Feeding Griffin Together raises $2600 for Backpack Food For Kids.

Feeding Griffin Together raises $2600 for Backpack Food For Kids. Feeding Griffin Together, an annual lunch and concert designed to raise hunger awareness and raise funds to “feed Griffin together,”raised $2600 this year. These funds will be donated to BackPack Food for Kids, a Spalding Collaborative program that gives ready-to-eat food items to children in the GSCS system that may not have access to nutritious food at home. “We are so excited that we more than doubled the funds that we raised last year. We didn’t quite meet our goal of $3000, but I am confident that this event will continue to grow and do great things for this community,” said event organizer Jessica Gregory. “Our sponsors –The Chicken House, City Church, Georgia Perimeter Homes, Griffin Gallery, Tommy Allen Real Estate, United Bank, and several individual citizens -are definitely the ones to thank for that –their contributions covered the event costs, allowing 100% of the ticket sales to go toward our cause,” continued Gregory.

Event attendees enjoyed concert by local musicians Ryan Cummings and Cole Jackson on a crisp fall day on November 3 in the Park at 6th, and took home a commemorative hand-painted bowl, which is to serve as a reminder that there are people who continue to go hungry. Plans are already in the works for the next Feeding Griffin Together, which may be moved to the spring instead of the fall, according to Gregory.

Back Pack Food for Kids is in its seventh year of providing ready-to-eat meals for elementary-aged children at six Griffin-Spalding County Schools. The program sends out 8,000 food items per month, serving an average of 250 students per year. They hope to eventually expand to serve students from all 11 local elementary schools, but want to make sure they can financially support each additional school long-term before they add any schools.

To make a donation or for more information, please email krrhodes27@gmail.com. Images Credit: Michael Renew

Task force seeks to reduce school absences

During the November meeting of the Educational Prosperity Initiative, Regina Abbott discussed her work on the Attendance Task Force, a group that oversees student absenteeism in the local school system.

According to the Georgia Department of Education, an unexcused absence is any absence that does not fall in one of the following categories — personal illness, serious illness or death in the student’s immediate family, religious holiday, serving as Page of the General Assembly, registering to vote or voting (not to exceed one day), when conditions render attendance impossible or hazardous to the student’s health or safety, or when mandated by order of governmental agencies.

In all other cases, “any absences, which are not permitted under the Compulsory School Attendance Law and by policies and regulations of the school system Board of Education will be considered unlawful (unexcused).”

Georgia state law says that after five unexcused absences, parents or guardians will be given written documentation telling them of the possible consequences of failing to comply with the law, and after seven unexcused absences, a referral will be made to a social worker.

It is when a student has 10 unexcused absences that a referral to the Attendance Task Force is made.

Abbott, who has been on the task force for just over one year, said that usually by the time a student gets to them they have had 30 or more unexcused absences. She said it has been as high as 60.

According to her presentation, unexcused absences can lead to missed learning and the risk of falling behind. She said it can also cause students to disengage socially and lead to feelings of alienation.

In the longterm, she said the consequences of missing school can cause adverse health outcomes, lead to poverty in adulthood and/or increase the likelihood of interacting with the criminal justice system.

She said when a student is referred to the Attendance Task Force, the parent or guardian is called to meet with them. She said if the student is old enough, (middle or high school age) they are also called to meet with the task force.

During the meeting, a social worker reviews the case with the parent or guardian and then the members of the task force ask questions.

“We try to hear them out and engage in conversation with them, to ask questions and find out what it is they need to be able to be in school,” she said.

After the discussion, the parent or guardian leaves the room and the task force creates a list of recommendations. Next, the parent or guardian returns and they are presented with the recommendations.

She said there are a number of resources they use to help reduce the number of absences. Some of these include mental health treatment, skills training and counseling.

“Rather than just punishing, finding actionable solutions is often effective in reducing truancy,” a portion of her presentation read.

She said that there are several ways the community can participate in reducing unexcused absences in the local system. She said that anyone who wishes to help can volunteer as a mentor, become a court-appointed special advocate, become certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid and more.

“Parents, schools, youth all have a responsibility in preventing truancy,” Abbott said.

Jennifer Reynolds staff writer @ Griffin Daily News.

Program provides meals for children

Kathy and Ronnie Rhodes have volunteered for the Back Pack Food for Kids program since 2013 after Kathy retired after 31 years as an educator in Clayton and Spalding counties.

They are the current directors for the program. Kathy first learned about the program when then director Joseph Walker spoke to the teachers about the program when she was at Griffin High School in 2012. Walker asked them to be the directors in 2015 and despite their daughter’s wedding being four months off, they accepted.

The program, she said, provides meals for children on the weekends “who face food insecurity.”

To participate, students must be part of the free or reduced breakfast and lunches at the school and the participating schools are based on the numbers of students at the school on free or reduced breakfast and lunches. Parents have to fill out the application, she said.

There were about 256 students in the program this past school year, across six elementary schools — Cowan Road, Atkinson, Moore, Jackson Road, Beaverbrook, and Anne Street.

She said the school let them know how many they have each week — and they try to keep it about 250, but it has gone as high as 275.

The bags that go home with the students include food for two breakfasts and two lunches and a snack for the weekend. She said the bags are distributed by the schools, usually by teachers putting them in the child’s backpack.

This only happens during the school year as they don’t have direct contact with the students. There are other programs that provide meals over the summer.

The program costs about $69,000 a year for the food, and they’d like to have the funds banked ahead of time to pay for the upcoming year so they don’t have to fund raise during the school year. The program is part of the Spalding Collaborative Authority for Children and Adults.

She said the program is in the process of finding a new location to store and sort food, after having worked at Five Loaves Two Fish Food Pantry, since starting. The food pantry is expanding and needs the space, she said, and notified them back in November.

She said volunteers meet on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. to set up the food and at 10 a.m on Thursdays to pack and deliver the food to the schools.

“We always need volunteers,” she said.

To volunteer, email krrhodes27@gmail.com for more information.

Ray Lightner, Griffin Daily News

Golden Pencil Award

Spalding Collaborative Youth Advisory Council members were presented the Golden Pencil Award at a statewide ceremony because they did more community hours and projects than any other group in Georgia. Pictured are Danaysia Thurmond, parent Penny White, Dy’mond Bell, Jeanetta Allen, Adult Advisor Lisa Fambro, Noah Jones, Kyle Teller and Demetrius King. Yoshunda Jones is the other adult advisor.

Project Aware donates to LFL

Project AWARE has donated 58 books to be placed in the 28 Little Free Libraries around town. The books selected focus on mental health, since May was Mental Health Month.

The books are new and geared to elementary age students. The books were part of the Project AWARE Raising a Reader program in the Griffin-Spalding County School System.“We had some left over,” explained Debbie L. Crisp from Project AWARE. After the books were given to each of the elementary school counselors, the remaining 58 were donated to the Little Free Libraries. The titles included “A Giving Tree,” “An Awesome Book of Love,” “Virginia Wolf,” “The Rainbow Fish,” “Chrysanthe-mum,” “Elmer,” “A Chair for My Mother,” “Tops & Bottoms,” and “Jamaica Louise James.” 

Brett Bell — who’s led the Little Free Libraries project for the Spalding Collaborative — thanked them for the books, which will be used to help supply books for the boxes. Andrea Dunson of First National Bank, the librarian for the Little Free Libraries, thanked Project AWARE for the donation and thanked volunteers from the Junior Guild who go out and stock the boxes and report back on what is needed, be it more books or repairs to the boxes. Bell also thanked Homer Maddox, who has taken on keeping the boxes repaired. “We’re committed to building and sustaining this program,” Bell said

Ray Lightner Staff writer. Griffin Daily News

Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse

According to Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, Georgia is currently ranked 39th in the nation for child well-being, and Prevent Child Abuse America estimated that as of 2012 child abuse and neglect costs the state anywhere from $2 billion to $3 billion annually.

To help combat child abuse and neglect, certain laws exist to help ensure that abuse or suspected abuse is reported and done so in a timely manner.

Workers and volunteers who participate in child-related industries such as schools, medicine or even church groups with children’s programs were

recently invited to attend a free training session to help teach their staff the signs of abuse in children and what to do once those signs occur.

The event was taught by Maureen Oginga from Prevent Child Abuse Georgia and was hosted by the Spalding Collaborative on Wednesday at the Spalding County Extension office.

During the training session, attendees were instructed on the laws governing mandated reporting — the legally required notification of authorities when child abuse, exploitation or neglect is known or suspected. They were also taught the four types of abuse and warning signs, dos and don’ts for when a child discloses abuse and the procedure for reporting suspected child abuse.

Oginga said that a mandated reporter has 24 hours to make a report of suspected maltreatment and that in the state of Georgia, workers and volunteers who work with a child-focused organization are required to report suspected abuse to DFCS.

The four types of abuse are physical, neglect, sexual and emotional.

Physical abuse is any non-accidental physical injury of a child. Some signs of possible physical abuse include unexplained bruises and welts, unexplained burns, unexplained fractures or dislocations and bald patches on the scalp.

Children who have suffered physical abuse will often display behavioral signs as well, such as feeling that they deserve punishment or wearing inappropriate clothing as a means to hide injuries.

Oginga said that the second type of abuse, neglect, is the most common type. This can take the form of a child not having enough food, clothing or shelter. It can also be emotional or educational neglect. Some possible physical indicators of neglect are a child that is chronically hungry, has poor hygiene, or has a consistent lack of supervision. A few behavioral indicators are stealing food, constant fatigue or assuming adult responsibilities.

Sexual abuse, Oginga said, is most commonly perpetrated by an individual who is known to the victim and one-third of all sexual abuse is perpetrated by another child. She said that studies show that one in 10 children will experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday.

Some behavioral signs that sexual abuse may have occurred include inappropriate sex play or advanced sexual knowledge and promiscuity. Physical signs may include difficulty walking or sitting or the presence of a sexually transmitted disease.

The final type of abuse, emotional abuse, occurs when there is “excessive or aggressive parental behavior that places unreasonable demands on a child to perform above his or her capabilities.” The training materials provided during the class said this is frequently verbal abuse and that it typically occurs over a period of time.

This type of abuse can give rise to speech disorders, delayed physical development, antisocial or destructive behaviors or even neurotic traits.

Attendees learned that when a child discloses abuse, they should talk privately with the child, reassure the child and listen openly and calmy. It was recommended that they write down the facts and words as the child states them and to respect the child’s need for privacy. Then, the abuse or suspicion of abuse should be reported to a local child protection agency or law enforcement.

If you know of or even have “reasonable suspicions” of child abuse, you can make an anonymous report by dialing 1-855-GACHILD (1-855-422-4453). If a child is in immediate danger, dial 911.BY JENNIFER REYNOLDS STAFF WRITER JREYNOLDS@GRIFFINDAILYNEWS.COM  Jun 13

If you missed the Mandated Reporter Training, You can do it on line. http://www.preventchildabusega.org/

Accountability Court set up to help instead of punish

RAY LIGHTNER/DAILY NEWS Senior Judge Sid Esary spoke with the Educational Prosperity Initiative to get the word out about the Accountability Court.

Spalding County has an accountability court to help veterans and those with drug, alcohol and mental illness issues get treatment and stay out of jail.

“We take individuals charged with a crime, and pull them out of judicial system and put them under our umbrella,” Judge Sid Esary said.

It is a voluntary 16-month program, he said, where participants have to agree to treatment, counseling, drug testing and if they complete the program the charges are dropped.

Esary, a former State Court judge, said, “for 10 years, my job was to determine if someone did or did not do it, assess a fine or punishment. What was being accomplished? Not a dag-gum thing. We’ve taken away their money and ability to get a job.”

When they serve the sentence, he said, “they were no better off.” The purpose of the accountability court, Esary said, “is to try to help them instead of punish them. Punishment only goes so far.”

He explained the accountability court is a new movement in the justice system, where they are pulled out of the system and suspend the sentence, while treating the underlying problems of drug and alcohol abuse/addiction and mental health problems.

“We bring them out of the system and put them through a rigorous treatment program, with twice weekly drug tests, counseling sessions, over 16 months,” Esary said.

In that process, Esary said, “we hope they learned to deal with problems and they are given tools to deal with them.”

The Spalding County Accountability Court started two years ago, right after Esary retired as State Court judge.

“I was appointed by Judge Josh Thacker, who succeeded me, as a judge pro tem (temporary), and was appointed a senior judge by the governor,” Esary said.

In that time, there have been nine graduates, he said, with15 currently in the program and another five or six coming in.

“The whole idea of the accountability court is just that, to hold them accountable. It is an alternative to punishment,” Esary said.

“We try to catch them before they are convicted, so they don’t have a conviction on their record when they get out,” he said. “If they complete the program, we dismiss the case against them.”

Esary said the program “ain’t a walk in the park. It ain’t easy.”

He said it is voluntary, and some do not want to do it because they have to give up drugs and alcohol.

“They’d rather pay the fine or go to jail,” Esary said.

“We have folks with severe problems, and the problem is not just because they are weak,” Esary said. “There was poor upbringing, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Once that monkey is on your back, it is hard to get rid of.”

The objective, he said, “is to treat the underlying problems, so they don’t get in trouble again. It is funded by a grant from the state and some local funds for office space, but because of the funding, it is limited to those charged with a crime.”

Esary works with the Spalding County State Court, Griffin Municipal Court and Spalding County Superior Court, and gets referrals from those courts.

“We do a background check, and ask the prosecutor to them under our program,” he said. “They will dead docket the case, not prosecute, as long as they complete the program.”

He said, “we have had to remove four or five, out of some 30 we’ve dealt with. Eighty percent actually succeed, graduate from the program (and it) is actually outstanding.”

Esary spoke to the Educational Prosperity Initiative, to help get the word out.

“We’ve gotten the word out to the lawyers,” he said. “Our program doesn’t cost a dime, there’s no fees at all for first class treatment. I thought they’d be knocking the door down.”

They have such a success rate, Esary said, “because people have bought in. If you are our program you can get a temporary license, so you can drive to the program, and keep a job. There’s no cost, first class treatment, and hopefully you get well.”

The treatment includes counselors and psychiatric care from McIntosh Trail. They work with Waypoint Veterans Resource Center to get help for the veterans, and work with Veterans Affairs, local prosecutors and law enforcement.

Only persons with mental health issues who have committed offenses or veterans who have become involved with the criminal justice system are eligible. No one with a current or prior sales, distribution or intent charge will be considered, nor will anyone with a residential burglary, sex crime or violent offense. Other disqualifiers may include number of prior arrests and convictions, but requirements are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

For more information or an application, contact Accountability Court Coordinator Leslie Heffron at 770-467-8824 or lheffron@spaldingcounty.com for an application.

Mar 08

Law enforcement officials discuss crime, prevention

Griffin Police Chief Mike Yates and Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix both spoke Wednesday at the Spalding Collaborative meeting.

Each addressed changes in local crime rates and programs aimed at stopping crime before it begins.

One point that they agreed strongly on was that children are exposed to crime at an early age.

Yates said that children are, “indoctrinated into criminal behavior between 3 and 6 years old. The average citizen doesn’t realize that. They think it starts in high school.”

Dix said it was not unusual to see young children on the playground flashing gang signs or pretending to “smoke a blunt.” He said that at that age, they do not yet understand what they are doing, but they are “emulating exposure” to crime and gang activity they have seen at home.

Each department has implemented a variety of programs targeted at local youth.

see crime/page A2

The police department recently installed Buddy Benches at local schools, Anne Street Elementary and Atkinson Elementary, and plan to have three more placed at other local schools soon.

Yates said that the benches provide a place for officers to meet with students who are identified by the school as a child who needs additional support. He said that officers will chat with these students, perhaps have lunch or breakfast with them.

Dix discussed the Junior Deputy Program which has been in place for 50 years. Each year, they take a group of sixth graders to Washington D.C. to tour the nation’s landmarks and monuments.

He said some local students will never leave the county or even the city limits, so this is an opportunity to show them more.

“It gives you hope and warms your heart to see them realize they can be anything they want,” he said.

Another program begun by the police department, Project Halo, is aimed at reducing crime through use of cameras.

Yates said that they are partnering with Georgia Power to install two cameras to be paid for by the city. One will be on Experiment Street and the other at Solomon and Hill streets.

He emphasized that the cameras will not be routinely monitored but the footage will be available for review should an incident be reported in the area.

He also said they hope to create a network of privately-owned cameras, again, not to be constantly monitored, but to be reviewed by law enforcement if a crime takes place.

He said he hopes that crime will be reduced by installing signs in the areas with cameras.

Dix said it is important to him that his department is a part of the community.

“We really love being in the community,” he said.

He said that it is not law enforcement’s job to tell a community where their problems are. It is law enforcement’s job to listen to the community and address what is important to them.

They have created a program with the working title of “firehouse chats” which will begin in April. The sheriff and members of his department plan to meet informally at local area fire departments to discuss issues of concern to residents.

Both said that crime is down in the local area.

They addressed an internet rumor that Griffin and Spalding County are supposedly in the top 10 for crime in Georgia and said that that information is inaccurate and was created by an alarm company as a means to market a product.

Yates said the reality is that there is a nearly 40 percent reduction in violent crime. This includes murder, robbery and motor vehicle theft among others.

Dix, who said he grew up in the area, closed by saying, “We have a lot to be proud of. I see it changing. I see it turning the corner.”

Feb 14
By Jennifer Reynolds


Feb 15
Matt Murray, right, from the Exchange Club presents a check to Regina Abbott, left, and Brett Bell, center, for the Spalding Collaborative from proceeds collected from last year’s Doc Holliday Festival. The presentation took place at the Wednesday meeting of Spalding Collaborative. “It’s an honor for the Exchange Club to be a part of this and we’re going to continue to support the Collaborative going forward,” said Murray

Two ribbon-cuttings conducted at The Park at The Oaks

Two ribbon-cuttings conducted at The Park at The Oaks

There were two ribbon-cuttings at The Park at The Oaks on Wednesday.

There was one for the park itself and one for the Little Free Library located there. The Park at The Oaks was a partnership betweeen the Griffin Housing Authority and The Salvation Army of Griffin and Spalding County, and was a project for Leadership Griffin+Spalding, a program of the Griffin-Spalding Chamber of Commerce.

Located between The Salvation Army Center on Meriwether Street and the Housing Authority’s Oaks at Park Point and Iris at Park Point, and backing up to the Griffin Police Department headquarters, the park includes a walking track and senior exercise stations, and is open to the entire community, not just the residents of the Oaks or Iris.

Salvation Army Lt. Tim Blevins praised “the leadership, collaboration and partnership to bring this to pass.”

Blevins said the project was being thought about when he and his wife were assigned to Griffin, which will be three years in June.

“I am a firm beliver in walking for exercise,” he said. “I try to do two miles a day, five days a week. This track is perfect for this community.”

Blevins was reminded of Timothy 4:8 — “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come,” saying it was something his

father used to justify his sedentary lifestyle. “But our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit,” Blevins said, and “we need to keep it in the best condition possible.”

County Manager William P. Wilson Jr., as well as Blevins and Griffin Housing Authority Chief Executive Officer Bob Dull, said this project is just one of the things to come from the partnership.

“This is what happens when you build collaboration,” Dull said.

The Park at the Oakshome is also the  of the 28th Little Free Library in Spalding County. Spalding Collaborative Chairman Brett Bell said he was “very, very happy to be a citizen of Griffin,” noting that the Little Free Library effort has brought together people in the community who may not have otherwise come together.

Bell said Spalding County may have the highest concentration of Little Free Libraries in the state of Georgia. There are more than 80,000 worldwide in 90-plus countries, he said.

Bell also thanked Larry Tinsley for painting the box, which has been waiting for a home for about four months.

“You did an amazing job on this box. We want to let you know you’ll be working for us,” he said.