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A network full of support
• The Calhoun Autism Network hosts its annual Christmas party earlier this week, with members of the group reflecting on what it brings to the community.

Holly Blevins

A few years ago when Barry Blevins and Justin Lindsey went to the Georgia Autism Conference, both of them realized that there was a lack of resources in Northwest Georgia for families with children on the autism spectrum. After attending the conference, Lindsey decided to try to form a support group in Calhoun to provide education, resources and encouragement for families affected by autism.

The founder of the Calhoun Autism Network and president of its board, Lindsey now claims that the nonprofit he created two years ago is successful only because of the people involved. The group started with around 10 kids, but currently their monthly meetings bring anywhere from 60 to 100 kids, parents, grandparents and family members.

"Having the parents, teachers and kids together just allows them to have that network of support," Lindsey said. "It's something everyone needs and it's continuing to improve."

On Monday night, the Network hosted their annual Christmas party, featuring a visit from Santa, cookie decorating activities, gifts for the children and a showing of the Polar Express. Lindsey said while Santa tends to bring out a lot of people, their biggest event is actually the back-to-school party every August.

Lindsey graduated from Calhoun High in 2009, and after earning his undergraduate degree, came back to teach at Calhoun Middle School, where he has been for the past six years teaching in a resource setting. He was recently named the 2017-2018 Educator of the Year at the Northwest Georgia Healthcare Partnership's North Georgia Autism Conference and last month was named 2018-2019 Teacher of the Year for the school system.

Holly Blevins, who is also on the board of directors and married to Barry Blevins, said this group has been a huge help to her family. The Blevinses have two sons, one of whom, Brodie, was diagnosed at a young age with autism and epilepsy. After his diagnosis, the couple realized that the services in Calhoun were not up to speed with the growing number of children being identified as on the spectrum.

Holly Blevins has been teaching for 20 years with five of those years being with Calhoun City Schools. As of 2018, 1 in every 59 children are labeled as on the autism spectrum, and that autism is more common in boys than in girls, she said. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the autism spectrum disorder is four times as more prevalent among boys than girls.

Since finding out that Brodie was on the spectrum, Holly Blevins has been looking for some type of service to help her son get the assistance he needs. Only two years ago she was able to stop looking.

"Now somebody else is there to help," she said. "And we're all at different stages, so whether someone's coming to the meeting just learning the diagnosis or coming in to say they've been there before, somebody else has been there and they know what you're going through."

Board members said they usually try to have special guests speak at their meetings, whether that's Calhoun Police Chief Tony Pyle, who spoke a couple months ago, special needs lawyers or organizations offering services to families.

Board Treasurer Barry Blevins said these meetings are open to everybody and anybody who has a connection to special needs, or even people that are interested in learning more about autism. Holly Blevins also said a lot of regular attendees don't even have kids on the spectrum, they just want to be more educated, which she says is encouraging.

The Network normally meets the first Monday of each month, and occasionally hosts parties and fundraisers. For more information, contact Barry Blevins at barryblevins@synovus.com or Justin Lindsey at lindseyj@calhounschools.org.


SINGING FOR TOYS
• The annual event brings elementary school students to Walmart to sing as Gordon EMS collects for a toy drive.

The longtime tradition that is the Singing for Toys event once again filled the Calhoun Walmart with the youthful voices of local elementary school students singing the songs of the season.

Starting Thursday morning, students from Calhoun and Gordon County schools sang into the afternoon as Gordon EMS personnel worked to collect monetary contributions and toys at the store for the Voluntary Action Center's annual Christmas program. The donations go to local children in need this holiday season.

Gordon EMS partners with Walmart and the United Way of Gordon County on the annual project. Collections started last weekend and picked back up Thursday. Additional collection times will be available on Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

The singing performances Thursday started with Tolbert Elementary students and were followed by students from Red Bud Elementary, Sonoraville Elementary, Fairmount Elementary, Calhoun Complex, Belwood Elementary and Swain Elementary.

Shoppers gathered around the student choruses to listen in to the music as they shopped.

"Our community has continually supported this toy drive year after year," said Gordon EMS captain Mark Bramblett in a news release. "We hope to benefit and reach as many families in need as possible in Gordon County."

Gordon EMS is aiming to receive donations from at least 100 organizations or individuals of at least $100 each, to impact the lives of hundreds of children in Gordon County. Monetary donations of any amount are also accepted and appreciated.

Donations can be picked up by calling 706-506-0369, or by emailing mark.bramblett@ahss.org. The deadline for donations is Dec. 13.


Board announces Animal Control adoption day
• In other updates, county commissioners approve a project report before sending it to the state, and SPLOST and LOST collections are up.

Gordon County Animal Control will be hosting an adoption event later this month where fees will be reduced or waived in an attempt to encourage locals to bring a pet home with them.

The event will be held Dec. 22 at the new Animal Control facility at 790 Harris Beamer Road, where the animals and staff were transferred following the ribbon cutting in November.

Animal Control Director Sue Henson and her staff are planning the event.

County Administrator Jim Ledbetter announced the event to county commissioners at their meeting earlier this week.

At the event, Animal Control aims to provide food, supplies and starter kits to help out new pet owners. Ledbetter and Henson are working on this project together, with a common goal of finding permanent homes for all the animals before Christmas.

Also at Tuesday's meeting, the board approved a 2019-2020 local maintenance and improvement grant project report for submission to the Georgia Department of Transportation. According to GDOT, this grant program was developed to help local governments fund improvements to state roads.

The report details a request for about 12 miles of county roads to be resurfaced, beginning July 1, 2019. The total cost for this request is estimated to be in the area of $1.2 million.

Ledbetter reported that both the SPLOST (the 1-cent special purpose, local option sales tax) and LOST (local option sales tax) funds were up. According to his report, the October 2018 SPLOST collections increased by about 21.38 percent from this time last year; LOST collections increased by 21.42 percent. This news was welcome by commissioners, as both collections from September had been down by about 9 percent.

The board approved to declare 11 computers from the Emergency Operations Center as surplus property. These computers have recently been replaced with newer computers, and the EOC no longer has any use for them. Following approval for surplus declaration, Ledbetter said the computers will be donated to the Gordon County Extension Service for use in the 4-H program.

A budget amendment to fund one-time pay increases at year end was also approved, which aims to increase rewards for employee efficiency.


Young Artists