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Thankful and Grateful: Messages from Peachtree Corners



It’s safe to say that Thanksgiving 2020, like everything else this year, will look a little different.
This is a holiday about togetherness, yet everyone is six feet apart with masks hiding their faces as they shop for sweets and fixins’. And maybe there is a chair or two that would normally be filled by a loved one, but for their safety, it sits empty. It’s enough to make you want to throw in the towel, microwave a TV dinner and watch the Macy’s Day Parade, the virtual edition.

But the Peachtree Corners community is better than that. Thankfulness is a choice, and we choose to be thankful for our blessings because they are many, despite the confusion and chaos.

We asked Peachtree Corners residents to tell us what makes them grateful, and we share their answers with you in hopes that it resonates and inspires you to find your own reasons to celebrate small victories. Happy Fall from Peachtree Corners Magazine.

I am thankful:
■ To live in a caring, progressive, innovative community where people care and support each other.
■ For my family and for neighbors who are more like family.
■ For our police, firemen, first responders, public servants, nurses, doctors, clergy and others who serve on the front line of defense during this pandemic.
■ For our educators who continue to adapt so students can learn safely.
■ For our citizens who are volunteering and generously supporting those who need help.
■ To you for sharing inspirational stories about our citizens and their good deeds.
— Lorri Christopher, City Council Post 5

I am thankful for my family and friends. My family and friends were there for me for graduation and the beginning of the next chapter of my life at college.
— Quinn Watch

I am thankful for having something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to — it’s that simple.

I stay busy with fundraising for United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia which does a wonderful job of ensuring our handicapped son Robbie’s quality of life in a group home. I enjoy baking banana bread as gifts for our postman and Instacart shoppers. It’s fortunate to be quarantined with the love of my life, the great guy I met on a MARTA bus in 1977 who has always treated me as an equal partner. Finally, our youngest son, Scott, became engaged in August to a perfect girl, and it is indeed wonderful to have their May 2021 wedding to look forward to!
— Lori Howard

This year has been a challenge but the one thing I am thankful for is my family. Family will always be there for you.
— Cliff Bramble, Founder of Hungry Hospitality

I am thankful for my family during the holidays. We always have a lot of fun whenever we are all together!
— Stevie Bramble

I am so thankful for my family. The pandemic helped us rediscover how much we enjoy spending time together outside. We have really enjoyed the Peachtree Corners Town Center outdoor spaces. I started my first vegetable garden, and it quickly became my therapeutic hobby. I am blessed to work as a RN at Elite Personalized Medicine, where I have the privilege of helping patients improve their health and wellness. We are grateful our children are students at GAC, where the faculty and community are committed to providing a safe learning environment.
— Rachel McComas

I am so thankful for what this year has provided me. I am thankful that I have gotten to spend more time with my family, whether it was playing games, watching movies together or spending time at the beach. I am also thankful for all of my teachers at GAC because they have worked hard to help students learn through the pandemic both in class and online. I am grateful for the fact that they are always willing to help us.
— Jenna Jackovich

I am thankful 2020 has provided time to slow down and do things we never seemed to have time to do before. We have definitely spent more time as a family trying new things. I’m thankful for the administration and teachers at both GAC and Cornerstone Christian Academy who have worked tirelessly to get my kids back in school in person this year. The smiles on their faces say it all. I’m also super thankful for the creativity and perseverance of Karl and Emily Krug and the Spartans Aquatics Club at GAC that got my oldest back to the sport she loves — swimming — before most any club in the nation!
— Carol Jackovich

GAC gave me the opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic with my varsity baseball team last February. My favorite part of the trip was hanging out with young kids in their community, playing baseball and serving through the Lord.
— Trey, 11th grade, gratitude from the Woolley family

I appreciated time standing still for a while, quality time with our children and growing a vegetable garden. I celebrated a virtual COVID College 2020 graduation, grateful that this was enabled by technology. I had a college freshman 90-minute “Move-In” at NYU, and I am grateful that the college had the courage to open. Senior year at GAC with in-person learning and sports brings normalcy and fellowship for our son, so I am grateful to the technological and health care innovations the school has adopted. Grateful to Dr. Harsh of GAC for his daily videos, reminding us of the importance of family and an appreciation for life.
— Therese Bailey

2020 has been a year of perspective for our family. We have learned to appreciate long summer days, extra movie nights, board games that have collected dust and the joys of a simple vegetable garden. We’ve also enjoyed bird watching in our backyard. Since we’ve returned to school, we’ve learned to adapt to changes. We are thankful and blessed that GAC has provided us with innovative technology for synchronous learning and abundantly selfless teachers. Our children have thrived during this time and grown so much in maturity and resilience!
— Pam Cormack

During 2020, we are most thankful for our 8-month-old son, Emory. Having a newborn in the midst of a pandemic is no easy task, but he has been such a blessing to us this year. We love taking time to walk around our neighborhood as a family and enjoy the outdoors! We have also been especially thankful for Emory’s teachers at GAC. Emory attends five days a week in the Young Learners program and it is such a joy to watch how much he loves being dropped off each morning! He loves being a part of the “Happy Hoppers” class and we love that they are already helping him develop relationships. We are eternally grateful for the time they pour into him and the opportunities he has to learn about God’s love for us! While 2020 has been challenging for most families, we have appreciated the quality family time and quiet moments at home. We have so many things to be thankful for this year.
— Sarah, Michael and Emory Grant

What a year 2020 has been! Amid all the apparent chaos and turmoil, we are grateful for so much. 2020 has encouraged a slower pace, which has led to more quality family time. We are thankful that we have developed a deeper awareness of and appreciation for the little things: beautiful weather, training a new puppy, our kids learning to cook their favorite meals. We are grateful for GAC’s persistence, attentiveness and diligence in getting the kids back to in-person school, sports, fine arts and all that GAC has to offer. 2020 has truly been a blessing!
— Rachel Holsworth

Reflecting on 2020 makes me realize that this year has brought more hidden blessings than could be imagined. As the world around me shut down, I witnessed the hearts of many open up. Neighbors checked on each other, made scavenger hunts for kids and tried to make sure no one went hungry. Time slowed down and our family grew closer as we navigated academic technology, outdoor adventures and plenty of together time. I appreciate my boys’ teachers at GAC now more than ever. I am so grateful for the extra time they took to keep them grounded in faith and not fear during one of the most challenging years.
— Danelle Wilson

In these challenging times, I am so grateful for my family. I am blessed with an amazing wife who has taken the burden off of me so that I can lead Cornerstone through the pandemic. In addition, my kids bring me an amazing amount of joy and purpose. For me, there are no greater titles than dad and husband.
— Colin Creel, Cornerstone Christian Academy Headmaster

My family runs in different directions: my dad travels, my sister practices at night, I practice after school. Quarantine brought us together for dinner, game and movie nights, hiking, evenings around the firepit and daily walks. I’m so grateful for that time with my family.
I’m excited to be physically back at GAC! We’re lucky GAC gives us the option every day to choose on-campus or at-home learning, whatever works best for our family. I prefer learning in a face-to-face environment more than I do through my computer screen. I’m grateful to spend my senior year learning with my friends.
— Mitsue Ostapiuk

This is our first year at GAC, and everything that has transpired since has confirmed that it absolutely was the right decision. They have provided a near ‘normal’ experience while keeping the kids, faculty and staff safe. My daughter is socializing with her pod and participating in extracurricular activities all while being challenged to learn and grow in a loving environment. When touring GAC, someone said to me, “Everything GAC does, they do with excellence.” Truer words were never spoken. I am so grateful for GAC.
— Kristen Jones

Pandemic aside, the children at Bright Learning Academy are staying positive and thankful that they have their parents to keep them healthy and safe, that they can still play outside and have fun, that they have virtual learning school to stay connected with teachers and friends, that they have masks to keep themselves safe, and that stores are making it safe enough for us to visit. MOST IMPORTANTLY, we will be most thankful when the virus finally goes away!!
— Jialing Hsu, Bright Learning Academy Director

We are thankful for our healthy family and the time that we have had to continue to bond during this pandemic! Life slowed down considerably for us as a result of the pandemic, which was actually a welcomed change of pace for our family. As a long-time family at GAC, we are incredibly thankful for the Christian values and stellar education provided by GAC. We feel blessed to be a part of a school that prayerfully developed an effective plan to protect its students during this pandemic. GAC is not just a school but a family and we are thankful to be a part of the Spartan family!
— Dr. Brandy Blount

I feel so grateful to hold sacred space with hundreds of people each week. From Zoom gatherings, video chats, telephone calls, social media posts and livestream services, I have been able to connect with them, heart to heart, discovering new ways to encourage and inspire our community far beyond the Unity Atlanta church walls.
I also am doubly blessed that I work with a team of devoted staff and volunteers who remind me of my personal gifts and why I said, “Yes,” to this wondrous call of ministry.

Reverend Jennifer L. Sacks

— Reverend Jennifer L. Sacks, Senior Minister at Unity Atlanta Church

We are thankful for our health, and the well-being of our friends and family. We are thankful for our jobs which have given us the means to sustain a life close to normal. We are thankful for the time we have had to spend with each other, enjoying the time we have on the good ship Earth. We are incredibly thankful for our friends and family, who bring sanity into an insane world. Most of all, we are thankful for God blessing our family during these uncertain times.
— Amanda, Lola and Pete Chen

This year we have learned to celebrate every precious moment with our family. It was so easy to take so much for granted before COVID-19. Getting together with the family to celebrate my dad’s birthday this year was a treasured memory and a day we were all grateful for.
— Lisa Proctor, Peachtree Corners Business Association president

I am thankful for a school community of students, parents, teachers, administrators and staff who have rallied and risen to the challenges that COVID-19 has presented. It is a powerful reminder that much can be accomplished when the collective will of a dedicated group of people put their combined efforts toward a common goal. I am equally thankful for a heroic faculty and staff who have raised their own standard of excellence to reinvent our instructional model so that no student falls to the wayside as we strive to fulfill our mission to be a Christian school of academic excellence.
— Chris B. Cleveland, Wesleyan School, Head of School

I’m thankful for GAC’s immense efforts to provide a sense of normalcy in our educational environment throughout the pandemic. Whether students are learning while physically in school or from the comforts of their home, the new technology and thorough planning of GAC faculty allows Spartans to proceed the school year safely and efficiently. Despite the pandemic’s impeding effects on this generation’s typical high school experience, I am grateful that I am still able to participate in intrinsic school activities such as Friday night football games, lunch with friends, homecoming, and other extracurriculars safely and healthily.
— Cydney Merrick

I’m grateful for my community – my neighborhood community and the relationships formed and strengthened during quarantine, and my Wesleyan School community whose creativity and innovation has not only allowed us to open this fall, but continue to offer the special experiences that our students and families hold dear.

Meg Foster

— Meg Foster, Director of Fine Arts at Wesleyan School

I am excited to serve in my first full year at Simpson Elementary! The students, teachers and support staff work extremely hard to ensure every minute of the school day is meaningful for students! Thank you to the entire Peachtree Corners/Norcross Parent-Community for supporting our school with teacher incentives, snacks and encouraging notes. We could not do this without you! Thank you for all you do to partner with us to support your children. A message that continues to ring true today, more than ever, is Great Schools Build Great Communities and in turn Great Communities Build Great Schools! Thank you for keeping us Simpson Strong!
— Dr. Taffeta Connery, Simpson Elementary Principal

Wesleyan Artist Market “Thankful Thoughts”
By the 2021 Wesleyan Artist Market Team

2020 has been a year of challenge and reflection. We are grateful in all circumstances.
We remain as thankful as ever to the amazing Peachtree Corners community and their support after the unprecedented cancellation of the 2020 Wesleyan Artist Market.

Thank you to our friends, partners, sponsors and patrons encouraging us to come back strong for 2021.

Inspired by the resiliency and positivity of so many around us, we are thankful for the opportunity to redirect and #GoVirtual for the Wesleyan Artist Market, April 2021. Stay tuned for more information. Finally, we are thankful for good health, our families and the hope and promise we find through our faith.

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What Are You Doing this Summer, Peachtree Corners?



Photo courtesy of Jennifer Hathaway.

Geographically blessed, we can pretty much stay put or head in any direction from our city and end up someplace nice for summer vacation. Whether you’re on a budget or seeking five-star accommodations, there is something to guarantee a fun summer getaway for all Peachtree Corners families.

Wisdom from a travel advisor

Luxury Travel Advisor Jeanne Derderian shared some vacation trends. When travel became complicated due to COVID-19, area residents flocked to road trip destinations like Charleston, Kiawah Island, Blackberry Island, Amelia Island and the Florida panhandle, she said.

Why use a travel advisor? “We have access to discounted rates and perks like complimentary breakfast and resort credit,” Derderian shared.

With ever-changing travel requirements for each state and country, it makes sense to have a professional manage the details. “I’ve always handled tours, hotels, restaurant reservations and spa appointments, but now there’s a lot more to do because of COVID. You have to follow the rules exactly or you won’t get in,” she said.

From perfectly timed COVID tests to downloading apps — in Iceland for example, visitors must use an app that tracks them during their stay — Derderian can make your trip seamless. Find her on Facebook (@JeanneLargayTravel) and on Instagram (@jeannederderian).

A sign of the times

Before the pandemic, Europe was the most popular summer destination. “I’m advising clients not to book Europe now. People are still locked down,” Derderian said. “You want to have the full experience. If museums, excursions and restaurants are closed, it’s just not the same.”

Now more than ever, with people avoiding cities and destinations abroad, she is being asked to help with beach trips as U.S. beaches become increasingly crowded.

“Everyone wants to go to the beach or to the mountains. There aren’t enough hotel rooms to rent. There is not much availability nowadays,” she warned. “For a beach, I’d consider Mexico or an island, if you’re comfortable getting on a plane.”

Top beach destinations include Florida’s gorgeous panhandle, Watercolor Beach, Rosemary Beach and the Keys. Other favorites include South Carolina beaches, like Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head, as well as Georgia’s Sea Island.

“All of the trips that were booked for last year got canceled. They’ve since been rebooked, so there’s not a lot of availability through 2023,” Derderian explained.

Supply and demand have driven prices up, she noted. The luxury hotel in Watercolor Beach and The Pearl in Rosemary Beach are more expensive now. The same room she booked for someone in Jackson Hole last year costs double this year. Nonetheless, she is certain the hotels will be sold out.

Travel tips from a pro

■ Plan ahead for a rental car. Cars are difficult to get and they’re expensive. For a recent Yellowstone Trip she booked, rental cars were going for $6,000 a week. Whereas a rental car was once a last-minute consideration, Derderian suggests securing a rental before you even purchase flights. “Rental car companies sold off their fleets when the pandemic hit. There are very few cars available. It’s something you really need to consider up front and make sure you’re comfortable incurring the cost,” she said.
■ Among the top places to visit this summer is Iceland. “Iceland just opened up, that could be a great place to go,” Derderian said. “U.S. cities like New York and Washington, D.C. — the prices are good, and they’re starting to open up.” National Parks, not necessarily the best-known ones, should be explored, she added. “If you’re willing to be a little more adventuresome, the Faroe Islands are open to vaccinated Americans, and there are not many cases of COVID there.” The trick today, according to Derderian, is to find the sweet spot — a place that’s open, and relatively safe.
■ If you’re seeking U.S. beach or mountain destinations, it won’t be easy to find something available — and it’ll be expensive. “Make a good friend who has a home there,” she said. “Otherwise, it’s going to be hard.” But it may well be worth it. “You can rent a home in Blue Ridge,” suggested Derderian. “It’s just gorgeous. We have a mountain home there, and it’s only two hours away.”

As for Derderian’s own summer plans? She’ll be heading to Aruba at the end of May to celebrate her mother-in-law’s 86th birthday. Multi-generational family trips is another trend. Later, she and her husband will check out an all-inclusive adult resort in Cancun.

A woman’s work is never done! Some college visits will be planned, if campuses open up, and in July, she’s hoping restrictions will be lifted in Greece.

See the USA

Beach, please! Is the beach your happy place? Head south, to northwest Florida. Just a five-hour road trip away or a one-hour flight, the Florida panhandle offers 200 miles of white sand beaches with crystal waters guaranteed to scratch anyone’s itch for a beach getaway.

Along the beaches in South Walton, Florida scenic route 30A stretches between Destin and Panama City, dotted with upscale beach towns boasting views of the Gulf of Mexico’s turquoise waters, and sugary white sand beaches. Jennifer Hathaway and her family love to escape there.

“The beautiful beaches, great restaurants and cute boutiques of 30A are a great option for Peachtree Corners families. Our favorite is Rosemary Beach,” Hathaway said. “It’s family-friendly. It looks like a European village with a town square and cobblestone pathways. The vacation homes and condos reflect the same architecture.”

Why 30A gets an A+

The area offers tennis, fitness centers, pools, yoga on the green, standup paddleboard (SUP), kayak and bike rentals, private golf courses, concerts on the green, movie nights and kid friendly events, so it’s appealing to all ages.

Beach service includes chair and umbrella rentals and bonfires at night. Restaurant options range from fine dining (Restaurant Paradis) to casual (Cowgirl Kitchen). “Our favorite is La Crema Tapas and Chocolate — fabulous food, wine and delicious chocolate desserts,” Hathaway said.

Ample green spaces and boardwalks provide easy access from vacation homes to beaches, restaurants and shops. The beach towns in this area (Seacrest, Alys, Watersound, Seagrove, Seaside, Watercolor, Grayton Beach, Blue Mountain, Dune Allen) are connected by sidewalks where people can stroll, jog and bike.

Hathaway shared, “With so many cute beach towns, each with its own style and personality, great restaurants, coffee and ice cream shops, wine bars, breweries, bookstores and cute boutiques, everyone will find their perfect beach on 30A!”

There are only two types of Peachtree Corners residents, those who have been to 30A and those who will go to 30A.

The mountains are calling, and I must go!

If you prefer higher elevations and cooler temperatures for some relief from the Georgia summers, that segment of the Appalachian Mountains in northeast Georgia is a must. Quaint mountain towns and stunning views await in historic towns like Ellijay, Blue Ridge, and Blairsville. For those willing to travel outside of Georgia, other beautiful mountain destinations are not too far away.

Brevard, NC

A three-hour drive away from their Peachtree Corners home, Brevard, North Carolina has drawn Jay and Susan Polokoff for over 20 years. The condo they recently inherited from Susan’s parents is located in a valley overlooking a river and a golf course. The community is an Audubon Conservatory — a nature lover’s dream for bird watching, gardening and wildlife sightings.

Once a retirement destination, Brevard has seen an influx of young families moving in since the pandemic. Many are second homeowners from all over.

“It’s a great mountain community with just about everything you’d want to do. There’s access to hiking. There are five natural spring-fed lakes, perfect for swimming and kayaking,” Susan said. “Brevard boasts nice restaurants, an old-fashioned downtown area with a movie theater, candy and ice cream shops, an art gallery, breweries and a farmers market on Saturday mornings.”

Jay enjoyed the Brevard Music Center bringing in guest conductors every year, until COVID struck. Visitors can hike in the DuPont State Recreational Forest where many scenes of the 2012 blockbuster “The Hunger Games” was filmed.

It’s also a draw for mountain bikers. This small town of 8,000 boasts four bike shops. “We like to ride bicycles. They built the Brevard Bikeway that goes from downtown into Pisgah National Forest. You don’t have to ride with traffic for the most part,” Susan said.

Motorboats are not allowed on the spring-fed lakes, only canoes, kayaks and paddle boards. The water is clear and like glass.

The Polokoffs like to spend a week or long weekends in Brevard. Their 32-year-old daughter enjoys visiting and hiking there, too. With Jay on the cusp of retirement, they plan to spend more time there in June, July and August.

Waynesville, NC

Every June, Bob and Lori Howard plan a two or three-day hiking trip to Waynesville, North Carolina. They like to stay at the Waynesville Golf and Country Club, and one of their favorite hikes is nearby Flat Laurel Creek.

To learn about the Flat Laurel Creek hike, visit hikewnc.info/besthikes/black-balsam/flat-laurel-creek.

Travel Abroad

Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Prudence Franklin and her family enjoy summer visits to Ocho Rios, Jamaica about every three years. Franklin grew up in Oracabessa, where the 12 original James Bond novels were written and where two of the Bond films were made.

“There’s a beach called the James Bond Beach,” Franklin said. It’s on the north shore. On the outskirts of Ocho Rios, in Brighton, one can visit the Blue Hole, a natural limestone sinkhole and mineral spring with azure waters 20 feet deep, which Franklin describes as “the Garden of Eden.”

In Ocho Rios, you can swim with the dolphins, tour in glass bottom boats and enjoy a roller coaster-like bobsled ride through the rainforest in homage to the 1988 Jamaican Bobsled team from the movie, “Cool Runnings.”

“The people are friendly, really relaxed and laid back. Your vacation can be as active or quiet as you like,” Franklin shared.

Franklin and her family prefer active vacations. They like to incorporate learning something new on their travels. When heading to Tennessee for example, they’ll stop along the way and visit Indian reservations where they can see artifacts and learn about The Trail of Tears.

Ambergris Caye, Belize

How about visiting a place where local wildlife includes toucans, parrots, jaguars and monkeys? Evan Hanson loves Belize so much, she purchased a condo on Ambergris Caye, an island off of Belize in Central America, east of Guatemala. Belize is becoming a favorite vacation and retirement spot.

“If you love the beach or outdoor activities, this is the place for you,” Hanson stated. Besides relaxing on the beach, possible activities include snorkeling, scuba diving in the world’s second largest reef, fishing and swimming with the sharks, stingrays — and if you’re lucky, manatees and whale sharks. There’s also sailing, kayaking, ziplining, cave tubing, spelunking, visiting Mayan Ruins or the zoo, and hiking by waterfalls.

Belize encompasses a multitude of cultures. Everyone is bilingual because the official language is English. “You can speak Spanglish and fit right in,” Hanson said.

The local cuisine is characterized by its Jamaican and Caribbean influences. Fish is prevalent. During lobster season, lobster is both abundant and affordable. Belizean fry jacks (fried dough) — sweet or savory — are a local breakfast favorite.

“What I love most about Ambergris Caye is the people — they are the nicest — followed by the ocean,” Hanson said.

Ambergris Caye is a party town, with lots of fun bars on the water. One of Hanson’s favorites is a place called Truck Stop, a bar with live music, games, a pool and food trucks. During the high season, large crowd of locals and tourists gather there.

Hanson’s condo, just steps from the ocean, may be available for your summer vacation! Visit indigobelize.com/beachfront-condo-4a/.


Fun on the Hooch!

“My family and friends love to play on the water and there’s nothing more convenient than the Chattahoochee River which runs right through Peachtree Corners,” said Sonia Lee. Activities include playing on the rocks at Jones Bridge Park and kayaking down the river.

“My friends and I also love to have moms-only floats down the river,” Lee shared. For the past several years, she has organized a Beach Day for her kids and their friends at Buford Dam Park on Lake Lanier.
In an effort to “give back” to the river which provides so much enjoyment, they volunteer regularly at the bi-annual Sweep the Hooch event to help clean up the parks along the river, as well as the Chattahoochee itself. To get involved visit chattahoochee.org/sweep-the-hooch/.

For more local summer activities visit exploregeorgia.org/city/peachtree-corners.

As the old adage goes, travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. Whether you’re traveling internationally, across the U.S. or staying in Georgia this summer, there are plenty of opportunities to get out and visit something new. I hope you do, and I’m wishing you all a safe and amazing summer!

Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before. — Dalai Lama

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Summer Camps Are Back: What to Expect



Photos courtesy of Greater Atlanta Christian School.

Camp is supposed to be a time of carefree fun with friends out in nature, but the gray storm cloud of current health concerns might make parents wary to sign their kids up. To help parents make informed decisions for their children’s summer recreation, let’s summarize some of the guidance laid out by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

“During the summer, it is important that children begin to reestablish connections with their friends, peers and non-parental adults in an environment that supports their development while also consistently practicing the recommended principles to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2, including physical distancing, density reduction, face masks, hand hygiene and enhanced hygiene measures and enhanced cleaning and disinfection of surfaces. The group camp environment can be a challenging place to maintain these principles. However, the commitment of camp operators and the community to support safe camp openings is important to support child health and well-being,” say the AAP camp guidance outlines.

Other good info and rules of thumb include:
■ Camp directors must adhere to CDC guidance for maintaining healthy environments and operations. Camp directors should be vigilant in implementing and enforcing state, local and CDC guidelines. Camp directors must maintain good communication with families and campers regarding the expectation for the use of masks, distancing, hand hygiene and other COVID-19 mitigation strategies, especially the requirement to remain home when ill, reporting to the camp of a COVID-19 exposure or a positive test result. It is important to note that the vast majority of children, even those with medical conditions, are able to safely and effectively wear face masks with adequate practice and support as well as modeling from adults.
■ Camps should encourage children to be physically active outdoors if possible, but must be aware that for children, it may be a challenge to maintain recommended physical distancing without very frequent reminders. Additionally, camps should incorporate recommended COVID-19 mitigation strategies into the normal camp daily routine.
■ For some children who are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, their healthcare provider may recommend they not attend camp. Families should discuss with their child’s healthcare provider whether camp is appropriate for the child on the basis of the medical history.
■ Regardless of whether a camp establishes a process for testing campers and staff as they come to camp or during the camp session, it is critical for camps to have a policy regarding symptom screening and what to do if a camper or staff member becomes sick with COVID-19 symptoms. This should include plans to remove a camper or staff member infected with COVID-19 from the camp, to separate and evaluate the health of close contacts, and if necessary, to close the camp if an outbreak is detected.
■ From the point of view of local summer camps, this upcoming summer is an opportunity to engage kids in invigorating camp activities, just in a flexible manner to create the safest possible environment.

Here is what Margie Asef, Director of Community Relations at Greater Atlanta Christian School (GAC), had to say about the full calendar of summer camps at GAC and their intentional focus on safety. “We are all counting down to the days of summer, and our Summer Camp Counselors have designed camps to be FUN and SAFE. GAC’s 88-acre campus has over 34 facilities that allow campers to explore and master skills like tennis, marine biology, Lego-engineering, dance, swimming, basketball and more. In addition, popular field trips are now included, like Tree Top Quest, Nitro Zone, and roller skating.

“GAC’s 2020-2021 school year offered both on-campus and off-campus learning, which helped refine the art of sanitizing and training students on the best ways to stay healthy. According to Camp Director, Jennifer Lofton, the classes will continue to be smaller, and masks will be optional. Half-day and full-day options are available to allow families plenty of flexibility. Activities are broad, ranging from AP Pre-Calculus AB prep to Story-Book Dance Camp,” Asef said.

If you are interested in enrolling your children in camp this year, remember to ask questions about group size, sanitation and other factors that may affect your choices and comfort level. And of course, many camps offer comprehensive virtual camp programming that allows your little ones to have a great time without leaving the living room.

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Has COVID-19 Changed Our Friendship Groups? What It Looks Like a Year Later



Left to right, Terry Hogan, Karl Barham and Jiles Parham. Photos by George Hunter.

By Matt Bruce

Photos By George Hunter

Sanctuary is an oasis of refuge. A fortress of equanimity nestled upon resilient timbers sturdy enough endure turbulent sea changes.

Many look for sanctuary in the traditional realms of church pews and scripture. Others find it in work or hobbies while some turn to yoga mats and nature trails to find their place of solace.

But a local group of hoops lovers found theirs in sport. Three times a week, they crawled out of bed before dawn and convened at the Robert D. Fowler Family YMCA on Jones Bridge Road for early morning pickup basketball games.

Theirs was a refuge that existed between the black lines of the hardwood court. Saggy-eyed engineers and insurance salesmen filtered in for shoot arounds at 6 a.m. Minutes later, the kinetic pace of full-court runs energized the gymnasium.

For two hours, the chorus of sneakers squeaking against the synthetic wood floors mixed with the snap of the roundball swishing through the net. Afterward, each of the men went their separate ways for an honest day’s work.

It was a ritual that held true for decades at the Peachtree Corners Y. Dozens of recreational ballplayers, hungry for good pickup games, cycled through the gym on different days. As many as 75 players were signed up on an email distribution list for the 6 a.m. runs.

But COVID forced statewide shutdowns of Georgia’s gyms last spring, stripping the local hoopers of their beloved sanctuary. Gov. Brian Kemp issued a shelter-in-place order April 2, 2020, officially closing all gyms, hair salons, barbershops and many other businesses across Georgia. That executive order came two weeks after all of Metro Atlanta’s YMCA facilities temporarily closed.

Thirteen months later, many of the shutdowns have lifted. However, the morning ballers had yet to return to their haven on the court.

Terry Hogan

“I feel like I’m missing something,” Terry Hogan said during a recent interview. “It’s just another loss for me. It’s like the whole world’s been rocked and this is a piece that I miss and hate that it was taken away.”

COVID-19’s devastation has extended to all aspects of life, affecting everything from work and school to the ways we shop, vote, congregate and worship.

One of its overlooked impacts is the toll the pandemic has had on casual friendships. Researchers say those relationships add depth to people’s lives and help eliminate the feelings of isolation that have crept into many households over the past 14 months.

Before the pandemic-forced closures, Hogan, a 56-year-old engineer, had been playing basketball at the Y since 1998. He and three of the other group’s mainstays sat down with Peachtree Corners Magazine last month to discuss life sans their pre-dawn basketball rendezvous.

“It feels good because it’s a sense of normalcy,” Hogan said of seeing some of his old buddies for the first time in more than a year. “Normalcy’s about to return, that’s how I view it.”

‘It’s Sort of Like Family’

For this group, normalcy meant starting their day with a workout. They met at the Peachtree Y around 6 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The majority of them are working professionals so the early starts gave them enough time to muster a handful of pickup games before cleaning up and heading to the office.

“It jumpstarts your day,” Jesse Mills said. “The thing about it, once you get into a routine, your body adapts.”

Mills, a 39-year-old tech analyst, was recruited to play about 12 years ago. He’s a part-time referee and was officiating a rec league in which Hogan played at the time. Mills said he was about 300 pounds when he first started waking up for the morning scrimmages. He’s slimmed down to about 200 pounds and now brings an explosive style to the pickup games, capable of slashing to the bucket and knocking down 3-point shots.

The ensemble includes a mixture of ballplayers from across the Atlanta metro region. Some drove from as far away as Cherokee County — over an hour away — to get in on the action. The players ranged in age from early 20s to mid-50s. Some of the regulars were women.

Between 12 and 15 players showed up each morning. The crowd swelled to over 20 during the summer months, when college students were home from school and local teachers joined the fray.

Karl Barham

“All the basketball personalities are there at different times,” said Karl Barham, a regular of the past 20 years. “You dread it, but you can’t beat it. Every morning, I get up with the same feeling of ‘I don’t want to go, I want to sleep.’ But on those days, the second I get on the court and get that first game in, that feeling’s gone. And I never regret it. I never feel like I should have stayed home. It’s the days that you don’t go that you regret not going.”

Barham, a 48-year-old New York City native, plays a physical style patterned after the Patrick Ewing-led Knicks of the 1990s. Without real options to play basketball over the past year, he said he’s struggled to stay in shape. He’s tried alternatives like the Peloton and running outdoors.

“But you don’t get the cardio, you don’t get the exercise you get with running on the basketball court,” Barham said. “Even just getting up in the morning, keeping that routine.”

Trash talk was an integral part of the players’ bond. Barry Blount, an automotive engineer, moved to the area from Michigan in 2012 and quickly stumbled upon the morning rec runs. He said the boastful banter begins with text messages long before they hit the court. And the smack talk continues right after the runs are over for the day. It’s all borne out of the spirit of competition that draws the ballers to the gym.

“It’s sort of like family because even when we argue, we all know what the limits are and it never really lasts that long,” Blount said. “We have the games and everybody loves it. It’s the kind of group that would hang out outside of work.”

While Mills may be effective on the court, he catches flack for the volume of fouls he calls during the games. It’s become a running joke in the group over the years, with his comrades wisecracking that he should leave his whistle at home. Mills shrugs it off.

“I’m a ref, so anytime I call something, they’re always yelling ‘bad call,’” he acknowledged with a wry grin. “But it’s a pretty good group of guys that we’ve got on a normal basis.”

The Love of the Game

Jiles Parham

Jiles Parham, who turned 77 in May, played morning basketball for more than 30 years in Albany, Georgia before moving to Conyers in 2012.

Parham has a special bond with the game. Basketball is credited with saving his life. During a morning run at the Albany Y in 1995, Parham collapsed on the court. He came up to Atlanta to have five heart bypasses at the Emory University Hospital.

“The doc that did the surgery said, ‘Keep playing, keep doing what you’re doing,’” Parham recalled. “They said it was the reason I survived, because I was in good shape. But I say it’s because the Lord saved my life.”

When he moved to the Atlanta suburbs, Parham said he first tried out a gym in south DeKalb. But it only offered recreational games once a week on Monday nights.

“So I called around, and this was the only Y that had 6 o’clock basketball. That’s why I started coming up here,” Parham said.

Before the early pickup games at Peachtree Y were suspended last year, Parham woke up at 4:20 each morning in time to travel from Conyers and hit the court by 6 a.m. “If you love basketball, you’ll do it,” he said.

“If the world could live like we play basketball, we’d be a lot better place. That’s for sure,” Parham added later. “If we have disagreements, we take turns on a ball. But if you have a bad call, we’ll shoot the three for it. And whoever makes or misses it, we keep playing.”

Shaking Off the Rust

All of the members of the group said they miss the fellowship. Blount said a few tried to arrange times to catch up around Christmas, but those plans eventually fell through because of scheduling conflicts.

“I love the basketball,” he explained. “But I also love the fact that I found a group of guys who all kind of have the same mindset as I do. They’re all family guys…And a lot of us are not from here, so we don’t have family here. So it gives me, like, a group that I can affiliate myself with.”

The bug to get back on the court started to set in around late March when the winter weather dissipated. Several people started texting each other about going back to the gym.

“At least get the guys sparked back up to start playing again,” Blount said. “Everybody wants to get back in the gym, to get in shape and just kind of see each other. Get that camaraderie going again.”

Mills said he’d already started back at different gyms throughout the area, but his game wasn’t the same as before the pandemic. He’d heard whispers of other local courts that were set to open.

Hogan reflected on losing his connection with the group. He was itching to get back on the court but had some apprehensiveness after being away for a whole year.

“I’m worried about my age,” he said. “It’s hard at this age to stop and start back up.” Despite those concerns, he began making plans to get the word out and round the gang back up.

“This is perfect timing,” he told Mills, Parham and Barham as they sat at Towns Center plotting a return to the courts. “This is like going to be the restart. It’s like we’re close to restarting, and talking to us now is the perfect reason to restart.”

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