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Sheriff's vehicles to carry autism sensory items
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Bryce Carter has been helping the county’s public safety agencies for over three years as the Public Safety ITS director for the Miami County Sheriff’s Office.

Carter, who has a degree from Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, Texas, is a technology whiz who Capt. Matt Kelly said will always be one of the smartest people in the room.

Bryce Carter also has nonverbal autism.

“I feel people should know that nonverbal autism does not define intelligence, independence, life, and communication,” Carter wrote in an email. “Everybody in the world is different, but just because somebody is nonverbal does not mean they have nothing to say.”

The sheriff’s office is launching a program April 1 to coincide with national Autism Awareness Month that will equip all of the agency’s patrol vehicles with backpacks filled with autism sensory items to help personnel better communicate with people who have autism.

The sheriff’s office has partnered with Lakemary Center and has received a $2,504 grant from the Baehr Foundation, managed through First Option Bank, to make the program a reality, Kelly said.

Lakemary Center, of Paola, serves children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Kelly came up with the idea for the program after learning more about Carter’s autism and reading about a fire department that utilizes autism sensory tools.

“I saw an article about a fire department in Ohio that had these bags on their fire trucks,” Kelly said. “When they would respond to calls that have people with autism, whether it be kids or adults, they had these tools to help communicate with them and keep them calm — whatever the case may be — because the spectrum is so wide that autism affects people in different ways.”

Lakemary supplied 20 backpacks to the sheriff’s office at no cost, and recommended what autism sensory items to put in the backpacks. The Baehr Foundation grant funded the cost of purchasing the sensory items for the 20 backpacks, Kelly said.

“We got enough to outfit every patrol vehicle, sixteen of them, and we have a few extra backpacks in case one needs replaced,” Kelly said. “These sensory items will be used on calls where they could be beneficial to persons with autism.”

On Friday, March 26, Lakemary staff volunteered their services to help train sheriff’s office personnel from several divisions in the department on how and when to use the sensory items.

During the training session in the community room at the sheriff’s office, Lakemary staff also demonstrated some techniques to improve communication and how to be a calming influence to a person with autism who might be in a potentially stressful situation.

“It’s exciting. It’s amazing that they are going to have tools that help them and help other people in the community,” said Jillie Powell, a certified occupational therapy assistant with Lakemary who was one of the presenters March 26.

Another Lakemary presenter, certified occupational therapy assistant Amber Wessel, said before the training began that the goal is to help sheriff’s office staff recognize what sensory items to use and when to use them.

“We’re going to go through that today and talk about the various items that each of the backpacks hold and what you can utilize them for, when you’re on the job,” Wessel said.

Powell and Wessel said the backpack program is needed because the number of people diagnosed with autism is rising each year.

As part of the awareness campaign, Capt. Kelly said the sheriff’s office has created T-shirts for staff to wear in April that will have a newly designed Miami County Sheriff’s Office autism patch.

“We also have autism awareness bracelets and ribbon pins to wear,” Kelly said. “These can be purchased by staff as well. A select number of deputies have purchased blue badges to wear instead of the traditional silver or gold badges. The proceeds from all these items will go to Lakemary as a donation.”

The logo will also be placed on patrol cars that are equipped with the backpacks, and the sheriff’s office will have stickers that citizens can place on their vehicles and on the front door or window of their home free of charge to alert first responders that a person with autism could be in the vehicle or the residence.

Keri Peterson and Betty Hewitt, with First Option Bank’s financial services department which manages the Baehr Foundation, presented a check to the sheriff’s office earlier in the month. Allison Ray, communications supervisor of the sheriff’s dispatch center, wrote the grant for the autism program.

Ray and the First Option representatives talked about the benefits of the program for the sheriff’s office and the community.

“We’ve always appreciated anything that comes in from Miami County Sheriff’s Office, because it’s always a need and sometimes it’s a new program that the community hasn’t seen anything like it before,” Peterson said. “The Foundation trustees like (grant applications) that try new things to help us impact the community in a positive way.”

Kelly said the program would not be possible without community partners like the Lakemary Center and the Baehr Foundation. The captain said his goal is to expand the program to other law enforcement agencies in the county, as well as all the fire departments and Miami County Emergency Medical Services.

After the Lakmary training session March 26, Bryce Carter used a tablet to communicate with sheriff’s personnel and Lakemary staff in the community room as he put on a presentation about his life and some of the challenges he faces. He encouraged everyone to accept and communicate with people with autism.

Later that day, Carter described the satisfaction he gets from working for the sheriff’s office.

“I am very dedicated to helping people, and in my job I get to serve all public safety agencies in Miami County,” Carter wrote in an email. “It is very rewarding to bring all these agencies together and give them the technology to serve our citizens better.”

Carter thinks the public would be surprised about what people with nonverbal autism can do.

“You must give them an opportunity and access whatever AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) or assistive things they need to have a voice,” Carter wrote. “Embrace and accept differences, and I promise the result will be amazing.”

Harper Jolee Kirk inspects an egg during the 2019 OZone/CAGs Easter Egg Hunt at Osawatomie High School. A community Easter egg hunt is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, April 3, at John Brown Memorial Park.

Jordyn Knecht of Paola raises her arm after winning a match. She was the district, regional and substate wrestler of the year.

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Revamped Midway Drive-in celebrates reopening

Osawatomie couple Michael and Heather Wood have poured a lot of time and money into rejuvenating the Midway Drive-in, and they hope all their hard work is about to pay off.

The Midway Drive-in, located on 327th Street “midway” between Paola and Osawatomie, is one of only a handful of drive-in movie theaters left in Kansas.

The Woods purchased the drive-in last year and announced plans to keep it in operation while also using the location for other events, such as swap meets.

Those additional events can take place thanks to Miami County commissioners, who late last year approved a rezoning request that changed the zoning of the property from Countryside (CS) to Commercial (C-2).

The Paola and Osawatomie chambers of commerce hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the drive-in, Friday, March 26. Those who attended got to check out the recently renovated concession stand and enjoy a drink and some jumbo popcorn.

The first swap meet took place the next morning, Saturday, March 27. Vendors paid $20 at the gate per stall, and patrons paid $3 at the gate to shop.

The swap meet took place from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, and then again during those times on Sunday.

“It was a good turnout Saturday morning on our first day, and most vendors said they did well and would be back to support us, so we can support them,” Heather said.

The Woods announced on the drive-in’s new Facebook page that they plan to conduct swap meets for a couple of weekends to see how things go and then make adjustments as needed.

Heather said they already have decided to modify the swap meet times. They now will be open to patrons from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. Vendors can come 60 to 90 minutes ahead of time.

“We’ll sure appreciate everyone’s understanding and patience while we figure out what will work best for the swap meets,” they posted on the page. “We’re very excited to be able to provide an area to hold swap meets for the area. We think this is going to be great!”

The Woods said they hope to continue to host swap meets every weekend if the weather allows.

“If there’s heavy rain or severe weather that prevents us from having swap meets, we will post on our Facebook the evening before when possible,” they said on their page.

Movie season will kick off Friday, April 2. Movies are expected to be shown every Friday and Saturday nights, with the parking lot opening at 7 p.m. and the movie beginning once the sun goes down.

“We will not run movies if the threat of severe weather is likely, but will still be open during rain,” the Woods posted on the drive-in’s Facebook page.

Tickets will cost $10 per adult and $3 for children 15 years old and younger.

Cash is being accepted at the ticket booth for both swap meets and movies, and credit cards will be accepted at the concession stand, the Woods announced.

Movies season will be April through November and possibly through December, weather permitting, according to the post.

“We greatly appreciate the continued support for Midway and are looking forward to a great re-opening season!” the Woods posted.

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City to adopt repayment plan to address spikes in electric bill

OSAWATOMIE — The Osawatomie City Council on April 8 is expected to approve a finalized repayment calendar for a $700,000, low-interest loan from the state to address a spike in costs the city’s electric utility incurred during a mid-February cold snap.

The prolonged deep freeze caused price spikes in electric and natural gas utilities across the Midwest.

The city of Osawatomie received around $700,000 in charges for a two-week period of severe weather, which is roughly the cost of six to eight months during a regular year, City Manager Mike Scanlon said.

The $700,000 state loan covers the city’s spike electric bills of $195,531.77 and $498,163.32 — totaling $693,695.09 plus other minor associated costs, according to the release.

The issue has been a primary topic of concern at recent council meetings.

City officials said they were glad to receive a $700,000 “ultra-low-interest” loan from the state’s newly introduced City Utility Low-Interest Loan Program that allowed the city to pay off $400,000 in higher interest no-fund warrants (NFW) originally issued for the first portion of the charges due, and the state loan enabled the city to stretch out repayment up to 10 years as compared to the one-year repayment for the NFW, according to a news release.

In total, 53 communities applied for the low-interest state loans at a total of just over $69.5 million, or 69.52 percent, of the $100 million program, according to a report from the Kansas State Treasurer’s Office.

Scanlon said in a recent interview the state loan allows the city to keep the monthly impact to consumers as low as possible.

The loan also keeps the city from having to siphon its reserves.

“It allows us to get through the price spike without draining all of our reserves out of our utility funds,” Scanlon said in a recent interview.

After a presentation by Scanlon and much discussion — including feedback from residents in attendance — the City Council voted March 25 to approve a proposed 36-month framework for calculating collection of the spike charges.

A final calendar and calculations will be presented at the April 8 meeting for discussion and approval before staff will begin implementing payment options, according to a city news release.

Once a plan has been established and approved by the council, the city will notify customers of their payment options, according to the city.