Over the last couple of years we have seen LOTS of improvements at the Lawrence Bennett Harness Training Facility. The City of Hawkinsville has hired a new track manager, Jim Valiente, and have strived to give him the people, tools, and resources that he needs to make this facility a success. Even on the years that it has not been a financial success, the facility still brings much recognition to Hawkinsville. We are known throughout the state for this unique asset. But for many years, we have seen declining revenue and an aging facility take its toll.
This year, again primarily to Jim’s recruiting efforts, we are expecting around 220 horses to be housed and trained at this facility. We are expecting more events that ever to take place at our Arena. Much good is happening.
And even better, we are really seeing support from our community in helping us with these efforts. Recently, Donna Rickerson, our Chamber of Commerce Executive Director painted a Surrey mural on the building in the center of the facility previously known as the track Kitchen. She has also had multiple tour groups from around the state out checking out this facility. Also our chamber, along with Lee Slade, our local economic development person, helped us secure a $12,500 matching grant in order to improve some of our bunk houses.
The latest group to join these efforts is “Lisa’s Chics”. Lisa Chics (Bobbie Clemons, Donna Clark, Wendy Gordon, Angela Mimbs, Deborah Reneau) is a helping hands organization formed in 2011 that assist those in need of helping hands with medical expenses and other hardships. We were formed to originally provide a fundraiser for their friend, Lisa Hatcher Neal, who was battling cancer. They held their first bake sale in her honor. She charged them to continue to help others as they did for her during her illness and for them to continue to do so even if she did not survive her cancer. They have honored her wishes and have held baked sales and other fundraisers to help others in and around our community that need a helping hand. They were given the opportunity in 2015 to take over the sponsorship of the Harness Festival Pageant for a fundraiser for their group which has enabled them to assist and reach more people in their efforts. They donate 10% of their proceeds to the Hawkinsville Chamber Harness Festival; provide a $250 scholarship for the Miss Harness Festival Queen; make a Relay for Life donation to Team Lisa Hatcher Neal and utilize the remainder of the proceeds for their helping hands outreach. Their latest effor has been to help restore/renovate the former “track kitchen.” The City agreed to supply the paint and supplies, but this group supplied the important part – the labor. (The were assisted by the 2015 Harness Festival Queens: Reese Folds, Summer Sinyard, Kinsley Smith, India Cheek, Addye Williams, Briana Conner, Ashley Gidney and Skylar Fisler.)
This group held a reception for the horsemen in April 2015 and immediately recognized that the area/facility needed some TLC if it was going to be a place the horsemen and community could utilize in a better fashion. Chelsea Tyner (a City of Hawkinsville employee and past Chair of the Chamber’s Harness Festival Committee) posed the idea to Jim Valiante that the group wanted to take on the task and Mr. Valiante was most receptive to the idea of the spruce up. So the project began….
The chics and harness queens have cleaned out and painted the kitchen and community room walls; pulled up the carpet and painted the community room floor and hall floor. They have cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms. They will be providing new curtains and decorative items for the community room and kitchen area. They will be also purchasing a new screen door for the kitchen. They will supply a minimal amount of landscaping in the front of the building once the area is cleaned out some. Donations of landscape product and labor are welcomed…
The City is also providing the prison detail to help with pressure washing and painting the outside of the building. The final piece of the puzzle will be to have a new fence and welcome sign and erected in front the building that will be a two fold fix. (1) to identify the area/building (2) and to also block the end of the building that is so unsightly (houses the A/C unit and electrical stuff and is not so nice to look at). Photographs of the actual harness racing will be supplied by Chelsea Tyner and those will be hung in the community room and changed seasonally. Chelsea is also framing two “colors” (I called them jockey jerseys..) to hang in the community room. A local citizen, Lance Woods, donated his time this past week for grading around the building to help with drainage and water standing issues in the front entrance.
Other volunteers have been: Matt Sinyard (helped with painting one evening with his daughter who is one of ther harness queens; Michelle Fowler, who is one of the Lisa’s Chics’ sisters she helped paint the kitchen; David White helped haul the pulled out carpet to the dumpster and Jonathan (who lives at the track) – he actually helped cut and remove the carpet from the community room. Johnny Gordon, our public works director, has also been instrumental in these efforts.
Once everything is finished, the community room will be an ideal gathering place to anyone/group to utilize for outreach and contact with the horsemen. That will be highly encouraged I hope.
Thank you to all who have been involved in this project, and forgive me for leaving anyone out. It does take a village to accomplish all of our goals. If you would like to help with this effort or other efforts going on within our community, please feel free to leave a comment here or contact me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.