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features 20 UNDER 40 12 Tiffany Bayne 14 T. Wright Barksdale 16 Heather Cook 18 Alissa Sibley 20 Amanda Wilson Harper 22 Anthony Allen 24 Chasity Hatcher 26 Crystal Ivey 28 Doug Stephens 30 Elena Balkcom 32 Nikki Hasty 34 Jamir Wright 36 KeShawn Harris 38 Sarah Hamil 40 Michael Lerzo 42 Ryan Ivey 44 Mary Helen Higgs 46 Rafi San Inocencio 48 Linc Boyer 50


about the cover 8 7 9 54 56

Linc Boyer was nominated as one of Milledgeville’s 20 under 40. Read his story on page 50.

January February 2021


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Established 2007 l Volume 14 No. 1 PUBLISHER Keith Barlow EDITOR Natalie Davis Linder CIRCULATION MANAGER Melissa Miller DESIGN & CONTENT EDITOR Taylor Hembree CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Bailey Ballard Preston Clarke Gabrielle Duchateau Nick Halliday Andrew Hansen Raleigh Hutchison James Kostopoulos Ava Leone Isabella Martinez Madison McNew Luke Paul Evan Sbat Noah Stuckless Catherine Tanner Gina Towner Kirsten Schipper ADVERTISING REPRESENTATIVES Amy Budrys Terri Stewart Tiffany Watson DESIGNER Taylor Hembree COVER SHOT Contributed photo Milledgeville Scene magazine is published by The Union-Recorder bimonthly at 165 Garrett Way, Milledgeville GA 31061. For more information on submitting story ideas or advertising in Milledgeville Scene, call (478) 453-1432.

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W “We need joy as we need air. We need love as we need water. We need each other as we need the earth we share.” Maya Angelou

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e made it. While we may have limped into 2021, what’s most important is that we’re here. So what will we do in the next 12 months and what kind of impact will it leave? Although resolutions may seem contrite at this moment we’re living in right now, let’s all make it a goal to shine our lights just a little bit brighter this year. Speaking of shining lights, our annual 20 Under 40 issue features a group of young, ambitious up and comers who are shining brightly in their respective fields. We hope you enjoy their stories. And, if you know someone worthy of being featured on our annual list, go ahead and email us to let us know. We’d love to share their stories. Special thanks to the great group of Georgia College journalism students who helped us put these stories together for this issue. We are so grateful for their work and do not doubt that they, too, will one day leave a positive mark on our world. With the swirl of new developments that hit us every day, it’s easy to lose focus and take our sights off what’s most important. So take a breath and reflect deeply on what matters most, especially right now — family, friends, health, love and laughter. Take care of yourselves and let’s take care of each other.


Natalie Davis Linder Editor

Students get feet wet adopting streams during winter break Some Georgia College students will be doing a lot of streaming on winter break—but not the kind you do on Netflix. Home for the holidays, they’re not idle. Fifty students from all majors have turned ‘citizen scientist’ to monitor waterways in 26 counties across Georgia. They’ll make visual assessments, analyze chemical markers and log information to the state’s Adopt-AStream database. “This is truly a unique, cooperative and co-curricular experience that only a place like Georgia College could provide,” said Dr. Jordan Cofer, associate provost of Transformative Learning Experiences. “Our students are extremely interested in service and sustainability,” he said, “so this project really appealed to them. They’re able to help give back to their communities, while learning more about their local environments.” This new program allows students to be actively engaged outside during an unusually long winter break. It also satisfies one of five transformative experiences they need in the GC Journeys program, in order to graduate. Before leaving campus for the semester, students began learning and preparing. Some are environmental science and chemistry majors. But a majority are not. Majors from areas like business, psychology, nursing, computer science, health sciences and communications are learning to visually assess and chemically test streams. “This is a wonderful opportunity to promote the efforts of Adopt-a-Stream and get our students excited about water quality. The best part is that their small efforts can have a big impact,” said Ruth Eilers, director of Academic Outreach and regional coordinator for Georgia Adopt-A-Stream. So many students were interested in this alternative winter break activity that additional training sessions were offered. In November, students took workshops with Eilers, lasting anywhere from three hours to half a day. Some students learned to observe subtle changes in streams by examining the physical appearance and structure of streams and how they change over time. This tells a lot about the health of a stream and the quality of habitats for small organisms. Half the students were trained in chemical monitoring. They learned to test dissolved oxygen, pH acidity, electrical conductivity and temperature. “It’s really valuable for these students to show they’re engaged in these citizen-science efforts,” said Dr. Allison VandeVoort, associate professor of environmental science. “They were willing to get substantial training and follow through with it. These are all skills that’ll benefit them when they look for jobs after graduation.” “I’m encouraged so many of them care about their environment,” she said. “They care about sustainability, and they’re excited to engage in this cool citizen-science effort.”

Students tested their newfound knowledge in Champion Creek at Lake Laurel in November and are now state certified in the Adopt-A-Stream program. They’ll continue to participate in online discussion boards and web meetings to talk about what they’ve learned and the challenges they’re facing. There’ll also be online guest speakers to teach students more about water quality issues, community engagement and sustainability. Junior psychology major Mara Lami volunteered to observe and chemically test a stream directly behind her house in Fortson, Georgia, called Standing Boy Creek. It’s a fascinating area surrounded by overgrown forest and swampland. She also hopes to monitor Mulberry Creek, a popular spot in her community for fishing. Lami is using a form for visual notes that includes weather observation and the color, clarity and odor of water. She’ll calculate the stream’s flow as a chemical tester, as well, filling out a form for air and water temperature, pH levels and amounts of dissolved oxygen. “The most challenging part, so far, has been the weather,” Lami said. “Rain keeps popping up on days, when I can actually go to the streams.” “Getting to test the streams on my own is going to be fun. Mixing chemicals to learn new information about streams is exciting. I really look forward to getting into the streams with my rain boots on and testing the water.” Junior environmental science major Molly Hooks is minoring in geology and biology. She’s glad to use her education to “contribute important findings

and data” to the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream database. Hooks already conducted tests at two coastal sites. While vacationing at Tybee Island, she tested waters only accessible by boat like Jack’s Cut, Little Tybee Slough and Buck Hammock. She also plans to test waters in her hometown of Augusta during break. “Interpreting data, while in the field, is definitely challenging,” Hooks said. “But it’s also fun, because you get to spend time outside, while also conducting important research.” Sydney Brown of Canton, Georgia, just graduated in December with degrees in biology and psychology. She enjoys freshwater conservation and is excited to make “an important contribution to a large body of science,” like Adopt-A-Stream. Brown expects to do chemical testing at Fishing Creek near her home in Milledgeville. It runs into the Oconee River and is a popular fishing spot. Students report their findings online at the Adopt-A-Stream database. In January, they’ll provide Milledgeville representatives with a report on local waters. If any streams prove to be problematic, information from students could prompt action from politicians and environmental professionals. “This will be a snapshot, if you will, of what water quality looks like across Georgia at this moment,” VandeVoort said. “I think it’s really important for students from all majors to be able to engage with their environment, and I’m encouraged so many of them care about sustainability.”

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Tiffany Bayne

nonononononono By ISABELLA MARTINEZ Tiffany Bayne pours her heart into everything she does. It’s especially evident in her desire to see her community thrive. Despite her busy schedule, Bayne spends time making sure her students can succeed by going above and beyond of what is expected. She leaves an impact wherever she is by loving others well through her servant heart. As assistant director and dean of students of Georgia Military College’s Milledgeville campus, she hopes to see all her students succeed, and if that means getting up at the crack of dawn she will. She does this while still staying up late to make sure her kids, Hunter and Avery, have all they need to be successful for the next day. Born and raised in Sylvania, Ga., Bayne had always lived a small-town life. With big aspirations and feeling like she wanted a different experience, she spent her high school junior year in Washington, D.C. as a part of the House of Representatives Page Program. This pushed the ambitious teenager to want to want to live outside of Georgia. However, financials and life pulled her back and led her to start school at Georgia College and her career journey in Milledgeville. Bayne has made the most of her time since. She graduated from Georgia College with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public administration. During that time, she worked as a graduate assistant with the Georgia College GIVE Center, discovering she had a passion for connecting to the community. It’s a responsibility she has taken with her through every job she has had. After graduating, Bayne remained at Georgia College working as the assistant director of fraternity and sorority life. She has always loved working with college students and helping their organizations connect to their communities. Now, she continues to work with college students but in a much different way. “I realized a lot of the times, we don’t have control, we can only influence the things in our lives,” says Bayne about working in higher education. She describes how in higher education she feels like she gets to influence the community and leave her impact in that way. In her assistant director position, one of her

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“A year goes by and then another, and you don’t realize that you have built your whole life here.”

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many duties was community outreach for Georgia Military College. One of her many accomplishments was implementing dual-enrollment classes into the Youth Challenge Academy as a way for at-risk youths to get the opportunity to begin their higher education. She found ways to give opportunities to young people so they could reach their potential. Col. Nelson Kraft, executive director of GMC, recalls how after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Bayne immediately asked what they could do for the community. Her interest and motivation help initiate a new community outreach to support those in need. The campaign #GMCResponse was spearheaded by the determined GMC assistant director. After seeing the effects of the pandemic on GMC students, Bayne wanted to find a way to support the students of GMC and be sure that they could continue getting their education. This scholarship helps students who have lost their source of income due to lay-offs afford tuition at GMC. “Community colleges have a responsibility to the community,” says Bayne. In the midst of the pandemic, student activities have been lacking on GMC’s campus. However, Bayne was determined to add some normalcy back into student’s experiences, recognizing that students need a whole experience to be successful. She helped put on “Quarantined Cabaret,” a completely socially-distant show with only family members and loved ones in the audience (6 feet apart, of course). The show was livestreamed and was a huge success. “She works with a smile that makes everyone want to do better,” says Kraft. “She takes everything handed to her with a smile and puts all her energy into doing it right.” Bayne’s work looks very different between enrollment management and budget management due to the pandemic. Without being able to go around to high schools to recruit, she has had to be creative. She created a look book and virtual tour to allow potential students to explore GMC and all it has to offer. She explains that balancing all that she does can be difficult, but she makes sure to take it one week at a time. She recognizes that times are certainly uncertain now, but taking it one week at a time helps minimize the stress and anxiety of the unknown. The Sylvania native has built and found her home here in this “small but not sleepy town.” Any free time she gets between all her volunteering endeavors, her work, and studying to get her doctorate at Valdosta State University is devoted to her family. They spend lots of time outside together enjoying the beauty that Milledgeville has to offer. “A year goes by and then another, and you don’t realize that you have built your whole life here,” Bayne says. The plan was to stay in Milledgeville as long as opportunities for her and for her to impact the community present themselves. Opportunities have still come, so the Baynes have remained. They don’t see themselves leaving any time soon. “She’s a climber; she’ll always keep going,” says husband, Doug. She has more big plans and a lot left to pour into this place she now calls home.


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T. Wright Barksdale

nonononononono By GINA TOWNER

As 2019 wound down, T. Wright Barksdale didn’t know what was in store for him with the coming of a new year. Having worked as an assistant district attorney for the past several years under Stephen Bradley, Barksdale saw himself continuing in the position for another 10 years or more. A phone call in early January changed everything. Driving home to Gray from his office in Eatonton late one evening, Barksdale received a call from Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills informing him that an important position was opening up. “He said, ‘You’re running for district attorney,’” recalls Barksdale. “I pulled over on the side of the road and I thought I was going to puke,” he added with a laugh. Though the career opportunity came sooner in his life than he expected, after much discussion with his wife, Katie, Barksdale knew he had to run. The decision kicked off a challenging year, complete with running a political campaign during a pandemic, something Barksdale calls, “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, and one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life.” Barksdale takes office in 2021 as one of the youngest district attorneys in the state of Georgia. At only 33 years of age, Barksdale has come a long way in a short time to land his dream job. A native of Washington County, Barksdale was raised only a few miles from the Baldwin County line. Growing up, he was active in sports and travelled throughout the counties that make up the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit he now serves. Barksdale got his undergraduate degree from Georgia Southern University, with a major in history and minor in political science. From there, he went on to John Marshall Law School in Atlanta. He completed several internships while in law school, including in the Fulton County solicitor’s office and under then Baldwin County solicitor general Maxine Blackwell.  In the meantime, Barksdale made a deal with his wife. “Don’t get pregnant until after I graduate from law school,” recalls Barksdale with a laugh. 

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“I’m ready to take this ... In 20 years, I hope that I’m still sitting here, doing this job, God willing.”

Barksdale says these creative approaches to non-violent offenders are often in the best interest of the community overall as they address the root issues that can then prevent them from turning into career criminals. For Barksdale, it all goes back to working for the betterment of the community. As a member of the Jones County Recreation Department board, youth sports coach and Sunday school teacher, Barksdale invests in his community regularly and encourages those he works with to do the same. “We need everybody to have something to be committed to making our community better,” says Barksdale. Barksdale says he is committed to a life of high energy and hard work that also includes owning his mistakes along the way. He plans to bring together a stellar team to get the job done. “I just want to bring the best team of attorneys and support staff to this circuit to serve the people of the Ocmulgee circuit,” says Barksdale. “We want in this office to treat everybody fairly, to work hard and to serve this community quietly. That’s what we want to do.” “I’m ready to take this. I have a lot of confidence in myself. My work speaks for itself,” said Barksdale. “In 20 years, I hope that I’m still sitting here, doing this job, God willing.” 

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Two weeks after his graduation in December 2012, his wife learned she was pregnant. “So, I needed to pass the bar exam,” joked Barksdale.  Barksdale took the exam that February, and while he waited for his results, he was offered a job by Dick Donovan in the Paulding County district attorney’s office. “I loved it. I got up every day at 5 and was in the office by 6 a.m. I was just so thrilled to have the opportunity to practice what I love to do,” says Barksdale “I got up and pinched myself every morning just out of excitement.”  A few months later, he was offered a position in Jones County by then-district attorney Fred Bright. Barksdale and his family moved back to middle Georgia, and they have been here ever since. Now, he, Katie and their three children make their home in Gray. A little while later, when Bright retired and Stephen Bradley took over, Barksdale moved to the Putnam County office and ultimately managed cases for both Putnam and Hancock counties. He counts his time in those positions as foundational due to the mentorship he received from both Jones County Sheriff Butch Reese and Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills. “He’s definitely one of my biggest mentors,” says Barksdale of Sills. “I consider him one of my closest friends.” Now, after winning a hotly contested primary race against his friend and fellow attorney Carl Cansino, Barksdale is ready to serve the eight counties of the Ocmulgee circuit as district attorney. He says he ran on a platform that showcased his success handling numerous jury trials over the last seven years. Barksdale says he feels that the rural nature of the area lends itself to less divisiveness than currently exists on a national scale.  “I love the fact that we still have a small-town feel,” says Barksdale. “We know each other on a much more intimate level than bigger cities. I think that plays to our advantage.”  Barksdale says he intends to bring a balanced approach to his work as district attorney. “We’re going in a direction where we’re going to be brutal to career criminals. We’re going to be brutal to violent offenders,” says Barksdale. “Everything else, I want to use a commonsense approach.”  Part of that commonsense approach involves finding ways to help first-time, non-violent offenders access programs or assistance that will keep them from becoming repeat offenders. Barksdale says while incarceration is the right path for some individuals, for others, it can lead them into bigger issues of gang violence that they then bring back to the community after their sentence is up. He prefers in such instances to find ways to help, such as including a GED requirement at sentencing or appointing someone to a drug court program. “What we want to try to do is help them,” says Barksdale. Barksdale says he would love to see more funding for things such as inpatient facilities for drug offenders, mental health assistance and transition centers such as the one in LaGrange, Ga.  “I would like the ability to be able to send young men and women to a transition center right out of the gate,” says Barksdale. At transitions centers, non-violent offenders are still kept in custody, but are able to work a job and save some money. They have counseling sessions and GED classes available, and with the job skills and money they acquire during their sentence, they are able to re-enter society with the pieces in place to get their lives back on track.  “Some of these non-violent offenders, that’s what they need,” says Barksdale.

Jan/Feb 2021 l MS l 17

Heather Cook

nonononononono By GINA TOWNER Heather Cook is a true case study in climbing the ladder to success through hard work and learning by doing. Her years of hands-on experience and self-teaching have led her to her current role as the marketing and business development manager at Exchange Bank. Cook was born in Milledgeville and raised in Jones County. As a senior in high school, she had earned enough credits to take part in a work study program that allowed her to take classes in the morning and then work a part-time job during the afternoon hours. Her sister already worked at Exchange Bank and recommended her for a position. Starting as a part-time employee in the proof department, Cook found herself really enjoying her work. She continued to work at Exchange Bank when she started college, and it was not much longer until she realized that her true calling was to commit to the bank full-time and build a career there. Over the years, Cook has worked in numerous positions for Exchange Bank, including such roles as teller, administrative assistant and loan processor. She headed up the loan department for five years before she learned about the opening for her current position. She knew it was a job she had to go for. “I’ve always been a very creative person,” says Cook. “I loved to plan things and make things as a little girl. I was drawing things and telling my grandma that I was going to be an artist. I’ve always just had that creative piece of me.” As the business development manager, Cook has the opportunity to put her creative skills to work every day. “I put together all of our marketing

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“I have the dream job. I love my job.”

in community organizations when her children are older, right now, her focus is on balancing work and family. Cook still finds ways in her work to be a champion for the local community, however. She makes a conscious effort to forego stock photos in her content in favor of marketing pieces that include local citizens and bank employees. “To me, I think that creates a lot of engagement to have local people involved in our advertisements,” says Cook. Cook says she is grateful for the years of experience that have allowed her to serve Exchange Bank and the Milledgeville-Baldwin County community in the way she now does. “Being here, I’ve been in every single area of the bank, and I know this company inside out,” says Cook. Her goal as a business development manager is to bring a youthful perspective to the bank’s public image. “Banking’s not glamorous. It’s not as pretty as food photography or something like that. But I really hope that what I can bring is to take some of my photography to do local stuff to help people get engaged and excited,” said Cook. She says she is honored that someone nominated her to be included in 20 Under 40, and she is thankful that she goes to work each day loving what she does. “I have the dream job. I love my job,” says Cook. “This is a wonderful company to work for. Exchange Bank takes care of their people, and they really care about the community. It is a great place to be a part of.”

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pieces, Facebook, social media, our website design, radio ads, all of that stuff,” says Cook. Cook produces the content in-house, relying heavily on her background in photography and the skills in graphic design she has picked up over the years. Until recently, Cook also ran a photography business on the side. For her, it was an outlet for her creative juices that she was able to turn into something more. “I was a family photographer for a very long time,” says Cook. “I’ve put on workshops for people and I’ve done a lot of mentoring over the years for other photographers.” As she was teaching herself about photography over the years, Cook discovered that she was drawn to the image quality that can only be achieved with traditional film cameras. She sold her digital equipment, purchased some vintage cameras, and continued training herself in how to capture the best images possible. “The colors in film, it’s almost no match on digital,” says Cook, adding, “with film, you have to be a whole lot more accurate. You have to really think about what you’re doing. My work really became a whole lot better.” While it took her several years to develop her craft with photography, she is grateful for the experience. Now, she puts those skills to use every single day creating marketing content for Exchange Bank. One of Cook’s favorite aspects of her job is her work promoting and planning special events in the community. These include staff gatherings and events for bank clients such as the annual Shrimp Fest. Each year, Exchange Bank hosts a shrimp dinner for their approximately 300 New Horizons travel club members. Presentations are made about upcoming New Horizons trips, and members can socialize with one another. “It’s a blast, and our customers really love it,” says Cook. 2020 has been a tough year for Cook as the pandemic has not allowed her to plan her regular slate of community events. She hopes as the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out that she will be able to start planning such events again in the near future. The community aspect of the job is something Cook takes very seriously. Recently, as she was putting together some gifts for clients, Cook made an effort to take her business to numerous locally-owned shops. “It was just great to go and shop local, to talk to some of our business owners and to get to talk to them about how COVID has impacted them this year. Just to hear some of their stories, it’s amazing,” says Cook. Community engagement has always been a priority for Cook off the clock, too. Several years ago, Cook was part of a team of young professionals who set about bringing a Jaycees affiliate back to Milledgeville. “I was one of the founding people of the new chapter,” says Cook. Cook was very invested in the organization, even becoming president shortly before her first child was born. It was not long after that, though, that Cook realized other priorities would need to take the forefront for a while. “Our home life is just very family-focused,” says Cook. Cook and her husband now have two children, a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old. She says she feels it is important to focus her time outside of work on them. “I’m just so in this mom role,” says Cook. “It’s going to go by so fast, and I want to be there for them.” Cook made the difficult decision to step down from the Jaycees for now and to take time away from her photography business as well. Though she fully intends to get back to roles

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Jan/Feb 2021 l MS l 19

Alissa Sibley nonononononono By EVAN SBAT Alissa Sibley fell in love with photography at age 13. She started taking pictures of her cousins and her family, posting them on Facebook to showcase her work. That youthful interest blossomed into a career. Sibley is a professional elopement and wedding photographer and co-owner of Digital Chicks Media.  She also runs social media/photograph for several downtown Milledgeville businesses.  Sibley loves to travel around the world. Photography has afforded opportunities to fulfill her globetrotting interests.  Born in Eastman, Ga., she met her husband, Dylan, in Gray. They met in church through youth group; she played the keys and sang, while he played guitar. Together, they have an 18-month-old daughter.  She strives to make a difference in her community and working with small and local businesses through social media, photography and an online presence allows her to do just that. “She embodies what 20 Under 40 was looking for. Alissa is a highend professional with quality work. I have traveled with her to her shoots and seen her an ability to capture the moment. Her style is very unique! She connects with her clients and makes friends. I think she captures them in an intimate way unlike anyone else. She does her work by the book and goes the extra mile with customer service. She always tries to have fair pricing and keeps her integrity. She keeps going and doesn’t let anything stop her,” says husband, Dylan.  While also a worship leader at her church, a mother and the wife of a pastor, Sibley also co-owns a social media

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company, Digital Chicks Media, that she runs alongside Rina Puri. The two met working at Firefly Boutique in downtown Milledgeville and they’ve been in business together for a little more than two years. “We’re both kindred spirits. We have learned about each other’s interests and wanted to join forces to work on our own fashion blogs. So we grew our businesses together. We count on each other to make this work,” Rina says. They eventually decided to incorporate fashion blogging into their joint business venture.  “We are a social media management brand. It’s difficult for small business to run their social media on their own. We like to take traditional billboards and online posts to social media and see how people react. We were very excited when our first client wanted to renew with us. We usually stick to photography, social media, customer engagement, and there’s no limit on what sites we use. We mostly use Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok, but we try to meet the needs of each of our clients,” Puri says. She says Sibley has an eye for detail and embodies just the right amount of creativity to flourish. “She has that eye … that X-factor,” says Puri of her business partner. “She can put together anything and face any challenges brought on to her. She can create a variety of different styles in her work. I think everything should stand out and nothing should be the same. Everything is professional with her.” A devout Christian, Sibley’s work allows her to give back to others while her faith is pivotal in her professional life.  “Everything I do and earn, I give back,” she says.  She adds: “Anything you do, give back to the Lord and he will bless you.” Sibley tries to honor the Lord in everything she does while also carving out time for her family. “It’s easy to spend the day on the phone and doing shoots rather than spending time with my family and the Lord,” says Sibley. Her husband says her dedication to her faith and to serving others shows in her work.  “I think the basis of her success is not necessarily in her talent, but in her service to the Lord and in her faith. We tithe and give to him. We let him drive our ship. We’re blessed that he has given us strength. She is very hard-working and a follower of Jesus. We both remain cheerful givers,” says Dylan.  There have been times where she would fly in from a shoot across the country bright and early in the morning and then rush to get ready for church service just a few hours later.  Her elopement and wedding shoots are a way for her clients to remember special times in their lives. She chose weddings early on in her career because they are such a big event and it evokes memories that will last a lifetime. The focus of her work shifted from weddings to elopements after reflecting on growing up and traveling as an evangelist with her dad.  She says she gets a fresh feeling while traveling.  “Shooting in a national park surrounded by God’s glory is something you can’t get from a wedding,” she says.   Weddings were fun, but elopements are much more intimate, she notes, because the focus is strictly the bride and groom.  Shooting elopements around the country takes her to places and locations that she couldn’t get to see elsewhere. The different locations help bring new ideas for candid shots to the table. She loves to get the creative juices flowing. “I try to do more candid shots and make them look great.”

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Amanda Wilson Harper By ANDREW HANSEN

The Rev. Dr. Amanda Wilson Harper hasn’t lived in Milledgeville very long, yet her connection with the small town in central Georgia is still close to her heart. When she is not taking care of her 3-year-old daughter with her husband, she is investing in the most important aspect of Milledgeville — its people. Milledgeville Christian Counseling Center on Log Cabin Road provides an opportunity for those seeking counseling to embark on a quest to integrate their faith with counseling if they so choose.  “There was a time in therapy where you didn’t talk about spirituality, or you didn’t talk about religion,” Harper says. “I think now, research has shown faith can be a big part of people’s lives and it can be a major support system. So, to leave that out and to not explore faith with clients who value that, is to not serve the client holistically.” Harper was born in Fort Worth, Texas and after sensing a call to ministry, attended Baylor University’s seminary for her master of divinity. Wanting to live out her calling practically, she also obtained a master’s degree in social work and became licensed in clinical social work to pursue clinical therapy. While in seminary, she met her husband, a native Georgian, and shortly into their marriage, a ministry opportunity brought them to Milledgeville. The counseling center quickly caught Harper’s attention. “There are Christian counseling centers and there are biblical counseling centers, however, many counselors are not clinically licensed, and that was very appealing about Milledgeville Christian Counseling Center,” Harper says. “We are licensed by the state as clinicians.” Before Harper arrived at the counseling center in 2014, John and Kay Collins of Milledgeville’s First United Methodist Church had a vision for Christian counseling in their town. With the blessing of the church and pastor, a task force was developed and MCCC was modeled after Crossroads Christian Counseling Center in Macon. The church provided space for the center to meet and MCCC launched in October of 2013.

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“I think now research has shown faith can be a big part of people’s lives and it can be a major support system. So, to leave that out and to not explore faith with clients who value that, is to not serve the client holistically.”

After serving as a therapist with the counseling center, Harper was selected as its next executive director. “When Amanda became director, she had an immediate impact in that she was able to grow the number of sessions that we conducted within the center,” says Joe Wright, president of the Milledgeville Christian Counseling Center Board of Directors. “She advertised out in the marketplace and really developed the name of the center in the community.” Harper wanted to let the community know that there was a counseling center within the city because those seeking resources often had to drive at least 30 to 45 minutes to receive counseling.  Having an online presence was also an important factor in broadening the reach of the counseling center in Milledgeville and surrounding counties. As the counseling center grew, two counselors, Jamie Gray and Joe Wilson, were added to the team. Sliding scale scholarships were also given to those in need to help defray some of the costs associated with counseling sessions. “We never want to turn people away,” Harper says. “We offer a sliding scale so that it can be similar to a mental health co-pay since we don’t take insurance.” The scholarship funding comes in part from private donors, civic groups in the community, and other churches around Milledgeville.  Harper’s focus started with grief and trauma when she began working with the counseling center in 2014 but now, she focuses more on college-age students, particularly students from Georgia College and Georgia Military College. Her focus on college-age students has involved walking alongside clients during their process of deconstructing and reconstructing.  “Whether through their faith or unpacking ideologies, clients have grown up believing, providing a safe place while they explore reconstruct their beliefs is important,” Harper says.  College students at the counseling center give Harper a hopeful outlook for the future. She is also an assistant professor, so she is involved with college students regularly. Her role in the therapeutic process is not to tell someone what to do but to give clients considerations to explore as they navigate their next steps.   “I also don’t think college students get enough credit,” Harper says. “They’re having to juggle a lot and they are having to consider things during college and post-graduation that a lot of us didn’t have to. It makes me hopeful that they are prioritizing their mental health and that they are being so thoughtful and considering these things now. I am truly grateful to walk alongside them through this process.” Though COVID-19 has brought about difficulties for almost every business, Harper was a step ahead in the transition to tele-mental health. Since she has moved away from Milledgeville, she operates with the counseling center virtually, with the help of Jamie Gray overseeing some of the MCCC office duties.  “I think what really helped was her getting into tele-mental health a year before COVID hit,” says Russ Walden, former president of the Milledgeville Christian Counseling Center Board of Directors. “She was able to show the existing clients they can still benefit from the session even if they are online.” Even though some clients have started to safely return to the counseling center for in-person sessions, some have preferred to stay online because it helps them manage responsibilities without having to come to a physical location for a session. 

Since Harper was already performing her executive director duties virtually, it was a smooth transition for the other therapists to provide counseling through tele-mental health and serve the community even with the restrictions of COVID-19. The increase in clientele helped the counseling center grow to more prominence in the community with Harper at the helm. When Harper first became the executive director, there were 85 clients. As of this year, the counseling center sits at 265 clients; over a 300% increase. “That happened as we increased counselors and were able to increase our capacity and meet the needs of the community,” says Harper. “Between the three of us, we’ve been able to expand tremendously based on what each other’s strengths are and specializations.” As the counseling center continues to be run by Harper, expansion only seems fitting. The center’s partnership with FUMC allows the center to serve a need within the community. Harper recently finished her doctorate, which focuses on civil discourse. “I hope we continue to communicate that we’re a safe place,” Harper says. “I hope others understand that we are not only serving the church but that we are serving the whole community and surrounding counties. We are a place for all, equipped with licensed professionals who care.” For more information about counseling, visit https:// www.milledgevillecounseling.org, call 478- 456-6219 during the week (Monday through Friday), or email at Milledgevillechristiancounsel@gmail.com.

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Jan/Feb 2021 l MS l 23

Anthony Allen

nonononononono By AVA LEONE Law is what gets Anthony (Tony) Allen going in the morning. What makes him tick isn’t the paycheck. At the end of the day, it’s the people he helps serve.  At 32, Allen is a real estate attorney at Waddell & Associates law firm, a staple law firm located in downtown Milledgeville. He joined the firm three years ago in 2017 and hasn’t looked back since.  “I just want to provide a good service to my clients at a reasonable price and do so with honor and integrity,” says Allen. David Waddell, his boss, who has worked at the firm for more than 15 years, says Allen has all the necessary abilities to sift through papers day after day, but what really makes him successful at the law firm is his genuine care for his clients.  “You know that saying, you don’t see the sausage being made? Tony gives people the confidence that we aren’t doing that. It’s been our trademark in this firm and he is certainly carrying out that tradition,” says Waddell.  Waddell says Allen takes the time to be transparent with his clients and doesn’t hesitate to ensure all the tedious steps in real estate law are taken care of. As a real estate lawyer, he mainly helps people close out houses and sort out wills. While he doesn’t see the inside of the courtroom often, Allen jumps at any opportunity to help his clients. “There have been occasions where we’ve had to finish signing, roll up our sleeves, and go out to the property to actually help people move,” says Allen.  Allen says his clients are grateful for his extra service. For Allen, seeing the keys to a new home in the hands of his clients and a smile on their faces is the most rewarding part of the process.  “That can be really rewarding and really fun when you have first-time homebuyers. Getting them into their first house, their starter home,” says Allen.

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“I just want to provide a good service to my clients at a reasonable price and do so with honor and integrity.”

Waddell notes that Allen has the credentials to work at a much larger law firm and could make more money elsewhere, but what keeps him around is his strong foundation in community and compassion for people in Milledgeville. He grew up in Milledgeville and attended middle and high school at John Milledge Academy where he met a group of buddies that he keeps up with today. Bill Peeler, one of Allen’s childhood friends, says watching Allen mature over the years sets a good example for younger generations — that the combination of perseverance, determination, and the presence of a solid support system, have helped him achieve success at such a young age.  “When we were younger, he probably wouldn’t have been such a good lawyer,” says Peeler, “but he was always good at arguing. It’s something that was a calling for him.” In his downtime, he watches University of Georgia football games with his pals from high school – a tradition that started back when he met them in middle school. One of his favorite players is Monty Rice, a middle linebacker for UGA.  “The kid is a bring your lunchbox-type guy. He’s going to work,” says Allen. “No one’s talking about him, but the kid just shows up and he makes plays.”  Rice serves as a point of inspiration for Allen. But even with the inspiration of his favorite team player, Allen says he owes a huge part of his success to his wife, Kerry.  Allen and Kerry met in high school, and after Allen earned his associate degree at Georgia Military College, he and Kerry decided to transfer to the University of Georgia in Athens. At UGA, the couple started getting more serious and Allen picked up an internship at a nearby law firm, Fortson, Bentley & Griffin, where he decided that real estate law was the pathway for him. Allen started to see himself emerging from his underdog status, and Kerry continued to be the force that

helped push him through their undergraduate years. By 2014, the couple started law school together at Mercer University in Macon. They worked long nights, studied for their exams, and read many pages together while battling through grueling classes. At Mercer, they were surrounded by people from varying backgrounds and undergraduate majors — areas of study he never thought he’d see in law school.  Exposure to these unexpected areas of study changed the way Allen thought about law. He wanted to emphasize to young people in Milledgeville that although he was presented with many opportunities in his life that helped him succeed, there was more than one path set path to follow in law and that with determination and discipline, he hopes others can thrive just as much as he has. While persevering through law school, Allen and Kerry never lost sight of their law-based origins. The couple comes from a line of lawyers. Allen’s grandfather practiced law until 2010 when he passed away. His uncle and Kerry’s father still practice law in Milledgeville – it’s in their blood to fight on behalf of others. Growing up with these staple figures in their lives helped develop the drive that the couple needed to make it through to their graduation in 2017 and honor the legacy their families initiated. Even amid so much hard work, they still found joy in each other.  “We have a good time, we laugh. I’ll tell you that us being attorneys can make for some interesting arguments,” says Allen. “No one ever wins.” The couple wed in 2018.  Every day while Allen works behind his desk at Waddell & Associates, Kerry can be found just down the street where she works as an attorney with a concentration in family and divorce law at Cansino Law firm.  “He crosses all his eyes, or crosses all his T’s, dots, his I’s,” says Kerry. “He never leaves anything undone, and in real estate law that can be common.”

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Jan/Feb 2021 l MS l 25

Chasity Hatcher nonononononono By RALEIGH HUTCHISON The computer screen warped, and Chasity Hatcher’s smiling face emerges. “Hello!” she says, flashing a smile and batting her lashes. A sweet energy flows through the Zoom call, making the unnaturalness of a video meeting more comfortable. She sits in her classroom, decorated for this year’s theme of “Hatcher’s Heroes,” where 14 students have finished their school day. Her students, or her babies as she calls them, spent the day learning everything from science to reading and congratulating each other’s hard work with air high fives. Hatcher is from Milledgeville, born and raised. She’s the third of seven children. Her two older brothers and four younger sisters had a fun childhood, filled with playing games, and quality time together. She grew up playing basketball and always had a knack for reading. Hatcher laughs as she recalls she’d often get in trouble for trying to read her chapter books in the dark late at night. “I like being in a big family, it’s always entertaining,” she says, “the younger three are actually triplets,” she smiles remembering the surprise of three more babies instead of the anticipated one. “I would rather have siblings than be an only child. We were really close,” Hatcher says. She remains close with her family and loves living in Milledgeville with her mom and most of her siblings. “At the end of the year when you get to bring home your workbooks, I would take mine home to my sisters, and sit them down, and teach them what I had been learning. I’ve always been interested in teaching and enjoyed teaching,” she recalls with a kind smile and shrug signaling her acceptance that this is her truth. “I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else,” she says a few weeks later gazing into her recently emptied classroom. It’s clear to see Hatcher expresses a nurturing nature. The way she calls everyone her “baby”

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“I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

from her daughters to her students to her husband emphasizes so. In May 2010, Hatcher graduated high school. She moved an hour away from Milledgeville to Fort Valley and attended Fort Valley University. She earned a degree in childhood development and graduated in December 2015. Sophomore year she became pregnant with her first daughter, Jordynn. She relied on her faith in God as she balanced school and personal life, she says. Jordynn is now a glowing 7-year-old, a near spitting image of her mother. Hatcher initially planned to earn her master’s degree immediately after undergrad but instead, she earned her certification in education to begin working as a Georgia preschool teacher where she stayed for two years. Living in Warner Robins, Hatcher felt far from her family and detached from her roots. In 2018, she decided to relocate back home to Milledgeville. That August she started teaching second grade at Midway Hills Primary and has stayed since. While being a nurturing and caring teacher, Hatcher is the source of advice among her friends. “I tell it how it is. I don’t sugar coat it,” she says. Hatcher describes herself as very down to earth, sociable, friendly, and helpful. She’s funny, generous, and thoughtful. Though she failed to say so, it’s clear that Hatcher is dedicated. As a mother of three, her most recent addition only 8 months old, she strives to share faith, life lessons and quality time with her family. As a teacher, she encourages her students to do their best, learn to respect one another, and balance work and fun. As a student earning her master’s in education, she spends late hours of the night working diligently to get her assignments done as well. “I went through a tough time,” Hatcher lowers her voice to say. Her eyes gaze and she shakes her head, remembering the hardship. When she decided to move back to Milledgeville Hatcher had recently become a single mother 7 months pregnant and with a 5-year-old daughter. It was tough, she says, but moving her growing family back home to Milledgeville was well worth it. She accepted help from her mother and siblings. Shortly after moving, she had her second daughter, Journee. One hot weekend in July 2018, Hatcher went to Sandersville to see a friend and ended up meeting her husband. “He saw me first, I didn’t see him,” she recalls. “Then he asked my friend about me, so she introduced us. And we just connected,” her eyes soften as she smiles. They were married in April 2019 and recently had their first daughter together, Cameliah, last spring. This fall started Hatcher’s second year teaching second grade and she says she loves it. She explained that the first nine weeks of the semester were held online, due to COVID-19 guidelines, and now they are back in person (masked and distanced, of course). The student’s desks are spaced apart and clear plastic shields are propped on the edges of the tables. Hatcher says they’re eager to spend time with her and often tell her they love her.

“Last Friday was my last day with my virtual students,” she says, “and I was so sad telling them I wasn’t going to be their teacher anymore. Some of them cried, and it made me cry!” She continued, “I told them please call me or Facetime me. One or two of them have called me and we talked.” The relationship Hatcher establishes with the students is influenced heavily by her goal of creating a safe and loving learning environment. Hatcher acknowledges that one can ever know exactly what’s going on in the children’s lives at home, so she makes it her goal to let them know they’re safe in her classroom. “I want to stay in the elementary school range,” she says, “because the kids are so young and playful.” She feels inspired by them to be playful, too. “Let me show you something,” Hatcher says. She disappears from the screen for a moment before returning with a set of massive pink sunglasses on, twice the size of her face. She says she’ll put them on while the students are doing their classwork and say, “I can see that you’re doing a great job,” or “I can see that you need to double-check that spelling.” It’s a simple way of having fun and encouraging lightheartedness in the classroom, she explains. Hatcher also respects the children in her classroom. “These are our future doctors and nurses,” she says. Hatcher has established boundaries with the children and expects them to respect her as well. Beyond the classroom, Hatcher lives a full life. She rises at 5:30 a.m. and puts in her air pods to start her day with Gospel music. “I’m a big person of faith,” she said confidently. Taking the first 20 minutes of the day to herself, she drinks a coffee and walks around the house for a stretch. Around 6 a.m. she wakes up her husband and oldest daughter. Her husband takes off to work shortly after, so Hatcher runs the carpool. She takes her youngest daughter to daycare, her mother watches the middle daughter, and her oldest is dropped off at her elementary school. Hatcher arrives at work at 7:20 a.m. and invites her students in with a warm smile and jovial conversation to start the day as they eat their breakfast. Once the school day is wrapped, the afternoon plans depend on the day. Some days she brings the girls to her mother’s home while she takes her classes for her master’s degree, which she started courses for in July and anticipates graduating in 2022. Other afternoons they’ll spend time at the park. By the evening she’s back at home cooking dinner — one of her favorite things to do she says. Following family dinner, the five will watch a movie together before bedtime. Once the babies are in bed she’ll do any extra work and spend a bit of time catching up with her husband. With excitement in her voice, Hatcher shares her goals for her career. She is interested in becoming a gifted teacher. She plans to eventually move into administration and ultimately become a superintendent. Hatcher says she and her husband are talking about moving to Augusta within the next five years. Hatcher’s exceptional work does not go unnoticed by the community. Her dedication to promoting confidence, kindness, and love to the children of Milledgeville is helping shape the next generation.

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Crystal Ivey

nonononononono By GABRIELLE DUCHATEAU Crystal Ivey never imagined becoming a small business owner in her hometown. She especially didn’t imagine opening her business two weeks before a global pandemic. “I opened Southern Roots on March 6, and we were open for about two weeks before we had to shut down,” says Ivey. Despite the pandemic forcing Ivey and other businesses to shut down, the Milledgeville native made it work. “I’ve had a lot of support from the locals, my husband and I know a lot of people in town, and the downtown merchants did as much as they could on social media to support us and spread the word that we were open,” says Ivey. Ivey is one of many new business owners in 2020 to be stifled by an ongoing pandemic that economists have estimated will negatively impact about 38% of all small U.S businesses. Southern Roots had to get creative and think of ways for shoppers to enjoy her store safely. “I would do appointment-only shopping, online shopping, and I would even deliver to houses,” says Ivey, “anything to make it work.” Milledgeville is where Ivey’s southern roots have grown. A local product and John Milledge Academy alumna, her life has always been in Milledgeville. After graduating from JMA, Ivey stayed in Milledgeville and commuted to school in Macon. To make her Milledgeville roots even deeper, she comes from a family of local business owners who also planted and grew their roots here. Her father ran Bexley Electric and her grandfather ran his own motorcycle shop in town. Her grandfather’s motorcycle shop is responsible for bringing Crystal and her husband, Ryan, together. “I ran motocross for them, so I was there a lot,” says Ryan. “Sometimes she would go to the races with her grandfather, and that’s how we met.” They’ve been together since 2005 and are raising two kids. Before Ivey followed the entrepreneurial path like her family, she had another career. Ivey worked as a radiologist in Milledgeville.

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“Now we can get up and do our morning routine.. now we can cook dinner, sit down and hang out.”

But she says she grew unhappy in the health care field. “I felt that the health care system had just gotten too political and not about the patient. I had been unhappy for a while and I knew there was something more out there for me.” So Ivey left. She hoped and prayed a new opportunity would find her. She started looking in other areas, like cosmetology. “I’ve always loved hair and makeup and so I thought I could go in that direction.” She checked into beauty school, but nothing ever panned out, until the opportunity she had been praying for fell in her lap. The owner of what used to be Jack and Milly, in downtown Milledgeville, reached out to her about buying out the business. “She thought I’d be a good fit, and at first I was not interested, but as my husband and I talked more about it and prayed more about it, we decided to give it a try.” Ivey’s husband knew it was a risk. “This was definitely the worst year we could have done it,” says Ryan. “I know she’s gonna work hard and give it everything she has and I don’t doubt that at all.” Ivey describes her life as a small business owner as much more forgiving than her career in a hospital. She remembers her radiology mornings as hectic. “I would be up and out the door, dropping my youngest one at the daycare before it even opened.” Now that she is her own boss, things have changed. “At the store, I can bring my kids here and my son can do his homework here in the afternoons. At the hospital, I didn’t have that luxury,” said Ivey. She makes schedule changes that benefit her store and her family life. “Now, we can get up and do our morning routine.” When work is done, the Ivey family returns home, leaving work at work. “Now we can cook dinner, sit down and hang out.” That doesn’t mean life was always easier while running her own business. “The hardest part was that she was working every Saturday the first five or six months,” says Ryan. “She didn’t have any employees when she first opened.” Ivey now has employees, and they love the store as much as she does. Jackson O’Neal, a Georgia College student, works for

Ivey at Southern roots. “I love working here, it’s a very relaxing environment and I actually enjoy coming into work,” says O’Neal. Not only does O’Neal enjoy Southern Roots but he also enjoys working for Ivey. “She is probably the best boss I’ve ever had. She always helps me out when I need something, and created a really cool dynamic for me to work in.” Ivey opened her store intending to sell men’s clothes, offering everything for men from button-ups, khakis and loafers, to T-shirts and hunting gear. “I thought Milledgeville needed a men’s store because we have so many great women’s boutiques in town, but our men have no where to shop,” says Ivey. O’Neal agrees. “I think it was definitely necessary to have the store here because there’s really no place for guys to get nicer clothes.” Ivey pointed out that she and her husband would make trips out of town just for a men’s dress shirt. “We would have to go to Macon or Athens to shop or shop online, which you know, men’s clothes fit so differently like women’s.” Southern Roots carries southern prep brands such as FishHippie and Southern Tide but she also carries locally-produced items. “I have leather items and leather glasses — they’re all from a guy I used to babysit,” says Ivey. “And I also sell honey from a local family in Gordon. I like to support other small businesses.” Looking ahead, Ivey has humble plans for the future of Southern Roots. “We’re not looking to be millionaires, we just want to live comfortably.” There are plans in the works for her existing location. “In the beginning I wanted to just get my feet wet with men’s clothing but I do plan on expanding my women’s selection,” says Ivey. Ivey enjoys the family time this life-changing opportunity has opened up and wants to focus on that rather than solely on her store. “I feel like if I had multiple locations it would just be work, work, work,” said Ivey. “Milledgeville is great. We have everything you could ever want here,” she says, “and I’m close to my family and I never want to be apart from them.” Her southern roots were established in Milledgeville, and they are likely to stay planted.





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Doug Stephens nonononononono By NOAH STUCKLESS A man who takes very few losses stands with his team as they await the results of the 2019 GISA State Championship Cheerleading competition. A familiar feeling rushes over him as the loudspeaker announces the John Milledge Academy Trojans as state champions once again. Doug Stephens comes from humble beginnings, growing up in Gray and graduating from Jones County High school in 2006, where he was a state-champion cheerleader and outstanding wrestler. Stephens was always a fierce competitor. “Growing up, my sister and I would always race down the driveway coming off the bus,” Stephens says. “My mom is the biggest competitor in the world, and she is where I get it from.” She must have done something right. Stephens had several opportunities to wrestle and cheer at the collegiate level, but ultimately he wanted to stay close to home, so he attended Georgia College on a cheerleading scholarship where he graduated with a degree in sports medicine. Stephens practiced sports medicine for a few years after graduating and helped coach the Trojans during their 2012, 2013, and 2014 season, eventually taking over as the head coach in 2015 where the Trojans won their third consecutive state title. The rest, as they say, is history. In Stephens’s eight-year career as coach of the Trojans cheerleading program, they have won five state championships and were runners-up the other three years. A strong resume for someone with a strong competitive edge. Stephens started out with the program in 2012 while practicing sports medicine. Throughout his time in Milledgeville, he founded Lake Country All-Stars, where he trains and develops young cheerleaders into top-tier athletes. Through his connections and experience, he was given the head coaching job in 2015 when former head coach, Carla Bentley, retired from the program. Along with his accomplishments in cheerleading, he has accomplishments on the wrestling mat as well. Stephens has been the head wrestling coach at JMA since 2016, producing

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five state champion wrestlers in just four years. Amongst all the hardware, wins and accomplishments the No. 1 accomplishment in Stephens’s life is being a father. Stephens and his wife Lorrie have a 1-year old son, Steel. Stephens’s role model growing up was his stepdad, who adopted him when he was young. “My number one goal in life is to be a good dad,” says Stephens. It’s about family for him. “I play a lot of golf, I like hunting and fishing, but most importantly, I love being a dad and a husband,” says Stephens. His faith is also an important part of Stephens’s life. On Sunday mornings you can find him at Northridge Christian Church, and God is always at the center of every practice, meet, win and loss. “If God brings you to it, he will bring you through it. He always has a way of challenging me and making me grow.” Amongst the family and the coaching, Stephens is a computer science and P.E. teacher at JMA by day. During school days he helps his students with assignments, plays games with his students during P.E. and in between all of that, he is doing what he does best, being a coach. “For every hour of practice, I watch two hours of film,” says Stephens. The grind never stops for Stephens as his competitive nature drives him to continually perfect his craft and help his program grow to as big as it can be. Along with the work that Stephens puts into coaching, he gets a lot of fulfillment from it in return. “I judge my success off of seeing my kids go off and do something in the world,” says Stephens. “I love being invited to graduations, weddings, and other special events; it makes me feel as if I really have made an impact” That mentality definitely rubs off on the young people that he coaches. “It doesn’t feel like he’s a coach. He feels like a friend,” says Sydney Chambers, a senior at JMA and a two-time state champion under Stephens. “He is always positive, and always pushes us when we are under pressure, we are really lucky to have him.” His energy and positivity are felt throughout the JMA campus. “I always tell my football players to ‘bring the juice,’ and Doug always brings the juice in everything he does,” says JMA athletic director and head football coach JT Wall. Stephens plans to win more state titles and maybe venture into a more competitive league. Stephens has full confidence in his team and believes that they can compete with anyone and he wants to show that off. “As long as the girls are accomplishing what they want in life, I am a successful coach. That is what I strive for in the future,” he says. Stephens also plans to continue building the JMA wrestling program. “I would like to make a run at a state title in the next few years.” But for Stephens, the main goal in his life is to be a loving father and husband. “If I’m being a good father and husband, and I am continually growing in my faith, I am fine in my life.”


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Elena Balkcom

nononoononono By PRESTON CLARKE After graduating from college, marrying, and launching a successful wedding planning business, Elena Balkcom still didn’t realize that what she was looking for was right in front of her all along. Balkcom, who serves as associate director for the Georgia College Wesley Foundation, grew up in Macon and became familiar with Wesley while she was a student at GC. Not knowing where her future was leading, she moved back to Macon after graduating and began a successful wedding planning business. After marrying, she and her new husband Zach moved to Augusta for about a year before packing their bags once more and moving back to Milledgeville after Zach got a job teaching at a local high school. Upon her return, Tate Welling, the director of Wesley offered Balkcom a position. “I mean, I loved campus ministry when I was here (Georgia College),” Balkcom recalls. “When I was a student, it was like that was my first priority and then school was my second priority.” It was clear what she loved most, and that was serving. The only problem was the fact that she had a business and didn’t know what God was calling her to do. She quickly realized, however, what God had placed right under her nose — a chance to dive headfirst into her true passion. “That’s always fun when it’s just like, hello, you, go,” says Balkcom with regard to her push into ministry. So, she phased out her wedding business despite having three locations, employees working under her in a blossoming industry and making triple what she earns at Wesley with intent to pursue the Lord and lead college students to faith. Caitlin Cline is one of those students. “Her presence is a breath of fresh air,” says

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“That’s always fun when it’s just like, Hello, you, GO.”




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Cline. “Whether she is doing the behindthe-scenes jobs at Wesley, or she is on the stage in the spotlight, Elena finds a way to encourage all who are around her. Elena has had an impact on so many people in her life, and has truly made her mark on the Milledgeville and Georgia College community.” Since joining Wesley Balkcom’s creative and giving side hasn’t stopped churning. One day some friends were talking to her about their inability to find a group that offers mentoring. Balkcom saw it as an opportunity to take the lead on a quickly emerging passion project. Mentor Matchup was born, and Balkcom’s next form of positive impact was in full swing. “I wrangled all these women, and I was like, OK, ladies, um, I need a lot of people to sign up for this, because otherwise, I’m not going to be able to make very accurate matches. You know, but it’s literally like online dating meets mentoring.” Two weeks later, more than 60 women had signed up. “With all of the loneliness and isolation felt, especially during COVID-19 times, this has impacted women of all age groups into feeling cared for and supported by someone with similar interests and passions,” says participant Brittany Schwind. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for Balkcom’s impact. Not only does she disciple dozens of students and pour into them, but she also serves at Freedom Church alongside her husband, and she recently collected candy for their COVID-safe trunk-or-treat. She also helps out at Café Central, the local soup kitchen. If there is an opportunity to serve, she jumps at it without hesitation. “ Elena is a champion of people. She loves people well and builds relationships through meaningful connections. You can see her passion come to life when she gets to encourage and love on students. She gives all of herself to her position Wesley. She has changed the lives of many just by listening and being a friend to all,” says Harley Killgo a coordinator at the Wesley Foundation. Balkcom, however, says she has gained far more than anyone. Her work is much more than fulfilling requirements for her dream job — it’s her calling “The things that I’m learning now, like, it will shape the person I am for the rest of my life, it will shape the kind of mother that I am, it will shape the kind of friend that I am and you can’t work your way up to that, at any other job. I’m, getting so much out of it.”

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Nikki Hasty

nonononononono By MADISON MCNEW Iris “Nikki” Hasty wears several hats daily. Mom. Caregiver. Specialist. Survivor. Hasty resides in Milledgeville with her husband and three children. She educates and guides women on understanding sexual health, but her passion for education started back in 2016. “What fueled my passion was having cancer myself and then learning there is not a test for ovarian cancer,” says Hasty. “The only way you can get that diagnosis is through surgery.” In spring 2016, Hasty went into her doctor’s office for routine testing where they discovered she had a cyst. The doctors initially assumed it was typical due to an underlying condition, but she had surgery in May and they discovered that it wasn’t a cyst at all, but a cancerous tumor. “The fact that we even found it is a miracle,” says Hasty. “My chances of it ever being found were so slim because it was at one of the earliest stages.” That began Hasty’s battle with ovarian cancer. She was sent to Atlanta for treatment where she underwent four surgeries between May and September. Throughout her battle, she maintained unwavering strength, becoming an inspiration to those around her. “It is really hard to see one of your best friends break down, but I admired her strength,” says Hasty’s long-time friend, TeeShea Hall-Sanford. “She did not let it bring her down. She was still Nikki.” When going through her cancer journey, Hasty set a goal to take part in the Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance Teal Walk. She understood that it was not safe for her to participate in 2016 since it took place the week before her first surgery, but she was determined to achieve her goal in 2017.

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“What fueled my passion was having cancer myself ...”

across Georgia and had the participants send in photos of their teal ribbons on display. But, Hasty was not satisfied with just spreading teal ribbons. She wanted to know what more she could do to help women going through their journey with ovarian cancer. That’s when she learned about Hope Bags. Hope Bags are bags of supplies for women going through their battle. Hasty used her business to help supply them to women in hospitals. “This year I used my business to raise money to purchase these Hope Bags,” says Hasty. “My goal was to supply at least one bag, which totaled to around $100. So, I sold one of my products, and all of the profits from that product during the month of September would go to supplying a Hope Bag.” Hasty is also passionate about educating women within her business. She took a course with Indiana University on sexual health and uses that knowledge to help other women become more aware of their health and cancer warning signs. “I love that she took her fight, and then decided that everyone else needed to fight as well,” explains Rachel Kovach, a business partner of Hasty’s. “She encourages other people to not just sit on the sidelines with their health, and that is something that I admire.” Hasty is not passionate about the profit, but rather how she can use her knowledge to help other women. “I got into it to learn more about sexual health and wellness and just to educate women because you do not learn this kind of stuff in school,” says Hasty. Hasty’s mission is Zoe Jones, MD | Carmine Oddis, MD, Ph.D | Amy Kingman, MD to help women through Wendell Ellis, MD | Jonathan Hoffman, MD | Carter Tharpe, MD similar battles as well as Brandon Elmore, MD | Erik Schneibel, MD | Oliver Horne IV, MD educating them on how to grow beyond the battle. Our message is rather simple. Through her process in education and growing We care very much about your care, always, but especially if you are required to her business, she inspires seek heart care in any Emergency Room. women around her. We recommend you and your family demand the ER doctor and hospital staff “The awareness for call us immediately upon your arrival. We are on call and available for you 24 ovarian cancer is still not hours a day, 7 days a week. as big as I would love it to be,” says Hasty. “I feel like I still have a lot of hurdles to jump over with that.”




And she did. But she wasn’t finished bringing awareness to ovarian cancer. She started looking into ways to acknowledge it within her community, which is where she learned about the organization Turn the Towns Teal. The organization’s mission is to make men and women more aware of ovarian cancer. To participate, Hasty needed to have a few forms signed with the city of Milledgeville. When going through the process, she learned it would be far more helpful to write a proclamation for Milledgeville to recognize September as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. So, she did. “I did my own research as to what a proclamation was, what does it say, and I ended up writing the entire thing.” The proclamation was a huge step for Hasty in her process of educating and making women more aware of this disease. “I wrote the proclamation, submitted it, and then met with the mayor,” explains Hasty. “And then I was presented with the proclamation at the next city business meeting.” She then set out to contact private businesses and residents to garner interest in displaying teal ribbons with Turn the Towns Teal. “She was so excited to make a difference. She was prepared. She never made the difficulties of getting the proclamation a barrier for her,” explains Hall-Sanford. She was so encouraged by the outcome in her first year of participating with the organization that she increased her outreach goal for the next year. “This year [2020], since I already had the proclamation, I did not need any more help on getting materials for the teal ribbons,” says Hasty. “This year, I advertised it as a private citizen, and my goal was to get 100 private residents or businesses to display the teal ribbons. I purchased materials from the organization Turn the Towns Teal. I was able to branch out and send ribbons to people in Warner Robins, Perry, and other areas in South Georgia.” She gathered materials and began reaching out to businesses and homeowners to see if they would be interested in putting out teal ribbons. She made it all


jamir wright By CATHERINE TANNER

Success comes in many forms. For some, the glistening of a shiny new car in the driveway of a mansion in a gated community signifies true success. Yet others deem success in rising popularity or power. However, others find success in education through achieving outstanding academic accomplishments. Jamir Wright has accomplished what many would regard as nearly impossible. With two college degrees already under his belt and enrolled in graduate school at age 20, not only has he been academically successful, but he has also used his success to motivate and mentor others. “Seeing my mother be the hard worker she is, reflected back on me,” says Wright, who graduated high school with a college degree. “If my mom works hard, I’m going to do the same thing and work hard for her.” Wright credits his mother and his family for his drive. School is not always easy, but having loved ones who encourage and push each other to be there has helped Wright along his journey thus far. Currently getting his master’s in education in college student affairs at The University of West Georgia, Wright has demonstrated his hard work. He already earned a bachelor’s degree in health and community wellness and an associate’s of arts degree in general studies by the age of 20. Growing up in Milledgeville, Wright was a part of a tight-knit familial community. At an early age, he demonstrated a drive for academic success. He began classes with Georgia College Early College while in the event grade. The program gives access to higher education to first-generation college students in Baldwin and Putnam counties, allowing students to earn a high school diploma and college credit at the same time. “I still talk to my classmates, we were one big family,” Wright says of the Early College program. “We all had each other’s back

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“Seeing my mother be the hard worker she is reflected back on me...If my mom works hard I’m going to do the same thing and work hard for her.”

and went through all the same classes together. We knew what frustrated each other, we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses.” Wright brought his belief in the importance of family with him to school. In doing so, he gained a second group of people to lean on, learn from and to call family. The school days for Wright and his peers consisted of shuttling back and forth between the Georgia College campus and Oak Hill Middle for their varying classes. He enrolled in college classes at Georgia Military College in his junior year of high school. There were times when he was attending classes at three different schools. At GMC, he earned an associate’s degree in general studies — the same year he graduated from Georgia College Early College and Baldwin High School in 2018 at the age of 17. GMC and Georgia College Early College laid the foundation for Wright to build upon academically. After graduation, he continued his education at The University of West Georgia. Last summer, he graduated from UWG with a bachelor of science degree in health and community Wellness with honors. T oday, Wright is back in Carrollton attending UWG, where he remains true to

himself and works toward his goals. Anyone who knows Wright understands that he is his own person. He is unapologetically himself. “I could not ask for a better friend than [Jamir]. He is true to himself, and everything about him is authentic. There is never a dull moment with him,” says long-time friend, Tijereah Ross. “I’m glad to call him my friend forever.” At UWG, Wright is working on earning his master’s of education degree in college student affairs. He still finds time to mentor others, though. Wright has a strong passion for pouring into the lives of others. “I feel like anyone could be a mentor, but I really want to give you the tools and resources so that after I am done mentoring you, I know you took something away from it,” says Wright of the mentoring experience. He hopes to one day become a student advisor, helping low-income and first-generation college students find resources to get them into college and encouraging those who may need a little push. He is a firm believer in never giving up. “At the end of the day, life is made for you to make mistakes and learn from them.”

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KeShawn Harris nonononononono By NICK HALLIDAY Larodrick “KeShawn” Harris believes in people wielding their power. He advocates every day for people’s rights, and has for his entire life, to show them their power. Harris works in Washington D.C. as the Ward 4 Liaison in the executive office of D. C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. The District of Columbia has eight wards and his role is that of a liaison between the people living in his ward and the mayor. He ensures that they are being heard. At 25 years old, Harris is a rising star in politics, but not without facing challenges. Yet, Harris is motivated by helping people ensure their rights to freedom and equality. “Keep using your voice, keep speaking up. Don’t get discouraged, because politics is tough. We take a punch and throw a punch. At the end of the day it’s for the children,” says Harris. He understands people’s disillusionment with politics, but at the end of the day, he says it is the people’s voices and the people’s power that will help those in need. Harris was born in Milledgeville and raised by his mother. Growing up, his mother, Keita Devero, worked and went to nursing school at night. In addition to being a nurse, Devero is also a minister. Harris says growing up in the church and faith have shaped him into the man he is today. At age 5, he joined his church choir. His mother, he recounts, set fuel to his internal fire to help others in life. He says his mother always taught him, “No matter how far you get in life you always have to reach back and help those who are still struggling to get ahead on that ladder. When you go through a door you are always supposed to leave room behind you.” Harris attended Georgia Military College, a family tradition. There, he was introduced to politics by running for student government. That school campaign was foundational in setting up the student government. After graduating from GMC, he headed to Statesboro where he attended Georgia Southern University. At GSU, Harris was also involved in student government. As a member of the student body and as an orientation leader, Harris recognized injustice and inequality among students, spe-

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“We have a lot of people who are left out of the conversation, who don’t know the power they truly have.”

cifically that deaf students weren’t being provided captioning on school videos, making it impossible for them to receive messages the same way other students accessed materials. He also saw that the LGBT+ community at Georgia Southern was being handled solely by the counseling services. He says that there was no place for gender and sexual minority students to receive adequate counseling or get the medical attention they needed. The student government later passed a resolution enabling LGBT+ students to receive the medical attention they needed. “That was something I noticed at Georgia Southern, a growing population of students being discriminated against and I said, ‘well who is going to speak for those people?’ In any space that I go to I think about a quote Maya Angelou said, ‘I come as one, but I stand as ten thousand,’ because I’m there to lift up the voices of people that haven’t had an opportunity to sit in those spaces. I’m trying to get in the room to make a difference in their lives,” Harris says. While attending Georgia Southern, he traveled to Washington, D.C., and worked under Georgia Democratic Congressman Hank Johnson through the Eagles in D.C. Program, a political internship venture for GSU students. Living in the nation’s capital, Harris realized that was where he was meant to be. He wanted to move to D.C. to help people and to be a part of the political process. “I truly believe that we can build a society in which a person has to want for nothing; whether it be stable housing, affordable health care, safe communities, to love who they want to love, and to be themselves,” Harris says. Before Harris graduated from Georgia Southern, he got involved with the NAACP. He served as campaign manager for a friend who was running for NAACP district president. The campaign lost, but Harris says he believes they made a lot of progress with their platform. He also participated in campaigns to get people to vote during the 2016 election, which has since become a lifelong mission for him. After graduating in December 2016, Harris moved to D.C. He attended the prestigious George Washington University, earning a master’s degree in political management. He spent a year mentoring and motivating students at Howard University before becoming one of the two representatives for D.C.’s Ward 4, which has 84,0000 residents. Director of the office of community regions and services, Julia Irving, describes Harris’ role as a mini-mayor of Ward 4. He assists Ward 4’s residents by serving as a liaison with the mayor, relaying important information to the community. “From the first day I walked into the room to meet our team, KeShawn’s countenance,

his posture, his cadence when he spoke, everything told me this young man is way beyond this position that he has right now. Whether it’s him coming in with his fur-collared jacket or when he is presenting to the community, there is something about his commanding, yet personable disposition that lets you know he is destined for a career in politics,” says Irving of Harris. In a virtual interview last fall, she described Harris as an emerging political figure; he is a natural leader with a range of political knowledge. “I definitely think he is well-positioned to be a thought leader and someone huge on the political scene, ideally president,” Irving says. Harris has called Washington, D.C. home for more than three years now. One of his current focuses is on the city’s statehood. Washington D.C. is home to almost 1 million residents who are represented by just one person in the U.S. House of Representatives who cannot vote on bills. Harris wants to dedicate his life to changing that. He works tirelessly to spread awareness for statehood in his community. He is passionate about it. He is also hopeful. “D.C. residents have been fighting to have a voice in congress because we pay the highest amount of federal taxes per capita and we’ve sent 30,000 of our residents to serve in our wars to protect the values we espouse across the world. For us to not have a voice in who is our next supreme court justice or how federal tax dollars are spent, it is something we have been advocating for quite some time,” Harris says. Even though Washington, D.C. is Harris’ home now, he hasn’t forgotten his roots in Milledgeville. He wants to garner as many skills and connections as possible so he can make a positive impact in his community. “I wanted to be someone who is prideful of where I’m from, but also leaves a positive legacy of our community,” says Harris. Harris cites climate change as the greatest existential threat to the people’s future. “We don’t have a lot of time to truly change the trajectory of, not just our nation, but the world as a whole. All these other issues that we’re talking about, it won’t matter if we don’t have a planet. I want my children and my neighbor’s children to have a better future and a better life than I did and I’ve had a pretty decent life,” Harris says. Harris’ role as the liaison of Ward 4 will end soon, but he is nowhere near finished with politics. “If you have a passion for lifting up communities of people who look like you and people who don’t look like you, I think you should stick with it, keep fighting, keep pushing because that wait your turn mantra is gonna go out the window. Because young people are here to make a change.”

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n o n o n o n 

sarah hamil By BAILEY BALLARD

Children’s library program director Sarah Hamil can recall the childhood influences that helped bring her career full circle. “I had a really great childhood, in and out of school. One of our neighbors growing up was a children’s librarian, Miss Joanna. I had a lot of positive influence, surrounding books, art and reading as a child,” the southeast Georgia native recalls. “However, I actually struggled reading a lot as a child. I was a very reluctant reader, but over time I grew to love it because of the influences around me.” The daughter of educators, she developed a loved for reading at an early age. A childhood neighbor and a preschool teacher and family friend also helped cultivate that love. “They were both really positive influences on me, having a love of literature, and also just the love of connecting with other people and with children. I feel like they took the time out of their days as adults to spend time with me as a child,” Hamil says. “You know, they always talked to me with respect, like I was just an equal and kids, remember that. I try to do that with the children that I interact with. Like, they’re one of my friends, because they’re people, too.” Hamil attended high school at Brantley County High School and received a scholarship to come to Georgia College. She majored in fine arts major with a concentration in painting and printmaking, and a minor in art history. While in college, Hamil met her future husband, Charles, in 2006 while they were both undergraduates at Georgia College. The pair were friends for two years before they began dating in 2008. The Hamils live on the Wilkinson-Baldwin county line with their 4-year-old son, Wilby, and their collection of pets. Her husband runs the family automotive business, Hamil’s Automotive. During her college years, Hamil worked parttime jobs ranging from working as an artist assistant with a printmaker and as a kennel assistant. For about a year off and on, Hamil also worked as a surveyor. However, with graduation approaching and a relationship blossoming, she sought a more permanent job. Hamil graduated from Georgia College in 2010 and shortly after began working at the Mary Vinson Memorial Library.

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"...They always talked to me with respect, like I was just an equal and kids, remember that. I try to do that with the children that I interact with."

“You know, I graduated with an art degree in a town in Middle Georgia, with no other certifications. It was kind of like, all right, what to do now,” Hamil says. “I’ve always enjoyed just being in the library and I had a few friends that worked at this public library. So, I was like, ‘Hey, you know, are you guys hiring?’ And they were. I started working here at the Mary Vinson Memorial Library in September of 2010, right after graduation, as a circulation assistant.” Hamil connected with her job quickly, which led to promotions in a very short period “She’s always very well organized and planned, and she brings a great passion to what she does,” says Stephen Houser, director of the library system. “She enjoys doing storytimes, helping children and parents find books, and coordinating with community partners to make access to literature something that everybody has equal access to.” In 2013, she became the outreach coordinator and worked to promote the library and its services to the community. Additionally, Hamil began work as a children’s assistant in the children’s department helping out with storytimes. “Once I started doing outreach work, and working in the children’s department, I really felt like I hit my stride. I realized that I totally 110% believe in what I’m doing,” Hamil says. “Libraries are important and giving resources to people who need them is very important, especially in rural communities.” In 2016, Hamil gave birth to her son Wilby and was welcomed to the world of motherhood. “I’m very happy with our life together. I don’t think I could have picked anyone better, so I’m very thankful that she is here to be a part of our family,” husband Charles says. “She loves Wilby with all of her heart and it has been exciting to watch the two of them together and the time they spend together and just watching her share that love.” That same year, the previous children’s youth services coordinator retired and Hamil applied for the position. “Once I got here and started working, I was introduced to a community that I had not been in touch with,” Hamil says. “I think I just got a job here at the library and just kind of felt like I had found a new community and place that I felt like with my background in art, and with my love for liberal arts, and community work, that this is a great place to kind of nestle in at.” Work at the library is not just a job for Hamil, but an opportunity to give back to the community. “There’s not a whole lot of activities for families, young families, so I feel that the children’s department really does fill a role in this community by giving young families a place to go,” Hamil says. “It’s not just me and how I feel about the community in the library, but it’s how I see the community interacting with each other here. And that’s what really makes me feel good is that it’s an important place for everyone.” Hamil’s position as the children’s library program director consists of planning events for the families that visit the library. Before the pandemic, one of Hamil’s favorite events was the Just 4 Fun Club, a club for children who were too old for storytime but

still too young for young adult events. The children in the club were allowed to name it. It was an art event that included them every month but also allowed Hamil to bond with the children without their parents and make use of her art degree. Since the pandemic, face-to-face programs have not happened, so Hamil’s favorite activity has become selecting books for the library. “Since I got this job, I have loved shopping for books and curating a collection for the community,” Hamil says. “I like children’s books next to adult books as an adult, you know, because there’s something magical about taking a serious, relevant issue that we all deal with as adults and simmering it down into something that is easily digestible for children, and the simplicity and grace that some of these authors and illustrators can use to communicate a message is breathtaking.” Some of Hamil’s favorite children’s book authors include Mo Willems, Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen, Sophie Blackall, Beatrix Potter, Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl and Tomie dePaola. “I’m probably most proud of the work I’ve done to build an inclusive collection in the Children’s Department. Books are the best tools for teaching children. The world we live in today is very overwhelming — for adults, and also for children trying to figure out where they fit in,” Hamil says. “We are raising the next generation of leaders — they are at home with us now, and it’s our job to equip them with the knowledge and resources to survive and thrive in the world that we’ve created for them.” Through her work, Hamil regularly finds community projects and partnerships that are fun and rewarding such as being host site and the community organizer for PrimeTime Family Reading Time from 2017 through 2020, assisting yearly in the planning and implementation of the summer reading club, and the library fair and spring book sales. Hamil has also been a part of multiple other projects including partnering with the Milledgeville Convention & Visitors Bureau as a children’s trolley tour guide; partnering with Dr. Donovan Domingue, a Georgia College astronomy professor to provide the library with a telescope for patrons to check out; partnering with Dr. Eryn Viscarra, Georgia College sociology professor, to provide programming support for Bobcat Buddies storytimes, and several partnerships with the Baldwin County School System on community literacy grants and programs. The pandemic, however, has put many of these opportunities on hold. Many of the services offered by the library have been put on hold with the library’s shut down of in-person events. However, Hamil remains excited about the library’s future. “This year has been tough. One of the most rewarding parts of this job is the connections that I’ve made and relationships I’ve built with our community members,” Hamil says. “Being able to be a part of the lives of the families in our community is such a special gift, and I have missed those connections and those conversations this year. So, I am looking forward to getting back into our new normal, one that allows us to safely provide services and preserve those important bonds in our community.”

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michael lerzo nonononononono By JAMES KOSTOPOULOS Michael Lerzo prefers to look at the bigger picture. “The bigger picture is trying to build character,” Lerzo says, describing his impact as a coach for Georgia Military College Prep’s middle school baseball team. “As long as we are building character it does not matter if we win or lose.” While Lerzo enjoys winning, there is more to it. For Lerzo, giving back goes hand-in-hand with the things he loves. Lerzo, 26, also teaches Spanish at GMC Prep in addition to coaching. Lerzo is also involved in his local church and has started a class teaching students how to use drones. He says he loves Milledgeville and GMC Prep is a great place to work. “It’s a great school, small classes, which are nice, the kids are really good, and the administration is really supportive. It’s been a nice place to work.” His position as a high school Spanish teacher began quite unconventionally. “He is very mature for his age and we got him under some unusual circumstances,” says GMC Prep Principal, Col. Pam Grant. A Spanish teacher had left the school and, under the mentorship of Georgia College, Lerzo was recommended to fill the gap. “He was a full-fledged teacher and did a great job.” Lerzo has since built his career while continuing to render his passion for the Milledgeville area. Between the busy events in Lerzo’s day, he enjoys capturing photos with his drone around Milledgeville. “I started with real estate and then I wanted to focus more on photography. I think it’s really cool to capture a new perspective from a birds-eye view.” Lerzo says this approach to photography provides an aerial view of many subjects that have not been seen in this light, thanks to his extensive knowledge of both drone usage and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. Lerzo also provides local students with an opportunity to enjoy a hobby that he loves and would like to promote. With the help of faculty at GMC, he created a club that teaches students

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“The bigger picture is trying to build character.”

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photography. “We are very blessed at GMC to have him as a member of our faculty because not only is he talented and gifted as a classroom teacher but he brings so many other aspects through his ability to coach baseball and his knowledge of drones. He is multifaceted and brings so much to our kids,” says Grant. His journey with drones has even led him to start a photography company, Lerzo Aerial Productions. Though his love for Milledgeville might suggest that he is a native, Lerzo is originally from Kennesaw. “I did a lot with my youth group and when I was in high school was a part of this mentor program for kids in middle school. Seeing the impact, you could make on kids helped that decision,” he recalls. When Lerzo decided to attend school at Georgia College, he carried those values with him to Milledgeville. “The teachers that left an impact also influenced my decision.” He graduated school where he studied Spanish and got a masters of arts in teaching. He says he attended Georgia College because of the campus. “I love Georgia College’s campus,” he says. “I don’t think they still have it but they used to have a webcam that was live on top of one of these buildings overlooking the front campus. When I was in high school, I liked checking it to see what was going on the front campus.” The events in Lerzo’s life — influences from mentorship programs and leading kids through youth ministry — complement his caring personality, and help him impact young people.



Jan/Feb 2021l MS l 43

ryan ivey

nonononononono By GINA TOWNER When Ryan Ivey goes to work each day, he knows he is carrying on a legacy that spans more than 40 years and across three generations in his family. “We were always taught at a very young age about hard work,” says Ivey. That mindset stuck with him, and today Ivey co-manages Ivey’s Tire Service alongside his cousin Brent and brother Pat. For them, it is a labor of love to continue the hard work their grandfather started decades ago. In 1976, Ivey’s grandfather went to a repair shop in downtown Milledgeville to see about getting a tractor tire fixed. When he came home, he told his two sons, Ivey’s father and uncle, that he had bought an auto repair shop. “They thought he was joking,” says Ivey. But what his grandfather lacked in experience with cars he more than made up for with hard work and effort. Upon buying the place, Ivey’s grandfather worked hard to learn all of the ins and outs of auto repair. He and his two sons opened Ivey’s Tire Service downtown, and in a matter of a few short years, their business had expanded so much that they outgrew their shop. They immediately began looking for a new location and found the land that currently houses Ivey’s Tire Service at 900 N. Jefferson St. “My grandad found this piece of property around 1980 or ‘81,” says Ivey. Ivey credits his grandfather’s upbringing during the Great Depression as an instrumental factor in his resilience and his dedication to his work. When preparing to open the new shop, the older Iveys did most of the work themselves, pouring concrete and constructing the shop in the evenings and on the weekends when they were not working at their downtown shop. Ivey learned to adopt the hardworking principles of his elders when he started working in the shop himself during summers and holidays from school as a teenager. His father wanted him to earn his own money and appreciate the value of a hard-earned dollar. “My dad was real hardcore about, ‘If you want something, you’ve got to work for it,’” says Ivey. Ivey says he learned everything about auto

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“...this place means the world to me because of what my grandfather did, what my dad did and what my uncle did”

repair from working with his dad, who passed down his knowledge to ensure the next generation of Iveys would be well trained. “He kind of wanted us to know how to do a little bit of everything.” Ivey began working full-time at the shop when he was 18 years old. The shop was so successful by this point that in 1999, a new shop was constructed on the existing property, drastically expanding the business in size. “We went from a small shop to a 16-bay shop,” says Ivey. It was just a few years later, though, when Ivey would meet the biggest challenge of his life. Upon his father’s decision to retire, Ivey and his cousin Brent stepped up to run Ivey’s Tire Service. Unfortunately, a recession hit, and with expenses still outstanding from the building of the new shop, the cousins faced the real possibility that the business might not survive. “We were probably about to lose the shop,” recalls Ivey. Ivey was only in his mid-20s at the time. He was still young and facing difficult decisions that could impact the survival of the business. He describes it as a scary time. “We were thinking we could lose something that our grandad started, so that was kind of a big deal to us,” says Ivey. With outstanding bills looming and prices continuing to climb to have the proper equipment for diagnostic and repair work, the cousins had to start making choices. Budgets were analyzed, and cutbacks were made in any aspect they could afford. “We just started doing things a little bit different like cutting back on expenses. I even turned the cable off in the office because we couldn’t pay the cable bill,” says Ivey. The sacrifices paid off. In a matter of five to six years, the cousins had managed to pay off bills, including paying off the entire upgraded shop. A corner was turned, and the business once again grew profitable. Upgrades were made to equipment to keep the shop competitive in the industry, and the cousins were able to take a collective sigh of relief. “Those years were really hard,” says Ivey. “I think that kind of built us. It kind of made us work harder I guess you would say.” Now, Ivey’s Tire Service is thriv-

ing. The shop has 14 hydraulic lifts and seven employees in the shop. Ivey’s brother, Pat, who had previously done all of the alignments for the shop, was able to come to work in the main office when the team hired a new alignment specialist. On an average day, the shop works on dozens of cars. And even though Ivey, his brother and his cousin work the main office, they continue doing repairs in the shop whenever needed. “We all still work in the shop,” says Ivey. “We don’t mind getting dirty.” Ivey is proud of making it through those years and honoring the foundation of hard work handed down by the previous generations. “The economy’s been really good the last couple of years, and we’ve been growing every year for about the last seven years,” says Ivey. Ivey credits a lot of the shop’s success to the family’s unwavering commitment to customer service. For Ivey, working on someone’s car involves a level of trust, and by building that trust, he can earn a customer’s loyalty. The key, he says, is always being honest and treating people like you would want your loved ones to be treated. “We really want to be the best at what we do and offer the best customer service and treat everybody fairly like everybody’s kind of a part of the family,” says Ivey. Services include diagnosis and Services include treatment of breathing, Now, Ivey has the opportunity to diagnosis treatment respiratoryand and sleep share the mindset with which he disorders, pulmonary function of breathing, respiratory testing, oximetry, home sleep was raised with his own family. and disorders, testing,sleep in-lab sleep studies. He and his wife Crystal have two pulmonary children of their own. Crystal is also PAP Clinic andfunction test, oximetery, Sleep Education Clinic a business owner, operating her conducted by ourtesting, home sleep store Southern Roots in downtown Clinical Sleep Educator in-lab sleep studies. Milledgeville. who is qualified to address Ivey says that after spending all issues and PAP therapy. more than 20 years of his life Purchase PAP supplies which working in his family’s shop, he still David Snyder, MD FCCP and includes masks, tubing, filters and convenience supplies. PAP Clinc and Harold Jackson, MD FCCP loves seeing customers that have been coming to Ivey’s Tire Service Sleep Education Greensboro • Conyers Greensboro --- Conyers --- Decatur --- Johns Creek for years. He is proud to carry on Clinic conducted 1000 Cowles Clinic Way, Dogwood, Suite 200,Decatur Greensboro, GA, 30642 • Johns Creek the tradition that was handed down 762-445-1311 762-445-1313 • 1000 FAXCowles 762-445-1312 by our or Clinical Clinic Way, Dogwood to him. “I don’t know if I think of myself Suite 200, Greensboro, GA 30642 Sleepwww.southeasternlungcare.com Educator as an entrepreneur, but this place 762-445-1311 or who is qualified to means the world to me because of 762-445-1313 address all issues what my grandfather did, what my FAX 762-445-1312 dad did and what my uncle did,” and PAP therapy. www.southeasternlungcare.com said Ivey. “To me, it’s just about appreciating what they did for us Purchases PAP supplies which includes masks, and making sure we do the best tubing, filters and convenience supplies. we can to represent our family.”

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Jan/Feb 2020l MS l 45


Mary Helen Higgs By LUKE PAUL

Youth Pastor. Choreographer. Friend. Listener. Mary Helen Higgs is an influencer. She is leading a movement among area teens. She’s been honing her leadership skills since her freshman year at Baldwin High School where her passion for theatre stood out among the rest. “(Because my middle school) did not have a theatre program at the time, I decided to switch it up and go to Baldwin High School for theatre,” Higgs explains. “(Even though auditions for the fall show were held the previous spring), which I didn’t know that’s how that worked, I literally marched up to (the director) at open house and said, ‘I want to be in this year’s show’.” She landed the job as assistant stage manager for the upcoming show. “I was helping the stage manager call the shots, run the show … but the choir director said that they needed a few more voices,” she recalls. “So, I wound up running the crew and in the ensemble. And that was my first show at Baldwin.” A year later, Baldwin High got a new theatre director. “I met Mary Helen when she was a sophomore at BHS,” explains Anna Brock, now director of theatre and dance at Putnam County High School. “What struck me first was that Mary Helen had a joy about her that was infectious — and she still does. She also was a clear leader, but someone who led by example.” As a sophomore, Higgs served as the historian for Baldwin High School’s Thespian Troupe. From there, she served as the president for the troupe her junior and senior years. “Because of her natural strengths as a leader paired with her passion for theatre, I invited her to be my assistant director her junior year,” says Brock. “(That was) the first and only time I’ve asked a student to assistant direct with me.” After high school, Higgs attended Georgia College. Throughout her time in college, she was an active participant in several organiza-

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“That girl is going to be somebody, she is somebody. She’s a star.”

tions, serving as a student ambassador for the school through the Council of Student Ambassadors, and staying active in shows and in leadership positions with the Department of Theatre and Dance. She grew her passion to serve and help others. She expanded her leadership skills not just through school activities, but also by volunteering at Northridge Christian Church. She volunteered with the middle school groups for a while before she was asked to intern at Northridge. “The internship was only supposed to be May through July, and it was paid,” says Higgs. “I went to middle school camp and high school camp in the summer of 2017. And at high school camp, I thought, ‘This is what I was made to do. I definitely want to continue in vocational ministry.” Toward the end of July, Northridge extended her internship through December, which was when Higgs was set to graduate. During the extended internship, she was asked to come in for interviews. Unbeknownst to Higgs, the church was looking to hire her. “I graduated Dec. 17 and came on staff at Northridge on Jan. 3,” says Higgs. “I always said I would never stay in Milledgeville and never be a pastor when I graduated.” The job has taught her how to be a better listener, particularly with young people. It has also taught her how to be more intentional with relationships, especially when it comes to planning and spending time with her students. The lessons Higgs has learned from the job are also applicable to her involvement at the Baldwin Academy Playhouse. Lisa Shadwell, director at the Baldwin Academy Playhouse, has known Higgs since she did her first show in seven grade. “There was a light that surrounded this child and I could see that she had so much talent,” Shadwell recalls. “She made her debut in seventh grade and took off after that.” She says she grew to know Higgs through her work off stage and ultimately got her on stage. “Working at the Baldwin Academy Playhouse, she’s now that kid onstage and we’re giving it back to the kids. It’s that full-circle moment,” says Shadwell. Higgs now choreographs alongside Shadwell as part of Baldwin Academy Playhouse. “Thinking back to seventh grade, the first show I was in, it was one of the

first places … well, religion has always played a huge part in my life, but (the theatre) was another place that I felt welcomed and I could be exactly who I was without being questioned,” explains Higgs. “And to have, in middle school … (a time where) developmentally speaking, they can’t always understand intangible concepts, so to be taught in the church ‘you’re loved, you’re always wanted’, but to have a place to actually practice that meant a lot. … It’s where I found a home, it’s where I found my people.” Giving back to the community that raised her remains special to Higgs. “The director of the Baldwin Academy Playhouse was the person who literally got me involved in theatre, Lee Shadwell,” says Higgs. “If it was not for her, I wouldn’t be involved in theatre and I wouldn’t be working with her now as choreographer.” Working in both ministry and theatre, Higgs has learned several things. “It has made me a better listener, working with youth, because it has made me recognize what’s important in their life. It’s made me a better communicator as well,” explains Higgs. “It has made me a lot more intentional with communicating exactly what I’m trying to convey, but also a better listener so I can know how to communicate better. It’s also made me comfortable with silence, too.” Working specifically with the youth of Baldwin County, Higgs has learned a lot with regard to varying socioeconomic backgrounds. “There’s a stigma that if you grow up in Milledgeville and stay in Milledgeville, then you’re not successful, which is such a lie,” she says. “But to be able to look a kid in the face … who has everything going against them, and say, ‘You are awesome,’ and give them a place to call home, where they can shine and be creative is really cool.” “I want to be her when I grow up,” says Shadwell. “I told her ‘baby girl when you make it, when you get your first Tony (Award), I am going to be sitting in that theatre and all I want to do is just smell that award’... I have that much confidence in her that she could be receiving a Tony Award for whatever, onstage, offstage … That girl is going to be somebody, she is somebody. She’s a star.” Brock says Higgs “has married her love of theatre with her servant’s heart.” “The impact that Mary Helen has had and continues to have on the youth of Baldwin County will positively benefit our community for years to come.”

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Rafi San Inocencio nonononononono By GINA TOWNER Not everyone has such passion for their work that the line between work and play blurs. Rafi San Inocencio is one of the lucky ones who does. “The thing is, it’s not work for me,” says San Inocencio, the owner of Rafasan Music. “I love doing it, you know, I’m happy to be able to do this every day.” At only 23 years old, San Inocencio is one of the youngest business owners in the area. For him, it all started back in high school. “I grew up listening to all kinds of music, going to concerts, that kind of thing,” says San Inocencio. “I remember specifically listening to a song on the radio that was a dance song, all electronic, and I was like, ‘What is this? How do people make this?’”  San Inocencio started doing research right away. He taught himself how to develop electronic music using keyboards and computers. His hobby quickly turned into a passion. San Inocencio spent his years as a student at John Milledge Academy deejaying school events, and he quickly learned that he wanted to pursue music as a career. Upon graduating in 2015, San Inocencio enrolled at Full Sail University in Orlando.  “They have a very rigorous program there,” says San Inocencio. “I graduated with a bachelor’s in 20 months.”  During his course of study, a typical day included attending classes all morning and all afternoon in addition to several hours, often in the dead of night, getting hands-on experience in a recording studio working with bands and learning how to use the equipment.  San Inocencio appreciated the intense pace of the program and feels it prepared him well to continue into the music industry. Even so, he was not completely sure what he wanted to do upon graduation. He graduated in May 2017 and headed back home to Milledgeville. “I really didn’t know what the opportunity would be like heading back home,” recalls San Inocencio. He did not expect to own a business at such a young age, but when he realized his parents had unused space in the upstairs of

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“Being able to wake up every day and do what I love, it’s perfect. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

their business, The Women’s Care Center, he decided to jump in and open his own recording studio there. “Toward the end, everything moved really quickly,” says San Incocencio of that summer. San Inocencio found that there was a market here for his skills, and Rafasan Music began to take off and, as he puts it, it has been “full throttle since then.” “I do music production, so I work with bands and artists,” says San Inocencio. “I make music for Tytan Pictures, a local film production company in Eatonton.” San Inocencio has been working with Tytan Pictures since opening Rafasan Music. He creates music for their projects, does sound recording on their movie sets and has even served as an extra in their productions on occasion. In addition to helping bands record their music, San Inocencio works heavily as a DJ. Before COVID-19 hit, he could often be found at clubs in Milledgeville, Macon and Atlanta on the weekends, deejaying to crowds of 1,000 people or more. He also deejays private events such as weddings and parties. “That’s what people around town mostly know me for,” says San Inocencio.  San Inocencio says that on any given week, he can go from deejaying a big event on Saturday night to working one-on-one with a client in his studio the next day. He thrives on the variety. “I love all of it,” says San Inocencio.  San Inocencio has also been known to lend Rafasan’s services to local businesses by helping them create radio spots for advertisement. He also works with clients remotely when necessary and has even had overseas clients.  “I’ve worked with artists in Europe who have just been remote,” says San Inocencio. “We’ve done finished products out of it.”  San Inocencio says that in his line of work, keeping up with technology is crucial for success. “Technology has come a long way,” says San Inocencio. “I’m really big into that and to adapting to new technology and just staying up to date with that kind of thing.”  To that end, San Inocencio has been capitalizing on the decrease in time spent at live events due to the pandemic to explore new technologies that will help keep Rafasan Music on the cutting edge. Just before the pandemic hit, San Inocencio purchased a brand new, 13foot LED wall to use at his DJ events. “During lockdown, I kind of taught myself how to make all of the visuals for

it, the animations, that kind of thing,” says San Inocencio. Visuals are a big part of the overall experience in music production, and San Inocencio produces visuals inhouse that can then be used to provide a multi-sensory experience at live events. With the LED wall, he can make light displays to enhance his deejaying experience, or he can do things like work with a wedding videographer to project guests having fun or even the couple’s first dance at a wedding reception. San Inocencio says he has also spent time in the last several months stretching his skills by creating virtual venues online. This has allowed him to host livestream events that he can then post to Rafasan’s social media pages. “You can tune into a livestream and watch it online without having to go anywhere, but you still kind of get that concert experience,” saysSan Inocencio. San Inocencio says that despite the pandemic, he is “definitely still busy” and loves “trying to find new avenues to pursue to keep business going.” On top of everything else, San Inocencio has furthered his formal education, too. He recently completed his master’s degree in music production through an online program with the prestigious Berklee School of Music.  Another passion that San Inocencio is able to explore through his business is his support for local musicians. Rafasan Music has provided recording services for numerous local college bands over the years. San Inocencio also has a weekly radio show on Georgia College’s student-run station, 95.3 WGUR The Noise. He describes his show as upbeat, featuring a lot of dance pop music, but adds, “I’ll sprinkle in a local artist here or there.” San Inocencio says that despite its rural location, he finds Milledgeville to be a wonderful spot to own a recording studio. In addition to recording local bands, he works with many musicians from out of town. “I work with a lot of people from South Georgia who can’t afford to drive up to Atlanta,” says San Inocencio. “I’m kind of like the middleman for people who can’t make it out to the city, but because of that, I’m able to offer better pricing.”  San Inocencio is thankful for everyone who has helped make his dreams come true through Rafasan Music. “I am just so thankful for the community and everybody who’s supported me over the last three years,” said San Inocencio. “Being able to wake up every day and do what I love, it’s perfect. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

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Linc Boyer

nonononononono By KIRSTEN SCHIPPER Growing up in Milledgeville, Linc Boyer discovered a love for policing at an early age. He grew up watching his great uncle serve as chief deputy of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office. He was always fascinated by his great uncle’s work and realized police work was really for him. At age 13, Boyer joined the explorer program at the police department, which gave him insight into what law enforcement was all about. At age 21, he joined the Milledgeville Police Department. Today, he is MPD’s K-9 officer. He discovered early on in his career, the value of community policing, which he learned from his superior, then Lt. Etta Reenae Gray, now Maj. Gray. “There’s a lot of neighborhoods I can go to and that’s because of what I learned from her,” says Boyer. “It is important to do these Neighborhood Watch meetings, these citizen police academies because what you’re doing is building a rapport with [members of the community].” He attends community events often, particularly events hosted by the department. He also serves as a mentor for local young people. Spending his own money to put someone in a hotel on a cold night or handing out Halloween candy bags with his business card in them are just the beginnings of the actions he takes to help his community. Early on, Boyer had a desire to introduce another K-9 unit to Milledgeville. Falco is now his dog partner. Boyer and Falco make policing in the Milledgeville area more efficient. The duo assists in investigations for multiple middle Georgia counties. Just as Boyer believes his bond with Falco is important in policing, he also believes that connection with the community is a main priority. “Traditionally, everybody has looked at community policing as, oh they don’t do anything but hand out candy and deal with all the cuddly stuff,” says Boyer. “That is so far from the truth of what it actually is.

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You will solve more crime and more violent crime by having a decent relationship with the community than anything else.” Boyer and his team believe that knowing the community and having a connection with residents dictates whether or not law enforcement will survive. “If there was a contest to say who is the most popular law enforcement personnel, Linc would win that hands down, because that is how he interacts with the community. And that’s what he means to his community,” says Maj. Gray. Local veterinarian Dr. Dean Campbell has served as a life-long mentor for Boyer. “He’s made life choices that put him where he’s at now and what he’s doing in the law enforcement and for the community. Something he and I have talked about a lot is that he just has great passion for the community and what’s happening,” says Campbell. At the office, Boyer often checks in on co-workers, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. “Working with Linc, you’ll want to go the extra mile because we treat each other like family. We have each other’s backs. We make sure what needs to be done gets done when we work together,” says Det. Carla Redding. Outside of the office, he understands that law enforcement is there for the community and he strives to be a sound example. Boyer often reaches out to those he has had negative interactions with if they do not reach out to him first. “A lot of people don’t put their work cell numbers on their business cards because you will get calls at 3 o’clock in the morning, but I was adamant that I wanted my work cell number on my business cards,” Boyers says. “If you need me at 3 o’clock in the morning and it is something major, I would rather you be able to call me and get it addressed at three o’clock in the morning than you go do something stupid and ruin the next 10 to 15 years of your life. “If we don’t understand the community and the way they feel, it’s not going to work. But at the same time, if the community doesn’t understand how we feel and that we are bound by law to do certain things that we have to do; if they don’t understand that, then we’re just not going to understand each other.”

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Skye Gess

nonononononono By GINA TOWNER Many young adults finish high school and head off to college unsure of what they want to do with their lives. Others know without a doubt where their callings are. Skye Gess happened to be one of those lucky people who knew what she wanted from her future. “I’ve always wanted to be an attorney since I was 12 years old,” says Gess. Gess completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia, majoring in political science with an emphasis in pre-law. She then went on to the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University to make her career dreams a reality. “That’s where I really focused on criminal law, and it was something that I was highly interested in,” says Gess. During law school, Gess completed a number of internships with both the district attorney’s and public defender’s offices. She also interned with the attorney general, and upon completing law school, she clerked with a superior court judge. Her career took its first big leap when then district attorney the late Fred Bright offered her a job in the DA’s office in Baldwin County. Gess was on her way. Gess and her husband, Josh, moved to the farmland they owned in Hancock County so she could begin prosecuting in neighboring Baldwin County. The Gesses are personally invested in the middle Georgia area as the owners of J&J Cattle Company, with land and 500 to 600 head of cattle spread out throughout Hancock, Greene and Glascock Counties. In 2018, Gess’s professional life propelled forward once more. Upon the passing of longtime Baldwin County solicitor general Maxine Blackwell, Gess was appointed by then Gov. Nathan Deal to fill the position for the remainder of the term. “So, I literally moved right across the hall,” says Gess. Though her new role only took her a few steps away from the DA’s office she had been working in at the Baldwin County courthouse, it was a whole new world for

52 l MS lJan/Feb 2021

“I think people see the love and the passion for what I do.”

Gess as she sought to live up to the legacy of her predecessor. “It’s a big role and responsibility. My job title really is only to do the prosecuting, but I believe it’s a lot more than that,” says Gess. Over the last two years, Gess has been hard at work continuing and expanding on the programs that Blackwell had developed. Gess received the greatest validation that she could for her efforts when the citizens of Baldwin County elected her to another full term as solicitor general in November’s general election. “It is certainly wonderful to have been voted in, and I appreciate all of the support of the citizens,” says Gess. While campaigning for office during a global pandemic had its share of challenges, Gess is grateful to have earned the trust of so many citizens with the work she has done thus far. Gess says that the position of solicitor general has been an uncontested race for a long time, so it was a tough fight to come out ahead of Democratic challenger Hoganne Harrison-Walton. A large part of the campaign process for her was about educating the public. “The question I got the most was, ‘Well, what does a solicitor do?’” says Gess. “That was a big part of the campaign was educating people why this was such an important position within the county.” Gess says that while the district attorney’s office handles prosecutions of misdemeanors and felonies in the entire eight-county Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit, her job as solicitor general focuses on misdemeanor offenses that take place here in Baldwin County. This often includes such things as traffic offenses, DUIs and domestic violence cases. “Domestic violence is a huge part of what I do. I do all of the domestic violence on the misdemeanor level out of Baldwin County,” says Gess. While she takes her role as prosecutor very seriously, Gess sees the role of solicitor general as being more than that. For her, a proactive approach that involves community outreach and concern for everyone she comes into contact with is a huge part of her work. “It’s so important to invest in the community,” says Gess. Gess has continued outreach programs started by Blackwell, such as In Our Best Interest, a women’s support group that was started more than 20 years ago. One area Gess feels is crucial to her proactive philosophy is to work with area youth to address issues of domestic violence, dating violence, self-esteem and more. Each February, Gess and her staff lead programs in correlation with Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. Programs are held at Baldwin High

School and Oak Hill Middle School that allow Gess and her staff to interact with students and discuss issues that are important to them. This year, the programs were expanded to include John Milledge Academy. Gess says they were fortunate to get all programming in prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the programs, students are taught how to identify the warning signs of abusive relationships and also what a healthy relationship should look like. “We also know that many of our teenagers and our children are seeing unhealthy relationships at home. That’s part of the cycle of domestic violence,” says Gess. A key aspect to the program is to address the role social media plays in how teens interact. “We talk about social media because that tends to be a problem with our teenagers,” says Gess. “We tend to see relationships form very quickly and that they can be very unhealthy.” Other programs that Gess oversees include the Boys Building Bash and the Girls Paint Party. Gess brings in male role models from the community to meet with local teenage boys and teach them about developing positive character traits. For the Girls Paint Party, Gess brings together teenage girls from a variety of area schools to discuss important issues and interact with people they would not normally get to know. “We talk to them about knowing their worth, valuing themselves, about setting healthy boundaries in relationships and building healthy relationships,” says Gess. Gess feels strongly about these programs and is already looking at ways to continue them in 2021, either virtually or later in the year after a COVID-19 vaccine has been widely distributed. Gess says the continuation and expansion of these programs will be one focus of her new term as solicitor general. “We want to be in every school,” says Gess. “We want those children to know that there is someone out there who will listen.” Gess also hopes to bring more people onto her staff, including an assistant solicitor general, allowing the office to work with optimal efficiency and quality for the citizens it serves. While Gess admits that working in prosecution can be a draining job at times, she feels she is right where she needs to be. “I look forward to getting and up doing what I do each and every morning,” says Gess. “I love serving my community and doing what I can to help people.” She says it is an honor to be recognized as one of Milledgeville’s 20 Under 40. “I think people see the love and the passion for what I do.”

Jan/Feb 2021 l MS l 53

DINING Directory AJ’s Hotwings Hotwings &&More AJ’s More 2601 N. Columbia St. Ste 4, 2601 N. Columbia St. Ste Milledgeville 4, Milledgeville (478) 804-0101 (478) 804-0101 Amici Italian Cafe 101 W. Hancock St. Amici Italian Cafe Milledgeville 101 W. Hancock St. (478) 452-5003

Milledgeville Applebee’s (478) 452-5003

Burger Wild King Wings Buffalo 2478 N. Columbia St. 2472 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) 453-3706 Captain D’s Seafood Buffington’s 2590 N. Columbia St. 120 W. Hancock St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) 452-3542 478-414-1975

106 NW Roberson Mill Rd. Milledgeville Applebee’s (478) 453-8355

Chick-Fil-A 1730 N. Columbia St. Burger King Milledgeville 2478 N. Columbia St. (478) 451-4830

Arby’s Milledgeville 2500 N. Columbia St. (478) 453-8355 Milledgeville (478) 452-1707

W. Hancock St. Milledgeville Captain D’s Seafood (478) 452-0585

106 NW Roberson Mill Rd.

Arby’s Aubri Lane’s 2500 N. Columbia St. 3700 Sinclair Dam Rd NE Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) 452-1707 (478) 454-4181 Barberito’s Aubri Lane’sRestaurant 148 W. 114 S. Hancock Wayne St. St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) 451-4717

(478) 454-4181

BiBa’s Italian Restaurant 2803 N. Columbia St. Barberito’s Restaurant Milledgeville 148 Hancock St. (478) W. 414-1773

Milledgeville Blackbird Coffee (478) 451-4717

Milledgeville Chick-Fil-A (478) 453-3706

2590 N. Columbia St. Chili’s Bar & Grill Milledgeville 2596 N. Columbia St. (478) 452-3542 Milledgeville (478) 452-1900

Chick-Fil-A ChinaN. Garden 1730 Columbia St. 1948 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) (478) 451-4830 454-3449 China Wings 3 Chick-Fil-A 1071 S. Wayne W. Hancock St.St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) 453-3655 (478) 452-0585

114 W. Hancock St. Milledgeville BiBa’s Italian Restaurant (478) 454-2473

Cookout 1893 Bar N. Columbia Chili’s & Grill St. Milledgeville 2596 N. Columbia St. (478) 454-3257

Milledgeville (478) 295-2320

1465 SE Jefferson St. Milledgeville China Garden (478) 453-0434

2803 N. Columbia St. Bojangles Milledgeville 1858 N. Columbia St. (478) 414-1773 BirdCat BBQ The Brick 3021 N. Columbia St. 136 W. Hancock St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) 387-2757 (478) 452-0089 Buffalo Wild Wings Blackbird Coffee 2472 N. Columbia 114 W. HancockSt. St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) 454-2473 Buffington’s 120 W. Hancock St. Milledgeville Bojangles 478-414-1975

1858 N. Columbia St. 54 l MS lJan/Feb 2021 Milledgeville

Milledgeville Country Buffet (478) 452-1900

1948 N. Columbia St. Dairy Queen Milledgeville 1105 S. Wayne St. (478) 454-3449 Milledgeville (478) 452-9620

China Wings 3 Domino’s Pizza 1071 S. Wayne St. 1909-B N. Columbia St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) (478) 453-3655 453-9455 Down South Seafood Church’s Chicken 972 Sparta Hwy 620 N. Jefferson St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) 452-2100

(478) 414-1808

Dukes Dawghouse Country Buffet 162 Sinclair Marina Rd. 1465 SE Jefferson St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) 453-8440 (478) 453-0434

IHOP Snack Bar Haynes 2598 N. Columbia St. 113Milledgeville SW Davis Dr. Milledgeville (478) 452-0332 (478) 453-4155

(478) 452-9620

Milledgeville Kai 453-3842 Thai (478)

Milledgeville Firehouse Subs (478) 453-9455

2400 N. Columbia St. KFC Milledgeville 2337 N. Columbia St. (478) 451-3177

972 Sparta Hwy Georgia Bob’s Milledgeville 116 W. Hancock St. (478) 452-2100 Milledgeville

Huddle House Jerk Chicken 300Kirk’s E. Hancock St. 128 N. Wayne St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) 452-2680 478-454-0094

El Amigo Mexican Restaurant Dairy Queen 2465 N. Columbia St. 1105 S. Wayne St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) 453-0027

El Tequila 168 Garrett Way, NW Domino’s Pizza Milledgeville 1909-B N. Columbia St. (478) 414-1702 1909 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville Down Seafood (478)South 452-3473

(478) 295-0696

Dukes Dawghouse Goodie Gallery 162 Sinclair Marina Rd. 812 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) (478)453-8440 452-8080 El Great AmigoWall Mexican 1304 N. Columbia St. Restaurant Milledgeville

2465 N. Columbia St. Haynes Snack Bar Milledgeville 113 SW Davis Dr. (478) 453-0027 Milledgeville (478) 453-4155

El Tequila Hibachi Express 168 Garrett Way, NW 2515 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) 414-1702 (478) 453-3842 Hong Kong Firehouse SubsExpress 2400 N. Columbia St. 1909 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 451-3177 Milledgeville (478) 452-3473 Huddle House 300 E. Hancock St. Georgia Bob’s Milledgeville (478) 116 W.452-2680 Hancock St.

Milledgeville Huddle House (478) 295-0696 206 NW Roberson Mill Rd., Milledgeville

Goodie Gallery 812 N. Columbia St.

James Fish and Chicken 905 S. Wayne St. Hibachi Express Milledgeville 2515 N. Columbia St. (478) 453-8696 2600 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville Hong Kong Express 478-454-1237

Milledgeville 478-453-2456

Kuroshima Huddle HouseJapan 140 W. 206 NW Hancock RobersonSt.Mill Milledgeville Rd.,(478) Milledgeville 451-0245 Lieu’s Peking Restaurant IHOP 2485 Columbia St. 2598 N.N.Columbia St. Milledgeville Milledgeville (478) 804-0083 (478) 452-0332 Little Caesars Pizza 1905 N. Jackson’s atColumbia Sinclair St. Milledgeville 3065 N.295-2212 Columbia St. (478)

Milledgeville Little Tokyo Steakhouse (478) 453-9744 2601 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville James Fish and Chicken (478) 452-8886

905 S. Wayne St. Local Yolkal Cafe Milledgeville 117453-8696 W. Hancock St. (478) Milledgeville (478) 295-0098

Judy’s Country Kitchen 1720 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 414.1436 LongHorn Steakhouse 2470 N. Columbia St.

KaiMilledgeville Thai (478) 2600 N.414-7700 Columbia St. Milledgeville 478-454-1237

Los Magueyes 3052 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 453-0271 Marco’s Pizza 2910 Heritage Pl. Milledgeville (478) 295-3570

Original Crockett’s Family Cafeteria and Catering 1850 N. Columbia St., Ste 10 Milledgeville (478)804-0009 Papa John’s Pizza 1306 N Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 453-8686

The Market Basket, LLC 370 Allen Memorial Dr. Milledgeville (478) 452-5914

Panda Express 2407 N Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 295-2116

McAlister’s Deli 114 Roberson Mill Rd. Milledgeville (706) 623-8700

Pickle Barrel Cafe & Sports Pub 1892 N Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 452-1960

McDonald’s 2490 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 452-1312 McDonald’s 611 S. Wayne St. Milledgeville (478) 452-9611 McDonald’s Wal-Mart, Milledgeville (478) 453-9499 Metropolis Cafe 138 N. Wayne St. Milledgeville 478-452-0247 Ms. Stella’s 960 N. Wilkinson St. Milledgeville 478-453-7311 Octagon Cafe 2400 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 452-0588 Old Clinton Barbecue 2645 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 454--0080 Old Tyme Dogs 451 W. Montgomery St. Milledgeville

Popeye’s 2401 N Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 387-2630 Puebla’s Mexican Restaurant 2400 N Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 453-9547 Real Deal Grill & More 185 W. Andrews St. Milledgeville (478) 804-0144 Ruby Tuesday 2440 N Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 452-5050 Shark’s Fish & Chicken 196 Roberson Mill Rd. Milledgeville (478) 295-3306 Shrimp Boat 911 S Elbert St. Milledgeville (478) 452-0559

Milledgeville (478) 451-0374 Soul Master’s Barbecue 451 N Glynn St. Milledgeville (478) 453-2790 Soul To Go (478) 456-5153

(478) 451-2914 Wendy’s 2341 N Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 453-9216 Zaxby’s 1700 N Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 452-1027

Stacked Sandwiches & More 1827 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 414-4348 Subway 1692 N Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 453-2604 Subway 1829A N. Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 453-2604 Subway 650 South Wayne St. Milledgeville (478) 451-0102 Super China Buffet 1811 N. Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 451-2888 Surcheros Fresh Mex 108 Roberson Mill Rd. Milledgeville (478) 215- 4542 Taco Bell 2495 N Columbia St. Milledgeville (478) 452-2405 Velvet Elvis 118 W Hancock St. Milledgeville (478) 453-8226

Smoothie King 119 N Wayne St. Milledgeville (478) 295-1234

Waffle House-Milledgeville 1683 N Columbia St. (478) 452-9507

Sonic Drive In 1651 N Columbia St.

Waffle House-Milledgeville 3059 N Columbia St.

Jan/Feb 2021 l MS l 55

Antioch Primitive Baptist Church 512 NW Monticello Rd. 478-968-0011

Countyline Baptist Church 1012 Hwy 49W 478-932-8105

Flipper Chapel AME 136 Wolverine St. 478-453-7777

Hope Lutheran Church 214 W Hwy 49 478-452-3696

Alpha & Omega COGIC 512 NW Monticello Rd. 478-968-0011

Countyline Primitive Baptist Church 120 NW Neriah Rd. 478-986-7333

Freedom Church, Inc. 500 Underwood Rd. 478-452-7694

Baldwin Church of Christ 57 Marshall Rd. 478-452-5440

Covenant Baptist Church 264 Ivey Dr. SW 478-452-0567

Freewill Fellowship Worship Center 115 Cook St. 478-414-2063

Hopewell United Methodist Church 188 Hopewell Church Rd. 478-453-9047

Bible Rivival Church 101 Deerwood Dr. 478-452-4347

Covenant Presbyterian Church 440 N. Columbia St. 478-453-9628

Friendship Baptist Church 685 E Hwy 24 478-452-0507

Black Springs Baptist Church 673 Sparta Hwy NE 478-453-9431

Discipleship Christian Center Church 113 SE Thomas St. 478-452-7755

Friendship Baptist Chapel 635 Twin Bridges Rd. 478-968-7201

Body of Christ Deliverance Church 140 SW Effingham Rd. 478-453-4459 Central Church of Christ 359 NE Sparta Hwy 478-451-0322

Emmanuel Baptist Church 384 Gordon Hwy 478-453-4225

Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church 171 Harrisburg Rd. 478-452-9115

Church of God 385 Log Cabin Rd. 478-452-2052

Faith Point Church of Nazarene 700 Dunlap Rd. 478-451-5365

Green Pasture Baptist Church 150 N. Warren St. 478-453-8713

Church of Jesus Christ 1700 N Jefferson St. 478-452-9588

First Baptist Church 330 S. Liberty St. 478-452-0502

Gumhill Baptist Church 1125 Hwy 24 478-452-3052

Community Life Baptist Church 1340 Orchard Hill Rd. 478-414-1650 Community Baptist Church 143 NE Log Cabin Rd. 478-453-2380

First Presbyterian Church 210 S. Wayne St. 478-452-9394

Heartland Independant Baptist Church 107 Collins Circle Milledgeville, GA

Cooperville Baptist Church 100 Coopers Church Rd. 478-447-0729

56 l MS lJan/Feb 2021

2590 N. Columbia St. #B Milledgeville, GA 31061 478.452.3542


(478) 452-6474

Flagg Chapel Baptist Church 400 W. Franklin St. 478-452-7287


2353 River Ridge Road Milledgeville, Ga 31061

First United Methodist Church 366 Log Cabin Rd. 478-452-4597

Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses 110 NW O’Conner Dr. 478-452-8887 Lakeshore Community Church 882 Twin Bridges Rd. 478-986-7331

Grace Baptist Church 112 Alexander Dr. 478-453-9713

Elbethel Baptist Church 251 N. Irwin St. 478-452-8003

Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses 2701 Irwinton Rd. 478-452-7854

Hardwick Baptist Church 124 Thomas St. 478-452-1612

Lee’s Chapel C.M.E. Church 940 West Thomas St. 478-452-4217 Life and Peace Christian Center 116 SW Frank Bone Rd. 478-453-3607 Living Word Church of God 151 W. Charlton St. 478-452-7151 Milledgeville Christian Center The Sheep Shed 120 Ivey Dr. 478-453-7710 Miracle Healing Temple 133 Central Ave. 478-452-1369 Missionaries of Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints 141 Frank Bone Rd. 478-452-5775

507 S. Wayne Street 478-452-3625


Mosleyville Baptist Church 106 SE Oak Dr. 478-452-1723 Mount Nebo Baptist Church 338 Prosser Rd. 478-452-4288 Mount Pleasant Baptist Church 265 SW Mt Pleasant Church Rd. 478-452-7978 Milledgeville Study Group 140 Chase Ct. 478-414-1517

1835 Vinson HWY SE

Community Center 478-452-6940

304 Hwy 49 W. 478-451-0906

Salem Baptist Church 125 Salem Church Road 47456-4285

Torrance Chapel Baptist Church 274 Pancras Rd. 478-453-8542

Northridge Christian Church 321 Log Cabin Rd. 478-452-1125

Second Macedonia Baptist Church 2914 SE Vinson Hwy 478-452-3733

Northside Baptist Church 1001 N. Jefferson St. 478-452-6648

Seventh Day Adventist 509 N. Liberty St. 478-453-3839

Trinity Christian Methodist Church 321 N. Wilkinon St. 478-457-0091

Oak Grove Baptist Church No. 1 508 Hwy 49 478-453-3326

Seventh Day Adventist Church of Milledgeville 156 Pettigrew Rd. 478-453-8016

New Vision Church of God in Christ 941 NE Dunlap Rd. 478-414-1123

Union Baptist Church 720 N. Clark St. 478-452-8626 Union Missionary Baptist Church 135 Prosser Rd. 478-453-3517

New Beginning Church of Christ 325 Hwy 49

Oak Grove Independent Methodist Church 121 Lingold Dr. 478-453-9564

New Beginning Worship Center 200 Southside SE 478-696-9104

Old Bethel Holiness Church 866 SE Stembridge Rd. 478-451-2845

Sinclair Baptist Church 102 Airport Rd. 478-452-4242

New City Church at the Mill 224 E. Walton St. Milledgeville

Pathfinder Christian Church 120 N. Earnest Byner St. 478-387-0047

Spring Hill Baptist Church 396 Lake Laurel Rd. 478-453-7090

New Covenant Community Outreach Ministries 321 E. Hancock St. 478-453-3709

Shiloh Baptist Church 204 Harrisburg Rd. 478-453-2157

Vaughn Chapel Baptist Church 1980 N. Jefferson St. 478-452-9140

Pine Ridge Baptist Church 657 Old Monticello Rd. 478-986-5055

Saint Mary Missionary Baptist Church 994 Sparta Hwy 478-451-5429

New Hope Baptist Church 345 E. Camden St. 478-452-0431

Rock of Ages Baptist Church 601 W. Montgomery St 478-453-8693

Saint Mary Baptist Church Hwy 212 478-986-5228

New Life Fellowship Church 123 Ennis Rd. 478-414-7654

Rock Mill Baptist Church 2770 N. Columbia St. 478-451-5084

Saint Paul Baptist Church 485 Meriweather Rd. 478-986-5855

New Life Foursquare Church 112 Jacqueline Terrace NW 478-452-1721 New Life Ministries

Sacred Heart Catholic Church 110 N. Jefferson St. 478-452-2421 Salvation Army Corps

Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church 220 S. Wayne St. 478-452-2710 Tabernacle of Praise

Victory Baptist Church 640 Meriweather Road 478-452-2285 Wesley Chapel AME Church 1462 SE Elbert St 478-452-5083 Wesley Chapel Foundation House 211 S Clark St. 478-452-9112 Westview Baptist Church 273 W Hwy 49 478-452-9140 Zion Church of God in Christ 271 E. Camden 478-453-7144



• We service all makes and models • We offer annual maintenance






Montpelier United Methodist Church 449 Sparta Hwy 478-453-0040


Jan/Feb 2021 l MS l 57

health and fitness

The benefits of organic agriculture Modern consumers have more choices than ever before. Whether theyre buying appliances, books, clothing, or any of the myriad necessities of daily life, consumers have a wealth of products to choose from. An abundance of options also is available at the grocery store. ThatÕs especially true in the produce aisle, where many stores have expanded their fresh fruit and vegetable offerings. That expansion reflects a growing preference among consumers for fresh products, including fresh produce. A 2018 report from the market research firm IRI and the Food Marketing Institute found that sales of fresh foods comprised just under 31 percent of food industry sales in 2017.

The various health benefits of yoga Health-conscious individuals can do many things to improve their overall health. As medical researchers continue to uncover new things about how to achieve optimal health, one practice dating back to ancient times remains a highly effective way to take care of the human body. Though there’s no written records regarding the origins and invention of yoga, the practice is believed to date back to ancient India. The earliest written record of yoga is “The Yoga Sutra of Panta–jali,” a collection of aphorisms that historians believe was compiled sometime between 500 BCE and 400 BCE. Despite its age, yoga has not been studied extensively by medical researchers. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, many studies looking into the health effects of yoga have included only small numbers of people and have not been of high quality. As a result, the NCCIH can only say that yoga shows promise in regard to helping people manage or overcome certain health issues, but not that it has been proven to do so. Though yoga may need to be studied more closely and extensively, many people who include it in their regular health care routines report feeling better both physically and mentally for having done so, and that may not be a coincidence. A 2004 comprehensive review of yoga’s use as a therapeutic intervention published in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology indicated that yoga

58 l MS lJan/Feb 2021

targets unmanaged stress, which has been linked to chronic disorders like anxiety, depression, obesity, diabetes, and insomnia. In addition to that review, the NCCIH notes that research has suggested yoga can: • Relieve low-back pain and neck pain • Relieve menopause symptoms • Help people manage anxiety or depressive symptoms associated with difficult life situations • Help people quit smoking • Help people who are overweight or obese lose weight • Help people with chronic diseases manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. It’s important that anyone considering making yoga part of their health care routines recognize that there are various forms of yoga, some of which are more physically demanding than others. So it’s best if individuals speak with their physicians before trying yoga so they can find the type that aligns best with their current levels of fitness.

The role different vitamins play

cheilitis, a condition marked by scaling on the lips and cracks at the corners of the mouth. • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that promotes healthy teeth and gums, helps the body absorb iron and maintains healthy tissue. In addition, vitamin C plays an integral role in helping wounds heal. Vitamin C deficiency impairs bone function, and Merck notes that in children that impairment can cause bone lesions and contribute to poor bone growth. • Vitamin D: The USNLM notes that 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine three times per week is enough to produce the body’s vitamin D requirement for people at most latitudes. It’s hard to rely on food to supply ample vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium that is necessary for the development and maintenance of healthy teeth and bones. • Vitamin E: Vitamin E helps the body form red blood cells and utilize vitamin K. Green, leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli are good sources of vitamin E. The Office of Dietary Supplements notes that a vitamin E deficiency can cause nerve and muscle damage, potentially leading to muscle weakness and vision problems. • Vitamin K: Vitamin K helps to make certain proteins that are needed for blood clotting and the building of bones. The T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard notes that the main type of vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables like collard greens, kale and spinach. Vitamin K deficiency is rare, but it can lead to bleeding, hemorrhaging or osteoporosis. Vitamins are crucial to human beings’ overall health. Eating ample amounts of fruits and vegetables is a great and delicious way to avoid vitamin deficiency.

• We service all makes and models • We offer annual maintenance

112 NE Joyner Rd NE, Milledgeville, GA

(478) 452-9554


A nutritious diet is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle. When it’s part of a health regimen that includes routine exercise, a healthy diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables can help people reduce their risk for various illnesses, including chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Many adults have known about the value of fruits and vegetables since they were youngsters and their parents repeatedly told them how important it was to eat healthy foods. Despite those early lessons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that less than 10 percent of adults and adolescents eat enough fruits and vegetables. That’s unfortunate, as fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins that benefit the body in myriad ways. The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that vitamin deficiency occurs when people do not get enough of certain vitamins. Recognizing the many functions vitamins serve may compel adults and adolescents to include more fruits and vegetables in their diets. • Vitamin A: The USNLM notes that vitamin A helps form and maintain healthy teeth, bones, soft tissue, mucous membranes, and skin. According to the World Health Organization, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. • Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 helps form red blood cells and maintain brain function. Though the National Institutes of Health notes that isolated vitamin B6 deficiency is uncommon, a deficiency has been associated with various conditions, including a weakened immune system and dermatitis

Customers who prefer fresh fruits and vegetables to frozen alternatives may wonder if they should be even more selective when purchasing their favorite foods in the produce aisle. That decision may come down to whether or not to purchase organic produce. Organic produce can be significantly more expensive than non-organic fruits and vegetables, so it’s understandable if budget-conscious consumers cannot afford to go entirely organic. However, it’s important that consumers recognize the many ways that organic agriculture is having a positive impact on the health of humans and the planet they call home. • Organic produce reduces exposure to pesticides and antibiotics. UC Davis Health notes that organic produce has been proven to reduce consumers’ exposure to pesticides and antibiotics. That’s a significant benefit, as pesticide exposure has been shown to lead to neurodevelopmental issues and has been linked to higher cancer risk. Consumers shopping on budgets can pick and choose which organic foods they purchase, as UC Davis Health notes that certain foods have been shown to have higher pesticide residues than others. Apples, celery, grapes, spinach, strawberries, and tomatoes have high levels of pesticide residues, so choosing organic versions of these foods may be a wise choice. Avocados, broccoli, cabbage, and cantaloupe are some of the foods that typically have low levels of pesticide residue. • Organic agriculture reduces environmental degradation. The Organic Trade Association notes that synthetic pesticides and fertilizers used on some conventional farms can deplete the soil of valuable nutrients and increase environmental degradation. Organic farmers do not use such pesticides or fertilizers, instead utilizing such practices as composting, cover cropping and crop rotation, each of which can have positive, long-term effects on soil quality. • Organic agriculture benefits local wildlife. A 2015 study from researchers in Argentina that was published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment found that small mammals were more abundant around organic farms than conventional farms. That’s not just good for those mammals, but also the farmers, as small mammals can feed on insects that would otherwise adversely affect crops. Many grocery stores are increasing the availability of organic fruits and vegetables. Such foods can benefit human health as well as the health of the planet.


Jan/Feb 2021 l MS l 59

Profile for The Union-Recorder

Milledgeville Scene New Year Issue 2021  

Milledgeville Scene New Year Issue 2021