The Valdosta Daily Times
More than 350 community supporters turned out Thursday night for an annual banquet that recognizes the efforts of local law-enforcement personnel and raises money for funds to support officers in need.
The Seventh Annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Dinner, LEAD, was presented by the Rotary Club of Valdosta at the James H. Rainwater Conference Center. The hundreds of people in attendance represented business and community leaders throughout the area who wished to express their support of local law enforcement.
“This is about supporting and remembering our men and women of law enforcement and thanking them,” said Judge John Kent Edwards, who gave opening remarks on behalf of the Rotary Club.
The annual dinner is an effort by the Rotary Club of Valdosta to emphasize the club’s motto, “Service Above Self,” by looking to those in the community who “epitomize service above self,” said Myrna Ballard, Rotary president.
“These officers have a tough job, and we want them to know how much we appreciate what they do,” said James Dominey. “We are also here tonight to support their families through the funds we generate through this dinner.”
The money raised through the banquet goes into a fund established by the Rotary Club that helps officers in the event of an emergency situation. Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress shared two letters given to him by police officers who have received assistance from the fund. One officer was helped after burst pipes flooded her home, and another officer was given an envelope with a check from the fund to help with medical expenses after his wife had become ill, said Childress.
frequently inspects other law enforcement agencies, said a program like LEAD is unique.
“I can promise you this. After inspecting law-enforcement agencies for the past 10 years and in 30 states, I’ve never been to a community that has this type of program,” said Childress. “That means you are a solid partner, and we always have someone in the front seat with us.”
As a part of the evening’s events, Childress presented the Valdosta Police Department Officer of the Year Award to Lt. Tomas Chavarria Jr., a 22-year veteran of the department.
Chavarria has worked with the VPD Power Squad team, a street-level crime suppression unit, since 1997 and was promoted to sergeant of that unit in 2004. He has received numerous awards throughout his career, including the Top Gun Award for outstanding physical and firearm skills, said Childress. Last week, Chavarria was promoted to lieutenant of a road patrol shift.
Chavarria thanked his wife, children and his in-laws for their support of his career.
Chief Deputy Joe Crow presented the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office officer of the year award in the absence of Sheriff Chris Prine who was attending an informal memorial service for Capt. Sam Temples, a LCSO veteran who died from a sudden illness Sunday.
“The sheriff’s office this week has been bittersweet – a time of loss and a time of honor,” said Crow. “Interesting, but not by accident, tonight’s recipient was under Sam’s command.”
The LCSO officer of the year award was given to Deputy Donald Newham, a former auxiliary deputy who resumed full-time service with the department in 2012. Newham now serves as a school resource officer.
“As a school resource officer and as a D.A.R.E. officer, he has to be the very best role model for the students at Lake Park Elementary,” said Crow.
Newham, known as “Doc” around the sheriff’s department, said he was a part of fulfilling Sheriff Prine’s campaign pledge to put a resource officer in every school in the county system.
“This year, we achieved that goal. I’m proud to be one of those officers,” said Newham. “I truly believe that the future of tomorrow is in the hands of our youth today.”
Newham thanked his family and the teachers and staff of Lake Park Elementary for their support.
Edwards presented both Chavarria and Newham with a check for $500 on behalf of the Rotary Club before expressing one last word of gratitude.
“We don’t experience their jobs first hand or their stresses first hand,” said Edwards. “But we want you to hear that we have your back.”