Local man devotes life to volunteerism

COVINGTON - When locals rang in the holiday season with the lighting of the Newton County Historic Courthouse on Nov. 20, some may not have known the man who flipped the switch. But chances are, they've benefited from his years of community service.

Flemmie Pitts was chosen to light the courthouse from a pool of nominees by a selection committee comprised of members of the Arts Association of Newton County, Main Street Covington and local governments for his quiet heroics, oftentimes behind the scenes.

Pitts has devoted more than 20 years to volunteer work. Among his contributions: He is a founder of the Newton County Voter's League; he spearheaded the renovation of the historic Washington Street School and its conversion into a community center, and currently serves on the center's board of directors; and he is a 10-year member of the Newton County Recreation Commission which was instrumental in building Turner Lake Park and Trail Blazer Park and helped establish the Fun/Fitness Program, a scholarship for needy children.

In addition, he serves on the board of directors for the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Council; the Northeast Georgia Agency on Aging Advisory Board; the Newton County Cemetery Committee; and is a lifetime member and trustee pro-tem at Historic Graves Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Social Circle.

For all this, Pitts was singled out as deserving of being honored by Josephine Brown, director of Newton County Senior Services; Tommy Hailey, director of Newton County Recreation Commission; and John Middleton, the county's executive officer.

"He serves on many boards and gives his all to make life better and is a firm believer in the preservation of history, especially African-American and Newton County history," their nomination letter stated.

For Pitts, community service is a way to return what he's been given.

Growing up on his grandfather's farm near Hub Junction, Pitts worked long hours in the cotton fields, and clothes and food were often in short supply. But the strong community spirit kept him on the right track, he recalled, noting that neighbors in those days took care of each other, and he had many strong mentors.

Pitts attended Washington Street School and then R.L. Cousins before quitting his junior year to find work to help support his family.

He was heavily involved in the local civil rights movement during the '60s and '70s, participating in sit-ins at restaurants and businesses and successfully petitioning for equal representation on the Covington City Council, which resulted in the formation of east and west posts.

When Washington Street School was abandoned and partially destroyed by fire, others saw a dilapidated building that was becoming a hang-out for undesirables, but Pitts saw an opportunity to help the youth in the neighborhood who might not have a place to go after school. He worked with the school board and local governments to acquire the property and transformed the building into a community center, doing much of the repair work himself. The center opened in 1983 and is now home to a popular after-school tutorial program and various other educational and recreational activities.

The secret to his successes has been a willingness to work with people, from everyday citizens to elected officials, to accomplish good.

"You have to work with people to make a difference. You can't see a label. You have to work with all people," he said.

Pitts can't help but wish that more people would adopt the same attitude.

"It's just been a blessing to volunteer. It's a blessing to be allowed to volunteer," he said. "I think if people really knew what they could get out of volunteering, I think a lot more people would. I think they would find they would help themselves and help other people. Even if you get laid off from your job, volunteer. Don't sit at home and be depressed, get out and do what you can do to help."

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.