On Tuesday, Oct. 17, Catoosa Citizens for Literacy held a luncheon to honor those who help meet the needs of GED students and others working to increase their literacy or achieve an academic goal.
"This work is a collaborative effort," said Shirley Smith, executive director of the Catoosa County Learning Center. "It's all of these people working together that makes our success possible."
The list of people and groups that support the Learning Center is long and impressive, but the highlight of the celebration luncheon was hearing the stories of two GED students who won $500 scholarships toward their future college education.
Mary Armour was awarded the Roger and Kay Bowman Scholarship to help toward her goal of becoming a first-grade teacher.
In an essay read aloud at the luncheon, Armour shared how she dropped out of school in the 11th grade because she didn't have enough credits to graduate.
"If only I knew the things I know now," she wrote, "I would have worked harder to finish."
"I am a wife and the mother of two beautiful children," Armour continued and went on to write about how important it is for her children to see that she is as serious about her education as she is about theirs. "You are never too young or too old to better yourself."
Joan Freeman was awarded the Catoosa Citizens for Literacy Scholarship, which she plans to use toward studying forensics. Freeman wrote in an essay she read aloud that while she was born in 1966, the true journey of her life began in 2015 when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. "Going through the bi-weekly chemo process and working two jobs, I did not once ever think to just give up. As a very wise wizard once said, 'One day we must all make the choice between what is right and what is easy.'"
Freeman has been cancer-free for three years. Many people would feel that was accomplishment enough and she deserved a rest, but at 52 years old, Freeman decided to take her GED and go to college. She signed on at the Catoosa Learning Center and wrote that not only did she learn what she needed to pass her GED, "I have gained so much more, such as gratefulness, empowerment and determination to keep going!"
In addition to the two GED students that were specifically honored at the luncheon, four volunteers received special recognition:
Deborah Hester, who has worked at the learning center for nearly 20 years and teaches daytime and evening classes.
Sandra Russell, who taught in public schools for 30 years and private schools for three years and has taught adult education for nine years.
Joe Jackson, who has worked in banking and as a disc jockey and has worked in adult education for 20 years.
Liz Lawson, who is a sign language interpreter and came to the learning center to help in that capacity.
The list of people honored as contributors in various ways is long but worth sharing as an example of how much support there is in the area for helping those who are willing to work themselves to reach new goals in life. Students run the gamut from those learning to read to those pursuing a GED to those working to improve English language skills so they can better function within their communities.
The governments of Catoosa County, Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold
The Braden Group/Bedford Place Apartments
Georgia Northwestern Technical College
Kiwanis Club of Fort Oglethorpe
Kiwanis Club of Ringgold
Ringgold Rotary Club
Ringgold Telephone Company
Roger and Kay Bowman
Learning Center staff members: Shirley Smith, executive director; Larry Renfro, bus driver; Charlotte Chapman, childcare provider; Darla Crawford, educational coordinator
Tutors and volunteers: Nancy Everett, reading; Pat Morgan, all GED subjects; Donna Pierce, English as a second language; Joanne Ritchie, reading; Mary Stephens, math; Sarah Young, computer classes
Catoosa County Family Collaborative and Catoosa Prevention Initiative
Catoosa County Board of Education, Parent Involvement/Title One, Catoosa County Pre-K Program, Communities in Schools
Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce
Catoosa County Health Department
Catoosa County Library
Catoosa County News
Catoosa County Sheriff's Department
Chattanooga Times Free Press
Department of Family and Children Services
Family Resource Agency of North Georgia — Head Start
Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit
Mr. Paul Croft
North Georgia YMCA
Share America Foundation
Officers: Melissa Holcombe, Chairman; Richard Groves, Co-chairman; Lynn Latimer, Treasurer; Kristy Jablonski, Secretary
A dinner of chicken, potatoes, vegetables and bread pudding was catered by Bailey's BBQ.
Eighty Catoosa County businesses — from nursing homes and restaurants to emergency care clinics and family crisis organizations — filled The Colonnade in Ringgold Thursday, Oct. 18, showcasing their businesses and services.
Hundreds of visitors milled through the displays sampling food and picking up information on the businesses and services offered within the county.
The Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce hosted the Showcase Catoosa Business Expo, which was sponsored by the city of Fort Oglethorpe, Capital Bank, National Healthcare of Fort Oglethorpe, and MedSTAT.
Martha Eaker, president and CEO of the Chamber, said, "The showcase presented a great opportunity to see many of the local businesses all together and become aware of the opportunities to do business locally ... (to) visit with your neighbor, and (to) become familiar with your community and what is available right outside your door."
Learn more about the chamber at www.catoosachamberofcommerce.com.
A former attorney was sentenced to 20 years probation and mental health treatment last week after being found guilty of breaking into an elderly Catoosa County couple's home in 2016.
On Friday, Oct. 12, 31-yearold Matthew Jack Fitzharris faced sentencing in Catoosa County Superior Court following a bench trial presided over by Ralph Van Pelt Jr.
Fitzharris was found to be guilty by way of mentally ill on two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of entering an automobile, terroristic threats and acts, and second-degree criminal damage to property.
On July 13, 2016, Fitzharris was arrested after an elderly couple claimed he forced his way into their home through a carport door and then threatened to kill them.
Then 84-year-old retired Marine Delbert Hanshaw confronted him with a gun and shot him.
Catoosa County sheriff's deputies found Fitzharris in his newly purchased Jaguar suffering from a gunshot wound to his upper right arm, reports show.
Fitzharris' activities that day were also traced to an incident in East Ridge, Tennessee, approximately 45 minutes before the home invasion, in which he allegedly came close to running over two police officers in a hotel parking lot.
In his initial court appearance following the incidents, Fitzharris, who practice law in Hamilton County, Tennessee, claimed several members of the Chattanooga court scene, including judges and attorneys, were "out to hurt him."
Shortly thereafter, Fitzharris was found to be not competent enough to stand trial.
On Friday, during sentencing, Judge Van Pelt ordered that Fitzharris must enter in impatient mental health facility and comply with all doctor's orders to get the treatment he needs.
The court also took into consideration the two-plus years Fitzharris has already served either in jail or in mental health treatment facilities.
Fitzharris' attorney McCracken Poston, Assistant District Attorney Alan Norton, and Judge Van Pelt seemed to be in agreement that mental health treatment was the best course of punishment for Fitzharris.
Poston says the once-promising attorney's case was a tricky one.
"This case was very challenging," Poston said. "At first, trying to convince the state that the defendant's condition was organic and not the effect of a drug episode was difficult. It was apparent from the outset that he was suffering from very serious psychological problems."
During the process, Poston says he convinced the district attorney to agree to a furlough to allow Fitzharris' parents to remove him from the jail and take him to a treatment facility in East Tennessee.
"His parents got him to the front door of the place (facility) and he demanded to be brought right back to the Catoosa County jail," Poston said.
During the sentencing, Fitzharris apologized to the victims.
Poston said that the outcome included understanding from all sides involved.
"I thought it was a good example of a lawyer, a prosecutor, the victims, the other witnesses and the judge all being in agreement that incarceration would not be an appropriate response considering the defendant's mental state," Poston said.
The first week of early voting has been a busy one in Catoosa County, as officials say the number of people casting early ballots is reminiscent of the last presidential election.
Early voting opened Monday, Oct. 15, and will continue for two more weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 general election.
As of 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 19, nearly 3,500 residents had been to the polls.
Catoosa County Elections Director Tonya Moore says the two precincts accepting early ballots have been extremely busy.
"The numbers are great so far," Moore said. "As of the end of day four (Thursday), we had a total of 3,194 ballots from the two precincts. It's been very busy."
Moore said that as of 11:15 a.m. an additional 269 residents had voted at the Ringgold and Westside precincts Friday morning, Oct. 19.
Friday morning's ballots bring the total to 3,663, which is 8.6 percent of the county's 40,225 active voters.
After the first day of early voting on Monday (Oct. 15), the vote tally stood at 812, followed by 740 votes Tuesday (Oct. 16), 848 Wednesday (Oct. 17), and 794 on Thursday (Oct. 18).
Moore said the high volume of voters is similar to how early voting usually goes when there's a presidential race.
"We did 17,161 in person during early voting for the last presidential," Moore said. "We're trending for 16,800 in our early voting this time. If we have a busy third week like we normally do, we might pass the early voting turnout numbers from our last presidential election."
The three-week window for early voting will close Friday, Nov. 2.
Until then, Catoosa County residents can vote either at Ringgold's Freedom Center on Evitt Street next to Catoosa County Fire and Rescue, or at the Westside Precinct on Lakeview Drive next to Westside Elementary School.
Polls are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with lunch closures from noon to 1 p.m.
Also, early voting will be available Saturday, Oct. 27, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursday, Nov. 1, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
On Election Day, Nov. 6, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Although residents can vote at Ringgold or Westside during early voting, they'll need to go to their designated precinct on Election Day.
There are no local contested races to be decided on the ballot, but voters still have plenty to consider this election season as they vote for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and other offices.
What to bring to the polls
Voters are required to present an acceptable ID at the poll.
This may be a valid state or federal government issued photo ID, including a free ID Card issued by your county registrar's office or the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS); a Georgia driver's license, even if expired; a valid employee photo ID from any branch, department, agency, or entity of the U.S. Government, Georgia, or any county, municipality, board, authority or other entity of this state; a valid United States passport ID; a valid U.S. military photo ID; or a valid tribal photo ID.
"A lot of people think they need to bring their precinct card to vote, they don't ... they just need their government issued ID," Moore said.