.
“My family was born and raised here, and it’s a special place,” Machac said. “There’s a historically designated cemetery on the land and just a lot of history in this area.”
Holly Reed, Texas Central’s managing director of external affairs, said the company prefers not to use eminent domain “at all” and would rather work out amicable sales agreements for the thousands of parcels needed to construct the 240-mile project across 10 counties. And the company vows to minimize how much the line will impact the land around it.
“Each person has a different story about what’s important to them,” Reed said. “We listen to hear, you know, are we impacting your driveway or your stock tank, and we come back, and we work to see what we can do to solve for those problems.”
Given the fierce opposition to the project in rural areas, eminent domain is likely to become a necessity at some point. Texas Central remains embroiled in the ongoing debate about its authority to condemn land. In one Harris County case, a judge agreed the company has such powers. But that same legal question is at the heart of other ongoing court cases across Texas.
Meanwhile, a newly elected lawmaker who has long opposed the project plans to file legislation that addresses what he calls “systemic flaws” in state statutes that arguably allow the company to condemn the land it will need.
“It’s nothing more than you and I sitting in a room with a couple hundred million dollars and saying, ‘We’re a railroad company, and we’re going to condemn your property,’” said state Rep. Ben Leman, R-Anderson. “And then the landowner is sitting there scratching his head and saying, ‘Who do I turn to?’”
One of Leman's biggest concerns about the project is that even if Texas Central can use eminent domain, there is apparently no state agency explicitly charged with determining if its plans for high-speed rail would benefit the public enough to warrant condemnation proceedings in the courts.
But once upon a time, there was.
A forgotten agency
Back in the 1990s, the Texas High-Speed Rail Authority was a government entity tasked with determining if Texans wanted a high-speed rail system and awarding the right to build one to the most qualified private applicant, according to records from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
During its short tenure, the authority had the power to exercise eminent domain and condemn property that was “in the public interest” on behalf of Texas TGV, according to the bill which authorized the authority.
In a final report on the authority, former executive director Marc H. Burns underscored the need for state involvement in high-speed rail projects.
“The State should retain planning and oversight roles in all new transportation infrastructure, particularly where new right-of-way may be required,” Burns wrote in the report. “[High-speed rail] is a mass transportation project and the role and power of safeguarding the public must be reserved to the State. Only after we have articulated how the project may be accomplished without denigrating the lives of Texans can we seek a private partner to implement a plan designed to better Texas.”
Leman thinks such oversight is valuable. But he also worries his new legislative colleagues may not have an appetite for creating a similar agency again. That's because lawmakers in recent years have limited state involvement in Texas Central's project. The private company has vowed not to spend taxpayer money for the high-speed rail line, though it may apply for federal loans that it would repay. And lawmakers have forbidden the use of state funds to plan, build, maintain or promote the project.
State Rep. Cecil Bell, Jr., the vice chair of the House Committee on Land and Resource Management, agreed that landowners in the path of the proposed project could benefit from increased state oversight. But the Magnolia Republican also admitted it could be “a double-edged sword” because new agencies create additional costs and bureaucracies.
“It behooves us to either assign the task of structuring eminent domain by statute to an existing agency or consider placing that responsibility in the hands of a new agency,” Bell said.
New attitudes and federal oversight
Constructing the line that could run America’s first bullet trains will cost between $15 billion and $18 billion, according to company estimates. Texas Central has already inked deals with construction and operations partners. Heavily backed by Japanese entities, it's gained access to more than $425 million in investments and loans as it keeps pushing forward with development.
The company said it has secured purchase agreements from landowners on 30 percent of the parcels likely needed for the train’s route. But it has not said how many parcels it still needs.
Trains could run at speeds of up to 205 miles per hour and cut a trip that would normally take four hours by car down to 90 minutes. Texas Central's president Tim Keith told the Tribune in February that trains could start running in 2024.
The route was chosen after careful studies into the project's financial viability, impact on the environment and potential ridership numbers. Project supporters, especially those in the state's two largest urban areas, see it as a transformative project that could finally get Americans out of their cars and traveling between cities by rail. As more Texans flock to urban areas — and eschew car-centric lives in favor of other transportation modes — many see this as the right time to introduce a new way to travel.
And Reed, the Texas Central executive, said her company learned from the failure of the previous high-speed rail attempt and has developed “a better approach for Texas that will work.”
“When you have a project that is not government-driven, you have the discipline of following the data,” Reed said. “This project works because it's in the sweet spot of the too far to drive, too short to fly. It's got a strong market.”
Meanwhile, the project has some federal oversight. As required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Federal Railroad Administration began its environmental review process of the project and released a draft environmental impact statement last year. It was that review process that identified the likely path for the proposed project. The FRA is working on addressing the public comments it received and will publish a final environmental impact statement next year.
Texas Central also filed a petition with the Surface Transportation Board, a federal agency that regulates railroads, asking it to assume federal jurisdiction over the project. Previously, the STB declined Texas Central’s 2016 petition. But the company filed another petition this year asking the STB to take jurisdiction over the project, this time because it has a “through ticketing agreement” that would allow Texas Central riders to connect with Amtrak’s rail network. The proposed Dallas station is about a 15-minute walk from an Amtrak station. The Houston bullet train station is miles from an Amtrak stop. The STB has yet to issue a decision on Texas Central's latest petition.
“Every other major railroad, passenger and freight, is regulated by the STB,” said Reed. “So it puts this project on a level playing field with those other major railroads.”
But even if the STB assumes jurisdiction over the project, Texas Central will still need to prove that it has eminent domain power in Texas, according to Patrick McShan, an attorney for the group Texans Against High-Speed Rail.
“The Surface Transportation Board can’t grant eminent domain,” McShan said. “They can’t get Texas Central over that hurdle.”
Kyle Workman, the chairman and president of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, said the company will still face intense battles at the county level.
“At every one of those intersections where the railroad crosses a county road, there is going to be a permit that is required,” Workman said. “They’re going to have to prove that they have eminent domain, and the counties are not going to allow them to take the property.”
Reed said that Texas Central would like to work “collaboratively” with the counties in order to get the project built and become a “major economic engine” for Texas.
Meanwhile, lawmakers will return to Austin for a new legislative session that begins in January. And Leman expects Texas Central to be the target of legislation. In 2017, 10 lawmakers filed more than 20 bills aimed at the high-speed rail line. But for the second legislative session in a row, the project emerged relatively unscathed after bills aimed at hamstringing or killing it failed to get much traction.
Leman, though, thinks there could be movement in the regulatory chess game facing Texas Central as he and others file bills next year that try to balance private property rights and economic enterprise. What would upcoming legislation look like? Well, Leman's playing that one close to the vest.
“This should be a big session to discuss this project,” Leman said. “But I don’t want to tip my hand too quick because they are not giving me their hand.”
Pushy or progressive?
But beyond the regulatory weeds of whether or not Texas Central has the power to take land — and whether a state agency should have oversight if it does — there remains a more fundamental divide between people like landowners Machac and Waters.
For Machac, Texas Central is “pushy,” and the project solves a problem that doesn't exist.
“It's not necessary, and we don't have the population density to support that,” Machac said.
For Waters, the project represents progress and will go a long way toward removing much of the gridlock on Texas' highways.
“People never agree to progress,” Waters said. "They always want to live in the past. They’ve inherited [land], and they don’t like people changing their property, and I understand that. But it’s something that needs to happen.”
Disclosure: Texas Central has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
The Wolf Abilene, Texas – 95.1 The Wolf will have a “New” but “Familiar” sound in the mornings when Justin Case, long time radio personality takes over Mornings beginning November 1, 2018. Justin has been heard in markets that include Los Angeles, Houston, Memphis and since 1993 right here in West Texas on radio stations that included KEAN, KBCY and 102 The Bear. During Justin’s long career as a radio personality he has developed friendships with many of todays top country artist. He is also well know for his in depth interviews with artist that include George Strait, Garth. Brooks and Dunn, Reba, Merle, Willie Nelson, and many more. With the strong influence of Texas Artist in today’s music scene, that artist relationship continues in that genre of music. Justin says, “I am extremely excited to be joining the team at 95.1 The Wolf as well at 96Q. I’ve always said that The Wolf has the best sound in town and could win in any market in the US. Being locally owned and operated Community Broadcast Partners is very community oriented and that is important to West Texas. Plus entertaining during the mornings will be so much fun and I look forward to connecting with listeners there.” Owner of 95.1 The Wolf, David Klement says, “We are very excited to have Justin back on the air in Abilene. His reputation and involvement in the community will be a great asset to us, our listeners and advertisers!"
A hunting trip took a terrible turn Saturday when a bear that had been shot by two soldiers fell from a ridge and struck one of the men.
Specialist William McCormick, 28, and Pfc. Zachary Tennyson, 19, were on a recreational hunting trip in the area of Carter Lake, Alaska, about 100 miles south of Anchorage, when the incident occurred, according to KTVA.
Both soldiers are members of the 25th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), based out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Dispatchers were reportedly notified of the accident through a beacon signal from a Garmin inReach satellite communication device.
The situation was dire by the time help arrived.
“The pair were hunting in the area and shot a bear above them on a ridge,” authorities told KTVA. “The bear rolled down the slope dislodging rocks in the process. [McCormick] was injured when he was struck by both a rock and the bear.”
With the help of Alaska state troopers and personnel from two fire departments, McCormick was carried to a helicopter to be medically evacuated, the report said.
From there, he was flown to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, where he has reportedly been listed as sustaining “life-threatening injuries.”
A spokesman from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game told KTVA that it was a black bear that had fallen from the ridge just above the two soldiers' position.
Thursday May 31st. My Emergency Room 24/7 + Urgent Care want to sayThank you to first responders in surrounding areas. (Fire, Police, EMS, Constable, and Sheriff for Abilene and all surrounding areas)
Come out 11:30am to 1:30pm to My Emergency Room 24/7 + Urgent Care. “next to Firestone on clack in the old Gangus Grill”. My Emergency Room 24/7 + Urgent Care is wanting to give a BIG thank you to ALL first responders in ALL surrounding areas and buy your lunch to say thanks. Also Wolf Abilene will be out helping My Emergency Room 24/7 + Urgent Care involvement in the community by Supporting Hendrick Children's Hospital (CMN). For every $75 Donation, we will give you a pair of tickets to Schlitterbahn! So come out and have a great lunch. Also help out some kids May 31st. 4438 S Clack ST Abilene, Tx