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At Miller Park, people mourn together to heal together

Nearly eight full years have passed since Constance “Connie” Hall’s lifeless body was found in a trash can on Manly Street in November of 2011, a fatal stab wound in her chest.

For nearly eight years, her little sister, April Hall-Atwater, has grieved.

Standing next to her husband, Gerald Atwater, in Miller Park Saturday morning, April’s shirt has a picture of Connie on it, along with the year she was born and the year she died. She was 47.

“A lot of times, people don’t understand the things other people go through,” Hall-Atwater says.

She and her husband are here as part of a larger event, Vigils for Healing’s inaugural Memorial Walk to Remember. The nonprofit formed in 2006 to bring people together and provide community support for anyone who needs it after losing someone unexpectedly or in a violent manner, Vigils for Healing Co-Director Tracey Maxwell said.

The group held a vigil for Connie Hall in 2012, and April Hall-Atwater has been involved with them ever since. Her voice is heavy with sadness, and her eyes are cast low to the ground, but Hall-Atwater said she’s thankful for these events. Thankful because it allows her to keep the dead among the living.

“It honors them,” Hall-Atwater said. “It keeps (Connie) alive.”

In 2015, police arrested Cornelius Tucker Jr. on murder charges in Hall’s death. He is yet to be convicted, something Gerald Atwater said makes it hard for his wife.

“People die all the time, but it’s different when people take a life,” Gerald Atwater said. “She gets very emotional at times. It’s her big sister, you know?”

In 2017, a Forysth County Superior Court Judge found Tucker to be incompetent to stand trial, and had him involuntarily committed to a mental hospital until his capacity to stand trial was restored. It’s unclear when, or if, he will stand trial.

Maxwell said it’s important for people to take notice when people are lost to violence.

“If everyone doesn’t take note, doesn’t take a stand, then we all become complicit in a way,” Maxwell said.

There are others here who are less sure about what happened to the people they’re mourning.

Betsy Watkins’ voice shakes when she talks about her friend’s son, Jeff Rutledge, whose picture she is wearing around her neck. She’s here walking today because Rutledge’s mother can’t.

“He drowned in a bathtub. A 29-year-old man drowned in a bathtub …” Watkins said before her voice trailed off. “That’s what they said the official cause of death is.”

Watkins has another loss to mourn. Her son, Nick, died when he was 6-years-old.

She doesn’t want to talk about it.

At the same time, Watkins, who is a Vigils for Healing board member, said you might as well share your pain with others because you’re going to feel it anyway.

“You’re going to cry anyways. You’re going to have tears anyways,” Watkins said. “This way it’s a release. You feel a little better after you leave.”

Menu change: WS/FCS replaces polystyrene lunch trays with compostable trays.

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system has converted all its polystyrene lunch trays to compostable trays as part of its environmental sustainability efforts.

Brent Campbell, spokesman for the school system, said in a press release that the compostable trays will degrade faster than polystyrene in landfills “and provide other school parent and student groups an opportunity to implement a successful composting program similar to the pilot program underway at Speas Global Elementary.”

Lauren Richards, the director of Child Nutrition for WS/FCS, said Wednesday in an interview that Speas Elementary has a full composting program in its lunch room and works with a commercial composting company.

“A composting program takes significant student and parent involvement to kick off and maintain, and they have that presence, desire and motivation there,” Richards said of efforts at Speas.

In May 2019, parents and students at Speas Elementary started a pilot composting program during lunch service. Chartwells K12 covered the cost difference for compostable trays versus polystyrene tray.

In June 2019, the WS/FCS Board of Education voted to replace polystyrene trays with compostable trays throughout the WS/FCS cafeterias during the current school year. However, this change does not include schools that currently have usable — plastic and washable — trays.

Speas Elementary has been able to carry its composting program into the 2019-2020 school year with the help of its PTA and parent volunteers, along with school leaders’ support.

“Roughly, one 90-gallon drum is filled with compost waste daily,” Campbell said. “The composting program is also providing learning opportunities for students on the importance of sustainability.”

Here’s how the program works at Speas Elementary: “Trash” is divided into five different waste bins — liquid, food waste, trays, recyclable containers and other trash. At each lunch period, an adult volunteer helps students in this process.

Each lunch period requires an adult volunteer to assist students in this process.

This school year, the plan is for student volunteers in each grade to take over at lunch to make sure the composting is done properly.

Schools in the district that are interested in composting programs “would be responsible for utilizing community donations, or PTA or other organizational funds,” Richards said.

“The other option that’s strongly encouraged is to apply for a number of various science grants that are out there to help support programs such as this,” she said.

Smith Farm Elementary School has been using the compostable trays since the school began operating seven years ago.

Cynthia Rash, the principal at Smith Farm Elementary, said that the compostable trays are better than styrofoam for environmental reasons and she appreciates the school system converting from polystyrene to compostable trays.

“However, since we do not have a compost bin, we are not composting them,” Rash said of her school. “They just go into the trash, which I don’t like.”

Rash said that she believes staff and students at Smith Farm Elementary would prefer trays that can be washed and reused, saying they are stronger and easier to carry.

“I am an environmentalist,” Rash said. “I believe that we must be good stewards of our earth in all that we do.

“I do think that schools produce a lot of unnecessary waste. And I think we could do a better job, while teaching our students environmentally sound practices and the reasons behind them.”

$146K in incentives from Forsyth County possible for sock-maker Renfro relocating to Winston-Salem

Fresh on the heels of incentives that may be offered by Winston-Salem, Forsyth County is poised to offer Mount Airy sock-maker Renfro Corp. additional dollars to move its corporate headquarters to Winston-Salem.

On Thursday, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners will consider giving Renfro up to $146,250 in incentives, based partly on property tax revenues generated and partly on the sales taxes from purchases the company would make in Forsyth County.

Winston-Salem City Council will consider some $300,000 in incentives for Renfro during the council’s meeting today.

The county money would be paid out over a 10-year period. The city money would be paid out over five years.

Renfro has deep roots in Surry County, but local officials say they’re not raiding a neighbor’s jobs and tax base because the company has already made the decision to leave the county. Local economic development officials said that in addition to Winston-Salem, Renfro is considering locations in New York, Los Angeles and Charlotte.

Kyle Haney, the county’s economic development specialist, recently told Forsyth County commissioners that the incentives are calculated on paying the company 50% of the new property taxes it generates here, and 1 cent on the dollar for additional sales tax revenues generated here by company purchases.

Under the terms of the proposed deal, to get the county incentives, Renfro has to make a capital investment of at least $1 million in business personal property over 10 years, and relocate at least 225 full-time jobs or the equivalent over a five-year period.

Also, average wage and benefits of the new jobs have to amount to an average of $95,000 per year.

The Winston-Salem City Council will hold a public hearing on its Renfro incentives during its 7 p.m. meeting Monday at City Hall, located at 101 N. Main St.

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners will hold its public hearing on Renfro incentives during its meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Forsyth County Government Center at 201 N. Chestnut St.

The county incentives agreement has to be put into effect by Sept. 30, 2020.