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Staff Editorials

For Easter: crowds may be smaller at churches but faith stronger

After a year of a national health pandemic, people are heading back to church here in Pickens County and last week a Pew Research Center study also revealed that life in our religious congregations across the U.S. is slowly edging back to normal. But the COVID-19 pandemic is still a major presence in our houses of worship as many used-to-be church-goers plan to stay home this Easter for a second year. 

Overall, 62 percent of U.S. Christians say they normally attend religious services on Easter Sunday. Even one-in-10 people who identify as religiously unaffiliated say they usually go to church on Easter. But this year, just four-in-10 Christians (39%), along with 5% of adults who do not identify as Christian say they plan to attend Easter services in person.

Cases are falling and vaccinations are rising for the virus that has so far killed a confirmed 58 Pickens countians and is the “probable” cause of another 16 local deaths, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. With Easter approaching this weekend, many Christians see hope in getting back into our churches safely.

According to the Pew survey, Americans are “increasingly confident they can safely go to services at a church.” And the percentage who say they actually have attended religious services - in person - in the past month is slightly higher than it was last summer.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean congregations are completely back to normal. And this Easter promises to be the second year in a row of a highly atypical Christian holiday to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Mask-wearing, social distancing, and viewing worship services online has been the norm for the past year but church-goers seem ready to get back to some semblance of normalcy in all aspects of their lives, especially when it comes to church.

People miss their church families and the weekly sermons and songs - no doubt about that.

Church is about worship. But it is also about community and a family of faith and that is one of the most important things to many of us, and getting back to worshipping as we have for most of our lives is important. Of course personal safety is paramount and this year, three-quarters of U.S. adults who normally attend religious services, according to Pew, now say “they are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ confident they can safely do so without spreading or catching the coronavirus. That’s up 12 percentage points from when this question was last asked in July 2020. 

The survey shows that more people are going back to church. “Roughly four-in-10 people who typically attend religious services at least once or twice a month say they actually have done so, in person, during the past month - up nine points since last summer. This month 42% of people said they attended religious services in person, up from 33% who did last July and a full 76% of people said they felt they could safely attend church without catching or spreading COVID-19, up from 64% last July. 

Interestingly, of all the horrible things associated with the pandemic - death, job loss, economic crisis -  there was a silver lining in the Pew survey. “Roughly one-quarter of U.S. adults queried said their religious faith has grown stronger as a result of the pandemic, while four percent say their religious faith has been weakened.” 

As time passes and this virus becomes a terrible footnote to history, hope for normalcy continues and the desire to return to our church homes becomes more in our reach. So as we start to think about how we will celebrate Easter this year, remember, as Jesus’ would teach us, there is always and forever more hope. 

Happy Easter from the Progress staff. 

How happy is Jasper?

By Dan Pool

Editor

I admit a tendency to follow click-bait e-mails such as one last week about the “happiest cities in America,” from WalletHub.

But it’s hard to put much trust in the findings. Are the people in Fremont, California really the most cheerful in this nation? More eyebrow raising, what’s up with two North Dakota cities (Bismark, Fargo) being second and third? Maybe there is more going on in North Dakota than you would believe. For the record, the first Georgia city on the list was Atlanta, way down at 90.

After perusing the list, I wanted to dig into the methodology and see where Jasper might stack up. Not that Jasper is large enough to make a study of cities but as a yardstick, where might we have ranked?

The indices used are not particularly easy to follow. They boil down to three categories, according to WalletHub’s press release, (1.) emotional well-being, (2.) income & employment and (3.) community environment. They used 31 different indicators, everything from suicide rate (clearly a sign a town is not happy) to the amount of leisure time residents have.

As someone who covers the comings and goings in Jasper, with input from the rest of the newspaper staff, here’s a very subjective view of how Jasper would rank as a happy place.

Emotional & Physical Well Being:

Life Satisfaction – Hard to see how anyone can gauge this but we would point to the numerous civic and church groups here that jump to help with everything from distributing food to the poor to coaching youth in sports. Clearly this is not proof that everyone is satisfied in their daily endeavours, but does show people are able to find some purpose for living here. So high marks.

Sports participation rate – This is where we take one on the chin. Other than golf and a very small group of tennis and pickle-ball players, some horse groups and our mountain bike trails, there’s not much here for adults to do. Plenty of civic clubs, but few activity-based groups. Low score.

Opioid use – From what we report with our police stories, painkillers and meth remain a problem here. Not to the extent of some urban areas, but clearly there’s work to be done on drug addiction.

Income and Employment:

We’re confident the numbers on paper don’t capture conditions on Pickens County ground. This county leads the region in income level (see story from Jan. 14th edition), but still has a high rate of children on free and reduced lunches (46 percent on free and reduced meals currently, but that number is significantly lower than normal as many applications were not completed since schools were not charging for meals this year). Our CARES food pantry serves 250 families a week.

With jobs, there are help wanted signs everywhere, but a common complaint is the young people move away as they can’t find the jobs they want. The disconnect is that while there are plenty of entry level jobs and some companies that offer really great pay and benefits, there are not many choices for a career-path here.

However, is a commute to the north metro area a particularly bad thing? During a panel discussion on employment, pre-COVID at Chattahoochee Tech, local HR directors described how commuting a county or two away was the new normal. So, while our community may be lacking local jobs, there are opportunities relatively close by.

We’d rank our economic factors as solid but not inspiring.

Community and Environment

Our parks here are lacking. By any standard from miles of walking trails to facilities offered, Pickens is last in north Georgia. We also are one of the few counties in the region with no national forest or state parks, no public lake or easily accessible river.

On the other hand, Jasper is a very safe, small town, easy to get around and friendly. We’d strongly caution with the growth wave rolling in that our local governments must safeguard this small town atmosphere or we’ll lose ground on our best feature and quickly.

Final opinion – We’d say the quality of life here is pretty good. How does B+ sound, based on our great small town environment with points deducted for lack of job choices and few public spaces, plus overall inactive adult lifestyle?

Feedback always welcome with letters to the editor, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , 400 words max. 

Even if 60,000 people want kittens, there are never enough homes

Do you know 60,000 people that currently want a kitten? What about 11,167 people who would want a dog?

If your one single cat or dog isn’t spayed or neutered, that’s how many people would be needed to provide homes for your animal’s offspring. 

Remember learning in school that 1 + 1 = 2? Well for dogs and cats one male dog plus one female dog can equal as many as 12 or 15 puppies. Take that number and multiply by two (because an unspayed dog can have two litters of pups each year) and that number increases to  24 or 30. And then in six months’ time, each of those pups can start having their own litters of puppies and the problem of overpopulation goes into overdrive. 

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that one un-spayed female dog and her offspring can produce 11,167 puppies per year. One un-spayed female cat and her offspring can produce 60,000 or more kittens in their lifetime. That is the heart of the challenge for any animal control program.

1.5 million of the 6.5 million of the cats and dogs who enter shelters annually are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats) each year, according to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 

Each day 70,000 puppies and kittens are born in the United States compared to just over 10,000 human babies. 

The best thing you could do for your pet AND our community is spay or neuter your pet. To that end, Be-Paws We Care is sponsoring SNIP - Spay/Neuter Initiative Pickens. SNIP is a low cost spaying and neuter certificate sale. For just $35 for any cat and $45 for any dog, you can get a certificate to have your pet spayed or neutered. Certificates may be purchased on Saturday, March 20th from 9:30 a.m. until noon at the Pickens Room in the Pickens County Administration Building, 1266 E. Church Street. 

And that’s not all. The certificates, redeemable at Georgia Animal Project in Ball Ground, includes a rabies vaccination, post operative pain medicine for your pets and a nail trim. Low income, military and senior citizen pricing will also be available.

But spaying and neutering isn’t just about huge numbers. It’s always about just one - your own personal pet. Spaying your female pet will help her live longer.  Spaying your kitten when she is 3-6 months old will virtually eliminate the risk that she will develop mammary cancer. Neutered dogs don’t develop testicular cancer, which is common in older dogs who haven’t been neutered. They also have a lower risk of pancreatic cancer, and their life expectancy is increased up to 18%.

Neutered pets are better behaved. Neutered dogs and cats are less likely to behave aggressively and less likely to engage in territory-marking behavior such as spraying urine in your house (unfortunately our editor’s neutered cat didn’t get that memo). And spaying or neutering doesn’t affect a dog’s  instinct to protect home and family. A dog’s personality is formed more by genetics and environment than hormones.

Neutered pets are happier at home, don’t go into heat and won’t gain weight from being spayed or neutered. Spaying and neutering benefits your pet medically and behaviorally. It’s truly a lifesaver. 

So for anyone who doesn’t have their pet spayed or neutered yet, come to Be-Paws We Care’s Certificate Sale Saturday, March 20th and take the first step to protecting your pet and our community from contributing to the world’s pet overpopulation problem.

The energy of spring

“The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day He created spring,” said the British moral philosopher Sir Bernard Williams.

We couldn’t agree more. 

The world wakes up in springtime. This Saturday, March 20th, will mark the official beginning of spring. To say that the past year has been long and gray - words usually set aside for the winter but in this case can apply to the entire last year - would be appropriate. Winter, and hopefully the COVID pandemic, is coming to a close. Cherry trees and jonquils are blooming and thoughts turn to clearing out the gutters, starting a garden and perhaps even weeding our closets.

Spring and hope are intertwined in our minds. 

Spring ushers in a season of temperate weather, extra hours of daylight and flowers in bloom. Sunlight streaming in through the windows will surely brighten our moods, and we can enjoy some fresh air by opening up our windows (considerate of the pollen, of course). 

Spring cleaning, a rite of passage this time of year, can absolutely transform our living spaces. We don’t all have to be decluttering guru Marie Kondo to know that a little spring time decluttering can give us a fresh start.

Spring may officially hit this Saturday but with a few days already in the 70s many of us already have spring fever. It’s the time of year when everything in nature is changing and promising new life and new hope. And man do we need it this year after sheltering away for a year amid the pandemic.

People seemed unusually happy at the Shamrock Stroll last Saturday. Back out among fellow community members does a body good.

So this year - perhaps more than others - take advantage of the outdoors. Get outside and do something. Anything. 

After the long, dark, winter months, spring is literally a breath of fresh air. The days are getting longer, the nights shorter, it’s feeling warmer and nature responds to these changes in a big way. So get outside and get rewarded with displays of jonquils, lenten roses, and cherry trees that are blooming and birds that are singing. Carolina chickadees, robins, cardinals, Carolina wren, white-breasted nuthatches are all out in force right now in our north Georgia home, staking out their territories. If we step outside we can hear them singing and see them soaring around. Another beautiful part of nature that is sure to brighten our spirits.  

As warmer temperatures start to take hold, get outside and you’re likely to see some hibernating animals coming out of their winter sleep. The first bumblebees and butterflies are also buzzing and flying around. Seeing these guys searching for flowering plants is one of the feel-good sights that give us a little taste of the summer to come. Warm days entice queen bumblebees from their underground hibernation to search for flowers to get energy and find suitable places to nest. 

And with Easter upon us on April 4th, it’s a festive time of year.

So right now we would like to encourage everyone to get up and get outside. Just get moving. Take a walk in the woods or around the block. Go searching for spring in your own backyards or at a local park and be thankful we live in such a wonderful place. With each passing day, each nourishing rain shower that this time of year brings, each ripening spring fruit or vegetable or blooming flower, allow the positivity of spring to wash over us, elevating our outlook, our moods and our activity level.

As Robin Williams once said: “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s Party!’”

What if no one wants to serve on boards?

For the past month our school board (especially three members of it) have been drug over the coals for the mishandling of the superintendent’s termination. If they are recalled, that’s fair; it’s politics. People get angry over bad choices by elected boards.

But at some point and in some cases, the endless cascade of personal insults against them goes too far. A history of our school board over the past decade shows this virtual tar-and-feathering is nothing new. Well-meaning people get elected, then everybody gets mad at them and they either get voted out or choose to not seek re-election. Back in the 1990s the school board released a statement about hiring a superintendent saying this may be the most important task they do and they expect public criticism over it, no matter what they do. Not much has changed.

We are by no means suggesting that people shouldn’t voice their opinions. Political discourse is what makes a democracy work. We say let your opinions be heard. Voice your discontent. But it doesn’t have to be personal – in other words let’s keep the worst vitriol aimed at the issue, not the person.

Or to borrow from an old Christian adage, maybe we need to hate the decision, not the decider.

During a recent school board meeting’s executive session, one of the public conversations while the board was away was how people must be crazy to want to serve on the school board. One person said they had thought about it, but was talked out of it, partly over the time it takes and partly because board members wind up bogged down in political fights. One person said they had shied away from running as they didn’t want to damage their professional life here.

What if this trend of good people avoiding public service keeps going and growing. We’ve already seen sheriff deputies have to provide extra security at a school board meeting this year - not exactly inviting to future candidates

What if it gets worse and we do finally reach a point when everyone says no thank you to serving on the mostly volunteer board posts for school board or other bodies? Heck, we’ve seen people go borderline ballistic because a non-profit, free event doesn’t meet their expectations, lashing out at people standing out in the cold, trying to provide something for the community.

We saw someone post on Facebook about taking the “jobs” of the school board members. According to school records, the average board member pay in FY20 was $3,900 and the average in FY19 was $2,860.  The only benefit expense is FICA/Medicare and workers compensation, which are required. They are paid for their meetings, but are expected to field phone calls and Facebook messages any time, and to come to the meetings well-versed and attend school programs throughout the year. It’s clearly not the path to riches. 

Low pay, high stress, plenty of in-fighting and at the end of four-years a sizeable number of parents and community members dislike you more than when you took office, all for about $3,400 a year.

We’d ask the community to remain active, vigilant and vocal, but maybe some times, offer a word of encouragement to the community servants who sit on boards or run for local office. 

A simple, “I disagree wholeheartedly, but appreciate the fact you’ll show up every month and will keep showing up when this hullabaloo dies down and we are back to long and boring meetings.”

These board members are not the career politicians of Washington. Even if you want to disagree or recall them, let’s do it with respect.