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AIDS Resource Council emphasizes the need for community education on World AIDS Day

In celebration of the 31st World AIDS Day, which was Sunday, the AIDS Resource Council of Rome held a service at Lovejoy Baptist Church in honor of lives lost to AIDS and to bring awareness. Pastor Carey Ingram was the keynote speaker.

“The best days are here when we begin to work together,” said the pastor to a crowd of about 30 people in response to the theme of the commemoration, “Communities Make the Difference.”

“The truth is, you do not have to compromise your convictions to be compassionate,” he continued. The pastor emphasized the need to end the stigma around HIV/AIDS.

“Education, education, education,” is what Betty Irvin, who founded the AIDS Resource Council in 1994, said is the key to end the stigmatization around HIV/AIDS. “When you know better, you do better. If you’re informed, you can inform somebody else.”

Frank Tant, who organized the service and manages the office at the AIDS Resource Center, said that people in the Rome area have been kind to him in regards to his HIV positive status.

“The first time the Rome News-Tribune interviewed me about 16 years ago, they put it in the paper that I was gay ... and that I was HIV positive,” he said.

When he went home for Sunday dinner when the story went to print, his sister asked him how he thought his friends at the YMCA, most of who were straight men, would handle it.

“All I got was pats on the back. They said ‘That was brave of you.’ And I’m sure the AIDS Resource Center has a lot to do with the changing attitude of Rome, GA,” Tant said.

“A lot of people fear being known as having HIV/AIDS,” said Shaina Linginfelter, the president of the AIDS Resource Council. “(World AIDS Day is) a time to remember our past and bring awareness to a better future.”

She also said to the audience that Georgia is the No. 1 state for new HIV/AIDS diagnoses.

HIV/AIDS is a condition that has hit Georgia hard in recent years. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump implemented an anti-AIDS plan that targets Metro Atlanta areas like Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, and Dekalb counties, which have high rates of residents infected with HIV/AIDS. They are just four of 48 counties in the nation targeted by the plan.

The AIDS Resource Council hosts HIV testing at Lovejoy Baptist Church, 436 Branham Ave., every first Sunday of the month. People can also get tested without appointment at the resource center at 260 N. Fifth Ave. in Rome.

Summerville Depot ready for Santa Express Train

The Historic Summerville Depot is gearing up for this year’s Summerville Santa Special, a 75 minute train excursion that departs several times each weekend this month through Dec. 22.

Rides pull out four times daily on Saturdays and three times daily on Sundays, with limited spaces available for each ride.

Passengers will be transported to “Santa’s Workshop” in Trion to pick up the jolly old elf to join them inside an enclosed, climate controlled train car on the festively decorated Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum Passenger Train and hosted by Santa’s elves.

While on board, families will enjoy Christmas caroling, storytelling of “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” light refreshments and, of course, a visit with Santa.

Every child will receive a special memento, and those both young and young at heart, will spend special time with Santa as he walks through each train car visiting and posing for photos.

Tickets are available for purchase at Summerville City Hall, by phone at 706-859-0900, or online at tvrail.com. Walk up tickets will be available, but limited. The cost for the train excursion is $19 per person, and free for children under 2.

A Mistletoe Market will be presented each weekend during the train excursions. Hours of operation for the market will be Saturdays 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Sundays 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Extended hours will be allowed on Dec. 22.

Food, craft, and specialty vendors will be on hand and a photographer will be on site to capture special family moments.

Carriage rides will also be offered each weekend departing from the depot beginning on Dec. 8 from 1 to 6 p.m. Special times are scheduled for Mrs. Claus reading stories and decorating cookies with youth, and appearances by The Grinch are scheduled each weekend.

Special performances are scheduled for the kick off this weekend, Dec. 7 and 8, with the Southern Style Sweetheart Cloggers performing a Christmas clogging on the street at 1:15 p.m. on the 7th. Performances by the Horizon Baptist Church Hand Bell Choir are scheduled for the 8th at 1:15 and 3:15 p.m. As always, admission to the depot is free and the Turntable Trolley free golf cart shuttles will be running.

Emma Wampler, a fifth-grader at St. Mary’s Catholic School

New federal funds could boost Georgia's mental health care for toddlers

Federal funds could be available next year to address the mental health needs of very young children, but a House study committee found state Medicaid policies don’t cover assessments.

“We’ve got to find a way to pull our agencies together, certainly through conversations with our governor and other state agency heads ... There is a desire to make this happen,” said Rep. Katie Dempsey.

The Rome Republican chairs the human resources subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. She spent the fall leading the House Study Committee on Infant and Toddler Social and Emotional Health.

A final report slated to be submitted this week is expected to underscore what a host of experts have testified to throughout the group’s five hearings.

“The first three years represent the time of the greatest and fastest brain development,” said Jamie Colvard of the nonprofit Zero to Three.

And stressors in those early years affect how they develop. Dempsey said the ability to help at-risk babies and their families is a vital — and cost-effective — path toward more happy and productive adults.

“We are called. We must do this. It’s not an option any more,” she said at the study committee’s last meeting Nov. 25. “Family First is really going to offer us a new opportunity to look out for Georgia’s children.”

The Family First Prevention Services Act, signed into law as part of the federal budget in February 2018, sets up a new way to tap child welfare financing streams.

It changes the focus from foster care to prevention, said Melissa Carter of the Barton Child Policy Center at the Emory University School of Law.

“At this point we really only have foster care. We have one tool,” she told members of the study committee. “When that tool is not deployed correctly ... we haven’t really addressed the problem.”

States can now apply for funding aimed at staving off the need to put children in foster care, she said. Strategies such as parental training, substance abuse treatment and interventions designed to keep kids connected with their family, school, community and peers.

However, Carter said the Title IV E funds will go only to certified evidence-based programs approved by the U.S. Childrens Bureau. A review of state plans is underway now.

Georgia officials are still working on a plan that may, or may not, include the youngest children. Committee members heard testimony about other states that have revamped their Medicaid system to include coverage for diagnostics at that age — including in Alabama.

Dallas Rabig, state coordinator for infant and early childhood mental health, walked the group through the creation of an umbrella agency called First 5 Alabama.

It started with a grant that paid for hiring Rabig, who worked with the University of Alabama to create a model. Early intervention pilot sites were established in 2015, through home visits, Pre-K and daycare settings. Pediatricians were added this year.

Rabig said First Five Alabama — a partnership of state agencies and nonprofits — “opened the door for discussion with Alabama Medicaid about possible billing practices and policy changes.” That led to more grants, used to build on their successes and participate in multi-state initiatives.

The Alabama legislature is putting $500,000 in the pot next year, and Rabig said they’re well-positioned to make use of Family First Title IV E funds.

Dempsey said she hopes the study committee’s report helps state agencies and lawmakers determine a viable path forward.

“I was quite impressed with Alabama and what they’ve done in their five years ... If Alabama and our other neighbors can do this, we can too,” she said.

Unemployment rate held steady in October

Rome’s unemployment rate held steady in October at 3.3%. The local workforce was up in October and the number of people who were actually getting a paycheck was up according to the latest report from the Georgia Department of Labor.

According to the preliminary report, 43,218 Floyd County residents were getting a paycheck in October. That was up 308 from September and up by 854 residents over the same month last year.

“We increased jobs, employment and added to our labor force in virtually all of our major markets,” said Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

While the number of people working was up, the number of Rome and Floyd County residents in the workforce — defined as the number who were working plus those who were listed as unemployed — also went up to 44,685 in October, an increase of 312 from September and up 472 over October of 2018.

The data from Atlanta also indicates that Floyd County-based payrolls — businesses with a Floyd County address — reported some 42,800 people were working in October. That was up 300 from September and an increase of 1,000 jobs from October of the previous year.

The mere fact that those jobs are in Rome or Floyd County does not mean that all of the people receiving a paycheck from the local companies actually live in Rome or Floyd County.

While the Rome jobless rate held steady from September to October, the national rate was up 0.1% to 3.6%. The Georgia rate was down 0.1%, to 3.4 in October.

The jobless rate across the entire 15-county Northwest Georgia region was up 0.1% to 3.1% in October. Bartow County and Walker County each checked in at 2.9%, Gordon and Polk counties were at 3.1%, Chattooga County registered a 3.7% rate and Whitfield County came in at 4.2%.

Nationally, the unemployment rate climbed in October to 3.6 percent, an increase of 0.1 percentage points. The nation also grew its labor force by 325,000, increased employment by 241,000 and added more than 125,000 jobs.

Georgia’s unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell in October by 0.1 percentage points to 3.4%. That tied Georgia’s all-time low set in December of 2000.

State labor officials also reported that the number of first-time claims for unemployment assistance filed by Floyd County residents — people who have not made a previous claim within the last 12 months — dropped 36% from September and was down 52% as compared to a year ago.