Creating a S.A.F.E. community

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By Robin Bass

It may have taken Spencer County’s Economic Development Authority 12 months to research and plan for the alcohol petition, but it has taken a group of local citizens less than one month to organize an opposition.

S.A.F.E., which stands for Spencer County Alliance for Family Enrichment, was created primarily to provide facts and figures so that if, or when, the alcohol issue goes to a vote – people can make an informed decision, said SAFE Chairman James Allen Tipton.

“We’re playing a little catch up here,” said Tipton of the non-profit organization.

In as little as a few weeks, creators of SAFE have managed to develop a website, business cards and t-shirts. Last Thursday, the group unveiled their marketing tools during an informational meeting at First Baptist Church.

“I’ve always been a strong believer in economic development,” said Tipton, who has worked as a developer, realtor and farmer. “But I just question if (the wet/dry vote) is in the best interest of the community. There are other ways to build up our economic development without bringing a divide in the community.”

The topic at the Thursday night meeting appeared to be about bringing people together more than creating a divide. About 70 people filled the church pews and listened to speakers from all walks of life. Tipton started the evening off by explaining why SAFE was created.

“We didn’t form to be a one issue organization,” said Tipton. “We didn’t come togther just to oppose alcohol, but to be a voice for families in Spencer County. For us this is a quality of life issue.”

On their website at www.safespencer.org, it states that SAFE is an alliance (of) “concerned citizens of our community in partnership with the local ministerial association.  Together, our voices unite in advocacy for family values and safety.”

The website also contains statistics about the impact legalized alcohol sales has on a dry county. According to 1998 and 1999 crime figures reported by the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Arkansas, becoming a wet county increases the instances of murder, rape, aggravated assault, vandalism and instances of stolen property by double the rate of a dry county. Robberies are increased threefold, or 326 percent, as stated by the Arkansas report.

Pastor John Rohr told audience members that Arkansas is similar to Kentucky in that it is comprised of wet and dry counties.

“If we bring alcohol into our community, will our statistics get better or worse?” said Rohr.

So far, an equal number of laymen and preachers make up the SAFE’s organizational board. In addition to Tipton, the group’s directors consist of John Shindlebower, former editor of the Spencer Magnet; Pastor Jon Rohr, of Plum Creek Baptist; and Pastor Patrick Nix, of Lighthouse Baptist. The treasurer’s position has not yet been filled.

“There is a Biblical basis for standing against the sale of alcohol,” said Rohr. “but we also have a right and a responsibility to care for our children in Spencer County.”

Rohr, who admitted he began drinking at the age of 14, said alcohol – not marijuana – is the number one gateway drug for children.

“We need to be careful of the message we are sending our kids,” said Rohr.

To help get out the message of saying no to alcohol sales, Tipton said they are planning on volunteers going door-to-door if the petition warrants an election.

“This is going to take a grassroots,” Tipton said to the relatively small group of supporters. “If we sit back and do nothing, it may pass. We need to take a proactive stance ... and pray. Don’t ever underestimate the power of prayer.”