Dallas Police Department Mounted Unit: The Men in the Saddles

December 8, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Christine Jonas

A horse warms up in front of the Dallas Police Department Mounted Unit barn located at Fair Park in Dallas. (Photo by Christine Jonas/Beyond Bubble staff).

When little kids dream of what they will be when they grow up, police officer is often at the top of their lists. When a new Dallas police officer has to pick a division within the police department, many dream of joining the Dallas Police Department’s Mounted Unit.

The Mounted Unit is a division of the police department where police officers patrol on horseback.

“We are still police officers, we just happen to do it off of horseback,” said Senior Corporal John Nichols of the Dallas Police Department. “We are trained to pursue, apprehend, handcuff and search from the saddle.”

There is a lot of competition to become a mounted police officer, but not everyone is cut out for it. The selective and highly desired Dallas Police Department’s Mounted Unit consists of 15 male senior corporal’s who make up a sort of “boys club” on horses.

“There are a lot of units where there is a lot of in-fighting and petty crap that you get tired of,” said Nichols. “That’s not what you find in the Mounted Unit. Here, you come to a unit where everyone’s pretty much on the same page, everyone gets along, everyone has similar personalities, similar sense of humors. A big part of getting hired here is fitting in.”

Currently, there are no women in the Mounted Unit. Nichols said it was not because they are not allowed to join, but because none have applied or passed the training program recently.

At the Mounted Unit horse stables located at Fair Park in Dallas one day recently, horses were in the stalls while the police officers gather upstairs in the coffee lounge.

Senior Corporal Scott Shepherd said that once an officer comes out of the Police Academy he or she must work in patrol for a few years before they are eligible to take a senior corporals test.

Four Senior Corporal officers warm up their horses with trainer Senior Corporal Eric Knight at the Dallas Police Department Mounted Unit stables at Fair Park in Dallas. (Photo by Christine Jonas/Beyond the Bubble staff).

Once an office is promoted to the rank of senior corporal, he or she can apply to work for the Mounted Unit. Applying is difficult because openings are rarely available.

“Once an officer gets picked,” he said. “They pretty much complete a seven week school.”

The school in Dallas is rigorous both physically and mentally. Most officers that apply have never ridden a horse, and if they have, they have to re-learn everything they know about riding.

“About 40 percent of applicants pass the school and test,” said Senior Corporal Eric Knight. “People that don’t make the school quit, they don’t fail. We have only had one guy actually fail the test, and that was three years ago.”

Though it is a desired unit, budget cuts have made it difficult to build up a large force. So even though there is an interest in the unit, the police department cannot bring on many new officers.

The Mounted Unit has a yearly budget of about $2.8 million, and of that budget, $2.2 million goes to salaries, according to Knight. That doesn’t leave much money annually for the horses, but if they stay healthy, each horse costs about $3 a day for hay, feed and supplements. Vet bills, horseshoes and equipment bills must also be added in when needed. The officers do the majority of the care-taking for the horses, so barn costs also stay relatively low.

Nichols said the work ethic in the Mounted Unit is a step higher than the job other people do. The officers must groom and feed their horses everyday, before and after they go out on patrol.

The horses “deserve that,” said Nichols. “They do a job for us and carry us around all day and put up with the stress of this job. That’s what keeps them healthy.”

The horses are a big reason why the Mounted Unit is such a vital part of the Dallas Police Department and making a huge difference in preventing high crime trends.

They create a sort-of liaison between law enforcement and the community. Depending on the neighborhood, people do not normally like to talk to police officers in squad cars because of the perception or inclinations of them talking to the police.

Senior Corporal Kurt Carroll said that horses make their jobs easier and make the officersmore approachable. There are instances where people will bring their kids out to pet the horses and at the same time tell the officers about suspicious activity happening in their neighborhoods. Those tips may help the police fight crime, he said

Everyday officers patrol different neighborhoods depending on where the crime trends are. Typically they are patrolling neighborhoods with the highest crime.

The Mounted Unit operates differently than other units in the police department.

“Most crime fighting entities are judged by how many arrests they have made, our primary function is the prevention of crime, and that is a hard number to quantify,” said Senior Corporal James Lewis. “So what we try to show is how crime trends take a big dive when we get there and continue to maintain that downward trend, at least for a while, once we leave.”

On average the mounted officers spend four hours a day patrolling in pairs. If the beat they are covering is too far to walk, the officers trailer the horses and drive to the area.

Not only is this a partnership between two officers, but it is also a partnership between the rider and the horse. It is a dedication beyond just police work, but it is the outside caring for the animals that really builds those relationships in the Mounted Unit.

Nichols said there are no days off. On Saturday and Sunday the officers must go to the barn to feed and water the horses because they are the only ones to take care of them.

“It’s hot, it’s cold, its hard work, it’s physical work. We clean the barn, we feed the horses, we maintain our trucks, our saddles, all of our gear,” said Nichols. “It is a great job, but you have to want it.”

HIV/AIDS Rising Among Young Black Men

December 8, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Essete Workneh

At 26 Terrance Gillbert may be the new face of HIV/AIDS. He’s young. He’s gay. He’s black. And his fear of the stigma that plagues the disease nearly cost him his life.

Gillbert tested positive for HIV when he was 18-years-old. While he has been an HIV/AIDS activist for years, he kept his own positive status a secret from even his closest family and friends. Last year, his denial and refusal to take medication led him to contract pneumonia, a disease that left him teetering on the brink of death.

“I was trying to prevent others from feeling the way that I was feeling and just by me being so active I could do that, but at the same time I wasn’t technically taking care of myself,” he said. “It took me getting really sick and deciding that I wanted to reconquer my own life, and that’s why I do the work that I do now.”

Statistics from the Dallas County Health Department show Gillbert is far from alone. The Health Department reports an increase in the number of young people in Dallas contracting HIV/AIDS. In 2010 there were 908 new HIV/AIDS cases in Dallas County. Young people, ages 13 to 24, made up 25 percent of these new diagnoses, a five percent increase from 2009. Men who have sex with men (MSM) account for 70 percent of the diagnoses. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, black MSM alone make up 25 percent of people living with HIV in the Dallas metropolitan area.

This rise in HIV/AIDS among the black MSM population can be attributed to a number of things; however, many experts cite the shame and stigma that surrounds homosexuality as a leading factor. This shame was pivotal in creating the “Down Low” culture, a term that describes men who have secret sexual lives with men, while often engaging in straight relationships in public.

Darrin Aiken, a Los Angeles Activist, leads a series of program sessions geared toward gay black men infected with HIV/AIDS or those engaging in high-risk behaviors. The sessions are part of non-profit AIDS Project Los Angeles’ (APLA), Many Men Many Voices Program. The program helps tackle the reasons that lead men to engage in unprotected sex and identifies what can be done to help them adopt a healthier lifestyle.

While there appears to be a move toward greater acceptance of homosexuality in recent years, Aiken said this has not translated into the young black male population.

“You have a young gay man who lives in a community where the whole community may be homophobic, where being gay is just not a cool thing and it could be pretty dangerous,” he said. “In the community he may live one way, covering up who he really is and walking on egg shells. When he finally gets away and finally has that opportunity to be who he wants to be, and be intimate with who he wants to be intimate with, condoms may not be the first thing on his mind.”

Many of the young people Aiken works with tend to come from poverty stricken urban backgrounds. Some are kicked out of their homes when their parents find out about their sexuality.

“Some of the young people actually wind up having unprotected sex with people just for places to stay,” he said.

Auntjuan Wiley, Executive Director of the Anthony Chisom AIDS Foundation in Dallas, was not surprised by the increase in diagnoses.

“I definitely see an increase among young African-American MSM,” he said.

Wiley, who has been living with HIV for 16 years, started a support group for HIV positive African-American MSM called “The Group,’ after he saw a need in a community where many men are private about both their sexuality and diagnoses. Wiley cites a youthful sense of resilience and invisibility as another reason for the increase.

“They also look at the fact that HIV has been around for 30 years and people are not dying the way they were back in the eighties, when HIV was first introduced to our world,” he said. “They think ‘if I get sick I’ll just pop the pill and I’ll be OK’, all those are misconceptions of course.”

Wiley also cites a new phenomenon of young people who believe they will receive benefits from contracting HIV.

“They think they can go on disability and get a check, get free housing, free food; all of those are misconceptions. No one can understand what people living with HIV go through, especially if they have no income,” he said.

According to Wiley the lack of acceptance of homosexuality in the black community can be attributed to communities that place a high emphasis on religion.

“I think it’s because of our culture, the way that we were raised as African-American men, most of us were raised in the church and have different religious backgrounds and we were always taught by our parents and grandparents that we were to be men, we were to get married, we were to have children, and we were suppose to be the man of the house,” said Wiley. “We tend to hide because we’re ashamed of who we are, the stigma that goes along with our sexuality.”

Zach Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said the increase in HIV/AIDS is seen mostly in impoverished urban areas, and points to the lack of sexual education as a major contributing factor.

“Abstinence is a good model, but the numbers are showing that people are not abstaining, we need a combination of the two,” he said.

LaShonda Worthey, STD/HIV program manager for the Dallas County Health and Human Services, agrees that education is important in decreasing the number of diagnoses.

“Young people do not think they are at risk for HIV. We need to change their beliefs and their perception of how they feel about the risk of HIV and provide more education, and continue to have conversations around this issue,” she said.

Gillbert, who is not yet completely open about his diagnosis to those closest to him, continues to speak out about HIV/AIDS in honor of the many friends he has lost to the disease.

“They died because they didn’t want to get help, so the stigma killed them basically,” he said. “By me going to work, it’s a tribute to those that I’ve lost and those who haven’t been as fortunate as myself.”

Sylvan Thirty: Development In Dallas

December 1, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Sydney Giesey

Sylvan Thirty Site Plan

Alex Burton has lived on Kessler Parkway in Oak Cliff for the past 40 years. He remembers the way nearby Ft. Worth Avenue used to be.

“That was the playground of Dallas,” Burton said.

He said there were bars, strip joints and several gambling places along the avenue. It was the main road leading into downtown Dallas and the life-blood of the city.

The addition of Interstate 30 changed everything, pushing traffic away from Ft. Worth Avenue. The once vibrant atmosphere slowly began to fade until it became a hodge-podge of run-down buildings, apartments, service stations and motels.

“The whole character of that particular strip has changed enormously,” Burton said. “It just sat there for years and years.”

But all of that is about to change.

New development is coming to the intersection of Ft. Worth and Sylvan Avenue. By fall 2012, the now razed 6-acre piece of land will be filled with a mixed-use area including 200 apartments, restaurants, retail stores, a park area and a grocery store. The development is called Sylvan Thirty.

Burton lives just around the corner from the development site and next door to its developer, Brent Jackson.

Jackson is the founder and president of Oaxaca Interests LLC and has been in real estate more than 12 years. He began working on the Sylvan Thirty development in November 2007. He said the existing demand for grocery stores and more retail in the neighborhood was grossly underserved.

“We felt there was clearly a need to provide that supply,” Jackson said.

Jackson also said he thinks the project will help bridge west Dallas and Oak Cliff neighborhoods.

“People often ask me, ‘Is this an Oak Cliff project or a West Dallas project?’ And I say, ‘yes,’” Jackson said.

Sylvan Thirty’s zoning application went before the Dallas planning and zoning commission on Oct. 6 and passed with a 10-3 vote and a recommendation from the city staff. The zoning application is tentatively scheduled to be voted on by the city council on Dec. 14.

Many residents and surrounding businesses are happy to see growth in the area, but some have voiced concerns regarding the development’s zoning standards. Monte Anderson, owner of the Belmont Hotel, is one of them. His hotel sits on the opposite corner of the Sylvan Thirty development site.

Anderson is a real estate developer and broker who has lived in southern Dallas County his entire life. He bought the Belmont Hotel on St. Patrick’s Day in 2004 and remodeled it in 2005.

“We were the catalyst project over here,” Anderson said.

He also said it is good to see development in the area, but would like Jackson to have a more urban design. According to Anderson, urban design consists of elements like three-story buildings with retail below and residential above, wide sidewalks, street parking, bike lanes and store-fronts facing the street. Anderson said Jackson has not adhered to these standards.

“He doesn’t value the urbanism,” Anderson said. “If he did he wouldn’t build like he’s building.”

One of the most contentious issues is the height of Sylvan Thirty. Anderson said its tall buildings would block the view of downtown from his hotel patio at the Bar Belmont. He is asking that the development’s building height be lowered to 60 ft. Because Anderson’s hotel is within 200 ft. of the development site, he was able to pay a $150 city fee to have the City Council vote postponed until December.

“We’ll fight them ‘til hell freezes over, and then we’ll fight them on the ice,” Anderson said his lawyer told him.

Jackson said the minimum height the development can live with is 70 ft.

Despite their differences, Anderson said he would like to have more neighbors. He said he needs places his guests can walk to. The hotel currently has a shuttle service that takes people into the Bishop Arts District because it is the closest attraction.

“We’re an island out here by ourselves right now,” Anderson said.

The Sylvan Thirty development was designed by Lake Flato Architects. Lake Flato is a design firm that has gained national recognition for architecture. In 2004, the company received the Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects, the highest honor an architecture firm can receive.

Jackson said he believes Lake Flato has designed a development that is in keeping with the existing community and meets the needs for the site.

“They are very gifted at creating a unique space,” Jackson said.

Jackson would also like to fill the site with basic retail like a bank, dry cleaners, pet stores and maybe a nail salon. Sylvan Thirty will also have an on-site concierge service for its residents. The park will be used for things like community functions, music, plays and other outdoor events. Jackson said he is currently looking for businesses to lease space.

“Without leasing you don’t have a project,” he said.

One of the highlights in Jackson’s plan is the site’s organic grocery store, Cox Farms Market. Jackson said much of the community has been asking for a grocery store like this. The market focuses on providing quality produce, service and fair price. Owner Mark Cox also said he buys local as much as possible.

Cox has been in the produce business his whole life. He grew up in West Texas and his grandfather had fruit stands that sent produce as far as California and Florida. Cox said he thought that was how everyone operated. One day he realized, it was more than a typical fruit stand.

“Nobody did it like us,” Cox said.

Cox Farms Market is not a chain. The only current location is in Duncanville; however, Cox said he has several customers that come from Oak Cliff and some from as far as Waxahachie.

“This grocer attracts from a pretty wide radius,” Jackson said about Cox.

Cox was hesitant to join the Sylvan Thirty development at first because he wanted to own his own property. Cox had been looking to expand several years ago, but started backing off in late 2006 because he worried about the economy. Less than two years later, the economy crashed.

“I was right. I knew I was,” Cox said.

Around that same time, Jackson started approaching Cox about joining the development. Cox said it took about two years for him to agree to be part of the site, but he is now excited and ready to go.

“There’s no hesitation from me,” Cox said. “Just hurry up and get it done.”

Future site of Sylvan Thirty. (Photo by Sydney Giesey/Beyond the Bubble staff).

As of now, the Sylvan Thirty land is an empty field. Everything on it has been demolished. All that remains is a sign that reads, “Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts.”

“Oh, it’s gone,” Desoto resident Willie Sanders said when he realized the Alamo hotel had been removed. “That’s why there’s so much space over there.”

Jackson said his company made a commitment to Preservation Dallas, a non-profit dedicated to saving some of the communities finest landmarks, to keep the Alamo hotel sign and somehow integrate it into the site.

Sanders drove past that intersection almost every day for 20 years. He took his daughters from Desoto to school every day at Trinity Street Christian Academy in the heart of Oak Cliff. This was the first time he had been in the area in about a year.

“It was somewhat of a shock to see it all gone,” Sanders said in an interview at the Chase Bank across the street.

Now that he isn’t driving his girls to school anymore, Sanders said the Sylvan Thirty site would give him a reason to come to Oak Cliff.

“I’m not in this area often, but if I knew it was here, I would certainly come.”

Dallas Nonprofit Organizations Helped And Hurt By New United Way Grant Process

December 1, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Lauren Scheinin

The United Way of Metropolitan Dallas has seen a six percent increase in the number of donors and contributions in 2011, allowing them to disperse nearly $25 million to 77 nonprofit service providers.

Despite the increase, however, United Way has either decreased or stopped providing funds for 31 organizations in the Dallas area, resulting in budget cuts, some layoffs and a scramble for new money.

“We have an important program that needs to be strengthened and right now it is a lot weaker than I want it to be,” said Diane Jones, the associate executive director of Citizens

Development Center in Dallas, one of the organizations that lost funding from the United Way. Her center provides employment and training to over 150 individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities

The Citizens Development Center’s budget decreased by $200,000 this year. The organization now serves about 40 percent fewer people in their employment program and had to cut back on some of the benefits they were providing.

United Way officials say they stopped or reduced funding for some organizations in order to focus on education, income and health issues. They changed their grant process to allow any nonprofit to compete for money for programs that focus on the three areas. The organization picked up 19 new beneficiaries this year that provide services in these areas.

“Each year our campaign income has increased slightly, and it may not have increased as much as it would have if we were in good economic times, but we’ve raised more money every year,” Susan Hoff, United Way vice president of community impact said.

For the 2011 year, the United Way received proposals for grants from more than 160 different organizations.

Dallas Challenge Inc., one of the new organizations picked up by the United Way, helps more than 6,700 youth a year stay on the right track by urging them to stay in school and avoid destructive behaviors, drugs and alcohol.

Funded by state and county grants and an annual campaign, Dallas Challenge Inc. has been able to provide a new program, Smart Decisions, because of the $45,000 it received from United Way.

“Because of the new funding from the United Way, we will be able to serve more children than in the past,” Vicki Keifer, the Dallas Challenge Inc. director of development said.

The new program teaches children aged 12 to 17 how to obtain and manage money legally, and the importance of education as it relates to earning money in the future.

Camp Summit, an organization that offers weeklong and weekend camp sessions for adults and children with mental and physical disabilities, lost $130,000 in United Way funding.

Carla Weiland, the CEO of Camp Summit, said her organization has been very careful with their money for the past few years fearing they would not receive money because of the new United Way grant process.

2011 was the first year that United Way allowed any nonprofit to apply for program funding.

“We’ve seen a shift in how we’re being funded, so we really just tried to structure ourselves in a way to not get into any trouble,” Weiland said.

Camp Summit brings in revenue through small program fees, a small amount of designated United Way funding, direct mailing and two annual fundraising events.

Last year, the 64-year-old overnight camp in Dallas added nine weeks of camp services in the fall, which helped bring in money. Weiland hopes the expansion will help them increase funding over the years.

“Even though we were a year-round facility before, with the new program we are offering we are being taken more seriously, and hopefully it will help bring in money from funders and foundations,” Weiland said.

The open application process for 2012 United Way grants ended Nov. 7 and officials report they received applications from about 150 organizations.

Around 200 volunteers will now review the applications and make site visits to determine if the proposal fits within the long-term goal of the United Way.

With funding decisions announced in May, Diane Jones of the Citizens Development Center is remaining hopeful that they will receive funding for 2012.

“We’ve been able to continue our program without them this year, but we are definitely a lot stronger with their support,” she said.

More than millions

December 1, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Brooks Igo

Even as the National Basketball Association (NBA) lockout seems to be coming to an end, the hope to salvage a full 82 game season has been extinguished. Local businesses that greatly benefit from the hometown Mavericks and fans who are hoping for another title run have already felt the repercussions and are hoping the recent tentative agreement between the players and owners will be approved and become official.

Prior to the recent tentative agreement, which has NBA games kicking off on Christmas Day, the forecast for an NBA season was gloomy. So gloomy, in fact, that season ticket holders were looking for a Plan B.

“My husband was looking at SMU’s schedule to get our basketball fix elsewhere,” says Janine Pence, who has been a Mavericks season ticket holder with her husband for 12 years.

Pence says she and her husband would be able to look past the recent labor dispute and are committed to renewing their season tickets if the recent agreement is approved. The negotiations between the players and the owners haven’t been well-perceived by the public.

“I think I agree with most people that it’s millionaires arguing with billionaires,” says restaurant owner Josh Babb.

Babb owns Kenichi, which has been voted “Best Sushi in Dallas” three years in a row by Citysearch and has been in Victory Park for the past five years. He says revenues have been cut in half on nights when the Mavericks play home games and the restaurant has had to cutback on labor and other costs.

“It’s affecting working class people and affecting my tipped employees,” Babb said. “It trickles down to us.”

Mark McGrath, who is a bartender at Victory Tavern in Victory Plaza and wants you to know he is not the lead singer of Sugar Ray, looks forward to game nights for the extra tips he receives. He says on a typical home game for the Mavericks he makes somewhere between $150 and $200 in tips compared to about $100 on an average night. It’s a significant loss on tips for the year when you multiply that difference by 41 home games.

Aside from tips, McGrath, who has been a bartender and server for 12 years, says the atmosphere and buzz has been affected.

“It’s not as much fun,” he said.

McGrath says if you combine the Mavericks lockout with a Dallas Stars road trip, you could potentially have a couple of weeks without any event at the American Airlines Center. To adjust, Victory Tavern, which is located by the south entrance to the arena, has been working with a smaller staff. He says they usually hire four or five more people during a Mavericks season.

It’s been 13 years since the last NBA lockout and this one comes after the most successful season for TV ratings and an all-time high for game attendance. The lockout started in June, after negotiations to draft a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) started 18 months prior to that, with $4.2 billion in revenues and $2.2 billion in player compensation on the line. The NBA has officially cancelled games through Dec. 15 so far.

The main issues have been over revenue sharing, salary cap, and basketball-related income (BRI). Owners claim they are losing money, so they have pushed for a hard salary cap, which fixes the amount of money a team can spend and imposes a limit on the size and length of NBA contracts. The greatest concern, however, is over BRI. The CBA agreement that expired in June had the players receiving 57 percent of BRI (ticket sales, TV contracts, concessions, etc.), but the owners first offer for the new CBA had the owners receiving 61 percent. The players have since conceded to 52.5 percent of BRI.

The players rejected the most recent offer by the owners on Nov. 14, further putting the 2011-12 season in jeopardy. The offer called for a 50/50 split of BRI and a 72-game season starting on Dec. 15, but the NBAPA declined and are planning to disband the union and file an antitrust lawsuit against the owners. This would shift the dispute from a labor dispute to an anti-trust issue.

Authorities with both the Dallas Mavericks and American Airlines Center declined to comment on the lockout.

Some restaurants around the American Airlines Center haven’t been as affected by the lockout as others. Charlie Green, who owns Neo Pizza in Victory Park and Olivellas on Hillcrest and McFarlin, says his Neo restaurant has a pretty good regular clientele and the lack of Mavericks home games doesn’t interfere with the lunchtime business.

“Though it’s always good to have people down here, it’s not that much of a punch in the gut,” he said.

Green, who says they could’ve opened at 6 a.m. the day of the Mavericks championship parade, is more concerned about the long-term effect of the lockout and people getting out of their routine.

Steve Parry, who has been a ticket broker for 23 years, echoes Green’s concerns and says it tends to take awhile to get the fans back after a lockout. He says it will be hard for the players to justify a lost season to the fans.

“Lots of people will have a bad taste in their mouth with the NBA,” he said.

Parry, who owns Golden Tickets, says this NBA lockout is having a similar effect as the National Football League (NFL) lockout did earlier this year. It has convinced season ticket holders not to reinvest and, as a result, there are virtually piles of tickets available for games. He says all orders for season tickets have been cancelled for the NBA.

“Professional sports are what we sell and the marketplace is destroyed,” he said.

If the lockout persists and the season is cancelled, the opportunity for the Mavericks to defend their championship will not only be prolonged, but also an opportunity for new business. Kenichi owner Babb is hoping the NBA labor issue is resolved by mid-January when he plans on opening a new taco bar called Shooters in Victory Plaza. The lockout has his investors and him feeling uneasy about the potential of the restaurant without the Mavericks.

Yoga for Seniors

December 1, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Katie Simpson

Bryan Robbins, 65, might not fit the mold for the typical yoga goer but that’s what makes him so unique. As coach of the SMU diving team, Robbins started teaching yoga to his swimmers in 1971 because it was important for their flexibility and overall mindset.

“I’ve been doing yoga since 1969 and I practice five times a week, that has been consistent for over 40 years,” said Robbins, who is retired but still teaches yoga classes part-time at SMU.

Robbins is not alone in his quest for good health and wellbeing. While some may think yoga is only for the young and lithe, a 2008 study by Yoga Journal found that an estimated 15.8 million Americans practice yoga, and of those nearly 20 percent are over 55. Seniors all over Dallas have been jumping onboard, practicing yoga in their homes, churches, retirement communities and assisted living facilities.

Yoga has been around for more than 5000 years and experts agree that no matter how old you are it provides many benefits, both mentally and physically. However, as you age, older people struggle with issues that may not be relevant to a younger population, and practicing yoga may help prevent or even reverse certain diseases.
“You can’t ever stop aging, but with regular exercise and proper nutrition you can delay the progression,” says Kerry Stallo, CEO of Age Intercept, a Dallas company that specializes in fitness for people over 50.

Stallo, who has been taking yoga for 13 years, says she started focusing on senior fitness when she noticed a niche in the market.

When Stallo would visit her mother in the hospital, she saw many middle-aged people who were also there, getting treated for things like high blood pressure and diabetes.

“When I went to the hospital I noticed there were many people who didn’t need to be there,” said Stallo.

Yoga is highly recognized for its physical benefits, which include increasing flexibility and strengthening muscles.

“As you age you have a tendency to loss muscle mass and flexibility, so the older you get the more you have to keep moving,” said Robbins.

Janet Hennard, 65, also an avid yogi, started taking classes in 1977. Today she teaches lessons to seniors, which she refers to as “Gentle Yoga”, every Tuesday at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Richardson.

Hennard says one of the most important aspects of yoga is that it helps a person’s balance, which can create a lot of stress and strain on the body if not taken care of.

“Increasing your balance is so important as you age because it helps to prevent falls among seniors,” says Hennard.

Experts say yoga can also help lower high blood pressure, reduce overall joint pain, improve posture, and prevent and even reverse osteoporosis. Along with the physical benefits, yoga can also be mentally valuable by helping people relax and calm down.

“I think the stress of today’s world is a major reason why people take yoga, just to get away and unwind,” says Robbins.

“Yoga is about a connection between your mind, body and spirit. It allows someone to be at peace with the troubles in their life,” says Hennard.

Indra Kaur, 61, who has been practicing yoga for 15 years, says not only does it set her mood for the day but it also makes her feel emotionally balanced.

Kaur’s initial interest in the art began when she was living and working in Southeast Asia.
“Down there yoga is a part of your lifestyle, it’s incorporated into every part of what you do during the day,” said Kaur, who now lives in Denton.

Not only does Kaur practice yoga seven days a week, starting every morning with a personal session, but she also teaches three group classes and 11 private lessons each week.

“I have students as old as 84 years old and trust me, they are darn good yogis,” says Kaur.

Another reason why so many seniors seem to enjoy yoga is that it can be self-paced and you can adjust the intensity level to where you feel comfortable.

“Yoga is not a no pain, no gain type of exercise,” says Hennard.

While some people pay up to $140 per month for a membership to a yoga studio, experts say it is just as easy to practice at home for very little cost. All you need is a mat and a DVD.

“Yoga is just wonderful, it makes me feel energized and relaxed at the same time,” says Hennard.

Dream Dallas: Habitat’s Boldest Initiative

November 29, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Ashley Stainton

Photo courtesy of Habitat For Humanity

In the coming years, the Dallas area Habitat for Humanity will be working in overdrive to build more homes than ever before.

Dream Dallas, which was launched in 2010 but just announced to the public this month, is Habitat’s boldest new project. The initiative is to raise $100 million to build and rehabilitate 1,000 homes in five of Dallas’ neediest neighborhoods.

Dallas Habitat, which has been around for 25 years, has built over 850 homes in 20 different communities.

“While in the past Habitat’s model has been to build one home at a time, this new campaign is moving to revitalizing entire neighborhoods,” said Andrea Anderson, director of marketing and communications for Dallas Habitat.

The initiative is expected to be completed by 2014 and will affect the communities of: Bonton, Joppa, South Dallas Fair Park, West Dallas and Lancaster Transportation Corridor.

A map showing some of the locations.

“A lot of background went into picking the neighborhoods, but essentially it was those who needed it most that were chosen, based on census tracks, housing need repair and land availability to build on,” said Anderson.

Aisha Thomas, who has been a proud Habitat homeowner since 2006 and has served on the Habitat Board of Directors for two years, says that owning a Habitat home has been a true blessing for her and her children.

“Dream Dallas is an awesome project and it has already began to impact the lives for so many families for the better,” said Thomas.

Habitat has raised $48 million for the five-year plan through funding from private individuals, government and corporations. The nonprofit has already identified where its next $22 million will come from, but still needs to raise $30 million to reach its goal.

Dream Dallas will be a combination of home building and refurbishing. A Brush with Kindness, Habitat’s home repair program, will be incorporated into the initiative. In the neighborhoods where new homes are being built, existing homes will also be repaired.

Melissa De Leon, vice president of fundraising and development for Habitat, calls the Dream Dallas initiative “Habitat on steroids,” because of the scope and ambitiousness of the plan.

“This project will improve the city as a whole,” said De Leon. “It’s not just about building homes, it’s about changing a community.”

In the communities where Habitat has made its mark, it has been found in a national study done by Habitat that crime goes down and education goes up. There is a 32 percent reduction in violent crimes in Habitat neighborhoods, and children in Habitat homes are 20 percent more likely to graduate from high school.

Habitat has a 95 percent success rate with homeownership. The mortgages on Habitat homes have zero percent interest rates.

“We don’t just give away homes,” said Anderson. “Our families pay mortgages and contribute over two million dollars in property taxes.”

Habitat families, which are selected based on need, willingness to partner with the organization, and ability to pay a monthly mortgage, also contribute to the building of their own home by dedicated over 400 hours of construction time.

“From day one we just made it our own and we have worked hard to be a trendsetter for others in our neighborhood, to be good homeowners by working in the yard and keeping up the maintenance,” said Thomas.

The families in the five Dallas neighborhoods selected for the Dream Dallas initiative will be chosen in the same manner past recipients have and will be required to fulfill the same obligations.

“Habitat is always invited into these communities,” said De Leon. “We never want to force our way through.”

Communities with Habitat homes enjoy economic advantages. In a study done by the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, it was found that for every dollar spent by Habitat, $3 of new economic activity is generated.

“It is a general input-output modeling system,” said Dr. Bud Weinstein professor at Cox. “Habitat is not only about the homes it builds for families, but it is also a business that affects the economy through creating jobs and tax revenue for the city.”

The study also found that foreclosure rates in Habitat markets were less than two percent. Even in the tough economic times, it speaks volumes in Habitat’s ability to serve low-income households and select families who can meet the payments said Weinstein.

“Habitat is only the first injections,” said Weinstein. “The most significant effect is revitalizing neighborhoods.”

The Dallas area Habitat for Humanity is partnering with the Dallas community for funding and support for Dream Dallas. To donate to Habitat, contact the organization at (214) 678-2300 or online at dallasareahabitat.org.

“What makes Dallas the right city for this is the people,” said De Leon. “The philanthropic community is so rich and not with money but spirit.”

48th Anniversary of JFK’s Assassination Brings Forth Memories

November 18, 2011 by · 2 Comments 


By Meghan Sikkel

The Sixth Floor Museum in Downtown Dallas. (Photo by Meghan Sikkel/Beyond the Bubble staff)

At 12:30 p.m. CST on Nov. 22, 1963, 23-year-old James Foley was sound asleep at a U.S. Air Force base in Bremerhaven, Germany. Minutes later, he was standing under order, awaiting commands, weapon in hand.

The president of the United States had just been shot, twice, while riding in a presidential motorcade in Dallas.

“They had us all ready for what might come next,” Foley said.

But there was nothing he, the military, or anyone else could do to prepare for what followed.

At 1 p.m., President John F. Kennedy was declared dead.

Foley was touring the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza one day recently with his ex-wife, who was visiting from Germany. She specifically requested to see the museum, a permanent exhibit on the sixth floor of the warehouse, infamously known for where sniper Lee Harvey

Oswald allegedly fired those fatal shots that ended President Kennedy’s life.
Standing no more than 10 feet from the corner window that once served as Oswald’s “sniper’s perch,” Foley’s eyes fill with tears as he recalls the moment he learned the fate of the nation’s beloved leader.

“Everybody was just waiting for answers, and nobody had them,” he said.

Foley is just one of many who vividly remember that day almost a half century ago. Similar to today’s generation and its memories of Sept. 11, many who were alive in November 1963 can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing when they learned of the assassination.

Forty-eight years later, those memories are just as clear as ever.

“People have got very powerful feelings still,” Executive Director of the Sixth Floor Museum Nicola Longford said.

Longford says she hears new stories from visitors every day, many of which are highly emotional.

“I think Dallas particularly is still scarred from that time period,” she said.

According to Longford, the Sixth Floor Museum aims to serve as an outlet for people, local and foreign, to share the powerful feelings evoked by the incident.

“Our job is to reach out to as many people [as we can], and let them know we want to hear if they have something to share, even if they don’t think it’s important,” she said.

Described as “an educational examination of the life, death and legacy of President John F. Kennedy within the context of American history,” the museum uses historic films, photographs, artifacts and informative displays to chronicle the assassination and legacy of JFK.

“The exhibit is special because it’s actually on the sixth floor; it’s still connected to the historic space,” Longford said.

Since opening in 1989, the landmark has attracted visitors from all over the world, including Australian Jeffrey Mitchell, who was recently visiting the museum while traveling through Dallas.

Mitchell was on the other side of the world in Ballarat, Australia at the time of Kennedy’s assassination. Despite his distance from the incident, Mitchell said he knew about JFK’s death almost immediately.

“Somehow I must have heard it on the radio or something like that,” he said.
Then 18 years old, Mitchell remembers exactly where he was when he heard the news.

“I was at home, standing near the cupboard,” he said.

In addition to meeting visitors from all over the world, like Mitchell, Langford often hears stories from people who were in school in the U.S. at the time of the assassination.

She says they remember watching their teachers cry or coming home to find their mothers in tears. Many recall being too young to comprehend the event at the time.

“They didn’t really understand what had happened,” Langford said.

James Casey, who was 14 in ‘63, is one of those people. The day of JFK’s assassination, Casey’s ninth grade English teacher was floating on air after spending the morning with the president, who spoke at a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

“I remember she came into school and was talking about it and was all excited,” Casey said. “Then, when they announced over the loud speaker he was dead, she just cracked up.”

Touring the Sixth Floor Museum for the second time, the Fort Worth native said he didn’t quite understand what had happened or why everyone was so upset that day. He was just excited to go home for the weekend.

“I was 14. It was Friday afternoon. I didn’t care,” he said.

Matt Quinn, who was 12 years old at the time of the assassination, shared a similar experience. He recalled hearing the announcement of the shooting over his junior high school’s PA system, followed by the students being released from school.

“I remember being with a bunch of friends, kind of walking home, and most of the kids not realizing what had really happened,” Quinn said. “I don’t think most 12-year-old kids, including myself, realized at the time what an event it was.”

Then living in Westchester County, N.Y., Quinn said the television coverage of the event was constant during the week following the assassination.

“It was the first event like that, so everywhere you went, it was on television,” Quinn said. “Everybody was watching.”

“I think people were just shocked,” Longford said. “They just wondered what on earth was happening to the world.”

Although she was an infant living in England at the time of Kennedy’s death, Longford says she feels a certain connection with the story.

“It wasn’t part of my memory or part of anything I grew up with, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find it interesting and compelling,” she said.

As the anniversary of the assassination approaches, bringing larger crowds to the Sixth Floor Museum as it does every year, Longford says she hopes museum visitors leave feeling inspired.

“We have a very compelling story to tell,” Longford said. “It’s a very powerful visit.”

Walking through the exhibit, former Air Force member Foley pauses at a window facing Elm Street. He gazes down at the road where the presidential limousine was traveling when John F. Kennedy was fatally shot.

“It’s just like it happened yesterday,” he said, his voice wavering.

Shape-Ups Letting People Down

November 17, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Nicholas Cains

Allie Jean Thompson, an SMU senior, was feeling a little overweight last year and decided to do something about it.

Walking through North Park Center one day, she saw a pair of shoes in a store window advertising a way for her to shed the pounds simply by walking. Those shoes were Sketcher’s Shape-Ups.

The ads claimed to help wearers burn more calories, work their legs 11 percent more, and tone their butts 28 percent more than your average athletic shoe. But Thompson wasn’t sure she was falling for it.

“To lose weight and get results you have to sweat and diet,” said Thompson, who had shed nearly 70 pounds in high school. “I’d seen them before and knew I wouldn’t be caught dead in them.”

She bought the shoes anyway, which range in price from $80 to $$120, but quickly realized that her new footwear probably wouldn’t live up to the hype. After a few months, she wasn’t seeing the results that dazzled her in the first place, and she knew exactly who to blame.

“That was my fault,” said Thompson. “Those shoes weren’t meant for that.”

Thompson then set out to lose weight like she did her freshman year in high school: By working out and eating right.

“I knew I could do it on my own,” she said.

Advertisements about the latest toning shoes, from Sketcher’s Shape-Ups to Reebok’s Easy Tone line, have recently come under fire for allegedly misleading their consumers. Holly Ward, a waitress in Ohio, sued Sketchers in February for fracturing her hip bones after five months of wear. Reebok settled a $25 million lawsuit in September for claims that Easy Tones ads were advertising false results. So the question for consumers is, “can these shoes deliver what they promise?”

“It depends on what you want the shoes to do,” says Martha Phillips, a personal trainer in Dallas who holds a Masters of Science in Human Movement.

Philips said the original “rocker shoe”, made by Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT), was introduced to her four years ago as a way to help people correct their posture. The shoe’s rounded soles kept walkers off-balance, which caused them to work harder to stand upright.

“If nobody else will teach you how to stand up straight, the shoes are a perfect fit,” said Phillips.

Phillips said the problem came when Sketchers and Reebok released their versions of the MBT, with fresh promises to match. To Phillips, ads claiming to increase weight loss and muscle tone, making you look like Kim Kardashian with no extra work, are appealing, but unrealistic.

The ads for these shoes, which were still running on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon in May of this year, are being criticized for the specific promises they make. According to one commercial, the wearer can “burn more calories, tone muscles, improve posture and reduce stress,” more than a regular sneaker just by walking.

“People don’t feel good, so they buy into the hype,” said Phillips.

The hype in the ads are also backed up by clinical studies that were discredited last year.

According to the American Council on Exercise, the first studies on the shoes were internally funded, non-peer reviewed and had questionable analyses. The A.C.E. study that followed found that walking in toning shoes made participants burn about the same amount of fat and use as much muscle as wearing regular athletic shoes.

Kenneth Clark, a doctoral student in Applied Physiology and Biomechanics at SMU, said there is not enough scientific evidence to support a claim that any athletic shoe performs better than another. To make any fair comparison, Clark said that many different types of runners in multiple shoes would need to be observed; but he has not seen a test like that yet.

“You should be skeptical of evidence given by the manufacturer,” said Clark. “Don’t be blinded by statistics.”

Despite this information, some people still want to believe their toning shoes work. Savannah Stephens, a sophomore communications major at SMU, has been wearing her Shape-Ups for two years and said they are not only comfortable, but they also make her feel athletic.

“Since I don’t work out, they make me feel like I’m doing something right,” said Stephens.

Others think that Shape-Ups keep people from actually working out. Amanda Owen, a junior dance major at SMU, said any product that claims to help you lose more weight while you keep the same routine is a rip-off.

“You could do all of those workouts on your own and save your money,” said Owen.

Phillips encourages anyone seeking a healthier lifestyle to avoid fitness fads. If you want an “itty bitty waist” like you see in the commercials, Phillips suggests dieting, exercising, and avoiding “get skinny quick” schemes.

“If it sounds too good to be true,” said Phillips “It probably is.”

Bringing the East to the West at Bistro 31

November 17, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Victoria Ahmadi

Bistro 31 in Highland Park Village. (Photo by Victoria Ahmadi/Beyond the Bubble staff)

European design, French tableware and Mediterranean decor fit side by side at Bistro 31. The restaurant opened its doors in the historic Highland Park Village on Oct. 3.

Alberto Lombardi is at it again. The restaurant tycoon owns and operates a handful of the city’s top eateries, including Penne Pomodoro, Taverna, Café Toulouse, Sangria Tapas y Bar, Romagna Mia, Cibus and La Fiorentina.

Lombardi chose the prestigious location for his newest venture because he says it is simply the best around town. He brought his vision to life in the heart of the Highland Park Village shopping center built in 1931.

“It feels like Europe and has a certain brightness,” Lombardi said. The restaurant exudes elegance and class while embracing a casual menu.

Lombardi enlisted the help of interior designer Ron Guest, whom he has worked with on numerous projects, including his restaurant business and his home.
“We went to Italy, New York and Paris to get a sense of what I wanted for Bistro 31,” he said.

Mike Hiller, award-winning restaurant critic and editor of Escape Hatch Dallas described his experience at the new restaurant in an interview:

“Bistro 31 feels perfectly suited for its Highland Park Village location: swanky digs with a spacious patio, attentive service, and a menu that feels familiar yet vaguely exotic ‘didn’t we have waffles like these in Brussels last year, Charles?’”

Sixty-three year old Alberto Lombardi of Forli Italy says that he knew what he wanted to do from a very young age. He attended The Hotel Palace hospitality school in Rimini, Italy.

“When I was 13-years-old I left Italy for Berlin and since then have traveled all over including Miami, San Francisco and Dallas,” he said.

The restaurateur made Dallas his home by accident nearly 35 years ago. Lombardi traveled to the lone star state to visit a friend and ended up never leaving. He began his work at The Pyramid Room of The Fairmont Hotel where he later served as Manager of the Fairmont’s Venetian Room.

He is married to Vivian Escobar Lombardi and the two have a 7-year-old son Luca. Lombardi also has three daughters from his first marriage, Sara Lombardi, Anna Lombardi Daigle and Laura McDonnell.

It is no secret that the restaurant business is a tricky one considering that local eateries come and go like the seasons. With a handful of restaurants under his belt, Lombardi is no stranger to the industry’s fluctuations. What keeps him afloat?

“I always say to do whatever you love, be persistent,” he said. ”Sometimes you fail but keep trying.”

Lombardi began working in restaurants as a young boy and found the flexibility factor most appealing about the business. “I loved working in restaurants because I was able to travel,” Lombardi said.

“You can pick up and move anywhere in the world and find a job the next day at a restaurant.”

Eric Brandt is the king in the kitchen at Bistro 31 and has earned notoriety for his culinary creations at Rosewood Mansion and the Ritz Carlton. Brandt was with the Ritz-Carlton in Washington D.C. when celebrity chef Dean Fearing called asking him to join the Mansion team. He took the opportunity and headed down south.

He worked closely under Chef Fearing for a year until Fearing ventured off to open Fearing’s at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas. During the search for his replacement, Brandt ran the kitchen with an iron fist and continued to deliver Fearing’s southwestern favorites.

Some of Brandt’s Bistro 31 highlights include tuna tartare, rock shrimp cocktail, escargot paired with pork belly, Kobe beef hamburger and handmade pastas.

First-time customer Hubert Peek, 69, of Irving said that it’s the ambiance that sets this place apart from others.

“The outdoor space reminded me of the sidewalk café’s in Italy and the bread was different than any I’ve ever had,” said Peek. “It was warm and crunchy with a soft buttery center, but then again I like bread.”

General Manager Hans Raina said that Bistro 31 is unlike any other restaurant in the area. While the eatery has only been open for just a few weeks, Raina says that he is eager to see people’s response to it.

He also said that expansion plans are already in the works. The new Lombardi establishment will feature a second story with a full bar and floor to ceiling windows offering a unique view of the Village.

As general manager, Raina says that he is excited about working with a new clientele. His managing career has consisted of some of the city’s top eateries including Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck and The Blue Fish in North Dallas.

Raina spoke admiringly of Alberto Lombardi, calling him a “ very well-respected man in town.”

“We get people in here who have been eating at Lombardi’s restaurants for over 20 years, it says a lot about a man to have such loyal clients in a town where there’s so many options,” he said.

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