Two weeks after the Christmas event called “Shop with a Hero,” as most of Gilmer County prepares for the new year. A story comes in from one of those who volunteered for the event.
Attending the event as a reporter is one thing, many people focus on the aspect of helping the community and the joy on the kids faces. But some may notice something more. Looking around, there was more than just kids and families there. There were more people affected than just those who were helped. Reaching out to the agencies who participated, FYN got a very special response from one officer who volunteered. Take a moment and feel this story from Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey:
Captain Ray Grace of Ellijay Police Department has been talking about his desire to have a Shop with a Cop type program for at least three years. We recently had a criminal case which required the assistance of the GBI and as such we spend a lot of time with GBI Special Agent Renea Green. One day (about 8 weeks before our event) SA Green, Capt. Grace, and myself were in Captain Grace’s office when the topic of this type of program came up. Special Agent Green became very excited and we found that she had worked first hand with a similar program in Bartow County. As the conversation bumped around the room the creative juices flowed between Grace and Green and by the end of the day they were fully committed to making sure this program came to fruition.
The decision was made to not just do a “Shop with a Cop” program, but to include all public safety in Gilmer County. The name Shop with a Hero was born. Since the Ellijay Police Foundation has been up and running for a couple of years now, it was deemed the perfect vehicle for the program as it has civilian oversight in a non-public safety affiliated board of directors. We had a meeting with all public safety department and agency heads and school officials and the program was off and running. We originally planned to try to sponsor 25 children in our school system for a $150 shopping trip to Walmart with $75 mandatory spent on clothes and the other $75 on anything the child wanted to purchase (within reason, of course). It was just a few weeks of support flowing in when we had met our goal and we noticed that we were going to be able to do so much more than we originally planned.
Soon we were financially able to sponsor 52 children. At first we thought about focusing on youth who were in foster care and/or identified by DFACS as children in need. But in our hearts we knew that there were other children that had not been “touched by the system” that were just as needy. We knew that there were many programs out there to help with foster care, CASA, and DFACS but realized that these other children often go overlooked. That’s when we decided to involve those who know the children the best – our counselors from the Gilmer Schools.
It was amazing to see all of public safety working together with private businesses and the public school system to take care of these children in need. The financial support surpassed our dreams. Soon we realized that we could do more than just sponsor shopping with 52 children. We paid off the lunchroom debt of one school, set up a system to provide school counselors the ability to purchase shoes, jackets, and other necessary clothes (year round) for children that were in need. The folks at Walmart, especially Tom (manager) were awesome. They just kept on giving support. Their efforts provided a huge amount of food for the High School food pantry.
When the day of the event came, I had asked not to shop with a child unless it was the last resort. I didn’t want to take the opportunity away from any police officer, dispatcher, or fire fighter. When the leadership nodded at me and paired me up with a 10 year old girl, I must admit that I was a bit out of my element. Although I have a 3 year old granddaughter, I am the father of sons and don’t know much about shopping with girls. I didn’t know what to expect.
It was not long before my heart strings were tugged hard. First I learned that her grandmother was with us because her mother had recently passed away from an illness. Next came what truly revealed this precious girl’s heart. She did not shop for herself first, but purchased Christmas gifts for 5 friends and then a small toy for her cat. When I asked, “Okay, do you need any clothes?” she told me that she was singing in church on Sunday evening and needed something to wear. I said, “Really? What church” to which she replied, “First Baptist”. It was not until this point that I knew that she was involved in the music program at my church and that she would be singing during the same program as my wife on Sunday evening. That’s when I remembered what an old friend once told me, “There are no coincidences. Only God at work”.
She picked out a few clothes but I could see that she had her eyes on a red sequined romper. She picked it up a few times and put it back. I leaned over to her grandmother and asked, “What’s she doing” and was told, “she’s worried about spending too much money”. I had been keeping track of the budget and noticed that we had spent about $50. I went over to her and said, “Get it. It’s okay, just get it”. Her face lit up and then we went and got some shoes, and earrings. Surprisingly, she didn’t really get any toys for herself, but stocked up on paints and craft supplies. Soon, with a quick hug and photo op, we were out of there to go our separate ways.
I couldn’t wait for Sunday evening. I can’t tell you how great it was to see her all dressed up in the church musical on Sunday evening. They sounded wonderfully. She wasn’t the least shy in singing or performing and looked awesome in her sequin romper, white sweater, grey shoes, and sparkly earrings.
One thing I’ve learned after 30 years of law enforcement is that the “warm and fuzzy” moments which shed light upon why we do what we do are rare. When these happen we cling to them as the sustenance that gets us through the darkness. If this were my last warm and fuzzy moment of my career, this one would sustain me until then.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – With tomorrow set as the final day of delivery and closing out the “Stuff the Bus” event hosted by the Gilmer County Optimist Club, success is the word on everyone’s mouth as final tallies are being collected.
Those tallies showed, according to Event Chairwoman Molly Landry, that more citizens donated actual supplies than financial donations in recent years. While this is the first time she chaired the “Stuff the Bus” in its seven consecutive years of running, she did note that she had done similar events in south Louisiana in a community similar in size to Ellijay, Landry said this year’s event, “has been the most successful event I have been a part of.”
Landry said the club has collected $2,654 in financial donations for supplies, but the real surprise came when she said the schoolbus driver told her he had never seen the bus so full. There were only five empty seats on the bus and every other seat had “boxes on top of boxes, ” Landry said.
That may seem like a “close-but-not-quite-stuffed” kind of situation. However, according to Gilmer Optimist Club President Lisa Salman, the event’s success is only just beginning as they still have one more day of box collecting and deliveries to the Gilmer County Charter School System’s Board of Education.
Alongside citizens and business owners, Wal-Mart also offered a discount on the supplies purchased with the $2,654. Landry said they purchased everything from backpacks and notebooks for the kids to items like calculators and paper supplies for the classrooms.
The accomplishments of these volunteers were felt throughout the county, but especially in the Board of Education, the go-between for this supply drive and the students who benefit from it.
Pritchett said, “It’s very encouraging. We’ve got a lot of groups in our community that are constantly reaching out and helping with the school system.”
Pritchett went on to call it a “real strength” of the community that so many care for students and children, having not only the Optimist Club hosting, but businesses supporting them, and citizens donating.
With the event completed, these supplies will travel to the Board of Education. The administration will begin distribution as they respond to schools calling out for what they need for their students.
Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said, “I am always amazed at the incredible generosity of those in our community who donate both school supplies and funds to “Stuff the Bus.” Our school social worker and counseling department use the supplies throughout the year to help our neediest children to be prepared with school supplies. Our teachers appreciate all of the extra disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and Kleenex they receive to use in their classrooms.”
We’ve been talking about it all summer. I’ve covered more camps than I can count. Young athletes have been out as early as January lifting and preparing for it. Finally on Wednesday I felt it.
Football season is coming.
Wednesday morning bright and early found me on the football field of Fannin County High School covering the last day of their youth football camp. Now as I said a few sentences earlier I’ve been out all summer covering football camps, but this was the first time it really clicked with me that we are only a few weeks away. And I won’t lie, a lot of it had to do with the weather.
There was a slight breeze and I dare to say chill on Wednesday that I hadn’t felt all summer. Granted it was early in the morning and I’m so used to summer heat that even the slightest temperature drop can make me reach for my jacket. But this time, surrounded by young athletes who are the future of their program, it all started to set in.
It’s hard to imagine Friday Night Lights when it’s 90 degrees in Georgia in the middle of July. When I think of football I think of all the late Friday afternoons when I was in high school and the trees were ablaze with the bright orange and reds of fall. I think of the UGA games I’ve gone to where it’s been so cold part of the reason I was standing was not so much to cheer than to try and keep warm.
I will admit, football season has kind of snuck up on me this year. Earlier in the summer, Team FYN Sports was in baseball mode covering the local youth tournaments. I was in baseball mode keeping up with the Braves. But this is the South, and not just the South but SEC stronghold too. So of course even though baseball comes to the forefront, football stays simmering on the back burner at all times. That’s another reason why when I felt that cooler air on Wednesday, I was so easily able to slip back into football mode.
Local high schools start back as early as the week after next, with scrimmages coming the week after and then regular season the week after that. It’s crazy to think how time flies, and for teams that have been out practicing all summer, they realize that this is where the rubber meets the road.
I remember the first story I did for Team FYN Sports involving football was earlier this summer when Dawson County scrimmaged Pickens in a spring game. It took me a moment to realize when I got to the Dawson County field to realize that were weren’t in August, and this being in May we still had another three full months to go. But you couldn’t have told that to either of the two sides that night.
The Dawson County mommas circled up for pre-game prayer, and lined up to form a tunnel for their sons to run through onto the field. Both home and away stands had a decent amount of fans to fill them. Both schools even brought their marching bands, and Pickens brought their cheerleaders. This energy is what I try to convey to everyone when I say that sports, and especially football, create a community rivaled by few other events.
Each time I’ve gone to a camp, or scrimmage, or even just a practice in this community, I’ve seldom been the only one there who is not a part of the team. Parents will come by to see their sons, or even just community members will drop by to get a look at the team before they run out for the first game. There’s something else special about following a team from the ground up, a season from the beginning to end. I know I’m not the only one that feels that way, and it makes my job all the much more enjoyable.
Over the last couple of weeks BKP and I have been going around North Georgia and interviewing coaches from all of the teams we cover. While last week I focused on the coaches and all of the effort that they have been putting in, it’s no overstatement to say that these players have been putting in their fair share too.
And they all seem ready. They’ve all been lifting and getting stronger since the beginning of the year. They’ve been out running drills and working for positions since the weather was warm enough. Now they’re breaking out the pads, helmets and fine tuning plays until it’s time for that first kick-off.
Football season is coming, and from the locker room to the press box, I think we’re all ready.
Over the last week and a half BKP and I have been going from school to school interviewing head football coaches for our North Georgia Coaching Series. Now if any of y’all know BKP, you’ll know what I mean when I say that he’s been doing most of the talking and I’ve been doing most of the observing. But this doesn’t bother me, it gives me a chance to learn more about the programs I’ll be spending a lot of time with this fall.
With that being said, there’s one thing in particular I’ve been noticing in our interviews, and that’s how much these coaches truly care about their players and their programs.
Now me saying that might make some of y’all think, “Well, duh. That’s what they’re supposed to do.” Well, maybe. But I like to think I’m pretty good at picking up when someone is just putting on an act for appearances. And I can say with all sincerity that none of these coaches are doing that.
Obviously when BKP and I go into these interviews, he asks questions about what the teams have been doing during the summer and how they’re planning to prepare for the regular season. But he also asks the coaches if they can highlight a few players that have really stood out. This point in the interview, I believe, is where a coach who didn’t care would possibly just say a couple names and move on.
But these coaches not only name the players, they tell us about why they stand out. And it’s a sign of the hard work of these athletes, but there’s also a sense of pride from these coaches as they name them. A couple of coaches have mentioned that it’s hard to name just a few, because all of their players have worked hard. And it’s not that the rest of the team doesn’t matter or that they don’t care about them, but the ones that they mention they do so without hesitation because they’ve been there with them through the summer truly coaching them. There’s no so-so about the commitment these coaches make- they’re all in.
Another thing that has amazed me about these coaches, not just in the interviews but learning about them off the field, is how much they care about their community as well. A couple of them, such as Chad Cheatham at Fannin County and Chad McClure at Hayesville, are natives to their communities. It’s home to them, and they’re not going to be just halfway in their commitments to their programs.
When Coach Caleb Sorrells of the Lumpkin County Indians was first named as head coach, the school hosted a meet and greet for him. It was one of the first stories I covered in this position.
In his address to the parents, Sorrells promised to not only invest in the team as players and athletes, but as men who would one day be employees and fathers. I remember being caught off guard at first because I was expecting him to talk about plans for the future of the program, the summer schedule and what not. He did talk about these things, but I believe by telling the parents that he was going to invest in the players as men showed that it was going to be a priority.
Although I know more about the commitment that Sorrells has made because I’m positioned in Lumpkin County, he’s not the only one in the area who gets involved in the community and works to build up the athletes’ character.
Tim Cokely with the White County Warriors has an entire wall of his office decorated with signs of good character qualities to instill in the team. Chad Cheatham, who I mentioned earlier, referees basketball in the football off-season just because, and the community loves him for it. I’m sure that many of the other coaches in the area do similar things and I just don’t know about it yet.
These are commitments that we see played out by coaches in movies and don’t always think to look for in real life. And because I grew up in Gwinnett County, population one million, if there was this sort of commitment by coaches I didn’t always see it because there were so many people. I love living up here in North Georgia in a smaller community where an act of kindness, especially where sports are concerned, rarely goes unnoticed.
We think about football as a sport that instills a since of discipline, but why is that? Because there’s a coach that sets that standard and inspires the team to do the same. As a community we love football and we love our team, and we can thank a coach for that.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – “This is the kind of project that will spread prosperity throughout our entire region. It is the kind of skin-in-the-game project that deserves support…” Georgia Speaker of the House, David Ralston praised the CORE Facility in Ellijay who hosted their official ribbon-cutting today.
Nestled just off Maddox Drive on the banks of the Coosawattee River in Ellijay, Georgia, the CORE Facility hosts business offices and incubation locations for entrepreneurs and start-ups in need of an office or workspace without the hassles of long-term investment.
However, the facility’s impact reaches so much farther than the city limits or the county’s borders. Today marked a celebration for the region and for the state. Representatives statewide joined together for this ribbon cutting including Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Gilmer Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, Pickens Commission Chairman Rob Jones, Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, State Senator Steve Gooch, State Representative of District 11 Rick Jasperse, Ellijay City Mayor Al Hoyle, Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, and many representatives from the Ellijay and East Ellijay City Councils and Gilmer Board of Education. Efforts from many organizations have led into combined organizations such as the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority (JDA) and the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation.
That Foundation was the birthplace of the initiative to build CORE. According to Kent Sanford, Executive Director of the Greater Gilmer JDA and part of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation, a 14-month birth cycle has finally come to full fruition.
While the celebration was a culmination of efforts so far, it is only the beginning. It is a project that holds great impact on the future, according to Ralston who said, “It will create jobs in our area. The jobs of tomorrow will be possible because of the work that goes on in this building.”
Ralston also dedicated support to the facility as he announced, “Because of the local commitment to the CORE building the State of Georgia, through our OneGeorgia Authority, is awarding $420,000 to this project to be used for Facility purchase and improvement costs. This $420,000 grant is historic, both in terms of its dollar amount and the impact it will have on this project and community.”
Ralston continued speaking about the economic development and job creation in the county before offering the second announcement of the day regarding the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center.
Ralston stated at the ribbon-cutting, “I am proud to announce that the new North Georgia of the Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation will be housed right here in Ellijay in this facility. The office will be led by Janet Cochran.”
Ralston’s office later offered a full Press Release on the announcement stating the center serves as a central information and research hub for rural best practices, including community planning, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with community partners. The center was proposed by the House Rural Development Council in 2017 and was created by House Bill 951, which was enacted in 2018.
These announcements were applauded by those present and praised by the Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber, John Marshall, who said, “Mr. Speaker, once again you have proven yourself to be the very epitome of a stalwart and faithful advocate not only to your hometown and all the other communities in these beautiful North Georgia Mountains, but to each and every corner of the state of Georgia.”
President of the Gilmer Chamber, Paige Green also praised the facility as the realization of a dream for the community that has spread to benefit not only one county but something larger that now spans the region.
Today was a celebration of completing the first steps of a larger plan for the facility. Though it is now open, it is only the first phase of that dream. Director Sanford noted last year that the hopes for the facility include two more phases.
In Phase II, the foundation will continue renovation onto the second floor to open up a larger area for education and training in a 1,200 square foot space upstairs.
In Phase III, hopes for the CORE Facility could extend into the schools for things like STEM Classes, STEM Saturdays, or other forays into education connection. Consolidating resources for these could include shared STEM kits or a shared expense for a STEM subscription service involving 3d-printing necessary components. However, specific details into PHASE III have yet to be finalized.
Ultimately, the CORE wants to continue spreading and growing this larger community where possible. Opportunities that may come have yet to be revealed, but one ribbon-cutting today, one celebration, can lead to something bigger than imagining tomorrow.
(The following is a Press Release from the Office of David Ralston, Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives.)
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) today announced that the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation has opened a North Georgia Office in Ellijay. The office is located in the Collaboration on River’s Edge (CORE) Building, a workplace innovation space and initiative of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation.
“I am proud to welcome the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation to Ellijay and look forward to the good work that will be done to further economic opportunity throughout rural Georgia,” said Speaker David Ralston. “This center is a direct result of the work of the House Rural Development Council and our continuing efforts to ensure prosperity is accessible to all Georgians – regardless of zip code.”
The center, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center, has named Janet Cochran to lead the North Georgia Office. Cochran comes to the center with more than a decade of experience as a project manager with the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
“Finding ways to not only maintain but to multiply the economic and cultural vitality present in so many of north Georgia’s small towns and rural communities relies heavily on relationships,” said Dr. David Bridges, Georgia’s Rural Center interim director, “and we know that our presence and personnel there will only improve our ability to facilitate positive outcomes. Janet brings a wealth of experience in managing economic development projects in this region of the state, and we’re excited to have her join our team in this role at the North Georgia Office.”
Headquartered at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation serves as a central information and research hub for rural best practices, including community planning, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with community partners. The center was proposed by the House Rural Development Council in 2017 and was created by House Bill 951, which was enacted in 2018.
“Promoting a strong business environment that enhances the quality of our community is not just the chamber’s mission in words, it is behind everything we do. The opening of CORE and the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation is a cornerstone moment in that mission and one that we have worked tirelessly to support and create for many years. I join with our 650 members in celebrating,” remarked John Marshall, Gilmer Chamber Chairman of the Board.
“As chairman of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation it has been our goal as a private, citizen funded organization to help spur economic growth for our community and region. CORE being the home to the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation North Georgia office brings our vision to reality. We look forward to continuing to serve our communities for years to come,” said Kent Sanford, Chairman of the Board.
“Working with Speaker of the House David Ralston and the House leadership to bring the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation North Georgia office to our community will have economic impact to the entire region. We look forward to continuing to work to insure the success of the center and all of our partners within CORE,” remarked Lex Rainey, Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority Chairman of the Board.
Located in Gilmer County, Ellijay is a thriving rural community in the North Georgia mountains, offering a unique blend of southern hospitality and natural beauty. The area leads Georgia in apple production and is a center for agribusiness and agritourism.
For more information about the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, visit http://www.ruralga.org/.
(photos by the Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter)
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Traveling and transporting pets just got a bit easier for the Gilmer County Animal Shelter as kennels have been supplied through donations.
According the Friends Of Gilmer Animal Shelter (FOGAS), they presented Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Director of the Gilmer County Animal Shelter Daniel Laukka with transport kennels valued at $6,200 earlier this week, on June 25, 2019.
An official statement from FOGAS on the social media page stated, “These kennels were designed to reduce the stress of the animals in transport while allowing maximum use of space in the GCAS transport van.”
But the donation means more the shelter and the county than just extra equipment. Chairman Paris told FYN, “This will help both the animals and shelter employees and volunteers. Shelter personnel will no longer have to place crates that are currently in use, into the van – requiring animals to be moved around so that those crates can be made available. The new creates can remain in the van permanently.”
Paris went on to say that the crates are better than the current wire cages in multiple ways. They are more sturdy and “solidly made” to meet the needs of long travels. The animal shelter frequently makes trips out of state to other locations in efforts to find homes for the animals. The crates also offer more privacy for the animals as Paris said they provide “a private environment that is much less stressful for them.”
Speaking on the donation, FOGAS stated, “All of us at FOGAS are proud to assist the citizens of Gilmer County with the humane reduction of pet overpopulation through subsidized spay & neuter programs and our Gilmer County shelter with transporting homeless pets to loving homes.”
Paris added to the emotion saying, “We are very appreciative of the organizations and individuals that donate to the shelter so that the animals housed there can have a better life. These donations are so important – and so appreciated – because they allow homeless animals to have a better quality of life than just ‘life in a wire crate.’ These donations from groups and individuals make a tremendous difference, and we just can’t thank them enough.”
“It’s important to me… I think it’s a service to the community.” Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson speaks on the priority of the pool in her own opinion.
Ferguson spoke about the balance the county has to maintain as they face the needs of the county versus the availability of funds in the budget. Ferguson also noted how important physical activity is to her. Owning Stay Active Ellijay, Ferguson has spent years in the business of keeping people active and healthy. She points to her history here as she says how important a pool, and later a full recreation center, is to her.
While acknowledging that she is one-third of the board, Ferguson said her own priorities for the coming project is to focus on both pools as a single thought as she wants to have the children’s play area and ramp entry to be easier for those who need it. The “zero-entry” concepts plays a special role as Ferguson wants the growing senior population to have just as much access as any others.
But it’s not just the pool, according to Ferguson, who says, “One of my things with the whole River Park, is to build community. The pool is a place where we can build community, where we can come together, all ages, all economic backgrounds, and be a community there. To me, it fits so many of our needs, in my mind, of what’s important for the county, for the community.”
With such a large project originally being planned for Clear Creek, but now looking more and more like it will be located at River Park, Ferguson was excited to look at a partnership with East Ellijay for a closer location as well as the chance to save money on the project with both locations not costing the county money for the land.
While she said she is more responsible for the unincorporated parts of the county, Ferguson looks at the citizens inside and outside of the city limits as the same body of Gilmer County.
Despite the positivity and optimism, Ferguson said she is “crossing her fingers” on the River Park location as the county continues investigations into its viability. Even though it “fits very well there,” says Ferguson, “It’s all about the flood plain.” Ferguson acknowledged the planning phase is still in motion and she emphasized that the county is still answering questions to make sure it will not raise the expense of the project to make the land viable. She said the county still has a budget to follow and must stay within that budgeted amount.
Ferguson also said she wants to stay positive and is “hopefull” when looking at the Memorial Day opening goal. However, she also said she would not be willing to rush it just to get it open by then. While having a goal is great for projects, she wants to take her time and do it right.