The State Botanical Garden Fall Festival to include Heritage Garden activities

State Botanical Garden of Georgia  10.30.2017

Making soap and paper, dying with indigo and a lesson in seed-saving highlight the Heritage Days Fall Festival at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

The fifth annual event, previously called the Fall Festival, has been expanded to include a focus on the Heritage Garden. The event will take place on Nov. 11, 2017 from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.

“The Heritage Garden is rich in stories that need to be told,” said Gareth Crosby, Heritage Garden curator. “It is history that cannot be forgotten.”

The Heritage Garden traces the development of Georgia agriculture from the colonial ere to the 20th century. A part of the Heritage Garden, called the Trustees’ Terrace, reflects the spirit of James Oglethorpe’s Trustees Garden of Savannah in 1733, considered the first experiment station for agriculture in colonial America. Crops there have included corn, cotton, peanuts, tobacco, collards and onions.

To embrace the theme of the festival, the State Botanical Garden education department will offer attendees the opportunity to use an apple cider press to taste different apple varieties, to make seed balls, to learn how plants at the garden can be used in everyday life and to do a fall-related craft.

Paula Runyon, a PSO graduate assistant at the State Botanical Garden, will teach the paper-making class.

“My research tries to impress upon people how intimately our lives are entwined with and dependent upon nature,” said Runyon. “We will learn how to make paper from cotton, historically one of Georgia’s most influential agricultural resources.”

A Seed Saving for the Backyard Gardener Workshop, led by Northeast Georgia Cooperative Extension Agent Amanda Tedrow, includes an educational presentation and a hands-on demonstration of the reasons to save seeds, and how to do it.

“Seed saving has been used to preserve open pollinated varieties over the generations,” Tedrow said. Open pollinated plants are varieties that will breed true to type, as long as both parent plants are of the same variety.

Tropical Indigo (Indigofera suffruticosa) grown in the Heritage Garden over the summer has been processed into indigo dye and will be used for the dyeing activity.

Other workshops are more centered around the Fall season and will provide an opportunity for participants to make holiday gifts.

Photography exhibit at the State Botanical Garden features a unique perspective on wildlife

State Botanical Garden of Georgia, 09.20.2017

A new art exhibit at the at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia lets you get up close and personal with the wildlife living among us.

The exhibit of photographs taken by Chuck Murphy and Jena Johnson is part of a worldwide project involving more than 70 photographers. Called “Meet Your Neighbours,” it is “an international, biodiversity, consciousness, awareness raising project with over 70 photographers worldwide on six continents,” Murphy said.

The photographs in “Meet Your Neighbours” differ from typical nature pictures in that they are shot on location in a field studio against a brilliant white background that removes the environment, leaving only the subject.

The process for getting these photos is a lot more challenging, Murphy said.

It’s “more than clicking a button; you need a little bit of engineering and a little bit of handyman stuff to work out the different setups, and persistence because the first one never works,” he said.

Murphy has been shooting photos for more than 50 years and his interests are birds, bugs and blooms.

Johnson, who met Murphy through the Athens Photography Guild about two years ago, is a research professional at UGA. She became serious about photography in 2009, the year the “Meet Your Neighbours” project began, and has been contributing to it since June 2016, when she and Murphy decided to take on a joint project.

Although the majority of the exhibit follows the “Meet Your Neighbors” guidelines, there are a few exceptions. These include Murphy’s work showing nocturnal animals against black backgrounds and Johnson’s composite of shells of Georgia.

Murphy believes the importance of the project lies in the awareness it creates about the creatures in the Athens area. From there visitors to the exhibit are directed to a website and social media to learn more about the project.

“Are we saving some endangered species?” Murphy said. “Nope, but maybe, just maybe, by showing you this extreme, detailed, isolated, formal portrait view of the creatures in your own backyard, maybe, just maybe, we’re nudging the needle a lit bit on the direction of awareness.”

The exhibit will be up in the State Botanical Garden of Georgia Visitor’s Center through Oct. 8. Admission is free.


For more information on the Meet Your Neighbours Project visit

You may also consider attending the upcoming Isect-ival! on Sept. 23 and the Johnstone Lecture on Backyard Bugs, Sept. 26, to learn more about your outdoor neighbors.

Re-entry program brings former nurses back into the profession

Georgia Health News, 05.16.2017, WABE, 05.17.2017

This is the fourth in a series of articles reported in Northwest Georgia, an area rich in stories about unmet health needs and about people and programs making a difference. Georgia Health News and the health and medical journalism graduate program at UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication collaborated to produce this series, made possible by support from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation and the Institute of International Education.

Pickens County High School is a sprawling campus on the outskirts of Jasper, the largest town in the county. It’s located east of I-75, roughly halfway between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

The buildings are modern and include dance studios as well as livestock barns, increasing the likelihood that students from across the area will find something to be passionate about.

The school offers another valuable resource to students, whether they aspire to careers in agriculture or the arts. Any of them can go see the school nurse.

Students in other schools may not be so lucky. Schools and other venues don’t always have nurses.

“It’s not news to anybody that there is a nursing shortage,” said Kimberly Parker, the nurse at Pickens County High School. “We need more nurses. We . . .  need educated, professional, committed nurses.”

Last year at this time, 73,330 Registered Nurses were practicing in Georgia, according to an official federal tally. Based on population size, that’s not nearly enough to fill the state’s needs. The Georgia Nurses Association says there could be a shortage of 50,000 RNs by 2030.

The current nursing shortage is one of the most significant to hit the state, and it continues to worsen. (Here’s a recent article on the shortage.)

According to the Georgia Nurses Association, more than 50 percent of the nursing workforce is nearing retirement age. Meanwhile, the aging of the population as a whole means that more nurses and health professionals are needed to act as caregivers.

YouTube Preview ImageIn the Northwest Georgia mountains, Blue Ridge Area Health Education Center (AHEC) is scrambling to relieve the nursing shortage.

Blue Ridge AHEC is a nonprofit regional health education center based in Rome, charged with increasing the supply, distribution and education of health professionals within the 20-county region they cover. Georgia is divided into six AHEC regions, and all are making similar efforts.

Kristie Washington coordinates the RN re-entry program, based in Rome. It helps people who formerly worked as nurses re-qualify and get back on the job. Twenty-two nurses have completed training since it began in 2009, and 20 of them are practicing in the Blue Ridge area now.

The program will probably never be huge, but it’s ideal for the small number of people who need it, said Washington, who went through the program herself. Since Washington took over the program in July, nine participating nurses have regained their licenses.


The program helps two types of formerly active nurses: those who have been licensed to practice in another state but not in Georgia; and those who once had Georgia nursing credentials but whose licenses lapsed or expired.

The Georgia Board of Nursing requires nurses, among their other qualifications, to maintain proficiency by practicing the profession for a certain number of hours within a defined period. If they work less than the required number of hours, their licenses expire.

AHEC runs refresher programs that help nurses regain their licenses. Nurses complete 40 hours of didactic self-study — using resources such as manuals and online material. Then they are matched with a preceptor and placed for 160 hours of supervised nursing practice. Once those requirements are met, the nurse can get a new license.

Established practitioners, such as school nurse Parker, are the preceptors who guide participants through the clinical part of the program.

Parker has supervised nursing students before, but Deborah Smith is the first re-entry RN she’s worked with.

Smith worked in orthopedics and in medical surgical settings, then went back to graduate school and became a manager. She practiced in Pennsylvania and then in Georgia before stepping back from bedside nursing about 15 years ago, to focus on more managerial roles.

She kept her Georgia license current until there was a mix-up with her renewal.

Smith is excited about regaining her Georgia nursing credentials, but is also feeling just a little sleepy lately, as she adjusts to her new hours.

“I’m tired, because I have to get up at 6:15 in the morning and I haven’t had to do that in a really long time, but I really like it,” said Smith, “I’m also somewhat nervous.”

Parker, who supervises Smith at Pickens County High School, says “precepting and raising the bar for professionalism for nurses in every field is something that’s incredibly important to me. It’s why I’ve been so involved in education and students and professional development for pretty much the whole time I’ve been a nurse.”

Parker and Washington, who runs the AHEC re-entry program, believe that it’s crucial to have training in a variety of settings.

Judging from television dramas, one would think that nurses practice only in large urban hospitals. In real life, things are different. And in Georgia’s rural areas, nurses are just as likely to be found caring for patients in county health departments or on public school campuses.

In places like Blue Ridge, for instance, numerous nursing jobs are not in hospitals. “We have our hospital, a few private practice offices and the school system,” said Parker.

Regardless of what setting in which they practice, nurses have to keep up with the times. Diagnostic and monitoring technologies have changed enormously since Smith last treated patients, but she’s getting up to speed by working with Parker.

“We were laughing about the blood glucose machine the other day,” said Parker, “now they are so concise and everything’s built in, but it used to be this big huge monitor!”

As a preceptor, she helps re-entry nurses get comfortable with new machines and new practice guidelines. She’s also a role model: Smith, who always wanted to work in children’s medicine, hopes to stay in a school nursing job once she regains her license.

In addition to AHEC’s six regional programs, two metro Atlanta universities — Kennesaw State and Clayton State — also have programs aimed at putting nurses back into the workforce. But for people who live in Northwest Georgia, “there’s only really one place up in this part of the world,” said Smith, who lives in Pickens County. The Blue Ridge AHEC is it.

Nurses who have completed the re-entry program have no trouble finding work. Eight of nine nurses who’ve graduated from the Blue Ridge AHEC program since July 2016 have jobs, the other is not actively seeking a position at this time.

“So far, the job placement rate has been excellent, and all the jobs are within our 20-country region of Northwest Georgia, except one who is working in Hall County,” said Washington. “I have another candidate who hasn’t even finished the clinical portion of the program yet and already has a job offer.”

Parker, the school nurse and preceptor in Pickens County, is a believer in what AHEC does.

“From my perspective,” said Parker, “anywhere that you go, if you have nurses that took the time to go to nursing school and paid the money to go to nursing school and took off for whatever reason and want to come back into the nursing field, then they need this program.”


Why so many nurses get hurt on the job


“I think in every job there are hidden risks,” said Paige Cummings, director of the Athens Nurses Clinic. These are perils “that people in that area are very aware of and people on the outside may not be.”

That’s certainly true of nursing.


In 2015, about five of every 1,000 registered nurses missed work due to injury, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And back injuries in particular are the scourge of the nursing profession.

According to a different analysis, nurses rank 11th among categories of workers most likely to be hurt on the job. There are relatively few occupations that are more hazardous, and most of those involve what’s traditionally considered “hard labor.” The average person just doesn’t think of nursing as tough physical work.

But often that’s exactly what it is.

“Nursing graduates face the dangers of heavy lifting, and we know that even the best body mechanics will not protect them from cumulative, debilitating musculo-skeletal injuries,” said Lucy Marion, dean of the College of Nursing at Augusta University.

The College of Nursing advises all its graduates to seek out safe work environments to protect themselves from injury.

Registered nurse Margie Nicolaus has been practicing for 39 years, always in a hospital setting. She now works at St Mary’s Hospital and the Athens Nurses Clinic.

“You know, it’s really hard physical work, it’s not just mental, it’s also a lot of physical work, we have to lift patients, help patients in and out of bed” she said, “so injury happens.”

Some nurses are hurt in one specific incident, as when a patient’s transfer from a gurney to a bed goes wrong. Other nurses suffer the cumulative effects of lifting and moving patients. Many nurses, but not all, recover from their injuries after taking a break

“There have been other nurses or technicians who have injured their backs so badly,” said Cummings, “they weren’t able to work anymore.”

Bigger patients, harder work

And patients are getting heavier. The increasing average weight of the population means an extra risk to nurses who have to handle patients. CDC figures show that the percentage of adult Americans considered obese rose from 30.5 to 37.7 percent between 2000 and 2014.


“I’m an old nurse, so I feel like I’ve had my share of hard physical work,” said Nicolaus. “Especially now we have a lot of patients who have a BMI [body mass index] much higher than they used to.”

Cummings believes patients’ weight should be considered a nurse safety issue.

“As America gets heavier, there need to be more safety/preventative measures and/or assisted devices to prevent back injuries,” she said.

“After 42 years, I haven’t had a significant work injury,” said Cummings. She has nursed in a number of health care settings, including Navy hospitals, home health situations and for the Red Cross.

Susan Smith, who also practices at the Athens Nurses Clinic, had neck surgery in 1998.


The surgeon asked her whether a workplace injury caused her neck problems, but Smith couldn’t think of one triggering event. She blamed the wear and tear of two decades on the job for the damage to her neck. Now, nearly 20 years after neck surgery, she’s still doing the job, and said recently, “My back’s killing me right now!”

Nicolaus, who has worked mostly in hospital settings, has persistent shoulder pain. She attributes this to the physical demands of her job.

National organizations, state legislatures, and individual medical systems are acting to protect nurses from injury.

The Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act of 2015, which would support workplace safety nationally, is currently being reviewed in Congress. This bill is supported by organizations such as the American Nurses Association.

Adjusting training to promote safety

Nursing schools emphasize using good body mechanics to help decrease the risk of injury, with many using materials such as the Handle With Care fact sheet created by the American Nurses Association.

Some states require hospitals to offer special training for nurses so they can handle patients more safely. “Eleven states now have some form of law or legislation related to institutions having a safe patient handling program,” said Lorie Arata, “Georgia isn’t one of those states yet, but we don’t want to wait until we are forced to do it.”

Arata is a nurse practitioner in the Employee Health Clinic at Piedmont Athens Regional and works with safe patient handling and mobility.


Special lifts and transfer equipment help nurses and technicians stay safe while moving patients, and the emphasis on using these devices has been stressed for the past 10 years, Arata said.

Piedmont Athens Regional now requires all new employees to take a safe patient handling class as part of their orientation.

After training, the safe patient handling resources are available on the hospital’s intranet for continued use by the staff.

“We’ve seen nearly a 40 percent reduction in injuries from 2015 to 2016,” said Arata.

Even though training and frequent reminders appear to decrease the risks associated with nursing, injuries still happen.

Nurses often act fast and risk injury to themselves because the situation demands it.

“Younger nurses sometimes say to you, ‘I’d let them fall, I’m not going to throw my back out for a patient,’ ’ Smith said. But when those young nurses actually see a patient in danger of falling, they spring into action, she noted.

Though nurses may talk about looking out for themselves first, they are “by nature caretakers, caregivers,” said Cummings. Given that sense of duty, sometimes nurses’ injuries, and the pain that comes with them, may be unavoidable.

“The one complaint I hear from more people,” said Cummings, “is, ‘Oh, my aching back.’ ”

The X-ray factor: Image technicians are a big part of the medical job market

Georgia Health News, 03.17.2017

Albany Herald, 03.26.2017

Gwinnett Daily Post, 03.24.2017

Nearly everyone has undergone an X-ray or MRI, whether it’s a screening mammogram or an examination of a bone that might be broken, and demand for these tests is growing as Georgians age.

That means an excellent job market for people who have the right temperament and who are willing to earn a two-year associate’s degree and pass a state certification test to be a radiologic or MRI technologist.


“The doctor orders the X-ray and then we do the procedure,” said Neale Maddox, who manages the X-ray department at a large orthopedic practice in Athens.

After the order is made, radiologic technologists are responsible for positioning patients and capturing the highest-quality image of the area for the physicians to be able to interpret what they need. These images must be taken correctly in order for the rest of the medical process to work.

Maddox and her team, who work at Athens Orthopedic Clinic, have been trained in which views of the patient to use for each procedure.

“I think you have to be a certain type of person to work these jobs,” says Maddox. Patients “are hurting, and I think it takes compassion.”

No shortage of patients

Nationally, opportunities for radiologic and MRI technologists are expected to increase by 9 percent from 2014 to 2024, according to calculations by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 230,600 people work in the field right now, and the BLS says 20,700 jobs will be added. This is far faster than most job titles the bureau tracks.

Right now, close to 5,000 radiographers – another name for these skilled health workers – are employed by hospitals, freestanding imaging facilities and group practices such as Athens Orthopedic Clinic.

The good news for people looking for careers in health care is that only two years of college-level training are needed, and the median pay is close to $28 an hour, or about $58,000 annually for full-time work.

The BLS lists Georgia as having more radiographers than comparable states, with about 5,000 people working in these jobs now. But demand remains high. Websites like CareerBuilder and Indeed typically list pages of opportunities for radiologic techs in the state.


“What I’m seeing is a trend of job growth,” said Stuart Frew, who heads the radiography program at Athens Technical College. In the Athens area, “we don’t have enough graduates just to fill the spots that are opening up from now until May.”

Athens Tech’s program had 100 percent job placement last year, and its five-year average is around 98 percent, said Frew, who is also vice president of the Georgia Society of Radiologic Technologists.

As part of their education, students do hands-on training at local hospitals and clinics. These rotations frequently lead to employment after graduation.

“It’s like a job interview for two years,” said Maddox. “If you’re good, you’re going to get a job.”

Frew expects an uptick in applications to Athens Tech. “With the amount of jobs opening up and the lack of technologists to fill those,” Frew said, “we are probably going to see an increase, I would think.”

The aging of the baby boomers, the huge post-World War II generation, has created an increased demand for such technologists. That’s one factor driving hiring, but it’s not the only thing.

Changes in reimbursement are also moving some of these jobs out of hospitals and into freestanding surgery centers operated by large group practices. Maddox sees an expanding market for skilled radiographers at places like Athens Orthopedic Clinic.

Hearing about it in high school

College and career advisers, as well as recruitment events at high schools, are making teenagers more aware of radiography.

YouTube Preview ImageMaddox’s son is a high school senior, and he tells her that he often hears speakers at school talk about their work and what it takes to enter various fields.

“High schools expose more careers” to students nowadays, she said, and she’s pleased that radiography is one of these.

Frew and his colleagues from Athens Tech often speak to students in middle schools and high schools in the Athens area.

Although she doesn’t try to tell young folks what careers they should choose, college adviser Alyssa Yuhouse definitely talks to students at Clarke Central High School about opportunities in X-ray and MRI technology

Being interested in health or science in general is a starting point, but Frew and Yuhouse say that some young people have highly personal motivations.

Frew remembers hearing, “My mother had breast cancer and that’s why I want to do mammography, that’s why I want to get into this.”

Role models are also important. “Students seem to be aware that they can pursue careers in radiography,” Yuhouse said, “if they already know someone who is in that field.”

Once they enter community college, students need to complete general education classes in math, anatomy and physiology, and medical terminology. Then they must be accepted into the radiology program. A two-year associate’s degree in radiography is sufficient for most jobs, although extra training is required for radiation therapy and other specialized fields

Neale Maddox

The final step is passing a national certification exam and becoming part of the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

“It’s voluntary, but without it you’re not going to find a job,” Frew said.

“Hospitals are not going to hire someone without a license,” said Maddox, and neither are most large clinics. If any facility were to consider hiring an unlicensed technician, “it would likely be a small, one-doctor practice that happens to have an X-ray machine and does X-ray [work] maybe once or twice a month.”

The Georgia Society of Radiologic Technologists, along with other organizations, wants the General Assembly to approve a state licensing mechanism. Higher standards will keep patients safer and help ensure that procedures are done correctly.

“You have to have a license to cut my dog’s hair, but not to play with ionizing radiation,” Frew said, “that’s just the way it is here right now.”

For Athens area youth brought into this country as children, a future clouded with uncertainty

Online Athens 01.04.2017

Jaime Rangel’s parents brought him to Georgia from Mexico when he was an infant. He’s gone to school here, always spoken English and Spanish, and feels like any other American young adult.

But now he’s worried, like almost every other young person living in the United States thanks to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program enabling people brought to the U.S. as children to remain without official immigration action.

Rangel, 25, is now part of the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance.

“I am from Mexico, a city called Apan,” said Rangel “I was three months old when we moved to the U.S., I’ve pretty much been here my whole life.”

The election of Donald Trump has sparked uncertainty and fear among GUYA members and their families. Trump’s anti-immigrant stance, and his pledge to deport people without official papers, has disrupted immigrant communities in the Athens area.

As of June 2016, 28,045 DACA applications were accepted in the state of Georgia. The countrywide number is far greater, “we are talking about 800,000 to a million kids,” said Rangel.

“Everybody’s mad, worried, upset,” said Rangel. “A lot of us are just kids, we are people who have been here our whole lives.”

If DACA is abolished and they are deported, they would be thrust into an unfamiliar country.

“This is all they’ve ever known, they’ve grown up in the U.S. society and system, they’ve gone to U.S. schools, they’re going to U.S. colleges,” said Susan Wilson, director of the Athens Latino Center for Education and Services, an organization that helps clients renew their DACA status. Deferred action lasts for a two year period before it must be renewed.

As valuable as DACA is to people brought to the U.S. as small children, participants wish it conferred full citizenship, which it does not.

DACA is “not what we wanted, but it gives us the chance to move freely,” said Rangel.

“They allow many young kids to fulfill their lives outside of the shadows. They would have a chance to give back to the country that has given a lot to them,” said Melissa Padillo-Vang, 26, who is on the advisory board for Freedom University of Georgia.

Freedom University is an organization providing education and assistance to undocumented students, who have been banned from public higher education in Georgia.

Padillo-Vang, who moved from Guadalajara, Mexico when she was 7, is not a deferred action recipient, but has been involved with many communities affected by it.

“Deferred action is important because it gives people, who in all but name, are U.S. citizens a chance to go for what they call the American dream,” said Wilson.

The future of DACA is uncertain, leaving Rangel and fellow GUYA members in what he called a “sit and wait situation.”

“We pretty much can’t do anything right now, until we find out what’s going to happen,” said Rangel.

But Rangel is not giving up hope.

“We are going to approach the situation with great courage, and keep our heads up” said Rangel “because it’s hard to do anything with your head down.”

Photo: Susan Wilson, executive director at the Athens Latino Center for Education and Services, teaches an English one level class, Wednesday, July 27, 2016 in Athens. (Photo/ John Roark, Athens Banner-Herald)


Audio, touch screen or provisional ballot – everyone votes at Athens precinct 4A

Online Athens 11.08.2016

During the first hours, only a few voters turned up at the Athens Transit Multi-Modal Transport Center.

One of the first was Marie Stafford, 55, who came by on her way to work but went away disappointed. According to the poll worker at the check-in desk, she is actually registered at Precinct 8C, on Barnett Shoals Road, and they asked her to head to East Athens.

Stafford was definitely not happy, and speculated she’d been sent away “because they know I’m going to vote for Hillary.”

A minute later, Jerrie Toney, 62, arrived. Toney is legally blind and got a ride to the polling place with a friend.

Poll workers quickly set up adaptable equipment, including audio devices and headphones to allow Toney to vote.

“I think it’s more work for them than it is me because they usually have to set it up,” she said. The equipment is packed away until a visually impaired voter arrives, then poll workers quickly set it up. Toney gets up early on Election Day and is glad the equipment is available.

“At least I can vote on my own, I don’t have to depend on anyone helping me vote,” she said. “It’s very simple, self-explanatory and, if your used to using the audio devices, then voting is not difficult.”

Elise Laudry, 29, was another satisfied voter. Although this was her first time voting at the Athens Transit Multi-Modal Transport Center, everything went smoothly.

“It was easier than in the past, the lines were shorter,” she said. Laudry has voted in other elections and at different polling places, and says her voting experiences have been “pretty much” perfect.

Wyukia Coleman, the poll manager of precinct 4A, has been working at the polls on and off since the early eighties. As well as assisting voters with disabilities, such as Toney, Coleman troubleshoots whatever else comes up regarding registration and casting ballots.

“It pretty much goes smoothly on regular elections,” she said. “This one today is going smoothly.”

One of the most common problems is that a person has moved but failed to change where they’re registered to vote. Sometimes Coleman and her team can resolve the problem by sending the voter to their correct polling place. If they’re registered at a distant location, however, the poll workers set them up with a provisional ballot.

Regardless of their personal voting experience, everyone agrees that exercising their right to vote is what counts.

“I believe it’s important to at least have a say,’ said Toney, who voted using special audio equipment. “I think everyone should go out and vote.”

Athens naturalized citizen takes her voting rights seriously

Online Athens 30.10.2016

Raquel Bartra, 41, moved to the United States from Paraguay when she was 16 and became a citizen at 24. Since then, she’s always cast her vote in presidential election years.

When Bartra first became a citizen, she struggled with English and didn’t always understand what she was voting for. She relied on friends for advice.

“Back then all my friends were telling me vote Republican, so I would vote in the poll when it was only presidential elections, just pick Republican even though I have no clue about what they were saying on all the issues.”

It also took Bartra longer to realize there was more on the ballot than the contest for the presidency.

Bartra improved her language skills and became involved with the Athens Latino Center for Education and Services. Susan Wilson, director of the center, understands how hard it can be for new immigrants to understand the U.S. political system.

“They might feel like if they don’t have strong skills in English that they might not understand all the information that’s out there,” she said about elections.

Like Bartra, many ALCES clients think voting is all about the presidential election. Wilson wants them to know other elected officials also make decisions that affect them, and policy initiatives are also important.

“There’s quite a few amendments to the state constitution that are being voted on this time around that are going to have a huge impact on people’s day to day lives, so it’s really important for people to know,” she said.

Being able to vote is a hard-won prize.

“The folks that I’ve seen working towards their citizenship do work really hard for it,” said Wilson.

Elected officials know naturalized citizens take voting seriously.

“It is probably more important to them because of what they had to go through to become a citizen,” said Harry Sims, a Clarke County Commissioner

As for Bartra, she’s become more engaged with U.S. politics and more confident about making her own decisions.

“I was very naïve just to vote whatever I was told,” she said. “I don’t do that anymore, I know better.”

Bartra uses the internet to prepare. “Now I’m an informed voter, I go and I read what each candidate is saying and I don’t vote for a particular party, I vote for the issues that concern me.”