Ashland Head Start Needs Your Help

By: Tammy Andrews

Ashland Head Start
Ashland Head Start

As a parent, you want your child to have every opportunity that’s available for them to get a great education that will lay the foundation so that one day, they too, will be able to adequately provide for their children as well. It’s called living the American Dream. But sometimes what we want and what we can afford are two different things.

In 1965, lawmakers saw there were needs out there for pre-school children living below the poverty level and stepped up. The Head Start program was pushed through the Senate at a vote of 95-0. Since then, this program has helped more than 24 million children, including more than 900,000 currently enrolled at present day.

But in order for this program to exist in Clay County, a location first had to be found. So in 1965, our local VFW Chapter offered to lease their vacant building on County Rd 31 for a very low sum a year. And the Ashland Head Start program was born.

For 40 years now, this program has enriched the lives on MANY children and their families. And because they were only paying $100 a month rent for the building, they were able to make numerous improvements and renovations to this facility.

Unfortunately, time goes by and the original VFW members who made the deal on this property have since passed on. So now all of the sudden, the State VFW members have discovered they have this property and greed is in their eyes.

At first, the VFW said they only wanted to raise the monthly rent to a whopping $1000 for this federally funded program. However, the story changed completely after a VFW representative was sent out to view this property and what they thought was just a hollowed out building. After seeing all the improvements and renovations, the representative said they were no longer interested in renting anymore, they now wanted to sell and their tenants were given 60 days to evacuate the property. These 58 children were not even going to be allowed to finish out their school year and graduate in mid-May.

Keep in mind, this representative has been the only face the AHS Staff has seen since all of this has transpired….

To add insult to injury, the VFW’s sale price was $100,000 and the improvements/renovations made throughout the years to this property was valued to be approximately $90,000. Here are just a few of the improvements that have been made:

  • partitioning to build classrooms
  • additional office space construction
  • fencing in the area
  • a new roof
  • an outer building for storage
  • playground equipment (which they are allowed to take)



Eviction seemed imminent and without an adequate location, the Ashland Head Start (AHS) program was in danger of closing their doors forever. But sometimes what seems like a bad situation can actually be a blessing in disguise with a LOT of hard work and effort…

Just last week I received confirmation the AHS has been granted use of the former Ashland Primary Building permission by Superintendent Garey Reynolds and the CCBOE, for the 2014-15 calendar year for an undisclosed amount. The rent will most likely increase from the amount they were accustomed to paying and will stretch the allowance of their annual budget, but will still be achievable. I commend the BOE for making this decision.

Also, because they are moving to a much larger facility, there are endless possibilities for this program to grow and prosper in the future to benefit our children and their families. For example, the student enrollment could not exceed 60 students in their present location due to space restrictions. A larger facility could mean a big expansion in the program with student enrollment and even more job opportunities.

Despite what some may think, this program provides a vital service to our county with their extended care program that runs from 6:00am-4:00pm. Because of this part of the program, working parents who are TRYING to earn a living can have the reassurance their children are safe, healthy and happy in a positive environment, while building their educational skills as an added bonus.

The legalities of this move are now in the process with contracts and such. It is unknown at this time what kind of legal action the Head Start program will pursue.

Now, here is where the hard work comes in and you can help…

When it comes times for the move in mid-May, AHS staff will be in DESPERATE NEED of volunteers in many areas in order to have this facility ready in time for the 2014-15 school year.

They are asking businesses, high school students, organizations, and any citizens interested for donations of the following:

  • Paint
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Vehicles to help move equipment, etc:
  • Window replacement
  • People willing to help assist with heavy lifting
  • Window replacement (not up to code)

Not only are your services needed, you can also play an important role in building a greater program. Through donation of your time and/or needed items, but your public service will be documented as In-kind dollars- meaning the more volunteer services this center has, the more federal funds this center can get, which will benefit this local program tremendously. Volunteering your time and efforts could build a bigger budget for this program, therefore will result in an increase in student enrollment. Anyone interested in any type of donations can call AHS 256-354-2553.

Clay County citizens have ALWAYS stepped up in times of great need and I can’t think of a better need than this one. I urge all of our high school teachers who are in the position to organize a “field trip” with your students to perform this community service. And any other organization who would like to be a part of building this program, please don’t hesitate to extend a helping hand. After all, the children are our future, and you never know how this program could enhance their lives….

I would just like to state for the record that I am APPALLED with this turn of events and I don’t care if it sounds harsh or not just because an organization ran by Veterans are to blame. It’s still wrong to turn such a beneficial government program out on the streets and even more so when it involves children. I also can’t believe that none of your national media is not exposing this for the terrible injustice that it is.  Wrong is wrong and it shouldn’t matter whose toes you don’t want to step on.

I would also like to note the state VFW’s eviction decision has nothing to do with our local VFW Chapter. In fact, Lineville VFW Commander Lonnie Schlosser, was quite surprised to hear of this eviction since no one from the State Chapter had even bothered to contact him. Schlosser paid a visit to the Head Start Director Helen Simmons expressing his sincere apologies.


Move Over Superman and Make Room for “CodyMan”

By:Tammy Andrews

Some people see having a special needs child as a burden, but they don’t call these kids “special” for nothing. The thing that makes children so special is their honesty,  pureness, and unconditional love they have for others. A typical child will lose these qualities over time, but a special needs child won’t. But if they are born to the right person, it is amazing what obstacles they can overcome. And that’s where special parents come in…cody 1

When Felicia Hamlet gave birth to her second child, Cody, she was alerted that something was amiss when she was unable to see him for almost two hours. After some time, the doctor came in to speak with her and explained to her that Cody had all the signs of Downs Syndrome. She didn’t cry or get upset at this news, she just asked to see her baby.

When she was finally able to hold her precious newborn son in her arms, she swore right then that she would do whatever she had to do to make sure her son had everything in this world that he needed to lead a normal life. At the time he was actually diagnosed with Down’s syndrome, the doctor explained to her that Cody may never walk or even talk, depending on the severity of his condition. But Felicia clung to her faith in God that Cody would surpass these barriers in life.

cody 2Cody would turn out to have a moderate case of Down’s on a high-functioning level.

As the years went by, Felicia and her husband never treated Cody any different than they did his siblings, Justin and Amy. He had chores just like his brother and sister and was always encouraged to do things for himself. Cody is your typical boy who loves to deer hunt and has killed several deer.  He loves video games and Subway pizzas. But most of all, he loves his family, who adore him as well.

Cody has an enthusiasm for life that is contagious to all of those around him and he gets excited over the slightest things. “Cody can get a new pair of shoes and he will run around in the yard swearing no one can catch him.”

A few months ago, Cody came to Felicia one night and asked “Mama, what’s wrong with me?” Felicia replied “Nothing’s wrong with you, Cody, God just made you special.” Not quite satisfied with her answer, Cody began asking questions about why he wasn’t doing the same things (such as classwork)as everyone else. So, for the first time in his life as a teenager,

This was Cody's first score. Not a dry eye in the house...
This was Cody’s first score. Not a dry eye in the house…

Felicia explained to Cody what it meant to be a person with Down’s. Felicia gave him details about his limitations in life and Cody listened intently. Afterwards, he seemed happy with his mother’s answers and never became frustrated with himself after that.

All of his life, Cody has always been in a special needs classroom until last Fall, when Cody was enrolled at Clay County Christian Academy as a basic curriculum 10th grade  student.  Felicia was apprehensive about this making this move, but decided to support Cody’s decision because he wanted to go to the same school where his sister went. But never is her wildest dreams did she ever imagine this change would bring about what she can only refer to as “the work of the divine hand of God”. She has been in awe of the change it has made in her son and couldn’t be happier.

“This has been the biggest blessing for him. His entire personality has changed, he has gained confidence in himself and is no longer shy outside his family. He talks to everybody, even complete strangers. Cody has been embraced by the entire school for the person that he is and is not treated any differently”, she says “and this is all I have ever wanted for him”.

cody and doonebuggyWhen Cody’s older brother Justin turned 16, it was a big deal. So, that’s all Cody could think about from that moment on. He couldn’t wait to get a truck. Felicia didn’t want to let Cody down by telling him this would never be possible, because she always taught her kids that no was not an option. So, on his 16th birthday, she took him to the DMV and explained to the lady that she wanted an Identification Card.

The staff treated him the same as they would anyone by telling him the rules of safe driving. Cody said “Oh, I would never do that, I let my mama do the driving”. When Cody finished getting his “license”, he walked out and everyone in the place stood up and clapped, high-fived and congratulated him. Cody’s present was a beautiful new dune buggy all decked out, complete with a tag that read “Codyman”.

Cody’s biggest dream has always to play basketball, and now that dream has become a reality, with the help of CCCA Coach Ricky Morgan and his teammates. Cody is an excellent shooter and frequently makes shots from the 3-point line. His teammates even call this “Codytime”.

“He is one of the most sincere and loving people you will ever meet, and I’m not just saying this because he is my kid either. He amazes and inspires me every day to be a better person. I have found him many times on his knees in his room just talking to God and praying for someone” says Felicia.  cody 7

What effect has being the mother of a special needs child made on her life…nothing but pure joy and enrichment. “I feel very blessed. Out of every mother in this world, God chose me to be his mother and I take that job very seriously. I will fight for him and support him in every way possible. I love all of my children and I can honestly say that being a mother  has made me a much better person, but being Cody’s mother has given me courage. I couldn’t be the woman I am today if Cody had not been born and none of us can imagine life without him.”

cody 6Please join Cody and his family in observing World Down Syndrome Day on Friday, March 21.

Good news for Ashland Head Start

By: Tammy Andrews

This Head Start program were to be evicted from a building they have occupied for over 40 years in less than three weeks and closed permanently, without even allowing the 58 student enrolled to finish out the 2013-14 school year. But don’t count them out just yet…. this cowardly eviction might just turn out to be a blessing in disguise after A LOT of time and effort and most of all, hard work.

Ashland Head Start
Ashland Head Start

I have confirmed the Ashland Head Start program has been given permission by Superintendent Garey Reynolds and the CCBOE use of the former Ashland Primary Building for the 2014-15 calendar year for the price of $300 a month. This amount will be a 33% increase over the amount they had been paying, and will stretch the allowance of their annual budget, but will still be achievable.

The State VFW has agreed to allow the 58 students now enrolled to remain in their building until the 2013-14 school draws to a close in mid-May.

To my knowledge, the state VFW’s eviction decision has nothing to do with our local VFW members.

The Ashland Head Start has been leasing the VFW building for almost 40 years now. In the beginning, this one building was nothing more than hollow walls. Throughout the years, the improvements to this building included:

  • partitioning to build classrooms
  • additional office space construction
  • fencing in the area
  • a new roof
  • an outer building for storage
  • playground equipment (which they are allowed to take)

These improvements total somewhere in the vicinity of $90,000. The VFW is asking a selling price of $100,000.

Keep in mind that these VFW members were not even aware these improvements had even been made and were asking $1000 monthly rent from AHS. However, the entire story changed when they sent a representative out to view the property. After seeing these improvements, the AHS Director was informed by the representative they were no longer interested in renting, and had decided to sell. The students and staff were given 60 days to evacuate. This representative has been the only face they have seen, none of the state VFW members will come out to speak to anyone with this program.

The legalities of this move are now in the process with contracts and such. It is unknown at this time what kind of legal action the Head Start program will pursue.

Now, here is where the hard work comes in and you can help…

When it comes times for the move in mid-May, AHS staff will be in DESPERATE NEED of volunteers in many areas in order to have this facility ready in time for the 2014-15 school year.

They are asking businesses, high school students, organizations, and any citizens interested for donations of the following:

  • Paint
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Vehicles to help move equipment, etc:
  • Window replacement
  • People willing to help assist with heavy lifting
  • Window replacement (not up to code)

And the list goes on and on…

All of these people and items needed will not be a paid service, but your public service will be documented as in-kind dollars- meaning the more volunteer services this center has, the more federal funds this center can get, which will benefit this local program tremendously.

Volunteering your time and efforts could build a bigger budget for this program, therefore will result in an increase in student enrollment. With the current space they have now, the Head Start program is only allowed 60 students, but moving into a larger facility could mean a big expansion in the program with student enrollment and more job opportunities.

Clay County citizens has always stepped up in times of great need and I can’t think of a better need than this one. I urge all of our high school teachers who are in the position to organize a “field trip” with your students to perform this community service. And any other organization who would like to be a part of building this program, please don’t hesitate to extend a helping hand. So, all of you politicians and county officials, it’s time for you to step up…  After all, the children are our future, and you never know how this program could enhance their lives….

Anyone interested in making a donation can contact Ashland Head Start 256-354-2553 and speak with Helen Simmons.

Pet Peeves of the week

By: Tammy Andrewsspider with story

Several times this past week, I have had encounters with people and situations that truly frustrate me. So as a result, you get the pleasure of listening to me express my displeasure.:

  1. The One that got away– Where do spiders go when you accidently miss when trying to squash them into fragments? Do they scurry off to tell their friends and family? Perhaps take turns staking your every move in some hidden crack while plotting their revenge? Is your face plastered on the cover of the Spider’s Most Wanted list? These are just some of the thoughts that run through your mind at night while you are lying awake, paranoid that at any given moment they are coming for you, as you swipe at every imaginary brush against your skin. Where is this great spider kingdom located? Is it under your bed perhaps? Inquiring minds wanna know…
  1. Screaming Kids in Stores– How many of you have been to a department store and heard the ever present wailing of a small child echoing throughout the store? I think we’ve all been there…

obama-mask-scares-kidIt’s not the child’s cries that bother as much as the parent or guardian who is steadily doing one of the following:

A) Act like it’s not happening

B) Try to reason or negotiate with them. 

Seriously, what is wrong with you? Why are you afraid to discipline your child? Are you worried that someone might report you? Well, I promise you that someone  won’t be me. It’s your responsibility to raise this child into a decent human being with standards that are acceptable in today’s society.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you”. Well, this is all part of the parenting process, and unfortunately, kids don’t come with manuals so all you can do is your best.  Now, I am by no means an expert, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that a child should not rule the household.

So, the appropriate answer in this given situation is to tell your child: “Do you want me to give your something to cry about?”. No, I’m not saying to beat or abuse your child, but a hand across the back side never hurt anyone. Trust me, I know this firsthand and look how good I turned out…

  1. Napkins– Call me weird, but I require some method to dispose of my hand waste with my meal. Plus, the grease gets all over my cell phone when I am texting and     driving. So, if I am ordering my meal via drive-thru, please throw me a couple of napkins in the bag. I don’t feel I should have to specify that I would like a side of McNapkins with my McNuggets, please. It’s not rocket science.                                                                 ghetto car
  1. Mixed Priorities– I’m just going to make this one short and sweet. If you have a $10,000 stereo system in your $2,000 car and you don’t have the money to pay your bills, then you need to re-evaluate your life.
  1. Communication– There are many ways to communicate with one another these days, but please handle your correspondence accordingly. For instance, please do not send me a LONG text when all you had to do is pick up the phone or even just stop for a short visit. Social media is making a lot of people lazy. Please interact with your family and friends before you completely lose your social skills. Oh, and if you’re going to text or message me, please make sure you use good grammar or else I’m gonna call you out. That’s all folks!

Watts brings the American Pickers to Clay County

By Tammy Andrews

pickers 1 I spent all day Monday at Commissioner Wayne Watts’ “office space” in Lineville, better known on Facebook as “Wayne’s World of Watt-Nots ”, where the American Pickers had chosen to visit and film an upcoming show. This was a very interesting day for me and I thank Wayne for allowing me to be a part of it. I enjoyed meeting Mike and Frank, along with several other people who were along for the ride too. This was such a unique opportunity for our county and could possibly open doors along the way.

I’ve always said we have something special here that outsiders aren’t aware of unless they have had the chance to taste it for themselves. My favorite quote from the movie Doc Hollywood is “You don’t see a lot in town of Grady, but what you see you never forget”. Well, that’s the way I feel about Clay County, and so does Wayne Watts. This man loves everything about this county and goes above and beyond on a daily basis to promote growth and breathe new life into it. Not the kind of growth that would attract a large shopping mall, but the kind of life that would help us find our “niche” to promote tourism while preserving our small town heritage all at the same time. pickers 3

It wasn’t Wayne’s idea to bring the American Pickers here, but he wasn’t going to turn it down because he knew this could be a great thing for this county. Wayne is always searching for ways to put Clay County in the limelight in a positive fashion so he, too saw this as a unique opportunity. Wayne was all smiles all day long because he knew the citizens were really enjoying the national exposure. He made sure to tell everyone “This is not about me, this is for Clay County”.

Wayne’s lists of priorities runs like this: God first, family second, and Clay County third. He has served in law enforcement for many years, owns a successful construction company and is a County Commissioner. As a Commissioner, you won’t find anyone who works any harder. Wayne’s nose is to the grindstone every day. And in times of crisis, you will either find him somewhere extending a helping hand or at the EMA Office helping direct calls.

DSC_0186 Many days and weekends you will find him at his office space adorned with priceless treasures he has sought out and restored over the years and he can tell you specific details about every single item. Most of these items hold deep sentimental value to him as he does his best to preserve as much of Clay County history as he can.

You won’t find anyone else who has attained as much history knowledge of this county than Wayne. This is mostly due to Wayne paying special attention to some of the old timer’s stories when he was younger who have since passed on. watts klayCollecting and preserving these artifacts has become his passion and as his collections grow in numbers, he hopes to expand his “museum” of sorts one day, where visitors are always welcome.

Wayne Watts is one of the biggest assets Clay County has and I hope everyone here can see and appreciate that. So, next time you see him, be sure to thank him for everything he does for the betterment of our county. He will most likely blow it off as no big deal, but I know deep down, it would mean a lot to him. God Bless you, Wayne!

Victim is airlifted after two-vehicle accident on Hwy 48

store wreck 1This was the scene of a two-vehicle accident today on Hwy 48 just into Randolph County at the intersection of County Rd 57 and Hwy 48 right in front of the Mad Indian Quickie Mart. The sole occupant of the car was entrapped in the vehicle and the jaws of life had to used to free him. The victim was airlifted from a landing zone about a half a mile down the road. The victim, who suffered an extensive injury to his left leg, was the father of the owner of the Mad Indian Quickie Mart . He was alert at the time he was airlifted. One other victim in the other vehicle was also transported via ambulance to the hospital.

store wreck 2

store wreck 3store wreck 4store wreck 5

Military Personnel Lend Hand at Accident Scene

DSC_0057This was the scene of a one vehicle accident that occurred on Hwy 77 in Clay County just near the Talladega line. The sole occupant of the vehicle was one female who had to be airlifted from the landing zone just down the road. It just so happened members of the 128th Medical Unit out of Ashland were passing by, saw the accident and stopped the lend a hand. As an American citizen… I have to say these pictures warm my heart. I over heard one of them say ” This is why we were let out of drill early today.” Everything happens for a reason, right? So, there you go…Please scroll down for more pictures


DSC_0060wreck 3DSC_0064DSC_0065DSC_0069DSC_0076

What Difference Does a Year Make?

Weekly article 12-30-2013

What difference does a year make? For me, 2013 was not the best friend I’ve ever had, but I’d like to call it a learning year.


The most memorable, yet heartbreaking lesson was January 3, 2013, when I visited my friend, Carolyn during her “bucket list” stay at Cheaha with her family. Carolyn had been battling cancer for three years, and she knew her time was near. We laughed and talked that night, and when the conversation turned serious, I was taken aback when she asked me to deliver her eulogy when the time came. Of course, I obliged, thinking that time would not come anytime soon. But I believe in my heart a person knows when their days are numbered, and in this case I would be right. Carolyn would pass within three weeks of this conversation. She and I weren’t lifelong best friends, but somehow we had managed to develop a strong bond over a short period of time. I miss her every day.

2013 had it good points though, like bringing two of my family members closer to home. My brother, Steven moved back here from Pennsylvania and my daughter, Ashley moved back to Clay County. It’s so good to know they are just right up the road when I get ready to visit my sweet grandchildren. My sister, Rhonda had a rough year and had to undergo two different surgeries, but she is on the mend now.

This last year was an emotional roller coaster for me, with bends, turns and dips in my path. I think it’s safe to say although I know this time was necessary, I won’t miss this year and I hope 2014 will be better to me. In fact, I’m going to make it happen. No more lying down on the job…it’s all or nothing from now on.

All in all, I can’t complain because I have it better than a lot of people, but sometimes it seems easier to dwell on the bad stuff. And believe me, I have wallowed enough for all of us. But I know there is a path for me and I am trying to find it. God does not shut one door without opening another, but that doesn’t mean He hands it to you on a silver platter, sometimes you have to work for it. And it’s not always easy to make out, sometimes it’s like finding the last missing piece of the puzzle. what-we-do-in-life-echoes-in-eternity-source

So, I will strive to find my place in life in the new coming year. To do the best I can do with the talents that God gave me. You see, God gives you these talents, but it’s up to you to develop them and learn how to use them for the benefit of others. And I believe you should always do your best to help others in need whenever possible.

Am I a Saint? No, not by any means…But I do believe in my heart that God is using me as a tool and I hope that 2014 will be the year I can make things happen. I hope all of you out there who are also trying to find your way can also find your path lit and don’t ever give up until you feel satisfied in your heart with what you are doing. That is my wish for you…

Joy, of Joy’s Journal facebook page lost her courageous battle on Dec. 10, 2013. Joy Elizabeth Nissa Kelly was born on October 2, 2012.She was born with a serious heart condition that required numerous surgeries. She also had Deletion 22q syndrome (aka DiGeorge Syndrome…She was only 14 months old.

So, what difference does a year make? Guess that’s a question only one person can answer, and the answers would vary. Let’s ask the mother lost her child in 2013, about how her grief tore at her soul every day of the year. How sometimes the smallest task seemed like a mountain she had to climb.

Or perhaps we should ask the mother that entered the 2013 year with a baby in her womb, and exited the year with small little replica of herself that has taught her a love unlike she has ever known. How looking at that sweet little face everyday makes her want to be a infant better person.

Maybe we should ask the widow of the fallen soldier who gave his life so that we could all experience freedom every day. About how she cries into her pillow every night with longing of feeling the strong arms of her true love to hold her just one more time, but at the same time holds a pride in her heart for her fallen hero who gave his life for a purpose.

Or even the elderly lady whose love of her life has gone on before her and she spends every day waiting on the day she will be reunited with him for eternity.

But last, the year of 2013 as seen through the eyes of a child who is full of life and hope for a better world. Who wakes up every day with a sparkle in her eye and a spring in her step of the endless possibilities of a bright future, of how one day she is going to be a doctor, lawyer, or maybe even a political leader who can make a difference in the world. These are our children of tomorrow…

So, say a prayer in your heart for all people in all the walks of life who are battling their own demons every day in hopes  new-year-2014that 2014 will be that defining year when it will all fall into place for them. Yes, I know this world is crazy and we are probably near the end of time, but if nothing else we are one year closer to the end of Obama’s reign of destruction on this nation. That alone should put a smile on your face. Happy New Year to you and yours! May your new year be joyful and prosperous in every sense of the word.

“The Nightmare before Christmas”

My Friday the 13th
friday-13th-funny-quotes-i6 Friday the 13th is supposed to be an unlucky day…a day where you should be prepared to have a Murphy’s Law type of day. Just a myth, right? Well, I was about to be made into a believer…
My Friday the 13th started shortly after midnight, when our wonderful internet service bottomed out on me just long enough to make me lose a large online order I was attempting to place.. So after having to re-enter everything, I practically fell into the bed about 2:00 am.
Somewhere around 5:00 am, I awoke to horrible aching in my little piggy that had roast beef. Dragging from my lack of sleep, I stumbled to the bathroom to take a look at what could possibly be causing my poor little toe so much pain. In my lethargic state, I managed to find the bathroom door closed in the dark with my nose first, drawing a few obscenities and tears to my eyes.
My middle toe was red and inflamed on the left side. I had managed to get my very first ingrown toenail at the age of 45. Yay me, right? I proceeded to fumble through the bathroom  friday the 13drawers until I found the toenail clippers for some homegrown surgery.
Operating on your toe at 5:00 am in a sluggish condition is not smart..but in this case, necessary. I said a few more swear words, and even invented a few, but I finally got to the root of the problem after hacking off over half of my toenail. After digging the culprit out, I went back to bed for a couple more hours sleep, because I had one busy day ahead.
When I returned to my warm bed, toe still throbbing, I had no sooner laid down when I heard a text message alert. I grabbed my phone and saw that I had a text from someone asking me to go check to see if one of my family members (who shall remain nameless) was awake, because they had been calling them and had gotten no answer. This person sending the text was at work and could not leave. I tried repeatedly to call them, but I couldn’t get an answer either.
Concerned, I got out of my very warm bed and began to throw on my clothes. My toe was still hurting, so I slipped on my house shoes. With no time to waste because I didn’t want this person to be late for work, I didn’t take the time to warm my car on this VERY COLD morning or defrost my windshield. So, I turned on my windshield washer and wipers that earned me just enough room to be able to see from a side view. The short friday dogride was a long one because I had to practically hang my head out of the window like a dog to be able to see anything and did I mention it was COLD?
When I arrived at my destination, I found this person to be asleep, so I helped them rush to get out of the door. I headed back to my house, toe still hurting, with a quick nap in mind. Looked down for a second while driving, and when I looked back up I saw about three deer surrounding me. I slammed on the brakes, throwing everything that was in my back seat to the front, and the front to the floor. Not sure who was shaken up more…me or the deer.
When I pulled into the driveway, my dog, Myrtle came out to greet me enthusiastically as usual, but I was in no mood to play. I got out of the car and hobbled my way back anxious to get back inside with Myrtle dancing all around me. Halfway up the front steps, I lost my shoe because apparently I suck at hobbling. Myrtle saw this and thought this was her cue to play. She grabs my shoe and takes off running, thinking I’m going to chase her to get it back…Well, I did and in the process, I stepped into a nice fresh pile of dog crap with my good foot.
Now, Myrtle is not the smartest dog in the world but she very quickly picked up on the tone of my thunderous screeching that maybe we weren’t playing a game after all, so she dropped the shoe and cowered. I picked up my shoe and felt bad that I had scolded her, so I attempted to lure her to me with soothing apologetic words. She was having no part of it and would not come near me. Cold and irritated, I headed back inside to the warmth and comfort of my home. It was an interesting walk back in the house.

My Myrtle
My Myrtle

Meet my demon cat, Zeus. Yes, this is a real picture, LOL. Much like his mother, Zeus gets into many predicaments :)
Meet my demon cat, Zeus. Yes, this is a real picture, LOL. Much like his mother, Zeus gets into many predicaments 🙂

Back indoors, I decided to check the tracking on a package that I needed by Christmas and was having a hard time getting. From the tracking numbers, I could see the estimated date of the arrival had been pushed back by three additional days. At this point, I was livid because this had been an ongoing problem for three weeks now. So, I sent Fed Ex a not so nice, maybe somewhat threatening email regarding certain body parts if my package didn’t make it here by Christmas. After hitting the Send button, I realized after re-reading the message that I would be lucky to get it by Valentine’s Day.

So, my toe is still killing me and I do a frantic search through my house to find anything that will ease the pain. With a good Epsom Salt soaking and two Tylenol later, the pain has lessened somewhat, so I decide to take a quick power nap before I get started.
 Before I lay down, I put some antibiotic ointment on my toe. I had just gotten settled when I realized my toe had started a strange cooling sensation that would not subside and it did not seem to be letting up. It was a little painful, but even more annoying. So, I get back up out of the bed and go into the bathroom drawer to see what cream I had rubbed on my toe. I was even more annoyed when I found out I had put hemorrhoid ointment on my ailing toe, although it did seem to help the swelling some. I began to really contemplate whether my balance would be affected much if I decided just to cut it off…I mean, it was the middle toe. How much could it really hurt anyway?
Thoroughly disgusted with the way my morning was going, I decided to a nice long nap was exactly what the doctor ordered for me, heavy workload or not. So, I piled back up in my 

Zeus doesn't take too kindly to cat hair...
Zeus doesn’t take too kindly to cat hair…

warm bed, only to hear the incessant crying of my cat, because he thinks the minute you are out of bed, you live to feed him. I tried to ignore him, but he was not to be overlooked easily.

Folks, you cannot starve a cat, period. They are the most resourceful creatures on the face of this Earth. A scorned woman ain’t got nothing on a hungry cat. So, if you have a cat, and you’re thinking of cutting back, don’t even try it. I promise you, they’ve already assessed you to see how you are going to digest in case of emergency. They will eat you even though they love you…it’s encoded in their DNA.

I don't even wanna talk about what he's doing here...
I don’t even wanna talk about what he’s doing here…

I drug myself out of the bed once again and fed the stupid cat, all the while looking over my shoulder for fear that Jason Vorhees was going to jump out and whack my head off. Maybe he didn’t feel lucky enough to mess with me after witnessing the scene in the front yard with my poor Myrtle, who by this time could not even be found.

By this time, I was curious what the rest of the day would hold, or maybe I just had a death wish, I’m not real sure. I ate, dressed, and was out the door to see if I could make the newspaper headlines in some crazy method before this fateful day was over. The rest of the day was busy, and quite uneventful…and believe it or not, I got through the day without going to jail or losing any limbs in a freak accident.
What did I learn about Friday the 13th from this experience? Next time…clip your toenails frequently and sleep through it…

A Christmas Wish for Emma…

Amy & Emma
Amy & Emma

By: Tammy Andrews

Here in the latter days of the Christmas season, most parents are scrambling around in full panic mode trying to finish up their Christmas list while most children are impatiently counting down the days in anticipation of the arrival of Santa Claus. For most people, this would be your average traditional behavior just a few days before Christmas Eve. But in a hospital bed at Children’s Hospital one faithful yet terrified mother, Amy Mitchell and a seriously ill daughter, Emma of Oxford, AL would give anything to experience this type of normalcy.

On Friday, December 20, Emma underwent her third brain surgery to remove yet another tumor at the tender age of 5. Emma was your emma after surgery presentaverage little girl until the age of 3, a bright-eyed little beauty full of energy who reveled in the warmth, love, and comfort of her familiar surroundings. Sadly, these brief days of ‘normal’ are now bittersweet times she cannot even recall at such a young age. Is this a blessing or a curse for sweet Emma? Maybe a little of both, because she has been sick for so long now, the endurance of  hospitals, needles, and pain are all that she knows. Yet what she has conquered to date is one of the most inspirational stories you will ever hear.

The Beginning

Emma’s life began to change in June 2012 when she was just three years old and she was treated for an ear infection at an after-hours clinic in Oxford. She was sent home with antibiotics, which is standard protocol for an ear infection in toddlers. However, her condition would not improve. In fact it would worsen throughout the course of the following week, and Emma would return to the doctor two more times that same week. On her third visit of that week, her doctor said she had become dehydrated from vomiting and

Emma before she was stricken with a brain tumor
Emma before she was stricken with a brain tumor

gave her fluids which suppressed the symptoms somewhat, but Emma would still not get any better.

After watching their daughter lay around lifelessly for the next couple of days, Amy’s parents made the decision to take her to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. After examining Emma, they were once again told their daughter was only suffering from dehydration. They too, just wanted to give her fluids and send her back home. But knowing her energetic little daughter too well, Amy knew there was more to this picture. These fearful parents stood their ground until another doctor was called in and tests were ran to find the underlying problem.

A CT scan revealed a lemon-sized tumor on Emma’s brain with a great deal of swelling around it. Emma was admitted in ICU and underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor the very next day. The prognosis wasn’t good at all.  The Mitchells were told Emma might not live through the surgery and if she did survive, she would most likely lose mobility of her left side where the tumor was located. Reeling at the rapid turn of events, Emma’s parents tried to prepare themselves for the worst. They prayed hard

Emma after her first brain surgery
Emma after her first brain surgery

for a miracle and their faith would not let them down.

Amazingly, Emma came through the surgery with no complications and the doctors told the Mitchells they were 99.9% certain they had been able to remove the entire tumor. Within 48 hours of her surgery, Emma was back at home and would not have to undergo any type of physical therapy. Within two weeks, it was as if she nothing had ever happened, other than the scar on her head. Doctors were baffled at her recovery, yet elated.

Even with the physician’s certainty, Emma still was scheduled to undergo six weeks of radiation as a precautionary measure, but would not make it to the end of these scheduled treatments before a reoccurrence would take place.

When Emma began to complain of a headache just four short weeks later, Amy took her back to Children’s and further tests would reveal the worst. The tumor was not only back, but it was bigger than the first one that had been removed. The doctors were in shock, stating they had never seen a tumor return so quickly at such a massive growth. Emma would spend her fourth birthday in the hospital.

Emma’s course of treatment was changed completely where her regular radiation therapy program was cut short with the new developments and was changed to aggressive radiation treatments that caused Emma’s beautiful mane of hair to fall out in just two short days.

In the beginning, the thought of Emma losing her hair was very important to Amy.  “I couldn’t bear the thought of my little girl losing her hair, but I think God went ahead and allowed this to happen just  I could get past this to show me that this was not the most important thing there was.” said Amy.

emma babiesThe next six weeks involved daily trips to UAB for radiation and chemo treatments, with a series of short hospital stays along the way whenever Emma would experience fevers, be given platelets and blood transfusions, or any complications with the feeding tube that had to be inserted.

Emma’s Christmas was celebrated a week early, so she would have time to enjoy her toys before she went back into the hospital for a long stay.

Lonely Journey

On Dec. 26, 2012 Emma entered into the ICU Stem Cell Unit where she was given three big rounds of chemo with stem cell transplants.  In a typical stem cell transplant for cancer very high doses of chemo are used, often along with radiation therapy, to try to destroy all the cancer cells. This treatment also kills the stem cells in the bone marrow. Soon after treatment, stem cells are given to replace those that were destroyed. These stem cells are given into a vein, much like a blood transfusion. Over time they settle in the bone marrow and begin to grow and make healthy blood cells. emma stem clinic

The next few weeks were very lonely for both Emma and Amy because during this time you are in complete isolation from even immediate family members. But unfortunately sometimes in life, you don’t always get to make choices.

One of the hardest things about this time for Amy was being away from Emma’s sister, her 14 year old daughter Kaitlyn, who was in the care of Amy’s mother while Amy stayed with her youngest daughter.  “It’s really hard sometimes, leaving Kaitlyn because I know she needs me too, and no mother should ever have to make this decision. But with Emma is where I need to be and Kaitlyn knows this. She misses us both. She and Emma are very close, so this is hard on all of us.”

Emma & Kaitlyn
Emma & Kaitlyn

In April 2013, they left the Stem Cell unit with another good report from the doctors. Although the tumor was still present, it was thought to be nothing more than dead tissue. Emma and Amy were so glad to finally return to their home.


Emma was finally able to make good on that promise to do a lemonade stand fundraiser for the stem cell clinic that she had talked to her mother about during their stay there. This event started out small and grew to be very large. Emma’s stand raised almost $2000 that day, and all proceeds went back to the clinic. One customer, Jim Lehmann, who followed Emma’s progress on Facebook drove all the way from Huntsville just to meet Emma, have a cup of lemonade with her and also made a very large donation. He was completely taken with her and an instant friendship was born.

In May 2013, Emma was given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Make-A-Wish Foundation was sending Emma and her family on Walt Disney World.  She wasn’t feeling very well, her body had gone through so much. She was nauseous and still swollen from the steroids, emma disney worldbut overall she had a wonderful time.

Although there were still regular trips to the doctor, Emma and her family enjoyed the summer and hoped their lives would return to normal. Amy began making plans to return to her classroom at Munford Elementary where she was employed as a Kindergarten teacher. However, tragedy would strike again.

It’s Back

On August 16 2013, Emma had been playing when Amy noticed she had no use of her left side. She was rushed back to Children’s where doctors soon discovered the tumor was back. After an MRI confirmed it, Emma once again underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor. During the surgery, doctors found not just one, but three tumors; one from the dead tissue tumor they were aware of and one believed to be caused by radiation. However, it was the discovery of the third one that concerned them the most; a PNET tumor.

emma bedPNET tumors contain underdeveloped brain cells, are highly malignant, and tend to spread throughout the central nervous system. These tumors often contain areas of dead tumor cells (necrosis) and cysts. Fluid surrounding the tumor is not uncommon. PNETs occur primarily in the cerebrum, but can spread to other parts of the brain and spine. Because they tend to be large tumors, symptoms of increased pressure in the brain and mass effect are often present. Seizures are common.

All tumors were removed and a biopsy of the PNET Tumor was sent off to be analyzed . The results were not good. Cancer had reared its ugly head again.

Emma had to undergo two big rounds of chemo. The first round went smoothly and consisted of split time with chemo distributed at home and during hospital stays.

Faith and Friends

During these most trying times, Amy clung to her strong faith in God to help her through. Each morning, she would put on a brave face emma 4 scarfor her daughter which wasn’t always an easy task. Because inside, she was just like any other scared mother, who hurt when her baby hurt and fought to keep her feelings under control.

Some days she would break under the pressure and cry in the presence of the very one she was trying to be brave for. Times like these consisted of a reversal of roles, when her child who seemed to be wise beyond her years would look at her and quietly say “Dry It up Mommy” or “Mommy, please stop crying, I’m going to be okay”.  This beloved creature was truly a Godsend.

The second round of chemo came with complications. Emma began having seizures, some lasting for 20-40 minutes at a time.  Doctors at first thought she might be having an adverse reaction to the strong chemo. However, the problem turned out to be a brain bleed which was much more serious than they had anticipated. Emma was placed in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where she was unconscious for a week. When she finally regained consciousness, Emma had to undergo physical therapy to regain control of her motor skills again.

emma munford balloonsIn times of need, Amy was overwhelmed with the support of her hometown, friends and family, and even complete strangers reached out to Emma in ways that she could never imagine. Team Emma was created held several fundraisers which has helped with travel and lodging expenses to date. There was such a large outcry on Emma’s behalf during this time that Amy could not even name how many nice things were done in Emma’s honor.

For instance, Emma wanted to become a midget cheerleader at the beginning of the school year. However when she missed tryouts, they made her an honorary member of the Munford Cheerleader squad.  And although she wasn’t strong enough to make it but to one of the games, she still got to ride in the parade. Emma had a blast!

emma cheer uniform

Another lady heard about Emma’s story and knew how badly she wanted a puppy.  So, she got Emma a Maltese puppy, which was perfect for her because these dogs do not shed and are hypoallergenic, but they need to be kept indoors and this was going to be difficult task due to restrictions on Emma with her course of treatment.

emma house dogHearing this, another friend, Paula came to the rescue . Paula and her husband, along with his friends, employees of Coosa Valley Electric, raised money for a playhouse/doghouse for Emma and her puppy. They even went to Tennessee to pick the playhouse up and renovated it themselves. The end result was a beautiful pink princess playhouse complete with heating and air conditioning so the dog would live in it because at the time the stipulations of the ongoing stem cell were very restricted. Emma was absolutely thrilled!

Over Thanksgiving, Jim, the generous lemonade stand friend, extended Emma’s family all to a Christmas tree lighting in Huntsville. emma treeHe was requesting Emma’s help in the decorating the tree in her honor. He paid for the family to stay at a hotel the entire weekend and continues to stay in touch with Emma. This was a very special time for Emma and a much needed getaway for the family.

Here and Now

In December 2013, the PNET tumor once removed had grown back in the exact same spot. This tumor is pressing on the motor cortex of her brain.  All chemo has been cancelled and a new doctor has joined the flock with a new plan of action. This new plan consisted of a one- time dose of radiation on Thursday, the day before her surgery. This course of treatment has only been done with adults, so it is unknown how Emma will respond to it.  Emma underwent a MRI of her spine at the beginning of this week to see if the cancer had spread to her emma dressed upspine and they were relieved to see that it had not.   She is again amazing doctors with her walking and talking as if nothing has happened. With this amazing, unrelenting attitude, will Emma defy all odds once again? That’s the hope of thousands as they close their eyes in prayer for their little hero every night.

Emma’s Odds

Although Emma’s story doesn’t sound to be taking a good route, it is very clear that is anyone can defy the odds, this little girl can. She has defied death several times now, and has risen above every obstacle that has crossed her path. Her courage and bravery has won the hearts of thousands of people, many who have never even met her before.

To anyone who sees her without actually knowing anything about Emma, all they see is a sick little girl, with no hair and swollen from the steroids. But for those who are fortunate to know her, they see a captivating little warrior, who melts their heart with her genuine smile and her courageous attitude that has impacted their lives like no other. A little girl who loves her family and friends and mostly God, will give you the shirt off her back, and just emma smile stuff animalslike any other little girl, she wants to play with her princesses, baby dolls, and her Barbies.

Because this has been a way of life for Emma, she knows nothing more than being sick but she also knows exactly what she is up against.  Even though there are times she is in tremendous pain, Emma never complains, unless it is that she wants to go home. She is very caring and thoughtful of others. At times, you will find her sharing her snacks with others, and making things for her friends and family. She is especially thoughtful of those who are caught up in the same cancer journey as she is. She has made several friends at Children’s who have lost their battle with cancer which has been very hard on her.

The biggest thing bothering Emma right now is that she won’t be able to be home for Christmas. Last year, Emma was unable to experience a normal Christmas due to the fact that she had to be placed in isolation for the stem cell transplant she would undergo the day after Christmas. So, she was really looking forward to having a big family Christmas this year. Now, that will not be possible without a miracle, and that’s what they are banking on…

How does she do it?

emma armyAmy has had her share of heartbreak before Emma was stricken with this deadly disease. Her mother became sick and had to have heart surgery.  She lost a son in 2007, who was stillborn and went through a divorce in 2008. Also in the midst of her divorce, Amy found out she was expecting again. Emma was actually a twin, but she lost one of the babies a few weeks into her pregnancy. All of these incidents used up a lot of Amy’s sick leave, so when Emma was diagnosed, she didn’t have very much built up.

Amy has been unable to work in a year and a half now. She has used up all of her sick leave but has had several of her fellow teachers graciously donate some of their days to her, for which is extremely grateful. The school board also agreed to emma wagon give Amy another year off in light of Emma’s illness.

Amy doesn’t ask what the future holds for Emma, because that’s not as important to her as the here and now. Even if it sounds bad, she knows if anyone can beat this horrible disease, it is her own little sweet warrior and she has proven it time and time again. And Emma is also determined to be cancer-free.

“My faith has gotten me through this. In the beginning, I admit I questioned God, but then one day it hit me. Why not? After all, look what happened with God’s son. He died on the cross for our sins, and also endured terrible pain and suffering. I just take everything one day at a time. Every day, I have made it a habit to read a daily devotion and one day a quote jumped out at me that I cling to:  ‘Keeping your faith stronger than your fears’ That has become my motto because I am human and I have my fears” says Amy.

emma santaAmy gathers a lot of strength from avid followers of Emma’s on Facebook, where sometimes it is complete strangers who lift her up by sharing Emma’s journey with others.  Emma’s courage has helped many people in ways no one could have ever dreamed. One person even told her they had even been contemplating suicide when they read of Emma’s brave journey and it changed their whole outlook on life. “Everyone who comes in contact with Emma is amazed by her,” says Amy smiling “God is using Emma as a tool to touch people, and if I sat back and didn’t share her story, we might miss something along the way.”

“It’s a roller coaster ride with lots of ups and downs, and lonely times. The world just seems to keep on turning and everyone is continuing with their lives while ours has stopped,” Amy says in a cracked voice, “But we’re not ready to give up…Emma is determined to beat this and anything is possible.”

Show your support

team emmaSo, this Christmas, as you sit down with your family to your holiday feast, or open your presents, please remember this precious little girl and her family in your prayers. We all know that prayer can move mountains and Christmas is the  emma christmas nowseason for miracles. I can’t think of any one person who deserves it more than this special little girl, who has endured more pain and suffering in her small life than many adults have. And she’s doing it all with a smile on her face.  This is a nightmare no one wants to think about, but it happens, and when it does a positive attitude can be a winning factor when all else is lost.

You can keep up with Emma’s journey by liking Team Emma’s facebook page. Those interested in making a donation to Team Emma or to just send Emma a card can do so at: Amy Mitchell 75 Jenkins Road Oxford AL 36203.

Please continue to pray for and support Emma and her whole family during this journey.

The Nitty Gritty – Clay County News and Events