Kastin Belogorska

story by Cindy Burbage     photos by Tonya Perry

Success is not found overnight, but through hard work and great determination. Meet seventeen-year-old, Kastin Belogorska, SEHS softball pitcher- 2017 Region 2-5A, Pitcher of the Year.

     She discovered her love for softball thirteen years ago when starting out in tee ball. After moving to rec softball, Kastin soon landed on a travel team where her career as a pitcher began. “I started pitching at age nine when my dad told me that our team, the Lady Sharks, needed a pitcher. I remember I was running around in the front yard while dad was talking on the phone. When he got off the phone, he said, ‘Kas, how would you like to be pitcher? You know maybe you can just take about five or six lessons.’ I remember feeling hesitant and saying, ‘uh I mean, okay I’ll try a few lessons.’ So, I went to the lessons and when I got to the 6th one, I remember thinking yes!! I am a pitcher now and I don’t have to go back to lessons anymore! And now here I am, like 500 lessons later- loving pitching more than I ever have in my entire life,” the athlete shared. After South Ga Lady Sharks, she played for Effingham Angels and now is a member of Georgia Impact travel team.

     Over her softball career, Kastin has earned an impressive portfolio of awards- 2016 & 2017 Region 2-5A,, 1st Team, 2017 2nd Team All State, 2017 Nomination for Positive Athlete GA, 2017 & 2018 All Greater Savannah 1st Team, Most Productive Hitter, Ace Pitcher Award (2016 & 2017), GPA Award (2015, 2016, 2017) and 2017 Region 2-5A,, Pitcher of the Year. However, one of her most prized earnings, is a scholarship to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Kastin recalled, “It was the fall of my 8th grade year and we were playing with the Effingham Angels, at a showcase in Athens. After the game, my coach, Krissy Arnsdorff, called me and a few of the other girls from my team to talk to her. She told us that a college, Liberty University, was interested in us and wanted us to come to their camp in the winter. At the time, I was excited because it was the first college that was interested in me. To be honest, I hadn’t really heard about Liberty so, I immediately started looking into the school. Turns out it was only the biggest Christian university in the world! I was so excited to go to the camp that winter! Once we got there, we took a tour and looked through all the facilities and rode around campus and I knew that it was the perfect place for me. I was so in love! The next day, camp was even better! I was completely sold!  I went to one more camp in the summer and everything seemed like it fell into place. I felt and knew that God was leading me there. The following winter of my 9th grade year, they offered me a scholarship and I verbally committed to play Division 1 softball at Liberty University under head coach Dot Richardson(1996 Olympic Gold medalist).  I felt so honored and so very excited to have an opportunity to play with such an amazing coaching staff, program and school!”

     Softball is not the only place Kastin shines; her academics are important too. She is a rising senior at SEHS and dual enrolled at Point University. Kastin is a member of the SEHS National Honors Society, FCS (Fellowship of Christian Students), and SEHS Beta Club. The pitcher received the Georgia Certificate of Merit (top 5% ranked academically) for the 2017-2018 school year.

     Although she is reaching for the stars, Kastin has her feet planted. She is involved with the youth group at First Baptist Church of Rincon and will be traveling to Jamaica this summer on a mission trip. “I have always wanted to go on a mission trip and now I have the opportunity! We are leaving June 23 and I am so very excited to have been given the opportunity to share Christ’s love with the people of Jamaica! While there, we will be staying at the Spicy Grove Youth Center which is a center for school age children to come hear about Jesus! That is where we will also be doing the majority of our mission work. I can’t wait to embark on this adventure with some of my closest friends and I can’t wait to see how God works through us and the people in Jamaica,” Kastin humbly shared.

     Kastin’s drive is fueled by her biggest supporters-her family. “My Mom, Donna, is definitely my emotional supporter. She is there for me no matter what! At any point during a game, I can look over to see her watching me and nodding her head saying, ‘You got this.’ It doesn’t matter whether we win the tournament or lose every game, she is always there to give me a big hug. She never stops encouraging me; she also has never failed to send me a pregame pep talk message before each and every game!”

     “My dad, Victor, pushes me. One summer when I was younger, probably age eleven or twelve, he made me throw four buckets of balls each day before I could do anything! There were about 25 balls per bucket, so I was basically pitching 100 pitches a day. I feel like I owe a lot of the things I have been able to do through pitching to that summer. He has also been one of my coaches since I was nine. He’s always been there to help me fix things if something was going wrong or high five when something went right!  My grandparents have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams and supported me through all the ups and downs.  I will always cherish the memories I have made with my family through this crazy life of travel ball and school ball. I can’t ever thank them enough for all of support and love they have given me,” Kastin lovingly said.

     Coaches and friends play a part in her success too. “Coach Marie, thank you for my agility and conditioning for the past few years.; you’ve given me the help to strengthen my endurance on the mound. Coach Chuck, thank you for preparing me both mentally and physically for all aspects of the game and for pushing me to always be better. Mrs. Krissy, thank you for all the time and effort you’ve put in to provide the best opportunities for my teammates. Mrs. Mary, thank you for being the best pitching coach in the world to me for the past eight years! Thank you for always pushing me to be a better pitcher and for instilling the confidence in me that I need to be mentally tough on the mound. Coach Downs, thank you for always pushing me beyond what I thought were my limits and making me reach for goals that I thought was unreachable-and for always being the loudest cheerleader at all our games! Coach Cox, thank you for always going out of your way to help me to not only become a better pitcher but most importantly a better person. Coach Jack, thank you for always believing in me; you have taught me to believe in myself. Thank you for always being there to give me a big hug at the end of the day no matter what. My friends have always supported me too; whether it was through a text of encouragement, watching a game or catching a lesson. And lastly, I want to say thank you to my past and current teammates for all the fun memories we’ve made together on and off the field,” Kastin tenderly shared.

     Kastin Belogorska has an exciting future. She meekly closes, “My inspiration definitely comes from God and all that he provides. He has given me this platform to shine His light to show His love to others. He has blessed me with so many opportunities, and I am inspired to make the most of every opportunity for Him and His Glory. I feel with my whole heart that I can accomplish any goal He puts on my heart through the strength that He gives me. Through it all, every up and down, my goal is to glorify Him in all my actions. I know He has a plan for me and I am inspired to work hard and serve Him for His Glory. “

Effingham County Recreation Department : Not Just Sports

story by Cindy Burbage    photos by Shelia Scott

For more than four decades, the Effingham County Recreation Department has been serving its community. It is located at 808 highway 119 south, just tucked behind the Effingham County Health Department.  An array of sports is offered throughout the year to include, but not limited to: basketball, soccer, kickball, volleyball, and football to name a few familiar ones. What many may not be acquainted with are the non-sports that are available, for example, line dancing, Zumba, baton twirling, and senior bingo where the players win canned goods.  The Rec Department also offers special events for the community which include an Easter Egg Hunt and a Candy Cane Hunt.

     The department has recently opened their new sports facility, Clarence E. Morgan Complex on Hwy 21, fondly named after the recreation department’s Director of Recreation and Parks for more than fifty years. They are not just sports- the recreation team caretakes to walking trails, fishing and at least five or six boat ramps.

     Their information can be found on their website: http://www.effinghamcounty.org/289/Recreation-Parks

Jeffrey Lonon- Athletic Director

     Long time Effingham resident, Jeffrey Lonon, has been involved with the Effingham County Recreation Department for a little more than eighteen years.

     Jeffrey’s love of sports and niche for coaching began in high school. “Clarence [Rec Department Director] was a teacher when I was in school here in Effingham. I started working with kids in my 11th grade year because I got hurt playing football and couldn’t play anymore.  I began coaching ninth and tenth graders when I was only in the 11th grade and just kept doing it. I got away from it for a little bit and started doing some other things. When Clarence became the director, he needed an athletic coordinator and I called him up. And I have been here ever since,” Jeffrey shared.

      “I started coaching here when my kid started playing at 3 years old. We started a program called Smart Start. He came up through the rec department and I coached all the way. I even coached when he wasn’t participating here,” Jeffrey reminisced. He has coached many of the sports offered here, including a men’s basketball team that went to district and state. But over the years, football has proven to be his favorite sport.  The rec department is not the only place he shares his experience; you can find him at Effingham County High School as a tight-end coach as well.

     Jeffrey Lonon has lived in Effingham for 52 years and enjoys giving back to his community.  “It’s all about the relationship you form with the kids,” the compassionate coach explains. His experience within recreation department has proven to be twofold, as he is now coaching children of the children he coached in the beginning. He also added, “I would like to thank my wife Vanessa, daughter Olivia, son Jeffery and two granddaughters Natalie and Naomi for their understanding because when you are in the profession that I have chosen, you miss some time with your family, but they have been very understanding and supportive.”

     “One thing I can say that keeps the rec going is the director, Clarence Morgan. He has been here forever and continues to put this place above everything else. There is nothing he would rather do and he is one of the reasons I decide to stay. He is the straw that stirs the tea,” he respectively expressed.

Brenda Bruner- Administrative Assistant

     Brenda Bruner has lived in Effingham for thirty-eight years and has been involved with the Effingham County Recreation Department for twenty years. She was introduced to the recreation department when her oldest daughter began participating in sports; cheerleading was her first coaching experience.  “We moved here in 1980 and when our children began playing ball there were separate associations; it wasn’t just county ball- you had Springfield, Rincon, Guyton, etc. My children played through Springfield and I got affiliated with them and when the association came to the county, of course, I kept right in. I worked 5 years with Effingham Recreation Department prior to working in the school system when my son stated Kindergarten.  I worked 11 years within the school system as a paraprofessional and data clerk.  When Mrs. Brown died in 2009, I came in for the summer and worked until I decided to stay on full time,” Brenda shared.

     “My three children played everything through here: softball, basketball, baseball and soccer. And now I’m coaching my grandchildren,” Brenda lovingly explained. Her daughter coaches one of the soccer teams, showing this to be a true family thing.

     Over the years, there hasn’t been a sport that Brenda Bruner has not coached. “You name it, I coach it,” she said. “I’ve done it all. I even played as I was growing up and played volleyball and softball as an adult,” she continued. And truth be told, she admitted that soccer is her favorite sport to coach.

     The people are what inspires Brenda to continue to work with her community. “The joy you see on their faces; the appreciation that comes back to you. You see the kids as they grow up and they remember everything that you have done for them, it’s overwhelming sometimes. You don’t realize how you touch a kid’s life.”

     She would also like to add that Director, Clarence Morgan, is the backbone of the Recreation Department and everyone including the staff works together as a team to be great!

The Sky Is The Limit : Kourtney Sizemore

story by Katrice Williams     photos by Tonya Perry

After planting her pole in just the right position, Kourtney Sizemore soars through the sky as she confidently strives to make her best mark yet. The potential of this pole vaulting sensation is as endless as the sky above. Kourtney, an Effingham native, is a senior at Savannah State University (SSU). The 2014 Effingham High School graduate is a marine science major. She was awarded a track and field scholarship from SSU prior to beginning her freshman year and has been performing as a track athlete ever since. Her mom, Karmin, and dad, Richard, could not be more proud of her.

     Kourtney’s athleticism stems back to middle school, where she first became interested in track and field. Actually, during 7th grade, she began long-distance running. During her freshman year of high school, along with competing in cross-country and various relays, Kourtney agreed to try the pole vault. She was determined not to be intimidated by the seemingly difficult and unique event. Kourtney persisted to run towards the challenge; she became quite good at it and fell in love with the sport over time.

     “I’ve been hooked on it ever since I tried the first jump,” she insists.

     SSU currently competes under the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), whose colleges are made up of notably talented and distinguished Division 1 athletes. That said, Kourtney dedicates herself to continuous training, specifically for the pole vault, in order to prepare for the indoor track conference in the fall and the outdoor conference in the spring, each being a series of competitions leading to a final championship.

     “Being a Division 1 athlete, you have so much more responsibility and pressure, but you get more knowledge of what your actual sport is,” Kourtney remarks.

     Interestingly enough, as only a freshman, Kourtney broke the school’s outdoor pole vault record with a vault of 3.20m. Since, she has continued to break her own records and even set a new school indoor record of 3.31m her junior year, after finishing third place at the MEAC Indoor Championship. She followed that by setting a new school pole vault record of 3.35m last spring at the SSU Eye Opener Track Meet. This past track season, Kourtney placed fifth at the MEAC Championship, after delivering an admirable and impressive performance, as she chose to perform through the healing process from a notable injury. In fact, she had a medical boot on her foot throughout the competition; however, she removed it each time she had to compete.

     “It was a really tough competition; I don’t regret anything,” Kourtney comments.

     She does not take for granted all the athletic mentors that have helped her become the remarkable athlete that she is today. Ted Whitaker is the SSU head track coach. Kourtney is grateful for all of his help, including the overall leadership, knowledge and skill that he brings to the program. She also has tremendous gratitude for her jumping coach, Repel Martin.

     “He has really gotten me into shape. He is the one I work with on a daily basis,” Kourtney says.

     Further, she is appreciative for all the efforts of her first pole vault coach, Ed Hissam, who was with her during freshman and sophomore years. She received her first real vault training as a collegiate athlete from him.

     “He actually truly made me understand what pole vaulting was and the technique for it. He made me understand it better. He re-taught me everything, so I actually learned how to pole vault through him,” she recalls.

     Kourtney knows that much of her growth and current skill with the vault is largely credited to the coaching of Kenneth McDaniel, her present vault coach, who has helped her develop her technique.

     “When I began working with Coach Kenneth McDaniel, I got a lot better. I had more access to poles with him–full sets of the ones I needed. When it came to the indoor championship, I did ten times better than I thought I would,” Kourtney reveals.

     Kourtney is extremely proud to represent the SSU Tigers and feels privileged to compete alongside such an extraordinary team. They have been there throughout her athletic growth; she knows that much of the learning and inspiration from her team has helped her to grow into a better athlete and overall leader.

     “I’ve learned a lot from them; I’ve had so much fun,” she says.

     In addition, Kourtney is thankful for the help of Dr. Mary Carla Curran, who has been a true mentor throughout her senior research project, titled, The Interaction of the Daggerblade Grass Shrimp Palaemonetes pugio with artificial red algae at different tidal stages. Kourtney aspires to “eventually go to graduate school to obtain a psychology degree in animal behavior.”

     “That’s something I’m passionate about—the well-being of animals,” she states.

     Moreover, Kourtney feels that she owes the world to two of her biggest and most selfless fans: her mom and dad. Their love, support and guidance have largely shaped her into who she is today.

     “My mom was the emotional support. My dad was that stern voice telling me right from wrong. They both equally inspired me to do more with my life,” she says. Kourtney also appreciates the support given by her big sister Annsleigh and twin brother Kasey. She laughs as she mentions that Kasey feels that he is really her big brother since he is a whole one minute older.

     Kourtney hopes that she is a role model for other aspiring athletes and young people, offering both sincere and inspiring words, saying, “As long as you have drive and passion, you will achieve what you could never dream of. I didn’t win all the big trophies or medals, but I did win a great work ethic, a sense of responsibility and learned how to be a team player. I found that I could do whatever I put my mind to. In the words of Colin Powell, retired US National Security Advisor, ‘There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure,”’ she states.

     The future for Kourtney Sizemore is as promising and bright as the sky above her…the limitless sky, that is.

     “Don’t let the fear of falling keep you from flying.”


Dynamic Designs…Innovative Ideas : Logan Youmans

story by Katrice Williams     photos by Tonya Perry

Logan Youmans is a 14-year-old upcoming freshman at South Effingham High School and the proud owner of his own apparel company, River Bank Apparel. Interestingly enough, the young man started River Bank two years ago while he was only 12 years old. Logan has specialized in the creative designs of an impressive array of hats since his company’s inception. Since, he has also added t-shirts to his product line, normally matching the logos of his hats.

     Logan has long been quite the hat connoisseur, loving to wear one every chance he gets.  In fact, that was the primary inspiration for his company, as his parents often joked with him saying that “he may need a job to pay for all of his hats.” Hence, Logan decided to put real action behind those words.

     At the time, the young, driven entrepreneur decided to responsibly use all of his birthday money to buy a supply of hats. Logan, who has always liked to draw, let his creative juices flow. He is very tech-savvy and has certainly used his skill to his advantage, as he creates all of his designs on his personal computer prior to sending it in for the creation of the final product. Logan is also very grateful for all of the assistance and efforts of Peachy Tees, the company that diligently works hand-in-hand with him to produce the finished product.

     “I design it all on my computer, then send it in to Peachy Tees in Springfield. They digitalize it all and send the hats off to the hat company to be stitched,” Logan explains.

     Most of Logan’s primary market are “younger males.” In addition to advertising on his Facebook Page, knowledge of his company and products is usually simply word-of-mouth, which have proved to yield some great results for his business. That said, Logan’s brand is well-known amongst young people throughout much of the area. He also sells at various local festivals when possible.

     “Most of the people I sell them to just spread it on, and it reaches people,” Logan states.

     River Bank does yield a satisfying profit for the young man. Though he could use the money he makes on a ton of other things, Logan has the spirit of a true entrepreneur, choosing to put majority of the proceeds back into his business. He believes in what he is doing and certainly sees the growth potential.

     “If I stopped right now and sold everything, I’d have a pretty good profit, but I want to keep it going, so most of my money goes back into making more stuff,” he asserts.

     In addition, he has to properly manage his inventory, understanding that to be another key to running a successful business; he is very committed to ensuring that products are on-hand prior to design and readily available for customers when needed, as it normally takes about “three-four weeks to get in.”

     “It pretty much replenishes itself. If it gets low, we’ll order more,” Logan says. He keeps a limited stock, often revealing on FB how many he has available to order. Prior to ordering more, he projects the amount that would be best. For instance, if he is planning for a large-scale event like a festival, “he may place a big order.”

     Logan has definitely proven that he has quite a notable work ethic. He is confident that the business is benefiting him as well.

     “It gives me responsibility and determination. I have to keep up with it. I have to sell more to get more. If I want to make this bigger, I have to go out and work for it,” he says.

      Logan’s mom Jennifer is sure that “it has given him financial responsibility, time management responsibility and given him valuable experience.” Along with all of this comes a great amount of pride and accomplishment. More so, Logan enjoys seeing others happy with what he has done.

     “I like seeing people wearing my stuff and knowing I did it,” he reveals. Jennifer agrees that Logan feels really good about his products and gets excited when he has the opportunity to see anyone wearing any of his designed apparel.

     “He’ll walk past people and say ‘that’s my hat they’re wearing,’” she laughs and says.

     Logan surely has set some great goals for himself and his company. Though now he enjoys what he does so much that he often considers it a pastime, he aspires to “expand and eventually get into a bigger market.” Logan, who plans to go into the logistics and distribution pathway upon starting high school, feels that growing River Bank Apparel into a future business profession is a definite possibility.

     “Right now, it’s just a hobby, but I can see it going into a business career,” he says.

     Logan has an incredible amount of appreciation for his mom, who assists him with numerous business matters, whether helping him place and confirm orders or finding out about upcoming festivals. He, too, is grateful for all the support he gets from his stepdad Will Smith, dad Ryan White and step-brother Zach Smith. In fact, Zach has often spread the word about River Bank Apparel amongst friends and acquaintances.

     “He has a bunch of that younger class,” Logan remarks. Logan, too, is thankful for all of the help given by Brittany and Amanda at Peachy Tees; he knows that the business relationship he has been privileged to build with the organization is priceless. Further, he feels that Johnny Zwemer, a family friend, has been an enormous asset to his business.

     “He has always promoted my stuff. Whenever I get a new product, he’s the first one to buy it and bring in new customers,” Logan states.

     In his spare time, Logan likes to go hunting and play baseball. Actually, he is a mentor for his little cousin’s baseball team. Logan also enjoys traveling and spending time with his family.

     With an endless amount of potential, Logan Youmans already possesses the drive, determination and commitment matched by few his age. Only the best is yet to come for this young trailblazer.

Local Attorney Becomes Children’s Book Author : Dennis Dozier

story by Kelly Harley   photos by Shelia Scott

If you live in Effingham County, there’s a chance you might know Dennis Dozier is. As you come into Rincon on Highway 21, there is a giant billboard with his picture and name on it. Dennis is a respected lawyer who runs his law firm, Dozier Law P.C. He has more than 23 years of experience helping his clients navigate the law. In his day job, he specializes in family law, bankruptcy, criminal law, personal injury and estate law. While practicing law is his second career choice, it’s the one he loves.

     What you may not know about Dennis is that he has a second job. Well, maybe you wouldn’t call it a second job, rather a hobby that requires some of his free time. Dennis, a prominent lawyer, has another side to him. He has a passion for storytelling and three years ago he set out on his adventure to become a children’s picture book author. The story of how he became an author dates back more than 30 years ago.

     Dennis and his wife Mary Lowell have three children who are ages 27, 30 and 33. When they were younger, Dennis told them stories about a “fictional” dragon named Pinkerton Pernelli. His children hung on to every word that came out of Dennis’ mouth and truly believed that Pinkerton was a real dragon. When they would go to Disney World for vacation, his children would search high and low for Pinkerton. While they never found him, the stories of Pinkerton never stopped. Dennis would make up plenty of them, each with a different plot. “Pinkerton was a pink dragon and he weighed a ton,” says Dennis. “He became my children’s friend and they would do all sorts of things together. Pinkerton always managed to save the day.” For years the stories continued, until of course, as time changes everything, his children outgrew Pinkerton Pernelli.

     Upon the birth of Dennis and Mary Lowell’s first grandchild, Mason, Dennis was determined not to let his make-believe character be forgotten. So, three years ago Dennis decided to put his pen to paper. “Later in life, I had an interest in poetry,” says Dennis. “So, when Mason was born, I decided to write my first children’s picture book and bring Pinkerton Pernelli to life.”

     The first book Dennis wrote, Mason Meets Pernelli, tells the story of Mason meeting the dragon for the first time. In the book, Mason’s friends tell him that there is a ferocious dragon in town. Mason, armed with his pop gun, sets out to find Pernelli with the intent of shooting him. Once he finds him, he realizes that Pernelli is actually a friendly dragon and the two become great friends. What is important to Dennis is that each story has a meaning behind it. Dennis says the moral behind this story is that we shouldn’t accept what other people say without checking things out ourselves. “I want to teach kids not to rush to judgment or conclusions. If you don’t, you might find unexpected friends in unexpected places,” says Dennis.

     There are three published books so far in the Pinkerton Pernelli series. The second book is Pernelli Gets a First Name and it’s about Pernelli needing a first name in order to vote in the upcoming presidential election. In the book, Mason encouraged Pernelli and was the one who came up with the first name, Pinkerton. The ending is perfect. The dragon finally got a first name and was able to vote. The moral of this story is to never give up. Another neat thing about the books is that the characters truly come to life. Dennis works with an illustrator and as you could guess, Mason looks like Dennis’ grandson and Pinkerton Pernelli is that giant pink dragon that Dennis created many years ago.

     Dennis’ third book is Pinkerton at the Town Celebration and his fourth book, Pinkerton Helps Ms. McDougel, will soon be released. His fifth and sixth books will soon follow. He’s even started working on his seventh book. “It takes me hours and hours to write the books and then weeks to change the words around and get them exactly the way I want them,” says Dennis. He typically “writes” at night and on his cell phone. When an idea comes, he immediately jots it down.

     Dennis admits it is a hobby that comes with challenges. One of the biggest challenges is trying to keep the word count to around 300 words. You have to think, Dennis has been known to write legal briefs with thousands and thousands of words. He’s managed to do it, though, and his books have been a huge hit. So, why would a lawyer decide to write children’s books? Dennis has a good answer. “I mainly did it because I want Mason to have the Pinkerton stories.” You might even say he did it for his own children as well. When he first showed them the books, they were amazed to see their childhood friend come to life.

     Being a children’s author isn’t about the money for Dennis. In fact, he’s given away hundreds and hundreds of books. He gives them to clients who have children or children he thinks might enjoy them. One of the most rewarding parts of being a children’s author is that each book tells a story, a meaningful one at that. While younger kids may not pick up on the lesson right away, it doesn’t stop Dennis from slipping those life lessons in each book. He tries to capture everything in life that he thinks is important for children to learn. Even if the adults are reading to younger kids, they can help explain the meaning behind the story.

     Another rewarding part of writing books is seeing the joy that children have when they read them. “When I hear from parents or grandparents on how much the children like the books; when I receive a photo of a child reading one of my books; or when a handwritten note from a child saying “thank you” is delivered, it makes it worth the effort,” says Dennis.

     Being a lawyer isn’t always the easiest profession. Dennis deals with serious cases on a regular basis, cases that can be sad. He says writing is one way he can leave work behind and slip into a world of fiction and fun. After all, Pinkerton Pernelli was born more than 30 years ago and has finally come to life on the pages of children’s picture books. How much fun is that?

     If you’re interested in purchasing one of Dennis’ books, you can find the first three, Mason Meets Pernelli, Pernelli Gets A First Name, and Pinkerton at the Town Celebration on Amazon.

Music and Ministry : Josh Holley

story by Katie Vandenhouten     photos by Shelia Scott

Josh Holley is no stranger to the arts.  He is a worship leader at The Chapel in Rincon, where he plays guitar, sings and preaches. When it comes to creative expression, he does it all. He’s a cartoonist, songwriter, and performer, but he’s most passionate about what he does every Sunday at The Chapel; leading worship in the form of song.

     Music has always been his passion. Holley started playing the guitar in the 90’s with the intention of writing his own songs, and by the early 2000’s, he had already produced his first self-titled cd. His music was popular on Myspace and college radio, but he put his solo career on hold to pursue his other creative interests.

     He was attending Young Harris College when opportunity called, and he decided to learn from experience rather than textbooks.  “I was getting a degree in liberal arts with a focus in speech and communication,” he says. “The point was that all of my friends that had graduated with those degrees weren’t doing anything, but I was already getting work and making a living doing those things. College will always be there– these opportunities are right here.”

     He began working at the Cultural Affairs Department in Savannah, and from there, he did everything from set design to community theater, improv workshops and drama camp. “I work with a lot of different mediums,” he says. “Whatever it happens to be, if it’s creative, I’m all about it.”

     When a professional theatre group came in from Branson, Missouri, and acquired what is now The Historic Savannah Theatre, people in the community told them about Holley, and he began working as the theatre’s house manager.

     Not long after he started, they needed a bass guitarist, so they asked if he could play the bass.  “I don’t know what possessed the band to say, ‘you can be the bassist,’” Holley says with a laugh.

     He had never played the bass guitar in his life, but for some reason, he agreed to try it. “At that point, I had learned God had opened a lot of really weird doors for me just because I would say yes,” Holley recalls. So he took the chance, picked up the bass, and the rest is history.

     Once he started, he performed with the Historic Savannah Theatre for the next seven years. His role in the show kept growing until he was acting and singing regularly, eventually assuming the role of Buddy Holly in the theatre’s beloved Return to the 50’s show.

     His most memorable moment was when he performed with the theatre at Picnic in The Park. “Playing for an entire Forsythe Park full of people–that was thousands of people,” recalls Holley. “It was just a cool experience.”

     Not many people get to perform for a living, so Holley was grateful for the opportunity. But even though he loved performing with the theatre, he felt like God was calling him to do more. “I left the theatre because of the opportunities that kept coming up in ministry.”

     When bandmate, Chris Fullerton, invited him to The Chapel in Rincon, Holley felt at home right away. “It was the first time I went to church where I was welcomed, and I wasn’t judged and I didn’t have to dress a certain way,” he says. “It felt like a real community that was genuine.”

     When they asked him if he would be interested in playing bass guitar for The Chapel, he knew he had to accept. This time, he wanted to use the musical opportunity to glorify God.

     The Chapel in Effingham is not like most churches. You won’t find the traditional pews and hymnals there. You’re greeted with some pastries and a cup of coffee at the cafe, and you make your way to a chair in front of the stage, where the lights are dimmed, the band leads the worship, and the diverse congregation listens to a passionate and oftentimes humorous sermon.

     It is utterly free of pretense, which is one of the main reasons Holley joined. The first time he saw one of the band members in a Red Hot Chili Peppers shirt playing a ZZ Top riff, he knew he was home. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We take God and His word seriously, but none of us are perfect, and we like rock and roll. God gave us joy and rock and roll, so let’s have joy and rock and roll,” he says with a laugh.

     It wasn’t long after Holley joined the worship team (the church band) at The Chapel that he felt called to do even more with ministry. He began working with children’s ministry and then family ministry, and he now works full-time for the church as communications director and worship leader.

     Holley is fortunate to be able to do what he loves for a living. But even though he has had much success in music, he’s also had his setbacks. Like many people, he has struggled with depression and anxiety.

     “That’s not a comfortable thing for anyone to talk about, but I think the fact that we’re so uncomfortable talking about it means that people who need help don’t seek it out because they’re ashamed,” he says. “There’s a stigma attached to it.”

     “Sometimes being true and honest is not pretty and it’s not inspiring to others,” he adds. “But if I talk about it openly, it can help someone else through that.” Inspiring children is important to Holley. He loves working with youth groups, and he strives to be a positive role model.

     Some of the best advice he could give youth today is to follow through in the pursuit of their passion and to never be afraid of not being good enough. In fact, whenever Holley is required to wear a nametag, he doesn’t just write “Josh;” he writes “Joshua 1:9,” which says not to be afraid, for the Lord is with you wherever you go.

     “How many things would I have missed if I kept going through life afraid?” Holley asks. He maintains that most of the opportunities in his life happened because he wasn’t afraid and was willing to jump at every opportunity that God gave him.

     “For the longest time I didn’t do anything because I was afraid or because I didn’t think I was qualified or equipped,” says Holley. “But if I wasn’t willing, I wouldn’t have seen how He would equip me.”

     He is an avid cartoonist, and he is interested in making his own comics and providing online content for kids and families. Holley also enjoys making trading cards for kids at www.wordweirdos.com, and he wants to eventually start teaching virtual guitar lessons online.

     And even though he put his performing career on hold to work with the ministry, he has never stopped writing songs. He is working on finishing a new cd containing both Christian and secular songs.

     For now, his main goal is to expand the ministry and continue to grow the worship team at The Chapel.  “I’ll eventually finish this cd that I’ve been slowly working towards, and then I’ll have to do self promotion, but right now I’ve traded in ‘me’ for ‘we’ or for ‘HE.’”

     Whether he’s onstage or playing alone, he is grateful for music and the ability to perform. “Every time I get to play a note, it’s not just a celebration of that note. It’s the celebration that sound exists and that we get moved by vibrations– that God made that kind of a universe that there’s a potential for that,” he says.

     Whether it be music or ministry, Josh Holley makes the most of every opportunity. And though he doesn’t know where God may lead him next, for now you can find him playing at The Chapel each Sunday at 9:00 and 10:30am. Wherever he performs,one thing is certain: he makes a joyful noise.

Music Is My Healing : Dino Oliver

story by Kelly Harley     photos by Tonya Perry

When God gives you a gift, what do you do with it? For Dino Oliver, he’s using his gift to give back to the Lord. Dino’s gift involves music and when he gets behind his drum set, you’re in for a show. You can hear him play on Sundays at First Baptist Church Rincon. Not only does he play in the church’s band, he sits on the music committee and was ordained as a deacon 12 years ago.

     Dino’s love of music dates back to when he was five years old. He lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and started playing drums. When Dino was 11, his older brother’s band needed a drummer. “I asked my father if I could play in the band even though I was only 11 years old,” says Dino. “After getting my father’s blessing, I started playing in nightclubs around Boston.” Dino’s love for music continued through school and he played drums in his high school band and with another band.

     After graduating, he moved to Florida and continued working in the nightclub scene as a bouncer. It wasn’t long before he found himself traveling with the production company, Clair Brothers, running monitors for big bands such as Kiss, Marshall Tucker Band, Ricky Nelson, The Guess Who, Three Dog Night and Pure Prairie League. Sometimes he even got to sit in for a song or two and play drums. During his years on the road, one of his most memorable moments was when he was running sound for Randy Meisner, the original bass guitar player for the Eagles. “He started playing Desperado and the hair stood up on my arms,” says Dino. “It was a surreal feeling.”

     During his time on the road, he also traveled with smaller club bands. He says he enjoyed the smaller bands better because he could see more of the city he was in due to being there longer.

     In addition to all of the memories he made, he also made a special friend. That friend is Gregg Allman. Dino worked with Gregg on and off since 1982. He ran monitors for Gregg and spent a lot of time on the road with him. “The best thing about being friends with Gregg was riding around Richmond Hill and hearing Gregg’s stories about how certain songs were written,” says Dino.

     Dino will admit that through his traveling days, he didn’t always make the best decisions. He saw what those decisions were doing to his friends and he actually turned to music to help him through some of the harder times. He also credits his wife to leading him to where he is today. In 1986, a week before his wedding, was when he came off the road. “I fell in love and decided to give up the touring life,” says Dino.

     While he gave up the touring life, he didn’t give up his passion for music. In 1996, his wife and children moved to Rincon. That’s when he started attending First Baptist Rincon. He later started playing drums for Courtenay, a Savannah-raised country artist. While he was playing a gig with Chuck Courtenay at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf tournament, he got a call to do a one-off gig for Gregg Allman, which gave him the opportunity to tour with his high school buddy from Massachusetts. “My friend was playing keys for Gregg,” says Dino. “It was great that two high school guys could get together again.”

     While playing for Chuck Courtenay, Dino says he had a hard time being in the bar scenes, so he talked to his preacher. The preacher told him to look at it differently and that those bars could be his mission field. Dino did, but eventually left and now focuses his time on his church band.

     Dino says when he first joined the church they didn’t have a band at the old sanctuary; however, he played drums at the church’s Christmas programs. When they moved to the new building, that’s when the church decided to add what is called a praise band. Currently, the band has a drummer, three guitar players, two keyboard players, a piano player and two to five singers. It’s more contemporary and appeals to the younger generation. Dino says the church also appeals to the elders and they still have a choir, a choir in which his wife sings in. “To us, we want everyone to enjoy every service,” says Dino. “To me, the music at church is a ministry. It prepares your heart for listening to God’s word.”

     Before Dino started playing full time in the band, he used to run the sound system. He also ran sound at Savannah Christian for two years.

     Another unique quality Dino has is fixing sound systems for smaller churches. He says big companies will come in and tell the church they have to spend a lot of money to fix the problems. That’s where Dino uses his skills. He can come in and upgrade a few things and rewire at a minimal price. “I can save the churches so much money,” says Dino.

     While Dino continues to make an impression with his musical abilities, he is also making an impression in the lives of his four boys. All are following in the footsteps of their father. They each play a variety of instruments and are involved in their school bands. His youngest son, Dylon, was the first freshman in 14 years to make the symphonic band at South Effingham High School.

     If you’ve ever heard the song by Florida Georgia Line called “Music is Healing” you’ll get a better understanding of what music means to Dino. It’s his passion and has lived in him his whole life. He says the song by Third Day called “Revelation” is what got him through the death of his mother. “Music is why God put me here. It’s my gift,” says Dino. His favorite quote is by Ray Charles and it’s one he holds close to his heart, “Music to me is like breathing. I don’t get tired of breathing and I don’t get tired of music.”

Putting Heart and Soul Into A Masterpiece : Cathy Heidt

story by Kelly Harley      photos by Shelia Scott

Tucked behind her house in Effingham County sits Cathy Heidt’s shop; you could even call it her little piece of paradise. The big red shed is filled with all of the tools she needs to create what many call unique masterpieces. The walls are lined with sheets of tin, aluminum, old shovels, gas cans, saws, big oil drum lids and pretty much any other metal you can cut. Some may look at these items as rusted or worn out tools, but to Cathy they are her canvases. Eight years ago, Cathy learned to run a handheld plasma cutter machine. That’s when she discovered her passion for making handmade creations and hasn’t stopped since. While she doesn’t call her hobby a business, Tin Signs & Backyard Creations has definitely grown over the years, and despite her humble demeanor, her products are in demand.

How She Creates 

     Cathy’s approach to plasma cutting is one she has down to a science. Self-taught by reading the tricks of the trade and making plenty of mistakes, it’s safe to call her an expert. She’s very disciplined in her approach and is adamant that safety comes first. Before she even begins cutting any piece of metal, she spends nearly a half hour doing maintenance on her equipment to ensure it is properly working. The plasma cutter runs on 220 volts of electricity and the heat coming out is 20,000 degrees. She has to check for any moisture in the compressor and air lines because if there is any, she could stand the chance of being electrocuted.

     She also dresses the part when she begins cutting. “My clothes can’t have any frays. I have to wear heavy work pants and pants with no cuffs,” says Cathy. “I also wear leather shoes, a mask and eye protection.”

     Cathy, who describes herself as a simple person, exudes simplicity while she works. The table she cuts on is actually an old cabinet that she added wheels and blocks to make it the height she needed. It’s only about 3 feet by 2 feet; however, Cathy insists that’s all she needs. Offers to make her a new, bigger table have come, but Cathy’s mentality is if it isn’t broke, why fix it. If you watch her work, you’ll see has everything she needs to make beautiful pieces of art. Fancy isn’t a necessity.

An Artistic Eye from the Beginning  

     During her younger years, Cathy recalls the love she had working with her hands. As a child, she had very few toys and spent most of her time in her father’s shop playing with tools. Her father, who was a machinist, always let her and her brothers learn how to do things. “My dad placed no restrictions on the fact that I was female,” says Cathy. “He believed in equal opportunity and instilled a great work ethic in us. I never heard him say you can’t do something.”

     Cathy says she was also given a gift by God and that gift is to draw. “If I can see it in my head, I can transpose it on paper,” says Cathy. When Cathy creates a sign or a design on a shovel or saw, she hand draws it. Her drawing tool of choice is white chalk. If she messes up, she simply uses her hand to erase it and starts over. While many other sign cutters use computers to map out their designs, Cathy won’t ever go that route. “Lines don’t have to be perfectly straight, that is what makes my creations unique,” says Cathy. “With computer-based drawings, everyone gets the same design. With my hand-drawn creations, even if I draw the same thing, no two are alike. Something is always different.”

A Passion for Creativity 

     Cathy proudly displays the very first sign she created on her barn wall; it’s a smiling sunshine. Her daughter later asked her to cut a friend’s monogram in a piece of old tin for a bridal shower decoration. From that creation, people quickly started asking her to make signs for them. Every sign she creates is done in her free time. She works full time as a Registered Respiratory Therapist at Effingham Hospital, where she’s been for 20 years. She works in the emergency room and admits some days are stressful and sad. While she loves her job, there are days when she needs to come home and decompress; that’s when she retreats to her red shed and cranks up her machine. “The machine gives me the time and solitude and I feel like I’m in a whole other world.”

     In 2014, Cathy was diagnosed with breast cancer and used her creations to get her through the treatments. After beating cancer, Cathy made a sign for herself. It reads, “Lord let me live every day as the gift that it is.” It’s one sign that Cathy says she “retired,” meaning she won’t ever make another one like it.

Design with Meaning 

     Like her sign she made for herself after beating breast cancer, there are plenty of other creations Cathy won’t recreate. These particular signs or creations are ones she makes for people and ones that have meaning behind them. People will call her and say I have an old saw or piece of tin I found in my grandfather’s shed and I would like for you to create a design on it. To Cathy, those are the ones that matter most. “When I can find those people and they get to save a piece of their history, they almost get tearful. That’s what it is all about,” says Cathy.

     Cathy also uses her talent to help local organizations. One in particular is the organization CURE Childhood Cancer. Each year she donates a sign to the Savannah, Statesboro and Springfield banquets to be auctioned off. One sign raised over $400 dollars for the organization. She also donates signs to Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center and The Lowcountry Down Syndrome Society. “My God-given gift to draw and cut these signs is a blessing,” says Cathy. “A Higher Power gave me this ability and this is a way I can pay it forward.”

Always a Hobby, Never a Business 

     Cathy says business has really picked up in the past two years, mostly by word of mouth and people seeing her work. She does very little advertising and she doesn’t care to attend craft shows and festivals. She doesn’t want it to be about the money and she definitely doesn’t want it to feel like work. While she said it’s not like work, Cathy definitely pours her heart and soul into her passion. When she gets a day to cut, she will spend all day in her red shed, bringing her ideas (and those of others) to life. Her shed has no air conditioner and she uses several fans to keep cool and ventilate her space, yet she never complains. The joy she can bring to others and to herself beats having a fancy shop filled with the latest and greatest technologies.

     Over the years, it would be hard to estimate how many hours she’s devoted to her hobby. She has photo albums filled with all of the wonderful pieces she has created. If you flip through the pages of each album, you’ll notice one thing; each of Cathy’s creation is unique and each one has meaning, especially for those they are made for. “I love being able to take something that doesn’t look very nice and make it look pretty. I like to try everything I can,” says Cathy.

     And try she does. Each creation is an inspiration. It proves that using what God gave you and putting it to good use can make a difference. Cathy’s passion is certainly a driving force behind her own happiness and the happiness she brings to others.

     To see some of Cathy’s creations, you can visit her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/customtinsigns/.

Katie McGrory : Bringing Help, Hope and Awareness Where it Counts

“One of the most beautiful things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.”

  ~Shannon L. Alder

story by Katrice Williams     photos by Tonya Perry

Katie McGrory, a Savannah native, has lived in the area since 2016. She has been a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist for Harmony House, her private practice, since 2009. Katie graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Armstrong Atlantic State University in 2002; she later obtained her Master of Science Degree in Clinical Psychology from Georgia Southern University in 2006.

     Thereafter, Katie started teaching collegiate level psychology and went on to begin her counseling career. Currently, Katie does mental health counseling, treating a vast range of clients, from birth to adult.

     Katie offers 100% of various counseling and mental health services. Whether engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy with adults, helping women through challenging divorces or assisting grandparents with behaviorally challenged grandkids who reside with them, Katie’s professional scope is quite broad. She, too, offers group therapy and family counseling sessions to all who may benefit. Actually, Katie is proud to be a part of a fairly new form of group therapy; alongside Mary Close and Jessica Partain, owners of Riley’s Rescue Ranch in Guyton, Katie works with her young clients to interact with therapeutic horses. These horses are trained to maintain the “right temperament to work with kids with all kinds of issues.” The concept has proved to be very successful for her families. Katie appreciates all the promising services offered by Mary and Jessica, knowing that it is a “team effort.”

     Katie focuses largely on helping children with numerous concerns, whether ADHD, anxiety disorders or autism, only to name a few. Autism itself is defined as a “mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.” Katie specializes in treating children with high-functioning autism, which often impacts a child’s social skills in contrast with low-functioning autism, which can pose much greater challenges.

      Interestingly enough, the Harmony House logo, a house made of “puzzle pieces,” indicates that Katie specializes in helping children with high-functioning autism; it is utterly definitive of Katie’s professional plight, as she persists to fulfill her motto: “to create harmony when the puzzle pieces fit.” When parents are enlisting Katie’s assistance, she wants to figure out each detail about their child…each pattern of behavior…each motivation or lack thereof. She “looks at all that is going on with the child” to begin steps to properly fit those often misunderstood, confusing puzzle pieces together.

     Katie affirms, “Then, we can start the work of addressing their issues and begin creating harmony. When the puzzle pieces fit, things get better.”

     As a registered play therapist, Katie has specialized training in working with children. Katie is able to assess activities and behaviors during a play session, which allows her to make proper inferences.

      “I use my playroom to build relationships with children. Adults talk about their feelings, but children play out their feelings,” she said.

     Katie has long had a passion for those impacted by autism and has a sincere heart to help. She would like the community and society as a whole to understand autism better; she wants to clear up the misconceptions that have been prevalent for so long. Hence, Katie knows that most of the misunderstandings and falsities about childhood autism are directly due to a lack of information about the condition, and she certainly wants to help her clients with autistic children to understand it better.

     “I want to have more information and more support out for the autism community. I love working with kids who have high-functioning autism because I feel I understand how their brain works; I understand their challenges because I understand them. I can explain to their parents and to the schools the way they feel and why they’re acting a certain way,” she said.

     Often feelings of hopelessness and defeat may consume parents who feel that they have exhausted every plausible solution.

     Nonetheless, Katie is committed to “give support to the families,” working with each of them to cater to their own very unique situations. She strives to piece together the best course of action for their lives in order for the “child with autism to be the most functioning person they can be.”

     Many who are unaware of the effects of autism often feel that diagnosed children would benefit solely from discipline and correction. However, Katie wants to spread proper awareness to the families and community as a whole.

     She asserts, “Parents come to see me because they feel like they failed as parents, because their parenting skills are not working. This isn’t a child who’s being bad or acting up. This is a child who is confused and doesn’t understand our world, so I can meet them where they are to know how to be successful and functioning. The families are getting healthier.   The parents are grateful; I’m a support system for them, too. I think the parents feel supported and empowered to be able to handle these issues, having that support and knowing they’re not alone and knowing I’m advocating for their children. I just love the families I work with.”

     Further, Katie is aware that many school counselors, special education teachers and other educational professionals lack knowledge of the condition; therefore, it is often not given the correct attention. Katie attends 504 meetings and IEP meetings at schools to help inform educators and help them with each individual case as much as possible.

     She remarks, “These kids are like my kids. I’m very protective of them and want to make sure that they get really good counseling.”

      In addition, Katie knows that it definitely takes a village to help children succeed. That said, she receives client referrals from various community professionals, whether pediatricians, attorneys, schools or others in the lives of those children who may exhibit a need for assistance.

     Katie’s practice is doing very well and she is looking forward to the future. She aspires to one day offer an after-school program for children with high-functioning autism, those kids beyond the middle school years. She would also like to do ongoing training for counselors and play therapists, so there is more of them available to help children in the community. She, too, would like to offer a special support group for this community, where families of children with autism can meet each other and ‘connect’ kids together. She plans to offer parenting groups, those emphasizing effective parenting techniques geared towards each individual child’s needs.

     Katie knows that there is no “I” in “team.” She is incredibly grateful to Jerri Frost, who has been her colleague since 2016. Jerri is a licensed clinical social worker for kids and adults; she is presently working on her registered play therapist credentials. Jerri has helped a lot, and Katie feels that her contributions have been invaluable.

     “She has been a great help…a great addition to the community; she took some of the load,” Katie stated.

     Katie is currently on the board of Ready2Connect, an organization which helps to empower people who are unemployed and looking for work, along with those seeking financial stability.

     She works closely with DFCS (Department  of Family and Children Services), along with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), who are committed to improving the lives of children in foster care.

     In her free time, Katie, who is very big on rescue pets, likes to spend time with her rescued fur babies. She has four dogs, seven cats and even a therapeutic horse, Mocha. She also likes to read and go to catch a good movie at times.

     Katie wants all families in need of assistance to know that needing help is okay. Moreover, asking for it is courageous.

     She comments, “Needing help with their children is not a weakness; it’s not a reflection of their parenting. It’s okay to need help; it’s important to get good help. Families can get healthier…that’s the goal.”