On Thursday, May 16, more than 200 people gathered at The Colonnade in Ringgold for the annual Catoosa County Public Schools (CCPS) Partnership Luncheon. Volunteers, businesses and organizations that partner to help students and teachers in the school system were recognized with plaques and applause for their contributions.

The luncheon also served as an opportunity to talk about the county’s “From HERE to CAREER Academy” that’s in the works. Schools Superintendent Denia Reese and Sheriff Gary Sisk, who sits on the Academy’s board of directors, shared details about the new school that will be situated on county-donated land at Benton Place in Ringgold.

Reese said the building will be 40,000 square feet and “will provide career-technical and college classes for 11th and 12th grade students.” Luncheon attendees watched a short video about plans for the academy.

Buffy Hemphill, CCPS Partnership program coordinator, introduced the awards segment of the luncheon. “It is an honor to recognize our business partners and mentors for the support they provide to our school system. Thank you for your commitment to our students.”

Hemphill shared a personal story from her own high school years. She said she attended Ringgold High School and had a teacher named Charles Turner who taught graphic arts and had the only computer in the school. “The skills I learned in his class contributed to my first real job,” said Hemphill.

That job was cutting and pasting, with real scissors and paste, the copy and pictures for the front page of the Dalton Daily Citizen newspaper. “When this academy is complete,” said Hemphill, referring back to Reese’s comments, “students will have the opportunity to graduate with skills far beyond those of the ’80s.”

And with that, Hemphill introduced the first presenter of awards. The winners are everyone, according to Hemphill, but the following were chosen this year for special recognition.

Church/Civic Partner of the Year, presented by Heritage Middle School Principal Chris Lusk: Burning Bush Baptist Church. “They faithfully meet the needs of students and encourage our teachers. Their ‘WOW’ group helps fulfill basic student needs by donating food and personal hygiene items, as well as providing funds for Christmas, graduation and prom expenses,” said Lusk. “Joining other business partners, they contributed over $4,000 toward the annual Teacher Grant project at Boynton Elementary. The school was able to purchase math kits, classroom supplies and flexible seating. Then they sponsored 19 students for Christmas. During Milestones week, they delivered cinnamon biscuits for faculty and staff to enjoy.” Lusk said the church also allows schools to use their facilities for events.

Other nominees for Church/Civic Partner of the Year were: First Baptist Church of Fort Oglethorpe, Fort Oglethorpe United Methodist Church, Graysville United Methodist Church, Hope House Ministries, New Heights Baptist Church, Parkway Baptist Church, Prison Prevention Ministries, Ringgold United Methodist Church, Rock Bridge Community Church, and Woodstation United Methodist Church.

Social Service Partner of the Year, presented by Ringgold Elementary School teacher Deanna Baker: The Ringgold Kiwanis Club. They have “been a faithful partner since the opening of our school,” said Baker. “They consistently support students and staff with an annual donation of $500. When asked, they are eager to help as needed. For example, we had several students that were not able to participate in track without sponsorship. They generously volunteered to sponsor all the students! When [our] chorus planned a special trip to the Governor’s Mansion, the members decided to sponsor the trip. They regularly attend school meetings and connect staff with key members of their club, giving needed support.”

Other nominees for Social Service Partner of the Year were: the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office, Communities in Schools, and the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Small Partner of the Year, presented by Boynton Elementary Principal Jennifer Scott: Blackwell Automotive. “This year’s Small Business of the Year was described as always willing to help in any way they can,” said Scott. “They participate in the Angel Tree during Christmas and our school was able to provide Christmas for 74 children this year. They sponsor teachers and randomly drop off a basket of goodies including cleaning supplies and Kleenex. We are grateful they joined other school partners funding our Teacher Grant program. Due to a cost of over $5,000, one need [we had] was too great for this school year. The mats along the rock-climbing wall were over 15 years old and needing replacing. We decided to close the climbing wall until we had the funds to purchase new mats. To our surprise, Mr. Blackwell asked us to provide a quote for review. The next day he delivered a check for the full amount to purchase new mats.”

Other Small Partner of the Year nominees were: Chasing Down Daydreams Travel, Johnson’s Auto Repair, Modern Woodmen of America, Tiger Rock Martial Arts, and True Life Chiropractic.

Medium Partner of the Year, presented by Graysville Elementary Principal Kerri Sholl: Promise Pediatrics. “They encourage good behavior by funding weekly rewards to students with exemplary conduct,” said Sholl. “They sponsor a REACH scholar each year that helps provide these students with a $10,000 scholarship when they graduate high school. During teacher appreciation week, they provide all staff members with various treats and sponsor drawings for rewards to our teachers. Their greatest gift to our school is providing medical attention. When families are in need, we can always look to them for aid. They are willing to step up and fill the void to ensure students’ needs are met.”

Other Medium Partner of the Year nominees were: Brent Pennington Dental Center, Biscuit Barn, Community National Bank, Fazoli’s, First Volunteer Insurance, North Georgia Healthcare Center, Park Place Restaurant, The Print Shop, and Webb Dentistry.

Large Partner of the Year, presented by Ringgold Primary School Principal Nancy Gurganus: The Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Company. “We are fortunate to have many worthy businesses nominated in the large business partner category,” said Gurganus. “This year’s winner has been a vital part of the Partnership Program from its inception. Schools that nominated them stated they only need to text or email and they receive an immediate response of support. Their product is a major part of most of our daily routine and is donated to support carnivals, Milestone testing, PBIS rewards, Renaissance field trips, sporting events, field day, faculty meetings, the Student Leadership Academy and too many other events to name. After hearing the tremendous need for a mentor, one of their representatives chose to commit his time to mentoring a young student at Ringgold Primary.”

Other Large Partner of the Year nominees were: Food City (Battlefield Pkwy., Fort Oglethorpe), Fort Oglethorpe Home Depot, Lifetouch, Fort Oglethorpe Lowe’s, Metro Boiler Tube, Pediatric Dentistry, Ringgold Telephone Company, and Wendy’s.

New Partner of the Year, presented by Catoosa Performance Center Principal Terri Vandiver: Elks Lodge #91. “This year’s new business partner of the year started the school year by funding a $3,000 grant to help improve attendance for “at risk students.” This grant provided off-campus lunch for the students with exceptional attendance each semester. The first semester granted five students lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings. The next week 12 students attended lunch at O’Charley’s. The club members have also provided enough donated clothes for students in need that we were able to start a “clothes closet” for our students. They recently announced a $1000 scholarship opportunity that will be offered to one of our students who plans to pursue a trade in industry.”

Other New Partner of the Year nominees were: Alydots, Fort Oglethorpe H&R Block, Keith Baptist Church, LeGlue, MedSTAT, Pizza Bros, and True Life Chiropractic.

School Partnership Program of the Year, presented by Heritage High Principal Ronnie Bradford: Heritage Middle School’s “Heritage Helping Others” (also called H2O to compare the importance of helping others as something as fundamental to life as water). “Every spring, the students from this school spend a day serving others in our community. That’s 950 students working together to improve Catoosa County and the surrounding area,” said Bradford. “This project takes collaboration from every school employee, parents, students, Catoosa County School’s transportation department, local businesses and volunteers. Students clean trails and pick up trash in Chickamauga Battlefield, visit residents at local nursing and assisted living homes, maintain ball fields at Boynton Recreation, send treats and letters to troops and make lunch for local police and firefighters.”

“Business partners, parents and students provide money, donations and supplies for projects,” continued Bradford. “Elder’s Ace Hardware gives gift cards to purchase needed supplies. Fort Oglethorpe Lowe’s donates work gloves. First Volunteer Bank branches help collect items to send to active military men and women. And First Volunteer Insurance Agency donates money for student shirts for the project.

“This project is a huge undertaking but worth the effort,” Bradford concluded. Every student learns the value of hard work, serving others, and the feeling that comes from knowing you have given of yourself without expecting anything in return.”

Other School Partnership Program of the Year nominees were: the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce Rising Professionals Academy, and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School’s College and Career Day.

System Partner of the Year, presented by Lakeview Middle School Principal Vince Phillips: Metro Boiler Tube Company. “We have many deserving businesses who contribute to our school system by serving as a system partner,” said Phillips. “This system partner [Mark Collins] graciously donates time, hard work and monetary gifts to our schools, staff and students. He mentors several students and helps recruit mentors throughout the county. He participates with countywide Thanksgiving food drives and Angel Tree programs. He provides care packages for families in need. He has donated incentive prizes, school supplies, gift cards and sponsored field trips. [He] gives the same support during Teacher Appreciation Week. He regularly attends each Partnership meeting at all our 17 schools, serves on a Local School Governance Team and serves on the Partnership Program Steering Committee.”

Other System Partner of the Year nominees were: the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce, the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office, Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Fort Oglethorpe Chick-fil-A, Children’s Dentistry of Chattanooga, First Volunteer Bank (Catoosa branches), FNB Bank (Catoosa branches), Food City (Battlefield Pkwy., Fort Oglethorpe), MedSTAT, North Georgia Electric Membership Corporation, Pediatric Dentistry, Promise Pediatrics, Ringgold Telephone Company, Shaw Industries, The Print Shop, and Wendy’s.

Also honored at the luncheon were many who serve in The Catoosa County Mentor Program. “These mentors commit to working with a child one day a week for an entire year,” said Battlefield Elementary Principal Kent McCrary in recognizing the efforts of the volunteer mentors. “Young people who have mentors are more likely to finish high school, are able to focus on school work, are more successful in relationships and are less likely to use drugs. Although all of our mentors are worthy of recognition, several schools chose a select group of mentors that not only gave of their time to help their mentee, they had a deep desire to make a difference in the lives of these students.”

The mentors honored were:

Linda Dodson – Battlefield Elementary

Charles Tant – Battlefield Primary

Beverly Forester – Boynton Elementary

Jimmy Davis – Cloud Springs Elementary

Rob Heckethorn – Graysville Elementary

Deston Franks – Heritage Middle & Heritage High School

Nick Dunn – Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School

Alice Abernathy – Lakeview Middle School

Tina Pinkston – Lakeview Middle School

Stefani Waters – Lakeview Middle School

Andrew Hull – Ringgold Elementary School

Karen Riegelman – Ringgold Middle School

Michael Colquette – Ringgold Primary School

Nancy Burch – West Side Elementary

Meredith Sisk – Woodstation Elementary

The final honor of the day was the Robert Hitchcox Championship Award, named for community leader and Chattanooga Cola-Cola Bottling Company sales representative Robert Hitchcox, who passed away in 2015.

“To qualify for this award,” Reese told the luncheon guests, “a person must exhibit the following characteristics: They must be kind, compassionate and encouraging, someone who always has your back, who sees and helps you see the opportunity in every challenge, who helps you reach your goals, who is always looking for ways to serve, wanting nothing in return.”

“According to the nominations,” said Reese, “this year’s recipient is, ‘Someone who always makes the schools he serves comfortable with asking for help. Whether it’s big or small, crazy or last minute, this nominee is always willing to help with time, financial support, and a smile. In addition to supporting individual schools, this individual serves on the Partnership Steering Committee, the Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, the From HERE to CAREER Academy Board of Directors, and his store sponsors the Rising Professionals event. I am very proud to announce that West Side and Cloud Springs partner Bill Abline, manager of Food City [Battlefield Pkwy., Fort Oglethorpe], has been selected as the recipient of 2019 Robert Hitchcox Championship Award.”

Abline could not make it to the luncheon, so Denia Reese and Buffy Hemphill went to his store to present his plaque.

Hemphill expressed special thanks during the luncheon to Chris Hunt, chair of the Partnership Steering Committee, to the Special Projects Committee and Robin Tamewitz for their creativity, to Col. Paul Harwart and the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School JROTC for the presentation of the colors, and to the Ringgold High School Chorus, directed by Jané Ellis, for their rendition of Starship’s “We Built this City.”

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