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Immigration, drugs are top concerns

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Galax citizens meet with U.S. District Attorney to seek solutions.

By April Wright, Reporter

Galax community leaders, educators, non-profit and city department representatives rallied together on June 30 to gain insight from U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy, who prosecutes cases in the western district of Virginia for the U.S. District Court.
Citizens wanted to address some of the area’s leading issues and needs — drugs, immigration concerns, poverty, hunger and abuse.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is opening up communication with communities like Galax because federal officials may be able to help with some of the area’s programs, by identifying grants or providing other resources.     
This was the second community meeting held this year.
Drugs
“We have a meth problem,” said Rudolph Bryant, assistant basketball coach at Galax High School. “We don’t realize the impact that it has on our children, and it’s a one-way ticket to nowhere.”
Tina Bullins, director of the Life Center of Galax, a drug abuse treatment facility, said prescription drugs have become a huge problem for the area, and the main contributor to the problem is physicians prescribing addictive substances. The majority of Life Center residents are addicted to prescription drugs.
Katherine Jadlowe and husband David Stone, both community volunteers who retired to the area, said they were concerned about the lack of parental involvement.
“I have taught school since 1957, but back then, there were no drugs, but it grew over the years,” he said.
Galax Police Sgt. Chris Brown said the DARE drug prevention program brings awareness to elementary school children, “but there isn’t any followup. We have no funding to continue programs into high school.”
Heaphy suggested that programs, such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Club, should be implemented into the area.

Immigration
Galax Schools’ Superintendent Bill Sturgill explained how Hispanic students struggle to survive.
One 16-year-old Hispanic student, he said, was an A-B student. However, because she is an illegal alien, she told Sturgill that pregnancy was her only avenue. She got pregnant to receive assistance to survive.
Although many Hispanic students have dreams of going to college, some lose hope of graduating in an effort to survive. Many go on to work in factories or tree farms, instead of attending college.
The Galax schools’ population is 30 percent Hispanic, Sturgill noted. “We need to figure out a way to get these children to college.”
Dionne Tucker, an educator at Galax High School, said some Hispanic students graduate as A students, “but they can’t go to school because they’re undocumented. They can go to community college, but they have to pay out-of-state tuition, and at 18, they can’t afford that.”
Henry Campo, a Hispanic pastor in Galax, said that most Hispanics are afraid. The Hispanic churches help to provide an outreach to those individuals.
When they are afraid, it leads to victimization because most don’t report crimes.
“It also makes it difficult for Hispanic parents to come to us,” said Sturgill.
Another Hispanic pastor, Amilicar Rodriguez, said the biggest issue is that most illegal aliens are driving without a license. “They know how to drive, but they don’t have a license.”
Ricky Alvarado, Hispanic pastor of First Baptist Church of Galax, said the church reaches out to the Hispanic community to assist with needs.
“How can the government help?” he asked.
Alvarado said if the government provided some sort of identification to undocumented residents, it would tell “where they’re at and help the Hispanic community come out of hiding. It would make them more comfortable with the law.”
After high school, many Hispanic graduates feel like there is no way out.
“Many want to be able to get a career, but they know that they can’t,” he said.
“A large portion of the Hispanic population is ineligible for services,” said Susan Clark, director of Galax Social Services. “We need to reach out to all races who have needs.”

Feeding the Hungry
Jacquie Roberts, Alison Bolen and Stephannie Dees — organizers of Backpack Buddies, a program that provides food to children in need — asked Heaphy about ways to further the funding of the program.
Now in its third year, Backpack Buddies is supported by the community and by grants and feeds about 230 children in the elementary, middle and high schools. It has served 52,000 meals so far.
One-fourth of local children are in a food-insecure household, they said, and 60 percent of Galax students are on free and reduced-price lunch.
Backpack Buddies needs to find ways to obtain grants, they told Heaphy.
Heaphy said his office would help to identify funding streams for the organization.
Susan Clark said that more than 1,000 families, out of 2,200 families in Galax, are on food stamps. And 40 percent of residents are on Medicaid.
Clark also noted that Galax has a large elderly community that are on fixed income. “Many are unable to get in and out of their homes because they don’t have ramps, or they need a roof, but don’t have the money to fix it,” she said.
She said although the city matches the states funding to the department each year, the state funds have been cut. When that happens, the department must make do with less.

Other Concerns
A Galax resident said that some young men who have been convicted of felonies and are wanting to turn their lives around, can’t obtain jobs because of their backgrounds.
“They go back down the same road unless there is intervention,” she said.
Tucker said that Galax should implement a program to help those who have been incarcerated.     
Another issue she raised is that once Galax natives graduate from college, they can’t return to the area because of the lack of job opportunities here. “How can we draw them back?” Tucker asked.
Regina Eller of Family Resource Center in Wytheville said her biggest concern is human trafficking. “I knew that it was a problem, but until recently, I had no idea,” she said. “Many [people] are here against their will.”
At the conclusion of the community meeting, Brown said, “We talked about our needs and problems. Now what?”
“That is the right question to end on,” said Heaphy. “We need ongoing conversation. This program has been provoking and helpful.”
Galax Police Chief Rick Clark said that, although Galax is a great place to live, it does have it’s share of problems. “But, there’s not a thing that we talked about that we can’t overcome,” he said.
Brown said the meeting was organized in order to address some of the issues happening in the area.