4UPDATE THE HIPPIE ASSASSIN Harris Countyâ€™s native mosquito assassin is an important ally in the war against mosquitoes. PAGE 14
TELGE ROAD DETENTION BASIN BECOMES DRAGONFLY HABITAT Page 4 HARRIS COUNTY ANIMAL SHELTER TO THE RESCUE Page 8 TRUSTING MOTHER NATURE: FOREST MANAGEMENT AT JONES PARK A DAY IN PRECINCT 4
FALL/WINTER ISSUE 2019
Harris County Precinct 4
Commissioner R. Jack Cagle
UNTY P RE CI CO
N E R R. JAC
THIS PAGE Sunday Afternoon in the Park 2018 at Burroughs Park in Tomball. Don't miss this year's annual festival on Sunday, October 20. PHOTO BY Grace Diaz
TELGE ROAD DETENTION BASIN BECOMES
A DAY IN
Harris County Animal Shelter Leading the Pack
Trusting Mother Nature Forest Management at Jones Park
Not Your Average Mosquito "Mosquito Assassins" Unleashed
Neighbors Helping Neighbors Community Response to Disaster
George H.W. Bush Community Center
Precinct4Update Fall/Winter 2019 Precinct4Update is a biannual magazine available to residents free of charge featuring Harris County Precinct 4’s various events and activities, volunteer opportunities, project updates, news, and much more.
Contact www.hcp4.net 713-274-4050 14444 Holderrieth Road Tomball, TX 77377 Editing Joan Gould Joe Stinebaker Kaci Woodrome
Writing Alicia Alaniz Joan Gould Crystal Simmons Joe Stinebaker Kaci Woodrome
NOV 9 | LAUNCH AT DENNIS JOHNSTON PARK + JOHNNY APPLESEED DAY SEPT 26 + LEARN TO CAMP OCT 11-13 + PIONEER DAY NOV 9
Design Taylor Krzeszowski
Want to know what’s happening in Precinct 4? Sign up to receive our quarterly calendar! Follow the link below to subscribe online. www.hcp4.net/ publications
Harris County Precinct 4
Commissioner R. Jack Cagle
Fall Issue 2019
Cover photo by Anita Schiller
printed on recycled paper
A message from
COMMISSIONER R. JACK CAGLE
elcome to the inaugural edition of Precinct 4Update, the premier online and print magazine for residents of Harris County Precinct 4!
As your commissioner, it is my pleasure to tell you about all the county facilities, programs, and services available to you. I believe that one of the most efficient and enjoyable ways to share all that Precinct 4 has to offer is through the lively writing, engaging photography, and vibrant layout featured biannual in the new Precinct 4Update. This innovative magazine replaces and consolidates Update and Precinct 4 Times, the former general-interest and senior adult publications, respectively. Subscribers to one or both of those magazines will now receive Precinct4Update, which highlights the many events, facilities, and programs available to you as a Precinct 4 resident, as well as an occasional take on current events in county government. Houston swarms with pesky mosquitoes, so it’s appropriate to feature an article on the native “mosquito assassins,” which are predatory insects bred and studied by my office’s Biological Control Initiative. These surprising insects may look like your typical pest mosquito, but they are actually a natural pest killer – feasting on mosquito larvae. A partnership between Precinct 4 and the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science provides an avenue for further studies of this natural ally in our annual battle with skeeters. Also in this issue, read more about Biological Control Initiative’s joint venture with the Harris County Flood Control District and numerous volunteer organizations to create a dragonfly habitat featuring native wetland vegetation that filters and cleans stormwater runoff.
And to give you a glimpse into a few of the programs offered in Precinct 4, I assigned Crystal Simmons, our media relations and communications specialist, to pen a first-person account of some of the programs offered on any given day, from fitness classes and outdoor activities to art and woodworking. A quick note about that name, Precinct 4Update: that’s not a typo. The “4U” together in the title is a reminder that this publication is “for you,” the residents of Precinct 4, and that my staff and I work for you each day. I hope you enjoy this new magazine as much as my staff and I enjoyed putting it together 4U.
R. Jack Cagle
Precinct4Update Fall/Winter 2019
IN HONOR AND REMEMBRANCE OF FALLEN POLICE OFFICERS by Alicia Alaniz
ormer U.S. Rep. Ted Poe recently retired after a memorable career as a congressman, judge, and prosecutor. But as he prepared to leave office late last year, Poe was thinking about another group of public servants. Who, he wondered, would take his place as sponsor of his annual police memorial ceremony? Poe had begun the memorial in Humble in 2015 for those unable to attend ceremonies at the National Police Memorial in Washington, D.C., during National Police Week, and he wanted to see the custom continued. Fortunately, Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle stepped up and agreed to continue the tradition. And on May 13, Cagle opened the ceremonies as sponsor of the 5th Annual Police Memorial Ceremony at the Humble Civic Center. “Duty, honor, and service,” said Cagle. “Not just in words, but it’s how they gave their lives. I am proud of these brave men and women who risk their lives every day, not only to protect our families, but our communities. We live in a day and age when police officers don’t get the respect they deserve.” Dozens of people gathered with Poe, Cagle, and other public officials to commemorate the sacrifice of the 16 Texas peace officers, including four K9s, who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2018. The ceremony included remarks from Cagle, Poe, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Constable Mark Herman, and justices of the peace Lincoln Goodwin and Laryssa Korduba.
Poe used the opportunity to express his pride and compassion for every man and woman who wears the badge every day to protect and serve. “Officers represent good over evil, do society’s dirty work, and often get criticized,” Poe said. “Police officers are the last strand of wire between the fox and the chickens – between the law and the lawless.” The first documented murder of a Texas peace officer took place in 1837. Since then, nearly 2,000 Texas peace officers have been killed in the line of duty. Nationally, Texas was among the top four states for police deaths in 2018, along with California, Florida, and New York. The number of officer fatalities decreased from 2017, when Texas ranked first in the nation with 14 officer deaths, not including K9s. In the United States, 144 federal, state, and local officers died in 2018 – a nearly 12% increase from the 129 who died in 2017, according to USA Today. Crenshaw, a naval veteran, told those gathered at the memorial that law enforcement and the military share a common bond. “When they step into the gap, they walk into darkness, day in and day out, knowing that it could be the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “Never forget them, and never forget their families.” Poe agreed. “It’s not just the peace officer that is part of law enforcement,” he said. “It’s the entire family. They wonder every day if their loved one will come back home. But we should not just remember the loss for the people, but thank the good Lord for their loved one’s life.” PHOTO BY Crystal Simmons
TELGE ROAD DETENTION BASIN BECOMES
Dragonfly Habitat story and photos by Kaci Woodrome
Precinct4Update Fall/Winter 2019
OPPOSITE PAGE Stephen Benigno and NRG Energy volunteers unload and organize prairie plants at the detention basin.
n a warm, sunny day, anyone who visits a fresh body of water can find dragonflies darting about as they feast on insects. What is less obvious is that dragonflies successfully capture their prey 95% of the time. This research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012, revealed dragonflies are among the most efficient and lethal predators on Earth. Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the scientific order Odonata, or “toothed one” as it’s translated in Greek, which refers to their serrated teeth. These aquatic invertebrates are fascinating for many reasons, but the most important is their unspoken agreement with people to hunt pest mosquitoes. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is an ancient proverb that holds true to the relationship we have with dragonflies. A single dragonfly can consume hundreds of mosquitoes per day. An ally like that is worth keeping around, which is exactly what Commissioner R. Jack Cagle had in mind when he suggested turning a run-of-the-mill detention basin into a dragonfly habitat. “We transformed an ugly stormwater drainage hole in the ground into a place where our beautiful but voracious winged friends can thrive and entertain us,” Cagle said. DETENTION BASIN TRANSFORMED When planning started for the expansion of Telge Road
at Spring Cypress in northwest Harris County, an agreement was forged so the Harris County Engineering Department could construct the detention basin on land owned by the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD). After completing the first phase of the road project in early 2019, including updates to the bridge across Little Cypress Creek, the detention basin and land were transferred back to HCFCD for maintenance. “Our department helped design the basin to create a wetland habitat,” said Stephen Benigno, the district’s environmental quality section leader. “Basically, when the water enters in, it leaves cleaner. We do this in all of our detention basins.” The state of Texas requires that a stormwater quality enhancement feature is included in every HCFCD project. One of the most cost-effective and easiest ways to accomplish that is by creating wetland habitats. Wetland ecosystems can improve stormwater quality because the ponds allow pollutants and sediment to settle out in the water, and the vegetation traps and filters contaminants. The basin is a wet-bottom detention, featuring emergent plants like cat tails, bull rush, and lily pads that are immersed in water. These plants are harvested from the HCFCD self-sustaining nursery, where staff members propagate wetland species to reduce project costs. “We also knew that Commissioner Cagle had requested it to be a dragonfly basin, so we tweaked the design to create a little extra wetland area,” said Benigno.
BIOLOGICAL CONTROL Anita Schiller, director of Precinct 4’s Biological Control Initiative, was asked to consult on the basin design to ensure beneficial wildlife, such as dragonflies and damselflies, would be incorporated. Additionally, Schiller was tasked with introducing native, non-game fish species and native, aquatic carnivorous plants to keep the basin from becoming a mosquito breeding ground. “This particular project is exciting because it is a showcase for best practices when different departments with different objectives come together,” Schiller said. Schiller and her team released native dragonfly and damselfly nymphs at the basin since they not only feed on mosquitoes in the adult stage of life, but they are also relentless mosquito predators in the larval stage. Additionally, Schiller introduced carnivorous bladderwort plants to serve as natural barriers to discourage mosquito breeding in the basin. “We’re speeding up establishment of mosquito predators since this basin is newly constructed and the ecosystem is unbalanced,” explained Schiller. Another motivation to create a dragonfly habitat at the Telge Road Detention Basin was preservation of these beneficial allies. There are 90 distinct species of Odonata in Harris County and more than 5,000 worldwide. But one in six species in North America are at risk of extinction, including some along the Gulf Coast. 6
Precinct4Update Fall/Winter 2019
RESTORATION AND CONSERVATION COMBINE “If you look at a map of Houston, the old historic aerials, Houston was built on prairies,” said Benigno. “There are maybe some patches here and there now, but it’s great to do what you can to restore it.” Benigno wanted to create a prairie at the site to help attract native insects, which would in turn contribute to the dragonfly habitat. But the goal transformed when Houston Wilderness, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting, preserving, and promoting the ecoregions in the Greater Houston area, approached Benigno in the spring of 2019. “We were able to partner with Houston Wilderness through their Monarch Flyway Strategy Grant to get 500 prairie plants and 30 pounds of native seed. It’s not something we typically do on basins, but in this instance, we were able to make it work,” said Benigno. The Texas Monarch Flyway Strategy is a statewide effort to restore, increase, and enhance monarch habitats across four major regions that serve as critical links in the migratory journey of monarch butterflies. At just seven acres, the footprint of the Telge Road Detention Basin is smaller than many HCFCD properties. With the mission to transform the basin into a dragonfly habitat and the unique arrangement of the land next to the basin, HCFCD jumped at the chance to restore the adjacent prairieland. According to Benigno, the prairie ecosystem is almost endangered due to urban sprawl and rural and agricultural
development. “A prairie doesn’t have that grand visual aspect of a mountain or even a forest. It’s just a bunch grass and wildflowers,” Benigno said. “But if you really get down in it, you start to appreciate it more. It has an incredible amount of native diversity. It’s Houston’s natural heritage, it’s what we were built on and, in many cases, it’s overlooked.” The wetland and dragonfly portions of the basin plan had been in the works since the beginning, but the prairie addition to benefit pollinators was implemented toward the end of the project. Another distinctive feature of the property is its proximity to Precinct 4’s Little Cypress Creek Preserve and connectivity to its trail system through a pedestrian passageway that goes underneath Telge Road. UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY FORGES UNIQUE PARTNERSHIPS “We purchased the prairie plants from Houston Audubon with funding from Houston Wilderness, we got the equipment from Trees for Houston, and then NRG coming in with their volunteers – it really was a very collaborative process between everyone,” said Benigno. Volunteers with NRG Energy joined HCFCD to plant more than 20 native coastal prairie species, including milkweed, swamp sunflower, big bluestem, and gamagrass, in a one-acre section of the Telge Road Detention Basin. NRG Vice President of Operations Bill Evans said the volunteers were excited to help with the project, especially after learning about the various partners involved and the unique goals of the site. “Our volunteer team wanted to pick up some shovels, get our hands dirty, and take an active role in transforming the site and restoring this habitat,” said Evans. From beginning to end, the collaboration of each Harris County department and outside organization led to the success of the Telge Road Detention Basin. “The detention basin itself is there for flood reduction,” Benigno said. “And then installation of the wetland plants is for our stormwater quality permit and to help stabilize the soil. Then the prairie plants are there for all the additional benefits: the dragonflies, the monarch butterfly strategy, and prairie restoration. Plus, the basin being part of the Little Cypress Creek Preserve system makes this a multi-use facility.” It may be a long time before the stars align again with a site featuring ideal circumstances that achieve so many varying goals at one time. Until then, this project is an example of the success that comes from unique partnerships. To learn more about the Harris County Flood Control District’s Stormwater Quality Program, visit www.hcfcd.org. For more information about Precinct 4’s Biological Control Initiative, check out www.hcp4.net/bci.
Dragonflies capture their prey
of the time.
THIS PAGE Volunteers from NRG Energy helped install hundreds of native coastal prairie plants. OPPOSITE PAGE (LEFT TO RIGHT) Anita Schiller examines a carnivorous bladderwort plant. Damselflies keep their wings together at rest while dragonflies leave their wings open to the side or downward.
COUNTY ANIMAL SHELTER
Leading the Pack by Joe Stinebaker
THIS PAGE Dr. Michael White, director of veterinary public health, holds a mixedbreed puppy at the Harris County Animal Shelter. Shelter puppies face increased risk of infection because of their underdeveloped immune systems. OPPOSITE PAGE A Harris County Animal Shelter visitor searches for a new pet. PHOTOS BY Crystal Simmons
Precinct4Update Fall/Winter 2019
t wasn’t all that long ago that Harris County officials had to expand the county’s animal shelter – not to accommodate the number of dogs and cats awaiting adoption, but to provide a “euthanasia wing” to dispose of hundreds of unwanted pets every week.
Veterinarians, technicians, and volunteers who had devoted months, years, and even entire careers to caring for animals instead had to try to harden themselves to what had become a production line of death. It was a painful process – if not for the abandoned animals, then certainly for those who cared for them. But now, after years of enduring a reputation as one of the nation’s most lethal places for abandoned, unwanted, and stray animals, Harris County has reversed that trend and recently celebrated its best month ever for “live releases” to adoption or transfers. Shelter officials were understandably proud to announce in March that they had achieved a live release rate of 95.7%, a figure lauded by animal welfare groups around the country. And so far this year, the figure has never dropped below 90%. By comparison, the county’s live Harris County release rate in 2012 was 15.3%. What that means in more visceral terms is that achieved a live the shelter’s former “euthanasia wing” can now release rate of be almost entirely devoted to the isolation and treatment of sick dogs and cats before adoption. “When I took over (in 2013), we were euthanizing probably 60 to 80 animals every day,” said Dr. Michael White, the director of veterinary public health. “Now that number has dropped to a handful and, sometimes, none at all. I’m really surprised we were able to
do what we’ve done.” As a result, the men and women working at the shelter are finding themselves spending their time caring for the animals rather than prepping them to be euthanized by the dozen. “When the staff was doing that many, somehow they could put up this wall. I don’t know how they dealt with it,” White said. “It seems ironic, but now that we’re doing less, and they’re seeing the animals more as individuals rather than just a list that they have to do, I think it’s even more difficult for them now than it was back then, and that wall has been broken down.” White attributes much of the improvement to partnerships that he and his staff have fostered with local and national animal welfare and rescue groups, such as Houston Pet Set and Best Friends Animal Society. These partnerships have allowed the shelter to release animals to adoption, rescue, and foster care that had previously been blocked by red tape and exorbitant fees. Instead, working with Commissioners Court, shelter officials were able to eliminate the red tape, waive the fees, and allow private groups to help relieve shelter crowding. One of the most helpful pipelines for relieving that crowding was the discovery that, while Texas was plagued by a chronic stray overpopulation, other states are suffering a shortage of adoptable animals. Thus, a partnership was born in which strays from Harris County are sent elsewhere for adoption, with some of the costs offset by private groups. “Northern states don’t seem to have the issue with free-roaming animals the way that we do here,” White said. “It’s a different mentality. Down here, there are some cultural issues where people don’t believe in keeping their dogs up and don’t believe in spaying and neutering, and that tends to add to the number of animals that are free-roaming. But there are many states up north that do not have enough animals in their shelters for adoption, and they will take many of the animals from down here. The issue is trying to get the animals up there. It’s an expensive process to transport.” Another factor in boosting the shelter’s live-release numbers is the Community Cat Program, in which eligible outdoor cats brought into the shelter are vaccinated and spayed or neutered and then “put back where they came from.”
The Community Cat Program alone has helped reduce the number of euthanized cats from about 90% to about 10%, White said. Not surprisingly, implementing these programs has led to a significant increase in the shelter’s medical costs. Although the shelter receives some assistance from its private partners, that help is not enough to offset the increased financial burden on the county. "We started vaccinating on intake and, back when I took over, we had one veterinarian and one technician for the shelter, and anything that was sick or had any kind of problem, it was just euthanized,” White said. “Now we try to treat everything. And that’s expensive, but that’s best practices in running a shelter facility." Far from celebrating, though, animal shelter officials continue to encourage county residents in responsible pet ownership, especially now. The “dog days” of summer do not bode well for the dogs and cats of Harris County, whose shelter population – and thus euthanasia rates – tend to go up in the summer. Shelter officials recommend that pet owners spay, neuter, microchip, and vaccinate their pets, and not allow them to run loose.
For information about the shelter and adopting shelter pets, call 281-999-3191 or go online using your mobile device to scan the QR code to the left.
TRUSTING MOTHER NATURE Forest Management at Jones Park story and photos by Kaci Woodrome
Precinct4Update Fall/Winter 2019
THIS PAGE Assassin bug on an American basketflower. OPPOSITE PAGE David Jamar shares why diversifying the forest is so important.
doe jumping through tall grass, a baby armadillo fumbling through fallen leaves, an assassin bug on the hunt for a meal on an American basketflower. These are just a few examples of the diverse life that can be found at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center. For Jones Park’s Forester David Jamar and Assistant Director Matthew Abernathy, a diverse ecosystem of plants and wildlife at the 312-acre greenspace starts with proper forest management. “What most people don’t know is what the forest is supposed to look like,” said Abernathy. Using aerial images of the Greater Houston region from the 1940s and other historical accounts, Jamar and Abernathy know the area that is now Jones Park was not always densely forested like it is today. In fact, much of the area was primarily open prairie with a variety of wildflowers, grasses, and large, mature trees. Today, the dense vegetation seen throughout Jones Park and most of the region is a stark contrast to the natural landscape of the past. “You would have the bottomlands, like an open forest, and anywhere seasonal streams drained into larger bodies of water, you would have a greater abundance of trees and shrubs. Everything else was prairies,” Jamar explained.
Why is the Landscape Different Now? The devastation caused by forest fires, flooding, or freezing temperatures seems contradictory to the idea of preserving plants and wildlife. For Mother Nature though, the destruction can restore the natural balance of an ecosystem and spur new growth. Wildfires are one of the few types of natural disasters people have been able to combat or prevent, thanks to better firefighting capabilities and precautionary measures. As a result, one of nature’s most important ways of maintaining itself has been neutralized to some extent. Jones Park staff partnered with the Texas Forest Service in 2013 to create fire breaks – forested areas that have
been intentionally cleared of vegetation – to prevent the spread of fire into the residential areas along the park’s boundary. The fire breaks were implemented to help protect the subdivision’s residents, but they also helped restore the plant species in those areas along the fence line. Aside from nature, early settlers also played a role in disturbing the region’s ecosystem with farming. Later, the timber industry boomed as pines and other trees were heavily harvested, even as recently as the 1990s. Without a significant presence of wildfire, farmers, and lumberjacks, prolific underbrush and invasive species have grown unchecked.
Science and Elbow Grease Precinct 4’s Parks Department is determined to restore the forests at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center using science and plenty of elbow grease. Cutting through forest underbrush with a machete is an on-the-job perk for Jamar and Abernathy. They’re passionate about ridding the park of unwanted undergrowth, but more importantly the reasons why.
wildflowers are pushed to the forest edge, which reduces the diversity in plants.
“Everything in the forest is in a competition for resources: light, water, nutrients,” Jamar said. Because yaupon is so aggressive and thrives in a variety of conditions, it can quickly become a dense layer that prevents light from reaching the soil. Jamar and Abernathy begin by reviewing the documented images from around 80 years ago to see where the landscape was more of an open forest with thinner canopies and more grassland. They next select a small area – perhaps a quarter-acre site – and conduct a survey of the vegetation. “There’s a purpose and science behind it,” said Abernathy. “We’re not just arbitrarily cutting. We’ll walk through to identify the key species that need to stay – the big trees, the canopy trees, the unique species.” The next step is removing the dense stands of yaupon and invasive species by hand to see what comes back up in a year or so. If there isn’t variety in what returns, they know it was probably historically just those species in the cleared section. “If we have amazing regeneration, then we know we did the right thing,” Abernathy said. For example, devil’s walking stick is
"A healthy ecosystem is a diverse ecosystem." “Probably 90% of what we’re removing is native yaupon,” said Jamar. “But even native plants can be invasive if they’re not properly managed. Other examples include cattails, grapevines, and peppervine.” Many of the forests in southeast Texas, including those in Jones Park, are overrun by invasive vegetation, including yaupon. As a result, species like sparkleberry, American holly, sassafras, sumac, fringetree, grasses, and
a unique tree that hasn’t been seen in abundance in Jones Park for many years. When Jamar and Abernathy found a small stand of the species, they cleared the nearby yaupon. Now, just six months later, dozens of new devil’s walking sticks are sprouting, indicating the seeds have been there waiting – perhaps for decades – for the right conditions. “In the past two years that we’ve really dived into forest management, we’re documenting species that haven’t been seen within 150 miles of this area because of appropriate management,” said Abernathy.
Creating Diversity “A healthy ecosystem is a diverse ecosystem,” explained Jamar. “Everything out here that we look at is connected.” From the smallest insects in the forest to the top-level predators, each animal depends on specific conditions for its survival, whether it’s a certain plant on which it lays its eggs or the prey it hunts. If the yaupon continues to grow and overtake the forest, it will create a monoculture of the plant that will only support a few different wildlife species. “When we clear an area and it is largely yaupon, we might go back and see 30 different species that have replaced the yaupon we removed. And each one of those provides additional food, additional shelter, and additional resources for the wildlife,” said Abernathy. When the insect population is affected, smaller carnivores like lizards and snakes don’t have anything to eat, which then takes away food sources from larger animals such as bobcats, foxes, and coyotes. “If you have 50 to 100 species of plants, you have probably hundreds of different insects flying around,” said Jamar. Jamar and Abernathy recognize the benefit to having some dense areas along the forest’s edge because there’s enormous diversity there with insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals feeding on the grasses and seeds. These areas offer the wildlife a way to quickly evade predators by retreating into the thick vegetation.
Helping Hands According to Abernathy, there are a lot of things people can do in their own yards and communities to create pocket prairies and micro-ecosystems that provide islands of habitat for migratory birds, butterflies, grasshoppers, and more. “Every little bit helps – using native plants and vegetation, which require a lot less maintenance and management around your yard,” said Abernathy. Jones Park staff welcomes volunteers interested in helping manage the underbrush in the forest. Participants with the Adopt-A-Trail program at Jones Park take an active role in clearing specified areas within the park, particularly along their adopted trail routes. The JJP Eradicators work to identify and remove invasive species from the park once a month. Those interested in helping with forest management at Jones Park may send an email to Volunteer Coordinator Kim Hammond at email@example.com or call 281-446-8588 to get connected with the park.
Precinct4Update Fall/Winter 2019
Check Out Mercer’s Tool Library
by Alicia Alaniz
ooks aren’t the only items you can check out from Baldwin Boettcher Library at Mercer Botanic Gardens. Visitors can now also borrow tools. Baldwin Boettcher’s tool library opened in March for visitors interested in do-it-yourself gardening and landscaping. “The tool library is an opportunity for our guests doing lawn and gardening projects to check out tools so they don’t have to buy them,” said Victoria Knauff, interim assistant branch manager. Visitors can borrow a variety of yard and gardening equipment, including shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows, cultivators, loppers, shears, spades, and more. Knauff said the process is just like checking out a library book. “Anyone with a Harris County Public Library card in good standing can check out tools from the Baldwin
Boettcher Branch Library at Mercer,” she said. “You can borrow a total of 40 tools, up to 20 small tools and 20 large ones.” Visitors must follow the gardening tools policy and sign a waiver before borrowing tools. Like checking out a library book, there are ramifications if tools are not returned on time. “The lending period for tools is 14 days with no renewals, and you must return the items by the due date. If you still need the tool, you may borrow it again if there isn’t a waiting list,” Knauff adds. Fines and fees apply if borrowers don’t return the tools on time. Fines range from 10 cents per day for small tools to $2 per day for large tools. Lost and damaged tools must also be replaced at the borrower’s expense. “So far, we haven’t had a problem with patrons borrowing tools and not returning them on time,” said Knauff. “Most people are grateful for the service.” PHOTO BY Crystal Simmons
Precinct4Update Fall/Winter 2019
Not Your Average Mosquito "Mosquito Assassins" Unleashed by Crystal Simmons
Hidden among the leaves of a bromeliad, a merciless predator awaits its next victim at the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Cockrell Butterfly Center. Using strong, ant-like pincers to grip its prey, this aquatic hunter feeds on every pest mosquito unlucky enough to hatch in its vicinity. Dubbed the “mosquito assassin,” the Toxorhynchites rutilus mosquito has become an important ally in the war against nuisance mosquitoes. Anita Schiller, the director of Harris County Precinct 4’s Biological Control Initiative, is at the forefront of mosquito assassin research. In the past seven years, she’s learned the ins and outs of producing these beneficial predators. She and her team now breed the insects out of Precinct 4’s 3,000-square-foot lab and release them into the wild as a natural “backyard” mosquito-control method. She hopes her latest study at the Cockrell Butterfly Center will not only shed new light on mosquito assassin behavior but also raise awareness about their benefits. “We’re studying innovative ways to produce these insects on a larger scale,” she said. “Our goal is to deploy mosquito assassins in more areas in Harris County. These beautifully colored insects are good for the environment and pose no risk to people or butterflies. This study will give us a better idea of how fast the 15
locally self-sustaining mosquito assassins reproduce and eliminate mosquitoes in a semi-controlled environment.”
MEET THE MOSQUITO ASSASSIN Mosquito assassins are one of the many living organisms bred through the Biological Control Initiative, a program that fights biting, pest mosquitoes with native plants, insects, and parasites. Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle began the program in 2012 to reduce the county’s reliance on pesticides and to restore native creatures that help control mosquito populations. “Instead of fighting nature by developing new chemicals without knowing what it will do to our food, our animals, and ourselves, why not work with nature?” Cagle asked. “Sprays and mists can’t always reach every backyard container where mosquitoes thrive. That’s why these insects are so important.” Unlike Harris County’s most common backyard mosquitoes – the yellow fever mosquito, Asian tiger mosquito, and southern house mosquito – the mosquito assassin doesn’t feed on humans or animals. In its larval form, the mosquito assassin is one of the deadliest predators of its size. But by adulthood, the insect will take flight to live the rest of its life peacefully pollinating plants, never to kill again. These butterflies of the fly world grow about four times larger than their blood-sucking relatives and sport iridescent scales. “I call them hippies because all the adults do is fly around from flower to flower, pollinating like bees,” said Cagle. “They don’t bite us because they don’t need our protein. Plus, they’re sparkly. All they do is make love and lay eggs. “The babies of these beautiful, make-love-not-war hippie bugs that fly around and pollinate are vicious predators – like something out of science fiction. They will eat everything they encounter.” So just how deadly are mosquito assassins to their brethren? Depending on the season, larval mosquito assassins will consume between 200 to 4,000 pest mosquito larvae before pupating. More importantly, they target larval mosquitoes before they can fly, bite, and transmit pathogens that can cause such diseases as dengue, chikungunya, and West Nile.
LOOKING FORWARD With 56 different mosquito species in Harris County and no shortage of their ever-present, itchy reminders, it may seem puzzling that mosquito assassins aren’t more prevalent. Unfortunately, habitat loss and pesticides have depleted the native mosquito assassin population. At the same time, breeding these beneficial critters in captivity has also proven challenging. “Our biggest research-and-development work is figuring out how to make their use economically feasible,” 16
Precinct4Update Fall/Winter 2019
"I call them hippies because all the adults do is fly around from flower to flower, pollinating like bees." said Schiller. “We want to produce them in large numbers and in cheaper ways.” Because of their insatiable nature, the insects will cannibalize each other unless they are separated before hatching, Schiller said. Accounting for these behavioral quirks, Schiller’s team has developed a strict rearing protocol published in the Journal of Insect Science. Since implementing the new protocol, the percentage of mosquito assassins that survive to adulthood has increased to 75%, up from 10%. “A long time ago, we tried rearing them in communal groups the way literature suggested and only had a 10% survival outcome,” said Schiller. “So for every 100 eggs collected, we only managed to produce 10 adults, and that was on a good day. When we began rearing them in isolation, survival rates increased. We were also able to establish more precise rearing parameters, which has allowed us to influence and predict production numbers more accurately.” Developing cheaper food sources for the insects is also a priority. Because mosquito assassin larvae prefer moving prey, feeding the insects can be labor intensive and costly. Schiller hopes to develop a custom mosquito assassin feed that will result in additional savings. “No one has been able to produce them in large enough numbers that are also economically feasible, so that has been our goal,” she said. “In my lab, we know the limitations. We can’t release them across the entire United States, but they are useful in the southeastern United States and right here in Harris County. To produce them and use them, we have to have a lot of them.”
COCKRELL BUTTERFLY CENTER RESEARCH In many ways, mosquito assassin research is already paying off, even in small doses. By releasing pregnant
females weekly at the Cockrell Butterfly Center during the summer, Schiller was able to establish a self-sustaining population that has reduced pest mosquitoes inside the butterfly center. “In the laboratory, we can control all the variables, and in the field study, we can’t control anything except the numbers we release,” she said. “But the semi-field study will fill in the gaps. We know the environment within the CBC; we know how many insects we release, and we know about the predators in the CBC. For example, there are a few spiders here that eat mosquito assassins, but it’s nothing like you’d find in the wild.” Erin Mills, the director of the CBC, has been a strong supporter of the study since Schiller approached the CBC last year. She believes the insects could be ideal for environments like the butterfly center. “Obviously, in any greenhouse situation, you’re going to have tons of pests because of all the plant life,” said Mills. “A self-sustaining population of mosquito assassins in the butterfly center will not only help control our mosquito population, but it will also spread mosquito assassin awareness.” For Mills, introducing beneficial insects to the CBC is all part of developing a strong ecosystem in which bugs, plants, and microbes all play a role. “The butterfly center is definitely a dynamic, living environment,” she said. “It’s not just a museum exhibit. It’s also a living environment. “For almost any pest insect, there’s going to be a parasite, fungus, or predator that can take care of it for you. We practice that a lot already at the butterfly center. We employ an army of biological control agents in there – ladybugs, lacewings, beneficial nematodes – all sorts of things.”
HOW RESIDENTS CAN HELP The public also has an important role to play in mosquito prevention. Schiller encourages everyone to check their yards for any water containers, including unused pools and planters. “We’re already using mosquito assassins in smallscale efforts, but there’s plenty the average citizen can do to help,” she said. “Something as simple as monitoring your yard for water-filled containers can improve the environment for you, your family, and your neighbors.”
THIS PAGE, FROM TOP Anita Schiller conducts research in her lab at Kissing Tree Park. Mosquito assassins fly freely at the Cockrell Butterfly Center. Schiller and her assistant, Atom Rosales, search for mosquito eggs. PHOTOS BY Crystal Simmons, Kaci Woodrome
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
Community Response to Disaster story and photos by Joan Gould
s wildfires raged through Bastrop County in 2011, Angie Fontenot, now the Tomball Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) facilitator, led a team of caretakers and animals from a research facility to safety as the encroaching flames threatened their homes and families. “The fire was four miles from the facility, and I had 21 staff members looking to me to take care of the animals they loved, but I knew nothing about fire, other than smoke kills them first,” Fontenot said. “I was calling firefighters asking, ‘What do I do? Please give me advice.’ “Our neighbors, our community should know how to respond,” Fontenot said. “I didn’t understand why we didn’t have programs to prepare for things like this.” In July 2015, Fontenot moved to the Houston area and learned about the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program. She enrolled in a training course and soon after took on a more active role, becoming a CERT trainer and facilitator in the Tomball area. Fontenot has since led eight classes and trained more than 200 people in the CERT program. HELP IS AS CLOSE AS A NEIGHBOR When disaster hits, CERT volunteers are often first on the scene in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and churches. They use their knowledge and training to assess potentially hazardous situations and are equipped to provide immediate assistance. “One percent of our population is a first responder,” said Harris County Emergency Management Coordinator Mark Sloan. “That means the other 99% of us are looking to do something to take care of ourselves, our community, 18
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and our families.” CERT volunteers are trained to complete a preliminary walk-through of the disaster scene and report their findings to first responders when they arrive on site. “Now first responders can get to the location that may need assistance faster, rather than doing it all from scratch,” Sloan said. The CERT program, a division of Citizen Corps, offers an eight-week, 24-hour training course taught by a variety of first responders and subject-matter experts, covering topics like disaster preparedness, fire suppression, basic medical treatment assessment and first aid, search and rescue techniques, and rescuer safety. Volunteers culminate their training with a disaster simulation and debriefing. “It’s Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for adults,” Sloan said. “It’s a refresher for things we may have learned in the past that we have forgotten. It’s a reminder that – first and foremost – can I take care of myself, my family, and my property? If I can do all those things and I do that successfully, then I know I’m capable of helping someone else.” Sloan emphasized that CERT training provides an opportunity for participants to understand their capabilities and strengths, so they can be aware of their comfort level in helping other people during life-threatening, highstress situations. Not everyone is comfortable assisting an injured person or strong enough to carry someone out of danger. A FORCE MULTIPLIER FOR PREPAREDNESS Participation in CERT isn’t limited to disaster response. CERT volunteers often assist local officials and
Don’t wait for an emergency to get involved in your community.
son, or stocking up on enough resources and supplies to last three to seven days. “They are a force multiplier of preparedness,” Sloan said. “By completing these simple steps now, they will not need to rely on assistance from others during a disaster or emergency.” Fontenot adds: “It’s about preparedness to me. I want the communities and every family in the area to go through this program and know what to do in an emergency.”
NATIONAL NIGHT OUT: TUESDAY, OCT. 1, 2019 National Night Out, celebrated annually in Texas on the first Tuesday of October, is a chance for communities to gather with local law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical service personnel, and community leaders in a fun atmosphere to bring awareness to crime and drug prevention, strengthen neighborhood spirit, and reinforce police-community relations. • Consider hosting a barbecue, block party, or neighborhood walk. Activities can include safety demonstrations, youth events, visits from emergency personnel, car seat checks, and more. • Register Your National Night Out Event at natw.org/registration for planning tips and ideas and to receive information and resources about National Night Out. • Would you like a representative from Precinct 4 to speak at your National Night Out? Request a speaker at www.hcp4. net/assistance/speakersbureau/
PUTTING CERT SKILLS TO THE TEST Each February for the past 14 years, Harris County hosts as many as 18 CERT volunteer teams for a day of skills practice and testing. Teams travel from all over Harris County and other areas of the state like Dallas, Austin, Orange County, and as far away as New York and Illinois. “Not every jurisdiction in the country or every state in the country is doing what we do,” Sloan said. Teams spend the day practicing skills, including triage, incident command, evidence identification, medical treatment, and fire suppression. Scoring is based on the team’s successful completion of each task.
DOG WALKER DOUBLE DUTY Dog Walker Watch participants assist local law enforcement by acting as extra sets of eyes and ears in the neighborhood while walking their dogs. • Register at natw.org/dog-walker-watch • Download the guide. • Walk your dog and keep your eyes and ears peeled for suspicious activity.
first responders during special events, including the Junior Olympics, the MS150, high-profile sporting events, and various other non-emergency activities. After training, Sloan said, volunteers take their newfound knowledge back to their homes and communities. They’re encouraged to complete preparedness steps to take care of themselves and protect their families and property during an emergency. These tasks might be as basic as putting together a disaster kit, keeping their vehicle’s fuel tanks at least halfway filled during hurricane sea-
INTERESTED IN BECOMING A CERT VOLUNTEER OR STARTING A TEAM? “We are very proud of the fact that our residents in Harris County take the time to go through the training to become more aware and better prepared for the risks and threats that we may be vulnerable to in our area,” said Sloan. Even if she never has to use it in an emergency, Fontenot knows the benefits her training has already provided. “If I had known during the fires what I know now, I still would have networked, but I wouldn’t have been as nervous,” she said. “Gaining the confidence that you know this stuff and you have the skills makes people feel more comfortable helping their neighbors. You don’t have to have all the knowledge in the world. We can find things that work for you.” Anyone interested in joining the CERT program or starting a CERT team in their neighborhood, church, or workplace should visit www.harriscountycitizencorps.com to find upcoming training courses and sign up to receive updates from Harris County. CERT volunteers can also register resources like a boat or warehouse that might be useful to the community during an emergency. “There are a variety of resources that the community might have available as we’ve seen on numerous occasions going back to (hurricanes) Katrina, Ike, and Harvey,” Sloan said. “It takes all of us working together to make us successful in our recovery process.”
OPPOSITE PAGE CERT volunteers practice their new disaster response skills during a simulated incident.
A Day in Precinct 4 story and photos by Crystal Simmons
The idea of trying new activities is an appealing one. Most of us like to imagine ourselves learning a new hobby, traveling to new locations, or getting in shape. Then life gets in the way. Like many of my peers, I was always either too tired, too busy, or too preoccupied to try something new. I didn’t realize how much I was missing until I had a chance to take advantage of the opportunities around me. I spent a full day attending as many Precinct 4 classes as possible. The results were eye-opening. I experienced everything from woodworking and Zentangle to Zumba and kickboxing. I not only met experts with decades of experience but also participated in activities I would never have chosen on my own. Before getting started, I established a few guidelines. I randomly selected a day so I wouldn’t be tempted to choose familiar activities, and I omitted all festivals. I also only attended free programs open to all age groups. As a result, I spent most of my day at Mangum-Howell Center, but the programs differed so much I didn’t mind. To help you on your own journey, I’m sharing tips, tricks, and my overall impression of each program below.
WOODWORKING Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Instructors: Danny Brown and Perry Badger Mangum-Howell Center I’ll be honest. I wasn’t enthusiastic about woodworking. I’ve always enjoyed arts and crafts, but anything requiring careful precision has never appealed to me. I prefer eyeballing my projects and making adjustments as I progress. Nevertheless, this class turned out to be my favorite. I came prepared with cedar pickets, 2x4s, and 20
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instructions for a floating shelf pulled from the internet. By the time I arrived, my classmates were already gathered in the shop sipping coffee. I learned that my instructor, Perry Badger, rarely gives formal lessons. Students are expected to bring their own project and work at their own pace. Most of my classmates were experienced woodworkers, so I was lucky enough to have my instructor’s undivided attention for a couple of hours. I showed him my project, and we got started. I learned that wood selection is everything. Perry picked out my best piece and showed me the flaws in the other pickets. We ended up using a miter saw, table saw, jointer, and planer. I let Perry mark up the wood for cutting, but I ended up doing most of the cuts. The power tools are easy to operate, and I caught on quickly. My favorite tool turned out to be the planer. This tool smooths large planks of wood, giving them a shiny, finished look. My shelves came out looking great, and the tool probably saved me a few hours of sanding.
TIPS: Before visiting, have a project in mind. Plan on downloading instructions from the internet or consulting with the instructor before attending class. Make sure to bring all your materials, including nails, screws, and wood glue. Although you may be able to borrow some supplies, they may not work for your project. OVERALL IMPRESSION: After only one class, I know how to operate and identify several basic woodworking tools. Under my instructor’s guidance, I never felt anxious about making the wrong cuts. Best of all, I took home a professionallooking floating shelf for only a fraction of the price of a store-bought shelf.
ZENTANGLE Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Instructor: Senetta Young Mangum-Howell Center
TIPS: Before investing in art supplies, attend a few Zentangle classes to find out what works for you. The instructor provides shared supplies for new students to sample.
Zentangle art is like professional doodling, with each line, curve, pattern, and color telling a story. The art form involves drawing patterns using a combination of dots, curves, and lines either on blank paper or within existing designs. If woodworking is about precision, Zentangle is about embracing your mistakes. Class began with a lesson on colors and the feelings they imbue in your art. After our lesson, I received a Zentangle pattern sheet, markers, and a printout of a teacup. I tried to mimic some of the patterns in the example pieces, but my lines were sloppy. I asked for a new sheet, but my instructor encouraged me to continue. In Zentangle, she said, there are no mistakes. I spent the rest of class trying to make something out of the stray lines. The teacup slowly took shape. Eventually, a pattern emerged. By the end of class, I felt confident about my design. I didn’t have time to finish it, but my instructor gave me several sheets of homework. I’ve never been a fan of homework, but I may try these.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: The class is open to adults of all ages, but most participants are over 30. Students focus on expression instead of precision, and mistakes are celebrated. Students of all abilities can enjoy this class, and most find it therapeutic. Students work at their own pace and choose their own artwork to decorate. ART OF THE PRESERVE: FLOWER POUNDING Wednesday, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Instructor: Jerrel Geisler Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve I’d heard of flower pressing before, but flower pounding was new to me. When I arrived at the preserve, my instructor had already laid out freshly picked flowers, hammers, cloth, and a box of canvases.
PICTURED Crystal Simmons at Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve.
Try it yourself...
Floating Shelves Learn how to build your own floating shelves.
1. Print off the instructions linked below. 2. Purchase your supplies. 3. Visit Mangum-Howell Center on a Wednesday morning between 9 a.m. and noon.
Scan the QR code to the left or visit www.diypete.com/diywood-floating-shelf/ to download the floating shelves template.
Precinct4Update Fall/Winter 2019
Flower Pounding What youâ€™ll need: Freshly picked flowers, cloth soaked in alum, and a rubber mallet, canvas, staple gun or tape. Prepare your fabric 1. Dissolve three tablespoons of alum per liter of hot water. 2. Stir until dissolved. 3. Add fabric in hot water. 4. Allow fabric to cool in alum bath. 5. Remove and dry by machine or line dry. Next Steps 1. Pick your flowers. Small petaled flowers, like begonias, work best, but large rose or poppy petals may work too. 2. Place a piece of parchment on a hard surface. 3. Cut a piece of treated fabric and set your petal design on half. 4. Fold the fabric to sandwich the petals between the two halves. 5. Cover with another piece of parchment and start pounding, holding firmly in place. 6. Continue until you have the amount of pigment that you like. 7. Use different tools to make patterns, such as a hammer with a stippled head to make polka dots. 8. When you are happy with your creation, iron it on the highest setting for five minutes. 9. Makes a perfect wall hanging or gift. Scan the QR code to the left for more information or visit www.gardentherapy.ca/ flower-pounding/.
After a brief lesson, we arranged flowers in a pattern between a folded cloth and used a hammer to “pound” out the dyes. The results were charmingly rustic. My cloth ended up resembling a butterfly in the way that clouds sometimes resemble animals. Although most of the plants produced large blobs of color, others left surprisingly detailed impressions. As a fun bonus, our instructor shared how Native Americans used flower pounding to extract dyes used to color clothing, skin, and fabrics.
TIPS: Expect a new craft for every program, and plan to bring a friend or your family for more fun. Always register before attending class so the instructor brings enough supplies. OVERALL IMPRESSION: This activity is perfect for families with children and homeschool groups, although all ages are invited. The instructor creates an engaging experience for participants interested in art and nature. ZUMBA Wednesday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Instructor: Juana Hernandez Mangum-Howell Center If you want to get out of your comfort zone, try dancing to Latin music in front of a group of strangers. If you’re not already familiar with the practice, Zumba is a popular form of cardio exercise that involves dancing to fast-paced music. When I first entered class, I expected to feel a little self-conscious. After all, I hadn’t taken a dance class since the eighth grade – and I knew the moves to those dances. But a funny thing happened. Once class began, I was so focused on keeping up with my instructor that I didn’t have time to consider how I looked. I shook, swayed, and twisted for at least an hour with 30 other people, some of whom were obviously skilled dancers. When I couldn’t figure out how to do a dance step, I either improvised or waited until I could iden24
Precinct4Update Fall/Winter 2019
tify the move. For instance, if my instructor sashayed, I might do a half kick. Although I stayed a few moves behind, I was sweating like everyone else by the end of class. Best of all, the exercises were the perfect intensity for me. I left energized with a pleasant burn.
my arms and legs were numb, but I can now throw several punches on command.
TIPS: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes and bring water. I wore a T-shirt and loose pants with Nikes. Classes are almost completely nonverbal, aside from a few Spanish phrases from the instructor. Plan to watch the instructor for directions. If you can’t keep up or if a move is too difficult, take a break and try to pick up on the next move.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Kickboxing classes can be expensive, so I was surprised to learn that Mangum-Howell Center hosts free classes Monday through Thursday. Overall, this is a phenomenal deal for anyone looking to take their fitness to the next level and learn a new skill. This class is perfect for athletically inclined children, teens, and young adults, although all age groups are welcome.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: This is by far the most popular class of the activities I attended. It’s geared to residents of all ages, but most participants are between 20 and 40. Although you don’t need to be particularly fit to participate, you should be somewhat healthy. Being coordinated and having a good memory also helps. KICKBOXING Wednesday, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Instructor: Manuel Rosales Mangum-Howell Center When I first signed up for kickboxing, I imagined spending most of the class in a boxing ring sparring with my partner. Things didn’t exactly happen that way. We spent most of class engaged in workouts that would make famous martial artist Chuck Norris proud. I’m moderately healthy, but I was winded within the first five minutes. I powered through 15 minutes before taking a break. While I recovered, my classmates put on gloves and divided into pairs. The class was small, so everyone received one-on-one time with the instructor. When it was my turn, I borrowed a pair of pink gloves while my instructor showed me the difference between an uppercut and a right hook. By the end of class,
TIPS: Expect two hours of jogging, jumping jacks, sit ups, squats, and other strenuous forms of exercise. Bring plenty of water. If you’re out of shape, plan to hurt the next day.
WHAT I LEARNED: My biggest regret was only having time to attend a fraction of Precinct 4’s programs. Now that the challenge is over, I plan to check out the adult nature programs at Jones Park and participate in recreational activities with Trails As Parks. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that attending these classes is far different than reading about them.
OPPOSITE PAGE FIRST ROW (LEFT TO RIGHT) Woodworking at Mangum-Howell Center. View page 19 to find out how to do it yourself. SECOND ROW (LEFT TO RIGHT) Zentangle at Magnum-Howell Center. Visit www.zentangle.com for a tutorial to try at home. THIRD ROW (LEFT TO RIGHT) Art of the Preserve: Flower Pounding. FOURTH ROW (LEFT TO RIGHT) Kickboxing at Mangum-Howell Center.
G N I N E P O
1 2 0 IN 2
George H.W. Bush Community Center story and photos by Crystal Simmons
an Sexton, the director of Precinct 4’s community centers and Encore! program, is well versed in providing more with less. She has spent years overseeing a community center and an activity building that provide programs for 1.2 million residents in an area covering 390 square miles. “We serve the largest population in the county, but offer the fewest number of community centers,” said Sexton. “We’ve had to find creative ways to expand our programs. We now partner with 23 community organizations.” But as Precinct 4’s population has grown, Sexton has seen the need for a new community center. An opportunity presented itself in 2017, when Hurricane Harvey severely damaged a popular church community center in northern Harris County. Since the 1970s, the Cypress Creek Christian Community Center’s sprawling campus has served as a gathering place for community groups. In its heyday, it hosted the programs of 120 organizations, said Norma Lowrey, director of the Cypress Creek Christian Community Center. But all that changed when Harvey flooded the church and its community center. Even with insurance, the church couldn’t afford to repair its facilities. The church, already a Precinct 4 community partner, eventually met with Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle and agreed to sell part of its campus to the county so it could be transformed into a place everyone could enjoy. Cagle saw the value of providing a new community center for the area and led Precinct 4’s purchase of the facility in December 2018 for $1.25 million, with an agreement that the church would retain the other community center buildings. “It was the best of all possible outcomes,” said Lowrey. “This is going to be a great enhancement to an already fabulous corner of the world.”
Precinct4Update Fall/Winter 2019
At 24,500 square feet, the facility will be Precinct 4’s largest community center. Renamed the George H.W. Bush Community Center, the center is near the Barbara Bush Branch Library and Precinct 4’s Collins Park in the heart of the Cypress Creek Cultural District. It is expected to open in early 2021. “We chose the property for a variety of reasons,” said Cagle. “The community center stands in a densely populated area near Precinct 4’s Collins and Meyers parks. The facility’s large size ensures we can accommodate Precinct 4’s growing population.” The center will offer a variety of intergenerational programs and services for people of all ages, along with public events, activities, and public meeting spaces. “This will be Precinct 4’s premier center, with a grand hall that will seat 700 people, making it a prime location for town hall meetings, banquets, receptions, workshops, indoor festivals, and many other types of civic events,” said Sexton. “It will also be available for private reservations.” Until the facility opens, Mangum-Howell Center continues to serve as Precinct 4’s only dedicated community center. “The George H.W. Bush Community Center will allow us to offer more programs than ever because of its size,” said Sexton. “We view the community center as a place where people can come together and build relationships.” News of the center is already generating buzz within the community. Champions-area resident and community advocate Rita Huggler was one of the first to learn about the new facility. “I’m just excited,” she said. “This place has such wonderful possibilities for our community. Residents will be able to use the facility for meetings, yoga, crafts, and much more. It’s also in an area with lots of retirees who look for these types of programs and activities.”
Serving Adults Above 50
Encore! by Crystal Simmons
There’s plenty to love about turning 50 – discounts, more time with family and friends, and financial stability – but being called a senior citizen usually isn’t one of them. Adults are living longer, healthier lives. Attitudes about aging are also shifting as people over 50 seek to redefine what it means to age. These changes haven’t gone unnoticed in Harris County Precinct 4. Jan Sexton, director of Precinct 4 Encore!, has worked for years to modernize the precinct’s program for those over 50. Most recently, Sexton won approval from Commissioner R. Jack Cagle to change the name of the program from Precinct 4’s Senior Adult Program to Precinct 4 Encore!. Despite the name change, she said, Encore! will continue to provide activities, volunteer opportunities, and day trips to adults above 50, just as the Senior Adult Program has done for the past 27 years. “We don’t want to call our participants anything other than adults,” said Sexton. “We wish to focus on new ways to serve this growing population who challenge conventional thinking about aging and seek to discover and rediscover purposeful ways to make a difference throughout their lives.” The changes come after a 2014 demographic study found that not only were Precinct 4 residents above 50 healthier and more youthful, but they craved new programs to fit their lifestyle. “We began tailoring our programs several years ago to respond to this stage of life that included more active day trips and volunteer opportunities,” said Sexton. “We recognized that these adults are active, healthy, skilled, knowledgeable, and wise. So we combined educational and recreational opportunities with service to create social impact – which, in turn, creates purposeful lives.”
Learn more about Encore! by visiting www.hcp4.net/encore OPPOSITE PAGE (LEFT TO RIGHT) George H.W. Bush Community Center and Norma Lowrey, director of the Cypress Creek Christian Community Center. PHOTOS BY Grace Diaz, Crystal Simmons
If a lottery winner offered $5,000 to send a tweet, most social media users would jump at the chance. In fact, tens of thousands of Twitter users did just that last year – retweeting the message and then awaiting their cash. The message, of course, soon became one of the most viral tweets of 2018. The only problem was, the offer was completely false. As social media scams become more refined, it’s not always easy to differentiate fact from fiction. Although some posts may appear harmless, others have the power to affect elections, incite violence, and spread panic. These false posts, photos, and news articles tend to spread faster and deeper across the internet than reputable sources. A 2018 study in Science magazine showed false information tends to ignite strong feelings of fear, disgust, and surprise, and that Twitter users were 70% more likely to share this false information. The spread of misinformation has become so prevalent that schools, libraries, and universities have adopted internet literacy courses in droves. Learn How to Separate For at least a decade, teachers at Klein ISD have taught digital citizenship, said Klein ISD Library Services Program Coordinator Nicole Shepard. Fact from Fiction “We teach students digital skills before they ever get started online,” she said. “We know that social media exists, so we equip students with the by Crystal Simmons digital skills they need to stay safe.” Although many adults lack the same digital training, Shepard believes it’s never too late to develop new skills. She advises internet users to do their research before sharing a social media post. Satirical sources, such as the New Yorker’s Borowitz Report or The Onion, can be a source of misinformation when shared as fact. “Make sure you go to the ‘About’ page when you visit a website,” she said. “Most of the time, you can CONSIDER THE SOURCE READ BEYOND learn the website’s purpose and the type of news Click away from the story to investigate Headlines can be outrageous in an effort shared. For trustworthy news, look for unbiased the site, its mission and its contact info. to get clicks. What’s the whole story? sources.” Even researching information doesn’t guarantee unbiased results, she said. Algorithms, which are digital instructions that tell databases how to sort data, select search results based on a user’s CHECK THE AUTHOR SUPPORTING SOURCES? search history, location, and social media habits. Do a quick search on the author. Are Click on those links. Determine if the “We can both look up the same things, but, based they credible? Are they real? info given actually supports the story. on my search habits, my results may be completely different from yours,” she said. “Algorithms pick up on our search habits.” Shepard encourages others to use the free online news database available through the Harris CHECK THE DATE IS IT A JOKE? Reposting old news stories doesn’t If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. County Public Library for reliable, unbiased sourcmean they’re relevant to current events. Research the site and author to be sure. es. Other ways to fight back against misinformation include researching the news source, seeing if other news sources have covered similar news stories, or consulting a fact-checking site. “Facebook and Twitter are fantastic resources ASK THE EXPERTS CHECK YOUR BIASES for connecting with family and friends, but they Ask a librarian, or consult a Consider if your own beliefs could aren’t a news station,” she said. “Don’t believe fact-checking site. affect your judgement. everything you read. News from a newspaper, whether it’s print or online, will always be more International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions trustworthy.”
With thanks to www.FactCheck.org
Precinct4Update Fall/Winter 2019
HERITAGE DAY Saturday, September 14 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. Jones Park
CAROLING & COCOA Friday, December 13 6 p.m. â€“ 9 p.m. Burroughs Park
FRIDAY, OCT. 11
2 P.M. & 7:30 P.M.
SUNDAY, OCT. 13
Burroughs Park 9738 Hufsmith Road, Tomball, TX 77375
Harris County Precinct 4
PRESORTED STANDARD U.S. POSTAGE PAID N. HOUSTON TX PERMIT NO 257
Commissioner R. Jack Cagle
Pollinator Festival Saturday, October 5 10 a.m. â€“ 4 p.m. Mercer Botanic Gardens
22306 Aldine Westfield Road, Humble, TX 77338
Pollinator Plant Sale Educational Presentations Nature Exhibits and Activities Face Painting and Library Corner Children's Crafts and Game