All posts by Trenton Conner

Irving ISD inducts players, coaches into Athletic Hall of Fame

Photo: In a celebration of their athletic achievements, Demarcus Faggins, Ray Overton, Kelvin Korver and Morris Sloan (L-R) celebrate their induction into the Irving ISD Athletic Hall of Fame. /Photo by Trenton Conner

While swapping high school glory tales and spending time with some old friends, as well as making a few new ones, members of Irving Independent School District’s Athletic Hall of Fame gathered to induct its new 2016 members.

The Irving ISD hosted its 5th annual Athletic Hall of Fame Inductee Banquet on Saturday, June 18. This year’s inductees included DeMarcus Faggins, an all-star athlete from 1998; Kelvin Korvera, a track and field athlete at Irving High School in the 1960s; Ray Overton, a football coach of 47 years; and Morris Sloan, a coach of 30 years.

DeMarcus Faggins played football for the first time as a sophomore at Irving High. Rather than waiting for his friends to finish practice, he decided to join the team too.

After starting as cornerback his junior year, Faggins earned First Team All-District and Second Team All-State honors. He then continued his football career at Navarro Junior College before moving on to Kansas State University and ultimately helping them win the Cotton Bowl championship.

Drafted by the Houston Texans in the sixth round of the 2002 NFL draft, Faggins played six years with the Texans, then the Tennessee Titans, and later with the Detroit Lions.

Amid jokes about his weight class in high school, Faggins spoke about his philosophy on life.

“I’m a man of action,” Faggins said. “I like to do it the right way and let everybody see the right way. It’s an honor to take this hall of fame induction.”

Also from Irving High School, Kelvin Korver broke state and national records as a track and field athlete in the discus and shotput. Later he attended Northwestern College where he still holds discus and shotput distance records.

After graduation Korver was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the 1972 NFL Draft as a defensive tackle and played three seasons with the team.

Korver joked that he did not play football in high school, because he did not think he was big enough.

“I had no intention of playing pro football,” Korver said. “Jogging around the track in my college rookie year we were watching the football team run through their drills, running their 40 yard dashes down the field.”

He and a friend joined in the drills with the runningbacks. Afterwards, the coach insisted Korver try out for the football team.

Morris Sloan played football and baseball for Irving High School. Following graduation in 1969, Sloan enrolled at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and played football for four years, always starting, but not always at the same position.

After he graduated in 1973 with a degree in health and physical education, Sloan returned to Irving where he coached at Lamar Junior High School from 1975 to1977, at Nimitz High School from 1977 to 1980, and at Irving High School from 1980 to 1984. He then went back to his alma mater and became assistant coach there, ultimately becoming the head coach.

Sloan thanked his peers who came to celebrate with him.

“I was part of a good year,” Sloan said. “How could we do anything but win with people like that? I want to give you all the accolades.”

With 30 years as a UIL head coach and 169 wins, Ray Overton led teams to 13 playoff games at MacArthur High School. He became a THSCA (Texas High School Coaches Association) Hall of Honor member in 1978, and was named Co-Coach of the Year in 1990.

Overton won the Tom Landry Award from the THSCA in 1994, before retiring from coaching to become a full time teacher at MacArthur High School until 2006.

Overton would like more youngsters to have opportunities to participate in school activities.

“I look at and I see other towns that are [Irving’s] size or maybe even a little bigger, and in their school system they have one [high] school,” Overton said. “How many people are going miss out on everything, to play or be apart or participate in anything? There’s going to be an awful lot of them that are going to be left out.”

Overton’s concern was for the well-being of the players, wanting to help choose positive paths in life and giving them recognition for achievements.

“I’m so proud that Irving has four high schools,” Overton said. “In my opinion this is what athletics is for.”


Canal Fest returns with record number of visitors

Photo: One of many forms of entertainment, a performance group shares Mexican culture through dance at the Mandalay Canal during Canal Fest. /Photo by Trenton Conner

A celebration of Irving’s diverse cultures, Canal Fest returned to the picturesque Mandalay Canal for the third time on June 11.

Families strolled along the roads and waterway, visiting many different cultural attractions and listening to the upbeat live music being played on the main stage. Vendors worked quickly as countless patrons anticipated festival treats.

Local businesses took advantage of the increased foot traffic, setting up kiosks outside their storefronts off of Las Colinas Boulevard, which was closed for the event. Even dogs seemed to have their day as they walked with their owners, enjoying the attention of festival goers.

Jasmine Lee, special events coordinator for the city of Irving, highlighted the celebration’s plethora of attractions.

“Canal Fest is the city of Irving’s premier event of the year,” Lee said. “It features three entertainment stages with live music, cultural dance groups, and a variety of really unique cirque-type performance acts. We also have free activities for adults and children ranging from face painting to henna tattoos, photo booths, and take home crafts for kids, so they can have a memento to remember.

“We also have an indoor art exhibit featuring artwork from over 40 different area artists. All the water businesses participate, so people can get a feel for what the canal has to offer, like gondola rides or renting a stand up paddleboard. There’s really something for everybody here,” she said.

The cultural dance groups were a hit with guests as audience members crowded the balconies and bridge stairways to watch the shows.

“I really love [the dance groups]. It’s like getting a trip around the world in one afternoon,” said Lee.

Jacqueline Madden, Supervisor of Special Events for the city, has been organizing the festival for the past three years.

“This is our biggest celebration of the arts, where we concentrate on visual and performing arts,” Madden said. “We offer the opportunity for artists across the Metroplex to come and show their work.

“It’s unique here in that we don’t have any entry fees to participate, and we don’t take any commission on sales. It’s [a good] set up for both starving artists and professional artists to say, ‘Look at what I have!’” she said.

Madden hopes to one day extend the festival to a multiple day event, so more of the city’s residents can enjoy its diverse and entertaining offerings.

“I enjoyed last time, so I came this year too,” said Jenny Hopkins, a resident of Dallas. “I came out here when I saw the event online last year, and I had a lot of fun.”

“We come for the music,” said Tom Portman, who attended with his wife Linda and their two kids. “The country music is really good. We just set up the chairs and claim a spot to the side and listen. The kids like the face painting.”

With an estimated 8,000 visitors to this year’s Canal Fest, the event has a long history, dating back to the ‘80s and ‘90s as a fundraiser planned by a private organization. The celebration ultimately ended in the early ‘90s, but the City of Irving revived the event in 2013.

Library wraps up 2016 author series with Matthew Quick

Photo: Books in hand, fans enjoy listening to the author’s anecdotes and struggles with anxiety. /Photo by Trenton Conner

True to its book loving nature, the Irving Public Library hosted Mathew Quick, New York Times bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook, for a discussion panel and book signing on Friday, June 3. Quick, the final author to appear in the library’s 2016 author series, was there to showcase his latest YA novel, Every Exquisite Thing.

Complete with cupcake refreshments for the guests, the event took off with Quick telling the audience about his new book, and giving prophetic advice to the new budding authors in the room both young and old.

Mary Hinson, senior library assistant, moderated the discussion panel, which was hosted at the South Irving Library.

“We’re really excited to have Mathew here,” Hinson said. “His publisher actually pitched him to us. We are really excited that publishers are seeing that Dallas has become a literary hub, and that Irving especially has become a hub. We’re really glad that [publishers] are recognizing the desire the community has to create a relationship with authors.”

Quick had fans from across the Metroplex ready to meet him and get a dedicated copy of his releases.

“I’ve read all his books and my favorite is The Good Luck of Right Now,” said Alacia Wyatt, a resident of Bedford and longtime fan of Mathew Quick.

“I spent like five hours on the road to get here. I live in Bedford but I work in Dallas. I have kids, and their dad and I meet in east Texas, because he’s from east Texas. I left work at 2:30 to go pick up the kids to drive to east Texas to make sure that I made it back here at 7,” she said.

Though some listeners had never read any of Quick’s stories, they enjoyed the experience nonetheless.

“I have never read his books,” said Eric Ho, resident of Irving. “We were just looking for something to do, and we found this event. It was really eye opening to me, and I found it very interesting.

“I think he’s really honest and that makes him really special. A lot of us can benefit from that and to me he is really funny too. I know he is just trying to promote the books for his tour, but at the same time, he is also pitching that you should love yourself and be yourself and that kind of message. So I thought it was really neat,” he said.

“I thought it was very interesting, I appreciate how honest he was,” said Brad Syverson, another resident of Irving. “I liked his discussion about how authenticity is what really matters and that is what people find really compelling about his work.”

Quick has a common theme of mental illness in many of his novels. He often discusses it and draws off personal experiences and of people he knows who deal with it to develop the voice of his characters.

“My journey from a mental health standpoint was feeling really messed up as a teenager and keeping that very private, to feeling even worse as a teacher, to being a writer and feeling a lot better because it is where I feel like I can be authentically me,” Quick said. “When I started writing my first book, I thought it was going to be about football and father son relationships, and then when it was published I had this ‘uh oh’ moment when I realized that for the first time in my life, at 33, I was going to have to talk about how I dealt with depression and anxiety my entire life.

“I really wanted to see him, because his characters struggle so much with the different mental disorders or some sort of craziness,” Wyatt said. “They are just very eccentric characters. I was really excited to get to come.”

Every Exquisite Thing, published by Little, Brown & Company, tells the story of Nanette O’Hare, a common people pleasing teenager, who goes on a mission after she reads a book she is given by her favorite teacher entitled The Bubblegum Reaper.

“Nanette is a high school student who didn’t know who she was,” Quick said. “You have this teacher, Mr.Graves who gives her this book that changes her life. If she could fit in in her school, if she could be the star student, go to college, and make her parents happy, if that was in her to do, I think she would do it in a second, but it’s not in her to do. She can’t change her personality.”

Quick discussed how difficult it was to get started as a professional author before his first bestseller.

“For three years, I didn’t get paid at all. I was living in my in-law’s basement, overstaying my welcome, and because of that I was writing sometimes 11 hours a day. I came from a family of protestant bankers, and it felt validating to finally make money off of what I do. I mean I [only] made enough to afford a 2 room apartment, but still,” Quick said.

When asked for advice for future aspiring writers who want to be successful, Quick had this to say:

“If you go into it with the idea that you want a lot of people to read your books, that can be a recipe for disaster,” Quick said. “There are a lot of people who write books, and there are very few people who have books that are read by a lot of people.

“Find something that you are really passionate about, something that you love, and write about it. And write about it every day.  If it’s not fun to write about, stop, and find something that is fun to write about. If it works out, the success will come,” he said.

Irving’s oldest crossing guard completes 15 years of duty

Photo: Performing his crossing guard duties with a smile, Stinson helps families stay safe on their walk home from school. /Photo by Trenton Conner

Every school day, morning and afternoon, you can find John Stinson at the corner of Valley Ranch and Rodeo, usually finishing a lollipop and always ready to say hello.

Whether it is raining or the heat is blistering, this 89 year old World War II veteran guards hundreds of young people going to Valley Ranch Elementary School every school day.

“I recommend it. It makes an older person get up in the morning,” Stinson said, before rising from his chair in the shade, reaching for his sign, and going to work.

Stinson’s whistle blows blasted clearly across the intersection, and he was in full control from the first moment he walked out onto the street, obviously a veteran at his job. His stop sign waved in the air almost as much as his free hand as he called out to children, whose wide grins spread across their faces as they returned the gesture.

“We’ve crossed over 375,000 kids this past year without any accidents,” Stinson said.

These days Stinson chooses to work part-time as a School Crossing Guard. He has worked in the position for the last 15 years and is one of four supervisors for the Irving Police Department’s School Crossing Guard program. He always had a heart for spending his time in the community. Stinson was helping out at the Irving food bank and overheard a coworker talk about the program.

“One of the gentlemen there was a crossing guard, and we swapped stories. I went over to the supervisor, who at the time was a former Army person, and we swapped army stories. Then all of a sudden she said ‘You’re hired! Go take your physical.’ And so I got in,” Stinson said.

Stinson has been a crossing guard since Aug. 27, 2001.

“John has been and continues to be a valued employee,” Stinson’s supervisor, Regina Rodgers from the Community Services and Police Department, said. “John is always willing to go where necessary to meet the demands of our operation.”

The Irving Police Department is currently looking for new guards for all four crossing guard positions in the Valley Ranch area.

“I have a sign out here saying that I’m looking for a replacement. We are trying to get more people involved. You have to apply online, and I’m glad I got in before that,” Stinson said. “It doesn’t matter what age, we’ve had college age people do it.”

The program tries to cover all the corners for the Irving school districts but has lacked the manpower to do so.

“Were hurting for more people,” Stinson said.

John had many jobs before becoming a crossing guard. Born and raised in Cadillac, Michigan, he later moved to both Washington D.C. and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Stinson grew up learning to respect his elders and trust his family.

“While in Harrisburg, my uncle looked at me and said ‘You’re coming with me,’ and I went into the military on the 8th of January, 1944.”

Stinson served in the Army Air Corps training at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi and San Diego as an aircraft mechanic. While in San Diego, the war ended and he was shipped to Ft. Worth, Texas.

During his service here, he vowed to come back to Texas; his reasons at the time centered around the cute girls he met in church.

“A lady came up to me on a Sunday and told me I needed to go to Sunday school. I said, ‘Ma’am I’m in the army, I don’t need to do that,’” Stinson said. “But I went with her, because I was raised to respect my elders. There were 18 or more girls, ages 18-24 in there. From then on, I went every day I could and even dated two of the girls.”

Eventually, Stinson found himself working for Texas Instruments and ultimately retired after 30 years, before starting his career as a crossing guard.

“The next time you see a crossing guard, stop to say hello. We’re friendly and we like to share our stories,” Stinson said.

Church, charity pack 20,000 meals to battle hunger

Photo: Moving quickly between assembly lines, volunteers work hard to provide meals for Stop Hunger Now. /Photo by Trenton Conner

Plymouth Park United Methodist Church hosted a food packaging event with the DFW branch of Stop Hunger Now on Sunday, May 15. Volunteers packaged 20,000+ meals to be sent overseas to children and their families who do not have enough to eat.

Not only did the group provide food for those far away, but afterwards they had a cookout that everyone in the neighborhood, as well as their own congregation, could attend for free. Diners were also invited to worship in the church.

Jeff Jones, the DFW Program Manager for Stop Hunger Now, was excited about the prospect of working with his own congregation to help feed children overseas.

“We work with hungry people around the world, about 3,500 countries,” Jones said. “[Volunteers are] working to bring all the ingredients together, put them in bags, weigh them, seal them, box them, and send them to one of our partners.”

The dehydrated, packaged meals were specifically designed to help people who suffer from malnutrition. The ingredients were soy protein, rice, vegetables, and vitamin packets that contain 21 essential vitamins designed for malnutrition recovery. Upon receipt of the goods, all the beneficiaries need to do is put the meal in boiling water to make a porridge.

“We will know in a couple of weeks exactly who will receive this food,” Jones said.

This was the first time Stop Hunger Now has done any kind of event with Plymouth Park United Methodist Church (PPUMC), although Jones grew up within the congregation. Beginning with this event, both Stop Hunger Now and the senior staff of PPUMC hope to have a long relationship of charity and goodwill.

The church advertised for five weeks before the event. By fundraising for the three weeks before the event, the church was able to pay for the project. They managed to attract over 100 volunteers as well.

“It’s 29 cents a meal, so almost $6,000 to pack 20,000 meals,” said Audrus Malvez, director of youth ministries at PPUMC.”We got people really involved and really plugged in.”

The members of the church had other events throughout the preparation period to invite people from Irving to the event as well.

“We reached out to our neighbors and our community,” said Krista Bailey, worship leader at PPUMC. “We went door to door inviting people. We wanted to get the community to come to the church and feed them as well. The turnout for the event left smiles on the faces of the leadership and congregation of the church. People were greeting new neighbors and community members previously unknown to them. Snippets of conversation heard from around the room were about how quickly they were managing to get to their goal, and how much fun they were having.”

“This exceeded all my expectations,” said Mikael Lindstrom, director of music ministries at PPUMC. “We were excited to have them all here.”

Stop Hunger Now is a Better Business Bureau (BBB) accredited charity with over 73 countries served to date and over 260 million meals packaged total.

“I’ve lived in Irving for 36 years,” Jones said. “I knew people here when we were getting started. I liked meeting the new people [not from the congregation] and seeing them get excited about ending hunger. A lot of people are unaware of the issue of hunger around the world, and they don’t know how solvable it is. It is something we can resolve, and our goal is to see the end within our lifetime. Hopefully today will be the first thing we do to end hunger here and not just the only thing we do.”

Car show benefits Irving Cares

Photo: Enthusiasts show off what’s under their hoods at the 3rd annual Ratteree car show and benefit. /Photo by Trenton Conner

The James A. Ratteree Career Development Center hosted its third annual car show benefiting Irving Cares on May 7. Attendees are encouraged to bring canned food or other non-perishables for those in need. Everyday onlookers participated by judging competition entries for the Best in Show, while local celebrities awarded other titles such as the Mayor’s Choice.

“We wanted to accomplish teaching the students more about community involvement,” said Kurt Shurman, an instructor at the Ratteree Career Development Center. “The chance to help Irving Cares was a tremendous opportunity.”

The students of the Ratteree Career Development Center themselves are the main staff for the car show, providing everything from set up and tear down, to maintaining security and watching over the wellbeing of the cars entered.

During the event, car owners stood proudly next to the vehicles they work diligently to maintain. A lot of the attendees personally restored their entries. One attendee, Don Brobst, pointed happily to his friend’s ’71 El Camino.

“He did a total ground restoration, taking the body off the car, stripped it down to the frame, and then went back and restored it from the ground up,” Brobst said.

“We’ve made every one of them,” said Bob Parish, a contestant in the event. “I’ve been doing stuff to my ’71 Chevy Cheyenne for 14 years. Everything in that truck has been replaced except for the body.”

Some patrons were showing off complicated air brush techniques, others simply enjoyed the fanciful creations their peers had come to display. Around 50 cars in total were entered in the show.

Erik Berthelsen, a member of the advisory committee for Irving ISD, had great things to say about how the instructors who work at the Ratteree Career Development Center were running the event.

“[They] can stretch very little into a lot more. [They] work with what they’re given and are too modest with their achievements here,” said Berthelsen about the staff behind the event.

The car show’s origins are traced back to a single comment by Lee Bailey, formerly head of resources at Irving ISD, over three years ago. Schurman, having been around car shows his whole life. ran with the idea and decided to invite Irving Cares to help get the whole community involved.

“We had a great turnout [this year]. A lot of really fine automobiles are here,” said Shurman.

All of the items, from the door prizes to the trophies given to winning show cars, were donated by local Irving businesses.

“The James A. Ratteree Career Development Center is instrumental in helping students prepare for future careers. We house automotive, collision, diesel, and cosmetology at this location,” Schurman said.

The Cosmetology department was also involved in the afternoon’s event, providing manicures to patrons and demonstrating nail techniques to people taking a break from the rest of the show’s attractions.

Donations to food banks often wane in the summer months with most people only remembering to donate around holidays.

“We’d like to remind everyone how thankful we are for the work done for Irving Cares,” Irving Cares Chief Executive Officer Teddie Story said. “We do all this work for Irving community residents, and when we receive help from the community, it really helps us do that work, and it’s really important to us.”

DFW Hindu Temple celebrates mom

Photo: Celebrating the moms of the world, Payal Trivedi and her son Chirayu show off this year’s shirt from the DFW Hindu Society 5k. /Photo by Trenton Conner

To honor mothers everywhere, the DFW Hindu Temple Society hosted its 10th annual Mother’s Day and Vidya Vikas 5K Family Walk and Picnic at Running Bear Park on Sunday, May 8.

The walkathon has long been a tradition with the society, celebrating moms and their children in a way that brings the whole family together for some exercise and picnic fun. Children played in a bounce house, and families enjoyed eating outdoors during the holiday.

The event featured a marked trail for participants to stroll as well as yoga exercises to help warm up and stimulate the muscles before the walk.

“This is my first year doing this,” said Sunita Verma-Kurvari, a member of the Executive Committee and coordinator for the walkathon. “We gather students and parents and any supporters to come here and walk for about 5 kilometers. It’s a good thing for us to bring our temple community together, and also to exercise and mingle and enjoy nature together.”

“Most of the people here attend our school at the temple, where we teach religion, languages, and arts as well as other classes. Anybody who has traditionally been a supporter for the school who may not have kids, also comes and walks with us,” Verma-Kurvari said.

Normally the walk is at T.W. Richardson Park off 635, but as that area is underwater from the recent flooding, they switched from their traditional location.

“We’ve been coming here for a few years,” said Mukesh Weli, a supporter of the Hindu Temple Society, “I’ve walked these events before and always enjoy it. It’s always a good place and very enjoyable to get the community together, especially on Mother’s Day.”

Parents and their children walked hand in hand around the park, with some youngsters skipping and swinging in their parents’ arms. New mothers pushed infants in strollers while chatting amongst themselves. Some children gave up walking halfway and opted to get their exercise from chasing each other down the trail instead.

“We’ve been involved with [the DFW Hindu Temple] since ‘95 or ’96,” said Payal Trivedia, mother of two. “When the kids were little they used to attend the classes, and the temple’s youth program. Our tradition now to celebrate Mother’s day is to walk with my two kids and enjoy a nice brunch afterwards together.”

“I like how many people are involved with it,” Chirayu Trivedia, Payal’s son said. “How diverse it is. It’s not just people who are from the temple; there are other sponsors and friends and family of the people here.”

The event workers were busy handing out t-shirts and setting up food for the picnic afterwards. Participants sat and ate after the walk, talking and comparing the other times they’ve participated in the Mother’s Day celebration and looking forward to future chances to get together. No one stood still for very long, greeting old faces and meeting new friends alike.

“Everyone coming together and celebrating Mother’s Day is very enjoyable,” Verma said. “We are very thankful for all the help we have gotten today and for all the other times we have done this.”

Ladybugs find forever homes at EARTHfest

Photo: Celebrating the earth and all the bugs that crawl upon it, youngsters at the Valley Ranch Association’s EARTHfest wake sleeping ladybugs in order to take them home in their ladybug holders. /Photo by Trenton Conner

Valley Ranch loosed thousands of ladybugs into the local ecosystem outside of the Cimarron Recreation Center during EARTHfest on April 30. Despite some gloomy skies, residents participated in fun activities that benefited their yards and homes, such as building bird feeders, learning gardening techniques, receiving free potted plants, and catching ladybugs to release in their own yards and gardens.

“I was really concerned that people would stay away because of the clouds,” said Lawanda Brannon, Valley Ranch Master Association Lifestyle Director. “We tried to boost it on social media, letting people know we were still here, and it’s not raining so [they could] come on out.”

Ladybugs, along with some other beetles and insects are called ‘beneficials’ in the gardening community. They and their young often dine on other creepy crawlies that feed on garden plants. If the environment is pleasing to them, the ladybugs will remain all summer and maybe even for a couple of generations.

Children were able to partake in events including games, bounce houses, and an obstacle course, as well as face painting and constructing garden crafts.

“We invited venders to come out and have earth related projects or recycle related projects that are earth friendly for the family and the kids,” Brannon said “Then we brought in bounce houses, and the big event is the release of the ladybugs.”

Before the big ladybug release, parents and their eager children lined up for the signal to proceed with their search. Due to colder weather and darker skies, most of the ladybugs seemed asleep and were easily caught by the more skilled junior entomologists, but every now and then a toddler went hopping after a bolting beetle.

“We were here last year, and missed the ladybug release, so this year we made sure we were on time,” said Deanna Birmingham, mother of two daughters, Lina and Nora. “They’re scared of ladybugs. When we have a ladybug in our backyard, they aren’t too fond of it. I’m wondering how this is going to work out.”

Deanna led her daughters into the fray, but as she expected they weren’t too thrilled with the idea of touching the bugs, and opted for the face painting instead.

With around 20 volunteers from partners and Ranch View High School, the event was enjoyed by a number of families. Kids of all ages played while being careful not to step on any prized ladybugs, showing off their captured insects to their mothers and fathers and most importantly each other.

“We are having an excellent time,” said Twyla Johnson, mother of Kayla.

Arbor Day Celebration shares the wonder of trees

Photo: Showing that even adults enjoy climbing a tree, Carlos Fuentes displays climbing safety and his technique for tree trimming. /Photo by Trenton Conner

Irving celebrated one of its greatest natural and often unsung resources, the tree, during the Irving Arbor Day Celebration hosted at Heritage Park on April 23. The city’s parks and recreation department, water utilities department, and local organizations provided demonstrations explaining the importance of trees as well as proper tree caretaking procedures.

“If you plant the tree properly, that eliminates a lot of problems in the future you would have not had to deal with,” said Mike Griffith, Park Superintendent of Irving.

The festival celebrated Earth Day week and U.S. Arbor Day. In November, there will be another Arbor Day event where the city directly invites local students to join recycling initiatives.

“We’ve completed seven years of being Tree City USA,” Griffith said. “To do that you have to have a tree board and spend two dollars per capita for the people who live in Irving. Since our population is 240,000 or something, [the parks department] has to spend like $480,000. We submit that every year in November to apply for Tree City USA, and that shows we are tree loving people in the Metroplex. Trees are important.”

Tree City USA is a nationwide movement that provides the framework necessary for communities to manage and expand their public trees, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. The Tree City USA enterprise has been around since 1976, and has over 3,400 active members.

During the event, families enjoyed tree climbing lessons from the forestry crew, learned about snakes and various reptiles, and entered a drawing to win tree saplings.

“It’s a workout,” Said Pedro Jauregui, a city employee who showed residents proper tree climbing and limb removal. “But after ten times, it’s easy.

“We’ll teach them how to do the knots, and a bunch of techniques to go up. But we’ll be beside them, seeing everything that happens,” he said.

In addition to tree recreation safety practices, the tree board offered advice on caring for trees.

“If a tree is pruned correctly, it likely will not need to be pruned again until it’s old and has dead limbs,” said Sara Beckelman, Dallas citizen forester and member of the tree board. “You should never trim more than 20-25 percent of the leaves’ surface.”

Residents of Irving attended throughout the day, coming and going on their busy Saturday to join in the festivities. The free saplings were quickly given out, and people enjoyed the benefits of walking around Main Street and seeing not only tree specialists, but local businesses.

Taking advantage of a free event that will get kids off the couch and outside of the house, Irving mom Diana Piccolo brought her family to the event.

“We saw the city of Irving’s announcement, and I brought the boys out to go tree climbing and to get some trees,” she said. “We were really excited about it.”

North Texas Teen Book Festival attendees double in second year

Photo: Better than traditional speed dating, attendees of the book festival receive their tickets to participate in the Speed Date a Book event. /Photo by Trenton Conner

Over 7,000 book lovers united at the second annual North Texas Teen Book Festival presented at the Las Colinas Irving Convention Center on April 23. From all over North Texas, students and parents alike had the chance to meet some of their favorite authors and to discover new ones.

“It’s kind of crazy but in the best way possible,” said Mary Hinson, a senior library assistant for Irving Public Library. “Last year we had about 3,500 people. The goal for this year was 7,000.”

With 75 featured authors, including additional authors who helped moderate panels, students listened to influential writers talk about their process, and even worked on their own writing skills.

Holly Black, author of The Spiderwick Chronicles, addressed hundreds of fans in her keynote speech.

“Writing kids’ books sounds really wholesome and nice, except when you then have to explain I don’t write picture books,” Black said. “Though every now and then an interviewer asks me, ‘Will you ever write anything but fantasy?’ The answer, by the way, is no-never.”

“They reminded me how it embarrassing it once was to be the kid who liked to make up stories and loved magic, and have to justify that to people,” she said. “It was especially hard when people around me thought that I should grow out of it. Obviously I didn’t.”

During her morning address, Black was honored by Sam Houston State University with the Jan Paris award of achievement in teen literature.

This event has caught the attention of several schools around the area with teachers and students playing a big role in attracting attendees.

“The students are the ones who are pushing the books on their friends,” Hinson said. “They are the ones who are helping us promote the festival through social media, so we can reach our intended audience.”

“All the publicity was done by the teachers and librarians on our partner list,” said Carla Morgan, volunteer coordinator for the event and the Irving Public Library.

“Two of the middle schools here in Irving went together for a bus and each school brought 25 students. One librarian was having classes come into the library. He was talking about authors that were going to be here, showing the kids the books, then giving them a form and saying the first 25 of these I get back get to go. There were kids asking to use their cell phones to call their parents right then to get their parents to come up to the school to sign the permission slip,” she said.

Some school teachers offered students incentives to attend the event, such as grades for listening to authors talk about their books and writing techniques.

The festival had 250 volunteers helping to reign in eager visitors and direct them to anticipated panels.

“We have received a tremendous amount of support from our local North Texas communities, both teachers and librarians from local schools and public libraries, avid book fans who just want to help, and definitely a lot of friends and family from staff members,” Hinson said.