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Everyone invited to join 'Walk in Unity' event April 17
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Tracks and trails are getting a workout these days as walkers enjoying the spring weather pursue their own personal workouts while pedometers count every step they take. Everyone who shows up has a different reason for being there. Some want to lose weight. Others want to get healthier while others simply enjoy the fellowship. But when walkers turn out Saturday, April 17, everyone will be there for one purpose — to “Walk in Unity.”

“Our nation is divided politically, racially, economically and even our churches have denominations,” event organizer and walker Gene Hardy said. “However, we can walk in unity with Christ, so we have planned a Walk in Unity event with other churches in the Conyers-Rockdale area.”

Hardy, a member of Heritage Hills Baptist Church since 1977, has contacted dozens of area churches and says everyone is invited to join the group that Saturday as the walk begins at 10 a.m. at the Rockdale River Trail. The trail starts at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit on Ga. Highway 212.

Amy Mulkey Jones of Crosspoint Christian Church on Ga. Highway 20, and Josh Gribble of Haven Fellowship on Smyrna Road are helping Hardy with this event. Jones has a ladies’ walking ministry that meets and walks on the Crosspoint campus Saturdays at 9 a.m.

As for Hardy, walking has become his ministry. It began in 2015, when Kay, his wife of 54 years, stooped over on Easter Sunday to pull a weed in the couple’s Rockdale County backyard. She toppled to the ground with a partial tear of her hamstring. Doctors treated her injury and prescribed rehabilitation. She chose ProActive Rehab in McDonough, where the couple now goes for exercise five days a week. They both do the wellness program there, and Mrs. Hardy also does pool therapy, while her husband walks every day.

“I pray when I walk and was asking God how I could help our church and community by walking,” Mr. Hardy said. “He said, ‘Start a community walking ministry.’ Before COVID-19, our church had a vibrant community outreach program. We would meet at church one Saturday every month at 10 a.m., pray, load up in cars and visit neighbors door-to-door. We dressed in specially designed T-shirts and were equipped with free Bibles ... church brochures and salvation tracts.

“When COVID hit, all that shut down. When God asked me to start the community walking ministry, I asked him how it would work. He said, ‘Walk on your church campus with other church members, advertise it, do it on a regular basis and leave the rest up to me.’ So with much prayer, Tuesday, Feb. 2, we started our ministry. Every Tuesday and Thursday we meet, pray, take a picture and walk 2 miles.”

The only time the group changes its routine is on the third Thursday of each month when the Heritage Hills ladies’ Salt and Light ministry meets. Hardy says the walkers can be seen from the highway, and he encourages people driving by to stop and find out more about the group.

Hardy says those who take part in the walking ministry have enjoyed many benefits. He mentions one of the co-founders of the group, Serena Freemyer, who “brought inspiration to everyone” as she lost more than 60 pounds through walking.

“Another lady who has inspired our group is Margaret Frisbee,” he said. “Margaret lost her husband several years ago, and she understands how important it is to get out of the house and be with other folks. She recently brought Jan Lavender to our walk. She knew that Jan had just lost her husband and how important it was to get her out of the house and among people who loved her.”

Participants get to know each other and form new friendships.

“We want to be a witness to our community and the passersby, hoping they will stop, meet us and eventually join,” Hardy added. “... We are very dedicated. We have walked in misting rain and howling winds with 29 degrees and wind chill factors. Now we want to share our walking ministry by inviting our community and other churches to join us in a Walk in Unity event.”

Hardy says he hopes Walk in Unity will become an annual event, as churches and people throughout the region gather to walk, fellowship and get to know each other.

Jones, who is helping Hardy organize the upcoming walk, is involved in a similar ministry at her own church. It is called Walk by Faith and began in 2017, with a group of ladies walking together at Denny Dobbs Park in Newton County. That came to a halt when COVID hit, but in June 2020, the group again began walking — this time on the Crosspoint Christian Church campus.

“The ministry’s blessing is three-fold — a healthful activity, an opportunity for prayer and conversation and a witness to other women in the community who might join us to walk,” Jones said. “The walk has allowed us to safely stay connected and be intentional about praying together throughout a very difficult year. 2 Corinthians 5:7 (states), ‘For we walk by faith, not by sight.’”

Jones said members of her church are looking forward to participating in the Walk in Unity event.

“Jesus’ prayer for his disciples was ‘they may be one so that the world may believe,’ John 17:21,” Jones added. “It is our prayer that by coming together to walk in Christian unity, we may glorify God and the world may come to know him and believe.”

Josh Gribble, pastoral assistant at Haven Fellowship on Smyrna Road, is also helping with the April 17 walk. In his role at the church, Gribble assists with worship and other services, as well as the care of the congregation, technology, social media and other activities. He is encouraging church members to participate in the community walk.

“I am so excited to have so many ways to share the good news of God’s love within our church and community,” Gribble said.

Hardy is looking forward to having people from all denominations come out that Saturday and take part in this community walk.

Organizing this walk is just one more way Hardy is living out his faith in service to God. For 44 years, he and his family have been active members of Heritage Hills Baptist Church in Conyers. Mrs. Hardy has taught the 2-year-old class for 31 years, as well as being a choir and orchestra member. Mr. Hardy is a deacon and has been an RA (Royal Ambassadors) director, Life Group leader, choir and orchestra member and now teaches the 3- and 4-year-olds. The Hardys have two children, Kevin and Melinda. They have four grandchildren — Mylan, Justin, Mallorie and Kyle and one great-grandson, Cade.

A native of East Point, Hardy worked as a programmer at Warren Refrigeration as he attended Georgia State University. In 1971, he became Waffle House’s first data processing manager. In 1977, he went to work as a systems analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta and after 27 years, he retired in May 2004. Later that year, he began working part-time grading math papers at Faith Academy in Stockbridge, where he worked for 14 years.

“Faith Academy was my favorite job because it is a Christian high school, and I could lead Bible study for the students and tell them about my lord and savior, Jesus Christ,” Hardy said.

As a Christian leader, Hardy is concerned about how divided the U.S. has become and is burdened about the many issues that divide its citizens.

“The reason our country is divided politically is that people have strong opinions as to how our government should be run, conservatively or liberally,” Hardy said. “Our economic division is even more complicated. Just a few of the reasons are lack of jobs, education, resources, transportation, talent, effort and the list goes on.”

All of that inspired Hardy to organize Walk in Unity.

“Recently in our Life Group, we studied in Acts 4:32-35 about the first Christians and that they were one in heart and mind and shared everything,” Hardy said. “In John 13:35, Jesus said, ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.’”

Anyone interested in learning more about the Walk in Unity event April 17, at 10 a.m. can contact Hardy at 770-231-9557 or by email at rockyandkatie@bellsouth.net.


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Eastridge celebrates new addition to East Newton Campus
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COVINGTON — Like hundreds of other Christian churches in the area, Eastridge Church will celebrate Easter on Sunday, but Eastridge will also be celebrating a new beginning for the church’s East Newton Campus.

Eastridge has just completed construction of an atrium at the East Newton Campus, just in time for Easter services Sunday.

The atrium includes a café area, seating for before and after services, and areas to check children into their ministry environments. In front of the atrium is an outdoor seating area for small group meetings, as well as a water feature.

“We’re excited about our new atrium because it allows for greater ministry to happen among our members and to better serve those who are new,” said Lead Pastor Scott Moore. “Many times on a Sunday morning, what people really need is the ministry that comes from one another: an encouraging word, a listening ear, a ministering prayer, or just a place to laugh. It also helps us to better serve our guests and make sure their experience with us is one of being served and loved well.”

The Eastridge East Newton Campus is located at 863 Ga. Highway 142.

Eastridge will celebrate Easter with services at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Children’s programming is offered during the 9:30 and 11 a.m. services.


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Rockdale Public Schools extends state bonus to all employees (copy)
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CONYERS – Rockdale Public Schools will provide a one-time bonus to all its employees who did not qualify to receive the $1,000 bonus paid to K-12 teachers and other school-based support personnel.

The state Board of Education recently approved the use of federal stimulus funds to pay the one-time $1,000 bonus to teachers, and a separate bonus was provided to pre-K educators by the Department of Early Care and Learning. The school system subsequently decided to use $500,000 in CARES II funding to extend the bonus to all full-time and part-time staff members who did not receive the bonus under state requirements. Full-time employees will receive $1,000, and part-time workers will receive a partial payment. The bonuses will be paid in April.

According to the school system, this bonus is being provided to support stronger recruitment and retention of these critical positions and as a gesture of gratitude for their work and sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I commend both Gov. Kemp and State Superintendent Richard Woods on their support for this bonus payment,” said Superintendent Dr. Terry Oatts. “While this bonus includes a wide array of school and district employees, like prior instances in which the state provides some funding for salary increases, not all employees are explicitly included in this bonus, and there are some guidelines we must follow such as adjusting the bonus payment amount for specific employees who work less than full-time. As superintendent, I have always been committed to ensuring to the fullest extent possible that our RCPS employees are treated equitably. As such, I have directed our Financial Services Department to extend the $1,000 bonus payment to all full- time RCPS employees and a partial bonus payment to each of our less than full-time employees.

“These steps I have directed take into account the tremendous commitment and dedication our employees have demonstrated during this unprecedented public health crisis,” continued Oatts. “From providing sustained and engaging virtual learning to now dutifully navigating a challenging blended teaching and learning environment of both virtual and hybrid in-person students, they have remained committed to pursuing world-class results for our students.”


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Appeal filed in truck stop denial
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COVINGTON — A property owner and developer have filed an appeal in Newton County Superior Court seeking to overturn denial of a truck stop development.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Feb. 16 to deny a request for a rezoning and a companion Conditional Use Permit that would have allowed development of a truck stop or travel center at the intersection of Ga. Highway 11 and Interstate 20. The property is owned by Jack P. Davis of Athens; JPC Design & Construction LLC is the project developer.

The project was planned for a 46-acre tract on Ga. Highway 11 in rural eastern Newton County. Part of the property is zoned CH (highway commercial) and part is AR (agricultural). Davis and JPC had asked that the portion zoned AR be rezoned to CH and that a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) be granted to allow development of a large travel center.

In the appeal filed in Superior Court on March 18, Davis and JPC ask the court to declare the AR zoning unconstitutional and void, reverse the denial of the rezoning and the CUP and remand the request to the Board of Commissioners for further consideration. The petitioners also ask that they be awarded damages equal to the value that the property has been diminished by the AR zoning.

The plaintiffs allege that commissioners voted to deny the rezoning and CUP based on their “unsubstantiated claim that the project was a ‘truck stop.’” The plaintiffs claim that commissioners should have been able to address their concerns about a “truck stop” by imposing reasonable conditions on the development.

They also claim that the county has a “decades-long pattern, practice and policy” of allowing commercial uses in the general area where development is moving away from single-family uses.

However, the rezoning and CUP requests were strongly opposed by homeowners in eastern Newton County, who cited concerns such as traffic, crime, runoff, and noise and environmental pollution. More than 900 residents signed a petition opposing the development.

The plaintiffs also allege that the imposition of AR zoning on a portion of the 46-acre tract denies any reasonable, viable economic use of the property.

In making the motion to deny the rezoning at the Feb. 16 BOC meeting, District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards said his decision was based on the fact that the property is located in the Brick Store Overlay, which has more stringent regulations designed to guide development.

“A truck stop or travel center … is just not in keeping with what we are trying to create in the educational village-type atmosphere in that area,” said Edwards.

The truck stop property is located near the Newton campus of Georgia State University. A village-type mixed-use development around the college has previously been approved by the county.

According to the developer’s letter of intent, Phase 1 of the project would have included a 24,500-square-foot building with a convenience store and fuel sales for automobiles and semi-trucks, along with Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway fast food restaurants. The plan called for 20 multi-product fuel dispensers for autos, eight fueling lanes for semi-trucks, and certified CAT Scales for semis. The convenience store site was designed with 153 parking spaces for automobiles. There would also be 10 parking spaces for RVs, buses and commercial trucks and drive through lanes for the Burger King and Dunkin Donuts. The semi-truck parking lot would have 120 parking spaces.

Phase 2 of the project, listed as future development, would include big box retail space with nine individual tenant spaces.


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