Taste of Huntsville Holding ‘Dine on 9/29,’ an All-Day Eating-Out Celebration

For 40 years, hundreds of Huntsville-area restaurants and pubs have gathered at the Von Braun Center on a Tuesday evening in late September to enjoy The Taste of Huntsville, an event that has become known as “a spectacle for your taste buds.”

The Huntsville-Madison County Hospitality Association is calling for an all-day “Dine on 9/29” celebration this year. The event is a show of community support for the area’s restaurant and hospitality businesses, which have taken the COVID-19 pandemic like a pie in the face over the past few months. 

“Dine on 9/29” calls on residents to enjoy socially distanced indoor dining, patio dining, take out, or delivery from restaurants across the Tennessee Valley. Folks are urged to enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and even before-and-after cocktails from area restaurants.

“In my more than 15 years in the hospitality industry, I never could have imagined a pandemic that would devastate our industry like COVID-19 has,” said Desirea Stewart, president of Huntsville-Madison County Hospitality Association. “Our industry may be hurting, but we are strong and open for business. It is important now more than ever, to show our support for our local restaurants, hotels, attractions, and venues. 

“We look forward to our entire region dining on September 29th to support our hospitality family.”

Taste of Huntsville 2020 Chair Lindsey Pattillo Keane said local restaurants are a joyful respite during a stressful and challenging 2020. 

“Canceling our Taste of Huntsville 2020 on September 29th was for the best; however, we are thrilled to support our hospitality industry in an impactful and different way,” she said. “We invite all of the Tennessee Valley to ‘Dine on 9/29’, to offer a surge of support for our restaurant community.”

Rather than including only those venues able to cater food into the VBC, “Dine 9/29” will include every restaurant in North Alabama, and patrons are encouraged to tag the restaurant location and share photos from their dining experience utilizing the #dineon929 hashtag on the Facebook Event Link

The HMCHA will award nine gift cards for $29 each to participants who tag #dineon929 throughout the day on their Facebook page.

With more than 50 restaurants and beverage vendors participating every year, Taste of Huntsville draws more than 1,000 attendees to the fall event where they feature food, desserts, beverages, and novelty snacks from across the Tennessee Valley. 


Contenders for 2020 Small Business of the Year Announced

More than 160 businesses and individuals are in contention for top honors at the 35th annual Huntsville-Madison County Chamber Small Business of the Year Awards.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oct. 20 event will be a virtual presentation. It will be from 4-6 p.m. and fees are $25 for individual members and $50 for individual nonmembers.

The categories and contenders are:

Culinary Business of the Year

Emerging Business of the Year

Local “Creative” of the Year

Government Contracting: Professional Services of the Year

Government Contracting: Technology Business of the Year

Medical Practice of the Year

Nonprofit of the Year

Professional Services Business of the Year

Retailer of the Year

Service Business of the Year

Technology Business of the Year

Woman-Owned Business of the Year

Young Professional of the Year

Russell G Brown Executive Leadership Award

On your marks. Get Set. Finish! Athleticism Not Required for Annual .12K Microthon

Butler Green, that .12 kilometer stretch of greenspace at Campus 805 between Straight to Ale and Yellowhammer Brewing, is the site of a most unusual “race.”

The annual Rocket City .12K Microthon steps off Oct. 18. The event is a benefit for the special needs arts program at Merrimack Hall.

And you do not have to be in athletic shape to compete!

In fact, if you can run huffing and puffing, walk upright, crawl on hands and knees, skip like the day is young, or roll triumphantly across the finish line, then you will receive a t-shirt; a finisher’s medal (bottle opener); a Golden Ticket to food and beverage at any participating Campus 805 brewery or restaurant; and a “0.12K” bragging rights sticker that says, “Hey I’m better than you.”

Run in waves, the races and overall festive atmosphere begins runs from 2-4 p.m. Registration cut off is 4 p.m. Oct. 15. To register, visit https://runsignup.com/Race/AL/Huntsville/RocketCityMicrothon)

Three years ago, Lesley and Darryl Burnette started the Rocket City Microthon in honor of their daughter Kate, who was a fan of Merrimack’s programs during her short life.

Merrimack provides visual and performing arts education and cultural activities to children and adults with special needs. In its first two years, the .12K has raised $40,000 for the center and is coordinated completely by volunteers.

There is a $15 Race Fee for the .12K race and other packages include:

  • The Golden Ticket Stand-Alone Package for $15
  • The Runners Package for $25
  • The Slackers Package for $50 does not require any physical effort whatsoever, and yet you get all the swag of crossing the finish line
  • You may add on a Beer Drinker’s Package with two extra Golden Tickets for $15

All county and state COVID-19 guidelines will be in place, including the starting line which is marked with six-foot spacing. The Campus 805 businesses will also observe social distancing in the food and drink lines.


Regions Grant Gives KTECH’s Virtual Reality Workforce Initiative Real-Life Implications

Virtual reality goes real-time at KTECH thanks to a $42,000 grant from the Regions Foundation, the nonprofit initiative of Regions Bank. The money will fund virtual reality equipment for KTECH’s new Virtual Reality Workforce Development Training initiative.

Founder and CEO Lee Marshall formed KTECH as the workforce training and development arm of her Kids to Love Foundation. Because workforce readiness is a top priority for Regions Bank, its initiatives naturally align with KTECH.

“It has never been more important to connect with people wherever they are,” said Marta Self, executive director of the Regions Foundation. “That’s exactly what VR does, and what KTECH is doing. This is about empowering students with new tools to help them prepare for successful and rewarding careers.”

The grant is an extension of Region’s work to prepare people in Huntsville and Madison County for advanced manufacturing and high-tech jobs.

KTECH introduced the use of virtual reality technology this summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as a 3D Virtual Tour recruitment tool. Students were able to explore KTECH’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) facilities while living under stay-at-home orders.

It introduced a new way of seeing what KTECH is about and gave virtual viewers an up-close look at instructors demonstrating how the equipment works. It also shows the instructors conducting KTECH training, so it puts the student right there in the workplace and classroom.

KTECH has been on the edge of innovation. It targets foster kids who have aged out of the foster care system, and also is a training vehicle for anyone in the community who can use the skills, including veterans.

They offer hands-on, interactive, one-on-one instruction and certification training in mechatronics, robotics, soldering and solid edge modeling. All four skills are in high demand in the advanced manufacturing industry.

After students receive their certification, KTECH connects its graduates with good-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector.

Now VR is incorporated into the Mechatronics classes, further enhancing the student’s classroom experience in preparation for future careers.

VR technology creates a 3D simulated environment that prepares students for a range of vocational and tech-based careers. Students can both learn a STEAM skill and experience the job environment in which they will find themselves upon completion. It supplements in-person training with remote learning from anywhere.

“Students use VR headsets to experience face-to-face interactions with realistic avatars for a more immersive experience in learning than workers have ever been able to do before,” said Marshall. “During COVID-19, we knew we had to pivot to propel our students forward, and Virtual Reality was the obvious choice.

“Cutting-edge virtual reality technology is used throughout KTECH and helps students pursue self-guided discovery in areas such as mechatronics, hands-on skills development, and more.”

According to several career-oriented websites, VR is ranked in the top five fastest growing technology careers, alongside cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

“We are thankful the Regions Foundation sees how this Virtual Reality technology will advance our KTECH students,” said Marshall. “Putting state-of-the-art technology into the palm of a student’s hand, no matter where they are, is critical to the learning and workforce training process. Adapting and expanding digital offerings allows KTECH to grow in a ‘post-COVID’ world, preparing the workforce of the future.”

Sean Kelly, Huntsville market executive for Regions Bank. said, as the local economy recovers from COVID-19, more companies will discover the positive workforce climate available in Huntsville.

“KTECH and the Virtual Reality program will serve as important components to the success of the Tennessee Valley,” said Kelly. “We all benefit – individuals, businesses and communities – when we ensure the workforce is trained, prepared and ready to succeed.”


Fund Established to Support Nonprofits Providing Supervised Learning for Students

A fund has been established to support nonprofit organizations providing assistance for local students during this time of virtual learning.

The Remote Learning Supervision Fund is a collaborative effort of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, The Schools Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville. Toyota Alabama, Raytheon Technologies, and The Junior League of Huntsville provided the initial $50,000 to start the fund. The deadline for donations for the initial round of grants is Sept. 25, and grant applications will be open soon.

The fund is for nonprofits that provide supervised learning for students in Huntsville, Madison, and
Madison County school districts that are operating remotely, running staggered schedules, or temporarily closed because of COVID-19 cases.

“While all three public school systems are operating virtually for the first nine weeks, schedules could adjust as the school year proceeds, and students will continue to need support,” said Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s Senior Vice President of Economic Development, Industry Relations and Workforce. “We are thankful for all of the organizations who have stepped up to provide expanded services to support children, and this fund is intended to help provide scholarships and subsidies for parents who cannot afford existing options.”

As the first donor, Toyota created the momentum to get it started.

“Toyota is proud to support this initiative in collaboration with fellow community members,” said Kim Ogle, Toyota Motor North America Communications Manager. “We’re grateful to do our part and see our community come together and help each other during this unprecedented time.”

For information, visit hsvchamber.org.

Still Serving Veterans Announces Board Members, Officers for 2020-2021

Still Serving Veterans has announced its officers and board members for 2020-2021.

New board members are Mike Durant, Jenni Feld, Rich McAdams, Kris McGuire and Dr. David Traynor.

“Each new board member is bringing not only their knowledge of the Huntsville community, but their own unique professional experience and skill set to Still Serving Veterans … and they each have a heart for helping Veterans and their families. We are blessed to have them on our board and excited about the future of the organization,” said Still Serving Veterans CEO Paulette Risher.

The new board members collectively bring knowledge and experience in a variety of areas including engineering, medicine, project management, finance and operations and information technology.

Durant is an Army veteran and served as a special operations pilot. He is the CEO, principal owner, and board member of Pinnacle Solutions which he founded in 2008. A story of a mission he flew in Mogadishu was the basis for the film “Blackhawk Down.” He is the author of “In the Company of Heroes” and “The Night Stalkers.”

Feld, is the Director of Finance and Operations at Trideum Corp.

Traynor was an Army combat medic and practices internal medicine at Gleneagles Family Medicine.

McAdams is an Army veteran and graduate of U.S. Military Academy. He is president of Ignite, a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business.

McGuire is an Air Force veteran and founder and CEO of Victory Solutions.

Along with Durant, Feld, McAdams, McGuire and Traynor, other board members are: Chairman John T. Wright; Secretary Barbara Norris; Treasurer Chris Kern; ex-officio Member  Paulette Risher; co-founder/Director Emeritus Will Webb; Trip Ferguson; Jerry Gabig; Dan Godwin; Joni Green; Hank Isenberg; and Kristen Strickland

The Catalyst Adapts to 21st Century to Meet the Needs of Entrepreneurs

What happens when an entire business model designed to assist entrepreneurs and small business owners on a personal basis is challenged by a large-scale pandemic?

Well, in the case of The Catalyst Center, it gets up, dusts itself off, rolls up its sleeves and shifts gears.

Agility: It’s the entrepreneurial way.

By taking a proactive stance in the midst of change and uncertainty, The Catalyst team walked the talk with its adaptability and flexible approach. Not only did they quickly adjust to the ever-changing landscape, they developed an enhanced business model in the process, allowing them to continue operations – and to expand their reach in the process. 

“One of the biggest challenges has been, is that our funding is from the Small Business Administration,” said Sandy Edwards, director of operations. “And we have to show all the good things that we do. “We’ve got to collect the data: Are we creating jobs? Are we creating new businesses?” 

Thanks to advances in technology, The Catalyst recently rolled out its new eCenter, an online data management portal. This system is designed to streamline back-office efficiencies, such as the registration and follow-up processes for workshops and special events. It also benefits clients by helping them effectively manage their profiles, sign up for programs and connect with a business coach. 

“We wanted to make sure that our clients have the best experience that they can and that we’re doing everything we can to help them from the conceptual idea of a startup to moving on through in every stage of their business life,” said CEO Lisa Davis Mays. “We really want to make sure that our small businesses are having the best possible user experience at The Catalyst, and what does that look like? It looks like streamlining the way we collect data.” 

These past several months have been a “baptism by fire” for the Catalyst’s new executives – each with less than a year under their belts. Leigh Christian, Tech Rich project manager began in Octobe; Operations Manager Sandy Edwards in November;, and Jennifer Stewart, the Women’s Business Center project manager, in March; Davis Mays is the newly minted CEO. 

For Davis Mays, it’s been especially noteworthy. Taking the helm May 1, was already filling the oversized shoes of retiring CEO Joanne Randolph. 

“I have learned there are categories of curve balls,” said Davis Mays. “Regular curve balls, flaming curve balls, and COVID curve balls. Regardless, I am getting great batting practice.

“We’re creating good margin for what’s really important, which is relationship building, and coaching and training. And helping our clients take steps toward surviving, thriving and succeeding.”

Visit catalystcenter.ecenterdirect.com



An Egg-citing Donation Arrives for the Food Bank of North Alabama

The number of families in North Alabama needing food assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic has doubled in some counties and quadrupled in others. 

Shirley Schofield, Executive Director of the Food Bank of North Alabama, celebrated this week when Rick Pate, Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, showed up at the Huntsville headquarters with a donation of 400 dozen (4,800) eggs from Cal-Maine Foods.

The local contribution is part of a statewide donation of 54,000 eggs to Food Banks statewide. The eggs were shipped from the Cal-Maine location in Robertsdale to Montgomery and then distributed by R.E. Garrison Trucking to the North Alabama Food Bank. 

The Food Bank of North Alabama serves 11 counties. The organization’s mission is to end hunger by offering hunger relief programs that immediately feed people in need. That need has skyrocketed since the pandemic put so many people out of work in mid-March.

“We are so thankful to Rick and the people at Cal-Maine for making this contribution,” said Schofield. “We have many people getting food assistance for the first time and some of them have never been unemployed, so they have never been in these circumstances before.”

Schofield said in June the Food Bank delivered 1 million meals to families who needed it. That is up by 250,000 meals when compared to pre-COVID averages of 750,000 a month. Year-to-date, the Food Bank has provided 7.3 million meals, compared to under 5 million last year.

The Food Bank’s recent investment of nearly $12,000 in commercial-grade refrigerators for six rural pantry locations will come in handy, too.

“The timing is perfect,” said Schofield.

Cal-Maine Foods is the largest producer and marketer of shell eggs in the U.S. with a flock of approximately 36.2 million layers and 9.4 million pullets and breeders. In 2019, the company sold more than 1 billion dozen shell eggs.

KTECH Helps Stem Rise of Juvenile Criminals; Opens Gateway to Jobs for Foster Kids

In 2003, while investigating a news story about a man on Death Row, then-television news anchor Lee Marshall discovered the man was a product of Alabama’s foster care system.

Marshall, who was herself adopted as an infant, hit on an alarming statistic from Pew Research: Between 75 and 80 percent of kids in the juvenile justice system come out of foster care.

Lee Marshall: “KTECH is a gateway, an opportunity for kids aging out of the system, to take another path.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

Having grown up in a loving family and having the benefit of a good education and a successful career, she was appalled at that statistic.

More than 16 years later, recent statistics from Foster Care 2.0, and confirmed in stats quoted in an article written for Teen Vogue in May 2018, that number is now solid at 80 percent.

Furthermore, by age 17, more than half of the youths in foster care have experienced an arrest, conviction, or overnight stay in a correctional facility. More alarming numbers:

  • 90 percent of youths with more than five foster placements will enter the justice system at some point in their lives;
  • 40 to 50 percent of formerly fostered youth become homeless within 18 months after leaving foster care; and
  • 25 percent will be in prison within two years of aging out of the system.

“I saw this happening, like a flood rushing the prison gates and pouring through it,” said Marshall. “I searched for somebody, somewhere, doing something to stop it, but came up empty.”

Shortly thereafter, Lee Marshall retired from television news after 20 years to start her Kids To Love foundation. Kids To Love seeks to wrap their arms around foster kids no matter what age or under what circumstances they enter the foster care system. They provide supportive programs, all with a hidden curriculum: to give them food if they don’t have it; to provide transportation if they need it; and help them find housing if they are on the streets. But no one was offering solutions to just “Stop it.”

“As a former journalist, I know what I don’t know, so I did some research,” Marshall said. “I needed an exit strategy for these kids, especially those aging out of the system.

“I created our KTECH workforce training initiative to stop it by getting them into jobs. Our overall catalyst is to invest in, educate, and sustain these kids. KTECH is a gateway, an opportunity for kids aging out of the system, to take another path.”

Daily KTECH classes feature mechatronics in the mornings and robotics in the afternoon. (Photo/Steve Babin)

In 2014, a Kids To Love board member connected Marshall with Fred Rascoe, dean of Career and Technical Programs at Motlow State Community College. He runs the career readiness department which includes Bridgestone classes in mechatronics, a multidisciplinary form of electrical and mechanical engineering systems that trains people for the newest jobs in advanced manufacturing. Mechatronics rethinks traditional blue-collar manufacturing into a clean, skilled environment.

“Several community leaders and members of the Board of Directors went with me to see how their program worked,” said Marshall. “They were stating 100 percent job placement for graduates from the classes and, by all accounts, it looked good.”

Rascoe became her mentor and when she told him how she wanted KTECH to look, he showed her what they needed and how to set up the equipment to be successful.

“I had a vision of what I needed to make it work but I knew the mountain I would be climbing. All I needed now was a building and half a million dollars in equipment,” Marshall said.

Kids To Love was operating out of several locations with a warehouse in one place, her administrative offices in an old Intergraph building, and to make the classes work, she was praying for a way to bring everything under one roof.

Just a few months later, in November 2014, she met Louis and Patty Breland of Breland Properties. Patty was adopted and she shared Marshall’s vision for KTECH.

The Brelands donated a 13,000 square-foot investment property on Castle Drive in Madison to Kids To Love.

“It was formerly a Jump Zone painted in primary colors and smelled like dirty socks, but I have never been so excited about a building in my life,” said Marshall. “Nearly all the materials for renovations were donated and in April, Dorothy Davidson of Davidson Technologies bought all the required equipment.”

KTECH has two fulltime instructors and classes are daily with mechatronics in the mornings; robotics in the afternoon; and soldering and solid edge, a 3D CAD technology that provides solid modeling, assembly modelling and 2D orthographic view functionality for mechanical designers, taught several hours per week. Students leave KTECH with all four industry certifications.

Students attend an accelerated program of four college-level classes in 16 weeks. Classes are 40 percent lecture and 60 percent hands-on instruction.

KTECH has an articulation agreement, that is, their college level classes qualify as transferable college credits if a student wants to transfer to Calhoun Community College, Wallace State, or Motlow. Calhoun and Wallace State give 12 of the 16 hours credit, but Motlow gives the full 16 because the program is patterned after it.

“We want kids to have an easy transition into a job after we certify them, so we set up the labs just like they will be at a job, in fact, the robotic lab is exactly like the new labs at the new Mazda Toyota plant,” Marshall said. “Students can go straight to work making $30,000 a year.”

In 2018, KTECH expanded the mechatronics lab to include the largest robotics training classroom in the state of Alabama. There are four robots and a virtual computer robot just like the ones they will see at the Mazda Toyota plant.

KTECH runs completely debt free and accepts no state or federal funding because grant money has strings attached.

“I can’t help kids the way I want to help them if I accepted government funds,” she said.

While KTECH’s priority is on kids aging out of the foster care system, it is not limited to that. Marshall said it is a training vehicle for anyone in the community who can use the skills.

“We have put veterans in there who are transitioning back into the workforce and they bring a tremendous synergy to the kids,” said Marshall. “My kids have a tendency to quit when it gets hard or to quit when they don’t want to do something.

“If I put a vet in here with one of my kids, that vet comes from a brotherhood. They will say, ‘I’ve got your back. We’re in this together and quitting or failure are not options.’”

The program also offers classes to the underserved or under-resourced people.

“We have great relationships with nonprofit organizations like the Downtown Rescue Mission and Christian Women’s Job Corps,” Marshall said. “We have trained six of the Downtown Rescue Mission’s program graduates.”

Students must have a high school diploma or GED to interview and Marshall said it is a tough love proposition.

“We have a strict interview process and only take about half of those that interview; however, we have a 100 percent completion rate,” said Marshall. “We give them an opportunity. What they do with it is up to them.

“For us, it is not about having butts in a seat – it is about completion. We kick them in the butt while they are here, but we are by their side at graduation.”

Kids To Love has awarded more than 700 college scholarships in its first 16 years, and KTECH has awarded more than 100 certifications in the first three years of its existence. KTECH is an alternative for foster children who are not cut out for college or don’t have the support to go to college, but they still need a skill set to be independent.

For 16 years, Kids To Love has implemented numerous programs in support of foster children of all ages throughout Alabama, in 60 counties in Tennessee, and with a growing presence in Mississippi and Georgia. Programs for young children like More Than a Backpack and Christmas For the Kids provide food, school supplies, and new clothing to wear. Life Lab teaches older kids, essential skills like how to create a budget, balance a budget, write a resume and dress appropriately for a job.

“I asked a judge in Montgomery, ‘What is the number one thing you see in my kids when they come before you?” said Marshall.

“He said, ‘Armed robbery with drugs a close number two. It may surprise you, drugs isn’t number one, but they get a gun because they need a gun to get into the drug business,’” Marshall said he told her.

According to Bennet Wright, Chair and Executive Director of the Alabama Sentencing Commission, it costs $44 a day to house an inmate in Alabama. Armed robbery is a gateway crime with an automatic 20-year sentence if convicted in Alabama. A 20-year sentence costs the taxpayer over $321,000.

Right now, there are more than 1,500 kids over the age of 14, about to age out of the system. The cost of that many kids aging out of foster care and going into the juvenile justice system will cost taxpayers about $365 million if nothing is done to stop it.

KTECH is one step to help stop this trend.

Madison Community Rocks to Help Those Affected by Pandemic

MADISON — What is so special about a big bag of river rocks?

They can feature an inspirational message, the name of a special person, or an organization on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. These rocks come together to form the Madison River of Hope, a permanent painted rock garden on Bill’s Hill at Dublin Park in Madison. The proceeds go to support people in Madison affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Madison RIver of Hope” features rocks with messages and logos.

The perfect summertime activity for individuals, families, businesses, and organizations and groups have a choice of four types of sponsorship rocks and painting options available through July 11. Donors can paint a name or inspirational message on the stone or a volunteer at the Madison Chamber of Commerce will do it.

“I Wanna Rock” sponsorships start with $10 donations to the Madison River of Hope and include a small People Rock to honor a special person in the community; a $20 donation will go toward a larger Rock Solid stone to support a small business affected by the COVID-19 fight.

With a corporate donation of $500, a company logo can be painted on a large Let’s Rock stone; a $1,000 donation will include a larger stone with special placement in the River of Hope Rock Garden. The company logo and a special message can be painted on the façade as well.

To order the rocks, visit Facebook.com/MVPMadison or contact Liz Brinton at 256-348-4969 or liz.brinton@mvpmadison.org.

The rocks can be picked up and dropped off Tuesdays at Discovery Middle School on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the Madison Public Library from 3-6 p.m. They may also be picked up and dropped off weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Dublin Park  and Posh Mommy and Baby Too!.

Contributions to the River of Hope Rock Garden run through July 11.