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Newtown Florist Club holds conference, celebrates 60 years
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Newtown Florist Club 60th
anniversary events

Environmental justice conference, Hilton Garden Inn on Browns Bridge Road
9 a.m. to noon: Registration
12-1:45 p.m.: Lunch, overview of Newtown Florist Club history, keynote speaker
2-3:45 p.m.: Organizing environmental organizations
4:30-5:30 p.m.: Toxic tour of Newtown area

9-10:15 a.m.: Developing partnership with educational institutions
10:30-12 p.m.: Building partnerships with lawyers and local
12-1:45 p.m.: Lunch, case study of Blaze Junkyard noise pollution case
2-4 p.m.: Working with other nonprofits, partnering with churches
9-10 a.m.: Fundraising in an economic crisis
10:15-11:45 a.m.: Going green and bringing ideas home
7-9 p.m.: 60th anniversary banquet celebration at Gainesville Civic Center

Newtown Florist Club members aren't taking their 60th anniversary lightly.

Starting today, they're hosting their first three-day environmental justice conference to talk about issues such as noise pollution, fundraising and governmental relationships.

Celebrating the official 60 years on Saturday, the group will feature Shirley Sherrod, the former U.S. Department of Agriculture executive who was wrongfully fired this past summer after a conservative blogger posted video clips that portrayed her as racist.

"I met her a long time ago as we've gone to different meetings and workshops, and her history ties in with some of the work we are doing," said Faye Bush, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club. "I heard her speak in Atlanta and thought she would be a good person to come speak, especially for our girls' leadership group. They don't realize how hard it is and what we go through to get them to a better place."

Sherrod, 62, former director of rural development in Georgia and an activist in the civil rights movement, was forced to resign in July after the blogger created video excerpts from a speech she delivered at a Georgia NAACP event.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack offered her a new job in the department, and President Barack Obama apologized for the hasty ousting.

"I'm not sure what she's going to talk about, but I
bet it will include where she's come from and what she's gone through," Bush said. "I think it'll really affect some of the kids and even some of the older folks who haven't heard what she's gone through."

The club started in 1950 as a service group that gave flowers to families when someone in their community died. But in 1978, the group began to take action about the pollution from nearby factories that they believed was contributing to many of the illnesses and deaths in their neighborhood.

The Saturday evening banquet at the Gainesville Civic Center will top off three days of discussion about the club's challenges, successes and future plans.

"We'll talk about the Newtown model, which is how we started out and where we are today," Bush said. "At one time, we were trying to get relocated out of this community, but now we're saying we want to develop it and make it a nicer place to live."

Sessions on Thursday and Friday will feature how the club has worked with local government officials, colleges, lawyers and churches to find help.

"If we can all get into a group, we can make a difference not only for this community but for Gainesville as a whole," Bush said.

Attendees will come from Gainesville, Athens and Atlanta to get ideas to take back to their communities about fundraising during a tough economic time, "going green" by building a community garden and building a stable organization.

"Believe it or not, so many people come to us for all kinds of help or some kind of information. We stay busy and try to raise money," Bush said.

"People come to me to get a notary on a paper or if they have a big water bill or if they're about to get put out of their apartment. We give them information and try to help them as much as we can. Some people came all the way from Dahlonega when they heard about us."

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