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Alachua Police Department Chief Chad Scott (left) talks with Bobbi and Keith Owens at the Coffee with a Cop event. The Owens were driving to Atlanta and stopped in for a coffee break. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

ALACHUA – On Friday, Oct. 21, the Alachua McDonalds was full of police, including nine officers from both High Springs and Alachua, as well as the chief of the Alachua Police department. But no crime had been committed, and they weren't serving out tickets. They were serving coffee. Known as Coffee with a Cop, the event is part of a nationwide program that helps police officers interact with the citizens they protect and build better communications with the community.

Typical encounters between the police and citizens happen when they are called for assistance or pulled over by an officer. These interactions are often stressful and confrontational, which puts the officers in a situation where he or she is seen as an authority figure, and not as a fellow human being. The idea behind the program is to allow an environment where the public and the police officers can interact over a cup of coffee on a personal level and where the public can ask any questions they may have about the department or policies.

The program was started in 2011 in Hawthorne, California, by the local police department. At the time they were trying to restructure their department to a more community oriented model where the officers worked within the community, so there was a familiarity between officers and the people they protected. As they considered ways of building community trust, it was suggested that maybe a simple idea like sitting down at a local coffee house could allow officers to interact in a more casual way with the citizens It could also have the benefit of putting a human face on the person behind the badge.

The program was such a success, that other police departments were soon emulating the program. In 2013, a national training program was established by the Hawthorne Police Department and The University of Illinois Center for Public Safety and Justice to help train police departments in better community interaction through the Coffee with a Cop program. The program continued to expand, including in other countries worldwide.

Michael Streicher, the owner of the Alachua McDonalds, had heard about the program and approached the Alachua Police Department to see if they would be interested in partnering by hosting an event. The Alachua Public Information Officer, Sargent Jesse Sandusky, had also heard of the program and was looking for ways to create better communications and get feedback from the public. They agreed to host the event and expanded it to include the High Springs Police Department as well.

“We wanted to create an opportunity for officers to interact with the public and allow the citizens the ability to express any concerns they might have directly to the officers. We wanted to create a positive setting where everyone could discuss what is best for the community,” Sandusky said. The event was originally planned for Oct. 7, 2016, which has been officially recognized as National Coffee with a Cop day. But with the threat of Hurricane Matthew approaching the area on the same day, the event was postponed. With a State of Emergency declared, all officers would be on duty for the hurricane. After the storm passed, the event was rescheduled for Oct. 21.

At 9 a.m., Sargent L.A. Hunter of the Alachua Police Department began serving coffee to every customer that came in the door at McDonalds. Other officers mingled among the customers to answer any questions or address any concerns.

“This gives our officers the opportunity to talk to their fellow citizens. Some people see officers as an authority figure, but they are your neighbors, with the same goals, dreams and families,” Sandusky said. “Nationally, there have been some shooting incidents in the news lately that have created mistrust among the public. We wanted to overcome that image. We want people to feel trust with the officers and identify them as your neighbor as well.”

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Dr. Sinn (Becky Sinn) sings during a performance at the Music in the Park series final show of the season. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

HIGH SPRINGS – For Michael Loveday, Sunday was bittersweet. As the producer of the High Springs Music in the Park series, he had done 54 monthly consecutive shows. He had started from just an idea and himself on acoustic guitar, producing shows with no budget and little equipment. He bought the necessary sound equipment with his own money and taught himself how to run a soundboard. He then managed to convince the City of High Springs the value of producing a monthly music show in the park and that it would bring more visitors and increase revenue for local businesses.

Loveday was given a small budget from Community Redevelopment funds, and began the process of getting more musical acts. Over the months he produced shows with ever increasing professional acts in the park adjacent to the High Springs Police department. His shows became a Sunday staple in the community. But this Sunday, Oct. 16, marked the last show of the season. Now, as Loveday put it, “It’s time to take a break and reflect on many good memories of great local music”.

Many of the shows had featured folk music and acoustic acts, but Loveday wanted the last show to stand out, be something different and memorable. He had seen an act in Gainesville called Dr. Sinn's Freak Island Musical Sideshow. The act was part vaudeville, part burlesque and part circus, with a healthy dose of comedy and music to create a unique act.

The concept was the brainchild of Becky Sinn and Jenny Castle. Formed three years ago, the act had built a following in Gainesville and held regular shows at The Market Street Pub. Built around a cast of characters, mainly women, whose costumes mixed vaudeville, burlesque and clown makeup with ribald humor and songs, the act had a nucleus of five to seven members with others coming and going for occasional guest appearances. Sinn, who is a jazz vocalist, did most of the singing while the other performers provided the acting for the skits. They added multi-instrumentalist Don Austin to provide most of the musical accompaniment and began performing.

The act was unique and talented. But there was one problem for Loveday. Much of the humor and skits were risqué and adult orientated. “I knew that might be a problem for a smaller community and our shows are family orientated,” Loveday said. He approached Sinn to see if they could revise their show for a more general audience. Sinn saw no problem with that. By placing more emphasis on the circus comedy and clown aspect with less on the burlesque, they could provide a show for all ages.

On Sunday, Oct. 16, they performed at the High Springs Historical Museum. With a mixture of song and comedy they produced several skits. In one, they included several members of the audience doing a chicken dance as Castle played a belt of rubber chickens with different tones. Another skit was based around TSA security guards, portrayed by Castle and Sally B Dash, and the surprising things they found in Henrietta Henhouse's luggage. A juggling act was also done by another character, Prince Elroy. Throughout the performance Don Austin played a variety of stringed instruments as the character called Fiddlesticks, to provide music for the skits. The actors also added elements on mime and tap dancing to the skits. In a reference to local environmentally sensitive springs, they whole troupe did a skit about polluting the water supply. The show is a unique blend of many entertainment styles and techniques and was a fitting temporary finale to the Music in the Park series. The series will return in spring 2017.

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Allison Senkarik, wife of a U.S. Army Wounded Veteran, volunteers at the Newberry Food Distribution event. (Photo special to Alachua County Today)

NEWBERRY – Over 700 people were provided free food in Newberry on Saturday, Oct. 1. The Newberry American Legion Post #149, located at 26821 West Newberry Rd., hosted a Food Distribution Event from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., made possible by county and state support.

A Christian Adventure Network named 10 CAN, Inc., which focuses on rehabilitating and improving fitness of veterans and military families through nature, held a soft launch of their program “Operation Farm2Health,” also known as OF2H. The program would be a way to combat poverty while healing wounded veterans.

“Horticulture therapy is one of the most effective rehabilitative tools available for individuals with psychological wounds,” said Matthew Burke, Post #149 Commander and Founder of 10 CAN. “Teaching impoverished families how to grow their own food is a vital part of fighting poverty. While it is important to provide free food to families in need, doing so without a lesson plan is counterproductive,” he said.

Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad worked with Farm Share to set up the food distribution event. Farm Share was present with around 15 volunteers from the Jacksonville area.

“We have partnered with other organizations like Relay 4 Life and March for Dimes in the past,” Conrad said. “When I heard about it [Farm Share], I realized other cities in Alachua County had been taking part in this type of program and we wanted to be involved to benefit our citizens as well,” he said. “We knew we needed about 30 volunteers and a forklift when we took on this project. Fortunately, we had both.”

Farm Share uses inmate labor and volunteers to re-sort and package an abundance of surplus food and distribute it to individuals, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, churches and other organizations feeding the hungry in Florida —       free of charge, according to their website at farmshare.org.

“We expected around 500 individuals to show with around 50 volunteers,” Burke said. “Both expectations were exceeded.”

The event was open to everyone in and around the community, with families from all around the tri-county area showing up.

The American Legion, Farm Share, Blessed Hope Foundation, City of Newberry and 10 CAN, Inc. all worked together to host this event. In addition to Mayor Conrad, Newberry City Commissioners Jordan Marlowe and Ricky Coleman and City Manager Mike New were all part of this process. Newberry's Lions Club, Christian Life Fellowship Church, Compelling Family Outreach Ministry, Get Fit Gainesville and other volunteers and sponsors also helped make this event a success.

“I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the community working together,” Burke said. “Many patrons who came to get food were low-income families.”

OF2H was introduced at the event, “but cannot go forward without funding from the city,” said Burke.

The OF2H program would teach 50 underprivileged families how to grow sustainable food throughout the year through local University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) workshops . They would also construct 30 residential raised garden beds for disabled individuals, two community gardens, a serenity maze and a children’s garden at the Newberry American Legion.

“Let us not focus on what we cannot do, but rather what we can do,” Burke said. “This is how we empower disabled individuals to be effective members of a community.”

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W - Barnett - Newberry telescope IMG 1826Newberry Library patron Korina Zamora checks out the Newtonian reflecting telescope. (Today photo/RAINA BARNETT) 

NEWBERRY – The world of outer space is now more easily accessible to area residents.

The Alachua Astronomy Club donated a modified Orion StarBlast 4.5-inch Dobsonian reflector telescope to the Newberry Branch, Alachua County Library District. It can be checked out by any current library card holder, 18 years or older with photo identification, for a period of four weeks at a time.

As opposed to some telescopes which magnify tiny cells and objects on slides, this telescope opens up the world of outer space. Weighing in at 13 pounds, it is portable and has quality optics.

Beginner observers are able to see the craters of the moon with the telescope, Jupiter, and even Saturn and its seven rings.

“Most of the donations we receive are books,” said Newberry Library Branch Manager Marlin Day. “This was a special kind of donation.”

“I was approached with the idea of the club applying for a telescope grant about two years ago by one of the club members,” Day said. “They didn’t get it last year; but this year, they did and I think it’s a really cool gift.”

The Alachua Astronomy Club received the telescope as a grant from the Astronomical League, said Andy Howell, President of the Alachua Astronomy Club. “The Astronomical League is an association of over 240 astronomy societies across the United States,” said Howell, who has been a member for 10 years.

“The telescope is a Newtonian reflecting telescope that uses a 4.5 inch concave mirror to collect starlight, Howell wrote in an email. The largest telescopes in the world, including the Hubble Space Telescope, are all reflecting telescopes.

“The Orion StarBlast telescope can detect stars down to magnitude 12, which is 250 times fainter than the faintest star the unaided eye can see,” Howell said.

Already, two people have checked out the telescope. One was a high school student, and most recently, a mother and teacher, Korina Zamora. “I saw the telescope sitting in the library,” said Zamora. When she realized it was available for check out, she had library staff assist her in packing it up into her truck. She said she intends to use it with her 6-year-old child.

“We live on five acres right near Watermelon Lake,” Zamora said. “With those big open skies I’m sure we’ll be able to get some use out of it.”

Zamora also shared her plans to use it for the full four-week period.

“Astronomy night at the University of Florida is Nov. 4,” she said. “I’m sure the people there will be like, ‘where did you get such a nice telescope?’ and I can tell them the Newberry Library!”

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The Pink Heals tour vehicle at the High Springs event for Breast Cancer Awareness which was held on Oct. 11 in downtown High Springs. Dave Graybill, the founder of the Pink Heals foundation stands in front of the tour bus and merchandise table that riases funds for local charities and to cover the cost of the tour. Any profit from sales goes directly to the community. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

HIGH SPRINGS – During their lifetime, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, it is estimated that over 246,660 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die every year. On average, every two minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and one woman will die of breast cancer every 13 minutes. Although rare, the disease does affect men as well. Each year about 2,600 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 440 will die.

But there is hope, early detection and diagnosis greatly improves a woman's chance of treatment and survival. There are over 2.8 million survivors in the United States and continued research into the disease is improving those chances. These facts are why October has been designated as National Breast Cancer Awareness month. If people are aware of the symptoms and the need for regular medical checkups, the chance survival increases. In addition, events held by organizations to raise money keep research going to find a permanent cure for the disease.

Both the towns of Alachua and High Springs are actively involved in raising the awareness during the month. The official color for Breast Cancer Awareness is pink, and support by individuals is often shown by wearing a small pink ribbon. The City of Alachua has issued a proclamation designating the month as Breast Cancer Awareness month and has asked all city employees to wear pink during the month. They also have decorated city vehicles and asked other local businesses to participate.

In downtown High Springs, there was an event held on Oct. 11 featuring all pink vehicles from the Pink Heals Foundation. The High Springs Fire and Police departments also participated by adding their vehicles and staff to the event.

The Great Outdoors Restaurant provided free pink cookies and cake baked by their desserts chef, Jean Ledew. Each month she makes a different specialty desert for the restaurant, and October is always a pink cake to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Money from the cake sales in October are donated for breast cancer research. Last October the restaurant raised over $3,000.

For Ledew, known as Aunt Jean, this is a personal matter as well. She is a stage 4 breast cancer survivor who endured a double mastectomy, 31 radiation treatments and several additional surgeries to beat the disease. Two weeks ago she had to have additional emergency surgery, but when asked to participate in the event she did not hesitate, despite stitches and pain from the surgery.

The Pink Heals Organization tours the country with over 150 pink vehicles including fire trucks, police cars, ambulances and buses. Based all on volunteers, the tour takes 180 days in 180 cities. This year it started in Phoenix, Arizona, and will end in Jacksonville, Florida. Next June it will start in Jacksonville and reverse the tour, ending in Phoenix.

The purpose of the organization is to provide city leaders and local businesses with a nonprofit program that supports people, not causes, does home visits to patients and maintains fund raising dollars locally in support of women and their families. The vehicles are brought to the different cities as an event for the public and to create charity chapters within each local community to help raise money for awareness and treatment of diseases. Although based around breast cancer the organization tries to raise funds for a number of diseases and create charity services within the community, especially for women.

The organization is the brain child of Dave Graybill, a former pro baseball player with the Montreal Expos, Seattle Mariners and California Angels. After retiring from baseball, he became a firefighter. In 2007, he decided to raise awareness for health issues and purchased a fire truck, painted it pink and used his vacation to drive around the country to promote raising money within the local communities.

“I wanted to create local nonprofits where the money stayed in the community. National charities raise money in communities but take the funds out of the community to the main organization, where much of the funds are used for administration cost and not to benefit the communities that the money came from,” Graybill said. “I wanted to create local organizations where the money could be used to focus on the people within that community and their specific needs.”

Graybill works with local governments and first responders to organize the community events. “This also helps create a stronger bond between the officials and the people in the community,” he said.

The Pink Heals tour is funded by sales of merchandise and clothing supporting breasts cancer awareness. This keeps the vehicles running and cover expenses, but not for profit. All drivers and staff, including Graybill, are unpaid volunteers

“We make sure that 100 percent of the funds raised at these events stay in the community to help the people of that community. This is a program that brings people together, based on the love of women and their families. We also provide home visits to show individuals that they are loved, cherished and important to others. Our organization brings back the human element by celebrating people, not causes.” Graybill added.

More information about the program can be found at www.pinkfiretrucks.org

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W - Carson Alachua Fest  DSC2555

David Ferman escapes from the steel trap 5 seconds before the sharp metal teeth snapped shut. A former contestant on Americas Got Talent, Ferman presently lives in Gainesville. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

ALACHUA – Sunday was a perfect day for a festival, a blue sky with white billowy clouds, temperature in the 80's and not a rain cloud in sight. Main Street in Alachua was closed down and 150 vendors set up to promote their products, services or expertise.

Since 2003 the Alachua Business League has been hosting two festivals a year to help promote local businesses directly to the public. Originally established to promote local services and help bring additional businesses to Alachua, the League has expanded the festival over the years, diversifying the type of businesses and vendors. They have also included more charitable organizations and general entertainment for both adults and kids.

According to Gary Kocher, President of the league, while the festival has expanded and some vendors come from outside Alachua, they try to limit vendors to small local businesses rather than corporations. “We want to promote local services, the mom and pop type businesses, whether it be services such as contractors and home improvement, health products, food vendors or arts and crafts,” he stated. “We try to promote business-to-business support to help grow the community. We get a lot of return vendors, but have also seen an increase in new vendors and more diversity in the services.”

The Alachua Business League holds the festival in the spring and the fall. This event marked the 28th time they have held the event. But the festival is not just about promoting business, it is also a way to bring the community together with fun activities, a variety of food and entertainment.

For children there are games such as the world’s largest pinball machine, face painting, magic acts and balloon making as well as several organizations with animals for children to interact with.

Music was provided throughout the day on two stages. Most of the musicians are local as well. Some of the acts this year included Tiger Lily, Double Trouble and Southern Burn.

Other entertainment included comedian and extreme stuntman David Ferman, who was a semifinalist on America's Got Talent. Ferman ended his show by being tied in a strait jacket and suspended 10 feet off the ground upside down. He had a timer set to release two steel jaws onto him if he did not get out of the jacket in one minute. He managed to spring free and release his feet with five seconds to spare. There were a number of food vendors for attendees to choose from as well as local farms selling organic produce. There were also a number of charity organizations such as Bikers Against Child Abuse, veterans organizations and animal rescue. The Alachua Police department was also there with two cars decorated for Breast Cancer Awareness and a motorcycle children could sit on.

The Alachua Business League is a nonprofit organization that also sponsors a $2,500 scholarship for a local high school student from Santa Fe High School. The scholarship is awarded to a student that shows strong entrepreneur ability and is interested in starting or promoting a business locally after college.

The League consist of over 75 businesses in the Alachua area. The cost of joining is kept low to help encourage membership. Each business pays $75 a year, which provides a number of services including social media exposure, networking and workshops, as well as a booth at both festivals. For nonmembers, booth fee at the festival is also kept low to encourage participation. All fees go toward festival expenses to help keep the event free to the public. Estimates for this year’s festival was about 7,000 attendees.

“Our goal is to continue to promote business and attract new businesses and attendees by providing a quality local festival,” Koscher said.

The Annual Spring Festival will be held on Sunday April 9, 2017.

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Incoming club president Tom Hewlett accepts the Kiwanian of the Year award from outgoing club president Cathy Sayers. (Photo special to Alachua County Today)

HIGH SPRINGS – Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, with members in Alachua and High Springs, held an installation banquet recently to thank their existing officers and board members for their service, welcome new officers and board members and to honor three citizens for their work in this region. The banquet took place at the High Springs New Century Woman's Club on Thursday, Sept. 29.

At this year's Kiwanis Installation Dinner three people were recognized for their outstanding volunteerism in the High Springs/Alachua area. Alice Green presented the award to Lucille Gabriel saying, “She is a mainstay volunteer at the Community Outreach in High Springs. There are 1,300 families registered at this site and they serve 300 families per month. The month of September saw an increase as 48 new families registered. Ms. Gabriel along with Outreach director, Bella Diefenderfer, assist these families with food and clothing needs.”

Linda Hewlett commended Damon Messina, the Alachua Parks and Recreation Director, for his volunteerism saying, “Last year he directed both the baseball and softball World Series for kids. He also started a regional basketball league of over 50 teams that serves many children in the area. He also is in charge of special events for Alachua including Halloween and Fourth of July. He strives to make the sports facility accessible to all regardless of skills or finances. He also mentors several teens from Santa Fe High School.”

Ed Booth lauded the work of Pastor Sammy Nelson, Jr. who was unavailable at the time of the awards. “Sammy created a program for latch key kids, making sure they have food and get homework done, then focusing on other activities to develop proper interaction skills. He mentors many youth at his facility in downtown High Springs. He encourages children academically and spiritually to reach their potential.”

“We believe there are a lot of people in our area doing a lot of good for our citizens,” said Tom Weller, Incoming Vice President. “They don't always get the recognition they deserve so we thought this banquet might be a good time to honor their efforts,” he said.

“We had a slate of nine or 10 nominees to choose from for this year's presentations,” said Linda Hewlett, club secretary. “It was really interesting delving into what each person really does that people may not know about,” she said.

Incoming officers and board members were installed by Lt. Governor Joe Flanagan from the Live Oak club. Incoming officers are Tom Hewlett, President, Casandra Davis, President-Elect, Tom Weller, Vice-President. Returning officers include Linda Hewlett, secretary and Sue Weller, treasurer.

Incoming board members also installed were Ed Booth, John Durr, Alice Green, Alvalyn Lancaster and John Manley.

Outgoing president Cathy Sayers recapped the year, talking about the various activities and fundraisers the club had been involved in. “Murder in Margarita Land,” a murder mystery dinner theater event, was a huge success. The club also renovated the gazebo at James Paul Park, behind High Springs City Hall and tutored third graders in reading and math at Alachua Elementary School.

“During the year, Sayers talked about raising sheep, which she loved to do,” said Linda Hewlett. “She also came in with a new hat and a story as to where it came from, or something interesting about the hat itself at each meeting. She told us she didn't want a plaque for her wall when she stepped down, so instead we gave her a new hat, made out of wool and had it embroidered locally. We included a sheep mug as well. It was all great fun,” Hewlett said.

“In honor of Sayers service to our club, everyone showed up wearing a hat to wish her well,” said Weller.

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