Thumbs up to a local group called Hometown Connect, a creation formed by Tamms native Erin Malone and other local people. The grassroots organization aims to inspire, empower and unite people with a connection to the small Alexander County communities near the bottom tip of Illinois that feed into the Egyptian School District — Tamms, Olive Branch, Elco, Hodges Park, Sandusky, Unity and Thebes — either because they still live in these communities or once did. After Donald Trump was elected president, Malone penned a column for The Nation called “Urban and Rural America Are Connected by Economic Refugees Like Me,” and it served as a catalyst for the group. “We have a lot of kids who fall into the same traps as their parents. I teach and I see a lot. A lot of our kids have no faith in themselves. They say, ‘I’m not going to do anything. I’m not going to be anyone. I’m from Southern Illinois. What am I going to do?’” said member Latasha Mandrell, an Egyptian Middle School teacher and coach. Groups like this are good for Southern Illinois.

Thumbs down to the ongoing situation involving former Zeigler treasurer Ryan Thorpe. On Thursday, Thorpe pleaded not guilty to federal embezzlement charges. The indictment accuses Thorpe of three counts of wire fraud and two counts of embezzlement from a local government. An audit released last week said Thorpe allegedly stole a total of $315,890.94 between Jan. 1, 2013, and Aug. 31, 2017. Missing more than $300,000 is tough for Zeigler — it’d be tough for any town. Mayor Dennis Mitchell said he anticipates receiving a $100,000 check soon from the representing insurer of the Illinois Municipal League. “$315,000 is our loss but $100,000 would help us catch up on some of our local vendors,” Mitchell said. Thorpe’s trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 26. Each count of wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and each count of embezzlement comes with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Thumbs up to the Honor Flight at Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois, which took place this week. On this trip, 68 veterans spent the day in Washington, D.C., visiting war memorials and museums with the second trip put on by the Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois. A large crowd was on hand to welcome back the Veterans Honor flight at the Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois on Tuesday evening. It’s a great event put on by a great group of people. Keep it up.

Thumbs up to Carbondale Police officers Trey Harris and Corey Brinkley, who were each awarded for the Medal of Honor last week at a ceremony in Springfield. The Medal of Honor is presented to law enforcement officers who have been killed or seriously injured in the line of duty or who have displayed exceptional bravery or heroism while performing their duties as a law enforcement officer. In July 2016, the officers were pursuing a vehicle after a call of gunshots being fired, and one of the suspects leaned out the window and fired several shots at the police car. One of the shots went through the squad car windshield and struck Harris below his right eye. Kudos go out to both officers.

Thumbs up to the Saluki football team, who this past weekend ran all over the nationally-ranked Illinois State Redbirds in SIU Carbondale’s Homecoming game. The Salukis had been on a three-game losing streak, and it seemed like the season was close to getting away from them. But a big 42-7 win over the 15th-ranked Redbirds could turn the season around — something the team and fans have been waiting for. The Salukis are now 3-3 and head into Saturday’s game at Indiana State on a high note. Here’s hoping the Salukis can make a winning streak out of this.

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