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The Holidays Are Coming

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Parnitha Selvaraj celebratng Diwali at an Atlanta Temple. Photos courtesy of highlighted families.

How Peachtree Corners sparkles during the holiday season

The holidays are upon us, and what ignites the holiday spirit within us can be as unique as our fingerprints. Decorations, traditions and holiday carols do it for this Catholic Canadian of Italian heritage, now American – it begins with that first slice of panettone, an Italian sweet bread.

When the house is brimming with cards, garlands, ribbon, the irresistible aroma of baked cookies, beautifully wrapped presents, all set aglow by the soaring North Carolina Frasier Fir glimmering in the living room — its angel topper precariously perched yet sweetly smiling down upon my family from the top — it feels like Christmas.

Psst! I slip baby Jesus into the manger as soon as I set up the nativity, knowing full well I’m supposed to wait until Christmas.

The anticipation of Christmas Eve mass is almost more than I can bear; it inexplicably fills me with the purest feeling that all is right in the world. Of course, Christmas morning has its own charms — comfy jammies, fun surprises and the joy of spoiling our loved ones. Since I love the season so much, I wondered what fellow residents of Peachtree Corners cherished most about their holidays.

What do the holidays mean to you?

Diversity is part of what makes Peachtree Corners special. Multiple faiths and backgrounds are represented here, and within each of those, different aspects of religious and cultural observances are responsible for the city’s unique holiday sparkle, bringing cheer to all.

My gift to you is a glimpse into an assortment of revelries that may differ in many ways from your own, but for one common denominator — they all bring warmth and light to an otherwise cold and dark time of year.

Diwali- November 4-8

Diwali is a festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists around the world at the new moon in the month of Karthik (October-November). It’s a celebration of the spiritual victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance.

Hailing from southern India, Parnitha Selvaraj speaks Tamil, the world’s oldest living language. She and her family have been celebrating Diwali, or Deepavali, in Peachtree Corners since 2019.

Observance and tradition

“We wake up early, take an oil bath before sunrise, wear our finest clothes and say our prayers. We take blessings from our elders in the family,” Selvaraj said. “A week before, we shop for nice clothing and joyfully prepare a variety of sweet and savory foods at home, to be shared with extended family and friends.”

“We draw colorful kolam or rangoli at our entrance as part of the festival decorations,” she added. Colored rice, rice powder or sand is used to create this traditional decorative floor art. The colorful, intricate patterns symbolize happiness and prosperity. They announce auspiciousness, that all-is-well in the household. Drawing kolams signifies that Goddess Lakshmi is welcome, while poverty, illness, laziness and bad luck is banished.

Favorite memories

“My favorite part was mom’s special breakfast, bursting firecrackers and colorful fireworks – we were mesmerized as kids,” Selvaraj said.

Her fondest memories are spending time with family and friends and “eating traditional wheat halwa (sweet pudding), a delicacy prepared by my grandmother,” she said, as well as “celebrating our culture, conveying the significance of the festival to our next generations.”

“The celebration gives reaffirmation of hope, a renewed commitment to goodwill, the feeling of greeting people and being greeted by everyone we meet,” Selvaraj said.

Family traditions

The Gupta family performing Diwali prayers. Photos courtesy of highlighted families.

From northern India, Seema Gupta has been celebrating Diwali with her Hindu family in Peachtree Corners for eight years. Based on the lunar calendar, the days of celebration vary from year to year.

The Gupta children holding their clay lamps – diyas. Photos courtesy of highlighted families.

One of the most celebrated holidays in India, Diwali gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that people light outside their homes. It’s the celebration of Lord Rama’s return to his kingdom Ayodhya, with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana, after defeating the demon-king Ravana and serving 14 years of exile.

“We love to dress in traditional Indian clothing, then do a pooja (a worship ritual) at our house, where we offer prayers to Goddess Lakshmi, so that the Hindu New Year is filled with peace, wealth and prosperity,” Gupta said.

“We decorate the entire house (inside and outside) with lights and candles. We also make rangoli with colored rice. Afterwards, we enjoy a delicious Indian feast with family, and light sparklers and fireworks at night.”

Shared traditions

“We have enjoyed going to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (Temple) in Lilburn to see an amazing display of fireworks,” Gupta added. “Diwali is like Christmas and New Year’s Day wrapped into one big holiday! We love sharing the traditions with our children and celebrating with family and friends.”

Celebration of family

Vipul Singh was born in Patna, India and celebrates Diwali with his multicultural family in Peachtree Corners since their recent move here. He grew up in a Hindu household, cherishing Diwali as one of the most important festivals of his childhood, while his wife Lindsay was born and raised in Pennsylvania.

With several origins in the Hindu religion, most families celebrate Diwali across five days as a victory of good over evil and the start of a new year. Some take holidays to distribute gifts to friends and relatives. It’s a time for families to reset and take time to check on their well-being over the past year.

Traditions and memories

Vipul and Lindsay Singh with their young children after Aarti, a prayer ceremony. Photos courtesy of highlighted families.

Singh said his family traditions include “meeting family and friends, enjoying Indian food, and fireworks, placing lights outside which stay on until Christmas for neighbors to enjoy.”

Children often travel hundreds of miles to visit parents. It’s a time of gathering and rejoicing. People decorate their homes after a fall clean-up.

“There were lots of fireworks the year my younger sister was born,” Singh said. “Daughters are considered a version of Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth), so we celebrated a bit more.”

His favorite feature of Diwali, he said, is seeing the joy in the eyes of the kids.

Hanukkah November 28-December 6

Rabbi Yossi Lerman celebrating Hanukkah in the Peachtree Corners area. Photos by George Hunter.

Spiritual leader of Judaism, Rabbi Yossi Lerman is President of the Chabad Enrichment Center of Gwinnett. He’s been celebrating Hanukkah in the Peachtree Corners area for 20 years and delivers an exceptionally concise and interesting account of the origins of the Jewish festival of lights, “Hanukkah epitomizes a determination to see life through a positive lens.”

Under Alexander the Great, the Greek and Hebrew cultures were allowed to flourish simultaneously. When Antiochus Epiphanes reigned in Jerusalem (175-164 BCE), he was tyrannical, forcing his Greek ways upon the Jewish people.

Religious observance

Hanukkah commemorates the military victory of the Jews revolting and regaining access to the holy temple that had been desecrated by the Greeks (which was a miracle in itself: a small band of Jewish fighters against the mighty Greek forces) as well as the miracle of the oil.

Finding only one jug of oil intact after the Greeks had vandalized everything, they lit the menorah (candelabra) which should only have lasted one night. Instead, it lasted eight days, giving them time enough to produce new oil. They had to travel to the Judea hills, where olive trees grew, to make new olive oil.

“We don’t like to talk about war, or even celebrate the fact that we won that war,” Rabbi Lerman said. “We do celebrate the miracle of finding the jug of oil and its lasting eight days instead of one, so we call it the Festival of Lights. We’re into the constructive message. If we can turn the lights on, we can have a positive perspective on life.”

Traditions and memories

The rabbi shared some Hanukkah traditions:
■ Foods that are baked or fried in oil, like potato latkes and fried donuts made with various fillings like cream or jelly, to memorialize the jar of oil through which the miracle occurred.
■ Lights are kindled every evening for the eight days of the holiday.
■ Children play dreidel (spinning the Hanukkah top).

A favorite memory is getting Hanukkah gifts for eight days. (Hanukkah gift-giving predated Christmas by 200 years). “The main emphasis is getting the children excited,” Rabbi Lerman said.

“Gelt is the Yiddish word for money. I give cash instead of gifts to my seven children, encouraging them to spend some, save some and give some away,” he said. “This becomes an educational piece on how to use money in life.”

Another favorite aspect is the public menorah lighting, Rabbi Lerman said. “We’ll be doing four outdoor menorah lightings in Gwinnett County, open and free to the public in Duluth, Suwanee, Lawrenceville and one at the Forum on December 5th.”

Saint Lucia Day December 13

78-year-old Realtor Christine Robinson was born in Lulea, in northern Sweden, where she grew up in the Christian traditions of the Lutheran church and was educated through college. For 37 years, she has kept the holiday traditions of her native royal kingdom alive in this area, well before it became incorporated Peachtree Corners.

Christine Robinson. Photo by George Hunter.

Saint Lucia Day is celebrated by Lutherans, Roman Catholics and Anglicans. It’s the story of a young Christian girl from Syracuse, Sicily, who was brutally martyred by the Romans in 304 CE.

Legend has it she wore a crown of candles to light her way as she brought food to persecuted Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs.

All of Sweden celebrates the Queen of Light — every city, airline, school, hospital, nursing home and church.

Family traditions

A beautiful young lady wearing a long white dress and a crown of live candles on her head comes early in the morning with her attendants behind her carrying one candle each, singing the famous Italian song, “Santa Lucia.”

“Where I’m from, the sun doesn’t come up for two months in winter because it’s so far north, so it’s quite something to see. It’s very special,” Robinson said.

“I’ve observed this tradition with my children, neighbors, friends and grandchildren over the years. I invited young girls to my home (to be my attendants). We’d all wear the long white gowns. I decorate the crown with fresh greenery. I turn off all the lights in the house, light the candles, turn on the music and sing.”

She added, “Some of the young boys watching said, “This is what it must be like in Heaven. You look like angels.””

Fondest memory

Robinson always enjoys seeing “all the girls in white gowns arriving, Lucia with the candles on her crown.” She shared a special memory: “The first time my daughter was Lucia, she was two years old. I dressed her up as Lucia with battery candles. She knew exactly what to do. She even served the Lucia buns (saffron bread rolls).”

Advent November 28-December 24

Robinson also celebrates Advent during the four weeks leading up to Christmas in keeping with Christian churches of the western tradition: Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian, Lutheran and some Protestant churches. Every Sunday during mass, a candle is lit on a wreath presented horizontally, in preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. The candles symbolize hope, love, joy and peace.

Family traditions and memories

On the first day of Advent, a star of paper, straw or metal goes up in one of the windows in every household, to recall the star that the three wise men followed to Bethlehem. “My dad put a lamp inside our paper star,” Robinson said.

“Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas. We would gather as a family, turn the lights off and light the first candle on the first Sunday, and then one more each Sunday until Christmas,” she continued. “My dad read from the Old Testament how it was declared that a child would be born. We had a little prayer.” Then her mother played the piano, and the family sang Christmas songs and ate gingerbread cookies.

“We had an Advent calendar with small boxes; you open one per day,” Robinson said. “Now they have candy or presents, but I was born during the war; we were so poor.” “We had little pictures in our boxes; it could be of a Christmas tree, a squirrel, a bird, candles. We were excited just to open the box to see what the picture was,” she added. “I took turns opening the boxes with my two younger brothers, sometimes cheating and peeking in the boxes ahead of time.”

Christmas December 25

The same Christian churches that celebrate Advent celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Christians believe that Jesus is the son of God, born as man to save us from our sins, the Messiah foretold in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament.

Family traditions

Robinson said that, in Sweden, her family brought the tree in on the 23rd “and decorated it with our famous straw ornaments, ginger cookies and handmade ornaments. Today I start decorating much earlier. I have 11 Christmas trees. My Christmas room full of decorations is sacred.”

She does a lot of special cooking and baking in December. “I bake Swedish cookies; jam, gingerbread, oatmeal, a jelly roll (with my own jam) and saffron bread,” Robinson said.

“We used to order ham from Chicago – they prepared it like in Sweden, not like Honey Baked Ham. It’s more like country ham. Christmas meal is ham and potatoes (casserole or mashed), some different vegetables here, and in Sweden, rice porridge for dessert.”

For Robinson’s family, Santa comes in person to deliver gifts on Christmas Eve. “He knocks on the door asking, “Are there any nice kids in this family?” In the 40s after the war, we got three presents each,” she shared. “One was practical (clothes, skis), a toy and a bag of candy that we’d never get during any other time of the year. There was no money for candy. We opened gifts on Christmas Eve.”

Fondest memories

Robinson fondly remembers “being with family — aunts, uncles, cousins. Playing games, singing and eating.”

Her favorite part is “celebrating Christ’s birth!” she said. “On Christmas morning the old churches in Sweden ring the church bells, some of them over 500 years old. The service starts at 7 a.m. Only candles light these big old churches. The Pipe organ plays, and the choir sings traditional carols like “Silent Night.” I can still hear and feel the incredible voices and message of hope and peace ringing out in churches!”

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Peter Molloy was born in Ireland and raised as a Catholic. He’s lived in Peachtree Corners since 2005. Unlike many Americans, he still observes The Twelve Days of Christmas, the period between Jesus’ birth and the arrival of the Magi that has been celebrated since before the Middle Ages. That’s what “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song refers to — the 12 days after the birth of Jesus, to the Epiphany.

Peter Molloy observes Christmas and The Epiphany in Peachtree Corners (courtesy Peter Molloy)

Religious observance

Molloy said he’s always focused on the religious component of Christmas growing up. “I spent most of my childhood in Ireland. Christmas did not truly start until Christmas Eve and continued until January 6th, Little Christmas.” Also known as The Epiphany, it’s the day the three wise men went to see baby Jesus in Bethlehem led by a miraculous star, and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Christmas decorations didn’t go up until after the children went to bed on Christmas Eve, according to Molloy. “Then they stayed up until Little Christmas. I do put the decorations up earlier now.”

“I’m truly bothered when people dispose of their Christmas tree on the day after Christmas,” he said. “Don’t they realize Christmas has just started?”

Peter Malloy livestreams the mass on the church YouTube Channel. He said, “We probably have the best live-streaming with a four-camera system. Watching, you can appreciate mass more than you would sitting at the back of the church.”

Traditions old and new

Molloy said he has fond memories of “going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve with our family doctor and close family friends, the Fall family.”

These days, he’s very involved with his church — Mary Our Queen Catholic Church. “I help usher all four masses on Christmas Eve and then go back on Christmas morning to attend mass,” he said. “Our church is beautiful at Christmas; it’s a joy to be there over the Christmas season.”

He’s part of a group of close friends that have agreed to pick one name out of a hat; each person is only allowed to spend $100. “This simplified gift giving is a lot more fun,” Molloy said. “It greatly reduced the stress of Christmas for us and allowed us to enjoy our friendship without worrying that someone might be disappointed.”

“We all finally get to slow down for a couple of days,” he continued. “In Ireland the country shuts down for a few days. I wish stores would not be in such a big hurry to open back up. I’ve never gotten over how commercialized Christmas has become. I suspect this is also the case in Ireland now.”

Family and food

Bruno Chidozie Okonkwo moved to Peachtree Corners in 2018. He is from the southeastern part of Nigeria, Imo state, in west Africa. His native language is Igbo. His wife, Rita, attended Peachtree Elementary School. They were married at Mary Our Queen Catholic Church.

Bruno Chidozie Okonkwo. (Photo by George Hunter)

“We are Catholic Nigerians,” Okonkwo said. “During Advent we say prayers to prepare our hearts for the birth of Christ. We attend Christmas Day mass.”

Large quantities of food are prepared to have ready for guests, he explained. Favorite dishes include fried chicken; roasted goat; jollof rice with a base of tomato sauce, oil and spices; nkwobi (cooked cow foot); fufu (doughy balls of cassava) with egusi soup, prepared with ground melon seed, goat meat, crayfish, palm oil, bitter-leaf or spinach, onions and dried mackerel; ukwa (African breadfruit seed) prepared like black eyed peas; and ugba (shredded oil bean) salad. A popular drink is fresh palm wine.

“We like to travel to Nigeria as often as we can during Christmas time,” Okonkwo said. “In Nigeria, most travel to “the village” (hometown) from the city to celebrate. My family did so every Christmas season until just after New Year’s. It’s a special time for reunions with extended family and friends. My siblings, cousins and I would visit relatives’ homes where we were welcomed and fed by our aunties.”

These visits made according to market days are called Erigwara (eat mine, I eat yours) — a wonderful custom. There are four market days in Igboland: Eke, Orie, Afor and Nkwo. Every village has a market day. “We visit relatives and friends according to their market days and eat any food they’ve prepared,” he said. “On our market day, Eke, we expect friends and family to come spend all day eating and drinking.”

Traditions and memories

“Weeks in advance, we decorate our home and put up a Christmas tree and a nativity both here and in Nigeria,” Okonkwo said. “After mass on Christmas Day, we come back home to cook, eat and be merry. At mass in Nigeria, we sing hymns in both Igbo and English. Here we attend mass at Mary Our Queen.”

Gifts are opened prior to Christmas Day in Nigeria. “If you buy someone clothes or jewelry, it’s called Christmas cloth, and they will likely wear it on Christmas Day. Here, we open gifts when we come back from mass,” he explained.

Okonkwo’s favorite holiday memories are the family reunions, and his favorite part of Christmas is “being reminded of the gift of our Christian faith and celebrating it with dear ones — the celebration of God’s love for mankind.”

Kwanzaa December 26- January 1

Kwanzaa is a celebration of African American culture. Founder and Director of the Georgia Wholystic Center Wiletha Williams celebrates both Christmas and Kwanzaa. She has called this area home for 37 years.

A time of learning, family and celebration

Williams explained that Kwanzaa isn’t religious, it’s cultural. “We have been celebrating Kwanzaa in Peachtree Corners since 1994. We usually pick a Friday or Saturday between December 25 and December 30. We send an invitation to friends and family.”

Wiletha Williams (photos courtesy Wiletha Williams)

People come together to feast, honor ancestors, affirm their bonds and celebrate African culture. On each of seven days, a candle is lit, highlighting that day’s principle. Reciting sayings or writings of great Black thinkers and writers, original poetry, drumming and sharing a meal bring the principles to life.

Williams sisters Alaina and Aleatha (photos courtesy Wiletha Williams).

Table decorations include the symbols of Kwanzaa: the Kinara (candle holder), Mkeka (mat), Muhindi (corn representing the children), Mazao (fruit representing the harvest) and Zawadi (gifts).

Traditions and memories

“I love Christmas trees and other decor, music and cooking family favorite recipes: turkey, dressing, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, potato salad,” Williams said.

“For my 70th birthday, my son surprised me. He chartered a helicopter which picked us up in front of our house in Amberfield. After a tour of Atlanta, we landed at the 57th Fighter Group for dinner.”

Her favorite part of the holiday is spending time with family and friends, watching sports and movies. “Everyone brings a dish to add to the feast, while we provide the basics,” Williams said.

“We play games related to Kwanzaa facts, such as how the holiday was started in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga in California.”

The family also discusses the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa:
• Umoja (unity in the family, community, nation and race),
• Kujichagulia
(self-determination),
• Ujima (collective work
and responsibility),
• Ujamaa (cooperative
economics),
• Nia (purpose),
• Kuumba (creativity) and
• Imani (faith).

“Everyone has the opportunity to perform dance, poems, songs or whatever they want. Music and dancing are enjoyed by all,” Williams said. “We try to get the children interested. Often, we honor ancestors by sharing pictures and stories of their lives.”

She said that, of course, the highlight is the feast (Karamu), which consists of a variety of traditional and contemporary dishes, including Southern dishes like collards and lima beans, buffalo wings, chili, sweet potato pie and cakes.

Chinese New Year February 1

Jun Lin emigrated from China in 2007 and has resided in Peachtree Corners for eight years. She observes Chinese New Year with her multiethnic family within the constraints of American work schedules and HOA covenants.

Local resident, Jun Lin. (Photo by George Hunter)

Chinese New Year is not a religious observance. Based on the lunisolar Chinese calendar, it’s the biggest cultural holiday celebrated in China and other Asian countries. It usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice, marking the transition from one Chinese animal zodiac sign to the next. 2022 is the year of the Tiger.

Chinese New Year is also known as Lunar New Year and Spring Festival. On the calendar of solar terms, the start of Spring falls on February 5th. It’s not necessarily a reflection of meteorological reality, yet it represents heading towards Spring and new beginnings.

Some businesses start two to four weeks before, and continue festivities two to four weeks after, the New Year. It’s the longest holiday and creates a massive travel rush known as Spring Movement.

Family traditions

“It was my favorite holiday when I was a kid because we got new clothes and gifts from our parents,” Lin said. “The whole month was a time to visit relatives.”

“Growing up, families started food preparation a month ahead since we didn’t have refrigerators. People bought pigs in the village where farmers would slaughter and butcher them.”

The pork would be brought back, seasoned and left to marinate for days. It was then set atop dried branches of pinewood and smoked, resulting in a month’s supply of meat similar to bacon.

“Two weeks before, my mom would soak sticky rice and then grind it into powder. When guests came to visit, she would cook the smoked meat and make Tangyuan, a soup of sweet rice balls with brown sugar, orange peel and sesame inside. The round shape signifies full accomplishment,” Lin explained. “Everything smelled and tasted so good, it was the taste of Chinese New Year.”

Fond memories

She added that on New Year’s Eve everyone watched a gala on TV which showcased popular songs, dances and comedians. “It was fun. Everyone talked about it afterwards.”

To decorate for the New Year, red scrolls and couplets are posted on both sides of the front door with auspicious words. Red lanterns are hung at the door to guide good luck into the home and ward off bad luck.

“In China, the whole city is illuminated, but outdoor decorations are not allowed after January 7th here, so I don’t decorate,” Lin said.

In Chamblee, the Chinese community has ceremonial dragon and lion dances, musical performances, art and authentic cuisine in Chinatown Mall.

One of Lin’s special memories is “being with [her] mother. I loved her with all my heart. We normally took family photos. It was the only time we were all together.”

She said that here, the visits with family and friends don’t last a full month, since it’s not a national holiday, “but we do get together.”

Wishing you all things bright and beautiful this holiday season!

As sundry as our holiday beliefs and practices may be across cultures, what unites us rings out loud and clear. Whether it’s the candles in the Diwali clay pots, the Hanukkah Menorah, the Advent wreath, Saint Lucia’s crown, the Christmas lights, the Kwanzaa Kinara or the Chinese lanterns, we seem to universally gravitate towards light and goodness.

The common threads that run through our varied festivities — light over darkness, familial and social bonds — speak to what is at the core of our shared values and humanity, making us infinitely more alike than we are different.

Many thanks for making Peachtree Corners sparkle so brilliantly.

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City Government

Community forum to address crime, safety issues in Peachtree Corners

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UPCCA hosts annual COPS program to allow face-to-face dialogue among residents, stakeholders and law enforcement.

Overnight car break-ins and vandalism, ruffians blocking key intersections and putting lives in danger with reckless stunts, bullying and name-calling at schools escalating to terrorist threats and violence – none of those scenarios are what Peachtree Corners residents want to see in their community. To inform residents and stakeholders of law enforcement actions to curb and eliminate this type of lawlessness, United Peachtree Corners Civic Association invites everyone to its annual C.O.P.S. Program. Set for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 26 at Christ The King Lutheran Church, 5575 Peachtree Parkway government officials and police agencies will discuss crime prevention and present local Peachtree Corners crime statistics.

Among invited presenters are Mayor Mike Mason, the new Gwinnett County Chief of Police J.D. McClure, Major Edward Restrepo, commander of the West Gwinnett Precinct, MPO Andres Camacho, District 1 Community Oriented Police Service, a Gwinnett County Schools resource officer and other community leaders who will be available for questions and answers.

“With all that’s going on in the world now, we are thankful to have our lovely pocket of relative peace here in Peachtree Corners,” said Matt Lombardi, president of UPCCA. “But there’s a perception that it’s gotten worse for crime in the last few years.”

Like many suburban areas of the country, Peachtree Corners has been victim of so called “takeovers” where groups of teens and young adults converge on a usually busy intersection and  show off stunt driving like doing “donuts” and “drifting.” With no regard to traffic or vehicular safety, there are often fireworks and sometimes weapons discharged as well as kids hanging recklessly out of cars.

Recently, a combined effort from several local law enforcement agencies took down one weekend gathering, but with school out and summer almost in full swing, it’s inevitable that more will come.

That’s one of the major topics that will be discussed at the meeting, said Lombardi, along with a look at license plate readers, the effects of crime on property values and other issues.

One topic that has been on the minds of some, said Lombardi, is the question of whether it’s time for Peachtree Corners to have its own police force. As it is now, Gwinnett County police provide protection as well as the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s office.

Instead of leaving the question lingering, this is an opportunity for residents to speak their minds.

“UPCCA is one of the few organizations in metro Atlanta that brings people to face-to-face with the law enforcement community,” said Lombardi. “It’s important to know who’s protecting you and your property and how it’s being handled.”

Information: upcca.org

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Business

PCBA Panel Gives Insights into City’s Growth, Development

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Visionaries see smart expansion for Peachtree Corners.

In a city that’s a hotbed of economic development, technological advancement and residential properties, it’s important for residents and stakeholders to keep informed about what’s going on today and what’s planned. To aid with that undertaking, Peachtree Corners Business Association convened a panel of local influencers at its April Business After Hours Speaker Series at Atlanta Marriott Peachtree Corners.

Moderated by Amanda Pearch, the CEO and principal of Forsyth Business RadioX, a community focused company that produces, promotes, distributes and markets online radio shows and podcasts for businesses, the panelists were a diverse mix of local movers and shakers which included:

  • Joe Sawyer, Peachtree Corners City Councilman at Large, a resident of Peachtree Corners since 1994. He recently became the first person of color elected to the City Council. Sawyer has owned Alpha & Omega Carpet Cleaning in Peachtree Corners since 2001 and has been a preacher since 1998.
  • Sue Storck, with North American Properties, the general manager for the Forum on Peachtree Parkway. She has been in property management since 2007 in Florida and Georgia.
  • James Winston, the director of construction at AHS Residential, a company that develops, builds and manages multifamily housing in metro Atlanta. He has 17 years of experience in real estate development.
  • Michael Pugh, a partner at the law firm of Thompson, O’Brien, Kappler & Nasuti, P.C. He concentrates his legal practice on the representation of businesses, banks, credit unions and commercial finance companies in secured transactions, financial workouts, asset recovery and liquidation and lender liability defense in both state and federal court, including federal bankruptcy court.
  • Louis Svehla, communications director for the city of Peachtree Corners.He has years of experience in journalism and public relations.
  • Rico Figliolini, a longtime Peachtree Corners resident and the publisher and executive editor of Peachtree Corners Magazine. He is also a creative director and social media strategist, three-time magazine publisher and podcast host.

Growth opportunities

The group started off discussing some identifiable opportunities for growth in Peachtree Corners. With so much emphasis on what’s happening in the northern part of the city, Sawyer said developers need to start looking to the city’s south side.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for growth on the south side,” he said. “You see the townhomes going up and you haven’t seen houses going up for a long time. That’s where the next wave of growth will come.”

Svehla agreed. “I think redevelopment is really the big thing. Joe got it completely right. Housing is probably not going to happen unless it’s redevelopment of older neighborhoods,” he said. “Just like what’s happening with The Forum, the future is multi-use type facilities.”

Pearch parlayed that response into a question for the home builder. “Well, the prediction is we’re going to find very efficient and innovative ways of finding solutions for this housing problem that we have,” Winston responded. “We know everybody is looking for…  housing that’s reasonably priced. We have a way of building and approaching our projects that I think is going to fit into the fabric of what this whole community is looking for. They’re trying to be innovative, looking for something that’s going to have an impact to the community. And we’re doing just that by rehabbing, basically, an existing property.”

Storck expanded on that concept with what’s happening right now with The Forum. “On our side, it’s experiential. …This is probably a very overused phrase, but ‘live, work and play’ is a trend that works,” she said. “With our tenants, we have a built-in customer base. The restaurants have built-in patrons, but it’s about an experience. Shopping is not… what it used to be. You don’t go window shopping anymore; you have a destination. So, our plan and our goal are to bring that opportunity to the property, to be able to host larger events and gatherings, whether it’s a tailgate party… or the Christmas tree lighting or concert series or a fitness series.”

Talking about developers dove-tailed into Pugh’s business. “One of the biggest advantages for Peachtree Corners is that it’s close enough to the city [of Atlanta] so that people inside the perimeter are comfortable coming here, and since it’s not in downtown Atlanta, we get people who don’t want to fight traffic in town,” he said.

All those factors feed into each other, said Figliolini. Having a publication that’s focused on the lifestyle of a community that fulfills the demand for a high quality of life with entertainment, retail and employment opportunities nearby allows him to put more emphasis on the message than the medium.

“Print is sort of a dying business. I can say this because I’ve been in the business for a long time,” Figliolini said. “We curate news in the community and people consume it in a variety of ways. Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, it doesn’t matter. …Advertising is a long game. …Companies come to us. We have several corporate sponsors that are supporting local journalism, for example, so they’re not necessarily buying advertising as much as supporting news.”

Accolades and suggestions for the city

The panelists gave their perspective on what Peachtree Corners is doing right and what the city should do more of. Among the top recommendations is preparing the area for changes that have already been indicated. For example, the uptick in highly skilled jobs is affecting employment rates. Supply chain issues are challenging consumerism and access to technology is making a difference on how people live their lives.

“Roughly 65% of the existing labor force is almost set to retire,” said Winston. “So, we have to replenish that, and we also have to find ways to manage that and to find innovative ways of doing construction. We know we’re going to have challenges with the labor, in addition to all the materials. …Everybody is reading the articles about how prices are going up.”

Sawyer pointed out that Peachtree Corners is growing in smart ways and every new development is people centered. “I think we are probably one of the smartest cities, as far as technology. …What other city in the South has an app that, when you sit at a red light, the app on your phone tells you when the light is changing?” he said.

“A couple of months ago, we had Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg here to study our transportation sector,” added Svehla. “Everybody wants to come to Peachtree Corners because of all the innovative things that are going on here. I’m working to try to give Raphael Warnock an opportunity to see Curiosity Lab. …We don’t really have to reach out to anyone anymore because the word is out that we’re the most diverse city in the state.”

Perspectives on the future

In looking ahead, all the panelists agreed that Peachtree Corners has a solid future outlook and growth strategies. Pearch asked the panelists where Peachtree Corners, in general — and their industry, specifically — will be in three years, five years and 10 years.

Storck said, “The retail world is different, because some ways, the retail world hasn’t changed. We still have the brick and mortar as well as Amazon, so there are parts that will stay the same. But I think in three years, we are we are going to be fully redeveloped and we are going to be moving at a very fast pace. [The Forum] is going to be hosting 200-plus events a year and we are going to have opened quite a few new retailers. In five and 10 years, we’ll still continue that course. Because everything is cyclical and we go through changes, we have to adapt as well.”

Pugh added, “The legal industry is the dinosaur of all industries. If the legal world has adopted something, it’s been adopted across the board. I think that law firms’ sizes are going to shrink. I think that office space is going to shrink, and I think more and more attorneys and more and more businesses are going to go paperless. …I think that more and more are going to start incorporating the use of [artificial intelligence] in their in their work, where typically you would have a new associate coming out of law school doing research eight hours a day. You now have a computer program that does it for you.”

Winston noted, “Nowadays, with an age of social media, [job seekers] are able to see so many other options more easily, and people are able to tailor it to make it more marketable. That’s not always what you see in the construction industry. …You could start off learning mechanical, HVAC work, plumbing or electrical and branch off into a completely different sector of that same industry, or branch off more into real estate, because it really is part of the same pie at the end of the day.”

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Community

UPCCA Extends Deadline For Annual Scholarship

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UPCCA Scholarship

The United Peachtree Corners Civic Association is back this year with its annual Community Service Scholarship. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organization to make changes in the process, the organization is back to the original award of $1,000 each for two high school seniors who reside in Peachtree Corners and have made the commitment to volunteer outside of school hours during their high school years. 

“Every year, the committee weighs several factors, community service, extracurricular activities and things like that,” said UPPCA President Matt Lombardi. “We’re looking for students who personify our community values.”

Last year’s winner used the scholarship money to purchase a 3D printer and made mask clips that helped secure masks that had to be worn during the nationwide mask mandate, said Lombari adding that it’s that kind of selfless act that makes the awardee stand out.

“And it doesn’t matter what kind of secondary education they’re pursuing,” said Lombardi. “It can be a four-year university, a vocational school or whatever works for the recipient.”

The deadline this year has been extended to May 31 to give students an opportunity to “get back to normal.”

Last year UPCCA awarded three $1,000 scholarships and has toyed with the idea of increasing the amount.

“But we don’t want to be competitive with other non-profits in the area,” said Lombardi.

While the pandemic made it necessary for the award presentation to be held outdoors, this year it will be a Peachtree Corners Baptist Church.

Any high school senior who resides in the 30092 ZIP code is eligible to apply, regardless of where they attend school.

Scholarship application process:

• Complete the Online Scholarship Application. The online application includes areas to upload your documentation for the essay and service activities. 

• Write and/or video a 300-word essay about community service work that had the greatest influence and why. 

• Include a listing of all community service activities participated in while in high school.

The winners will be chosen strictly on their participation in community service.

For more information: In order to qualify for one of the two UPCCA scholarship, you must live within Peachtree Corners and/or be a member of the UPCCA. Click here for information on becoming a member of UPCCA  or contact UPCCA President Matt Lombardi at 770-548-2989.

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