The downstairs level of the Northside Hospital Cherokee Conference Center in Canton was a hive of activity Tuesday as the Rotary Club of Canton welcomed first responders from throughout the county to the fourth annual Public Safety Appreciation Luncheon, honoring those who play a vital role in keeping local communities safe.

Joining the event as a special guest speaker was Vic Reynolds, the current director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

“It’s an honor to be here with you today,” Reynolds said. “I have a great deal of admiration and respect for this part of the state.”

Having recently been selected to serve as the newest GBI director, Reynolds mentioned how proud he was to rejoin the fraternity of law enforcement after spending several years in court as a lawyer and as a judge.

One of the main points of Reynolds’ message in his speech was that, in order to encourage new people to want to join the ranks of law enforcement and retain those already serving, law enforcement agencies and officials have to recapture the narrative being presented. Listing off some of the many positive interactions police officers can have with members of the public, he said these are the things that need to be reported to the media and others.

“That is the narrative that speaks the truth,” Reynolds said.

Reminding the officers that there is arguably no higher responsibility placed on the government than keeping its citizens safe, Reynolds said the GBI is always a willing partner to law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

During the luncheon, a handful of special awards were given out to some of the first responders in attendance, as well as businesses that have shown support to the agencies.

Cpl. Cody Jones and Sgt. Chris Bryant from the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, Dale Belvin and Erin Schorr with Cherokee County E 9-1-1, Michael Sweat of the Canton Police Department, Mike Adams from the Holly Springs Police Department, Shane Bonebrake with the Woodstock Police Department, Chief Mark Kissel of the Cherokee County School Police Department, Mike Thomas and Cameron Smith from Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services, Animal Control Officer Viola Lynne Laux with the Cherokee Marshal’s Office and Monica Moore of the Cherokee County District Attorney’s Office were awarded Public Safety Employee of the Year. Matthew Dunn from the Woodstock Police Department, Deputy Courey Carter with the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Chief Tommy Keheley of the Holly Springs Police Department were presented with the Col. George Bailey Distinguished Leadership Award, while Sgt. Nathan Ernst from the Holly Springs Police Department was awarded the Rotary Club of Canton Public Safety Medal of Valor. Tuscany Restaurant, Chuck’s Auto Repair and Drug Free Cherokee were given the Public Safety Business Partner of the Year Award.

With so much going on, a handful of officials in attendance shared what the event meant to them.

“It’s great to honor our officers who do so much for us every day and the businesses who show their support for us,” Lt. Cmdr. Casey Barton with the Holly Springs Police Department said.

Canton police Chief Mark Mitchell said, “I’m very proud to be associated with this group and recognizing everyone. It shows how well we all work together.”

“It’s wonderful to have recognition like this for everyone in law enforcement,” Deputy Chief Ken Ball of the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office said.

Woodstock police Chief Calvin Moss added, “We’re grateful to the Canton Rotary for taking the lead on this event, giving special recognition for the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the citizens of Cherokee County.”

As the luncheon wound down, Deputy Chief Jamie Gianfala from the Marshal’s Office left those in attendance with a few parting words to remember as they served those in their communities.

“We must concentrate on enhancing the future,” Gianfala said. “Rather than going wherever the path may lead you, go your own way and leave a trail. I challenge you to leave a trail for others to follow.”