Reflecting on Sydney Southerland, from a sexual assault survivor

In the wake of this tragedy, I found myself murmuring to myself one night. “What a waste.” I was taken aback. What did I mean by that?

Last week, Sydney Sutherland, a 25 year-old woman, went jogging near her home in rural Arkansas along State Highway 18 near Newport and Grubbs.

Two days later, her body was found north of her residence.

Two days after that, August 23, 2020, Quake Lewellyn was charged with capital murder, rape, and kidnapping.

In the wake of this tragedy, I found myself murmuring to myself one night. “What a waste.”

I was taken aback. What did I mean by that?

I realized I had said the same words to myself, and maybe aloud to others, many times in the light of untimely deaths. In the light of global catastrophes. In the light of major losses.

What a waste of a life is what I think I meant.

But I hated how that sounded. I hated how it felt.

25 years lived vivaciously, beautifully, in service to others after nursing school… how is that a waste of a life? It’s certainly not. Not in any way at all. Just because a deviant perpetrator targeted Sydney Sutherland and opted to terminate her life abruptly does not in any way indicate that her life was wasted.

I vowed to stop using those words and to find new words, even if only to mutter to myself. What would those words be?

I reflected on my own incidences of sexual assault.

As a survivor of multiple incidences of sexual assault by multiple perpetrators over my lifetime (thank God none ended in death), I recall that vivid sense of purposelessness. Uselessness. Depravity. Feeling devoid of the desire to continue. Lack of hope. This often occurs in sexual assault victims after trauma; it lasts for varying lengths of time, depending on whether the victim seeks help or not.

Thankfully, I sought help, but not right away.

For years, I coped on my own terms. You can imagine how well that worked for me. Self-medication, self-help books, and talking to all the wrong people who give all the wrong advice will get you to all the wrong places. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was scared to trust anyone at all with what hurt the most.

I finally found a cobbled path to healing through Christian counseling and a recovery program. It’s a continual journey. Post-traumatic stress disorder reminds me of getting divorced. It’s supposed to be final and over, but it’s never really over. I paid the money and moved the turd out of my house. But I’m still stuck with the residue, the financial effects of our marriage, and the reminders every time those stupid Facebook Memories pop up. “12 years ago today: ‘Can’t wait to watch Biggest Loser with X and eat banana splits at the same time!” Barfarama.

Over the past few months, I’ve found it interesting to observe this surge of interest related to #SaveTheChildren—all things related to sexual assault, child sexual abuse, and human trafficking. As a survivor who’s advocated, volunteered, and served in this realm for almost 20 years, I’m thrilled that the world suddenly cares.

I only hope it won’t stop at sharing posts and gory articles online. Let me reassure you if you’re only doing this much that there’s much more you can do to help save children’s lives, if that’s your genuine motive.

Locally, you can volunteer for the Rape Crisis Center operated under the umbrella of the Family Violence Prevention Center or for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Independence County.

If you’re interested in working to combat human trafficking, you can contact P.A.T.H. (Partners Against Trafficking Humans). In fact, you can attend their volunteer training for 20 hours to learn a wealth of information and then volunteer in numerous ways within their organization, too.

To support multiple global human trafficking organizations, select from a myriad of nonprofit organizations, some faith-based and others non-partisan, doing excellent work all over the world. You can volunteer remotely to manage social media, write articles, answer hotline calls, or perform a variety of other tasks. If you’re outspoken and comfortable with public speaking, many organizations need community representatives and educators. You can write a check if financial support is more your speed.

There are no limits to the ways these organizations need help—trust me. I personally align myself with two organizations—P.A.T.H. and The Asservo Project. I recently published a book and give $1 of each book’s proceeds to The Asservo Project. I’ll continue to look for ways—always—to support these organizations because the work they do changes lives, supports survivors, and brings perpetrators to justice.

Ultimately, we’re never doomed to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves, victims, or survivors unless we choose to. There’s plenty of work to be done. We just have to choose to take action.

The work of organizations (and volunteers) ensures that beautiful souls like Sydney Sutherland’s are honored, that tragedies like Sydney Sutherland’s assault and murder are redeemed.

Bethany Wallace owns a consulting business, Bethany Wallace Communications & Consulting, and partners with mission-minded organizations to build better workplaces through soft skills solutions.

Bethany presents research at conferences and contributes to major publications and recognized podcasts, including Glassdoor, College Recruiter, Zip Recruiter, Jobscan, Flex Jobs, the New York Daily News, Business Tech, Human Resources Online, Life After Teaching, Love Your Story, 10 Minute Mindset, Everyday People, and more. In June 2020, she also recently  published a collection of original poetry, “Hindsight 2020: A New and Selected Poems by Bethany Wallace.”

Bethany earned her Master of Arts degree in English Language and Literature at Arkansas Tech University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Lyon College.

Pandemic: Reporter Angelia Roberts covers local changes

The reporter in me felt some of you might like to read what local medical Dr. Adam Gray and Gary Paxson with White River Health System have to say about the current situation.

By Angelia Roberts

Contributor’s note: The reporter in me felt some of you might like to read what local medical Dr. Adam Gray and Gary Paxson with White River Health System have to say about the current situation. I came away from the meeting feeling better informed.

“We’ve got something at our doorstep that we are going to deal with one way or another.”

Dr. Adam Gray

When Dr. Adam Gray, who serves as the Izard County Health Officer, and Gary Paxson, CEO of White River Health System, spoke to a small group of medical personnel, first responders, business owners, law enforcement and others Monday night at Ozarka College in Melbourne, seating was limited and everyone was screened before being admitted.

Paxson gave an overview of the Corona Virus saying there is a lot of noise on social media.

“The goal is to give you some facts, some reality of what is going on.”

“People are saying we are overreacting and it’s not real. I’m here to tell you it is real. It is a very real, very contagious virus.”

He explained it usually obtained through person to person contact which is why social distancing is so important.

Studies show the people most affected are over 65 years of age, but that doesn’t mean a 20-year-old can’t contact it.

“The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is telling us it is very likely it will hit all our communities.”

Paxson talked about safety measures the Batesville facility have already put into place as a precautionary measure.

He said 20 percent have the potential to be hospitalized, five percent could become critically ill, the importance of having the required staff and supplies are dwindling and very much needed.


In order to flatten the curve, a term that is being used to slow down the infection time-frame, schools are being closed, businesses are changing guidelines and social distancing is being urged. People are being told they should avoid large gatherings and with the latest number being no more than 10.

Paxson said the virus is extremely contagious and there is a limit to what the health industry can handle.

By shutting things down and asking people to self quarantine it can help spread that out over a greater amount of time.

“It is recoverable, but there is no vaccine for it. We are prepared and we have been talking about this like Dr. Gray said, for weeks. We have a plan that is set in place. We started screening before there was ever a case in the state of Arkansas.”

Paxson said he could not express enough the need for people to get correct information from reputable sources, such as the CDC, Arkansas Department of Health, the Surgeon General and others.

“We will probably have a patient at some point and at that point we will lock that unit down. We will most likely go to no visitors in our hospital. Our nursing homes are already there.”

—Gary Paxson

He also addressed people who are hoarding supplies saying, “It’s a terrible idea for our society.”

“We’ve had people who are business owners call and ask if one of their employees has been tested. If someone is tested and that test comes back positive we are mandated to report that to the Department of Health. He said that agency will do extensive questioning of who that person has come in contact with and track those people down to let them know they have been at risk.”

Those results are not immediate and can take as long as four days to get results.


In the meantime, people are being told to continually wash their hands and avoid as much contact with others, as possible.

Paxson said people should sing the Happy Birthday song twice while washing their hands and those who use hand sanitizer should make sure their hands are dry, because it doesn’t work if they are still wet.

He also addressed people who are wearing masks in public saying it’s a horrible idea and is not the required mask to give them protection from the virus, plus it’s causing a shortage in hospitals, nursing homes and first responders who need them.

“If you do contract this virus, research is showing the wearing of that (particular) mask is ineffective.”

While there is a growing concern of people wondering if they might have symptoms, Paxson said they need to understand they cannot randomly just test people at this time. “If you don’t have the symptoms, it’s not appropriate to do so. We have to preserve the resources we have.”

He said physicians are going to screen and rule out other sources before the OK is given to test for this particular virus.

“We feel like we are prepared. We’re treating this as if it is going to come. And, when it comes our staff is prepared and ready.”

—Paxson

“We are evidence based, and numbers driven,” Gray said.

The average person will give the flu to one and a half to 5 people.

The problem with this virus is that it affects an even high number with studies showing how one person can give it to anywhere from 6 to 8 people in about 6 days.

Gray talked about the math curve and how it doubles over a certain period of time.

Doubling time, in this instance, has been measured at about 6 days.

“Sixty days into this, at the rate it is going and with the known cases we have right now, we could potentially have 150,000 to 200,000 cases in the state of Arkansas within about a 30 day period.”

He gave an example of having 100,000 cases in 60 days and if 15 percent needed to be hospitalized they would need 15,000 beds. Arkansas has approximately 8,000 beds at this time.

“We can’t let it get there. We are not trying to scare anyone, we are just trying to stay ahead of it,” Gray said.

Looking at the statistics from China and Italy, Gray said we have an opportunity to learn from them.

He said China handled it very poorly and took a communist approach by quarantining 60 million people with guns pointed at them, “Which you can’t do here.”

Gray pointed out that Italy didn’t get behind the curve fast enough which caused it to spin out of control.

“Their health system got inundated and they are having to make choices that no doctor or family wants to ever have to make.”

Dr. Gray

“We are not freaking out. We know that probably 60 to 70 percent in the next four months is going to contract this and I would rather spread that out over 12 months instead of the next 60 days. This is a preparatory response, not a reactionary one,” Gray said.

Living in Arkansas does have its rewards, Gray said.

“I think Izard County Arkansas is the one place I want to be if something like this happens, because we are at the end of the world. They (Italy and China) are telling us, ‘Get people away from each other. Slow it down.'”

“Most of the people in this county, think alike really. We look alike. We think alike. We pray alike. Half think the government is out to get us and have been prepping for a long time. We have canned goods in our basements. We are prepared for this. We are gong to be fine.”

In closing Gray reminded everyone that we are all in this together.

“We have to lock arms and come together as a community and find out how to mitigate this. If we do the right thing – bend, don’t break – we will come out on the other side.”


Angelia Roberts served the Independence, Sharp, and Izard County areas as a seasoned reporter and the managing editor of the Batesville Daily Guard for decades. She is one of the most well-known, experienced, and APA-awarded news journalists in the state. She currently publishes Next Door magazine.

The Group Text

I have these three friends. We couldn’t be more different. For the past three years, we have had a constant group text.

If millennials and whatever we are calling the youth of today are the most connected generation ever… why is there such an uprise in loneliness, depression, anxiety, and suicide?

We have all heard about the research that tells us social media and communication via our mobile devices is a significant cause of this
loneliness epidemic.

I’m not about to disagree with that data. The negative is there… but is there positive?

A study published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction suggested it is how we use technology and social media that
creates feelings of loneliness, not the media in and of itself.

Linda Kaye, PhD, looked at how our phones and social media/group messages affect social functioning in a positive way. (Kaye is a senior psychology lecturer at Edge Hill University in the United Kingdom.)

Her research found, “feeling close to the people in a group chat created sense of belonging.”

I wholeheartedly agree with what this study is suggesting: it is how we use technology that creates a sense of loneliness or a sense of connectedness.

The Group Text

I have these three friends…

We couldn’t be more different. Yet we are all the same. For the past three years, we four have had a constant group text. One that has quite literally been visited almost every day since its origin.

We are all in our early 30’s.
We are all married.
We all have children.
We all love the same coffee shop, The Pinto.
We all listen to the same podcast, Armchair Expert.
Some of us like rap
And some of us hate it…
Some of us love stormy days and dark emotions
And some of us like sunshine and people.
We all believe in Jesus…most of the time.
And when we don’t, it’s ok. We remind each other that truth resurrects itself.

These people make space for me and all my big feelings and emotions.

This past summer I was at a family reunion for my husband’s family. I had been having some social anxiety issues and just kinda wanted to go
home.

Don’t get me wrong, these people are lovely and fun and easy to talk to. It was me… not them.

My husband and I were sitting talking to a relative. Her life sounded cool and exciting and I began to feel self-conscious like I had no interesting antidotes to give her. I am currently a stay at home mom. And sometimes the story I tell myself is that my daily life is boring.

My husband knew I was feeling anxious, so in an effort to help, he mentioned something or other about how I have had this ongoing group text for a few years and how it gives me life.

A group text? How lame. I was embarrassed. Christian… come on…come up with something else to make me sound more interesting… I don’t know how I got myself out of that conversation, but I am sure it was awkward.

As I reflect on that moment, I wish I could go back and tell my anxious self to press on… And expound!

If I have found something in my life that makes me feel connected to other people —- in a place and time where loneliness, depression, anxiety, and suicide are on the rise —- I should be proud of that experience.

I should tell of friends who walk through darkness with me, who engage me in difficult conversations and ideas.

I should tell of the hope they offer me, and of how we have been able to celebrate with one another and mourn with one another.

I should tell of how we press on and communicate and forgive one another when things get weird.

And of the serendipitous timing of our intermingling.

How It Started

The four people in the group text don’t hang out every day and are rarely all together at the exact same time. The text group started because one of us was moving away to another state. At that time, we all knew each other but we were not all close or necessarily in the same friend group. The friend that was moving was our main connector. We were her people. So she created a group text for herself to stay connected to her people.

How About You?

Do you feel unconnected? Do you feel lonely? Do you feel like all the noise is out to get you?! I so often do.

So I say to myself first and then to you: take responsibility for yourself. Do you hate me now? It’s HARD to stop blaming and start owning. It’s 2020 now. The future is here. And we are faced with the reality that technology/social media is an integral part of even our friendships. We are all learning how to integrate this into our lives.

We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking. – Richard Rohr

I will tell you right now that the people who I have seen make complete turn arounds from toxic patterns and behavior to healthy patterns and behavior have been people who started with that simple hard thing: taking responsibility for themselves.

AA step one: “Admit you have a problem.” That is taking ownership. If you go to therapy, any good therapist will help you to start taking the
reigns of yourself. Even scripture says self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.

Of all the awkward people in your house or job there is only one whom you can improve very much. – CS Lewis

Do not mis-hear me: If you have been hurt or abused by the hands of another, that IS NOT your fault. I’ve heard it said that trauma is not your fault, but healing is your responsibility.

To Summarize

Can our phones be a source of unhealth in our lives? Absolutely. We can become addicted to it in very toxic ways. It is all in how we use it. And
how we use it is solely up to us.

So… I exhort you… go find those safe people. BE that safe person. Start a group text. And let us allow truth to redeem us and this technology
that so easily entangles us.

(Disclaimer: This story focuses on three close friends of mine. But the people in my life who I would categorize as healing friends goes way beyond just these three. I see all of you. And you know who you are, and I love you.)


Megan Baxter is a regular contributor on The Oddfellow. In addition to her writing ventures, she also is part of the women’s ministry team at Fellowship Bible Church in Batesville, Ark. She has a degree in Family Psychology from Williams Baptist University, and lives in Batesville with her husband, Christian, and their children.


Is the Ozark Folk Center in danger of closing?

For supporters of the Ozark Folk Center, now is the time to rally. Changes are coming.

In July, the Mountain View City Council voted to abolish the Ozark Folk Cultural Center Commission, surprising both the commissioners and the Arkansas State Parks Department.

The city council said the commission was not in compliance with one of its bylaws, which states two of the commissioners must live in the county.

Brooks Blevins, PhD, has researched and extensively documented the history of the folk center. He was on the commission.

“The abolition of the commission was completely out of the blue, from my perspective. And no one on the commission, as far as I know, has ever received a full explanation,” said Blevins. “I don’t know how the center has been affected by the change. Now that the commission has been abolished, I have no connection with the Center and have received no communication from anyone at the Center or at State Parks.”

Before it was abolished, the commission acted as a legal representative between the city and State Parks, approving the yearly budget and overseeing improvement projects at the park for 55 years.

The move was not the first of problems at the Folk Center though.

The park is not a money maker and administrators admit marketing attempts have failed to fill seats at concerts.

The mayor of Mountain View, Roger Gardner, wants to see the land used for a theme park.

According to an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Folk Center loses $2 million per year.

Explanations from responsible parties include:

The average concert hosted there costs more than it brings in, with attendees only taking up slightly more than 10 percent of the seats.

The county is dry and city council won’t approve an alcohol permit which would help draw attendees.

History on the center

The 600-acre cultural center opened in 1973 in Mountain View.

According to “A Brief History of The Ozark Folk Center”, published by the Regional Studies Center at Lyon College, the idea originated from John Opitz, who approached Mountain View leaders with a plan.

Mountain View needed a water and sewer system, and Opitz thought the town needed a music venue. He recommended the city apply for federal funds to build the auditorium, which would include funding for a water and sewer system for the venue. The town could then connect to the federally funded system.

After many years of efforts by Bessie Moore, Jimmy Driftwood, and others, the city was able to obtain a $3 million federal grant to build the center.

The park has continued to receive government money to offset expenses ($15.2 million from the state since 1996, which is equivalent to about 5 years of its total yearly budget of $3.2 million).

Sources:

http://web.lyon.edu/groups/mslibrary/rcol/folkcenter.htm

http://web.lyon.edu/groups/mslibrary/rcol/oralhistory.htm

Additional (Requires a subscription):

https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2019/jul/31/folk-center-hometown-cuts-liaison-with-/

https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/jan/18/agency-shortfall-at-park-is-2m-20200118/

County says lawsuit against Batesville is easiest way to solve ongoing issues

The issue of who should fund district court is one that the City of Batesville and Independence County have been at odds over for years, with the county currently carrying the whole cost.

Judge Robert Griffin and the Independence County Quorum Court declared that the county’s lawsuit against the City of Batesville–filed on Friday, Jan. 10–is the “easiest way” to solve the disagreement over district court and jail fees.

County Attorney Daniel Haney explained there is “no money” involved in the suit. Rather, it is a declaratory judgment asking the court’s clarification on the state statute regarding the financial burden of local district courts which serve both the city and the county.

The suit’s outcome will allow the county to proceed in determining Batesville’s specific financial obligation to the district court and the jail.

The issue of who should fund district court is one that the City of Batesville and Independence County have been at odds over for years, with the county currently carrying the whole cost.

“District court and the jail have come up in the same conversation over and over again, and in order to figure out one, we have to figure out the other,” said Haney.

He said there is not a court opinion on a district court “solely run” by the county, so the County needs interpretation. 

“Our position is that the district court is not [run solely by the county],” he added.

Griffin provided this statement regarding the suit earlier in the week:

“The suit asking for declaratory judgement in the Circuit Court, is an action to settle what the law says our District Court is, County only or a State Pilot District Court….How could 23 people [Batesville City Council and Quorum Court] decide what the law says when our two attorneys couldn’t come to an agreement?

“This same pathway to settle long standing issues will allow our two governing bodies to move forward in our new partnership with the City of Southside…we will have no reason to speak badly of one another…”

Upon Griffin’s request, the Court approved a motion authorizing county attorney Haney to file suit against the City of Batesville for additional matters that are currently in question as well — shooting sports and recycling.

Griffin explained that the County’s and City’s prior agreements regarding the city’s financial support of shooting sports and recycling were “not being followed.”

Justice of the Peace Jonathan Abbott said the motion was “jumping the gun” and that Batesville was upholding parts of these agreements. He voted against the motion.

Haney stated he would not file suits frivolously and would require approval of the Court.

Additional items at the January quorum court meeting:

1. The Court approved the district court’s and juvenile court’s plans for a 5 percent raise in 2020. The district court will increase ticket amounts, and the juvenile court will cut part-time hours and travel.

2. The Court motioned for County Sheriff Shawn Stephens to move forward with his application for a cop’s grant that would help the Sheriff’s Office replace two officer positions, contingent upon County Treasurer Bob Treadway finding funds to support the rest of the salaries not covered by the grant.

3. Treadway reported that all County funds finished the year in the black except for the Emergency 9-1-1 Fund. However, 9-1-1 surcharge fees of approximately $60,000 brought the fund into the black in January.

4. The Court reappointed David Thompson to the Independence County Library Board. It also appointed Kevin Rose and Brad Cheatham to the shooting range board.

5. The Court nominated and approved Abbott to serve as the Court’s delegate for the Quorum Court Association Meeting in April.

Organizer turns talents into a new local business

In less than two months, Beka McCormick has seen her professional organizing and home cleaning business, McCormick Maid, take off.

As Beka sits in the cookware-strewn floor and goes through the deepest reaches of the bottom kitchen cabinets for a client, she asks thoughtful questions:

“How often do you use this?”

“You have another one of these — do you need them both?’

“Are you attached to this?”

The answers to those questions determine where the object in question will go — within easy reach, out of sight on a higher shelf, or in one of the two big trash bags beside her: one for “give away” and the other for “throw way”.

As she makes her way through the kitchen, she is attentive the client’s lifestyle and everyday needs.

It’s all part of her process so that when the culling part is over, she knows exactly how to put the whole thing back together in the most efficient and functional way.

In fewer than two months, Beka McCormick has seen her professional organizing and home cleaning business, McCormick Maid, take off.

She’s always love organization, even as a teenager, she recalls.

“I’ve been doing this for myself and family about 5ish years but I just started doing it for people outside of family last month,” she explains. “I’ve had so many people asked me to come the more before and after pictures that I show.”

The pictures are admittedly gratifying. She posts photos of piled-high closets turned into perfect rows of clothes and bare floors.

“I would say people’s biggest problem areas are closets and cabinets, because that’s just a catch-all. It’s easy when you’re cleaning to just throw stuff in and not look at it.”

Beka, the mother of a 6-year old, a toddler, and a baby, is no stranger to just how quickly a house can become out of control. But she offers her main tips to keep things in check:

  • Pick up as you go
  • Clean things as you notice them. “If you open and a cabinet and you realize there are crumbs or dust, clean it right then instead of thinking you’ll come back later.” (“You won’t,” she advises.)
  • If you haven’t used it in the past year, get rid of it.
  • Eliminate duplicates. “Some things, I get it: you might need two large pots if you’re cooking a lot of food at once. But most things are unnecessary. You don’t need two sets of measuring cups. You don’t need two mixers.”
  • Keep things off the floor, and off the counters. “It makes the house look so much cleaner just to have those bare.”


“Most people just want me to do a de-clutter of their whole house, and we just work room by room,” she says of her process, adding that she also offers house cleaning. “But I enjoy the de-cluttering and organizing part way more than the cleaning part. So I’m trying to promote that more. This is definitely my zone.”

She says either way, it’s satisfying work to look back on the difference.

“It makes people happy and it helps people,” she said.

McCormick Maid is on both Facebook and Instagram and offers online bookings.



THE BSD MILLAGE, PART 1: An auditorium and a gym

This article is the first in a series about the upcoming School Millage vote.

Batesville School District wants to upgrade its facilities, and fund it via a personal property tax rate increase. It has offered three proposals for citizens to consider.

The Auditorium

All of the three improvement options center around two large additions: an auditorium and a gym.

Russellville School District’s auditorium, which seats 1,875, was used for an event 26 weekends last year, according to their Executive Director, Chrissy Clayton. She said their building hosted 170 events throughout the year, 6 of which filled it to capacity. Thirty of those events were rentals (non-district). The 130,000 square foot Center was completed in 2012, after the people of Russellville said yes to a 6.9 millage.

Hannah Cummings, Theatre Director for Batesville High School, and Josh Poff, Band Director for BHS, visit with Daniel Stahl, the technical director for Russellville’s The Center For the Arts on Sep 14, 2019 during a fact finding trip for the upcoming millage.

Batesville School District no longer has an auditorium.

Its previous auditorium was built in 1951 and was in use by students until last school year, for a total of 68 years.

The cost to renovate the old auditorium up to code would cost 97 percent of what a new building would cost, according to the district’s Buildings and Grounds Steering Committee member Courtney Beal.

To build one that meets the minimum requirements for a 5A school, the district says, would cost $17 million. They want to build a new one.

The Gym

The district also wants to build a new gymnasium, since the current school gym has been used for 50 years. When it was built, the school was classified as 3A, and the population was 33 percent less than now. Also, the only team using it in 1969 was the men’s basketball team.

The school’s architect says a new gym would cost $15 million. Same story with the renovations. It would cost more to renovate than build new.

To build these two facilities, and update existing facilities, the district is asking local property owners to contribute $45 to $85 million.

The Cost

PLAN A, the lowest option, a $45 million bond:

An increase of $13.50 per month per $100,000 of a person’s property value (to include homes, real estate, business, vehicles)

That tax amount increases for Option B and Option C.

Fear

Asking locals to pay a higher tax is not an easy ask. Tight budgets could get tighter. Those on a fixed income would have less. (Click here to read what the local tax collector had to say.)

One of the FAQs, according to the school district’s information, is whether the millage will affect Senior Citizens at the same rate. The answer is yes.

Some of these concerns were expressed by citizens who attended the town hall meeting at the community center on Tuesday, Nov 12.

To hear more concerns being expressed, watch the district’s first meeting, which was broadcast live on White River Now’s social media page, and as of Nov 17, had 4,600 views.

Why should I invest in these two buildings? Will they help the economy grow?

Years ago, voters said yes to a millage for the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) to build a 1,500-seat auditorium, hoping it would provide economic growth. The college completed Independence Hall in 2001 and made the final payment in 2018.

According to the Strategic Community Plan Report released by Impact Independence County in 2015: “Despite being a nearly $50 million a year industry, Independence County’s tourism sector has been on a steady decline, both in terms of visitor interest and revenue, for more than a decade.”

Which means that unfortunately, building the largest auditorium in town did not increase tourism revenue during that decade.

Still, the facility is widely used. Examples of recent events there include: former NASA Engineer, Dr. Christine Darden, presented to more than 1,000 local middle school and junior high students on Apr 11, 2019, and Lee Greenwood held a concert there on Sep 7, 2019.

Currently, Batesville School District is not in the running for hosting events. They lose out to places like Russellville, chosen to host the State Thespian Festival in Feb 2019, which lasted three days and included 1,222 high school students from around the state and 98 guest artists, including a producer from New York City. This is their third time to host, and they say they were chosen because of their facility and people.

Will local growth eventually alleviate some of this new tax burden?

Tourism

Tourism is the second largest industry in the state and has shown growth for nine consecutive years. Batesville wanted to experience that growth, so voters said yes to hiring a full-time position devoted entirely to growing the local tourism. Kyle Christopher was hired in 2016, and since then, the tourism industry in Batesville has been increasing. Last year, visitors paid close to $1 million in taxes to our community, and travel expenditures in the county were up 4.2 percent.

If the tourism industry in Batesville continues to grow, Batesville will grow, and the millage debt can be paid off sooner. (More tax payers means more money for the school and higher property values for land owners.)

Industry

In 2002 (the year after Independence Hall was completed), Bad Boy Mowers of Batesville sold their first mower. They now employ more than 700 people. They manufacture and store their zero-turn mowers in more than one million square feet of facilities, according to their website. They currently host their annual meeting in Little Rock. Batesville does not have the facilities to host a large event like this one.

Banking

Banking deposits in Independence County increased 18 percent in 2018 compared to 2014, according to data reported in the 2018 Economic Report for Batesville and Independence County (Report is available on First Community Bank’s website.)

Healthcare

In 2017, White River Medical Center welcomed its first class of resident doctors, and now has 29 Internal Medicine residents. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) clinic in Batesville welcomed its first class of residents this summer, and at full capacity will have 18 family medicine residents. Many residents do not come alone. They bring family members with them. Which increases the population and economy.

According to the American Medical Association, a physician who practices in Arkansas provides an average yearly economic benefit of $1.8 million to the community where they practice. (Jobs are created to support them. The average number is 11 per physician.)

Unity Health, located in Searcy, has graduated 27 residents since they started in 2015, and has retained 5, or 18.5 percent, to work within their hospital system, according to their Graduate Medical Education Manager, Leslie Provence.

If Batesville follows that same pattern, the area would retain 4 physicians and their families every year. Which means, unless those physicians are directly replacing a retiring physician, the local economy could experience economic growth of $7.2 million per year.

To read the author’s disclaimer and see a list of sources, click here.

To read part 2 in the series, click here.

Tomahawk Chop opens on Main Street

Tomahawk Chop Company is the newest business downtown, adding another entertainment activity to the growing district — and a somewhat unusual one at that.

“It’s an ax throwing entertainment center,” owner Mike Moss described of the new business, located next to door to the Main Attire boutique and The Royal on Main, downtown’s new luxury hotel.

He said Batesville is overdue for more activity-based businesses.

“You can go to the movies and you can go bowling or you can go to a bar… but there’s not much for people to do so we decided to do this,” Moss said, adding that his son Drew is involved in the undertaking as well, handling marketing and IT. Both have enjoyed ax throwing as a personal hobby.

“It’s gaining a lot of interest. It started in Canada, and has come down through the Northeast and is making its way across the United States,” Moss said. “It will garner enough interest to be popular for quite a while I think, because it’s easy to do and you don’t have to be great at it to have fun.” 

Moss said the fact that everyone can do it is one of the reasons he chose the building downtown: it has a wheelchair ramp and he wanted that accessibility.

“We looked around town at different locations… There were a couple on Harrison Street, and we thought about high traffic areas. But parking lots can be kind of hard to get in and out of, and this is kind of an eclectic activity, so downtown kind of made sense… People that come down here come for a purpose, and it’s growing here — you’ve got The Melba, several stores, 109 that’s about to be opened back up, The Pinto, Big’s… It fits with the vibe.”

The space is currently being built out with lanes, each one 10 feet wide and built according to regulation for the leagues associated with the sport:  World Axe Throwing League, International Axe Throwing Federation, and National Axe Throwing Federation. The center will offer about 5 lanes, plus a seating area and a snack bar. Patrons will pay for an hour of play, with the second hour discounted. Admission to the center will be limited to ages 14 and up, with all participants required to sign a waiver.

“You’ll go through a 10-minute safety orientation with one of our staff. They’ll show you how to do it, how not to do it, and make sure you have all the proper attire like closed-toed shoes and no loose jewelry,” Moss explained. “The axes weight between 1.8 and 2.4 pounds each, so it’s a little bit of a workout. You’ll use both hands most of the time, but we’ll have some little axes you can throw with one hand.”

Tomahawk Chop Company is detailing their progress on their Facebook page which has already garnered over 1,000 followers prior to even opening. 

Moss says he gets frequent calls from people anticipating their first visit.

Independence County needs foster homes ASAP

An average day in Independence County sees 58 to 70 children in the foster care program, while the average number of available foster homes here is only 13.

There is good news in the foster care world: Statewide, the foster care system has improved, according to a recent address by Governor Asa Hutchinson. 

Unfortunately though, in Independence County the situation is still urgent. 

An average day in Independence County sees 58 to 70 children in the foster care program, while the average number of available foster homes here is only 13.

“When I took office in 2015, our child-welfare and foster-care system was in urgent need of improvement,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson wrote in an October report. At that time a review of the child-welfare and foster-care system was ordered, with dire findings. “It was a heart-rending judgment on our shortcomings,” the governor recalled of that initial starting point.

“I was especially alarmed to learn that caseworkers sometimes had to choose between taking children to their own homes, leaving the children at a division office, or pleading with foster parents to make room for one more child,” Hutchinson said.

After three years of work, the foster care emergency has drastically improved, according to the governor who noted one example of a caseworker whose average case load decreased from 85 to 15 under the leadership of Mischa Martin at the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS). He called the progress a restoration of hope, extending a special thanks to the private sector faith-based organizations that have played a huge role by partnering with DCFS to recruit more foster and adoptive families.

The CALL is one such faith-based organization, and perhaps the most impactful.

It has created a streamlined system of recruiting and approving foster/adoptive families so the process is both quicker and easier. By signing up through The CALL, families are able to condense the lengthy training modules from 6+ months, down to two intensive weekends.

The CALL opened 214 new foster homes in Arkansas in 2018 and 82 new adoptive homes, according to its annual report. Families recruited by The CALL adopted 184 children out of foster care statewide last year.

And it is the Independence County chapter of The CALL that hopes it can change the situation in Independence County.

“The CALL started in Independence County in 2014, and for a couple of years it was going really strong,” explained Rodney Stroud, new director of the local chapter, attributing the initial progress to then-director Summer Sudol. “There were about 17 to 20 families at one time.”

After the loss of the director though, Stroud says the chapter basically went dormant. A renewed effort last October succeeded in bringing on a new 7-person leadership team, including Stroud. During the year that followed, the tide has shifted.

“There were 3 CALL families when we started and now we have 7 foster families, 6 (more) in the process of becoming approved homes, and 2 more with paperwork out,” Stroud said. “We think we need about 35 families (average of 2 per home), so we’re almost halfway there.”

Stroud said that although a good handful of people stepped up to lead, a few key leadership and volunteer positions still need to be filled. Aside from that, the main needs are “fundraising and families”.

There are currently about 70 kids in foster care from Independence County, and many of them have nowhere to go.

The extreme shortage of foster homes means Independence County children are often sent to other counties for temporary placement, leaving behind their schools, friends, teachers, in addition to their parents with whom they are allowed visits. The periodic court dates involved in the foster process are also held in the case’s originating county.

When the children are placed in homes outside the county, the distance and frequent trips can create a hardship on everyone involved.

As the director of The CALL, Stroud hears many reasons not to foster. The most common: The fear of a painful goodbye when children leave their care.

“It absolutely does hurt,” Stroud said, “but when you think about it, that’s selfish. That’s making our comfort more important than these children’s needs.”

For more information on donating, volunteering, or signing up as a foster/adoptive family through The CALL, text or call 870-612-4904 or visit https://thecallinarkansas.org/independence/.

The state’s Division of Children and Family Services, which oversees all foster care, recently released this infographic to help put the agency’s shortages in perspective.