In this periodic feature, we highlight books that are either about Alabama people or events or written by Alabama authors. Summaries are not reviews or endorsements. We also occasionally highlight book-related events. Email submissions to email@example.com. Due to the volume of submissions, we are unable to feature all the books we receive.
Alabama’s Frontiers and the Rise of the Old South, by Daniel Dupre, Indiana University Press, $35 (history) Alabama endured warfare, slave trading, squatting, and speculating on its path to becoming America’s 22nd state. Dupre captures the riveting saga of the forgotten struggles and savagery in Alabama’s — and America’s — frontier days.
Medusa’s Lair: A Chic Spark Novel, by Kenneth L. Funderburk, Archway Publishing, $11.99 (crime novel) Chic Sparks is a clinical psychologist and part-time investigator who begins a reckless search for his missing friend, who is a notorious crime boss. Sparks’ actions put him in the middle of a deep criminal conspiracy, and he sets out to unveil the truth – and locate his friend. The author lives in Phenix City.
Wilson’s Raid, by Russell W. Blount Jr., Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, $21.99 (military history) In the closing months of the Civil War, Gen. James Wilson led a Union cavalry raid through Alabama and parts of Georgia. The author, an Alabama native, examines eyewitness accounts and diaries chronicling this defining moment in America’s bloodiest war.
The Tuskegee Airmen Chronology: A Detailed Timeline of the Red Tails and Other Black Pilots of World War II, by Daniel Haulman, NewSouth Books, $25.95 (military history) This chronology provides an overview of the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, embracing important events in the formation of the first military flying training for black pilots in U.S. history. Their performance proved that with opportunity and resources, black men could fly and fight every bit as well in combat as their white counterparts.
The Woman Left Behind, by Linda Howard, William Morrow, $26.99 (romantic suspense) Jina Modell is thrilled with an assignment to an elite paramilitary unit. Her team leader, Levi, doesn’t have much confidence in her, but her courage wins him over. When Jina’s position is attacked, Levi must bring back the woman he’s fallen for, dead or alive. The author lives in Gadsden.
At First Light, by Sandy Harris, Moonshine Cove Publishing, $13.99 (mystery, suspense) The sheriff’s office thinks high school senior John Bateman viciously murdered three friends while on a deer hunt. On the verge of being indicted for murder, evidence begins to surface that something strange happened in the woods that day. Could his unbelievable story be true? The author lives in Wetumpka.
Understanding Medicare isn’t as difficult as you might think. It’s a benefit most working Americans can count on. Here are some facts you might not know about the program.
Can I still get Medicare at 65?
Yes, you’re still eligible for Medicare starting at 65, no matter what year you were born.
If you or your spouse worked and paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years, you’re eligible for Part A (hospital insurance) at age 65 for free. Part A helps pay for inpatient care in a hospital or skilled nursing facility following a hospital stay. It also pays for some home health care and hospice care.
You’re also eligible for Part B (medical insurance) if you choose to get it and pay a monthly premium. Part B helps pay for services from doctors and other health care providers, outpatient care, home health care, durable medical equipment, and some preventative services. If you are receiving Social Security benefits already, you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B at age 65. Because you must pay a premium for Part B, you can choose to turn it down. However, if you don’t enroll in Part B when you’re first eligible for it, and choose to enroll later, you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty for as long as you have Part B coverage.
If you’re not receiving Social Security benefits, you have a seven-month period (your Initial Enrollment Period) to sign up for Part B. Generally, your initial enrollment period begins three months before your 65th birthday, includes the month you turn age 65, and ends three months after your birth month.
If you are covered under an employer group health plan, you may have a special enrollment period for Part B.
If you are 65 or older and covered under a group health plan, either from your own or your spouse’s current employment, you may have a special enrollment period during which you can sign up for Medicare Part B. This means that you may delay enrolling in Part B without having to wait for a general enrollment period and without paying the lifetime penalty for late enrollment. If you think a special enrollment period may apply to you, read our Medicare publication at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/, and visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at Medicare.gov.
To avoid a tax penalty, you should stop contributing to your Health Savings Account (HSA) at least six months before you apply for Medicare.
You can withdraw money from your HSA after you enroll in Medicare to help pay for medical expenses like deductibles, premiums, coinsurance, or copayments. If you’d like to continue contributing to your HSA, you shouldn’t apply for Medicare or Social Security benefits.
How much does Part B coverage cost?
You are responsible for the Part B premium each month. Most people will pay the standard premium amount, which is $134 in 2018 if you sign up for Part B when you’re first eligible. This amount can change every year.
“Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective health investments in history.” — Seth Berkley, CEO of the Vaccine Alliance
Many times when I go to work, there are one or two tiny puppies in the isolation room suffering from severe diarrhea and vomiting, looking miserable from the parvo virus. Some do not make it home. This does not need to happen! Timely vaccination could have prevented their sufferings.
Your veterinarian is the best person to address your situation, but here are some guidelines.
Proper protection should start with vaccinating the mother before she gets pregnant. A vaccinated mother will have an immunity that she transfers to her babies. In an ideal breeding situation, it is assumed that the puppies are protected for the first 8 to 9 weeks of their life. However, we see an inordinate number of puppies whose mothers were not vaccinated and do not fall under the “ideal” category.
That’s why many veterinarians will recommend starting the first distemper/parvo vaccine as early as 6 weeks of age. Vaccines should be given every 2-4 weeks until the puppies are 16 weeks old. For high-risk situations, the last vaccine can be given at 19 to 20 weeks of age. So, if you start at 7 weeks, the sequence will be 7, 10, 13 and 19 weeks. If you adopt an unvaccinated older dog, you will need to give the initial vaccine and one booster three weeks later.
Now about rabies. Dog, cat and ferret owners are required by Alabama law to have their pet immunized for rabies when the animal reaches three months of age. The rabies vaccine must be given by a veterinarian, or a licensed vet tech in the presence of a veterinarian. Many communities hold annual low cost rabies vaccination clinics. I have seen rabies vaccines given in a town-sponsored event for as low as $5!
Frequently I get asked if the vaccine from the co-op is as good as ours. I don’t have an answer, as I have not come across a study comparing both. My recommendation is to go through your vet as they provide a lot more than just a “shot.”
I feel the puppy/kitty visits are THE most important vet visits of all! This is the time where early health issues are discussed and lifelong health habits are established. However, if getting to a vet is impossible for you, I have to suggest that you get your vaccines from a place that stores and handles their vaccines properly.
Last, but not least, here’s a little bit on cats. Cats also get a parvo-like disease called Feline Distemper or Panleukopenia. Vaccination should start as early as 6 weeks and be boosted every 3 weeks until they reach 16 weeks. Outdoor cats should also get Feline Leukemia vaccine.
Now, for the folks who are little leery of “over vaccination.” The issue of what constitutes “over vaccination” and related health problems is a highly contentious issue and best kept aside for a consultation with your vet.
Goutam Mukherjee, DVM, MS, Ph.D. (Dr. G) has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He works part time at Grant Animal Clinic and is a member of North Alabama Electric Cooperative.
Submit Your Images!June Theme: “Family Reunions”Deadline for July: May 31. Submit photos online: www.alabamaliving.coop/submit-photo/ or send color photos with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Photos, Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124. Rules: Alabama Living will pay $10 for photos that best match our theme of the month. Photos may also be published on our website at www.alabamaliving.coop and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos.
Malbis Memorial Church is often discovered accidentally while driving somewhere else. Commanding Alabama Highway 181 in Daphne is a Greek cathedral-like fortress, flanked with brick stone towers, braced in Corinthian columns, centered under a domed roof.
Somewhere else is now here.
“Here,” is the centerpiece of the Malbis Plantation, cornerstone of Baldwin County’s small but industrious Greek community, and legacy of the community and church’s namesake, Jason Malbis.
On a trip to Athens, shortly before his death, the Grecian forefather instructed followers to build his church in Malbis. And oh boy, did they.
Formally the “Sacred Patriarchal and Stavropegial Monastery of the Presentation of Theotoko,” the church has surprised and delighted visitors since day one with good reason. It is spiritual, reverent and eye popping.
“First timers can’t believe what they are seeing,” notes Nafseka Malbis, caretaker, tour guide and descendant of founder Jason Malbis. “For me, there is no one favorite item. Everything is special.”
The interior is detailed with hand-rendered frescos – paintings that adorn virtually every space. Art depicts the life of Christ chronicled from the Testaments. More than 150 paintings tell stories, including Christ before the High Priest, the Sermon on the Mount, Moses receiving the 10 Commandments, religious heroes and other Bible scenes.
“It is like art comes to life and speaks to you,” adds George Kalasountas, frequent visitor and fan. “Many have told me upon leaving the sanctuary, they’ve never seen anything like it and they are correct.”
Kalasountas, who came from Greece in 1956 and today is vice president of the Malbis Memorial Foundation, adds, “We have many Greek Orthodox Churches, but this is the cream of the crop. It is simply beautiful.”
The fresco murals took three master artists flown in from Greece nine months to complete. The rotunda features a portrait of God, the Almighty surrounded by 12 murals of disciples and religious leaders. Artist Spyros Tzouvaras hand painted the portraits from scaffolding 75 feet above the floor. He lay on his back, applying paint and brush strokes to the ceiling, rendering the images. It took him three months.
Hand carved figures were brought from Greece and assembled in the church. The bishop’s throne, pulpit and other features are carved in white marble extracted from the same Grecian mines that supplied the Parthenon millenniums earlier.
On the outside above massive oak doors are mosaics created with thousands of tiles about one-inch square. Above the middle door is a portrait of Jesus. Above him are images of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; all are a composite of mosaic tiles. Each tiny piece was prepared in Italy, shipped to Malbis, and installed on site.
Outside, the left tower contains a bell system: 49 bell tone generators that at full volume can be heard six miles away. It is a call to worship, a reminder of Grecian heritage, and the legacy of an immigrant who dreamed of a new world in Baldwin County.
Jason Malbis was born Antonios Markopoulos in Doumena, Greece. But in his 40s, he moved to America for a new life. Joined by friend William Papageorge, the two searched Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Mississippi before buying 120 acres in Baldwin County for $5 an acre.
Others followed and more land was added to become The Malbis Plantation, established in 1906. “We had a bakery, power plant, bank, timber company, hotel, and farms,” Kalasountas recalls. “It was a self-sufficient. We all had jobs to do. We all had a place in the community.”
But they did not have a church – yet.
‘It is my desire that you build a church’
In the early 1940s Jason Malbis visited Athens, Greece, but could not return due to World War II disruptions. He became sick and died in Athens, July 22, 1942, but not before sending a letter to beloved Grecians of Baldwin County: “It is my desire that you build a church.”
By 1960, the Greek settlement of about 60 – mostly farmers, tradesmen and working people – spearheaded a fundraising drive of $1 million. Adjusted for inflation, that is more than $7 million today.
Groundbreaking was held in 1960, and Malbis Memorial Church was dedicated on Jan. 3, 1965. If you were Greek you were there. And on that day everybody was Greek.
“People came from everywhere,” Kalasountas says. “The line to get in went around the building and people were in tears upon leaving.”
A New York Times October 1965 review noted, “The church is unique in the United States. A visitor’s first reaction upon entering the building is one of awe. It is like being inside a rainbow.”
Amazingly, this grand cathedral is financed mainly by love and donations. The Malbis church has never held a formal congregation but conducts regularly scheduled worship services. The building is also open to the public from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Through the years, concerns were raised about next door Daphne – Baldwin County’s largest city – continuing to expand, and possibly encroaching on Malbis. “I think we are OK,” Kalasountas says. “Daphne is a good place, but we are doing just fine here in Malbis, too.”
Though Jason Malbis never saw the church that bears his name, his remains are interred in a crypt inside. But you can feel his spirit saying, “Build my church.” Outside, adjacent to the church, 100 Grecian graves answer, “Mission accomplished.”
While rural hospitals face numerous financial challenges, hope is not lost. Many areas in Alabama are finding partnerships and tax revenue to maintain their level of health care
By M.J. Ellington
When people in rural Randolph County faced the prospect of life without a nearby hospital or else raising taxes, voters in Roanoke, Wedowee and surrounding areas approved a 1 percent sales tax increase in 2015. Two years later, people in the small East Alabama county celebrated the opening of shiny new Tanner Medical Center/East Alabama. Tanner Medical Services, a Georgia not-for-profit hospital management company, operates the facility.
Randolph’s vote came following the 2011 closing of Randolph County Hospital in Roanoke and the pending loss of nearby Wedowee Hospital, both due to financial problems and aging structures. The county is hardly alone with its hospital financial challenges.
Part of the reason rural Alabama hospitals face such challenges is because the state has not expanded Medicaid, said Dr. Marsha Raulerson, a semi-retired Brewton pediatrician and past president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama. “People think Medicaid is a welfare program; it is so much more,” she says. “If people just knew, it affects all of us.”
Now 76, Raulerson said at age 39, she came “kicking and screaming” to Brewton with her nephrologist husband who was recruited out of the University of Florida to open the first dialysis program between Mobile and Dothan.
She had planned to spend the rest of her life teaching at the University of Florida’s medical school, but once she got used to life in a town of 5,400 people, she realized it provides a good quality of life and a great place for children to grow up. Having access to good health care nearby is an important factor, but Raulerson said this year, she is concerned.
“For the first time, our hospital is in the red,” Raulerson says. “There are so many people who are uninsured, who cannot pay. Insurance and Medicare have lower payments to rural hospitals. Expanded Medicaid would help with this.”
A ‘trifecta of challenges’
Dr. Don Williamson, Alabama Hospital Association executive director and former state health officer, said rural hospitals face a “trifecta of challenges” as they seek to shore up financially ailing hospitals. Those challenges include:
• Alabama’s decision not to expand Medicaid left a large number of people without health coverage to pay for needed care.
• Federal Medicare and payments to health providers are lower for small hospitals than the biggest hospitals, based on a federal formula that mandates larger reimbursements for the largest hospitals. The federal wage index that helps determine how much health providers get paid in every state lists Alabama at the bottom.
• Alabama is the only state in the country that does not pay any of the state’s matching share required to bring in federal revenue for Medicaid programs. Of every dollar spent on the program, the federal government pays 70 cents while Alabama’s share to bring in the federal funds is 30 cents. But unlike other states, Alabama’s share comes from a voluntary tax hospitals pay to tap the federal revenue.
Hospital Association figures show that 86 percent of rural hospitals are operating in the red as compared to 69 percent of all hospitals having a negative operating margin, says Rosemary Blackmon, vice president of communications. Hospitals with other sources of revenue, such as taxes or other services, may be able to shore up the bottom line.
“Right now, when a rural hospital is in trouble, a county tries to rally by raising taxes,” Williamson says. “What if that money went to Medicaid? We could bring in 10 times as much federal revenue. It probably would have been cheaper.”
But rural counties like Randolph have done a remarkable job working to save rural hospitals, Williamson says. In recent years, several other small Alabama cities faced with losing their local hospital found partnerships and tax revenue to help pay for new facilities.
The impact of hospitals on the life of rural communities helps cities and counties keep them viable. Blackmon said the annual payroll of rural hospitals is $552 million, and 44 percent of total employment in rural counties can be attributed to health care.
Pell City in St. Clair County and Clanton in Chilton County established partnerships with St. Vincent’s Health Care to open new, smaller hospitals in their towns. Williamson said Haleyville in Winston County wants a local tax to help with operating costs at Lakeland Community Hospital.
Three other rural hospitals – John Paul Jones Hospital in Camden, Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital in Demopolis and J.V. Stabler Memorial Hospital in Greenville – became part of the UAB Health System in February. UAB’s financial and managerial expertise, hospital compliance training and clinical resources are part of the package.
In March, the state Legislature approved a bill to create a resource center housed at UAB to provide support for nonprofit, rural, public hospitals in the state that are facing economic pressures. It would assist these hospitals in areas including purchasing and supply chain, strategic planning, insurance and cost reporting, coding, recruitment and compliance.
While the bill passed, it has not been funded. The UAB Health System will work to determine interim funding prior to the 2019 legislative session to start providing support to eligible hospitals.
Hospitals that can backfill with taxes or other sources of revenue have more ways to supplement the income they get through Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance reimbursement.
Rural areas need new ideas
In rural areas, the population tends to be older, poorer and less likely to have insurance to pay for hospital and other health care costs. One wrinkle in the uninsured population is that Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance companies negotiate the rates they will pay for a patient’s care. People without insurance coverage pay the highest rate because there is no company that is negotiating rates on their behalf. As a result, uninsured people in rural areas may not seek medical care until a problem is harder to deal with, and when they do, the cost for their care may be higher than what people with insurance pay.
Ready access to good health care becomes everyone’s problem when the local hospital and healthcare delivery system are at risk, a point at which rural communities should approach the issue with new ideas, says Dale Quinney, longtime executive director of the Alabama Rural Health Association.
Quinney says when the healthcare delivery system begins to fail, particularly if the future of the local hospital is uncertain, it’s time to get creative with solutions. “Without a hospital, the economic base fails,” he says.
He wants a greater role for allied health professionals, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants, and telehealth that enables doctors at remote locations to visit patients in rural areas using computer and electronic devices. He’d like to see more hospitals have a small number of inpatient beds and the ability to have alternate ways to generate operating revenue.
Quinney is excited about the possibilities of “telehealth carts” that help patients in rural areas consult with doctors in other cities using electronic and computer technology.
Michael Smith directs the telehealth cart program at the Alabama Department of Public Health. Smith said the department expects to have telehealth cart programs available at 60 county health department offices around the state this year.ν
M.J. Ellington is a Montgomery freelance journalist whose longtime health and state government reporting and editing career included the Montgomery Advertiser, The Decatur Daily, Florence Times-Daily and The Anniston Star. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The tiger saved us,” says Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins (U.S. Army, Retired) matter-of-factly. “The North Vietnamese soldiers were more afraid of it than they were of us.”
Adkins, 84, is speaking of the aftermath of the Battle of A Shau when, in 1966, he and other survivors evaded the enemy after a team of 17 American Special Forces and about 400 of their South Vietnamese allies were attacked and overrun by a North Vietnamese division of 16,000 troops. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Adkins the Medal of Honor for his actions during that battle. Adkins and co-author (and Alabama Living gardening columnist) Katie Jackson tell his story in their forthcoming book, A Tiger Among Us.
“I was just doing my job,” insists Adkins. “It was my training. … When you’re picked out to be one of the elite, you try to live up to that.”
Adkins’ job was as a Special Forces intelligence sergeant. After being drafted into the Army in 1956, he found being a clerk-typist “not for me.” Special Forces was a challenge both physically and mentally.But, says Adkins, “I had too much pride to quit.”
In 1965, then-Sergeant First Class Adkins was sent to the A Shau valley to advise South Vietnamese forces and to impede infiltration of the North Vietnamese into the south. The valley, which runs along Vietnam’s border with Cambodia and Laos, became part of the trail along which the North Vietnamese brought provisions and troops down into the south and as such was, as Adkins describes it in his book, “a hotbed of activity.”
“I can tell you that none of us were happy to be in that camp,” Adkins says in A Tiger Among Us. Sitting in that valley, “about thirty miles from another friendly camp …. [w]e were like fish in a barrel.”
Risking his life
Adkins’ team had been warned that an attack was imminent, and the Battle of A Shau began about 4 a.m. on March 9, 1966, with a deafening North Vietnamese artillery and mortar barrage. Adkins ran to take his position in a mortar pit from which he and his crew fired illumination and high-explosive rounds.
Wounded 18 times, Adkins repeatedly risked his life during the battle. He was blown out of his mortar pit three times by direct hits from enemy mortars and lost several entire mortar crews. But he continued manning his position until the mortar pit was finally destroyed by RPGs (rocket propelled grenades). Disregarding enemy mortar and sniper fire, Adkins also rescued American and Vietnamese wounded and transported them to safety, and then – again under direct fire –loaded them onto evacuation helicopters. When a load of desperately needed supplies was inadvertently dropped into a mine field, Adkins rushed into the mine field to retrieve it.
After 38 hours of intense fighting – hungry, thirsty, and exhausted – the Americans were ordered to evacuate. In the chaos of the withdrawal, Adkins went back to rescue a badly wounded comrade. When they returned to the evacuation point, the helicopters had already gone.
Which is where the tiger came in.
Adkins and a small group of survivors had no choice but to evade the North Vietnamese in the dense jungle until they could be rescued. On their second night, Adkins and his men could hear enemy soldiers searching for them. They also heard another sound – something big rustling in the undergrowth nearby. Then Adkins heard a low growl and saw eyes glowing in the dark – a tiger, drawn by the smell of blood covering the wounded survivors.The war had given tigers a taste for humans.
The North Vietnamese heard the tiger, too, for they hastily pulled back, allowing Adkins and the other survivors to slip away. They were picked up by helicopter the next day.
Shortly after the battle, Adkins was nominated for the Medal of Honor. Nothing happened at the time. But in 2014, Adkins received a phone call from President Obama informing him that he was to be awarded the nation’s highest military honor.
“Super humbling,” is how Adkins describes it. “I’m very humbled to be one of the few living soldiers to wear this medal.”He now speaks all over the county trying to inspire in people a love of country and the desire to be a good citizen.
“And an appreciation of the military,” adds Adkins’ co-author Katie Jackson. She points out that less than 1% of the population has served in the military and that “the general population doesn’t understand the military.”
Adkins and Jackson, an adjunct instructor in Auburn’s School of Communication and Journalism, worked on the book for three years. This involved tracking down and interviewing the five other survivors of the battle. “All of them have a deep admiration and respect for Bennie,” says Jackson. “Even years later, they all say he’s amazing. … He was the one who really did things that were superhuman.”
Any money made from A Tiger Among Us will go to the Bennie Adkins Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides scholarships for Special Forces enlisted personnel transitioning from the service. “One of the reasons this is so important to Bennie,” says Jackson, “is because he knows what it’s like to move from the military to the civilian world, and it’s not easy.”
Last year the foundation awarded the first scholarships; 25 will be awarded this year.
All of this was made possible by the 400-pound Indochinese tiger that saved Bennie Adkins all those years ago.
High-speed internet is no longer just a luxury for our rural areas. It is a necessity to help rural residents conduct business, to expand education opportunities, to create avenues for remote health care and to spur economic development.
During this legislative session, the Alabama Rural Electric Association (AREA), which publishes Alabama Living magazine, and its member cooperatives championed the bill known as SB149, or the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act. The legislation will encourage private investment in broadband infrastructure in unserved rural areas.
In late March, Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill into law.
“This common sense legislation will help us attract new broadband to areas that need it most, especially in rural Alabama,” Ivey said.
The bill, which is just a first step in a long process to bring internet to rural areas, was sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield and Rep. Donnie Chesteen.
The act creates a grant program to be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Individual grants may be awarded for up to 20 percent of the project costs to telecommunications companies, cable companies and electric cooperatives.
Alabama will be further helped by a pilot program, grants and loans from the federal government. Congress, through an effort led by Congressman Robert Aderholt, included in the omnibus spending bill a $600 million pilot program that will enable applicants to finance a project by combining loans and grants to provide broadband to eligible rural and tribal areas.
Ivey’s office estimates that more than 842,000 Alabamians are without access to a wired connection capable of 25 megabits per second download speeds. One million have access to only a single wired provider, and another 276,000 don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live.
Gov. Kay Ivey was the opening speaker for the 71st Annual Meeting of the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives in April. Ivey spoke to delegates from Alabama’s 22 electric cooperatives about the progress her administration has made since she was sworn into office a year ago, and laid out her platform for the next four years if she is elected. Allison Flowers, right, of Prattville, and Alabama’s representative to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Youth Leadership Council, spoke to the delegates about her YLC experience and thanked them for their support. She is a member of Central Alabama Electric Cooperative, and was given a $250 check from Regions Bank to further her education. Delegates heard updates from the heads of several state associations and agencies, including information on the court system, the 2020 Census, upcoming elections, tax reform and issues affecting farmers and agriculture.
Storybook Farm Director Dena Little was completing household chores while thumbing through Practical Horseman when she came across a story about a horse therapy farm in Virginia.
Little, who grew up caring for and competing on horses, had taken a hiatus from farm life as she ran a bakery in Atlanta and cared for her two small children. It was 2002, and she had just sold her bakery and moved her young family to a small farm in Auburn. She yearned to get back to her roots and share her love of horses with her children.
That’s when the article struck a chord.
Little immediately got in contact with the owner of the horse therapy farm in Virginia. Soon after, she gained certification for her farm to provide equine-assisted therapy for children needing support, and Storybook Farm was born.
“I really had no idea the impact that Storybook would have, or its longevity, and I didn’t realize the need for programming like this,” Little says. “When Storybook opened, we quickly had a waitlist. I felt the Lord was leading me down this path to utilize my background with horses and to translate that to helping families that are facing crises and uncertain futures. Getting to walk alongside these families has become my distinct honor.”
Children from age 2 to young adulthood who face obstacles such as autism, cerebral palsy, cognitive delays, sensory integration issues and bereavement situations come to Storybook Farm for horseback riding and weekly lesson plans, including games and activities. They learn how to care for animals and develop social skills by interacting with farm volunteers. Horseback riding also provides physical benefits such as improvements to balance, motor skills, muscle strength and coordination.
An English literature major in college, Little wanted to create a whimsical, real-life fairytale for every child. Willy Wonka, Mrs. Potts, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are just a few of the horses to come through the farm. Driving up to the farm and looking out over the lush, rolling acres immediately transports anyone into a storybook.
“We started with three children, and will have about 1,500 this year alone,” Little says. “We don’t turn anyone away. We always make it work. One of the greatest compliments a family has ever given me is a parent saying, ‘I feel like our child is the only one who rides at Storybook.’ That’s what I want it to be. I wanted it to be so personal and special for everyone who comes to the farm. Many of the children we see and serve at Storybook have ambulatory issues, and they’ve never had that mobility and that freedom to just be one of the kids. To be one of the kids and not be set apart by the condition that brought you to Storybook is so important to me.”
Not only are the children and families impacted by Storybook Farm, but the effect the farm has on volunteers is evident. With more than 300 volunteers each week from Auburn University and the community, the people at the farm are committed to carrying out the farm’s mission.
“I started out as a volunteer not really knowing anything about children with disabilities or horses,” says Andrew Skinner, executive communications director. “I’d originally started coming out to the farm with a friend. At the time, I wasn’t doing much with my life. I remember painting a fence, and looking around seeing all the kids riding horses and smiling, and looking back at that now, I realize it was what I needed in my life at the time and that it was a little pat from God.”
Skinner quickly became part of the Storybook Farm staff, and hopes to instill an attitude of service with current and future volunteers.
“Our goal is to give these kids a chance to just be a kid,” said Skinner.
Families are referred to the farm by counselors, pediatricians and therapists, and most commonly, by word of mouth from other families.
Gardens as therapy
A newer addition to Storybook Farm is the Secret Garden. Located in the middle of the farm, the garden provides a wealth of activities to help farm goers improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills and socialization.
The horticultural programming the Secret Garden provides allows those with physical limitations an opportunity to strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance and endurance. The garden also teaches children about nutrition, caring for plants and the importance of a healthy diet.
Partnerships with Auburn University and Mobile Studio, a company that specializes in creating outdoor spaces, allowed the garden to be created with maximum accessibility in mind.
The bounty harvested from the garden is given back to the community and shared with food insecure families.
The services provided at Storybook Farm, which is served by Tallapoosa River Electric Cooperative, are free to families, thanks to funding through corporate sponsors, grants and fundraisers.
“Our biggest fundraiser is our Kentucky Derby Dinner and Auction,” Little says. “It’s grown from less than 100 people to hopefully over 500 people this year. People come dressed in their Kentucky Derby best, eat and enjoy a really fun event.”