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June 2020
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Staff Editorials

Inspired by philosophy of the Thrift Store founder

By Dan Pool

Editor

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A little over 20 years ago, I met with a group that would form the Community Thrift Store and I gave my honest assessment – it’ll never work, at least not for long.

I wasn’t merely speculating. The town had just gone through cleaning up and cleaning out a combination of thrift store and homeless shelter in the old Roper Hospital. It was a mess, junk all over the street around it.

A plan where people handle others’ unwanted household goods and clothing for no pay in an efficient, long-term arrangement seemed unlikely.

Two decades later and $6 million in donations to other groups, proves me wrong in a dramatic fashion. What I underestimated was Don Russell’s gumption. That man, The Don of Non Profits, wasn’t about to let his Thrift Store not succeed. And he was ably joined by the tireless Stan Barnett, who  sadly passed away this week.

Russell, a former military serviceman and then a civilian who handled military programs until his retirement, is a firm believer and teacher in self-betterment classes.

So when asked why he thought his Thrift Store would succeed, he doesn’t miss a beat, “If you believe in yourself, get excited about your work and pray, God will do it.”

He makes it sound simple, starting a business with 100 volunteers and one cash register that goes on to generate $9 million in revenue over two decades. Not only does the Thrift Store cover its costs, the local Habitat for Humanity, Boys and Girls Club, Good Samaritan, Cares, Joy House and transitional housing facility can all trace some of their seed money or expansion money back to the Thrift Store and their sales of used couches, clothes and books.

Russell was asked to start the Thrift Store by the former head of Family Connections  whose program needed more money. Goodwill and the Salvation Army both declined to get involved here.

Instead of giving up, Russell travelled  to similar stores, asking “what mistakes did you make that I can avoid?”

Using entrepreneurial/problem solving skills, Russell, with a small committee, put a plan together then moved on to the next stage - getting excited about whatever you are doing. This excitement brought a pool of volunteers with key skills and plenty of start-up money. Russell makes it plain  enthusiasm is both contagious and necessary to get anything off the ground. 

Once opened, the Thrift Store operates “by process” and “with a business strategy that God is in charge,” Russell said. “We don’t have managers. We run by volunteers.” Key to this is the social interaction/ feeling of purpose inculcated among those who come every week to handle old clothing and sort through the bags looking for sellable items versus trash. 

A key place the Thrift Store differs from a regular store in philosophy is their ultimate judging criteria isn’t how much money this will make but how much good it will do. For example, Russell doesn’t see the $7,000 they spend on waste disposal some months as loss but rather as a gain for the community.

This philosophy has largely worked but not without a few glitches, including a recent mammoth pile of mattresses that had to be removed by the county.

Ever optimistic, Russell points out that even that outcome is better than those mattresses ending up on roadsides.

Giving away free clothes or furnishings to those who can’t afford to pay isn’t a loss for the Thrift Store, but another  gain to the community.

For two decades Don Russell and his can-do attitude (part military program administrator and part self-betterment instructor) has made the Thrift Store a bedrock of this community.

For all this we salute the work.

 

Why instant gratification takes too long?

By Christie Pool

Staff writer

A few weeks ago, a local character walked into our office to say hello and "sit and talk a spell." It was a busy Tuesday (deadline day) and our afternoon crunch time. Things had to get done, and by a very specific time in order to get the paper to the printer. It couldn't have been a worse time - or so I thought. 

During a 20-minute visit several members of our staff were treated to some rather interesting stories. One was from many decades ago about a couple of  local boys about the age of 12 or 13 spending their last quarters on a train ride from Jasper. They found their way down to Florida with no prospects of how to get back. They started walking and it just so happened Eugene Talmadge - or was it Herman - passed by and gave them a lift as far as Atlanta. From there they could make their way on back up to Jasper. Imagine these boys all alone, without telling their mamas where they were going or when they would be back. And then consider that mothers got by just fine before the invention of Life360, which lets parents know instantly the location of their child or, at least, their child’s cell phone.

After this and some other stories, I realized my day, even my life, had been enriched by having heard about this big adventure from days gone by. Why? Just because. 

I thought stopping for a few minutes in the middle of a very hectic day would throw everything off balance. But it didn’t. 

“Slow Movement” is now a recognized antidote to the modern frantic life.  It promotes exactly what you would think - slowing down to enjoy more of life. We are a world obsessed with speed, wanting everything faster, and all the time. We perpetually want to cram more and more into less and less time. Even the great Princess Leia (aka Carrie Fischer) said, "These days, even instant gratification takes too long."

In all our daily running around - from work, to errands, to cooking dinner (who are we kidding - to picking up fast food), to soccer practice, to meet up with friends - we lose sight of the damage that this type of living does, both physically and mentally. It takes a major toll on our health, our diet, our work, our relationships. For many of us, it takes a catastrophic event like a health scare to give us a wake-up call. As Slow Movement proponent and speaker Carl Honore says, "We are living the fast life, not the good life."

The Slow Movement advocates a cultural shift toward slowing down life's pace, according to Wikipedia. It actually began with Carlo Petrini's protest against the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Rome in 1986. This sparked the slow food movement, but over time has developed into a subculture that applies to a variety of activities and aspects of culture. If we slow down, we may just find that everything goes better. We eat better if we take time to sit and enjoy a meal; we exercise better and it brings our bodies and minds more benefit if we aren't trying to rush through it to get that shower and meet all our daily errands and deadlines. We even work better and more efficiently when we take our time and make sure things are done correctly the first time around, as in that old adage about a stitch in time saving nine.

In all things, we just live better when we slow down. Slowing down can be the difference between success and failure, between thriving and burning out. What's the point of hustling if you're going in the wrong direction in your life? 

Slow is about being present, in the moment and it's about doing everything not as fast as possible, but as well as possible.

For the holidays, be nice

A quick show of hands out there. How many people would panic if they learned that St. Nick would be making his naughty/nice list this year by checking everyone’s social media feed?

The jolly ol’ Elf is not going to bother with that “he knows if you’ve been bad or good” in the real world any longer. He’ll make his decision on who gets gifts solely by your comments and the photos you posted online for the world to see in the past year. That includes nasty words used during political rants as well as that  meme (graphic) you posted to make fun of someone when in hindsight, it probably was mean-spirited and not as funny as you first thought.

Berating someone over a trivial faux pas would get you that lump of coal, while exaggerating how great your vacation was to make friends envious isn’t quite as serious and would decrease your gift status only a little. And Santa’s checking up on you will include demerits  for going overboard in describing the gruel-like food and Ogre waiter at a restaurant when, truth be told, the food and service really were not that bad.

We’ve seen some pretty deplorable language and barbs hurled online in the past 12 months. In fact, after some discussion, our staff decided to not post reader-submitted Thanksgiving recipes on social media because we worried that an online crank would take it upon themselves to lash a kindly grandmother-type if her stuffing recipe wasn’t all organic.

The Progress gets roasted regularly enough online that we don’t let it bother us any longer (“Haters gonna hate,” according to Taylor Swift). Though we must express frustration that people who objected to our editorial in support of the recent SPLOST did so by implying we had moral failings instead of merely taking a different opinion on a matter of government spending.

We toss out opinions and welcome feedback of all kinds, so we are fair game and recognize that. But what is disheartening is when we see people getting scorched, destroyed, and nastily berated online for some political issue. Often we know these people, have known them for years and they really aren’t bad folks at all. In fact, they are quite good people to have living in the community and don’t deserve the rancor.

Some hard-working mom or dad who committed the now unpardonable sin of expressing a different view on national or local politics can suddenly find themselves public enemy number one and  often drawn into an arena (public posts) where they aren’t prepared to compete.

For the holiday season, let’s spread holiday cheer both in person and online. After all, nobody wants that lump of coal in their stocking because they got a little over-heated about a teenage cashier not making change quickly enough, or the person who worked really hard but didn’t meet your personal standards with yard decorations, and certainly not for some opinion on something halfway up the coast in the nation’s capital. 

We encourage and support the public expressing opinions-- that is what makes a democracy work. But for the holidays maybe do it a little nicer – something Santa would approve.

 

What will success look like with new economic developer?

Unless something unexpected occurs, Pickens County and the city of Jasper will welcome Green B. Suttles III in mid-January to head joint economic development efforts between the city and county.

Suttles, whose name sounds like something straight out of a Disney movie, will officially become the president and CEO of The Development Authority of Pickens County.

The development authority under both city and county have worked to develop a new approach, in terms of how the office is structured, and who-answers-to-who approach. The glaring weaknesses in our old approach was clearly seen in the debacle of the outgoing economic developer when it became unclear who could relieve him of duty.

Now they are back with a “proven model” of economic development used across the nation, which, in itself, is a big step in the right direction.

We are encouraged that the county/city have created a clear path to succeed and a chain of command and better oversight tools, and have brought in someone with experience. The next steps will not be easy. Mr. Suttles will begin work in an office that has been empty for almost two years, and hasn’t brought home any bacon in many years.

To use a sports metaphor this would be like bringing in a new coach and then telling him to go find players and develop his own facilities. Mr. Suttles comes with plenty of experience from work in and around Mobile, AL but one has to wonder what peach state connections he can draw from?

Before we get too excited to see what revived economic development will do, there is one simple question the community members need to answer or be given an opportunity to chime in on: What do we want?

What kind of economic development prospects should our new rainmaker target? What are realistic projects/goals to go after? And what would success look like?

It’s hard to gauge what the community is seeking. In covering numerous forums over the past few years, there is never a clear consensus on how the community  views growth. 

There are always calls for more businesses here - people who point out that a broader commercial tax base would open the door for more government services and lower taxes.

And there are a good number of people who say that the best thing we can do is maintain the small town feel and rural lifestyle.

It’s hard to see how you could have both, feasibly. Ideally, it would be nice to see better jobs in more diverse industries that would appeal to younger people and allow more of our recent graduates to find work here.

But this smacks up against the fact that there is already such a low employment rate that local business leaders routinely cite finding a qualified work force as a chief hurdle.

And this goes back one step further to lack of affordable housing, preventing people from moving here.

With the status quo, we’ve seen a VA clinic, large assisted living/commercial area and new businesses in downtown all arrive with the economic developer post vacant.

When you look at what’s coming already (“inbound” as sales people call it) and the lack of unemployment, we are clearly not desperate. We’re not an area where just any new jobs would be welcome. No one will applaud minimum wage positions with  disruptive, noisy or polluting industries.

But there is the reality that we are in a cycle limited residential growth with people itching for more commercial opportunities and young people migrating out of Pickens County. A middle ground might look like this - not necessarily more but better. What can we do to strengthen what is already here – bring in some low-impact new businesses that will hire people at higher wages, but do not demand throngs of new workers.

Trying to walk the tightrope of better but not much bigger won’t be easy. And it starts with open conversations with the community as a whole.  

 

Visit grandma

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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Despite her not being a blood relative, dad’s stepmother Betty always felt like my biological grandmother. Mom and dad made it a point we visit frequently when I was a child, and grandma always made those visits special. She had collections of Josef Birthday Angels, one set for me and one for my sister. She’d keep them on display and add a new angel every year. We’d play Rack-O and Yahtzee. She’d make us her lemon pudding pound cake. At breakfast, she’d always give us two little glasses – one for milk, one for juice, carefully and lovingly set.  

Grandma is tough, starkly independent, opinionated, and to this day one of the sharpest minds I know for someone well into her 80s. She loves to read, can entertain herself, and has never seemed to mind living alone in the 35 years since granddad passed away - but every time we’d leave her house she’d cry and squeeze us so hard it was like she was seeing us off for the last time, like we’d never come back. She’d stand at the end of the driveway in tears until our car was out of sight. 

Grandma was a huge, influential part of my childhood – but I haven’t seen her in over a year. Why? Because I’m busy with my own kids and their schedules? Because I’m too tired to make the trip on my one weekend day off? We talk on the phone occasionally, but the truth is I don’t have a good reason I haven’t made the measly three-hour drive to see her in person. And this isn’t okay anymore. I want to change the kind of attention I give her, as well as my husband’s grandparents and other seniors I know who want and deserve time and companionship. 

I’m 37, and in that classic getting-older fashion I think about things differently now that I’m a mother. How would I feel in their shoes? How heartbreaking to think the family you poured your love, life, and resources into for decades wouldn’t take just a few minutes to reach out, or make a short drive to see you. 

No calls. No visits. Just silence. 

I’d be devastated.  

Senior loneliness and isolation is now being called an epidemic. According to the U.S Census Bureau, 43 percent of seniors feel lonely on a regular basis, and around a third of the senior population lives alone. Other studies show that many go days, sometimes weeks, without speaking to anyone. Isolation can severely impact mental and physical health, and bring on an earlier death, but this isn’t a surprise. Prisoners are put in solitary confinement to be punished, and they don’t come out wanting to go back in. Isolation in large doses can traumatize. 

An entire generation of seniors in Japan faces “lonely death,” going days or weeks without their body being discovered because “A single-minded focus on economic growth, followed by painful economic stagnation over the past generation, had frayed families and communities, leaving them trapped in a demographic crucible of increasing age and declining births,” according to the NY Times. 

In what is arguably the saddest commercial in history, German grocery store Edeka addresses the issue. We see an older man wander around his empty home and look longingly at family photos. Year after year he prepares Christmas dinners that he eats alone at a big table with empty chairs. His children are too busy to visit. As a last resort, he fakes his death to get them to come to the house before his “funeral.” 

“How else would I get you all together?” he asks after he walks out of the kitchen to surprise them.

Didn’t we used to do better? Didn’t seniors get more heartfelt care and attention at one time, and didn’t we honor them and not see them as burdens? 

A columnist in the Chicago Tribune calls our generation “the outsourcers of human caretaking.” Of course, the author admits, times are different – both parents often work and kids have more demanding extracurricular schedules. 

Still, I think we - I think I - can do better. 

My grandmother, like the rest of the eldest and wisest among us, deserve our time, an attentive ear, and affection. 

They don’t deserve to be forgotten.