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ALACHUA ‒ The Swamp Bots of Alachua are working to make science more appealing to students. Composed of students from several Alachua County high schools, they recently held one of several upcoming exhibitions to engage kids in kindergarten through high school in exciting, mentor-based, research and robotics programs and is open to all skill levels. The goal is to help them become science and technology leaders, as well as well-rounded contributors to society. The initial exhibition by the Swamp Bots took place at the City of Alachua’s Hal Brady Recreation Center on Sept. 3. Kids faced a course laid out on a plywood board and were given Legos to build robots they could program to navigate the course

The Swamp Bots are part of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which is an organization founded to build student interest in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. These fields will play an important part in the jobs of the future. There are groups of FIRST members throughout the world with over 90,000 members.

The organization was founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen, who is best known for inventing the Segway PT, an electric, self-balancing human transporter with a computer-controlled gyroscopic stabilization and control system. Kamen was already a successful inventor when he produced the Segway.

Kamen created FIRST to foster the love of science in a younger generation. His vision was "To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders”. But FIRST is more than robots. The Robots are a vehicle for students to learn important life skills. “Kids often come in not knowing what to expect from the program or themselves,” said Kamen. “They leave with a vision, with confidence, and a sense they can create their own future.”

There are several levels to the FIRST program based on age. FIRST LEGO League introduces children ages 4-16 o science through fun, exciting hands-on learning. The participants gain real-world problem-solving experiences through a guided, global robotics program using Legos to build robots that can be programmed to complete a course.

FIRST Tech Challenge teams (up to 15 team members, grades 7-12) are challenged to design, build, program, and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance format. Guided by adult coaches and mentors, the students develop STEM skills and practice engineering principles, while also realizing the value of hard work, innovation, and working as a team. The robot kit they build is reusable from year to year and can be coded using different levels of Java-based programming.

Teams design the robots, raise funds to build it, design and market their team brand, and do community outreach to earn specific awards. Participants are eligible to apply for part of $80 million in college scholarships. Each season concludes with regional championship events

For high school students and their mentors, there is the First Robotics Competition. Under strict rules and limited time and resources, the teams of high school students are challenged to build industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game in alliance with other teams, while also fundraising to meet their goals, designing a team “brand,” and gives the teams an opportunity to work and create together.

“The competition is more than building robots and competing,” said Ben Sanders, mentor of the Alachua Swamp Bots group. “They also have to explain to the judges how they built it to show the analytical thought process. While the core value is problem solving, they also have to show the judges that they worked as a team with input from everyone. The judges want to see that they thought it out before acting,” Sanders said.

“In the competition, cooperation is important, not just within a team but against competitors as well,” said Sanders. “If a team or person is rude or arrogant to others or doesn't work as a team, the judges will scratch them from the event. While it is meant to be a fun challenge, it is also meant to teach social skills, cooperation and be a contributing member in society,” Sanders said.

The Swamp Bots group started in Sanders’ living room in 2012 and his son is one of the members. Sanders, a mechanical engineer, works in Progress Park and considers the Swamp Bots as his weekend hobby with his kids. But the Swamp Bots don't just compete, they also demonstrate the excitement of designing and creating, working together and gaining confidence in abilities to younger students. That's the group is holding free exhibits where any student between four and 18 can attend, build and program a Lego robot to work through the outlined course.

The Alachua Swamp Bots received a grant from the Children's Trust of Alachua to help start groups of middle school students. So far, they have helped initiate groups in High Springs, Alachua and Turkey Creek, all mentored by an adult. Another group is currently forming in Waldo.

More information on the FIRST program can be found at https://www.firstinspires.org/ . For information on local activities and groups, contact Ben Sanders at sanders32615@gmail.com.

“We want to make science exciting and show kids the achievements they can make both as individuals and as a team and help shape their future,” Sanders said.

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GAINESVILLE ‒ Healthcare facilities continue to face personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Haven included.

Gainesville’s Queen of Peace Catholic Church learned of a gown shortage and donated a large quantity of used sheets through a recent outreach event. The sheets would later be converted into gowns for Haven’s clinical staff and visiting family members to wear.

Greg Hollingshead, who oversees outreach ministry at Queen of Peace, said, “When the COVID pandemic became acute in March, we got in contact with our ministry partners and asked, ‘How can we help?’ This question turned into an expansion of our monthly food program. But in May and June, in talking to other organizations, we realized they had non-food missions we may be able to help with. To respond to specific needs, we made a wish list. We learned that Haven was experiencing difficulty getting gowns so we put sheets on the wish lists for Haven’s volunteer seamstresses.”

Haven’s volunteers are not currently able to visit patients due to COVID-19, but have been searching for ways to continue serving. When Queen of Peace donated sheets, volunteers in each of Haven’s service areas offered to sew the sheets into gowns.

The volunteers used a CDC-approved gown pattern to convert the sheets into safe, usable PPE. “I’m a retired nurse so I know how important protective equipment is. I didn’t know clinical staff at Haven were still having difficulty getting them,” said volunteer Joan MacLeod. “I’ve been sewing since I was a little girl and have a nice machine. I’ve got it down to where I can make one gown in three hours. I just finished the eighteenth gown. As long as Haven needs them, I’ll keep making them and am happy to do so.”

MacLeod, who is a long-time Haven Advance Care Planning volunteer, said that she is sewing gowns for the Gainesville area and that seamstresses in Haven’s other service areas have also volunteered to continually make gowns.

Haven proudly continues to serve patients, including those who are COVID-19-positive, across the state. Various challenges have arisen as a result of the pandemic and Haven is thankful for those who have helped creatively address these obstacles.

“Haven is grateful that Queen of Peace quickly and graciously donated sheets to be made into gowns in a time of need,” said Haven Director of Clinical Operations Brigid Doherty. “In a time where personal protective equipment is hard to come by, the community and our volunteers have stepped up to serve our clinical staff, as well as our patients and families, in unique ways.”

In regard to continued partnership, Queen of Peace’s outreach ministry leader Hollingshead said, “We were told that we far exceeded Haven’s expectations. As far as sheets are concerned, we had people clean out their entire linen closet and donate. We’re happy to do it. Hopefully this is the beginning of a long-term relationship between us and Haven.”

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The City of High Springs has finetuned its purchasing policy but did not change purchase threshold amounts.

Commissioners unanimously approved Resolution 2020-G on Aug. 27, which amends the City’s purchasing policy and procedures. The main changes address the City’s competitive purchasing process price thresholds and approval requirements.

This item was carried over from the July 23 Commission meeting when Commissioner Nancy Lavin suggested several modifications. Commissioners asked for more time to consider the modifications and asked that the item be brought back at this meeting.

Commissioner Lavin expressed concern with currently policy language that states “The Director of Finance, under the City Managers leadership, is the authorized purchasing agent for the city, with the City Commission’s approval.” The wording has now been changed to reflect that the City Manager is the purchasing agent for the City, but that he or she may designate someone else to act in that capacity.

Another of Lavin’s concerns was wording that the City Manager should be the signer on any contracts involving financial responsibility. That wording has been changed to read, “All contracts will be signed per City Charter unless the City Commission directs otherwise.”

Lavin also expressed concern about the length of time records are retained by the City. The wording now reflects that records retention is “in accordance with public records law.”

Another concern was about threshold amounts. City Finance Director Jennifer Stull indicated that she had checked with the City of Newberry and High Springs was similar or lower than Newberry in that capacity. Therefore, no changes were proposed on this issue.

Lavin advocated that the City Clerk, Finance Director and Department Heads purchasing amounts should be lowered. Commissioner Linda Jones opposed the measure and the purchasing amounts were not modified.

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GAINESVILLE/LAKE CITY ‒ September is Suicide Prevention Month and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) wants to remind Veterans and their loved ones through the “Be There” campaign that small actions can make a big difference to Veterans experiencing difficult times.

During this and every month the North Florida/ South Georgia Veterans Health System (NF/SGHVS) remains committed to spreading awareness of suicide prevention to Veterans and their supporters and connecting them to the resources they need.

“At VA we are proud to play a leading role in this important national effort” stated Thomas Wisnieski, health system Director. “Each one of us can learn to either be a resource, or direct people in need of resources.”

“Be There” suggests several simple actions that can help make a difference for a Veteran to include:

For more information and resources visit http://bethereforveterans.com/.

NF/SGVHS offers a range of services to Veterans who are at risk of suicide, to include same day urgent care mental health services and primary care mental health integration. Suicide prevention coordinators are available to speak with any Veteran and/or family member experiencing a crisis they are also able to provide education and outreach efforts.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive free, confidential support and crisis intervention available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, text to 838255, or chat online at http://veteranscrisisline.net/Chat.

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WALDO – Alachua Head Start is coming to Waldo. Head Start is a free, high-quality school readiness program providing health, nutrition, disabilities and family support services to those that quality. The program serves children ages three – five years of age. Virtual programs are available this year.

Waldo City Manager Kim Worley said Alachua Head Start representatives will be at Waldo Square sometime soon to sign up children, but parents can also apply via www.ecs4kids.org or by calling 1-800-745-4836 for an interview. The program will be held at Waldo Square in the Noe Wing, 14450 N.E. 148th Avenue, Waldo.

Head Start is administered by the Office of Head Start, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“This is good for the kids in Waldo,” said Worley. “We’re very pleased to have this program available for our families,” she said.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Florida Department of Health has recognized the City of Newberry as a 2019 Healthy Community Champion. Alachua County Department of Health’s Kortney Gallivan Oliver was on hand at the Aug. 10 Newberry City Commission meeting and said the City takes a “Health in All Policies” approach to comprehensive planning. The application for the City was submitted by Principal Planner Wendy Kinser-Maxwell. There are 33 communities statewide receiving the recognition and include Alachua County and the City of Hawthorne.

“This is the seventh year the City of Newberry has been awarded this honor,” said Oliver. She said “Health in All Policies” is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a collaborative approach that integrates and articulates health considerations into policymaking across sectors to improve the health of all communities and people.

“This recognition demonstrates the commitment that these communities have to improving the health of their residents,” said Florida Department of Health in Alachua County Administrator Paul Myers.

Obesity rates in the U.S. have increased dramatically over the last 30 years, and obesity is now an epidemic in the United States. Florida’s county and municipal governments play an important role in decreasing the prevalence of unhealthy weight in their jurisdictions.

“In Florida, only 33.9 percent of adults are at a healthy weight,” said Oliver. “The increasing prevalence of obesity is most concerning when viewed in the context of its impact on overall health. Obesity increases the risk of many serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. For this reason, the Florida Department of Health is working to address obesity through the Healthiest Weight Florida initiative,” she said.

Oliver congratulated Newberry for its food programs, farmers market, open air produce market and recreation programs that promote fitness. The Healthy Community Champions Recognition is now a two-year designation with opportunities to receive technical assistance to further the adoption and implementation of health in all policies.

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ALACHUA County – Starting Sept. 8, Alachua County Public Schools have been offering free meals for all children, ages 0-18.

Alachua County Public Schools’ Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) Department received authorization from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to offer free meals to all Alachua County children ages 0-18 beginning Sept. 8 and running through Dec. 31.

Families will be able to pick up meals Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at 26 locations. Students will be provided three breakfasts and three lunches on Tuesdays and four breakfasts and four lunches on Thursdays to cover meals for each day of the week.

The distribution sites are as follows:

Archer ES

Hawthorne Middle/High

Littlewood ES

Oakview Middle

Terwilliger ES

Buchholz High


Hidden Oak ES

Lanier Center

Parker ES

Williams ES

Duval Early Learning

High Springs Community School

Meadowbrook ES

PK Yonge


Foster ES

Irby ES

Metcalfe ES

Rawlings ES


Gainesville High

Lake Forest ES

Newberry High

Santa Fe High


Glen Springs ES

Kanapaha Middle

Norton ES

Talbot ES


Children do not have to be registered at a school to receive free meals and may pick up meals from any one of the 26 locations.

The expansion of the program also means that all children enrolled in a brick and mortar school will have access to free meals during the school day.

“We are thrilled to be able to implement this free program for all families in Alachua County,” said Maria Eunice, Director of Food & Nutrition Services. “This is a great opportunity for children of all ages to have access to healthy meals, and we’d like to encourage all families, regardless of income, to take advantage of it.”

For specific information on meal distribution visit the Food and Nutrition Services website at yourchoicefresh.com or contact the district office at 352-955-7539.

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