- Associated Press - Sunday, May 4, 2014

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) - Glencoe native Leah Bradford was a freshman at the University of Alabama when a tornado struck near the campus on April 27, 2011. Now, as a senior, she is involved in an award-winning project that rebrands one of the communities destroyed that day.

“This is a nice bookend for me,” Bradford, the student producer for the project, said.

Bradford, a telecommunications and film-broadcast news major, is involved in a project working with residents of Alberta City to rebrand the community.

Bradford said the city was destroyed, but has a lot on its horizon.

The Tuscaloosa Parks and Recreation Authority has built a new tennis complex that will have numerous courts and have the ability to host tournaments from around the country.

A new school, Alberta School, is expected to open by the end of the year and will specialize in fine arts education.

Bradford said Councilman Kip Tyner is working with the team to construct new websites and social media sites to bring Alberta to the forefront of the Tuscaloosa area.

“We are working to give the community of Alberta an outlet to use for updates and information about the area using videos on the website. Using Instagram and Vine, we are able to promote upcoming events such as business openings and ground-breakings,” Bradford said.

She said she and those on her team are working as Alberta’s unofficial marketing team.

“We’re using our experience and knowledge about social media and community interests,” she said. “We communicate weekly to assess our progress and see what is needed for the community project.”

Bradford said she recently learned that her team won second place in the University Research and Creative Activity Research Conference in the Communications and Information Sciences division.

Other members on the team are Drew Bryant of Guntersville, Taylor Crosby of Tennessee and Sarah Hollingsworth of Georgia.

Bradford said the project is personal for her.

She was in her dorm that day, in an area closest to 15th Street - an area hit hard by the tornadoes.

“We went to the first level and the power went out,” she said.

They could hear all the noises from the storm and then there was silence.

“We were crying and praying, just holding on to each other,” Bradford said.

When it was over, their dorm had escaped without damage, but they could see devastation all around them.

The area at 15th Street unrecognizable, she said.

Bradford called her dad to let him know she was OK, and she and her friends were trying to make sure all their friends in other areas were OK.

“It was very traumatic,” she said.

Classes were canceled for a few days, but what Bradford saw when she returned to campus broke her heart.

“All you could see was flatness,” she said. “Where you used to see trees and houses, there was nothing.”

Bradford sees so many positive things happening in the community, and she hopes she has helped in some way.

“We hope this sends a message that you can come back, no matter what,” she said.

Chandra Clark of the telecommunication and film department at the University of Alabama said Bradford’s project is one of nine her class is working on with nonprofit groups in the Tuscaloosa community.

“I felt really strong about the Alberta one because of the rebuilding that is starting to take place there,” Clark said.

“I had another team focus on capturing the history of Alberta a year and a half ago, so it was time to do it again and work with city and community leaders to do an updated version of what’s changed there three years after the tornado.”

Clark said she has a keen interest in the building back of the Alberta community along with other parts of Tuscaloosa after producing several mini-documentaries in partnership with a colleague at the University of Oklahoma and the National Association of Broadcasters following the disasters in Tuscaloosa, Joplin and Moore, Oklahoma, and Hurricane Sandy.

Those videos can be found on the NAB Newsroom on YouTube.

“Several of these projects have grown out of that partnership and the work I’ve been able to include many of our students in doing on the role of broadcasters during disasters,” she said.

The videos and much of the work Bradford’s team has done is on the city’s new website, cityofalberta.com.

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Information from: The Gadsden Times, https://www.gadsdentimes.com

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