All posts by Ariel Graham

Ariel Graham is a freelance reporter and blogger. She graduated from Texas Tech University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic Media & Communication in December of 2011. Prior to moving to Dallas, she worked for AM 790 KFYO in Lubbock, Texas, as a commercial voiceover actress, board operator, and producer for “Lubbock’s First News” & “The Chad Hasty Show.” She also wrote a weekly technology blog “The Geek Girl Report,” as well as various news stories and podcasts for the station. She is currently working on her new blog “Super Geek Girl Report,” and in her free time, she enjoys drawing, video editing, and playing video games.

Lyric Stage leaving Irving

A popular theater company has taken its final bow in Irving.

Lyric Stage made its home at the Irving Arts Center since its first production in 1993 and has brought some of Broadway’s most famous and beloved shows to the city. But now, after 24 years, Lyric Stage is leaving Irving and has found a new home at the historic Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas.

Along with the new venue comes a new producer. Shane Peterman will become Lyric Stage’s producer at the start of their 25th season. He has been the associate producer for Lyric Stage for the past three years and worked with the company as an actor since 1997.

Peterman explained that the reason for the company leaving Irving is two-fold. First, staying would have a negative impact on their bottom line.

“It was a business decision first and foremost,” Peterman said. “A combination of factors affected our bottom line moving forward as a theater company. The money issue was, unfortunately, even with an arts 501c (3) organization, you have to pay attention to your bottom line.”

Secondly, the company felt they were not getting the recognition and support from the city they felt they deserved.

“We felt like we were not being viewed as a nationally recognized theater company with the city and, therefore, not receiving the benefits of having that recognition and doing the work that we were doing,” Peterman said. “I’m not suggesting the Irving Arts Center hasn’t been a wonderful home for the last 24 years. It’s really just about a fresh take on the art that we produce.”

Peterman had several discussions with the Irving Arts Center and its executive director Todd Hawkins leading up to the decision to move. During those discussions, Peterman shared with Hawkins the difficulties he faced in securing city support.

“When I approached Todd Hawkins, I was telling him about my vision and what I wanted to do and letting him know that the grant process and the different hoops that you have to jump through are not hoops that other theater companies around the country, including Watertower Theater, have to jump through in order to have city backing,” Peterman said.

“Watertower Theater gets over $450,000 a year from the city of Addison. We were not getting near even half of that. We were lucky to get maybe a third of that through the grant process, and it was a tedious process. I would never suggest or discount how much that money has helped us. But what was a concern for me was that [money] was simply not enough backing from the city to subsidize our increased costs all across the board and for us to just continue to do what it is we do.”

Peterman, along with the company’s founder Steven Jones, then began looking for a new place for Lyric Stage to call home. After much searching, they settled on the Majestic Theater.

“I began to look last year at different theaters and different options,” Peterman said. “[Steven Jones] and I decided that the Majestic would be a great home for the kind of shows we produce. It’s an old, historic, beautiful theater that was built in the 1920s. There were twelve theaters built around the turn of the century, and it’s the only one that’s still standing. Anyone who has grown up or knows anything about Dallas knows the Majestic.”

Although Peterman is excited about the move to the Majestic, he still has some regrets about leaving Irving.

“Have we been supported by the city the way that other theater companies around the country have been supported?” Peterman asked. “Probably not. That was a huge factor for us, and it was an unfortunate one, but that’s OK. Nothing lasts forever, and we are just grateful for the great 24 years, and we’re excited for the future.”

Irving Arts Center Executive Director Todd Hawkins released the following statement about the departure of Lyric Stage.

“Irving Arts Center has enjoyed working with Lyric Stage from its very inception. The relationship dates back to 1993, when Lyric Stage became one of the arts center’s resident organizations. Like all of our resident organizations, Lyric is an independent 501c (3) governed by a board of directors. While it is not our preference, the Irving Arts Center board and staff respect the decision made by Lyric’s board of directors. We wish them great success as they pursue their future plans.”

Pure Country will be Lyric Stage’s final show at the Irving Arts Center and will run from June 9 – 18. Tickets for the show can be purchased through Lyric Stage or through the Irving Arts Center. Lyric Stage will then kick off its 25th season on Sept. 29 with Dallas Divas at the Meyerson Symphony Center. Their first performance at the Majestic Theater will be Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in mid-November.

Expansions, updates in Georgia Farrow Rec Center’s future

The Irving Parks and Recreation department, along with the city’s Planning and Community Development and the Capital Improvement Program, are in the process of applying for a 3.5 million dollar grant to fund expansions and improvements to the Georgia Farrow Recreation Center.

These expansions include adding a second gym to the facility that will have locker rooms, showers and additional restrooms, as well as expanding the fitness room and parking lot. The plans also will add upgrades to improve the building’s accommodations for people with disabilities.

Built in 1989 and at roughly 18,000 square feet, the Georgia Farrow Recreation Center is both the smallest and one of the oldest rec centers in the city of Irving. Joe Moses, assistant director of the city’s Parks and Recreation department, feels one of the biggest reasons for expanding Georgia Farrow is to bring the facility up to par with other recreational facilities in the city.

“One of the reasons we were always looking at expanding Georgia Farrow was to make sure it has the same amenities as all of our facilities have,” Moses said. “We want to keep things consistent. We think it’s important that, no matter which area of town you’re in, you receive the same service levels at our facilities.”

Moses explained that with the help of Planning and Community Development, the city was able to apply for the grant to help fund these much-needed improvements.

“They were in a situation where they could apply for this grant, and because of the economics of this area at the current time, Georgia Farrow was the only facility that qualified for the grant to do the expansion,” Moses said. “It allows us to do this expansion with the grant funding as opposed to general funds.”

Vicki Ebner, the Assistant Director for Planning and Community Development, said Georgia Farrow is located in a relatively lower-income area of town and the older building has seen a lot of use in the community.

“It’s a high-use facility, so we know that we’re going to get a good ‘bang for our dollar’ that we put in,” she said. “[The rec center] is impacting almost 69,000 residents annually already, and it’s in a different part of town which has fewer amenities available to it. All of those factors go in together to say, ‘OK, this is really something that can benefit the community.’”

At this stage in development, getting community input is one of the city’s primary focuses. “It was really important to us, because this is a community center,” Ebner said. “It may be called a recreation center, but it really is a community center. It was really important to us that we make sure the people who are actually using the facility and the people that are around the facility are happy with what we’re going to do.”

Currently the project is still in planning and application phases and construction is not expected to begin until 2019. However, several community meetings have already been held to discuss the new expansions. Daral McKnight, Community Programs Supervisor for the center, said that community feedback about the project has been extremely positive so far.

“The community’s been asking for this for a while,” McKnight said. “It’s something they’ll be real proud to have. Talking with the advisory council and the community meetings that we’ve had, they were all excited and they can’t wait.”

McKnight hopes these new expansions will inspire more participation from the community at large.

“First of all, it will help with staffing,” he said. “Staffing would be able to bring more programs into the community. We already have good participation, but there will be a whole lot more participation, especially having the churches and having more special events here.”

Joe Moses also hopes to see the facility filled to capacity with residents, and more importantly, that they enjoy using the facility.

“I hope to see that the community gets what they’re looking for and, within a couple of years, we’re busting at the seams again,” he said. “We want full facilities, no matter how big or how small they are, because that means that we’re servicing our community. We want to make sure we’re offering programs and services that our residents are taking advantage of, and that we have facilities that make them feel comfortable and safe and they enjoy using.”

The Georgia Farrow Recreation Center is located at 530 Davis Drive. The next community meeting to discuss the center’s new updates and expansions will be held in late June.

Dragon Boat Festival brings dragons, Asian culture to Irving

Dragons glided across the waters of Lake Carolyn during the annual DFW Dragon Boat, Kite and Lantern Festival held on Sunday, May 21 at the Las Colinas Urban Center.

Sponsored by the non-profit Marco Polo World Foundation, the event promotes intercultural understanding through the sharing of activities such as Dragon Boat racing, kite flying, and a Chinese lantern riddle. The Dragon Boat festival is the foundation’s biggest outreach.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the boat races, where teams of 20 competed in rowing 40-foot long “Dragon Boats” across a 250-meter course on the lake. Diana Wang Madsen, the founder and president of the Marco Polo World Foundation, moved to the US from China in 2001. When she first arrived in Irving, she decided to bring Dragon Boats to DFW and specifically to Lake Carolyn.

“I saw the lake and thought it was a wonderful idea,” Madsen said. “I thought if I can bring the Dragon Boats racing here, it would be great because it’s so pretty here.”

She added that the lake is smaller than most lakes used for Dragon Boat racing, but it works to their advantage.

“I know a lot of Dragon Boat races go to the bigger lake,” Madsen said. “But they’re so big, people cannot see [the boats] and that makes it less exciting. This is a great location for our event.”

Mike Kerkmann, the owner of Pan-Am Dragon Boats and program director for this year’s Dragon Boat races, explained while Dragon Boating has taken off in the U.S. over the last 20 years, the sport itself is actually more than 2,000 years old.

“When the Chinese started immigrating into Western countries in the 80s in a big way, they brought their culture with them,” Kerkmann said. “We have Halloween and Valentine’s Day [for example]. They have the Harvest Moon Festival, and they have the Dragon Boat Festival.”

Part of the reason Dragon Boating has become so popular in the West is because it provides a fun and unique team-building opportunity.

“All the right metaphors are there: you pull together and everybody’s got to be together in order to win,” Kerkmann said.

Brandon Roach and Shannon Luppino, personal trainers from Camp Gladiator, were part of a team consisting of other trainers, Kimberly-Clark employees and members of the Irving Fire Department. This was their first time competing in the Dragon Boat Races. Roach was happy to have the chance to work-out in a new and exciting way.

“It was a great workout” Roach said. “It was also kind of exciting seeing the crowds of people running through [the lake.] I’ve lived here for a year and haven’t gotten out on this water yet, so that was a lot of fun.”

Luppino enjoyed the teamwork and social aspects of the races.

“I think it was really cool to work out with a bunch of people I’ve never met before,” Luppino said. “We’re just in a boat, full of people of random occupations, and kind of all working together to achieve a goal.”

Kerkmann explained that people from all occupations and all walks of life were competing in the day’s races.

“Most of the teams here are novice, new corporate and community teams,” Kerkmann said. “Most people have never done it before and they’re representing their companies. We’ve got banks, insurance companies, accounting firms, law firms, all kinds of businesses here using this day as a sort of ‘company picnic’ and a corporate team-building opportunity.”

Although the Dragon Boats were the main attraction, there were also numerous other activities celebrating Asian culture. At the kite festival, professional and amateur flyers took to the skies to show off their favorite kites.

On stage, various acts performed traditional Asian songs and dances as well as put on a fashion show. Lion dancers and drummers paraded through the streets lined with vendors and crafts.

Madsen said events like the Dragon Boat Festival help people learn about many different cultures and illustrate the mission of the Marco Polo World Foundation.

“We are promoting culture and bringing everyone together,” Madsen said. “That’s our mission.”

Irving Cares helps community through donations

For over 60 years, Irving Cares has been providing families in need with help they cannot receive anywhere else, from career services to groceries for the week. However, their food pantry is in need of a few very important items.

Irving Cares first started in 1957, after a tornado tore through Dallas and left many without food.

“People didn’t know where to turn to give help or to get help,” Irving Cares’ CEO Teddie Story said. “They wanted to create a central information center, and they wanted to eliminate hunger. Those two programs are the cornerstone of what was founded back then, and those are still two things we do today one family at a time.”

Today, in addition to providing food and information, Irving Cares also provides families in need with financial assistance for rent and bills, as well as helping them find gainful employment; but the food pantry still remains one of the major services the organization provides.

The food pantry provides over 800 Irving families with emergency groceries every month. In addition to donations from the community, the pantry also partners with local retailers like Kroger, Tom Thumb and Target to procure not only canned goods, but fresh meats and dairy as well.

“When I first started volunteering here, we had canned everything,” Story said. “We had no fresh milk, no fresh meat, no fresh eggs, and we didn’t have any meat in the food orders. But [things have improved] because of the great partnerships we have with our retail partners, and also because the community itself has better supported the food pantry than ever before.”

Despite the retail and community donations, there are still a few areas where the pantry is lacking – in fact, they’re in short supply of a major food group: fruits.

Kyle Taylor is the Community Director for Irving Cares, and also runs the food pantry.

“Fresh fruit is really hard to get, and even canned fruit is difficult to get,” Taylor said. “A lot of people are good with the macaroni and cheese, green beans, and corn, which is all great. A lot of times, people don’t associate fruit with food pantries. Number one, because it’s expensive. But fruit is a nutritional element that we need inside our food pantries to meet the nutritional needs [of the customers.]”

Teddie Story agreed fruits, particularly fresh fruits, are one of the top needs for the food pantry. She added that most people do not bother to donate fresh fruits because they believe the pantry cannot store them properly.

“I think people believe we just don’t have the capacity to handle it,” Story said. “We have tremendous refrigeration and freezer space, and we could handle fresh produce if we had it. Now, we can’t have palettes of it, but we can handle a pretty large volume.”

Another often-overlooked need of the food pantry is hygiene items, such as toilet paper, toothbrushes and travel-sized toiletries like shampoo and mouthwash. While the pantry does primarily focus of food, Kyle Taylor said that oftentimes if a family is unable to buy groceries, they cannot buy toiletries either, and Irving Cares makes good use of these hygienic donations.

”We use [travel size toiletries] in two different ways,” Taylor said. “We use those for our families that come to us and may request them and ask for them. Also, during our employment services seminar, we hand those out, because we talk about hygiene during interviews. Those hygiene products might give somebody a leg up over somebody else to get that living wage job that we’re trying to get them to.”

In spite of these shortages, Taylor said community donations are on the increase.

“The biggest thing that would help us is this: just take us into your world,” Taylor said. “If you’ve been to Irving Cares, you know about and are familiar with Irving Cares, just take us into your world. Talk about Irving Cares. If you’ve got kids in school, PTA, sports teams, band, choir, arts program or whatever, just take us into your world.”

Teddie Story also said that if people do not want to donate food, cash is always welcome.

“If you donate cash to Irving Cares, we can procure products at a lesser costs than retail,” Story said. “Our partnership with the North Texas Food Bank allows us to get food for as little as five cents a pound. That means 20 pounds for a dollar versus when you go to grocery and find just one can for a dollar. That’s a pretty good deal.”

Irving Cares is located at 440 South Nursery Road inside the Human Services Building. Donations are accepted Monday through Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Julie Murphy, Jeramey Kraatz celebrate launch of new books

Young adult authors Julie Murphy and Jeramey Kraatz celebrated the simultaneous launch of their new books at a release party held at the South Irving Library on Tuesday, May 9.

Julie Murphy is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Side Effects May Vary and Dumplin’. Her newest book, Ramona Blue tells the story of Ramona, a very tall girl with blue hair, and how she is beginning to question her future, her sexuality, and her place in life.

“As she’s entering into her senior year, Ramona is starting to feel as though she’s kind of outgrowing her life,” Murphy said. “She’s much too tall for this trailer that she lives in, she is starting to wonder if she’s going to be stuck here forever taking care of her sister, she’s trying not to begrudge her sister of this, but it’s still really hard because even when we love our families, sometimes they’re a burden, and there’s just no getting past that.”

Murphy added that this book, like her previous work Dumplin’, was a very personal story for her.

“I hate when people call books ‘important,’ but it really was an important book for me to write personally,” Murphy said. “I feel like if Dumplin’ represented everything that you can physically see about me, Ramona represents everything that you cannot [see]. It was a really personal experience, and I’m glad it’s out there.”

Meanwhile, Jeramey Kraatz, author of The Cloak Society series, launched a brand new series of books with Space Runners: The Moon Platoon, the first in a four-part series.

“It’s about this kid named Benny Love, he’s the main character,” Kraatz said. “He wins one of one hundred scholarships to go to the Lunar Taj, which is a giant, sort of Willy Wonka-esque resort on the moon. They fly cars up there, because why not? Once they get up there, an asteroid storm hits, and they find out there are some “moon secrets” and maybe not everything is as it seems, and maybe aliens aren’t the only bad guys.”

The series will be Kraatz’s first foray into an outer space setting, and he humorously added that the experience has been a major learning curve for him as an author.

“If you ever want to write a book, don’t set it in the year 2085 and also on the moon, because you’re going to be on Wikipedia all the time trying to figure out how gravity works,” Kraatz joked. “Even though you think you know [what you’re talking about], your copy editors are still going to be so mad at you and start linking you to NASA articles.”

Mary Hinson, the senior library assistant of teen services at South Irving Library, explained that Murphy and Kraaatz both have books coming out around the same time, which prompted the double launch party. She added that both authors have also been friends with each other and with the library for many years.

“Julie and Jeramey are two of DFW’s local YA and middle-grade authors, and they’re good friends with us here in the library,” Hinson said. “They come out and do events to help us encourage our teens to come out to our programs, and they give back to the community. We love doing these author events for them, so we can give them a really good time.”

Hinson added that author-based events like the launch party are vitally important to getting more young people interested in reading.

“Authors becoming people who can have one-on-one interactions, whether through author visits or through social media, helps kids create a connection to stories,” Hinson said. “That not only reminds them of their own lives, but help them experience other people’s lives as well.”

Children learn about disability through Deaf Awareness Day

Students and teachers gained valuable insight into the deaf community during Deaf Awareness Day, held at Lee Britain Elementary School on Friday, May 12.

The all-day event was put on by Lee Britain and the Irving ISD Regional Day School Program for the Deaf (RDSPD). The RDSPD operates mainly out of Britain Elementary, but also helps hearing impaired students from Bowie Middle School and Nimitz High School in Irving, as well as other schools in Grand Prairie and Duncanville. Around 45 of the students attending Lee Britain Elementary School are deaf or hard of hearing, making up the largest group of hearing-impaired students in the district.

Jennifer Hunter is the 4th and 5th grade deaf education teacher at Britain Elementary. She started Deaf Awareness Day last year out of a desire to educate the other students, staff and the community about deafness. Both of Hunter’s parents were deaf and she grew up around deaf people her whole life, but said many deaf kids have the opposite experience.

“It is always frustrating [for the kids], because these kids come from hearing families,” Hunter said. “Ninety-six percent of deaf kids are born to hearing families. Those hearing families have no previous experience or exposure to deafness and then they get this deaf kid and they have no idea what to do. The kids struggle a lot. They don’t know a lot of deaf role models, they don’t have a lot of deaf friends, so deaf people grow up very isolated as a result.”

Last year, only a few classes were involved in Deaf Awareness Day. This year, the entire school, kindergarten through 5th grade, participated in the program. While kindergarteners and 1st graders played various games and activities, 2nd through 5th grade students met with over 30 different presenters who covered a variety of deaf-related topics, from teaching kids sign language to sharing what it is like growing up deaf.

In the afternoon, kids were treated to a magic show from Magic Morgan and a visit from Miss San Antonio 2017, Emma Faye Rudkin, both of whom are deaf.

Sherry Clifton, supervisor for the RDSPD, said many students have been looking forward to this event, and the response from the kids has been amazing.

“All of the kids throughout the whole school are so excited to be able to spend this day going to different presenters,” Clifton said. “After last year, when they got a little feel of it, the kids started using some of the signs they were taught throughout the school. I think they’re really going to embrace it and have a much bigger appreciation for our deaf and hard of hearing students.”

Hunter also said the response from the program has been huge, and it benefits not just the students, but the teachers as well.

“It’s been cool because a lot of the teachers come up to me and say, ‘I didn’t know deaf people could do what I do. I didn’t know that deaf people live a pretty normal life. They’re not really that dependent. They’re pretty independent people. They do this, that and the other,’” Hunter said. “It was really cool that even the staff was responding.

“The kids learned sign language that day, so they got to actually start signing to the deaf kids. It’s been really cool to see how the campus has changed to respond to this deaf community that has been here since the 70s.”

Stacey Huber, a deaf education teacher for Irving ISD, said events like this are invaluable to the hearing impaired students and helps them realize that they are not alone.

“I had one of the volunteers tell me this morning that she wears a cochlear implant,” Huber said. “When one of the younger kids who also had a cochlear implant saw that she had one, [the kid] was amazed, because they’re like, ‘An adult has this?’

“Their whole realm is just pretty much elementary, so they see their friends who have them, but they really don’t see adults that do. She made a connection to that student that said, ‘Wow, there are adults [who are deaf], and I’m not alone in this.’

“With my kids, some of them, the only person that they talk to that day is me, because I’m the only person who knows sign language in their life. They go home and mom and dad can’t talk to them, because they don’t know sign language. Other parents and adults on this campus don’t, so I’m it. It’s just huge for them to know they’re not alone and there are other people out there.”

Program celebrates good kids in middle school

A group of outstanding Irving ISD middle school students received recognition at the Celebrate Good Kids program held at the Irving Masonic Lodge on Tuesday, April 25.

Created by the Irving Masonic Lodge five years ago, the Celebrate Good Kids program honors both students and educators in Irving ISD with the lodge’s prestigious Lamar Award. The award is named after Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second president of Texas often referred to as “the Father of Public Education in Texas.” The program is one of many similar award ceremonies held all over Texas.

Past Master David Gisler said there are not many ceremonies that honor middle school students.

“The Masonic fraternity has long supported public schools,” Gisler said. “In the early days, most lodges were in two-story buildings. The lodge met on the second floor and encouraged churches or schools to meet on the first floor. In fact, in many cases, the Masons started the school and even paid the teachers’ salaries.”

Each year, one 8th grade student from each Irving ISD’s eight middle schools is selected by the faculty to receive this award. Faculty representatives came forward during the program to introduce their recipient and explain why the students were selected for the award, as well as sharing some of their teachers’ comments and praises with the crowd.

Mark Hinkson, 8th grade assistant principal of de Zavala Middle School, feels programs like Celebrate Good Kids help to acknowledge the often-overlooked students in Irving ISD.

“I’d like to thank the Masons for this opportunity that they give us every year,” Hinkson said. “Too many good students do everything right and are overlooked in this district. We’re trying to correct that and this [program] is one of those steps.”

Kathleen Dang from Houston Middle School received the award. Her principal, Jeffery Dorman, shared with the crowd a number of her academic and musical achievements. Dang herself was humble about her achievements, but also happy to receive the Lamar Award.

“I feel very privileged to receive this recognition,” Dang said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support that my teacher, my previous teachers, my family and my friends have given me. I’m very happy for that. Maybe they overdid their descriptions of me, but I’m very grateful for them.”

Alondra Godoy Escobar from Bowie Middle School was another recipient of the Lamar Award.

“When they first told me [about the award] I was like, ‘Are you sure it’s me?’ because I‘m not in school much,” Escobar said. “But I feel incredible because even with all of my doctor’s appointments that I have, I still try to be in school. Bowie has been the greatest experience of my life, and I will never forget it, and I will really miss it.”

Additional students honored at the program were Eric Martinez Limon of Austin Middle School, Ashli Gafford of Lady Bird Johnson Middle School, Eduardo Serrano of de Zavala Middle School, Sakina Bivili of Travis Middle School, Samira Velaquez of Crockett Middle School and Thara Thekkedath of Lamar Middle School.

The program also recognized two Irving ISD teachers. Dennis Ramon, an algebra teacher at MacArthur High School, was awarded Secondary Teacher of the Year. Angela Snyder, a PE teacher at Townsell Elementary School, was awarded Elementary Teacher of the Year.

New plaques unveiled at Founder’s Plaza

Founder’s Plaza received a new timeline display during a re-dedication ceremony held at Centennial Park on Wednesday, May 3.

Three new plaques detailing the first 100 years of the city of Irving’s history were unveiled during the ceremony. The plaques, which replaced older metal plaques, were made from black granite and feature not only a written timeline, but also photographs. The plaques, which took more than eight months to create, were installed in April, but were officially unveiled that morning.

City Councilman Oscar Ward was one of many city officials present at the rededication ceremony. He gave a brief overview of the new plaques.

“This fantastic timeline includes detailed stories of the people who helped shape this community into the lively, robust, and diverse city it is today,” Ward said. “As residents, we enjoy the results of their dedication on a daily basis. Without their vision and planning, we would not have the beautiful, exciting commuter and pedestrian-friendly place to call home.”

The plaza, as well as the rest of the park, was first opened on Oct. 3, 2003 as part of Irving’s centennial celebration. However, as Councilman John Danish explained, time soon took its toll on the plaza.

“The original dedicated plaques did a great job of telling the story of Irving for its first 100 years. But like time itself, the brass timeline began to weather, became difficult to decipher, and eventually lost a little bit of its luster,” Danish said. “Now, Greg Brown [the artist] has presented the city with three incredible black polished granite plaques that will breathe new life into our city’s history.”

Danish went on say that these new plaques will hopefully inspire Irving citizens both old and new to learn more about and take pride in their city.

“Nowadays our residents, many of them recently moved to Irving, don’t know much of our city’s history. I believe artifacts like this will come with a sense of pride and ownership in our city,” Danish said. “What better way to instill community than by cultivating the early interests in our new surroundings? I encourage everyone to invite their friends, families, neighbors and colleagues to come down to the Heritage District and see all of the inspiring work that’s taking place down here.”

Dr. Lea Bailey, president elect of the Irving Heritage Society, spoke to the educational aspects of the timeline.

“I believe it is necessary to captivate students of all ages and make connections in order to maintain our curiosity and interest in continuous learning,” Bailey said. “These plaques, which are housed in this serene and beautiful plaza, will do just that. Irving’s residents and visitors will have the opportunity to learn of our city’s great founders and how the people mirrored this town’s growth, development, and refinement.”

Elena Blake, a member of the original Centennial Task Force, was present at the original plaza dedication back in 2003. She hopes that these new plaques will inspire more people to visit the park.

“2003 is when we had a lot of activity in celebration of our 100th birthday,” Blake said. “I have a lot of fond memories of doing all this, and I’m hoping that people will come now and visit and read these plaques. It’s a wonderful history, and I’ve just been honored to come back to the re-dedication.”

Bailey also hopes that more Irving citizens will become interested in learning about the city they live in.

“We hope that [these plaques] will instill inspiration and enlightenment for generations of future Irvingites,” she said. “There is no clearer path to the future that commemorating the past.”

WhoFest celebrates Doctor Who

“Whovians” from across the area met up to celebrate all things Doctor Who during the 4th annual WhoFest, held at the Westin DFW Airport Hotel in Irving, May 5 -7.

Doctor Who follows the adventures of The Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who travels through time and space in a blue police box called the TARDIS. Along the way, The Doctor recruits various Earthling companions, fights off evil aliens, and helps people and civilizations.

The Doctor can also regenerate into a new body when he is severely injured, and throughout the years, the role has been played by a number of different actors, with Peter Capaldi portraying the current Twelfth Doctor. The “classic” Doctor Who first aired in Britain in 1963, then began airing in the United States on PBS in 1978 and lasted for 26 seasons. The show was re-launched in 2005 and is in its tenth season of “new Who.”

This year’s featured guest, Peter Davidson, played the Fifth Doctor from 1982 to 1984. Mark Strickson, who played the Fifth Doctor’s companion Vislor Turlough, and Dan Starky, who played the Sontaran alien Strax from the new Who series, also attended this year’s event. In honor of Davidson’s appearance, WhoFest’s theme was “The Power of 5,” with many of the panels and showings focused on the Fifth Doctor.

Mike Erickson, co-chairman of WhoFest, explained that the first WhoFest began the same year as Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary and had very humble beginnings.

“One of the WhoFest founders, Tim Miller, wanted to have some of his friends over in his living room to watch the 50th anniversary special,” Miller said. “He quickly realized more people were interested in watching in his living room than there was size in his living room.” Miller and his friends eventually had to rent a function room from the Crowne Plaza in Addison to accommodate everyone, but it didn’t stop there. “More people became interested, and it got to the point where we thought, ‘OK, well we’ll just do a small, relaxed convention. We’ll have a few panels, maybe a video room, but mainly just to get together to watch the special.’ Well, more and more people got interested, so we decided to make it a full-on con.”

Erickson expected a crowd of three to four hundred attendees for this year’s WhoFest, a relatively small crowd for a convention.

“We like having a smaller number of attendees because that makes their experience more intimate,” Erickson said. “They feel like they’re more involved in what’s going on. You can interact more and get to know other attendees better, and also interact with the guests on another level. In contrast to the big gate shows and Comic Cons where you stand in line for two hours, pay a hundred dollars to have someone sign an autograph or have your picture taken with them, and the interaction lasts five seconds.”

Many fans were eager to share their stories of what Doctor Who meant to them. DeeDee Leith, a resident of Houston, explained Doctor Who was a big part of her childhood.

“When I was little, [Doctor Who] was on PBS and it came on right before NOVA, which was my little brother’s favorite show,” Leith said. “He would turn the TV on, and I’d be like, ‘Ooo, what’s this?’

“When the reboot finally aired in the U.S., I was hooked. I was like ‘I remember this from when I was a kid, and it’s so much better.’” Leith added that The Doctor’s search for a peaceful resolution to the various conflicts is a powerful message for everyone. “It’s this universal message of we’re all the same and [The Doctor] just wants us to have peace and everybody to be happy and get along.”

Mike Erickson also agrees that The Doctor’s solving problems with brains over brawn is one of the main themes that keeps people interested in the show after all these years.

“I think it’s the character of The Doctor and the nature of the basic story, that he can go anywhere in time and space, that he can change and become a different Time Lord, but still the same person, it makes stories basically infinite,” Erickson said. “His commitment to solving problems through empathy and intelligence and cleverness rather than violence I think is also a very appealing factor.”

But for Hannah Busch, a retail worker from Dallas, The Doctor means something much more personal, as both the show and the character have helped her to overcome some dark times.

“I suffer from depression, and I’ve had a lot of bad things happen over the years,” Busch said. “When I started Doctor Who, I was in a really bad time of my life. Watching him never give up hope, always fighting evil, he helped me figure things out and believe in ‘don’t give up hope,’ and ‘just keep fighting the good fight.’”

Breakfast with the Stars awards over $450,000 in scholarships

Irving ISD’s best and brightest high school seniors were celebrated at the 30th Annual Breakfast with the Stars presented at the Irving Convention Center on Tuesday, April 25.

Hosted by Nissan and the Irving Schools Foundation, this was one of the event’s biggest years ever with over 800 attendees and 150 scholarships awarded to seniors headed to college. The 150 scholarships totaled over $300,000, however the recipients were very surprised to learn that, in recognition of the 30th anniversary of Breakfast with the Stars, they would all receive an extra $1000 on top of the scholarships they were already receiving, bringing the total amount over $450,000.

Purwa Baseer of MacArthur High School, the recipient of the Nissan North America Scholarship, spoke to the crowd on behalf of the recipients and expressed how much the scholarship meant to her.

“I truly believe this scholarship represents more than just myself,” Baseer said. “When a local business gives a student financial support for college, it is an investment in the future of our community. It means the world to have this opportunity, because this contribution impacts the sustainability of my family and future educational plans.”

Baseer wants to continue the work of her benefactors and someday offer her own scholarships to other students.

“One day I hope to be in the same shoes of our great community leaders who are in this room. With the ability to financially support a promising young student, I would be completing a full circle of success,” Baseer said.

Sofia Rodriguez from Nimitz High School received the Nicholas’ Scholarship, an award for students planning to pursue degrees in journalism or the arts.

“It’s a big opportunity to be able to pursue what I love and enjoy and also what I want to do in life,” Rodriguez said. Rodriguez plans to get her journalism degree at University of Texas in Austin.

Hope Cachay of Singley Academy received the Carol Wood Culinary Arts and Small Business Scholarship. She plans to attend Johnson and Wales University in the Applied Nutrition and Dietetics program.

“My financial burden will be lowered, which is a great burden that will be taken off my shoulders,” Cachay said. “That’s what really motivated me to get this scholarship.”

Katherine Maberry of Nimitz High School received the Judy Hammond Memorial Athletic Scholarship. She has not decided on a school yet, but plans to pursue a meteorology degree with a minor in environmental science.

“Getting this scholarship means so much to me, because it gives me motivation to pursue my career in meteorology and gives me the means to get there,” Maberry said.

Eileen Romero of Singley Academy received one of four Irving Las Colinas Rotary Scholarships. She plans to attend Abilene Christian University and pursue a degree in biology.

“I’m a part of the Rotary Club at my school, and because of my extra-curricular activities, I got the scholarship,” Romero said. “[Getting this scholarship] means that it’ll be a little less that I have to pay for when I go to school, and it means that my hard work paid off.”

The program featured keynote speakers Edward Lopez and Dr. Douglas Won, both successful former students of Irving ISD.

“I didn’t even know that such a thing as Irving Schools Foundation Scholarships existed when I was in high school,” Won said. “Just like I had more opportunity than my father, you already have more opportunity than I had when I was in high school.

“Stay focused, stay hungry, follow your passion. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t succeed. If they say you’re not worthy, push them aside and prove them wrong.”