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Newest CASA volunteers sworn in at Panola County ceremony

Volunteers with CASA of Harrison, Marion and Panola Counties were sworn in by Judge Terry Bailey on Wednesday at the Panola County courthouse.

CASA stands for court appointed special advocates, CASA volunteer coordinator supervisor Linea Weaver said, and they are volunteers “that are placed in the lives of children when they are removed by the department.” Each of the volunteers have 30 hours of in-service training before they’re sworn in by the judge.

“We look at each volunteer and each child in each family, and we pick the perfect match for the volunteer to match the kids in the family,” she said. “The volunteer follows the kids’ lives throughout the case. We are usually the one and only steady contact that the kids have throughout the year plus time that they’re actually in the care of the department.”

Five women were sworn in on Wednesday — Jamie Bickham, Isha Brown, Keri Vance, Shaman Pepper and Frederica Castleberry.

Pepper said she’d always been interested in becoming a court appointed special advocate and she enjoys the fact that she’ll be able to make the community a better place to live in.

“I hope to maybe plant that mustard seed in somebody’s life, that 10 years down the road they think back on and go ‘Hmm, that was actually a really good experience.’ And it’s something I can continue and pay forward,” Pepper said.

Bickham said she wants to help make a difference.

“I love kids, and I see that they are our future,” she said. “Just to give each kid a fair chance. (I want to) be that person that can listen to what the child is trying to say and relay that message.”

Vance also mentioned making a difference.

“I wanted to work with CASA to make a difference in my community and to encourage others to make a difference for our local kids,” she said. “I did not know that we had so many that were going through the court system that didn’t have some support, and this will make a difference for them in their lives.”

Those interested in joining CASA can contact their office by phone at (903) 923-9224

Carthage gardening program teaches kids how to grow their own food

Last Monday, Master Gardener Doug Buchan was busy teaching a group of kids about composting and soil.

“The plant will not grow if the soil’s not good because the microorganisms are what feed the roots, and so if the soil’s not good, no microorganism, no food for the plant, the plant dies,” he said. “That’s why we work hard at making sure the soils are good.”

Buchan has been a master gardener for 20 years and said he loves working with youth.

“If we don’t teach them young, then they’re not going to want to do it when they’re old,” he said. “We’ve got a generation now that doesn’t do it. We’re trying to teach the children so they’ll teach their parents... This is a great group of kids. If you’re seeing stuff on the news about problems and stuff, you need to come here and see this. These guys are amazing. They’re great young people. They listen attentively; they ask questions and participate in my little experiments. They’re great kids.”

Life Code Mentoring Group’s gardening program, “Growing and Nourishing Healthy Communities” is underway, teaching the basics every Monday evening at the A.L. Turner Community Center in Carthage. There are four more Mondays in the program.

Life Code mentor Felita Ewans said the community garden shows kids how to create something of their own.

“Some of these children will be able to go back and teach at their own homes to their parents,” she said. “So these are things that they will be able to take forward, and it teaches them that you’re taking care of something. I mean it’s so many life lessons, and that’s basically what Life Code is about, is teach the kids life lessons. Teaching them how to treat other people. Teaching them business skills, entrepreneurial skills.

“It’s just a mirage of things that they’re learning here, and I think that this group — our group kind of fluctuates in numbers, but we have some that are consistent, and I think that those are the one who will be our future leaders,” she said.

Kayla Hills, 11, said she’s glad she’s gotten the chance to come to the program.

“It’s been an experience to make a lot of friends, and we learn new things about gardening, and we get new recipes to try,” she said. “... I like that you get food out of it, and I also like just being able to play in the dirt without getting in trouble.”

She mentioned some specific things she’s learned in just the first two weeks of the program.

“I’ve learned, like when you do plant stuff make sure to give it space for it grow,” she said. “Don’t overfeed it with water. It has to have a specific amount of sun. And also I actually learned how to use a power drill.”

Kadadriane Bell, 15, said he likes how Life Code teaches you about life so when you get older, you’ll already know the stuff.

“It’s helping me because in the future if I want to plant a garden I’ll know how,” he said. “I like planting, and at the end hopefully you can eat the food.”

The program is at 6 p.m. on Mondays at the A.L. Turner Community Center, 1023 MLK Blvd. in Carthage. People of all ages are invited to attend.

Sponsoring the program are Shreveport Volunteer Network, Life Code Mentoring, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Ace Hardware, Cain Lumber and Fairplay Nursery.

Tickets on sale for Panola County Chamber of Commerce banquet

Tickets are on sale for the Panola County Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet.

The 2021 banquet will finally take place May 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame after getting pushed back twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The banquet includes an awards ceremony, which will honor the Citizen of the Year, the Employee of the Year, the Main Street Rising Star and the work of chamber staff and volunteers in promoting and being of service to Panola County.

This year’s banquet has a fiesta theme, and a Tex-Mex buffet will be served. A silent auction is also planned. Tickets are $20 and available at the Panola County Chamber of Commerce, 300 W. Panola St. in Carthage. For more information, call (903) 693-6634.

Carthage man charged with timber fraud
  • Updated

A Carthage man has been charged after Texas A&M Forest Service law enforcement investigators said he harvested timber without paying the landowner.

Jacob Twomey was arrested Monday and charged with timber purchase as trustee with intent to defraud an amount greater than $500, but less than $20,000 — a state jail felony.

The Forest Service said a landowner agreed to allow Twomey to harvest timber for a fixed rate on July 31, 2020. Twomey paid for half the harvesting period and then stopped making payments even though he continued to harvest the timber, the Forest Service said.

“The plaintiff was partially paid for his timber,” said Mike Kuhnert, an investigator for the Texas A&M Forest Service Law Enforcement Department. “But after payments stopped, he continued to cut. By the end of the harvest, the money had still not been received.”

Kuhnert said Twomey was given multiple chances to compensate the landowner in full, but a case was filed to a grand jury when no resolution was reached. Under Texas law, money collected from timber is trust money, and if a trustee fails to pay all beneficiaries within 45 days of the timber being sold, it constitutes fraud.

“Timber Theft is a growing crime in Panola County, and my office will prosecute these crimes as they occur,” Districty Danny Buck Davidson said. “I appreciate the Texas A&M Forest Service Law Enforcement Department in assisting our landowners with protecting their timber assets.”

To report suspected timber theft activities, call the timber theft hotline at 1-800-364-3470.

Panola College Theatre will present its spring production, “Elephant’s Graveyard,” in a virtual format on Friday, May 7 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, May 8 at 2 p.m.