2010 Hometown Heroes

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 Decatur Salutes 2010 Hometown Heros
2010 Hometown Heroes
Michele Hillegass
Nominated by: Lylia Lucio
Michele Hillegass has single-handedly placed the Winnona Park Neighborhood Association (WPNA) on firm financial footing in recent years via her efforts as Social Chair. The revenues generated and memberships derived from fall picnics and incredibly successful Luminaria events are the single largest contributor to the sustained existence of this organization. She has served as the WPNA social committee chair for 5 years and has previously served as secretary and co-president. Michele has been the editor, art director, and a co-writer for the Winnona Park Elementary School newsletter, The Word. For the past two years. According to parent surveys, The Word is the primary source of information concerning the school that parents turn to. Michele recognized the importance of a parent handbook. She compiled and published this 41-page one-stop reference guide for parents on how to navigate around the school, including basic information concerning morning drop-off procedures, PTA events, and classroom snack guidelines. Michele also was the muscle behind the publication of the first Winnona Park Expeditionary Learning Yearbook. The yearbook was created using photos from fieldwork, student artwork and student writings that documented all the expeditions from the year. Michele collected the digital photos that parents and teachers took, and when there wasn’t enough from a few classes, she came over and took the rest herself.

Suzie and Ricky Jacobs
Nominated by: Julia Levy
Ricky and Suzie Jacobs have poured themselves into serving and educating the large and growing war refugee community whose members mostly live in Clarkston, just a stone’s throw away from Decatur. They both volunteered and taught at the International Community School for war refugee children, and the Saturday School, which serves entire families. The Saturday School serves, among others, teenage refugee girls, many of whom arrive in this country with no English and very little formal education. While their younger siblings quickly pick up English and may immediately thrive in this country, teenage girls are usually placed in already-underperforming middle schools and quickly drop out. Along with a small group of volunteers with deep experience serving the refugee community, Suzie and Ricky began the long process of creating a special school for female teenage war refugees. After obtaining a grant from the Atlanta Women’s Foundation, Decatur Presbyterian Church generously granted space to house the school, which opened its doors to 35 teenage war refugees from all over the world in August of 2009. Suzie tirelessly took up the arduous process of creating a strong nonprofit organization which continues today. Both Suzie and Ricky taught at the school, and filled in to provide support and troubleshoot wherever they were needed. Ricky continues to be a vital part of the Global Village School’s faculty.

Reagan Koski
Nominated by: Robert Soens and David Hanna
Reagan Koski has dedicated an enormous amount of time to her children’s schools in an effort to improve the experience for all the children at these schools. Reagan is actively involved with Winnona Park Elementary School. She has served in many board posts at Winnona, including vice president and president of the PTA. She has also led their “Spring into Summer” fundraiser and was committee chair for the annual “Variety Show.” Reagan has volunteered at Winnona’s Book Fair, co-chaired the PTA membership drive, and served as a room parent. Reagan also assisted with the annual Glennwood Academy Carnival fundraiser. In addition to her involvement in the school system, she volunteers at Oakhurst Community Garden Project and assists with their annual fundraiser, “Martinis in the Garden.” Reagan volunteers as a Sunday School teacher at Unitarian Universalist Church. She also finds time to be an active volunteer with Lake Claire and Decatur Gators swim teams. Reagan is well known in the community because of her warm and friendly personality and through her involvement in so many varied activities in the community. She is someone who exemplifies what we all look for and strive for here in Decatur in that joy, enthusiasm, involvement and spirit that makes living together in community a wonderful experience.

Terry LeCount
Nominated by: Beth Thompson
Twice a week, a group of as many as 30 women leave dinner with their families, don their sneakers & dri-fit gear and head to the Samuel L. Jones Boys and Girls Club. They work up a sweat in any weather thanks to one inspirational man. Terry LeCount lends his unique support to “his ladies” each week, coaching them in fitness, nutrition and general wellness. Terry, a former NFL football star, gives up dinner with his wife to coach women (and the occasional brave man) for a nominal sum that he then donates back to the club. Terry not only motivates his boot camp ladies, but has been a positive influence in the lives of countless students at Oakhurst Elementary where he is a Kindergarten Paraprofessional. At Oakhurst Elementary, Terry helped to establish the highly successful Oakhurst Track Club that trains students for the Tour deCatur one-mile fun run. This past year, he trained “LeCount’s Ladies” for the 5K, giving up a Saturday morning to help them prepare as well as running the race with them, encouraging them the whole way. Terry’s love of children shows in so many ways that it is difficult to enumerate them. At one point, he noticed some young men at Oakhurst that he felt needed a positive male role model, so began the Oakhurst Boys Mentoring group. These boys received not only a positive male role model, but valuable lessons in philanthropy and respect they will take with them through their lives. After school lets out at Oakhurst, Terry can be found at the Samuel L. Jones Boys & Girls Club every afternoon coaching basketball, getting the kids moving and doling out money to the cash-strapped for snacks. He knows each child by name and has a kind or motivational word for everyone.

Dr. Lew Lefton
Nominated by: Dr. William Hunt
Dr. Lew Lefton seems to be everywhere – from working the concession stand at the Decatur High football games to working on the Reconfiguration Committee for the Decatur School System. Dr. Lefton helped found two very important organizations for our children which are likely to have a long lasting impact. These are the D.U.C.K. (Decatur yoUth Comedy Krewe) and S.T.E.M.C.E.L.L. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics Club to Encourage the Love of Learning). He is co-founder of D.U.C.K., this improv comedy troop of Decatur High School and Renfroe Middle School kids. Dr. Lefton has been doing comedy (stand up and improv) for over 25 years and has brought a wealth of experience to this endeavor. As coach of D.U.C.K. he has patiently brought along the players - allowing them to explore their own comedic voices, succeed and perhaps more importantly to fail. Since its founding, the group has performed more than 25 times, including at the annual Decatur Book Festival. Dr. Lefton created the S.T.E.M.C.E.L.L. club at Renfroe Middle School to get students excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M.). Among other accomplishments, the club had three teams enter the First Lego League robotics competition. For the past several years, Dr. Lefton has been a Stage Captain at the annual Decatur Book Festival. Once of the centerpieces of the festival is the Children’s Stage. The Stage has a fast-paced line up of authors and entertainment to keep children and their parents busy. Two years ago, Dr. Lefton segued to the Teen Stage, fondly named The Escape by the teens. Dr. Lefton has kept both stages on track, on time, and fun. In addition, he had the D.U.C.K. comedy troupe perform at The Escape this year.

Gardner Neely
Nominated by: Seegar Swanson
Gardner Neely has made countless contributions to Decatur including his relentless efforts to forward the causes of sensible development, greenspace and environmental issues, bicycling and alternative transportation for many years. He has served on multiple committees and commissions at both neighborhood and City level. Gardner has served on the Winnona Park Neighborhood Association’s environment and infrastructure committee, communications committee, zoning and development committee, as well as being a neighborhood watch captain. He is also a former member of the City of Decatur Greenspace Commission. Gardner is one of the individuals who participated in both past and present City strategic planning projects. He constantly distributes public safety information to the neighborhood listserve and emphasizes neighborhood watch efforts. When he sees a need like addressing a dangerous curve on our busy street, he fights for progress with the tenacity of a bulldog. It is not uncommon to see Gardner at the podium in the City Commission room. He even tries to make sure there is a block party on our street with some frequency.

Joy and Steve Provost
Nominated by: Lee Ann Harvey
Joy and Steve have been energetic members of the Oakhurst Community Garden Project (OCGP) for several years. Joy is a board member and the current treasurer. She also served on the Decatur Preservation Alliance (DPA) board. Joy chaired the annual Decatur Garden Tour, a fundraising event for OCGP and the DPA, for the past several years. Joy and Steve’s lovely garden has been a past highlight of the Garden Tour and their home has been featured on the Decatur Holiday Candlelight Tour of Homes. They both volunteer each year for the Martin Luther King Jr. Service Project and lead teams of primarily unskilled volunteers to do basic landscaping and other yard work at senior citizens’ homes. Joy and Steve volunteer with Trees Atlanta and assist with removal of invasive plants and tree plantings at various sites in the City of Decatur. Steve is a member of the City of Decatur’s Environmental Sustainability Board and is a former member of a precursor to this Board, the Waste Management Advisory Board. This year, Steve has been working with City of Decatur staff on the 2010 Strategic Plan. One of the key features of the process has been a series of Round Table discussions held with hundreds of community members. Steve was one of the facilitators for a series of four meetings in which each community member participated. He was also a member of the citizen panel that worked with City staff to review the proposals of the companies that submitted bids to synthesize all of the citizen input and to provide the final draft of the 2010 Strategic Plan. It is hard to imagine Decatur without this volunteer power couple.

Morgan Rowe
Nominated by: Cheryl Burnette
Morgan became involved in the Decatur Business Association about 6 years ago by joining the Decatur Beach Party committee. Morgan initially worked on the Children’s Boardwalk area for a couple of years before taking charge of the area for two years. While working on the Children’s Area, Morgan was involved in all stages of planning as well as being the onsite person/contact during the event. She was also part of the early morning set up committee and took charge volunteers who set up the fencing for the event and put up tables and chairs. In 2009, Morgan became co-chair of the event. She brought fresh ideas and helped to implement them to success. Under her leadership, the site plan was changed and the Children’s Area was expanded. Morgan worked with her co-chair and the committee to book bands, make important decisions about ticket sales, approve graphic design, work with the City liaison on the logistics, and more. She was on site early the morning of the event, worked all day, then returned for the event with her usual smile. She was also the MC, making announcements where needed. Before Morgan began volunteering her time with the Beach Party, she volunteered both her time and her musical talent for Decatur events. She has played the Oakhurst Arts and Music Festival, the Decatur Earth Day Festival and more at no charge. She is an accomplished musician who is eager to share her talents for the community. Even though Morgan is now “retired” from the Beach Party co-chair position, she continues to volunteer her time to the Decatur Business Association and both her time and talents to the City of Decatur.

Christine Russell
Nominated by: Lee Ann Harvey
Christine Russell is a non-stop volunteer, in addition to working a full time job and raising young children. She has devoted countless hours over the past several years to A Season of Giving/Christmas Decatur. Chris has become more and more involved in this program over the years. She assists with the initial phase of interviewing parents to put together wish lists for the children during the designated application days, helps with the office work, works in the distribution center, and is one of the volunteer shoppers. Last year, Chris took on more responsibility by managing the database of the children, senior citizens and the donors. She is a phenomenal organizer and helps get all of the wish lists organized before the other volunteers come in to do office work. In 2007, Chris’ home was on the Decatur Holiday Candlelight Tour of Homes. The following year, Chris joined the planning committee. She frequently finds time during her busy workday to go on home visits during the initial selection process. It is extremely helpful for homeowners who are considering having their home on the Tour to speak with someone who has already done so, especially if they have children too. She also volunteers as a Home Captain during the event. Chris is extremely active at her children’s school, Oakhurst Elementary. She is in the PTA and manages the PTA directory. Chris helps out with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop and handles all of their reporting and paperwork. In addition, she is actively involved in her church’s activities. Chris is a marvel at time management and can coordinate multiple volunteer activities at once. She is extremely organized and brings these organizational skills to all of her volunteer positions.

Nancie Sill
Nominated by: Cathy Vogel
Nancie Sill is chair of Friends of Decatur Cemetery FODC), a project of the Decatur Preservation Alliance. Under her leadership, the FODC has undertaken two new initiatives. In 2009, in cooperation with the local American Legion, flags were placed in the Cemetery on the graves of hundreds of American veterans representing every war from the American Revolution to the present. Additionally, a memorial service was held for the first time at the Cemetery on Veterans Day. Not only was this a stirring tribute, but also provided an opportunity for several volunteer groups to participate and learn about the history of our country. Nancie’s interest in photography was instrumental in her second initiative: a photography contest which was held in the spring and fall of 2010. Judges were chosen from the local community and the winning photos will be displayed in the refurbished Cemetery administration building. Nancie has brought a new dimension to FODC leadership. Her skills as an organizer and her knowledge of technology is vital not only for historic purposes but also for the citizens of Decatur and their loved ones. Her love for photography and good visual skills are invaluable.

Jimmy Smith
Nominated by: F. Jackson Rhodes, Jr.
Jimmy Smith recently completed eighteen (18) continuous years of service on the Decatur Planning Commission. During that period, he was almost always in attendance, but more importantly, had reviewed the property in issue and its surroundings, and was prepared for the meetings. He always contributed his insight and knowledge of both Decatur and the development business in an effort to reach consensus among the applicant and the neighbors. These types of issues often lead to lengthy and contentious meetings. Jimmy always exhibited great patience and an understanding of the position of both sides. During his tenure, the City underwent major, and for the most part, extremely positive and favorable change in its land use and appearance yet retained the character we all love and want to keep. Jimmy Smith’s contributions on the Planning Commission helped to bring about this positive growth. Jimmy is a true Hometown Hero whose contributions to the development of Decatur will last for generations.

Bryan Swann
Nominated by: Kyle Williams and Michael Gaertner
Continuously since 2006, Bryan has been a leader with the Decatur BBQ, Blues & Bluegrass Festival spearheading a fun event for the City that overflows each year with residents and visitors, good barbeque and great music. Bryan has tirelessly worked to make the Festival the success it is today by volunteering countless hours in planning, preparation and working the day of the Festival. On that day, Bryan can be seen promoting the Festival and the City in the local media, coordinating security, averting crises, and even changing an empty keg. Bryan does not stop his work after the last song of the Festival, but continues to devote himself to the selection and disbursements of the Small Grant Program and the year round organization required to maintain and build upon a successful community festival. He also serves as president of the Community Center of South Decatur and has taken on the important job to be a liaison between old and new neighbors. Bryan has become an important bridge to the sometimes overlooked elderly neighbors in south Decatur, as well as facilitating community use of The Solarium. Bryan also makes use of his substantial home repair knowledge as a House Captain and in other leadership roles for Decatur’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Project. He has graduated from Decatur’s Citizens Public Safety Academy, volunteered with the Oakhurst Neighborhood Association, and devoted countless hours to informal neighborhood efforts to help neighbors in need.