Volunteers Emerson Boukari

GAINESVILLE – Three volunteers who collectively contribute more than 60 hours every week to local schools have been named Alachua County’s School Volunteers of the Year for 2016.

Cary Emerson, Adam Boukari and Sally Holly will represent the district in the statewide Outstanding School Volunteer Awards program, which honors youth, adult and senior volunteers who have shown outstanding dedication and commitment to quality education in Florida.

“Our district would not enjoy its current success were it not for the contributions of volunteers like Cary, Adam and Sally,” said Superintendent Dr. Owen Roberts. “They provide time and talents that make a huge difference in the lives of our students.”

Santa Fe High School Principal Elizabeth LeClear echoed Roberts' comments. “Cary Emerson is an extraordinary young woman,” she said. “She is such a hard worker and is always positive and pleasant. She is a great representative of Santa Fe High School.”

Emerson is a senior at Santa Fe. She’s been volunteering since she arrived at the school, and has contributed more than 600 hours in just the last 18 months. She’s organized numerous school events, including the Raider Rally and the annual Pie Auction to benefit early childhood programs. She’s involved with several clubs, including service clubs such as Interact, the youth version of the Rotary Club. She’s also serving on Santa Fe’s School Advisory Council.

Cary says she loves helping others and that serving at Santa Fe is a natural fit.

“My parents and grandparents are alumni, so I love being part of that tradition,” she said. “I want to make the school even better and make an impact.”

Emerson’s service also extends to the community. She is involved in several volunteer activities with her church, including annual mission trips to Haiti.

Adam Boukari is the district’s Adult Volunteer of the Year and contributes his time and expertise at both the local school and district level. Despite his busy schedule as Assistant City Manager for the City of Alachua, he has contributed more than 500 hours of service over the last year and a half. At Santa Fe High School, he both tutors and mentors students. He chaperons field trips. He’s served as the president of the boy’s basketball Booster Club for seven years. Boukari also serves on the District Advisory Council, a group of local citizens who advise the School Board on key issues affecting Alachua County Public Schools.

Boukari said his one-on-one connections with the student are the most important of his volunteer activities.

“Mentoring is so rewarding, both for the student and for the mentor,” he said. “You see these kids grow up to be wonderful members of society, and it feels good to know that you had a part in that.”

“Adam Boukari is an alumnus of Santa Fe,” said LeClear. “He gives so much of his time to our students. What an incredible student mentor. His dedication to our high school benefits so many of our students,” she said.

The district’s senior Volunteer of the Year is Sally Holly. She volunteers about 30 hours every week at Professional Academies Magnet at Loften High School, and has racked up nearly 1000 hours since the beginning of the 2014-15 school year. Holly, fondly known as “Grandma Sally” to students and staff, has been volunteering in the Infant Room of the ACCEPT program (Alachua County Continuing Education for Pregnant/Parenting Teenagers).

“I just love the babies and seeing them smile and grow,” said Holly.

In addition to providing critical stimulation and love to the infants, Holly has also been a role model for the teens in the program.

"Grandma Sally is one of the most energetic persons in the childcare center at the golden age of seventy-five,” said Childcare Center Director Angela Monroe. “She often is seen reading to little babies while sitting on the floor and is always up for assisting the other care workers in taking the babies out for a stroller ride or assisting the other paraprofessionals with the older children on the playground," she said.

The state is expected to announce the five top volunteers in each of the three categories in the next few weeks.

Emerson, Boukari and Holly will be among 93 school volunteers recognized at the annual Alachua County Public Schools Outstanding School Volunteer Luncheon on Feb. 11, sponsored this year by the Florida Credit Union and the Rotary Club of Gainesville.

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HIGH SPRINGS – William Joseph Coughlin, Jr., 64, passed away on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, at his home in High Springs following a battle with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma that began when he was diagnosed in April 2012.

He served the City of High Springs as city commissioner for two three-year terms beginning in 2000 and again in 2007 and served as mayor in 2003 and 2010.

Following chemotherapy, Coughlin was able to go back to work at the University of Florida in 2013. According to his wife, Donna, he did well after that.

“I would say that 2014 was his best year,” she said. “He still had some limitations, but he could do most everything. We went hiking in the North Carolina mountains.”

Coughlin retired in April 2015, and “that's when his lymphoma came back,” Donna said. “He went through chemotherapy and radiation therapy, then developed a clot in his left leg. He went through a thrombectomy, which took a lot out of him. No matter how hard he tried, the lymphoma continued to come back.”

Coughlin passed away eight days after his doctor told him there was nothing else he could do for him, and he went home with the support of his family and hospice.

Donna describes Coughlin as an energetic, outdoors man who was happiest when he was near the water. He surfed when he was young and always had several salt water fishing boats. He loved salt water fishing with his two brothers, she said.

He was a very involved and devoted father. “He raised our two excellent children: Megan who graduated from UF Law School, and Kelly, who is in school to become a physicians assistant,” Donna said.

She noted that Coughlin loved music. “He had a bugle in his early years. As an adult he studied the mandolin, the guitar and then the violin. He made sure both the girls received piano lessons. At night after dinner, he would practice his instruments.”

He was also active in sports. “We met while playing co-ed soccer with various teams,” Donna said. “He taught Kelly and she got into competitive soccer. Eventually, they played co-ed soccer together. He taught Megan tennis, and she played in high school.

“My husband was a very positive and energetic force in all of our lives. He really participated and was a real partner. He went too soon. We got married when I was 30 and he was 33. We could have used more time together, but we enjoyed the time we did have.”

Coughlin was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on Oct. 21, 1951, to parents William Joseph and Mary Newell Coughlin, the first of seven children. Following high school, he served in the United States Navy for six years on a nuclear submarine. After the Navy, Coughlin attended the University of Florida where he earned a masters degree in Nuclear Engineering.

Coughlin and his wife met in Gainesville and later moved to High Springs, where they raised their children.

He is survived by his wife, Donna, three children, Megan and Kelly Coughlin and Joseph Reid, his parents and six siblings. A funeral mass was held on Thursday., Jan. 28, at St. Madeleine's Catholic Church.

In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to the Santa Fe Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at St. Madeleine's Catholic Church, 17155 N.W. U.S. Hwy. 441, High Springs, FL 32643.

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RAINA BARNETT/Alachua County Today

LACROSSE – On Jan. 12, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) made an agreement with the Melrose Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) to continue county service coverage for an additional amount up to $87,000.

According to LaCrosse Fire Chief Paul McDavid, that is not justified when compared to other community situations.

The Town of LaCrosse has had a long struggle with the county over funding for fire protection services.

“The arguments [Melrose made to the county] are the exact same points that the Town of LaCrosse made, only to fall on deaf ears,” McDavid wrote in an email.

LaCrosse has its own fire department and contracts with the County to provide rural fire rescue services to county residents within an approximate 86 square mile area surrounding the town.

It is staffed by certified, paid firefighters and has the longstanding support of actively involved volunteer firefighters, according to the city website, townoflacrosse.net.

Yet according to McDavid, the fire department lacks sufficient employees, a county-owned fire truck, and an adequate roof.

“The Board of County Commissioners offered [to hire] two staff [for MVFD] for Monday through Friday, 40 hours a week,” McDavid said. “They will have two EMT/Firefighters there 24 percent of the time, but volunteer response changes with the time of day and time of year.

“How many can and will respond when the assured two person staff is off? What are you going to get?”

McDavid indicated that County funding for fire protection is not adequately in proportion to the value of property within each service area.

The 2014 taxable value in the 22 square mile area for MVFD was $74,574,530. In the 80 square miles of unincorporated area the LaCrosse FD responds to, the value was $98,353,710.

“Sure, I get that there are several farms and a bunch of pine trees, but…the ‘taxable value’ we protect is $23,779,180 [more],” McDavid said.

“We get $140,764 from theC in 12 monthly installments to handle the calls in 80 square miles.”

According to McDavid, when combined with the funding the county already provides to MVFD, the additional $87,000 will result in overall funding of approximately $134,000, which would be only $6,000 less than LaCrosse receives for covering four times as much property that is also more valuable.

McDavid emphasized, however, that ultimately the concern is whether funding is sufficient to cover a certain area.

“It should not matter what you live in or how big your tax bill is, everybody should be treated fairly and given adequate protection,” McDavid said.

The LaCrosse Fire Department building was built in the 1970s, and with the age comes the need for repairs and maintenance.

The funding the department is hoping to negotiate for would allow for repairs and addressing other priorities, such as investing in proper fire equipment and hiring other firefighters.

“Basically, over the months, April, May, June, July, we’ve been asking for funding, and they came back and said the town needs to be responsible for its own department, which I get,” McDavid said.

An additional $50,000 per year for LaCrosse was brought to a motion at a previous BOCC meeting, but the motion failed without receiving a second.

“We have no hydrants out here, we’re as bad as it gets, we don’t have residents here to support installing new water systems,” McDavid said.

“That $50,000 [could] help this department, but that’s not even to help replace the roof, it’s really to cover our insurance, FICO taxes, and our seven day a week coverage, 365 days we provide.”

As for the next step, McDavid said the blame game needs to stop.

“How about we start that conversation soon,” he said. “All of us. Stop the ‘we’ and ‘they.’ Give Chief Northcutt the funding and resources he needs so he can apply those words ‘innovative’ and ‘progressive’ to his organization. If you must use other organizations [contract stations] to fill the gaps in the meantime, let us look at a level playing field and get on it. Let us change the culture of 'we've always done it that way’.”

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Photo by ED BOOTH/Special to Alachua County Today

HIGH SPRINGS – David Rivers, great grandson of Town Marshall George Lasonro Bryant, presented a portrait of his great grandfather to High Springs Police Lt. Antoine Sheppard and High Springs Police Chief Joel DeCoursey on Thursday, Jan. 21.

Although the presentation was made to the High Springs Police Department, the portrait was actually donated to the High Springs Historical Society Museum and will be displayed by them after it has been framed, according to Historical Museum President Bob Watson.

Bryant was officially honored on Dec. 3, 2015, at a memorial dedication ceremony at the site of a newly-installed commemorative sculpture in front of the City of High Springs Police Department.

Bryant was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 3, 1908, after serving 15 years as Town Marshall for the City of High Springs. He was shot by an intoxicated man while investigating a disturbance.

Historical records show he was the first law enforcement officer killed in Alachua County and the only law enforcement officer slain in High Springs.

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CM WALKER/Alachua  County Today

ALACHUA – Representatives from Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA) were on hand late Tuesday afternoon at the Swick House in Alachua to hear from local business and property owners about how they would like to see the developments of Main Street and the Community Redevelopment Area occur.

The three representatives, Kevin Crowder, Director of Economic Development; Sharon McCormick, Director of Business Attraction & Marketing; and Lynn Dehlinger, Sr. Economic Development Manager, conducted a brief presentation before the Alachua City Commission the night before.

The workshop was the first in a series of steps in the creation and implementation of a plan to develop the area. Citizen input will help the group produce a marketing plan.

RMA contends that some of the plans it developed in other parts of Florida have led to a vibrant, healthy economy.

Some of the issues residents asked the developers to keep in mind included ways in which traffic might be directed from U.S. 441 to downtown Alachua; the creation of adequate parking; better signage; how to maintain foot traffic on Sundays when some stores are closed; removing stop signs on Main Street; modifications to city codes to encourage shorter business startup times; and ways to help keep retail buildings from being rented out as office space.

Crowder explained how the group expects the process to advance. “We expect to have a market assessment completed by the end of February,” he said. “In March, we plan to have the meat of what our strategies will be to achieve our goals. By April we will be finalizing the action plan and begin implementation. We expect to be finished with the process by May 1,” he said.

One audience member asked if there was a connection between a vibrant downtown area and arts and culture. “Absolutely,” was the response of all three RMA representatives. “A common theme in Winter Park, Sarasota, Melbourne, Delray Beach and Northwood Village is arts and culture,” said Crowder. “It's one of the key elements that helps define that area. Identifying those opportunities, they can be big or small, is very important.”

As an example of a small item that can be done to maintain arts and culture, he explained, “When there is a vacancy in Coconut Grove, the building owner keeps the lights on so the local artists can display their work in the window.”

Another important element in creating a destination for visitors is social networking, explained McCormick. Accurate GPS and tourist destination site listings are two ways in which the internet can help define an area for visitors. “Yelp is a great way to locate city building departments as well as other items,” said Crowder. “A Facebook page is a place to engage. It has to be managed. You have to work on it,” he said.

McCormick touched on the idea that Alachua already had a lot of existing assets. Following the meeting, Crowder listed some of the assets he had already observed.

“First and foremost is the historic essence...the historic buildings...the historic district, the National Register Designation, that is a big asset. The design of Main Street and the curve that was put in...the comments I've heard are that that aesthetic is a big asset. The proximity to U.S. 441 and I-75 is an asset. Alachua is closer to the interstate than a lot of the real vibrant downtowns that we see around the state. Progress Park is a strong asset and is probably not being used to its full potential.” Finally, he listed the city's proximity to a market like Gainesville as another benefit that can be explored.

Cultural tourism, an aspect of developing a vibrant downtown area, was defined by Crowder. “Anything that brings in people who don't live here to engage in and experience whatever creativity the area has to offer. It can be historic district tourism. Historic assets are cultural assets,” he said. “Whatever cultural experiences we find here that create that identity that makes people seek you out and want to live or visit is cultural tourism.”

RMA was brought to Alachua at a cost of $50,000 and is being paid for jointly by the Community Redevelopment Agency and the city's General Fund.

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HIGH SPRINGS – For those who had model trains when they were kids and wish to relive the fun of one of the world's greatest hobbies, Santa Fe College's Community Education Enrichment program is offering two ways to renew acquaintance with this interesting pastime.


The first of two short, two-hour courses, “Model Trains:  History,” began last Thursday, Jan. 21, by exploring model trains from the early 1900s to the present.  The class is being held at the Historic High Springs Elementary School and Community Center. 


The second half of the course will be held on Thursday, Feb. 4.  The course instructor for both classes is Robert Watson, President of the High Springs Historical Museum. 


While the first class had to do with sharing information on the history of model trains, the second class will continue that theme for about 30 minutes before taking field trips to the local homes of two guest speakers, Sam Viviano and Pete Woodward. 


Both have a long history of model railroading, and each has their own train layout.  Viviano's is a Lionel three-rail, while Woodward's is an American Flyer two rail.


An assortment of interested people joined the first class.  At least two people were members of The North Central Florida Model Railroad Club, housed in Alachua.  Some were just interested in the topic, and some were trying to reconnect with a past hobby.  All expressed delight at being able to visit two train layouts in the second class session.


Watson explained that others can join for the second class and field trips by contacting Santa Fe College.


The second course, which begins Feb. 11, is “Model Trains:  Gauge, Setup, Care.”  This course explores the various gauges and sizes of model trains from G Scale to Z Gauge.  Layout, diorama building and model train maintenance will be the areas covered in this two-hour, two-class course. 


Participants will see a diorama being created by the course instructor.  The course will be held in the same location and runs from 6-8 p.m.


The fee for each of the two courses is $24.


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