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December 25, 2003 Issue

Laura Romer teaches 5-year-old Alexxus Riles how to count money she can't see.







To help them see...

Laura Romer thought she was going overseas, but found a place to serve at home

By Jessica Newberry

At the beginning of the school year, an angel appeared at Louisville Academy.

The children whose lives she has touched know that they don't have to see her wings or halo to know what she is. Five-year-old Alexxus Riles knows it and she has never even seen her special teacher's face.

While applying to work with Wycliffe Bible Translators as a foreign missionary, Laura Romer realized that she would be staying in Louisville longer than she had originally planned.


"When I learned that I would not begin my training until next summer, I took it as a blessing," said Romer.

Before becoming a tutor, Romer worked as a teller at First National Bank.

"Though I enjoyed my job at the bank, and the Lord had placed me there in the first place, I felt Him calling me to leave my job there for one that would better fit my prior education and my future plans."

Since Bible translators most often work with languages that have never been written, a vital part of the missionaries' work is literacy instruction, according to Romer.

"Once the missionaries have organized a system of writing for the language, they begin to instruct the local people in reading and writing their own language."

When she learned that she would be here for the duration of the school year, Romer contacted Louisville Academy principal Hulet Kitterman in May to find out if there was a reading tutor position open.

"I wanted to work with children again and possibly get some experience teaching literacy," said Romer. "Mrs. Kitterman told me there was nothing available for this year but graciously agreed to keep me in mind."

A month later, Kitterman called Romer and asked if she would be interested in teaching Braille to a blind child. The original plans for the position had fallen through, and the job was open to Romer.

"Before Mrs. Kitterman asked me about it, the thought never would have crossed my mind, but when she described the job to me, something about it just felt right, and I jumped at the chance for such an exciting opportunity," said Romer.

Romer works individually with Riles from a Braille reading curriculum for half an hour each day. The two spend the rest of the day in Mrs. Sherry Spells' kindergarten class, where Riles does exceptionally well, according to Romer.

"I enjoy working with Mrs. Spells and Mrs. Greene as a team," said Romer. As the teacher, Spells makes the lesson plans, and Romer adapts and translates them for Riles.

"My undergraduate degree is in Art Education, so I was trained to teach children, specifically how to look at things and think creatively," said Romer. "I learned much about the mechanics of vision and how the eye sees as an Art Major. I never imagined I'd apply what I learned to teach a visually impaired child, but I use it every day."

"Also, I am very interested in the languages," said Romer. "Both of my parents are language teachers. I have studied Latin, French, Spanish a little bit of German. I applied what I learned about the structure of language to teaching myself Braille - something else I never would have imagined! I came to my job 'through the back door,' so to speak. Ideally, a person in my position would be a certified vision educator, trained specifically to teach visually impaired students. I am so thankful to have this opportunity."

"Each day presents me with new challenges, but God, in His mercy, has blessed me so much through this work," said Romer. "When Alexxus doesn't need me, I work with the other students in the class. It is truly a delight to work with these children as well."

"I love small children for their enthusiasm and fresh perspective on life," said Romer. "I learn a great deal from kindergarteners each day."

"The one most rewarding aspect of my job is the blessing of working with my student, Alexxus. This little child has the most engaging personality! A 5-year-old with such a bright personality and hilarious sense of humor is nothing short of a gift to all those around her. She will be successful in life, without a doubt. 'What she lacks in sight, she makes up for in vision,' as I like to say."

"Alexxus's family hopes to relocate to Macon next year so she can attend the Academy for the Blind," said Romer. "The incredible aptitude she demonstrates already makes me believe that she would soar to great heights in an environment designed to accommodate her needs. She is truly remarkable, and a remarkable gift has been given to me in the opportunity to work with her this year. The timing could not have been better, and I thank God for his perfect plan."

"Before hearing about my present job, I never even imagined I'd be doing anything like it," said Romer. "But I realize that I am exactly where God wants me and I wouldn't trade it for the world. I love what I do."

"I became involved in my present work through the providence of God, though some might call it an oddball combination of one-in-a-million circumstances," said Romer. "What a blessing it has been!"

For the past four years, Romer has felt a calling from God to go to the mission field. "I finished college and began graduate school thinking I would teach for Wycliffe as a support worker," said Romer. "While in grad school, I began to feel my interest shift from support work to the actual work of translating scripture into the 'heart language' of a remote people group."

"In addition to teaching reading and writing, I translate documents on a daily basis," said Romer. "What I do now as a tutor is amazingly similar to what I will do on the mission field later on."

Romer is currently in the process of applying to Wycliffe. If accepted, she hopes to begin her training in linguistics next summer. "Lord willing, I will leave for the field in about two years," said Romer.

Romer is the daughter of James and Jane Romer. Her father grew up in Louisville, but her parents currently live in North Carolina. She attended Williams High School in Burlington, NC. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Art Education K-12 from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, and a Master of Arts in Art History from UNC - Chapel Hill.

"My plan is to follow God's plan, whatever it might be. I believe He has placed me here in Louisville for the time being, and I hope to stay here until I leave for the mission field. However, no matter where I go in the world, I will always consider Louisville my home."

New Emergency Management Director recommended

Commission was unanimous in recommendation

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Lamar Baxley is set to become Jefferson County's new Emergency Management Director. Commissioners recommended Baxley for the part-time position on a 5-0 vote at the December regular session. What remains is the normal follow-up by Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and Baxley's appointment by the agency.

"I see this as an opportunity to work with the emergency response agencies and the people of Jefferson County to be ready and aware of any kind of emergency that can happen here," said Baxley.

Baxley acknowledged that the most likely form of emergency in one or more parts of Jefferson County would occur as natural disaster. But regardless the nature of the event, county emergency response participants can be counted on give the full measure of support.

"Jefferson County is blessed with wonderful people who come together in times of crisis. A call for help gets a response," Baxley said.

Another facet of the director's job is to maintain contact with state and regional GEMA officials, to obtain as many state and federal grants as possible and to keep up with the most recent information by attending training sessions and workshops.

Baxley said interim EMA Director James Tam did an excellent job with his recent submission of a comprehensive grant application to the federal Dept. of Homeland Security. Tam worked diligently with all agencies in the county, said county administrator Paul Bryan, to complete the $4.5 million grant application on time.

"I intend to work with all citizens of Jefferson County and I'm open for suggestions," said Baxley. "EMA is not just about the director, it's about every citizen of this county. The way I see it, emergency management is about one team, one goal."

Baxley also serves as Louisville Fire Chief and performs other duties with the City of Louisville. He replaces long-time EMA Director Fay McGahee who retired recently.

Criteria to be defined for DAJC hopefuls

Commission agrees to stagger terms of development authority members

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Jefferson County commissioners agreed at the Dec. 9 regular session to establish criteria for county residents interested in serving on the board of the Development Authority of Jefferson County (DAJC).

The move came after questions from the audience on the commission's vote to stagger the board's terms and its failure to include criteria for new members as promised at the November meeting.

Responding to a question during the public comments portion of the meeting, Chairman Gardner Hobbs clarified the commission's decision to stagger the terms of the DAJC board.

"Rather than reappointing the entire board we felt it best to make the reappointments on an incremental basis instead of making all the appointments at one time," said Hobbs. "That way, everybody would not come off at the same time and we would be able to retain the knowledge and expertise on the board."

Commissioners voted 5-0 to stagger the terms beginning Jan. 1. Lee Woods and Edith Pundt will be reappointed for one year, Jim Horton and Ray Barrentine will be reappointed for two years, Rita Culvern and Bill Easterlin for three years and Ted Johnson for four years.

Not included in the motion and the vote, but brought forward during the public comments portion of the meeting, was a part of the initial suggestion surfaced from the audience at the November regular session. The suggestion included the proposal that a methodology be established to open the DAJC board membership to other county residents who might have the knowledge and expertise needed to serve on the board. It was suggested that interested residents could submit their names along with resumes or applications for consideration by the commission when DAJC board terms were set to expire. Hobbs acknowledged the suggestion at the November regular session, yet it was not included in the discussions and votes at the Dec. 1 work session or the Dec. 9 regular session.

The rationale for the suggestion from the audience centered on the belief that there may be one or more of the 20,000 residents of Jefferson County, aside from those currently serving, who would have sufficient knowledge and expertise to serve on the DAJC board.

After a brief discussion of the history of the DAJC board, Commissioner Tommy New made a motion that expiring terms be filled on a district basis and that they be advertised for two weeks so that residents interested in serving could respond and be evaluated by the commission. New said his motion attempted to ensure a geographic representation of communities countywide.

During the discussion county attorney Mickey Moses, who also serves as attorney for the development authority, told commissioners that appointments to the DAJC board are not made by district. Appointments to the board are countywide, much like those to the Board of Tax Assessors, he said. Appointments by commissioners to the various county boards using a district representation method is a courtesy, not a requirement, Moses added.

After another brief discussion New's motion was defeated by a 3-1 vote. After the vote Hobbs said the commission would include the establishment of criteria for DAJC board membership at the January work session.


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