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wreck pic

Shortly before noon Thursday, this tractor trailer was leaving the Old Castle Bark Mulch Plant on Loop 116 in New Willard when the trailer was struck close to the center back by the wheels by this northbound Union Pacific train. No injuries were reported. Photo provided by Patrick Swilley, the self-proclaimed mayor of New Willard

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Child abuse awareness, sexual assault recognized

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Ninety-five stars on display outside the Polk County Sheriff’s Office represent the 95 children who were forensically interviewed regarding claims of child abuse or sexual assault. Photo by Emily Banks WootenNinety-five stars on display outside the Polk County Sheriff’s Office represent the 95 children who were forensically interviewed regarding claims of child abuse or sexual assault. Photo by Emily Banks Wooten

From Enterprise Staff

Ninety-five stars are currently on display outside the Polk County Sheriff’s Office representing the 95 children who were forensically interviewed regarding claims of child abuse or sexual assault following reports to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

“When speaking about child abuse and sexual assault, the word victim is used. We want to represent these children as stars with a bright future” Sheriff Byron Lyons said. “Abuse is hard to talk about, it’s hard to tell someone, it’s even harder to recover from. These children are survivors, they are stars.”

Lyons acknowledged that the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is happy to partner with Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Polk County DA Victim Assistance, Childrenz Haven and SAAFE House in recognizing April as Child Abuse Awareness and Sexual Assault Month. He also expressed his appreciation to Francisco and Ashley Lopez for their contribution to the display.

Two grants acquired by the sheriff last October allowed him to hire for two new positions. Special Victim Liaison Christi Allen concentrates on the abuse and sexual assault of children, while Crime Victim Liaison Chawna Reuter focuses on crime victim’s rights and adult abuse and sexual assault during the investigative process.

Allen was responsible for attending all forensic interviews for the sheriff’s office, as well as courtesies for area law enforcement agencies. Allen and Reuter assist victims by directing them to the various services available to them in the immediate area at no cost to the families.

Lt. Craig Finegan and Det. Lee Rogers investigate crimes against persons, which include child abuse, sexual assault, homicide, domestic violence and homicide. They investigated 41 sex crimes involving children and 70 child victim cases ranging from neglect and assault to homicide in 2021.

Texas Department of Health and Protective Services, formerly known as Child Protective Services, becomes involved with children and families when they are referred by the DFPS Investigations Division, which investigates allegations of child abuse and neglect. Investigations Supervisor Krystella May reported that their office investigated 591 cases with 104 confirmed victims. One thousand one hundred ninety-six children were interviewed by their department and 49 children were removed from offending parents during 2021.

The Polk County DA Victim Assistance Office is tasked with insuring that victims are aware of their rights and kept informed of the progress of their case through the judicial process. Victim Assistance Coordinator Megan Knighton assists with protection order applications and attends forensic interviews of children who have made claims of physical or sexual abuse. Knighton is responsible for ensuring that crime victims know and understand their rights while participating in the prosecutorial process. In 2021, 62 cases involving children were indicted by the Polk County Criminal District Attorney’s Office and 76 protection orders were filed.

Childrenz Haven provides evidence-based, trauma-informed services when there is an allegation of sexual abuse, severe physical abuse, child fatality, or child witness to a violent crime. The children’s advocacy center collaborates with law enforcement, DHPS and the prosecutors by coordinating joint investigations and facilitating case reviews so that no child’s case falls through the cracks. Childrenz Haven Executive Director Crystal Finegan and her staff conduct forensic interviews and offer free counseling for those children.

SAAFE House is committed to empowering family violence and sexual assault victims by providing individualized, immediate, no-cost, confidential services. Rene Murphy, executive client services director, supplied national statistics stating that every 68 seconds someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. On average, there are 464,000 victims each year. One out of every six women in the U.S. have been the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault in her lifetime. Males ages 18-24 who are college students are approximately five times more likely than non-students of the same age to be victims of sexual assault, and every nine minutes a child is a victim of sexual assault. Approximately 63,000 children a year will be victims of sexual assault.

“We will continue to work with the community in order to educate the public about child abuse and sexual assault to make Polk County a safer place for our children. They are our future and we are tasked with the responsibility of protecting them. We can only work toward our goals, but with the support and education of our community we can make those goals a reality,” Lyons said.

For those interested in a presentation for your service club, property owners association or workplace, contact Christi Allen or Chawna Reuter at 936-327-6810. 

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Tribe breaks ground for education center

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groundbreakingAlabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Chief Donnis Battise, along with members of the Tribal Council, break ground Friday at the site of what will be the tribe’s new 49,000-square-foot education center. Photo by Emily Banks Wooten

By Emily Banks Wooten
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History was made Friday when representatives of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas broke ground at the site where its new education center will be located. The Alabama-Coushatta Education Center will be a 49,000-square-foot building that will house the tribe’s education department, Head Start Program, tribal library and youth programs. The building will include classrooms, offices, common areas, kitchens for several of the programs, a courtyard, two play yards and a multi-purpose gym. The site will have a general parking lot as well as a secure area for bus parking. It will be located behind the Chief Kina Clinic.

“Good morning tribal citizens and guests. Today is a beautiful day. Today we break ground for an education center that will house several educational programs and youth activities. This has been a dream for our tribal council, way before I was on it,” Tribal Council Chairman Rickey Sylestine said.

“We’re hoping to start a language immersion program, a tribal Head Start, maybe even extending to grade school. Our chiefs have always stressed education. We fight our battles now through words, whether it’s in the courts or the halls of Congress. We’re not only serving as a tribe but thinking as a tribe.”

General Manager Cheryl Downing agreed.

“This is a wonderful day, a long time coming. We’re very pleased to have a team of folks who will be our partners in bringing this to fruition,” Downing said as she introduced James C. Lord II, the architect from KGA Architecture out of Austin and Las Vegas, Janet Daniels, the contractor from and Daniels Building & Construction Inc. out of Beaumont and Kenneth and Brenda Jones from Cox Jones Architecture & Construction out of Nacogdoches.

“Five hundred forty-eight days. We anticipate being done with the construction process by the end of September 2024 and will rejoin here for a ribbon cutting,” Downing said.

Tribal Council Vice Chair Nita Battise shared some of the tribe’s history regarding education.

“There have been many significant turning points in the tribe’s history which led us to where we are today. First and foremost, the traditional teachings of language, culture and traditions were part of everyday life within the respective villages and homes of the Alabama and Coushatta tribes. It was around 1880 when Christianity and education came to the tribe,” Battise said.

“In 1881, the Southern Presbyterian Church sent missionaries. The first were Rev. L.W. and Mrs. Currie of North Carolina. After five years, Rev. Currie’s health failed and his widow left the village. She would later return and taught school until 1899. It was during this time that Dr. C.W. and Mrs. Chambers arrived at the reservation. For over 37 years they served the tribal community as ministers, doctors, nurses, teachers and friends,” Battise said.

“Later, with federal assistance, a school with first through eighth grade was established. It included gardens to plant vegetables and fruit trees with a canning plant to process the bounty for the school cafeteria. There was a furniture building shop for the young men, while in the school gymnasium, the young women would manufacture mattresses. However, the school later closed. The reservation is located near Dallardsville in the Big Sandy Independent School District, where a majority of our students now attend. Tribal youth also attend both Woodville and Livingston schools,” Battise said.

“In 1957 a kindergarten was established and was housed in a renovated old locker plant near headquarters, the area where the current administration buildings are located. Mrs. Ethelyn Sylestine, wife of the late Mikko Oscola Chief Clayton Sylestine, was one of its teachers and on a personal note, my Chikpo (grandmother) Dorcas Bullock, was the cook for 36 years until her retirement in 1985,” Battise said.

“In 1960 the first Indian Reservation Library was established. As a young child, I can remember getting lost among those towering shelves of leatherbound books. Now off in a corner of the library was a dictionary which was placed on an ornate stand. It was massive and my curiosity got the better of me. I went over and tried to turn a few pages, but I wasn’t tall enough to reach so I leaned into it. It came crashing down with me pinned underneath. I never went back to that corner of the library ever again,” Battise said.

“The library would later be moved to what was the former pottery plant with its first librarian, Mrs. Delores Poncho, and after 32 years of service, Mrs. Poncho retired on February 4, 2022. In 1965 the Head Start Program was founded. Tribal Council Member Roland Poncho was its first director. Today it is under the leadership of Miss Essie Love, along with the Head Start Policy Council, teachers and staff. Our first education director was the late Marilyn Battise and then Mrs. Janie Rhinesmith. Ms. Allison Poncho serves in this capacity today,” Battise said.

“Mrs. Carlene Sue Bullock was instrumental in the development of the Alabama-Coushatta Youth Program. Last year, she received the J.R. Cook United National Indian Tribal Youth Advisor of the Year Award. Today, Mrs. Kimberly Bullock directs this program and the Inner Voice Youth Council and she will receive her masters degree from the University of Oklahoma Graduate College next month,” Battise said.

“Mikko Kinaq Robert Fulton Battise, who served his people for 58 years, was a firm and committed supporter of higher education. His words of encouragement to our tribal youth were most welcomed. Mikko Colabe Atokla Emmett Battise and Mikko Colabe III Clem Fain Sylestine were educators in the Texas school system. Mikko Skaalaba Herbert Johnson Sr. served on the Big Sandy School Board for 48 years,” Battise said.

Referring to the quote from the late Christa McAuliffe, American teacher and astronaut, “I touch the future … I teach,” Battise asked all the educators, teachers and teachers assistants to stand and be recognized.

“So here we are assembled today, from a one-room mission school building to a future education center which will include numerous classrooms, offices, kitchens and a multi-purpose gym. We are hopeful and excited to see what the future holds in this new era of education,” Battise concluded.

An opening invocation was led by Debra Kleinman and following remarks, Millie Williams blessed the site prior to the chief and tribal council donning hard hats and grabbing shovels to break the ground.

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April: Alcohol Awareness Month

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AlcoholandDrugAbuse CouncilFor more than forty years, Gary’s life has revolved around alcohol. It has adversely impacted every aspect of his life: his wife has left him, his children seldom speak to him, he struggles keeping a job, and now his health is failing. Over the years, Gary has tried and failed time and time again to stop. Now he feels it’s pointless to even try to quit anymore. “I’ve failed in the past, why would today be any different?”

This story has become increasingly common. It may even be your story or the story of a close friend or relative. Alcohol dependence is a serious problem that negatively impacts the lives of those who live each day dependent on alcohol to make it through the day. The negative effect of alcohol goes far beyond the damage to body organs such as the liver, stomach, esophagus, and intestines. It also negatively impacts your ability to work and play and have meaningful relationships. The truth is, if you’re alcohol dependent, your story does not have to end in despair. There is hope for healing and help for restoration. Everyday thousands of people begin on the road of recovery and today could be the start of a new path in life for you.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month which is a public health initiative supported by the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Council of Deep East Texas as a way of increasing outreach and education regarding the dangers of alcoholism and issues related to alcohol. The purpose of Alcohol Awareness Month is to draw attention to the stigma that still surrounds alcoholism and substance abuse in general. For many, denial is a common trait among those that are ensnared by alcoholism or alcohol abuse. Those that struggle with alcohol often underestimate how often they drink, how much they drink, it’s impact on their life, and their level of addiction.

The consumption of alcohol is often normalized within our culture. However, while advertisers attempt to put a positive spin on alcohol, there are adverse effects from alcohol consumption. Alcohol in all forms (beer, wine, and liquor) contain Ethanol (ethyl-alcohol) which is toxic to the human body. This is why the body experiences “hangovers” as a warning that it has been poisoned and is struggling to recover.

Ultimately, the worst part is the development of a dependence to alcohol. Once the misuse of alcohol takes hold, even though one may realize the damage that is being caused due to the consumption of alcohol, they may still feel compelled to continue drinking and remain on a path of destruction. At this point the brain has been reprogramed to consumed alcohol…regardless. However, it is never too late. There is a way and a road to recovery.

Today would be the perfect day to turn your life around and to take your life down a new path. There are people willing to walk with you and to show you there is a way out of alcoholism and substance misuse. Begin today by reaching out to ADAC and calling (936) 634-5753. You CAN do it.

Connor Gilbertson
Public Relations Coordinator
Region 5 Prevention Resource Center
Alcohol & Drug Abuse Council

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3 27 fire

The Alabama-Coushatta Volunteer Fire Department and the Livingston Volunteer Fire Department responded to a woods fire on both sides of FM 942 just east of the Ollie Community at 8:46 p.m. March 19. The Texas Forest Service sent a crew to assist. The Polk County Precinct 3 Constable’s Office and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office assisted with traffic control. The fire was out around 10:10 p.m. Courtesy photo

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