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.

Salvation Army’s Super Lunch supports local programs

Photo: Drew Pearson holds a wreath being auctioned. /Photo by John Starkey

Food, fun and football memories were shared by all during the 24th annual Irving Salvation Army Super Lunch presented at the Irving Convention Center on Monday, Dec. 12.

The Super Lunch is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Irving chapter of The Salvation Army. All the funds raised at this event will go to programs run by the Irving Salvation Army, in particular the Irving Boys & Girls Club. Major Stan Carr, commanding officer of the Irving Salvation Army, explained one of the main purposes of Super Lunch is to raise funds to underwrite the cost of the Boys & Girls Club so the Salvation Army can keep the program affordable for all families.

“It’s only $8 a week for a child to be [at the Boys & Girls Club.] You can’t pay a babysitter $8 just to get a couple of hours,” Carr said. “So, that to me is a huge thing. It gives them a safe place to be where they get educational help, recreational help, a snack and a meal.”

Last year nearly 450 people attended Super Lunch. This year almost 500 people were in attendance, making this the largest Super Lunch to date. The event started with a silent auction, with items ranging from homemade gift baskets to pieces of art and memorabilia. A live auction was also held during the luncheon, where big-ticket items like weekend getaways and vacations were sold to the highest bidder. Guests could also bid to sponsor children wanting to attend summer camp.

During the luncheon The Salvation Army gave out special awards to members of the Irving community. The Robert Power Award was presented to Sharon Barbosa-Crain. The Youth of the Year Awards were presented to 9-year-old Yeimy Rodriguez and 6-year-old Justin Alvarado.

Anita Tipping-Wheeler, a piano teacher from Irving, has attended Super Lunch before and makes donations to The Salvation Army as well. She explained the people in Irving are very generous and always willing to help a good cause like the Salvation Army.

“It’s a beautiful thing that they do. The Salvation Army does so much good for everybody,” Tipping-Wheeler said. “We all need to participate and help each other during these times. When you have something, share it.”

The keynote speaker for this year’s Super Lunch was former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson. During an on-stage interview, Pearson recounted many of his memories with the Dallas Cowboys, including the genesis of the famous “Hail Mary” pass from Roger Staubach during the 1975 playoff game between the Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings. Pearson also discussed an interview he had with former Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin and current wide receiver Dez Bryant, who all three wore the #88 jersey for the Cowboys. When asked who he believes should be the next inductee into the Cowboys Ring of Honor, Pearson made a case for the inclusion of Clint Murchison Jr., the original owner of the Cowboys.

“There is no Drew Pearson, there is no Dallas Cowboys without Clint Murchison,” Pearson said. “I do not understand his omission. If anybody deserves a statue in front of AT&T Stadium, of course Tom Landry, but Clint Murchison as well.”

The Dallas Cowboys have been partners with The Salvation Army for over 20 years, with the halftime show for the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day Game serving as the official kickoff for the Red Kettle Campaign. Pearson said the Cowboys’ involvement with The Salvation Army was “second to none,” and he is very proud of his former team’s work with the organization. He went on to add that The Salvation Army’s work was invaluable to families, children, and everyone in the Irving area who just needs a little extra help to get by.

“The best way to appreciate The Salvation Army is to imagine them not being there, and all those families and people they can’t help,” Pearson said. “Where would they go to get that help? If you look at it in that perspective, you certainly appreciate what The Salvation Army does.”

Irving honors retiring Police Chief Larry Boyd

Members of the Irving Police Department, the City of Irving and many other supporters gathered at the Irving Convention Center to honor the career of retiring Irving Police Chief, Larry Boyd.

Boyd began his law enforcement career with the Irving Police Department in 1980, and has served in law enforcement for the last 36 years. He later joined the Arlington Police Department, where he served for 22 years and reached the rank of Assistant Chief. He then returned to Irving, becoming police chief in October of 2004, and served as chief for the last 12 years.

Boyd announced his retirement in August of 2016, and will officially retire at the end of this year. Assistant Police Chief Bruce Jolley will serve as Irving’s interim police chief.

Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne was one of the speakers at the Tuesday, Dec. 20, event. She recounted her experience in helping to select Boyd as police chief back in 2004, and noted that one of the main qualities she noticed and admired about Boyd was his ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.

“One of my first encounters with Chief Boyd was when he was being interviewed by the police association. They had some really tough questions that they threw out,” Van Dunye said. “But what really struck me was that every response was very personable without taking personal affront, was very professional, very thoughtful and very disarming. [Chief Boyd’s] ability to not be hostile in response was amazing.”

Boyd’s achievements during his time as police chief include the creation of several community outreach programs, from Hoops Kicks, a youth basketball program, to Shop Talk, which focuses on strengthening law enforcement relations with the African-American community. Tony Grimes, president of the Irving NAACP, said Boyd was pro-active about improving relations with these communities long before the recent racial tensions.

“Chief Boyd came in several years ago,” Grimes said. “He called me and wanted to do something that was going to be pro-active before all of the incidents that we see in the media today. Chief Boyd wanted to be pro-active in an effort that would prevent [those incidents] from happening in our community. Chief Boyd didn’t only make an impact in our community, but every community.”

Lieutenant John Mitchell was president of the Irving Police Association when Boyd first became police chief, and spoke on behalf of the Irving Police Department. He, along with others, spoke to Boyd’s strong Christian faith and his compassion for others. He also spoke personally about how Chief Boyd helped him grow as an individual and become a better person through their friendship.

“When Chief Boyd was hired in 2004, he inherited a police association president who was an arrogant, bullheaded young man; who only thought that he understood the meaning of professional policing,” Mitchell said. “It was in that role that the Chief and I began what I believe is a relationship built on respect and trust. He and I had many meetings, some of them were not flattering. However, I can honestly say, I didn’t always hear what I wanted to hear, but I was always heard.”

Many police organizations and law enforcement agencies also came forward to honor Boyd. State representatives Rafael Anchia and Rodney Anderson delivered a special proclamation for Boyd’s retirement, and presented him with a flag flown over the Texas Senate. Bill Noonan, special agent in charge of the Dallas Secret Service Field Office, presented a congratulatory letter from Director Joseph P. Clancy, head of the US Secret Service.

Tom Class from the Dallas FBI office gave Boyd a letter of congratulations from FBI Director James Comey, as well as a plaque from the Dallas FBI office. Special Agent Bill Temple of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms presented Boyd with a commemorative cowboy statue entitled “Clash of Titans.” Police Chief Steve Dye of the Grand Prairie Police Department and Chief Will Johnson of the Arlington Police Department were also on hand to congratulate Boyd on his retirement, along with Travis Hammond of the Irving Police Association and Naya Pope of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Boyd himself stated that his service as police chief was the “pinnacle of his career,” and concluded by saying that it is not the police chief who makes the police department, but the officers serving in it.

Exciting part of city’s future remains under construction

Photo: Above ground construction began on the Music Factory in June of 2016. /Photo by Courtney Ouellette

The Greater Irving Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce provided a glimpse into the economic future of Irving during a Lunch-N-Learn presentation held at the chamber on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

“Irving-Las Colinas: The Future Under Construction” detailed many projects scheduled to be coming to the area within the next few years. Joey Grisham, Director of Business Recruitment for the Chamber of Commerce, highlighted a number of new mixed-use developments anticipated to bring a large amount of not only business, but also retail, entertainment, and residential properties to Irving and Las Colinas.

The biggest project on the docket was The Music Factory, located in Las Colinas between State Highway 114 and Las Colinas Boulevard. Above-ground construction on the development started this year, which will feature 275,000 square feet of entertainment, retail and restaurant space and 100,000 square feet of office space. Grisham said the main anchor of this area will be an 8,000 seat amphitheater that can convert from outdoor to indoor use, in addition to a number of restaurants and retail shops new to the area.

“Las Colinas always had kind of a mark against it for not having any ‘after-five entertainment,’” Grisham said. “Well, now you’re not going to be able to say that after October of next year.”

Another major project making progress is the Water Street development on Lake Carolyn. This development will feature 60,000 square feet of retail and waterfront dining, including a Barcelona Taco Bar and Twisted Root Burger Company. Grisham suggested the Water Street project may be completed before The Music Factory.

There are also projects in the works that are expected to make some headway next year. Verizon’s Hidden Ridge development, which will be located between MacArthur Boulevard and John Carpenter Freeway, will boast roughly 3 million square feet of office space, 70,000 square feet of retail, and its own DART Orange Line station.

There are also plans to renovate the former Texas Stadium site into a mixed-use development as well, with office space being the primary anchor. Other projects discussed included the Irving Convention Center Hotel, the Shops at Las Colinas and MacArthur Hills, Cypress Waters and Stampede Crossing.

Grisham also discussed a number of upcoming residential projects. Irving currently has over 30,000 multi-family units, with another 20,000 in Las Colinas alone, and over 350 single-family homes on the market. Some of the developments highlighted included The Enclave at Riverside, The Villas at Mustang Park, Parkside East and West, and Campion Hollows.

In addition to all the new developments and business, Irving has seen great success with its current businesses. The area is home to a number of Fortune 1,000 company headquarters, including Exxon-Mobile, Pioneer Electronics and Michaels Arts & Crafts. Grisham said celebrating the accomplishments of the businesses already in Irving is vital, because it’s not just about attracting new business; it’s about keeping them here as well.

“My job is business recruitment, but business retention is just as important, if not more critical,” Grisham said. “It does you no good to go out and keep recruiting companies only to try and replace other companies that leave.”

Erica Mulder is the Vice-President of Governmental Affairs and Communications for the Chamber of Commerce. She spoke about some of the advancements with small businesses and transportation in the area, and explained some of the reasons why Irving is such a popular choice for businesses.

Mulder stated that one of the major reasons businesses come to Irving is the large and diverse workforce available in the area.

“[Businesses] want to hire and want to be in a place where their workforce replicates where they’re at,” Mulder said. “For them, diversity is really key. They have a diverse workforce, and they want to be in a place where there are diverse residents.”

Grisham added Irving’s centralized location, particularly being near the DFW Airport, and the space available in the area are other major draws for businesses.

“If you look at just office space, there’s probably still room for another at least six to eight million square feet of office space left on the market,” Grisham said.

“Sadie’s Sleigh” and Boy Scouts of America collect toys for children in hospital

Photo: Sadie meets her giant bear, a present from the Boy Scouts of America. /Photo by Ariel Graham

Employees at the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving helped collect toys for a special little girl on Thursday, Dec. 8.

Sadie Keller is a 9-year-old from Lantana, Texas. She was a typical young girl who enjoyed playing soccer with her friends. But in February of last year, Sadie and her family were devastated to learn that she had been diagnosed with leukemia and would be spending most of her time in the hospital. However, it was in that hospital that Sadie had a thought: how does Santa deliver toys to kids in the hospital?

“I could never imagine being in the hospital at Christmas, and I hate being in the hospital,” Sadie said. “It’s worse being in the hospital at Christmas, because Christmas is the best holiday ever. I wanted to make their Christmas better, so I did a toy drive so they could get a little bit more presents.”

Sadie launched “Sadie’s Sleigh,” a toy drive benefiting the children at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. Last year, Sadie’s goal was simply to collect 300 toys. She spread awareness by making a YouTube video that her parents posted and shared on Facebook. The video was shared by others, and by the end of the toy drive, she had collected over 1,300 toys for the kids.

Sadie’s mother, Sarah Keller, said she was blown away by the response from the community.

“Honestly, it just started spreading. People started sharing [the video] and the toys just started rolling in,” Sarah said. “Within the first week, Sadie had reached her 300 toy goal. We knew then it was going to become much bigger than we ever expected.”

This year, the goal for “Sadie’s Sleigh” was to collect 3,000 toys for kids at both Children’s Medical and Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. This year, The Boy Scouts of America headquarters came on board to help. Employees at the headquarters celebrated the toy drive with a “workshop festival,” with food, crafts, and toys as far as the eye could see. At the time of the festival, the Boy Scouts headquarters had collected over 700 toys to add to the nearly 2,000 toys already collected by “Sadie’s Sleigh.” They also awarded the family’s organization, the Sadie Keller Foundation, with a check for $2,800 and gave Sadie a gift of her own – a giant teddy bear.

This is the first year the Boy Scouts of America teamed up with Sadie’s Sleigh. The partnership came about after one of their employees met Sadie and her family and asked if there was a way she and her co-workers at headquarters could help.

Effie Delimarkos, director of national communications with the Boy Scouts of America, said that Sadie really embodied the Boy Scouts slogan of “Do a Good Turn Daily” with her kindness and selfless acts of service.

“Sadie never wanted attention for what she’s doing. She just wanted to get the toys to her fellow patients. It wasn’t about her, it was about doing the good thing,” Delimarkos said. “That’s why she really embodies the spirit of scouting. This situation could have been, with all justification, a moment for her to look inward and to try and gather her strength, but she took her strength by helping others.”

The Sadie Keller Foundation received their 501(c)(3) status in October of this year. In addition to Sadie’s Sleigh, they will also be starting Milestone Gifts, a program that will award gifts to children in the hospital who have hit major milestones in their recovery, such as going into remission or finishing a treatment. The foundation also plans to donate funds to UT Southwestern for childhood cancer research.

As for next year’s “Sadie’s Sleigh,” Sadie plans to set her goal for 6,000 toys and hopes to continue raising awareness about childhood cancer.

“I like talking about cancer, because people don’t like to talk about it a lot,” Sadie said. “I’d like to spread awareness for it so more people know about it, because they think it’s rare, but it’s actually not.”

Library brings literature to life with “A Little Women Christmas”

Photo: Ready to trim the tree, Isadelle Lopez (9) shows off the ornament she made during the “A Little Women Christmas”, held in the South Irving Public Library. /Photo by John Starkey

A classic tale of family, loss and love came to life at “A Little Women Christmas,” held in the South Irving Public Library on Saturday, Dec. 4.

The event was part of the library “Lit’s Alive” program, a series of events that focus on a specific literary classic and introduces it to a new audience. The main feature of the night was a showing of the 1994 movie “Little Women,” staring Wynonna Ryder and Christian Bale. Guests were also invited to partake in hot chocolate and cookies, create plastic ball ornaments filled with pinecones, berries and fake snow, as well as play with paper dolls similar to those used during the time period depicted in the movie.

The “Lit’s Alive” program, exclusive to the South Irving branch, started over three years ago with an “Anne of Green Gables” themed garden party. Since then, the series has created events based on such literary works as Sherlock Holmes and Pride and Prejudice. Kristin Trevino, youth and digital services librarian for the South Irving Public Library, said the program was designed to introduce people, specifically youths, to these classics in a fun and engaging way. She has always associated Little Women with the holiday season, and thought it would be an excellent book for the event.

“It’s a timeless tale, and it’s a tale of family, love and loss, and sisters,” Trevino said. “While it was set back in the Civil War Victorian-era, you can kind of relate, especially if you came from a big family.”

“Little Women” was written by Louisa May Alcott in 1868. The story centered around four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, and chronicled their respective journeys from adolescence into adulthood in the years during and following the American Civil War. The first volume of the book was a huge success, selling over 2,000 copies in its first run and prompting Alcott to write the second volume, usually titled “Good Wives,” in just 3 months. Since the book’s first publication, “Little Women” has been republished worldwide and adapted into a total of six movies, four TV series, a musical and a Broadway production.

South Irving Library manager Amanda Hipp said that ever since the “Lit’s Alive” program started, they have had an event celebrating the Christmas season. Last year, the library hosted a Pride and Prejudice-themed “Christmas at Pemberley,” celebration and next year they plan on having an event based on the works of Charles Dickens.

“Every Christmas, we annually have a “Lit’s Alive” to sort of revisit some of our classic literature and bring it to life for a newer generation,” Hipp said. She added that “Little Women” was a popular choice among the staff for this year’s Christmas event.

Many of the attendees were families with little women, and men, of their own. Teresa Walz is a stay-at-home mom in Irving. Walz said her four daughters became interested in the book, and she was glad to be able to share her childhood experience with the book with her daughters.  “I loved reading it as a little girl, and my daughters have loved reading it,” Walz said. “It’s a delightful classic of family life.”

The next Lit’s Alive event will be “Star Crossed Valentines,” a Romeo and Juliet themed program to be held on Feb. 4.

Irving Hispanic Chamber of Commerce hosts awards banquet

Photo: Being recognized in the community is one of the thrills of the Noche de Gala Awards Banquet. /Courtesy Photo

Members of the Irving Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (IHCC) were honored during the third annual Noche de Gala Awards Banquet held Thursday, Nov. 17, at the Sheraton DFW Airport Hotel. The event recognized members of the community who have excelled in entrepreneurship, volunteer work and civic duty.

“It’s all about our members and helping them connect, helping them get recognized for their achievements,” Mary Ann Kellam, president and CEO of the IHCC said. “I think they realize that we care about them, and we want to see them succeed. By recognizing them and giving them awards in front of others, their peers and other companies, we help them really feel appreciated.”

Norma Valles, board chair of the IHCC, echoed the sentiment of wanting to recognize outstanding members of the chamber community.

“Our chambers do this to recognize our volunteers, our companies, and to give them the momentum of, ‘Hey, great support for the Irving Hispanic Chamber, thank you so very much.’ That is why Noche de Gala, for us, is a night of elegance. We wanted to recognize all the people that have contributed to the chamber,” Valles said.

The awards were divided into six categories: Volunteer, Ambassador, Entrepreneur, Small Business, Corporation, and Partner of the Year.

JC Gonzales, vice-president and branch manager of Wells Fargo, won Volunteer of the Year for his civic service and for mentoring students to be financially successful.

Laurie Cedillo, owner of Fun and a Little Chic Boutique in downtown Irving, received Entrepreneur of the Year.

ISP Studios, a creative production company and one of the media sponsors of the event, won Small Business of the Year, and Credit Union of Texas received Partner of the Year.

Mark Baker, marketing director for Toyota of Irving, won Ambassador of the Year. His dealership also won Corporation of the Year. Baker said that, while he was pleased he and his business were recognized, the recognition was secondary in comparison to his work with the chamber and the community.

“A lot of our business comes from the Hispanic community,” Baker said. “We want them to know that we value their business, and we value that relationship, so we try to be involved in as many aspects as possible.”

The two signature awards for the evening were the Chairman’s Award and the Gracias Award. The Chairman’s Award recognizes an individual who made exemplary efforts to further the IHCC’s mission. This year’s recipient was Delia Jasso. Jasso was very surprised to receive the award.

“I’ve been blessed, and I feel like if I pay that forward, it’s really going to help and change somebody’s life.” Jasso said.

The Gracias Award celebrates the influential ambassadors of economic development and entrepreneurship. Dr. Alma Garcia, last year’s recipient, presented the award to this year winner: John Trevino, President and General Manager of Telemundo 39 KXTX. Trevino was unable to accept the award in person, but he recorded a video message expressing his gratitude.

“What the Gracias Award means, is somebody that invests in the community and somebody that invests in entrepreneurs in our region,” Trevino said. “That means to me that my work is being recognized; my team’s work is being recognized. So for us, it’s important to partner with these chambers, especially Irving. It’s our way of giving back and investing in our local communities.” Trevino’s wife and children accepted the award on his behalf.

In addition to the awards, there was also a keynote speech by Colonel Gil Coronado, former Selective Services Director under President George H.W. Bush, and one of the driving forces behind expanding National Hispanic Heritage from a week into a month-long event. In his speech, Coronado spoke about his youth, his military service, and the importance of patriotism.

“We are all aware, and should be aware, that we live in the greatest country on Earth: America,” Coronado said. “America, the land of opportunity. The only place in the whole world where poor can become rich, wherever each and every one of us has a right to dream our dreams.”

National Adoption Day celebrates new families and new beginnings

Special families welcomed more than 75 children to their “forever homes” at National Adoption Day held at the Henry Wade Juvenile Justice Center on Saturday, Nov. 19.

Three of the courtrooms at Henry Wade were packed with excited children and families as judges and officials volunteered to help expedite numerous adoptions. Families entered the courtroom surrounded by their friends, relatives, and the court advocates assisting in their case. After all the legalese, they walked out with teddy bears for the children, certificates of adoption, and new family members. Professional photographers were also on hand to take portraits of the new families.

Kathleen LaValle, president and executive director of Dallas Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), said that on average, five children a day come into protective care in the Dallas area. Last year, over 4,600 children were taken out of abusive or neglectful homes and placed in protective care.

“These children were removed from their homes for abuse or neglect, and now they’re coming to the point of joining a “forever family” and hopefully achieving that security and love that we want for all of our children,” LaValle said.

National Adoption Day was started in 2000 by a coalition of organizations including The Alliance of Children’s Rights, The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, and the Children’s Action Network. Dallas was one of the original nine jurisdictions, and has been involved with National Adoption Day ever since. The event is held every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and to date over 58,000 children have been moved from foster care to forever families as a result of National Adoption Day.

In addition to CASA and Children’s Protective Services, several other organizations were on hand to assist new families. Children’s Health offered resources and information to parents on how to care for their new children. Dr. Heidi Roman, a pediatrician and ambulatory medical director at the Rees-Jones Center for Foster Care Excellence at Children’s Health, explained the importance of tending to not just the physical needs, but also the mental and emotional needs of foster and adopted children.

“We have early childhood specialists, psychology, psychiatry, as well as pediatricians and nurse practitioners to care for their medical needs,” Roman said. “In order to recover, the child’s physical and mental health needs must be addressed from early on.”

The Pena family welcomed four new children into their family. The family also has two other adopted children, as well as two grown biological children. Juan Pena, a juvenile probation officer, said he enjoys being a parent to all these children, and that he loves coming home to a group of good kids.

“These kids deserve an opportunity to succeed,” Pena said. “It’s not their fault that they’re in this situation.”

The Hinsen family added two young boys to their family. Valerie Hinsen, a teacher from Collin County, said she and her husband cared for the boys for over two years as part of foster care, and decided that this was where the boys belonged. She echoed Pena’s sentiment of giving adopted children the chance to succeed.

“These children deserve a chance,” Hinsen said. “They deserve the love. They deserve the right to be in a family that protects them and guides them and leads them.”

Although adoptions occur year-round in Dallas County, Kathleen LaVelle said that the air of celebration and community support makes today extra special for the children and their families.

“What makes today different is that every person in there is celebrating the family and the generosity of our adopting families, many of whom already have three of four kids, and now they’re expanding their families,” LaValle said. “Their children are going to have younger siblings, and you can see the older kids celebrating that here today.”

Dr. Heidi Roman also emphasized how important it is for these children to have stable homes and a loving family.

“We know that stable families, consistent care, and love and support early on is the best way for a child to be successful and reach their potential as they grow,” Roman said. “We also know there’s a shortage of foster families, and so there are a lot of children waiting for that forever family. So I really encourage people in the community to consider serving these kids in that way.”