Connect with us

Arts & Literature

Jennifer Sierra – Therapeutic Recreation Therapist / Art Teacher, Part of Five Stories to Brighten Our Spirits



The Bright Side of Lockdown in Peachtree Corners

We can all relate to the surreal feeling brought on by the coronavirus as we struggled with being caught in this bizarre new world that was difficult to believe yet impossible to ignore. We couldn’t help but feel shocked as it unfolded — it was unprecedented — although there had been a dreadful buzz in the air heading straight for us from miles away.

As our nation is sieged with controversy, climbing death rates, trepidation and uncertainty, I wanted to find some uplifting, local COVID-19 stories that would serve to brighten our spirits. This is part 5 of 5 stories to be posted.

In my quest to find uplifting stories amidst the COVID-19 wreckage of our 2020 dreams and aspirations, Jennifer Sierra was a beacon of light.

Pre-pandemic life for this industrious, Peachtree Corners mom was full. She owns and operates The Grateful Gourd, a company dedicated to providing art programs at assisted living, memory care and long-term care communities across Atlanta.

From Lithia springs to Cumming, Sierra shared her passion of 30 years — entertaining seniors, their caregivers and families with her “watercolor paint party on the go.”

She also led field trips for Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation as a part-time educator at The Environmental Heritage Center. Wednesday nights were dedicated to teaching young children at First Baptist Church Atlanta.

A series of magnets featuring care givers wearing masks designed
by Jennifer Sierra.
The Trifecta

When the pandemic touched our lives in Georgia, retirement communities, schools and churches shut down, leaving Sierra out of three jobs and in the same predicament as parents of school-aged children across the globe, propelled into the daunting new world of distance learning.

“It was really quite abrupt,” she recalled. “I ran my last program on March 10, and shortly thereafter communities started to close their doors. When I showed up for my scheduled art class on the 12th, they said, “Sorry, we can’t let anybody in,”” Sierra recounted.

On Pause

The Grateful Gourd business had been taking off for Sierra before things came to a screeching halt. “I was really kind of devastated. I was anticipating actually adding more communities. I had my calendar set through 2020 as many proactive vendors do,” Sierra said.

She was frustrated and lost because she truly loves working with the seniors and had put a lot of effort into building her company, only for it to be put on “complete pause.”          Understanding the valid reason for this hiccup, Sierra still feels the sadness of uncertainty. “Is this going to be considered a phase 3 reopening? Nobody’s really sure when the communities are going to open up. The only thing I know is that everybody is ready,” Sierra said.

Change with the Times

Rather than dwell upon her own sorrows, Sierra thought of her senior friends. They’d regularly spend two hours together painting, laughing, exchanging stories about current events and memories of days gone by. She longed for them to have a positive experience even as they sheltered in place so they could remember their gatherings and maybe feel hopeful that her classes would soon resume.

“A few weeks in, something clicked inside of me and I decided to take initiative and do what I do in a slightly different way. I’d send my images to all of my staff contacts at these communities so the residents can continue to do what they love, even inside their individual rooms,” Sierra said.

She now creates drawings, specifically to be printed on paper meant for colored pencils, to ease the burden of the clean-up and sanitation necessary when using watercolors.

“At this particular time, I don’t want to give employees working in long-term care communities any more work because they have been working so unbelievably hard. They’ve even had the National Guard going in to clean. If you can imagine, they’re working even harder now,” Sierra said.

Free of charge, just to provide an activity for residents to pass some time and possibly recall the fun moments they’ve shared, Sierra mails her clients copies of her thoughtful drawings designed to conjure happy memories for the seniors who will color them.

“I knew that it would at least provide a smile. Just a smile, it’s something very small that I could contribute to help people feel good for a little while. I know it’s tough for them,” she said.

Leisure Times to Beat the Lockdown Blues

To further entertain her senior pals, Sierra started curating and delivering a monthly pamphlet of activities to help cheer them up as they endure long days of social distancing from friends and family.

The Leisure Times packet includes an image she draws for coloring, a large word search and a complete-the-verse music activity.

“I wanted to incorporate music because it’s so meaningful to people. You can be 80 and have some memory impairments, but some things — like music — stay. It’s such a great tool for those with memory loss because it takes them back to a happy place, maybe to their first kiss,” Sierra said.

The scrambled song lyrics are chosen with her audience in mind: “That’ll be the day … That I die.” “Sweet Mary Lou … I’m so in love with you.” “I found my thrill … On Blueberry Hill.”         “They’ll have a good time, spend some time racking their brains and figuring it out,” she beamed.

Aware that some residents may be slightly confused, wondering why they can’t leave their rooms, Sierra hopes her pamphlet will provide a little distraction. She described how they approached her during her group visits — visibly anticipating some fun.

“We really do have a good time. That’s what I’m trying to create with Leisure Times. I hope it rings a bell for them and elicits that positive response,” Sierra explained.

Meals on Wheels

When closed schools eliminated her job with the Environmental Center, Sierra was transferred and began delivering meals to homebound seniors. “Gwinnett is a huge county and does a tremendous job providing many services. It’s really state-of-the-art,” she said.

From leading students on field trips to helping with food distribution lines, meal packing and delivering meals in a refrigerated truck, Sierra did not miss a beat or an opportunity to be grateful.

“It’s such a blessing. I got this job because of the coronavirus. I’m helping people and they’re helping me. It’s a symbiotic relationship,” she said.

Contact Gwinnett County Senior Services

Anyone 60 or older is considered a senior. If you or someone you know could use help with meals during the pandemic, contact Gwinnett County Senior Services at 678-377-4150.

The Grateful Gourd

If you’d like to book an entertaining and therapeutic art class once the assisted living and memory care communities reopen, contact Jennifer Sierra at thegratefulgourd@gmail.com.

As we fumble through this time of history-in-the-making, sometimes feeling powerless, I hope this feature has inspired you and brightened your day.

“If I can do this, in this teeny-weeny way, anybody can,” Jennifer Sierra said. “We all have certain gifts and you know what? All of the gifts that everybody on this planet has, are essential in some way.”

Patrizia hails from Toronto, Canada where she earned an Honors B.A. in French and Italian studies at York University, and a B.Ed. at the University of Toronto. This trilingual former French teacher has called Georgia home since 1998. She and her family have enjoyed living, working and playing in Peachtree Corners since 2013.

Continue Reading

Arts & Literature

Peachtree Corners Branch Library: 10 Most Popular Titles for Early Fall 2020



Peachtree Corners Branch Library. Photo courtesy of GCPS Facebook page.

Library Branches in Gwinnett County reopened September 14 for computer use and browsing, so pick up the next great read. These are Early Fall 2020 Popular titles (Nonfiction and Fiction) listed from the Peachtree Corners Branch Library of the Gwinnett County Public Library system.

Non-Fiction Titles

1.)  Educated: a Memoir by Tara Westover

2.) It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength when Disappointments Leave You Shattered by Lysa TerKeurst

3.) Before and after the book deal: a writer’s guide to finishing, publishing, promoting and surviving your first book by Courtney Maum

4.)  The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

5.)  Grant by Ron Chernow

6.)  Never Eat Alone: and Other Secrets to success, one relationship at a time by Keith Ferrazzi

7.)  5 Conversations to Have with Your Son by Vicki Courtney

8.)  8 Ways to Avoid Probate by Mary Randolph

9.)  ADHD & the focused Mind: a guide to giving your ADHD child focus, discipline & self-confidence by Sarah Cheyette

10.)  Becoming by Michelle Obama


Fiction Titles

1.)  Where the Crawdad’s Sing by Delia Owens

2.)  The Giver of Stars by Jo Jo Moyes

3.)  Litter Fires Everywhere by Celest Ng

4.)  Journey of the Pharaohs: a novel from the NUMA files by Clive Cussler

5.)  The Red Lotus: a Novel by Chris Bohjalian

6.)  The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

7.)  The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson

8.)  The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

9.)  Circe: A Novel by Madeline Miller

10.)  The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Continue Reading

Arts & Literature

Thinking Outside the Branch: Librarians produce programs you can watch and join from home



Don Giacomini, a youth services specialist, reads “Where the Wild Things Are” in the Gwinnett County Public Library system’s virtual “Storytime Takeout” program.

Librarian Becca Wamstad put herself through college by working as a Whole Foods baker. Today, her culinary skills are again being put to public use in a video series she calls “Baking with Becca.”

Produced in her kitchen, the show is one of hundreds of homegrown videos produced by Gwinnett County Public Library staffers since March.

After COVID-19 shut their doors, librarians could no longer offer programs at their physical locations. But that didn’t stop them from continuing to offer library programs.

They very quickly became video producers.

Hamilton Mill Branch librarian Becca Wamstad stars in her own library video series, “Baking with Becca.”

Librarians from the central office to the frontlines at branches are producing programs ranging from “Backyard Biology” and “Virtual Sewing Club” for kids to “Genealogy: Trace Your Roots” and an “Intro to Python” coding class for adults.

Anyone, anywhere can watch the library’s videos on graphic design or a series on teas around the world. There’s a virtual summer camp for kids and a series based on the Juneteenth commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S.

About 30 to 40 new programs for kids and adults are posted each week on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram and promoted on the library’s website, said Don Giacomini, a youth services specialist in the library system. Giacomini, who’s also the storyteller and puppeteer on the library’s “Storytime Takeout” variety show, praised the way library staffers have met the challenge of going virtual — from scrambling to master new technical skills to performing on camera.

“The stereotype of librarians is that we’re very introverted people, and, in a lot of cases, that is very true. I think nobody could have ever envisioned what we are doing now … but I think it is indicative of the role that libraries have played over the past 20 years in that we are stepping up to provide community services,” Giacomini said. “Our job has been to identify community needs and fill that gap.”

Atlanta Reads!

The system now has its first ever live, virtual book club, called Atlanta Reads!

Guests can get a link to download a free copy of the book (or buy one) and then get a link to join a moderator a month later to talk about the book, said Denise Auger, who oversees adult programming for the system. Details can be found at gwinnettpl.org/virtual-book-club.

The library’s very popular Author & Speaker Series — which has attracted authors such as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick Bragg — drew 6,001 guests out to hear 44 authors and speakers in 2019, Auger said. Find videos of some of these recorded programs at gwinnettpl.org/adults/gcpl-virtual-author-speaker-series.

New programs in the series are being done virtually and live, allowing guests to use chat boxes to ask the authors questions. Attendance has soared. An online session in May with authors Mary Kay Andrews, Patti Henry and Mary Alice Monroe drew 4,081 virtual guests, Auger said. Visit gwinnettpl.org/authorspeaker for the schedule.

Check out the library’s YouTube channel to find many other programs for adults on topics such as gardening, cooking, starting a small business and help workshops for coronavirus-related job and landlord issues. (See info box for link.)

“Baking with Becca”

Wamstad’s “Baking with Becca” was the first video to come out of the branches, Giacomini said.

A Hamilton Mill branch staffer, Wamstad said she’s always loved doing programs in the library. But being filmed by her boyfriend for her first baking video was an entirely different story. “I never felt so nervous!” she said.

But she didn’t cave, and she has gone on from that episode about baking rosemary parmesan bread to other baking episodes on blueberry coffeecake and lemon tarts. A biscuits-from-scratch program is planned.

Wamstad has proposed other programs awaiting approval, such as a Halloween special effects makeup tutorial using products found around the house and a session on DIY natural body care products.

“I definitely love the fact that we are such a resource for the community, and even outside the community, because our programs are available for anyone to view,” Wamstad said.

Youth Services Specialist Jana King produces the bulk of the content for “Storytime Takeout,” which recently posted its 34th episode. One of the harder things she said she’s had to learn is how to engage a virtual audience.

“You don’t really think about what you look like when you’re (physically) reading a book to a group of children because you’re interacting with them and pointing out things,” King said.

But she’s forging ahead, and, among other things, she’s collaborating with her coworker
Sarah Martin to do a weeklong puppet camp for kids from July 27-31 that will be available online through the end of August. Find it by visiting classroom.google.com, hitting the + button, and entering the classroom code jp3dagl.

King encourages people to tell the library what they’d like to see in the way of programs. “We are brainstorming all the time about new content and new ways to get early literary skills out there to our kids and help them in this time,” she said.

Gwinnett County Public Library youth services specialists Sarah Martin, left, and Jana King conducted a weeklong virtual puppet camp for kids that will be available online through the end of August.

Peachtree Corners Branch

Gwinnett library branches reopened briefly this summer but closed again effective July 23. All branches will offer only curbside holds pickup, except for the Duluth Branch which is closed until further notice.

“There is now substantial data to show Gwinnett’s COVID-19 fighting infrastructure is becoming strained,” the library said in a public announcement on its web page. “We also see rising numbers of customers visit the library without masks, exacerbating the potential for germ spread.”

Peachtree Corners Branch Manager Karen Harris said patrons who came in after they reopened told staff how much they’d missed them.

“My staff is so creative and so ingenious. We’re doing well,” she said at that time.

Ongoing branch programs are now online, including “Common Threads,” a large group of seniors who knit, crochet, embroider and quilt, and two writing programs — one for teens and one for adults.

Harris said other proposed virtual programs await approval. Among them are a senior singing program for all ages called “Virtual Senior Moments,” “Reading Rock Stars” for middle schoolers and “Fiber Arts Fridays” for all ages.

Other proposed virtual programs include a book club for adults, family game nights, a “Voting 101” program, and a session on “Fake News.” Find scheduled programming on the library’s website, gwinnettpl.org.

Catch a library video!

YouTube: Click ‘Videos’ to see a list of programs.
Library event calendar
Beanstack (online reading program)
Learning Labs

Continue Reading

Arts & Literature

City Names its New Multi-Use Trail and Unveils First of Six Trail Art Sculptures



Left to Right, Randy Gilbert, Councilmembers Eric Christ and Lorri Christopher, Mayor Mike Mason and councilmembers Jeanne Aulbach and Phil Sadd

On Tuesday afternoon during a special presentation and ribbon-cutting event, the Mayor and Council celebrated the opening of a new section of its 11.5-mile multi-use trail system. They also announced the name selected for the trail — and unveiled the first of six sculptures to be placed throughout the city.

In the city’s name-the-trail contest “Corners Connector” was chosen for the name of the city-wide trail which will wind throughout the community connecting neighborhoods to parks, shops, restaurants and offices. Mr. Randy Gilbert, a long-time resident, selected the winning name chosen from over 150 entries.

Mr. Gilbert was on hand to help cut the ribbon on the new 1/3-mile section of the trail which runs around a portion of the 7-acre Technology Park Lake. This newest section has a plaque dedicated to Mr. Lee Tucker in recognition of his efforts in ensuring the city had the land needed for the trail expansion. Future plans will include the trail to encircle the entire lake.

“The trail is a great asset to Peachtree Corners and well worth the effort to build it,” said Mr. Gilbert. “I can see many people enjoying it in the years to come.”

In several in-person and online surveys, citizens ranked multi-use trails among the most desirable and valued community recreational assets. The city envisions that the Corners Connector will not only serve as an alternate means of travel but will also be a linear park offering unique amenities and programs for its residents.

“This is an exciting moment for our city,” said Mayor Mason during the event. “We hope our citizens, and those who work here in Tech Park, enjoy this new amenity. We look forward to celebrating each section of our “Corners Connector” trail as it is completed. We are also conducting feasibility study now to add a 3 ½- mile walking trail along Crooked Creek. We hope to have more news on that proposed section soon.”

The new button-shaped sculpture, which is located at the entrance to the lake-side trail section, is part of a Gwinnett-wide effort by a nonprofit organization, Button Art, to showcase the county. The city plans to install a total of six of the round-shaped Button Art sculptures, each depicting a theme based on the area of town in which it is located. Button Art, Inc. is a nonprofit created to further the love of art in Gwinnett County. The project was inspired by Button Gwinnett, the county’s namesake.

The city’s first sculpture features a friendly-looking robot walking a robotic dog, a nod to the many high-tech businesses located within Technology Park. Local artist, Lance Campbell has designed the artwork for the city’s six sculptures which are among 200 that will be sprinkled throughout the county.  

Visit www.buttonart.org for more information on the Button Art project.

Continue Reading


Peachtree Corners Life

Capitalist Sage

Topics and Categories

Recent Posts



Copyright © 2020 Mighty Rockets LLC, powered by WordPress.

Get Weekly Updates!

Get Weekly Updates!

Don't miss out on the latest news, updates, and stories about Peachtree Corners.

Check out our podcasts: Peachtree Corners Life, Capitalist Sage and the Ed Hour

You have Successfully Subscribed!