Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : July 13, 2013

Help Center

By Erik Walsh
The News Staff

ATHENS–The Henderson County Help Center has been helping residents in their time of need for more than a quarter century.
The Help Center originally got its start in 1987 as a place where local churches could organize and track where resources were going. Executive Director Leslie Saunders explained.

“There was some overlap on where some of the churches were dispensing funds,” she said. “The Help Center assisted in preventing the same people from going from church to church – making their rounds and starting over again at the first church.”
More than simply preventing potential abuse, the purpose of the Help Center was to find out why people needed help and assist them is becoming self-reliant.

In the early ‘90s, the Help Center finally found its home. First Baptist Church offered a very generous lease on a building at 309 Royal St. in Athenswhere it is to this day. The 99-year lease costs The Help Center a dollar.

“First Baptist has been a continued blessing to the county,” Saunders said. “They are still one of our biggest partners today.”

Another Help Center partner which has been there since the beginning is The United Way. In fact, in its origin the program was called “The United Way Help Center.” Today it shows its support through the United Way Help Line,a clearing house of available resources to individuals and families by locating a way to meet their needs. There is a screening process that includes documentation. Residents may recieve financial aid in dire circumstances but ussualy only up to three times, with six month intervils.

In some rare circumstances these rules can be breached, but the need and situation must be merited and urgent, Saunders said.
The Help Center offers many services including various forms of counseling including assistance to physically or sexually abused children, pregnant mothers, school children and new parents.
Other programs include:

• PEP (Pregnancy, Education and Parenting), a school drop out prevention program for pregnant or parenting teens. The program can provide transportation, life skills and day care.

• SAP (Student Assistance Program) provides therapy services to at risk youth at school campuses.

• CAC (Child Advocacy Program) works with law enforcement, child protective services, the District Attorney’s Office and medical and mental health professionals to assist children from suffering abuse.

• Heritage Keepers is an abstinence and life skills education class developed to equip and empower adolescents to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.

For more information about The Henderson County Help Center call 903-675-4357 or visit their website at www.the helpcenter.org.



Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : July 2, 2013


By Erik Walsh
The News Staff

ATHENS–There’s a new leader at the helm at the Athens Chamber of Commerce; and he sees a bright future with endless possibilities on the horizon for Athens and the Region.

Mark Rathe officially began his tenure as the chamber president June 3, and after a month, he has been busy instilling his vision of Athens to the community and its businesses.

Everybody knows Athens is already a beautiful place to live, work and play, and the region has all the building blocks to become an even greater regional financial center and hub.

“If you look at what we have in this region, it’s an incredible place. It’s on the cusp of outstanding growth,” he told The News.
Gesturing and counting off on his fingers, he counts the reasons.

“We have an airport with room to grow, a loop with tremendous development potential – how many cities our size have a loop? We have the beautiful regional lakes nearby and close proximity to Dallas, Tyler, Houston, Central and East Texas is a plus. There is also Texas Freshwater Fisheries and the East Texas Arboretum.”

One meeting with Rathe made it obvious why he was chosen by the Athens Chamber board to be its leader. The man brings a passion to his position with a clear vision and road map to get there. According to Rathe, the best way to get moving in the right direction is for everybody to be on the same page and working together. It shouldn’t be surprising that he explains this vision though imagery.
“You ever see a picture of Amish farmers working a field?” He asks. “There are many oxen working together to pull the farm equipment. With just one, that yoke isn’t going anywhere, but when they all work together, the job gets done.”

One of the things that attracted Rathe to the Athens Chamber post after he came here for an interview was the close proximity the chamber office is to other city organizations. The chamber shares an office in the Athens Partnership Center with the Athens Economic Development Corporation, the Small Business Development Center, Keep Athens Beautiful and the Department of Tourism.
“Just being so close to each other lends to collaboration,” he said.

Before taking the job in Athens, Rathe lived and worked in Tulsa, Okla. running the state Chamber of Commerce regional office for nine years. He met his wife, Alice, a native Texan while they both attended Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. They raised two boys, Andrew and Tyler, who are both attending the University of Oklahoma.

Now with parents aging, he and Alice decided relocation was important to be closer to family. His father lives in Houston and mother-in-law lives in Waco.

“I made it to Houston for Father’s Day for the first time since my college years,” he said. “Living in Athens makes the trip possible. I also made it to Waco for the wheat harvest at the farm a few weeks ago.”

“Athens is extremely convenient and central to Waco, Houston and Tulsa,” he said.

You can find Rathe hard at work in the Chamber office every day. The number is 903-675-5181.



Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : June 21, 2013

Special to The News

The annual Fourth of July fireworks show at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) is coming up on Thursday, July 4. The show will last approximately one-half hour and is one of the biggest in East Texas.
The fireworks show is directed and produced by Alpha-Lee Enterprises, Inc., of Liverpool, Texas. The show is a Keep Athens Beautiful event.

TFFC will be open for regular paid visitation from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free admission for the fireworks show will start at 4 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to fish in the stocked casting pond while waiting for the fireworks, which will begin at dark. No license is required to fish, and bait and tackle are furnished for free. Fishing ends at 8:30 p.m., and the fireworks will begin approximately one-half hour later.

Food and beverages will be available for purchase, and people are encouraged to bring picnics. KCKL (FM 95.9) will broadcast patriotic music during the show.

Pets, alcohol and private fireworks, including “snap caps” and sparklers, are not allowed. TFFC is a tobacco-free facility, and smoking or the use of tobacco products are not allowed on the premises. The public’s cooperation will be appreciated.
The fireworks show is sponsored and paid for by the City of Athens, local businesses and individuals.

Contributors include: City of Athens, The Cain Foundation, Charlie and Cindy Akins, First State Bank, Steve Sparkman, Athens Steel Building Corp., Lance and Kathryn Etcheverry, Carol and Pat Wallace, Dan and Kathleen Chaney, Stephen and Karen Jones, Ellen Key, Lake Athens Property Owners Association, Athens Marina LTD and other public-spirited individuals and organizations.
The event has become an area tradition, with many people dressing in red, white and blue in keeping with the holiday theme. Parking is available in the main TFFC parking lot and in an overflow parking area on Peninsula Point Road. Persons using the overflow parking area may enter through Gate C, which is across the street from the parking area.

For more information or directions call (903) 676-2277.



Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : June 20, 2013

June 17 Athens fire

By Tracy Martin
The News Correspondent

ATHENS-Athens firefighters responded quickly to a house fire at 911 Cayuga Drive Monday afternoon. A passerby called in the fire after seeing thick, black smoke billowing from the home just after 4 p.m.

Athens Fire Chief John McQuery says flames were coming from the back of the structure and his men had to break down the locked front door. It took about 20 minutes to put out the blaze and clear the smoke.

Nine firefighters were involved, in full gear, using both the ladder truck and the pumper truck to extinguish the blaze.
McQuery reports the fire started in the back of the home, near the bedroom. The home sustained major smoke and water damage and the roof is completely destroyed.

The owner was away at the time and didn’t learn about it until the following day.
Athens Fire Marshall Ronnie Denton is conducting the official fire investigation. The home is not insured, the Athens Fire Department provided Red Cross contact information to the homeowner to help with any emergency needs.



Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : June 17, 2013

By Tracy Martin
The News Correspondent

ATHENS-The Athens City Council accepted a bid from Lone Star Equipment to begin repairs and top sealing various roads in Athens. Council members accepted the recommendation of Director of Utilities Glen Herriage, based on experience of previous projects and a competitive bid of $176,886, submitted by the contractor.

Many roads are in serious need of repair, Herriage said. Roads scheduled for repairs, preventative maintenance and seal coating are: Bunny Rabbit, Crestway Street., Lover Lane, St.Thomas, Prairieville, Ben Belt, Laird, W.Clinton, Ford, N.Pinkerton, Murchison, N.Wofford and Baker.

No start date was announced for the top seal 2013 project.

The council also approved $53,000 for water line improvements and expansions on a section of Gibson Road and Robbins Road.
Finally, the council adopted by resolution a Rate Review Mechanism agreement with Atmos Energy. This describes the process for cities to negotiate rate increases with the natural gas utility.



Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : March 14, 2013

By Erik Walsh
The Nerws Staff

ATHENS–The TVCC Lady Cardinals are returning to the Women’s NJCAA Division I National Championship in Salina, Kansas March 18-23.

TVCC (32-1) is the No. 1-ranked Division I junior college team in the country and enters the tournament as the defending champions.

The Lady Cardinals will be making the trip to the women’s basketball championships for the sixth consecutive season. They have been nearly unbeatable for almost two years running.

According to TVCC Sports Information, they have not lost on the floor since the 2011 title game against North Idaho, winning 67 of their last 68 matches. Their one loss this year came by forfeit to Weatherford.

This year’s trip to the national championships will be the 18th in school history.

The Lady Cardinals advanced to the championships after winning the regional tournament March 9 in Tyler. They continue to be a model of consistency, advancing to the regional tournament finals 20 times in the last 22 years.

TVCC defeated the No. 8-ranked Blinn Buccaneers 69-58 to secure their place in Kansas. Blinn was a top team all year, as supported by their ranking, but couldn’t get past the roadblock that was TVCC. Blinn lost to the Lady Cards three times in the 2012-2013 season, including 94-88 overtime loss in the last game of the regular season.

After the regional tournament was decided, freshman Lady Cardinal Shlonte’ Allen was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament, as well as league Co-MVP with Blinn’s Ausrisa Harrison. Teammates Adut Bulgak, Shannon Smith and Krystle Henderson were also named All-Region and to the all-tournament team. TVCC sophomore Savannah Carter was named to the all-conference team.

TVCC has a bye for the first round of the tournament and will not play Monday. The Lady Cardinals take on the winner of No. 16 Weatherford (24-5) and No. 17 Northeast (28-4) at 2 p.m. March 19.



Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : March 8, 2013

By Erik Walsh
The News Staff

Alan Coleman wants to help you help yourself.

That’s why he, and the folks at Gates Community Church in Athens, started The Chariot bus service last year.
The ministry’s motivation is simple: there is a need in the community and Gates Community can do something about it.

“I’ve been pastoring here for 13 years,” Coleman said. “As time went on the need to help people get to work just kept coming up, and as Christians we are called to minister to the whole man, not just the spirit.”
Coleman explained it another way. He believes in a “church without walls.”

“We don’t just give a man a fish,” he explained. “We help him get the fish himself.”

The fish, or course, is the symbol of provision. And Coleman says nothing can replace the dignity a man feels when he provides for his own family. It’s that dignity that he assists Athens residents achieve everyday.
Gates Community Church recently expanded its bus ministry from trips to Tyler to additional trips to workplaces in Athens. It was the expansion of the ministry that caught The New’s attention and prompted the interview.

Coleman says the biggest challenge the ministry faces is a financial one.

To cut costs and make sure Chariot wasn’t spending too much money, adjustments had to be made to the routes shortly after the ministry was launched.

“We found out real quick that saving 3-4 miles a day means something,” Coleman said. Over the course of a year, reducing driving by a block can save thousands of dollars.”

There may be some financial help to the ministry on the horizon.

TxDOT told Alan that there will be public funding for them in the future, but Chariot has some time to wait–it wont come until 2014.

Alan’s faith sustains him.

“I really believe that we are being tested by God,” he said. “We just need to hold on, be faithful and good stewards of what we have right now, and we will be rewarded in the future.”

Currently all of the certified CDL (Commercial Drivers Licence) drivers they have work on a volunteer basis. Alan would love for the ministry to grow to a place where the drivers would be paid for their service. In the meantime, Alan allows the drivers to take the small busses to their work places ease the burden.

Gates Community Church is actively seeking donations to support the Chariot bus ministry.

Ticket costs are $5 each way to Tyler and $2 each way to work in Athens.

To donate, or for more details on tickets visit their website at http://www.thechariotbuslines.com or call 877-776-4335.



Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : March 1, 2013

By Erik Walsh and
Lace Donaghe
The News Staff

ATHENS–It was a night of joy and disappointment at the Athens City Council chambers Feb. 25 – joy for the splash pad supporters and disappointment for advocates of a proposed veterans rehabilitation center – with a capacity, standing room only crowd in attendance.

The splash pad continued to gain momentum Monday night when the Athens Economic Development Corporation’s Grant of $20,000 to the Athens Chamber of Commerce was unanimously approved by the city council. This brings the total for construction of a splash pad at Kiwanis Park to about $140,000 of its $200,000 fundraising goal.
Audience members in the council chambers clapped and cheered when the proposed grant was approved.
The room was much more stoic when the decision was made to take no action on a request to rezone the old hospital site.

Property developer Babit LLC had requested a rezoning of the property from office use to multifamily residential-5.

Babit principal Kevin Hambrick proposes to transform the old building into a rehab center for veterans.
After more than twenty minutes of hearing concerns from residents and nearby business owners – ranging from safety issues to rezoning complications – and receiving feedback from Hambrick, the council ultimately took no action.

“I love the idea of helping veteran,” Mayor Jerry Don Vaught said. “But its important to get the zoning right before we approve the project.”

The reason for the unanimous council decision–with whispers and public comments from the crowd in agreement–was the long term ramification of a zoning change. If the Veterans Rehabilitation Center fell through, the property would still be rezoned and available for sale. Potentially, Hambrick could sell the property and an apartment complex or low-income housing could be built. That was a prospect the council was not ready to embrace.

Though the council took no action, Councilwoman Elaine Jenkens was in favor of the idea and wants to do something to help veterans.

“If there is a zoning issue we need to address, that’s fine, but we should assist the men and women that have put themselves in harm’s way for us.”

The rehab center could cost up to $8 million to build and house around 300 veterans, who served in the military dating back to the Korean War. While there, veterans would be given shelter and job skills to reenter the workforce.

For the Rehabilitation Center to continue, the Planning and Zoning Commission will need to recommend a specific-use permit, and letters to nearby residences and businesses could then be reissued to inform the community.

In other action, council members:
• ordered a city election for May 11, to be conducted jointly with the Athens Independent School District. An agreement with Henderson County was also approved to provide election services.
• adopted a resolution, as required by Texas Community Development Block Grant Program.
• opted out of the PEG Fee by Holders of State Issued Certificate of Franchise Authority. Otherwise local consumers would have been affected by the addition of a 1 percent franchise fee.
• granted the use of city equipment, labor and estimated water usage valued at about $14,596 for the Splash Pad Project at Kiwanis Park and waived all city fees for its construction.
• awarded the bid for a current model half-ton, 4X4, crew cab, four-door pickup for the fire department, to Grapevine Dodge at $22,319.
• awarded bids for a current model two-wheel drive farm tractor with cab, to Athens Tractor and Equipment at $47,535.41 and a current model 17-foot rear-mount boom cutter, to W.C. Tractor at $22,000, both for the Public Health & Safety Department.



Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : October 11, 2012

State Sen. Robert Nichols met yesterday with school superintendents from Cherokee, Anderson and Henderson counties to talk about education issues and the upcoming Legislative Session. I’m working on a story for next week, but two quick things I noticed: It looks like the meeting took place in Athens, and in the above photo distributed by the senator’s office, that’s Cross Roads ISD Superintendent Clay Tompkins (left) sitting next to Nichols.

– Michael V. Hannigan



Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : October 8, 2012

By Michael V. Hannigan

The Athens ISD Board of Trustees will hold a special meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9, to discuss “the employment status of (the) superintendent and the position of superintendent.”

The move comes after the announcement last week that Superintendent Dr. Robert Steeber has tentatively accepted the position is the Deputy Executive Director of Administrative Services with the Region XI Educational Service Center.

Steeber has only been with the district for about a year. He replaced Dr. Fred Hayes.