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Looking Up: Two Peachtree Corners residents show enthusiasm for things that fly



A miniature rocket takes to the sky during a Southern Area Rocketry club launch day. Photos by Joe Earle.

One hot Saturday in July, a cloudless sky burned deep blue above an isolated field hidden among the woods behind a private high school in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. About 20 cars, pickups or SUVs lined the edge of the grassy field and families gathered beneath tents or tarps they’d pitched beside their vehicles, like tailgaters at a football game. In the middle of the field, a pair of model rockets sat side by side on launch pads, waiting the electronic command to blast skyward.

One belonged to Maddie Cain, a 9-year-old from Peachtree Corners who enjoys flying rockets with her dad. She and Nicolas Ruthruff, a 7-year-old friend from Acworth, planned to launch their rockets side-by-side in a “drag race,” a competition to see how well each rocket performed. The winner would be the last rocket to hit ground. Jorge Blanco, president of the Southern Area Rocketry club (SoAR), stood in the shadow beneath a tarp next to the launch area. Blanco counted down from five to zero and the rockets zipped into the sky. After just a few seconds, they headed back to earth. Nicholas’ rocket won. The two rocket racers ran across the mowed grass to collect their models so they could fly another day. “Good race,” Maddie said.

Maddie Cain readies one of her rockets for launch.

Maddie learned about model rocketry from her dad, David Cain. Cain, a 61-year-old software interface architect, first flew model rockets as a boy who was, as he put it, “growing up in the Space Age.” He moved on to other interests as a teenager, he said, but picked up the hobby again a few years ago as a common interest with his children, Maddie and her 12-year-old brother Jim. This year, Cain took over as vice president of the 400-member SoAR.

Maddie with her dad David Cain
Maddie and her dad, David Cain, display miniature rockets they’ve built and plan to fly, including a Space-X model that David ordered from the company.

These days, he and another Peachtree Corners resident, Moreno Aguiari, are working to help introduce metro Atlantans to machines that fly.

New kind of aviation museum

While Cain engages in model rocketry, Aguiari, a 44-year-old commercial pilot and publisher of a magazine about vintage warplanes, wants to help create a new museum and education center built around Georgia’s aviation history and industry. The new Atlanta Air and Space Museum is proposed for 18 acres on the eastern side of the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, the county-owned airport in Chamblee usually referred to by its call letters, PDK. The property, once used for a runway but now abandoned, offers a close view of PDK’s working runways and airport facilities.

Moreno Aguiari stands on the abandoned runway at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport that he hopes will be the site of a Georgia aviation and space museum and education campus. The site offers a view of the planes that land and take off regularly from PDK, which is behind him.

Aguiari is a founder and board member of the Inspire Aviation Foundation, a nonprofit created about three years ago to create the museum. “The purpose of this museum would be to acquire, restore and conserve historic aircraft, spacecraft, technology and related artifacts, while creating innovative visitor experiences that are educational and entertaining,” the foundation said in a press release.

Aguiari puts it a bit more simply. The museum’s proponents, he said, don’t want simply to create another building full of old airplanes, like plenty of other aviation museums scattered around the country. “We are not going to build your typical box full of planes,” Aguiari said as he sat in a conference room at PDK once recent afternoon. “That’s an old concept of a museum.”

Instead, they see exhibits that are interactive and engaging to young people. They want the DeKalb School System and perhaps even Georgia Tech to be involved with the aviation campus to create a place where students can learn about aerospace careers and flying.

The foundation wants to create a place “designed to build aspiration for a life in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM),” it said in its press release. “But the platform will go further than aspirations to nurture an interest in aviation throughout someone’s entire life. The [foundation] wants to offer a tangible path from childhood all the way through an aerospace career and beyond.”

Aguiari realized the PDK museum should be different when he was taking his own children to see other aviation museums. He liked looking at the old planes, he said, but his kids soon were bored. “My 5- and 6-year-old kids were telling me, ‘Dad, can we go someplace else? Nothing moves here.’”

Fellow foundation board member Latessa Meader, a C-130 pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, got excited about and signed on with the project last year because of its educational components. She’s a former high school math teacher who says she became an aviation mechanic and then a pilot because she thought the most interesting teachers were those who had done other things during their lives.

“We don’t want static airplanes with placards in front of them,” she said. “All of us have a passion for aviation and we want to inspire that in students from age 1 to 100.”

She said she wants the project to showcase careers in aviation and aerospace and show students how to pursue jobs as engineers, air traffic controllers, mechanics or baggage handlers. “Anything you enjoy doing can be [related to aviation],” she said. “One of my long-term goals in this is to capture their passions.”

The museum would tell the story of aviation in Georgia. Georgians have built airplanes at Lockheed Martin and Gulfstream, flown them for Delta Air Lines and operated the busiest airport in the world. “Georgia has an incredible aviation history [stretching back] almost 120 years,” Aguiari said.

Georgia’s aviation heritage

Georgians were building and flying airplanes soon after the Wright brothers showed it was possible. One of the nation’s aviation pioneers was Ben Epps of Athens, whose descendants made flying a family tradition that continues. His youngest son, Pat Epps, started Epps Aviation, the fixed based operator still in business at PDK.

The land that would become PDK was part of the site of Camp Gordon, a World War I army training base. The property was sold at auction after the war to a private owner, and then in the 1920s and early 1930s, aviation enthusiasts thought the land would make a good airport, according to the PDK webpage. In 1940, DeKalb County bought the land and dirt runways and opened it in 1941, the webpage says.

During World War II, the property was home to a U.S. Naval Air Station. “Many young men, not only from Georgia but from all over the United States, began their flying careers during the next few years, while the Navy was using the airport for pilot training,” the PDK webpage says.

After the war, the Navy continued to operate the airport as a Naval Air Station until a new facility that could handle jets opened at Dobbins Air Force Base in Cobb County. PDK returned to full civilian use in 1959.

One of the first collections the aviation museum has received is composed of memorabilia from retirees of the Naval Air Station. The collection includes photographs, logbooks, newspaper clippings and other artifacts that had been displayed during annual meetings of the retirees. The foundation is having the items photographed so they can be preserved digitally, Aguiari said. With the items, the museum can showcase the air station’s history so “the guys who served here will not be forgotten.”

Efforts to pull together the aviation museum and to develop the campus are expected to take at least three to five years, Meader said. The foundation is conducting a feasibility study for the project and for fundraising for the millions of dollars needed for the project, Aguiari said. He remains hopeful.

“I’m just a regular Joe with a big vision,” Aguiari said. “It’s not like we have millionaires or big companies behind it. It’s just a bunch of regular guys trying to build something incredible.”

Soaring high

David Cain pursues a different vision. He still regularly fires small kit rockets similar to ones his daughter Maddie and Jim build and fly, but he’s also looking up to see just how high some of his models can soar and survive.

SoAR organizes launch days for small rockets every month. (The launches are open to anyone who wants to fly rockets, not just members). But its members also take part, a few times a year, in high altitude flights from fields in south Georgia, Alabama or other places far from the flight paths of airplanes. Cain has taken part in a few of those outings. He said his collection now includes three high-powered rockets, three middle-level ones and seven smaller ones. His personal best flight went up about a mile, he said.

Still Cain likes flying rockets, no matter what size they are. After all, not all launches work. Some rockets sit dead on the launchpad. Others blow up or reach only a few feet before heading back to ground. Others end up in the trees surrounding the range and can’t be recovered.

“I have never lost the thrill of seeing my rocket go up there,” he said. …“It is a challenge. It’s the joy of watching it fly.”

The hobby also allows him to indulge other passions. He likes to operate a 3-D printer to make things, he said, so now he creates his own rocket parts. At the range in July, he flew a model of the Space-X rocket that he had built from a kit he bought from Space-X, he said. The largest rocket he’s built, he said, stood about six feet tall “…and looked like a length of black hose. I have gotten to a point that my teenage self would not recognize the rockets I do now.”

These days, flying rockets also connects him with his kids. “There’s not just one reason I enjoy it,” Cain said. “I discovered when I did it with my boy that I still enjoyed it. I just hadn’t done it in a while. As a hobby, it allows me to integrate my different interests…. It’s a great way to spend time with the kids and to give them experience building things with their hands.”

Cain said building and flying their rockets gives rocketeers the feeling of personal satisfaction and achievement that video gamers feel when they finally conquer a difficult level in a game and “level up.” “Rocketry delivers a similar kind of thing,” he said. “It’s a ‘level-up’ experience when you do something like fly your rocket to 5,700 feet and then then get your rocket back.”

Maddie sees that, too. “I’m enjoying myself pretty much,” she said after a few launches on that hot Saturday in July. “Today, there is a breeze going and there are kids here. … The main reason I’m here is to hang out with my dad and have fun flying rockets.

“It’s kind of cool to watch your rocket go up and realize, ‘Hey! I built this thing and it’s working!’”

Find Out More

Learn more about rocketry and the museum project at:
Atlanta Air & Space Museum — atlantaairandspacemuseum.org
SoAR Rocketry —soarrocketry.org

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Rooted Interiors Unveils Largest Transformation Project Yet for a Family in Need



Grandfather's bedroom before and after // photos courtesy of Rooted Interiors

Rooted Interiors, a new non-profit organization dedicated to transforming lives through design, has announced the completion of its largest transformation project to date.

With a commitment to providing complete interiors to individuals and families emerging from homelessness, Rooted Interiors continues to make a profound impact on communities, one home at a time.

The latest project marks a significant milestone for Rooted Interiors as it demonstrates the organization’s unwavering dedication to creating havens where families can plant roots and thrive.

Through meticulous planning, collaboration and the support of generous donors and volunteers, Rooted Interiors has successfully transformed a once hopeless space into a warm and welcoming home for a deserving family.

At the heart of this project is a single mother, accompanied by her two children and her father, who found themselves in dire circumstances after the mother fled from an abusive partner, forcing them to seek refuge at the Family Promise shelter in Athens, Ga.

Upon securing a new home, however, their relief was short-lived as they found themselves in a space devoid of warmth and lacking the essentials of a home.

With no furniture besides a dining room table, no washer and dryer and a malfunctioning fridge, their daily struggles persisted for three long months.

But Rooted Interiors didn’t just redesign the family’s space, they filled it with love and hope.

Through this project, the organization transformed the family’s house into a sanctuary, addressing not only their physical needs but also their emotional well-being. From carefully selected furniture to thoughtful décor choices, every detail was curated to create a space that felt like home.

“We are thrilled to unveil our latest project, which represents our continued commitment to serving those in need,” said Kristina McCalla, Founder and Executive Director of Rooted Interiors.

“Our Rooted in Renewal Program not only revitalizes physical spaces but also renews hope and stability for the family who calls this house their home,” she added.

Rooted Interiors offers a lifeline to families in need, empowering them to thrive and succeed in their journey towards independence.

“This journey is not just about creating aesthetically pleasing interiors; it’s about using the language of design to uplift and restore,” said Kristina McCalla, also Lead Interior Designer at Rooted Interiors.

“Rooted in faith and love, each project is a testament to the belief that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, deserves a place that reflects their humanity and worth. By providing a thoughtfully designed and fully furnished home, we aim to empower families to thrive and succeed in their journey towards independence,” she explained.

As Rooted Interiors continues its mission to fully furnish homes for those emerging from homelessness, this project serves as a testament to the organization’s impact and the generosity of its supporters.

Through ongoing partnerships and community engagement, the organization remains committed to building brighter futures for individuals and families in need. For more information about Rooted Interiors and how you can support their mission, visit rootedinteriors.org.

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BRACK: Peachtree Corners to lose Peterbrooke Chocolatier



Scottt Gottuso and Geoffrey Wilson.
Scottt Gottuso and Geoffrey Wilson. Photo provided.

Peachtree Corners will soon lose one of its most iconic, popular and tasty businesses.

Peterbrooke Chocolatier, run by Geoffrey Wilson and Scott Gottuso, has been told by Peachtree Forum landlords, North American Properties and Nuveen Real Estate, that its lease will not be renewed. The last day of business will be July 25.

Meanwhile, Peachtree Forum is getting several new stores. They include Kendra Scott, Sucre, and The NOW Massage. Previously announced were Alloy Personal Training, Cookie Fix, Gallery Anderson Smith, Giulia, Lovesac, Nando’s Peri-Peri and Stretchlab. Wilson adds: “We are not in their big picture.”

Wilson has operated Peterbrooke at the Peachtree Forum for 14 years and Gottuso has been there nine years. They have made the chocolatier profitable and doubled sales. Wilson says: “We turned it around through community involvement and made relationships. We worked with the schools, gave donations, did a lot in the community, and made a difference. We produce most everything we sell in the shop, so it’s labor intensive. We make European-style chocolate treats from scratch from the very best ingredients, package it, make gift baskets, and also sell a lot of gelato.”

Key items include truffles, hand-made caramels, cherry cordials, chocolate-covered cookies and pretzels and strawberries hand-dipped in their own blend of chocolates. (They are all good!) One of Wilson’s and Gottuso’s most iconic products is chocolate popcorn. Once you try it, regular popcorn is tasteless. “We sell a lot of it.” Wilson adds: “Gelato sales have carried us in the summertime, since there are not many chocolate holidays in the summer.”

Peterbrooke now has five employees, and would like to have 10, but it is difficult to hire people with the skills in chocolatiering. A key part of its business is corporate companies, such as Delta Air Lines and Capital Insight. The Peachtree Corners’ Peterbrooke has corporate customers as far away as Cleveland, Ohio.

The operators were surprised when the Forum owners did not renew its five year lease. “The big decisions were made in Charlotte or Cincinnati, not locally,” Wilson feels. “We were no longer in their big picture. They want new and glitzy, shiny, fancy and trendy.”

The operators plan to start their own chocolate company, to be called “Scoffrey,” and initially sell online, plus have pop-up locations during holidays, and possibly have a booth in other merchants’ stores on occasions.

“Whatever we do would look different. We might rent a space somewhere close by so that people can still have the good chocolate experience with us, but we won’t have a regular audience walking by.”

Another element: the price of chocolate futures has spiked this year, with a bad crop production year. Wilson says: “That is key to our business and a huge cost increase. That doesn’t help.”

Wilson adds that the forced closing of the Peterbrooke location “is something like the death of a friend. But you go to the funeral and to the wake, and in six months or a year, It won’t be so bad.”

Have a comment?  Send to: elliott@elliottbrack

Written by Elliott Brack

This material is presented with permission from Elliott Brack’s GwinnettForum, an online site published Tuesdays and Fridays. To become better informed about Gwinnett, subscribe (at no cost) at GwinnettForum

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The Transformative Trail: Dr. Sunit Singhal’s Journey to Wellness



The highest peak in Tanzania also known as the “roof of Africa" // Photos courtesy of Dr. Sunit Singhal

For more than two decades, Dr. Sunit Singhal has been a member of the Peachtree Corners community. In February 2001, he opened Suburban Medical Center, making a significant contribution to community healthcare. Under his leadership, the medical center has expanded, notably by introducing Suburban Med Spa next door.

A 1988 graduate of the University College of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India, Dr. Singhal furthered his expertise in the United States, completing his residency in Internal Medicine at Harlem Hospital Center in New York.

An awakening at the Grand Canyon

A few years ago, the 60-year-old physician had an eye-opening moment about his own health. Most of his life was spent being overweight, which he accepted and managed the best he could.

“It’s not a secret that I was overweight. Anyone could see it; it’s how I was my whole life,” said Dr. Singhal.

The pivotal moment for Dr. Singhal was his attempt to join friends on a hike at the Grand Canyon a few years back. Despite his determination, Dr. Singhal was unprepared for the hike’s demands.

“I thought, okay, I will meet my friends one-third of the way down the canyon from the opposite end. That way, I can keep up with them towards the end of the hike,” he shared.

The trek up Mount Kilimanjaro

Even starting much later, Dr. Singhal struggled greatly with the hike. He experienced knee pain, breathlessness, and exhaustion. His struggle not only slowed him down but also his friends, who had been hiking for an additional 12 hours before he joined them.

The ordeal ended in the middle of a cold night, leading to a physically taxing recovery period that left Dr. Singhal sore for days.

Despite the arduous experience at the Grand Canyon, Dr. Singhal didn’t retire his hiking boots. Feeling motivated to conquer the obstacle, he began walking long miles with friends to get into shape.

A few months later, the call of the canyon echoed again, and friends proposed a new challenge: hiking from the South Rim to the river and back. While less daunting than their previous endeavor, the task was intimidating.

“This time, I was able to make the hike without holding anyone back,” he shared. Dr. Singhal already saw the difference his efforts were making.

His triumphs over physical and mental barriers were clear and exciting. Dr. Singhal’s return to the canyon increased his resilience and personal growth.

Conquering Kilimanjaro: a test of determination

Following a series of hikes through the Grand Canyon as his health improved, Dr. Singhal and his hiking group set their sights on Mount Kilimanjaro. They regularly engaged in 10-mile hikes each week to prepare for the trek.

(left to right) Singhal, Kashish, Vani and Mahender Gupta.

“It was never on our minds to simply skip or cut the hike short because we didn’t feel like it that day,” Dr. Singhal said. Even family members occasionally joined, keeping pace with the senior group with varying success.

When the time arrived for their Kilimanjaro quest, they needed to identify the number of days their group would need to complete it.

“There are different levels you can choose for hikes. If you are very athletic, the 5-day hike is for you. It goes all the way up to 9 days if you need to go slowly,” Dr. Singhal explained.

The friends chose the six-day option. It seemed like a good balance of their confidence in their fitness coupled with a conservative approach. Yet, they completed the ascent in five days.

“We couldn’t believe we finished at such a quick pace. We weren’t straining ourselves to do it. It was the natural pace we wanted to go, and we finished with the group we viewed as the most fit and athletic.”

Mount Everest on the horizon

The hiking group isn’t resting on their laurels, though. The crew continues to meet and train for their next goal, climbing Mount Everest.

“There’s a lottery to be accepted to climb. We entered and are hoping to be selected for a hike this fall,” Dr. Singhal shared. When asked if he felt intimidated about this potential hike, he confidently replied, “No, not really.”

The team of friends will hear this summer if they are selected to climb.

Health and hope

Dr. Singhal’s health journey is the perfect example of the potential for change at any stage of life. It also highlights the importance of self-care, perseverance and pursuing one’s goals, regardless of the starting point.

His patients can rest easily. He isn’t walking away from his practice for the mountains full-time. Dr. Singhal is committed to his practice and patients. He firmly believes and displays that personal improvement and professional dedication can coexist harmoniously.

“I want my patients to know that I am equally dedicated to being here for them and their own health journeys.” When he’s not hitting the trails, Dr. Singhal can be found spending time with his family in Duluth or at his practice in Peachtree Corners.

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