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Banquet will celebrate clubs long history
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Newtown Florist Club’s 59th anniversary banquet
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Gainesville Civic Center, 830 Green St., Gainesville
How much: $35 per adult, $20 for ages 18 and younger; the event is semi-formal
More info: Tickets will be available at the door

What started out as a community service organization has blossomed into a well-known environmental watchdog group.

This evening, the Newtown Florist Club will celebrate its 59th anniversary with a banquet at the Gainesville Civic Center.

"The group was first organized in the 1950s. When we first started, we would visit the sick and buy flowers for funerals when people died in the community," said Faye Bush, the club’s executive director. "We would do mostly community work, but in 1978 we began working on the environment — we didn’t know much about it, but we knew that we had a problem over here."

In the late 1970s, members of the club began to notice the high rate of lupus and other illnesses in their Gainesville neighborhood. Group members believed that the pollution from industries bordering Newtown were one of the chief causes of illness.

Since that time, club members have set about educating community members and leaders about the dangers of the dust and other industry pollutants in their neighborhood.

In addition to fighting for environmental justice, the club also sponsors youth programs and even successfully lobbied for a city street to be renamed in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The theme for this evening’s banquet, "A Change Will Come," and the guest speaker, Georgia Rep. Alisha Thomas-Morgan, D-Austell, are both fitting to the club’s endeavors.

According to her biography on the state legislative Web site, Thomas-Morgan made history in 2002 when she became the first African-American to represent Cobb County in the Georgia General Assembly. Last year, she was re-elected to serve her fourth term and at the age of 30, she remains the youngest female member of the General Assembly.