Fashion Show raises funds for FOGAS

Community, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Lovers of animals often do whatever they can to support shelters and organizations that help their favorite four-legged-friends.

The owners of Whimz Boutique in Ellijay Georgia, Steve and Marie Cortes did just that when they presented Friends Of Gilmer Animal Shelter (FOGAS) President Sharon Sahr and Treasurer Karen Johnson with a $564 check from their November 2018 charity fashion show.

Friends Of Gilmer Animal Shelter is an all-volunteer, 501 (C3), charity that strives to make Gilmer County Georgia a better home for both people and pets by sponsoring subsidized spay/neuter certificates for the public, vetting Gilmer County Animal Shelter homeless pets, and other community projects.

Their event is part of the community financial support that makes up approximately 75 % of Friends Of Gilmer Animal Shelter’s annual revenue.

This and all other donations to FOGAS are used to provide subsidized $25 spay/neuter certificates to Gilmer County residents, pay veterinarian costs for selected Gilmer County Animal Shelter pets that are being transported to waiting adopters or rescues, and to support other Gilmer County pet-related projects.

The Fashion Charity event saw over 100 people attending to view pieces designed and donated by Whimz Boutique and Julian’s Boutique. With the success of the fashion show, FOGAS has stated they are intending to use the proceeds for their 2019 budget. Specifically, they said, “In 2019 FOGAS will be focusing on new ways to assist the Gilmer County Animal Shelter with reducing pet overpopulation. We will also be looking into offering Gilmer County children information on caring for their pets.”

With this set as the first annual show, support is set to continue for the Animal Shelter through its support organization, FOGAS. But, ultimately, its citizens putting on events like this and donating that helps the efforts of the local animal shelter and the county’s efforts to house and adopt pets in need of “forever homes.”

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Light-Up Ellijay shines through clouds and rain

Community, News

ELLIJAY, Ga – Despite numerous weather and climate hurdles including a cold evening sharpened by winds and rain at times, the Downtown Ellijay Business and Community Association (DEBACA) is reporting a very successful year.

With some changes like the absence of the town of Bethlehem that First Baptist Church hosted at last year’s event and added security measures, this year’s event was noticeably different than 2017. Changes that both DEBACA Chairman Steve Cortes and Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey praise as improvements to the event.

One major safety improvement that both parties noted separately was barricades set up to block the parking spaces on the roundabout, allowing pedestrians to safely view both the tree lighting and parade apart from traffic and parade vehicles. While these barricades have been used for the majority of 2018, this is the first Light-Up Ellijay event they have been used. The major difference being that this parade is largely held in the dark with lights on the float and the town decorations illuminating the area.

Chief Lacey noted this year’s event went “very smooth” as they conducted safety and traffic control with six on-duty officers. He also reported no traffic issues during the event and the after-event surge.

The parade hosted around 35 different groups, according to Cortes, and just under 20 vendors in the temporary market throughout the day. Though he says DEBACA did scale back on certain things, the event still pulled in one of the best business days for downtown merchants despite the tree-lighting ceremony being interrupted with a 5-minute rain shower and a continuing sprinkling of rain until the parade.

Lacey referred to the event as a “more traditional Light-Up Ellijay event.” With Santa Claus appearing on the city steps just before 2:00 p.m. and the market on Broad Street quickly following, citizens and merchants in downtown seem to agree saying, “no question its safer and more efficient.”

Along the lines of balancing Light-Up Ellijay between a tourism event and a local event, Cortes told FYN that despite cancelling the Whoville earlier in November, there are still plans to return to it in coming years. However, he did add that DEBACA has been considering multiple options including hosting Whoville in partnership with another organization with available manpower to host the event on a separate day from Light-Up Ellijay and more cosplay actors to enlarge it on its own.

With possibilities for the future of Light-Up Ellijay being discussed, Cortes also noted the he, personally, thinks that the events success could continue into next year by adding to the parade size and seeking opportunities for the marching band or live-music of some sort.

Citizens, law-enforcement, and business owners all seem to agree that Light-Up Ellijay was indicative of continuing a bright future for Ellijay’s Downtown Events.

 

 

Make sure to check out FYN’s Facebook Photo Album for more pictures from the event as well as the Facebook page for videos that we streamed live from Light-Up Ellijay.

 

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Is Ellijay the “Nicest Place?”

Community, News

ELLIJAY, GA. – A recent listing as a finalist in the Nicest Places in America, Ellijay is garnering extra attention from the nation as a whole.

Hosted on the USA Today 10Best.com website, the poll actually encompasses a cooperation including Reader’s Digest Magazine as well as Good Morning America. Even further, the poll draws in judges from other well-known shows and publications like hidden-camera show Random Acts, the Washington Post, and Project Happiness.

Among 450 nominations nationwide, the pool has at last been narrowed to the top 10 finalists. Ellijay, Ga is one of the cities next to Bothell, Wa, Kalamazoo, Mi, North Riverside, Il, and Katy, Tx. The list also has one county, Mower County, Mn, and four specific spots, Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Md, Yassin’s Falafel House in Knoxville, Tn, Life Moves Yoga in Killeen, Tx, and North Evergreen Street in Burbank, Ca.

According to Reader’s Digest Magazine, the nomination for Ellijay came from Marie and Steve Cortes who related the story of their first visit to Ellijay one January morning as they stopped into the Cornerstone Cafe. With every table in the restaurant taken, the Cortes’ were invited to sit with strangers as diners “scooched over” to make room.

As someone who has lived here in Ellijay most of my life, I, too, have felt the indescribable pull of the people. Something about the area encourages me to grab a bite at the Cantaberry Restaurant while people watching and inevitably speaking to the people who walk by because we recognize each other.

In fact, one of the recurring themes I hear about the city, and the county as a whole for that matter, is a story about a wave. Whether its Abby’s Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt owner and Downtown Development Authority member, Mark Luchauer, who describes the city’s feel as “small-town USA at its finest, where you can walk down the street and wave at everybody and they’ll wave back,” or the owner/operator of the Cartecay River Experience, Woody Janssen, who said in an interview earlier this year, “It feels like The Andy Griffith Show in a way, everybody waves still. You go down to Atlanta and you wave at somebody, it’s not like that … It brings that down-home feeling,” the same them shows up repeatedly.

There is something so special about a gesture so simple. Why do I hear it as the special memory from visitors and citizens alike? Just a wave back, it is something that transcends language, but it is so meaningful that everyone notices if it happens or not. Maybe we don’t realize it at the time, but a city where I can sit on the side of River Street and wave at people generates that community. It creates that connection. You may not know it, but just waving at someone says so much. It says, “I see you.” It says, “I noticed you.”

While the voting on the poll continues, people who visit the site are encouraged to vote once a day until July 7. As of June 27, Ellijay is in second place of the voting and is continuing to rise in numbers.

The winner of the poll will be named “Nicest Place in America” and featured on Good Morning America and as a cover story in the November issue of Reader’s Digest.

People from all over are encouraging you to vote, everyone from locals to businesses to the Gilmer Chamber have been posting on social media sites about voting and why they love the town. You can join in by voting on the website as well as sharing your vote and story on social media. While you’re sharing the story, make sure to continue sharing the love through everything you do, even with a small wave at a stranger on the street.

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Addressing disconnects following Light Up Ellijay

News
Crowds flood Downtown Ellijay for Light Up event

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The downtown area of Ellijay was rocked by an historic crowd for its Light Up Ellijay festivities, which echoed throughout the county.

Citizens have responded in various ways and have voiced opinions as to the success or detriment of the Return to Whoville themed event. However, they are not the only ones responding to what some merchants called “Who-mageddon,” a jovial moniker made possible by a lack of major incidents during the event. Indeed, with additional responses from not just Ellijay’s police force, but county fire and rescue personnel as well, the event had only one reported incident, which involved a missing child. According to officials, the child was found within 15 minutes of searching.

This was an outcome Ellijay City Police Chief Edward Lacey said the town was very lucky to have accomplished. While acknowledging the unanticipated crowd, Lacey said his officers performed “admirably,” going so far as to say they gave “150 percent.” Lacey also confirmed with FYN that despite their efforts, the event would have been a lot worse had they not received backup from firefighters helping out with crowd control.

According to the permit issued by the city of Ellijay to the Downtown Ellijay Business and Community Association (DEBACA), the organization expected a maximum of 5,000 people at the event. While no one could confirm details, reports have varied as to the cause of the dramatic increase.

From a few viral videos to a radio station picking up the story in Florida, rumors continue to swirl with no real specific answers. However, DEBACA reported they noticed over 70,000 clicks for Light Up Ellijay in the week leading to the event. After the night was done, license plates were seen from over nine states, according to officials on scene.

Ellijay Mayor Al Hoyle declined to comment about the meetings and processes involved since Light Up Ellijay, but he did speak about the people who attended saying, “That paints a very positive picture of Ellijay. The name ‘Ellijay’ is known, obviously, and it drew that big of a crowd, and that’s great.” He went on to comment that with the quality, he sees future events growing as well.

People already began spilling into the street as earlier as 4:30 p.m. an hour before the tree lighting.

People already began spilling into the street as earlier as 4:30 p.m. an hour before the tree lighting.

Speaking with DEBACA Chairman Steve Cortes, he echoed the sentiment that attracting the crowd was a success on its own. This is the first time the association has hosted the event after transferring the event from the Downtown Development Authority.

Stepping beyond the event itself to identifying the effects a week later, Lacey stated about back-up received, “I think it showed that we were able to admit that we were overwhelmed … A lot of times, agencies that are not willing to ask for help are the ones that get in a lot of trouble … We were able to admit that we needed help and actually request it.”

In fact, not only did the Ellijay Police receive help during the event but also invited members from the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office, Gilmer Fire and Rescue, the Gilmer Chamber, DEBACA, East Ellijay Police, Ellijay Fire, and others to an after action meeting that is usually only held with Public Safety. Lasting more than three hours, the meeting saw members from each entity delving into the event separating out things that did happen versus things that should have happened during the event. Specifying the disconnection between those two ideas led to discussion and thoughts on future events.

A few specific issues came to light in the meeting regarding logistics for things like the addition of vendors for the event, the opening of bathrooms for the event and parking and traffic due to the crowd. Chief Lacey told FYN that the meeting and input from all involved will be considered as he creates his report and in moving towards future events.

Cortes also commented with FYN saying another issue with the crowd comes with future events. Not knowing if they should prepare for a similar crowd to this year or preparing for something lower is part of the stresses of planning. Cortes suggested they would be looking at the upcoming events throughout the year, such as St. PETrick’s Day and Independence Day, to gauge the response they might see at Light Up Ellijay.

One of the bigger points in the meeting  addressed a lack of communication and response from parties involved. Addressing understandings of the permit process and amending it paired with controlling and coordinating the multiple entities became a larger focus. Suggestions on dealing with these issues led towards future events seeing use of Instant Command Structures (ICS) and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

EOC is a fusion center of resources that officials say are used to manage and communicate across the different entities of public safety. Fully activated EOC’s could also include members from all sorts of other entities; in Ellijay, this could include mayors, council members, DEBACA members, or more. As explained in the meeting, this would allow instant access to cross-force resources.

The EOC concept also answered issues with traffic. A crowd of the size seen downtown not only gridlocked traffic after 5 p.m., but also clogged emergency access through the area. One hypothetical example of the EOC given at the meeting suggested an issue arising on Hwy. 282. The EOC could coordinate a nearby sheriff’s deputy to the location faster than any other. A more immediate response from a sheriff’s deputy in the area means far lower response times in the face of gridlocked traffic for citizens.

Somebody tracking and directing all requests would streamline services and resources in that instance to better control and guide arising issues, whether they be safety-focused or logistically focused through those involved.

In addition to the EOC, pre-made ICS would be available to handle situations where pre-planned events escalate to any sort of emergency, for example if a driver had grown so frustrated with the crowd that he or she ran people down.

Crowd size sends one child up the clock downtown in an attempt to see the nights events.

Crowd size sends one child up the clock downtown in an attempt to see the nights events.

While this may seem extreme, Lacey told FYN  these are the issues that police deal with everyday. They must prepare for the potential issues that could grow out of events with crowds like we witnessed this year. An approach that imitates an old saying, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” is one that the city police face daily in protecting and preparing for situations despite a common thought that such instances would not happen in our town.

In fact, part of Lacey’s research into parades garnered 56 total headlines in newspapers, with 55 of those occurring since July 2001, involving parade incidents and injuries. Crowds like the one at this year’s Light Up Ellijay further intensify the possibility of incidents.

While the entire week was spent identifying issues and areas for improvement, Chief Lacey declined to comment further on the entities involved saying, “It’s enough to say that there was a disconnect, and that we’re going to fix that.”

Cortes echoed approval of the cooperation and coordination found through the meetings held in the week after the event. Noting an increase in involvement as DEBACA continues to grow, Cortes tells FYN that he would love to see representatives from the Chamber, the cities and police forces at their meetings and events. He went on to comment on the meeting saying it answered questions: “What can we do if a big event comes to Ellijay? How can we handle that?” He went on to say, “There’s no finger pointing, everybody knows that a lot could have been done better, and a lot needs to be done if we’re going to work together in the future.”

Though Light Up Ellijay is firmly in the city’s rear view, progress and meetings continue as the response and preparation for next year continue. Continuing in growth and popularity, citizens and officials alike will be closely watching downtown over the coming year in anticipation of another night like Nov. 24.

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