Bham Family - May 2023

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UAB doc helps kids make better decisions

Vestavia’s New Ice Cream Shop
Christopher Kids lives out its mission to foster joy
2 Bham Family May 2023 AGES 6 - 18 2719 19th Place South in downtown Homewood Sikes - (205) 879-3433 Jack N Jill - (205) 879-7681 Outfitting Birmingham’s children since 1954
Bham Family May 2023 3 We aren’t just your dental team...we’re family. 589A Shades Crest Rd • Hoover • (205) 822-7277 •

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but here it is again: May is my favorite month! It’s so full of celebrations—school’s out, Memorial Day, graduations, Cinco de Mayo and a free pass to eat queso for dinner, Mother’s Day, and more!—plus the beginning of outdoor festival and concert season. Everything outdoors is green, the pollen is gone, the flowers are blooming, and we haven’t started dropping cliché Southern phrases like “It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity!” yet.

Hopefully all the above means you’re enjoying this issue somewhere pretty and warm—it’s a good one! Our regular columnists nailed it again this month with humor and wise words. Find Just for Dads on page 8; Holy Moly Motherhood on page 10; and Sean of the South on page 12. I am also grateful for the voices from our medical community, shared in our Medical Spotlight (page 14) and in our

wellness feature on page 24. On page 22, we have a fabulous spotlight on a nonprofit that’s serving up design joy to local children—I really loved hearing more about Christopher Kids from Executive Director Caroline Thomas.

We love hearing from you—in fact, several of the articles in this month’s issue were reader-generated— so please reach out if you know of a Birmingham business, event, or person we should feature.

Be sure to visit Vestavia’s new ice cream shop, Sunshine Creamery (page 18) for a creamy toast to the (unofficial) start of summer! Happy May!

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AGES 4-18

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Bham Family is published monthly by JBMC Media, LLC, P.O. Box 26432, Birmingham AL 35260. 10,000 copies are printed and distributed at more than 650 locations throughout Jefferson and Shelby Counties.


If your business would like to make copies available to customers, please email with your business name, address, point of contact, and number of copies you would like.


To reach the largest audience of parents in Birmingham each month, partner with us. Email to get started with a partnership that will be a key part of your plan.

Christopher Kids is a nonprofit organization that combines the artistic and design skills of architects with children who have unique and special needs. Our cover photo this month features one of the children their team worked with to create a space especially for them.

Read all about their organization on page 22.


Matthew Allen Publisher (205) 617-9609

Stephanie Gibson Lepore Content Director

Michelle Salem Haynes Marketing Consultant (205) 381-1311

Tony and Shweta Bratina Graphic Designers

Bham Family May 2023 5
Photograph by Lauren Ustad
ON THE COVER Birmingham Family Magazine @BhamFamilyMag RECYCLE ME! @BhamFamilyAL @BhamFamilyMag RECYCLE ME!


These folks are the ones to thank for our magazine’s success — spend your money with them, and tell them you saw them in Bham Family!

Applause Dancewear

Birmingham Children’s Theatre

Children’s of Alabama


Deo Gloria Wood Works

Jack n Jill Shop

Kasey Davis Dentistry

Painted Personalities

Pediatric Smiles

Red Mountain Theatre

Sike’s Children’s Shoes

Southlake Orthopaedics

The Whole Scoop

Ice Cream Shop

Top Body Contouring

Vineyard Family Services

Vulcan Termite & Pest Control


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Just for Dads

Ward Williams gives advice p. 8

Holy Moly Motherhood

Just buy the souvenir p. 10

Sean of the South Bagging groceries p. 12

Medical Spotlight Birmingham Orthodontics p. 14


News from local schools and college students p. 16

Food Review

Sunshine Creamery opens in Vestavia p. 18


Update from the Hoover School District p. 20


Sparking Joy Through Design

Christopher Kids combines their talents and expertise to give back to children p. 22

Fostering Wellness

A UAB doctor helps parents connect with kids on healthy living p. 24

Bham Family May 2023 7 INSIDE THIS ISSUE 18 22 30 14


One of the seven habits of highly effective people is to begin with the end in sight. When raising our kids, we must figure out when they reach the end point or goal that we had envisioned for them or that they envisioned for themselves. Is the end goal success in middle school or high school, or are we preparing our kids to have character, morals, values, and beliefs that will help them develop the resiliency to find the purpose for which they were created?

Facebook was so entertaining in the early days of its popularity, when many parents of young children would ceaselessly brag about how advanced and amazingly talented their one-year-olds were. According to their posts, my Facebook friends had the smartest, biggest, most destined-for-greatness toddlers on the planet. It was easy to smile and smirk at wishful thinking and braggadocios content of parents with infants and toddlers. Over the years, those posts came to include what incredible colleges those kids got into, the lead parts in the plays they received, the honor societies they were inducted into, or the teams they made. What happens when our children don’t reach that goal; they don’t make the team or get the part they wanted in the play? How do we, as parents who have put so much time, value, and energy into these goals, deal with the disappointment and in turn help our children deal with disappointment? Some of us parents may have felt our pride hurt or challenged by the temporary success or failure of a child’s activity. You may have also turned to another parent or adult who will help to fan your frustration and justify your anger. As teenagers once, we all failed to achieve a goal, didn’t make a team, or were rejected by a friend or someone we wanted to date, and then figured out a way to move on and learn that there is life beyond our middle school and high school successes.

I am writing this with some of my own selfreflection poured in. My biggest takeaway on this topic of handling disappointment while parenting

is to be careful what we as parents place value on and communicate as value or success to our children. If all your time and energy is placed on making a team, getting an award, or earning a status, then I want to challenge you to look and see if your thoughts and energy are in the right place. Matthew 6:21 says: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” As a parent, are you treasuring the things that really matter? Is your child looking for treasure that is lasting and valuable? Psalm 39:4-5 speaks of how fleeting our life is—that it is a mere handbreadth; middle and high school are a short part of a short life in the context of eternity. If we are going to be positive examples of handling disappointment, we must keep a right perspective. In our disappointment, we can also realize that God has a sovereign plan, and it doesn’t necessary look like ours. We must make sure that we are placing value on the correct things that deserve value. We must begin with the end in mind. The end result may not be making the right team, earning a certain GPA or ACT score, or getting the most recognition. All of those things could be good goals, but not the end goal. Instead, help your kid discover their God-given purpose and His will for their lives. Teach your child to follow God, listen for His voice, discover their purpose according to God’s plan, and then follow that plan. Following God’s plan is the ultimate way to find a fulfilled life.

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Ward Williams is the founder and executive director of Vineyard Family Services. Reach him at Ward Williams


cutting boards | Charcuterie trays

bathtub caddies | bed swings

stovetop covers | tables | planters

shelves | bookcases

custom orders accepted

facebook: @deogloriawoodworks

Instagram: @deogloriawoodworks


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Day Trippin’

We took a day trip to Chattanooga this weekend, and did all the things on Lookout Mountain. We ended up in the Rock City gift shop, of course. I bought myself a bird house and knew I would buy my kiddos something small to remember the trip by, even though it would likely just sit in a basket for eternity.

I’m kind of a sucker for things like this. I like to get a little prize when we are out of town and I know my kids do too. Plus, I say “no” a lot.

No, you cannot eat four toaster strudels.

No, you cannot play one more game tonight.

No, no, no you cannot skip bath. Ever.

No. Just, no. That’s all.

So, when my 8-year-old picked up not only an overpriced wooden sword, but also it’s wooden shield counterpart, I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap. I looked at the price in the gift shop, and this small “prize” was going to be $30. And, my toddler would want them as well. I groaned inside and looked around the gift shop for something cheaper.

But then I thought about how he will be nine this year. NINE.

He has his big teeth in.

He’s been questioning me about the reality of the tooth fairy. He can decipher any words that I try to spell aloud to my husband.

He’s just big. We are somehow more than halfway to him driving. Driving a vehicle, alone. His baby days are gone, and everything ahead of us is grown, big kid stuff. Girls and friends and social circles. So, I stopped and asked him if this sword and shield was what he wanted. And he said, “yes!”

I said, “Ok, yes! That’s fine.”

His face lit up. He knows me, and knows I’ll usually buy one thing, not two, so this was special. And it was. Because next year, he might say, “Nah, I don’t need anything.” And that will break me a little.

I hope it’s not that soon. I hope we are years away from that. But, you just never know.

One day, he just quit getting in the tub and started showers.

One day, he started sleeping in instead of coming down to get in the bed with me.

One day, he just made his own sandwich. Sort of.

So, I bought the sword and the shield and spent all my money at the gift shop. And I hope it’s not the last time.

Alana Smith is a boy mom (ages 8 and 3), nurse anesthetist, and writer in Birmingham. She shares her writing at Holy Moly Motherhood (on Facebook and Instagram), where she tackles all things motherhood and marriage.

10 Bham Family May 2023 HOLY MOLY MOTHERHOOD

Paloma Jimenez started her massage therapy career in Mexico then came to the United States and furthered her career in Birmingham School of Massage where she received her certification.She practiced massage therapy for 12 years and then she decided to grow her business and got extensive training and certifications in body contouring and attended National Laser Institute. That is where her love for the aesthetics field began and she is now offering some of the best treatments in the market.

Paloma Jimenez and her two beauty technicians offer several services such as Trilift, Cryoskin , Cavitation, Radio frequency and Pre operative and Post operative massages. These treatments are for anyone who is trying to reawaken their natural beauty or needs a little extra help reaching their goals. They have some of the best equipment in the market. This team strives to help clients get the best results. Their team has done extensive training to have the knowledge to teach their clients about the service they are getting. At Top Body Contouring they have the only Trilift machine in Alabama. Trilift utilizes Dynamic Muscle Stimulation so you can achieve an effect similar to a face lift without any needles or downtime.

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Birmingham family welcome to the new local business located on 3057 Lorna Rd, Suite 103 Hoover Free Initial consultation!!!

Pretty Good

He was loading my grocery bags. I’ll call him Michael. He was early twenties, wearing an apron. He has Down syndrome.

“How are you today?” he said.

“Pretty good,” said I.

“So am I!” he said. “I’m doing pretty good, too!”

I smiled. “How about that.”

The cashier was dutifully scanning my groceries, sliding them into the bagging area. Michael was loading my plastic bag slowly. And I mean extremely slowly.

One. Item. At. A. Time.

He was an artist. He packed my first bag like it was going into the Smithsonian.

“I’m trying to load it just right,” Michael said. “I’m supposed to take my time bagging. My manager said not to hurry. I used to rush it. But now I don’t rush it anymore. I go slow. Really slow. Like this.”

He placed a box of Cheez-Its into a bag so gently he might as well have been handling a live grenade.

Eventually, we were standing around waiting on him to finish bagging. I had already paid, but Michael was still packing my first bag, moving at about the same pace as law school.

The bagging area was still brimming with groceries and there was a long line of customers accumulating in the checkout lane behind us, wearing aggravated looks on their pinched and sour faces.

There are two kinds of people in this world, those who slow down when they see a yellow light, and those who speed up. These customers were the latter.

The cashier asked Michael if he wanted help bagging to speed things up.

“No, thank you,” he said, placing toothpaste into the bag carefully. “I’m good.”

“But people are waiting,” the cashier said.

So Michael took a moment to smile and wave at everyone. After what seemed like four or five presidential administrations he finished loading my first bag. He placed the bag into my cart. “There!” he announced, dusting his hands.

One bag down. Fifty to go.

The cashier said, “Michael, there’s a long line waiting, we need to hurry.”

“I can’t hurry,” said Michael. “We’re NOT supposed to hurry. We don’t rush. That’s what the manager told me. Never rush it. ‘Don’t rush it, Michael,’ that’s what he told me. So I’m not rushing it. You go ask him, that’s what he’ll say to you. Don’t rush it.”


“Last time I rushed it I got in trouble, and I’m not getting in trouble again, so I’m not gonna rush it, I’m gonna…”

“Okay, okay,” she said.

So she flipped on her aisle light, which began to blink. She told the shoppers to find another checkout lane. This was going to take a while.

The disgruntled customers shot their disgusted glares in our direction.

And thus it was, we watched a master at work. My bags were the most meticulously, well-crafted, perfectly packed grocery bags in the Twenty-Second State. He placed each bag into my cart one at a time.

When Michael finally finished he asked if I wanted help out to my car. At first, I was going to say no thank you, but I figured, why not? It’s not every day you meet a craftsman who takes pride in his work.

“Sure,” I said.

Michael pushed my cart out to the parking lot and we talked. I learned a lot about him.

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He told me that he loves this job because it is fun. He told me he has a cat who is crazy but also fun. He told me about how he is going to save up money to buy professional sound equipment so that he can be a wedding DJ someday because DJs are super fun. He likes rap music, which can be fun if they don’t cuss too much.

He likes chicken. He likes Jolly Ranchers. He likes it when everyone sings together before baseball games, which is fun. His favorite sport is baseball because it’s also fun. But then so is soccer. And come to think of it, pretty much all the other sports, too.

He also has a new phone, which he showed to me. The screen’s background was a picture of himself posing with a woman who I assume is his mother. They were hugging each other and laughing in the photo.

“Is that your mom?” I said.

“Oh, yes,” he said.

“What’s she like?”

He stared at the screen. “She is really pretty.”

Michael helped me load groceries into my truck and treated my bags with his trademarked tenderness. Before we left each other’s company we shook hands, I asked him to give me some parting words before I drove away.

He pointed a finger at me and said, “Don’t rush it.”

An artist, I tell you.

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Orthodontic Care for Kids

Debunking four myths about your child’s dental health

As parents, we all want the best for our children. That should include doing our best to care for their overall health. For tens of millions of parents, seeking professional orthodontic care for their kids is a crucial part of accomplishing the mission of helping a child grow up happy, healthy, and strong. In addition to helping a child feel more confident about themselves as they grow, straight and correctly aligned teeth can help a person avoid a host of real issues later, from low self-esteem to tooth decay and pain.

I’d like to help bust a series of persistent myths that might keep parents from seeking orthodontic care for their child. Read on for four myths about orthodontics care for children, followed by facts that should put your mind at ease and make it easier to help your child achieve a great smile that will serve them for life.

Myth #1: Children who still have some of their “baby teeth” are too young to visit an orthodontist.

FACT: According to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), children should have their first orthodontic check-up by age 7 at the very latest. The fact is that by age 5 or 6, we can often spot problems in X-rays and newly emerged permanent teeth that can develop into big orthodontic trouble down the line.

As orthodontic specialists, we receive additional training after dental school, and we can see subtle issues with jaw development, for example. Knowing about issues early can help parents and their child’s orthodontist head off many emerging bite, jaw, and tooth misalignment issues before they become more extensive and expensive to correct.

Myth #2: Orthodontic treatment is very expensive.

FACT: This myth seems to be rooted in the


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Dr. Careybeth Rivers


orthodontic treatments of a generation ago. While the cost of treatment for your child can vary, orthodontics are generally a lot more affordable than you might expect. Many orthodontists offer a free exam, so there’s often no cost to get treatment recommendations.

There are also many payment options available today that make orthodontic treatment much more affordable. Most orthodontists are parents themselves and understand the costs associated with helping a child be the best they can be. With that in mind, most orthodontists offer flexible payment plans and will work with parents to find a path that fits what you can afford to pay. In short, for most families, there’s no reason to fear that helping your child get a great smile will blow a hole in your budget.

Myth #3: Orthodontic treatment is purely cosmetic.

FACT: Well-aligned teeth allow for easier and more thorough cleaning and care at home, which has been shown to result in a decreased risk of gum disease, tooth decay, and cavities. Your oral health is also directly tied to your overall physical health, and it can be linked to psychological well being.

A 2020 survey of over 1,000 adults by Propeller Research found that 46 percent of those surveyed didn’t feel confident about the appearance of their teeth. Whether we like it or not, misaligned teeth are a lot more than “just a cosmetic issue.” By making a person feel less confident about themselves when meeting new people, misalignment can have a big impact on a child’s self esteem, future relationships, career prospects


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According to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), children should have a preventive orthodontic check-up by age 7. PHOTOGRAPH BY EYE FOR EBONY ON UNSPLASH

Carver Student Awarded Princeton Prize

Senior drum major Gustavo Garcia Perez was recently awarded the Princeton Prize in Race Relations in Alabama for 2023 ( Gustavo received a $1,000 award and an invitation to attend the Symposium on Race at Princeton University, where he will meet Princeton Prize winners from across the country. In 2021, Gustavo became the first Hispanic Drum Major at Carver High, and he raised nearly $65,000 for blood cancer research during the 2021 Lymphoma and Leukemia Society Student of the Year Program. He is an alumnus of the Youth Leadership Forum and the Anytown Alabama Leadership Summit. He will graduate in June with the Seal of Biliteracy in English and Spanish and plans to attend Miles College to major in Computer Information Sciences.

UAB Students Attend Clinton Global Initiative University

The University of Alabama at Birmingham had a historic number of students—15— selected for the Clinton Global Initiative University annual meeting. The students were among close to 700 from 92 nations and 42 states who learned from influential leaders. Selected UAB students from the Birmingham area included: junior Rachael George of Birmingham, an Honors College student in the University Honors Program; senior Lynne Zhou of Birmingham, an Honors College student on a Personalized Pathway who is majoring in neuroscience; senior Nandini Vobbilisetty of Hoover, an Honors College student in the Science and Technology Honors Program majoring in neuroscience; senior Agasthya Vedre-Kyanam of Birmingham, who is majoring in medical sociology; and senior Karim Mikhail of Hoover, an Honors College student in the Science and Technology Honors Program majoring in neuroscience.

Pinson Student Earns Xavier Scholarship

Sean Allen, a senior basketball player from Pinson Valley High School, will head to Xavier of Louisiana this fall on an academic scholarship. He plans to major in Biology/Pre-Medicine as part of the Biomedical Science program. He says he chose Xavier because it’s an HBCU and also because he wants to become an anesthesiologist, following in his mom’s footsteps, who is also a doctor. He plans to try out for the Xavier basketball team this fall.

Trussville City BOE Announces New Superintendant

The Trussville City Board of Education recently unanimously approved new Trussville City Schools superintendent Dr. Patrick Martin. Dr. Martin is currently the assistant superintendent of Vestavia Hills City Schools and will replace interim superintendent Dr. Frank Costanzo.

Two Groups of Birmingham Students Invited to Carnegie Hall

Choir members from Fairfield Preparatory High School (directed by Twanisha Brooks) and Ramsay High School (directed by Zachary Banks) have been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall. The two choirs will join Alabama State University’s choir and ASU Director of Choral Activities, Dr. Kristofer Sanchack, who was invited to be a guest conductor of Adolphus Hailstork’s “I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes” with the New England Symphonic Ensemble. The performance will take place May 13.

16 Bham Family May 2023 EDUCATION

MBHS Principal Retires

Mountain Brook High School Principal, Philip Holley announced his intention to retire at the end of the 2022-2023 school year. “I could not be more thankful to the community of Mountain Brook, along with the students, teachers, and staff members I’ve been blessed to be around for the majority of my career in education,” Holley said. “In my various roles in this school system, I have loved the opportunity to grow as a professional with some truly special people in a place that means so much to me.” He has been the Principal at MBHS since 2018 and spent all but 10 of his 28 years in education in the Mountain Brook school system. Prior to his time as Principal, he was the high school’s Assistant Principal for two years, and he also served as a Mountain Brook Junior High biology teacher for 11 years. During his time at MBHS, the school has been consistently ranked as the top public high school in Alabama and in the top 1% of public high schools in the United States. Holley also helped oversee the two-phase renovation project of MBHS, which included adding 43 new classrooms, a new band room, a new counseling suite, a new dance studio, and more.


and their ability to be outgoing.

Myth #4: An at-home teeth alignment kit, ordered off the internet or given to you by your dentist, will result in similar results to seeing a certified orthodontist.

FACT: Improper teeth alignment efforts can cause problems that are costly to fix. At times, the results can be irreversible.

When the alignment of your teeth is overseen by a certified orthodontist, you know that you are getting the best possible standard of care. Orthodontics requires some of the most rigorous training of any specialization in dentistry. Before one can be certified as an orthodontist, they first

have to become a dentist, followed by a two- to three-year residency in orthodontics. Usually, only those in the top 10% of their dental school class go on to be orthodontists.

By seeking out professional orthodontic care and treatment, you’re doing your child a favor that will pay dividends for them for years in the way of better oral hygiene, better overall confidence and even in business and personal relationships. Those goals are well worth the investment.

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PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF MOUNTAIN BROOK SCHOOLS Mountain Brook High School principal Philip Holley will retire at the end of the school year.

Cool Off with a Sweet Treat

Every day is a bright, sunshiny day at Vestavia’s newest ice cream shop.

We recently stopped by the brand-new Sunshine Creamery, which opened in late April in the old Continental Florist location off Rocky Ridge Road. The shop stands out in its brick strip mall location, thanks to a bold, colorful sign and large windows that give approaching guests a view of the bright yellow and aqua stools and neon ice cream “open” sign.

Sunshine Creamery is owned by Casey and Jarrard Ray, whose two children convinced them the area needed an ice cream spot. The cheery, kid-friendly store offers all kinds of sweet treats, including ice cream cones, milkshakes, and sundaes. Since opening, folks have flocked to the shop for a taste of flavors that range from classic (chocolate, butter pecan) to inventive (Lil’ Blue Panda, Playdough). In


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fact, the first time we tried to stop in for a scoop, the Monday after their Friday ribbon-cutting, the lights were off, and a handwritten sign informed us that the creamery was closed for restocking and would reopen the next day. Perhaps it was my six-year-old daughter’s peering (read: nosy) face in the window, but before we could get back to our car, Jarrard jogged out with an ice cream cookie sandwich, a coupon, and an apology, sharing with us that even their tons of backstock had been sold over the weekend. This sounded like a great opening weekend “problem” to us! I appreciated him taking the time to come out and greet us, an unnecessary but very kind gesture. My daughter graciously allowed me a few bites of the (delicious!) ice cream sandwich, and we returned the next day to try more.

We chose a scoop of coconut with hot fudge and a junior chocolate cone and sat on stools at the window table to enjoy our ice cream. Both I and my daughter give it two thumbs up—and she was thrilled that we had ice cream before dinner. Mom points! The shop was bustling for a late-afternoon weekday: happy kids, happy parents, happy employees.

The creamery features more than 30 flavors from different vendors, and Casey also makes ice cream cakes and pies. They offer milkshakes, sundaes, and other specials, as well as a freezer filled with those tasty ice cream cookie sandwiches. We can’t wait to return to try more!

Sunshine Creamery is located at 3390 Morgan Drive in Vestavia. They are open Monday-Thursday 1-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 1-10 p.m.; and Sunday 1-8 p.m. Follow them on Instagram @sunshinecreameryvh.

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High schoolers recognized for community service

Several Hoover and Spain Park High School students were honored during the Youth in Service Awards Breakfast on Friday, April 21, in Birmingham. Youth Serve, an organization that empowers youth in the Birmingham metro area to serve and lead, hosted the event to recognize students for their service to the community.

Terri Coleman, a Trace Crossings Elementary School counselor who serves on the Board of Directors for Youth Serve, says two Hoover students were also finalists for services awards. Sara Hancock designed the “To the Fullest” service project, and Kennedy Means participated in the “Attire to Inspire” project.

There were more than 60 applicants for Youth in Service awards. Mayor Frank Brocato and Hoover City Schools Chief Learning Officer Dr. Chris Robbins were among those in attendance to celebrate the students and their commitment to serving their communities.

SMES is a Green Ribbon School

Shades Mountain Elementary was recognized as a 2023 Green Ribbon School, recognizing the school’s efforts to reduce energy dependence, promote recycling, and educate students on eco-friendly practices. SMES was one of two Alabama schools honored, and one of just 26 schools nationwide honored.

Skipper recognized with top state award

Alison Skipper, Rocky Ridge Elementary School Child Nutrition Program employee, was named the Alabama School Nutrition Association Employee of the Year on April 22 at the association’s annual conference at the BJCC. “It’s such an honor and blessing to represent child nutrition workers,” said Skipper. “The children are the heart of what we do. The children, their joy, and their love for all things food keep me going and thriving for the best for the children.”

Skipper recognized with top state award

Alison Skipper, Rocky Ridge Elementary School Child Nutrition Program employee, was named the Alabama School Nutrition Association Employee of the Year on April 22 at the association’s annual conference at the BJCC. “It’s such an honor and blessing to represent child nutrition workers,” said Skipper. “The children are the heart of what we do. The children, their joy, and their love for all things food keep me going and thriving for the best for the children.”


GEMS receives large donation

The Girls Engaging in Math and Science (GEMS) program received a $2,500 donation from Alabama Power. Dr. Dil Uswatte, Rocky Ridge Elementary principal and GEMS program organizer, said the GEMS District leadership team, said, “Alabama Power and the Hoover City Schools Foundation were our major sponsors of this event, impacting over 400 girls. Thanks to all of our sponsors, our girls were able to participate in our STEM projects fairly; be inspired by our guest speaker, Astronaut Jan Davis; explore STEM hands-on activities; enjoy a free lunch; and receive a special t-shirt.”

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Designed to Spark Joy

Christopher Architecture & Interiors combines their talents to serve children with home accessibility needs.

President and principal architect of Christopher Architecture & Interiors (CAI), Chris Reebals, spent almost a decade working in vocational ministry post-architecture school. Then, after years of projects with the talented designers at his firm, Chris had a vision for a place where he could combine the gifts of his team to help children with home accessibility needs.

“From the initial idea, we created Christopher Kids and were founded under the mission statement ‘Serving children through design,’ ” says executive director Caroline Thomas. “We’ve had the privilege to gather our team and external design community to serve children through the power of beautiful and accessible design.” (Chris serves as board


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PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF CHRISTOPHER KIDS Christopher Kids designs happy spaces that cater to children with special needs.



During the time that Christopher Kids was awaiting formal 501c3 status, they partnered with Make-A-Wish Alabama to provide design services, furnishings, and vendor partnerships, which led to their first project—a new bedroom designed in partnership with Wish Kid in August 2020. “Our first fully independent project was installed that November, which was a playroom for a cancer survivor,” says Caroline. Since then, Christopher Kids has completed nine such design projects and is currently working on its tenth. Most are in the Birmingham area, though they have traveled to Tuscaloosa and Jasper, too.

In order to start the process, someone must submit a referral for the child in need, whether it be a parent, family friend, teacher, social worker, or similar. “Once a child is referred to us, we email the parent contact to introduce our services. Then we have a preliminary meeting or phone call to further discuss our services and what space or solution is most appropriate for the child. If it is a project within our means that aligns with our bylaws, we schedule a home visit, where we bring members of our design team to measure the room for the digital floor plan. We measure every single inch to ensure we have a strong reference to begin the design process,” says Caroline. “Usually, before the home visit, a parent will complete our intake form. This covers all the details, from the child’s favorite colors, TV shows, hobbies, and toys to the general hope and vision for the space. We take all that information and synthesize a list of priorities for the project. The priority determines the order in which we work and begin our planning. For example, if the child is transitioning from a crib to a big kid bed, we will start with what size, material, and orientation we want the bed to be. From there, we fill in the other requests and present a design vignette to the family, which is a pictorial representation accompanied by the

floor plan to represent the new space. This looks different for every project depending on the room, child, diagnosis, and existing furniture or equipment. We walk the parents through the room details and explain why each piece was chosen. If everything looks good, we order the pieces and schedule an installation date. We can usually install everything in one or two days and finish up with the big reveal!” Currently, says Caroline, the organization has a waiting list of referrals. “We have been blessed to meet the sweetest kids and families through our work,” she says.

Christopher Kids works tirelessly to keep their mission—serving children through design—at the forefront. “We take the responsibility of what we do very seriously and spend countless hours poring over every detail of the room to thoughtfully integrate the accessibility solutions needed, as well as the preferences of the child,” says Caroline. Each project is unique, largely depending on a child’s age, personality, diagnosis, and space, as well as taking into account what equipment they require daily. “For some, we work on smaller details that make life easier. Other times, we fully outfit the room with completely new furniture down to fresh sheets on the bed. The children and families we serve face so many challenges, and by the time parents take care of multiple children while also attending doctors’ appointments and therapy, there is little energy and knowledge devoted to making the child’s home as accessible, personalized, and beautiful as possible,” she says.

To ensure they hit all the details, after meeting with a family, Christopher Kids often collaborates with special education teachers or therapists and receives recommendations of equipment that a child enjoys or that can help them reach their goals. “We’ve completed rooms for children with genetic disorders, epilepsy, cancer, and autism, to name a few,” says Caroline. “Each present a different goal, from wheelchair accessibility to seizure safety. A childhood home is the backdrop for some


Bham Family May 2023 23 FEATURE

Healthy Living with Kids

How to discuss sensitive, important topics without the weight stigmas

Childhood obesity has risen dramatically over the past few years, affecting around 14.7 million children and adolescents. Studies show around 40 percent of overweight girls and 37 percent of overweight boys are teased about weight by family members and peers. Weight teasing increases the risk not only of weight gain, but also of binge eating and extreme weight control measures that may lead to eating disorders.

With increased health risks associated with both obesity and eating disorders, how do parents promote a healthy lifestyle to their children without prompting unhealthy behaviors?

Channing Brown, M.D., an internist and pediatrician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Children’s of Alabama, discusses how parents can address weightrelated situations with children and adolescents.


Weight stigmas alone can increase the risk of obesity or developing an eating disorder. Children generally develop weight stigmas from their family members or physicians.

“Parents assume their kids’ negative weight stigmas come from external influences such as social media or pop culture,”


24 Bham Family May 2023


Brown said. “Even if they never discuss their child’s weight directly with them, negative comments about the parents’ weight or weight of others have a significant impact on a child’s weight perceptions.”

Brown urges parents to use weight-neutral or healthpromoting language. The language avoids making comments about anyone’s body, including the parents’ own bodies. It also steers away from labeling foods as “good or bad” and instead focuses on the nutritional value or health benefits of a food.

Brown also encourages parents and physicians to reiterate that everyone is born with a unique body and that, while the body mass index can be correlated in health outcomes, it is not always the best indicator of health.


Recent studies reflect the complexity of obesity, and new guidelines have moved away from “watchful waiting” to comprehensive action plans. Brown encourages families to create a holistic plan to promote healthy living within their households.

“Obesity and eating disorders are complex issues, and a child’s environment and family play a huge role,” Brown said. “These are not conditions with a quick, one-solution fix, so it is important for families to create


Bham Family May 2023 25 FEATURE

goals that take into account the bigger picture of their child’s life.”

Parents should first take time to understand the stressors in their child’s life. These could be interpersonal household stressors, such as divorce, financial issues, addictions, or environmental factors in school and social life, such as bullying or relationship issues. If there are stressors that seem to trigger unhealthy habits, parents can work with counselors, pediatricians, teachers, and others to minimize them.

Brown says the next step is to set realistic health goals for the whole family. Studies show parents’ modeling healthy behavior, such as eating vegetables at family meals, set positive examples for their kids to follow. This also includes modeling non-food-related behaviors, such as exercise. Encouraging kids to go on walks, playing a favorite sport, dancing or even doing yardwork together are great opportunities to incorporate movement into their routine while spending time together as a family.

While eating habits are not the sole contributor to risk for obesity or eating disorders, they are a significant component to overall health. Brown says to avoid going on a “family diet” as diets are the main risk factor for obesity and eating disorders. Instead, she recommends implementing the 5-2-1-0+ rule to meet daily health goals.

“Try to eat five servings of fruits or vegetables a day, get two hours or less of screen time, move your body in a healthy way for one hour a day, drink zero sugary beverages, and aim for nine hours or more of sleep nightly,” Brown said.


Children’s and adolescents’ weights fluctuate over the years, so parents should look for drastic changes in their child’s weight. Sudden changes in weight are often indicators of potential health issues and a sign to speak with a physician. Brown reminds parents to

avoid voicing their concerns about their child’s weight in front of the child.

If clinical intervention is needed, Brown urges parents to visit a specialist who is experienced in pediatric weight loss or a center that focuses on interdisciplinary weight loss or eating disorder treatments.

26 Bham Family May 2023
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of life’s most precious memories. By working with our designers at Christopher Architecture & Interiors, we can utilize their talents and skills to serve a population of children in a very meaningful and personalized way.”

At the end of each completed project, Christopher Kids does a “grand reveal” of the finished space. “These are always the most special moments, because it’s the moment the family sees all the pieces come together in a tangible way,” says Caroline. “They are always overcome with emotion, and it’s such a special opportunity to see our team’s hard work pay off! It’s immensely rewarding to hear later down the line how the room has been utilized, loved, and a blessing for the child.”

Because Christopher Kids is a fully independent nonprofit corporation, they rely on donations and fundraising to cover the costs of their projects minus designer fees, as team members at Christopher Architecture & Interiors volunteer their services. “The majority of our funds are from generous individuals and companies who believe in our

mission,” says Caroline. “We also receive a portion of our funds from foundation grants and are lucky to have companies sponsor our projects. And we’re blessed with active Senior Board and Junior Board members who are the hands and feet of our organization.”

Caroline notes that, while they maintain a general budget for each room and stay consistent with out-of-pocket expenditures, Christopher Kids is lucky to have relationships with generous vendors who donate time and resources to projects. “The overall cost of projects can differ when taking into account the in-kind donations we’re given,” she says. And that’s important, but the main mission remains: “It’s always a joy to be welcomed into a home to deliver something special to each family.”

To learn more about serving on the Christopher Kids Junior or Senior Board of Directors or to find out about fundraising events, visit, email, or check out their Instagram feed

30 Bham Family May 2023

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PARENTS — Think your teen might be involved with substance abuse? Have questions? Concerned about your teen? Wondering how to handle your teen’s choices? Just need someone to listen to you? Talking helps.

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