By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Twice a year, Mayor Ronnie gets together with a group of judges, community leaders, professionals from various child welfare agencies, along with some lawyers from several states for the purpose of taking a look at some of the changes needed in the system, policies that need to be tweaked and refined, as well as those already made that have measurably improved the lives of at-risk children. In the state of Alabama, there are more than 5,000 children in the foster care system, and this group is looking out for them. Most of you know that the mayor spent decades as an advocate for kids when he worked for DHR, and that is part of the reason he has been so determined to make sure that things like the Mayor’s Youth Commission are more than just a chance to skip school without getting in trouble with the truancy officer. He is passionate about preparing youth for the best possible lives and ongoing success, and perhaps less altruistically, wants to make sure he hands Athens off in better shape than when he started! He called me from the conference, energized as usual, and ready to talk about what is going on in Athens during this, our 200th Christmas.
First Baptist Church had given their Christmas concert over the weekend, and their concluding performance of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from the Messiah was as excellent and stirring as any we have heard. The Youth Commission had a chance to try their hand at creating holiday art at High Cotton Arts. Diane Lehr led the session, which is spoken about in more detail in Holly Hollman’s Special Feature on page 5.
The mayor proceeded to tell me about some “gifts” that have come our city’s way. The first is that there are several entities interested in “redeeming” the “silent blight” which was also known as Pilgrim’s Pride. The deconstruction project has been going well, even though right now it is not all that pleasant to observe while driving by on Pryor Street. However, when it is finished, and the site is re-purposed as an area perhaps reminiscent of Providence in Huntsville, it will be worth it.
Another gift is that there are economic development programs for places like North town which look promising. “Normally when a federal program comes across my desk, I run the other way,” said Mayor Ronnie. “But,” he added, “in this new economy, there are some possibilities that may just work. We are looking into them.” One more gift is that, because of the season of miraculous economic recovery in which we find ourselves and without having to do one thing, 350-thousand dollars has been knocked off our debt load. Talk about getting a Christmas wish!
Mayor Ronnie then turned to the topic of “The Crockpot Christmas.” The allegory had been brought up in a sermon the day before, and contrasted to the idea of “The Microwave Christmas.” As the mayor is one who, like the late George H.W. Bush, has only one speed — “High” — he said he was particularly struck by the idea of letting Christmas come together slowly, with patience, simmering until it is just right, and served up with love. That is a far cry from trying to “nuke Noel” by “microwaving” it. “We can get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season that we forget the reason,” he said. “You can try to force it, to hurry it, and have it blow up all over the inside of the microwave oven,” and he gave me what I have come to describe over the years as his “Knowing Look.” I smiled in response, and then we prayed. Then it was time for Ronnie to roll, but not before he wished all of you a most Merry Christmas!
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner