Lasting Legacy of David Vetter

David’s life has not been forgotten as his legacy lives on in his hometown of Shenandoah and neighboring community The Woodlands. Not only has he been an inspiration in science and medical progress, but David Vetter touched hearts of people all over the world with his courageous spirit amidst unimaginable challenges. His impact far outreaches our community affecting lives throughout the United States and beyond.

Delivered into a “bubble,” or isolator, at birth in 1971 to protect him from illness, David was born with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease (SCID) which left him without an immune system to fight off even the smallest of sicknesses. Only the 6th “germ-free delivery” in the world at the time, a common cold or virus could have taken his life. Loving parents, David and Carol Ann, knew their child needed to have normal life experiences and so the isolated area, or bubble, grew with him. He lived, learned, ate meals alongside family and played – all within his bubble. He became very close to his medical team who spent a great deal of time with David, including the late Dr. William T. Shearer, who led his care team and blazed trails for pediatric immunology. David’s life was spent inside the germ-free zone, however, human interaction was so important to him. “He showed such affection and love for his family and others. He had a huge capacity for loving and caring,” his mother, Carol Ann Demaret says.

David Vetter endured a life filled with obstacles, but he always looked on the bright side and found joy in his close bond with his family, including his older sister, Katherine. David cherished connections with others and made even the smallest interactions special. “One year at Halloween, he wanted to give out candy instead of dressing up, so he’d reach in his gloves which extended outside his space to give candy to other children,” says Carol Ann. His world was expanded when NASA designed a customized suit resembling a space suit protecting him so he could venture outside of his enclosed unit. Previously displayed in The Smithsonian, his famed suit and David’s brave story continue to be remembered by so many.

David chose to live life to the fullest and grasped every opportunity presented to him. A student in Conroe ISD, teachers would visit his home or Texas Children’s Hospital weekly for his education. Occasionally, a teacher would bring a small group of students to visit David and teach a lesson as though he was in a classroom setting. “I felt that everybody had something unique to offer David. He was very inquisitive and enjoyed visitors,” Carol Ann says.

Not long after David’s death in 1984 at age 12, Texas Children’s Hospital approached David’s parents about an idea to create The David Center, honoring their son, with the hope that children born with compromised immune systems would have a place to be treated. They agreed and in addition, approved the preservation of his cells for research. “I didn’t realize the importance at the time, but I trusted that it would be for generations to follow. They are still testing David’s cells,” she says.

Javier Chinen, M.D., Ph.D., Chief of The David Clinic at Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands, became involved with the clinic even before it expanded to Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands in 2016. “It is not a secret that part of David’s legacy has been its essential role in the public awareness of SCID. This awareness has promoted the research leading to the inclusion of SCID in the U.S. newborn screening panel for inherited diseases,” he says. The David Center and The David Clinic are within the Allergy and Immunology division at Texas Children’s Hospital where Carol Ann is a regular volunteer.

Carol Ann began advocating for SCID newborn screening in Texas after joining the Board of Trustees for the Immune Deficiency Foundation following David’s death. “My prayer when David passed away is that the bubble had burst for all time,” she says. And that prayer has been answered over the years. Texas followed many other states adding SCID to the panel in 2012 with early diagnosis of key importance. Now, every state has added the SCID to their newborn screening panel. Today, children with SCID do not live in isolation, and families often turn to stem cell transplantation for treatment with gene therapy in current development. “At Texas Children’s Hospital, we are part of these worldwide efforts and actively receive infants with SCID for diagnosis and treatment,” Dr. Chinen says.

During David’s life, the media protected his last name and he was referred to as “David.” So, in 1990, when David Elementary opened honoring his name, the community rallied around the family and took it a step further in commemoration. David’s Dream Run and David Day have been meaningful traditions at the school for 26 years. A community-wide 5k event, organized by the David Elementary PTO, David’s Dream Run raises crucial funds for The David Center and The David Clinic.

Tamara Herod, Committee Chair for David’s Dream Run and David Elementary School parent, says, “This event is mostly about teaching our students the importance of helping others and honoring David’s life. I believe they will carry the compassion and awareness they learn from this event with them throughout their lives.” David’s Dream Run rallied 1,000 participants for this year’s race and raised a record $43,000 going to The David Center and The David Clinic. Walls adorned with the students’ artwork line the clinic halls and demonstrate the David Elementary School commitment to teach their students kindness, compassion and service. “This event has raised funds that advanced our research in SCID. We are very thankful for the community support of the research focused on improving the care of SCID patients,” Dr. Chinen states.

Each year on the day prior to the run, Carol Ann visits the students at David Elementary. The day has lovingly been named David Day, when Carol Ann speaks about David’s life as well as how the fundraising event helps others. “They ask so many questions from his favorite color to many other things. I always want to end on a positive note. I don’t want the children to be sad about David. I think the children will carry the spirit of David throughout their lives,” Carol Ann says.

Residents in The Woodlands continue to be touched by David’s memory in various ways – whether they are driving down David Memorial Drive in his hometown of Shenandoah, having a child attend David Elementary School, participating in David’s Dream Run or visiting Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands where The David Clinic resides. “I’m overwhelmed by the community’s continued embrace and support of David’s memory,” Carol Ann says, “He would be pleased to know his sacrifices were not forgotten. His gallant life and death have meant something to the world.”

Article by: Mindy Jones

Houston Advanced Research Center

Nestled behind a thick layer of trees on Research Forest and Gosling, originally intended by The Woodlands founder George Mitchell to be an area of technology and research, the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) now solely dedicates itself to sustainability challenges and providing research analysis on energy, air and water with the consistent focus of helping organizations thrive while maintaining an environmentally sound strategy.

In 1982, Mitchell founded HARC with a segment of the nonprofit focused on sustainability and environmental themes, a particular passion of the successful oil and gas businessman. Almost twenty years later in 2001, HARC’s entire mission was restructured to look solely at sustainability issues and analysis based on related topics. Lisa Gonzalez, President and CEO of HARC, says, “Everything we do, whether it’s energy or water, we always try to bring in these three perspectives: economy, community and environment.”

HARC approached the development of their new building centered on those three fundamental viewpoints in 2016. The new, ultra environmentally conscious building unlike any structure in the Greater Houston area was a concept its leaders recognized as something exceptional, yet quite attainable. “It aligns with our sustainability goals as a research organization,” says Mustapha Beydoun, Vice President and COO of HARC, “If a nonprofit organization can operate this kind of building, then it’s certainly possible for any sized company to do this.”

With the guidance of architects and engineers from Gensler, CMTA, Walter P Moore and Vogt Engineering, they designed HARC’s new headquarters to be energy-efficient from the slightest detail to large-scale technologies delivering significant impact. To begin with, an ecological assessment was performed on the 3.5-acre site to preserve plant species and animal habitat, which meant only developing on 30% of the total property. No irrigation is necessary on site due to native, water-smart plants which thrive there and bioswales, vegetative areas that filter water and pollutants away from the building while maintaining habitat. The price for their water bill? Minimal. Most homeowners pay more for their residential water bill than this 18,600 square foot commercial space and property.

The only U.S. Green Building Council certified in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum facility in The Woodlands, HARC has an even greater goal: to become Net Zero Energy in 2019, which means producing more energy than is consumed over the course of the year. Its 250 Texas-manufactured solar panels are helping lead the way as is the geothermal heating and cooling system which uses 37 deep wells underneath the modest parking lot, all without the use of natural gas. “There are a lot of systems operating behind the scenes that make it highly efficient and on the path to Net Zero. We wanted this to be a model for other commercial development projects around the region,” Gonzalez says.

Not only are they fully engaged in conserving energy and water themselves, but information abides through every system and plug outlet. If the coffeemaker or a specific computer is using more than its share of energy, it is investigated and solved with energy-efficiency as top priority.

Dirk Kestner, Director of Sustainable Design at Walter P. Moore and structural engineer for the project, says, “HARC took a holistic approach to the definition of “Net Zero” and looked not only at the impacts associated with operating the building, but also minimized the environmental impacts caused from the materials and processes used to make the building. Very few owners take such a comprehensive approach.”

The interior is just as significant as the structure itself. Ample daylight above the tree line tames the need for much artificial light. Walls of windows display a beautiful nature scene rather than buildings or concrete. As an employee, it would not be unusual to see a grey fox, a bobcat, or a hawk as you go about your day. Minimalistic in design, green-conscious materials are utilized and functional workspaces are evident, such as doors that double as writing boards and adjustable desks for standing or sitting.

The building and its unique “green” attributes have not gone unnoticed. HARC’s headquarters won the prestigious 2017 Urban Land Institute Award which identifies commercial developments that stand out in the greater Houston area. Beating out Moody Gardens for the top nonprofit choice, HARC’s structure hopes to be an educational tool fostering community outreach as well as a model to inspire other organizations to make the same bold, environmentally responsible progress. Cost-effective from design to implementation, HARC strives to keep a comfortable workplace while working toward its Net Zero goal. “It’s not that we’re giving anything up to be this efficient. It’s the exact opposite. We’re enhancing the work environment, and people are happy,” Beydoun says.

“We want it to be a center of community activities, especially those that tie back to Mr. Mitchell’s legacy of sustainability,” says Gonzalez. HARC opens its doors to organizations like The Woodlands Township and Master Naturalist, a welcome place to hold educational community events related to sustainability and the environment. Groups such as Girl Scouts, environmental organizations, builders and others are invited to tour the facility. Referred to as a “living lab,” HARC not only desires to provide their research capabilities, but to inspire more people and organizations to think about the impact they can have in their communities by providing education and real-time information. “The goal was to deliver a building that embodied HARC’s commitment to holistic environmental stewardship and that would serve as a teaching tool,” Kestner says, “I’m very pleased with the outcome.”

With almost 3,000 visitors since its opening, HARC’s goals were never one-sided. Education and outreach along with maintaining a sustainable workplace headed towards Net Zero Energy is the only path that makes sense, “For us it was an important mission. We need to walk the walk,” Gonzalez says.

Article by: Mindy Jones

The Woodlands Arts Council

When conceiving The Woodlands as a master-planned community, its founders envisioned a place where art was highly valued. They succeeded in creating a vital and robust presence of artistic expression in the area. The vehicle that provides support for the arts and sustains the founders’ goal is The Woodlands Art Council, Inc. (TWAC), a not-for-profit corporation, whose primary objective is to provide cultural enrichment through several community events that promote the performing, visual and literary arts, primarily through The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival and in the schools with numerous projects and scholarships for those students interested in pursuing art studies.

TWAC strives to create a better community through the arts. Dr. Maria Holmes, recently appointed as President of TWAC Board of Directors, believes that by experiencing the creative arts in the community, the quality of life is enhanced for all residents. “It creates another way for people to build community, it’s another way for citizens to have purpose and meaning in their hometown, no matter the age, heritage, or where their original home is; it brings us all together,” Holmes stated.

The Council establishes and supports meaningful art and cultural programs throughout The Woodlands, including youth mentoring and support programs, student art scholarships, art programs in kids’ schools, interactive workshops for seniors and retirees, special needs programs and sponsorship of public arts. TWAC continues to grow and gain recognition by coordinating The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival and the Art Bench Project.

The Art Bench Project

The Council is responsible for twenty Art Benches that have been commissioned and installed throughout our community, in partnership with The Woodlands Township as well as with the funding and vision of art patrons who sponsor each bench. Designed by local, national, and international artists, the Art Benches are permanent outdoor collections around The Woodlands Mall, Town Green Park and Hughes Landing. Currently, Phase IV of this project will feature three new Art Benches that will be located along The Woodlands Waterway.

The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival

The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival is an annual and premier attraction. It is one of the top-ranked fine arts festivals in the country. The festival is made for the community by the community, and all the proceeds go back into the local arts, impacting the community while benefitting upcoming local artists.

“The festival is very competitive,” said Kelly Batterson, Event Director of the 2019 Festival. There are 800 to 1,000 artists that submit applications each year providing the community with the most beautifully creative art to select from. The review and final picks are made by a blind jury. The art pieces are judged solely on merit. Art teachers, art professionals, community members and volunteers constitute the jury and collectively choose over 200 artists for each festival. “It is a well-thought-out process, a fine-working machine,” added Batterson.

The members of The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival Committee worked hard to deliver a wide variety of artistic mediums including paintings, pottery, glass pieces, photography, jewelry, digital, furniture, clothing and much more. The attendees at the two-day outdoor festival were able to meet the artist, discuss and learn about their work, hear their stories and their artistic perspectives. That was possible because, as part of the festival’s requirements, the artists have to be present in their booth for their exhibition, making the experience for the visitors more dynamic and personal.

In 2019, TWAC added a new feature to the festival called, Spotlight on Mexico. This gave an element of freshness to this year’s 14th event. Holmes mentioned, “We want to have a more global presence in our arts festival. Each year, we are going to select a country and bring attention to their arts, their food, and music providing education of other cultures to our citizens.” An interactive living museum was set up inside the main gate of Town Green Park, capturing the richness and beauty of Mexico in every art form. Asociación Amiga was in charge of curating the exhibit; they are a nonprofit formed by female Latin American entrepreneurs with a broad sense of commitment for the community. Diana Ontañon, President of the organization said, “Art has no language, barriers or frontiers, the Spotlight on Mexico was a way of sharing our authentic Mexican culture and artifacts, and representing our country the best way possible.”

The festival is a family event; everyone enjoyed the artists’ displays, live music performances and exquisite food offerings. Younger attendees participated creatively in The Woodlands Children’s Museum special exhibits. “We have a little something for everybody, making or having art is the main focus. We are proud of it; we love our mission and want to cultivate it,” concluded Batterson. The next Arts Festival is scheduled for October 17th–18th, 2020.

Article by: Ana Beatriz Priego  |  Photography: Derrick Bryant

Wildlife in The Woodlands

The vision of the late George Mitchell, founder of The Woodlands, was to create a community in harmony with nature. Of the 28,000 acres in The Woodlands, 7,665 acres are now devoted to green space in parks, golf courses and greenbelts. Nearly 8,000 acres (28%) will remain undeveloped green space upon completion of The Woodlands build-out for aesthetics, but also largely to conserve the natural habitat.

It is not difficult to encounter wildlife in The Woodlands with 220 miles of hike and bike paths and 150 lakes; George Mitchell’s intent was that a resident of The Woodlands could walk to a body of water within ten minutes from any point in the area. The close proximity to nature and access to wonderful outdoor amenities is one of the major attractions of The Woodlands, but combining nature and growth is a delicate balance.

According to Chris Nunes, Head of Parks and Recreation of The Woodlands Township, “Being able to see and touch nature has a decompressing effect.” He emphasized though that most nature (wild animals) should be admired from afar. They discourage residents from feeding the wildlife in The Woodlands, particularly waterfowl, as it will cause the animals to develop an inability to survive and a reliance on outside food, as well as high cholesterol. However, there are plenty of ways to appreciate and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Nunes encourages residents of all ages to go out into the preserve or trails, close your eyes and first listen for and experience the sounds of the environment – birds, frogs and insects. Then open your eyes and look for the myriad of nuanced colors; watch for tracks, feathers and droppings along the trails to determine which animals may be in the area. The vast array of wild creatures one can find are all part of the complex ecosystem of The Woodlands and The Woodlands Township Parks and Recreation team spend considerable time and effort educating the public to respect and value all types of wildlife.

Urban Eagles- Bald Eagles Call The Woodlands Home
The most famous wild residents of The Woodlands are undoubtedly the bald eagles that now call our area home. The first eagles were spotted in The Woodlands in 1999. Fred LeBlanc, Environmental Manager at The Howard Hughes Corporation (then Mitchell Energy & Development Corporation) was alerted that a family of bald eagles was nesting in a commercial space that was undeveloped at the time (across from Mitchell Island on East Shore). Bald eagles were protected on the endangered species list and that spurred debate on the path forward.

As a result, the development corporation contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and sponsored a study on eagles with Stephen F. Austin State University. They applied for a 10A permit to continue development with safety provisions. Provided they allowed sufficient buffer zones from the nest, they were permitted to continue construction in the non-nesting period of June through October.

For the following four years, the eagles would come back each year to nest in that same spot. Interestingly, even once construction began in the area, still in compliance with the prescribed buffers, the development company noticed the eagles were not phased by the construction and chose to continue to nest and mate there in spite of the construction. Over the years the eagles have built five nests in various locations in relatively close proximity to that original nest, most recently at Lake Front Circle. Aptly referred to as “urban eagles”, this new breed of eagles seemingly does not seem to mind busy suburban areas such as The Woodlands.

A second nest, or eyrie as they are called, which can be up to ten feet across and three feet deep, appeared a few years later in the Bear Branch area. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are now four nests in the township, although they will not disclose the exact locations. Between the various nests, The Woodlands with its multitude of lakes and abundant pine trees has been home to at least 36 eaglets hatched since 2000.

In 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the Federal Threatened & Endangered Species Act as the eagle population began to rebound across the country. However, they are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagles Protection Act among others, which prohibit harassment of the birds. The bald eagles have garnered quite a following in the area with one local resident, Randy Scott even starting a Facebook page called “Save The Woodlands Eagles” featuring etiquette tips to watch the birds without disturbing them.

On any given day during the nesting period and now sometimes even beyond those times, you are likely to find a plethora of avid bird watchers with high-tech lenses as well as neighborhood residents trying to catch a peek with the naked eye. One of the best viewing locations is the Lake Front Circle location in Hughes Landing adjacent to The Woodlands United Methodist Church parking lot. The beauty and wonder of these majestic birds is definitely a sight to behold and a highlight of the wildlife in The Woodlands. The hope is that these urban eagles will continue to call our area home for many years to come.

Article by: Janelle Romano  |  Photography: Derrick Bryant

The Woodlands Fire Department

One interesting benefit of living in a community like The Woodlands, where land use and infrastructure are designed for optimal effectiveness and aesthetic appeal, is that generally things run so smoothly we are seldom aware of its working parts. Foundational services for public welfare, for example, are often taken for granted. Until we need them.   

The Woodlands Fire Department (TWFD) is one such entity. Born humbly in the early ‘70s with a handful of volunteer firefighters working from a trailer on Grogan’s Mill Road, the organization has continually risen to the many challenges of a changing industry and flourishing population. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been worth it. 

Today’s TWFD is a model emergency response task force, highly regaled and fully prepared for any need in the community. In fact, on the ISO (Insurance Services Office) scale of 1-10, which is the recognized measure of how well protected a community is by its fire department, TWFD has held the highest rating of ISO 1 since 2013. A feat less than one percent of all fire departments in the U.S. can claim. Less than one percent!  This level of achievement requires excellence in staffing, training, communications, community outreach, as well as strong, continued support from civic leaders.  

The Woodlands Township has long understood the importance of providing residents with the best possible emergency response services. “With an ISO 1 rating, The Woodlands Fire Department continues to be one of the elite departments in the United States,” says The Woodlands Township Chairman, Gordy Bunch. “Achieving this goal has not only kept pace with our growth, it helps hold our residential and commercial property insurance premiums at a manageable level. This is just one of many reasons The Woodlands is so special,” said Bunch. 

Line personnel at TWFD number well over one hundred these days, and they are no longer just firefighters.  They are career men and women of the highest caliber, cross-trained as EMTs, paramedics, and fully equipped with Advanced Life Saving technology and gear. They are on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Additional department teams specialize and train for response to hazardous materials calls, collapse, heavy, and high-angle rescue, swift water and trench rescue. Bolstered with a gleaming fleet of specialized engines, trucks, ambulances and rescue boats, TWFD is prepared for any fire, medical or rescue emergency. And with eight fire stations now in The Woodlands, typical response time is a reassuring 4.71 minutes.     

Station One on Grogan’s Mill Road is the communications hub for TWFD, as well as Montgomery County 911. Twelve round-the-clock dispatchers field emergency calls. During large community events like The Woodlands Marathon, or natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey, Station One’s large Fire Com room becomes command central. Numerous computers and large, elevated television screens with live feed from multiple locations allow emergency managers to work alongside one another, monitoring and directing conditions in real time. 

A 20,000 square foot, state-of-the-art Emergency Training Center near I-45 and Highway 242 facilitates the continually honed expertise of our firefighters. It is also the location for public education. Because safety begins with citizens, TWFD offers regular CPR, first aid, and fire prevention instruction to the community.   

Strong leadership by a succession of five fire chiefs has been key to the department’s success. After fourteen years of stellar management and direction, Chief Alan Benson retired earlier this year. A nationwide search for his replacement is underway, however Deputy Chief Doug Adams currently serves as Interim Fire Chief. 

Just as life these days is not as simple as it used to be, neither are our emergencies. TWFD Battalion Chief Jason Washington says, “We don’t get cats out of trees anymore, but if your house is on fire, if you think you’re having a heart attack or whenever there is a life at risk, The Woodlands Fire Department is fully prepared to respond.”

Photography Courtesy Derrick Bryant

Non-Traditional Holiday Celebrations

Courtesy of The Woodlands Hotel Management Co.

Whether you have family in town visiting or are just looking to start a new tradition this holiday season, here are some fun non-traditional ways to celebrate in The Woodlands during the holiday season. Consider escaping your home and getting away to a local hotel for your next family gathering where you can enjoy time with loved ones and make memories without all of the stress and distractions of hosting.

Holiday Traditions and Elf Tuck-ins at 
The Woodlands Resort
Celebrate the holidays at The Woodlands® Resort beginning with our annual Grand Illumination Tree Lighting Ceremony on Friday, November 29th. Enjoy an evening of family-friendly holiday cheer with live music and kids’ activities including a visit from Santa. Take your family photo in one of our holiday photo booths, and marvel at the lighting of the Resort’s exquisitely decorated 20-foot tree. Other community events include Breakfast with Santa and holiday brunches in The Woodlands Dining Room and Robard’s Steakhouse. Make it a holiday staycation, and weekend guests will be delighted with holiday movies, ornament decorating, letter-writing to Santa, and roasting s’mores. Treat the little ones to a special Elf visit to tuck them in at bedtime complete with storytelling, and milk and cookies. Visit WoodlandsResort.com to discover more.


Spectacular Rooftop Event Space on The Waterway
The new rooftop terrace on the pool deck of Como Social Club is one of the most chic and unique venues in The Woodlands. Overlooking the stunning Waterway, the stylish setting captures the ambiance and allure of Lake Como, Italy, and is the perfect backdrop for your next special event. Choose from an array of handcrafted cocktails, a selection of wines from our award-winning sommelier, and exceptional cuisine created by our acclaimed chef. From dream weddings and intimate family gatherings to holiday parties and corporate receptions, the skilled team at Como Social Club can help coordinate an event to remember. Call 281.419.4300 to book your site visit today. ComoSocialClub.com

Emerging Sports: Rugby

Rugby, which is highly popular internationally and on both coasts in the United States has recently enjoyed a surge in popularity in The Woodlands area. Rugby began in The Woodlands at the YMCA in 2002-2003 as a touch program. Frank Rizzo, the current Head Coach of The Woodlands High School Boys Team, had two boys who participated in that early program. After a few years, the boys wanted to take the sport to the next level and incorporate tackle into the game, which resulted in the formation of The Woodlands Rugby Club in 2005-2006. At that time, there weren’t many teams in Texas (only about 4 programs) so finding teams to play was a challenge and always involved commuting to scrimmage and play in tournaments.  A stark contrast to 2019 in Texas which included 18 youth teams (K- 8th grade), 24 high school girls’ teams and 32 high school boys’ teams (both junior varsity and varsity). 

3rd-4th Grade

Development and Growth 

The Woodlands Rugby program has experienced remarkable growth (from 100 kids in 2016 to 300 kids in 2019) and the success of the program (an all volunteer-run organization) is attributable to a multitude of factors.  

Two years ago, when the President of the board stepped down and the head coach left to take a coaching job for a professional rugby team, a new board was elected. The highly active board members serve three-year terms and voluntarily invest up to 30-40 hours per week in their role during the season. The new board members got right to work with a focus on uniting the boys’ and girls’ teams. The following year, they expanded the program as well as created a new logo and mascot. Their efforts are paying off, not only in the win category, but also in their efforts to secure sponsors, in the college recruitment of players, and the size and domination of The Woodlands Rugby teams.  

According to Charlotte “Charlie” Hopkins, President of The Woodlands Rugby Board, Head Coach Frank Rizzo is the key, “Frank is the reason why The Woodlands Rugby Team works. He is the reason we have been so successful. He is an unbelievable coach.” Frank Rizzo, a California transplant, was literally pulled into a college rugby game by the UC Irvine coach while in attendance at a game. He went on to play for UC Santa Barbara and Select Side Rugby when he received a call from New Zealand to play internationally. His rugby career involved play and experiences that took him all over the world from Australia to England. He is very thankful for the opportunities, friendships and perspective afforded to him through the world of rugby and enjoys sharing his love for the sport with the next generation. 

5th-6th Grade

Safety 

Another reason for the significant growth in the number of rugby participants in The Woodlands and across the country is the safety factor. Although many people tend to think of rugby, because it is a contact sport, as dangerous, it is considerably safer than football and there are surprisingly few injuries. As a result, many athletes are migrating from football and other contact sports to rugby. Coach Rizzo stated, “Rugby players aren’t getting concussions. In rugby you have to wrap them up. In football, all you have to do is deliver a blow.” Hopkins adds, “Safety is our #1 priority. We want our children to be safe.” The coaches will not allow kids to play in the games until they feel comfortable. The coaches have even been known to stop games if they felt it was getting too rough. According to Hopkins, in a survey of the parents last year, the feedback indicated that 99% of the parents felt that their children were being kept safe. 

Community 

The large expat community in The Woodlands also has contributed to the popularity of the sport in the area. The international community in The Woodlands makes the rugby team very diverse and is one of the aspects that many parents appreciate about the team. Not everyone can live and travel abroad, but because of having teammates from all over the world, their children are able to experience and develop friendships with individuals from other cultures.  

Finally, the amazing facilities and parks available in The Woodlands set the locale and team apart from other areas. The Come and Take It Tournament, now the largest youth rugby tournament in the state, is held in The Woodlands in March each year, with proceeds benefitting local charities. In addition, The Woodlands hosted the state tournament last year and will host it again next year. “The Woodlands parks and recreation are amazing. No one else has facilities like we do,” remarked Hopkins.  

To say that The Woodlands Rugby Team is a powerhouse is an understatement. The teams dominate in the state and the club is by far the largest club in Texas. The Woodlands Rugby Youth Teams took home first in every single age group in the state this year. The high school boys won both the state and regional titles and the high school girls were runners up. However, if you talk to the parents and the coaches, they will tell you that although the kids like to win, rugby and especially The Woodlands Rugby Teams are not about getting the glory, but about supporting their teammates. Parents love the long-term lessons and character building resulting from participation on the team. Hopkins says, “Rugby is not about superstars. It is about being a great teammate. You win as a team, you lose as a team.” In fact, according to Hopkins, when the players were asked at the end of season banquet what their favorite part of the season was, not one player mentioned winning the state title. 

High School Girls

What Makes Rugby Special 

Rugby is a good-natured sport where respect for one’s teammates and opponents is evident both on and off the field. It is an incredibly social sport; games are extremely competitive, but when the match finishes both teams come together and fraternize. Rizzo stated, “No matter where you go in the world, there is a rugby team and they will welcome you to join in a game.”   

Girls Rugby 

Yes, girls do play rugby, in fact there are many collegiate scholarships available for girls who play rugby. No, it is not just for big girls either. All shapes and sizes are needed, especially quick ones. Girls Head Coach Chelsea Peper says, “Cross-over athletes, individuals who played basketball, or soccer for example, make excellent players.” Rugby gives girls confidence and an opportunity to express themselves, they also develop amazing comradery and lasting friendships through the sport. Rugby builds hand-eye coordination and agility, honing skills that are an asset to any sport. Although girls’ rugby is not a varsity sport for girls in the state of Texas now, it is only a matter of time. 

Jr High Girls

Get Out and Give it a “Try” 

It is now easier than ever to take in a rugby game as the Houston professional rugby team, The Houston SabreCats, with a former Woodlands Rugby player – Kieran Farmer on the roster, had a new stadium built this year. According to Coach Rizzo, “The sport sells itself, and anyone can play rugby. The kids have the time of their lives. The clock is always running and the ball is always live, so it is a lot of improvisation. You create the game as you go.” Rugby is a great complement to other sports and even for the kids that aren’t very “sporty”. The coaches encourage youth to come out and “Give Rugby a Try” (a goal is called a “try” in rugby) in November. Every Tuesday in November, kids can try touch-only rugby for free.  

5th-6th Grade

For more information on The Woodlands Rugby programs, please visit: woodlandsrugbyclub.org 

High School Boys

1st-2nd Grade

Challenge Air for Kids in Conroe

“The human spirit prevails over any physical or mental obstacle. After a day with Challenge Air, no height seems unreachable…all it takes is desire and truly, the sky is the limit!” – Rick Amber

The 9th Annual Fly Day will be held on Saturday, November 9 at the Conroe North Regional Airport. The event which is open to the public is designed to change the perception of special needs children through the free gift of flight. “We see many kids and families’ lives changed by this event,” stated Kevin Griffin, Chairperson of Challenge Air for Kids. The event which requires a year of planning will see nearly 120 kids experience flight, including 80 children for whom this will be their first time up in the air.

Founded in 1993 by Naval Aviator Rick Amber in Dallas, Texas, Challenge Air for Kids now holds 12 events across the United States each year. Amber flew over 100 combat missions in Vietnam and became a paraplegic when the jet he was flying crashed during landing on the aircraft carrier USS Hancock. Amber went on to break many barriers for the disabled including winning a USTA National Tennis Championship. It was during teaching a wheelchair tennis class to disabled children that Amber was inspired to share his love of flight with children who had physical challenges. Challenge Air for Kids provides the gift of flight to children ages 7-21 with disabilities of all types.

Local sponsors for the event include Chennault Flying Tiger Academy, Chick-fil-A, and Culver’s among others.

For more information visit: www.challengeair.com or contact Kevin Griffin at kevin.griffin@cafkcxo.org

20 Years of Heroes

Article by: Missy Herndon 

In 1999, in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of The Woodlands, an initiative was started to honor our local Hometown Heroes: individuals and businesses who exemplify the values of our great community. A Hometown Hero is a positive role model, usually with an extensive history of volunteerism who has sacrificed personal gain to achieve noble goals. Some may have received special awards or recognitions; others may have brought positive recognition to our hometown. All are leaders, who have shown courage and strength, who have been nominated by their fellow neighbors and peers.

Mr. George P. Mitchell inducted the first class of Hometown Heroes over 20 years ago at the very first Celebration of Excellence Gala. Since that time, 133 individuals, businesses, institutions and non-profit organizations have received this honor. All of this has been made possible through the generosity of The Woodlands Development Company and The Woodlands Villager. This year, we are excited to add seven more Hometown Heroes to our distinguished list of honorees! Once again, we celebrate these individuals and organizations, along with all of our Hometown Heroes at The Woodlands’ Celebration of Excellence Gala, which will be held on Saturday, October 5, 2019, at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott.

Nominations for Hometown Heroes open every year, mid-May, and are selected by a committee of Hometown Heroes from previous years.

Please join me in congratulating our 2019 Hometown Heroes.

JERISSA BELSHA, MD

Dr. Jerissa Belsha is a native Texan, born in Lockhart, Texas to a loving family where her parents worked as a school teacher and principal for the local elementary school. After graduating high school as valedictorian, she went on to attend Texas A&M University, graduating first in her class with a Biomedical Science degree. She completed her medical degree and pediatric residency at the University of Texas at Houston, where she was awarded Intern of the Year and served as Chief Resident. During her medical training, she was able to volunteer with World Medical Missions in Papua New Guinea, serve at HIV clinics in Botswana and Romania and gain valuable experience through a medical internship in Beijing, China.

After residency, Dr. Belsha joined a pediatric hospitalist group caring for newborns and sick children in north Houston hospitals. In 2015, she joined the local practice called Agape Physicians and has been caring for the children of The Woodlands community ever since.

Dr. Belsha has been described by her friends as a “quiet leader.” Her reach among charitable causes is considerable throughout the greater Houston area. Each year, she coordinates a group of 20 women to put together over 200 stockings for Houston’s Little Footprints program. To benefit Love Fosters Hope, Jerissa helps organize a family field day to benefit foster children within the organization and along with her husband, mentored two teenagers, helping to fulfill a need in their lives for parental figures. She is an active volunteer for many area charities including Interfaith, The Will Herndon Research Fund, Love Fosters Hope, Giving Goes Glam, Free the Captives, Montgomery County Food Bank and A Dress for Barbara.

Outside of The Woodlands, Jerissa has a passion to help others and served as a physician on numerous medical mission trips to Honduras and Costa Rica through The Woodlands United Methodist Church. In her most recent mission trip this past spring, she encouraged several friends to join her where they were able to serve over 700 patients in the course of three days. Her love of others is evident in all she does within her medical practice, throughout the community and most importantly with her family; husband, Thomas and their two children, Emma and Logan. Residents of The Woodlands since 2010, The Belsha Family embodies the spirit of giving.

MARY-LOU E. FITCH

Mary-Lou Fitch arrived in The Woodlands in 1989 and hasn’t stopped working in support of the community ever since. Mary-Lou was instrumental in forming many organizations in The Woodlands area including Class Act Productions, Grogan’s Point Residents’ Association and The Woodlands Orchestra. Mary Lou has been an active volunteer with a number of local groups, including Meals on Wheels, The Woodlands Pavilion Partners Wine Dinner, Cypress Woodlands Junior Forum, National Charity League – The Woodlands Chapter, and CASA. She has served on The Planning Committee for The Celebration of Excellence Gala since inception and regularly volunteers for Interfaith of The Woodlands driving senior neighbors to their medical appointments. She has also served as a former Board Member at MCYS and in various other roles with the organization.

Most recently, Mary-Lou joined the American Heart Association’s Circle of Red, volunteering for their Go Red Luncheon. She is also a member of The Montgomery County Republican Women and has served on their board as Vice President of fundraising. She loves her community and is always willing to help out, hosting many fundraisers and events in her home. Mary-Lou has called The Woodlands her home since 1987 and doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon, adding to her 30 years of volunteering and service. In her spare time, Mary Lou enjoys traveling to visit her four grown daughters and six grandchildren.

STEPHEN C. HEAD, Ph.D.

Stephen C. Head, Ph.D. became the fourth chancellor of Lone Star College (LSC) in 2014 after thirty years of service to LSC. Located in the north Houston metropolitan area, LSC is one of the largest community colleges in the nation. His priorities are student access, equality, success and completion; academic quality; workforce programs in alignment with community needs; and collaborative agreements with educational, business, civic and charitable organizations. He views the college as a critical contributor to the social, cultural and economic well-being of the community. His values include operating the college on a sound, fiscally conservative model based on data, efficiencies, accountability, and common sense. He emphasizes transparency, ethical behavior and a culture of high expectations and achievement. Dr. Head is active in a number of local, state and national organizations that support the community college mission.

Dr. Head and his wife, Linda, both work at Lone Star College and reside in The Woodlands. They have four successful children and three grandchildren.

ALEX SUTTON

Alex Sutton serves as Co-President of The Woodlands Development Company, a division of The Howard Hughes Corporation. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Civil Engineering from Rice University and a Master’s in Business Administration from The University of Houston.

Alex is a Licensed Professional Engineer, a Certified Public Accountant and has authored a number of technical papers and articles, holding two patents for computer-aided management approaches to managing public works systems. His responsibilities at The Woodlands primarily focus on project and land development and commercial activities. He and his family moved to The Woodlands upon joining The Company in 1994.

His civic and industry involvement includes service as the current Chairman of The Interfaith Board of Directors, Chairman of the North Houston Association, Director, The Montgomery County Foundation, Director, The Woodlands Economic Development Partnership, Director and Past Chairman, Montgomery County Youth Services, Director, The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce, Director and Secretary, The Woodlands Township, and he is a Member of the Urban Land Institute. An Eagle Scout, he was named The Tall Timbers District’s 2012 “Good Scout” honoree.

Alex and his wife Sharon live in The Woodlands Town Center and are members of The Woodlands United Methodist Church. They have four adult children and six grandchildren, four of whom reside in The Woodlands.

JOSH URBAN

Josh Urban moved to The Woodlands in 1994 with his family. An avid runner, there was not a week that went by that most people would not see Josh and his brother, Gabe, running throughout The Woodlands on their daily long runs. This commitment led Josh to finish 2nd in the Houston Marathon, with his brother not far behind.

Urban began his tenure with Memorial Hermann in 2000 as an administrative fellow reporting to Dan Wolterman, former President and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System. From there, he went on to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, working his way up from Director of Hospital Operations to Chief Ambulatory Services Officer. In 2008, Urban joined Memorial Hermann The Woodlands as Chief Operating Officer under now-retired CEO Steve Sanders. Just five years later, he assumed the position of CEO. In that time, he has managed expansion and renovation projects in excess of $250 million and led the hospital’s pursuit of Level II Trauma designation. In addition, Urban has been instrumental in creating a culture of excellence, which has been recognized nationally in the areas of quality, patient safety, and patient satisfaction. Under his direction, Memorial Hermann is the third largest employer in Montgomery County, with over 2,500 employees in the community.

An IRONMAN himself, Josh was a major influencer in bringing the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Texas event to The Woodlands which has generated revenue close to $14 million for The Woodlands community during each of the last nine years.

A 2011 graduate of Leadership Montgomery County, Urban currently serves on the boards of multiple business and civic organizations, including The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce, The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership and Interfaith of the Woodlands. He resides in The Woodlands with his wife and son. In his spare time, he enjoys running, fishing, hunting, and travel.

MARKET STREET THE WOODLANDS

Market Street The Woodlands, established in 2004, has been providing The Woodlands a center for an exquisite shopping experience, a variety of fine dining establishments, a movie theater and green space where visitors can relax and enjoy the company of others. In these 15 years, they have become the go-to destination for retail therapy, as well as community events.

Market Street has committed themselves to The Woodlands community in many ways. They lend their support to dozens of area non-profit organizations; not only with sponsorships dollars but also by encouraging their employees to serve on their boards and various committees. Additionally, Market Street is known to connect their tenants with charitable organizations, helping to raise awareness of local causes and increase philanthropic support. Their Change for Charity program selects one non-profit organization for each quarter of the year as the beneficiary of the coins collected through the street parking meters. Since the program began, customer donations have exceeded $200,000.

Their Central Park area features a green space, performance stage and splash pad, giving families and visitors a beautiful place to gather. This area is also home to many events Market Street produces including their Spring and Fall Concert Series, Spring Fine Arts Show, Holiday Tree Lighting and Grand Chanukah Celebration. They have also generously hosted local events such as The Woodlands 4th of July Parade, The Woodlands’ Car Club Cars & Coffee For a Cause, the annual HEB Wine Walk, Cultural & Heritage Festival, Ten 4 Texas Road Race, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk, which bring hundreds of people together for fellowship and comradery.

LEADERSHIP MONTGOMERY COUNTY

Leadership Montgomery County (LMC) is dedicated to developing and enhancing the current and future leaders of Montgomery County by preparing emerging and existing leaders to understand local issues, grow their leadership skills, and connect with others to better serve Montgomery County.

LMC’s core program is a class of business and community leaders that spans nine months between September and May. Throughout this time, participants learn through sessions on Infrastructure, Education, Government, Public Safety, Economic Development, Healthcare, Serving Our Community and Leadership Development. The LMC program promotes knowledge, awareness, and insight into our community, providing an educational forum and leadership development opportunities for participants.

Leadership Montgomery County originally began as Leadership Conroe, launched in 1987 through the Conroe/Lake Conroe Chamber of Commerce. In 1995, through a collaboration with The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce, the program evolved into Leadership Montgomery County. Since that time the Greater East Montgomery County Chamber, the Greater Magnolia Parkway Chamber, the Montgomery County Hispanic Chamber, and the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce have also become partner chambers, as LMC transitioned into a nonprofit of its own. True to its original mission, LMC has been shaping strong leaders throughout the community, producing more than 850 graduates during the past 32 years.

LMC graduates continue to grow as leaders through alumni lifetime learning offerings including educational programs, social activities, and opportunities to give back. LMC alumni can be found throughout the community serving as nonprofit board members, political leaders, CEOs, and much more.

 

 

Volume IV of The Book The Woodlands

We are excited to introduce the 6th Issue of The Book The Woodlands!

The new cover of The Book and new companion The Wish Guide were unveiled last night at the exclusive launch party. A heartfelt thank you to our presenting sponsor, Jasper’s for the amazing food and hospitality, and our event host, Market Street for the fantastic site! We are truly grateful to all of the Ad Partners and guests that joined us to celebrate this beautiful publication that provides funding for Interfaith’s many programs and services. Be on the lookout for your copy of The Book which will be arriving in mailboxes within the next week.

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