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State of Hope honors foster hub
• Restoration Rome's public-private partnership to safeguard children may become a model for other Georgia communities.

Courtney Cash

Restoration Rome is one of five organizations in Georgia selected for grant funding and technical assistance as a State of Hope site.

"We'll be working with the state regarding how our comprehensive care center is going to be replicated across the state," spokesman Courtney Cash said. "There is a model emerging at Restoration Rome that doesn't exist anywhere else yet."

Jeff and Mary Margaret Mauer of Global Impact International are leading a makeover of the old Southeastern Elementary School on Crane Street to serve as centralized hub for foster care services in Floyd County.

Cash said more than 20 local entities are involved — from churches, service clubs and the YMCA to Court Appointed Special Advocates and the Department of Family and Children's Services.

"Restoration Rome is actually a building," he noted. "What happens within the building is a collaboration of multiple agencies and child service organizations."

The State of Hope competition sponsored by Georgia DFCS looked for "big ideas" that use public-private partnerships to safeguard children. Georgia State University and Georgia Family Connection also are part of the initiative aimed at creating a larger learning community.

Tom Rawlings, interim director of Georgia DFCS, said 60 applications were received and 57 of the groups were invited to be part of what he's calling the Hope Ecosystem.

Restoration Rome was tapped to receive specialized support along with four other entities, in Dalton, Watkinsville, Columbus and Brunswick.

The call went out for innovative grassroots efforts focusing on one or more of the four state-defined "opportunities for hope" — education, becoming trauma-informed, quality care-giving and economic self-sufficiency.

"These are the priority areas that we believe will have the greatest impact on keeping children safe, strengthening families and empowering communities," Rawlings said in a release announcing the State of Hope sites.

Cash said the state grant will go toward completing Phase I of the Restoration Rome plan, the $975,000 renovation of the former school. The project started in mid-2016 with volunteers helping to gut the interior. Agencies started occupying space in February, as it became available, and more than 100 foster families have received assistance with clothing, supplies and after-school programs so far.

"We're about 75 percent done," Cash said. "We're within about $125,000 of our fundraising goal and projected to have the center operating by the end of the year."

There are three phases to follow in Restoration Rome's $2.2 million strategic plan to become a "one-stop-shop" for foster care resources in the community.

The facility will offer intake and triage for local children entering the system, supervised parental visits, physical and mental healthcare services, education, mentoring and various other supports.


Tourism leaders hear of a smoking compromise
• The panel opts not to make any recommendation to city officials about the proposed ordinance.

Gena Agnew

Kristi Kent

Tourism and hospitality industry leaders in Rome declined to make any kind of recommendation regarding a proposed no-smoking ordinance Wednesday.

Gena Agnew of Breatheasy Rome told the Office of Tourism board she felt it was important for city officials to hear input from both the Downtown Development Authority as well as the Office of Tourism on the issue.

"This whole issue is about change," said Bob Blumberg, chairman of the DDA. "Change is difficult in Rome. The best way to do it is some sort of compromise."

The compromise suggested by the tourism board was a ban on smoking on Broad Street with an allowance for smokers on the East First Street and Tribune Street backside of Broad Street buildings.

Dr. J.C. Abdou reminded the group that employees who just step out on the sidewalk at the rear of the Broad Street buildings were also in violation of the law which prohibits smoking within 25 feet of a public entrance to a building that is designated as smoke-free.

Gay Nichols, general manager of Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, said that if people in the 200 block stepped out and got far enough away from their own businesses to meet the law that they would be on Hawthorn property.

Abdou explained that as a private business, the hotel could post any kind of smoking rules on its property as it deemed appropriate.

"Right now we're sifting through everything," said Commissioner Milton Slack, the city liaison to the tourism board. "There's a lot of stuff put in this basket that we're going through."

Abdou and Agnew also spent considerable time with the tourism leaders explaining that the proposed ordinance would also apply to vaping. The oncologist explained that a lot of younger people who have picked up vaping were probably not smokers in the first place, but offered statistics which showed a percentage of the vapers do go on to pick up tobacco.

Blumberg said that if a smoking ban was enforced on Broad Street that yes, some businesses might lose a few customers but, "You'll probably gain as many customers from making the right decision."

He anticipates the DDA board of directors could make a formal recommendation to the city following their next meeting Oct. 11.

Communications Director Kristi Kent told the tourism board that geocachers from around the country would return to Rome and Ridge Ferry Park next week for a Mega-Event Oct. 3-7.

Kristi Kent Local coordinator Andi Beyer said Wednesday afternoon that people from six other countries — Australia, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Canada — have already registered for the event.


Prayer at the Pole

GNTC gets approval for its own campus police force
• Campus officers will be able to assist off-campus when requested.

Georgia Northwestern Technical College has created and gained state approval for its own police force to handle incidents and promote student, faculty, staff and visitor safety at each of the school's six campuses.

"The safety of our students, faculty and staff as well as visitors to our campuses is of the highest priority," said GNTC President Pete McDonald. "A safe campus environment is critical to learning and skill development. Our new police officers are highly experienced officers who bring many years of knowledge to the challenge of developing and maintaining a safe college experience for everyone."

In the past, the college employed part-time, off-duty officers from other agencies to police its campuses in the nine-county service area.

"If you have an officer from another police department working for you and something happens, they have to follow the policies and guidelines for their department," said Chad Cardin, who was named chief of GNTC Police in March.

With its own police force, the college will have the ability to set its own policies and procedures to allow a concentrated focus on policing in the college environment.

"This means that we have more control," said Cardin. "It is also advantageous to have a campus police department because you can operate it with less expense than hiring officers from other agencies."

A veteran police officer in the northwest Georgia region, Cardin has served as a police officer and trainer for the Tunnel Hill Police Department, assistant chief of police and captain in Ringgold, a police officer for Fort Oglethorpe as well as Dalton and a detention officer for the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office.

The police department at the college is a fully certified state police agency as signified by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council and the Georgia Crime Information Center, according to Cardin.

"Campus police officers have full police powers and we are the same as other law enforcement agencies in the state of Georgia," said Cardin.

Their jurisdiction, as defined by Georgia law, is public or private property under the control of Georgia Northwestern Technical College plus a 500 foot perimeter. GNTC's police department operates under the authority of the Technical College System of Georgia.

"So far we have hired four full-time officers and I have 12 part-time officers who will join the department soon," said Cardin.

The college's police force has also reached out to other law enforcement agencies in the area to work together whenever necessary, and has entered into mutual aid agreements with surrounding counties and municipalities. Under these agreements, college police officers can operate off campus when requested by other agencies to assist them.


Housing authority to improve web access for residents
• The NWGHA also gets a good 2017 audit report.

The Northwest Georgia Housing Authority is all in on a federal program called ConnectHome USA, an initiative to bring greater access to the internet for students and adults alike, who are residents of public housing.

LaRose Wilson said many students have smartphones, but very few have actual computers with access to the web at home.

"Low-income families are not connected, or they are under-connected," Wilson said. "With cellphones there is only so much you can do. You can't write a paper with a cellphone."

"When they come home they still don't have Wi-Fi," Wilson said.

She has targeted certain groups within the public housing community for increased access.

First, they're reaching out to students in the SOAR program — designed to enhance preparation for college. They're also reaching out to adults who participate in the LifeSkills program, which is designed to better prepare adults for the workforce. In addition to that they're reaching out to Section 8 housing voucher recipients who participate in the Family Self Sufficiency program.

Wilson told the authority board one of the early keys to the program involves building partnerships within Rome and local business groups and institutions who may have grant money to help develop the program. Funds would be used for assisting with the acquisition of computers or development of Wi-Fi or internet hotspots within the various communities.

As business partners upgrade and replace their own computer hardware, they could donate their old equipment to the housing authority, she suggested.

As for adults, Wilson said many food stamp recipients are now required to recertify their eligibility online, but don't have the ability or access to do so.

"Ninety percent of job searches are online now and about 80 percent of applicants have to fill out a job application online," Wilson said.

HUD does not have any grant money for the ConnectHome USA program yet, and Wilson said that after meeting with HUD officials in Washington earlier this month, HUD did donate six laptops and was waiting to see how the authority would utilize them as the program evolves.

The Northwest Georgia Housing Authority also got a positive audit report for 2017 Wednesday.

"I feel very comfortable that everything is in good shape here," accountant Jack Blosky said.

The audit did not reveal any deficiencies related to Department of Housing and Urban Development compliance issues.

"That's what you're looking for," Blosky said.

Specifically examining the financial reports, the authority showed an operating loss of $2,401,000, however, when depreciation expenses is removed from the equation the authority was approximately $160,000 in the black.

The accountant also told the authority it is carrying a significant amount of debt, but a lot of that was related to Energy Performance upgrades to properties which would ultimately save money over the long term.


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's artwork is by Destinee Dennis, a fifth-grader at East Central Elementary School.