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Silver and Gold: A Glimpse into Gwinnett County Girl Scouts

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Barcena Girl Scout Troop at the Capital.

Being a Girl Scout is about more than selling cookies and earning cute iron-on patches. It’s about young girls coming together to be a constructive force for good in their communities, spending time in the great outdoors and communing with nature.

The Girl Scouts (GS) organization has endured a tornado of change in the past few years, what with similar youth programs such as the Boy Scouts (now Scouts BSA) opening to female enrollees, not to mention the limitations of extracurricular activities in the wake of COVID-19. Yet the merry band of sashed sisters marches on, thriving albeit in new formats.

Angela Pearson, National Delegate for the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta council and Service Unit Director for Norcross, has served girls in the program for decades and had interesting insight into the current state of the Scouts.

“We have switched to virtual for the majority of our activities. The service unit is not pressing having any in-person events as that is a decision for families to make. Each troop is deciding what type of face-to-face activities they are participating in based upon their comfort level,” Pearson said. “Safety is an important tenant of the Girl Scout program.”

Gwinnett Girl Scouts year round

In a normal year, the Gwinnett Girl Scouts calendar would be overflowing. Girl Scouts in Duluth have participated in the Christmas Tree Cheer Project for over a decade, decorating table-top Christmas trees to bring cheer into the rooms of children hospitalized during the holidays at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA). This year, the partner charity was Meals on Wheels, since CHOA decided not to participate for safety reasons.

“We usually send around 75 hand-decorated trees to CHOA each year. These trees go to children who are stuck in the hospital during the Christmas season,” troop leader Polly Barcena said. “Each Girl Scout troop decides the theme of their trees. I have seen so many wonderful themes over the years. Examples include Star Wars, Micky and Minnie, Candyland, Disney Princess, Minions, Winter Wonderland and the list goes on!”

Campers at Lilburn Summer Day Camp enjoy campfire activities at a previous year’s camp.

In the summer, many girls spend the first week of June at Lilburn Summer Day Camp. Nearly 400 girls and volunteers enjoy activities from woodworking to outdoor cooking and science experiments to crafts. Older girls often return to volunteer as camp assistants after years of attending as campers.

Last year, the camp adopted a virtual format to allow for safe fun and fellowship. It is unclear if it will resume the virtual format for 2021, so visit lilburndaycamp.org for updates.

And let’s not forget the Gwinnett County Girl Scout Bake-Off, a staple for close to 35 years. Skillful baking relies on a knowledge of math and chemistry and helps foster an appreciation of the culinary arts. Each year, more than 100 Girl Scouts in grades K through 12 compete locally with a range of homemade goods they make — with no help from mom or dad. Contestants progress based on wins and the final county-wide competition is decided by community judges.

A triumphant group of winners at a previous Gwinnett County Girl Scout Bake-Off.

Though some of these events, and many others, have had to be adjusted due to the pandemic, Girl Scouts across the county still manage to connect in different ways and grow with their troops.

A different kind of troop

All troops have their purpose and their place, but some stand out for their unique function. Gamma Gamma Sigma (GGS) is a feather in the cap of Gwinnett County scouting, celebrating 10 years with 35 current Girl Scout members. It was created as an avenue to retain older girls considering leaving the GS program, open to grades 6 to 12.

“The pillars of my troop are Sisterhood, Philanthropy and Academic Excellence,” Pearson said. “We are a community driven organization that strives to help girls build courage, confidence and character to help the world be a better place.” She explained that GGS is a unique leadership development program that combines the proven outcomes of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience (GSLE) through a “sorority-type” group targeting teens.

In yet another effort to include all young women, Gwinnett Girl Scouts also offers Outreach Troops, to make sure that no girls miss out on Girl Scouts due to language or financial barriers.

“We are committed to providing accessible program opportunities where they are most needed,” said Leslie Gilliam, Communications Advisor Temp of Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta. “This summer, Girl Scouts, in a partnership with Gwinnett County Parks, provided STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics] kits to 400 Gwinnett girls to keep them engaged in fun, educational activities as their worlds shrank due to the pandemic.”

A shining golden light

With every unique troop, there are unique go-getters who set themselves apart. For the truly dedicated and enterprising Girl Scout, there is the high honor of the Gold Award bestowed on those who exhibit the noble qualities professed in the official Girl Scout Promise and Law. The main requirement is the completion of an extensive service project that will have a lasting positive impact on a candidate’s community.

Charlotte Burts reading about environmental education to kids for her Gold Award.

Charlotte Burts of Norcross High School recently received her Gold Award with her project dubbed “Peachtree Corners Outdoor Education and Improvement,” which focused on environmental education for children ages 6 to 18.

Girl Scouts working a project.

Burts and her teams produced an extensive field guide about wildlife in Georgia, a children’s book about wildlife and sustainability practices, five directional signs and one message board at the Fields Club in Peachtree Corners. She has used the children’s book for literacy programs at Pinckneyville Middle School, and through this project has promoted environmental awareness at Simpson Elementary, Norcross High School, Simpsonwood United Methodist Church and Gwinnett County Public Library.

“It is crucial that people understand, appreciate and know about ways to protect the environment in their daily lives,” Burts said.

When asked about the fondest memories of her 12 years of scouting, Burts spoke of her troop hosting Father-Daughter dances. “Getting to see the girls and their dads take silly pictures and make their way through the craft tables, and reminiscing the years I did those activities with my dad, always made those nights so special to me,” she said. “My troop participated as the hosts of the dance many times, and every year we had the same excitement of picking themes and songs to give the younger girls the same amazing experiences that we had in previous years.”

Burts clearly has a strong altruistic mindset, along with the other fine young ladies of Troop 1106 that she has grown up alongside. So it makes perfect sense that she would want to make her troop proud with her Gold Award project.

“For as long as I can remember, I have always looked up to older Girl Scout members who were working toward the higher awards in Scouting. Hearing about the impacts that they made on the community and seeing the results of these projects in schools and neighborhoods made me so excited for the time when I would have the opportunity to do the same,” Burts said.

What sets Girl Scouts apart

Kids these days have many worthwhile youth and recreational programs to choose from. So the question remains: why Girl Scouts?

“Girls have unique developmental needs and participating in a program tailored to those needs has well-documented benefits. Girl Scouts is, and always has been, the expert on girls. Girl Scouts is so much more than a single-gender youth program; it’s the only one that’s girl-led!” Gilliam said.

“Girls choose the exciting, hands-on activities that interest them most—whether that’s earning badges, exploring the great outdoors, learning business skills while selling Girl Scout Cookies, or making a difference in their community.”

Gilliam expanded upon the vibrancy of the Gwinnett program, pointing out that “it’s not unusual to see three generations of Girl Scouts in a family.”

The success of Girl Scouts lies with the parents, leaders and girls who spend their time and energy to ensure its success. “Looking back, I am so glad I stepped up to be a Girl Scout Troop Leader,” Barcena said. “It was scary and unchartered territory. But my desire to develop my daughter into a servant-leader helped me to push past my fears.”

Burts explained that development through scouting happens one step at a time. “As you complete service projects, go on campouts and complete Scouting Journeys, you are able to learn so much about yourself and being a member of a community, which is an unparalleled experience for young girls,” she said.

A popular scouting song that has been around for ages (at least as far back as this writer’s tenure as a Brownie and a Junior), sums up one of the great values of scouting: “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.”

And that leads to an old cliché that rings true: Once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout.

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Community

Peachtree Corners Family Takes On ‘Family Feud’!

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The Family Feud set, with the Waldis Family ready to play! Photos provided by Leigh Waldis and Tyler Perry Studios.

Survey says that the Peachtree Corners Waldis Family had a wild time at Tyler Perry Studios last September playing a game of Family Feud with the larger-than-life Steve Harvey! Their episode will air on ABC, March 2 at 7 p.m. But the story of how this all came to be is almost as disorienting and fun as the filming experience itself.

“Back in May, something popped up on Facebook saying they were looking for families in the Atlanta area. As a joke, I just sent in our information. Then they contacted me about three weeks later to get more information and at that point, I started thinking ‘Oh my gosh, this could actually happen.’ And it just kind of evolved from there,” Leigh Waldis said.

Leigh, her husband Rich, and their teenage daughter Olivia are Peachtree Corners residents. The Waldis’ also have two grown children who came home to have this unique family experience. Leigh served as the ‘head of the family’ in the game, as the first person in line to answer questions.

The lovely Waldis family.

For those not family with the popular ABC game show, Family Feud is a survey based trivia style game in which two families compete against each other to guess how a survey of 100 people might answer a certain question, ideally coming up with the most popular answer for the most points. The overall winning family has the most points at the end, and goes to a lightning round for the possibility of a large cash prize. Hosted by beloved comedian Steve Harvey and often filmed in the Atlanta area, this show is a home favorite for many families, including the Waldis’. So joining in the Feud for real must have been a real treat.

“First of all, Steve Harvey is every bit and more funny than you see. The experience was interesting because of the Covid thing. Normally, there would be participants actually watching in the audience or people that are just there to view. Instead, it was the actual families who were the audience, so that kind of made it more fun bonding with the other people that were playing,” Waldis said.

In order to get everyone together for the show, the studio flew their daughter Kate (23) in from Texas and their son Zach (24) from Charleston, who is enlisted in the Air Force and required leave time. Their youngest child Olivia (17) also played and she is a senior at Duluth Highschool.

Leigh noted how “well-orchestrated” the entire process was. The Waldis family immersed themselves in the strange world of Family Feud for two days, September 3 and 4. Day 1 consisted of a try-out with one other family, with a few test questions given to see how the families would react. Then they spectated the rest of that first day. Harvey breaks off a good deal during the taping and interacts with the audience, ad-libbing any particular entertaining tidbits that come to mind, “sort of like you are getting a four hour comedy show out of him,” according to Leigh.

The safety restrictions related to Covid19 were strictly upheld and therefore might have complicated the experience but did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the family as they had a true view behind the curtain.

“It’s kind of crazy but fun. We just went in with a mindset of, ‘No matter what happens, we were just going to make the best of it and have the best time’.”

The Waldis family huddles to come up with an answer to a Family Feud question.

It takes about an hour to film each show, with four shows typically filmed each day. They shave that down to about 22 minutes, so the Waldis family is curious what will make the cut and what won’t, as it was “a whirlwind” in the moment.

Watch March 2 at 7 p.m. on ABC to cheer the Waldis family on and see how they fare. The City of Peachtree Corners will also be showing the episode live on the big screen, at Peachtree Corners Town Center. The big screen is located adjacent to the stage so people can gather on the Town Green in front of the screen to watch. This is not an official city event, but just a low-key way to join in the fun.

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Community

Medlock Bridge, Bush Road Improvements Underway

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Construction is underway now on a project that will improve the traffic safety, operations, and
capacity of the intersection of Medlock Bridge Road at Bush Road. The project generally
consists of roadway widening, some full depth asphalt pavement, milling and inlay, concrete
curb and gutter, concrete median, concrete sidewalk, signing, pavement marking, storm
drainage improvements, retaining wall, traffic signal installation and grading.

For the westbound Medlock Bridge Road portion of the intersection, the final project will result in:
• a left turn lane onto Town Center Drive
• a through lane that will become a left turn lane onto southbound Peachtree Parkway
• a through lane that will continue across Peachtree Parkway to become East Jones Bridge Road
• a through-right lane that will allow traffic to turn onto Bush Road or continue onto the
slip lane to northbound Peachtree Parkway

Other major improvements in the project will add safety and capacity improvements to Bush Road. Southbound Bush Road will include a through-left lane for traffic to cross over Medlock Bridge Road onto Town Center Drive or turn left onto Medlock Bridge Road. Bush Road will also include two right turn lanes, one intended for accessing southbound Peachtree Parkway and the other for accessing northbound Peachtree Parkway.

Sidewalks and pedestrian crossings will be included for all approaches to the intersection. A new traffic signal will also be added that will include the latest traffic engineering technology. The project will also include walls, guardrails, fencing and landscaping additions.

Following a public bid process to procure a qualified construction contractor, Peachtree Corners’ elected officials awarded the work to Vertical Earth, Inc. of Cumming, GA, for approximately $1.2 Million. The contractor will have 180 workdays to complete the project. Funding for the intersection improvements will come from the 2017 Transportation SPLOST.

Source: City of Peachtree Corners release

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City Government

An Interview with Judge Davis

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Judge Warren Davis and his doggie deputy on take your dog to work day. Photos provided by Judge Warren Davis.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Judge Warren Davis about the history of Peachtree Corners, how he rose through the ranks and what he wants for the future of our great city.

When did you move to Peachtree Corners?

I first came to Georgia in the 1970s, but I bought the house in Peachtree Station in 1990. I loved the infrastructure of Peachtree Corners; the sidewalks were clean, parks were developing everywhere, and it was one of those few places that had good access to downtown with the traffic still being somewhat reasonable.

Judge Warren Davis and his wife Elizabeth Belden

How did you become a judge?

I actually started as a patrolman for Gwinnett County Police Department, back when East Jones Bridge Road was still a dirt road and Jimmy Carter Road didn’t even exist yet!

Gwinnett PD has a really great educational program, where they will pay for you to go to school, and you stay working for the department for at least one year after you graduate.

I used to be out on the beat, when it was rainy or cold, usually chasing down an abandoned car. And then I would go to court hearings and see the judge and think: he looks really warm and dry; maybe I’m in the wrong career.

So Gwinnett PD sent me to law school, and when I finished, I stayed another year and moved up from there. I owe my success to the Gwinnett County Police Department.

What makes Peachtree Corners so special?

It’s the little things. When Peachtree Corners got its cityhood, we never had to reinvent the wheel. We kept the county organizations, like the police and fire departments, and didn’t have to create our own.

When you live in a place where crimes against children and human trafficking are a huge part of your crime rate, it helps having officers who are trained in a unique field like SVU. That’s something we would never have if we had to put our resources into a smaller police department. From a judge’s standpoint, I can appreciate the skillset that Gwinnett PD brings to the table.

The beauty of Peachtree Corners is that when we became a city, we got to combine common areas with common interests. Gwinnett County has always been a leader and will continue to be. That leadership all began with Tech Park and the innovation it brought to the area. That niche brought top notch schools, plenty of medical centers to choose from and then all the shopping you could ever need within a few square miles.

Now we have a great support system. The YMCA helps people at all levels of the economic spectrum. We have many great church organizations, and three healthy, organic grocery stores all within 10 minutes of each other. Peachtree Station, and most Peachtree Corners developments, have a community pool, which people tend to bond around.

Judge Warren Davis gets some much needed rest and relaxation.

I hardly have a reason to go inside the Perimeter now, but when I do it is pulse-pounding and rare!

How has the pandemic affected your work?

I’m happy to say that we did better than most. As a judge, I legally have to be in a courthouse for hearings. So, I have been video conferencing court hearings from the same spot I always sit.

I’d say about 2% to 3% want to have their appearance in person, which is fine, because I just sit behind Plexiglass and everyone stays safe.

The only problem is that we cannot have jury trials for obvious reasons. I feel bad for those people who are awaiting sentencing, because we are about two years behind when it comes to trials now. Hopefully, we can get the system moving again soon.

What would you like to see for the future of Peachtree Corners?

Right now, we need to do what our ancestors did and just survive. We have great leaders working on the issues, looking at problems and making adjustments.

Peachtree Corners has always been willing to go out on a limb and try new tech — that’s what built Silicone Valley — and I believe that’s what our city is moving towards.

In the future, I want to see us keep striving towards better transportation. We already have great research studies and programs in place for timing stoplights and managing our traffic, not to mention the exciting autonomous driving system. But a great transportation system is so important because every great city has it, and eventually it becomes everyone’s form of transportation.

I believe that the leaders of Peachtree Corners have a plan, and it’s a good plan. We just need to keep doing it.

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