Southwest Gwinnett Magazine - May/April 2022

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Asian Culture, a Growing Influence ■ Book Suggestions from Neighbors ■ Pride Month

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23: Shredding and Recycle Event at City Hall 9am-12pm

7: Flicks on the Green - Racing Stripes 14: Night Music - CBDB The Tony Howard Show 21: Sports on the Screen 28: Summer Concert Series - Spin Doctors 30: Memorial Day Ceremony

4: Flicks on the Green - Black Panther 11: Night Music - Blair Crimmins & the Hookers 18: Kids Event 2pm-5pm 25: Summer Concert Series Brotherhood (Doobie Brothers Tribute)




1-3: Peachtree Corners Festival 2: Flicks on the Green - Big Hero Six 9: Night Music - Sailing to Denver 16: Bark at the Park 23: Sports on the Screen 30: Summer Concert Series Everclear

6: Flicks on the Green Megamind 13: Night Music - Wildflowers (Tom Petty Tribute) 8pm 13: Light Up the Corners Run 20: Sports on the Screen 27: Summer Concert Series Stayin Alive (Bee Gees Tribute)

3: Flicks on the Green - Captain America 10: Night Music - The Artisanals 17: Sports on the Screen 24: Summer Concert Series Vertical Horizon




1: Flicks on the Green - Lego Batman Movie 8: Night Music 10th Anniversary Concert - Marcy Playground 15: Sports on the Screen 22: Summer Concert Series - The Purple Xperience (Prince Tribute) 29: 2nd Annual PTC Decathlon 29: Sports on the Screen

5: Sports on the Screen 11: Veterans Day Ceremony 12: Sports on the Screen 19: Sports on the Screen 26: Sports on the Screen

1: Holiday Glow 6pm-8pm 3: Sports on the Screen 10: Sports on the Screen

TIMES Flicks on the Green: 7pm Night Music: 7pm (Aug 13 8pm) Summer Concert Series: 7pm

Yoga on the Green (by Sun Dragon Yoga): Tues 8am (May-Sep) CrossFit (by PPG CrossFit): Thurs 10am (May-Sep) Cornhole ATL League: Wed 6:30pm (Jan-Oct)






Kathy Dean

Publisher, Editorial & Creative Director and Founder

Editorial Consultant and Copy Editor


Isadora Pennington

Ivy Marie Clarke

Arlinda Smith Broady

Nathan Deen

Tracey Rice


Writer & Photographer



Writer & Photographer



Julie Davis

Account Executive

Account Executive

The editors welcome story suggestions, submissions, event listings, achievements and photography. Please direct them to

Might Rockets LLC is the publisher of Southwest Gwinnett Magazine, Peachtree Corners Magazine and producer of a family of podcasts.

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Southwest Gwinnett Magazine is published six times a year by Mighty Rockets LLC. Opinions expressed by the contributing writers and editors are not necessarily those of the publishers, editors or Southwest Gwinnett Magazine. The publisher will not accept responsibility for submitted materials that are lost or stolen. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy of this publication. However, the publisher cannot assume responsibility for errors or omissions. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. The Publisher reserves the right to refuse any advertisement it seems unfit for publication or does not fit in our guidelines. Copyright ©2022 Mighty Rockets LLC with all rights reserved.


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Meet Choose PTC, our new app, designed to make it easy to shop local and support businesses who need your spending to recover from the pandemic. Download the app, start earning, and support local businesses near you.


Contents 12 14 16 22 28 34 38 42

May/June 2022

Local Employers Adapt to New Demand for Telework Words by John Ruch Photos by Rico Figliolini and others

Asian Culture Has Growing Influence in Southwest Gwinnett Words by Arlinda Smith Broady

Interior Design Story Words and photography by Isadora Pennington

Books for a hot summer day in Georgia Compiled by Ivy Marie Clarke and Rico Figliolini

Gwinnett’s Wedding Venues Under $2,500 Courtesy of Explore Gwinnett

Where to Indulge in the Pleasures of Patio Dining Words and photography by Nathan Deen

Ukraine, Peachtree Corners Connected by Family, Ministry Words by Arlinda Smith Broady Facebook Journaling courtesy of Alan Kaplan

Gwinnett County Hosts Second LGBTQ Pride Event Words by Arlinda Smith Broady

About the Cover Jameelah Davis and Ebonee Clark co-founders of Lauren Wesley Designs. Photography by Isadora Pennington


Southwest Gwinnett Magazine |

May April 30-May 1 Duluth Spring Arts Festival Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Duluth Town Green 3167 Main St., Duluth Admission: free The festival features about 86 painters, photographers, sculptors, metalwork, glass artists, jewelers and more. There will be art demonstrations, live acoustic music, gourmet food trucks with healthy alternatives and music and dance performances. To plan your funfilled visit, go to

May 5-7 Le Misérables High School Edition Thursday and Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5 p.m. CYT Atlanta / Peachtree Corners Baptist Church 4480 Peachtree Corners Cir., Peachtree Corners Admission: $20. Les Misérables is a modern classic based on Victor Hugo’s novel and featuring one of the most memorable scores of all time. Get details and tickets at

May 5-8 Grease Thursday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m. Norcross High School 5300 Spalding Dr., Norcross Admission: $15 for adults, $10 for students. Rock along with the NHS Drama thespians and enjoy one of the world’s most popular musical comedies, Grease, featuring Rydell High’s senior class of 1959. Visit nhs-drama. com to learn more.

May 6-22 A Bad Year for Tomatoes Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Lionheart Theatre 10 College St., Norcross Admission: $18 for adults; $16 for seniors, students and military.

A hilarious play, A Bad Year for Tomatoes deals with the funny misfortunes of a famous television actress who seeks to “get away from it all” in a small New England town. Get tickets and info at or by calling 404-919-4022.

May 14 Summer Splash Bash 10 a.m. Graves Park 1540 Graves Rd., Norcross Admission: free for residents; $4/person for non-residents

May 7 Viva Mexico

All ages are welcome to celebrate the start of summer with activities and splashing fun at the interactive foundation. Kona Ice will have tasty treats available for sale. Visit for details or call 678277-0860.

12-5 p.m. Thrasher Park 93 Park Dr., Norcross Admission: free Celebrate everything from the beautiful country of Mexico. Authentic cooks will dish up tamales, tacos, mole, and more. There will even be a margarita tasting! The bottomless margarita experience cost is $50, plus fees. For tickets and important details, visit the events calendar at

May 7 Duluth Derby Day 2:30-7:30 p.m. Parsons Alley 3530 Lawrenceville St., Duluth Admission: free Dress for the Derby and enjoy everything from pre-show activities to the big race on a large screen. Find out more on the events page.

May 14 Pedal Norcross 12-3 p.m. Lillian Webb Park / Downtown Norcross 5 College St., Norcross Admission: free Join Sustainable Norcross for a 2.5-mile group ride through Historic Norcross. The event kicks off with a Bike Safety Fair featuring bike recycling, helmet giveaways, and more. There will be providing riders with light refreshments and snacks for riders throughout the event. There’s more info on the calendar at

May 7 Flicks on the Green — Racing Stripes 7-9 p.m. Peachtree Corners Town Green 5140 Town Center Blvd., Peachtree Corners Admission: free Enjoy movies under the stars monthly, May through October, at Flicks on the Green. About the film: Stripes, a circus zebra is accidentally abandoned in Kentucky and raised on a farm next to a racing track. He believes he is a racehorse and dreams of competing in the races. Please note that Racing Stripes will start after the end of the Kentucky Derby. Visit the calendar to find out more.


May 14 ▲Night Music — The Tony Howard Show 7 p.m. Peachtree Corners Town Green 5140 Town Center Blvd., Peachtree Corners Admission: free The Night Music Series runs once a month, May through October, and is an opportunity

to hear local bands from the Southeast, national acts and tribute acts. About the band: The Tony Howard Show is an Atlanta party band that will make you feel as if you’re at a Las Vegas show with its stage presence, back-up dancers and tight musical arrangements. More info at the calendar.

May 14-15 Alice in Wonderland Saturday, 2:00, 4:30, 7 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m. Paul Duke STEM High School 5850 Peachtree Ind. Blvd., Norcross Admission: $18 for adults; $14 for students and children. The Atlanta Dance Company presents a magical ballet for all ages that features Alice as she meets the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts. There is an optional add-on character and craft event after the matinees. For group pricing, email maress.barrett@ Visit for details and tickets.

United vs. Nashville. Bring your own cooler or purchase food and drinks from a Town Center restaurant/bar. For details, visit the calendar.

May 27 Norcross Summer Concert Series — Atlanta Pleasure Band 7:30-9:30 p.m.

About the bands: Best known for their early 1990s hits “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” the Spin Doctors are still making music like their lives depend on. Atlanta rock band Last Chance Riders will open the show. Click on the calendar at peachtreecornersga. gov for further info.

May 30 Memorial Day Remembrance 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Thrasher Park 93 Park Dr., Norcross

Thrasher Park 93 Park Dr., Norcross

Admission: free Enjoy the sweet sounds of summer at free concerts that run May through September in downtown Norcross. About the band: From Motown to Downtown, the energetic Atlanta Pleasure Band performs music that gets you on the dance floor. For more info, click on the calendar.

Admission: free Memorial Day is a special time for the nation and community to honor those fallen in the line of duty. Norcross honors and remembers this sacrifice with a special tribute. Find out more by visiting the calendar.

May 21 Bring on Summer 11 a.m. Shorty Howell Park 2750 Pleasant Hill Rd., Duluth Admission: free It’s a party for all ages on National Kid’s to Park Day! Kick off summer with activities, a craft station, good food, music, a showcase of classes, give always and more. For more information, visit or call 678-277-0906.

May 21 Atlanta Chinese Dance Company 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Gwinnett County Public Library Duluth Branch 3180 Main Street, Duluth 30096 Admission: free All ages are welcome to watch a live performance from the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Visit to learn more.

May 28 ▲PTC Summer Concert Series — Spin Doctors with Last Chance Riders

May 21 Sports on the Screen

7-10 p.m.

7:30-10 p.m.

Admission: free

Peachtree Corners Town Green 5140 Town Center Blvd., Peachtree Corners Admission: free Tailgate with fellow fans and watch Atlanta

Peachtree Corners Town Green 5140 Town Center Blvd., Peachtree Corners The fourth annual Summer Concert Series brings bands from across the country on the last Saturday of the month, May through October.


May 31 Memorial Day Celebration 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Peachtree Corners Town Green 5140 Town Center Blvd., Peachtree Corners Admission: free The Peachtree Corners Veterans Monument will be the site of a memorial event in honor of veterans. The day starts with the traditional lowering of the flags to half-staff around sunrise. The ceremony is later in the morning. Visit and check the calendar for updated information.

Southwest Gwinnett Magazine |

June June 3 Flicks on the Bricks — Spider-Man: No Way Home (PG-13) 8 p.m. Duluth Town Green 3167 Main St., Duluth Admission: free Flicks on the Bricks is scheduled for three evenings this summer. It runs alongside Food Truck Friday. Expect to see characters from the movie or other themed entertainment.

Admission: free There’s serious fun at the Summer Concert Series. Local restaurants are happy to pack up a picnic basket for the evening. About the band: Color the Night is an experience that brings youthful energy to curate a selection of modern hits and timeless classics that draw all ages to the dance floor. The calendar has info on more concerts and events.

June 11 Jazz in the Alley 7:30-9:30 p.m. Betty Maudlin Park 1-63 Lawrenceville St., Norcross Admission: free

About the film: Spider-Man’s identity has been revealed and finds it difficult to separate his life as Peter Parker from his role as a superhero. He asks Dr. Strange for help and things get even more dangerous. More info on the Events page at

Experience jazz at its best as music takes over Betty Mauldin Park in downtown Norcross. Jazz in the Alley features some of the best jazz artists from Atlanta and surrounding cities. Visit the calendar for info that includes the line-up of performers.

June 4 Kids Fishing Day

June 11 Night Music — Blair Crimmins & the Hookers

Starts at 9 a.m. Jones Bridge Park, 4901 East Jones Bridge Rd., Peachtree Corners All ages are welcome to enjoy fishing, food and more. Bring a rod or borrow one from the parks department. No fishing license is necessary; the event is catch and release only. Get additional info at, or by calling 678-277-0920.

June 4 Flicks on the Green — Black Panther 7-9 p.m. Peachtree Corners Town Green 5140 Town Center Blvd., Peachtree Corners Admission: free In spring and summer, Flicks on the Green invites families and friends to gather monthly and watch films. About the film: Based on the Marvel Comics superhero, Black Panther follows the path of T’Challa, who returns to his homeland of Wakanda to assume the throne and protect his people. More info is available on the calendar at

June 10 Norcross Summer Concert Series — Color the Night 7:30-9:30 p.m. Thrasher Park 93 Park Dr., Norcross

7-10 p.m. Peachtree Corners Town Green 5140 Town Center Blvd., Peachtree Corners Admission: free Hear bands from around the country every month, May through October, at the Night Music Series. About the band: Blair Crimmins began his current music career in Atlanta with a determination to bring Ragtime and 1920s style Dixieland Jazz to new audiences. His debut 2010 release “The Musical Stylings Of” became a college radio sensation on WRAS Atlanta. Check out the line-up and more at the calendar.

June 11-12 Model Railroad Days Southeastern Railroad Museum 3595 Buford Hwy., Duluth Admission: $18 for adults; $15 for seniors 65+; $12 for children ages 2-12 There will be classic model trains on display, model railroad layouts, clinics, model railroad surplus sale, train rides and more included with regular admission. Visit train-museum. org to important updates on times and ticket info.

Peachtree Corners Town Green 5140 Town Center Blvd., Peachtree Corners Admission: free Celebrate summer and being a kid with interactive inflatables, rock climbing, face painting and more. Watch the calendar for information as it’s updated.

June 18 Bluesberry Beer & Music Festival 3-10 p.m. Betty Maudlin Park 1-63 Lawrenceville St., Norcross Admission: free Kick back with a special “blue” cocktail and relax to the music of blues artists. Blues music, blueberries, blueberry drinks, blueberry treats and more will ensure a good time for friends, family and furry friends of all ages. Go to and click on the calendar for more info.

June 19 Juneteenth Celebration Thrasher Park 93 Park Dr., Norcross Celebrate the strength, endurance, and perseverance of African American people and their connection to the African Diaspora. Learn about the culture, traditions, music, art, food and come to have good ole family fun. Times and other details are still developing; visit the calendar for updates.

June 24 Norcross Summer Concert Series — The PettyBreakers 7:30-9:30 p.m. Thrasher Park 93 Park Dr., Norcross Admission: free Grab a chair, a cooler and some friends, then head to Thrasher Park for some great music. About the band: The PettyBreakers are the #1 touring tribute to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The band performs legendary songs that combine the sounds of country, grunge and anything rock ‘n’ roll. Go to norcrossga. net calendar for details.

June 25 Viva Las Duluth 6-9 p.m. Downtown Duluth 3167 Main St., Duluth

June 18 Kids Event

The glitz and the glam of Las Vegas heads to the main stage Downtown Duluth. Performers include magicians, cirque-style dancers, and

2-5 p.m.


impersonators. There’s a rumor Elvis is alive and well and can’t wait to perform in Duluth! Info is being added at press time, so visit the Events page for the latest.

June 25 ▼PTC Summer Concert Series — Brotherhood with Guardians of the Jukebox


take care of people. When Hiro is thrown into the middle of a dangerous plot, he transforms Baymax and his other friends into a band of high-tech heroes. Find out more at the calendar.

July 1-3 Peachtree Corners Festival Friday concert, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 12-5 p.m. Peachtree Corners Town Green 5140 Town Center Blvd., Peachtree Corners Admission: free

7-10 p.m. Peachtree Corners Town Green 5140 Town Center Blvd., Peachtree Corners Admission: free Mark your calendar for good music and a great time on the last Saturday of the month, in spring and summer, on Town Green. About the bands: Brotherhood, a Doobie Brothers Tribute Band, is made of up of eight veteran musicians who were brought together by their love of Doobie Brothers’ music. The show starts with 80s cover band Guardians of the Jukebox. Go to the peachtreecornersga. gov calendar and get the latest info.

Three days of family fun are scheduled to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the incorporation of Peachtree Corners. There will be live music, arts and crafts booths, a car and bike show — and lots of food. Make plans by visiting

July 3 Red, White & Boom! 5-10 p.m. Lillian Webb Park / Downtown Norcross 5 College St., Norcross Admission: free Everyone is invited to a pre-Fourth of July block party. In the heart of downtown historic Norcross, there’ll be food, fun and fireworks. Continue the celebration at one of Norcross’ local hotspots for live music and libations. The calendar has more info about this and other events.

July 9 Night Music — Sailing to Denver with Trappers Cabin 7-10 p.m. Peachtree Corners Town Green 5140 Town Center Blvd., Peachtree Corners

July 2 Flicks on the Green — Big Hero Six

Admission: free The Night Music Series draws bands and tribute acts to Town Green every month, May through October.

7-9 p.m. Peachtree Corners Town Green 5140 Town Center Blvd., Peachtree Corners Admission: free Spread out on the lawn once a month, May through October, and enjoy a film together. About the film: Robotics prodigy Hiro lives with Baymax, a robot whose sole purpose is to

About the bands: Sailing to Denver is a Unique Americana / Roots rock band that has been recording since 2011. Along with original songs, the plays B side covers that everyone forgot they loved. Trappers Cabin, an interestingly odd musical project, kicks off the evening a t 7 p.m. For details, visit the calendar.

Compiled by Kathy Dean

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Southwest Gwinnett Magazine |

Local Employers Adapt to New Demand for


O hire and even build.

nce a pandemic survival tactic, telework has become a major amenity for office workers that is forcing employers – including some of Southwest Gwinnett’s biggest – to rapidly evolve the way they operate,

Tensions between employers who want in-office control and employees who want more working from home are resulting in many companies establishing a permanent “hybrid” model of certain in-office work days or hours and flexibility on the remainder. In today’s tight labor market, employees have the upper hand, but it remains to be seen how factors like work-life separation or internal office socializing will play out longterm. Meanwhile, employers are adapting to a new world where no one has established best practices for hybrid work – and where policies may even become a kind of trade secret for an edge in hiring and retention. Southwest Gwinnett Magazine reached out to approximately 20 of the area’s largest employers about their hybrid work policies. Few responded and even fewer would go into detail. Jill Perry-Smith, a professor of organization and management at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, said that’s no surprise, as companies don’t want to be seen as behind on a trend – even though everyone is basically in the same boat. “I think companies are at the point where they think they should have it all figured out, but they don’t,” Perry-Smith said of the emerging models of hybrid work and telecommuting. “I think that’s really telling, the reaction you’re getting.”

Words by John Ruch Photography by Rico Figliolini

Lisa Proctor of the executive search firm Sanford Rose Associates, which has a Peachtree Corners office, is dealing with the hybrid demands daily. She said some of the companies she recruits for also didn’t want to publicly discuss their hybrid policies. “Several of them are trying to establish a competitive advantage and did not want to tip their hand yet on some of their creative ideas they will be using to compete for talent,” she said. The emerging consensus is that hybrid work is no flash in the pan. “Hybrid work and telecommuting in many roles within companies are here to stay,” says Proctor. “... In today’s candidate-driven market, qualified candidates know they will find a job and are not willing to compromise.”

Local Employers Major local employers who spoke to Southwest Gwinnett Magazine described a variety of models of responding to the hybrid demand. Jill Perry-Smith

Lisa Proctor

The stakes are high for keeping employees as well. Georgia Commute Options, a state alternative-commuting program, has surveyed metro Atlanta employers and employees throughout the pandemic about telework experiences and issued a summary report in December. “Workers may quit if telework is not an option,” the report bluntly declared, citing findings that for currently teleworking employees, 39% said they were at least somewhat likely to resign if their employer made them return to the office four or more days per week.


Hapag-Lloyd, an international shipping company, has a customer support center in Peachtree Corners that will consolidate this summer into a new North American corporate headquarters in Dunwoody. Corporate spokesperson Nils Haupt said that will coincide with the company’s establishment of a new “Future Way of Working” work-week policy of three workdays in the office and two days of remote work. “This is a permanent approach,” Haupt said of the policy.

ASHRAE is a professional engineering society that has played a key role in combating COVID-19 by setting industry standards for air filtration systems. For its pandemic-affected work model at its Peachtree Corners headquarters, the society is still experimenting. “ASHRAE currently has a hybrid work model in which employees are required to work from the office a minimum of two days per week,” said Executive Vice President Jeff Littleton in a written statement sent by a spokesperson.

Signs at Stratix

“Employees are expected to attend certain in-person meetings. Telecommuting privileges depend on employees’ job requirements and performance. … Senior staff will continue to monitor the hybrid and telecommuting model every six months and make adjustments accordingly.” The Northside Hospital healthcare system, which operates Northside Hospital Duluth and several area clinics and practices, is focused on the customer side of its shift to remote “telehealth” appointments. The reasonings are similar to those voices by many employees, like ending the need for a long trip or securing childcare. “According to our providers, patients appreciate the flexibility,” said Northside spokesperson Katherine G. Watson. “... I expect that we will continue to offer virtual visits as an option to our patients for the long term.” Stratix, a corporation headquartered in Peachtree Corners, is taking a flexible approach by necessity, according to human resources head Katie Rankin. A significant part of the company’s work is configuration and repair of mobile devices, which must be done on-site, but other work can be remote. “The rest of our workforce is a mix of on-site,

hybrid and remote,” said Rankin. “While some are happy being remote, others want to spend more time in the office. We’re finding that offering flexibility is a significant boost to our current teammates as well as for our recruiting efforts in a tight labor market.” About half of the employees are currently in the hybrid model, she said. Stratix is also working to maintain connections in its company culture and rewarding in-office workers. “For folks coming into the office, we’re doing our best to make them feel as safe as possible and encouraging engagement with events like food trucks, catered breakfasts and gift cards,” said Rankin. “To keep remote and onsite teammates feeling like they’re connected, our CEO, Louis Alterman, holds regular virtual and in-person town hall meetings where everyone is updated on the latest news and they have the opportunity to get their questions answered.”


The Evolving Models Perry-Smith, the Emory professor, says the variety of models points to the fact “that there’s no easy answer and it really depends on the kind of work.” Right now, controlling employee turnover is a “short-term marker of success,” she said, but the long-term strategies are still an unknown territory. Employees “definitely” have leverage right now in demanding “maximum flexibility,” Perry-Smith said. And that’s not just a demand for working from home, but to be “flexible in their schedule in when and how they work. … And I think that that level of flexibility creates

Southwest Gwinnett Magazine |

some of the largest challenges for managers and their companies.” The Georgia Commute Options report said that the more employees teleworked, the more they liked it – while their managers’ concerns about burnout or productivity increased. It’s easy to see the benefits from the employee side, especially when the respondents’ average daily commute time pre-pandemic was 1.5 hours a day. They get more time, life and money back. It’s important to note inequities in those benefits. Lower-income workers were less likely to have flexible scheduling options, the report said. Black respondents were less likely to have those options than white respondents. The report found some challenges for telecommuters, too, with Millennials especially reporting challenges in disconnecting from work, maintaining morale and feeling lonely.

Asian Culture Has Growing Influence in Southwest Gwinnett About one-tenth of residents in Peachtree Corners, Norcross, Berkeley Lake are of Asian descent. Words by Arlinda Smith Broady

Perry Smith said there may be differences between what employees want and what they turn out to need long-term, as well as unintended consequences. Part of her academic research focuses on how people maintain a boundary between work and home life, with findings showing “that distinction is very beneficial to both realms.” She is concerned about people missing out on the advantages of informal conversations and training tips. That can be doubly challenging for certain demographics, like firsttime jobholders or members of traditionally underrepresented groups who, some research shows, may be more likely to prefer remote work because they already feel disconnected from colleagues. “We are social beings, so interaction with people is beneficial,” she said. “And I hope some people recognize the benefits and importance of those exchanges and want to get back into the office.” For employers, Perry-Smith said, there’s the classic dilemma of acting too fast or too slow. “A concern that I would have is, companies are perhaps acting too quickly to make physical changes in light of the current work preferences, and the other is not working fast enough to make changes in light of the new work demands,” she said with a chuckle. While the pandemic is an extraordinary catastrophe that changed business overnight, the adaptation has some precedents in other trends, such a move toward open-plan, informal offices that was in vogue right before COVID struck. “I think sometimes business executives are quick to adopt a trend without thinking carefully about how that trend applies within their work setting,” said Perry-Smith, noting that open-plan movement worked well for some employees and not well for others. “So again, I don’t think we ever figured that out, which is leading to some of these tensions we see now.” ##


he United States pretty much became a country because of trade. From cotton, tobacco, sugar, rice and wheat in colonial times to fuel, aircrafts, auto parts and technology today, doing business with other countries was a basis for its establishment. Much of that still exists, with Georgia among the top 20 exporting states. But international business today is much more sophisticated than it was when European explorers staked claims on parts of the “new world.” A big part is recognizing and respecting other cultures, including the natives of other countries as well as those who’ve made America their home. That’s why setting aside time to acknowledge their impact on this country and the rest of the world is important.


In May, we recognize people of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage. Here in Gwinnett County, that’s the fastest growing demographic — more than doubling in many areas since the last census. About two-thirds are naturalized citizens, with the remainder born in the U.S.

Steps toward inclusion and justice But these Gwinnettians aren’t content to just be residents. Many are making strides in government, technology, industry, education and entrepreneurship.

For example, Gwinnett County now has its first County Commission of Asian descent, Ben Ku. Elected in 2018, he’s worked toward equality for all constituents. Earlier this year, the commissioners approved a budget item to include sample ballots and voter outreach materials printed in four Asian languages. Champions of voter rights applauded the measure. “We’ve worked in partnership with Latinx and AAPI communities for the past several years to advocate for voting and election materials in languages other than English. Today, we can finally celebrate that Gwinnett County fulfilled our requests, by providing more robust voting access for our growing Asian American communities in Georgia,” said LaVita Tuff, Policy Director at Advancing Justice-Atlanta in a written statement. She added, “At a time when widespread voter suppression tactics are attempting to silence our electoral power, Advancing Justice-Atlanta welcomes the addition of sample ballots in four Asian languages as an important step to protecting our democracy for limited-English proficient voters.” It’s those type of strides that make for a richer community and show the world that this piece of the planet embraces diversity and inclusion, advocates have said.

ICA students immersed in cultures The International Charter Academy (ICA) of Georgia, a K-5 state charter school focused on Japanese language and culture, is another example of how the area thinks globally and acts locally. “The State Department designates Japanese language as a critical language here in Georgia, because there are over 600 Japanese companies in the state,” said Felecia Tucker-Jones, principal at ICA Georgia. “Global literacy in youth is low in America as a whole. So, we educate children in a multicultural environment that enables them to appreciate different perspectives across many fields such as geography, history and the fine arts. … Georgia students gain the experience of studying in a Japanese school, they learn some of the same materials as their Japanese peers and participate in Japanese school life, including Japanese music, cultural events, healthy Japanese food and Japanese calligraphy.” She added, “So our students here are immersed in Japanese culture. And we also include other cultures as well.” With Asian Pacific Heritage Month in May, the school, like many others, exposes children to aspects of the 48 Asian countries in the world, as well the 14 Pacific Island countries, to help broaden their perspectives.

that there are similarities among them. It could be religion. It could be ethnicity, ethical beliefs, the way they dress, things like that,” said Tucker-Jones.

Growing to fill the needs of more students While the majority of students are Japanese and decedents of other Asian countries, there are White, Black and Hispanic children at the school as well. The concept has become so popular, Tucker-Jones said, that the school received applications for more than 100 kindergarteners for the 2022-2023 school year. “We can accommodate them all,” she said. “But it’s an indication of how important this kind of curriculum is becoming.” A new surgical center is being constructed across the street, and Tucker-Jones said she receives inquiries almost daily from parents who like the idea of their children’s school being so close. With an estimated several hundred employees moving there, she has received calls from people from as far away as California and Germany who are curious about what the school has to offer. The style of teaching is immersive, with students learning all core subjects in both English and Japanese. ICA Georgia uses a higher ratio of time spent in Japanese in younger grades and shifts to balance more evenly with English as students age. As a state charter school, ICA Georgia is open to every student in the state. It’s not a private school. It receives state funding but also accepts donations. The ICA board is looking to extend the learning into a middle school for students as they advance in age. Tucker-Jones said there is plenty of room and many parents have expressed a desire to see their children continue the course of study. With meetings for accreditation already underway, she is cautiously optimistic that the four-year-old school will be adding those extra grades in the next two years. “We’ve seen a lot of changes in the school since we started… in the beginning, of course, it was chaotic. But now we’ve we have a solid culture. … You walk into our building, and you have a sense of community, a family. Our parents are very involved in what we do here. Our students are very comfortable,” said Tucker-Jones. ##

Photos courtesy of The International Charter Academy (ICA)

Percentage of Asian and Pacific Islander Population Source: U.S. Census






Gwinnett County



Peachtree Corners



Berkeley Lake




“Japanese is a little different. But we want them to see that there are connections and


Southwest Gwinnett Magazine |

Three Interior Designers & their

Beautiful Spaces


Words by Isadora Pennington Cover photo and Lauren Wesley Design portrait by Isadora Pennington Interior photography courtesy of the individual designers

here is something so universal about the desire to have a beautifully designed home. As many of us have transitioned to working from home and as we are now spending more time than ever inside our houses, it is increasingly apparent that having thoughtful and functional design enhances our lives. While some have an innate sense of what goes where, there are certainly plenty who might find themselves a little lost or uninspired when thinking about the form and function of our spaces. Combine that with the sentimentality that comes from the accumulation of furniture and decor over the years, and it can prove quite difficult to see the overall design from a dispassionate and informed perspective. That’s where interior designers come in. These professionals are visionaries, able to conceptualize and implement a design that embraces your personal style while having a sense for the overall look and feel of the space. They are there to offer feedback, gentle guidance, and to handle the business of furnishing your home. Need light renovations or a whole house designed? Perhaps you’ve just purchased a vacation home, or maybe you’re welcoming a new baby to the house. For these and many other reasons, you should consider working with a local professional.

In this feature, I spoke with the creative forces behind three of Southwest Gwinnett’s most esteemed and recommended interior designers. Read on to learn more about how they came to work as designers, what they love about interior design and what to consider when you’re tackling a home design project of your own.

Designed for Life: Lauren Wesley Designs It all began with a hair appointment. More than a decade ago, Jameelah Watkins was working as a hair stylist and makeup artist, and through a recommendation by her cousin Rachel, Ebonee Clark ended up sitting in her chair one day. Their friendship was limited to chat-ting during appointments until Rachel got married back in 2017 and asked Davis and Clark to help her pull the wedding together. Together, the two handled the coordination, planning and centerpieces. It was a great suc-cess. This inspired Davis and Clark, along with Rachel, to start an event company called J Di-vine Events. After Rachel moved to Alabama, Davis and Clark continued the company and found success in the event planning industry. “And then one day Jameelah gives me a call and says, ‘Hey, I’ve got this opportunity; don’t say anything until you hear me out,” recalled Clark.


The opportunity at hand was a new angle for this design duo: interior design. One of Davis’ colleagues was working PR for a record label and had called her to ask about recommendations for the actor Olurotimi Akinosho, known professionally as Rotimi, who needed someone to help design the spaces in his new house. Rotimi, an actor, model and singer, is known for his roles on the Starz show Boss as Darius Morrison and Andre Coleman on Power. “I am the one who is a risk taker, I’m going to jump all the way in,” said Davis. So, when asked for the recommendation, she instead offered that she and Clark could design Rotimi’s home. “We were doing renovations, furnishing every single space in the home,” said Davis. “Light fixtures, wall hangings, everything. It ended up being something beautiful that we would show to any client.” And with that ambitious leap, the two found themselves at the beginning of an altogether new journey into the world of interior design.

New name for a new path With a rebrand and a new name — Lauren Wesley Designs, named after Clark’s daughter Lauren and Davis’ son Wesley — their business soon took off.

Jameelah Davis and Ebonee Clark

during their very first job, saw what they had done and later asked the team if they wanted to get on board with a show on HGTV called Married to Real Estate.

“It has just been up from there,” said Davis. “Interiors came at an amazing time. We started at the end of 2019, and it was six months later that we hit lockdown, with no more events to be had. We had booked two projects right before the pandemic started and that carried us through the lockdown.” Their first two clients were sisters, and that job led to designing the father’s home as well. Word of mouth and blossoming friendships with their clients have kept Davis and Clark busy in the years since. Realtor Egypt Sherrod, who had been working with Rotimi

out of state.”

“It has been an amazing roller coaster of a ride,” said Clark. “When it came to interiors, it just felt so natural. With every project we just get more excited, and we are amazed with the clients and projects we have found here in the city and

While getting into interior design has been a resounding success for Lauren Wesley Designs, they do still coordinate and design events as well. “We call ourselves a lifestyle design firm because we walk our clients through the major milestones of a family, buying a home, decorating a nursery, throwing engagement parties…” Clark explained. “We limit our events to milestones for our clients.”


Strength in sisterhood For Clark and Davis, their work with Lauren Wesley Designs has been only one benefit of their partnership. Above and beyond the successes they have found professionally is the friendship and camaraderie that they have developed. “This is the most satisfied I have ever felt in my life,” said Clark. “I feel so fulfilled. It’s amazing that I get to do this with Jameelah. When we first went into business, we were just acquaintances and now we are like sisters. She pushes the boundaries and I’m very reserved. I like to ask questions and analyze the situation. She jumps and asks questions later. “I am literally living a dream that I didn’t even know I had. It’s amazing to be her partner, to grow as women, to grow as mothers. Jameelah has gone through all of this in the past two years, including a divorce. She’s trying to do it all and I admire her to the ends of the Earth. I think she’s absolutely amazing and gifted by God. The ideas she comes up with… she is absolutely amazing.”

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Davis paused, promising that she wouldn’t cry, before sharing her deep gratitude for Clark. “Being in business with Ebonee has completely changed my life. I lost a daughter to SIDS, she was four months old, and I was trying to stay on a good path and not veer off and self-destruct. I think God sent Ebonee to me to keep me on that path and help me be who I am supposed to be.” She described the days when she was so depressed that she could barely get out of bed, and how her relationship with Clark helped her to pull through. “Ebonee was there. We have just always had each other’s backs and always had our clients’ best interests at heart, and always delivered 100% of the time. I know I have somebody in my corner.” Those who work with Clark and Davis have the opportunity to see firsthand just how powerful of a bond they share and how it manifests into beautiful homes and events that celebrate their clients. Davis handles the design while Clark is in charge of project management, and together they transform spaces into works of art.

CASE method Lauren Wesley Designs typically embrace a transitional design aesthetic which allows for flexibility as they can incorporate elements of various tastes and preferences. They like to start with architectural elements that embrace clean lines and a light color palette, in accordance with their belief that a space should feel designed before even one piece of furniture or decor is brought in. Then they add color and texture, often choosing rich tones, warm woods, oil-rubbed bronze and burnished brass to lend the spaces a luxe, upscale look. Davis developed a design process called the CASE method, which stands for Consultation, Anchors, Shell and Enhancements. By breaking it down this way, they’re able to address every element in the proper order. Of course, every job begins with a consultation, wherein the Lauren Wesley team comes to understand the personality and tastes of the client along with their needs and desires for the space. The anchors represent the major elements of the space and how they will be incorporated into the design, which usually means the floors and any architectural details such as built-in shelving, fireplaces, and sometimes major furniture such as couches. The shell is the exterior edges of the room, like the floor, the ceiling and the walls, for which they consider paint colors, hangings, light fixtures or artwork. Lastly are the enhancements, which is every other detail that goes into the space. “Enhancements is the part that people pay you for, because they don’t care about the other part,” said Davis, wryly. “They want to see pillows, vases… all the little things. We introduce those elements last to give it a finished look.” While that might be the first thing that people notice when they enter a space designed by

Lauren Wesley, a closer look reveals every detail, no matter how minute, has been carefully chosen to become a part of the overall composition of the space.

The Lauren Wesley look When discussing their favorite elements to implement in a space, there are a few common themes. One is luxurious fabrics. Clark mentioned the Tribeca Living Bed Sheets that she loves to use because they are clean, crisp and soft to the touch.

In The Right Light: Janie Hirsch Janie Hirsch, owner of J. Hirsch Interior Design, has artistry and home design running through her blood. During her childhood, her father worked as an architect and was a watercolor painter on the side. Hirsch would often visit her father’s office and speak with his fellow architects, asking questions and learning all about their work.

“We also use white matte vases,” added Davis. “I think it just adds some contrast because we like to do a lot of rich tones, so when you start with a light palette and you incorporate the dark, you want to bring back the light a bit and it gives it a really modern look. Those elements lend itself to the Japandi aesthetic, and I like to incorporate that as it brings a little trendy freshness.”

“He taught me all about design and architecture and art and how to appreciate all of it,” said Hirsch, who credits her father’s support as fundamental in her developing a love and passion for interior design.

There is no doubt that Davis and Clark are forces of nature and they possess a passion for both business and design that is evident in their work. But after talking to this design duo there’s another thing that becomes clear: they are women of faith and integrity.

As a young adult, Hirsch entered college with the thought that she, too, would become an architect. She enrolled at Louisiana State University where she took some introductory architecture classes but soon determined that it wasn’t quite right for her.

“We put it all out there, we put ourselves out there,” said Clark. “We want people to trust us. These clients are letting us into their private and intimate space, and we become part of their lives. We cry with them, we celebrate with them. It is not just a transaction for us.”## 770-240-0976

“We put it all out there, we put ourselves out there. We want people to trust us. These clients are letting us into their private and intimate space, and we become part of their lives. We cry with them, we celebrate with them. It is not just a transaction for us.” — Ebonee Clark


When she wanted to take art classes instead of ballet, her father encouraged her to pursue her interests. “He just nurtured it and let me ask questions and watch,” she said.

She was able to pivot and use those classes towards a degree in Interior Design with a minor in Architecture. The skills she learned in those classes — structures, physics, systems, calculus — have proven to be quite useful in her work as an interior designer. “In everything we do there are a lot of calculations,” Hirsch explained. “Whether in pricing, estimating, drawing or converting to scale, math comes into play.” Having an understanding of math and how it relates to architecture has allowed her valuable insight into what is possible in the spaces she designs.

Following the light One of Hirsch’s college professors also played an instrumental role in her path. This professor, who also taught lighting design, saw her potential and encouraged her to enter a competition for lighting design. Hirsch won and inspired by that success, she applied for and was granted an internship with a lighting design firm in New York City. For nearly two and a half years, Hirsch worked at that firm and was exposed to lighting design for a variety of purposes, including commercial, residential and retail. She gained an appreciation for lighting and how it affects all elements of interior design. “A lot of people don’t think about it, but it can make or break a space,” Hirsch explained. She described how she prefers to add layers of lighting to her spaces. What that means is that instead of relying solely on ceiling lights or only having tabletop lamps, homes should

have multiple sources of light such as sconces, pendants, under cabinet lighting, floor lamps and table lamps. “All of those options can allow you to see better, such as task lighting, but it also makes you look and feel better,” Hirsch said. “Like in a dining room; most people just have a chandelier. You can of course have candles on the table, but you can also have down lighting to make your table sparkle. And then lamps on a buffet or sconces on a buffet, it all gives you different layers of light to give different feelings. It can make a space feel different.” Beyond the considerations for how a space feels in different lighting, Hirsch pointed out how different colors, fabrics, finishes and textures can appear in different lights. One shade of paint could look completely different if lit by warm incandescent lights versus cold LED lights. “When I’m working with a client, I like to show them colors and fabrics in the space that they will be in because it can totally change if they were to put different light bulbs in their fixtures. Personally, I like warm light better, but for task lighting sometimes cooler light is better,” she said.

The jump to Atlanta After meeting her now husband during her stint in New York City, Hirsch was ready to move back to the South. “I didn’t want to get stuck in New York,” she explained. “If you stay there

long enough you can get stuck.” They first moved to Hilton Head for a brief period, where they enjoyed the slower pace but found that there weren’t quite enough opportunities to work in design. By this time, she had made some great friends in Atlanta, so it was a logical next step. For a period of 14 years, Hirsch was employed by a home builder based in Buckhead, and that experience added to her understanding of spaces and how they can be affected by architectural changes. “When we would walk through a house after it was framed, I’d be able to see the space to make recommendations in knowing how materials

“I think you have to be able to visualize things in order to be a designer. You need to be able to translate it and explain it to the client.” — Janie Hirsch


Southwest Gwinnett Magazine |

are used and things like that. It translates into helping clients do renovations or gut a house: I can comprehend it,” she said. “I think you have to be able to visualize things in order to be a designer. You need to be able to translate it and explain it to the client.” Hirsch made the jump to starting her own Interior Design company 32 years ago and quickly found success. From her office in Berkeley Lake, she helps clients go from idea to finished design. At every consultation Hirsch asks the clients a few crucial questions to help her come up with a plan. That includes asking about who lives in the space, how they plan to use it, how often they entertain and whether or not there will be children in the house. These questions are crucial to inform her decisions as she wants to ensure that the furniture design, fabric choice and layout all are conducive to their lifestyle — and comfortable for those who will be in the space — long after she has finished her work.

The Hirsch style One thing that Hirsch is known for is using color “as a neutral.” By painting all of the walls in a room in a soft color, such as the pale green she chose for her own house, she is able to make that color neutral in the space. “To me, color livens up a space,” she said. Some of Hirsch’s favorite jobs include working with clients who own antiques or items with a great story. By carefully choosing the location for these signature pieces, or sometimes also refinishing or repainting them, she is able to give them a place of pride in the new design. Her tip for smaller keepsake items is to display them in a collection with a shadow box or similar. In her own office she has a collection just like this, featuring some of the tools her father used in his career as an architect. When they are put together in a meaningful way these items can be a beloved addition to a space and get much more visibility than when they are stored away in boxes or drawers. Many of Hirsch’s designs also feature seating options that add to the function of her spaces. It’s not uncommon to find that she has incorporated a bench to the end of a client’s bed, which functions both as a place to hold decorative pillows at night and also for putting on shoes in the morning. Another common design element is the addition of ottomans placed in front of a fireplace to allow the client to enjoy a comfortable seat by the fire as well as offer seating options when entertaining large groups of people. “Besides being beautiful, you want it to be comfortable,” said Hirsch.##

Make It Fun: Kim Schoone

From finance to design

“The industry has really kind of exploded in the last 20 years,” said Kim Schoone, owner of K. Schoone Interiors, LLC. Based in Peachtree Corners, Schoone has been an interior designer for 22 years.

Seeking more of a creative outlet, she left that role and found herself in Atlanta working for legendary neo-futuristic designer John Portman.

“I was always an incredibly artistic and creative kid; give me crayons and pens and paints and I’ll be happy,” said Schoone. During her childhood, Schoone lived in New York City and New Jersey. Her father worked as a contract furniture salesman selling brands such as Pennsylvania House, and her mother was a nurse who had an innate talent for interior design. In fact, her childhood home appeared in an issue of the magazine House Beautiful. Later, the family relocated to Michigan where her mother opened a gift shop with her best friend. “I had the best decorated dorm room,” Schoone chuckled. In college, Schoone studied French and then lived in France for a year, following which she returned stateside and got a degree in Marketing. “I got into the financial industry simply because I wanted to live in Chicago,” she explained. During her tenure attending St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, she decided she really wanted to live in Chicago, but quickly determined that it was not the right fit for her. At the time, she was employed doing mostly sales, selling mutual funds to brokers and banks. 404-395-3711


“He was a very interesting and creative person, a really very interesting man,” Schoone recalled. Portman is best known for his designing hotels and office buildings with multi-story atriums, such as the Peachtree Center complex that includes the Hyatt, Westin and Marriott Hotels. This exposure to design piqued Schoone’s interest in the industry and following the birth of her second child around the time of the Olympics, Schoone stepped away from her role in downtown Atlanta. Later, when she approached an interior designer based in Buckhead and asked for assistance with designing her home, she was instead offered a job at the firm. For the two to three years that followed, Schoone worked at the firm and relied upon her knowledge of business and sales. Over time, she came to understand the industry inside and out and decided to open her own company. “My priority was my children and so I took my passion and talent and parlayed it into a business that allowed me to be with my kids,” said Schoone. “It has been really fantastic for that. I worked very part time — I’ve always worked with referrals only — until my kids left home and then I went full time.” Relying on referrals, as opposed to the times when she worked with companies such as Houzz, has proven to be preferable for Schoone. “It’s just a much more sane way to handle this insane business,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve ridden the highs and the lows, the crash in 2008 and now the craziness of 2020 and 2021.”

“Something really unique, I do enjoy doing that. I want things that have a story. They are always so much more fun and unique.” — Kim Schoone

Head for business and eye for style “It’s hard to make it as an interior designer; it’s very difficult,” said Schoone. “It’s not just talent and eye, it’s a business sense. You have to be able to get along with people.” Fortunately, the business side of her interior design work always came rather naturally to Schoone, who says that her skills gleaned from earlier jobs have helped her immensely as she developed her own company. “Interior design is also sales. You’re selling yourself, you’re selling an idea and you’re selling a concept,” Schoone explained, reflecting on the many changes that have come to the industry since she started her company. “We didn’t have CAD drawings or anything like that back then, it was a pure ‘trust me.’” Beyond having people skills, a good business sense and an innate eye for design, Schoone also highlights just how important it is to have good relationships with suppliers. After all, design is merely an idea until it is implemented with items that are produced by fabricators and manufacturers. Many of Schoone’s sources are members-only, such as the Atlanta Design Group located on

Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. There, under one roof, designers are able to peruse an art room, a 10,000 square-foot showroom full of furniture, a resource room, a commercial side and the back of the whole building is used to receive orders.

One client that Schoone is working with, for example, has family from Maine. The client’s grandfather worked with wood, so Schoone was able to display a ladder sent from his family, pictures of timber to frame and she even blew up a photograph of his hometown to cover an entire wall.

Personal and playful designs

One common trend you might spot in Schoone’s designs is a unique wall hanging. One of her favorite local suppliers will get dried grapevines and form them into a circular shape.

When Schoone is brought on to design a space, or even sometimes an entire house, she becomes invested in making the design extremely personal for the client.

“It has great texture, it has just so much going on,” she said, remarking that her eldest daughter often teases her for her affinity for the decoration. She prefers to incorporate organic items alongside art in her designs. “Everyone loves it,” she added.

“My first question is ‘what color makes your heart sing?’” she said. Apparently, for a lot of people, the answer is blue. She then will consult with the client to determine which of their furniture pieces and artwork they want to incorporate into the new design. The trend now is to say, “less is more,” something that has changed since Schoone first got into the business. “It used to be more is more,” she joked. “Design is a lot like fashion, it is always changing.” She often mixes styles, leaning toward transitional design that ensures a more timeless appeal. By learning about a client’s story, family history and beloved personal items she is able to feature those elements in purposeful and meaningful ways.


“I like to make it relevant to them and their family,” she explained.

Schoone has earned a reputation for playful and intriguing designs that incorporate character pieces, such as lamps made out of other items, old metals and vintage finds. “Something really unique, I do enjoy doing that,” said Schoone. “I want things that have a story. They are always so much more fun and unique.” ## 404-790-4817

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Books for a Hot Sum Compiled by Ivy Marie Clarke and Rico Figliolini

What could be better on a hot Georgia summer day than curling up by the pool with a good book and a glass of sweet iced tea? Not much. The only detail left to complete this vision is knowing exactly what to read. We consulted civic, business, education and literary leaders of the community to give us their top choices.

Bat 21 by William C. Anderson A fictional story based on true events about the rescue of 53-year-old Lt. Colonel Iceal “Gene” Hambleton, who was shot down behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War, and his 11½ days of survival, starvation, hallucination and jubilation.

The Cider House Rules by John Irving A coming-of-age tale that begins in 1920s Maine. Homer Wells spends his childhood at St. Cloud’s Orphanage and is tutored by Dr. Larch to provide services for women who seek their help. Homer is given an opportunity to pick apples at Ocean View Farms, where he learns that moral choices are more than just yes and no answers. The dual stories of Homer’s life are integrated with part medical procedures and the rules of apple picking, with underlaying themes of women’s rights, law, life, loss, wartime America, addiction and assault. Irving’s characters are from all walks of life but share a commonality of imperfections. These complex characters stick with the reader well after the last page. Jessica Giles, WaltonDeFuniak Public Library

This book represents the best of what our military has to offer and presents the true meaning of “leave no one behind.” The genius of a rescue team to develop and execute an innovative plan to rescue Hambleton from enemy territory, while not giving up his location, was extremely well-written. Add in leeches, snakes, illness and a knife encounter with an enemy soldier; this book provided a brilliant representation of the lengths our men and women will go to keep their brothers and sisters from falling into enemy hands. Louis E. Svehla, Communications Director, City of Peachtree Corners

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham Chloe Davis endured the unthinkable at the age of 12 when her father confessed to the


murder of six teenage girls. Now, 20 years later, while planning her wedding, an eerily similar pattern begins in her town, and she is forced to face her past while potentially unmasking a new killer. I love a twisty-turny novel that keeps you engaged from the first page to the back cover... and this book delivered! The book is also being adapted by HBO, so of course I had to give it a read before the show. And personally, the author Stacy is a sorority sister of mine, and I love that she wrote an incredible novel that I’m excited to support and share. Lindsay Duncan Schwartz, Director of Marketing, Music Matters Productions

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy I love to read a good thriller at the beach. This book is suspenseful from the start. The action focuses on two families enjoying on an idyllic cruise and leads you through a gripping adventure in Central America. Although I read it a few years ago, I still recommend this page-turner that keeps you guessing. Jennifer Grizzle, The PR Studio, Inc.

mmer Day in Georgia Love Your Enemies by Arthur Brooks Dr. Brooks explores what has led to divisiveness and a “culture of contempt” in America, while challenging the audience to embrace intelligent disagreement to move our country forward. I typically avoid any books that even hint to be political in nature, but as political discourse has bled into interpersonal relationships and pop culture, I was drawn to a solution-based book around the topic. Dr. Brooks presents a fascinating narrative about where the problems lie, how we got here and, most importantly, how we can begin to change our mindset. It is personally challenging but ultimately hopeful. Discourse is what makes our nation what it is but how we conduct ourselves and view our neighbors is what makes us who we are and what we will become. Correy Burres, Vice President of Communications at Georgia Center for Opportunity Three recommendations from Twohig-Canal

Milk Street Tuesday Nights Mediterranean by Christopher Kimball I’m a big fan of Christopher Kimball from his days at America’s Test Kitchen to his newish venture sharing recipes from around the world. Tuesday Nights is the perfect segue to summer and al fresco dining. Some mouth-watering recipes include ribeye steaks with olive and wine sauce; chicken salmoriglio (a southern Italy dish with olive oil, lemon, garlic and herbs); tomato and cucumber salad with capers and feta; and charred eggplant pita sandwiches with spicy tahini. Good healthy home cooking in 45 minutes? Yes, please!

Van Life: Your

Three recommendations from Pickren

Home on the Road by Foster Huntington My husband and I talk about buying a van one day and taking our daughter on road trips to the National Parks. In the meantime, we’ll keep perusing the pages of Van Life, a small but coffee table-worthy book full of cool photos of adventurous people living their lives in VW and Sprinter vans, school buses, truck campers and small RVs. They share their experiences around the world on the road, including both the good and the bad. This is a fun little gem of a book that is perfect for gift-giving.

Burn The Place: A Memoir by Iliana Regan My favorite type of non-fiction book falls under the food memoir genre. It all started with Ruth Reichl in my early 20s and continued with Anthony Bourdain, Julia Child and Elizabeth Gilbert, to name a few. Burn The Place is a little different in that self-taught chef Regan’s writing is more raw and emotional. She has a connection to food early on when she learned how to forage for mushrooms and berries at a young age. She takes her experiences with food and applies them to her cuisine in an unexpected way. Regan opens up about coming of age in an intolerant community as well as her hardships with alcoholism, all the while diving into a culture that is typically male dominated. Erin Twohig-Canal, Librarian and stay-at-home mom

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien A mysterious ring is found in a fantasy world. The most epic fiction ever written. Start with The Hobbit and then read through the books. As good as the movies were, the books are unbelievably better. Leroy Hite, CEO of Cutting Edge Firewood


The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

I happen to adore bookstores, and this is the first book to make me cry in a long time. A young woman wound up as an employee in an offbeat bookstore in the middle of London during the WW2 Blitz as the city endures bombing raids day after day. The description of people hiding in subway stations illustrates what the people of Ukraine experience today, over 80 years later. If you want to read about persistence, bravery, loss, love and transformation, this is a must read.

Still Life by Louise Penny (and 16 other books in the Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery Series) I am only on Book 14, yet I know the rest of them will be just as good. The foundation setting for the books is an off-the-map village in Quebec called Three Pines. The town’s people are characters that make us laugh, cry, and want to visit them. They include an old poet and her pet duck, Bistro owners, an artist and, of course, a bookstore owner. However, it is Gamache himself who draws me back for inspiration. His paradoxical strengths of warmth, empathy and kindness, paired with his self-command, bravery and analytical decision making can be summarized in his four statements that demonstrate wisdom: “I don’t know. I need help. I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich This is another story about a bookstore. In this one, we meet Native Americans, learn about some of the atrocious acts done to take their land and how the characters in the book feel about how they are treat-

Southwest Gwinnett Magazine |

ed. We meet a ghost who rules the store and a couple who share an abiding love. It brings in the current effects of COVID-19 fears, as well. Even though it is a little whacky, The Sentence is a story about redemption. Betsy Corley Pickren, WoodFire Leadership, LLC Three recommendations from Alex

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko

The book is a compilation of research done by the two authors in the profiles of American millionaires. The authors compare the behavior of those they call “UAWs” (Under Accumulators of Wealth) and those who are “PAWs” (Prodigious Accumulators of Wealth). Their findings, that millionaires are disproportionately clustered in middle-class and blue-collar neighborhoods and not in more affluent or white-collar communities, came as a surprise to the authors, who anticipated the contrary.

himself at incredible personal cost. It really puts your day to day “problems” into perspective.

Freedom’s Forge by Arthur Herman Freedom’s Forge reveals how two extraordinary American businessmen — General Motors automobile magnate William “Big Bill” Knudsen and shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser — helped corral, cajole and inspire business leaders across the country to mobilize the “arsenal of democracy” that propelled the Allies to victory in World War II. Drafting top talent from companies like Chrysler, Republic Steel, Boeing, Lockheed, GE and Frigidaire, Knudsen and Kaiser turned auto plants into aircraft factories and civilian assembly lines into fountains of munitions. It was inspiring and enlightening to see what the U.S. is capable of when everyone (mostly) is pulling in the same direction with a shared vision. Also, for history buffs and anyone in the business world, there are lots of stories that are entertaining and amazing, such as building a Liberty Ship (a 14,000-ton, 440-foot-long cargo ship) in under four days — something that normally would take over a year in peacetime.

It provides a common-sense roadmap to how to become financially successful by following the habits of millionaires (most of who are not the people you would think). It also provides a refreshing exposure of the myth that you have to live a big house and drive a fancy car to be wealthy when, in most cases, the exact opposite is true.

Alex Wright, Peachtree Corners City Council

Faith of My Fathers by John McCain

The book is about managing challenging situations in a way that is supportive and yet addresses the challenge. It uses a coaching and growth mindset to effectuate change.

It is part autobiography, part family memoir. It traces the story of McCain’s life growing up, during his time in the United States Naval Academy and his military service as a naval aviator before and during the Vietnam War. His story is interwoven with those of his father John S. “Jack” McCain, Jr. and his grandfather John S. “Slew” McCain, Sr., both four-star admirals in the Navy. In a time (and maybe it has always been this way) that so many of our “leaders” (political, business, etc.) seem to be focused on themselves or their own narrow agenda, the story of John McCain’s decision to stay in a POW camp in North Vietnam, knowing he would be tortured, possibly killed, because the military code was that he could not be released until those captured before him had been released, was so inspiring. He was putting others before

Handle with Care: Managing Difficult Situations in Schools with Dignity and Respect by Jim Casas and Joy Kelly

I recommend this book because there are many applicable ideas and strategies that are practical to implement to make the workplace better and create a positive environment. While I have read the book from beginning to end, it is a book that can be read based on the needs and goals of the reader and I find myself revisiting certain parts. What is resonating with me now from the books is the awareness of “internal sirens.” Kassia Morris-Sutton, Principal of Norcross Elementary School


Alexander McCall Smith books One of my favorites authors is Alexander McCall Smith, the Edinburgh novelist who pens on average four books a year, all on different subjects. His first book gained him fame, The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, set in Botswana, featuring a “….traditionally built African woman.” She finds a book written by what she thinks is an American detective, devours it and decides to become a detective. She constantly quotes from the book, as she and another African woman solve problems for the people around her. There are (at last count), I believe, 19 books in the “Detective” series. McCall Smith produces other series of novels about people in a condo building in Edinburgh, where a brilliant, lovable six-year-old with tremendous abilities has this over-zealous mother who has him enrolled in all sorts of classes (saxophone, Italian, reading beyond his level). Then there is the series of books on German philosophy professors and their set ways and thoughts. McCall Smith is a tall, balding, enjoyable sort, who we heard dressed in his kilt at the Atlanta History Center years ago, laughing louder than anyone at his stories. You’re in for an exciting and delightful world when you open an Alexander McCall Smith book. Elliott Brack, publisher,

Go Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann If you want to be successful in life, you have to give, to serve and to put the interests of others before your own. The concept of “Go-Giver” is not obvious at first glance for many. Most people focus on the go-getter in our culture. But I personally found that the five laws introduced in the book are simple principles both young and old can apply in their lives to transform individuals and communities. It is especially important in current times. Karl Barham, Transworld Business Advisors



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Two recommendations from Mayor Salter

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables is one of my all-time favorite books! This is a story about a little girl named Anne (with an E), and she makes sure you know to spell her name with an E at the end. Anne has red hair and is very self-conscious about her hair. She is an 11-year-old orphan who is sent by mistake to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister to help on their farm on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Anne is a precocious young girl, and the story follows her through many adventures. She is a funny little girl who loves to live in her imagination. This story is fun and heartwarming, and I would recommend it to anyone, especially girls, to read this book. It will make you laugh, and it might even make you cry.

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine This is a fictionalized story about a boy named Henry who was a slave in Virginia in 1849. He decides to get in a box and mail himself to Philadelphia so he can become free and no longer live as a slave. I recommend this book because the story gives the readers (students) the opportunity to make connections between the text and the illustrations in the powerful true story. The pictures are amazing and bring the story to life. Tahnya Sherwood, Media Specialist, Norcross Elementary School

Take What You Can Carry by Gian Sardar Ukraine has caused me to realize how little I know of other cultures and their histories of struggle. This compelling and heartbreaking novel taught me a little about the Kurdish people and left me overwhelmingly grateful for the huge and unearned blessing of being born in this country.

Three recommendations from Beckles

Surrounded by Idiots: How ineffective communication causes chaos by B.T. Goodwin

It is a guide on how you interact and communicate with others. A quick read to look inward at yourself. The biggest takeaway was the identification of verbal, passive-aggressive communication, however subtle, can turn an otherwise normal conversation into turmoil. I’ve incorporated tips and tactics from this book into my professional, civic and personal life. Being self-aware and steady, I can communicate no matter the attitude of the recipients.

Ethical Intelligence: Five simple rules for leading a better life by Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D. These are simple rules to lead with integrity and a clear conscience. I highly recommend this book if you deal with individuals who gossip and trash talk in any environment you are part of. Long gone is the premise that leaders can act and do as they please without consequences. This book gives pointers on how to deal with conflict ethically and intelligently.

Leading quietly: An Unorthodox Guide to Doing the Right Thing by Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr. Leaders are not always loud. Being soft-spoken doesn’t mean no leadership skills exist, and vice versa. Some of us are comfortable leading from behind — I, for one, consider myself a leader with quiet effectiveness. This book offers caution, rules to lead by and how to gradually escalate when the need arises. It offers a wealth of compromises that I have found to be useful in my everyday dealings, both professionally and personally. Arlene Beckles, Norcross City Council

Lois Salter, Mayor of Berkeley Lake


Three recommendations from Huffman

The President’s Daughter by James Patterson and Bill Clinton A terrorist seeks revenge on the POTUS by kidnapping his daughter and taking her away to his African stronghold. The President, who happens to be a former Special Forces soldier, personally leads a rescue mission racing against the clock before the terrorist kills his hostage.

Besides the normal fastpaced action of a James Patterson novel, Bill Clinton’s involvement adds a lot of inside knowledge about the workings of the White House, the Secret Service and the military’s capabilities. The book is 600 pages, but a fast read. My “guilty pleasure” reading are the novels of James Patterson, and I request them from the library every time he publishes a new one (which seems to be on the order of every three weeks)!

The Widows by Jess Montgomery This is a historical mystery based on the true story of a 19th century young woman in Appalachian Ohio who becomes sheriff of her small county when her sheriff husband is murdered. She seeks to find the murderer while contending with the expected pushback from the locals at having a woman in this position of authority. Murderers and bootleggers galore. First, in the interest of full disclosure: Jess Montgomery is my sister-in-law. This book is the first in what is now a four-book series recounting the exploits of sheriff Lily Ross in this section of the Appalachian Mountains. All of the books include very strong women characters, and the mystery part of the stories keeps you guessing until the end.

The One Device – the Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant This is a behind-thescenes look at the development of the Apple iPhone. The author consults with people both inside the company and all over the world to describe how this revolutionary product came to be and how it became such a part of our daily lives.

As an electrical design engineer, I was particularly interested in the development of the iPhone, but no technical knowledge is needed to enjoy the book. The iPhone has made such an incredible impact on the world’s society and is such a thing of genius that it is fascinating to read the details of how it came into existence. For good or bad, the vision behind the iPhone changed all of our lives.

mance books in hopes of strengthening their love lives.

Dave Huffman, President of the Peachtree Corners Festival committee

The Match by Sarah Adams

Six recommendations from Rooks

The Three Mrs. Wrights by Linda Keir Lark, Jessica and Holly are three strangers with so much in common it hurts. Their one and only is one and the same. The charming Mr. Wright’s serial lies are about to catch up with him.

From the beginning, this book is impossible to put down. You know something is off and as you turn each page, your desire to know the truth grows and grows. I enjoyed the three perspectives from each woman and how they each handled the deception differently. You won’t be able to stop thinking about it ‘til you finally finish.

The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Arms The Spanish Love Deception is an enemies-to-lovers, fake-dating romantic comedy, perfect for those looking for a steamy slow-burn romance with the sweetest Happily Ever After. This is one of my favorite books so far this year. It was the perfect rom com read. It had everything: an out-of-town family wedding, fake boyfriend, ex-boyfriend drama and a passion that made you smile. The Spanish Love Deception is a sweet read that you won’t be able to stop thinking about.

These are some of the funniest books I have ever read, but also very swoony at the same time. All the guys get together when the other needs help, and it’s cool to see them there for each other. I love reading these and will probably reread them every year.

loved how the whole thing turned out! Clara Rooks, Marketing Communications Manager, Explore Gwinnett

Scan this QR Code to visit our website and discover more books in the full online version of this article.

Evie works for a service dog organization, helping people with disabilities get connected to a service pet. When a hot single dad walks in, everything Evie wants in life changes. I smiled the whole time reading this book. It is a perfect light-hearted easy read but packed with so much content. This is the type of book that makes me believe in fairy tale type romance. I never met fictional characters more perfect for each other.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry Poppy and Alex have been best friends ever since an awkward car ride home in college. Every summer for 10 years they took a trip together — until they ruined everything. Now it has been two years since they have spoken, and Poppy uses an upcoming work trip to fix everything. Poppy and Alex have the most genuine friendship and you start to root for them during all their adventures. I enjoyed the flashbacks of their trips and reading about all the people they met on the way. Their chemistry is unmatched and seeing them finally face those feelings is worth reading about!

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Bromance Book Club Series by Lyssa Kay Adams

The first Cursebreaker series book; there are a total of three. A prince is cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat his 18th year until he falls in love. When Harper tries to save a man in Washington D.C., she is transported to another world. Is she the answer to breaking the curse?

With four books currently in the series, each book is about a different guy in the Bromance Book Club. A group of somewhat known men in Nashville get together to read ro-

This book was a twist on the “Beauty and the Beast” theme, but still very unique and unpredictable. A great fantasy read about risking it all for love and finding out who you are in the process. The development and sacrifice of the characters is what makes this book so special. I have read the other two books in the series and


Southwest Gwinnett Magazine |

Gwinnett’s Wedding Venues Under $2,500


ecently, reported that couples spent an average of $33,000 on their weddings in the metro Atlanta area, with a large portion of that being dedicated to venue rentals. Let’s be honest, not all of us have that type of budget.

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1. Hudgens Center for Art & Learning | Duluth 6400 Sugarloaf Pkwy., Bldg. 300, Duluth This venue sits adjacent to Gas South District Convention Center and can be rented for less than $2,500 on Fridays and Sundays. Hudgens Art Center offers both indoor and outdoor event spaces. Please note that Proof of the Pudding is the exclusive catering company for the property; contact Maurice Odoms for tours.

We have some good news—there are several affordable wedding venues in Gwinnett County that you can rent for under $2,500 to help cut costs.


2. ◄Gwinnett Historic Courthouse 185 W. Crogan St., Lawrenceville Weekday rates begin at $150 per hour (twohour minimum rental) for the Superior Court Ballroom at Gwinnett Historic Courthouse. Can’t you picture the beautiful photos on the historic Lawrenceville Square?

3. ►George Pierce Park Community Center 55 Buford Hwy., Suwanee george-pierce-park This venue is $115 per hour with a two-hour minimum required. The community center overlooks a beautiful lake.

4. ►Norcross Cultural Arts & Community Center 10 College St., Norcross With this venue, you’ll pay $200 with a minimum two-hour rental, after that it’s $75 per additional hour. This former church is home to numerous public events and concerts throughout the year. It holds 120 guests. This venue is adjacent to Lillian Webb Park, which would be a great backdrop for post-nuptial photos.


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5. ▲Pinckneyville Park Community Center 4758 S. Old Peachtree Rd., Peachtree Corners For $200 an hour (two-hour minimum required), you’ll get access to the Community Room, Atrium, Gallery Hall and Garden at Pinckneyville Community Center.

6. ►Gas South Convention Center 6400 Sugarloaf Pkwy., Duluth Located in the heart of Gwinnett, Gas South District offers a centrally located, modern venues for couples. If you’re open to getting married on a weekday, you can rent a room at the convention center affordably. Proof of the Pudding is also the exclusive catering company for this property.


7.► Lawrenceville Female Seminary and Preservation Lawn 455 S. Perry St., Lawrenceville Located near the Lawrenceville square, this venue offers a beautiful backdrop for photos and is the perfect setting for a couple who loves history. Typical of historic venues, this space offers exposed brick, wood floors and open space.

8. ►Isaac Adair House and Preservation Lawn 15 S. Clayton St., Lawrenceville Located right next door to the Lawrenceville Female Seminary, rental for this venue can include the beautiful Preservation Lawn.


Southwest Gwinnett Magazine |

9. ▲Buford Community Center 2200 Buford Hwy. NE, Buford You’ll get this venue for a full day at $2,000 on Friday and Sunday.

10. ◄The Chapel at Simpsonwood Park 4511 Jones Bridge Cir., Peachtree Corners Tucked into a beautifully preserved woodland area, this quaint chapel could be perfect for you and your fiancé. Rentals start at just $125 per hour with a two-hour minimum. It holds up to 75 guests for a more intimate wedding. The grounds can also be rented for an additional fee.

Want more details? Contact Maurice Odoms with Explore Gwinnett, 770-814-6059 or, for a complete wedding venue guide listing all wedding venues in Gwinnett or to inquire about complimentary welcome bags for your out-of-town wedding guests staying in Gwinnett hotels. Note that these rates are subject to change at any time. Please speak with each venue directly for most updated pricing. ##


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Where to Indulge in the Pleasures of

Patio Dining Words and Photography by Nathan Deen

Grace 17:20 from Facebook door. Anytime you go to a restaurant in Italy, there’s always an outdoor seating area,” Johnson said.


ith springtime and friendly weather arriving, more restaurant patrons will seek to dine at places that offer great outdoor venues. Whether it’s a traditional open-patio setting, a screened-in patio that can still be enjoyed on a rainy day or somewhere that’s pet friendly, Peachtree Corners, Norcross and Duluth have something for every outdoor diner. Lena Ahn, an Atlanta-based Instagram food connoisseur who has a following just shy of 28,000 under her handle @atlbestbites, listed Lazy Dog Restaurant, Grace 17:20 and Pure Taqueria as her favorite outdoor patio restaurants in the Southwest Gwinnett County area. “A restaurant with a great patio should have

Grace 17:20 plenty of seating without being too crowded together and have plenty of shade,” Ahn said. “The décor, such as plants, flowers and even lighting options, play an important factor in creating an ambiance in tune with the interior of the restaurant.”

Grace 17:20 When Gail Johnson and the Johnson family opened Grace 17:20 at The Forum in Peachtree Corners 18 years ago, she wanted to create a restaurant that resembled her favorite place to travel — Italy. They first leased the building at The Forum, but there wasn’t an outdoor patio, so the Johnsons decided to design and build one from scratch. “Italy is one of our favorite places to visit. There’s not a lot of restaurants like this where you feel like you’re in Italy when you walk through the


The outdoor stone patio at Grace 17:20 has plenty of shade provided by nearby overhanging trees, is surrounded by flower gardens and consists of an outdoor fireplace and a fountain. “I think you have to have a place that’s beautiful,” Johnson said about her thought process in designing the patio. “We make it warm and inviting. People still want to sit out there even in the winter.” She also said the patio adds to the type of hospitable approach Grace 17:20 takes to serve their customers. They can walk in, take their time, enjoy the atmosphere — whether indoors or outdoors — and stay as long as they like. “When you go out to a nice dinner, it’s important to not feel rushed. People will come here and stay for more than two hours,” she said. The patio also makes Grace 17:20 an ideal restaurant to host events and special occasions such as an Easter Brunch, wine tastings, anniversaries and wedding rehearsal dinners. While the venue is Italian-themed, Grace’s menu is largely upscale American dining, and its two executive chefs, Peter Washburn and John Dinzole, are always looking to add to the menu, Johnson said.

All dressings are made in house and patrons tend to favor the Cedar Planked Atlantic Salmon and the Prime Filet Mignon.

Taqueria Tsunami On the other side of Peachtree Parkway at Town Center, Scott and Alexis Kinsey knew they had the perfect location when they opened their eighth Taqueria Tsunami location in 2019. It’s the only restaurant in The Forum/Town Center area that has a rooftop patio. Customers dining on the rooftop enjoy not only the weather but a beautiful view of the

best-selling tacos. The appetizers are also popular and creative, from the Avocado Eggrolls, with Santa Fe ranch and sweet and spicy Thai sauce, to Asian Nachos that are made with fried wontons instead of tortilla chips.

Plate with macaroni and cheese.

Bleu House

Falling Rabbit

For an outdoor lunch date that allows you to enjoy the charm of downtown Norcross while listening to music by the Beatles, it’s difficult to beat the scene and menu of The Bleu House. The outdoor seating area is larger than the indoor, and it starts at the patio balcony and runs to the main patio area. The balcony is covered by an awning while the main patio deck is in the open with umbrellas positioned over every table. “I love to eat outside,” said co-owner John Adams. “With the [COVID-19] restrictions, you could only have people eat outside, so for a while we were ahead of the game.” The Bleu House caters specifically to the lunch crowd and is open from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. from Wednesday through Saturday.

Taqueria Tsunami

park-like Town Green behind the building. The Town Green is the site of numerous community events, which Taqueria Tsunami customers can experience while eating tacos and sipping margaritas.

Adams and his wife, Maureen, Bleu House

Scott Kinsey spent much of his career working for international restaurants chains, which allowed him to travel and experience different cultural cuisines. Those experiences inspired him to open Taqueria Tsunami, which combines the best foods of Latin America and Asia. Kinsey said the Thai Chicken Tacos and the Shrimp Tempura Tacos, topped with Asian slaw and a hoisin-lime aioli, are among their

Falling Rabbit (courtesy of Falling Rabbit) Walking around Parsons Alley and Town Green in downtown Duluth, it’s difficult not to notice the front outdoor dining terrace of The Falling Rabbit. With its golden metal chairs and white tables placed across a black-and-white textile courtyard, the terrace grabs the attention of anyone passing by the restaurant. “We want people to see it from the [Town] Green,” said bar manager Chris Cotugno, who has worked at the restaurant since it opened in 2020. “It’s one of those things where we really wanted to grab people. It matches the color scheme with the earth tones and the conjoining of the gold accents inside.” Cotugno said the building that houses the restaurant is more than 100 years old, and it has never been the site of a restaurant before Falling Rabbit opened. But designing the interior and exterior of the restaurant came with a challenge.

“What attracted us to that space was the amazing green space behind the building and the Town Center,” said co-owner Alexis Kinsey, whose husband Scott also owns the company and is the architect behind the Latin-Asian fusion menu. Kinsey said their location in Roswell also has a rooftop patio, but it doesn’t have the same scenery as the one in Peachtree Corners. “It’s really a completely different feel at Peachtree Corners than any of our other locations,” she said.

Over the years, the Funky Chicken sandwich, glazed with a balsamic vinaigrette and honey mustard, has proven to be a staple, while the Big Bad Brisket Sandwich and the Chicken Salad are also popular.

“We wanted to preserve the original aesthetics of the building,” Cotugno said. “We didn’t want to change that too much, but also elevate it in a way that says this place is quite new.”

have owned the Bleu House since 2002, when it was called The Bleu House Cafe. The couple also owned a sister restaurant called The Market before merging both businesses under one roof on College Street, where it’s been since 2014. Adams said the menu hasn’t changed much and it serves anyone looking for any kind of lunch, whether sandwiches or salads or “Bleu Plate Specials” such as Meatloaf and Creamy Mashed Potatoes or the Barbeque Pulled Pork


Falling Rabbit serves an elevated American cuisine with a “bit of flare,” Cotugno said. “We want to make recognizable dishes and turn them into a unique experience,” he said. Owner Chuck Woods is also the executive chef and his wife and co-owner, Barbara, serves as the general manager. Falling Rabbit has made itself known for its rapidly changing seasonal menu. A new dish is rotated into the menu every week. ##

Southwest Gwinnett Magazine |

Other outdoor patio restaurants to look out for red wine and spices, as well as a diverse selection of beer from all over Latin America, and, as their name suggests, their mojitos.

Marlow’s Tavern 5210 Town Center Blvd., Peachtree Corners A modern atmosphere encompasses Marlow’s Tavern at Town Center in Peachtree Corners. As one of Marlow’s 15 locations in the Atlanta area, the Peachtree Corners venue is designed to accommodate anyone’s taste in a restaurant environment. Marlow’s is equipped to host any sporting event watch party but also has an extensive screened-in patio for those who want to enjoy the outdoor weather and get away from the crowd. The menu at Marlow’s features traditional tavern and bar classics such as wings, firecracker shrimp, sandwiches and gourmet burgers.

▲Lazy Dog Restaurant

The Crossing Steakhouse

5224 Peachtree Pkwy., Peachtree Corners When it comes to pet-friendly restaurants, Lazy Dog has emerged as a top dining destination since its Peachtree Corners location opened two years ago at Town Center off Peachtree Parkway. Its outdoor, screened-in patio was built with pet-owners — dog-owners in particular — in mind. The name Lazy Dog came from the environment originally envisioned by owner and CEO Chris Simms in which he pictured a place where someone’s dog could curl up comfortably by a fireplace. Lazy Dog has a mountain resort vibe to it and offers traditional comfort food and their unique selection of house beers. The patio consists of about a dozen tables that surround a fire pit at the center of the room. Dogs are only allowed on the patio and must be kept on a leash and lying down at al times.

Mojitos Bistro 35 South Peachtree St., Norcross 5161 Peachtree Pkwy., Peachtree Corners


The original Norcross location of Mojitos has a handful of tables in front of the entrance and an open patio in the back, while the Mojitos at The Forum in Peachtree Corners offers a spacious outdoor dining area. The Cuban American eatery has seen jampacked crowds from people looking to enjoy a sporting event or live music at The Forum. A live band plays every Thursday night, and those choosing to eat outside don’t have to miss the show. The patio is lined with garage door windows that can be pulled up so those outside can see and hear what’s going on inside. Mojitos is known for its Spicy Oxtail stewed in

20 South Peachtree St., Norcross Located in downtown Norcross and converted from an old train station, The Crossing has garnered a reputation for being one of the area’s top steakhouses. Its outdoor seating area is mostly screened in by window flaps, though there is an area of the patio that has three tables in the open. The flaps can be raised for a day with a cool breeze, but assistant manager Yaneli Bueno said they usually stay down to accommodate for cold weather and even for pollen during the spring. “The outdoor experience we try to provide is very family oriented,” Bueno said. “It’s warm and inviting. We want people walking by on the sidewalk to see the people upstairs outside just talking, having drinks and having a good time.” Though it has a wide selection of premium steak cuts, Bueno said one of the most popular dishes is the Railway Chicken. The building lies just mere feet from the railroad tracks that wind through downtown Norcross, and patrons can feel the vibrations of the train throughout the restaurant as it passes.

Zapata Tacos and Tequila Bar 15 Jones St. NW, Norcross Founder Jesus Onate wanted to create an authentic Mexican cantina that made patrons feel like they walked in off the streets of Mexico City. An authentic Mexican experience is as much about the drinks as it is the food, so Zapata


Tacos and Tequila Bar offers a wide array of different types of tequila and mezcal that are only made in select regions of Mexico. Onate uses those to craft the margaritas Zapata has become known for. The Corn Tortilla Street Tacos and the Enchiladas Verde, made with a homemade tomatillo sauce, highlight the authentic menu. Located on Jones Street in downtown Norcross, Zapata’s has an outdoor patio behind the restaurant. “I believe our patio is part of our experience,” Zapata’s general manager Diana Carrillo said. “When I go out, I love to sit out on the patio, have a couple of drinks in the fresh air. I feel like you enjoy it differently than when you’re crowded inside. “I try to keep the patio looking good. We have fresh plants out here all the time. This summer, I’d like to bring in some live music and have it out on the patio.”

Pure Taqueria 3108 Main St., Duluth Offering one of the best views of downtown Duluth, Pure Taqueria sits on the corner of Main and Lawrenceville Street and has a spacious patio in front of the entrance. Tortillas are handmade each day for a vast selection of tacos that includes pork, chicken, steak, fish, shrimp, lamb and even cauliflower as a vegetarian option. Gluten-free tortillas can also be requested. In addition to tacos, Pure has specialty dishes, including the Tequila-Lime Chicken — a grilled chicken breast topped with a tequila-lime cream sauce and roasted poblano peppers. Some customers stop by simply for drinks as Pure is also known for its quality margaritas, including one made with jalapeno tequila, cilantro, cucumber and lime.

Sweet Octopus / Empanada House 3559 West Lawrenceville St., Duluth Sweet Octopus and Empanada House occupy the same two-story building on Lawrenceville Street in downtown Duluth. Sweet Octopus is on the first floor and offers a large outdoor patio area, while Empanada House operates on the second floor and has outdoor seating on its second-floor balcony, which provides a perfect view of Parson’s Alley and Duluth City Hall. Sweet Octopus offers a mix of fresh Asian flavors from Thai to poke to ramen, including their Bangkok Ribs, Kungfu Rito, made with fresh tuna and salmon, and their popular Miso Ramen made with pork belly. In addition to their traditional beef empanadas, Empanada House infuses different cultures into their menu, such as a Hawaian Empanada and a Hungarian Goulash Empanada. They even have breakfast and dessert empanadas and serve a dozen different flavors of bubble tea along with their specialty smoothies.##

Where authentic Christian mission and academic excellence aren’t Ashley Kuehne mutually exclusive

Corrie Nash

Jen Sheppard


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Ukraine, Peachtree Corners Connected by Family, Ministry Resident recounts anguish of family fleeing war-torn country; non-profit shares details of mission work. Words by Arlinda Smith Broady


ith the continued war in Ukraine, people all over the world are concerned about the fate of civilians who are finding themselves as collateral damage in Russia’s push to control the country. Many, however, have family and other loved ones still in Ukraine or struggling to find refuge in other countries. One Peachtree Corners resident, Alan Kaplan, has been active on social media and other platforms educating his neighbors about the challenges. Most recently, he spoke to members and guests of the Peachtree Corners Business Association (PCBA) at its Business After Hours Speakers Series. Kaplan’s in-laws are Ukrainian citizens. When the first attack occurred, the family had been prepared to leave their home in Kyiv, but so were thousands of others. “I remember my wife Zhenia telling my sisterin-law to go and pack,” Kaplan told the crowd of nearly 50 attendees. “They thought it was an overreaction, but about March 3, my sisterin-law [Iryna] and my handicapped 14-year-old niece [Veronika] went to board a train for a 14-

hour train ride to a western city in Ukraine.” The crush of people was so great, his brother-in-law [Valentine] lifted the girl above the throng and waded through to get his wife and daughter on the train. Kaplan’s mother-in-law (Lubov), who wasn’t ready to abandon her home, was convinced three days later to get on a bus out of the country. Fortunately for her, she missed the initial bus because what normally took 30 minutes from her house to get to this location was kind of tricky. It took three hours due to all the road checks and the traffic. “The initial bus just dropped people at the border, and you’d end up on another type of bus where they were distributed, typically to Romania or to different places,” said Kaplan. “But the bus she ended up on was sponsored by a synagogue. And it went from one


Alan Kaplan

“I remember my wife Zhenia telling my sister-in-law to go and pack0. They thought it was an overreaction, but about March 3, my sister-in-law and my handicapped 14-yearold niece went to board a train for a 14-hour train ride to a western city in Ukraine.” —Alan Kaplan

synagogue in Kyiv all the way to the capital of Moldova. So rather than being in a large evacuation refugee center, she ended up sharing a room with three other people in one of the classrooms in the synagogue.”

MTW Missionary Bob Burnham helped several families with rides to the border, but due to traffic, they had to walk up to 10 miles in the mud with luggage, pets and little children in tow, only to reach already packed borders with no bathroom facilities along the way, or food available, in near-freezing temps. The train stations are overrun with tens of thousands of people and sometimes the trains don’t show up. Courtesy MTW

Although his mother-in-law was safe, the family didn’t have consistent communication with her, so they had no idea where she was. She was at the synagogue for 10 days. “We knew that she was getting on a bus. We didn’t know where she would end up. We didn’t know where she was going,” said Kaplan. “Thankfully, we were able to keep in touch periodically by cell phone.”

Mass evacuations Kaplan explained that at the time, the U.S. had no established refugee status for Ukrainians. Of course, his 82-year-old mother-in-law was welcomed to live with his family, but it wasn’t that simple. “The United States still doesn’t have a good process in place to bring refugees here, particularly refugees with family members here,” he said. “We can sponsor them, bring them here and take care of them, but that really wasn’t in place, much less any social programs.” Once in Moldova, Lubov was in contact with an Israeli consulate. “We were able to get her visa and the opportunity to go to Israel,” said Kaplan. After 30 days in Israel, Lubov was eligible to receive a place to stay social service benefits to help support her in her new life. “She’ll have some means to be able to take care of herself. And she’ll have other programs available to her,” Kaplan explained.

Pastor Ivan in the Kyiv region said his area was one of the first to be attacked. Immediately, the life and ministry of the church were completely redefined and reformed. Although many members of the church had to evacuate to a safe place, part of the church remained in Kyiv. MTW continues to distribute humanitarian aid and deliver food and medicine to those in need. For several Sundays after the invasion, worship was limited to online sermons and devotion at home. Finally, on Sunday, April 10, the church managed to get together for a worship service in the building of the ERSU Seminary. Courtesy MTW Opposite page: Alan Kaplan


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Once she’s established in Israel, she can visit family in the United States for many months at a time and the Kaplans can go there to see her. “So thankfully she’s now stable and in a great place,” said Kaplan. Iryna and Veronika, Kaplan’s sister-in-law and niece, are still in western Ukraine. “We’ve been talking with them about making a change because I don’t think any of us fully understand the future of Ukraine,” he said. “What’s been holding her up is that her husband, my brother-in-law, can’t leave for a couple of reasons.” Besides the manifests—most Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 have been banned from leaving the country in anticipation that they may be called to fight — he has an elderly mother who is in extremely ill health and is in no condition to make the journey. Kaplan teared up a little as he continued. “As difficult as this story is for my family personally, it’s one of the best stories there. Look at the people that are in the towns that can’t get out. They don’t have water. They don’t have electricity. That’s a true tragedy. We’re lucky.” He added, “We’re grateful for everybody coming together in this situation. … I appreciate everybody’s care and focus on what’s going on.” Besides Kaplan’s account of his family’s peril, PCBA invited Cartee Bales, Senior Director of Field Operations for Gwinnett County-based Mission to the World (MTW), to share his recent experiences after returning in late March from the Ukrainian region where he was providing compassionate relief for those impacted there.

Mission of compassion, caring Bales said he was all too familiar with the tragedies suffered in Ukraine right now. He had returned to the U.S. less than a week before attending the PCBA event on Thursday, March 31. “There is incredible suffering that’s taking place (in Ukraine) right now,” he said. “But it’s a beautiful heartbreak because so many people are engaging to help rescue people and to help them begin to rebuild their lives.” As an arm of the Presbyterian Church in America, Mission To The World has 600-plus people working at countries throughout the world. “We’re doing everything from training pastors and starting seminaries and planting churches to running large AIDS/HIV clinics, running anti-sex trafficking programs… and a number of other things that address suffering in the world,” said Bales. Ukraine is now one of those places, as people stream out from ground and missile attacks. Even though, unlike Kaplan, his family isn’t

Peachtree Corners Business Association donates $500 to Mission To The World at its March 31 Business After Hours Speaker Series. Pictured from left: PCBA Secretary Donna Linden, PCBA President Lori Proctor and Cartee Bales, Senior Director of Field Operations for Gwinnett County-based Mission To the World.

personally affected, it still takes a toll on the human spirit.

have been getting supplies that are needed in Ukraine.”

Bales said it’s heartbreaking to see “the flow of people with their one (suitcase)—and that’s if they’re allowed to take their possessions,” he said.

And the vans aren’t just delivering supplies; they are also evacuating people who want to leave.

He saw them not only in Ukraine but also wandering the streets of places like Bucharest, Krakow and Warsaw, having escaped the war, but not knowing the next chapter of their fate. “We’ve had teams working in the region in Ukraine and Russia for decades. And when Russia invaded Ukraine, which was unexpected until it finally happened, we began forming caravans of people in their cars—and in any kind of vehicle—to go together,” he said. Because of rationing, each motorist was allowed only three liters of petrol a day—that’s less than a gallon. And the journey out of the country or to a safer part of the country was often hours away. “By the time we get to a border crossing, it’s nine to 12 hours in line just to get across,” Bales added.

Homeless refugees Bales’ team made it into Lviv and rented every space they could find in every house and every hotel. They discovered that many who fled left keys to their home with a note saying anyone was welcome to use it. “We’ve been fortunate to take advantage of that,” said Bales. “And those were just temporary stops. Because people then need to get out of the way. So, our teams in Krakow


“It’s beautiful to see how the world is coming together, standing there on the border and seeing Israel and Ireland and India and USA and all these countries with hot food and clothes, a safe shelter for women and children, and toys for kids just to help them begin rebuilding what’s been lost,” said Bales. To help keep the mission going, PCBA donated $500 to MTW and included a one-year membership to the association. “When we have these opportunities for things that go beyond our business networking, it reinforces these relationships that were built out of business. Our professional relationships are as much about the people as they are about the businesses, and I’ve never seen a business succeed without community,” said PCBA President Lisa Proctor. That’s why she was excited to bring Kaplan and Bales to the mixer. She wanted to emphasize that the community is just around the corner as well as half a world away. For information on Mission to the World’s involvement in Ukraine, go to ukraine-crisis. For information about ##



Lubov’s Journey: Facebook postings by Alan Kaplan chronicling Lubov and her family’s journey 3/6/2022 8:00 a.m. In Kyiv, Ukraine this morning, with less than 24 hours’ notice, my 81-year-old mother-in-law, Lubov (“Love” in English) said goodbye to us on Skype and then walked out the door of her home where she has lived for the last 50 years. She had to leave behind everything, except what she could fit into one suitcase…. not knowing if she would ever return and step foot in this home again, still filled with the hundreds of pictures of my wife, my kids and I during happier times and our annual visits home. She will not be able to take with her my father-inlaw, Gregory’s, accordion with which he shared his beautiful music since he was a young man, up until his stroke many years ago, and subsequent death during COVID-19 (We have yet to be able to go home to visit his grave and say goodbye.)….. I had hoped that one day my boys could follow in their grandfather’s footsteps and learn how to play it.

Unfortunately, no one can tell us yet at which border crossing she will be arriving. So, for now, there’s nothing more we can do from here until she can contact us and lets us know where she is. I wish we could guide her more and reassure her on this journey, but our love sits beside her on that bus. We pray for her safety and well-being and hope that we are reunited soon.

…To avoid the greater danger of the downtown area of Kyiv, amidst the rockets and explosions, Valentine has moved temporarily into [Lubov’s] apartment on the Left Bank of Kyiv. ...I am sure he is scared for what the days and weeks ahead hold for his city and his home, and wonders whether he, a banker by trade, will find himself on the front lines with a Kalashnikov rifle as a citizen soldier.


…We wish he could leave the high-risk capital and join his wife and daughter in a safer western Ukraine, but he cannot. He must stay behind to look after his mother who is too frail to make an evacuation journey. She lives nearby in the war-torn town of Brovary, a suburb of Kyiv. It is near a military base which has been the constant target of heavy fighting, death and destruction. The roads are blocked, and significant fighting continues there, so he is unable to go and care for his mom nor able to bring her further away

I want to take a moment to share about the rest of our family in Kyiv. My sister-in-law Iryna [Lubov’s daughter], brother-in-law Valentine, and my 14-year-old niece, Veronika [Lubov’s granddaughter], lived in a beautiful apartment which they own on the right bank of Kyiv near the city center. This was a home in which my boys grew up visiting their niece, aunt and uncle for the last 14 years.

…Lubov has to leave a lifetime of memories and simple but happy possessions — the books, the music, the years of memories from raising two beautiful daughters, the few token heirlooms remaining in the family after WWII and generational photos of Ukrainian and Russian family who are now long passed. Left behind in her kitchen is Lubov’s special frying pan from which she made us, and the rest of her family and friends, tens of thousands of the most delicious potato pancakes, crepes and cutlets over the years…. from the time of bread lines during Soviet rule to the last cutlet she made for my brother-in-law before she left this morning, because she was worried that he might not eat well as he stays behind with the rest of the Ukrainian men and some brave women to defend their country. Lubov is heading to the bus station in downtown Kyiv now to board a bus by herself and travel with 50 strangers, now her fellow refugees, navigating through a war zone, not knowing with certainty that they will arrive at their next stage of their journey, the border of Moldova. This will be the first time she has ever travelled outside of her country. Where, when and how she goes from there, we don’t yet know. What we do know is that she should be met by some of the many incredible volunteers and aid workers to help her get processed and temporarily settled, and hopefully reconnected with us via phone. I believe she will need to stay in whatever accommodations the organization is providing for these refugees until she can obtain a passport. We can then try to get her a visa so she can be reunited with family in Israel, or I will try to bring her to the U.S. Embassy in Moldova with hopes of obtaining a visa so she can come back with me and stay with us in Atlanta.

Within a few days after the war began, Iryna and Veronika managed to flee Kyiv on a tragically overflowing train of desperate women and children, leaving their fathers, brothers and sons behind. …The train was packed with people in shock, confused and scared, not certain if they would make it to their destination, what the next steps would be if they did, and wondering if their homes would still be standing when and if they could ever return to their city. While some people had an opportunity to pack a piece of luggage with what they could, among a lifetime of memories, luggage which in some cases had to be abandoned at the train station due to the overcrowding, others never had the chance to stop by their home or to grab anything before fleeing. Upon reaching their destination in Western Ukraine near the Ukrainian/Romanian border, a lifelong friend was able to secure a beautiful apartment for Iryna and Veronika in the Carpathian Mountains.


Veronika, Iryna and Lubov in Jerusalem. from harm’s way. Since this initial writing… the Ukrainian army ambushed and destroyed a line of Russian tanks in Brovary and retook the town. Valentine immediately went to his mom’s house and was able to evacuate her and bring her back to Lubov’s apartment in Kyiv. I wish Valentine and his mom would leave Kyiv and join his wife and daughter in the West where it is a little safer. …although earlier today the Russians bombed and destroyed the nearby airbase. There is great concern that Putin will use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine. Because one of his stated goals was to overthrow the Ukrainian government based in the capital, the city of Kyiv is a prime target. As long as Valentine is in Kyiv, Iryna and Veronica will not leave the country. …Our Ukrainian family is now split between three different cities and two countries. ##

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Gwinnett County Hosts Second LGBTQ Pride Event Diversity, inclusion are becoming more of a priority for Gwinnett County. Words by Arlinda Smith Broady

us are being made, but representation will not happen unless our community is visible, so putting the LGBTQ+ Family front and center and developing a true LGBTQ+ network in Gwinnett County is our first step,” it states.

Gwinnett celebrates diversity Last year, for the first time ever, Gwinnett County government held a Pride Month party to celebrate the county’s LGBTQ community. District 2 Commissioner Ben Ku was at the forefront of that milestone. He represents Peachtree Corners, Berkeley Lake, Norcross, Tucker and Lilburn in geography, but the entire county in egalitarianism.


or decades, Gwinnett County – especially areas outside the major cities – considered itself a homogenous community. Most everyone looked relatively the same, had similar religious and political beliefs and was comfortable in the knowledge that it would remain that way.

Nothing could have been further from the

truth. In the last few years, those that didn’t fit the stereotype began to find the strength and courage to voice their differences. One of the steepest hills to climb was affirmation for those who don’t identify as heterosexual. One group, Visibility Club, works to bridge the gaps that the LGBTQ+ community faces in suburban areas, according to its website. “It is our belief that our only path to equality is representation, in other words, having a seat at every table where decisions that affect


“Our community has seen transformative times over the last few years. Together, we’ve experienced several bright moments for Gwinnett’s LGBTQIA-plus community,” Ku said. “When I took office in 2018, I became the first openly gay person to serve on the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners. Since then, I’ve contributed to policymaking and behavior change that contributes to a more equitable and inclusive County government, but there’s still work to do.” He went on to add that “last year, for the first time, the county hosted a Pride Party, welcoming members of the community to the grounds of the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center to celebrate Pride Month, as we do other cultural celebrations throughout the year. As we head into Pride Month this year, I hope more members of our community and allies will join in celebrating the accomplishments,

Ben Ku (center) at 2021 event belonging and culture of the LGBTQIA-plus community.” The county is planning its second Pride celebration for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, June 24 at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. There will be food, games, music and a proclamation from the Commission.

Anti-discrimination practices Although recognition celebrations are fun and serve a purpose for visibility and awareness, anti-discrimination laws and government practices bring the parity that is guaranteed by the nation’s founders.

Nicole Hendrickson (left) at 2021 event According to Visibility Club, “the laws in 29 states still deny LGBTQ+ Americans basic freedoms and protections, so a landlord may refuse to rent a home to us or an employer may fire us simply because of who we love.” It went on to include, “even within a state, there are huge gaps between the community living in a big city and those of us living in suburban areas, where the values of the population tend to lean conservative and there are no resources or even a support network for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Such a combination results in many cases in a borderline hostile environment. Your ZIP code should not determine whether you have access to basic human rights.” Gwinnett County government is moving in that direction.


“While celebrating Pride Month, Gwinnett County is affirming our commitment to ensuring that all county residents, regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender, feel welcomed and are able to thrive in our vibrantly connected community,” Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Nicole Hendrickson said of the first Pride celebration. In 2020, Ku led the successful charge to enact employment protections for the county’s LGBTQ workers, just two weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court did the same at the federal level, Project Q Atlanta reported. The measure adds sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to Gwinnett County’s nondiscrimination policy, according to Commissioner Ku. It narrowly passed 3 to 2 at the commission’s June 2 meeting, Project Q

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Atlanta reported. “It really is a matter of clarity,” Ku told Project Q Atlanta. “We had this language in six different places, and it was written six different ways. So, part of that effort was really just to get it uniform, consistent and clear. It explicitly calls out sexual orientation and gender — both expression and identity.”

Open-hearted community With laws moving the community in the right direction, hearts, minds and spirits may also need a stimulus. David Francis, director of music at Simpsonwood United Methodist Church, said the sense of love and uprightness made him realize that he’d found a true home. “I grew up Southern Baptist in Memphis, Tennessee,” he said. “That culture is terribly hard on anyone who’s different.” Although he knew he was attracted to men, he dated women and went through the motions of appearing to be straight. His sister was away at school at the University of Missouri and realized that her brother was probably gay. “She sent me a letter saying that she’d made a lot of friends at school that were gay and they were a lot like me. It led her to wonder if I was gay, too,” Francis said.

70, back then Francis was one of rarities of his generation – a gay man who came out in his 20s. Francis moved to Los Angeles in the 80s and found a very accepting culture. He embraced activism and the fight for social change by joining groups like AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). His career as a concert pianist, recording artist, composer, arranger and accompanist kept him busy, and Francis never thought he would find himself back in a church setting. “I hadn’t worked in a church since I left Memphis,” he said. “I can get along with anybody, including homophobic people as long as they aren’t outright hostile.” That was how he found himself at Simpsonwood UMC. “The motto of the Methodist church is ‘Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,’” he said. “I felt the love immediately.” Francis said another aspect of the church that impressed him was that it had an adoption program for LGBTQ teens who were kicked out of their homes. “I love how it is very mission-oriented,” he said. Although there may be some within the church who frown upon his way of life, Francis said he refuses to be a victim of bigotry. I’ve been lucky,” he said. “My experiences aren’t typical, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to be. Sexuality isn’t something you choose. It’s just part of who you are.”##

She told him that she didn’t care and would love him either way. Having recently turned


Above, David Francis at Simpsonwood United Methodist. (Photo by Tracey Rice)

Gwinnett Pride Celebration in Norcross

Saturday, June 25, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Lillian Webb Park 93 Park Dr., Norcross Entertainment lineup • • • • • • • • • •

Alissah Brooks Alma Mexicana Ashton May Exquisite Gender Francisco Vega DJ Josephine Figueroa – La Superior DJ Kenneth Figueroa – Esme L. Marie Moksha Robin Shakedown

Scan this QR Code to visit our website and discover our compiled Gwinnett County Public LIbrary list of LGBTQ-related materials Arts & Crafts Show • Classic Car Show Kids Activities • Live Music on Stage Ice Cold Beer • Great Food

FEATURING The Drifters in Concert SUNDAY



Friday Saturday Sunday

7:30pm - 9:30pm 10:00am - 6:00pm 12:00am - 5:00pm

On the Town Green at Peachtree Corners Town Center, 5200 Town Center Boulevard


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