Newsflash

WUSA teaches girls about having fun and power of teamwork

When the West University Softball Assocation started out in 1971, it was  a fledgling group of girls organized by parents to provide a little fun on Sunday afternoons. Now, almost 44 years later, the group has grown to 600 girls and may well be the largest league in the state, said Michael McConn, WUSA  president. 

McConn is also vice president of sales for IBC Insurance and has two daughters, ages 11 and eight years old. Both are currently playing softball competitively, and as their father, he understands the importance of girls’ sports. 
 
“I think it is important to distinguish girls’ sports from boys’ sports and give girls their own environment to have fun in,” he said. “Girls learn and interact differently than boys. Boys have to win to have fun. Our motto is ‘Girls must have fun to win.’”
 
McConn said a past WUSA‚Äąpresident once told him that the most satisfying part of working with the league (for him) was merely the opportunity to spend quality time with his daughter during the formative years of her life, coaching her and watching her grow.
One of the key pieces of wisdom handed down through the league’s leadership ranks is that players can be “all athlete and all girl” at the same time. 
 
The West U league is a diamond in the rough, McConn added, and has been averaging a 10 percent increase in enrollment every year. After three years of existing informally, the management of the league was taken over in 1974 by the City of West University’s Recreational Department, which formalized schedules and divisions. There were 93 players at that time.
 
A year later, the league obtained its first dedicated field, and in 1976, the first West U all-star tournament team competed in games outside of the neighborhood. The league continued to grow in membership and recognition, and by 1982, sponsor donations had exceeded the city’s funding of its annual budget. 
 
By 1989, the WUSA was a leader in the fight to have girls’ softball recognized and sanctioned as a high school sport. 
 
In 2003, the league joined with West University’s and Braes Bayou’s Little Leagues and West University’s soccer leagues to form the West U Area Sports Association — in order to own and operate dedicated sports fields on Stella Link. 
 
The WUSA has an active volunteer auxiliary of parents who help organize and sponsor fund-raising activities, such as an opening day carnival and social gala for adults. 
 
The 2015 season is launched in mid-February with a parade, and each team plays 12 regular season games, followed by league tournaments, which begin April 30.
 
“There aren’t very many leagues like ours that are in the center of a major metropolitan area. We take girls from all over Houston. Girls don’t have to live in West U or Braes Heights to come play for West U. The kids can live in Pearland or Sugarland or The Woodlands,” McConn said. “Emotionally and socially, it plays a significant role. It’s a melting pot. It enables the girls to make friends beyond the school friends they see every day.”
 
He continued, “The common denominator of this league –– whether you are coming from River Oaks or somewhere else in Houston –– is that you’re all out there for one reason, which is to play softball.” 
 
WUSA’s website includes a page showing that 31 of its players have advanced to play collegiate softball in schools like Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Yale, Stanford, the University of Texas, Baylor and Texas A&M. One of the Episcopal High School’s current assistant softball coaches came out of the West U system, McConn said, adding that many young women come back to help with WUSA’s softball camps and fundraisers.
 
“You a see a lot more women coaching in our league than in other girls’ sports,” McConn said. Moms are encouraged to participate as coaches, not merely providing snacks and cheering on their daughters.
 
Rachel Steely, an attorney specializing in employment law, has been coaching teams in the WUSA for five years now, including with all-star teams. 
 
In her youth, Steely spent 10 years playing in Pasadena leagues, mostly playing third base. All three of her daughters have embraced softball through WUSA, she said. The girls learn valuable lessons and develop skills that can be used throughout their lives by playing softball, she added. 
 
“Not only do the girls develop confidence, but they also learn to make and develop new relationships outside their comfort zone,” she said. They also learn the lesson of teamwork.
 
“They learn to contribute in the role they’re given,” she said. “Everyone wants to be in the top role, but everybody needs to learn to do their best and contribute in the position they're assigned.
 
“They learn that, if they put their minds to it, they can accomplish things and have fun doing it.”
 

Acclaimed Film Director to keynote at HAA fundraiser

 

The Houston Arts Alliance will host "An Intimate Evening with Lee Daniels "on Thursday night, April 23 at the Hotel ZaZa. 
 
Daniels, a versatile and dynamic talent, will share his life stories — based on his vast experience as a film and television director, producer and writer. 
 
Led by Event Chair Philamena Baird, with Honorary Chair Marie Bosarge, this special evening begins with an opening reception and dinner at 7:15 p.m. Following dinner, Daniels, director of the hit television series, Empire, and films Precious and The Butler (which he also produced), will share his life experiences — from founding his own health care agency at age 21 to managing actors to becoming the first sole African-American producer of an Academy Award-winning film (Monster’s Ball).
 
Following Monster’s Ball, he made his directorial debut with Precious. The film received a total of six Academy Award nominations, including Best  Director, marking only the second time an African-American director had been nominated. 
 
He produced and directed The Butler, a story following the life of a White House butler who served eight U.S. presidents over three decades. The film was well received, earning numerous Critics’ Choice, Screen Actors Guild and NAACP Image Award nominations.  
 
"An Intimate Evening with Lee Daniels" is just one way in which HAA leverages public investment with philanthropic support to advance Houston’s arts. When HAA was formed in 2006 as a 501c3 nonprofit, the vision was to create a public and private partnership to promote the growth and visibility of the arts sector in Houston.
 
Public funding includes city revenues from Hotel Occupancy Taxes (which fund grants to non-profit arts organizations and individual artists) and the City of Houston’s Percent for Art Ordinance (which supports commissions of new civic art projects, as well as conservation of existing artworks). 
 
However, many of HAA’s  extraordinary public engagement projects (such as The Blue Trees, the recent Transported + Renewed, and Stories of a Workforce: Celebrating the Centennial of the Houston Ship Channel) are made possible through private funds. Public engagement projects and capacity building initiatives are designed to leverage public funds.  HAA is committed to raising funds for only those projects and initiatives the Houston Arts Alliance is uniquely positioned to provide the community.  
 
The Houston Arts Alliance is a non-profit organization established by the City of Houston to enhance the quality of life and tourism in the Houston region by advancing the arts on its behalf. HAA distributes grants to more than 225 non-profit arts organizations and individual artists each year. 
 
To purchase tickets and/or to obtain more information, please visit http://www.houstonartsalliance.com/.
 
 
 

RDA Tour explores Houston's six original neighborhoods

 

Though the ward system in Houston was abandoned in 1906, the six neighborhoods retain strong senses of place and provide residents a tangible link, through architecture, to history and identity. 
 
The Rice Design Alliance Spring 2015 Architecture Tour, afterWARDS: An Architecture Tour of Houston’s Wards and Beyond, features houses that both stand out from and speak back to the original character of the six wards, emphasizing the past out of which Houston continues to evolve and expand.
 
Chaired by Joe Meppelink and Brett Zamore, afterWARDS will take place on Saturday, April 11 and Sunday, April 12, from 1 to 6 p.m. The tour features the following houses and the architects who designed them:
 
• 734 Tulane Street, Shade Development, built in 2008; 
• 317 Sampson Street, Janusz Design, built in 2015;
• 2102 Francis Street, Brett Zamore Design, built in 2014; 
• 1217 Robin Street, Rodrigo Tovar, built in 2014;
• 1515 Woodhead Street, pb elemental design, built in 2013; 
• 1507 Chestnut Street, kinneymorrow architecture, built in 2015; 
• 714 and 716 Sabine Street, Gottleib Eisele, built in 1872 and Murphy Mears, built in 2014; and
• 205 St. Charles Street, CONTENT, built in 2014.
 
RDA has organized tours every year since 1975 to help Houstonians experience firsthand the most interesting works of architecture and landscape and interior design in the city. 
 
Tours are open only to RDA members, but RDA membership is open to the public. RDA memberships begin at $45 and can be purchased during the tour at designated ticket-buying locations or in advance online at www.ricedesignalliance.org and in person at the RDA office at Rice University. 
 
Memberships purchased at the Student or Individual Level include one complimentary ticket; memberships purchased at the Household Level and above include two.
Ticket prices for current members and their guests are $25, and $15 for Student and Senior Level members.
 
For more information, visit www.ricedesignalliance.org/.

Leadership Style of Oveta Culp Hobby

Born in Killeen in 1905, Oveta Culp’s small Texas town beginnings belied what would be her legacy: to become the first woman appointed a colonel in the United States Army, the second woman appointed to a U.S. presidential cabinet and a mover-and-shaker who helped make Houston great. 

The Power of One’s Word
In 1910, when the Women’s Christian Temperance League came to her Sunday school classroom asking the children to sign a pledge for temperance in exchange for a white ribbon, Oveta refused. When word got back to her grandmother, Oveta received a whipping. Her grandmother then asked why she didn’t sign the pledge. 
“Because I didn’t know what temperance meant, and I didn’t want to give my word on something for which I didn’t know what I was promising,” the five-year-old told her grandmother. 
 
Years later, Oveta told a slightly different version of the story. “While it’s true I didn’t know what temperance meant at the time, I wasn’t sure it  wasn’t something I might not want to do when I grew up.”
 
She was so noted for her integrity that when then U.S. Senate Minority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson introduced her to the Congress at the hearing to approve her cabinet appointment as Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, he said, “Texans are not always in agreement on everything. But there’s one thing there’s no disagreement on—that’s Oveta. She’s the type of woman you’d like to have for a daughter or a sister…or the trustee of your estate.” 
 
Giving Women a Chance
In 1942, Oveta was appointed the Director of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) and made a US Army Colonel. “As a staunch supporter of civil rights, Oveta campaigned to make sure that not only were black women represented in the WAAC, but that they were also invited to be part of the first class of Corps officers. She wanted to be sure that even though the women were segregated according to race (something over which she had no control due to Army regulations), the black women would have qualified officers of their own race as leaders.” 
 
Congress wanted to give pregnant female soldiers dishonorable discharges for “pregnancy without permission” (being unmarried). Oveta went before the august body and said, “If you’re going to give pregnant female soldiers dishonorable discharges, you also have to give the male soldiers who fathered illegitimate children dishonorable discharges with the same loss of rights and pay.” Congress changed their tune, and the women received medical treatment and honorable discharges, instead. 
 
When Kay Bailey graduated from the University of Texas Law School in 1963, no Houston firm would hire a woman lawyer. On a whim, Kay Bailey stopped by KPRC-TV, owned at the time by The Houston Post, which was in turn owned by Oveta and her husband, the former Governor William P. Hobby. Even though Kay Bailey had no journalism experience, and there wasn’t a job opening at the time, the station manager called Oveta because “no one with a law degree had ever applied for a job at KPRC before.” 
 
Oveta told the station manager to hire Kay Bailey because “having her television station put the first woman on broadcast news was right up her alley.”  
 
Thirty years later, in 1993, Kay Bailey Hutchison became the first female U.S. Senator elected from Texas.
 
Oveta applied the lessons she learned in the Army to her civilian life, keeping a rigid, structured schedule as she attended to both business and domestic duties. A 1953 Time magazine article, Lady in Command, described her in part:
 
“…she moved with the poise and confidence of a successful business executive...At home in Houston, she issues household instructions to her domestic staff at weekly meetings. A fitful sleeper, she keeps a notebook on her bedside table, makes frequent midnight notes on her ‘planned life.’ Her office appointments are lined up on a conveyor-belt schedule. Her double-handled calfskin bag, which she carries everywhere, is a special efficiency container which she designed for her business papers, her purse, and a Book of Common Prayer.”
 
Debra L. Winegarten is the author of “Oveta Culp Hobby: Colonel, Cabinet Member, Philanthropist.” She resides in Austin and is available for presentations on Oveta Culp Hobby. (www.sociosights.com)

Houston businesses confront workforce challenges

 

The recession of 2008 didn’t hit Houston as hard as it hit the rest of the country. Houston felt it later and pulled out of it earlier. Even the dip in revenue didn’t drop as low as it did in other areas, said Sue Burnett, founder and president of Burnett Specialists, Texas’ largest employee-owned staffing and placement firm.
 
Today, the region’s economy is chugging along as strong as ever, carried by a robust energy sector and brawny healthcare industry.
 
“The health of the Houston economy is excellent,” said Burnett, who started Burnett Specialists in 1974. “Texas is leading the way and has been for a while. Even during the recession, we were number one for job creation.”
 
The oil and gas industry drives much of Houston’s economy, Burnett said. It has an effect on every other industry in the city.
 
Burnett is placing a lot of administrative assistants, clerical specialists and human resources professionals in the engineering, accounting and legal sectors.
 
“We’re in a great job market,” Burnett said. “Unemployment is low. The stock market is at a record high. We’re seeing a lot of people moving to Houston because they want to take advantage of the strong economy, great housing market and low cost of living. That’s good for our local economy because those people buy houses, food and cars, or rent apartments, and that strengthens our economy even more.”
 
But, it’s not all roses, Burnett said. Houston’s unemployment is a low 6.2 percent, but there is still a segment of residents who are unemployed – and a segment of jobs that companies can’t fill.
 
Unfortunately, the unemployed don’t possess the necessary skills for the jobs that are going unfilled. And, if Houston doesn’t address that issue, it could spell trouble for the region’s future.
 
“There are a lot of people looking for a job, and a lot of openings. Unfortunately, sometimes the pool of applicants just doesn’t match the pool of openings,” Burnett said.
 
“As communities around the world rebuild their economies, many face a paradox: too many unemployed workers on the one hand and a large numbers of unfilled jobs on the other,” said Gina Luna of J.P. Morgan Chase and vice chair of the board of the Greater Houston Partnership.
 
Luna continued, “Like many cities around the world, Houston does not train enough skilled workers to fill jobs that are readily available. The result? The skills gap impacts everyone. If we can’t fill these jobs, it slows our economic growth. And it has a hugely negative impact on people who are unable to compete for good-paying jobs that will support themselves and their families.”
In that way, too – in dealing with the new, “global knowledge economy” of the 21st century – Houston is leading the country. 
 
The changing workforce
This is a result of the shift in America’s workforce that places more emphasis on a post-high school education from the bottom to the top, according to Stephen Klineberg of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.
The Greater Houston Partnership expects the Houston area to create nearly 300,000 jobs – such as welders, electricians and medical technicians – in the next five years that will require specific training — training that will necessitate at least one year of post-high school education.
 
And, becoming qualified for higher-end jobs requires even more education than ever, Klineberg said.
 
“There’s an epic transportation of the American workforce, especially here in Houston,” he said. That transformation is from a workforce manned by privileged white folks born in the years after World War II to today’s under-20 crowd, the vast majority of whom are poor, undereducated Hispanics and blacks.
 
“So, that’s a powerful question: will this next generation have the skills to get the jobs in the global knowledge economy of the 21st century?” Klineberg said. “That’s the great question mark of Houston and especially of Texas and, in fact, all of the United States.
 
“Not everybody has to go to college, but everybody has to get a year or two [of additional education] after high school. There are no decent jobs anymore for people with a high school degree or less.”
 
Houston’s response
But, these challenges are known. And, Houston is responding.
 
An effort is being made communitywide to reach out to youngsters to let them know that if they go to a community college, they can get the training for a middle-skill job making $60,000 to $70,000 a year.
 
The Greater Houston Partnership recently created UpSkill Houston, a comprehensive, industry-led approach to bridge the gap and fill jobs in middle-skills occupations. The Partnership has said 41 percent of all jobs in our area are considered middle-skills positions.
 
UpSkill Houston is a blueprint for leaders from the business community, educational institutions and social service organizations to build a quality workforce.
 
“For a problem as big and complex as the skills gap, no one company or even one industry can go it alone,” Luna said. “We need all the stakeholders – business, educators, government and the non-profit sector – to work together to solve this issue. While it’s an industry-led approach, UpSkill Houston brings all of these groups to the table so we can work together and build a quality workforce.”
 
Luna added, “The Gulf Coast is in the midst of an energy infrastructure construction boom, positioning our region for immense growth. UpSkill Houston is our strategic plan to make the most of this opportunity for our region, our city and its people.”
 
Some businesses are taking the initiative, as well, by setting up college programs for prospects, filling their ranks with qualified employees trained for the specific jobs they need.
 
Because early education is so important to developing a skilled workforce, the Partnership has also created Early Matters, a broad-based coalition of business, civic, education, non-profit organizations and volunteers working together to raise awareness about the importance of high-quality early education and to make a strong case for increased investment in pre-k programs.
 
“People understand this now,” Klineberg said. “Things are happening that would not have happened five or 10 years ago. And, equally true, not nearly enough is happening.”
 
Still more to do
“If we don’t turn around the terrible educational deficits in the Latino and African-American communities, we’re in trouble,” Klineberg warns. 
 
And, the jury is out on just how to do that and how effective we’re being at it. But, there is still a window of opportunity to fix the problem.
 
“If Houston’s black and Latino young people are unprepared to succeed in the knowledge economy of the 21st century,” Klineberg said, “it is hard to envision a prosperous future for Houston.”
 
 
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