A1 A1
Rekindled story time draws hundreds: “We have to celebrate these children”

After originally being canceled just five days ago, Denton’s inclusion-focused story time drew hundreds of residents to a local brewery Saturday, with organizers championing transgender awareness and acceptance for children.

Originally an installment of the Denton Public Library’s “Rainbow StoryTime,” a program put on three times a year, the city canceled the event Monday. Staff cited safety concerns stemming from people from across the country objecting to the program, largely related to a mistaken belief that the book lineup included references to transgender children.

But local transgender rights advocate Amber Briggle, who founded a story time directly aimed at transgender awareness in 2018, rekindled the city’s event by the next day. She made the plans alongside her church, the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, with Armadillo Ale Works owner Bobby Mullins volunteering his brewery to host it.

Saturday — the same day as Transgender Day of Remembrance — the event went off in front of hundreds of attendees, changed from Rainbow Story Time to Transgender Story Time. The three-book lineup kept only Red: A Crayon’s Story, a book about a “red” crayon who can only draw in blue, and added two others: Julián Is a Mermaid and Calvin.

While the library’s initial lineup featured no direct references to being transgender, Calvin is a book about a transgender child written by their parents. Briggle said her main goal for the event was to empower other kids.

Jeff Woo/DRC 

Denton resident Amber Briggle speaks to attendees during Transgender Story Time at Armadillo Ale Works on Saturday.

“I want trans kids to know they’re perfect as they are and that they’re worth fighting for,” Briggle said. “We have to celebrate these children. Reading a book with a transgender theme does not make kids transgender, but it does make transgender kids feel empowered.”

The story time drew out several protesters as well, who gathered mainly across the street and focused on religious messages. The Denton Police Department stationed multiple squad cars and officers at the event as a safety measure.

Of the protesters, Briggle said simply that she’s “not indoctrinating” kids, and that she thinks much of the opposition, including from Texas gubernatorial candidate Don Huffines, amounts to political talking points.

Jeff Woo 

Attendees wave their flags across the street from protesters before the start of Transgender Story Time at Armadillo Ale Works on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Denton, Texas.

Denton City Council member Brian Beck performed the reading of Red: A Crayon’s Story, the event’s first book. He said that while he supported the library’s decision to cancel the event originally, it needed to happen in this form so that objectors couldn’t succeed in a “disinformation campaign” meant to “bully and exclude people.”

“Yelling, screaming, threatening violence and canceling an event is not the Denton way,” Beck said.

Beck said detractors went “way beyond” just giving their opinions about gender issues. He said he would encourage them to see a story time for themselves, which he believes would show them the topics discussed are not indoctrinating children.

“Have you seen one of these events? I would ask them that question,” Beck said. “I think if you will go and watch professional librarians … your fears will be calmed.”

Many in attendance don’t have transgender children of their own, but feel education on the topic is important even at a young age. David Morris brought his children, ages 6 and 2, to the event after planning to go to the original story time.

“It was a bunch to do about nothing,” Morris said. “It was just showing families that are built different. There’s no reason to be against people living their lives.”

Sowing faith, reaping fruit: Sanger school, local ministry grow a program to beat hunger

SANGER — A local ministry and Sanger schools risked saying yes to an idea.

Within a year, that “yes” turned into a grocery store inside Linda Tutt High School and Community Strong Farms, a community garden that will stock the store’s refrigerator with fresh fruit and vegetables (and, eventually, food pantries around the county).

“I say yes to everything,” said Paul Juarez, the executive director of First Refuge Ministries, a Denton-based nonprofit that offers food, medical and dental care and counseling services to low-income people and families. “Someone asks if they can donate, I say yes. If someone wants a newspaper article, I say yes. That’s how I do things in a nonprofit: Say yes to everything.”

Planting a seed

Juarez got the idea to put a grocery store inside of a public school a few years ago, and experimented with a model in Denton. He said the model suffered from a lack of continuity, was taken over by a nonprofit, and evolved into a traditional food pantry.

He didn’t forget about the idea, though, and when First Refuge was applying for a grant through Texas Health Resources, the idea came up.

“One of the things Texas Health wanted was [something] innovative,” Juarez said. “That was a key thing, and [Sanger Mayor] Thomas Muir said, ‘Well, Paul built a grocery store inside a school. We could do that here in Sanger.’”

So First Refuge included a potential school grocery store in the grant, and received the first of two THRIVE grants from the faith-based nonprofit hospital system’s community impact grant program. First Refuge and its partner organizations — Sanger ISD, the city of Sanger, First Baptist Church of Sanger and New Life Church — eventually received two grants totally more than $590,000.

The first grant gave the partners until Dec. 31 last year to build a grocery store at Sanger ISD’s Linda Tutt High, which includes high school students, special education students and the district’s alternative education program for students who have violated the district’s code of conduct.

Additional grant through Denton County’s administration of CARES Act money allowed First Refuge, which had drastically increased its food distribution during the pandemic, to request money to update the nonprofit’s refrigeration. Juarez decided to apply for the funds, and when the nonprofit received the grant, it put two commercial refrigerators and one freezer in the school grocery store.

“At first we were going to put shelving in and do dry goods,” Juarez said. “But with the refrigeration, we can bring produce into the school.”

Ann Hughes, a former longtime principal at Linda Tutt, volunteers as a sort of coordinator for the grocery store partnership.

“It was a small part of a larger grant,” Hughes said. “It was like $10,000 of a $300,000 grant. It was almost like, how do we spend the last little bit of that larger grant? This is how.”

Anthony Love, the principal at Linda Tutt, was in his first year at the school when First Refuge and the Sanger mayor started considering an in-school grocery store. When he was presented with the idea, he said he was interested.

“Dr. Hughes said, ‘What do you think about putting a grocery store in your school?’ It probably took three seconds to say yes,” Love said. “We have a lot of students who do receive free and reduced lunch here, and we also have several students who get the Friday backpack program. Some of the students refuse to take the backpacks.”

Love said he thinks the stigma of needing the backpack stocked with food keeps those students from taking them. But Love was also coming into the district as the city’s Super Saver IGA grocery store was facing closure to make way for the expansion of Interstate 35, leaving Sanger without a grocery store for the next several years.

Love said an in-school grocery store offers students and their families a different way to get food into their homes, Love said.

Tackling food insecurity without shame

When COVID restrictions ease, students will “shop” in the grocery store with points they earn through the THRIVE resiliency program. The program assesses how much each student has been affected by adverse childhood experiences, and then teaches them how to cope with trauma.

A resiliency program at Sanger ISD, also called THRIVE, teaches students how to process trauma and work through it.

“Adverse childhood experiences can be a lot of different things,” said Danelle Parker, Texas Health Resources’s director of community health improvement for Denton, Wise and Collin counties.

Parker said for some students, adverse experiences are abuse or neglect, and for others, it’s the death of a parent, a divorce in the family or living in a single-parent home, where poverty can cause everything from homelessness to hunger.

“The studies have shown that 1 in 4 kids are going to experience adverse childhood events, and some of those kids will experience more than one,” she said. “Food insecurity is a piece of it.”

In the THRIVE program, students earn points for acts of kindness and adopting healthful habits.

“The grocery store was able to give these kids a place to act out the lessons they learn,” Parker said. “The grocery store is a way to find that you aren’t alone. Some kids in the resiliency program have said that they never knew they weren’t alone.”

To get food to students and families while COVID restrictions are still in place, Love and Juarez said the store is open after school hours once a week, and parents come to the school for a food distribution outside on the campus. A handful of students are volunteering, he said. They stock the shelves and track inventory.

“We’ve also got some students who love to track expiration dates on the food, too,” Juarez said.

When restrictions lift, Love said the grocery store will be open during school hours and students will be able to shop with their points and take food home with them. Juarez said some students have asked to take food for hungry neighbors, and he falls back on his habit of saying yes.

Growing health for a town

The second grant has already started a community garden modeled on Shiloh Field, one of the biggest and most productive community gardens in the country.

New Life Church in Sanger donated about 14 acres to the garden, and Matt Basham, a member of First Baptist Church of Denton, has started preparing the soil for spring planting.

Basham and his wife were at a First Refuge gala when Juarez mentioned his dream for a community garden in a presentation.

“For me, everything is about fluidity and magnetism,” Basham said. “I got into this the way a lot of people get involved with First Refuge. I’m a Christian. I go where the Holy Spirit leads.”

The Holy Spirit led Basham to approach Juarez and offer to talk about the community garden idea, as he’s a certified horticulturalist and landscaper with construction experience. Now Basham is developing Community Strong Farms and preparing to work with the community and Sanger ISD.

“When I saw the presentation, I immediately knew this was something I wanted to do,” he said. “Anyone can put seeds in the ground. Water and pest management — well, that’s something else. I can bring those things to this.”

Basham said he’s preparing long rows and drip tape irrigation on the farm. He’s also spearheading the construction of a covered learning area that will accommodate Sanger ISD students who will eventually be able to earn class credit on the farm, as well as volunteers from the community who want to plant, weed and harvest peppers, squash and melons.

“I can see us letting people take some of what they grow home with them,” he said. “I think that’s part of the plan. But really, the Bible says that you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach him to fish, and he can feed himself for life. That’s what this is.”

Basham is also leading a project to drill a 600-foot well to have a water source on site.

Love said the school’s staff will partner with the garden through the district’s agriculture program, and that the staff is already looking at a curriculum the district can use to join the hands-on portion to the classroom.

“It’s unique to have a faith-based organization working with a school. But we have a district-level champion working with us in Tony here,” Juarez said, pointing to Love.

The grocery store portion of the project got international attention, with mentions on The Drew Barrymore Show and The New York Times. Hughes said there has been a lot of buy-in locally, which is where it likely matters the most.

“A lot of the staff volunteer,” she said. “If Tony and I can’t be here on a Thursday night [for the grocery store food distribution night], the staff steps in. We know that Paul and First Refuge are exploding in what they’re doing. They’re not going anywhere.”

From left to right, Ann Hughes, an employee of Sanger ISD, Anthony Love, the principal at Linda Tutt High School, and Paul Juarez, executive director of First Refuge, are pictured at the school’s grocery store Wednesday in Sanger. A community garden and grocery store were made possible through two grants from Texas Health Resources totaling $594,000.

ERCOT report says Texans face steep shortfalls in power capacity if extreme event hits this winter

AUSTIN — Texas’ grid operator on Friday released its predictions for peak electricity use in Texas for this winter that showed steep shortfalls in power capacity in an extreme event, despite not accounting for February’s deadly freeze.

The power demand projection known as the Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy was already facing criticism for using data that did not account for climate change and did not take into account weather and outage data from February’s deadly winter storm.

The main failure of the report, according to Texas A&M University professor Andrew Dessler, is that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas based projections of extreme demand on the 2011 winter event that left wide swaths of North Texas without power. Dessler, an atmospheric sciences professor, said the report shows that Texans have around a one-in-10 chance of seeing weather-related power outages this winter.

“One in 10 years seems to me to be not a great worst-case scenario,” Dessler said. “That means that there’s a 10% chance we’re going to do worse than that.”

The peak amount of electricity in the 2011 event was far below projections made for February’s winter storm. But even with a lower benchmark than what Texans saw just nine months ago, ERCOT predicted that any scenario with electric usage on par with the 2011 event coupled with widespread plant outages would cause blackouts.

“It’s a political document not reflective of reality,” said Doug Lewin, an Austin-based energy consultant, adding that ERCOT’s quiet release of the report late Friday “speaks volumes.”

When reached late Friday, ERCOT officials provided a statement noting that the assessment did not take into account enhancements electric companies made to their power plants in the aftermath of the winter storm. Those lessons learned might make things less dire than the report appeared to indicate.

“As part of our comprehensive planning, we also reviewed a number of low-probability, high-impact scenarios,” the statement said. “Making these scenarios available will allow better preparation for extreme possibilities. Generators across the state have made improvements in power plant weatherization.”

ERCOT faced withering criticism over its handling of the winter storm, which led to the deaths of at least 210 Texans. In the aftermath, state lawmakers cleaned house at the grid operator, completely revamped its board and called for the resignation of many of its top officials. Gov. Greg Abbott also called for the resignation of every one of his appointees to its oversight board, the Public Utility Commission.

New boards are in place, and the Legislature also passed bills requiring power plant owners to weatherize their equipment. ERCOT said the grid should see greater protections from winter weather because of weatherization.

As far as baseline electric usage goes, the report states that there is an adequate amount of power supply to meet Texans’ demands. It notes that some facilities that previously only ran in summer months have transitioned to year-round operations.

Dessler said ERCOT continues to make seasonal demand predictions without adequate input from experts and that a refusal to recognize climate change is affecting the agency’s ability to make accurate assessments.

“But there’s a real ‘rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic’ vibe to ERCOT energy policy, so I’m doubtful these things will make a huge difference,” Dessler said on Twitter. “Perhaps future actions will improve the resilience of the grid, but they’re not going to help this winter.”

Denton man who beat child to death in 2018 given life in prison

A jury sentenced a Denton man Thursday to life in prison for beating his infant son to death in 2018.

Emilio Morales, 27, was charged with injury to a child in 2018 in connection to his son’s death. The Denton Police Department didn’t charge Morales with murder at the time because both charges are first-degree felonies, but a grand jury made the decision to charge him with murder when they were presented with the case.

Morales pleaded guilty to murder Monday and instead of a plea bargain, a jury decided his punishment Thursday.

Morales was rebooked into the Denton County Jail on Thursday. A call to his attorney wasn’t immediately returned Friday morning.

On June 24, 2018, Denton police and paramedics went to a home in the 2900 block of Desert Drive to a report of an unconscious person around 7:09 a.m.

They found Morales’ child, nearly two months old, dead and found he had several bruises and abrasions. A medical examiner confirmed to police that his injuries were consistent with assault and police interviewed Morales at the Police Department the following day.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the infant’s death a homicide and confirmed the cause of death as blunt force injuries to the head.

Morales admitted to officers during the interview to striking his child. He was then arrested on one count of injury to a child, and had been detained at the Denton County Jail until Nov. 8, 2021, when he posted bail of $500,000.

Emilio Morales