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San Jacinto County News - Breakout

SAAFE House hires interim director

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071022 saafe house directorConstance Rossiter has been hired as interim executive director of SAAFE House.

Special to the News-Times

HUNTSVILLE — The Board of Directors at the SAAFE House organization is looking into management issues while making changes in its leadership.

Board President Kimberly D. Moore said there is an ongoing investigation that, in fairness to all involved, must be completed before conclusions are released. However, at this point in time, the SAAFE House still is operating and is working to fulfill its mission.

To assist in the transition, Constance Rossiter has been hired as interim executive director, and began working for the SAAFE House Tuesday. A search to fill the position permanently is ongoing.

Moore said Rossiter is a skilled collaborator with extensive experience working with diverse victims of violence through a trauma-informed and culturally sensitive lens. She holds master’s degrees in Psychology and Business Administration and is proficient in developing and managing programs and securing private and government funding.

Throughout her career, she has provided outreach and trainings on domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and interpersonal trauma on the local, national, and the international level.

The SAAFE House is a non-profit entity which is dedicated to assisting victims of family violence who are in crisis, without regard to disability on the part of the victims and their families.

On June 9, the board received information regarding the management of the SAAFE House, and because of that, changes were made to the management team and an investigation was launched.

Moore said she could not provide more information at this time as it is an ongoing investigation, which has included reports to law enforcement and privacy laws that protect employees.

The SAAFE House provides short-term housing to victims and their minor children. This housing is intended to protect victims from their abusers by giving them a safe place to live without threat of further injury from their abusers. Housing, clothing, food, social services, and counseling also are provided.

The clientele of the SAAFE House need anonymity in seeking our services, in that they are often trying to cut off contact with those who would hurt them.

In completing its mission in providing shelter to the abused, the SAAFE House is in the process of remodeling one of its facilities. This project was approved by the board in June 2021 and fundraising efforts began in September of that year.

Construction has been ongoing since funds have been received from our donors; however, as part of the ongoing investigation, the board has developed concerns about the remodeling, Moore said. The inspections which the board has obtained since June 9 have required that construction be suspended as the SAAFE House develops a sound strategy for continuing the project in a safe and efficient manner.

SAAFE House often is a harbor of last resort for the victims of family violence, including in many instances sexual assault. SAAFE House is funded entirely through donations and public grants. It has an obligation to account for how it uses this money to its donors and the State of Texas.

It’s governing board of directors is comprised of volunteers who are not compensated. No board member has ever been paid for their services and the by-laws of the SAAFE House specifically provide that they may not be compensated for their service.

The Board has necessarily been required, since modifying the management of the SAAFE House on June 9, to work many hours to ensure that the non-profit stays open and continues its mission. The people of this community need the SAAFE House’s services, and it is committed to continuing this mission even when problems arise which have disrupted its management.

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District elated at test numbers

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070722 staar test results

By Tony Farkas
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SHEPHERD — Preliminary results from this year’s STAAR testing for the school district are “exciting,” according to Shepherd ISD administrators.

Tammie Hewitt, director of teaching and learning, said that in several areas the scores show the students performing above pre-COVID levels, in many cases double-digit gains in the STAAR test parameters — approaches, meets andmasters.

Superintendent Jason Hewitt said that in the fourth-grade reading category, there was a 30-point swing, which he called amazing.

“It’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears (that went into this),” he said. “Kids in Shepherd can learn if you’re diligent.”

Hewitt said there is a long way to go to get students to all be at the proper level, but in 2021-22 they to a very big step.

“I can’t commend the teaching staff enough,” he said.

In a separate matter, the board held a public hearing on its proposed budget priorities for the coming year.

The district is looking at a proposed budget of $21.5 million, and Assistant Superintendent DeAnna Clavell said that salaries are biggest expense. Nutrition dollars are less since the school adopted a hybrid calendar; students will be in class less, resulting in less days to serve students, she said.

Clavell said that the projected enrollment is 1,900, while projected attendance daily average is 1,740, mostly based upon the impact of COVID.

Additionally, preliminary assessed values of property within the district is just under $839 million; the district won’t know what the final numbers will be until July, but the current figures show valuation is a 14 percent increase from the previous year.

Should the numbers hold, the possible tax rate percentage will drop, meaning that there could be a 3 cent drop per $100 valuation to property owners, she said.

In other business, the board:

•approved a resolution to compensate employees that did not work because of an electrical outage on May 25; and

•approved expenditures of more than $50,000 to Edgenuity Digital Libraries, Mindplay, school supplies, computer replacement, work on the primary school gym floor and to Kace Systems Management.

070722 sisd awardShepherd Middle School students receive the S award. Photo by Tony Farkas

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A day of celebration

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070722 day of celebration(Top left) Allyson Moses captures the audience. (Bottom left) Greg, the sax player of the Do Yo Thing Band says music is a universal language. (Top right) International Recording Star “The Lady Songbird Jinda”. (Bottom right) Volleyball was in hot competition. Photos by Charles Ballard

SJNT staff

SHEPHERD — San Jacinto County residents were treated to fun, games, fireworks and inspirational music during the Shepherd Chamber of Commerce’s Independence Day Explosion on Saturday.

Chamber President Yvonne Cones said the day was blessed with no rain, a great band and singers, and Chamber board member Brenda Myers was amazing with the kids games.

The American Legion opening flag ceremony was stirring, Cones said, and DJ Joe and his wife Tina LeBlanc always are wonderful.
Cones said the event could have had more people showing up; those that missed the day missed the fireworks, a 20-minute long display that capped off the day’s events.

070722 day celebration twoNeck and neck in the sack race.

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Preparing for emergencies

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063022 preparing for emergenciesEmmitt Eldridge took a second hat as Emergency Management coordinator, to go along with his duties as Coldspring Fire Chief. Photo by Tony Farkas

By Tony Farkas
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COLDSPRING — Emmitt Eldridge is there to help, and in more ways than one.

Eldridge, who currently serves as chief of the Coldspring Fire Department, was named Emergency Management coordinator for San Jacinto County three weeks ago as former director Judy Eaton retired.

Eldridge will continue to be the Coldspring Fire Chief, a position he said prepared him for his new role, as people in this position tend to have a background in fire or EMS.

That role, he said, is to help the county prepare for any type of emergency situation, whether it’s man-made, natural or even nuclear.
“We do training, then make sure that the county has resources and shelters in place,” he said. “I then coordinate with commanders of any situation to ensure they have the necessary resources as well. Then we work toward getting the county back to normal.

“We help residents find funding to replace homes after a hurricane or get cleaning supplies to help after a flood,” he said.

OEM coordinates with Red Cross, Texas A&M AgriLife, Trinity River Authority, local fire departments, the Sheriff’s Office, TxDOT and more to get help where it’s needed, Eldridge said. For instance, his office was the leaders in making sure that county residents had ample supply of clean drinking water during the COVID pandemic; and in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, given that San Jacinto County had some of the highest amount of damage in the state, the OEM lent its assistance and expertise in recovery.

Eldridge said that as coordinator, he plans to respond to more emergencies to provide support. Additionally, the county has a

HAZMAT trailer that hasn’t been used in years that he plans to get up and running.

He also plans to improve emergency notifications to county residents.

“We currently use Facebook as our main notification outlet, but the county does have a text messaging system that needs to be used,” he said.

Also, he plans to push a program call STEAR — State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry — which will be primarily used for disabled, medically fragile or other functional limitations. The county will maintain this list, and in the event of an emergency, emergency response personnel will know where people are and what assistance or resources they need.

“We have zero people on the program,” he said. “Our county is a member, but we need people to sign up.”

Eldridge said he is currently working on updating wildfire mitigation and hazardous material response, and in the future, will do more training and education, particularly in the schools.

To sign up for the STEAR program, visit Steer.tdem.texas.gov or call 211.

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Animal neglect cases prompt county action

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063022 animal neglectCourtesy photo Members of the Houston Humane Society, along with Constable Sam Houston, help retrieve the 33 animals being cared for by an elderly couple. The dogs had been dumped along the roadways of San Jacinto County. Courtesy photo

By Tony Farkas

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Constable Sam Houston and Deputy Pete Sparta are needing help with animals.

The Precinct 3 constable said that San Jacinto County has seen a proliferation of dumped dogs, and it has caused numerous problems, stretching county resources and even putting strain on county residents.

Houston said the county is serious about enforcing animal control laws, and wants to raise awareness.

Sparta said that last week, their office had an elderly couple come in with a problem with dogs.

“A lot of dogs had been dumped in the county, and (this couple) have been trying to rescue them over the last few months,” Sparta said. “At the time they had more than 30 dogs, and they needed our help.”

The constables reached out for assistance from area shelters, and the Houston Humane Society came to help rehome the animals, and the agencies are looking for other avenues of adoption as well.

“We need everyone to know they need to get their dogs spayed and neutered,” Sparta said. “We need to secure their dogs, and we need people to know that animal cruelty will not be tolerated. We hope the people come together to keep our animals safe, and we want to stop the problem before it gets out of hand.”

Sparta said his office will follow up to make sure this doesn’t happen to the couple again.

“We probably get 10 to 12 calls a day regarding dumped animals, and a shelter has been under construction by San Jacinto County for more than a year and is not completed,” he said. “We need more resources.”

One such call led to an arrest of a Cleveland man.

Sparta said his office received several complaints from area residents regarding possible animal cruelty.

“We received reports of dogs being buried on the property, and when we went to investigate, found the animals to be in deplorable conditions,” he said. “We then contacted the Houston Humane Society for help, and the suspect surrendered the animals.”

Seven pit bulls were taken for treatment, however one of the animals died due to starvation.

Kenneth McCarthy, 22, of Cleveland, was charged with cruelty to non-livestock animals.


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