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Author: Kaitie Kiger

Local entrepreneur brings new soda to ‘Pensa-Cola’

“I always thought to myself that one day someone would have to make a soda for Pensacola. It’s literally called Pensa-cola. And I just never even imagined it would be me,” co-owner of East Hill Music Jonathan Ivey said. “But I guess a part of me did imagine it because I didn’t tell anybody. I kept a really good secret.”

While studying at Pensacola Christian College Ivey fell in love with Pensacola and it became one of his favorite cities. He thought it deserved a local product with the city’s namesake.

“About a year and a half ago, I said to myself ‘What is stopping you from being the person who’s going to do this. You know someone’s going to do this, so why can’t it be you?’” Ivey said.

He started taking himself seriously and putting a plan in motion.

Ivey has been passionate about soda for as long as he can remember. He started collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia as a teen. He even raised money for missions by selling soda from a SodaStream at a youth group in Gulf Breeze that used to pastor when he was 22.

“I homemade sodas there and gave them cute names – we had the ‘Breezer’ and the ‘Blue Angel,’ so I’ve always liked this kind of stuff,” he said.

After picking a formulator, or the company that would produce the mixture on a large scale, the next step was to pick out the ingredients.

Jonathan Ivey

In March of 2021, Ivey was trying to make a dark cola and ended up blending the leftover ingredients together to not waste what he had already purchased. His close friend and music school business partner Jordana Yowell helped to find the perfect mix of flavors.=

“So, we blended it up and we strained it because it was like a juice pulp, and I put some bubbles in it with my DrinkMate, and there it was, that was Pensa-Cola. I tried it and I was like, this is way better than anything I’m trying to formulate, and this is all just the leftover ingredients I bought.”

To make cola, Ivey said it takes a combination of fruit peels, oils and flavors. Ivey bought a variety of ingredients and mixed it himself in the kitchen of his music school East Hill Music on Cervantes Street in Pensacola.

“I was boiling orange and lemon peels, turning them into syrup, then pouring the syrup into water and adding sugar. It was a crazy process,” he said.

Once Ivey got that formula settled, he then sent the formula to the formulator to be perfected, “meaning they could edge up on the flavors and guarantee it would taste the same every time.”

The formulator then sent back samples in cooler boxes several times through air mail.

“I would call them back and say, ‘I want to change this and this and I really, really like this part, so let’s keep that,” Ivey said. That went on for probably about six or seven months.

In February of 2022, Ivey flew out to the formulator lab in Simi Valley, California to put some final touches on his liquid masterpiece.

Once he returned from the formulation trip, he called all his ingredient sources and got them shipped to a place called Full Metal Canning in Colorado. He used CanSource for the can, which was a separate purchase. The Pensa-cola logo that was put on the can was designed by Ivey himself.

He flew to Colorado at the end of September and watched all the pieces finally come together – the mixing, or batching as they call it, and the final taste test.

When everything was approved, Ivey watched his dream of six years get set into motion at the rate of 40 cans per minute. He ordered 5,000 cans to get his inventory started.

He sold 550 cans on presale to his friends and family. “I’m very thankful for all of them. They got very excited about it. They supported me with their prayers, their preorders and their participation,” Ivey said.

Ivey’s friends gathered in his music school, East Hill Music, to taste the product for the first time at the Pensa-Cola Launch Party Oct. 16.

The main flavors of the soda are orange and lavender, but some family friends have said that Pens-Cola “tastes like sunshine” or “tastes like Florida in a can.”

And it’s completely organic, meaning every ingredient was grown without being genetically modified or hosed down with pesticides. It is also made with organic raw cane sugar.
Ivey said other flavors of Pensa-Cola are in the works.

“Now my mission is taking it to local markets, getting it into some stores, becoming a household name,” he said.

He held his first market Tuesday, Oct. 18, where he sold out of 12 trays of 12 cans in two hours. Including individual cans, he was pleased to sell about 150 cans on his first sale at a small market called East Hill Maker’s Market and is looking forward to more.

When the large truck came to deliver the soda, Ivey was elated.

“I couldn’t even believe it. The whole situation has been very surreal,” he said. “I’m excited to talk to stores, stocking their shelves and making sure the community can find it anywhere they look.”
Ivey gives credit to God and says He has played a large role in the entire process.

“God has provided inspiration, protecting the endeavor because some things went wrong, but it was way better than it could have been. And He provided the vision and the people that were necessary to bring it to pass,” Ivey said.

One of the setbacks included unexpected expenses that popped up along the way.

“Shipping was out of this world because of gas prices and the economy,” he said. “I paid as much for shipping as I did for everything else, just about.”

Other speed bumps encountered were busted products in the mail that had to be reordered and minimum order quantities. Ivey said getting the necessary capital as a young entrepreneur was also a challenge.

“Raising the needed $15,000 plus was a big endeavor and a scary, daunting task,” Ivey said. “But, it was 100% worth it and I definitely encourage others to take risks while they’re young to make themselves a brighter future.”

Pensa-colas are $3 a can and can be purchased through their website or through their Instagram @drinkpensacolaofficial.

Amazon submits plans for distribution center in East Milton

Piech is excited about the plans and think they will provide good paying jobs that will keep people in Santa Rosa County.

Amazon can start submitting building design plans now that the site plans have been submitted. They plan to renovate the existing building.

“Anytime you get a world-renowned company like Amazon to take notice, I think it’s a good thing,” he said.

Nandin named Air Force Spouse of the Year, recognized for SAFE Program

Nandin was honored by the award but gave all the credit towards ECEF.

“The award is not about me, even though it is an honor. It is about special needs military families, and I would never be here today without my ECEF team behind me,” she said.

County commissioner Dave Piece introduced Nandin at the networking breakfast Friday morning as more than a spouse of the year, but also a mother of the year and a friend of the year.

Known as “Big Ang” around the community, Nandin has made an impact in her role with ECEF.

She’s chaired 12 community events, raised over $7,500 enhancing quality of life for all special needs families right here in our area.

“She’s worked to restructure our local emergency services program by developing tactics, techniques and procedures for exceptional needs to better equip our first responders for critical situational awareness,” Piech said.
“That means when our first responders roll out of a car and there’s a special needs person in that vehicle, they know it because of the work Ang has done with our sheriff’s department.”

From Las Vegas, Nandin met her husband Master Sargent John Nandin in 2005, and they got married in 2009. They have three sons, Joseph, Daniel and Anthony. They are all three on the spectrum, and that fuels her passion for exceptional abilities.

Emerald Coast Exceptional Families is a local nonprofit that supports and enhances the lives of special needs families and funds events and education.

“I have three boys, and they all have autism,” Nandin said.

In 2017, Nandin was in a terrible car accident, and it made her rethink how emergencies are handled for special needs families.

“In the event of an emergency, how will you understand my children? They’re nonverbal,” she said.

After working with Sheriff Bob Johnson, Sgt. Rich Aloy and his assistant Jillian Durkin, the SAFE program was born March 8 of this year.

“I’ll try not to cry when I talk about this man (Aloy) because he spent hours making sure this program was perfect, and he spent days and nights and weekends to make sure that our residents felt safe.”

The SAFE Program is “a means for allowing better communication between Santa Rosa County Emergency Responders and residents with special needs, or other disabilities, regarding critical information before an emergency occurs,” according to the ECEF website.

Nandin said in the event of an emergency, first responders will already know that her sons have autism and know the best way to respond to them – “handle with care.”
“Sgt. Aloy made sure this was deputy, fire, EMS and police. We are covered in Santa Rosa County.”

Nandin and all the families with exceptional children appreciate the hard work put into the SAFE program and can rest easier knowing it exists.

“Our families sleep better at night because of this program,” she said.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the SAFE Program can visit

Ex-Navarre assistant principal named Avalon Middle School’s new principal

Joe Trujillo has served as an assistant principal to Navarre High School for the past six and half years. Before that he served as the Dean of Students at Navarre High for two years. Starting Feb. 11, he is now taking on the role of principal at Avalon Middle School in Milton.

“I want every day to matter to every single student,” he said of his vision for Avalon Middle.

Santa Rosa County School District’s new public information and family outreach officer, Tonya Shepherd, was the principal has been doing both jobs since taking on her new PIO role.

Trujillo praised Shepherd for the incredible job she did at Avalon.

“Dr. Shepherd, the legacy that you have left there is impeccable… What a well-oiled machine and what a great staff,” he said.

“Joe is a scholar, he is a nurturer, he is a leader, and he is a believer of what is good and right is public education and he knows it is the pathway for so many children to a successful, happy life,” superintendent Karen Barber said after she appointed Trujillo at the Feb. 10 school board meeting.

Trujillo will work with Avalon Middle School assistant principal Roselyn Curtis to lead the school community.

Former Navarre High assistant principal Joe Trujillo will now take the role of principal at Avalon Middle School in Milton. Contributed photo

“They’re going to be an amazing team at Avalon Middle School and we just can’t wait to see what the two of you will do together as Knights at Avalon Middle. Congratulations,” Barber added.

Trujillo thanked the district leaders for the opportunity to serve “the best school district in the country,” as he called it after spending time in many other school districts following his wife in the Air Force.

“I love when Dr. Barber says, ‘We’re happy, but we’re not satisfied,’” Trujillo said. “I love being a part of an organization that’s always challenging ourselves. We cannot rest, especially in these times.”

Trujillo thanked the team and opportunity he had at Navarre High School and thanked his family for all their support.

Trujillo will take the reins at Avalon Middle with assistant principal Roselyn Curtis at his side. Contributed photo

Barber had introduced and announced Trujillo to his new staff at Avalon Middle earlier that day in the library.

Trujillo told them that he likes to have fun, but it is important not to forget that they have a job to do. That job is to create an environment where high expectations are in place and the rigor is there.

“I’ve got to match your zeal. I did some research. I’m in this room with a bunch of professionals with education leadership, curriculum, design and development and you’re going to make me better, you are. And I hope that in turn, I can make you better,” Trujillo said to his new staff at Avalon Middle.

“Let’s take our Knights to greater heights. That’s what I want to do,” he said.

It’s never too late to graduate: Santa Rosa Adult School guides students to success

“I will graduate, I will succeed” is the motto at Santa Rosa Adult School (SRAS) and it’s read over the speakers every morning during announcements or ITV.

Santa Rosa Adult School has been around for a little over 75 years. The school started right after World War II to help the veterans who were coming back from war. That’s where it got its inspiration for a mascot – the Warriors.

Principal Larry Heringer and assistant principal Kelly Barnes smile in front of Santa Rosa Adult School, home of the Warriors. Photo by Katie Meyer

“Many of them had left before they completed a high school diploma,” said Larry Heringer, who has been the principal at SRAS for 18 years. “So that’s kind of where our origins lie, but today it’s evolved into something way different than that.”

Santa Rosa Adult School, what Heringer said he refers to as the umbrella term, is comprised of many programs.

Santa Rosa High School is what they call their high school dropout prevention program. This is comprised of students who might be a year or two, maybe more, behind their peers in school for various reasons. It could be related to medical, family, academic or behavioral issues.

“I like to say if we’ve got 150 kids here, there are 150 different reasons that they’re here,” Heringer said.

The school addresses students’ academic needs and gets them back on track to graduation.

Heringer said students range from age 16-21 and most graduate with Santa Rosa High School. Students graduate every nine weeks, and a ceremony is held at the end of each academic year.

The school also offers coursework for adults, current district students who are missing credits, those interested in getting their GED, English Speakers of Other Languages and a new program called IET to help prepare students for the work force. These programs meet during the day at the main campus in Milton and at night at Milton and Navarre High School.

Tuition for Santa Rosa Adult School is $30 per semester and scholarships are available. Santa Rosa High School is free to students and funded by the state.

The high school has about 130-150 students at one time. The adult school has about 350 students with an additional 200 co-enrolled.

“We have a decently high ESE population. Usually it floats somewhere between 25-40%,” Heringer said. “A lot of students who do not have that ESE designation that they struggle anyway… It could be home environment issues that end up causing them to fall behind and education may not be a priority because there are those other things going on in their life that kind of supersede that.”

Barnes became assistant principal at SRAS in July of 2020 and says it is so different than her other schools she’s worked at. She was a dean at Pace High School for a year and 14 years at Woodlawn Beach Middle School teaching math and ESE and moved into the guidance department and served as dean.

“It’s such a specialized school that there’s not a whole lot of people that have the experience with it,” she said.

Heringer loves what he does. He started as a teacher at Santa Rosa Adult School and then became a counselor/dean, then assistant principal and now principal.

He said the secret to success is developing appropriate, positive relationships with students, adults, faculty and staff.

“I firmly believe that relationships are the most important thing,” Heringer said.

“If you go and talk to any of our students, they’ll just say it feels different,” Barnes said. “The whole atmosphere is a lot more forgiving and aware of their needs.”

Heringer says he’s learned a lot from his 18 years at Santa Rosa Adult School.

“Here at our school, a lot of times people will make assumptions about the population of students that come here and it’s just not true,” Heringer said. “For the most part they’re kids, and they have the same dreams that every other kid has and they want to succeed. And we’re here to help them do that.”

Heringer has also learned that failure is important.

“I know I learn more from when I fail than from when I succeed,” he said. “I think a lot of times our kids in all of our programs are afraid of failure and I try to encourage them to not be afraid of that because that’s how they improve.”


Adult Education Programs at Santa Rosa Adult School

The Santa Rosa Adult High School serves two different populations of students.

  • Traditional adult high school students: Can be ages 16 and up. The typical student is between 16 and 20 and doesn’t attend any other high schools in the district.
  • Co-enrolled students: Might be missing a credit they need to graduate and can’t fit in in their regular schedule.

GED (General Educational Development) test preparation classes are for students preparing to take the GED test.

ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) is a program for students who are learning English as their second or more language.

IET, or Integrated Education and Training, is a new initiative to better prepare students to enter the work force. Students can attend adult education classes as well as be a student at Locklin Technical Collage, which is located right next door, in their trade of choosing. They can graduate with a high school diploma or GED and welding or culinary certifications.

n Adult basic education and IET at the Santa Rosa County Jail are offered as steppingstones to help make people marketable and give them something to be proud of when they leave.

Santa Rosa County local and Christian bass player Jay Weaver passes into ‘glory’

Jay Weaver’s time on this earth came to a close Jan. 2. He was 42 years young. He played the bass in contemporary Christian band Big Daddy Weave and his family says they know exactly where he is now. After over two decades on a medical roller coaster, Jay continued to trust in the Lord.

Brother and co-founding band member Mike Weaver shared the news on Facebook Live Jan. 2.

Jay Weaver, left, jams on stage with his bass alongside his brother Mike Weaver, right, on guitar. Photo by Matt Le

“My brother Jay went to be with Jesus just a couple hours ago,” Mike said. “Anybody’s who’s come in contact with him knows how real his faith in Jesus was. I believe even though COVID may have taken his last breath, Jesus was right there to catch him. I know that he’s seeing things now that I long to see. My heart’s broke.”

Jay, his wife Emily and their three children, Makenzie, Madison and Nathan made Navarre their home. Emily taught kindergarten at West Navarre Primary School before taking a break from teaching to go on tour with Big Daddy Weave.

Last August, Weaver left the road due to complications from dialysis treatment which resulted in a period of intensive care and severe pain.

Jay helped start Big Daddy Weave with his brother, Mike, and some friends from the University
of Mobile. Contributed photo

Jason Weaver, who went by Jay and sometimes Jay-Dawg, encountered health battles such as diabetes and infections throughout his adult life but ultimately didn’t allow them to shake his trust in the Lord. He continued to speak and sing of God’s faithfulness.

Jay had to get both his legs amputated in 2016 due to an infection, and later his finger amputated.

In a testimony video posted on Big Daddy Weave’s YouTube channel a year ago, Jay shared about his experience.

“The doctor came in and goes, ‘We’ve got to take your feet. There’s no bone left in your foot that’s not been eaten through by this infection.’ And so it all kind of happened pretty quick after that,” Jay said. “Next thing I knew, I was waking up and the right foot was gone, and then a couple days later they took the left foot as well.”

Jay poses with his family, daughters, Makenzie and Madison, and wife Emily, top row. In the bottom row are Jay and his son, Nathan. Contributed photo

In the video, Jay and his band members shared that losing his feet took Jay to a dark place. A man that loved to help others felt helpless and needed other people to help him do normal everyday tasks. His band members spoke truth over Jay on his darkest day and reminded him of God’s love and to not let the enemy lie to him.

In a podcast with his brother Mike that was released Nov. 29, 2021, Jay prayed a powerful prayer over everyone that might be listening.

“There’s nothing you have done that Jesus can’t fix, that He can’t make right. So whatever it is the devil is telling you right now… it’s just another lie, even though it may look true from where you’re sitting,” he prayed at the end of the podcast where he shared his health battles God had carried him through.“So God, today we trust You, and we thank you God that You are trustworthy, in Jesus name.”

Jay was younger than his brother Mike, but Mike said that during high school Jay began to function as the older brother.

Jay played bass in Big Daddy Weave, a contemporary Christian band, since its origin in 1998. Photo by Matt Le

“I was the dreamer, he was the doer,” Mike told the Press Gazette. “Even though he was three and a half years younger, I always looked up to him because he just had this confidence.”

The Weaver brothers grew up in Gulf Breeze and went to Oriole Beach Elementary School. Their parents’ house where they grew up was in Oriole Beach, until they recently sold it after their mom passed last year.

Jay was always kind of coming to the rescue and always had a huge heart, Mike said.

He remembers 5-year-old Jay giving his birthday money to the “needeth.”

“He would spell it kind of King James,” Mike said, laughing. “He just had a heart for God, and he had a huge heart for other people, especially people in need.”

Jay received the Lord into his heart at a young age, and Mike did too.

“My dad just had such a real relationship with God, and I feel like that’s really what was instrumental in both of us following Jesus was just being with dad and that being such a huge part of our life growing up in our house and my dad just really living out a very real faith in front of us,” Mike said.

Before Big Daddy Weave became Big Daddy Weave, it was just the Weaver brothers leading contemporary worship at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Gulf Breeze. They were also on the janitorial staff at church with their parents.

At the same time Mike was writing a lot of music. He said Jay would help him record demos of the songs in a little office behind the stage at St. Paul with some “junior woodchuck recording equipment.”

“We kind of went under the name ‘The Weaver Brothers’,” Mike said. “We would put down these little songs and burn them to CDs and pass them out to our friends.”

Big Daddy Weave happened after Mike moved to the University of Mobile and Jay was there. The brothers and some friends were having a jam session, and someone overheard them and invited them to open for a show across campus. They asked them what name they should put on the flyer.

Jay’s family said Jay continued to give God all the glory through the up and downs of his health struggles. Photo by Matt Le

“We were just kidding around and said ‘Hey, tell them that we’re ‘Big Daddy Weave and the Institution’,” Mike said. “Be careful what you call your group because you never know where God’s going to take this. This is 23 years later and we’re still doing it man and we’re missing Jay. We’re missing Jay in a way I can’t even tell you.”

Jay was a part of pretty much every decision in Big Daddy Weave, his brother said. Everything came across his desk at some point.

Big Daddy Weave started in 1998 out of Mobile, Alabama. While Jay Weaver and his family lived in Navarre, the rest of the band called Tennessee home.

“Every Time I Breathe,” “My Story,” “I Know” and “Redeemed” are a few of the Christian hits that the band was known for.

Like the lyrics from their song “I Know” lyrics say, inspired from the bible, “‘Cause even in the fire to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

“My prayer is for Big Daddy Weave now, like what are we going to do without him. But I know that we will try to do things the way that Jay did, by just seeking the Lord, asking Jesus,” Mike said.

The last show that Jay got to see was at University of Mobile last October. It was his first time in the crowd instead of playing on stage. Mike told a story about Jay that night about him praying for people even through his own health battles.

Jay goofs off with wife Emily as his son, Nathan, holds a basketball over their heads. Contributed photo

“We left before Jay did that night actually,” Mike said. “I looked out as we were packing up and there’s a line of like 50 people deep standing in front to come and pray with him from his wheelchair.”

Mike said he misses Jay terribly, but he said he didn’t lose him because he knows exactly where he is. He said he didn’t lose a mom and a dad in the past handful of years. All of them have gone to be home in heaven and his heart longs to go where they are.

“But we still have a mission here. While we all draw breath here, our mission is to let God love people through us, like Jay was doing,” Mike said. “And for us in Big Daddy Weave, I feel like we feel more determined in that calling than ever, even in light of Jay’s life, so we’re going to do it as long as the Lord will let us and as the Lord leads us to.”

Mike was on speakerphone with Jay and his wife Emily at the hospital in the final moments of his life on this earth. Mike was reminding Jay that the Lord is with him.

“I literally heard him take his last breath. And I want you to know and I want people to know that COVID did not take my brother, Jesus took my brother,” Mike said. “Jesus was there. I’m telling you the peace of God (was) on my end of the phone and on Emily’s end of the phone.”

It hurt and still hurts, Mike said, who watched his brother in pain for so long. Even in his hurting, Jay continued to put others first. But his family’s hearts are filled with hope because Jay is no longer in pain.

Mike said that he thinks Jay would want people to know that Jesus never left him.

“Jesus hasn’t abandoned us in all of this. He is right here in the midst of it, and if we look for Him and say God, we want to know You, He’ll reveal His ways to us,” Mike said. “And that’s how my brother lived his life. That’s how I strive to live my life, but I think we’re even more determined than ever to live that same way, surrendered to Jesus, like my brother Jay.”

Jay Weaver loved to worship God from the depths of his heart. Photo by Matt Le

New school leaders appointed in north end of Santa Rosa County

A panel interview was held for each of the positions and two north end individuals were recommended at the school board meeting Jan. 18.

The school district has a new Public Information Family Outreach Officer. Barber said the school district had eight individuals who were interested, but ultimately found Dr. Tonya Leeks Shepherd, the principal at Avalon Middle School, to be the perfect fit. Shepherd was recommended by Barber and approved by the school board for the new position Jan. 18.

Barber said she is very proud of the district in the way that they have moved toward transparency and sharing more information with the public. There are press releases that go out weekly and Shepherd will continue this transparency.

“Dr. Shepherd is a master at communication… She has created such a high performing culture (at Avalon Middle School, where she served as principal) and such a great relationship with the community and with her students and with the families,” Barber said at the meeting. “There is an enormous culture there, it used to be called ‘Level Up’ and now the culture there is to ‘Reach, Reach High’ and that’s what we’re all about in Santa Rosa County. So, I am just thrilled to have Dr. Tonya Leeks Shepherd as our next PIO Family Outreach Officer.”

Shepherd thanked Barber and the board for allowing her to serve in such a “huge capacity.”

“I have so many people that have allowed me to just dream big and take risks and do things for my school community,” she said thanking her director, her team at Avalon Middle and her husband.

Dr. Tonya Leeks Shepherd will carry on transparency as the new Public Information Family Outreach Officer. Contributed photo

“It’s a little bittersweet because I’m having to leave such an amazing culture behind at Avalon, but I am so excited about where our district is heading and the role that I can play in helping us get to the next level because it’s all about making sure that our families know that we are the best choice for education here in Santa Rosa County.”

Also at the school board meeting, Chafan Marsh was recommended and approved to be the new assistant principal at Milton High School.

School board member Linda Sanborn spoke up to praise Marsh.

Mr. Marsh worked at Milton High School with me for many years and he is truly one of the best educators that I’ve ever known because his heart is with the students,” she said. “This is a tremendous appointment. It will be a blessing for Milton High School and all the community.”

Mr. Marsh is a product of Milton High School, was a head football coach at Milton High School, a dean as well as an intensive reading teacher and then he served at East Milton Elementary,” Barber said. “So he is a Panther, he is a Roadrunner and so connected to the community.”

When asked what was nonnegotiable during his interview, Barber said his answer was the students and their success.

Marsh thanked his village that helped him in his journey to this new position.

“I want to thank my wife and family for their continued support. Through the process trying to be an AP, you go through interviews and you think this may be it that may be it and sometime you don’t get the answer you want, but you just have to hang in there.”

Marsh said he’s had many times where he’s been a little frustrated and just prayed and moved forward.

“But I’ve learned through the years God always knows best. And he put me where he wanted me to be,” he said, fighting off tears in the school board meeting. “So I’m thankful for that and thankful for this opportunity. And I can’t wait to get to work at Milton High School and just start helping affect kids’ lives.”

Nontraditional church lives out Truth in East Milton

“We planted with the intention, of course, of telling people about Jesus, but to really target all of the families that are moving to that part of the county,” he said.

Owens says his church in East Milton has an all-welcoming type of atmosphere. Churchgoers in t-shirts and jeans are invited in with open arms.

“Not that there’s any bad churches out there, we just didn’t see any churches that were kind of filling that demographic,” Owens said. “And ultimately that’s where God called us to go.”

Owens gives God all the credit for success despite a pandemic. The campus started with 30 people and has grown to average about 100 on a typical Sunday.

Living Truth Church East Milton places a huge priority on community engagement.

“We’ve really made it a big point that everything we do outside of Sunday is we’re going to be plugged into the community somewhere,” he said. “Whether that’s helping out the elementary school, partnering with the sports league, (or) handing out food with other organizations.

“We very much like to partner with organizations that already exist and help them in any way that we can versus trying to do like a big event and say ‘Hey, here we are, come to us, look at us’-type thing,” he added.

Living Truth likes to keep the focus of Jesus.

“When I read through Scripture, Jesus always went to people,” Owens said. “Sure, they came to Him, but He also went to people. So that’s kind of the same mindset we’ve tried to take into planting a church.”

Jared and his wife Tammy had been attending the other Living Truth Church campus in Chumuckla since college and enjoyed serving there for many years.

“We just felt like God was telling us that it was time to bring living truth to East Milton,” he said.

Living Truth Church East Milton plans to have its own building one day, in God’s timing. 

Land was donated to the church, but they are waiting for the building market to calm down and trusting in the Lord. For now, they will continue to rent out the ballpark gymnasium and grow their ministry.

“If everything goes right, we’ll be launching a Celebrate Recovery ministry in April for people that are coming out of drug rehab and stuff like that,” Owens said.

Owens said this year he was reminded that God still works despite a pandemic. Living Truth Church did 14 baptisms last year alone.

“The fact that we’ve had 100 people show up is just amazing,” he said. “Just the fact that we’re two years in almost and we’re still standing is all God.”

Milton shows gratitude for veterans

Milton High School (MHS) NJROTC cadets presented the colors as the MHS choir sang the national anthem.

Colorguard from Milton High School NJROTC present the colors at the Milton Veterans Day ceremony. Pictured from left to right are senior Colin Cline, junior Damien Roth, junior David Long, sophomore Febe Dela Cruz and junior Rianna Walker. Photos by Kaitie Meyer

District 2 County Commissioner Bob Cole filled in leading the ceremony for former District 3 County Commissioner Don Salter who had health issues come up. Cole asked the crowd to keep him in their prayers.

“If you know Don Salter, you know darn good and well, there’s nothing that would keep him away from a Memorial Day celebration or Veterans Day celebration that he can’t overcome, so keep him in your prayers” Cole said.

Veterans in the crowd at the ceremony is Downtown Milton raise their hand and cheer for which branch of the military they served in.

Cole named off all the branches and listened to the crowd hollering for their branch of choice.

Milton High School trumpet players Savannah Davis and Carli Carrillo had the honor of playing Taps at the ceremony Thursday morning.

Carrillo said after playing Taps in the past people have come up and thanked them.

Milton High School trumpet players Savannah Davis and Carli Carrillo play taps at the Veterans Day ceremony.

“They come up and say thank you for playing it and say, ‘It really reminded me of my grandfather that served,’” Carrillo said.

“And they’re like crying,” Davis said. “It means a lot to be able to touch people like that… like something we did made them feel that way and remember.”

Carrillo said it’s neat to live in a community that comes together to support a unified cause.

“It’s cool because you get a whole bunch of people with different views and different ideas, but then they all agree on the one thing, so you see them surrounding and enjoying it together,” the high school sophomore said.

Proclamations of gratitude of veterans were made by City of Milton Mayor Heather Lindsay.

CO Captain Paul Flores thanked vets for their willingness to give their all to their nation. He brought up statistics and dates in his speech, discussing the history of the national holiday.

NAS Whiting Field Chaplain Roz and Keynote Speaker CO Captain Paul Flores salute as Commissioner Bob Cole places his hand over his heart for the national anthem sung by the Milton High School choir.

“There are 20 million veterans in the United States. More than nine million veterans are over the age of 65,” Flores said, adding, “1.9 million veterans are under the age of 35. A little more than 1.9 million veterans are women and growing.”

Retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Dustin Tuller shared his personal military story that took his two legs and left him in a wheelchair. He was shot while serving in Iraq in 2003.

“I realized my guys were pinned down and something had to happen. I realized that the guys shooting from the second and third window were pinning them down and I decided to return fire and take as many bullets as I possibly could to save the lives of others,” Tuller said.

Unfortunately, I came back (from war) missing a few limbs. I never lost my spirit.”

Retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Dustin Tuller tells the audience of his personal story how the military impacted his life and how he was honored to serve.

Tuller rode as a Grand Marshall in a Humvee earlier that day for the Veterans Day Parade and said it brought up bad memories.

“I told the driver, I really wish I didn’t have to remember that because one day we sat there and watched a Humvee blow up and he died and it was sad,” Tuller said.

Tuller encouraged the crowd to move forward now and to keep supporting and showing gratitude toward veterans. He also tried to inspire the younger generation to join.

“Whatever path you chose, chose the one that leads us to freedom,” Tuller said.

Gabby Overend, Jennifer Flener and Tina Overend sign Christmas cards for hospitalized vets after the ceremony.

Patriotic parade through Milton honors veterans

The community of Pace and Milton came together Friday morning to put on their annual parade in honor of those who have served the United States. Local organizations and school programs from both Milton High School and Pace High School joined forces to stand in unity in support of veterans.

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