Mike Wilson and 12 Plus students named grand marshals for Christmas parade

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, October 17, 2023

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New Ventures President Mike Wilson and the Troup County School System’s 12 Plus program students were named grand marshals of the LaGrange-Troup Chamber of Commerce in a surprise announcement Monday morning.

The students and Wilson were selected for their efforts to refurbish over 14,000 bulbs for the   Christmas lights that line LaFayette Parkway and downtown LaGrange each holiday season.

The City of LaGrange partnered with New Ventures and TCSS 12 Plus students to refurbish the lights and teach the students about electrical and socket repair. 

The 12 Plus program is TCSS program students who have a disability and have gotten their diploma from one of the three high schools. Participants in the program are able to continue in the program until their 22nd birthday.  

Wilson said 13 students from the program helped refurbish the lights at the time but they currently have six students in the program, which has had up to 30 students. Some of the students who originally helped with the lights have graduated program but they will return to serve as co-grand marshals.

The lights were completely refurbished with new wiring and paint in 2013 but the bulbs were replaced a few years later because many had burnt out.

“This time, the city invested in LED bulbs, which should last much longer. In 2013, they thought about LEDs but it was such an expense at that time, they were so much more expensive than they are now,” Wilson said. “Hopefully, we will see them lit up for quite some time. Things are going to happen to them. They’re going to break. They’re going to get knocked around when they’re moving around.”

“This is an opportunity for the school system, the students, New Ventures and the city to partner together on something,” he said. 

Wilson said the students come to New Ventures to do work-based learning every day and the light refurbishing is just one of their projects.

Kitty Crawford, Director of Exceptional Education for TCSS, said the 12Plus Program is for students who have already obtained enough credits to graduate high school.

“We developed the program five years ago. The students in the program are typically 18 to 22 and they’re working on transition to the workforce. They’re learning soft skills and doing a lot of projects at New Ventures,” Crawford said. “It’s a partnership that we formed between the school district and New Ventures.”

Students are placed in the program from all three high schools to learn skills and transition from school to the workforce.

TCSS Special Education Instructor Joseph DeGennaro said in addition to instruction and projects like the lights rehab, the students work on job skills around town from Food Depot to Habitat for Humanity and the soup kitchen.

“I’m very proud of the program is giving the kids something to do after graduation. It gives them the opportunity to learn on-the-job skill so that they can be self-supportive and be more independent,” DeGennaro said.

Chamber President Connie Hensler also announced this year’s aptly named parade theme — Light Up LaGrange.

The LaGrange Troup Chamber of Commerce Parade is set for Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023.