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The end of an era
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It's been a few years since I graduated from anything, so it was really nice to have my name called on May 8 and have people clap because I had finished something. That something I finished was an eight-month endeavor called Leadership Newton County.

Waking up two hours earlier than I usually do for our monthly class day was never enjoyable, but by the end of the day it was worth the lost sleep because of the information I gained throughout the day.

I've learned about our county's history, how city and county services are provided, how businesses are courted, how our public safety system works, how our hospital is equipped with cutting-edge technology and even a bit about how to sterilize a pallet of catheters.

Possibly the most valuable bit of information I gained during the last month was an online tool I now regularly use at the newspaper. It turns out that the Select Georgia web tool on Georgia Power's Georgia Resource Center website is not only useful to companies looking to relocate and expand but also to reporters working on articles about the importance of industry.

My favorite class day was definitely my day with the Covington Fire Department. I gained a newfound appreciation for firefighters in general, scared myself into being brave and learned that most of the time brains really do conquer brawn - although you need a lot of both to do what firefighters do.

The program also required the class to develop a community service project. Our class, being the overachievers we all are, planned two projects. Our food drive was immensely successful as our classmates allowed for participation of schools, churches and businesses. Because we reached out to the community for support, our class was able to donate hundreds of items to four community food banks in desperate need.

I wanted to do something with children and have a project that was more "hands on." So, Bea Jackson, director of the Washington Street Community Center, and I hatched a plan to give the children served by the center a well deserved break from school work. As a celebration of the completion of the 2010 round of CRCT testing, our class donated $300 worth of outdoor toys to the center and planned a day to try out the toys with the kids.

The day we chose for the play date was actually my birthday and I had an absolute blast blowing bubbles, playing scoop-ball and jumping rope. It was supposed to be a fun day for the kids, which it was, but I think for the classmates that participated, it will be a day that they always treasure - I know I will.

Everyday I spent as part of the LNC program will be a day that I treasure - not because I got a story idea for the paper or because I got a free lunch that day, but because they were spent cementing relationships and friendships I am sure to have for many years.

I encourage anyone who can to enroll in next year's program through the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce. Even if you can't, it's important to learn the history of your community and how its different facets work together. The future success of our county depends on informed citizens.

Learn what you can about where you live and love those who care enough to share their story and ask about yours.

Jennifer T. Long is the editor of The Covington News and a member of the 2009-2010 class of Leadership Newton County.