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AP to add streetlight for park safety

AVON PARK — A southside area where there have been a number of shootings and murders will be getting additional lighting in an effort to deter criminal activity.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Carolina Avenue Church of Christ Pastor Herbert Sykes requested more lighting in the area of Alina McWhite Park.

“Since I have been here, for the past 15 years, we have encountered seven shootings in that area where the city has a park/playground area,” he said. “Four of those resulted in deaths and one resulted in a young child and an adult being shot in the park.”

Just about three weeks ago, a young man was killed on the grounds behind the church and last year a young man was shot by the front door of the church and then he crossed the road and passed away, he said.

The church is at the southwest corner of the intersection of Fred Conner Street and Carolina Avenue.

The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office had a surveillance tower there, which drove the criminal elements into darker areas, Sykes said.

He asked the City Council if there is a way to increase the lighting on Fred Conner Street so people wouldn’t come in and use the darkness to do “whatever” they do in that area.

“We have a lot of kids that use the park. It is a wonderful area, but when you get that criminal element encroaching there it makes it where no one can enjoy it,” Sykes said.

Mayor Garrett Anderson asked Sykes if he believed more lighting was needed in the park or more toward the street and if streetlights would be appropriate?

Sykes replied there needs to be more lighting toward the street with the help of streetlights.

City Manager Mark Schrader said the crime did not happen on city property, however he received a call from an attorney who may be representing the victim’s family.

City Attorney Gerald Buhr said there is a possibility of litigation and they (family’s attorney) will be trying to get information from the city. He suggested the city might want to wait until that is resolved. He said litigation can use just about everything that a person says in an odd way.

Anderson noted that the park is closed at dusk so there should be no one there after dark. He also noted if the city wants more streetlights, it can do that.

Deputy Mayor Jim Barnard said one streetlight near the lot would provide sufficient light to help the area.

Duke Energy doesn’t charge for putting in streetlights, the city just pays a monthly fee and Duke maintains it, he said.

Gerald Snell, who is the City’s CRA board chairman, said he spoke with neighbors in the area after the recent killing of the young man. Most of the neighbors are elderly and some believed the city wouldn’t help the neighborhood.

But he told them, ‘Yes” the city does care and if there is something that can get done, it will get done, Snell said.

The lights may be vandalized, but, “if we can at least save a human life, it is worth it,” Snell said.

Council agreed to contact Duke Energy to add a streetlight near the park.

Take Stock in Children mentor, scholar bond through a common interest

AVON PARK — Estrellita DeJesus-Martinez walked into the conference room at the South Florida State College (SFSC) Hardee Campus in Bowling Green recently and got the surprise of her life. Her Take Stock in Children mentor, Sandie Perreault, welcomed her with open arms and guided her into the room. On the table was a sewing machine, fabric, and a variety of sewing accessories.

DeJesus-Martinez is a junior at Hardee High School in Wauchula and met Perreault for the first time in spring 2022 through the Take Stock in Children program.

Take Stock in Children is an academically focused mentoring program that guides at-risk students toward successful completion of high school and enrollment in college. It is a statewide program that provides students with a mentor and a two-year state college tuition scholarship. The Take Stock staff also help the student obtain financial assistance for housing, transportation, and other expenses. In return, the student signs a contract to earn at least a grade of C in every class, graduate from high school with good attendance records, maintain good behavior in school, and stay crime and drug free. The SFSC Foundation serves as the lead agency for Take Stock in its service area of Highlands, DeSoto, and Hardee counties.

Take Stock mentors meet with their assigned students for approximately 30 minutes each week during the school year, offering encouragement and advice. They become a friend and a role model, help build a child’s foundation of basic values, assist a student in setting goals and attaining them, guide a child toward an education and a productive life, and give a child hope for the future. A Take Stock mentor will receive training and resources to support their student’s academic success.

When Perreault began to mentor DeJesus-Martinez, she had difficulty pronouncing her name. Because Estrellita is Spanish for “little star,” DeJesus-Martinez suggested Perreault call her “Star.”

During the early days of mentoring, Perreault looked for ways to connect with the young woman and find a common interest to discuss. “It’s a bit challenging talking to a teenaged girl, particularly when she’s very quiet and reserved,” Perreault said. “Trying to keep up a conversation for about a half an hour was kind of tricky.”

Perreault, who hails from New Hampshire and lives in Avon Park during the winters, is a yoga instructor and focuses on fitness and nutrition. In fact, Perreault presented a 30-minute yoga class on Zoom for the Take Stock student-scholars and staff. She is also a member of a quilting club at the Adelaide Shores RV Resort in Avon Park.

Just before the holidays, Perreault’s quilting club sewed cell phone purses and Perreault made one especially for DeJesus-Martinez as a gift. “When Star opened up the package, she said, ‘You made this? I like to sew,’” Perreault said. “So, I discovered that Star and I had something in common. That’s how it started. She also said that she had an interest in crocheting, so I showed her how to crochet. When we talked about her interest in sewing, I asked if she had a sewing machine, so I could send her some patterns. But she didn’t have one. She said that her mother had taught her how to sew, but everything was done by hand.”

Perreault met with her quilting club and told everyone about DeJesus-Martinez and her interest in sewing.

“All a quilting group needs to hear is that a young person is interested in sewing, and they were ready to adopt Star,” she said. “Before I knew it, people were handing me money and supplies. One of my friends at Adelaide Shores was getting rid of her Brother sewing machine.”

Perreault had the sewing machine checked, cleaned, and oiled because she wanted DeJesus-Martinez to have a machine that works well. “A lot of people gave me fabric,” she said. “Quilters always have fabric left over. I bought Star a cutting mat, some rulers, and a rotary cutter. With some of the money I got, I bought her a bag to put her machine in. It has all these deep pockets that you can put items in, such as thread. So, I bought her a lot of thread, extra needles for her machine, an extra blade for her rotary cutter, a sewing kit with a tape measure and scissors, and straight pins. So, Star’s fully stocked.”

Perreault and Ben Carter, Take Stock in Children student services coordinator, planned the surprise get-together for DeJesus-Martinez at the SFSC Hardee Campus. “Ben Carter and I met her outside. I said, ’Star, I have a surprise for you.’ She walked into the room and had this big smile on her face. I said, ‘This is for you. You expressed an interest in sewing.’ I told her the whole story about how my club gathered together to do this for her.”

“I figured that if Star has never used a sewing machine, I would have to teacher her everything about it,” Perreault said. “We started with basics, such as how to wind a bobbin and how to thread the machine. The machine has several different stitches, so I showed her each of those and how to stitch them. She really caught on quickly.”

Perreault wanted to give Star a brief project they could work on together. She had brought along nine 3.5” squares that they sewed into a nine-block square that could be used to make a trivet.

Not only is Perreault delighted to have found a common interest with Star, but she’s proud of her academic accomplishments. “Star’s a really good student. She’s taking calculus and she had a 104 average in it. She’s taking English and she’s starting a class on Adobe Photoshop. That will be great for her, because she’s interested in computer graphics and animation.”

“There’s such a need for Take Stock mentors,” Perreault said. “It’s so rewarding to be one. You’re helping a low-income student, eventually, go to college. Personally, I have a full schedule and fitting another thing in was not an easy task, but it’s been worth it. Now, I feel like I’m being rewarded through Star.”

To become a TSIC mentor, call 863-784-7343 or 863-784-7440 or email:

War in Ukraine at 1 year: Pain, resilience in global economy

An Egyptian widow is struggling to afford meat and eggs for her five children. An exasperated German laundry owner watches as his energy bill jumps fivefold. Nigerian bakeries have shut their doors, unable to afford the exorbitant price of flour.

One year after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, and caused widespread suffering, the global economy is still enduring the consequences — crunched supplies of grain, fertilizer and energy along with more inflation and economic uncertainty in a world that was already contending with too much of both.

As dismal as the war’s impact has been, there’s one consolation: It could have been worse. Companies and countries in the developed world have proved surprisingly resilient, so far avoiding the worst-case scenario of painful recession.

But in emerging economies, the pain has been more intense.

In Egypt, where nearly a third of the population lives in poverty, Halima Rabie has struggled for years to feed her five school-age children. Now, the 47-year-old widow has cut back on even the most basic groceries as prices keep rising.

“It’s become unbearable,” Rabie said, heading to her job as a cleaner at a state-run hospital in Cairo’s twin city of Giza. “Meat and eggs have become a luxury.”

In the United States and other wealthy countries, a painful surge in consumer prices, fueled in part by the war’s effect on oil prices, has steadily eased. It’s buoyed hopes that U.S. Federal Reserve inflation fighters will relent on interest rate increases that have threatened to tip the world’s biggest economy into recession and sent other currencies tumbling against the dollar.

China also dropped draconian zero-COVID lockdowns late last year that hobbled growth in the second-largest economy.

Some good fortune has helped, too: A warmer-than-usual winter has helped lower natural gas prices and limit the damage from an energy crisis after Russia largely cut off gas to Europe. Still, oil and gas prices were high enough to cushion the impact on the energy-exporting Russian economy from the international sanctions imposed after President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

The war “is a human catastrophe,’’ said Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “But its impact on the world economy is a passing shock.’’

Still, in ways big and small, the war is causing pain. In Europe, for example, natural gas prices are still three times what they were before Russia started massing troops on Ukraine’s border.

Sven Paar, who runs a commercial laundry in Walduern, southwest Germany, is facing a gas bill this year of about 165,000 euros ($176,000) — up from 30,000 euros ($32,000) last year — to run 12 heavy-duty machines that can wash 8 tons of laundry a day.

“We have passed the prices on, one to one, to our customers,” Paar said.

So far, he has been able to keep his customers after showing them the energy bills that accompany the price increases.

“Fingers crossed, it’s working so far,” he said. “At the same time, the customers groan, and they have to pass the costs on to their own customers.”

While he’s kept his steady customers, they’re offering less business. Restaurants with fewer customers need fewer tablecloths washed. Several hotels closed in February rather than pay heating costs during their slow season, meaning fewer hotel sheets to clean.

Punishingly high food prices are inflicting particular hardship on the poor. The war has disrupted wheat, barley and cooking oil from Ukraine and Russia, major global suppliers for Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia where many struggle with food insecurity. Russia also was the top supplier of fertilizer.

While a U.N.-brokered deal has allowed some food shipments from the Black Sea region, it’s up for renewal next month.

In Egypt, the world’s No. 1 wheat importer, Rabie took a second job at a private clinic in July but still struggles to keep up with rising prices. She earns less than $170 a month.

Rabie said she cooks meat once a month and has resorted to cheaper byproducts to ensure her children get protein. But even those are becoming harder to find.

The government urged Egyptians to try chicken feet and wings as an alternative source of protein — a suggestion met with scorn on social media but that also led to a spike in demand.

”Even the feet have become expensive,” Rabie said.

In Nigeria, a top importer of Russian wheat, average food prices skyrocketed 37% last year. Bread prices have doubled in some places amid wheat shortages.

”People have huge decisions to make,” said Alexander Verhes, who runs Life Flour Mill Limited in the southern Delta state. “What food do they buy? Do they spend it on food? Schooling? Medication?”

At least 40% of bakeries in the Nigerian capital of Abuja shut down after the price of flour jumped about 200%.

”The ones still in the business are doing so at breaking point with no profits,” said Mansur Umar, chairman of the bakers’ association. “A lot of people have stopped eating bread. They have gone for alternatives because of the cost.’’

In Spain, the government is spending 300 million euros ($320 million) to help farmers acquire fertilizer, the price of which has doubled since the war in Ukraine.

”Fertilizer is vital because the land needs food,’’ said Jose Sanchez, a farmer in the village of Anchuelo, east of Madrid. “If the land does not have food, then the crops do not grow up.”

It all means a slowing global economy. The International Monetary Fund dropped growth expectations this year and in 2022 that equates to about $1 trillion in lost production. Europe’s economy, for example, “is still experiencing significant headwinds” despite a drop in energy prices and is at risk of falling into recessio n, said Nathan Sheets, global chief economist at banking giant Citi.

The IMF says consumer prices jumped 7.3% in the wealthiest countries last year — above its January 2022 forecast of 3.9% — and 9.9% in poorer ones, up from 5.9% expected pre-invasion.

In the U.S., such inflation has forced businesses to be nimble.

Stacy Elmore, co-founder of The Luxury Pergola in Noblesville, Indiana, said the cost of providing health insurance for eight workers has spiked 39% over the past year — to $10,000 a month. Amid a labor shortage, she also had to raise hourly wages for her top installer from $24 to $30 an hour.

Inflation-whipped consumers began to balk at paying $22,500 for a 10-by-16-foot louvered pergola — kind of a gazebo without walls — that was sold through dealers. Sales sank last year. So Elmore pivoted to do-it-yourself models, selling directly to shoppers at a sharply reduced price of $12,580.

”With inflation so high, we’ve worked to broaden the appeal of our products and make them easier for the average person to acquire,” Elmore said.

In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, many street vendors know they can’t pass along surging food prices to their already struggling customers. So some are skimping on portions instead, a practice known as “shrinkflation.’’

”One kilogram of rice was for eight portions ... but now we made it 10 portions,” said Mukroni, 52, who runs a food stall and like many Indonesians goes by only one name. Customers, he said, “will not come to the shop” if prices are too high.

”We hope for peace,” he said, “because, after all, no one will win or lose, because everyone will be a victim.’’

Wiseman reported from Washington and McHugh from Frankfurt, Germany. AP journalists Samy Magdy in Cairo; Chinedu Asadu in Abuja, Nigeria; Anne D’Innocenzio in New York; Iain Sullivan in Anchuelo, Spain; and Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed.

Town ready to play pickleball funding with county

LAKE PLACID — A new complex of eight, lighted pickleball courts in Lake June Park will cost about $432,939.

That’s what the town will tell the Highlands County Recreation and Parks Advisory Committee today. The committee helps fund recreation projects in the county’s municipalities through a cost-sharing model. Under the town’s proposal, Lake Placid would pay $77,929, or 18%, toward the cost, while the county would kick in the lion’s share of $355,010.

That’s what the county does.

Construction itself is expected to cost $382,939; of that, the actual base, asphalt, and acrylic court surface and fencing, comes to $243,824. Project management, $23,000; permitting and inspection fees, $2,000; and contingency fees, $25,000 – make up the rest of the $432,939.

The town will use four local contracting companies in the project, Town Administrator Phil Williams said.

  • Lidy Sports: $243,824
  • Excavation Point: $42,615
  • Central Contracting: $96,500
  • Polston Engineering: $25,000

Some 160 people signed the town’s online petition that asked local residents to weigh on their desire for pickleball courts. The courts will be used by adults and retirees, the town’s proposal states.

“The project will provide exercise for an age bracket of the population that has comparatively negligible recreational activities in South Highlands County,” the proposal states.

The town also announced its abandonment of the Lake June Phase II improvements that included new retention ponds, more parking for boats and trailers and other amenities in the park. The county had agreed to reimburse the town $140,801.44 for those improvements, but the town now wants to use county money for pickleball courts.

“The council decided to abandon the project in favor of joining the rising tide of the sport of pickleball,” Williams wrote in the RPAC proposal. “Accordingly, this application requests that the 2021 Interlocal Agreement be retracted in favor of a new Interlocal Agreement to construct eight Pickleball Courts at the Lake June Park area.”