Saturday, September 10, 2011

Volunteers Pitch In To Help Tornado Victims

Monday, May 2, 2011

Special Photo Henry County Emergency Management Director Don Ash helped to clear fallen trees and other debris from a home in Spalding County, during a clean-up effort in the aftermath of recent tornadoes in the area.
By Jason A. Smith

More than 40 Henry residents gathered in a neighboring community over the weekend, to assist victims of storms that ripped through portions of the Southeast, including the Southern Crescent area.

Local volunteers went to School Road in Spalding County Saturday, to clear debris left by the recent tornadoes. Henry Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis, spearheaded the endeavor. The team of volunteers she took to the area worked for about six hours, she said.

"The house we spent the most time on, was a couple who had no homeowner's insurance," Mathis said. "We were able to completely clear all the trees from their yard, and put them along the roadway for Spalding County Public Works to pick up later. Some of them were so large, you couldn't reach your arms around them."

Mathis said the volunteers were split among different areas in Spalding County, as well as Lamar County, which was also affected by the tornadoes.

"The bulk of the volunteers were on Old Hwy 3, in Sunnyside," she said. "Some were over on School Road, at the Christian Women's Center. Additional volunteers were at other homes on the same street, doing similar work. Thanks to three volunteers, we had three Bobcats working on [one] street, and were able to get a lot more accomplished."

Don Dunlap, a business teacher at Patrick Henry High School, was among those who volunteered for the clean-up. He and other members of the Henry team, loaded Bobcats full of heavy equipment, to be hauled away from the site.

There were lots of trees on houses," said Dunlap. "It was amazing, the amount of damage that was done to these homes."

Dunlap said the volunteers' eagerness to help the Spalding community carried over into Sunday. Some of them returned to continue their efforts.

Mathis said Henry's relief effort was sparked by a telephone conversation she had Thursday with Spalding County Commission Chairman Eddie Freeman. "He said the damage was massive, and they couldn't respond to all the areas as quickly as they wanted to," Mathis said.

The tornado entered the southwest corner of Spalding County around midnight Wednesday, heading northeast, said Freeman, in an interview with the Henry Daily Herald last Friday.

Freeman said the destruction was "tremendous," and that an elderly man and his caregiver perished in the storm.

"We have 400 homes that are either, damaged or destroyed, and 14 businesses that are damaged or destroyed," said Freeman.

He added that firefighters from Clayton County came to Spalding to provide assistance, in the wake of the tornado.

Elsewhere in the Atlanta area, Kroger grocery stores are encouraging customers and employees to contribute to tornado-relief efforts, by making donations to the American Red Cross. Customers can round up their purchases to the nearest whole dollar at all Atlanta Division Kroger locations, which include stores in Georgia, South Carolina, northern Alabama and eastern Tennessee.

"Our hearts are with our friends and neighbors in north Georgia, Huntsville, [Ala.], and across the Southeast, who have been devastated by this horrendous natural disaster," said Glynn Jenkins, director of communications and public relations for Kroger's Atlanta Division. "Our customers and communities come together during times such as these, and we are so appreciative. Their generosity truly makes a difference in the lives of so many people."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Students get lessons in citizenship, service

Article Courtesy Of Clayton News Daily©
Photo by Johnny Jackson
Joni Barlow gives a presentation, using a projector slideshow, as she shares with classmates her experiences in the community service learning course at Patrick Henry High School.

By Johnny Jackson

Joni Barlow was visibly emotional as she shared the lessons she had learned over the past semester at Patrick Henry High School, in Stockbridge.

"Even though you think you don't deserve it, because of the bad things you did," said Barlow. "God believes you do."

This, the student said, is what she takes away from the school's community service learning class. The class is now two semesters old, and has graduated roughly two dozen students, who are progressing toward becoming active citizens and community leaders, according to the school's community service learning instructor, Don Dunlap.

Some did not make it this year, but most did, said Dunlap. He said a dozen of the 18 students who signed up this semester for Patrick Henry's community service learning class, will graduate Wednesday, April 27.

"It's much greater than the sum of its parts," he said. "They really have been transformed in learning about the opportunities in the community for them to give of themselves."

Dunlap said the community service learning class is built on national standards, so students earn academic course credit for taking it. However, it was born out of a collaboration between the school and the Turning Point Church, an 8-year-old, 700-member McDonough congregation.

"It was just an open door," said Turning Point Pastor Michael Turner, as he recalled the process of partnering with the school to provide no-cost mentoring, and volunteer opportunities, to students at the alternative school.

The partnership to build community leaders at Patrick Henry began with a challenge Turner said he posed to his youth minister, Brad Post.

"I sent Brad on an assignment to find out what are the needs of our community," Turner said. "A common thread was a need for teen mentoring. We call it 'Dream Builders' at our church.

"What's cool is that I was this kid in high school," he added. "I came from a single-parent home, and almost every young man here does not have that relationship with their father."

The partnership began during the 2010 Spring Semester at Patrick Henry. Students voluntarily met after school with members of Turning Point and volunteered on weekends for various community service projects.

Dunlap said the school began to implement the class during the 2010 Fall Semester. The Patrick Henry instructor said he has seen some students transform from apathetic individuals, into community-oriented citizens who value and care for other people in need. For those students, he said, the community's needy become less like distant objects, and more like three-dimensional people worth being helped.

"I talk about our students graduating and becoming good, contributing members of our community. I think that's the goal of education," said Dunlap, of his motivation to create the partnership.

Some students, like Jon Wilson, Trey Johnson, and Kameron Thacker, acknowledged the obstacles they were asked to overcome in order to become better citizens. Many of them related to the community leaders who were invited to speak to the class this semester.

"Everyone has a purpose in life, even though you don't see it at the moment," said Thacker.

Henry County Board of Commissioners Chairman Elizabeth 'B.J.' Mathis and Stockbridge Mayor Lee Stuart spoke of their respective pasts in the youth ministry and the military, and what inspired them to become public servants.

"We learned that the choices you make now affect your future. And if you're passionate about something, you'll do it for free," noted student, Brandi Hargis.

Students freely volunteered their Wednesday afternoons to listen to the community leaders. On weekends, they helped to repair homes through the Henry County Fuller Center for Housing.

"It's more than a community service class," declared student, Ashley Swint. "You learn a lot more than that."

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