Monday, January 26, 2009

Jalen Huckabay

By Mary Garvin
Special to the Reporter-News
Friday, January 2, 2009

ALBANY -- Who needs "American Idol" to become a star? Sixteen-year-old Jalen Huckabay became a recording star thanks a story by The Associated Press.

The story about Purple Songs Can Fly, a one-of-a-kind program at Texas Children's Hospital, appeared in the Abilene Reporter-News and other newspapers across the country Friday. In addition, radio and television stations carried the story.

The story didn't mention Jalen is from Albany, but then again she hasn't spent much time here.

"We've been home for two weeks, and we'll leave this weekend for Texas Children's Hospital in Houston for treatment again," said Jalen's mother, Karen Huckabay. This is the first time in four months that the family has been home. "Then in about four days we'll come back home, and five days after that we'll go back to Houston."

Jalen was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 3 months old. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that affects the respiratory and digestive systems. Respiratory symptoms typically appear before digestive problems, but when Jalen was 13, she started experiencing digestive symptoms. The unusual order of symptoms made her the topic of medical research papers.

Jalen received a liver transplant, and three years later a lung transplant. After the lung transplant, doctors asked her to remain in Houston for the rest of her treatment.

This request added unexpected expenses such as hospital parking ($11 per day), food, gas and an apartment.

Jalen's hometown pitched in to help with medical expenses whether it be a Mexican pile-on dinner, a golf tournament or a silent auction at the high school.

"They've raised about $30,000 for us in the past year. We've had people we don't even know donate thousands of dollars," Karen said. "Sierra Scott, a junior high student from Albany, won a contest and gave all of her prize money to Jalen. I just don't know what we would do without everyone's support."

Jalen has been doing a little bit of fundraising herself. While she was hospitalized last fall she created the "Build-a-Friend" fund for Texas Children's Hospital.

"Some of the children's parents in the hospital don't come and visit them as much as mine do," Jalen said. "They looked so lonely, I wanted them to have a friend."

Jalen's fund has given away more than 150 stuffed animals to patients. The frequent visits to Build-a-Bear, a store at which customers can make their own stuffed animals, led to her being on an advisory board for Build-a-Bear.

After Jalen's transplant the doctors discovered that the lungs she received contained Epstein-Barr virus. The virus had infected the lymph nodes in her throat, and she would need another surgery to remove the infected lymph nodes.

"Jalen's doctor caught it early and was able to remove the main infected nodes, but she needed chemotherapy to completely get rid of the infected area," Karen said.

While Jalen was undergoing chemotherapy, her doctor suggested the teen try recording a song through the Purple Songs can Fly program. After much hesitation, Jalen decided to record a song about her dog, Jasmine. A reporter was doing a story about the program, and Jalen was featured prominently in the article.

Jalen, however, is not thinking of becoming famous -- she's just happy to be home.

"I have a friend coming over for a sleepover tonight, and another friend came by and gave me a Christmas present," Jalen said Friday. "In a hospital you're just stuck in a tiny room. It gets old. I'm happy to be home, even if it's for a little while."

hear the song here:(

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ann Jones

Old Jail Art Center Docent Ann Jones has been watching jaws drop at the Old Jail for twenty eight years. Since she co-planned the first exhibit with founder Riley Nail, she says that the Old Jail has just gotten better.

In 1980, Ann Jones sat down with Riley Nail, the founder of The Old Jail Art Center, and Pat Jones to plan the museum’s first exhibit featuring “The Women of Albany.” Together they began what Texas Monthly says has become “The best small-town museum in the state - and maybe in the nation."

Playwright Robert E. Nail, Jr., author of Albany’s Fort Griffin Fandangle, first purchased Albany’s old jail and turned it into a studio. After his death, he willed the jail to his nephew, Rilley Nail, who, with the help of volunteers and friends like Ann, turned the jail into The Old Jail Art Center.

“I work with volunteers on a regular basis and have been working with Ann for about eight years,” education director Kathryn Mitchell said. “Ann is always eager to help in any way she can. Her family also generously donates to the museum.”

Ann’s husband, Jon Rex, has chaired many fundraisers that have been essential to the expansion of the Old Jail. In addition to chairing fundraisers that in the past raised up to $2 million, the Jones have donated so generously that the Old Jail has planned on naming a gallery after them in the future.

“Out of everything Albany does, the Fandangle, the Nativity, anything, the Old Jail is Albany’s best calling card,” Ann said. “It is truly a gift to the community. It is very important to Jon Rex and I that we support the old Jail in anyway we can.”

Whether it be the Old Jail, her church, community, local schools, or the Drug and Alcohol task force, Ann is always looking for ways to serve her community. Her love for serving, however, does not stop in Albany.

“I’ve been on the board of trustees at TCU for 20 years. I was also awarded the Honoree Alumnus at TCU two years ago,” Ann said. “You don’t want to say ‘Hey look at me and what I’ve done!’ but these things are important.”

Volunteering as a docent at the Old Jail for Ann means working the front desk, cooking meals for Old Jail events, or working at one of the many festivals the museum holds every year, all of which are common duties for any volunteer Docent.

“It’s always so much fun to watch people come through the museum and say ‘What is this small town doing with such a great museum?’” Ann said. “I’m so proud of the direction the Old Jail is going in. Margaret Blagg has done such a phenomenal job. If Riley got to see this now, he would just be so proud.”