2016 Hometown Heroes

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Myles Baker
Nominated by: Craig Hadley

Myles is a young man who knows the value of community. He and his father were driving down McDonough Street in mid-July and he spotted smoke billowing from our attic. He forced his father to stop the car and ran up to alert our house sitters to the fact that our house was on fire. Everyone got out safely and because of his actions no one was hurt. I suspect his actions also meant that the fire did not ravage the entire house, which meant that some of our belongings were saved, including photo albums and other items that would have been impossible to replace. His actions exemplify what community means; they exemplify what it means to look out for others and to take that extra step or action to make the community a better place. Decatur is such an amazing town because people take such steps every day and in a million small ways. I think Myles’ actions, perhaps more so because of his age, are a particularly dramatic example of this.

James Brewer-Calvert

Nominated by: Lyn Menne

Dr. James Brewer-Calvert is the senior pastor at Decatur First Christian Church. He is one of those spiritual leaders who lives his faith very visibly in the community and works very hard at creating an inclusive and welcoming community. The ways in which he contributes to the City of Decatur are too numerous to list in their entirety so I have highlighted them below:

Sharing the facilities of the Church:

Dr. Brewer-Calvert readily makes the facilities of the church available to the community events. During our 2000 and 2010 strategic planning efforts, he allowed us to hold several of our small round table discussion group meetings in their reception hall over a period of several weeks and he posted reminders and invitations to participate on the church notice board located at a very visible downtown corner. When the Decatur Book Festival and the Decatur Education Foundation were in need of office space, Dr. Brewer-Calvert quickly stepped up to negotiate office space for both important organizations in our community. He allowed the start up Decatur Makers group to renovate an unused gymnasium behind the church to create a workshop and headquarters for this creative group. The Church partnered with surrounding neighborhood residents to renovate a park area they owned across from their property to create what is now known as the “Toy Park” that is open and shared with everyone. This much-loved park is focused on toddlers and younger children and has become an important community gathering space for young parents and grandparents alike. 

Spiritual and Community Leader:

Dr. Brewer-Calvert is one of the first religious leaders I ever experienced who insisted on inclusive prayer at the Decatur Rotary Club to make certain that members of all faith felt included. He was an active participant in the year-long community discussion we held around diversity and inclusiveness during 2015 that we called the Better Together Initiative and he used his influence in the community to promote and encourage participation. To mark the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 event this year, Dr. Brewer-Calvert organized a day of reconciliation and prayer and reached out to leaders of many different faiths to participate. He also organizes multi-faith Thanksgiving services to promote community and inclusiveness.  He is a leader who understands that a sense of community is a fragile thing and requires constant attention and nurturing in small as well as big ways. He is always open to requests for help and is quick to share a positive thought and words of encouragement. The City of Decatur is a better place because of his leadership and his involvement in our community.

Diane Capriola

Nominated by: Joy Pope-Alandete

Diane is the sort of person who somehow manages to raise her family and make meaningful contributions to the community in ways that most of us find mind-boggling. While her children were younger, she was always active in the PTA—in spite of the fact that she was starting and running a small business, Little Shop of Stories, with co-owner Dave Shallenberg. This bookstore has become a landmark for Decatur. Its role in Decatur’s vibe cannot be underestimated, and having become an iconic bookstore in the world of children’s literature, it has put Decatur on the map for booklovers across the country—many of whom now make an annual ritual out of traveling here for the Decatur Book Festival.

Decatur’s children are perhaps those most immediately affected by Diane’s efforts and strong commitment to childhood. She has a Master’s degree in child psychology, and prior to the conception of Little Shop, she worked as a school counselor. Decatur resident and friend, Katie Pederson, describes her as a having a “deep sense of empathy, especially with children, and a truly remarkable talent for dreaming up spectacular events and making them happen—bringing families together in a welcoming environment to have fun and create memories.”

Diane has been an active parent in the Decatur High School band parents’ association, and this year, somehow, she is managing the role of co-president. She is a regular attendee at DHS football games and band competitions, and a perennial volunteer for fundraisers and events. She is also an active supporter of the student exchange program through the DHS German Department, hosting exchange students at her home each year and supporting DHS students who travel to Germany.

According to Gail Rothman, “As executive director of the Decatur Education Foundation, I have seen how tirelessly Diane works to bring creative and wonderful experiences to kids in order to foster a deep love of reading. Diane's passion for providing programs for all different types of readers sets her apart. She has also been an active volunteer for many years at DEF fundraising events - always willing to help out where needed.” 

Diane’s willingness to take on the work of community building is just part of what she offers Decatur. She also offers a wonderful, positive spirit that radiates out of all her ventures. As a fellow CSD parent, Little Shop of Stories customer, DBF attendee, downtown Decatur shopper, and friend, I feel the warmth of Diane’s radiant light.

Genia Cayce

Nominated by: Patty Bonner

In 2015 Genia chaired Woodlands Garden's one million dollar capital campaign to save the corner at Clairemont and Scott Boulevard and "keep it green in Decatur." Through Genia's leadership efforts, the one-acre corner property was saved from development and Woodlands Garden was able to increase its existing acreage, making it more visible, easily accessible and user friendly. Seventeen foundations, most centered in Atlanta's metro area, donated to the campaign.

Even more important to the Decatur community, the grassroots campaign galvanized citizens around the issue of green space preservation in the midst of an unprecedented building and development boom.  As part of the community phase of the capital campaign, citizens tied green ribbons around trees in Decatur signifying their support of "keeping it green." The fundraising campaign drew to a successful close, with more than half of the funds raised by contributions from individuals. Decatur citizens demonstrated their commitment to maintaining a green and sustainable community.

Claire Waggenspack Hayes adds, “Genia undertook the Woodlands Capital Campaign with amazing dedication. Typical of her yen for learning, after working for a grant-making organization she wanted to experience the grant-seeking side. She calculated that she'd spend about 20 hours a week on this job.  When the Executive Director of Woodlands resigned mid-campaign due to family obligations, Genia's workload doubled. She just soldiered on and exceeded the campaign goal.”

According to Woodlands Executive Director Kate Baltzell, “Since I began working at Woodlands Garden, I have seen firsthand Genia Cayce's devotion to the community of Decatur and every aspect of preserving greenspace like Woodlands Garden. As a volunteer Board member, Genia steps up to the plate to organize every aspect of fundraising events like our successful Cirque De Catur and rolls up her sleeves to get the work done. When working with Genia on a project I know she will provide assistance every step of the way and lead the team to success.”

Gail Rothman, Decatur Education Foundation Executive Director, states, “Genia was an active member of the Decatur Education Board of Directors where she chaired the Fundraising Committee. Under her leadership, DEF improved donor tracking and stewardship and put in place a comprehensive fundraising plan. Genia always looked for ways to further the mission of the Foundation and you could always count on her to get the job done.”

For the past four years Genia has served as a volunteer soccer coach for the Decatur YMCA, and she has worked with refugee women in Clarkston and presented a series of workshops about small business development. She currently is an elder at North Decatur Presbyterian Church. Working for peace and justice through active faith resonates with her and her husband Brian. Genia has been active in many ways, most recently around young family ministries and global missions. She has provided leadership in the Atlanta Church Group (ACG) project to build a school for the Haiti EcoVillages.

Scott Doyon

Nominated by: Gary Garrett and Lyn Menne

Scott Doyon is one those rare individuals who become so involved in our community that we take for granted that they have already been recognized as a Hometown Hero. Scott is a principal in the Placemakers firm working with communities around the country to engage citizens in the work of creating great communities. Scott has volunteered his professional expertise to the City of Decatur in a variety of similar efforts in our community. He can also be counted on to be the voice of reason on local blogs on issues related to urban planning, development and community engagement

Scott serves as a member of the Decatur Planning Commission. This volunteer board reviews a variety of zoning and development issues and makes recommendations to the Decatur City Commission. Scott brings a critical perspective to their deliberations and as a unique ability to reframe technical and complex issues into easy to understand terms.

 While these volunteer activities easily qualify Scott for this award, it is actually his work as the founder of the Oakhurst Porchfest in 2015 that singles him out. Scott heard of a similar event in upstate New York and decided that it was perfect for his neighborhood. Instead of a large city sponsored event, the Oakhurst Porch fest is intended to be an event produced by the community. The idea is to match the front porches of neighborhood residents with local bands who donate their time to create a neighborhood musical event.

For one day each year, Porchfest transforms the Oakhurst neighborhood of Decatur into a large neighborhood-wide music venue. Participating homeowners agree to offer their front porch, front yard and electricity as a one-hour music venue. These one-hour performances are staggered throughout the neighborhood to avoid competing musical acts in the same block at the same time. Participants are encouraged to walk or bicycle to the neighborhood and then simply to stroll from one musical performance to another.

Scott hoped to have 50 porches in 2015 and ended up with over 130 homes and musical acts. For this year’s event, he matched up over 180 porches and performers. Scott describes his work as being that of a matchmaker connecting willing homeowners will equally willing musicians. However, his efforts go well beyond that effort.  He uses his connections to market the event, schedules performances, creates a map, and provides description of the bands and locations in both printed and on-line formats. With over 180 bands playing over a five hour period, it is impossible to hear them all but it makes for a wonderful, eclectic celebration of community. The Oakhurst neighborhood was transformed into a magical ‘moving festival’ that saw people listening to a handbell choir at one stop, moving next to a bluegrass band, on to a youth rock and roll band, over to a country performer, and then to a string quartet - all the while mingling with neighbors both old and new. It was a truly community affair in which people enjoyed the music, the community, their neighbors’ hospitality and the feeling of being in a really, really cool and unique place!

Dr. Gloria Jacobson

Nominated by: Julia Siler

Gloria has lived in Decatur since 1979. Since that time, she has raised a family of four and taught more than 600 children how to play the violin. Her value cannot be measured in hours spent teaching and volunteering but in the same way we measure the value of a musical note. She has added rhythm, pitch, beat, harmony and fantastic melody to the homes of so many Decatur residents.

Gloria earned her Master’s degree and completed her Ph.D. in Music History and Literature from the University of Florida.  She started a violin studio in her home in 1980. Seven students from her Evening at Emory class quickly expanded to 40 students who met for lessons on a weekly basis. She has continued to teach 30+ students per week, conduct String Orchestra of Decatur Atlanta (S.O.D.A.), and educate teachers through the Suzuki International Learning Center. Her students routinely play in traditional Suzuki fashion at Assisted Living facilities throughout Decatur.

Gloria’s children attended Westchester Elementary School. At the time, City Schools of Decatur did not have a stringed instrument program. Gloria volunteered her time to give presentations on the violin and support the music program within the school system. She also led lessons on the Jewish holidays within her childrens’ classrooms.

Gloria is a beautiful human being. Her talent does not cease at the end of the lesson. She strengthens her students and encourages them to change the world. She spreads beauty, grace, and love with ease. She is the hero every community deserves.

Dr. William Marianchuk

Nominated by: Dr. Jane Dinerman

Dr. William Marianchuk has been a longtime City of Decatur resident for over 25 years. Since 2011 he has raised approximately $40,000 to benefit the City Schools of Decatur Girls softball program. In November 2011, he organized the Abbey Road concert at the Decatur High School Performing Arts Center which earned approximately $30,000 for the softball program through 2015.

He was also one of the founding members of the Madison Lewis softball and scholarship fund and served as past vice president. Since 2014, this scholarship fund provides a yearly $1,000 scholarship to a qualifying senior student, as well as help support the schools softball program with additional contributions.

Through his efforts, he has helped support and strengthen the Decatur High School softball program, so they would have much needed funds to become more competitive. In 2014, the Decatur Softball Varsity team made it to the 2nd round of playoffs!

Tim Pettus

Nominated by: Linda Spencer

The advantages of sports for girls have long been established, including physical, social and emotional benefits both short and long term. It is especially important to young girls as they struggle with self-esteem, body images, social pressures and academic demands. Fortunately, Decatur softball has been blessed with talented and dedicated coaches. Tim Pettus has put in so much time and effort to reduce the risk that other factors – such as money and cost – will be barriers to Decatur girls playing and staying in softball at a competitive level in Decatur.

Tim was elected President of the Madison Lewis Softball Fund in August of 2015. The Madison Lewis Softball Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the memory and spirit of Madison Lewis, who was eight years old when she began playing softball and eventually became the first player to traverse Decatur’s entire softball program from rec league through middle school and finally through Decatur High where she was a four-year varsity starter. The Fund has provided support to the Decatur Softball Program (grades 4-12) and awards a yearly scholarship to a deserving senior softball player at Decatur High School upon their graduation.

Tim has worked tirelessly to raise funds and awareness for the entire Decatur Softball program, benefiting girls across the school system. Tim’s efforts have clearly improved the quality of the girls’ Softball experience. For years, the girls hosted games on their home field without the benefit of a working scoreboard, which was in stark contrast to the sophisticated systems and facilities of some of their competitors and boys’ teams. Tim’s vision and hard work helped the board raise the funds for a new scoreboard and header that prominently features the Lady Bulldogs logos and gives the girls the recognition they deserve. The Board logos can also be converted for Agnes Scott, so that the Scotties Softball team likewise can have the recognition they deserve when they use the field.

Tim also led the effort to raise the funds to build a safe and private locker room/shed for the girls to use during practices and games, as they previously had nowhere to do this at the field. Tim’s contributions are exponential. Tim’s activism and enthusiasm has helped inspire the other parents in the program – both on and off the field. Off the field, he has recruited other active parents at all age levels to join the Madison Lewis Board and to actively participate in fundraising events.

Tim’s time and efforts have brought the Decatur Softball Program to the next level and ensured a quality program that encourages girls to remain engaged and become the best players and women they can be.

Loi Valentine

Nominated by: Friends of Decatur Cemetery

Over the course of three years, Loie has volunteered over 400 hours, visiting on an almost weekly basis, to help beautify the Commerce Drive entrance to the historic Section of Decatur Cemetery (c.1823). She is the mainstay of the Gardening among the Graves program of Friends of Decatur Cemetery (FODC).

In addition to caring for beds planted in recent City landscape renovation, she has designed and implemented new flower and landscape beds using native and non-invasive plants. Her extensive practical knowledge of regional plant species has made her a valuable asset to Cemetery staff and in the training of new volunteers.

Through her community contacts, she has secured donations of plant materials valued at about $1,000. She has directed and worked, sometimes singlehandedly, in the removal of many invasive species and assisted in the walkway restoration project. Through Loie’s efforts the Old Section of the Cemetery has taken on a new vibrancy and welcoming vista to Decatur’s largest greenspace.

Laurel Wilson

Nominated by: Friends of Decatur Cemetery

Laurel is truly a hometown hero as she takes on the monumental task of documenting the gravesites in the Historic African American Section (Section 6) of Decatur Cemetery.

From the inscription on one 19th century gravestone, her research has taken her into the lives of many of Decatur's citizens who lived and died in the historic Beacon Community. Through interviews and oral histories, she is endeavoring to connect cemetery records and gravestones in Section 6 with those people whose stories might have been lost to time. Using census records, she has re-created families and brought them into the 21st century—where they lived, their occupations, their images.

While her work is far from finished, she has taken a personal interest in her subjects, even finding and tending long forgotten gravestones.  Already Section 6 is taking on a new perspective and vibrancy.  She has established a firm foundation for continued research into this important piece of Decatur history.  Laurel should be celebrated for her initiative and drive. Friends of Decatur Cemetery (FODC) wish to recognize her efforts.

Rus Wood

Nominated by: Decatur Arts Alliance, Decatur Visitors Center, PALS

Rus Wood, a longtime Decatur resident, is a local real estate agent helping newcomers to our community and an energetic Decatur superstar. A mainstay of the Decatur Visitors Center, Rus is a tireless volunteer who is always ready help out, whether the task involves the day to day helping of visitors and locals with all his inside Decatur info, or going far beyond the routine by fixing computers, stepping into last-minute and much needed leadership roles for festivals and events or knowing exactly how that festival fencing should be set up.

An integral member of the Volunteer Decatur community, Rus also shares his time and knowledge with the Decatur Makers helping kids cultivate their passions for creating and building. He can be found testing out Derby cars, helping program old game systems, and acting as a positive and compassionate role model for our community youth. 

Always ready for a brainstorming session, Rus is a font of creative and resourceful ideas and is ever willing to go the extra mile to help a friend or stranger solve their problems. We are all a little better off with Rus in our community and in our lives.

Madison Avenue Soap Box Derby: Jason Cattanach, Cameron DiCarlo, Marco DiCarlo, Sterling Roach, Anthony Scalese, Raul Trujillo

Nominated by: Gary Garrett and Jen Rhett

Jason Cattanach, Cameron DiCarlo, Marco DiCarlo, Sterling Roach, Anthony Scalese, Raul Trujillo are co-founders and early pioneers of the MADISON AVENUE SOAP BOX DERBY. Participants from the Oakhurst Community, Madison Avenue and other city of Decatur residents come together at this annual fun event for youngsters and adults alike. Family involvement is a highlight of this event with costumes, finely tuned ‘racing machines,’ and a spirit of friendly competition both for car design and racing times. 

From the website of the Derby organization, “…for those new to the neighborhood or who haven’t experienced the Madison Avenue Soapbox Derby for some crazy reason, it is an amazing event started by a group of neighbors in 2011. We had the zany idea of bringing together our families to have fun while raising money for a local charity benefitting the children of our community.” 

“The mission of the resulting Madison Avenue Community Fund is a focus on the children of our neighborhood, looking to further our goal of giving all Oakhurst kids a similar childhood experience and opportunity to succeed. This means supporting established organizations or helping neighbors in need. Fun, Fun, Fun - the vision of this event is picnic/parade style where families, friends and neighbors bring chairs and blankets to join in eating and watching the Derby.” Derby organizers also point out the event is successful due to the tremendous number of volunteers and supporting businesses that make it happen. 

The Soap Box Derby on Madison Avenue has completed six successful events and raised over $100,000 for local charities including Our House, Focus and the recipient of funds raised in 2016 was an organization called Reading is Essential or REAP, dedicated to providing teaching skills to ensure students learn to read ( www.readingisessential.org ).

As Executive Director of REAP, Jen Rhett expressed what this gift means to her organization. “The impact of the funds Madison Avenue Community Foundation (MACF) raised for our grassroots organization in 2016 is unmatched. REAP has never received a gift of this size and it will be life changing for Decatur students and our organization. The passion and dedication of the Madison Avenue Community Foundation founders and members to Decatur children and families is inspiring and truly magical. Not only did they raise a record $30,000 but they provided further opportunity through promotion of REAP and the purpose behind our mission. They encouraged the community to recognize us beyond just this event.”