Vestavia Voice May 2023

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See GRADUATES | page A18

Photo by Erin Nelson.

On May 9, voters in Vestavia Hills will head to the polls in a special election to determine whether to approve a 9.8-mill ad valorem property tax increase that would fund what the city’s Board of Education and Superintendent Todd Freeman say are needed improvements to the school system.

The election will cost the city of Vestavia Hills about $75,000, which will be reimbursed by the Board of Education. The city will use Jefferson County voting equipment.


City Clerk Rebecca Leavings said residents should receive a neon-colored voting

card in the mail before the election informing them of their voting place. A precinct map, along with an application for an absentee ballot and a sample ballot, can be found at municipal-elections. Those who previously voted at Town Village, Vestavia Hills Elementary Central, Vestavia Hills City Hall and the Vestavia Hills Library in the Forest will all now vote at the Vestavia Hills Civic Center adjacent to City Hall.

The precincts are as follows:

1. Shades Mountain Baptist Church

2. Vestavia Hills Methodist Church

3. Mountaintop Community Church

4. Vestavia Hills Civic Center

5. Cahaba Heights Baptist Church

6. The Church at Liberty Park

The deadline to apply to file an absentee ballot is Thursday, May 4. A copy of a government-issued photo ID must be included with the application, which should be mailed to “Rebecca Leavings, Absentee Manager, City of Vestavia Hills, 1032 Montgomery Highway, Vestavia Hills, Alabama 35216.” Absentee ballots must be turned into the city by noon on May 9, Leavings said. Those needing to register to vote or update their registration should visit sos. to download or submit a state mail-in voter registration form.

1Rebel 1Future: Vestavia Hills heads to the polls in special election If the 1Rebel 1Future plan is approved, Vestavia Hills Elementary West will receive new spaces for multipurpose use and for STEM classrooms, among other upgrades. Photo by Erin Nelson.

had Tomorrow’s leaders Vestavia Hills High School seniors prepare for graduation See ELECTION | page A19

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Help us prioritize meaningful learning experiences while elevating the value of our schools, businesses and community. Learn more about how you can protect our legacy at

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By enhancing existing spaces and investing in new opportunities

Editor’s Note By Neal Embry

Ten years ago this month, the Vestavia Voice made its first appearance in city homes and businesses.

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On the front page was a story about “reshaping U.S. 31,” following a plan for redevelopment by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham. Stories about former Vestavia Hills High School baseball player Georgie Salem and options for summer swimming were teased on the front page.

In the past 10 years, the newspaper has covered economic redevelopment, city and regional elections, major changes in the school system and more. We’ve featured those who have made a difference in the city, remembered those who have gone on before us and, hopefully, helped strengthen the Vestavia Hills community.

It’s been an honor to be a part of

the history of both this paper and the city for almost five years. Here’s to many more years of the Vestavia Voice serving our readers and improving our community.

This month, we get you ready to vote on May 9 in the special election. The vote will determine whether or not the city’s ad valorem property tax increases by 9.8 mills to fund what school system leaders have said are needed improvements to the system's course offerings, facilities and more.

We also celebrate the 40th anniversary of Cahaba Cycles, which started here in Cahaba Heights. Sports Editor Kyle Parmley also features girls’ basketball player Anna Towry, following her outstanding career for the Rebels.

As always, thank you for reading!


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Community Editors:

Sports Editor: Design Editor: Photo Editor: Page Designer: Production Assistant:

Contributing Writers:

Graphic Designer: Client Success Specialist: Business Development Exec: Business Development Rep:

Operations Specialist:

Dan Starnes

Neal Embry

Leah Ingram


Jon Anderson

Kyle Parmley

Melanie Viering

Erin Nelson

Ted Perry

Simeon Delante

Sean Dietrich

Kari Kampakis

Emily VanderMey

Warren Caldwell

Don Harris Madison Gaines

Sarah Villar

For advertising contact:

Contact Information: Vestavia Voice P.O. Box 530341 Birmingham, AL 35253 (205) 313-1780

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Want to join this list or get Vestavia Voice mailed to your home? Contact Dan Starnes at dan@

A4 • May 2023 Vestavia Voice
Vestavia Hills’ Miah Simmons (11) is greeted at home plate by her teammates after hitting a homer in an area game against Hoover at Jim Brown Field on April 12. Photo by Erin Nelson.
\ Legals: Vestavia Voice is published monthly. Reproduction or use of editorial or graphic content without prior permission is prohibited. Vestavia Voice is designed to inform the Vestavia community of area school, family and community events. Information in Vestavia Voice is gathered from sources considered reliable but the accuracy


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City seeks to revitalize arts council

In an effort to improve the arts in Vestavia Hills, city leaders are bringing back the Vestavia Hills Arts Council.

Faith Lenhart sits on the executive committee, which began meeting in February. The work of the committee is to promote and celebrate all that is happening in the arts, including in Vestavia Hills City Schools. Lenhart is the system’s arts education coordinator.

Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry asked Lenhart to head up the committee, and she worked to identify 15 or so “key players” to help her in getting the council off the ground. So far, there are nine members of the committee: Lenhart, Curry, Andi Preston, Cinnamon McCulley, Sherri Arias, Judith Hand, Bob Barker, Sandi Wilson and Walt Costilow.

The council will create opportunities to highlight the four disciplines of art taught in the school system: music, theater, visual arts and dance.

That means highlighting existing events like the Battle of the Bands, put on by Barker in the Rocky Ridge area each year, Lenhart said. It also means creating new events, like “Artstober” in October, which will be a months-long celebration of the arts, Lenhart said. That might include an arts gallery at City Hall and possibly hosting events in city parks as well.

Cities around Vestavia Hills have active arts councils or similar groups, Lenhart said, and Vestavia does not want to be left behind, especially given the new spaces the city has, like the new Civic Center and remodeled Wald Park.

“This is the right time to do this,” Lenhart said.

She said there are plans to add these events to the city’s calendar at, in order to keep residents more informed about upcoming events.

Curry said the city has always had an interest in the arts, usually revolving around the city’s Dogwood Festival, the longest running of its kind in the state. Back before the trees were wiped out by blight, residents could travel the Dogwood Trail, seeing the dogwoods in all their glory, he said.

The arts need to be a focal point of the city, not only in the spring, but year-round, Curry said. He said he’d like to see more of a collaboration between the city and the school system, such as when high school groups perform at veterans events and more. The city is currently looking to add more theater opportunities at the high school, which could be even further elevated if the 1Rebel 1Future proposal passes this month. The proposal includes, among other things, a new theater space.

To get involved in the arts council, email Lenhart at lenhartfc@

A6 • May 2023 Vestavia Voice
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Work ongoing to bring regional trail system to Jefferson County

With 127 miles of the Red Rock Trail System currently on the ground and hundreds more to come, there are plans for every Jefferson County resident to have somewhere to walk or bike, said Carolyn Buck, director of the trail system.

Toward that end, Freshwater Land Trust, which manages the Red Rock Trail System, recently unveiled a plan to build a 36-mile connected loop of trails in the greater Birmingham area over the next 15 years. That loop will be part of the entire system, which will eventually include 750 miles of various types of connected trails throughout Jefferson County.

The plan for the $40 million Red Rock Trail System is to bring a trail within one mile of every home in the county, Buck said. The system will allow people to have access to “all types of outdoor recreation,” including walking, hiking and more, Buck said.

The system includes six major corridors, each with different types of trails. Eventually, a seventh corridor along the Northern Beltline will be built. Main trails primarily follow Birmingham-area waterways, and each corridor has a signature trail, Buck said.


The 36-mile Greater Birmingham loop is a “game changer,” Buck said.

“It’s an ambitious plan,” she said.

The loop will connect Red Mountain to Ruffner Mountain, with other trails throughout the area connected as well, Buck said. The loop is projected to include the municipalities of Birmingham, Homewood, Irondale and Fairfield. The Shades Creek Greenway is the southernmost portion of that trail, Buck said.


One new addition to the Red Rock Trail System is the Hugh Kaul trail, formerly known as the Continental Gin Connector, which connects the downtown Rotary Trail to Avondale and then connects Avondale to the historic

Continental Gin Complex, home to Cahaba Brewing. The trail is part of the organization’s plan to connect downtown Birmingham to Ruffner Mountain.

Another new addition is part of Five Mile Creek Greenway in north Jefferson County, with 5.5 miles on the ground already and plans to build two more miles in the next four years, according to Freshwater Land Trust’s four-year strategic plan, released in early March.

The city of Homewood has trails that connect with the system, including the Shades Creek Greenway. City workers recently broke ground on phase two of that project, adding 1.4 miles, with a total of 3 miles added to the system, Buck said.

The city of Mountain Brook joins the system through the Jemison Trail, which connects to the greenway.

In Vestavia Hills, existing system trails include the Boulder Canyon Loop Trail behind the Vestavia Hills Library in the Forest and

McCallum Park trails. Other trails in the city that could be connected include Little Shades Creek Greenway and the Patchwork Farms Greenway, Buck said.


The mission of the Freshwater Land Trust is to make people more aware of the natural resources in the community, Buck said.

Having a connected trail system brings many benefits, Buck said. It allows people to be more connected, with kids learning to ride a bike and people of all ages walking next to each other, she said. It also brings “amazing” economic benefits, with $11 million set to come to the county as a result of the different opportunities it presents, Buck said.

The trail also has led to higher property values, Buck said. Having trails helps improve the quality of life for residents, said Homewood City Councilor Jennifer Andress. Andress said she is working on making sure

the Shades Creek Greenway has regular maintenance, bags for dog waste, trash cans and bathrooms.


In the future, the city of Birmingham is applying for a large Department of Transportation grant to fund the connection of Legion Field to downtown 20th Street. Congresswoman Terri Sewell gave money to help pay for converting 4.5 miles of old rail lines to trails adjacent to Valley Creek, helping connect Red Mountain to the CrossPlex in Ensley. That trail benefits residents of Birmingham, Midfield, Fairfield, Brighton and Lipscomb.

In the next four years, Freshwater Land Trust plans to complete 150 more miles of the Red Rock Trail System, add 50 trailhead signs and 500 trail blazes to the existing system, increase the number of new system users and funding partners, open four new public access properties and expand its community partnerships. May 2023 • A7
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People walk and run along the path on the Shades Creek Greenway trail in Homewood. Photo by Erin Nelson.

A tax incentive plan to help a local developer bring Waldo’s Chicken and Beer, Big Bad Breakfast and other future tenants to the south end of U.S. 31 was approved by the Vestavia Hills City Council on April 10.

The project, which sits on about two acres, is being led by Ward Neely and John Michael Bodnar of Vestavia 31 RE. The plan is to bring a multi-tenant shopping center to the site of the former Motor Lodge, 1467 Montgomery Highway.

The two restaurants will be added to the site,

with the permitting process taking about six weeks from the April 10 meeting, Neely said. More tenants will be added to the site, said Assistant City Manager Cinnamon McCulley.

Neely asked the city to help with a feasibility gap, due to the need to raise the site’s elevation to make it less susceptible to flooding and stormwater damage. The cost to alleviate those issues is north of $1 million. The total cost of the project is estimated to be about $6.3 million, according to documents submitted by the developers. City Manager Jeff Downes said it is “critical” to have that site active, as it has not seen regular activity in many years.

The city will give a 50% annual rebate on city sales taxes collected from the site, not including those marked for Vestavia Hills City Schools, up to $1.5 million or for 18 years, whichever comes first. The development is anticipated to generate about $100,000 per year in sales taxes.

The council also accepted a bid for the final sidewalk component of the Community Spaces Plan. Sidewalks will connect Rocky Ridge Road to the existing sidewalks on Morgan Drive and will eventually connect to Dolly Ridge Road. The low bid was submitted by Avery Landscaping in the amount of roughly $418,000. With contingency added in, the total budgeted amount

for the project is $460,000.

Downes said work on Crosshaven Drive is essentially complete, with only final striping to be done. Work also continues on the final phase of Wald Park renovations, which includes the addition of six tennis courts, six pickleball courts, more than 100 parking spaces, a dog park and a walking trail. That work is expected to finish by the middle of this summer, Downes said.

In other news, the council also approved the 2021-22 audit for the city, along with newly revised contracts for those who rent facilities at the Civic Center and wish to provide alcohol.

A8 • May 2023 Vestavia Voice
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Incentives granted
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Council authorizes new small-cell structures

The Vestavia Hills City Council on March 27 voted to authorize new small-cell support towers at multiple locations.

The locations for the towers are: 2285 Sterling Ridge Circle, 1601 Gentilly Drive, 2500 Chatwood Road and 181 Castlehill Drive. The towers provide cell phone coverage within a small range.

Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry said the city does not have the right, by federal law, to stop small-cell towers from being placed in the public right of way.

Dustin Shaw, who owns 1601 Gentilly Drive, asked how necessary the towers were, considering there would now be four within a quarter-mile radius. Objecting to the tower’s placement at the corner of his property, he said he felt Crown Castle, who is installing the towers, did not consider his property.

“This is an atrocity and I do not feel any consideration was given to the beautification of my property,” Shaw said.

Shaw told the council they would be making similar arguments if a tower was being placed in their front yards.

Acquanetta Love with Crown Castle said the tower locations are placed to create a network and must be placed closely together in order to communicate. She told a resident on Castlehill Drive concerned about the health impacts that the towers emit less radio waves than the maximum allowed under federal regulations.

The tower on Sterling Ridge Circle has been moved from a landscaped area near the front of the subdivision to an unlandscaped area further away from the entrance.

Crown Castle and Shaw agreed at the meeting to continue their conversation in good faith to come up with a solution that works for both parties.

In other business, the council:

► Honored Ruby Denson for her decades of

service to the city as a volunteer

► De-annexed a sliver of land in Liberty Park to clean up a prospective office space

► Annexed 2608 Rillwood Road from Jefferson County and rezoned it for compatible estate zoning in the city

► Annexed and rezoned 2594 Acton Road from Jefferson County agricultural to Vestavia Hills medium-density residential

► Annexed and rezoned 2401 Rocky Ridge Road from Jefferson County low-density residential to Vestavia Hills low-density residential

► Annexed 2565 Rocky Ridge Road, which is Grace Covenant Baptist Church, and rezoned it for compatible institutional zoning in the city

► Annexed and rezoned 1420 Branchwater Circle from Jefferson County estate to Vestavia Hills low-density residential

► Entered into an agreement with Ebix for management of claims and risk data

► Approved an agreement with International Fire for fire safety inspections for City Hall, the Vestavia Hills Police Department and the Vestavia Hills Civic Center

A small cell node sits atop a power pole on Woodhill Road. The Vestavia Hills City Council voted to authorize new smallcell support towers at 2285 Sterling Ridge Circle, 1601 Gentilly Drive, 2500 Chatwood Road and 181 Castlehill Drive. Staff photo.

► Named Curry the voting delegate for the Alabama League of Municipalities Convention

► Approved a liquor license for Biscuit Love

► Approved a liquor license for Cafe Iz to serve alcohol at the Civic Center if they are chosen as the event’s caterer

► Authorized the police department to place Flock cameras on private property, approving an agreement with property owners

► Encouraged Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to expedite the Northern Beltline project May 2023 • A9

City Hall project to honor impactful volunteers

A project by the city of Vestavia Hills will honor those who have helped move the city forward, Assistant City Manager Cinnamon McCulley said.

The initial plan is to have displays built outside the office of the mayor and both McCulley and City Manager Jeff Downes, McCulley said. The city is working with Method One to develop the displays, with pieces fitting onto the walls and serving as a rotating exhibit.

The cost is unknown and the final design drawings are not finished at this point. The City Council first discussed the issue at its strategic planning session in February.

“We have some residents who have been very influential and dedicated a lot of their time and their efforts as volunteers to the city,” McCulley said. “We feel like maybe just saying thank you might not be quite enough. We’ve had some people who’ve really worked a long time.”

The names of the honorees either haven’t been chosen or are being kept secret so it can be a surprise, McCulley said. The project is similar to the Vestavia Hills Sports Hall of Fame, which is displayed at the Civic Center.

There will be one large display, along with another wall that can rotate and display two or three honorees at the same time, McCulley said.

She said she believes the issue will come before the City Council sometime this year, though the memorial is not in the fiscal 2023 budget.

Mayor’s Minute By Ashley Curry

The 32nd annual Dogwood Prayer Breakfast was held on April 18. Lindy Cleveland, the director of Unless U, described the services that they provide to adults with developmental disabilities. What a blessing it is that Unless U can provide these students with continuing education and life skills in an environment that promotes independence. We are proud to have them in Vestavia Hills.

April 16-22 was “National Volunteer Recognition Week.” This event is nationally celebrated by cities everywhere. One of the first things that I learned upon becoming mayor was the significant contribution that volunteers make for our city.

The city has many boards that utilize volunteers to conduct city business, such as Planning and Zoning, the Board of Zoning Adjustment, the Library Board and the Parks and Recreation Board, just to name a few. There is the Board of Education and the numerous PTO volunteers. The Beautification Board, the Sibyl Temple Foundation and the Garden Clubs are all volunteers. There are the civic clubs that volunteer their time and energies for city events. Needless to say, the city could not do all of these functions without our volunteers.

On April 30, the Vestavia Hills Beautification Board held its annual “Presentation of the Vestavia Belles.” This event recognizes the graduating Belles who through their service have been an active and integral part of the volunteer community in Vestavia Hills.

Thank you to all who are serving and to those who have previously served in all of these volunteer efforts.

May is an inspirational month because that is when we celebrate Memorial Day and pay tribute to all the military veterans that died serving our nation. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that over one million veterans died in combat from the time our nation was founded until today. Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day, wherein we celebrate all veterans, living and deceased, and thank them for their service to our nation. We should never forget the ultimate sacrifice that our service men and women have made preserving our way of life.

Finally, join me in paying tribute to our peace officers.

In 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day, and the calendar week in which May 15 falls is designated as National Police Week. During this week, we pay tribute to those law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty for the safety and protection of others.

We are truly blessed to live in one of the safest cities in the United States, as well as in Alabama. For the fourth year in a row, our city has been designated as the safest city in Alabama for cities with populations over 30,000 citizens. Please take time this month to remember our police officers, both locally and throughout our nation.

Don’t forget that Mother’s Day is May 14. I remember the 1970s commercial that legendary Coach Bear Bryant did for Southern Bell telephone company. He said, "One of the first things we tell our players is to keep in touch with their families. And when our freshmen first arrive, we ask them to write a postcard home, right then. You know, we keep them pretty busy, but they always have time to pick up the phone and call. And it’s really important to keep in touch.”

He closed the commercial by saying, "Have you called your mama today? I sure wish I could call mine." How many of you join me in saying I wish I could call my mother today?

Last, but not least, May is when we celebrate the graduation of our Vestavia Hills High School senior class. This year’s class features 21 National Merit Semifinalists, of which 20 are National Merit Finalists, which is the highest number in the state. The $44 million in scholarship offers is a school record. I always look forward to the opportunity to address the graduating seniors and challenge them to pursue their dreams while remembering to serve others along the way. This year’s graduation ceremony will be held on May 23.


A10 • May 2023 Vestavia Voice
The future memorial to those who have advanced the city of Vestavia Hills will be on the second floor of City Hall. Photo by Neal Embry.
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Business Business Happenings


Long-time Vestavia Hills resident Taylor Creamer is making her business debut in the comfort of her own home. Rogue Collective Boutique is an online boutique and one-stop shop for all things clothing, home decor, gifts and more. While shipping is available for all customers, local Birmingham customers can order for pick up. A graduate of Vestavia Hills High School, Creamer spends her time as an emergency room nurse. While she enjoys the work she does in the emergency department, she loves the flair of all things fashion and home decor.

Business news to share? If you have news to share with the community about a brick-and-mortar business in Vestavia Hills, let us know at

operate solely under the Precision HomeCrafters brand with a commitment to retain all current employees. 205-733-9583,


Warren Averett CPAs and Advisors was named on three of Accounting Today’s lists for 2023. The firm has been named a Top 100 Firm, a Top Tax Firm and a Regional Leader. These lists are ranked based on 2022 revenue and other information that firms provide, and showcase accounting firms that have shown growth and innovation. To determine these rankings, Accounting Today surveyed approximately 300 tax and accounting firms from all over the country. The results provided meaningful insights into the landscape of the accounting profession. Warren Averett was ranked No. 42 on the Top 100 Firms list. The list reported the strongest growth (based on combined revenues of the 100 firms) in almost 25 years, and overall employee numbers grew despite the ongoing war for talent. The firm placed at No. 3 as a Regional Leader in the Gulf Coast, which covers the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. Lastly, the firm received the Top Tax Firm designation, distinguishing Warren Averett from other accounting and advisory firms within their local footprints. 205-979-4100,

The Standard is now open at the Vestavia Hills City Center. The restaurant offers hot dogs, sandwiches and more. The restaurant also has a location at The Pizitz downtown.

KidStrong recently opened in Vestavia Hills. KidStrong is a milestone accelerator for kids walking through 11 years old. “We help parents discover their child’s superpowers and build future-ready kids who are confident making friends, run the playground, and raise their hand high in the classroom,” the business said on their website. The business uses the latest research to help kids develop resilience, independence and self-worth.



The Alabama Press Association has relocated from 600 Vestavia Parkway, Suite 291, in Vestavia Hills to 2180 Parkway Lake Drive in Hoover’s Riverchase community. 205-871-7737,

Dr. Joey Jones of Rocky Ridge Chiropractic, 2531 Rocky Ridge Road #112, is moving his practice to merge with Legacy Chiropractic at 2100 Data Park Circle, Suite 100, in Hoover. Dr. Jones’s last day at Rocky Ridge will be April 28, and his first day at Legacy Chiropractic will be May 1. He is joining Dr. Steve Johnson and Dr. Terri Jones. Dr. Chase Horton, who also was at Rocky Ridge Chiropractic, has gotten out of chiropractic work and is now running a new podcast company and doing real estate. 205-985-9888,


Alabama’s two most-awarded design and build remodeling firms have merged. The agreement unites Precision HomeCrafters of Birmingham with Vestavia Hills’ Highland Design + Build. The newly merged company will

America’s First Federal Credit Union, with a location at 1112 Montgomery Highway in Vestavia Hills, was selected as a 2023 Credit Union National Association Diamond Award winner for its 2022 annual report video. Each year, the credit union produces a video featuring company highlights. The 2022 video highlighted accomplishments such as 19,270 new members added, 13,971 new checking accounts, $560 million in new loans and a 2021 Summer of Freedom campaign, which received more than 1 million impressions and generated 2,248 new memberships. Additionally, America’s First raised its financial management assets by $9 million to a total of almost $107 million, brought in 87 new benefit partners through financial education offerings and completed 207 new enrollments in 2021. The video also addressed the credit union’s efforts during the global COVID-19 pandemic, providing 193 additional PPP loans to businesses in need and loaning $14.5 million to build local businesses throughout the community. 205-582-5295,


The University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System, which includes the UAB Callahan Eye Hospital

Clinic at 2801 Old 280 Court, has filled two senior positions in its leadership team. Brenda Carlisle was named CEO of UAB Hospital, and Susan Jennings has been named the chief financial officer for the Health System. Both had been serving in their respective roles in an interim capacity. Before assuming the position as interim CEO in November 2022, Carlisle had been vice president of clinical operations for UAB Hospital since 2017. Prior to joining UAB, Carlisle was chief operating officer, vice president of patient care services and vice president of operations at Brookwood Medical Center. She has more than 30 years of experience in nursing management and health care operations in medical facilities throughout Alabama and Florida. Jennings has more than 35 years of experience within the healthcare industry serving in a variety of roles focused on organizational financial health and strategic financial decision-making. Her responsibilities include financial reporting and budgeting for the Health System and UAB Hospital, as well as overseeing any debt/financing initiatives across the enterprise. She joined UAB in 2006. Prior to being named interim CFO of the Health System, she had been CFO of UAB Hospital since November 2018. Before that, she spent 21 years with Ascension Health in Birmingham, serving in several financial roles that culminated as vice president of Seton Health Corp. 205-325-8620,

Birmingham Region President Brian Ethridge is pleased to announce that long-time area banker Michael Hull has joined River Bank & Trust. As Senior Vice President & Relationship Manager, Hull will build relationships with consumer and commercial clients throughout the region, helping them reach their financial goals. Hull graduated from Auburn University, earning a bachelor of science in logistics. Post college, he graduated from Alabama Banking School. Hull serves on the Community Advisory Committee for Vestavia Hills Elementary Liberty Park, is a member of the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce and is recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International. He and his wife, Lindsey, have two daughters, Reese and Kate. The family attends St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, where Hull has served on the stewardship committee for five years and is a member of its Cursillo community. 205-588-0500,

A12 • May 2023 Vestavia Voice
A message from Gaynell Hendricks, Jefferson County Tax Assessor CALL 205-325-5505 VISIT Four Offices: Hoover | Gardendale Center Point | Downtown Birmingham Open Mon.-Fri. 8-5 Attention Jefferson County Homeowners Ask about the special senior tax exemption Scan with your smartphone camera to access the portal or visit Homeowners 65+ are eligible for exemptions on property taxes.
Carlisle Jennings

Higher Ground Roasters continues serving Birmingham community after 2 decades

For more than 20 years, Higher Ground Roasters has been serving high-quality coffee, owner Blake Hamachek said.

The group moved to Vestavia Hills about seven years ago, Hamachek said, following time spent in Leeds under the original owners.

Hamachek said the goal is to provide the highest quality coffee possible to its customers. Higher Ground’s coffee is all fair trade, meaning the farmers who sell the beans to the company are paid fairly. It’s also organic, meaning no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used in the making of the coffee.

The coffee is shade grown, taking its time to ripen. The result is a better-tasting coffee, Hamachek said.

“We are on a different level as far as quality,” he said.

Hamachek always had an interest in coffee and moved Higher Ground to Cahaba Heights, where he lives, in 2016, when he became owner. While there weren’t many roasters in the area when they first moved over, he said

he has seen the business explode, with a larger number of people who roast and make coffee.

Coffee flavor profiles and more are available on the roaster’s website, higherground

Higher Ground’s coffee is available on their website and at local grocery stores, Hamachek said. May 2023 • A13
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Michael Whitten releases freshly roasted arabica Grade 1 coffee beans in a roaster to cool at Higher Ground Roasters in Vestavia Hills. Photo by Erin Nelson.

Still spinning

Cahaba Cycles celebrates 40 years

Forty years ago, Faris Malki’s father, Kal, went to a bike shop to purchase a bike for Faris’s sister.

That day, Kal made an agreement with a salesperson, Norman Lowrey, to open up what became Cahaba Cycles, with its first location in the Cahaba Heights neighborhood of Vestavia Hills. The store opened in an old Western Supermarket, run by Lowrey and the Malkis.

The store moved to its current location on Cahaba Heights Road near Satterfield’s in 2008, said Faris Malki, who now runs the shop.

In the last 40 years, the store has expanded to include locations in Cahaba Heights, Gadsden, Oak Mountain, Trussville and Homewood.

Malki grew up working at the store over the summer before taking a job in the IT world. He can still remember the “super sale” the store would have in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There would be a line out the door and around the block. While it was “really hectic,” it was worth it. The store would make as much money that weekend as they normally would in two or three months, he said.

Around 2002, Malki moved back and began helping his parents run the business. He knew he wanted to eventually own a business of his own. After a few years of helping them, he bought the business in 2016.

The bike shop offers a level of service and hospitality not seen in much of the retail world, Malki said. They don’t just sell bicycles, but also service the bikes and offer one-on-one consulting. There are a “lot of hands” on customer service, he said. Employees are able to help customers find a good place to ride and outfit them with what they need.

Malki wears a lot of hats, he said, in the running of Cahaba Cycles. He oversees the company’s technology, finances and more, but he isn’t alone.

“I have a really good team at every store,” he said.

Each store has its own story, Malki said.

In Homewood, Cahaba Cycles bought what was previously Homewood Cycle and Fitness. The store enjoys a noticeable spot on the busy 18th Street and also puts on the Tour de Cahaba every July. The race is a multi-distance bike ride that begins at the Homewood store and visits each Cahaba location. Distances include a 64-mile, 45-mile, 35-mile, 20-mile, 10-mile

Cahaba Cycles

► WHERE: 3179 Cahaba Heights Road

► HOURS: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


► CALL: 205-967-2003

► WEB:

and a family fun ride. Each year, the event draws about 800 participants, who also participate in an after-party and cook out, Malki said.

The internet has changed every business, including Cahaba Cycles, since it came into existence around 40 years ago, Malki said. The store has experienced all of the changes that have come with it, moving from physical catalogs to online shopping pages.

“The internet has presented a lot of challenges, but it’s provided us a lot of opportunity as well,” Malki said.

The bikes offered by Cahaba Cycles have also changed over the years, Malki said. When the store first started, there were two or three kids’ models and 10-speed bikes. Now, there’s roughly 30 different categories of bikes sold by the business, he said, from road bikes to fitness bikes and more.

“It’s just a lot more to manage now,” he said.

The biggest growth area in the bicycle world is for electric bikes, or e-bikes, which includes a lithium battery and small motor to allow cyclists to get up hills quicker, Malki said. It can double or triple power and takes away barriers to cycling, he said.

Being at Cahaba Cycles throughout the years has been a joy, he said. Coaching other team members and leaning on them lends itself to great camaraderie, he said.

“I just love the team environment that we have,” Malki said.

During the pandemic, the store was one of few that may have benefited. With many seeking new activities outside, the bike business was booming, Malki said.

“The volume we encountered was just off the charts,” he said.

In the future, Malki said the store is “doubling down” its focus on customers, growing its e-commerce business and pushing to be the premier e-bike provider in the state of Alabama.

Forty years later, biking is an easy sell for Malki.

“It’s such a worthwhile product,” Malki said. “It’s good for your health, good for the environment.”

A14 • May 2023 Vestavia Voice
Top: The Cahaba Cycles location in Cahaba Heights. The company is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Above: Chris Smith, a service advisor, works on a bike for a customer. Below: Ron McCurdy talks with Joe Dice about a new mountain bike. Photos by Erin Nelson.

Looking for compassionate, personalized care for women’s health?

As a woman, you have unique care needs that change over time. You know yourself best and know when something is different with your body. That’s why every visit with a doctor at Ascension St. Vincent’s starts with a compassionate conversation. Listening to your concerns helps your doctor get to know and understand you, to deliver the care that’s right for you.

Our doctors provide:

• Annual well-woman visits

• Screenings, including mammograms, Pap tests, colonoscopies and low-dose CT lung scans

• Heart care, including screenings, diagnostics and monitoring

• OB care, including OB emergency care, lactation consultants, maternal-fetal medicine, and NICUs where mom can be close to her baby while they both receive advanced care

Getting the care you need should be easy. And at Ascension St. Vincent’s, you can make an appointment that fits your schedule. We have flexible hours, same-day and next-day care and virtual visits when you need them.

Schedule May 2023 • A15
© Ascension 2023. All rights reserved.
Our facilities are currently taking precautions to help keep patients and visitors safe, which may include conducting screenings, restricting visitors, masking in areas of high community transmission and practicing distancing for compassionate, safe care. We continuously monitor COVID-19 guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and adjust our safety practices and safeguards accordingly.

If you ever find yourself wishing you had an extra set of hands to help with the day-to-day tasks of life, a new business recently launched to do just that.

After spending 20 years working as a personal advisor and corporate business consultant to global C-suite executives, Edgewood resident Sarah Robinson learned that the most important thing is having the freedom to focus on who and what matters most.

“I've witnessed firsthand the deep desire of busy professionals and community leaders to be fully present with their families while remaining highly dedicated to their work,” Robinson said. “I feel like all of the business experience and life experience of things I’ve gotten to do have fed into being able to see how this business can really succeed as a service to other people.”

She recently launched HUM Executive Concierge and Lifestyle Management Agency to make that freedom available to more people. Her goal is to handle details and allow her clients to bring balance and ease to their work, home and life.

“People are struggling and are so overwhelmed trying to manage way too many things,” she said. “Their quality of life and well-being is suffering from what they do in the world.”

Robinson grew up in Evergreen and moved to the Mountain Brook area when she was 15. She is a graduate of Altamont and member of Mountain Brook Baptist Church and lived in a handful of cities before coming back to the area to raise her children.

After discussing the concierge concept with a friend, Robinson researched similar businesses in other cities and came to realize there wasn’t anything like it in the Birmingham area.

“Few people are doing parts of it, but this whole all encompassing one-stop place to get all the kinds of support you need, I could not find,” she said. “Being an entrepreneur at heart, when I see a great business married with great business opportunity with something I think is super fun. … I understand what it takes to make all those pieces come together.”

The more Robinson talked to people about the concept, she saw their excitement and her own growing.

“I love giving people that freedom and bringing back that balance to work and home and just life in general, and helping people bring back the enjoyment of their day-to-day life,” she said.

After Robinson began to look at the concept in January, HUM Concierge was up and running in March. Robinson said their services are for anyone, from a busy executive with kids who finds it hard to work, manage the house and run errands, to an active community volunteer on a board or a busy mom trying to do all the things.

Robinson has a “bench” of people with different skill sets that she pulls from to help in specific situations, from a tech guru who can set up new computers and create a smart home, to another who is skilled in helping seniors with their needs. However, she still does a lot of the jobs herself in order to build the right systems and processes for her client base.

She offers a free consultation call with her clients to discuss their priorities and what they want their life to look like and what they can hand off to achieve those goals. She describes it as “a life coach with services.”

“We are creators of time for our clients,” she said.

Options include purchasing hourly packages of 5, 10 or 15, which can be used over a 90-day period. Membership packages are also available and bring a higher level of service and priority for last-minute things.

Robinson said her vision is for her company to be really high-touch — the opposite of a nameless, faceless app. She wants to build relationships with her clients and understand their preferences.

HUM Concierge is currently serving clients in Birmingham, Mountain Brook, Homewood and Vestavia Hills. When the demand comes in, Robinson said she will begin to expand to other areas.

“I’m just excited to see the difference we can make for people,” she said. “I want to see people being able to breathe and relax a little and be able to focus a little better, because they’ve handed off all the things that are taking up space in the back of their brain so they are able to really be present for who and what matters most.”

For more information on packages and services, visit

A16 • May 2023 Vestavia Voice
Concierge ‘creates time’ for busy clients
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Sarah Robinson, founder of HUM Executive Concierge Agency provides clients with executive concierge and lifestyle management in Birmingham, Mountain Brook, Homewood and Vestavia Hills. Photo by Erin Nelson.

Palmer talks energy, China at chamber luncheon

Increasing domestic energy production, combating the influence of China and improving his home district dominated a Washington update given by U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Hoover, on April 13.

Palmer, the Republican Congressman from Alabama’s Sixth District, spoke to a group of area chambers of commerce at Mountain Brook’s Grand Bohemian Hotel.

The ongoing war in Ukraine, Palmer said, did not create an energy crisis; rather, it exposed an existing one. It is a crisis he said has been made worse by decisions made by the Biden administration, such as canceling the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would have brought about 830,000 barrels of Canadian oil per day through the United States down to the Gulf Coast. Countries have learned both during supply chain crises and the war in Ukraine the dangers of relying on adversarial nations for critical imports, Palmer said.

He touted natural gas as a “key” to bringing down energy costs and reducing carbon emissions. He also advocated for next-generation nuclear energy as a way to both reduce the carbon footprint and help make America more energy independent. Next-generation nuclear, he said, would help convert spent fuel rods and produce more energy on less land than what wind turbines are capable of, with a longer life.

In House Resolution 1, Palmer authored two parts of the legislation that repealed what he called a $27 billion “slush fund” for green energy companies and protected the purchase of gas stoves.

“We have so neglected our hydrocarbon infrastructure,” Palmer said. “We need to take a more rational, regional approach to this.”

Instead of relying on other countries for energy, the U.S. should be a global leader in the field, the congressman said.

“The United States is literally an energy superpower,” he said. “We need to unleash it.”

Palmer said he is concerned about China’s growing influence in both Central and South America, as well as their buying of “golden shares” of corporations, thus ensuring them a spot on the company’s board and access to information.

There is also growing tension between China and Taiwan, and should a fight break out, Palmer warned the U.S. would follow

Japan. If Japan fights, he said, the U.S. would as well.

“China’s not our friend,” Palmer said. “Their objective is to be the dominant world power.”

The threat of China and a growing national debt is serious business, Palmer said. So while some may seek TV time or social media attention, Palmer said leaders and citizens don’t have time to fight, but instead need to come together.

“We don’t have the option to fight each other,” Palmer said. “We’ve got to come together. We’ve got to realize we share this

country together.”

In local matters, Palmer touted the forthcoming construction on the Northern Beltline. While Palmer opposed the infrastructure bill that funded the project, due to its north of $1 trillion price tag, he was pleased to see funding for the long-standing project be included.

On April 12, Governor Kay Ivey announced new construction this spring on the beltline that will include a fourth lane of the new road, to be called Interstate 422, that will extend for 10 miles and connect U.S. 31 in Gardendale to Alabama Highway 75 in Pinson.

The project will help finish the Appalachian Development Highway System, Palmer said. Palmer also wants to see Alabama compete for high-tech jobs and industries. With Huntsville booming and businesses coming to Birmingham, there is an opportunity to make the area stand out, he said.

“We have an opportunity in my opinion to create a technology corridor between Birmingham and Huntsville that will rival any other in the country if we get this [Northern Beltline] built,” Palmer said.

In response to a question from the audience about accusations the FBI had “infiltrated” the Roman Catholic Church, Palmer said he was “very concerned” about what he called the “weaponization and politicization” of law enforcement. FBI Director Christopher Wray in March condemned a since-withdrawn memo created at a regional office that highlighted the need for “mitigation” of so-called “extremists” within the church.

“We do not and will not target people for religious beliefs, and we do not and will not monitor people’s religious practices,” Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 8, according to a CBS News report. “That’s not acceptable.” May 2023 • A17 Chamber
PHONE: 205-668-2626 EMAIL: INFO@PARROTSTRUCTURAL.COM WEBSITE: WWW.PARROTSTRUCTURAL.COM Statewide Residential, Commercial, and Industrial Service
Helical Piers U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer speaks to a group of chambers of commerce at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook on April 13. Photo by Neal Embry.


CONTINUED from page A1

“When you’re a Slack icon or on Google Meet … it’s a meritocracy,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey is no stranger to the political arena. He has served as director of operations for Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott’s re-election campaign and also worked as director of youth engagement for Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s re-election campaign.

“I think campaigns are the great meritocracy of American politics,” Dempsey said. “Your work is what gets you places.”

Dempsey moved from eastern North Carolina to Vestavia in 2016, when his dad became a minister at Brookwood Baptist Church. Ready for a change of pace, Dempsey embraced the move, he said.

He seized opportunities in Vestavia to get involved at both the civic and philanthropic level, sensing a call to public service in seventh grade. He first worked on former Sen. Doug Jones’s campaign.

“I’m a seeker of information and knowledge,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey said he realized he was born for this work and for leading people, like his father.

“It’s in my blood,” he said.

Getting out the youth vote in multiple campaigns was an emphasis for Dempsey, he said.

“If a student votes in the first election in his or her lifetime, they are 50% more likely to vote in subsequent elections,” Dempsey said.

After helping Woodfin win re-election, Dempsey worked in community engagement during The World Games last year. That was followed by his helping Frank Scott, the mayor of Little Rock, win re-election. Dempsey briefed Scott on his public appearances and became interested in memorandums and briefings, he said.

“The key to all of this is showing up,” he said. “This is about showing up and getting work done.”

Outside of the political world, Dempsey has served as governor of the state of Alabama’s chapter of Key Club, which helps young people become engaged with volunteering. While there are opportunities in the political world for him now, he wants to be sure and give back to others as well, he said.

“These are the people I go to church with, see at the grocery store,” Dempsey said.

Following graduation, Dempsey will attend the University of Alabama and hopes to help keep talented young people in the state, in the realm of talent retention.

Whatever career Dempsey may find himself in, he is committed to his now-adopted state.

“I’m choosing to plant here in Alabama because this place adopted me,” he said.


A desk job was never in Macy Stoffregen’s future.

Her goal is to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist, she said.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping people,” Stoffregen said.

While at VHHS, Stoffregen has served on the RISE committee, been vice president

of Youth Leadership Vestavia Hills and was on the cheer team for six years. She plans to attend Auburn University to pursue her medical degree, she said.

Being in Youth Leadership has helped Stoffregen learn about responsibility and leading, she said.

“I’ve had to learn how to be in charge and be a leader,” Stoffregen said.

Stoffregen said she is a big reader and enjoys hanging out by the lakes and going on walks.

Reflecting on her time at the high school, Stoffregen said RISE Day is her favorite day, a culmination of the students’ work for the fundraiser and a time to see how much money they raised to combat cancer.

As she gets ready to graduate, Stoffregen said she is looking forward to meeting new people. She is also hoping to follow in her parents’ footsteps and become a cheerleader at Auburn.


Emma Nunnelley has spent the past year serving her fellow students as SGA president at VHHS, but she has been in leadership for several years.

Nunnelley first got involved in student government in eighth grade and has served in class leadership positions before moving into the executive branch of the SGA.

Nunnelley has also been on the swim team for three years and serves in Youth Leadership Vestavia Hills. She also writes for The Pillar, the school’s online newspaper.

In addition to her extracurricular

activities, she takes almost all honors and AP classes.

“My parents had always encouraged me to pursue challenges,” Nunnelley said.

Nunnelley said she realized she enjoyed public speaking and began talking with teachers about how to further serve her fellow students and community.

Leadership has “opened so many doors for me,” Nunnelley said.

“I really love serving others,” she said.

While Nunnelley pursued dance for a while, stepping away from swimming, she said she now wishes she hadn’t. Being on the team provides fun and good exercise, she said.

“You’re competing for yourself and your team,” Nunnelley said.

Being part of the RISE team each year, which raises money for the Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology Program at UAB’s O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, has allowed Nunnelley to see the entire school unite behind a worthy mission, she said.

“I’m really grateful for the community in Vestavia because I feel like we do a lot to give back,” she said. “That’s been really cool to see that sense of community really build.”

Nunnelley will attend the University of Virginia and will either minor or major in Spanish and hopefully get into the school of commerce, she said. She is hopeful to continue working in different cultures and in charity work, she said.


Early in her life, Malaika Dsa learned to code. So when she transferred into VHHS for her junior and senior years of high school, she

was determined to help other girls learn to code as well.

Dsa started a “Girls Who Code” group at the school and hopes to see it expand into the middle and elementary schools as well, she said. High school girls get a crash course in coding in the group, Dsa said.

Dsa, who also serves on Youth Leadership Vestavia Hills and has been part of competitive science fair clubs, has always been interested in STEM. She said she wants to see more women in the male-dominated field.

In the competitive science fair group, she and others guide students in finding out what kind of science project they want to pursue, assist them with research and help make it aesthetically pleasing. Dsa won at the state science fair in the earth and environmental science category.

Transferring into Vestavia has proved beneficial for Dsa, she said.

“Vestavia has a lot of opportunities for their students that my previous school didn’t have,” she said.

Dsa said she has been told “you can’t do this” in regard to her passions, which only motivates her more.

“It only pushes me to work harder. I want to know how far I can go. I love a target,” she said. “This is the life I want.”

Dsa will attend Columbia University and pursue chemical engineering on a pre-med track.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said. “There’s so much about the world I don’t know; there’s so much about myself I don’t know.”

Left: Macy Stoffregen, a senior at Vestavia Hills High and member of the varsity cheerleading team, at Thompson Reynolds Stadium. Stoffregen is attending Auburn University to continue her academic and athletic career. Photo by Erin Nelson. Right: Malaika Dsa will be attending Columbia University this fall after finishing at Vestavia Hills High School, where she founded a club for girls to learn how to code. Photo courtesy of Malaika Dsa.
A18 • May 2023 Vestavia Voice
Left: Emma Nunnelley, a senior at Vestavia Hills High School, stands outside Mountain Brook Community Church. Nunnelley is an active member of the church, YoungLife, and plans to attend the University of Virginia in the fall. Above: Rylen Dempsey, a senior at Vestavia Hills, at Sloss Furnaces, where he worked with The World Games last summer. Dempsey is attending the University of Alabama in the fall. Photos by Erin Nelson.


Freeman requested a 9.8-mill increase, which would bring the city’s current total millage rate from 92.6 mills to 102.4 mills.

A mill is one-tenth of one cent, currently expressed in Vestavia Hills as 0.0926. The millage rate is multiplied by the assessed value of a home — which is equal to 10% of a home’s appraised value — in order to determine how much a homeowner owes in property taxes.

An additional 9.8 mills would mean an additional $487.50 annually, or $40.63 monthly, in property taxes for a home appraised at $500,000, around the median price of a Vestavia Hills home.

The ballot will ask whether voters want to increase an existing 25.6 mill tax by 9.8 mills for a new total of 35.4 mills. The 25.6 mill figure represents one of two special school taxes collected in the city of Vestavia Hills, with the other tax set at 3.15 mills. That tax will remain as is. The school also receives 23.3 mills from Jefferson County property taxes, for a total of 52.05 mills currently dedicated to Vestavia Hills City Schools. The other 40.55 mills collected by the city goes toward city revenues.

School officials said the new tax money is needed to pay for a litany of new programs and offerings for students, as well as numerous improvements and additions to campuses throughout the system.

Freeman said the system needs about $8.2 million a year to pay for those improvements and said the 9.8 mills should generate about $8.42 million annually.

The school system would borrow money for improvements and use revenue from the new tax increase to repay the debt over 30 years at $8.2 million a year, said Whit McGhee, the school system's director of public relations. The tax increase would remain in perpetuity for future system needs, McGhee said.

Sixty-one percent of the budget would go toward existing facility and campus improvements. The system would take out about $100

million in debt service to pay for those improvements, repaying it with new tax revenue.

Twenty-two percent would go toward education programs and another 17% toward operational costs, Freeman said. The latter two categories would mostly include personnel, he said. The personnel budget is anticipated to be about $3.2 million.

The school has launched a website,, where residents can key in their tax-appraised home value and see how much of an increase they would owe if the measure passes. The website also includes details about the plan and a video of Freeman’s presentation to the public.


The 1Rebel 1Future plan seeks to add new facilities and renovate others, as well as add and expand program offerings, Freeman previously said.

“We have limitations on our ability to provide our students with an opportunity to learn without limits,” he said.

The plan centers on two initiatives: to invest in “profound learning experiences” and create “safe and dynamic facilities,” Freeman said.

While Vestavia Hills is highly regarded for its school system, there is always room for improvement, and the areas in need of improvement now include STEM and world languages, Freeman said. Right now, STEM classes are

available for middle- and high-school students, and this proposal would add it as a “special” for elementary students, Freeman said. Specials are classes held once a week and currently include things like art, music and a day in the library, Freeman said.

“This is a meaningful path for them,” Freeman said.

There are currently five world languages taught at the high school and three languages at the middle school level. Similar to the proposals with STEM, Freeman said he wants to add world languages as a “special” at the elementary level. Teachers and course resources would need to be added for those classes, and the school system is still developing what particulars would look like.

The 1Rebel 1Future plan also seeks to upgrade the system’s facilities, making them not only safe and secure, but energy efficient and able to meet the needs of students, Freeman said. There are many aging facilities throughout the system, he said, and system leaders are thinking about spaces that will be needed to meet the needs of expanded academic offerings.

Freeman said it’s also important for campuses to be comparable to each other. While Vestavia Hills Elementary East and West have large student populations, they have the smallest gyms and don’t have the meeting spaces other campuses do, he said.

The existing gym at West would be turned

into new classrooms for art, music and meeting space, with the existing Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce building being turned into gym space, as chamber offices will move to the new Vestavia Hills Civic Center. There would also be office space and community meeting space in that building as well, Freeman said.

Each elementary school in the plan would have a gym that has the capacity to expand, he said.

At Vestavia Hills Elementary Dolly Ridge, the kitchen would receive a much-needed expansion, Freeman said, and East would receive an expanded gym.

At the middle school level, Liberty Park Middle School would receive an auxiliary gym. While that school has fewer students than Pizitz Middle School, it has the same number of teams and programs and needs more space. Pizitz would receive more dressing room space, Freeman said.

Vestavia Hills High School would receive the bulk of the changes in the plan and is set to receive upgrades in the areas of arts, STEM and athletics. Choir would move into the existing band space, with a black box theater moving into the existing choral space. The band would move, along with dance, into a new space, with STEM and arts classes moving into existing spaces that would be renovated, Freeman said. The band space would also include a new kitchen and expanded cafeteria and would connect to a new plaza area that goes into new arts and athletic spaces.

A new indoor facility, located in the open field behind the competition gym, would include 50 yards of artificial turf that could be used by athletic teams and the band, and it would also include a weight training area for all sports, a locker room and a wrestling area.

The proposed tax increase would be the first ad valorem increase since 1990. If it isn’t approved, Freeman said the system would prioritize how they use existing funds for needs.

If the plan is passed, the system wants to be “aggressive” in completing the projects and, while they would have to be phased in such a way as to not interfere with the learning process, Freeman anticipates a roughly four-year schedule for new construction. New programs would start this fall.

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from page A1 The 1Rebel 1Future website provides residents of Vestavia Hills with information about the May 9 special election. The website can be found at 1rebel1future. com. May 2023 A19
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Summer reading begins this month

Summer reading begins later this month at the Vestavia Hills Library in the Forest.

The kickoff event for children, which goes up to fifth grade, is set for May 20 at 11 a.m. at Wald Park.

It will feature a bike parade, and kids can bring bikes, scooters, skateboards, tricycles or wagons and be part of the parade, said Todd Richardson with the library. There will be games, prizes, food, giveaways and other fun activities.

Readers can manage their reading logs online or on paper. The library’s website will have a link to the digital log, and paper logs can be picked up at the library. The library encourages children to count pages, especially younger readers. The online service will have a number of reading challenges and awards that are a lot of fun for kids, Richardson said.

There will be weekly prizes and the children’s department will stamp the reading logs each week. Most prizes will have a game attached to them, which will be posted in the children’s department. Children can go to the spot, do the challenge of the week and come back to the desk to get the prize, Richardson said.

The grand prize is a bike and each child will be entered automatically when they sign up for the program.

The teen kickoff event will be held on May 30 at 5:30 p.m. in the library’s community room and is for

students in grades 6-12. The goal of the “Forest Quest!” event is to undertake quests and journey around the library “seeking fame, glory and fortune,” Richardson said. Teens can create their own teams or come and join with new friends.

There will be prizes, food and a “smattering of other things up for grabs,” he said.

Teens will count by the book,

and there will be weekly prizes, one entry per book read, which can include books, ebooks or audiobooks. There will be reading challenges and awards as well. The grand prize drawing will be held in August.

While there won’t be a kickoff event, adults can participate in summer reading and count each book they read and participate in

reading challenges for weekly prizes and grand prizes, Richardson said.


A glow-in-the-dark party is set for May 30 at 2 p.m. in the children’s program room, and children are encouraged to wear clothes that will glow. There will also be events centered on stories, songs, movies and more.

For more information, visit

For teens, a Dungeons and Dragons One-Shot tournament will take place May 13 at 2 p.m. in the historical room. The “Tournament of Tokens” challenges players to emerge with the most tokens in the greatest speed to win a magical prize. To register, call 205-978-3683.

The library will have extended hours on May 18, 22 and 23 for high school final exams and stay open until 9 p.m. Exam breaks will take place at 3, 5 and 7 p.m. in the historical room. The teen department is offering 30-minute breaks with snacks and games.

For adults, Holly Parker will teach patrons how to make a shadowbox. The event is set for May 3 at 11 a.m. in the community room. Participants need to bring a favorite small photo. Register by emailing or call 205-978-4674.

There is also an opportunity to build a pressed leaf pendant at 7 p.m. on May 19 in the community room. All materials are provided, along with snacks and prizes. Register by emailing or call 205-978-4678.

In the Makerspace lab, there will be an intro to the Nomad3, a CNC machine on May 22 at 4:30 p.m. The machine is used for milling and engraving a variety of materials. The class will discuss how to prepare projects and operate the machine.

May 2023
Parents sign their kids up for 2019 summer reading at the Vestavia Hills Library in the Forest. Photo courtesy of Eden Pfaff.


At Alabama Power, we work hard to provide the dependable service our customers expect and deserve. We give 100% to achieve 99.98% dependability. That means regularly inspecting and trimming trees as a way of preventing potential outages.

About 45% of outages experienced by Alabama Power customers are due to trees and plant life.

Overgrown branches can brush against power lines and cause outages. They also make power lines more accessible to wildlife.

We use technology and data analytics to help identify areas in need of tree trimming to protect the electrical system.

Keeping you aware of upcoming work is a priority to us. Scan the QR code to see the neighborhoods tree crews will be working in.

If you have any questions, please call Alabama Power at 205-257-2155 and request to speak with a member of our utility tree care team.

To learn more about how we safely maintain our system or for recommendations on planting the right trees in the right place, visit

B2 • May 2023 Vestavia Voice © 2023 Alabama Power Company.


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Vestavia Voice turns 10 years old

The city of Vestavia Hills looks far different in 2023 than it did in 2013.

As the city has experienced wide-sweeping changes and new additions, of both businesses and people, the Vestavia Voice has been there for 10 years to document it all.

This month, the Voice celebrates its 10th anniversary.

The first copy of the paper featured a story about “reshaping U.S. 31,” following a plan for redevelopment by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, on the cover.

Dan Starnes, the founder and CEO of Starnes Media, said the company had existing papers in Mountain Brook, Homewood, Hoover and along the U.S. 280 corridor.

“Vestavia Hills had always been in our plan and the time was right to start in the spring of 2013,” Starnes said. “We received a lot of positive feedback immediately in the form of story ideas, advertiser inquiries and even contributor and prospective employee outreach.”

Founding community editor

Rebecca Walden is a Vestavia Hills native who wrote a history of the city for “Images of America.” She met Starnes at O.Henry’s and talked about journalism and a potential role for her at the paper, she said, which led to her being the first person to oversee both the Vestavia Voice and Hoover Sun.

“The community support was overwhelmingly positive,” Walden said.

The first issue enjoyed the support of local leaders. Walden said reporters worked to develop relationships with sources and community members, learning what was happening in the city.

“It opened a lot of doors,” Walden said of her time at the paper. “It made me confident speaking publicly.”

A few months after the Vestavia Voice launched, Sydney Cromwell began as an intern for Starnes Media. Over the course of the next six years, Cromwell worked her way up to become managing editor of the then-seven publications produced by the company.

“I think it [Vestavia Voice] was still finding its footing,” Cromwell said of the paper’s early days. “The other [papers] were known names.”

In her time at the company, Cromwell recalled handling the controver-

the high school remove the Rebel mascot while not dropping the name in 2015.

“That was probably my first

Cromwell said. Back in the early days of the paper, everyone stayed at the office to help design pages, which is now done by a team of two people, Cromwell said.

“It was really nice working at a community newspaper like this,” Cromwell said. “For the most part, people wanted to talk to me. They wanted to invite me into their homes and share their life story, which is a privilege.”

As the years went on, more reporters, photographers, designers and other staff members joined to help the Voice and other Starnes papers grow, Cromwell said. The paper also began covering city meetings and treating city news like a regular beat, she said.

“That was sorely needed,” she said. “It’s invaluable to a community.”

One of those reporters was Emily Featherston, who joined the staff parttime in 2015 and made the switch to full-time in 2016 before leaving two years later for another journalism job.

“It was exciting to be in a newspaper job that was growing,” Featherston said.

During her time covering the city, Featherston said there were a lot of growing pains and growth happening in Vestavia Hills. The city was beginning to plan and implement what would come to be known as the Community Spaces Plan, a massive infrastructure and capital project that is wrapping up its final components this year. Featherston covered 42 public meetings that dealt with the plan, she said.

“People start to expect that they’re going to get information from you,” Featherston said.

In her time at the Voice, Featherston said the paper began posting online stories, expanding its social media presence and added daily newsletters. It was an effort to meet readers where they are, she said.

Featherston said working at the paper taught her that community journalism is “where it happens.” People are concerned about bus routes, trash pickup and other hyperlocal news.

“People need it to make decisions,” Featherston said.

Starnes said he is proud to be able to cover stories that would likely go untold without the Vestavia Voice.

Cromwell recalled many late nights getting the papers ready to print.

Being able to contribute to the paper and getting to know the community was an honor, Cromwell said.

“If we go out and write about something that every other media outlet in Birmingham is already covering, we don’t really make much impact,” Starnes said. “But a lot of what we do is covering the community at a level that doesn’t exist without us. That contribution and the many people who have been a part of our journey are what give me the most pride.”

B4 • May 2023 Vestavia Voice Community Have a community announcement? Email Neal Embry at to be considered for inclusion in an upcoming issue.
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Longtime Shades Mountain Baptist worship pastor retires

For 22 years, Michael Adler didn’t stop moving.

Between raising his four boys, operating The Barn at Shady Lane and serving as the worship pastor at Shades Mountain Baptist Church, it’s been a busy life for Adler.

And while Adler admits he isn’t the type to sit still, his schedule is a little more free these days. Adler recently stepped away from fulltime ministry at the church.

“It’s been a gift to be a part of this place,” he said.

The church has provided a healthy environment, supported his vision and created content that Adler said “leveraged every gift that came across our platform,” and the goal was to make a joyful noise about the gospel.

“This was a place that really supported that mission,” Adler said.

Shades Mountain’s music teams have led worship in Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Germany and Turkey, Adler said.

“We’ve just taken this sound and these ideas around the globe,” Adler said. “This isn’t about one person. … I took very seriously the privilege of having very gifted people around me.”

Leading worship allowed Adler to not only highlight others, but draw worshipers into the presence of God.

“When the light turns on in a worship environment, it’s an uncanny sense that all of this is about someone bigger than any of us,” Adler said.

Former Shades Mountain pastor Danny Wood worked with Adler for over two decades and said Adler “made him a better worshiper.”

“We had the opportunity to do workshops together on worship leadership,” Wood said. “His teaching was as beneficial for me as for the attendees. In our 22 years together in worship planning, hearing his heart, listening to

him explain his reasoning for a particular song and its worship elements, all gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for worship.”

In addition to leading members and guests in worship, Wood and Adler shared life together, Wood said.

“Whenever you share alike in the joys and struggles of life and you see how another believer navigates the rocky roads, you have a greater appreciation for him,” Wood said. “I had a ringside seat watching Michael live out his faith in Christ, wrestle with ups and downs and challenges and yet always stayed strong in his faith and his walk. It spoke volumes to

me and strengthened my own faith.”

Wood described Adler as the greatest worship pastor he has ever known.

“He has a sensitive heart for God and a passion for worship. He is the best at carrying the congregation to God’s throne every Sunday,” Wood said.

Adler has been singing since he was a young boy, learning from his grandparents, who came to the U.S. from Switzerland to work with the Salvation Army in 1927. Adler’s grandfather was the first bivocational minister he knew.

Growing up in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Adler’s parents led their youth group around

the country to sing and even recorded an album together. When he was 19 years old, Adler was hired by Truth in Mobile, bringing him to Alabama.

“God had a way of expanding my vision very quickly,” Adler said.

Adler sang on Christian television, including on Oral Roberts Television Ministry, where he met his wife, Linda.

“Many of our friends came from that era of really creative ways to share the gospel through media and through TV,” Adler said.

Shades Mountain was the second church Adler came to that was transitioning from a 24-year worship minister, the first being a church in San Antonio. Upon his arrival, he succeeded longtime worship pastor Aubrey Edwards.

Over the years, Adler has seen the tools of worship change. While the gospel hasn’t changed, the tools used to reach others has, he said. Still, he’s encouraged his team to not chase the pendulum too much. They’ve never tried to be on the cutting edge, but to “be a voice for this generation,” he said.

Adler said his favorite Sunday was always the previous Sunday and that his career has been a pretty wonderful place to make a living.

Letting go of being a professional artist in order to invest in others has been “so rewarding,” Adler said.

While he’s no longer in full-time ministry, Adler said he doesn’t think he and his wife are done. They will continue to host weddings at The Barn at Shady Lane. Even though he has retired from full-time work, the “itch” to serve is still there.

The family plans to make Shades Mountain home. Adler said he is trying to be quiet and rest [and to] clear the air a while before jumping into something else.

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Michael Adler, the worship pastor at Shades Mountain Baptist Church of 22 years, in the sanctuary of the church. Adler retired from his role on March 5. Photo by Erin Nelson.


Dolly Ridge students build payload for rocket launch

Students in Rachael Franklin’s fifth-grade gifted students class are designing part of the payload for a soon-to-be-launched United Launch Alliance rocket that will monitor weather data in rural areas.

Vestavia Hills Elementary School

Dolly Ridge is the only elementary school in the country to take part in the program, which otherwise involves high school and college students who submitted proposals to ULA, Franklin said.

The rocket will be launched in Colorado in July and the hope is that the devices, in the shape of pyramids, will be able to collect data before coming back down. The students will come back to school and analyze the data. They have made 3-D designs, analyzed results of tests and built circuit boards and other parts of the payload.

The work began in November and the project was submitted in February and approved.

“It’s a very quick turnaround for students who aren’t used to doing technological engineering,” Franklin said.

The students have been “very dedicated and very creative,” she said. “The first test got shattered, but instead of complaining, they simply went back to work.”

The weather data will come from rural areas and can be given to

residents to document the impact of severe weather, which can be used to help keep residents safe and possibly improve insurance coverage. The students also plan to help use the device as part of a weather warning system in rural Alabama, according to their application to ULA.

“It will save a lot of money for people in rural towns,” student Benjamin Black said.

The 2021 class also built a similar

device, though it only gathered part of the necessary data after the device broke in half upon launch.

The students code the equipment, design and use a 3-D printer to make the product. They properly code the circuit boards to communicate with the sensor on the device’s base, which is set up to tell the device what to analyze while it is in the air, Franklin said.

“This really is a great experience for learning and it’s a way to show

what you’ve learned,” she said.

Each student has different strengths, so roles are determined based on those. While Franklin prints on the 3-D printer, the students do all the work.

“It’s just kind of fun to see what they’ll come up with,” Franklin said. “They really have to do it all themselves.”

The students have enjoyed talking with the rocket scientists and other

professionals at ULA, who have been helpful, Franklin said. They’ve even interacted with the company CEO on Twitter.

Team members include: George Cochran, Benjamin Black, Cora Moorhouse, Reid Purvis, Lizzy West, Will Ennis, Kate Howell, Caleb Martin, Ryan Wu and Olivia Bodkin. The students will have an opportunity to go to Colorado and see the rocket launched.

B6 • May 2023 Vestavia Voice
Have a schoolhouse announcement? Email Neal Embry at to be considered for inclusion in an upcoming issue.
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Left: Ryan Wu, a fifth grader at Vestavia Hills Elementary Dolly Ridge, talks about how the Dolly Ridge Rocket Team created a circuit board and payload prototypes to hold a weather sensor for the United Launch Alliance. Right: Fifth graders Will Ennis and Lizzy West discuss their findings in a progress report that details the Dolly Ridge Rocket Team’s project. Photos by Erin Nelson.

‘Protecting our legacy’

Over the past 53 years, our Vestavia Hills school system has distinguished itself as one of the best. This is directly attributable to the unparalleled support it has received from our community.

Since the school system’s inception, the citizens of Vestavia Hills have been called upon three times to approve property tax increases to meet the needs of the schools. Each time, our community has answered the call.

Much has changed since our last property tax election in May 1990. In a brief span of time, between 2011 and 2015, our schools grew from 6,000 students to more than 7,000. To meet the needs of this dramatic increase, we added two campuses, new classroom additions and larger cafeterias, gymnasiums and libraries. We also increased the number of teachers and support staff in order to maintain low class sizes, meet the increasingly complex needs of our students and continue offering unique academic opportunities.

These needed investments have placed financial limits on our ability to carry out our mission.

Vestavia Hills City Schools has a plan to protect the legacy of excellence that our community has come to expect. We will protect student experiences by strengthening academic opportunities, by adding new world language and STEM classes for all elementary students. We will provide a greater level of support for teachers and students. We will protect school experiences by renewing, repairing and revitalizing our decades-old facilities

with a focus on safety, health and accessibility. We will also add much-needed learning spaces for academics, arts and athletics on the elementary, middle and high school campuses. The annual investment needed for this plan is $8.2 million, which would be funded through a proposed 9.8-mill property tax increase. All of the revenue from this tax increase would be allocated to our school system.

Vestavia Hills voters will have the opportunity to vote “for” or “against” the plan on Tuesday, May 9. Please make sure to verify your polling location, as it may be different from the general election last November; you may visit the city of Vestavia Hills website for information at

The return on protecting our legacy of excellence will be seen for decades to come. The experiences for our students will be invaluable. And because our schools are the crown jewel of Vestavia Hills, it will enhance the value found in our quality of life, economic vitality and property.

Horace Mann, considered the father of American education, made an astute observation when he said, “No community should rest contented with being superior to other communities, while it is inferior to its own capabilities.” I believe that the capabilities in Vestavia Hills to accomplish our mission are limitless. I am confident we all agree on that.

You can learn more about this plan by visiting

House groups a success at East

Harry Potter might not be walking through the doors at Vestavia Hills Elementary East, but a little bit of Hogwarts that has come to the school.

Principal Mark Richardson said while students won’t be sorted into Gryffindor or Slytherin anytime soon, the school recently expanded their house group system to character houses based on the school’s core values, represented by the acronym “E.A.G.L.E.,” which stands for empathy, acceptance, grit, love and excellence.

Students are sorted into groups and meet four times a year, holding different events like the EAGLE Run, which is a character run for the students, Richardson said. Other events

include large and small service projects. Each Wednesday, students wear their house colors, he said.

When students start in kindergarten at East, they draw lollipops, with each color representing a different group. As the students are sorted into their new houses, fifth grade students, the oldest at the school, cheer and welcome them into their group, Richardson said. Students aren’t the only ones sorted, with their teachers joining them in the different groups, he said. Richardson himself is in the “acceptance” house. The group has written notes, letters and even done science demonstrations, he said. Each group even has different handshakes, he said.

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Freeman Vestavia Hills Elementary East Character House groups meet four times throughout the year. Photo courtesy of Mark Richardson.

Students help purchase inclusive playground equipment for peers

Fifth-grade students in Amy Abbott’s gifted class at Vestavia Hills Elementary East recently helped purchase equipment to help their friends with special needs.

The students, called “All-Stars,” read a book last school year called “Out of my Mind,” written by Sharon Draper. In the book, the main character, Melody Brooks, is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. It inspired them this year to work to get wheelchair-accessible playground equipment that their friends in the “Sunbeam” class could use. So the class wrote two grant applications and eventually were awarded funding for equipment, which has since been installed, through the Vestavia Hills City Schools Foundation.

“It made us feel like we were doing something bigger than ourselves,” student Rebecca Corhern said.

Another student, Lydia Merrill, said she learned how to advocate for others through the process.

In addition to obtaining the equipment, the students made a buddy system for each student at recess and planned a Special Olympics parade, Abbott said.

The Vestavia Hills City Schools Foundation awarded a $20,000 grant for the project, and local vendors and architects met with the students as it was being designed and installed, Abbott said. They made sure to include the Sunbeams to get their input, she said.

“This is probably one of the most special

things I have been involved with in my career as an educator,” Abbott said. “When you ask the kids what they have learned because of this, they say they’ve learned to be an advocate for my friends who can’t speak up for themselves.”

The equipment, which features musical play sets, was installed over spring break and is now available for all students to use.

Sunbeam teacher Tracey Barker said the equipment is a “game-changer.”

“They love it,” Barker said. “It’s been the best time hanging out with the All-Stars this year.”

Knowing it was completely student-driven made Barker feel good, she said. They not only came up with the idea, but followed it through to completion.

“They’re amazing,” Barker said.

While this was the first time anyone in Abbott’s class had applied for a grant or done anything similar, Merrill said she hopes to keep advocating for others.

Mark Richardson, principal at East, said he could not be prouder of the students.

“It means the world to me,” Richardson said.

The students did a great job representing the school’s core values, expressed by the acronym “E.A.G.L.E.”: empathy, acceptance, grit, love and excellence, Richardson said. It isn’t just a slogan at East, he said, but it comes from a genuine desire to see students become better people.

“Kids know love is not a feeling,” Richardson said. “It’s an action in the best interest of another person. A lot of grownups don’t understand that.”

B8 • May 2023 Vestavia Voice 205-879-7681 or 205-879-3433 sikesshoesandjacknjillshop | 2719 19th Place S | Downtown Homewood
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Left: Annetah Ndungu, a first grader, and Lydia Merrill, a fifth grader, play the xylophone during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new inclusive playground at Vestavia Hills Elementary East on April 11. Right: Rebecca Corhern, a fifth grader, left, and Jack Caudle, a third grader, right, show Caudle’s younger brother, Brooks, 6, how to make music on a butterfly gong. The inclusive playground includes flower and butterfly gongs, chimes, a xylophone and drums. Photos by Erin Nelson. May 2023 • B9 Raymond James and its advisors do not offer tax or legal advice. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional. Rebalancing a non-retirement account could be a taxable event that may increase your tax liability. Any opinions are those of Riverpeak Partners and not necessarily those of Raymond James. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss. No investment strategy can guarantee success. *Jasper office address: 401 19th St E, Jasper, AL 35501 We manage more than your wealth. We manage your legacy. Brokered Certificates of Deposit Matthew Laird Managing Director James Michael Moyer Associate Vice President, Wealth Management John Romano, WMS® Financial Advisor Craig Vinson, MBA Financial Advisor Matthew Gordon, CFP® Practice Business Coordinator Toby Banks Associate Vice President, Investments; Financial Advisor *Jasper Office Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Member New York Stock Exchange/SIPC 205.874.1804 | 2900 Highway 280, Suite 100 • Birmingham, AL 35223 Are you staying invested? If you are interested in hearing more information on brokered CDs, please contact Shelia Griffith at 205-802-4272 4.85%4.90%4.90%4.90% 4/5/2023 2171 Parkway Lake Drive | Hoover, Alabama 35244 Independent Living | Assisted Living | Memory Care ALF #D5986 | SCALF #P5928 The Crossings at Riverchase offers everything you want and more — flexible living options, thoughtful amenities and convenient services. Enjoy more of what you love while surrounded by a vibrant array of opportunities and activities, not to mention all-day dining with your choice of chef-prepared, seasonal menu items and wellness-focused programming for enrichment in mind, body and spirit. Whether you’re looking for independent living, assisted living or memory care, our community feels right for all the right reasons. Explore the refreshing senior lifestyle waiting to be found at The Crossings. Call 205-216-4008 or visit to schedule an appointment. Where every day is yours to live inspired. Outstanding experiences. Neighborly feel.

Farmer’s markets underway in Vestavia Hills

As spring gives way to summer in Vestavia Hills, several farmers markets are selling fresh grown produce throughout the area. Vestavia Hills Farmers Market, Murphree’s Market and Garden Center, and Andy’s Farm Market will offer fresh fruits and vegetables as well as arts and crafts and other wares all spring and summer long.


The Vestavia Hills Farmers Market will open for 2023 on Wednesday, May 3, at 2489 Rocky Ridge Road, and will operate from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. every Wednesday through Aug. 30.

This year, the market will have more than 20 vendors selling a variety of fruits and vegetables, snow cones, arts and crafts, desserts, pastries, casseroles, honey, jams and jellies, candy, jewelry, dog bandanas, tie dye clothing and candles. During market days, each end of the street will be barricaded and accessible to pedestrians only, creating a safe space for customers, including the elderly and children.

The Vestavia Hills Farmers Market is an outreach ministry of Vestavia Hills Methodist Church. Stall fees paid by vendors are used to buy produce from market farmers and donated to the VHMC food pantry, which serves a critical need in the community for those who are in need of food supplementation.

“Last year we purchased approximately $1,200 worth of produce and donated it to the church’s food pantry,” said market operator Jarry Taylor. “That’s a lot of tomatoes!”


4242 Dolly Ridge Road, is the spot for local fruits and vegetables in the heart of Cahaba Heights.

Throughout the spring and summer, Murphree’s will offer a variety of local favorites such as silver queen corn, tomatoes, squash, okra and cantaloupe as well as strawberries

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Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk. Therefore, it should not be assumed that future performance of any specific investment or investment, or any non-investment related services, will be profitable or prove successful. A copy of our current written disclosure Brochure discussing our advisory services and fees is available upon request or at

have a great selection of non-GMO herb & veggie plants, ferns, tropicals and more than eight varieties of hanging flowering baskets.


Now in its 26th year, Andy’s Farm Market, located at 2489 Rocky Ridge Road, is a local

Peaches from Penton Farms in Chilton County are seen at the Vestavia Hills Farmers Market at Scout Square for the last market day of the season in August 2022. The Vestavia Hills Farmers Market benefits the Vestavia Hills Methodist Church Food Pantry.

such as Alabama vine-ripened tomatoes, super sweet and seedless sugar baby watermelons and a plethora of potato varieties.

Additionally, at Andy’s Creekside Nursery, located at 3351 Morgan Drive in Vestavia Hills, Andy’s offers one of the largest selection of flowers, trees and shrubs in the Bir-

B10 • May 2023 Vestavia Voice
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Excelling in all facets

Vestavia Hills’ Anna Towry the ‘perfect kid to coach’

Her basketball coach describes Anna Towry as a “hidden gem,” and that description seems apt in many respects.

Towry, a senior at Vestavia Hills High School, is finishing up a terrific multi-sport athletic career, playing four years on the varsity basketball and soccer teams.

In both sports, she worked her way up the ladder, from role player to pivotal piece, never seeking the spotlight and always remaining focused on the task at hand. Asked what she hopes her teammates have seen from her over the years, her message is simple.

“I just hope that they see if you keep working, it’ll pay off,” Towry said. “Don’t take a rep off. I hope they see consistency and if you keep on working in practices, it will pay off in games.”

Towry’s basketball career reached its conclusion in February. As the lone senior on this year’s Rebels team, she helped lead the team to the Northwest Regional tournament. She was never the team’s leading scorer over her four years, leaving that to the likes of Emma Smith and Sarah Gordon. But she was a force in her own way, going for 12 points and 6 rebounds per game as a senior.

She also eclipsed 1,000 career points late this past season, joining her mom April in the 1,000point club at Vestavia.

When coach John David Smelser arrived at Vestavia Hills four years ago, Towry tried out for the junior varsity team as a freshman.

“The next day, I saw her and told her, ‘You might want to come to the varsity tryout tomorrow,’” Smelser recalled.

Towry not only made the varsity team as a freshman, but she was a contributor on a team that broke through to the regional final. Smelser called her a hidden gem because the leading scorers would get most of the attention. He added he thought she had become one of the best players in the state and excelled in her leadership role as a senior.

“She embraced that and did a great job being a leader for us,” Smelser said. “She’s equally as good on the soccer field. You don’t find that

much anymore, where you have a kid that’s dominant in two sports, especially in this day and age.”

As for the soccer team, the dynamic is slightly different. Towry is one of 10 seniors and is a highly respected member of the squad despite being on the quieter side.

Soccer coach Brigid Meadow commended Towry’s consistent presence she brings to the field each day.

“She’s a physical leader; her actions, her work ethic, her grit, they’re all palpable and people feel it, and they want to follow it,” she said.

Towry and the Rebels have their sights set on a state championship this spring, and their 17-2 start through April 18 makes that seem like a

tangible goal. The basketball team had the same goal and came up a little short, something that has undoubtedly added some urgency to Towry’s final few weeks in a Rebels uniform.

“It’s definitely fueled my motivation knowing this is my last year, my last chance,” she said.

Towry has also managed to maintain a 4.5 GPA throughout her athletic exploits and is active in the youth group and choir at Dawson Family of Faith.

To some, she may be a hidden gem. But to those that know her, she’s anything but that.

Smelser said, “Coaches think about who would be that perfect kid to coach, and you dream of maybe one day getting a kid like that. A lot of time coaches don’t get that.

“Anna was that.”

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Above: Vestavia Hills’ Anna Towry (17) dribbles the ball downfield guarded by Oak Mountain’s Raegan Whitaker (8) in a match at the Sicard Hollow Athletic Complex on March 9. Right: Towry (5) shoots a layup in a game against the Eagles at Oak Mountain High School on Dec. 9. Photos by Erin Nelson.

Miller, Gordon, Towry recognized on all-state team

The Vestavia Hills High School basketball teams had hoped for better finishes to the 2022-23 campaign, but a few players have been recognized for their outstanding seasons.

On the boys’ side, guard Win Miller was named to the Class 7A all-state first team, as compiled by the Alabama Sports Writers Association. The 6-foot-3 guard was also one of three finalists for 7A Player of the Year, along with Central-Phenix City’s Jacoby Hill and Baker’s Labaron Philon.

Those three were named first team players, along with Hoover’s DeWayne Brown and Spain Park’s Sam Wright.

Miller wrapped up his career with 2,011 points, finishing as Vestavia’s all-time leading scorer in program history. The Belmont University signee had 21.6 points per game for the season for the Rebels, as they went 26-5 and advanced to the Northwest Regional final. Vestavia Hills won 25-plus games for the third straight season.

“Nobody thought we were going to be here,” Miller said following the regional tournament. “We were counted out by everybody, but we were one of the best teams in the state throughout the year.”

For the girls, Sarah Gordon was named to the second team, while Anna Towry made the third team. They led a Lady Rebels squad that made it to the regional final and finished with

a 28-5 record.

Gordon led the team with 17 points per game, adding 5.8 rebounds a game as well. The sophomore guard has obtained an offer from UAB and is nearing 1,000 points for her high school career.

Towry, a multi-sport athlete at Vestavia, finished her basketball career by eclipsing 1,000 points. She averaged 13.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

Towry was Vestavia’s only senior and said the future is bright for the Lady Rebels.

“We had a really strong season and won a lot of games we weren’t supposed to win and did it with a very young team,” she said. May 2023 • B13 FOUNDATION REPAIR BASEMENT WALL REPAIR FLOOR LEVELING FOUNDATION PROBLEMS? WE HAVE THE SOLUTION. Assistance with activities of daily living
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Vestavia HIlls’ Sarah Gordon (33) shoots the ball guarded by Bob Jones’ Alana Obianozie (22) in a Northwest Regional semifinal game at Tom Drake Coliseum at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville on Feb. 16. Photo by Erin Nelson.

Life Actually By Kari Kampakis

In a world that's hurting, you need stubborn hope

The day before my 29th birthday began with utter bliss — and ended with gut-wrenching pain.

Just three days before, I’d learned that I was pregnant, and Harry and I were ecstatic.

We laughed and dreamed as we drove to the beach to spend a weekend with his friends. Already we felt like proud parents. We couldn’t stop talking about baby names, the nursery, and starting our own family.

Then, as we stopped to see a friend, our excitement came to a halt as I felt the startling signs of a miscarriage.

I called my doctor, and he said if it was a miscarriage, there was nothing I could do to stop it. Instead of driving home, he advised us to go to the beach, take it easy, enjoy the weekend as best we could, and see him on Monday.

Harry and I held out hope, but when the cramping continued for hours, we knew it wasn’t good. Around midnight the pain kicked in, and as Harry ran to the store to buy me ibuprofen, I curled up in bed and cried like a baby over this treasure we lost on my 29th birthday. It was one of the most disappointing and jolting days of my life.

It had taken us a year to conceive, so we kept an appointment that I’d scheduled before we got pregnant to see a doctor who could run some tests. He uncovered a cause for concern, and he grimly predicted that getting pregnant again might be difficult.

My lifelong dream was to be a mom, and to suddenly question that possibility triggered

deep sadness and fear. What if our pregnancy was a fluke? What if it never happened again? How would we afford adoption when money was already tight after paying graduate school tuition?

It was a lonely season of waiting, praying, and doubting. I learned a lot about myself and trusting God’s plan as I attended baby showers for friends and often felt like an outsider when the conversation turned to kids. By God’s grace, I got pregnant six months later with my oldest daughter, Ella. Around her first birthday I got pregnant again — only to miscarry this baby before Christmas.

Once again my heart was heavy, and though it made a huge difference having Ella to hold, I also felt the grief of her losing a brother or sister.

Looking back now, it is clear God had a plan. Over the course of my 30s, I birthed four beautiful baby girls, and even if we had not conceived them, I know my prayers to be a mom would have been answered. At the time, however, I couldn’t see past the unknowns. I only saw one road, the most common road to motherhood, and if it didn’t work out, the future looked dismal and dark.

My faith was not as deep then as it is now, yet it took trials like this to deepen it. What I wish I could tell my younger self is that God takes care of His people. His plan is good, perfect, and always on time. His vision is bolder and grander than any tunnel vision we get, and if we wait patiently, He’ll author a better story than

any story we could write.

I’d also tell my younger self that life is full of mysteries, and we’ll never get full answers to suffering on this side of heaven. But what we do know, as believers, is the best is yet to come.

“Faith means being sure of what we hope for — and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11

Still, hope can feel non-existent during times of loss. Our culture of doom-and-gloom only compounds the problem. We are surrounded by negativity in media and pop culture, and many popular movies, books, and works of art leave us feeling terribly depressed because they use the framework of our visible world to process sad events. They show no light at the end of the tunnel, no purpose behind the pain, no hope for the future.

If we believe this world is all there is — that how we feel today is how we’ll always feel, that we’ll never be happy unless our prayers get answered exactly the way we hope, that there is no afterlife to anticipate, that suffering is as senseless as it appears — then we’ll despair. We’ll stay stuck in hopeless places.

But through Jesus, God births hope. He shines a light that conquers darkness and death. A Christian’s hope boils down to three key words: He is risen. Seeing the world through this framework changes everything.

Life on earth feels permanent, yet it is fleeting. Our real home is in heaven, and the ache in your heart that never goes away, that earthly joys and blessings can only temporarily quench,

is really a longing for heaven. God created you to crave Him, and He placed eternity in your heart as a honing device to draw you home toward Him.

Feeling dissatisfied with this world reminds us that we were made for more. We are walking toward our final destination — where perfect peace, love, and joy exist.

God brings new life from heartache, and just as the grief of Good Friday preceded the joy of Easter Sunday, today’s trials can lead to miracles. It is only Friday — and Sunday is coming. The darkness in-between can feel like light years, and you may need years (or decades) to feel hope again, but that hope is worth fighting for. It is worth remembering how the first thing God did after creating the heavens and the earth was bring light into the darkness.

He began the story of humanity by setting the stage for the light of Jesus.

Darkness may be part of your story, but it isn’t the end of your story. Circumstances come and go, but God is forever. Put your trust in Him, not what happens to you. Fix your eyes on what is real, and when you feel scared of the unknowns, cling to the virtue of hope.

Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mountain Brook mom of four girls, author, speaker, and blogger. Kari’s newest book, “More Than a Mom,” and other bestselling books are available everywhere books are sold. Join Kari on Facebook and Instagram, visit her blog at karikampakis. com, or find her on the Girl Mom Podcast.

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of the South By

Graduating against the odds

The Northwest Florida State College parking lot is swarmed with cars. Families are hurrying toward the gymnasium, dressed in their Sunday best.

I pass a man wearing denim. There are grease smudges on his jeans. Holes in his work shirt.

“I’m gonna see my son graduate,” he tells me, lighting a cigarette. “I can hardly believe it.”

Tha man’s name is Danny, he drove here from DeFuniak Springs to see his boy walk across a stage to receive a degree.

“My son’s the pride of our family,” he says. “I love that boy so much.”

Inside the arena is a huge crowd. In the center of the basketball court are hundreds of students in black gowns and square caps. Their faces, happy. Their smiles, blinding.

I stand in the nosebleeds beside Danny. He uses his phone to capture this moment.

Danny tells me his bossman didn’t want him to leave work today. But Danny said, “I’m gonna see my boy walk, sir, and if you don’t like it, that’s too bad. I’ll be back after lunch.”

When we sing the national anthem, Danny removes his cap and holds it over his heart. He sings louder than anyone.

Then he waves at his son. But his son doesn’t see him.

“There he is,” Danny says, pointing. “See him?”

“I see him,” I say.

When I first attended this school, it was called Okaloosa Walton College. It was about the size of an area rug back then.

This was the only place that would take an adult dropout like me. And it is the only alma mater I have ever known.

It’s funny. I was afraid to enroll here as an adult. I was worried everyone would think I was stupid. I was embarrassed on my first day of class. But I got over it. It took me less than

a week to fall into the gentle rhythm of academia.

I took math with Miss Bronginez — the woman was as downhome as a crop of peanuts. She knew how to explain the Pythagorean theorem to a man who still counted on his fingers.

And Doctor Schott, who sometimes delivered world-class lectures in the back of a double-wide trailer for night class.

And Miss Lopez. I loved her Spanish classes. I took every course she offered until there were none left to take.

I took music with Mister Domulot, who remains one of my closest friends. And Mister Latenser, who still helps me when I have car problems. And Mister Nida, who lets me play in his band sometimes.

That’s the kind of small-town institution I attended. It was home to me, the kid who had no home. A place where I learned what it meant to study something in earnest.

It was here that a faceless blue-collar man once sat in an English class with a teacher who said, “You really oughta consider a career in writing.”

Last week, I was in my office. I was writing. When it was lunchtime, my wife knocked on the door. She presented me with a turkey sandwich and a small gift bag.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Turkey on rye,” she said.

“I meant what’s in the bag?”

“Oh, I don’t know, it came for you.”

There was a card attached. It read: “Northwest Florida State College.”

Inside the bag was an award. A heavy one. When I saw it, I had to sit down.

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The statue was made of crystal. There was writing on it. The trophy read: “Sean Dietrich, Distinguished Alumni, Against the Odds.”

It’s the only award I’ve ever received — unless you count the prize I won for safe forklift driving.

But the inscription on the trophy is only half correct. Maybe the odds were against me, but they’re against everyone. All you have to do is ask the kids in black gowns.

Or better yet, ask Danny. He’ll tell you. Life is bone hard. And just when you think it can’t get any harder, it raises your insurance premiums.

Still, somehow education found me. And it wasn’t because I was determined, or smart, or because I pushed myself. It was because I was pulled. By good people who stand quietly in this arena.

The ceremony begins. My new friend Danny is all ears. We watch the candidates take the platform.

When they announce his boy’s name, Danny starts cheering so hard I can hear his voice break. Soon, the two of us are clapping and hollering for a kid I’ve never even met.

The boy walks across the stage.

“That’s my son,” Danny says to me. “That’s him, do you see him? That’s my little boy.”

I certainly do see him.

Every time I look in a mirror.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. May 2023 • B15
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