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BECK: A joyous night to honor a few of Newton’s finest
Beck Column Visions
Editor and Publisher Taylor Beck presents former Covington City Councilwoman Janet Goodman one of the 2022 Visions Unsung Hero awards. - photo by Phillip B. Hubbard

If I’ve learned anything in my nearly two years living in Newton County, it’s that our community is filled with truly special people.

Thursday night, The Covington News was able to host its annual Visions Awards reception to honor a few of those people and unveil our Community Spirit Award winner, Unsung Heroes, Employer of the Year and Youth of the Year.

The Community Spirit Award is presented each year to a person who exemplifies the very best of Newton County, is an advocate for the community and contributes to the growth and prosperity of the community.

I’m proud to say this year’s recipient was Serra P. Hall, who is executive director of the Newton County Industrial Development Authority and one of the lead recruiters for the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties. Not only is she the consummate professional and spectacular at what she does, but Serra is also genuinely a great person who embodies what a Community Spirit Award winner is. She is a wonderful friend and colleague, and I believe she’s a shining example of what all young ladies should strive to be.

Our Unsung Heroes included Duane Ford, Janet Goodman and Mike Hopkins. Unsung Heroes are 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. And I could not think of a better trio to be honored this year.

Ford is chairman of Newton Trails, which is a nonprofit that includes about 40 volunteers and 30 additional people who regularly participate on its numerous projects and activities. The group, led by Ford, is dedicated to building, maintaining and linking an extensive system of bicycle and pedestrian trails throughout the county — with a major focus on completing a continuous 15-mile route for the Cricket Frog Trail from Covington to Mansfield. 

In 2021, Ford led the nonprofit as its volunteers refurbished former railroad bridges, installed trailside benches and pet waste stations, saw local governments pave many miles of the trail, and began an ambitious fundraising campaign to renovate the final, and largest, bridge on the trail.

Goodman is a former member of the Covington City Council. Despite facing racial and gender discrimination in her younger years, Goodman used her experiences to fuel her desire and efforts to make her hometown of Covington a better place for future generations. In the 1970s, Goodman was an activist, participating in protests and marches for civil rights. She helped organize the Newton County Voters League, the Washington Street Center and the United Black Front. In 1978, Goodman was the first African American female to be voted onto the Covington City Council, and she served on the council until 2015.

Hopkins, who is director of the Newton County Water & Sewerage Authority, serves as chairman of the Friends of the Miracle League committee. He plays an integral role in maintaining the county-owned facility built especially for its unique players. 

Our Youth of the Year was awarded to J. Harrison Kirkham. 

The Youth of the Year Award is presented each year 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. And there is no doubt, Kirkham has done these things.

In 2017, Kirkham spearheaded the initiative to get a splash pad built in Newton County as part of his project to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts. He put in countless hours of work to bring the unique opportunity to Newton County, and after four years of planning and laboring, the vision became a reality. 

Kirkham has since graduated from Eastside High School and now attends Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he is a member of the marching band and pep band. As for what’s next? Kirkham said, “Whatever I end up doing in life, I want to do my part to help make the world a better place.”

And finally, our Employer of the Year was awarded to Snapping Shoals EMC. 

The Employer of the Year award is presented each year to a local business or industry that has shown an outstanding investment in the Newton County and displays tremendous involvement in the enrichment of our community. Snapping Shoals EMC, while providing excellent electric service to much of the community for more than 80 years, has remained “plugged in” and participated in community events and initiatives. 

It was a joy to honor these great people, but an even greater joy to help tell their stories.

I strongly encourage you to read those stories inside our Visions 2022 magazine. In addition to being featured in the Saturday-Sunday, April 23-24, weekend edition of The Covington News, magazine copies are also available at our office at 1166 Usher St.

Taylor Beck is editor and publisher of The Covington News. He may be reached at