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Local teen serves as Falcons honorary captain

Sonoraville High School junior Braxton Lusk said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet members of the Atlanta Falcons and to trot out to midfield for Sunday's opening coin toss as a honorary caption of the team.

"It's not something that I will ever forget," he said afterward.

Braxton was granted special day the through Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, where he's been a regular patient his entire life.

When Braxton was born, he was diagnosed with a rare congenital condition called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber (KTW) syndrome that caused improper blood flow to one of his legs. At 22 months old, an above the knee amputation was decided as his best route to move forward. He was then fitted for a prosthetic leg at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

"We're seeing multiple doctors at Children's and the care they provide is exceptional," said Tabitha Lusk, Braxton's mom. "With as many surgeries as Braxton's had, some kids might fear the medical world. But, my son wants to be a sports physical therapist. His therapists deal with him so compassionately and caring, so he wants to give back."

Braxton's condition is so rare that only one in 50 million children are diagnosed. Now at 16 years old, he's already undergone at least 10 surgeries. Braxton regularly visits Children's to see specialists at the Vascular Anomalies Clinic, Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Center, and Brain Health Center.

Tabitha said she knows it can be difficult for a 16-year-old who feels different, but she's proud the driven, smart, respectful and unstoppable kid who she once thought would never walk.

On Sunday he walked to the center of Mercedes-Benz Stadium alongside Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan, Alex Mack, Deion Jones, Julio Jones and Ricardo Allen. He also got to speak to several players, as well as team owner Arthur Blank and head coach Dan Quinn, who Tabitha said complimented Braxton's hair.

Braxton said while he didn't offer any advice for the struggling team, he did have something specific to say to star wide receiver Julio Jones.

"I told Julio he was the GOAT (greatest of all time), and he said, 'I know,'" Braxton recalled.

After the pre-game festivities, Braxton and his family were invited to watch the game form the owner's suites, called the Gullwing Club.


Haunted house to showcase horrors of addiction

The true horrors of drug and alcohol addiction will be showcased over the next two weekends at the Gordon County Fairgrounds as part of the annual House of Addictions, a haunted house-like attraction that showcases the very real and often terrifying consequences of drug abuse.

The House of Addictions is put on each year by the Gordon County Chamber of Commerce's Drugs Don't Work committee and the Council on Alcohol and Drugs. Other local agencies involved with the attraction include Gordon E-911, Gordon County EMS, the Calhoun Police Department, the Gordon County Sheriff's Office, and the Gordon County Fire Department.

More than 300 thrill seekers are expected to come out and participate in this year's haunted house, which Gordon County E-911 Director and Drugs Don't Work committee Chair Debbie Vance said will be better than ever before. Food trucks will be on site and sponsors will have booths set up around the entrance to the event to give guests something to do while they wait in line. Childcare will be provided for families with young children. There will even be a news crew from CBS Channel 46 on site doing interviews and a walk-through of the scenes.

Without giving away any spoilers about the scares awaiting participants, Vance said scenes have also been updated to reflect the real life situations that most often tempt teenagers into drug use.

"We try to set up our scenes to be current with what's going on," Vance said. "Last year, for example, we did a scene with bath salts. That's not really an issue anymore. Opioids are the issue. Vaping is an issue. Bullying is an issue that leads to suicide. You'll see some of those things in the house this year."

The goal, Vance said, is to show anyone who comes through the House of Addictions, especially teenagers, that there are two paths available to them and that they lead to very different outcomes.

"We want kids to go through and think, 'OK, do I want to go down this road? Or do I want something different?' We want to show them reality," she said.

Students are not just the target audience for the haunted house. They also run it, serving as actors and makeup artists and set designers, and have done so since the first House of Addictions six years ago. Some of those original student participants still come back to help put on the show every year.

"That means the most to me. Seeing kids come back to be involved means we've done our job. We reached them," Vance said. "Someone has to take our place one day. I'm not going to be here forever, so when you get them so involved, that's brilliant."

When asked how scary she thinks the attraction really is, Vance said she knows for a fact it is frightening.

"We had a family go through once and I asked them when they came out what they thought. The dad said it was great and exactly what they wanted their children to see," she said. "But I could tell when we were talking that they were trying to leave. I found out later that the mom wet her pants when she got scared coming out of the house."

Purchase tickets to the House of Addictions online for $3 at houseofaddictions.org. The haunted attraction will be open this weekend, Oct. 25 and 26, and next weekend, Nov. 1 and 2, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Gordon County Fairgrounds, located at 1060 Libertry Road S.W.


CCS gets $153,750 federal grant
• The money from the Department of Justice is intended to address school safety.

Michele Taylor

Calhoun City Schools will receive a $153,750 grant from the Department of Justice to address school violence, announced United States Attorney Byung J. Pak of the Northern District of Georgia on Tuesday.

Superintendent Michele Taylor said the system is appreciative of the grant and that it will fund several projects, including: video surveillance equipment at the middle and high school campus ($35,000); additional access controls for the primary and elementary school complex ($45,000); digital two way radios for staff ($50,000); professional learning and training expenses for two representatives for the National School Safety Conference for the next two years ($24,000), additional school safety training ($10,000), and the emergency alert app for the campus and complex ($36,000).

"Calhoun City Schools continues to make school safety a top priority and these funds will go a long way to assist us in our efforts to provide the safest schools possible," Taylor said.

The money is part of a package of $85.3 million in grants the DoJ awarded to schools across the country. Calhoun's school system is one of just six agencies in Georgia that were awarded funding.

The grants award more than $1,050,873 in funding to prevent violence in schools to the Meriwether County Board of Education, Fulton County Board of Education, and Calhoun City School District. In addition, the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council received $999,554, and the Pelham City Board of Education received $63,000 and Chattahoochee County's school district police received $463,235.

Calhoun's grant falls under the COPS' School Violence and Prevention Program.

For a second year, COPS provided funding to improve school safety through violence prevention. This year, COPS awarded about $32.5

million to 103 school and school districts. These funds will provide K-12, primary and secondary schools up to 75% funding for the following school safety measures:

• Coordination with law enforcement;

• Training for local law enforcement officers to prevent student violence against others and themselves;

• Metal detectors, locks, lighting, and other deterrent measures;

• Technology for expedited notification of local law enforcement during an emergency;

• Any other measure that the COPS Office determines may provide a significant improvement in security.

For more details about these individual award programs, as well as listings of individual 2019 awardees, visit https://go.usa.gov/xVJuV.


Officials celebrate new central office

Dozens of officials past and present gathered at the new Calhoun City Schools central office Monday morning to officially cut the ceremonial ribbon and open the doors for the public.

The $2.6 million project on South Wall Street, which includes about 10,000 square feet on two levels, was constructed using Education Special Purpose, Local Option Sales Tax and general funds. Robertson, Loia and Roof Architects designed the facility that replicates the original College Street School built in 1902. Momon Construction built the two-story structure.

Calhoun Mayor Jimmy Palmer was one of several speakers during the event, and he mentioned how the city first voted to levy a tax to pay for the school system in 1901. The following year marked the formation of the Calhoun Board of Education.

Palmer said the city has been blessed since then with dedicated school board members a community that provides constant support. The mayor also recognized Georgia Rep. Matt Barton, R-Calhoun, thanking him for his support of local education, and noted that a tree had been planted at the central office in honor of the late Rep. John Meadows, whom Barton replace in the state House of Representatives after Meadow's death.

Superintendent Michele Taylor also recognized board members, former board members, alumni of the old College Street School, the architects

and construction company, central office staff, and the family that dedicated the land for the project, among others.

"This building will serve our precious children on years to come," Taylor.

The central office staff has been sharing space with the school system's pre-K program in the old Eastside School building, a structure built in 1967 using an open floor plan. Over the years, partitions, shelving and temporary walls have divided the spaces; however, there hasn't been a remedy for the lack of walls and doors to create safe spaces in the event of an emergency. Taylor also noted the noise level has been an issue for employees and for students in the shared space.

Moving the central office personnel to the new building is just one part of the overall plan, because the pre-K students will be moved temporarily to another building while the Eastside building is torn down and a mew Early Learning Academy is constructed.

Calhoun pre-K and Junior Jacket Academy will close out the school year in the Eastside building on Barrett Road and the 12 classes will relocate to the Primary and Elementary Complex facility on Raymond King Drive for the 2020-2022 school years as part of the long range facilities plan.

CCS is presently working with Architects Robertson, Loia and Roof to design an Early Learning Academy that will house the Junior Jacket Academy, pre-K and kindergarten. Funding for the project will come from state capital outlay funds, education SPLOST and the schools' general fund.

The Calhoun Early Learning Academy will open at the Barrett Road site with 37 regular classroom spaces, a cafeteria, media center and gymnasium. Due to the structural issues and safety concerns of the Eastside building, Taylor said it would be more costly to renovate than to tear down, so demolition will begin as soon as the 2019-2020 school year is completed.