COVINGTON, Ga. — The Covington News honored the county’s top economic development official with the top award during its 2022 Visions ceremony Thursday, April 21.
Publisher and Editor Taylor Beck gave its Community Spirit Award to Serra P. Hall of the Newton County Industrial Development Authority for her success as an industrial recruiter, devotion to her family and overall good community standing.
The News also honored leaders of two nonprofits — Newton Trails and the Friends of the Miracle League — and longtime city councilwoman Janet Goodman with Unsung Heroes awards; recognized the visionary behind the county’s splash pad in Denny Dobbs Park as its Youth of the Year; and spotlighted Snapping Shoals EMC as its Employer of the Year.
Awards were given in conjunction with the publication of The Covington News’ annual Visions magazine.
Beck said Visions serves as the 157-year-old newspaper’s annual progress edition.
“A progress edition is a newspaper’s yearly celebration of the community it calls home,” Beck said. “It is a chance for us to recognize our area’s top employers, build up our bright and talent-rich youth, shed light on our area’s unsung heroes, and honor those who exemplify the definition of community spirit through their advocacy for the community, and contributions to the growth and prosperity of the community.”
COMMUNITY SPIRIT AWARD
Beck said the award is “presented each year to a person who exemplifies the best of Newton County, is an advocate for the community and contributes to the growth and prosperity of the community.”
Hall is the director of the Industrial Development Authority and a chief industrial recruiter for the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties.
She worked with Walton County counterpart Shane Short in 2021 to help recruit electric vehicle maker Rivian to a 2,000-acre site in Walton and Morgan counties where it plans to employ 7,500 workers.
She also was instrumental in recruiting two Facebook data centers to the Stanton Springs South business park in Social Circle, and Lidl Inc. and McKinley Paper to Newton County.
Hall said she was “beyond blessed to be able to celebrate our home every day” to potential employers.
“I’m proud of our community,” she said.
YOUTH OF THE YEAR
The Youth of the Year award is presented to an individual 21 years old or younger who “has made an impact in Newton County by way of significant contributions, community-oriented projects and simply aiding others,” Beck said.
The award winner, J. Harrison Kirkham, had traveled from Utah to Georgia the day before for the event after finishing final exams of his freshman year at Brigham Young University.
He said he devised the project after seeing the lack of water recreation facilities in Newton County. He then began planning it as a project required for his Eagle Scout rank.
“I really wanted to do something that would impact the community positively,” Kirkham said.
During Thursday’s ceremony, Harrison thanked County Chairman Marcello Banes and county Recreation Department director Dwayne Mask for acting upon his plans for the splash pad — which opened in May 2021 after four years of planning and construction.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.
Kirkham also encouraged the community to give its young residents opportunities “to accomplish their dreams.”
EMPLOYER OF THE YEAR
The Employer of the Year award is given to a business “that has shown an outstanding investment in Newton County and displays tremendous involvement in the enrichment of our community,” Beck said.
Snapping Shoals provides electricity to 99,000 homes and businesses in Newton and seven other counties. Beck said the electric cooperative “places a special focus on being ‘plugged in’ to the community.”
Chief Operating Officer Frank Askew of Snapping Shoals said he accepted the award for his 230 co-workers at the Covington-based cooperative.
He said one of the missions of electric co-ops was to play an active role in the community.
Askew said Snapping Shoals was the second co-op for which he worked but was “the best.”
The News gave Unsung Heroes awards to Newton Trails board chairman Duane Ford, Friends of the Miracle League chairman Mike Hopkins and former Covington councilwoman Janet Goodman.
Beck said Unsung Heroes awards are given to “the people who work behind the scenes making significant contributions to society that make life better for those around them, but are no less deserving of accolades.”
Ford said he was representing the numerous Newton Trails volunteers who contributed to bringing projects like the Cricket Frog and Eastside trails to fruition over more than two decades.
He also thanked the hundreds who contributed to fundraisers for Newton Trails’ projects “who make me look good,” he said.
Goodman participated in marches and protests during the Civil Rights Era before working for years for the county school system and The Covington News — where she was its first Black employee.
In the 1970s, Goodman helped organize the Newton County Voters League, the Washington Street Community Center and the United Black Front.
She then served 37 years on the Covington City Council from 1978 to 2015 — which made her the longest serving councilwoman in Georgia when she left the post.
Beck said her “desire to see her hometown become better than it was when she was a child has driven her to a lifetime of service and dedication to Covington.”
“And her valiant efforts have truly made a difference in our community,” he said.
Goodman told the banquet attendees at the Life in the City event center that she was seldom at a loss for words but found herself in that position in accepting the award.
“Working together we can change things,” she said.
Hopkins recalled seeing the “joy” of one boy on crutches who could barely walk but was able to participate in Miracle League baseball.
“To see him play ball was awesome,” he said.
Hopkins urged the attendees to travel to City Pond Park to see participants in the Miracle League program — many severely handicapped — who are given a chance to participate in a sport.