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Pen Pals in Quarantine: How a Peachtree Corners family and an Australian family connected worlds apart

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Jennifer Whiddon and daughter Maddie

As the Coronavirus outbreak has seemingly closed the door to interpersonal interaction worldwide, it has left opportunity for new and old friends alike to connect through social media. One such example of online connection between friends is Jennifer Whiddon, Discipleship Assistant at Peachtree Corners Baptist Church (PCBC) and her Australian pen pal Sally Shaw who she has kept in touch with for over 40 years.

Their friendship began in the 1980s when Jennifer saw Sally’s mailing address in a newsletter for a band they both shared a common interest in and decided to write to Sally about the music. From there, the friendship blossomed.

“At that time, we’d talk about anything from boys, school and pop culture. That’s when she became more than just a pen pal to me, but really a very close friend,” Jennifer explained.
Jennifer went on to say that their friendship is unique because they could go weeks without writing, but when they’d hear from each other again, they could pick up right where they left off.

Sally Shaw and daughter Peggy

Growing up Together
As Jennifer and Sally began to mature, the pace of their conversations changed. Over the course of 10 years of friendship, they had gone from chatting about bands and boyfriends to work and kids. Luckily, as time progressed, new methods of communication became available. So the women began to use Facebook Messenger and started “pinging” each other and sending funny messages.

They even planned to meet up for the first time this spring in Melbourne, Australia, where Sally and her family live. The trip planning focused their conversations for many weeks as they worked out the details. Unfortunately, their plans would be interrupted with something unexpected: travel restrictions related to Coronavirus.

The pandemic and its effect on their individual families soon took hold of their daily talks. Jennifer said that, “We just decided to keep giving each other updates on how everything was going. The United States ended up being about two weeks ahead of Australia though, so when I started telling her about the shortages, she was really taken aback.”

They also discussed how the virus affected their work lives. As a discipleship assistant at PCBC, Jennifer made it her mission to stay connected to the church and used her time off to assist in her daughter’s digital learning assignments.

Meanwhile, Sally’s position as a first responder began to intensify. Sally told Jennifer about her difficult experiences as Head Nurse at a hospital in Melbourne.

“The nurses and doctors started to talk about what they would have to do in worst case scenarios, like if ventilators began running short. It was really heartbreaking to hear,” Jennifer said. “I just kept thinking about her having to deal with the stress of work and still having to be a mom and coming home and helping with homework or making dinner. It all just sounded impossible to me, but she’s doing it.”

The women have also discussed how their respective countries are responding to the crisis. In Australia, Jennifer said, “They have specific shopping hours for first responders and senior citizens so they can get what they need before the crowd rolls in. I thought that was really neat.”

They talked about the differences in their daughters’ schooling during the pandemic as well. Jennifer explained, “I told her about how we were doing school online and how we weren’t sure if we’d even be starting back normally in the fall. They’re doing things a little differently though. In Australia, school is going to start back up in June, and they’ll be staggering school days between students.”

A Legacy of Friendship
There is a bright spot in all the chaos. Amid all of this, a new friendship sparked between daughters Peggy and Maddie. Jennifer said she not only encouraged the correspondence between the girls, but insisted they do it the old-fashioned way.

“I thought it would be sweet if their friendship started out the way mine and Sally’s did, through letter writing. Once it started, though, my daughter Peggy realized how much she loves getting things in the mail, so that’s been really fun for her.”

The girls play video games with each other online to stay connected, and use their moms’ phones for weekly catch-up. They’ve also worked on planning activities for their trip once it’s safe to travel internationally again. In quarantine, the girls have been able to research fun activities to do in Melbourne, like visiting the local zoo.

All and all, Jennifer said the friendship between her, Sally and their daughters is so special because, “You can be continents away from someone, but still feel so connected to them because of the technology available to us today.”

She went on to say, “In times like these, when we feel so far apart, we can still make an effort to be close to someone through texting, calling or even Facetime, which is something special.”

Annie Fogle is a junior at Norcross High School and Copy Editor for the school’s yearbook. Her interests include traveling, non-fiction books, and spending time with friends and family. She would describe herself as a dog lover and Jeopardy enthusiast.

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Community

LifeLine Animal Project Selected for Nationwide Program to Transform U.S. Animal Sheltering System

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LifeLine Animal Project has been selected as one of 12 national shelters to be part of Human Animal Support Services (HASS), a new national coalition pilot program creating community-based solutions to animal sheltering and pet ownership and transforming the shelter system through innovative programs and services. HASS builds off of support that animal shelters experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Organizations across the country, including LifeLine Animal Project, which manages Animal Services in Fulton and DeKalb Counties, were embraced by their communities who fostered pets, adopted, helped lost or found animals get back to their homes and identified new resources to keep people and their pets together. 

HASS pilot centers will provide a range of services and solutions to support their communities. These include remote services like veterinary telehealth and text support, lost animal return-to-owner initiatives, foster care programs, behavioral and training services, and much more. 

The following progressive, lifesaving organizations were selected based on their demonstrated track records of successfully implementing positive changes for pets in their communities and shelters:  LifeLine Animal Project (GA), Cabot Animal Services (AR), Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control (NC), El Paso Animal Services (TX), Fresno Humane Animal Services (CA), Greenville County Animal Care (SC), Humane Rescue Alliance (DC & NJ), Kansas City Pet Project (MO), Los Angeles Animal Services (CA), Oakland Animal Services (CA), Pima Animal Care Center (AZ) and San Diego Humane Society (CA).

“We are honored to be part of this collaboration of innovative shelters to work toward an organizational model that has goals so closely aligned with our community vision,” says LifeLine CEO Rebecca Guinn. “I’m confident that this initiative will help pave the way for a new model of animal sheltering in the U.S.” 

“We’re bringing thought leaders and experts in fields like human social work and public health alongside animal welfare, researchers to create the community animal support centers of the future,” says Lisa LaFontaine, Chief Executive Officer of the Humane Rescue Alliance in Washington, DC and a member of the HASS executive leadership team. “The impacts of COVID-19 have accelerated our efforts to modernize animal services and we now must dedicate the immediate energy of our movement to accomplish our urgent goal.”

HASS is led by American Pets Alive! and powered by partners including Maddie’s Fund, South Fork Foundation, Michelson Found Animals Foundation, and Petfinder. For more information on LifeLine’s HASS initiatives, please visit LifeLineAnimal.org/human-animal-support-services.  For more information about HASS, go to humananimalsupportservices.org

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City Government

City Announces Town Green Events to Begin in July

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With the state’s new directives that lift many of its previous restrictions and following Gwinnett County’s lead, the city has announced it will begin its 2020 event schedule in July. The events include a new event, a Night Market on Friday, July 10, followed by Flicks on the Green on July 11, Classic Sports on the Screen, July 18 and a live concert featuring Electric Avenue, a 1980’s pop tribute band, on July 25.

To ensure everyone’s safety, the city has incorporated some modifications: Six-foot social
distancing and face masks will be required.

The Night Market; held 6:30 – 9:30 p.m., features local farmers with fruits, vegetables,
gardeners with fresh flowers and herbs, and edible home goods from desserts and breads to
homemade sauces, jellies and soaps for sale. The booths will be spaced to ensure all attendees
are able to maintain social distancing while they shop.

Attendees will also enjoy live music provided by 42 Coldplay Tribute band.

42 Coldplay Tribute Band

For lawn events, such as those that feature watching movies and concerts, large white circles
will be painted on the Town Green’s grass for use by families and groups so all may enjoy their
time together while maintaining social distancing. The circles will accommodate family and
groups and will be spaced six feet apart.

For concerts, the city is incorporating a no-cost reservation system in order to maintain safety
and crowd control. Space will be limited, and reservations will be taken on a “first come-first
served” basis. The no-cost reservation system for concerts will be activated in mid-July.
What a difference a year makes

After kicking off its inaugural event season in April 2019 which, by every measure, was a rousing
success, the anticipated 2020 season was delayed due to the state’s mandatory shelter-in-place
order that began in March. Some of the April, May and June events have been rescheduled for
later in the year.

The city is pleased to offer a number of favorites from last year including its big concert series
that features Electric Avenue, July 25; Texas Flood, Aug. 29; Drivin N Cryin, Sept. 26 and Marcy
Playground
on Oct 17.

This year’s list of special events includes:
Derby Party: Sept. 5, 6 – 9 p.m.
Bark in the Park: Sept. 14, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Harvest Fest: Oct. 24, 4 – 7 p.m.
Veterans Day: Nov. 11, 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Holiday Glow on the Green: Dec. 4, 6 – 9 p.m.

The city’s revised 2020 Calendar of Events is available here. It is also accessible on the city’s
website under the “Town Center Events” tab. Please check the city calendar regularly for
updated event information.

Please note, the safety modifications referenced in the second paragraph (i.e. mandatory face
masks and six-foot social distancing), are subject to change as the COVID-19 public health risk
changes.

Source: Press Release from the City of Peachtree Corners

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Community

Peachtree Station Community: A multi-part series on communities in Peachtree Corners

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The Fourth of July neighborhood parade (courtesy of Judy Griggs and the Home Owners Association)

The largest community in Peachtree Corners boasts 717 homes and a stunning Swim and Tennis Club. With everything going on in the world right now, a strong sense of community has probably become the most important way to get through this. When all we have is to be at home surrounded by our neighbors, they have grown to become an extended part of our family.

Residents of the Peachtree Station community are longing for the days when they could gather for their many events at the Swim and Tennis Club, enjoy the pool on a hot summer’s day or catch up at Atlanta Bread Company. It won’t be long now, but for the time being, all they have is each other. And with neighbors like these, it’s easy to get through these difficult times.

A Place to Call Home

Entryway to the Swim and Tennis Club (Photo by Libby Kwok)


“Home” is the best word to describe this community, according to Judy Griggs, reminding us of modern-day Judy Garland. A Navy brat, she moved over 21 times before finally deciding there was no place like Peachtree Station. She and her family moved to the community in 1982 and haven’t moved again since.

Now Griggs is the president of the non-mandatory HOA which about 65% of the community belongs to. They service the entrances which now adorn the names of the 2020 class graduates, as well as host Spring or Halloween parties for the kids. They also provide “welcome baskets” to new residents.

Not only are the residents pampered from the moment they turn the key in the lock, but they also have the advantages of being part of a “COPS” neighborhood. Peachtree Station has a special partnership with the local authorities to keep an open line of communication and keep the neighborhood safe. They also have a “Block Captain” system where a volunteer from each block will look out for about 7-9 neighbors on their street.

“One of the things that makes Peachtree Station special is the civic leaders we have living in our community,” Griggs boasts. The residents are actively involved in the rezoning that has taken place in Peachtree Corners over the past 30 years, including the establishment of Simpsonwood Park.

Griggs recalls how the neighborhood was a construction zone when they moved in in the 80s, and that each cul-de-sac can be traced back to the community’s humble roots of belonging to the Medlock’s farm.

Ben Kwok, gives a thumb-up approval to where he lives. (Photo by Libby Kwok)

Growing with the Neighborhood
Weare Gratwick, who moved into Peachtree Station in the 90s, recalls a different scene moving in. “The neighborhood didn’t look much different than it does now, just shorter trees. But there was a mixture of folks who were original to the neighborhood, and transplants from other states.”

Gratwick had a 10-month-old when he moved into Peachtree Station, and he followed the clubs and organizations of his children all the way up to a City Council seat. First, he coached baseball in Chastain Park, and soon became heavily involved in Norcross baseball. He became President of the Norcross baseball league in 2003, as well as serve as treasurer for the Soccer Club.

By the time he became a part of the Peachtree Corners Civic Association, all of the kids he watched grow up were now the same adults who asked him to run for City Council. He recalls that even the teenager who babysat his children was now grown up and living in Peachtree Station herself.

Senior graduating sign at the entrance of the subdivision. (Photo by Libby Kwok)

Gratwick mused that since the Great Recession, it became cheaper for residents to keep their homes in Peachtree Station rather than downsizing once they had an empty nest. “We now know several families in the community who all moved in to be with each other rather than leave.”

Swim and Tennis Club
But the real gem of Peachtree Station is the Swim and Tennis Club. Savored only by the residents, it sits picturesque near one of the entrances of the community. Even though there are no children laughing and splashing in the water currently, Gratwick reminisced about memorable events like the Easter egg roll or Fourth of July parties that once filled the club with joyous laughter.

The swimming pool area. (Photo by Libby Kwok)

Even though the pool is empty, the residents can still be seen practicing their serve on one of the eight tennis courts located in Peachtree Station. Nancy couldn’t help but gush over the successes of their many tennis teams, or how any player can find a good place to practice no matter their level of proficiency.

One resident said she moved to the neighborhood specifically for their tennis program. “The program is even better now because of our awesome pros!  Because we have such a large neighborhood, we were able to field teams at all levels and not just lump players into a mid-level team. Our daughters have very fond memories of learning to play tennis, playing on the playground and swimming on the swim team.”
The family-oriented atmosphere is one that could not be matched. According to one resident, the athleticism from neighborhood tennis leagues are what contributes to making Peachtree Station so special.

“The tennis program is one of the best in the area with our great coaches on staff who are always planning clinics, plus team and individual lessons. This is a family-oriented, friendly, athletic neighborhood – I love seeing all ages out walking, running, riding bikes, pushing strollers, walking dogs and — most importantly – carrying their tennis bags to the courts!”

Neighbors and Friends
Peachtree Station is not only a community that loves their athletic programs, but they truly care about their fellow neighbors. One resident spoke of a troubling time in her life, and how the residents rallied around her in her time of need.

“I gave birth to twins several years ago. My mom came to help but she couldn’t stay long. I was completely overwhelmed trying to figure out how to take care of everything. My amazing neighbors set up a meal train for me and my family. Several days a week for several weeks, neighbors would bring a meal so I wouldn’t have to prepare dinner that day. It was a lifesaver and helped me get to know and love my neighbors even more!”

But the most remarkable thing of all about Peachtree Station is that instead leaving the nest after their families are grown, a lot of community residents simply choose to move other family members in instead. Community is so important at a time like this, and if the residents haven’t already moved their own families in, they simply transformed their current neighbors into their family instead. ■

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