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.

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.

County’s transparency ranking drops from 17th to 71st

The rankings and scores are determined by “how much financial, political and administrative information their websites contain.”

Independence County went from a transparency ranking of 17th in the state in 2018 to 71st in the state in 2019, decreasing from a score of 0.231 down to 0.029 for transparency of important public information online, according to a report published by the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics at the University of Central Arkansas.

The rankings and scores are determined by “how much financial, political and administrative information their websites contain.”

Currently, the county’s website gives an error when accessed.

“We are having our website rebuilt,” said County Judge Robert Griffin. “It had too little function and was obsolete. When finished, we will have better access to different offices and be able to publish documents. “

Per the report, Jefferson County improved the most due to a new stand-alone county-owned website.

What is the minimum required by law?

An Arkansas state law passed in March of 2019 requires all Arkansas counties to post their annual budget on a website owned or maintained by the county, the state, or the Association of Arkansas Counties beginning on Jan 1, 2020.

Independence County posted a scanned document of their 2019 budget on a website provided by the Association of Arkansas Counties.

Dinner with Georgeanne: ‘Hodge Podge Soup’

The dilemma:
To make broccoli cheddar soup and add potatoes? OR, to create potato soup and add broccoli?

A few weeks ago, I opened my front door, and immediately noticed a crispness in the air.

Finally… the much anticipated fall season was in the works.

As I’m day dreaming about all things pumpkin and thinking there’s no way my morning could get any better, it did.

My phone rang. On the other end was a dear friend needing my help to help create a soup. Her husband was craving both broccoli cheddar and potato soup.

The dilemma:

To make broccoli cheddar soup and add potatoes?

OR

To create potato soup and add broccoli?

We decided the way to go was to make potato soup and add broccoli (mainly because bacon is more acceptable with potato soup). This has quickly become a staple for both of us, and it’s soup-er easy 😉

Modifications: My husband requested more protein, so white beans were a late (and great!) addition.

HodgePodge Soup

To cook, put everything into the crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours or on high  for 3. Stir midway through cooking if possible.

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Optional prep – My family likes the matchstick carrots and the broccoli florets chopped smaller, but if you’re in a time crunch or not serving picky eaters, it isn’t necessary. 

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Top with cheese, chives, bacon, sour cream, or any other of your favorite soup toppings! We usually serve alongside salad and bread. 

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 Cost = $13.75 excluding toppings, garlic 

and pepper, according to Wal-Mart 

grocery app. 

Trying to stay open, Humane Society makes changes, including board and director

Megan Trail, former supervisor of the Humane Society of Independence County, was recently named as the new director, and despite the organization’s financial hardships, she said she is happy to be asked.

“That place has my heart,” she said of the organization. “I love running a shelter. I hope to be there forever and ever.”

Trail’s passion is a reminder of her mentor and Humane Society founder Bev Finch, whose care for the animals and service to the humane society has been highly appreciated, and recognized by several media outlets throughout the years. Click here to read more about Finch.

Finch said Trail has worked at the shelter in all capacities, and therefore knows what to expect from the employees. She describes Megan as a “very passionate animal lover with a good head on her shoulders.”

“[Megan is] competent, hard-working, able to see the big picture, and wants what’s best for the shelter.”

OBSTACLES AHEAD

The average amount the humane society currently spends on an animal prior to its adoption is $265. They charged $50 per adoption in 2011, $75 per adoption in 2015, and now charge $100 for dogs and $90 for cats. In order to get closer to a break-even point, leaders say they have had to identify ways to cut expenses per animal.

“We met with the vets last week, and the first thing we changed are medical procedures,“ said Trail. “We don’t want to over-vet the animals. We have to decide what vet services are necessary and what can be put to the side.”

Additional reductions involve cutting the number of staffed positions from seven employees down to five, and two of the five are part-time.

FINANCIALS

Based upon comparable humane society organizations, Batesville’s has bled money at triple the rate as its closet bleeder, which is the Harrison humane society. The data is based on a six-year period of financials available upon Propublica (2012-2017).

This has led to a yearly decline of net assets.

See chart below for a visual of their change in cash and savings from one year to the next. Red means a decline, black means an incline.

Large, timely, one-time donations, as well as passionate volunteers like Trail and Finch, have kept the doors open until now. The shelter is hopeful for volunteers and donors to keep the doors open in the future. There are 11,000 more animals out there who may have to go without help in the absence of a place like the local humane society.

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.