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Students gain first-hand knowledge of manufacturing

JONESBORO — While many seventh- or eighth-graders have no idea what they want to do when they grow up, some, like Dylan Brown, already have goals.

“I want to go to college and major in architecture,” said Brown, who attends Nettleton schools.

Valley View student Arturo Fuentes is looking into accounting and management, but also knows at his age those aspirations could change.

Brown and Fuentes were among 13 youngsters who participated in TekStarz, a summer manufacturing camp.

“I’ve learned that there’s more to manufacturing than I thought,” Fuentes said Thursday afternoon. “I found there are more opportunities in manufacturing.”

Indeed, the manufacturing sector needs more than just people who assemble parts on an assembly line, said Christy Valentine, manager of academic programs at Hytrol in Jonesboro.

“There is a host of career opportunities for you at places like Hytrol,” Valentine told the students.

She introduced them to engineers, who design the conveyor systems for retail and manufacturing clients throughout the world. They also need teachers to train new hires, marketing and public relations specialists, graphic designers and even nurses to work in the Hytrol clinic, and a host of other disciplines, Valentine said.

Shelle Randal, director of workforce development and existing industry for Jonesboro Unlimited, has coordinated TekStarz since 2013.

“Our goal is to start developing our workforce before these students get to college and beyond,” Randal said. “By making the students aware of the amazing career opportunities in manufacturing and technology, they can better seek out classes and opportunities that nurture that curiosity.”

The camp began Tuesday and concluded Thursday evening.

In addition to Hytrol, the students got some hands-on instruction into the work performed at Post Consumer Products, Nabholz Construction and Best Manufacturing. They also visited Ritter Communications, where they learned about communications technology, and they learned to fabricate parts at the Arkansas State University Newport Workforce Training Center in Jonesboro.

But their first presentation came from Mark Howell of Howell Safety & Training Solutions on workplace safety.

Randel said the companies that partner with Jonesboro Unlimited on TekStarz also benefit.

“You can see those young minds at work saying, ‘I want to do that someday,’” Randel said. “It’s exciting to see the students make those connections between their interests and how those interests could turn into a great career in the future.”

Summer Food Programs underway

Jonesboro — A federal summer food program has taken a hit to sponsorships statewide, with only two organizations signed up in Jonesboro this year.

“Last year, with everything closing, it really put everything in a tailspin,” said Perry Hunter, a quality assurance coordinator with the Arkansas Special Nutrition Program. “People were trying to figure out how to get meals to people in need and people who want them.”

Hunter said in 2019 the number of sponsors across the state was 150 to 160; this year there are an estimate 65 to 70 sponsors.

“That’s the number across the state,” he said. “We took a pretty good hit.”

Hunter said there are numerous groups that can participate in the program, including non-profit organizations.

Only two orgainzations are administering meals locally, Nettleton School District and Whole Youth Services, Inc.

Neither Nettleton School District nor Whole Youth Services was available for comment as of press time.

“This is just a simple, easy program to ensure participants in cities and townships have access to … (quality food),” he said.

Hunter said the feeding program works on a reimbursement basis, and sponsors who participate get refunded $2.46 for each breakfast served, $4.32 for lunch and dinner, and $1 per snack.

Other summer food programs are also in progress in the area, which are being administered by local school districts.

Local school districts, funded by the USDA, have continued to feed students throughout the pandemic.

One local school district has seen an increase in participation in the number of people they serve.

Naomi Whitby-Brown, food services director for Jonesboro School District, said its too early to tell if their program will match pandemic numbers.

“We started our program last Thursday,” Brown said. “The first day it was very popular, but this week we experienced rain the second day,” she said. “Today and next Monday will be indicators of true need.”

Brown said there was an increase in participants when the pandemic hit .

“We did see an increase between March 2020 and August 2020. We served 303,000 meals,” she noted.

Free summer meals will be served from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. from June 3 to July 29, she said.

When the pandemic hit, Brown said waivers were given to the USDA-sponsored food program.

“Instead of just serving five days of breakfast and lunch where students would have to walk up to the school and stay here and eat,” Brown said, “now we can serve meal packs that cover meals for seven days.”

There are four locations where meal packs can be picked up – Annie Camp Junior High, MacArthur Junior High, MicroSociety and International Studies.

Meal delivery is also available at five locations throughout the city – Belt and Melrose streets, Parker Park, Word Baptist Church, Arrowhead Farm and Duncan roads, and Highland Drive and Red Wolf Boulevard are all locations where meals will be available.

Westside is also serving meals to students, but this year it’s on site instead of meal pick-up drive through locations.

Chastidy Hedge, food service director for Westside, said they are feeding anyone under the age of 18 until the end of July.

“Last year we did grab-and-go meals for a week at a time due to COVID-19,” she said. “This year we have opened up the cafeteria for them to sit down and eat.”

So far, Hedge said Westside is serving about 150 students a day both breakfast and lunch.

“We are trying to be as normal as we can this summer instead of just packing them up and sending them home,” she said. “We are excited to be back to normal.”

As far as the Arkansas Special Nutrition Program, Hunter said he anticipates the number of participants to return to normal levels.

“What we do to build awareness is public speaking,” he said. “We have an outreach coordinator who will spearhead getting the information out, like talking with the mayors, constables and fire chiefs. We want to make sure those people recognize the needs in their community for these programs and have folks who want to give back.”

Jonesboro woman arrested in death of infant daughter

JONESBORO — Aliyah Patton, 23, of Jonesboro, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of first-degree murder in the death of her infant daughter on Sept. 27, 2020, according to Jonesboro police.

Officers responded after an unresponsive infant was admitted to the Emergency Room of St. Bernards Medical Center. Detectives were called in to begin their investigation.

An autopsy was performed by the Arkansas State Crime Lab, and the results were obtained by JPD on Monday.

The child was born prematurely in June 2020, police said.

Patton pleaded guilty in February to aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a minor in which she was accused of trying to run over a woman and her 2-year-old child on Oct. 1, 2020, at the intersection of Vine Street and Cherry Avenue.

The victim said she and the suspect began an argument at the Walmart on Highland Drive and it continued until they got to the Vine and Cherry intersection. The victim then got out of the car with her daughter. She said that is when Patton tried to run her and her daughter over, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Patton pleaded guilty on Feb. 8 and received two years of probation, according to court documents.

Walton family sets up $1M fund for LGBT groups in Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Family members of Walmart founder Sam Walton on Thursday launched a $1 million fund for groups assisting LGBT people in the retail giant’s home state of Arkansas, which has enacted measures restricting transgender people’s rights.

The new fund is being established with support from the Alice L. Walton Foundation and from Olivia and Tom Walton through the Walton Family Foundation. The fund will distribute grants of $25,000 and more for groups that offer legal, health, education and advocacy services, along with other high-demand needs.

Arkansas Community Foundation will oversee the fund.

The initiative was launched following a legislative session in Arkansas that was marked by new laws restricting the rights of transgender people. The state is being sued over one of those measures, which bans gender confirming treatments for transgender youth. Unless blocked by a federal judge, the ban will take effect July 28.

“Our state is in a moment of reflection where each of us must send a message of acceptance to the LGBTQ community that says ‘You belong here,’” Olivia and Tom Walton said in a statement. “It is also a time for action by recognizing LGBTQ Arkansans face growing challenges that need community-driven solutions.”