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Rotary hears of changes at Center of Hope

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Rotary Club of Livingston President Andrew Boyce presents a check to Mike Fortney with Center of Hope following Fortney’s presentation to the local civic club recently. Photo by Emily Banks WootenRotary Club of Livingston President Andrew Boyce presents a check to Mike Fortney with Center of Hope following Fortney’s presentation to the local civic club recently. Photo by Emily Banks Wooten

By Emily Banks Wooten
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“I’m here today to tell you what’s going on at Center of Hope and what’s changing,” Mike Fortney said as he addressed the Rotary Club of Livingston recently.

“Our numbers have gone up. There’s a lot of need here. If you know someone that needs help, send them our way and if we can’t help them, then we’ll find someone who can. Tuesday was the slowest day we’ve had in months. We had a little over 70. We usually have over a hundred,” Fortney said.

“That’s the food ministry, which, pardon the pun, is our bread and butter,” he said, adding that huge tractor trailers from Southeast Texas Food Bank come and deliver pallets of produce and cheeses and that when they have any left over, they share with some of the smaller food pantries around the area. “Food is still a huge ministry for us and every person that comes in for food, comes in for a chat with a caseworker

“We also have our cancer support ministry in which we see about 70 cancer patients on a regular basis and help them with gas money, parking, the occasional overnight stay,” he said.

Fortney also referenced another ministry, Campaign 300, in which the center helps people coming out of crisis with money. “We may pay a utility bill, get a car repaired or get a prescription filled.

“Another of our ministries is disaster response, which we had none this year. It is a ministry waiting to go into action when it’s needed,” Fortney said, adding that County Judge Sydney Murphy has asked the center to take on volunteer coordination.

Fortney said the center has a couple of new ministries, referring to the fact that the Emergency Health Board and the Empty Stocking Fund have now been handed over to the Center of Hope.

“The Emergency Health Board was Peggy Wooten’s brainchild and through it, medications were supplied for people in Polk County or sometimes, help with co-pays. The Emergency Health Board did a marvelous job but asked us to take over this ministry,” Fortney said, adding that it is “running smoothly” and that they helped five different families with medications this past Tuesday.

As for the Empty Stocking Fund, Fortney said the center is setting up Christmas Central, a massive toy workshop with a little bit of clothing for toddlers and below. He said they are partnering with G.R.A.C.E. Pregnancy Outreach to disseminate the clothing to toddlers and infants.

He said the team met and talked about the transition and made some changes to how the program will operate moving forward. In the past, local civic clubs such as Rotary shopped at Walmart for items for various local families in need, wrapped the gifts and then delivered them to the respective families. Now, the clubs will contribute money to the center and the center will purchase the toys and clothing have it all on display in their big warehouse, allowing those parents to shop for and pick out the toys for their own children. He added that the toys will be separated by price point, gender and age and that this method evens out what every family receives.

“From here on out, it will be called Christmas of Hope Empty Stocking Program. We will be open the next three Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and we’ve added two Fridays because the numbers are skyrocketing. We already have over 400 kids registered so far which is about 150 more than Empty Stocking did last year. The families come through. We put our arms around them and visit with them,” Fortney said. “The community has been amazingly generous. This is going to bless hundreds and hundreds of people in Polk County.”

Center of Hope is located at 600 S. Washington in Livingston.


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LISD receives high marks in financial rating

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Livingston ISD LogoFrom Enterprise Staff

The November meeting of the LISD Board of Trustees opened with a Public Hearing for the FIRST report. The state’s school financial accountability rating system, known as the School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST), ensures that Texas public schools are held accountable for the quality of their financial management practices and that they improve these practices. LISD Chief Financial Officer Ben Davidson presented the report to the Board.

“The FIRST ratings are based on 20 different indicators, the district received a perfect score on all indicators,” Davidson said. 

The indicators include current asset to current liability ratios and long-term liabilities to total asset ratios.

“We are fortunate to have Ben and his staff work so diligently in managing the finances of the district,” LISD Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins said. “The district has an external audit each year, which combs through all district financial expenditures that are made on a daily basis, as well as ensuring that the district has financial controls in place to ensure that fraud does not exist and that the financial reports are represented of factual standing.”

Board officers were elected, Bea Ellis will serve as board president, John Allen Slocomb as vice president, and Kevin Wooten will serve as secretary of record.

Approved from consent agenda items were minutes from previous board meetings, the financial statement, payment of bills, personal property donations, overnight trips, and an amendment to the LISD 403b Plan Document. The IRS has recently enacted new regulations for 403b plans. The amendment allows the LISD plan document to comply with new regulations.  

The board also approved an action item regarding clinical teaching pay for student teachers.  

“We generally have 10 student teachers, but the college students are going to districts that are paying for this training,” Hawkins said. “The recommendation is to pay a flat fee to 10 student teachers in the amount of $100 per day, so that LISD may competitively recruit student teachers. They are hired to work for 70 days. In the past, these positions have been filled by students attending Stephen F. Austin State University, Sam Houston State University, Lamar University, Texas A&M, and the University of Houston.”

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Groundbreaking slated for Monday

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HighwayConstruction Stock

By Emily Banks Wooten
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The Texas Department of Transportation Lufkin District will hold a groundbreaking ceremony in celebration of the beginning of construction on the Corrigan Relief Route at 11 a.m. Monday in the gymnasium of the First Baptist Church located at 103 N. Collins St. in Corrigan. This event is being hosted by the City of Corrigan and the First Baptist Church of Corrigan.

A photo will be taken of the groundbreaking at 10 a.m. at the construction site on U.S. 287 East, past the railroad tracks where the project path has been determined. Following the photo, everyone will move to the church for the program at 11 a.m.

Guest speakers include State Rep. Trent Ashby, Shawn Dunn representing Sen. Robert Nichols, Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy, Lufkin District Engineer Kelly Morris, Director of Construction Shannon Ramos and Project Director Clint Jones who will all speak about the project its part in the future growth of East Texas and Corrigan. Construction of the new roadway is set to begin later this year.

The $172.8 million construction project was designed and will be built to interstate standards and will include construction of new U.S. 59 northbound and southbound lanes with controlled access.

The 6.3-mile project will be from 3.4 miles north of U.S. 287 to 3 miles south of U.S. 287. Work will include the construction of overpasses at United Pacific Railroad, U.S. 287 and Union Springs Road. Entrance and exit ramps will be added at U.S. 59 tie-ins and at the U.S. 287 overpass and will include the construction of four main lanes for travel.

James Construction Group LLC of Baton Rouge, La. will serve as contractor for the project that is scheduled to be completed in six years.

Planning for the Corrigan Relief Route began in the late 1990s when environmental studies began but were stopped due to budgetary constraints. Project development resumed in 2012 when I-69 in Polk County was considered a top priority by the I-69 Segment Two Committee. Schematics and right-of-way maps were studied and in 2014, an open house was held for the public to view the proposed path.

Further refinements to the plan were made and presented to the public in 2015, and in 2016 environmental studies and schematic reviews were performed. A public hearing was held in 2017 to gather public comments and the Texas Transportation Commission approved the revisions and funded the project.

“This has been a long-anticipated project in the Lufkin District and it will be the biggest project as far as funding we have seen so far. We are anxious to see this project begin as are most East Texas residents and those who travel through Corrigan on U.S. 59,” TxDOT Public Information Officer Rhonda Oaks said.

The Corrigan Relief Route will be built to promote public safety, improve emergency evacuations and support freight transport. As the work begins, motorists should be alert to moving equipment and workers near the work zone. Reduce speed and obey all traffic control.

For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (936) 633-4395.

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Local student’s works exhibited

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ChildDancerBy Emily Banks Wooten

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Aaliyah Johnson, a 15-year-old Big Sandy High School student and enrolled citizen of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, is already making a name for herself in the field of photography. Along with 10 other indigenous artists, three of her photographs were recently included in an exhibit called Disruptive Flow on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation in the Florida Everglades.

The exhibit was put on by Voices of the River of Grass, a non-profit organization that supports and promotes indigenous artists through diverse and creative platforms.

“Through art we communicate, unite and educate the public on ecological and social issues, bringing out the inner strength of indigenous traditions,” the organization’s website states.

Johnson recently learned from one of the curators of the Disruptive Flow Art Exhibit that she has been invited to exhibit her work at Miami Art Week, coming up this month.

The teenager has photographed various powwows and events for several years and is a monthly contributor to Native Hoop Magazine. She is following in the footsteps of her mother, Victoria, who is also a photographer.

The talents and interests of both women were included in “American Portrait: The Story of Us, Told by Us,” an ambitious storytelling project conducted by PBS in celebration of its 50th anniversary. The book not only captured the tumultuous, historic year that was 2020, but also served as a reminder that everyone has a story. PBS launched the project in January 2020, inviting people across the country to participate in a national conversation about what it means to be an American today.

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Recreating Bethlehem

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Volunteers with First Baptist Church unload one of two tractor-trailers at Pedigo Park Monday to begin the process of building Bethlehem. Photo by Brian BeschVolunteers with First Baptist Church unload one of two tractor-trailers at Pedigo Park Monday to begin the process of building Bethlehem. Photo by Brian Besch

By Brian Besch
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For more than two decades, hundreds with Livingston’s First Baptist Church have built an ancient city each year in just a few days. The annual event entitled “A Night in Bethlehem” is to allow thousands to experience a similar feel of the original Christmas.

Dec. 2-4 off Highway 59 in Pedigo Park, the church will present a drive-thru recreation of Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born. As always, the park will also be lit with Christmas decorations and hayrides are included in the fun.

The event began in 2001, when a staff member had taken part in a similar production further north at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Texas. The staff also visited similar productions in Lufkin and Conroe to gather ideas.

In its first year, the church was located just across from the Polk County Enterprise offices on Calhoun Street. Decorations were made of plastic and cardboard, comparable to most other productions around the state. Eventually, the church partnered with the city, allowing it to grow and change a little every year.

“A Night in Bethlehem” has grown in popularity and allowed the chance to serve the community and those who travel to visit.

“I think it is two-fold,” First Baptist Church Pastor Brett Lester said. “One is we obviously want to show the story of Christ at Christmas. Especially with the commercialism of Christmas, sometimes that message gets lost. Also, it is a gift to our community. There are families that come every year, and this is part of their Christmas
tradition. There are churches that drive two hours with giant groups. To be able to give something like that to a community like Livingston, that is a big, important part of it. When you see kids’ faces light up because they come around the corner and it is something they’ve never seen before, that is a big part of it too. I think they will see that the story of Christmas is the story of Jesus, and it is not just his birth.”

This year, narration will play at each stop and characters will act out scenes as visitors hear the story. Guests this year can also receive a written copy of the narration in Spanish.

Visitors are taken back in time to the village, with all pointing to the idea that a baby has been born. In years past, the tour ends with Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. However, that will now be extended.

“We are really going to try to tell the story of the life of Jesus in more detail,” Lester said. “Hopefully, when they come through, they see the life of Jesus.”

“It will be bigger than last year with the drive-thru, and it is more of the story than just Christmas, so we are excited about that,” First Baptist Student Pastor Brad Butler added. “There are a lot of animals and there are people in character who are trying to be as fully immersed as they can.”

Monday was the first of four long days it takes to wall off the pavilion at Pedigo Park, then unload and set up two tractor-trailers
of detail that completes the transformation. Local students from 4-H bring their show animals out to participate in the event as well.

It is estimated that over 250 people take part in creating the scenes, acting characters and making sure all runs smoothly. The sheriff’s department allows inmates to take part in the building process. While not allowed to attend, it is video recorded to see what they have built. They then return to help tear it all down.

The drive-thru performance is around 20-25 minutes, and most wait about an hour in their vehicles to reach the front of Bethlehem. At one point last year, the line curled around to Livingston Junior High. Many will arrive an hour early to be at the front of the line. Lester said Saturday night is usually the busiest, while early Friday and late Sunday are times when the wait could be shorter.

Around 4,000 people are expected to come through the city gates to experience Bethlehem. Butler said he has heard of people coming from as far away as Dallas to take in the production. The free three-day event is 6-8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Every car arriving before 8 p.m. will be admitted, while those arriving after must be turned away.

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