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Retiring 'Good Neighbor' gets a surprise send-off
• Stefani Ortman is retiring after 27 years as director of the multi-church social services agency.

Dozens of volunteers with Good Neighbor Ministries surprised executive director Stefani Ortman with a reception Sunday, to honor her retirement after nearly three decades of service.

"We're definitely going to miss her, but she said it was time," Pam Roberts said. "She's been doing it so long and it's time for her to move closer to her children."

The gathering at St. Peter's Episcopal Church marked the first time some of the volunteers had met each other. Members of 22 local churches donate money and time to the nonprofit, which helps people with utility and rent payments, medications, clothing, food, transportation, counseling and more.

Ortman, also a volunteer, was there from the start — heading the FISH chapter at St. Peter's that formed the base of the new coalition in 1979.

"Reaching out to the underserved, the under-recognized, the poor and the working poor of Floyd County was a big step, but the entire community came together," Pastor John Herring said. "Stefi has been behind it for 27 years as the fearless leader of Good Neighbors."

The agency at 208 E. Second St. is open each weekday from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Roberts said they see anywhere from 25 to 45 people a day. In addition to handling all the referrals to Bagwell Food Pantry, they take applications for Christmas food baskets and even lend space to the Toys For Tots program.

"It's much more than a crisis ministry," Roberts said. "We have lots of things going on."

The agency, which is also a project of the Junior Service League, relies entirely on donations and help from local residents. Ortman praised the volunteers as she gave her goodbye speech.

"Good Neighbor would not exist if not for all of you," she said. "I'm going to miss all of this, but I'll miss all of you the most."

Ortman is expected be around until January, however, so she can train her replacement. Roberts, who sits on the board of directors, said they've hired Rome native Pam Clarke to run the operation on a parttime basis.

'Good Neighbor would not exist if not for all of you. I'm going to miss all of this, but I'll miss all of you the most.'

Stefani Ortman

Christmas gift bonanza
• Even though the Winter Art Market has closed, you can still buy the work of local artists online and in shops such as the Last Stop Gift Shop.

Christmas — and the smell of Embree's Lace Cakes — was in the air Sunday at the Winter Art Market on Jackson Hill.

Brothers Josh and Chad Embree were behind the counter of their booth, frying up squiggles of batter and sprinkling the finished "cakes" with powdered sugar.

Their father, Randy Embree, who founded the festival cart business 42 years ago, was enjoying some warm fritters with his toddler granddaughter Lily Embree.

"She'll be the third generation," he said, smiling fondly as he watched Lily lick her fingers. "She specializes in the sugar right now."

Nearby, Daniel Kandasammy stood in front of his display of rednosed, ribbon-bedecked reindeer made of logs, holding a cardboard sign reading "Homeless Reindeer."

Penny Desmond and her mother-in-law, Mary Ann Desmond, quickly pooled their cash to come up with the $20.

"I figured I'd buy one anyway, and then he pulled out that sign," Penny Desmond said with a laugh. "We'll give it a good home."

Musician Daniel E. Elliott strummed his guitar and sang softly, entertaining the crowd outside the Rome Civic Center from the stand where he was selling his CDs. Inside, shoppers thronged the booths offering handmade items ranging from pottery and bath soaps to beaded jewelry and woven scarves.

The annual Winter Art Market will likely be the last show of the year for most of the local artists, although a number of them said they're keeping their eyes open for more sales opportunities.

Woodcarver Jerry Ables sends pieces to the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association store in downtown Blue Ridge.

Others, including jewelry designers Cynthia Ivery of Ivery Creations and Amy Crawford of Ginger Goat Gems, have Facebook pages where they connect with potential buyers.

"I just set up an Instagram, too," said fiber artist Hillari Knight as she worked on a new needle felt soft-sculpture.

The Last Stop Gift Shop, in the caboose next to the Rome Civic Center, also stocks wares by local artists.

Local is one of only 5,000 falconers in the US
• The Georgia Highlands student points out that birds of prey are not pets — it's a working relationship.

Lex Vick of Armuchee clads his arm and hand with a simple leather gauntlet. He enters his aviary just behind his house. And when he emerges, a large Red-tailed hawk rests on the end of his fist.

It's a magnificent bird with a predator's dark gaze, a fierce angled beak, and talons with points as sharp as hypodermic needles and inclined to vice grip tendencies.

Her name is Koda, which is a Sioux term for "companion."

She stalks and hunts her prey from the skies like a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. She is all about power and presenting power, Vick said.

And although there seems to be a close connection between Vick and Koda, he is quick to point out she is not a pet. It's a working relationship. They work together on each and every hunt.

He got into falconry several years ago. He has moved from apprentice to general and will be a master in 2018. Each rank requires years of training and different levels to unlock to do more and more with the birds.

He explained falconry has a long history, dating back to even ancient humans. Falconers today hunt with falcons, hawks and other birds of prey, and are trained to work with a number of different species of bird.

But the most interesting part of it all for him is being "in the front row seat of what happens naturally every single day."

"Just getting to see the natural world from the predator's side is just amazing," he said. "I've always loved animals. I was the type of kid that would just read encyclopedias on animals."

He is currently working on his associate in biology at Georgia Highlands College. He wants to continue on to Berry College to get a bachelor's in animal science before attending veterinarian school at the University of Georgia.

He does some volunteer education events for local schools now, but feels the urge to hunt with his hawk more than anything.

And although now Koda is quick to return to him with one call of her name, it took time, training, and a lot of patience to get to that point.

His training required him to go through several legal steps with the Department of Natural Resources, including a test, inspections, and more. It's an arduous process. It's estimated there are only 5,000 falconers in the country today.

Once he was cleared to get a hawk, the tricky part began.

"You have to trap a wild bird. It must be an immature juvenile bird, so you don't take from the breeding stock. They're more impressionable anyway. They hatch in the summer, so if you find one in the fall, it is a good indication they know how to survive."

Vick uses a simple dome cage for trapping hawks. The way it works is he places a small animal, like a gerbil, within the dome cage. A number of floss-like tethers are arranged on the outside of the cage. Once he finds a hawk he thinks will work, he sets the cage near their hunting site and waits far away.

The hawk will eventually dive onto the cage to take the animal inside, but the tethers wrap around its talons and keep the bird fixed and the animal within the dome safe. Then the training starts.

"It's a lot of time on the glove. At first, they've got their wings out and their mouth open, because they think you're going to kill them. I spent the first day with Koda on my glove for five hours. Each day you do that, then you take her outside. Then it becomes a food-based thing."

Over a two-week period, he feeds the bird, and with each feeding, he gives the bird more distance to return to him. Once the hawk becomes accustomed to its name and knowing that its name being called signals he has something for it, the first free fly happens.

"All you can do is hope for the best in your training the first time you let them go. It's an amazing feeling when you start walking and they are just following along with you from the sky."

Vick has been hunting with Koda for five years. The pair enjoy hunting in the fall after the leaves have left the trees and there is a better line of sight from ground to sky and vice versa.

But preparing for the hunt is just as important as the hunt itself.

"Just like a prize fighter, you want to have the bird in a good condition, at the right weight. If they are too high and too fat, they get lethargic, and if they're too low, they don't have the energy. There is a perfect medium called 'yarak,' where they are primed and at the peak of readiness for what they do best."

Once Koda reaches her ideal weight, Vick and his dog Molly set out with her to assist in the hunt. They try to kick up or scare small game, like squirrel or rabbits, while Koda patrols overhead. Sometimes the prey they hunt become so fixated on Molly and him, they don't even know Koda is part of the hunting equation, giving her the element of surprise.

"When she locks on to something, the game is over."

Every bird flies and hunts just a bit different from one another. Koda prefers powerful dives and strong aerial turns, as if to flex her privileged position on the food chain just a little before the attack ensues.

Eventually, Koda will be released back into the wild. He said even though the two of them form a slight working bond, Koda's natural instincts will always dictate her actions. Eventually, she'll move on to mate and hunt again on her own, and he'll need to start over with a new bird.

Any attachment a falconer has for a bird is one sided, but the thrill of working together for even a short amount of time makes it worth all the while for him.

For him, it's not just a view of the "circle of life," it's a chance to experience it, to "be a part of it."

2 indicted on charges of selling synthetic pot
• Police report finding 113 packets during one raid at a gas station near the state line.

Two people were indicted on charges of selling synthetic marijuana at a Marathon gas station located at 2406 Gadsden Highway.

According to Floyd County Jail reports:

Salim Sherali Budhwani, 53, of Taylorsville, and Laila Salim Budh wani, 44, were both charged in July with felony counts of possessing and selling drugs.

During one raid police officers found 113 packets of synthetic marijuana totaling more than 700 grams.

A warrant for Budhwani's arrest also alleges that he sold synthetic marijuana to a cooperating witness in July of 2016.

Aggravated assault

The grand jury also indicted a Rome man on Friday on charges stemming from a shooting at a local area motel in September.

According to Floyd County Jail reports:

Sadarius Antwonn Mathis, 34, is charged with felony aggravated assault in the shooting of a man at the Relax Inn, 1204 Martha Berry Blvd.

The man was shot in the neck, shoulder and hand during the incident.

The charge in the indictment does not necessarily show all the charges filed against a person accused of a crime. Others on the list from last week's deliberations are:

Eric J. Hunter, obstruction of an officer

Aaron A. Watts, terroristic threats

Robert J. Wright, terroristic threats

Robert J. Wright, obstruction of an officer

Robert J. Wright, aggravated assault

Andre D. Evans, Ronnie D. Roach Jr., act of violence in penal institute

Hilton Hayes, III, terroristic threats

Jody S. Parr, interference with government property

Marcquell D. Williams, act of violence in penal institute

Sean D. Collins, violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act

Billy J. Rampley, false imprisonment

Milton T. Bedford and Georgia L. Winters, violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act

Clarence C. Neal, violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act

Terry H. Rittenhouse and Ronald L. Smith, violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act

John E. Ferguson, violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act Randall B. Garrett, obstruction of an officer

James R. Hash, violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act

Jimmy W. Blair, theft by taking

Robert C. Campbell, obstruction of an officer

Titus D. Daniel, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime

Sylvia A. Sullins, aggravated stalking

Martino King, aggravated assault

Johnathan L. Miller and Leslie L. Stone, false imprisonment

Nadia N. Watley, exploitation of disabled person

Cristian Cornejo-Guzman, Alejandro Cruz, Erick B. Estrada, Mizbar M. Perez and Luis E. Pizano, violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act

James M. Davis, aggravated assault

Matthew D. Weeks, felony battery under the Family Violence Act

Don D. Allen, aggravated assault under the Family Violence Act

David A. Blalock, aggravated assault

Jason B. Harbin, second-degree burglary

Jason G. Carter, April M. Purvis and Gary L. Purvis, hindering apprehension

Roshard T. Johnson, violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act

Janet L. Petzold, neglect of disabled adult

Jacoby D. Smith, aggravated assault

Nicholas S. Strickland, violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act

Sandra L. Wade, violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act

Tony E. Wilson, violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act

Brittany Weatherby, false statements and writings

Shannon M. Lawce, bail jumping

Melissa A. Whitson, bail jumping

Brenda T. Duke, first-degree forgery

Kevin B. Barner, first-degree criminal attempt at burglary.


Today's artwork is by Isaiah Jayce Perez, a third-grader at Elm Street Elementary School.