Marion County Salvation Army Hosts Holiday Kick-Off

By on November 12th, 2014 | Last updated: November 12, 2014 at 5:16 pm

When Tim Read rings the Salvation Army bell for donations, he makes sure to wear a Christmas tie.

His collection boasts themed ties with Bugs Bunny, Christmas lights and red-and-green colored assortments.

At the annual Red Kettle Kickoff held Wednesday in downtown Ocala, he wore a tie featuring Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Scoop the Snowman and Hermey the Elf from the Christmas TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys.”

Read has been a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army since 2010. Last year, he worked five to six days per week for about nine hours accepting donations.

“I want everybody to know that help comes from everywhere,” he said.

At the Red Kettle Kickoff, bell ringers, Salvation Army officers and residents of Ocala were all in attendance to start the holiday season and begin to collect donations for the charity’s programs to help the needy.

Major George Patterson, the core Salvation Army officer in Marion County, spoke at the event about the need for donations and the people the Salvation Army serves.

Patterson said the donations go toward assembling food and gift baskets for the homeless and those in the community struggling financially.

The Marion County Salvation Army hopes to surpass its total from 2013 of $264,000 and reach $275,000 in donations this season, according to Patterson.

There will be 35 kettles scattered throughout Ocala at locations like Publix, Winn-Dixie, Hobby Lobby and Wal-Mart. Patterson thinks the Salvation Army is fulfilling for him because he can see how the programs impact people’s lives in a genuine way.

Read gives back through the Salvation Army because he received help from the organization in his time of need. When he was injured in 2008, he couldn’t find a job and the Salvation Army helped him out, he said. Now, Read volunteers and educates people on the help the organization gives.

“I’ve never heard of anyone being turned down,” he said.

The Marion County Salvation Army doesn’t turn down any extra help either. Volunteers range from the elderly to middle school students.

The St. John Lutheran Middle School in Ocala performed Christmas songs on handbells and sang as a choir at the Red Kettle Kickoff.

Music Director Rebecca Schaffer said the school has a special relationship with the organization year-round. Students are bell-ringers at the Kmart in Ocala and many students have parents involved with the Salvation Army.

“We want our students to have that desire for service and give back,” Schaffer said.

The Red Kettle Kickoff has been an annual event in downtown Ocala for over 30 years, said Patterson.

“It’s what Salvation Army has done for over 100 years and why we continue to provide to those in need,” he said.

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Nov. 12, 2014: Afternoon News in 90 #1

By on November 12th, 2014 | Last updated: November 12, 2014 at 4:30 pm

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Alachua County Second In Florida To Launch Text-to-911

By on November 12th, 2014 | Last updated: November 12, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Alachua County is the second county in Florida to provide a text-to-911 service.

Alachua County E911 Coordinator and Communications Section Chief Keith Godwin said the first official text was received Monday from someone threatening to harm himself or herself. Emergency services were able to quickly locate and assist the individual.

Text-to-911 is a short, text-only messaging service. When a text is sent to 911, Godwin said it goes to a cell tower and then to a control center that reroutes the emergency text to the appropriate 911 center.

Any texts received in Alachua County go to the city’s 911 center and are displayed on a program called Gem911. According to Godwin, all 28 seats in the 911 center receive the text message.

Pictured above is a sample of a text-to-911 message received by the 911 center. Through the service, responders can quickly locate and assist individuals in case of an emergency.

Pictured above is a sample of a text-to-911 message received by the 911 center. Through the service, responders can quickly locate and assist individuals in case of an emergency.

“We get a visual that comes on your screen just like the little balloon you see on your phone,” Godwin said. “We also get an audible indication that there’s a text message.”

Godwin said Alachua County didn’t spend any money to launch the text-to-911 service. Instead, mobile carriers AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile paid the control centers to provide the service and 911 centers used existing computers to access the program.

Prior to the official launch of the text-to-911 service on Nov. 3, Godwin said the 911 center staff went through training in order for everyone to gain exposure to the new program. The staff wanted to test it for about a month to see what the potential problems were.

“In an emergency situation, you don’t want [the staff] to stumble and think about something,” he said. “You want them to know how to do it second nature.”

A woman in Columbia County sent a text during the center’s training period. She was reporting an argument between a man and woman – the woman was holding a knife.

Emergency officials were able to determine the location after communicating with the texter. Godwin said they called the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and personnel were able to respond to the scene.

When texting 911, Godwin said there are two important pieces of information the center needs to know: the location and type of emergency. He warned that although response times can fall within 10 seconds, the initial text is not guaranteed to go through.

If the text doesn’t go through, the sender will receive a bounce-back message.

“So if you were to send a text right now in a county that does not have 911 service, you’ll get a message back to your phone that says ‘texting to 911 service is not available at this time – please make a call to 911,’” Godwin said.

Collier County Sheriff’s Office Technical Supervisor Justin Koval said Collier County was the first county to launch the service in the beginning of May. Only three received texts qualified as emergencies.

“A lot of people thought that when we would go text-to-911 that we would get so many,” Koval said. “But we really haven’t seen a huge amount of texts.”

So far, Koval said he isn’t aware of any issues with the service. He suggested calling 911 whenever possible and resorting to texting if in a situation where calling would put the person in danger.

“Call if you can. Text if you can’t,” he said.

He said the text-to-911 service will be good for the younger generation. If there is violence occurring in schools, students have the opportunity to text it.

Godwin said the people who will truly benefit from the new service are those with speech or hearing impairment.

June McMahon, who was born deaf, was thrilled when she first learned about text-to-911 services.

Through the help of an interpreter, McMahon said text-to-911 is a great way for those who are deaf or hard of hearing to get in touch with 911 services through mobile phones.

McMahon, who is the vice president of Florida Association of the Deaf, said she has been telling as many people as she can about it.

A retired deaf education teacher now living in Palm Beach, McMahon said her parents, grandparents and cousins – as well as other members of her family – are all deaf. Her deafness is hereditary.

When she was growing up, McMahon’s family had to walk to the neighbor’s house to use the phone. Now, she can make a call directly from her home using a video phone.

However, if she’s not home, McMahon said she loses that luxury.

“Now [those in the deaf and hearing-impaired community] can really be independent – much more independent than we have been,” McMahon said “So, if something were to happen to me and I was out of the house, or if I was to see an emergency taking place, I could immediately text it.”

In a world where her biggest struggle is communication, McMahon said she’s excited to have access to the emergency service because it will improve her quality of life.

“If it helps one person,” Koval said, “it’s definitely worth it.”

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In The News: Gravity Boosting Allows Landing Success, ‘Big Bang’ Mother Dead, Teen Raises the Dough, Hawthorne To Get $1.5m Grant

By on November 12th, 2014 | Last updated: November 12, 2014 at 2:14 pm
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In The News: Businesses Benefit Low Gas Prices, Woman Arrested After Bogus 911 Call, Gov. Scott Declares November ‘Hire A Veteran Month’

By on November 12th, 2014 | Last updated: November 12, 2014 at 1:29 pm
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Local Power Plant Receives National Forest Certification

By on November 12th, 2014 | Last updated: November 12, 2014 at 10:24 am
Gainesville Renewable Energy Center has announced that they have received the Forest Stewardship Council’s chain-of-custody certification. It is the first power plant in the country to receive this certification, which allows it to purchase waste wood fuel that meets FSC standards.

Photo courtesy of John Brushwood

Gainesville Renewable Energy Center received the Forest Stewardship Council Chain-of-Custody Certification on Oct. 28. It is the first power plant in the country to receive this certification, which allows it to purchase waste wood fuel that meets FSC standards.

The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center is the first power plant in the country to receive the Forest Stewardship Council Chain-of-Custody Certification.

The certification, which the plant received on Oct. 28, will allow GREC to obtain FSC-certified materials from the council’s facilities and designated forests.

According to John Brushwood, the Director of Communications for GREC, the FSC Chain-of-Custody Certification will provide a stricter procedure to monitor the entire forestry process, from the time lumber is taken from the forest to when it is used in the plant.

Gary Dodge, the director of science and certification for FSC, said having the council’s certification is similar to the designation of an organic versus a non-organic apple at a grocery store.

Brushwood said the process for obtaining this certification is a multi-step procedure. The company had to apply for certification and later have an auditor evaluate its entire operations and make suggestions.

After the inspection and implementation of the auditor’s suggestions, GREC was approved as having complied with FSC standards, the “gold standard of the timber industry,” and was certified.

“Every delivery that we receive must comply with FSC’s chain-of-custody standards now that we’re certified as an FSC facility,” Brushwood said.

Brushwood said the cost of obtaining the certification was covered by funding obtained by GREC and other sources, including Gainesville Regional Utilities. Gainesville residents were not affected by the cost.

“It is a cost our company pays for,” Brushwood said. “We elected to get this certification, and we pay for the cost of that certification.”

GRU has a 30-year contract with GREC to share payment of costs and GREC rates with the city of Gainesville. Brushwood said these costs include the infrastructure costs, the price of the fuel to produce the energy that will be used in Gainesville and the delivered energy cost, which is the actual energy the city uses.

Having the certification will allow companies to “have potential to engage in those responsible practices” said Corey Brinkema, president of FSC. These practices involve more use of material that comes from responsible forest management.

GREC wants other companies to be able to obtain this certification and begin engaging in more responsible forestry practices, according to a GREC press release.

“Having this chain-of-custody certification is a great first step,” Dodge said.

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Nov. 12, 2014: Morning News in 90

By on November 12th, 2014 | Last updated: November 13, 2014 at 10:54 am

Kathryn Williams produced this update.

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Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner; Norton Elementary Serves It All

By on November 12th, 2014 | Last updated: November 12, 2014 at 9:10 am
Students at Norton Elementary School wait in line as they're served dinner for the first time at school. Norton Elementary now serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Caron Rowe

Students at Norton Elementary School wait in line as they're served dinner for the first time at school. Norton Elementary now serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

In addition to breakfast and lunch, Norton Elementary School has completed the trifecta and now serves dinner to students enrolled in its after-school program.

The first supper program in Alachua County Public Schools began on Nov. 3. The program is paid through the Child Care Food Program, which is funded through the Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.

“There truly are students that don’t get meals when they go home, or (don’t) get a really balanced, healthy meal,” said Maria Eunice, the director of Alachua Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services. “So, I feel like if we can help out in that area we might as well look into it and try to offer that program to families.”

Norton Elementary was chosen as a pilot for the program because 55 percent of its students are in the free and reduced lunch program, and its after-school enrollment is very high, Eunice said.

Angel Londrie, the Extended Day Enrichment Program coordinator, said 179 children were enrolled in the program as of September. Out of that 179, Eunice said 142 students were fed the first day the program launched.

Currently, 550 schools are participating within 18 other counties statewide, excluding Alachua, wrote Nathan Dunn, the communications director of the Florida Department of Health, in an email.

Similar to the lunch menu, each dinner will include the five main meal components of meat, bread, fruit, vegetables and milk. Eunice said each plate is priced between $1.15 and $1.20.

Dinner is currently scheduled to be served at 2 p.m. Eunice said meals are served at an early time because students come to the after-school program already hungry.

Dinner service was intended to begin in July. However, the paperwork process along with other new additions to the school, such as the introduction of photo IDs, delayed the program’s launch.

The ultimate challenge in implementing the program was staffing, another reason why Norton Elementary was chosen to launch the program.

“I felt like the principal was supportive, the [food] manager was supportive and the after-school coordinator was all supportive,” Eunice said.

A responsible work force is essential to making the program work because if a food service manager cannot be at the cafeteria to supervise, a reliable staff is needed to make sure dinner runs smoothly, she said.

Dunn wrote that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has streamlined the application process for school districts to participate and districts implementing this program have not yet faced any significant challenges.

Eunice said she would love to bring this program to needy schools where 98 percent of students have free or reduced lunches, but the enrollment in those after-school programs are too low to qualify for the program now.

The supper program is planned to expand to other schools in the county by next year.

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Plant-Eating Beetle: Cheapest Way To Kill Weeds

By on November 11th, 2014 | Last updated: November 11, 2014 at 5:16 pm
Skeletonization of a Gainesville air potato leaf shows why the air potato beetle is considered one of the most successful biocontrol approaches in recent decades compared to other projects — current or past.

Skeletonization of a Gainesville air potato leaf shows why the air potato beetle is considered one of the most successful biocontrol approaches in recent decades compared to other projects — current or past.

The air potato beetle, a native to Asia, has been hard at work controlling the air potato, Dioscorea bulbifera, but its future relies on how well it’s received with landowners and nature enthusiasts.

“We have now released approximately 340,000 beetles at nearly 1,000 different locations in the state,”  entomology professor William A. Overholt wrote in an email.

Comparable programs like the air potato beetle project, seen by Overholt,  show that the air potato beetle has had to follow some pretty successful biocontrol programs.

In comparison, Overholt and his colleagues released about 250,000 leaf-feeding beetles specificaly for the tropical soda apple, Solanum viarum Dunal, which has golf-ball-sized fruits that closely resemble watermelon along with thorny stems and leaves. 

reduction in annual control costs between $3.5 million and $8 million was estimated for the tropical soda apple.

During that time, the eight-year control of the tropical soda apple, which primarily invaded pastures and untouched areas in Florida, helped save landscapes, livestock and elevate future project endeavors.

According to a BioOne research review document in 2006, an economical calculation of the tropical soda apple in Florida revealed that the invasive Brazilian species cost Florida ranchers about $15 million a year, with the biggest losses in central Florida.

In a span of two years, the leaf-feeding beetle reduced tropical soda apple densities to an average of one plant in an area of 16 meters.

Comparatively, the air potato beetle saved about 50 percent of management costs statewide and had a total effectiveness-savings of about $108 million to $266 million for the program.

The cooperative efforts among federal, state and county-level agencies along with outreach to landowners successfully impacted landscapes and helped with the biocontrol program against the topical soda apple.

Alligatorweed, Alternanthera philoxeroides, was the first major successful biocontrol of weed biocontrol in Florida, Overholt said.

With the herbicides needed to treat the long-stemmed alligatorweed, the cost is high. To apply these weedkillers like glyphosate and fluoridone, the cost is approximately $170 to $370 per hectare – a metric unit of area defined by 10,000 square meters.

Scientists later discovered the flea beetle to be the best potential way to control the South American-native alligatorweed.

The flea beetle’s work greatly reduced the need for chemical control of the weed and saved 76 percent of the costs for the areas treated.

Eric Rohrig, a biological scientist for the Methods Development and Biological Control in the Division of Plant Industry, said the air potato beetle project is saving money that was previously spent by outlets like labor costs and supply costs.

“What we spend on the program is a drop in the bucket compared the total cost of treating air potato in the state,” Rohrig wrote in an email. “Biocontrol costs money in the front end but once the insects establish they carry on providing free, safe, environmentally friendly, persistent control.”

Less than $200,000 is spent per year on the total salaries for one scientist and three technicians working on the research along with supplies like pots, fertilizer, soil and gas for vehicles, Rohrig said.

“This is definitely one of my top 10 projects I’ve been involved with,” said William Lester, an Urban and Commercial Horticulture Agent. “So far it’s been really successful. So far we haven’t had any problems or issues and the beetles have performed better, honestly better than I expected them to.”

Populations for the air potato beetle will increase and some will continue to eat the air potato. However, some air potato plants will always be present in natural locations.  

The vine will not completely die off, but the amount of vines will be reduced to a controllable amount. This will allow funds to be moved that use to go toward chemical or mechanical control of the plant and  those savings someplace else — possibly future biocontrol endeavors.

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Transitional Housing For Veterans Offers New Beginnings

By on November 11th, 2014 | Last updated: November 11, 2014 at 7:53 pm

A local non-profit organization is helping veterans transition into their futures by echoing their selfless service done in the past

Vetspace, with 16 bedrooms and a couple single apartments for families, is primarily funded by U.S. Department of Veterans Affair’s grants. It offers free housing and case management services to approximately 45 veterans, according to their web page at www.vetspace.org.

“My main thing is to help them help themselves, there is so much out there in the community so we want to make sure to connect them with the people out there that are willing to help,” said Tracy Anderson, a case manager at Vetspace.

Military service veterans only make up 11 percent of the total civilian population. However, 25 percent of the homeless population are veterans, according to a CNN study

In Alachua County approximately 40 percent of the 2000 homeless people are veterans, according to a City of Gainesville survey

For resident veteran Art Galbraith, Vetspace provides important housing while he goes through treatment at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center. The treatment schedule was too frequent for him to maintain his job as a tour guide in downtown St. Augustine.

“I was at the VA hospital, taking showers there and living in my car … that’s when I found Vetspace,” he said. 

An important part of Vetspace is the development of a three-month incremental service plan to make sure veterans are achieving their goals. Weekly counseling sessions and open dialogue between the veterans establishes a progressive environment, Anderson said.

“You can cut all your expenses to the bone [living in Vetspace], so that when you’re ready to leave you have a good exit plan and you have money in the bank,” Galbraith said.

A grant for about $102,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development makes up the bulk of the funding for the housing, $52,000 of which is spent on leasing alone, said Cheryl Wedgewood, executive director of Vetspace.

The budget of that grant is a tight fit for the amount of veterans that Vetspace is housing, but by seeking smaller grants and donations from the community, Vetspace is sometimes able to help with the little things. 

One veteran who worked with Wedgewood was homeless, unemployed and had legal issues. He also has suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.

“Helping pay one $200 [driver’s license] fee can help… get him transportation, enable him to work, enable him to pay child support and keep him out of jail,” Wedgewood said.

The most rewarding thing for Anderson is to see the veterans successfully transition back into the community.

“Now you’re seeing them back in the community giving back to the people that helped them, it’s not like you just give to them and they drop the ball,” she said.

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