Legacy of Caring

In 1975, Don Gebert and his family arrived in Texas, sight unseen, to help an oil and gas businessman build a new town. This businessman was George Mitchell, founder of The Woodlands, who 45 years ago made a commitment to create a community, not only with master plans for neighborhoods, schools and a city center, but with heart and soul. He wanted to include the spiritual side of life. He had dreams to build a more loving and caring community.

“Mr. Mitchell was visionary enough to see that building a new town physically was not enough. You have to have people who care, people who believe, people who know how to dream, people who want to build a more loving and caring community,” Gebert says. Including religious life was a significant piece within the original design of The Woodlands, and Mitchell needed someone to carry it out.

As a Lutheran minister, Gebert had been working in inner city Philadelphia, collaborating across racial and socioeconomic divides in the 1960s. When Mitchell approached him for The Woodlands position, Gebert was Associate Director for The Philadelphia Foundation, the largest philanthropic body in the area, which was dedicated to helping the needy and improving lives. He was both a pastor and a missionary along with his wife, Barbara. His life was devoted to others, and that wasn’t going to stop when he moved to Texas.

The Woodlands, in its infancy stage, only had around 100 families residing in the small suburban area. Gebert had been carefully recruited to be the connection for religious communities within The Woodlands, to incorporate the spiritual aspect into the community. In preparation for this, Mitchell and his team had created the nonprofit, The Woodlands Religious Community, Inc., in 1973, which Gebert later renamed Interfaith of The Woodlands.

“Interfaith has been one of the key points of The Woodlands in my opinion,” George Mitchell has remarked.

Gebert decided he needed to get know people. He hopped on his moped and visited residents one by one, sometimes following moving vans to find and greet the newcomers. With those conversations, he recorded ages, special needs and religious preferences for everyone who lived in the community. The residents were a key component of getting programs started. “So many people wanted to help. I don’t deserve all of the credit. The pioneers who lived here believed we could do something that had never been done before—they deserve the credit,” Gebert says.

In his 10 years of service to Interfaith, Gebert helped 16 churches start their congregations and attain sites for their worship services. Religious faiths of all kinds became members of Interfaith, and giving back to help others was something they all could do together. Because Mitchell helped fund his new town with Housing of Urban Development (HUD) resources, there were plenty of opportunities for neighbors to help neighbors. Many of the programs he founded with the help of steady volunteers are still in existence today, with a much larger reach due to expansion: The Villager, Interfaith of The Woodlands Directory, Interfaith Child Development Center, the Interfaith Employment Project now operating as Workforce Solutions, assistance for seniors adults and so many more.

Revered Gebert often shares, “Everything that started on the human side in The Woodlands in the early days was started by Interfaith.”

Ann Snyder, Executive Director of Generosity and Schools at The Woodlands United Methodist Church, devoted over 12 years as President and CEO of Interfaith beginning in 2003, but her work with the nonprofit began many years prior as a volunteer, followed by serving as a board member. When she became President, her goal was to ensure that Interfaith stood with a solid foundation. During the first part of her leadership, she had two important goals: to visit every member congregation and to have a conversation with every staff member. “People gave a lifetime to the organization, and it was important they know how valuable they were,” Snyder says.

As The Woodlands grew in the business arena, the nonprofit began connecting with corporate entities and creating a board of directors with expertise, knowledge and heart. It was during this time that Interfaith gained a significant amount of support among corporations and leadership in the town. “I think we helped open the windows for all that was good about this organization. It was not me, it was a team,” Snyder says. When she reflects on Interfaith’s 45th anniversary, she says, “It’s the foundation of The Woodlands. Mr. Mitchell wanted a community that embraced diversity. It’s for everyone.” During Snyder’s tenure, many important programs were initiated, such as childcare at Lonestar College, expansion of the Interfaith Child Development Center, job training and the management of the Interfaith Community Clinic.

Missy Herndon, current President and CEO of Interfaith, began volunteering with the organization before beginning her career at Interfaith in 2013. When she was named President in 2016, she had prior experience with the organization, both as a volunteer and on staff as Director of Programs and Services, which brings important perspective for leadership. Hurricane Harvey became one of Herndon’s first and most significant challenges when Interfaith was tasked with organizing Montgomery County’s massive relief efforts, which provided aid and support for more than 28,000 people. “There was no better example of how the community steps up to help each other,” she says. Led by a rock-solid group of staff from Interfaith, more than 12,000 volunteers stepped forward with confidence and dedication to Interfaith’s colossal goal, demonstrating its strong support system. “The number of people serving last year during Hurricane Harvey was staggering,” says Gordy Bunch, Chairman of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors. “Interfaith is a full-time, engaged community partner.”

Member congregations continue to be heavily involved in the success and longevity of Interfaith, with their volunteer assistance as well as financial support. 63 religious institutions work together as member congregations in the name of service to create unity amid diversity, which was one of the original mottos in the early years. “My dream was to wipe the slate clean. We could have a religious community where everyone who was different, was precious,” Gebert recalls. That value has remained and been strengthened over the years, with a focus on helping others a major tenant of religions of all kinds.

Today, under Herndon’s leadership, Interfaith continues its dedication to impacting lives through compassion and service. Nearly 35,227 individuals were served in 2017 through the nonprofit’s crisis assistance program, and Interfaith helped 1,000 seniors remain in their homes by providing assistance in all areas of life. “Our hometown is better off for having Interfaith. It has been an integral part of our community for over 40 years,” says Bunch.

From helping a few neighbors to helping hundreds of thousands, Interfaith has continually created services that meet the needs of the people in The Woodlands. Everything seemed to begin by helping just one parent, one senior citizen, one struggling family. The programs arose out of real necessities, and its staff and volunteers brought those programs to fruition. As the support from the community grew, Interfaith was able to provide more assistance to more people.

Don Gebert remains in awe of how far it has come since the first day he arrived in Texas. Knowing all the obstacles they faced in the beginning, he still calls it a miracle 45 years later.

Interfaith’s hope for the future is the same as it was 45 years ago. “Our priority will always be serving people. Our goal is to never say no. We are the connection where people of all faiths, from all economic and educational backgrounds, from the spiritual, corporate and civic communities, neighbors and individuals, are able to come together in the name of service,” says Herndon.

Annette Palmer

Some of artist Annette Palmer’s earliest memories are from the days just after her baby sister was born. Since children were prevented from visiting hospital floors back then, Annette and her older sister would stand on the lawn underneath their mother’s second floor room and catch the love notes she dropped down to them from the window.

Communication. Emotion. Distance and separation. Letters written between friends, family, lovers—even these she finds in flea markets, written by strangers whose stirring words having outlived them. Those are the subtleties that have always been the source of her creativity.

Born in Falkirk, Scotland, Annette found inspiration at every turn: the architectural drawings of her father, the subdued hues of coastal Scotland, and the letters, of course—from her mother, her friends, her teen-age pen pals— dozens of them, all over the world.

Annette studied art through high school and attended the Edinburgh College of Art. Figural and fashion drawing had become her focus, as well a young Englishman named Bob Palmer, who’d come to Edinburgh as an offshore worker for BP. After graduation she began working as a children’s clothing designer. She and Bob Palmer married. The expressive exchange in the letters they sent back and forth over the North Sea further shaped Annette’s muse.

While living in Singapore on a BP assignment, Annette began designing her own line of women’s clothing and successfully operated her company, Cancan, for years. After a brief assignment in Dubai, the Palmers were sent to Houston and settled in The Woodlands twelve years ago. With son, Ross, and daughter, Faith, approaching high school, Annette began working as an art teacher at The Woodlands Prep and Esprit International School. For several years she even taught an adult painting class in her studio. She coordinated art exhibits for Hubbell and Hudson Kitchen and St. Luke’s The Woodlands Hospital, showcasing dozens of local artists.

In recent years, with her children grown, Annette has slowed her pace outside the studio. Inside the studio, however, she’s been hard at work on a multi-media series of acrylic landscapes and seascapes with textured and reflective surfaces.

“I paint with sponges, scrappers, pallet knives, paint brushes, shoe brushes, household cleaning brushes,” she chuckles at her unconventional techniques. “I love reflective surfaces: silver and gold leafing, foil, flecks of mica, paper. I sometimes use pieces of fabric I have left from Cancan—reflective in a different way.”

And somewhere on each piece in this brilliant, bountiful collection is the written communication that so moves her. Snippets of old love letters, for example, shape stars in the sky, or waves in the ocean, or birds in flight.

“I’ve always been inspired by written communication; because it never goes away. These days we text, then delete the messages. I believe something significant is lost in that process,” she says. “There’s something about taking the time to sit and write a letter that frees our consciousness, our feelings, and we express ourselves with much greater warmth and honesty.”

Since 2017, The Glade Gallery in The Woodlands has exhibited four collections of Annette’s work: “Between the Lines,” “Between the Lines 1.5,” “Home from Home” and “Love Letters.” Her “Across the Miles” collection was showcased at The Jung Center in Houston earlier this year.

With clients the world over, Annette Palmer’s creative life is thriving. Rows of completed canvases line the floor of her sunlit studio. Paintings in various stages of completion rest on easels. As we sit together, a re-homed cat saunters across our table, a rescue dog lies at my feet.

“My studio is where I’m happiest,” she says. “It’s all about love here, about eternal hope, and bridging that uncertain distance between us.” And I totally get it.

Annette’s newest collection, “Pause, Rewind, Play,” opens November 1, 2018 at Glade Gallery.

“This collection explores lost means of communication through mixtapes from the Gen-X era.” She says this with excitement that is at once proud, humble and enchanting, the manner of an artist fully realized.

Follow Annette Palmer’s art and inspiration at annettepalmerart.com and on Instagram at annettepalmerart
Photo credit: Derrick Bryant

2018 Letter from our Editors

As we wind down 2018, we would like to express our sincere gratitude for your partnership in The Book The Woodlands. The Book was created to highlight the incredible people, businesses, and happenings in this amazing community we call home, as well as raise necessary funds for the programs and services of Interfaith of The Woodlands. Your partnership truly makes a difference in fulfilling Interfaith’s mission to serve our neighbors who come to us in their time of need.

Interfaith of The Woodlands has been able to make a huge impact in our community in 2018 with the help of your ad partnership. We are happy to share your ad in part benefited:

· 35,227 individuals for crisis assistance

· 29,406 seniors through transportation, activities and Holiday gifts

· 2,745 children for school supplies

· 18,823 neighbors for food assistance

· 3,777 individuals for clothing vouchers

Your support is appreciated not only for what it helps us achieve but also for the generosity it reflects.

Thank you again for investing and believing in Interfaith for the past 45 years as we work together “To build a more loving and caring community through service.”

We wish you a beautiful holiday season and a blessed 2019!

Missy Herndon, President & CEO Interfaith of The Woodlands

Janelle Romano, Managing Editor The Book The Woodlands

Hope for the Holidays

Hope for the Holidays, a festive, Christmas-themed musical variety show benefiting Cassidy Joined for Hope, was held on December 15 at the College Park High School auditorium. The heartwarming event featured talented soloists Gary Lynn Floyd, Michelle Brown, J.R. Smith, David Troth and Alyssa Smith, as well as ballet and ballroom dancers, choir performers and improv students. The spectacular event raised over $20,000 to be used toward speaking/awareness events and preventative measures to break the silence of teenage suicide and mental illness.

Hope for the Holidays was the lifelong dream and vision of its producer, Jodie Schrier. Ms. Schrier has more than three decades of dance and theater experience, and she has always aspired to produce a show combining all of her passions. Her dream came to life with a profound purpose and meaning on the stage for Hope for the Holidays.

“Never could I have imagined that the loss of precious Cassidy would one day be the trigger to launch [this show],” shared Jodie Schrier. “And yet it makes perfect sense: ‘beauty from the ashes.’ Cassidy’s spirit lives on through the Cassidy [Joined] for Hope Foundation. Lives are impacted. Hope is spreading. I am so thankful to the Hess family for allowing me to play a small part in their journey. I am humbly reverent.”

Kim Hess had this to say: “Jodie Schrier’s years of hard work, planning, prayers, tears, heart and love came to life on stage for all of us to enjoy! She used her vision, her talents and her 20-year dream for something so much bigger than all of us—to bring hope to this community during a time when we need it the most.”

Dancers from Boni’s Dance & Performing Arts Studio Inc performed the Parade of the Toy Soldiers, a Rockette-inspired number, as well as the Waltz of the Flowers. Bonnie Schuetz, owner of Boni’s Dance & Performing Arts Studio Inc, was the program’s choreographer along with Danielle Brasher Rapp. Schuetz was also the production sponsor for the presentation.

The spectacular production was a family affair, as the Christmas Waltz was performed by Blaire Schuetz-Coakley, Taylor Schuetz and Alyssa Smith. Rae Moses and Debra Beam Moses were the Hope for the Holidays show directors, and the role of Santa was played by Jodie’s father, Clyde Domengeaux. The event co-hosts were Dori Barber and Mark Hayter. Nicole Robinson Gauthier served as the Master of Ceremonies and Valerie Labonski was the technical director.

The love, talent and heart of all of the enthusiastic performers energized the audience and left them inspired and filled with Christmas spirit. As Kim Hess stated, “Hope for the Holidays was absolutely amazing. Our children, our neighbors, our teachers, our pastors, our friends—our community—came together to shine a light in the darkness while reminding each other that there is always hope!”

 

Cassidy Joined for Hope is a nonprofit focused on teen suicide awareness and prevention through the schools and community established by the Hess Family. Their beautiful daughter, Cassidy, tragically lost her life in 2015 to suicide at 16 years of age.

TRIS: Chef Austin Simmons, Cureight-or of Experiences

Gone are the days of having to drive into Houston for your foodie fix. If you are looking for an amazing dining experience, look no further than TRIS (formerly Hubbell & Hudson) on The Waterway. The experience at TRIS is so outstanding, in fact, that it should not be reserved for special occasions, but rather become part of your regular restaurant rotation.

Chef Austin Simmons, born and raised in Texas, graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Austin. He was trained under Dean Fearing, James Beard Award winner, and later John Tesar at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. At a mere 24 years old, he was named the head chef at Hubbell & Hudson. Now, with the transition to TRIS, Chef Simmons has clearly established his culinary voice and is working on his legacy.

The restaurant, named after his daughter, is profoundly personal. Chef Simmons beams when he talks about his wife and young daughter, Tris, and his priority to carve out time for them in spite of his very demanding, chaotic schedule. Chef Simmons’ passion and purpose are driven by every personal interaction he has with a guest. “The best food comes from what you are passionate about,” stated Chef Simmons.

Food from the Soul

It is the busiest time of year in the restaurant business, and Chef Simmons is elevating the expectations of not only his food but of himself and his staff. Chef Simmons stated, “I try every day to come in 1% better than the day before.”

Reimagining favorite dishes and creating extraordinary cuisine out of ordinary ingredients are Chef Simmons’ trademarks. The food at TRIS highlights global, modern flavor, but stays true to the cuisine. Chef Simmons is not about chasing trends, but rather about the seasonality and diversity of the menu. Featuring local ingredients whenever possible, Chef Simmons has created an elevated dining experience that is approachable—not pretentious.

Clearly, his vision is working. TRIS, which opened in September, is always busy; Chef Simmons’ collaborative dinner series, CollaborEIGHT, sold out before TRIS even had a chance to advertise. What’s more, in this year’s Truffle Master competition, Chef Simmons’ grilled cheese beat out those of over 20 other chefs (including from teams headed by Michelin Star-winning chefs). Of course, Chef Simmons’ truffled grilled cheese is anything but ordinary.

It is evident by watching his attention to detail that he cooks from the soul and from the heart, and that feeling comes across on every plate. That same intention is put into every dish, from appetizer to entrée—proven by the fact that the delectable crab appetizer outsells everything on the menu 5 to 1.

The People Business

The food at TRIS is outstanding, but what really makes the experience unforgettable is the amazing service. “We are in the people business—food is merely the vehicle,” remarked Chef Simmons. In an industry where turnover is the norm, Chef Simmons is focused on recruiting and retaining top talent. He hires the right people and then invests in them.

Both the front and back of the house are highly skilled, expertly trained and put the customer first in every aspect. A key component is Chris Perry, the general manager who is constantly striving for perfection. TRIS is the only restaurant of its caliber on Open Table where the service is consistently rated as high as, or higher than, the food.

In order to keep innovating and to continue the development of his team, Chef Simmons designed a collaborative dinner series called CollaborEIGHT, which as was mentioned earlier, sold out before TRIS even began advertising. This collaborative series brings in locally and nationally acclaimed culinary talent and offers an eight-course dining experience for the guests—while also keeping things new and fresh for the chefs. The most recent CollaborEIGHT dinner featured Chef Manabu “Hori” of Kata Robata and an ingredient with which Chef Simmons has already demonstrated significant expertise: the truffle.

The diversity of the new menu at TRIS and the reasonable prices allow for a wider appeal, but the key lies in the quality and consistency of each plate. In spite of the remodel and new menu, TRIS has not raised their prices and remains remarkably affordable. The happy hour menu is composed of many lunch and dinner favorites, available for a steal.

A Truly Memorable Experience

For a truly spectacular experience, don’t miss Cureight, open only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Named one of the Top 10 Best New Restaurants by Texas Monthly, Cureight is the only chef-tasting concept in North Houston. A restaurant within a restaurant, the concept features an eight-course meal, paired with wine, crafted by Chef Simmons. Cureight is even beginning to draw foodies from Houston to—wait for it—The Woodlands. The food is designed and prepared right in front of the guest, and it is Chef Simmons’ creative playground.

With TRIS and Cureight achieving consistent results, Chef Simmons is expanding to create superior culinary experiences on a larger scale. Simmons recently served over 650 individuals for a corporate event, while elevating favorite dishes and remaining true to the vision of food with soul. He hopes to be known as the leading provider of curated events and experiences.

“This is a performance-based business, and we are only as good as the last guest we waited on or meal we served,” stated Chef Simmons. It is no wonder then that many of the guests are recognized and treated as family by the team at TRIS. As Chris Perry remarked, “People come back because they know, regardless of when they come or what they order, [that] it is going to be good.”

Whether you visit TRIS for lunch, happy hour or unadvisedly wait for a special occasion, Chef Simmons and TRIS will definitely create a memorable experience that you will treasure.

Fairytale Pumpkin Pasta & Quail

  • 6 oz unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup shallots, sliced
  • ½ tbsp garlic, minced
  • 2 thyme sprigs 
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 3 lb Fairytale pumpkin, peeled, seeded, diced
  • 3 ½ cups chicken stock
  • 1 ½ lbs Pappardelle or Tagliatelle Pasta 
  • 8-16 small semi-boned quail (if desired) 
  • Brown butter, toasted pumpkin seeds, chervil leaves & candied ginger for garnish

Yield: 8 servings

Cook the Quail 4 minutes on each side under a press on a flat-top with rosemary and thyme. Season with salt and white pepper. 

Melt 3 ounces of butter in a large 1 ½ gallon pot, over medium-low heat.

Add the shallots, garlic, thyme (tied in a cheesecloth sachet), salt and pepper.

Sweat the vegetables for 10 to 15 minutes, do not caramelize.

Shallots should be translucent but still, have a little crunch.

Add the pumpkin, and mix well. Add the stock, and bring up to a simmer.

Simmer until the pumpkin is fully cooked, about 30 to 45 minutes,

Remove the thyme, transfer the mixture to a blender, and process, in batches.

Add the remaining butter, in portions, to the soup, while blending.

Cook pasta at al dente, add to the sauce in a saucepan and reduce the sauce into the pasta until thickens. 

Garnish with brown butter, toasted pumpkin seeds, chervil leaves & candied ginger.

 

Photography Courtesy:  Derrick Bryant Photography.

Generations of Fashion

Fall officially began on September 22, and for the sweater lovers out there, counting down may have begun in July. Taking cues from the fashion runways earlier in the year, retail stores are finally stocking up on the big fall trends.

Modeling the styles, colors and prints for Fall 2018 is a three-generation family of women: Ann Ryder along with her daughter and granddaughter, Jena and Caitlin McCrann. The fashion lens tends to focus on the young, but I am always inspired by women of every age! These next few pages will showcase fashion as being ageless. Caitlin, Jena and Ann have embraced their personal style, choosing outfits that make them feel beautiful and confident.

Poised Youth

A resident of The Woodlands since she was two years old, Caitlin McCrann currently attends The Woodlands High School as a sophomore. Caitlin spent ten years dancing at Boni’s Dance & Performing Arts Studio. Entering high school, she discovered track and field, where she enjoys running and high jumping. Caitlin also volunteers for the National Charity League and HOPE Youth Leadership Community and is actively involved with her Youth Group at the Woodlands Church. In her spare time she enjoys painting with acrylics, supporting her Highlanders at sporting events and hanging out with her friends.

Hemline at Market Street is one of her favorite places to shop. The mix-and-match approach of pairing two prints is a favorite of hers; combining camouflage with different patterns or silhouettes takes the utilitarian edge off and lends your look to a more modern and feminine feel.

Mom on the Go

Jena McCrann has been a resident of The Woodlands for the past 14 years. Married to Justin and celebrating her 20th wedding anniversary in 2019, they are parents to Caitlin and Loudon. Jena is from Annapolis, Maryland and received her Bachelors in dietetics from James Madison University and her Masters in occupational therapy from Towson University. She practiced occupational therapy for sixteen years, and she now works as Director of the National League of Junior Cotillions–The Woodlands Chapter alongside her sister-in-law, Madeline McCrann. She fills her time playing tennis, driving carpool and cheering on the sidelines for her kids.

Jena gravitates towards Club Monaco’s classic style and effortlessly pulls off this fall look in a sleek leather miniskirt and cashmere sweater. This season, we’re seeing sweaters in all knits, textures and silhouettes. Chances are, that sweater you already have in your closet is trending right now!

Modern Matriarch

Ann Ryder moved to The Woodlands from Annapolis, Maryland and quickly found her way to Interfaith, where she has been actively involved and working with them ever since. Ann has over 30 years of experience in publications and marketing in a variety of industries. Her passion and involvement with the nonprofit community struck after her time as the Special Events Coordinator for the Grant-A-Wish Foundation in Baltimore, Maryland, now known as The Believe in Tomorrow Children’s Foundation. She and her husband John are avid golfers and take full advantage of all the activities The Woodlands has to offer, including attending a variety of concerts at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Spending precious time with her three daughters and seven grandchildren is a joy.

Stylish and always impeccably dressed, it was no surprise that Ann was drawn to Tory Burch’s exquisite caftan. Fall floral prints have another year of fashion power and Tory Burch showcased them perfectly in the Michaela Caftan. Tassels are featured in the shawl sleeves, hues of dark floral are bordered with stripes and metallic gold sheen all draw our eyes to this bohemian dress. Pack it for a beach getaway or wear it to your next outdoor party. Complete the outfit with the Georgina bootie; instead of the usual black, play into the animal print or go bold with white. Whether paired with jeans, capris, skirts or dresses, booties go with virtually everything and are the ultimate footwear for this season!

 

A big thank you to Hemline, Club Monaco and Tory Burch of Market Street The Woodlands.

“Fashion is a creative expression, it shouldn’t dictate your age.” Liat Newman, Novellamag.com

Animal Rescue

For years, the Montgomery County and Conroe Area Animal Shelters have been frontline soldiers in the battle to save local animals. However, county-wide indifference, inconsistent management and a perpetual deluge of homeless animals kept those facilities pushed well beyond their physical and financial means, and their live release rates hovered at a paltry 50%.

Consequently, local animal lovers became activists and formed additional rescue organizations in and around The Woodlands. Working both independently and in partnership with MCAS and CAAS, these warriors have transformed the community mindset and powered Montgomery County toward a no-kill designation—the shelter gold-standard, stipulating that at least 90% of animals taken into a shelter must either be released or find new homes.

After years as a shelter volunteer, The Woodlands resident Marcia Piotter was frustrated. “In that role, I could only make program and policy suggestions,” Marcia said. “I wanted to form a nonprofit that could bring about real change for homeless animals by implementing proven, life-saving programs.”

In 2011, she did. Marcia began Operation Pets Alive hoping to receive twenty animals into its foster and adoption program. Seven years later, OPA has more than five hundred dogs, cats, puppies and kittens mercifully tucked away in foster families and available for adoption at one of the several OPA-staged events every weekend.

OPA’s objective is to lessen the number of animals entering animal shelters like MCAS and CAAS. “We work with the shelters to determine their needs, and we stretch our comfort zone to tackle some of their at-risk animals: those injured, with contagious diseases, pregnant and nursing mothers or neo-natal babies,” Marcia said.

In a short period of time, OPA has become a force for change. How? “With a lot of help from my friends! And our thirteen hundred volunteers,” Marcia laughs. “Every one of us is passionate about doing this work honestly and responsibly, while keeping the focus always on the animals. We’ve also been truly blessed with undying community and corporate support. That has kept us going and helped us launch pivotal programs. That support has, literally, saved thousands of lives.”

OPA’s initiative, Trap, Neuter, Return, is one of those pivotal programs. By neutering, vaccinating and returning feral cats to their colonies, OPA has been instrumental in reducing local shelter intake numbers. OPA’s transport programs, Flight for Life and Pups on Trucks, have opened new and significant channels to rehoming homeless animals.

A quick computation shows that over ten thousand animal lives have been saved by OPA programs. However, other local animal programs have contributed greatly to The Woodlands’ progress toward becoming a no-kill town.

Lone Star Animal Welfare League (LSAWL) is a significant crusader in the movement to save animal lives. Over the years, with the generous help of local veterinarians and stalwart corporate support, LSAWL has been able to spay and neuter over 4,500 dogs and cats. In addition, LSAWL runs a labrador rescue operation that has proudly saved over 3,000 labs.

Friends of Montgomery County Animal Shelter is another workhorse 501(c)(3). Like the others, it saves, fosters and finds forever homes for animals in its care and provides substantial support to our shelters.

Pure Mutts Animal Sanctuary began when area residents Priyanka Johri and Rovi Grover realized the need for a different kind of shelter. The couple cares for dogs that are injured, elderly, have special needs or are diagnosed with a terminal illness, rehoming when they can and ensuring that the other dogs’ last days are comfortable and filled with love.

S.A.F.E. House, Woodlands Animal Rescue, Montgomery County SPCA and breed-specific rescue groups like Greyhound Pets of America, All Border Collie Rescue of The Woodlands and Poodle Rescue of Houston are just a few others in the list of many organizations committed to preserving animals’ lives.

Montgomery County commissioners and city councils have honored citizen demand for no-kill sheltering and improved shelter operations. Because of the increase in funding and support, and the sound management team of Director Aaron Johnson and Assistant Director Mark Wysocki, MCAS has more and better medical equipment and treatment partnerships; an improved air-exchange system to control disease; transport capability, new kennels and new, more effective programs for adoption. Dogs Playing for Life, for example, gets dogs out of their kennels to de-stress and learn social skills, making them more adoptable. And, more significantly, Montgomery County now supports a Community Cat program.

Tremendous progress has been made in The Woodlands. At the end of 2017, MCAS had a live-release rate of over 92%. CAAS followed close at just under 89%. Even so, litters of six, seven, eight puppies and kittens are brought to shelters in our community on a regular basis. The MCAS website keeps a current tally of animals housed, and on the day this article was written, that number was a staggering 901: a blunt, bewildering reminder that neglect and abuse are enemies that the community cannot stop fighting.

If you’re considering adding a pet to your household, contact any of the organizations listed. Adoption fees vary, but these animals have been fully vetted for heartworms and FIV; they’ve been de-wormed, vaccinated, spayed and neutered; and some have even been microchipped.

What you get in return will be priceless.

Texas Autism Academy: Helping Students Succeed

By Janelle Romano

Nestled into a quaint little office park in The Woodlands is a spectacular private school that offers hope and educational alternatives for children with autism. Texas Autism Academy (TAA) opened last year with a vision to help the 1 in 59 students diagnosed with autism each year. Before this, special education teachers Jane Walls, Cary Mollinedo and Shelinta Perez worked in the public school system and saw these special children, trying their best to succeed in a system that was missing key components to help them.  That was when Walls, Mollinedo and Perez knew that they could make a difference.

In the Beginning

Jane Walls, President of the TAA, grew up with a brother who was autistic. She knew that with the right support and resources, children could not only assimilate into the public education system, but also flourish. Jane’s brother, Armando, had done just that. Although Armando initially floundered in school and was not given much hope to succeed in a traditional environment, he has gone on to receive his degree from Texas A&M, become a teacher and now is working on his master’s degree.

The challenge presented to Jane Walls was to develop a model that could be applied to other children with autism—to bridge the gap and give them a chance for academic and personal success. Hoping to help as many children as possible, the founders of the Texas Autism Academy originally aimed to open a charter school. However, after a trip to San Antonio to visit the only state-funded school for children with disabilities in Texas, they were disappointed. They learned that, as remarkable and wonderful as it was, the state-funded charter school stopped at second grade, and there were no funds available for any additional schools in Texas.

Walls, Mollinedo and Perez knew that tuition for a private school would be cost prohibitive for many parents of children with autism; insurance rarely covers the full expenses of therapy, and applied behavior therapy alone can cost up to $8,000 per year—out of pocket. As a result, the three of them created a nonprofit (ASD Hope, Inc.) and formed the Texas Autism Academy to serve children four to twelve years of age. They hoped that by forming a nonprofit umbrella organization, they could not only raise awareness for autism education but also raise money that would fund scholarships and provide access to education for more children.

In 2017, they began with two children and ended the school year with five. All three teachers worked for free that first year. This year, TAA has twelve children (all of the five children from the previous year have returned), the teachers are receiving a modest salary (less than what they were making in the public school) and they have hired a board-certified behavior analyst to work with the students full-time.

Philosophy and Method

Many parents do not know where to turn when they find their child, with or without a diagnosis, struggling in school, as educational options for children with autism are very limited. To receive additional support in a public school classroom, a child needs both a medical and an educational diagnosis, which can take up to a year to document. Even upon receiving a diagnosis, assistance and an Individual Education Plan (IEP), many of these students continue to struggle due to the size of the classes and quickly fall behind their peers.

Texas Autism Academy addresses and corrects behavior and social challenges through applied behavior analysis. Many of the parents and students are familiar with these techniques from autism therapy; however, TAA integrates the applied behavior principals into the curriculum through a methodical, data-driven process. The ratio of 7 students to 2 teachers allows TAA to not only customize the speed and level of learning but also to address social and behavioral needs as they occur, allowing the children to focus on learning.

Additionally, TAA removes the pressure of standardized testing and creates a new IEP every nine weeks, for each student, utilizing the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) to track progress. Students learn, advance and get back on track to reintegrate, ideally on grade level, into an inclusion environment. These kids who have become accustomed to exclusion are thriving with a peer group and friends who celebrate each other’s achievements, allowing these children the opportunity and the feeling, sometimes for the first time, of success.

Cindy Baylor, a TAA parent, has this to say about the school: “We were so thrilled to find TAA last year. We tried private school, but they lacked the resources; public school had the resources, but was too overwhelming for our son. TAA has been an incredible blessing for our family. I am a mental health professional, and I am amazed at how the TAA staff encourages our child and can handle any situation that may arise. TAA gave our son the confidence and social skills he needed to be comfortable and thrive with his peers. We started a PTO (parent teacher organization) this year to raise funds for the school. . . . Our goal is to make this amazing option accessible to more families.”

Results

Success looks different for each individual, and every child with autism is unique. However, every parent wants their child to reach their potential—academically and socially. The innovative program at TAA results in children mastering skills, overcoming obstacles and conquering fears. Parents primarily come to Texas Autism Academy to boost their child’s confidence and to bridge the gap, allowing reentry into a traditional school setting. However, parents ultimately find that what begins as a short-term solution is irreplaceable when they see the progress, both personally and academically, that their children have made in this unique learning environment.

“There is no judgment here. The kids are truly supportive of each other and celebrate all of their accomplishments together. When we started creating, planning, and preparing to open Texas Autism Academy, we recognized the importance of educating and developing the whole child with autism.  Our students are thriving academically and behaviorally, but what warms my heart the most is watching them develop lasting friendships,” says Cary Mollinedo, Director of Texas Autism Academy.

To learn more about how you can help volunteer, donate or collaborate with TAA please, go to texasautismacademy.org or call 281-771-5348.

Boots and Bling 2018

Photography by Pinky Promise Photography

Nearly 300 guests gathered in festive western attire and bling to raise funds for The Woodlands Methodist School on November 2 at The Woodlands Country Club Palmer Course. Led by their fundraising committee and chairs, Sarah Przybyla, Ali May and Stacei Bible, the Parent Enrichment Organization (PEO) spent countless hours to ensure a memorable evening for all. Tables were adorned with natural wood and white hydrangeas, and lanterns on the fireplace illuminated the room.

Dr. Ann K. Snyder, Head of School, welcomed guests to the annual fundraiser. Parent Kerri Bigler led the prayer, after which guests enjoyed a delicious, sit-down dinner before two-stepping the night away under the stars to the live band, Willow Creek Junction.

The evening included a silent and live auction featuring items like a luxury ocean-view villa in Costa Rica, a Louis Vuitton signature handbag, Principal for the Day and unique canvas paintings from each class. There was also a wine pull, jewelry pull, mystery box and even a golden ticket opportunity.

Funds raised help further The Woodlands Methodist School’s mission to provide a joyful, Christian education through which children develop a lifelong love of learning, pursue excellence and positively impact the world. With the generous support of those who attended, The Woodlands Methodist will be able to purchase vans for their traveling athletics, make playground improvements and much more.

The Boots & Bling event was made possible through the generous sponsorship provided by AGAPE Physicians/CHI St. Luke’s Health (The Bigler Family) and Wright Business Technologies (The Wright Family), as well as the many other sponsors and underwriters of the evening.

Holiday Gift Guide 2018

We are so excited to announce with The Book The Woodlands Volume 3 our new 2018 Holiday Gift Guide!  It includes a wide array of options from local retailers right here in The Woodlands. Check out unique gift ideas in the Holiday Gift Guide in the current issue of The Book The Woodlands, and don’t forget to check out the Junior League Holiday Market next weekend for more Holiday finds!

1 2 3 4 5