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Peachtree Corners shows support for Ukrainians

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Lights on the Pedestrian Bridge are shining blue and yellow in solidarity with a war-torn country half a world away.

Peachtree Corners has joined the throng of cities and governments throughout the world showing support for the country of Ukraine as is battles against an unprovoked invasion by Russia.

City officials unanimously agreed to shine the colors of the Ukraine flag on the pedestrian bridge.

“The reasons why we had the bridge built was to give people a sense of place,” said City Councilman Alex Wright. “When you see it, you know you’re in Peachtree Corners.”

But in designing the structure, the city had the foresight to add a feature that could make it even more special.

“There are four lanterns that can be lit with different colors to commemorate different events or holidays,” Wright said. “We used red and green around the end of the year and different groups have asked us to shine different colors like pink for breast cancer awareness.”

Although it was Wright’s idea to stand with the second largest country in Eastern Europe as it defends itself against the superpower, he admitted it was really a no-brainer.

“We built this to engage our constituents and from the reactions on social media, it looks like everyone agrees with our decision.”

Scores of passers-by have commented on the blue and yellow lights.

Wright disclosed that he has a personal reason too for wanting to advocate for the cause of freedom. His mother-in-law is a descendant of Ukrainian immigrants.

“That makes my wife and daughters all Ukrainian, too,” he said.

Local Ukrainian Faction

Familial ties with Ukraine are much more prevalent in this area than many would suspect.

Liliya Makhlaychuk-Sharma, a founding parting of Bair, Wilson, Sharma, a law office located in Peachtree Corners 

Attorney Liliya Makhlaychuk-Sharma, a co-founder of Peachtree Corners-based law offices of Bair Wilson Sharma was born in the former Soviet Socialist Republic.

“I’m one of the lucky few in that my parents are here, and at least that part of the worry is a little bit easier on me. However, all the rest of my family and friends are still in Ukraine,” she said. “And as far as communication goes, it’s really it’s on and off. We kind of have to live by their schedule, because you never know when the air raid will begin again. So, they have to go into shelters. And obviously, the communication there is not great. They are also busy, busy saving their lives, busy watching what’s going on busy rebuilding little things, looking for food and everything.”

Even with spotty communication, Makhlaychuk-Sharma is overjoyed with the progress her countrymen are making.

“It’s definitely going bad for Russia, because as of the seventh day of the war, they lost more soldiers than in two years of the first war with Chechnya,” she said. “But we’re not overconfident. … And keep in mind that since the war started, there were 42 newborns. … Ukrainians are strong. Ukrainians keep going. But even when Ukraine wins, and when the war is over, we would need a lot of help on all fronts.”

How Can I Help?

Nataliia Onyskiv, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America Georgia Branch which is headquartered in Peachtree Corners, said she’s heavily involved in passing along information about loved ones and raising funds and support for the war-torn country.

Nataliia Onyskiv (pictured in traditional Ukrainian outfit), president of Ukrainian Congress Committee of America Georgia Branch which is headquartered in Peachtree Corners.

“Being in America, we do have ways to help. However, just shipping supplies is not the most effective way, because we are far away. … There are already established structured funds that have their volunteers in their warehouses on the border with Ukraine. So what we do here we as UCCA, we started a fundraiser on the first day and we transfer money as we receive them to this reliable foundation. And these foundations, they take care of the rest. They purchase everything they need, directly from factories and plants in Europe.”

With the conflict, there are already reported scams and Onyskiv wants donors to know their money is going to do some good.

“We offer one easy way so you can take your credit card or debit card and we collect money and direct it to the people who need it. The website is ukrainianatlanta.org.”

The organization has planned a “Stand with Ukraine” rally for noon Saturday near the CNN Center at the corner of Marietta Street and Centennial Olympic Park. There are several similar protests staged across the globe in the hopes that more countries will support Ukraine and force Vladimir Putin to call off his troops.

At last count, Onyskiv said there are nearly 20,000 Ukrainians in the state of Georgia. Her organization has several hundred active members, but after living under Soviet rule, many aren’t keen to “join” anything.

“We come together to enjoy our language and our culture,” said Makhlaychuk-Sharma. “We don’t force people like back in the days of the Soviet Union to ‘belong to the Communist Party.’”

The freedom and unity felt here in the United States is something both women hope their country can rebuild.

“We have a great and trustworthy government,” said Onyskiv. “We were in peace up until the invasion.”

While many are fleeing Ukraine for foreign borders, coming to this country isn’t an option for most.

“Unfortunately, there is no refugee war refugee status for Ukrainians right now in the United States. So, Ukrainian people cannot just come and claim refugee status. It’s not in place. And I’m not sure whether that’s going to be in place soon. So it’s not as easy,” said Makhlaychuk-Sharma.

But Onyskiv is hopeful that it will come about eventually.

“I received a lot of phone calls from American citizens. And I feel huge, huge help and support. People call and ask, ‘What can I do? How can I help?’ They offer their housing. And believe it or not, I have a note where I write down all the phone numbers, it looks it looks very messy, but I’m keeping track of every contact,” she said.

At the end of the day, Ukrainians near and far are uniting and are grateful for the worldwide efforts to keep them free from a Russian takeover. This area has shown that it is living up to the words of one of its greatest native sons.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Contact Ukrainian Congress Committee of America Georgia Branch: ukrainianatlanta.org, 404-259-0824 or 6460 Spalding Drive Suite B Peachtree Corners, GA 30092

Arlinda Smith Broady is part of the Boomerang Generation of Blacks that moved back to the South after their ancestors moved North. With approximately three decades of journalism experience (she doesn't look it), she's worked in tiny, minority-based newsrooms to major metropolitans. At every endeavor she brings professionalism, passion, pluck, and the desire to spread the news to the people.

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City Government

City’s First Employee Steps Down

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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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Community

Rooted Interiors Unveils Largest Transformation Project Yet for a Family in Need

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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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Business

BRACK: Peachtree Corners to lose Peterbrooke Chocolatier

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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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