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Farm Life in Florida theme of student art show

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Photo special to Alachua County Today

This collection of pieces showcases farm life in Florida, this year's theme for the art show Around 150 students had their art on display.

 NEWBERRY – Artwork from more than 150 young students is on display, as it has been for the past two weeks, at the Newberry Firehouse Gallery.

Newberry Elementary School students ranging from kindergarten through the fourth grade submitted their best artwork depicting the world they see around them. The pictures will be judged not only on the artistic quality of the work for their age group, but also on the ability of the artist to capture the theme of this year’s Lions Club competition, which is farm life in Florida.

Susan Ling, Newberry Elementary School art teacher, said she was amazed by the number of students who participated this year.

“I expected maybe 80 submissions,” she said. “I lost track after 130.” The actual count was 152, said the Lions Club president, Jack Varnon.

Each artist’s submission was mounted by Ling onto multi-colored backing and was submitted for showing at the art gallery. The gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Newberry Main Street Organization’s Dallas Lee and Barbara Hendrix, the executive director, along with Amy Dalusio, spent an entire day hanging all of the artwork to make it possible for viewers to visit the gallery and see all of the children’s entries.

Awards will be given out to participants from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Feb. 15 at the Firehouse Gallery. Monetary awards in varying amounts will be given to students winning “best in show” and the first and second place winners in each of the grades. In addition, a purple rosette will be given out to the grand prize winning student whose work best epitomizes the theme.

Past Lions Club president Mindie Fortson will provide the criteria for judging to the panel of five judges made up of from citizens of Newberry.

Varnon said the annual competition has been a part of the Newberry Lions Club annual Farm Toy Show and Tractor Parade in past years. Although Lions Club members did not produce the toy show this year, they decided to sponsor this aspect of their usual show as a way to encourage young artists to display their talents and share their work with the Newberry community.

“I am very excited for our students to have this opportunity to participate in an art show in their own home town that relates to elements of their daily life,” said principal Ling. “There are people in our community that want to see our students succeed and show off their many talents. We could not have done such a fine show without the sponsorship of The Lions Club and the willingness of the Firehouse Gallery to host the event.”

Although the Newberry Lions Club membership has dwindled in past years as members moved away or became incapacitated, Varnon said the organization is looking for new members.

“We’re hoping to identify those community leaders who feel as we do that service is a privilege and an honor,” Varnon said. The group is hoping to recruit like-minded individuals and restore the Lions Club to the viable service group that it used to be. “This Florida Farm Art Show is one way we hope to serve our community and encourage our youth at the same time,” Varnon said.

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Pirates gather booty for Relay for Life

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KAY EVANS/Photo special to Alachua County Today

The theme of this year's Relay for Life is "Hooked on a Cure." Participants in pirate costumes gathered for the event.

HIGH SPRINGS – The Woman’s Club was decked out in pirate booty on Friday, Feb. 7 to raise awareness for this year’s Relay for Life “Hooked on a Cure” theme. Raffles, prizes, cake, soup and fun were had at the second annual Soup ‘R Sweet fundraiser.

The fundraiser was organized to raise money for the High Springs Relay for Life event coming up in May. Tickets were $7 per person or $20 for three tickets, offering attendees a buffet mainly featuring soup.

“It was fantastic, and a great turnout. There were six different kinds of soups,” said Vickie Cox, president of the Woman’s Club.

The local Sonny’s and the Grady House donated to the evening’s dinner.

“Honestly, I came to stuff my face. The food was so good. I baked two cakes for the auction,” said Shannon O’ Brien, team captain for PNC Bank’s Relay for Life team.

Close to 100 people turned up for the event, said Marilyn Vanover, who was greeting people at the door.

“There was no financial goal. The goal was to have fun, and spread the word about Relay,” Vanover said.

The number of attendees surpassed last year, said Kay Evans, member of the Woman’s Club.

“It was wonderful, a lot more than last year,” she said.

Evans dressed up in a pirate outfit for the event to spread awareness of the “Hooked on a Cure” theme. Several people donated cakes for the auction.

Nathan Brems, 13, who attends Fort Clarke Middle School in Gainesville, won a vibrant blue and orange Gator necklace and a framed photograph taken by Evans.

“I was really happy. I wanted to get both of these, and it was really suspenseful,” Brems said.

The main goal of the event was to bring the community together to raise awareness. “[It] brings awareness for cancer treatments, and encourages leaders, small business owners and everyone together for a cause,” O’Brien, PNC’s team captain, said.

Sharon Kantor, team development co-chair with Linda Hewlett for Relay for Life, said her goal is to recruit more teams for the event. Right now, there are 15 regular teams, but her goal is to have 25 teams.

Kantor hopes the turnout for Relay for Life will be as positive as the turnout of the fundraiser.

“Everyone was enthusiastic and generous with their donations,” she said.

In order to get ready for Relay for Life on May 9, Kantor will be providing the materials for people to create luminaria bags on the third Saturday of every month at Cootie Coot Creations. These bags will be lit up on the track during Relay for Life, and represent the memories of loved ones.

The fundraiser was designed to motivate the community to get involved in the cause, Kantor said.

“Cancer has touched peoples’ lives in one way or another, and it is important we all join in to fight for the cure,” she said.

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GREC could cut line for call center

ALACHUA – Only 14 complaints came into the call center for the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC) biomass plant in the last month, causing local officials to suggest shutting it down.

Since the biomass plant went online last August, residents of the Turkey Creek neighborhood in Alachua have been vocal about issues with noise from the plant. A high volume of calls were coming in to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, the Alachua Police Department and the Gainesville Police Department, prompting a panel of local leaders to establish the call center, paid for by Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU).

Since the center was set up in November, it has received about 250 calls in total. It cost GRU about $3,000 to establish, according to the organization.

The reduction in complaints over the last couple of months could be due to noise-dampening panels GREC installed in December in the facility’s stacks.

GRU sent out a press release last week, announcing local government agencies recommend shutting down the call center. Concerns related to the biomass plant should be reported directly to GREC, according to GRU.

In the weeks and months after the biomass plant went online, Alachua City Commission meetings were filled with citizens complaining about the noise. At the Sept. 23 meeting, around three dozen people came to voice concerns.

The commission sent out letters to several officials, including county commissioners, city commissioners, the county manager, state legislators and U.S. senators.

Alachua City Commissioner Robert Wilford, who lives in Turkey Creek, said the noise situation has dramatically improved since December.

“The noise has not been bad at all in the last two months,” he said.

His wife, Dianne, agreed, saying the noise-dampening panels helped.

“We have noticed here in our particular part of Turkey Creek where that has helped tremendously,” she said.

Some residents closer to the plant still complain, though, she said.

Robert Wilford had been outspoken about the biomass plant since the issues arose, but he did so as a citizen, not as a commissioner, he clarified.

During the height of the controversy, he wrote an email to several local officials expressing his dissatisfaction.

“I realize that you are being bombarded with a plethora of complaints regarding GREC's operations. Being brutally candid, based on the manner in which GREC is failing to address the many valid concerns being expressed by residents of the Turkey Creek, Brooke Pointe and Staghorn subdivisions, residents of the Town of Hague, residents of the manufactured home subdivision located across from the Turkey Creek subdivision, and also some residents of non-incorporated Alachua County who live close to the center, you and the management of GREC have ignominiously earned the wrath of the many individuals and families who are being continually and adversely impacted by your center's questionable operations and the obvious lack of regard for our individual rights,” he wrote.

Not all the complaints directed to the biomass plant were about noise. Several complained about dust pollution.

Employees of the nearby Alachua County Public Works Department compound complained about irritated eyes, noses and throats, as well as breathing issues.

People are still talking about the dust particulates, Robert Wilford said. Wilford has chronic bronchitis, a condition he worried would be exacerbated by the dust, he said in an earlier interview with Alachua County Today.  

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Suspect captured in connection to High Springs robberies

HIGH SPRINGS – A person suspected by local law enforcement to be involved in a string of armed robberies in the High Springs area last October was arrested last week.

Dennis Christopher Godden, 31, of High Springs, was arrested by Brevard County deputies in Cocoa Beach. He was then extradited back to Columbia County.

Information gathered by the High Springs Police Department (HSPD), including an anonymous tip and interviews with people who identified him as the culprit in a series of armed robberies, led to the arrest, said Antoine Sheppard, acting chief of the HSPD.

On Oct. 11 of last year, the Sunrise Food Star was robbed at gun point by an unknown white male. Two other robberies occurred shortly after in Ft. White and in unincorporated Alachua County.

Godden is currently in the Columbia County Jail. Alachua County, Columbia County and the City of High Springs have all filed identical charges of strong arm robbery and grand theft.

Godden will face three separate trials, one for each jurisdiction, Sheppard said. If he is convicted in all jurisdictions, he will most likely be given a concurrent sentence, he added. A concurrent sentence means Godden will serve time for each jurisdiction simultaneously, rather than having one jurisdiction’s sentence stacked on to the other.

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District’s School Related Employee of the Year broadens students’ horizons

HAWTHORNE – In her 23 years at Hawthorne Middle and High School, Alta Johnson has provided a lot of students with many of the ‘firsts’ in their lives.

Johnson, the student services specialist and a graduate of the school, has given many students the opportunity to take their first plane ride, take part in their first professional sporting event and even to leave the Hawthorne city limits for the first time.

And thanks to her help, many students at Hawthorne have become the first in their families to attend college.

“She’s been personally responsible for helping many of our students apply to college, and when they’re accepted, has helped them find the funds they need to fulfill their college dreams,” said Hawthorne principal Libby Hartwell.

That commitment to students is the key reason Johnson was named Alachua County’s School Related Employee of the Year for 2014. She will now go on to represent the district in the Florida awards program.

“I was very surprised,” Johnson said of her selection. “It’s something I never expected. I just do what I need to do.”

Her job is to oversee students in the in-school suspension program, which means ensuring that students who have been removed from their regular classes are keeping up with their schoolwork. She’s also the school’s health and wellness coordinator, developing and implementing health-related programs and education for students and staff. She serves as the school’s activities director, which means she’s responsible for coordinating all extra-curricular activities and other events that take place at school. During her tenure at Hawthorne, Johnson has also coached a number of sports, and is currently coaching the middle school boys’ basketball team.

But much of what Johnson does for students falls outside her job description. She’s taken on the role of mentor for many Hawthorne students, monitoring their academic progress and keeping them on track for college. As they get older, she helps them navigate the college application process, and helps them get scholarships and financial aid. She’s even taken students on trips to college campuses in and out of Florida, often dipping into her own pocket to make it happen.

“When I was growing up, my parents pushed the idea of going to college, so I want to push my students to take that next step,” Johnson said.

She’s also taken groups of students to professional sporting events, such as a trip to Orlando last year to watch the Orlando Magic play. She even arranged for them to meet some of the players.

“I want to expose them to different experiences,” she said. “A lot of these kids don’t get the chance to do things like that. I want them to see what’s going on outside their community.”

Johnson and the other 49 Alachua County Public School employees named School Related Employees of the Year for their schools and websites will all be honored at a special ceremony in early May. At that event, each will be presented with a check for $110 to represent the fact that they give 110 percent to their work. Private donations will cover the cost of the awards. Anyone interested in contributing to the School Related Employee of the Year program can contact The Education Foundation for Alachua County Public Schools at 352- 955-7003.

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