October 2018 400 Life: Women of Forsyth

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Women of Forsyth Marylene Briere took on construction and won

Amy Lyle embraces her failure. Hannah Testa is not done fighting.

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Aletha Barrett didn’t listen to the haters.

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Young hero


Hannah Testa dreams of changing the world. PAGE 16


COVER STORY Marylene Briere built a business to last. PAGE 6 400 FACES Aletha Barrett didn’t listen to the haters. PAGE 10 AMY LYLE IS A FAILURE And that’s OK by her. PAGE 12 400 EATS A twist on the classic s’mores recipe. PAGE 20

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from the editor I have a sister who is a junior in college, and she is (understandably) fraught with the usual anxieties of young adulthood. Each summer she weighs the decision of whether to get a job or an internship — make money or improve resumé? She changed her major from accounting to business management, mostly to be sure she’ll graduate in four years instead of five — better to not go into debt. She has a serious boyfriend who’s studying to be a doctor – will it last or not? But I see some of the cultural dynamics that women endure today — the #MeToo movement and gender pay gap and misrepresentation in both business and government — and sometimes I fret for her. She will still encounter antiquated standards of sexual harassment. She will still have to work harder than a man to even hope to make the same amount of money or receive a promotion. She will still be led by a government where just 18.3 percent of congressional seats were held by women, according to a report in 2013. Our stories in the October issue of 400 Life give me encouragement. If Marylene Briere can overcome preconceived notions of a woman’s place in the construction industry to build a lasting business, so can my sister. If Aletha Barrett can resist doubts about her passion for law enforcement to rise to become a deputy chief, so can my sister. If Hannah Testa can use her young voice to spark environmental awareness around the world, so can my sister. If Amy Lyle can harness her failures into a successful writing career, so can my sister.

— Brian Paglia

ON THE COVER Marylene Briere, owner of A Touch of Stone, poses in the basement bar of an Alpharetta home where she installed the marble countertop. PHOTO BY BEN HENDREN

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Despite questions about her toughness and a recession, Marylene Briere has made her natural stone business one to last By Brian Paglia

In 2004, Marylene Briere came across two pieces of marble that stopped her. It was the earliest days of Briere’s business, A Touch of Stone, the ones she looks back on now as the most arduous, when she was still trying to establish herself after several successful years working for other companies and doing it in an industry dominated by men. Her husband had wanted no part of the business, so they divorced. Briere was balancing life as a single mom and a new business owner. That day, Briere was scouting material for a job for an architect’s home in Atlanta. The hope for anyone who works with nat6 | 400 LIFE

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ural stone is to find slab pieces that when joined together create a mirror-image with the materials’ veins in the shape of a butterfly, and Briere saw that in this marble. But she saw something else too. The dark veins extended out past the butterfly shape. There looked to be another set of wings. Briere saw an angel. “I’m a believer that sometimes you need to get the signs,” Briere said. “That was one of them for me.” Briere has been in business ever since, in the same shop off Union Hill Road in south Forsyth County, providing the same kind of all-in-one service for natural and fabricated stone to commercial and residential clients. Briere didn’t know it, but she opened A Touch of Stone at the beginning of a rapid increase in women-owned businesses in Georgia. According to a report commissioned by American Express, the number of women-owned businesses in Georgia has increased 87.6 percent since 2007, from 278,334 to an estimated 522,200 this year, the second-highest growth in the country, behind only Florida. Continued on 8

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Jobs created from women-owned businesses have increased 23.6 percent in that same time, and women-owned businesses are estimated to bring in more than $56 billion in revenue this year. The Atlanta metro area has seen an even more dramatic growth with 111 percent more women-owned businesses since 2007. That doesn’t surprise Briere. She’s done work all across the country, from Chicago to Dallas to Maine, and she considered moving the business at one point. But nowhere could compete with Atlanta’s growth. “Atlanta is booming,” Briere said. “Atlanta is an area where internationally you have people coming here all of the time.” Briere first came here after studying international trade. She took a job with a company in Atlanta and helped import and export trucks and trailers around the world. The company also had a department that traded in natural stone from Europe. That piqued Briere’s interest. She had studied interior design too. Briere saw an opportunity to combine her interests for design and international business and dove in. Quickly, she became one of the department’s top sales people. Briere loved the work so much she wanted to try it on her own.

One of Briere’s clients was a real estate agent, and they settled on finding a space for her business in Forsyth County, a perfect base from which to do work from Lake Lanier to Buckhead. She bought equipment, hired employees, and in 2004 Briere opened A Touch of Stone. From the start, Briere was a different player in the natural stone field. Some businesses focus on interior design. Others focus on fabrication. Briere’s shop does it all, and she oversees the whole process, from the selection of materials to the final installation. “I have been blessed with having the vision to put it all together,” Briere said. Briere was also blessed with a doggedness that served her well early on. Women are rare in the construction industry, even rarer in the commercial field. Briere remembers one of her first meetings with representatives from The St. Regis Atlanta hotel for a potential job. It was 2008, and by then Briere’s company was doing more than $4 million in sales. She walked into a room with 10 men, and they bombarded her with questions. Briere recognized their tactic. They wanted to see if she was tough, to see if she could handle the chaos of the construction world when plumbing leaks or schedules change at the last second, or if she

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would break. “I think that that’s how women are perceived, especially in the construction business,” Briere said, “that it would be easy for us to break and get emotional.” Briere didn’t break. Tall and fluent in three languages, Briere prides herself on wearing heels to job sites. She got the St. Regis job, and it opened doors for her business. The effects of the 2008 stock market crash started to manifest for Briere’s business in 2010 — she cut her number of employees down from 25 to 10 — but she stayed busy. Briere says business is almost back to where it was before the crash. She’s never advertised, always relying on referrals from clients, some of whom know Briere from before she opened A Touch of Stone. Like Linda Meyers. A bright, stately woman, Meyers walked into Briere’s shop one recent Friday morning. She was with her daughter, Leslie. Briere first worked with Linda just as A Touch of Stone opened. Linda had been at a party at a friend’s house in Gwinnett County. All of the guests admired the stone in the kitchen. It was Briere’s work. Linda, once the chairman of an art department in Switzerland, has since had Briere do work at her homes four times. “I come in with preconceived notions,” Linda said, “and she just handles me beautifully.” This time it was Leslie’s turn. She wanted to redo her kitchen. Briere helped her comb through various stone samples. They narrowed her choice down to two. “She has a very good eye,” Leslie said.

Photos by Ben Hendren

Briere sent them off to look at large slabs. She walked them out of the shop misty from the dust of cut stone. Nearby were stacked bathroom sink countertops for another hotel job. Linda and Leslie walked through Briere’s showroom and out to their car. And just in time. As they left, in walked another client.

business, that it would be easy for us to break and get emotional.’

Marylene Briere

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400 faces

ALETHA BARRETT Cumming Police Department Deputy Chief

In Hall County’s Murrayville, Ga., 3-year-old Aletha Barrett knew she wanted to be a cop. That year a family law enforcement friend introduced her to the inside of a patrol car and let her play with the bells and whistles. Aletha was hooked, and the hook set deep. While growing up, Aletha spent a lot of time hunting and fishing with her dad. She became comfortable with and proficient in firearms. She also became tough as a competitive softball player, a passion she attacked from age 5 to 35. Upon graduation from North Hall High School, Aletha went straight to work for the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office. (How many 18-year-olds can make that claim?) During those years she earned a degree in criminal justice from North Georgia College State University, now University of North Georgia, and an associate degree in marketing. For two years, Aletha left law enforcement for marketing work at an automotive specialty company. She soon recognized that to be a mistake and aspired to correct it. Aletha returned to law enforcement, serving Dawson and Forsyth counties in a dizzying combination of roles: crime scene investigator, latent print examiner, shoe ware examiner, marijuana examiner, training officer, chief deputy coroner … and more. Aletha also serves as an instructor at the Georgia Police Training Center. In August 2015, Aletha was named Cumming’s first ever female Deputy Chief of Police. It is little wonder she was prepared for the role. Oh yes, Aletha married a fellow law enforcement officer and raised five children, now ranging in age from 18 to 25. She credits a loving and supportive extended family for helping to care for those kids during often unpredictable career obligations for both mom and dad. With all this Aletha still finds time to pursue other hobbies. She is active in fundraising, particularly with the Forsyth County Family Haven. She likes to garden, craft and paint. She and her husband serve as lay pastors at the Chestatee Worship Center Church in Dawsonville. More than anything else, Aletha savors time with her greatest gifts: Her husband, five children and a new grandchild. What is the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to get where you are? People said I was too small, too smart and a girl. I did not listen. I knew this was my calling. Favorite childhood memory? Too many to mention. All of them outdoors: Hunting, fishing. Favorite place you’ve been? Estes Park, Colo. The mountains, scenery and crisp air were so different than where I grew up. You can see so far in every direction. Favorite book? The Shack. It’s about crime, tragedy and redemption. I deal with all of these topics in my life and career, and that book really spoke to me. Favorite movie? Can’t name one off hand. I don’t often go to movies. Favorite music? Upbeat Christian. That is a broad category

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Photo by Brian Paglia

that covers a lot of music varieties. But those two words describe it pretty well. Favorite food? Sushi. Fortunately, there are now a lot of great sushi restaurants in Cumming and around Forsyth County. That sure was not the case when I was growing up. Top bucket list item? Skydiving. It is one adrenaline experience I have yet to try. I just haven’t made it happen yet. Have you any advice for young women interested in a law enforcement career? Do not listen to anyone who says you cannot do it. You can if you persevere. Never give up on your dream. — Peter Stoddard

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Forsyth County author Amy Lyle doesn’t shy away from the less glamorous moments of her life. In fact, she’s harnessed them into her comedic writing that includes a book all about failure. Photo by Kelly Whitmire

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#funnyfailure Local writer talks movies, books and failure By Kelly Whitmire

Amy Lyle is a failure, but she’s OK with that. The Forsyth County resident has built a following in recent years. Her first book, The Amy Binegar-Kimmes-Lyle Book of Failures, routinely sits at the top of several categories on Amazon. com. A sequel – Book of Failures-Friends Edition – is on the way in November, and she recently inked a movie deal that will start shooting locally in a year. The movie – titled #FakeMom, a comedy about New York stockbroker who marries a Southern gentleman and comes to take care of his children after her husband leaves town for different reasons – was the original goal nearly a decade ago when she

began working on an early version of the script. But the journey to make it happen has taken Lyle a long way. “If you only focus on one thing, like ‘I have to get a film deal,’ you’re going to be really miserable,” Lyle said. “If you enjoy the process of getting there, all this cool stuff has happened along the way. I never thought of being on television or getting in a movie or whatever, so it’s been crazy.” Before the stand-up, books and movies, Lyle was a working mom and gone “50 percent of the time” traveling for work. That changed when she married her second, and current, husband. With four kids in the mixed-family, there were lots of sports, appointments and schoolwork to be done, and her husband asked if she would consider being a stay-at-home mom. “I had never stayed home before in my life,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh sure, how hard could that be?’ Disaster.” In her free time when the kids were at school, she began acting Continued on 14

‘Literally, I hung up the phone and I had this vision. I was like, ‘I have had a lot of failures,’ so I wrote this book called ‘Book of Failures.’’ Amy Lyle

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in plays at Browns Bridge Church. Later she started to write short While he said he wouldn’t represent her, he did give some children’s plays. advice to “get on the map” and pop up on search engines. He recAround that same time, the seeds for her screenplay were plant- ommended a book or blog on something she knew. ed when she went on a lake trip with several friends, half of “Literally, I hung up the phone and I had this vision,” she said. which were stay-at-home moms and half working moms. “I was like, ‘I have had a lot of failures,’ so I wrote this book “With enough alcohol, the truth started coming out and it was called the Book of Failures.” just like all these preconceived notions about what’s happening in That book now appears on Amazon around the works of Amy somebody’s life,” Lyle said. Poehler, Tina Fey and Kevin The battle lines, she said, Hart. highlighted the issues that both To further her reach, she go through: “Well, you’re began doing stand-up, making never there for your kids weekly failure videos and because you work all the time” being a regular guest on podand “Well, at least if your child casts. needs to go to the doctor, denIn time, she had enough tist or orthodontist, you’re responses from others’ failures home.” for her second book. “Now that I’ve been on both “They were so funny, I startsides, I just wish those groups ed cutting and pasting them would take one step closer to into a Word document,” Lyle each other,” Lyle said. said. “Before I knew it, I had Through some friends and 15,000 words of failures.” connections, she was able to Writing about their own failForsyth County author Amy Lyle’s first screenplay came speak with an entertainment ures, or others’, might not out of conversations she heard between working and lawyer who gave her some come easily to most, but talkstay-at-home mothers. Photo by Kelly Whitmire good, if daunting, advice about ing about failures has been getting a movie made. pretty successful for Lyle. “He’s like, ‘I don’t care how funny you are, I don’t care how “That is kind of my style,” she said. “I’ve done stand-up comefunny your script is, you can’t just roll into Hollywood and get a dy and it’s kind of self-deprecating, so that’s who I am. I totally movie deal,’” she said. exploit my kids and friends all the time.”


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“I’ve done stand-up comedy and it’s kind of self-deprecating, so that’s who I am.” Amy Lyle

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‘If you dream it’ Hannah Testa has already been an environmental activist for five years, and she’s only 15 By Alexander Popp

Where do heroes come from? If comic books are to be believed, they are made by accident. A chemical spill, a family tragedy, a spider bite, a mishap in some lab and … poof! There stands a caped man or woman, set to right the wrong they see in the world. But in the real world, heroes become heroes when they decide that enough is enough and they would rather do anything than be a bystander. For 10-year-old Hannah Testa, the founder of Hannah4Change,

that moment came as she stood crying in the stable of Save the Horses in Cumming surrounded by abused and neglected animals and resolved that she would never be satisfied with inaction. “We were just crying walking through the stables, seeing all these abused and neglected horses, hearing their stories ... It was so devastating for us,” Testa said. “My mom was just crying … she just thought there was nothing we could do. But I was standing thinking, ‘Oh, we have to do something. We have to help out this farm.’” In no time at all, Testa said they put together a movie night at the west Forsyth farm, hoping someone, anyone, would show up and help out their new cause. “The night before ... we didn’t know how many people would show up,” Testa said. “We didn’t know how much money we were going to make, or how successful this would be. But my mom told me, ‘It doesn’t matter if only 50 people show up and Continued on 18

‘I really realized the potential I have. Of using my voice and speaking up; it didn’t matter how old I was to make this impact.’ Hannah Testa

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you make $100, it’s still a huge success because that’s $100 more than what they had yesterday.’” That night, they raised over $12,400 in donations from hundreds of people. After news of the large turnout was picked up by an Atlanta television channel an additional $10,000 was donated anonymously to the farm, with the message that the donor hand been moved by the girl’s story. That was the moment Testa realized the impact she could have on the community when age was put aside and passion was allowed to flourish, she said. “I really realized the potential I have,” Testa said. “Of using my voice and speaking up; it didn’t matter how old I was to make this impact.” In the five years since that first fundraiser, Testa has continued on that path, to step up and fight for her beliefs, no matter the odds or the impact. As head of Hannah4Change, she has headed numerous campaigns and causes; served as a board member, advisor, and youth ambassador for several organizations; and is the recipient of dozens of awards including the Captain Planet Young Superhero for Earth Award, the Action for Nature International Young Eco-Hero Award and the Gloria Barron Prize. All in the name of making the world a better, healthier place — a mission that has taken her out into the community to talk with people about the effects of plastic pollution, from the Georgia Legislature to spearhead a bill and around the world to see environmental challenges faced in the world with her own eyes. Today, Testa is a sophomore at West Forsyth High School. In her spare time, she organizes events with her organization to raise awareness about the impact plastic pollution is having on the world’s ecosystems. Most recently, she worked with Georgia law-

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makers to declare Feb. 15 “Plastic Pollution Awareness Day” in the state of Georgia. “Now I’m working with youth across the U.S. in different states to create plastic pollution awareness day in their own states,” Testa said. “Hopefully for the upcoming February 15th, we’ll have one in California and North Carolina.” In addition to the Georgia bill proclaiming Plastic Pollution Awareness Day, Testa said that she has her eyes set on another bill to ban the import and export of shark fins, elephant tusks and rhino horns. She said that to her, the issue of plastic pollution is so dangerous and so powerful because most people don’t realize the amount of plastic they consume on a daily basis and the longterm implication that consumption has. Testa said they have recently been pushing back against the wild consumption of un-recyclable plastic drinking straws. Each day, she said that over 1 billion straws are used and discarded to sit in landfills forever. “Plastic is everywhere around us and it’s really just about educating people that something that I use for a second will remain on our planet for hundreds of thousands of years,” Testa said. “That one straw you use for five minutes, or that one bag you use to carry two items to your car … it’s going to outlive us, our children and our grandchildren.” As part of a younger generation that will soon go out into the world to take charge and make decisions about the future, Testa said that she sees it as their duty to step up and make the change

happen. “We are the ones inheriting the planet with these issues that past generations have created; we are the ones that are going to suffer the consequences of it,” Testa said. “We tend not to have our voices heard at the table in government or in business, so we want to make sure that our voices are heard so we get a say in the impacts that will affect us.” Among her peers and older generations alike, Testa said that she has had enormous luck reaching a receptive audience through technology and social media, sharing campaigns and viral videos online to help spread her message. “I don’t think that I’ve ever gotten any backlash from individuals, because just skipping that one straw or that one bag isn’t this huge change in their daily lives, it’s just a matter of habit,” Testa said. And despite the enormous weight she’s put on her young shoulders, Testa says that she still feels hope that the problems of pollution and climate change will be solved when she sees campaigns of young people like her and the efforts by corporations like Starbucks and Kroger that have plans to phase out some of their plastic products. With that hope in mind, Testa plans to keep fighting to make a positive impact on the world for as long as she can. “Don’t be afraid to speak up for what you believe in,” Testa said, speaking to all the passionate young people just now setting out towards their dream. “If you dream it and believe it, you are already halfway there.”





West Forsyth High School student Hannah Testa’s activism has taken her around the world and allowed her to meet some notable figures, like Harrison Ford (left). Photo for 400 Life




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400 eats

TWIST ON A CLASSIC S’More Brownies By Alexander Popp

Photo by Jim Dean

One of the best parts about cool Fall nights is how enjoyable it is to gather around a campfire, sharing warmth, stories, companionship and sometimes the classic camping treat — the S’more. For this edition of 400 Eats, I chose to bring you a dessert recipe that mixes S’mores ingredients into a fudgy chocolate brownie. Could there be a better mixture? We think not. To be completely honest, this dessert is almost too decadent, but overall it is delicious, simple to make and cheap to revisit, if it turns out to be in your taste. Be careful though – if done incorrectly, this mix can turn into a goopy, sugary, sticky mess that you’ll be chipping off your Pyrex for the foreseeable future. Take it from me; my first two attempts did not end well. The original recipe has layers of Graham crackers, chocolate, brownie and marshmallow, but in the end I improvised. To make things less complicated, I simply mixed crushed Graham cracker and chocolate bar into the brownies themselves. The result was a perfectly cooked brownie with pockets of S’mores flavor. Like I said, decadent. Make sure you have some cold milk on hand to wash it all down!

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Ingredients • Graham crackers - The regular original flavor • Brownie mix - I used a more fudgy dark chocolate mix to counter the milk chocolate. • Oil • Eggs • Water • Hershey’s bars - A larger king size bar • Marshmallows - Regular-sized marshmallows work best 1. Preheat your oven to 350°, spray a baking pan with cooking spray and set it aside. 2. Make the brownie mix according to the recipe and mix in handfuls of crushed chocolate and graham crackers (Protip: make things a little more interesting by leaving more variation in the size of your crushed pieces.) 3. Pour the brownie batter into your baking pan and bake until the brownies are nearly done, times will differ from mix to mix but generally speaking leave yourself about five minutes for the marshmallows to cook. 4. Next take the brownies out of the oven and top them with marshmallows, your first instinct is going to be to smother your brownies with a layer of marshmallows, but keep in mind that each marshmallow will double in size and too many fluffy pillows of sugary goodness will seriously make a mess in your oven. In the end I put a marshmallow for each of the brownies I planned on cutting, about nine.

Photo by Alexander Popp

5. Bake the whole thing for another 5-10 minutes or until brownies are cooked all the way through and marshmallows are golden brown. If your brownies are done before the marshmallows are fully browned, pop on your broiler and cook 2 minutes. 6. Top with more crushed graham crackers and chocolate. 7. Let the whole pan cool for about 10 minutes before you slice the brownies into squares and serve to your eagerly waiting family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and random strangers that came in off the street after smelling the chocolaty goodness.


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400 LIFE Coming Up in November: Through Your Eyes (reader submitted photos)

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Call 770 887 3126 or email marketing@forsythnews.com | October 2018

23 | 400 LIFE


Northside Hospital continues to attract more top doctors and advance our technology. And that makes all the difference for patients. We’re growing throughout Georgia and offering our high level of care to more people. When you take better care of your physicians and staff, they can take better care of patients.

24 | 400 LIFE

| October 2018