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Silver and Gold: A Glimpse into Gwinnett County Girl Scouts



gwinnett county girl scouts
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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City Government

City’s First Employee Steps Down



At a City Council meeting on April 23, Diana Wheeler was recognized for more than 12 years of dedicated service to the city.
Diana Wheeler on stage at Town Center // Photos by Tracey Rice

Diana Wheeler starts her own consulting business

When a city is established, there’s a lot to do to get it going. One of the most important decisions is hiring effective staff. Diana Wheeler was one of those qualified employees who helped turn Peachtree Corners into the community it is today. She’s also credited with being the city’s first hire.

“I worked in Alpharetta for about 20 years as a community development director, and I decided that it was time to try something new and different, something I hadn’t done before. I was going to start up my own consulting business,” said Wheeler.

She was only a few days into her new career when the city of Peachtree Corners called.

“They said, ‘Hey, we’d like you to come and help us out. We’re starting up a new city, and we don’t really have any planners. We need a community development department,” said Wheeler.

So, she went back into city government work and put off starting her business.

Years of service

“I was the only employee for a while,” she said. “There were a lot of interesting times, and there were opportunities I’ve never had before, like setting up all of their programs and systems at the beginning.”

At a City Council meeting on April 23, Wheeler was recognized for more than 12 years of dedicated service to the city.

“A lot of things were accomplished, and after 12 years, I thought, well, you know, I still want that one last sort of professional challenge that I hadn’t ever done before, which was to go out on my own and take advantage of the connections that I’ve made over the years and work on projects that were of interest to me,” she said.

She let the city leadership know that it was time for that change and that she’d be making that change at the end of April.

“Diana’s daily presence was profoundly valued by her colleagues, who benefitted from her expertise, leadership, and perhaps most importantly, her composure in the face of the numerous challenges that the Peachtree Corners city government has encountered during her tenure,” read a statement from the city.

Don’t call it a retirement

As the community development director, Wheeler wore a lot of hats, metaphorically speaking.

“When I was community development director, I had four divisions: the building department, which issues permits and performs inspections; code enforcement, which basically enforces the city’s regulations in commercial and residential areas; planning and zoning, which does all the public hearings and all the zoning research work, and when we added the Town Center, we added special events,” she said. “It’s just a lot of different things. And the city has a very limited number of employees. So, everybody does multiple tasks.”

But she hasn’t entirely left the city. Through the end of the year, she’ll be coordinating the special events at the Town Center.

“We’ve got an incredible lineup. We have all sorts of really cool concerts …  and we’re also introducing a night market, which is like a farmer’s market,” she said.

The market will take place on the second Saturday of the month and will have about 14 different vendors selling produce, homemade products, and other items.

“We’re going to have a talent competition this year,” she said. “It’s called Peachtree Corners Has Talent, and we’re asking people to submit YouTube videos, and there are prizes for winners.”

Additionally, there’s a children’s festival and one for the canines in the new dog park.

“On December 4, we’re going to have the huge holiday glow event, which is our big holiday gala at the town center with a concert and Santa and all sorts of stuff for kids to do and a sing-along and lots of free hot chocolate and cookies and things like that,” she said.

Wheeler is unsure if she’ll continue working as a consultant with the city beyond December, but she’s excited about her next chapter. Her consulting business is focused on special projects.

A new journey as a consultant

“In communities where they have a limited staff but would like to take on a project, for example, the city of Jasper and the city of Milton have two different areas where they have projects that they would like to take on, but they don’t have the staff resources,” she said.

That’s where she’ll come in.

“They hire people sort of as a side project to work just on that project. And those are the sort of things that I would do,” she said. “I get to focus on a specific project and don’t deal with the day-to-day things.”

Wheeler said she likes that she gets to choose what she wants to work on and use her skills and experience to the fullest.

Highlights of Wheeler’s career with the city of Peachtree Corners:

  • She laid the groundwork for the establishment of Peachtree Corners’ inaugural City Hall.
  • She was instrumental in the development of the Holcomb Bridge Corridor Urban Redevelopment Plan, Livable Centers Initiative, Innovation Hub Master Plan, Winters Chapel Road Corridor Study and conceptual planning for the Multi-Use Trail network.
  • She established and nurtured the Arts Council, created the Arts & Culture Master Plan, and promoted other public art initiatives, bringing the residents enriching cultural experiences, artistic expression and a sense of community pride.
  • She played a pivotal role in the establishment and ongoing support of the Peachtree Corners Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Downtown Development Authority, Redevelopment Authority, Arts Council, and Green Committee.
  • She played a crucial role in securing the city’s Green Community Certification and its Tree City USA recognition.
  • She spearheaded the implementation of the city’s initial zoning laws and led the Code Enforcement, Building and Permitting and Planning and Zoning Departments.
  • She pioneered the city’s first Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
  • She played a key role in launching Special Service Districts, contributing significantly to their initiation and success.
  • She Diana guided Town Green and Town Center initiatives.
  • She organized and managed Peachtree Corners’ special events.

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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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