Rest in peace, Matt

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Matt’s AGN mug, most likely taken by our photographer, Michael Schumacher.

Matt Hutchison and I had our ups and downs at the Amarillo Globe-News, but when stuff got tough, or it didn’t feel like my voice was enough, he always had my back. When no one would listen, or when I’d get so fired up that I could no longer articulate my defense, he’d jump in, calm the waters and help me find a solution.

About a week and a half ago, I had the chance to tell him how much I appreciated him and to thank him for his guidance and support. I texted him, asking if I could list him (yet again) as a reference for a job to which I was applying. He responded with an enthusiastic yes and told me he was also about to start a new chapter in his life as a special projects manager at Amarillo Independent School District. His happiness and excitement at this opportunity came over even in text and I couldn’t help but also be happy for him.

Hearing the news this morning of his death was devastating, but I’m thankful we were able to have one last conversation and I took the opportunity to let him know how much his support in and out of the newsroom meant to me. Most of today has been spent in some state of tears, remembering the three years I spent at AGN and Matt’s impact on my life.

I walked into AGN for my first day as an intern in May 2013. I had one news writing class under my belt and a semester of experience at the Amarillo College paper, The Ranger.

That first week was an overwhelming, fast-paced mix of information overload as I shadowed the various departments. But when it came time to learn about online editing, Matt was the complete opposite. He sat with me, patiently explaining all of the ins-and-outs of the AGN website, social media accounts and the way we posted stories. After the hectic couple of days I’d already had, the slower pace was welcome, but at one point, I let myself relax a little too much.

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” I said, at the end of a huge yawn. Matt just smiled and said, “It’s OK. I know how you feel. We’ve got little ones at home.”

I asked about his kids, he asked about my school stuff and why I wanted to be a journalist, and our friendship began. His feedback on my stories made me a better reporter and a better writer. I learned what questions to ask, the people to pose them to and how to tighten up their answers when paraphrasing.

He was a damn good editor, offering guidance without being overbearing – he let me grow into the best version of the journalist I could be and constantly let me know how much he appreciated my dedication, my passion and my contribution to the paper where he’d spent much of his own short life. When my internship concluded, he was one of the people who not only championed my hiring as a reporter, but also encouraged me to stick to my guns and not let anyone convince me to go full time without first completing my education.

Occasionally, we’d butt heads – I’d get stuck in the weeds of a story and bust my deadline, or one of us would balk at a story we didn’t think was fit to print. But after it was all said and done and the paper was finally sent to the presses, we’d move past it and on to the next bit of breaking news with no hard feelings.

One summer, I was temporarily moved into the morning online editor position as he picked up some of the slack from the lack of a managing editor. We worked the 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift and in those wee hours, we sat on opposite sides of the same desk, bonding over bouts of early morning breaking news and our shared inability to ever quite make it in by 6 a.m.

He was a bottomless well of knowledge and I will always remember those mornings as one of my favorite parts of my time at AGN. He told me stories about the newsroom, both history and rumors, and I shared my thoughts about the future of the paper and my career. He’d share anecdotes about his little ones and I’d tell him stories about my nieces and nephews. Sometimes, we’d laugh so hard we couldn’t breathe, but for the life of me I can’t remember what those times were about. I wish I could remember.  But I guess it’s enough that I remember the joy of those moments.

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I took this photo back in January 2014. I found it so funny that Matt, left, and Ricky Treon, were both online editors, were dressed so alike and that Matt (the day editor) was wearing the lighter sweater while Ricky (the night editor) was wearing the darker one. I remember Matt busting up when he saw I’d posted it to Twitter.

Even after I left the newsroom, he supported me, serving as a reference for the many jobs I applied to – I’m certain his glowing recommendation played a big part in getting me into Southwest Airlines this summer and my current position as a writing intern at Texas Tech University. I will forever be grateful for his support, guidance and encouragement.

It was too soon, Matt, way too soon. It’s not fair that you won’t get to experience the life you would have after AGN, when you were so freaking excited about it. I’m so mad about that. You deserved it, after all the work you put in to get there. I’m so sorry, Matt.

Thank you for the impact you had on my life and countless others. May you rest in peace, my friend.

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These ARE the good old days

Earlier today, I spent about an hour on the phone talking to one of my best friends, Perla. She moved to Austin at the end of the summer to start at the University of Texas. Even though we text each other about once a week, I always forget how good it is to have a real conversation. I miss her terribly, along with all of the other people I had become accustomed to seeing every day for the past two years.

Perla and I, stopping for a mirror photo in Germany. (Also included: Jessica, the photogenic photobomber)

Perla and I, stopping for a mirror photo in Germany. (Also included: Jessica, the photogenic photobomber)

A few weeks before spring commencement, Perla, I and the rest of The Ranger gang were furiously working on the last edition of the paper, final projects and tests, and getting ready for graduation. It had finally hit me that most of us would soon be walking the stage, but while I was staying another year at Amarillo College to finish two certificates, the majority of my friends would be leaving. Sadness set in and I frantically began attempting to make the most of the little bit of stressful time we had left as a group.

These are the people who accepted me when I returned to school, even though I was older, even though I knew nothing about journalism and even though I’m one of the most socially awkward dorks in Amarillo. What was I going to do without them?

Vanessa, me, Bailie, Robert and Perla, posing in San Antonio on our last trip together.

Vanessa, me, Bailie, Robert and Perla, posing in San Antonio on our last trip together.

Sometime during those final weeks, one of us came across this story. The author and her friends were just like us – a group of misfits, somehow fitting together in the puzzle that is a newsroom. The story reminded me of Andy in The Office, when he says, “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them.”

Reading the story gave us the chance to realize these WERE our good old days, in those last moments before parts of our group splintered across the state. But it did a couple of other things, too, at least for me.

It made me stop and realize that I couldn’t do what I usually do once a friend moves: lose contact. I’ve done it too many times in the past, too many times to count, and I don’t want it to happen again. I don’t want to remember the good old days while wondering, “What ever happened to them?”

It also made me realize that I need to stop more often and just appreciate the people around me and the time they spend with me – friends that are still here, as well as family that I don’t see nearly often enough.

Then, about a week ago, I ran across this comment on reddit:

It sums up perfectly what I feel every now and then, in the newsroom, with my family, or sitting at home with Brandon. Every once in a while, everything just clicks into place, the edges line up perfectly and there’s a moment of pure happiness.

Just like Checkpoint-Charlie, they’re one of my favorite things about life.

Just like this moment. Oh, Perez, what are we going to do next semester when you're gone, too?

Oh, Perez, what are we going to do next semester when you’re gone, too?

 

Snack Pak 4 Kids: Ending weekend hunger, one child at a time

If you want to know what awesome looks like, all you have to do is look at the people behind Snack Pak 4 Kids.

Today, they posted a #TBT photo on Facebook:

The program actually started with just 10 children at Will Rogers Elementary School in Dyron and Kelly Howell’s kitchen. As the post above says, they now serve many, many more than that.

I’ve been fortunate enough to write a few stories about SP4K. Each time I go out to an event, whether it be the corn harvest and distribution they’ve done the past two years, or a night of pak-packing, I’ve been overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed by the number of people that donate their time, overwhelmed by the amount of food and monetary donations that the program receives, and overwhelmed by all of the other examples of generosity, big and small, here in our own community.

I’m also overwhelmed by the reactions evident on the faces of those receiving the snack paks and fresh, sweet corn. I’ve taken pictures at the last two distribution events after the corn harvest and each time, as my emotions threaten to spill over, I know there’s no place I’d rather be.

It hits me so hard because I know exactly what’s behind those smiles and shouts and laughs. My heart clenches because I remember feeling that same joy. Years ago, my brother, sister and I WERE these children.

Two of my favorite photos from the first SP4K corn distribution event. Read the story here.

Two of my favorite photos from the first SP4K corn distribution event. Read the story here.

As I’ve mentioned before, my mom has been a single parent for nearly all my life. When we were younger, I can’t think of any time we went hungry, but I know there were times when my mom went without so us kids would have a meal.

As hard as my mom worked, money always was tight, and so things like new toys, new clothes and stuff like brand-name cereal just weren’t on the list of items that came into our house very often. It doesn’t seem like any of those would make a big impact, but if you’ve gone without, you know how much of a hit it can make on morale.

SP4K wasn’t around then, but other people and agencies, like Eveline Rivers, the Salvation Army and the food pantry at our church, not only made it possible for us to get by – they gave us something we, as kids, could call our own. They gave us something to look forward to.

SP4k does the same thing. They take a child’s memory of weekend hunger and replace it with a bright spot to look forward to each week. They take away the stress of the unknown and and fill the space with food security in the form of snack paks. They take away the distraction of an empty belly on Monday mornings and give them a way to succeed in the classroom.

By believing in these children, children who have no fault for their situation, they do more than just show they care. They give them a reason to believe in themselves. They give them hope. They give them faith.

They give them a future.

Check them out at http://snackpak4kids.org/ and see for yourself just how awesome they really are.