Blue Ridge, Ga – The first annual Blue Ridge Soap Box Derby raised $4,900 for Fannin County School’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program on Saturday, April 27.
The derby race was created by locals to benefit the community, specifically the children. Co-founder Brian Higgins said, “We have festivals here almost monthly, but none of them are geared toward kids, so we wanted to do something for them, and the best part is all the money goes back to them with the STEM program.”
The founders chose to donate to STEM for a couple of reasons. According to Higgins, “[Science, technology, engineering, and math] is every bit a box car when you think about.” It takes each area to build and race a soapbox car.
Second, STEM doesn’t receive SPLOST dollars. STEM’s funding comes from the general school budget, which also pays for other school supplies.
STEM teaches students computational thinking and how to use scientific methods to solve real-world problems. The program helps children to develop technological skills to find highly-sought after jobs.
All the cars adhered to soapbox derby car standards, using only gravity as a propulsion system. Each car and driver were weighed during the race qualifying to ensure everyone had a fair chance during the derby.
Local businesses sponsored and helped the children to build over 26 cars for the derby. The participants brought their creativity to the cars’ design from that paint to the wheels.
49 drivers raced down the hill at Fannin County Middle School on a great day for it. The school even donated the cafeteria for the day, so the children and spectators would have a lunch area. Local vendors were on hand to provide food for everyone in attendance.
Broken into three divisions, drivers fell into either the 7-11, 12-17, or 18 plus age groups. The 7-11 bracket had to win two out of three races during the preliminary round. The winners from those races moved on to the single race elimination round. The 12-17 and 18 plus brackets raced only a single elimination round.
Winners for the 7-11 Division
First Place: Watson
Second Place: Pierce
Third Place: Williams
Winner for the 12-17 Division
First Place: Twiggs
Second Place: Higgins
Third Place: Preising
All winners received $250, $75, or $25, depending on where they finished in the race.
Derby organizers hope to expand the event in the future with participants from across North Georgia.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Tragedy brought to the forefront this week a charity that has rarely been spotlighted in our community. Some had heard of The Open Arms Home for Children, but because of the nature of the charity and the need for privacy, awareness of this cause is often overshadowed.
A call came in at 8:36 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 26, that the home for Open Arms was on fire, and emergency responders rushed to the scene. All of the girls housed at the Open Arms facility, as well as the staff, were able to make it out safely, but the home and personal belongings were devastatingly damaged.
State investigators determined that the fire was intentionally set, and Captain Justin Turner with the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that a juvenile was in custody. The investigation remains open as more details emerge about the fire.
Peter Knutzen, vice president of Open Arms, did confirm, “A couple of girls involved with the fire, that were in the home, are no longer in the home.”
As with many tragedies, there is a beautiful outpouring of support and love shown in the aftermath. This has been the case with the Open Arms disaster and the support of the community in the wake of the devastation.
“The first responders, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), DFACS (Division of Family and Children Services), and the general community of Blue Ridge and Blairsville and the surrounding area has done an incredible job of responding.” Knutzen began when questioned about the response of the community.
Wal-Mart of Blue Ridge helped the night of the fire with getting the girls the essentials needed for the following days. During their weekly luncheon, the Rotary Club of Blue Ridge, the Blue Ridge Lodging Association, as well as individuals and separate companies, announced monetary donations to be made to The Open Arms Home for Children.
Knutzen showed happiness as he recognized everyone coming together to support this cause. When talking about individuals who have offered help, Knutzen said, “Marines, guys that work with Toys for Tots, they’re going to go up and get everything out of the shed. Rakes, lawnmowers, everything that was not burnt and secure it.”
Knutzen, though deeply saddened by the recent events, displayed optimism when discussing the girls in their care and the future of Open Arms. “These girls are in crisis. They come from crisis. So for them, they are resilient in many ways. We have a wonderful group of girls with us right now,” Knutzen said.
As for how the girls are doing, Knutzen explained, “They feel let down because of what happened. The anxiety now is what happens next. We are assuring them, the best we can, that they are going to stay together. The girls find this home, the home they want to be at.”
Shortly after this interview, word did come from DFACS that the girls would be able to stay together, relieving one of the many obstacles to be faced in the process of rebuilding. In an update on the Open Arms Facebook page, the good news was announced:
“Thanks to DFACS, our girls will remain here together and will continue schooling and extra-cirricular activities in Fannin County. This is a true blessing and for sure an answer to our prayers.”
While the days, weeks, and months to come will be a struggle to this charity as they replace and rebuild, Open Arms would like to the community to know how much their continued support means and how grateful they are. “We have an incredible community that has, and always, responds to crisis,” Knutzen concluded.
If you would like to make a donation or learn more about The Open Arms Home for Children please visit their website at www.oahome.org. Donations can also be made at several locations in Blue Ridge and Blairsville. These locations include: United Community Bank (Main Branch), Blue Ridge Cotton Company and Gather (East Main Street, Blue Ridge), Blue Ridge Cotton Company (Blairsville), Harry Norman Realtors (West Main Street, Blue Ridge) and Old Toccoa Farms (Mineral Bluff).
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