NFL Goes Green

The Super Bowl has passed through Houston but it didn’t just leave us an historic game. The NFL is hoping its legacy in the Bayou City will extend far beyond the finale between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.

While the NFL Experience, Super Bowl Live, Club Nomadic and other attractions were being built around the city, the league was also implanting roots here through its Environmental Program. That means some of the materials used to transform Houston into a decked-out host city will go toward local non-profits. For example, banners displayed on NRG Stadium or the security netting used for crowd control at Discovery Green went toward non-profits who could re-use or even upcycle them into new products.

I talked to Jack Groh, the director of the NFL Environmental Program, about how the league worked to leave a little piece of itself and a big impression, throughout Houston.

Check out my article on the effort here or see the whole story below.

Super Bowl LI banners and other leftovers get a new life in NFL recycling program

Even though the reins have officially been handed over to Minnesota to host Super Bowl LII, Houston is still on the mind of NFL officials.

“We want people to be glad we came to the community. Not just because of the football game, but because of the resources we have for the community,” Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program, says. “So, we do this because it’s the right thing to do.”

That “right thing” Groh is talking about is making sure the league invests in Houston by finding ways to transform the material used around the city to promote and organize the big game.  From the banners displayed at NRG Stadium to the turf laid down for Super Bowl Live at Discovery Green, it will all serve a new purpose in and around Houston, in large part through material recovery, a branch of the NFL’s Environmental Program.

Habitat for Humanity, the Houston Food Bank and Magpies and Peacocks are among the local non-profits who are the direct recipients of these materials.

“We’ll be getting some of the mesh perimeter fencing used for crowd control, the jersey fabric on the inside of the stadium, bike covers, shopping bags, street banners, anything that can be used to make products from and that our designers can upcycle into their art,” Sarah-Jayne Smith, founder of Magpies and Peacocks, says.  The organization has several programs designed to nurture emerging artists and allow them to create new products by increasing the value of old ones.

That’s one of the reasons Ahshia Berry, who works with Smith, says Magpies and Peacocks was the perfect fit for the NFL.

“We told them who we might work with and what kind of projects we do. Once they were comfortable knowing we were doing the right things by it, they needed to know we were a 501c3,” Berry says. “We’re happy we were on their radar. And we let them know how sustainable Houston can grow to be.”

And sustainability is what Groh says the NFL’s Environmental Program is all about. It began 25 years ago when the league implemented a stadium recycling program for Super Bowl XXVIII at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  According to Groh, the NFL was the first sports league to do this. Prepared food and material recovery programs followed, along with urban forest redevelopment and renewable energy.

This year, 10 projects were completed in Houston, including the Super Kids Super Sharing event, managed by Groh’s wife, Susan, at the Houston Texans YMCA.

“We recruit 100 or more schools in each Super Bowl city to collect supplies. In Houston, the kids brought in 23,000 items to donate,” Jack Groh says. “Then we invite low income schools to shop for the items they need.”

Strong environmental message

Groh believes it gets out a strong environmental idea of letting someone reuse supplies rather than have them sit in the attic or be thrown away. It’s also part of a message that helped Houston make history not only on the field this Super Bowl, but behind the scenes.

“We had the most successful material recovery program in the history of the Super Bowl, and it happened here in Houston,” Groh says. “I attribute that to two things. On the NFL side, we had staff and contractors working hard, and we had a tremendous partnership with the City of Houston’s Reuse Warehouse.”

Groh says Reuse picked up materials and made it available to non-profits. For example, the Houston Food Bank recovered 6,000 pounds of office supplies, which will be given to local teachers in 18 different communities around Houston. Turf carpeting went to local animal shelters. Magnificat Houses, Houston ISD and Keep Houston Beautiful also recovered materials.

Plans are already in the works to partner with Minnesota for projects as it prepares to host the next Super Bowl.

Host cities have participated in the programs since the environmental department’s inception more than two decades ago. It’s a concept that now includes the Pro Bowl and NFL Draft.

“Sports is a great neutral territory when it comes to getting this message across,” Smith says. “It affects all age groups and all nationalities. Sports is a perfect way of getting a short version of our story out to a large amount of people. We’re lucky that the NFL can facilitate that for us.”

And the league says, it’s happy to do it. In fact, Houston’s diversity, cooperation and warm atmosphere is what Groh says he enjoyed most about working with area non-profits.

“I don’t know if it’s a Houston thing, a Texas thing or a Southern thing, but people were always willing to step up and say, ‘I could help you with that,’ ” Groh says. “It just seems an awful lot of people were willing to help out a stranger or a friend.”

Permanent green legacy

For more information about the NFL Environmental Program, Groh admits you might have to do some digging online through the league’s website. Groh says what they do isn’t as widely publicized because he’d rather spend money lightening the environmental load than on advertising.

“We want to leave some type of permanent green legacy in every community we visit. People say, ‘Don’t you wish you got more attention?’,” Groh says. “Well, no. I’m here asking, ‘How much good can we do?’”

Groh hopes to have the final total of recovered materials in Houston within a couple weeks.





The Call of the Wild

I had a run in with an alligator, but I’m happy to say, I walked away from it without a scratch. OK, I was attempting to make it sound more dramatic than it was. Actually, I learned how to properly handle an alligator (should that ever come up) from the folks at Croc Encounters, a reptile park and wildlife center in Tampa, Florida.

Their goal is to help preserve the reptiles they have, provide a safe space for unwanted ones and also educate the public so they know how to better take care of them if they’re pet owners or just want to know more about them.

John Paner, who runs Croc Encounters with his family, filled me in on why it’s important to take care of these reptiles… and helped me become a little less scared of them! If it’s any indication of how positive my experience was, I did get on the back of one of the alligators.

Check out the full story below!


Exploring Downtown Houston

If you’re headed to Downtown Houston and need to find a good place to eat, want to find the best entertainment or just need to figure out how biking in the area works, you can check out the website Downtown Houston Live.

I had the opportunity to be in a parking tips video. It can help you navigate the area, whether you’re new to the city, or you’ve been here all your life but need a refresher.

You can find more on the Downtown Houston Live website, including tips on walking and biking downtown.  Check it out!

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Derulo’s Debut

Since I didn’t make it out to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo last year, I knew I wanted to check out the show this time around. I reviewed Jason Derulo‘s concert (my first concert review since high school!) on Black Heritage Day. It was his debut at RodeoHouston. He came riding into NRG stadium on the back of a pickup truck and left like a true cowboy  — on horseback. It was a rocky ride (a friend working closer to the stage told me Derulo accidentally kicked the horse, causing it go faster. Hence, a look of shock, or maybe terror?, was spotted on his face as someone helped catch the horse.) Read here or below to find out what other moments left his fans on Twitter talking!

Shirtless Jason Derulo searches for H-Town’s ‘It Girl’ and gets the party started at sexy Rodeo debut

Jason Derulo made it clear early in his debut at RodeoHouston: If you didn’t come to dance, you were in the wrong place. “We came all the way to Houston to party, and I heard this was the hottest party in Houston, tonight,” he shouted out to an excited crowd of 59,236 on Black Heritage Day at NRG Stadium Friday night.

The sexy 26-year-old singer kicked off the show with “Trumpets”, “Wiggle” and “Get Ugly” before turning the stage over to his dancers.  Fans were on their feet, but it seemed the dancing didn’t really get started until he roared back with “Whatcha Say,” his 2009 debut single.

And for the fans who’ve followed Derulo’s career, he had another treat. “Single ladies that love Jason Derulo make some noise. If you’re not single, I bet by the end of this song, you’ll be riding solo,” he said.

What can I say? The man knows how to work a segue between songs. But it was enough to get a laugh and keep people moving well after his break-up anthem “Ridin’ Solo” was over.

Derulo wasn’t alone for long, though. He hopped off the rotating stage to touch fans’ hands and get one question answered.“All these beautiful ladies over here, and I was wondering if my ‘It Girl’ was in Houston, tonight,” he said.

For the purposes of this segment, she was. The strobe lights, glass-breaking sound effects and dance-offs mid-song all faded into the darkness as the spotlight shined on the fan he pulled from the crowd.

However, it left me thinking, how could I do that? I want to be the “It Girl.” Are these girls vetted?  But I digress.

The chosen fan did exactly right: She milked the moment, sneaking in kisses (on the cheek). At one point, she and Derulo were so close, I began to wonder if I should run out to the floor and offer breath mints. My favorite part of the serenade was how supportive the crowd was, cheering her on the entire time.

On that note, Derulo moved into an acoustic version of “Don’t Wanna Go Home,” but it was brief.

He brought back the dance party and upped the sex appeal in a way that many fans knew had to be coming. He ripped off his shirt. I don’t think you could say his chest was sweating. It was more of a glisten. But the fans didn’t seem to mind as he transitioned into “Talk Dirty.”

Derulo set up his finale in a way I thought was meaningful and believable, despite him being half-naked. “This next song is a celebration, and I want today to be a celebration of life.  Let’s celebrate our health. Let’s celebrate that we can get up and do what we want to do,” he said.

That part made me think. I’d wondered if that celebration of life was a nod to the near-death experience he had four years ago, when a neck-injury sustained from dancing could have left him paralyzed.

Derulo spoke with humility about his journey and success from the moment the show started until the final thank you, when he introduced his hit single,“Want To Want Me.” (He and Luke Bryan did an excellent karaoke version of that song. Maybe Derulo should make a cameo appearance at Bryan’s RodeoHouston concert on March 10. Can we make this happen?)

Derulo ended the show shirtless on horseback and rode off into the sunset – or rather, backstage. Gasps could be heard (or maybe that was just me?) when the horse sped off, catching Derulo off guard. But he laughed it off.

Overall, I found Derulo to be a talented, high-energy performer who mixed the hits fans love (“In My Head,” “The Other Side,” “Cheyenne”) with the vocal range he reminded everyone he has (“Marry Me”). Add in the snippet of “Broke” – a collaboration with Keith Urban and Stevie Wonder – and Derulo may have just danced, glistened, and ridden his way to another Rodeo.

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Girl Power Reigns at Cirque du Soleil

The next opportunity I had to write for CultureMap actually turned out to be a dream come true. I wrote a piece previewing  the Cirque du Soleil show, Amaluna. The production was making a stop in Houston before heading overseas for the European leg of its’ tour. At the time of this post, it’s still here and will be through March 22nd. So why the dream come true? I have always wanted to see a Cirque du Soleil show, but it was never the right time. Now, I’ve not only had the chance to write about it, but also see those words come to life on stage.

Amaluna is loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and follows the coming-of-age story of a young girl named Miranda. She lives on the island “Amaluna” (hence the name of the show), which means “Mother Moon.” Several themes run throughout the show but the strongest just might be the strength, intelligence and grace of women.

This is all detailed in the article, which you can find here. Or just scroll down to read the full piece in its’ entirety.

Women power soars: New sexy Cirque du Soleil boasts supermodel drummer, goddesses in the air & more

The iconic blue-and-yellow swirl tent can be seen from a mile away, signaling one thing: Cirque du Soleil is back in town. The big top touring show has taken over Sam Houston Race Park with its’ 33rd production, “Amaluna.”

Underneath all the flair and whimsy of “Amaluna” lies a coming-of-age narrative that promises an attack on the senses. “We see people laughing. We see people crying. We see people taking so many different emotions from this particular show,” Rowenna Dunn, Cirque du Soleil publicist, says.

“Amaluna” also marks a number of history-making moments for Cirque du Soleil, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary. It’s enlisted a real heavy hitter to guide the show in Tony-award winning director of theater and opera, Diane Paulus. Houston is the final city on the United States tour before the acrobats swing overseas to start the European leg of the tour in Madrid.

CultureMap talked to Dunn to find out how this blend of magic all comes together and how Cirque managed to breathe life into an unexpected byproduct — inspiring a generation of women.

CultureMap: What’s Amaluna about?

Rowenna Dunn: It’s essentially a love story very loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” When the show begins, everyone is celebrating a young girl named Miranda and her transition into womanhood on the island Amaluna, which means Mother Moon. Meanwhile, her mother Queen Prospera is whipping up a storm that brings in a shipwrecked, boatload of boys.

It’s love at first sight between Miranda and one of the boys Romeo, who both must find the balance between love for each other, love within a community and love between families.

CM: Women play a strong role in this show. What was the idea behind that theme?

RD: Traditionally in Cirque shows, the cast is about 70-80 percent male. That was never a conscious effort but that was just sort of the way the candidate pool had fallen. In this particular show, our founder and owner Guy Laliberté had said, “You know what? It’s really time we just focus on the amazing female performers out there.

“Let’s bring them in and create a show that focuses on the strength and beauty of women.”

CM: Director Diane Paulus (Pippin, The Magic Flute) was brought in to help execute that vision. What’s it like working with her?

RD: Part of Diane’s theatrical element is she loves to break down that barrier between the audience and her performers. When you come to the show, you’ll see performers running into the crowd messing with people here and there, and you won’t even expect it because you’re so enthralled with what’s happening on the stage.

Diane also brought in her set and props designer Scott Pask. Together, they made a deliberate choice to have relatively few moving parts in the set design. That was intended to add a certain elegance to the performances by concentrating the audience’s attention on the human aspect.

CM: For the first time in Cirque du Soleil history, there’s an all-female band. How does the band enhance the show?

RD: The music with this show is a bit of a departure from the ethereal-type sounds that we’re used to hearing at Cirque shows. This is more rock, more punk and the girls get out on the stage a lot, and they’re in the audience as well. We wanted to integrate them into more of the acts to be more of a focal point.

I feel like some of the other shows that I’ve worked on people never realize that we have live music. So, there was definitely a conscious effort to showcase that strength. It’s something where we see admiration from our audience members who say, “Wow, you have a female drummer, and she kicks butt!” You see that all these powerful women are really giving a good show.

CM: What kind of feedback have you received from having a dominant female presence in the show?

RD: We’ve had audience members, we’ve had people who have sent us comments either on social media or through other channels saying, “I have a daughter, and I want her to know that she can do anything. I want her to not be limited.” Going back to our female drummer, people say, “I kind of thought that was a boy job.”

But when you see the girl — she’s gorgeous; she’s very supermodel-gorgeous and people, are like “Wow, she’s a drummer I would never have thought that.”

It’s breaking stereotypes and also letting people know you can do that as well. It’s very achievable. This is just something we can do to empower young women and girls out there who have dreams and who want to see them come to fruition. We can speak to that, and in doing so, we speak to a lot of people.

CM: How is “Amaluna” different from other Cirque shows?

RD: Particularly with “Amaluna,” there’s such a human silhouette that’s being celebrated. That means most of our characters, with the exception of one is portraying, a human-type character. With a lot of other Cirque shows, there are performers playing mythical creatures or bugs in a forest, for example.

But in this case, you see warrior women on stage and people that are flying out 30 feet in the air, so you get to see and experience the facial expressions a lot more. You get to recognize them as being human. We also wear a lot of denim in the show from jeans and jackets to dreadlocked head pieces. Girls are even wearing corsets and gorgeous heels. It’s a very different look.

CM: Without giving too much away, describe some of the acts.

RD: We have the uneven bars, which we’ve never had at Cirque before. A lot of research and development went into building the apparatus. Initially, we asked, how many girls can we get spinning at one time? The artists are the specialists and they were brought in because they know whether it’s going to work, whether it’s going to look good and whether it’s going to be safe.

Then, the creative team comes in and says, “Wear this five-point headpiece, this corset, these shoes, this tail!” It’s a very big learning curve but definitely one of the high-energy acts in the show.

We also have the water bowl, which is featured in one of our shows in Las Vegas. This is the first time we’ve toured with it, and it weighs about 6,000 pounds. Once it’s full, it takes four hours to fill. We keep it heated at 98 degrees at all times because we have a girl who’s doing a hand-balancing contortion act on top. This thing is so huge that it’s one of the first things to go into the big top as we’re setting it up and it’s one of the last things to come out.

The balance goddess is a very quiet, intimate act in the second part of the show. It’s not something that is high risk to the point that’s it death-defying, but it’ll keep people holding their breaths. Without fail, we have a standing ovation after that act every single night in every single city that we perform it in.

It’s definitely something that people will not have seen or experienced before.

Cirque du Soleil: Amaluna runs through March 22 at Sam Houston Race Park. Tickets start at $35. VIP and behind-the-scenes packages are also available for $275 and $500 respectively.


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Out of the Kitchen, Into the Boutique

Chef Roble Ali has lent his culinary skills to a new venture: his perfume, Clique by Roble. The Bravo TV star built up his brand by starring in his own show, Chef Roble and Co, which chronicles the chef’s journey in growing his own catering business in Brookyln, New York.  Roble and his team have cooked for some pretty big names, including John Legend, Leonardo DiCaprio, and oh yeah, President Obama!  But he took a break from serving high-end clientele to show H-town some love because he doesn’t forget where he came from —  or at least where he was raised!  He debuted Clique by Roble at Carrie Ann, a boutique in Houston’s Uptown Park.

Check out my look live interview with Chef Roble, below.

San Jac

A Gem in Midtown

This semester at Houston Community College Central has marked the reopening of its’ crown jewel, the San Jacinto Memorial Building.

It’s been closed for the last two years to undergo a $60 million renovation that included updates to several areas of the building, from the auditorium and cafeteria down to the tile and molding.

When the majority of the restoration was complete, I had the opportunity to take a look at how the school had been transformed but also how much of it was kept the same way notable alumni remembered it. Alumni who used to go there when it was San Jacinto High School, that is. But the building was also the birthplace of the University of Houston and the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (sidebar: that school will soon get a makeover of its’ own!).

San Jac isn’t just famous for the educational institutions it launched. It’s a bit of a celeb in its’ own right,  getting accepted into the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Click the video below to see how the San Jacinto Memorial Building has changed and how it grew to become one of the most beloved places in the heart of Midtown.


Learning How to “Dynamize”

Over the summer, I added a new word to my vocabulary: “Dynamize.” OK – you won’t actually find it in the dictionary, but it does describe how Dynamo Charities gave back to a family in the East end of Houston.

The project is part of a joint initiative with  former Dynamo soccer star turned Houston Dash managing director, Brian Ching,  and Habitat for Humanity. Ching partnered with the organization to form the House That Ching Built, which raises money to build homes for deserving families in Houston.

The first house in the project was completed back in 2010. Now, the second house is finished, but I was able to catch volunteers add on the finishing touches before the home was presented to the Garcia-Andrade family.

Dynamo Girl Olevia teamed up with Dynamo Charities to help make the house fit for a Dynamo fan. Let’s just say, she definitely put her interior design skills to use!

Fun fact: Funding for this house came from the proceeds that were raised from Brian Ching’s Testimonial Match last December. Overall, $125,000 was raised – enough to cover this house and get started on a third one next year.

Get the full story on Dynamizing the home, below!

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Rodeo Uncorked! and Best Bites Competition

The Rodeo never sleeps! It may still be another eight months away, but plans are underway for the 2015 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I’ve talked to Rodeo volunteers and they really do get started this early in advance. While many of the events Rodeo-goers have known to love will be the same, they can expect one thing will be at least a little bit different – all of the venues have undergone a name change. Reliant Stadium, Arena, Center, the Astrodome (yes, the Astrodome!)  and Park now have NRG in front of it.

Information hasn’t been released yet about what to expect at the event that I covered at the 2014 show, the Roundup and Best Bites Competition. This wine and food extravaganza featured over 80 restaurants competing for the coveted Popular Choice Award in the food category (chosen by over 4,000 attendees), while custom-made saddles, chaps and buckles go to the winners of the International Wine Competition.

Houston Community College’s Culinary Department was among the entrants in this year’s competition. Every year that HCC participates, Chef Christy Sykes takes four students with her so they can experience competing against some of the top restaurants in Houston. That exposure can also turn into real internships and job opportunities for students.

Check out the story below.

The team started preparing about a month out before the competition, which was high in charcuterie. HCC was the only educational institution in the mix.

Honoring Female Heroes

Strong lead female characters are becoming more prominent in entertainment and have stories still to be told – it’s just a matter of getting out there and telling them! This was a theme that I took away from the Emerging Female Hero Conference that Women In Film & Television, led by president Anita Long, hosted at the Hilton Houston Southwest.

Day one of the two-day event featured panelists ReShonda Tate Billingsley (best-selling author,  Let the Church Say Amen), Lily Koppel (author, The Astronaut Wives Club) and actress & acting coach Eleese Lester. The panel, moderated by Patricia Gras, discussed topics about writing, publishing, acting and how to find good stories – among other things!

Selfie with author of the "Astronaut Wives Club," Lily Koppel.
Selfie with author of “The Astronaut Wives Club,” Lily Koppel.

WIFT-Houston also honored a local hero, Melanie Lawson, for her dedication to the Houston community. She received WIFT’s Jade Award, presented to her by another journalist and Houston’s first Latina TV reporter, Elma Barrera. The organization gave Barrera the award last year.

Lawson had plenty of support in the crowd as she accepted her award, notably her parents Pastor Bill Lawson and Audrey Lawson, her longtime partner, John Guess, Jr.FOX 26’s Isiah Carey, KPRC’s Mary Benton, and an entire table of ABC 13 supporters including weekend morning anchor, Samica Knight.

Check out my story above (if you haven’t already!) to hear what Lawson has to say about her award and why women should support each other.