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Chili CookOff IMG 0140

RAINA BARNETT/Alachua County Today

Chili, chili and more chili was the menu favorite at the Springs Celebration and Chili Cook Off this past Saturday.  Despite rainy conditions the event drew a good crowd of chili enthusiasts.

HIGH SPRINGS – Volunteers, competitors, and chili enthusiasts gathered on the grounds of O’Leno State Park on Saturday for the annual Springs Celebration and Chili Cook Off.

Coordinated by the Friends of O’Leno, a non profit Citizen Support Organization (CSO), all proceeds from the cook off were used to support the state park.

Alachua County residents Thomas Bertucci and Raine Mincey won first place for People’s Choice. They walked away with a first place plaque and a cash prize of $100.

This was the ninth year for the celebration, which involves efforts from myriad volunteers.

Cindy Preston, park service specialist of O’Leno, has organized every Chili Cookoff.

“It was mostly CSO and Harriet Walsh who came up with the idea,” Preston said. “She is the treasurer of CSO.”

Planning such an event takes time and effort, and Preston said she has been working with a team to make the springs celebration successful.

The annual chili cook off featured a “tasting kit” that was provided to participants for $5, which consisted of sample cups, a spoon, a pencil, and a ballot to vote on the best kind of chili.

Competitors ranged from first-timers to seasoned veterans.

Different categories included “no fillers” and “fillers,” with fillers being defined as other ingredients like beans and onions.

O’Leno provided an ideal venue for music, dogs, and families to get together for a day of adventure in chili tasting.

The current state park has a rich history. The site of a 19th Century settlement, it later became a forestry training camp before opening to the public as a state park. To this day, O’Leno serves as a forestry training ground each summer.

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W - 10-42

Photo Special to Alachua County Today

Alachua 10-42 members recently painted a message of support for law enforcement officers on Gainesville's 34th Street wall. Words "Back the Blue" and a red heart symbolize the group's dedication to the law enforcement community.

ALACHUA COUNTY – As Gainesville Police Department Officer Bobby White demonstrated in January when he responded to a noise complaint about a group of boys playing basketball by joining them for a game, officers often break negative stereotypes by showing empathy and compassion.

Alachua 10-42 is a group that seeks to emphasize this human aspect to law enforcement officers. Made up of spouses and family members of officers, the group strives to provide emotional support, resources, community activities and outreach for their families.

One of their most recent activities included painting on Gainesville’s 34th Street with a solid blue line against a black background, marked with the words “Back the Blue” and a heart in the corner that read “10-42.”

Shonta Bertzyk, a member of Alachua 10-42, said the group has also supported GoFundMe pages for two officers who were recently diagnosed with cancer.

The group evolved from a desire and a need for families to come together and decompress by sharing anything that people needed to get off their chests, Bertzyk said.

“When we talk about officers, the first line of defense is at the home,” she said. “And just being there for them and talking to them and being a support just helps officers’ morale. These officers go out and they deal with situations such as emergency services, trauma, car accidents [and] child abuse cases. They see things that the average community member does not.”

She said officers’ wives also realized that they needed each other to lend a hand in caring for each other's children or providing transportation.

“We do whatever we can for each other,” she said. “I think [the start of the group] was very organic and it was a very much-needed support system.”

Lindsay Howell said she’s been in Alachua 10-42 for about two months.

On March 14, she and several group members went to cheer their husbands during a charity basketball game at Gainesville High School between deputies and students.

Howell said she liked that the event gave the opportunity for officers to interact with students and cast them in a more approachable light rather than as people to be feared.

“It’s really brought to light that these are normal guys, with families and kids,” she said. “They have histories and pasts of being young kids themselves. And I think that’s been an eye-opener for the community to see that they’re just normal guys who love to do what they do.”

Howell said the group has received support from the Alachua Woman’s Club, and she gave a presentation about Alachua 10-42 to the Alachua City Commission on Monday to continue to spread the word about the group.

“Alachua is so supportive of our police officers there,” Howell said. “I think we’re at an advantage and would like to get the word out as much as possible to get the support and just have people feel like they’re part of the group and part of the community.”

Ashley Dykes, another member, said the group has connected people who otherwise may not have known each other or met due to differing schedules, shifts, rotations or departments.

“[Alachua 10-42] has been an opportunity to build friendships and relationships,” she said. “We have monthly meetings where we discuss things we can do within the community, or discuss events that we can do within our group. So I capture all of that for the group and get it out to our Facebook page.”

The outreach of the group has not just been limited to Alachua County or Gainesville. Dykes said she recently visited an out-of-town officer who was being treated at Shands.

She decided to stop by to introduce herself to the family of the officer, and she was informed that they were in need of a notary.

Dykes said she passed the word along to other members of Alachua 10-42 and was able to get a notary for the family.

Alachua 10-42 will hold the 1st Annual Alachua County Night in Blue Gala on Sunday, May 15 at 6 p.m. at the Mustang Hangar at the University Air Center.

Tickets can be purchased via a link on the group’s official website, alachua1042.org.

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Q - newberry city hallNEWBERRY – Three Newberry city commission seats are up for election this April 12, only one of which is being contested.

Monty Farnsworth and Jason McGehee will be reelected without opposition, while Commissioner Rick Coleman is being challenged by Darryl Bowdoin.

Coleman has over 20 years of experience in banking and has served two years as city commissioner thus far.

He was born in Jacksonville but spent most of his life in Mayo. He has been married to his wife Marcy for 17 years and has three children. He has been involved with coaching local sporting teams and is a local business owner of Coleman Softwashing.

“Everything I ran on, we’ve done,” Coleman said. “We’ve lowered taxes, we’ve cut the budget. I don’t know why [Bowdoin is] challenging me.”

Bowdoin is a fifth generation Newberry native. He has been married to his wife Jodi for 31 years, and they have two grown children who attended Newberry schools.

Bowdoin is the Operations Manager at Little River Marine in Gainesville and has held other work-related leadership positions for the past 26 years.

He has also served as football and softball coach for the City of Newberry youth teams for several years, according to his Facebook page.

“I was asked by numerous citizens to run,” Bowdoin said. “People now ask me all the time, ‘What is your platform?’ and I want what the people want. I want to bring the community together. Perhaps the commissioners have lost touch with the community.”

Bowdoin explained that he had a long and complicated struggle with the City in June due to the way his driveway was set up, and part of the reason he is running is to bring attention to the community.

“When you go to the doctor’s office, you have a survey in your email even before you get home. I feel like there should be some sort of survey with the commissioners, and some sort of evaluation,” Bowdoin said.

Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad said that the commissioners work well together, but anyone who is qualified has a right to run.

“I have friends who have Ricky signs in their front yards,” Bowdoin said, “That’s fine, and we will still remain friends after the election. I just want people to vote, and let their voices be heard.”

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W - FUMC Dominican

Photo Special to Alachua County Today

Mission volunteers and children often develop close bonds of friendship.

ALACHUA - Alyssa Shelamer lives in Gainesville, but she said her heart is 2,000 miles away.

The 23-year-old has visited the Dominican Republic every year for the past seven years on mission trips with her church, First United Methodist Church of Alachua. The church will be holding a rummage sale on April 1 and 2 to raise funds for this year’s trip on June 14.  

She said the sale will include items church members have donated, from kitchen utensils to clothes.

Penny Haskins, Shelamer’s grandmother, said the church has launched two camps – both called Camp Hands of Joy, one for younger children and one for older deaf children – in the Dominican Republic. Activities for the kids include swimming, crafts, sports and chapel twice a day.

Shelamer said chapel time includes the children singing worship songs, learning and memorizing Bible verses and watching reenactments of Bible stories.

“There are a large number of deaf people in the Dominican Republic, particularly children,” Haskins said. “And there are not a lot of services for them…For a lot of these deaf children, it is the only chance they get to mix and mingle with other deaf children, find out they’re not alone.”

Haskins recalled that in 2009, she and another missionary came together to plan the camp. At the time, the camp only had about 56 children. Last year, that number grew to 170 children coming from all over the Dominican Republic.

It is expected to continue growing, she said.

Haskins said they began this endeavor completely on faith, and they had no idea how they would go about it at first.

“God took care of it,” she said. “It just worked out beautifully.”

Haskins said over the course of her trips, she’s seen many of the children grow into mature adults and become leaders – preaching to their friends and mentoring the younger kids.

Two years ago, a young man named Bernardo approached her with a sincere apology.

“[When Bernardo was eight years old] He was a brat. He wanted all your attention, he was disruptive [and] he didn’t do what he was told,” she said.

“Two years ago, he came up to us and said, ‘I want to thank you for coming and I want to apologize for the terrible little boy I was.’ He said, ‘I have, because you have come every year, I have gotten to know Jesus and I’m a different person now. If it was not for you I wouldn’t have that opportunity and I am so grateful.’”

Shelamer said it has been rewarding to watch the children develop language skills, make friends and acquire jobs.

“They have so much joy and such a passion for life,” she said.

Shelamer, a teacher’s assistant at Oak Hall School, said the trips have impacted her so much that she’s decided to move there and be a teacher.

“For me, just going and seeing their faces, that’s helped me to go deeper in [her faith],” she said. “Because what do I have to complain about? How am I going to doubt my faith when they have so much faith and yet they have so little [possessions] in comparison?”

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Q - City of ArcherARCHER – The City of Archer will hold an election for three city commission seats on April 12, only one of which is being contested.

Incumbents Doug Jones is running against Joan White, a former city commissioner, according to Archer City Manager Zeriah Folston.

Jones said he moved to Archer from Gainesville in 2008 because of the rural and charming character of the area, something he acknowledges in his official platform.

As a commissioner, he’s also served as Rural Advisor and a non-voting member of the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization for Gainesville.

“I did not just show up to cast my votes at the meetings,” he said. “I have been very involved in government both in the city limits and outside of the city limits.”

While he has been on the board, Archer was added to the funded priority project list for the first time, Jones said. This long-term project is intended to allocate $12 million toward widening Archer Road.

According to his platform, other goals include building a sanitary wastewater collection and treatment facility and working with the Alachua County School Board to lobby for a hybrid school option for the city that implements virtual or distance­learning.

Jones' challenger, White, said she is ready to clean up a town that she knows citizens take pride in.

“We’ve let our mowing go, we’ve let our maintenance go, we’ve let our parks go – the kids can’t play in them, they look so bad,” she said. “We have a wonderful little town; the people in it are great, they are so good about helping one another and are friendly. We have a lot to offer.”

White said she would like to enliven the recreation in Archer.

Some of her other aspirations include implementing an affordable, reliable and environmentally conscious sewer system.

“We’ve been shut out of all city politics for the last five years,” she said. “And I want these people to know [that] when they come before us, there’s gonna be somebody there listening to them. I am, for one. We’re gonna act on it.”

Fletcher Hope, who currently holds seat three, is unopposed and will return to his seat.

Hope said he wants to continue working toward the platform of his initial campaign, which was resurrecting the recreational offerings within Archer and taking care of the infrastructure and maintenance of the city.

“We’ve steered away from that, put our energies more into developing a waste water system,” he said. “That can’t be the only thing we’re looking at.”

He said citizens have voiced concerns regarding the maintenance of streets, signs and sidewalks.

“Public works administration needs to be a higher priority,” he said. “I hope to be a part of that and not just a siren of complaint, but to actually assist our new city manager and staff with identifying these things and helping in any way I can.”

He said there’ve been recent efforts to allot money for recreation in the city.

“That’s certainly exciting for anybody that has children or resides here with children,” he said. “It was always very important for my wife and I when we had children of school age.”

Marjorie Zander, the incumbent in seat two, will not be returning for another term but will be replaced by Michelle Harris, a newcomer to city government, Folston said.

Harris said she feels like it was her calling to be a part of the city commission.

“I know I was meant to come back to this community and serve here,” she said. “I didn’t know it would happen so quickly because I really didn’t know that there’d be a seat open or that doors would open so rapidly.”

Harris, who has been a teacher at Jordan Glen School & Summer Camp in Archer for 21 years, said her main effort as a commissioner would be to create the best community for the children of Archer.  

“I want to make sure that our parks are clean, that we have community gardens, that our town is beautiful for our children to enjoy [and] that they feel like they are part of a community that supports and loves them, that they’re in a safe place to grow.”

She said her enormous amount of energy – physical, mental and spiritual – will serve as assets as she steps into her new position.

“Being somewhat of an idealist, I have visions,” she said. “I have visions of what we can be. I have dreams of what we can create here.”

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W - NHS criminal justice 2016

NEWBERRY – Newberry High School’s Academy of Criminal Justice has won its first-ever state championship.

Thirty-nine Academy students attended this year’s Florida Public Service Association (FPSA) State Leadership Conference in Daytona Beach from March 15-18 and returned with multiple awards. Their collective performance in a wide variety of competitions covering such areas as Community Service, Advanced Firearms and Criminal Case Analysis earned Newberry High School the highest point total among the 13 schools participating in the event, which resulted in the school being named Florida’s top chapter.

Newberry High’s Academy students scored 121 points in the overall competition, exceeding the point total earned by the second place finisher Miami Law Enforcement Officers Memorial High School, which came away with 83 points.

“Our students spent months practicing and preparing for events, including working many hours after school and on weekends,” said academy director Patrick Treese. “Several of our students had also competed in previous years, which gave them some valuable experience.”

Treese also attributes much of his program’s success to the strong support of local law enforcement agencies, which help train his students on a regular basis.

FPSA is a Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO) for students in public service high school programs such as law, fire, security, and public safety.

Academy of Criminal Justice Individual Winners

1st Place-Advanced Firearms: Team Event

1st Place-Prepared Bulletin Board: Mady Wilson

1st Place-Congressional Debate:  Renee Hancock

1st Place-Ideal Prison: Maria De La Cruz/Connor Connell

1st Place-Theme (Footprints to the Future: Connor Connell

1st Place-Scrapbook: Team Event

1st Place-Community Service Project: Team Event-Academy Seniors

1st Place-Mr. Public Service: Sam Estok

1st Place-Parliamentary Procedures: Team Event

1st Place-Criminal Case Analysis: Riley Chatfield/Spencer Brant

2nd Place-Prepared Bulletin Board: Elizabeth Schol

2nd Place-Congressional Debate: Remie Bivens

2nd Place-Traffic Accident Report Writing: Calli Levy

2nd Place-Advanced Firearms: Team Event

2nd Place-CPR: Connor Connell

2nd Place-Incident Report Writing: Kayte Carlton

2nd Place-Criminal Case Analysis  : Savannah McLemore/Haley Mongeon

2nd Place-Criminal Justice Brain Bowl: Team Event

3rd Place-Marketing Poster: Savannah McLemore

3rd Place-Emergency Kit: Cori Mills

3rd Place-Novice Firearms: Samantha Neill

3rd Place-Job Seeking Skills: Brianna Zayas

3rd Place-Miss Public Service: Carrie Connell

3rd Place-Incident Report Writing: Scarlet MacDonald

3rd Place-Forensic Investigation: Team Event

3rd Place Criminal Case Analysis: Carrie Connell/Dreyton Lott

3rd Place-Fingerprinting: Kirklynn Meissner

4th Place-Prepared Bulletin Board: Caitlyn Holder

4th Place-Marketing Poster: Keely Smith

4th Place-Traffic Accident Report Writing: Samantha Neill

4th Place-Forensic Investigation: Team Event

4th Place-Criminal Case Analysis: Ashley Veatch/Scarlet MacDonald

4th Place-Obstacle Course Male: Riley Chatfield

4th Place-Criminal Justice Brain Bowl: Team Event

4th Place-Prepared Speaking: Dreyton Lott

5th Place-Traffic Accident Report Writing : Alexis Morabito

5th Place-Novice Firearms: Remie Bivens

5th Place-Job Seeking Skills: Mady Stephenson

5th Place-Criminal Case Analysis: Mady Stephenson/Kirklynn Meissner

5th Place-Criminal Incident Investigation: Brianna Zayas/Ashley Veatch

Senior Ashley Veatch also won the state’s Top Gun Award, which is presented to the best shooter in Advanced Firearms competition.

Two seniors, Carrie Connell and Riley Chatfield, were recognized for being a part of the FPSA for all four years of high school.       

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Q - GC -LC  Crowd DSCN4252

Photo Special to Alachua County Today

The Alachua Lions Club held its largest charity fundraiser of the year to a packed house at Santa Fe River Ranch, just outside of Alachua.

ALACHUA – It was another fun filled evening of laughter, good food and music at the 77th Annual Alachua Lions Club Cattlemen’s Banquet Tuesday night.

The locally renowned banquet was held for the third year at the Santa Fe River Ranch. Also included in the night’s festivities was a social hour and a silent auction leading up to the main event, as well as a live auction afterward.

Opening the banquet and welcoming guests was Alachua Lions Club President Joel DeCoursey, Jr., followed by the tradition of Lion Gussie Lee leading the crowd in singing “God Bless America.”

DeCoursey then handed off the evening’s agenda to Master of Ceremonies Chuck Clemons, Vice President for Advancement at Santa Fe College and an Alachua native.

Before presentation of the Cattleman’s award, Clemons used his time at the podium to share a few jokes and offer a good ribbing to some in attendance, eliciting roars of laughter from the crowd.

Alan Hitchcock, former owner of Hitchcock’s Markets and current owner of Santa Fe River Ranch, was honored as this year’s Cattleman of the Year, something that Clemons emphasized was a total surprise for Hitchcock.

“This was obviously a surprise for me when you look at my attire,” Hitchcock said, poking fun at himself.

The Keynote Speaker was University of Florida President Dr. Kent Fuchs. Dr. Fuchs related personal stories regarding his family background with farming and cattle ranching and emphasized the importance of the cattle industry in Florida’s unique history, its present, and its anticipated contributions in the future.

In keeping with tradition, the Santa Fe High School Chapter of FFA was on hand to serve up the choice aged controlled steaks, potato casserole and dessert.

The Cattlemen’s Banquet is the Alachua Lions Club’s largest fundraiser of the year, and all profits from the banquet support charitable sight, hearing, youth and community service activities within the Alachua community.

Clemons said the banquet had 33 corporate sponsorships this year, an increase from last year’s 30.

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