April 30: Special Event in Tuscaloosa

I had been thinking for some time about a way to give a little something back to Tuscaloosa, my college town (twice) and the setting for most of my book. I believe in "paying it forward," but there have been so many needs and causes that it was overwhelming to choose. 

I finally found the perfect cause: Alberta School of Performing Arts.

Back story: Alberta Elementary School was flattened by the April 27, 2011 EF4 that devastated Tuscaloosa. What stands in its place—a brand-new school with state-of-the-art theaters and music rooms, plus an innovative arts curriculum—is something that did not previously exist in the Tuscaloosa public school system. The original student body has returned to this beautiful Title 1 school, which serves one of the least-affluent neighborhoods in the city. And next year, students from all over the school system will apply to join this arts-focused magnate school. (Read more about the school and fundraiser here.)

This school exemplifies the underlying theme of my book: Beautiful things come from our brokenness. Which is what I've chosen to call the fund-raising event I'm hosting this Thursday, April 30.

The 2-hour event will feature a brief talk and reading, and a panel discussion with Tuscaloosa characters from the book, including meteorologist James Spann, who will talk about weather safety and how the April 2011 storms changed him. Other characters include: 

  • John Oldshue, storm chaser who captured the EF4 on live TV 40 minutes outside of town
  • Adam Watley, a paramedic who responded to Rosedale and rescued many people
  • Kelli Rumanek Arthur, a UA student who lost her home and roomates, and struggled with anxiety attacks and PTSD
  • Andrew Lee, a disaster coordinator at a hospital that treated an estimated 1,000 patients in one day
  • Chelsea Thrash, a college student who was thrown and paralyzed...and who learned to walk again
  • Ashley Mims, who lost her daughter, Loryn Brown, to the storm.

The program is free to the public, but donations are welcomed and will benefit the Alberta School of Performing Arts. In addition, Barnes & Noble will donate 10% of the book sales to the school. A reception and signing will conclude the evening, and members of the audience will be able to meet and talk with the panelists. 

Turnout at Tuscaloosa events has been surprisingly poor, considering the book was set in this town and the storm such a big part of its history. I am not sure if people are tired of hearing about the tornado, or not quite ready to remember it so intimately. I'd like to emphasize that this is not an evening of mourning. It is an uplifting acknowledgment of how far we have come, and what we have learned, and gained, from 2011. It will be a testament to the healing power of storytelling, and I hope members of all facets of the community—storm victims, volunteers, rescuers, students—will come and join us.

When I reached out to the Tuscaloosa News to pitch a story about the fund-raiser, I never expected a front-page story on the anniversary of the tornado. I am grateful, not only for the great placement, but for the fact that the reporter, Ed Enoch, took the time to listen -- really listen -- and understood nuances that rushed reporters sometimes miss. He got it. As a result, we received $800 in donations on the day the story ran. 

Please help me reach our goal of $5,000. Every bit counts. 

If you can't make it to the event, please donate at gofundme.com/alberta.