Giving his best
• JCHS's Gilbert Lewis is rewarded for his volunteer work with non-English speaking students
By Regina Reagan
Jefferson County High School Sophomore Gilbert Lewis, Jr., son of Gilbert Lewis, Sr. of Wrens, has a special interest-an interest in foreign languages. His interest plus his boundless motivation led him to receive the News Channel 6 "Giving Your Best Award" for the month of April.
When Gilbert discovered that he had this "deep interest," as he put it, he wasted no time in pursuing it. He dabbled in a variety of different languages before finding his true passion.
When a certain boy named Alejandro Martinez and his family moved to the United States, Gilbert automatically realized the benefits of learning Spanish.
He realized that there were more Hispanics in the community and that to better help his fellow man he needed to concentrate on that one area.
"My interest in Spanish includes not only being able to speak, write, and read fluently but learning about culture, race, people and their traditions," Gilbert explained.
With all of this in mind and an unmistakable opportunity lying before Gilbert, he made a tradeoff with Alejandro. If Alejandro would teach him Spanish, he would help him learn English.
Gilbert made that agreement and took up his own personal studies of the Spanish language when he was just in the seventh grade.
Now almost four years later, Gilbert has accomplished many great honors including this one and his recent nomination and admittance into the Governors Honors Program. Probably his most prestigious accomplishments come from the people he has helped along the way and the lives he has touched.
Included in this long list are three students at JCHS, Alejandro, Cristina Martinez and Pablo Cervantes. Gilbert tutors after school, through the high school's tutorial program, to assist them in their English studies. He has also spent many Saturdays in the library tutoring Hispanic children from Wrens Middle School.
Alejandro, Cristina and Pablo were present when Gilbert was presented the award. Only a few select people were aware of what was going on and Gilbert was not one of these people. Neither were his three friends. An employee at the high school had nominated Gilbert for the award, but he had no idea about the nomination either. Gilbert was totally in the blue about the entire ordeal.
A representative from News Channel 6 came to Gilbert's second period on March 24, and after building the suspense, finally spilled the secret to Gilbert and the rest of the class.
Gilbert received a clear crystal trophy and much deserved recognition.
When asked what he was feeling at that precise moment, Gilbert said, "You just have this feeling where your heart is beating fast-that's what it felt like."
Gilbert is currently taking AP Spanish at the high school. After completing the prerequisite Pace Setter Class for AP Spanish, Spanish 3, he took a Pace Setter Test, in much the same format as the AP Spanish Test. On a grading scale of one to five, five being the highest, Gilbert topped every section. He came out with nothing below a five.
"It's not hard, just a lot of work," he stated in reference to his class.
One may wonder, though, if he were just referring to his class or if he were referring to his life in general.
Elections under investigation
• Seven residents face civil charges relating to absentee ballots cast in 2002's school board runoff
By Ben Nelms
A one of a kind hearing was held April 27 in the courthouse in Louisville as seven south Jefferson County residents faced civil charges relating to absentee ballots cast in the 2002 school board runoff election. The administrative law judge hearing the case will render her decision in coming weeks based on evidence uncovered during a state investigation and the respondents claim that they largely and knowingly did nothing wrong.
Respondents included Wadley residents Albert Samples, Robbie Lee Carswell, Yvette Hatcher, Shirley Samples, Annie Davis, Tanzie McBride and Gonice Davis. All were charged with a felony violation of state law 21-2-385 and 21-2-574, in that "prior to the (Sept. 10, 2002) runoff election they had in their possession an official absentee ballot while not in the polling place and without authorization to possess the official absentee ballot outside the polling place." The runoff contest resulted in the election of candidate Donald Hatcher to the Jefferson County School Board. If found guilty, respondents could faced penalties that include a monetary fine and/or training in proper election procedures.
The hearing was conducted on behalf of the Elections Division of the Georgia Secretary of State by Administrative Law Judge Catherine T. Crawford, who serves with the Georgia Office of Administrative Hearings. The Secretary of State's office was represented by attorney Catherine Allen. None of the respondents were represented by attorneys.
Judge Crawford was responsible for reviewing the Elections Division's charges against the respondents and determining whether respondents had violated state election laws. Judge Crawford told the respondents that the burden of proof rested with the state.
All respondents were present in the courtroom except Gonice Davis and Annie Davis. After questioning the stance of those present on the matters asserted in the case, Judge Crawford determined that all five denied violating state law and proceeded with the hearing. Gonice Davis and Annie Davis were in default and could not contest the allegations since they did not attend the hearing.
Allen called 11 witnesses, including eight Wadley residents, one current and one former US Postal Service employee and Elections Division Investigator John Adams. Several of the Wadley witnesses said a respondent either brought an absentee ballot to them at their residence or took it with them to mail later. Other witnesses said they did not recall those events occurring. The current postal service employee said Albert Samples had delivered more than 50 absentee ballots to the Louisville Post Office during the 2002 runoff election period while the former postal clerk said she or a co-worker had taken 17 or more absentee ballots from him on three or four occasions. Samples questioned the former clerk's testimony later in the hearing, stating that she had been fired for fraud.
Elections Division Investigator Adams said he found that respondents had assisted close to 100 people but violated the law by having possession of some of the ballots. The criteria for furnishing an absentee ballot or removing it to be mailed had not been met, he said. Adams said he was confident that his findings were accurate, both in the statements provided by witnesses and in the manner in which the investigation was conducted. In investigations of this type the occurrence of any person assisting more than two or three people often points to a potential violation. In this specific case all witnesses initially reported that respondents had taken possession of their absentee ballots and mailed them, he said.
Albert Samples and, to a lesser extent, Yvette Hatcher were virtually the only two respondents who asked questions or offered more than minimal statements during the hearing.
In the hearing Samples said any unlawful actions on his part would have been unwitting. Along with Hatcher, he questioned whether the investigation and subsequent charges were a result of bias on the part of the investigator.
"I'm not denying doing something wrong, unknowingly. I'm denying doing anything I thought was wrong," said Samples. "It seems to me this case is biased. If (Adams) was any kind of investigator he would not have investigated only one side."
Samples contended that while he did not deny mailing a few absentee ballots in the past he would not do so now because he understood it was against the law. He also made reference on several occasions that his handling of absentee ballots related to the July 2002 and not to the runoff election in September.
Samples said the evidence presented was not sufficient to find the respondents guilty. This was especially true given that some of the witnesses changed their stories in court, he said. Hatcher maintained that the evidence showed that respondents were unaware of the law. If a violation did occur it would constitute hearsay and would amount to the witnesses' word against theirs, she said. Echoing an earlier statement by McBride, Hatcher stated that she had not been informed about the charges against her until she arrived in court Tuesday.
At the conclusion of the hearing Judge Crawford told respondents she would review both the documentation and testimony given and would render a decision in 30 days or more. The length of time required to arrive at a decision was due to being backlogged with other matters. Crawford said she would transmit her decision to all parties involved. Anyone disagreeing with the decision has certain rights once the decision is made, she said.
10th annual Relay for Life kicks off Friday
By Ben Nelms
It is the most well attended event each year in Jefferson County. It is the site of serious reflection combined with undaunting joy and celebration. It is a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. It is the annual Jefferson County Relay for Life and this year it is 10 years old. Let the celebration begin!
The 2004 Relay theme this year is Celebration: A Decade of Hope, A Decade of Love. As is the custom with Jefferson County's Relay for Life, the event has understandable moments of serious reflection but is largely a celebration of the hope and love directed toward the county's many cancer survivors. In that spirit, Relay co-chair Karen Walden said this year's event is more special than ever.
"This is all about a birthday party because it's your county's 10 year celebration," she said in her usual upbeat voice. "It is hard to keep a Relay going year after year but we've done it."
It is easy for anyone who has participated to see that the intention of the Relay is exactly as Walden described. And yet it embodies a second purpose that impacts local cancer patients and those far beyond Jefferson County's borders. The other aspect of each Relay is that of raising money for cancer research and treatment. In that regard, Jefferson County has raised more than $875,000 in the past nine years. And in the minds of many is the hope that the event this year can put Jefferson County over the $1 million mark.
The first Relay was held in 1995 with two teams participating, First State Bank and the Pacers. The Relay was initiated by local residents Frank and Betty Godowns, Sylvia Clements and Vera Templeton and ACS representative Ann Prescott. That year the Relay raised $6,000. Now nearly a decade later, Jefferson County Relays over the past five years average more average more than $132,000 with an average of 16 teams participating.
In the spirit of this year's Relay co-chairs Walden, Doug O'Steen and Renae Borum anticipate a celebration that has no equal in the county's Relay history. That accomplishment will likely be met given the efforts and antics of the 600 members from 16 teams, 17 corporate sponsors and the thousands of residents in and out of Jefferson County who always attend.
The 2004 Relay will be held Friday at the walking track in Wrens on US Highway 1. The opening events will begin at 6 p.m. as cancer survivors take the first lap of the evening. The events will continue throughout the evening and all night and will include the baby stroller parade, luminary service, talent show, survivor game, music, singing, drawings, raffles, non-stop food and much more. The event will come to a close at 2 p.m. Saturday with closing ceremonies and awards presentations.
Walden asked that any cancer survivor who is not registered and wishes to participate contact Relay representatives at (706) 547-4403 for information.
Though in some ways the amount of money raised is secondary to the hope and love so evidently displayed each year, the efforts of the Jefferson County community are recognized beyond its geographical borders.
"We have so many people in our small community that have been diagnosed with cancer over the years," said Borum. "Research efforts have helped so many of them and will help even more people in the future. There is no substitute for caring and for putting into action the things that can help someone else. And for so many of us each year this event is something personal. It's on a personal level here because we know each other."
Those comments cast a distinct and readily apparent reflection on the decade long efforts here and those of the thousands of residents that attend the event, reflecting and rejoicing, laughing and loving, moving singularly and unison along the brightly lit Path of Hope. And perhaps not widely known, the knowledge of those efforts transcends the boundaries of Jefferson County.
"When I travel to other Cancer Society events, people are amazed that this county maintains this degree of per capita giving," said O'Steen. "And they are amazed that we can be nationally ranked in per capita giving. There is only one answer for that. It is the love of our residents for their fellow man."
Wrens to be featured Friday on hometown tour
WJBF News Channel 6 is proud to announce that Wrens is the first stop on the Your Hometown Tour 2004. The Your Hometown Tour is an annual event for WJBF News Channel 6 and is an opportunity for Wrens to tell the rest of the CSRA why their hometown is a great place to live.
On April 30, WJBF will arrive in Wrens on the Your Hometown tour bus with local police and fire department escort. Anchors Brad Means, Jennie Montgomery, Renita Crawford, Chief Meteorologist George Myers and Sports Director John Hart along with a vast array of WJBF News Channel 6 personnel will host a lunch with city officials at the Li'l Dutch House. While our anchors tour points of interest in Wrens, the production team goes to work building a studio set at Wrens Middle School.
Local schools have been invited to participate in a WJBF News Channel 6 banner contest. The class or school that wins will receive a $200 scholarship. The banners will be on display from 4:30pm-6:30pm on April 30, at Wrens Middle School.
The day will culminate with a live broadcast at 5pm, 5:30pm and 6pm. The newscast will feature stories about Wrens and Jefferson County.