Arbor Day 4AMANDA RODRIQUEZ/Special to Alachua County Today

The City of High Springs celebrated Arbor Day on March 31.  City staff planted a new tree along the town's Main Street to replace one that had died.  L-R: Pictured are City of High Springs employees Courtney Odum and Julia Holbrook, who planted the tree near downtown Railroad Avenue.


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SFHS DStudents image 78

KRISTINA ORREGO/Alachua County Today

L-R: Access Biology Program student Quandrick Johnson and Santa Fe High School senior and Academy of AgriScience student Willie Curtis work in the school’s land lab, which consists of the hydroponics unit, the shade house and the greenhouse.

ALACHUA – Santa Fe High School’s Academy of AgriScience and the Access Biology program give students the opportunity to work in a greenhouse at the school, growing various types of crops and flowers.

JoAnn Brady, who teaches horticulture at the Academy, said students grow vegetables like tomatoes, cucumber, squash, lettuce and cabbage, and flowers like celosias, marigolds, dahlias, gazineas and vincas.

Brady said the greenhouse is open to students in the agriculture education program of all different levels.

The Access Biology program is geared toward students with disabilities and gives them the chance to take a hands-on approach to learning biology with a focus on plants according to Ryan Pass, an ESE teacher for the program.

Students work in the classroom, the greenhouse, and in the garden to learn about raising vegetable plants from the seed until they produce, he added.

Pass said that his students benefit from working in the greenhouse by learning the importance of teamwork as well as their own individual responsibilities to make sure they complete their tasks in the one hour a day they have at the greenhouse.  

“Some students are being exposed to plants, gardens, and greenhouses for the first time,” he noted. “Some students are getting their first taste of the various vegetables we are growing.”

The horticulture land lab consists of the hydroponics unit, the shade house and the greenhouse. The vegetables are grown hydroponically while the azaleas are grown in the shade house.

Brady said this is the first year that students have attempted to grow vegetables using the Verti-Gro Hydroponics system.

“It’s a mixture of water and fertilizer that flows to the top of [the] tubes and drips down into each one of the pots, “ Brady said. “There’s no water being wasted and there’s no water draining off the bottom.”

In addition to growing the plants themselves, the students also oversee the sales of the plants and track expenses. Anyone in the community can stop by the school between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to purchase plants in the agriscience department, Brady said

“We really encourage the public to come in and support the program because [that’s] the only way to keep producing these type of plants,” she said. “We have to buy the containers. We have to buy the media–the soil. And all of that costs money…By selling these, it just keeps our program going.”

She said that, along with teaching students employability skills, they also utilize math skills that are valuable in other aspects of life.

“When we’re figuring out landscaping, figuring out how many plants to put in an area–it’s all using math,” she said.

Brady also praised the Academy for its vet assisting program, as well as the exposure it gives students to different facets of the agricultural industry.

The school’s land lab, which covers about 19 acres, is used to tend 20 cows that produce calves each year, she said. Students work with these calves to eventually display at state and youth fairs.

“So they get the advantage of working with the cattle [and learn] about the beef industry, she said.

She stated that the program is also an excellent way for students to become involved in the National FFA program. Only students in agriculture education classes are eligible.

The FFA is a fantastic leadership organization, giving students the opportunity to compete in contests – from prepared public speaking to livestock judging – to visiting and touring different agricultural industries, she said.

“It’s skills that they will use in life no matter what profession they choose,” Brady said.

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W - FUMC Dominican

Photo Special to Alachua County Today

Mission volunteers and children often develop close bonds of friendship.

ALACHUA - Alyssa Shelamer lives in Gainesville, but she said her heart is 2,000 miles away.

The 23-year-old has visited the Dominican Republic every year for the past seven years on mission trips with her church, First United Methodist Church of Alachua. The church will be holding a rummage sale on April 1 and 2 to raise funds for this year’s trip on June 14.  

She said the sale will include items church members have donated, from kitchen utensils to clothes.

Penny Haskins, Shelamer’s grandmother, said the church has launched two camps – both called Camp Hands of Joy, one for younger children and one for older deaf children – in the Dominican Republic. Activities for the kids include swimming, crafts, sports and chapel twice a day.

Shelamer said chapel time includes the children singing worship songs, learning and memorizing Bible verses and watching reenactments of Bible stories.

“There are a large number of deaf people in the Dominican Republic, particularly children,” Haskins said. “And there are not a lot of services for them…For a lot of these deaf children, it is the only chance they get to mix and mingle with other deaf children, find out they’re not alone.”

Haskins recalled that in 2009, she and another missionary came together to plan the camp. At the time, the camp only had about 56 children. Last year, that number grew to 170 children coming from all over the Dominican Republic.

It is expected to continue growing, she said.

Haskins said they began this endeavor completely on faith, and they had no idea how they would go about it at first.

“God took care of it,” she said. “It just worked out beautifully.”

Haskins said over the course of her trips, she’s seen many of the children grow into mature adults and become leaders – preaching to their friends and mentoring the younger kids.

Two years ago, a young man named Bernardo approached her with a sincere apology.

“[When Bernardo was eight years old] He was a brat. He wanted all your attention, he was disruptive [and] he didn’t do what he was told,” she said.

“Two years ago, he came up to us and said, ‘I want to thank you for coming and I want to apologize for the terrible little boy I was.’ He said, ‘I have, because you have come every year, I have gotten to know Jesus and I’m a different person now. If it was not for you I wouldn’t have that opportunity and I am so grateful.’”

Shelamer said it has been rewarding to watch the children develop language skills, make friends and acquire jobs.

“They have so much joy and such a passion for life,” she said.

Shelamer, a teacher’s assistant at Oak Hall School, said the trips have impacted her so much that she’s decided to move there and be a teacher.

“For me, just going and seeing their faces, that’s helped me to go deeper in [her faith],” she said. “Because what do I have to complain about? How am I going to doubt my faith when they have so much faith and yet they have so little [possessions] in comparison?”

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Chili CookOff IMG 0140

RAINA BARNETT/Alachua County Today

Chili, chili and more chili was the menu favorite at the Springs Celebration and Chili Cook Off this past Saturday.  Despite rainy conditions the event drew a good crowd of chili enthusiasts.

HIGH SPRINGS – Volunteers, competitors, and chili enthusiasts gathered on the grounds of O’Leno State Park on Saturday for the annual Springs Celebration and Chili Cook Off.

Coordinated by the Friends of O’Leno, a non profit Citizen Support Organization (CSO), all proceeds from the cook off were used to support the state park.

Alachua County residents Thomas Bertucci and Raine Mincey won first place for People’s Choice. They walked away with a first place plaque and a cash prize of $100.

This was the ninth year for the celebration, which involves efforts from myriad volunteers.

Cindy Preston, park service specialist of O’Leno, has organized every Chili Cookoff.

“It was mostly CSO and Harriet Walsh who came up with the idea,” Preston said. “She is the treasurer of CSO.”

Planning such an event takes time and effort, and Preston said she has been working with a team to make the springs celebration successful.

The annual chili cook off featured a “tasting kit” that was provided to participants for $5, which consisted of sample cups, a spoon, a pencil, and a ballot to vote on the best kind of chili.

Competitors ranged from first-timers to seasoned veterans.

Different categories included “no fillers” and “fillers,” with fillers being defined as other ingredients like beans and onions.

O’Leno provided an ideal venue for music, dogs, and families to get together for a day of adventure in chili tasting.

The current state park has a rich history. The site of a 19th Century settlement, it later became a forestry training camp before opening to the public as a state park. To this day, O’Leno serves as a forestry training ground each summer.

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W - NHS criminal justice 2016

NEWBERRY – Newberry High School’s Academy of Criminal Justice has won its first-ever state championship.

Thirty-nine Academy students attended this year’s Florida Public Service Association (FPSA) State Leadership Conference in Daytona Beach from March 15-18 and returned with multiple awards. Their collective performance in a wide variety of competitions covering such areas as Community Service, Advanced Firearms and Criminal Case Analysis earned Newberry High School the highest point total among the 13 schools participating in the event, which resulted in the school being named Florida’s top chapter.

Newberry High’s Academy students scored 121 points in the overall competition, exceeding the point total earned by the second place finisher Miami Law Enforcement Officers Memorial High School, which came away with 83 points.

“Our students spent months practicing and preparing for events, including working many hours after school and on weekends,” said academy director Patrick Treese. “Several of our students had also competed in previous years, which gave them some valuable experience.”

Treese also attributes much of his program’s success to the strong support of local law enforcement agencies, which help train his students on a regular basis.

FPSA is a Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO) for students in public service high school programs such as law, fire, security, and public safety.

Academy of Criminal Justice Individual Winners

1st Place-Advanced Firearms: Team Event

1st Place-Prepared Bulletin Board: Mady Wilson

1st Place-Congressional Debate:  Renee Hancock

1st Place-Ideal Prison: Maria De La Cruz/Connor Connell

1st Place-Theme (Footprints to the Future: Connor Connell

1st Place-Scrapbook: Team Event

1st Place-Community Service Project: Team Event-Academy Seniors

1st Place-Mr. Public Service: Sam Estok

1st Place-Parliamentary Procedures: Team Event

1st Place-Criminal Case Analysis: Riley Chatfield/Spencer Brant

2nd Place-Prepared Bulletin Board: Elizabeth Schol

2nd Place-Congressional Debate: Remie Bivens

2nd Place-Traffic Accident Report Writing: Calli Levy

2nd Place-Advanced Firearms: Team Event

2nd Place-CPR: Connor Connell

2nd Place-Incident Report Writing: Kayte Carlton

2nd Place-Criminal Case Analysis  : Savannah McLemore/Haley Mongeon

2nd Place-Criminal Justice Brain Bowl: Team Event

3rd Place-Marketing Poster: Savannah McLemore

3rd Place-Emergency Kit: Cori Mills

3rd Place-Novice Firearms: Samantha Neill

3rd Place-Job Seeking Skills: Brianna Zayas

3rd Place-Miss Public Service: Carrie Connell

3rd Place-Incident Report Writing: Scarlet MacDonald

3rd Place-Forensic Investigation: Team Event

3rd Place Criminal Case Analysis: Carrie Connell/Dreyton Lott

3rd Place-Fingerprinting: Kirklynn Meissner

4th Place-Prepared Bulletin Board: Caitlyn Holder

4th Place-Marketing Poster: Keely Smith

4th Place-Traffic Accident Report Writing: Samantha Neill

4th Place-Forensic Investigation: Team Event

4th Place-Criminal Case Analysis: Ashley Veatch/Scarlet MacDonald

4th Place-Obstacle Course Male: Riley Chatfield

4th Place-Criminal Justice Brain Bowl: Team Event

4th Place-Prepared Speaking: Dreyton Lott

5th Place-Traffic Accident Report Writing : Alexis Morabito

5th Place-Novice Firearms: Remie Bivens

5th Place-Job Seeking Skills: Mady Stephenson

5th Place-Criminal Case Analysis: Mady Stephenson/Kirklynn Meissner

5th Place-Criminal Incident Investigation: Brianna Zayas/Ashley Veatch

Senior Ashley Veatch also won the state’s Top Gun Award, which is presented to the best shooter in Advanced Firearms competition.

Two seniors, Carrie Connell and Riley Chatfield, were recognized for being a part of the FPSA for all four years of high school.       

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W - 10-42

Photo Special to Alachua County Today

Alachua 10-42 members recently painted a message of support for law enforcement officers on Gainesville's 34th Street wall. Words "Back the Blue" and a red heart symbolize the group's dedication to the law enforcement community.

ALACHUA COUNTY – As Gainesville Police Department Officer Bobby White demonstrated in January when he responded to a noise complaint about a group of boys playing basketball by joining them for a game, officers often break negative stereotypes by showing empathy and compassion.

Alachua 10-42 is a group that seeks to emphasize this human aspect to law enforcement officers. Made up of spouses and family members of officers, the group strives to provide emotional support, resources, community activities and outreach for their families.

One of their most recent activities included painting on Gainesville’s 34th Street with a solid blue line against a black background, marked with the words “Back the Blue” and a heart in the corner that read “10-42.”

Shonta Bertzyk, a member of Alachua 10-42, said the group has also supported GoFundMe pages for two officers who were recently diagnosed with cancer.

The group evolved from a desire and a need for families to come together and decompress by sharing anything that people needed to get off their chests, Bertzyk said.

“When we talk about officers, the first line of defense is at the home,” she said. “And just being there for them and talking to them and being a support just helps officers’ morale. These officers go out and they deal with situations such as emergency services, trauma, car accidents [and] child abuse cases. They see things that the average community member does not.”

She said officers’ wives also realized that they needed each other to lend a hand in caring for each other's children or providing transportation.

“We do whatever we can for each other,” she said. “I think [the start of the group] was very organic and it was a very much-needed support system.”

Lindsay Howell said she’s been in Alachua 10-42 for about two months.

On March 14, she and several group members went to cheer their husbands during a charity basketball game at Gainesville High School between deputies and students.

Howell said she liked that the event gave the opportunity for officers to interact with students and cast them in a more approachable light rather than as people to be feared.

“It’s really brought to light that these are normal guys, with families and kids,” she said. “They have histories and pasts of being young kids themselves. And I think that’s been an eye-opener for the community to see that they’re just normal guys who love to do what they do.”

Howell said the group has received support from the Alachua Woman’s Club, and she gave a presentation about Alachua 10-42 to the Alachua City Commission on Monday to continue to spread the word about the group.

“Alachua is so supportive of our police officers there,” Howell said. “I think we’re at an advantage and would like to get the word out as much as possible to get the support and just have people feel like they’re part of the group and part of the community.”

Ashley Dykes, another member, said the group has connected people who otherwise may not have known each other or met due to differing schedules, shifts, rotations or departments.

“[Alachua 10-42] has been an opportunity to build friendships and relationships,” she said. “We have monthly meetings where we discuss things we can do within the community, or discuss events that we can do within our group. So I capture all of that for the group and get it out to our Facebook page.”

The outreach of the group has not just been limited to Alachua County or Gainesville. Dykes said she recently visited an out-of-town officer who was being treated at Shands.

She decided to stop by to introduce herself to the family of the officer, and she was informed that they were in need of a notary.

Dykes said she passed the word along to other members of Alachua 10-42 and was able to get a notary for the family.

Alachua 10-42 will hold the 1st Annual Alachua County Night in Blue Gala on Sunday, May 15 at 6 p.m. at the Mustang Hangar at the University Air Center.

Tickets can be purchased via a link on the group’s official website,

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Q - newberry city hallNEWBERRY – Three Newberry city commission seats are up for election this April 12, only one of which is being contested.

Monty Farnsworth and Jason McGehee will be reelected without opposition, while Commissioner Rick Coleman is being challenged by Darryl Bowdoin.

Coleman has over 20 years of experience in banking and has served two years as city commissioner thus far.

He was born in Jacksonville but spent most of his life in Mayo. He has been married to his wife Marcy for 17 years and has three children. He has been involved with coaching local sporting teams and is a local business owner of Coleman Softwashing.

“Everything I ran on, we’ve done,” Coleman said. “We’ve lowered taxes, we’ve cut the budget. I don’t know why [Bowdoin is] challenging me.”

Bowdoin is a fifth generation Newberry native. He has been married to his wife Jodi for 31 years, and they have two grown children who attended Newberry schools.

Bowdoin is the Operations Manager at Little River Marine in Gainesville and has held other work-related leadership positions for the past 26 years.

He has also served as football and softball coach for the City of Newberry youth teams for several years, according to his Facebook page.

“I was asked by numerous citizens to run,” Bowdoin said. “People now ask me all the time, ‘What is your platform?’ and I want what the people want. I want to bring the community together. Perhaps the commissioners have lost touch with the community.”

Bowdoin explained that he had a long and complicated struggle with the City in June due to the way his driveway was set up, and part of the reason he is running is to bring attention to the community.

“When you go to the doctor’s office, you have a survey in your email even before you get home. I feel like there should be some sort of survey with the commissioners, and some sort of evaluation,” Bowdoin said.

Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad said that the commissioners work well together, but anyone who is qualified has a right to run.

“I have friends who have Ricky signs in their front yards,” Bowdoin said, “That’s fine, and we will still remain friends after the election. I just want people to vote, and let their voices be heard.”

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