Winston Hencely : Soldier and Survivor

Story By Kathryn Vandenhouten     Photos By Nelson
LaPorte

Winston Hencely doesn’t consider himself a hero. He says he was just doing his job. He never imagined a confrontation with a suicide bomber would leave him struggling to survive. He’s still on the road to recovery, but the Effingham soldier is defying expectations at every turn.

     In November of 2016, the ECHS graduate was an army specialist soon to be promoted to sergeant when he was nearly killed. He recalls knowing instinctively that something was wrong that day. Unlike most Afghan Nationals, the man looked mean and out of place, so Hencely approached him.

     “If I see something, I’m going to say something,” he says. When the man ignored Hencely after questioning him, he grabbed the man’s shoulders from behind, and that’s when he felt the vest. “He blew up right next to me.”

     The explosion killed five people and injured sixteen. Four died onsite and another succumbed to injuries later. Hencely suffered a penetrating traumatic brain injury and multiple shrapnel wounds. “Shrapnel went in the front of my forehead and lodged eight bone fragments in the frontal lobe, and the shrapnel is still back between the occipital lobes,” he says.

     He then lifts his shirt to show a large scar across his chest where he was cut open to remove even more shrapnel from his body. Immediately after the incident, a large piece of his skull was removed due to brain swelling.

     Most people celebrate their twenty-first birthdays by going out on the town; Hencely spent his 21st birthday getting a metal plate in his head.

     His mother, Vicki Hencely, says she remembers the day of the bombing like it was yesterday.” I was sitting here, and I was watching the news, and ticker tape went across the screen and it said ‘Suicide bomber on Bagram in Afghanistan kills 4 and injures 17,’” she recalls.

     When she couldn’t reach her son by phone, friends tried to assure her that she would have gotten a call if something had happened to Winston. Twelve hours later, she got a call from Fort Hood, Texas that confirmed her fears. “I just had that gut feeling. Just that uneasiness. That feeling that something wasn’t right,” she says.

     When her son arrived to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., doctors had to prepare her for what she was about to see. “It was hard to walk in and see him on life support and the machines breathing for him, and he’s just shaking because the part of the brain that controls body temperature was damaged so they couldn’t control his body temp,” she says. “It was horrible.”

     Miraculously, Hencely woke up from his coma and never looked back. Doctors said he would be paralyzed on his left side, likely never to walk again. Hencely had other plans. “I made a decision early on,” he explains. “I could’ve easily given up and just be in the bed the rest of my life. Have somebody feed me, change me-I could’ve, but what quality of life is that?”

     So he did what any soldier would do; he fought. After months in the hospital and multiple surgeries, he never stopped fighting, and his hard work has paid off. “They told me that I wouldn’t walk. Six months later I was walking. They told me that I wouldn’t run-what next?” says Hencely.

     If there’s one thing he loves, it’s proving people wrong when they say he can’t do something. “I use a lot of that as motivation,” he explains. “Sometimes you just get dealt a really bad hand. Whining about it doesn’t make your situation any better.”

     It is that determination that has gotten him this far. He still has a long way to go on his road to recovery, but after multiple surgeries, months of hospitalization, and ongoing therapy, he is proud of how far he’s come.

     “I’ll never be the same as I was, and I’ve accepted that,” he says. His mental scars will last as long as his physical ones. Since the explosion, Hencely has suffered from post traumatic stress and anxiety. The constant fear of danger is never far from his mind.

     Fortunately, a service dog, Loki, was donated to Hencely to ease his anxiety, and the two are now inseparable. “It’s just nice to have something you can talk to that doesn’t talk back but still shows some sort of love for you,” he says.

     The love and support from the community has been overwhelming as well. Hencely and his family were amazed at the homecoming he received in Rincon when he came back. Hundreds of people lined the streets to welcome him home. There are still yellow ribbons lining the road to his home, put up by friends and neighbors to honor him.

     “I’ve never seen so many people come together,” he says. “I want to thank everyone for their support and prayers and everything they’ve done for me.”  The homecoming parade, get well cards, and thousands of well-wishes on social media shows the overwhelming support he’s received from family, friends, and the entire community.

     “Americans don’t know how good they have it, that’s for sure,” say Hencely. “It’s nice being back in America.” If there is one thing he has learned from his brush with death, it is gratitude. In fact, he says the whole experience has made him a better person.

     “It took all this happening to me to realize I don’t deserve anything,” says Hencely. “I’m really more open minded now. I value my life a lot more.”

     He wears a memorial bracelet with the names of those who died that day. It reminds him how lucky he is to be alive, and he vows to do something great with his second chance at life. “I have that with me because they didn’t get the chance to live and I did,” he says. “It’s really hard. Every day is a struggle for sure. My body’s getting better, but I have a lot that I need to work on to mentally overcome.”

     He still struggles with survivor’s guilt, but he is more focused on the future than the past. “There’s a lot I want to do,” Hencely says. “I want to focus on something in neurology or neuroscience. I have a lot of interest in that and I’ve learned a lot.”

     Along with his many coins, awards, and his Purple Heart, he has an exact replica of his skull with a hole in it the size of a fist. To see it is to truly realize how lucky he is to be alive.

     Hencely’s motto is “make the rest of your life the best of your life.” No matter how cliche it may sound, he believes he is here for a reason and he plans to live life to the fullest.

     “There’s a lot more in store. I have big plans. Be patient with me. I love the support and I plan on giving back,” he says. One of the causes that have become even more dear to the Hencely’s is the Adopt A US Soldier program, which connects supportive civilians to deployed soldiers.

     Hencely himself spent months in the hospital, and his mother and grandmother never left his side. Other soldiers are not so lucky. “Walter Reed took a part of my soul away,” says Vicki Hencely. “You can’t visit a facility like that and walk away whole.”

     She says the image of sick and injured soldiers with no family was heartbreaking, which is why the Adopt A US Soldier program is so important. “It’s our young kids missing two arms, missing both their legs and don’t have anybody. Their mom’s not there. Their dad’s not there. Their family’s not there,” she adds.

     Luckily, Winston had strong family and community support throughout his entire ordeal. In fact, he says that waking up to see his family there gave him the encouragement he needed to get well. “That was key to my recovery,” he adds. “Waking up and having my family there.”

     In addition to supportive family and friends, he also gives credit to the staff at Effingham County Hospital, where he continues physical therapy. Little by little, he is regaining strength and mobility.

     Winston Hencely will never be the same person he was before he was injured, but maybe he wasn’t meant to be. And though he doesn’t like being called a hero, this soldier’s battle to recover has made one thing certain: he is a fighter.

Christopher Chavis : Conquering the Catch…Hook, Line and Sinker

“As no man is born an artist, so no man is born an angler.”

~Izaak Walton

Story By Katrice Williams Photos By Shelia Scott

Christopher “Chris” Chavis is an Ellabell native who has lived in Effingham for over 10 years, along with his wife LeAnn. The couple has a son, Landon, 16, and daughter, Gracy, 13. Chris has been doing millwork since graduating from high school and is currently a longshoreman at Georgia Port Authority in Savannah.

     Bass fishing has long been Chris’ passion, as he has loved it as far back as he can remember.

     “I’ve been fishing ever since I was old enough to hold a fishing pole. My granddad used to carry us everywhere with him. He fished tournaments as we were growing up. That’s where I got my passion for it from,” Chris mentions. Chris’ granddad Lee Benson is definitely his biggest mentor.

     Chris fished on the local small club level as a member of the Three Rivers Bass Club for a while. During only his “second year of fishing at the club, he had several good finishes and won angler of the year in points.” After his first year, he “got more into the competitive side” of things after becoming more acquainted with that arena.

     He remembers thinking, “If those guys can do it, I can do it.”

     Early on, he knew that it would be most beneficial to “start fishing really well at home before going abroad to compete;” he was confident that after mastering his skill on his home turf that he could begin “venturing out” much more. Chris fished in team and local, open tournaments and even participated in various charity competitive events.

     Chris began competing as a co-angler, an individual who sometimes fish in the rear of the same boat as a highly skilled and professional boater at competitions; the pairings are often randomly selected prior to events, as the two usually compete independent of one another. Actually, “the very first time that Chris fished as a co-angler, he won.” What’s more, Chris fished in a couple of Bass Fishing League (BFL) Tournaments and American Bass Angler (ABA) Tournaments where he performed very well.

     Chris declares, “I never would have thought in two years that I would’ve done as good and went as far in it as I have.”

     Chris is enormously grateful for all of his accomplishments on the water. Some 2016 finishes included 1st place at the BFL at Clarks Hill in March 2016, 2nd place at the BFL Savannah River Division at Lake Hartwell in April, 1st place finishes at Catt Trail and the Savannah River Elite Anglers last September and 1st place at the Halloween Tricky Two-Day Competition last October just to name a few. Actually, he did a phenomenal job this year alone, placing 3rd at the ABA National Championship at Lake Old Hickory in April, 3rd at the ABA South Carolina Division at Lake Russel in May, 3rd at the Coastal Bass Anglers Memorial Day Open at the Savannah River in May and 2nd at the Metter Bass Masters Open in July.

     Chris has a host of other accomplishments where he led in points over the past few years. All-in-all, Chris has “fished two national events which included over 300 anglers, ten regional events having over 250 anglers and about 20 local events, which included nearly 100 anglers;” he is pleased at his placement in each tournament.

     Further, Chris began fishing as a boater this year, and he continues to exceed even his own expectations. In fact, some boater “trails to be finished” include: American Bass Anglers Ram Open Series in South Carolina, the FLW (Forest L. Wood Fishing League)/BFL Savannah River Division and the FLW/BFL South Carolina Division, all being regional tournaments. In contrast to a co-angler, there is normally more vested interest and overall responsibility with being a boater; Chris really enjoys the challenges that come along with it.

He states, “I’ve done really well as a boater for my first year. There is a lot more on the line.” Chris welcomes anyone interested in learning more about his fishing endeavors to look him up via Facebook.

     Chris has some very beneficial advice for anyone desiring to get more into the sport and compete against others. He suggests, “Make sure you are good around here, then go out and fish as a co-angler for a while until you feel really good and confident that you can do a good job against those guys on their home lakes.”

     With all of his skills, accolades and accomplishments, Chris has a sincere love for the sport—a love that would be difficult to remain over the years without the tremendous support of his wife and kids. They are his biggest cheerleaders. They are truly proud of him and are looking forward to his professional growth in the sport and all that the future has to offer.

     LeAnn comments, “We’re happy to support him. I’m excited for him. How many times do you get to support somebody trying to live their dream? He would support me in anything I wanted to do. We’re behind him completely.”

     She admits that she does go fishing with her husband on occasion and is pretty okay with leaving most of the real fishing up to him. However, she always goes with the goal of getting a catch.

     LeAnn jokes, “I like to go fishing, but I really like to go ‘catching.’ I’m like, hey, let’s go. If we don’t catch anything, I’m ready to go.”

     Chris, a genuinely humble guy, would rather talk about his family or his second love, fishing, than ever be boastful about himself or his achievements.

     LeAnn insists, “He would rather talk about anything other than himself.”

     Going forward, Chris is looking forward to working his way up to the upcoming FLW Tour or the Bass Masters Elite Series, the goal of nearly every angler striving to consistently capitalize on their professional skills. Hence, he has several noteworthy goals in mind.

     Chris remarks, “Next year, I would like to try to fish the FLW’S and the Bass Masters Open. My goal is to take it another step up and go from there and see how it goes. I’m confident enough in myself that I feel like I can go compete and do good…take the chance and go after it.”

     Chris is certainly grateful to all of those family and friends who show their support. Also, he feels very privileged and thankful for all the companies who have chosen to sponsor him, including BD Landscaping, D&V Electric, Beasley Conditioned Air and Greenleaf Construction.

     “Having the support of local companies and good friends and family—it makes a humongous difference to keep you going,” Chris asserts.

     When he is not reeling in a catch, Chris enjoys spending quality time with his family, as he appreciates all of the time that they so willingly and open-heartedly sacrifice for him to follow his aspirations.

     Christopher Chavis is looking ahead to all of the opportunities in store for him as he persists to reach other noteworthy heights. While continuing to embrace the same humility and modesty that is instilled within, the opportunities are nearly endless for this talented and accomplished fisherman.

Clyo Homemakers : Giving Back To Effingham For 50 Years

Story By Susan Lee Photos By Shelia Scott

In January of 1966, a new women’s club was formed in Effingham. The week after their first meeting, the ladies opened the Springfield newspaper and read an article that began, “The Haymakers Circle was organized on Monday afternoon at their club room in Clyo.”

     While the actual name of the group at the time was the Clyo Homemakers Circle, the erroneous title of Haymakers wasn’t that far from the truth. The old saying, “make hay while the sun shines” essentially means taking advantage of an opportunity and doing something while you have the chance. And that’s exactly what this group has been doing for half a century. Whenever they’ve had the chance to help someone in need or an opportunity to donate to their community, they’ve always been on hand with generosity and kindness.

     The group changed their name to the Clyo Homemakers Club in 1989 and celebrated their 50th anniversary last year. The charter members were: Edna Allen, Jaunita Allen, Evelyn Arden, Eva Crenshaw, Shirley Exley, Carolyn Exley (Seckinger), Marie Exley, Marsha Exley (Buckley), Maude Gnann, Margaret Groover, Caryl Morgan, Carolyn Morgan, Julia Rahn and Linda Rahn. Most of the women were previously members of the Clyo Home Demonstration Club, affiliated with the State of Georgia through the Extension Service.

     In the early days, the Homemakers met for years in the former Metzger store across the railroad tracks, renting it for the amount of the annual tax payment. Because the building wasn’t furnished, the ladies brought in tables and chairs and did their best to transform it into a welcoming club house (despite the fact that it had no restroom or kitchen).

     As early as 1976, the group began discussing plans to build a meeting place and soon opened a bank account to start saving toward that goal. They became incorporated in 1991 and soon after purchased the lot north of the Clyo Fire Department. This .7 acre lot had been the site of the home and office of Dr. William Wyburg Smith.

     The club’s building committee was Jaunita Allen, Julia Rahn, Edna Allen, Margie Sullivan and Carolyn Morgan. They not only spearheaded the fundraising, but they also contacted several contractors for bids, selected the floor plan, borrowed money and managed the building process.

     In 1993, they accepted a bid from Harvey Kieffer to build a brick building 32 feet by 50 feet for $46,000. “I have not included any expense or profit for myself in these figures,” Harvey noted on the bid.” They had to obtain a small loan on the building for funds not raised through fundraisers.

     Julia’s fondest memory is when they broke ground. “It was almost hard to believe what this group of women had done, all of us working together,” she said. “We had dreamed for so long of having our own building and now it was a reality.”

     The official ribbon cutting ceremony was held on June 22, 1993, at the first meeting in the new clubhouse. By June 1996, the loan had been paid and they ceremoniously burned the note at a family night supper meeting.

     A true civic organization in every sense, the Clyo Homemakers Club has raised money to support the Effingham community from its earliest days. As Edna Morgan wrote in the club’s 1966-1990 history: “At the first regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 25, 1966, the treasurer’s report showed a balance of $7.11. A money making project was needed. The first project was for each person to put one dollar to work for a month, either make a pie, cake or hand work, sell it, and put the profit into the treasury. As time passed, we became more generous and our money making projects increased.”

     Over the years, their fundraising projects have included bake sales, barbecue dinners, yard sales and Tupperware parties, to name just a few. Each October, the club meeting includes a “Feed the Elephant” auction. “Members bring an item, wrap it up in any way to disguise it, then members bid on it,” explained Patsy Usher. “At the beginning they were mostly baked goods but now we have a variety of items. You just don’t know what you might get.”

     They have also published an enormously popular series of cookbooks since 1976, the most recent entitled “The Best of Effingham”. And each year since the very beginning, the women have sold raffle tickets to award one lucky winner a beautiful hand-stitched quilt. Current members of the quilt committee are Helen Edwards, Julia Rahn, Claudine Arnsdorff, Hazel Lee, Dottie Hamilton and Linda Murray. All proceeds from the ticket sales are used to award a $500 annual club scholarship as well as a $500 scholarship for 4-H students.

     Last year the group made an additional quilt. “For our 50th anniversary, the group made a special quilt that included patches saved from each of the past quilts,” said Edna Allen. The raffle for this commemorative quilt was only open to club members.

     The proceeds from their fundraising endeavors have helped countless Effingham people and community organizations over the years. The group has provided Christmas gifts and food for needy families, delivered Thanksgiving baskets to homebound seniors, helped transplant recipients with needed funds, and hosted birthday parties at the nursing home. They have donated to the Effingham schools, Clyo Fire Department, American Cancer Society, Diabetes Foundation and many other groups.

     The Clyo Homemakers Club’s current officers are: Bonnie Morgan, President; Patsy Usher, Vice President; Julia Rahn, Treasurer; and Betty Allen Sikes, Secretary. The Board consists of Dottie Rahn, Hazel Lee, Brenda Dasher and Past President Patsy Usher. Club Chaplain is Marlene Porter. Scholarships are coordinated by Betty Allen Sikes and Lee Ellen Hanberry. Lee Ellen also manages rentals of the clubhouse. Brenda Dasher coordinates ticket sales for the quilt.

     Currently, the Clyo Homemakers Club has approximately 35 members. “Our members come from throughout Effingham,” said Betty Allen Sikes. “A new member is recommended by a club member and voted on by the club.” She added that 10 new members were added last year.

     “I really enjoy the meetings because it’s a nice group of ladies and I enjoy the fellowship,” said Lee Ellen Hanberry. “You never know what you might learn or who the speaker might be. And you also know you’re doing good for other people. I go home after a meeting always feeling better than before I came.”

     Edna Allen was a charter member of the Clyo Home Demonstration Club. “It’s an honor to continue to carry on what we had started years ago,” she said. “I’ve met so many wonderful people that I would never have met if I didn’t belong to this club.”

     For many club members, the Clyo Homemakers Club is a part of their heritage. Julia Rahn’s mother, May Exley, was a member of the Home Demonstration Club and later joined the Clyo Homemakers Club.Betty Allen Sikes’ mother was charter member Jaunita Allen. “My mother loved this club,” said Betty. “She was the chairperson when our club building was constructed. I’m proud to be a member to honor her and continue to help the community.”

     Bonnie Morgan’s mother, Marie Exley, was also a member. Because her mother was not able to drive to the meetings, Bonnie drove her to the club and eventually became a member. “We’re a close-knit bunch,” she said. “We’re family.”

     Each September, all of the members who are 69 years old and younger host a luncheon to honor the members who are over 70 years old. It’s a special event, with the younger ladies providing the covered dishes and entertainment.

     For half a century, the women of the Clyo Homemakers Club have given of their hearts and souls and dedicated themselves to their community. Fortunately for the people of Effingham, they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Springfield’s Downtown Development Authority

Story By David Pena

The DDA is looking to jump-start the renovation and revitalization of downtown Springfield.

      “If you’re not growing as a city, you’re dying,” says Lonnie Pate, Chairman of the Downtown Development Authority. “Growth is all about improving the community, and you need financial investment to do that, whether it be in housing or retail or any area. And while we have a county-wide Industrial Development Authority and Chamber of Commerce that help the entire county, we simply needed an entity like the DDA whose main focus is attracting new revenues specifically to the downtown area of Springfield.”

     Erin Phillips, Springfield’s Community Development Director and coordinator for the DDA, says, “The city activated its Downtown Development Authority in 2016, which every community in the state is allowed by legislation to do. This allowed Springfield to have a bit more control over what happens to specific properties within the city and to help certain businesses and property owners be eligible for programs that are only available to those within a (designated) DDA area.”

     Springfield created the DDA to both attract new businesses in Springfield, as well as, to oversee revitalization of properties located primarily on Laurel Street. The DDA is moving forward with plans to renovate one such property, the former Walt’s Furniture building, which the city purchased in 2015. Phillips explains, “When the city bought the building, the first question that came up was what exactly to do with it. In part, this was why the DDA was activated in the first place. The city did not  have the means to renovate the building and didn’t want to sell it. Instead, it will be given to the DDA, who will then determine the most ideal use for the structure.”

     The current plan is that the former furniture store will be leased to a tenant who would then sublease it to businesses that include retail and  professional offices as well as a restaurant. The DDA would renovate the building, using a combination of grants and loans, and its primary tenant would then repay the DDA back for the renovation over a fifteen year period in a lease-to-own arrangement. Phillips says the building would have spaces for a variety of tenants, and after the project is finished, the DDA will move on to other buildings downtown.

     “The Mars Theatre is the gem of Effingham,” says Pate. “We are so very proud of that project and its success, but we simply need more options downtown. The Mars is the only thing we have to offer after hours in Springfield, and we’ve got to attract more businesses in the area to compliment the Mars Theatre. Personally, I’d really like to see more restaurants opening up downtown. Hopefully, this (Walt’s Furniture store) project will be the impetus we need to get things really rolling in Springfield.”

     “The DDA is very similar to an Industrial Development Authority, in that it is partially funded by the city, but operates as a completely separate organization from the city government,” explains Phillips.  “The DDA is run by its own independent board, but the board members are appointed by the City Council.”  That’s the reason behind the furniture building being given to the DDA  instead of being put up for auction and turned into warehousing. “It’s just better for the growth of the downtown district,” adds Phillips.

     The DDA is also offering “facade improvement” grants as well as startup grants to new businesses. “The board believes that offering these incentives will hopefully entice new small businesses to open downtown as well as encourage existing business to stay there,” says Phillips.

     This, in turn, will “help promote revitalization and renovation of existing structures in downtown,” the DDA said in a letter to the city council. The facade grants would be matching funds from $500 to $2,500. The DDA would pay up to half of the cost of qualified projects, basically up to $2,500 per project. “It’s designed for any operating business in Springfield to install a new facade or renovate their existing one, provided that the property faces the street or parking area,” says Pate. The grant money could go toward improvements of awnings, signs, walls, paint as well as landscaping and courtyard improvements. In addition, the startup grants would be awarded to businesses that create new jobs downtown. Businesses could get $1,000 per new employee, with a cap of $2,000 per business.

     Pate adds, “I’m really passionate about the work that the DDA is doing. This is where I live, so  I want to make sure that my children’s children have places to go in Springfield. Let’s face it- Springfield has not really been known as a hot spot in Effingham, but by tidying up the existing businesses downtown, these grants would hopefully help attract new businesses for the future.

     Honestly, it’s just like any neighborhood, in that sense. If someone is looking to build a house somewhere, then they first take a look at the properties around it.” And while Pate is pleased at the progress of the renovation of the old Walt’s Furniture building, he emphasizes that the project is just the start of a long process for the city. “This is really only the beginning of a long-term plan for our city; it’s the start of great things to come for Springfield.”

The Loft Café : Different Face, Same Place…Come Eat with Us

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces—just good food from fresh ingredients.”

~Julia Child

Story By Katrice Williams Photos By Shelia Scott

The Loft Café definitely offers a delectable dining experience. It has been a noteworthy and sought-after restaurant in the community since its inception in 2010. As the café begins its 8th year of service, its two co-owners, Bruce Kirwan and Zach Wooten, are excited about what’s to come. Though some things like the extraordinary customer service and palate-pleasing products have not changed, the restaurant’s exterior face with its bold, new image has. However, customers have the opportunity to continue to enjoy great food at the same convenient location as before.

     Bruce Kirwan continuously strives to differentiate the café from others. Early on, he wanted to assure that each customer’s experience would be memorable, and he understands that a good amount of effort is needed for that to be a constant reality. Bruce and Zach feel that service is always the essential foundation for a successful venue.

     “We try to give that service that you don’t find in any other areas,” Bruce remarks.

     Bruce and Zach strive to employ individuals who value the importance of high levels of customer service and also understand the substantial difference that they make in customers overall dining experience.

     Regarding employees, Zach states, “I like to see personality and pride in their work.”

     Though the team is small, which works well for the atmosphere dynamics and business demands, each team member strives to remain true to Bruce and Zach’s goals for the business, which is simply: great service, great food, great atmosphere.

     Besides exceptional levels of service, the two co-owners place extremely high standards on all of the products that are served at the restaurant. Though the price is truly reasonable, to a customer’s delight, nothing about the quality of food is compromised. Only the freshest, most choice ingredients are used to prepare each dish. Additionally, there is a very consistent turnover with the items, as nothing is stored for long periods of time. Bruce and Zach commit to product quality by only ordering what is necessary to be prepared within just a few days. This means that there is “never any  spoilage,” no freezer-stored or old food on hand; the “items are in and out.”

     Zach insists, “Anywhere I eat, I’d personally rather pay for a quality meal. You can tell a difference in the materials.”

     All of that is a formula for an exceptional meal. Each order is important and is prepared with that in mind-the two guys would have it no other way.

     “Every order gets ‘done-up.’ It’s done to order. I hand-prepare every order–from every sandwich to the flatbreads…you name it. It’s made fresh when you get it,” Zach comments. He knows that it may take just a little longer to prepare, but feels that it is “well worth it.”

     The team strives to ensure that the atmosphere is consistently welcoming for all of their customers. In fact, Bruce and Zach had a vision for the business early on, and they persist to ensure that even now.

     Bruce mentions, “I wanted a homey environment…trying to give that southern-comfort feel.” Zach agrees that a warm and comfortable atmosphere is not only beneficial but essential.

     The menu has more of an American-traditional type scope. Whether enjoying the wide array of signature sandwiches, including the Corned Beef or Turkey Reubens, which are topped with either sliced corned beef or smoked turkey breast, along with “sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing” or the French Dip Au Jus Sandwich, made with “Au Jus dipped roast beef with Provolone cheese on an Italian roll,” it’s hard to go wrong with any of the sensational sandwiches. Many customers prefer the variety of wraps that are offered, which may include the famous Club Wrap, with its “smoked turkey breast, ham, thinly sliced bacon, Provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise” or even the Chicken Caesar Wrap, which includes “grilled chicken breast, romaine lettuce, shredded Italian cheese and Italian dressing.”

     Further, the two agree that the delicious flatbreads that are made similar to pizza are definitely a big hit with many customers. From the Buffalo Chicken Flatbread, topped with “grilled chicken breast fillet smothered in homemade buffalo sauce, mozzarella cheese and a drizzle of Ranch dressing” to the Chicken Pesto Flatbread with its “grilled chicken breast, mozzarella cheese, Portobello mushrooms and homemade peso sauce;” these are truly tasty and sure to please.

     Regarding the flat breads, Bruce states, “No one else really does it for the price…we do them pizza-style.”

     Bruce and Zach admit that their fresh salads are often a fan favorite. Whether it is the Greek Salad made with “lettuce, sliced ham, feta cheese, black olives, tomatoes, red onions and house Greek dressing” or their chicken and tuna salads, customers do not leave disappointed.

     “They’re fresh…topped with a lot of ingredients. These are always the best. They’re not pre-made, sitting in a cooler all day,” Bruce insists.

     Interestingly enough, Bruce and Zach take pride in making as many homemade dishes as possible, including both their pasta and potato salads, along with their salad dressings.

     Bruce mentions, “Anything that we can effectively create, we try to.”

     The two co-owners agree that franchising ideas and other business ventures may be entertained sometime in the future; however, they are both pleased with the direction that the business is going.

     Bruce Kirwan and Zach Wooten, along with their team at the Loft Café, plan to continue to keep customers first, knowing that real quality will always count. They welcome all, saying, “Come eat with us.”

Cheryl Tobey : Founder of Coastal Empire Dressage Association

Story by Karlee Anderson Photos by Nelson LaPorte

When Cheryl Tobey’s oldest daughter turned eight, she gave her the awesome gift of a horse. Cheryl did not know then of the exciting journey that she was starting, not only for her daughter, but for herself. She was a school counselor for nineteen years, and while she worked, she grew a passion for horses and riding through the influence of her daughters, Emma and Kate. “They dragged me into it,” she laughs. Now, Cheryl is the president of the Coastal Empire Dressage Association, an affiliate of the United States Equestrian Federation. She started this group three years ago to help support and grow the community around her hobby that she has grown to love.

     “I had always fiddled around and trail rode,” Cheryl shares. “As the girls grew and went off to college, they left the horses here…I said, ‘They’re here, so I might as well start riding.’ And I started getting more serious about it.” That start was about eight years ago, and within a couple of  years, she had begun to take her riding to the next level by competing in dressage. “I’m only about training or first level,” she says. Dressage is a progressive training plan. A beginner will start with basic walk/trot movements and add more difficulty as he or she progresses. The levels are introductory, training, first, second, third, and fourth; after fourth level, the dressage competition progresses to a more major scale. “You can work your way up to the stuff you see at the Olympics which is called FEI…the highest level,” she explains. At each level of dressage, a rider can compete and show with three different tests. When Cheryl and other dressage competitors practice, they know the test to work on and practice the parts.

     When the time comes to compete, Cheryl is given a very specific time to begin; being even one minute late can disqualify a rider from the competition. There is an arena that is sixty by two hundred meters and is surrounded by large letters. “They’re not in alphabetical order; they make no sense whatsoever,” Cheryl laughs. “When it’s your turn you go in and you go around the outside of it. The judge is sitting in the middle at the far end.” Each competitor must pass by the judge to make sure they know who they are and what number they have. “They blow a whistle or ring a bell, something so you know, and you have forty-five seconds to get yourself in the arena,” she explains. All of the tests have around twenty movements that have to be performed with precision. “Each one of those things is given a score from zero, which means you didn’t do it at all, to ten, which is absolutely perfect,” she says. “They will add those up and divide it by the total possible score so that you get a percentage. If you’re in the sixties, you’re real happy. Someone who can get a 70-74 is ecstatic!”

     Cheryl’s own joy and excitement led her to begin the Coastal Empire Dressage Association which averages twenty-two members. “It is just a community, so you can get together and do things. We put on two schooling shows a year,” she shares. “About every other month we will hold a meeting and have a speaker so members can come and learn.” Currently, the association is preparing for their fall schooling show on October 28 at Echelon in Guyton. As president of the group, Cheryl is highly instrumental in hosting this show. She works with her vice president and treasurer as well as any of the membership that wants to be a part of the planning. “We have sort of this ad hoc committee, and they’ve divided up the duties and taken care of different parts of the show,” she says. The upcoming show is something that Cheryl is really thrilled to share with the community.

     Even prior to her own ventures in dressage competition and association leadership, Cheryl became licensed as a C2 steward and a technical delegate for the United States Equestrian Federation. “I’m hired by horse shows, big horse shows to come and make sure people and the shows are following the rules that the federation has set up,” she states. “I spend two to three days or a week making sure that everyone –  the show management, the judges,  the participants – all are playing fairly and equally.” Usually, this job requires her to travel to surrounding states like Florida and South Carolina; however, this summer she has traveled as far as Texas for a show. “I’ve been a steward for probably close to ten years, and I’ve been a technical delegate, which only does dressage, I think about five years now. It’s two separate things,” she says. Those two separate things each required their own licensing. There is a clinic to attend, apprenticeship, application and an exam. Cheryl completed that licensing process for both positions with the encouragement of a friend. “At the time, the United States Equestrian Federation was looking and seeing that a lot of their stewards were getting very old and that they would have a shortage,” she explains. She decided to fill that gap and because of her enjoyment of dressage specifically she decided to be a technical delegate as well. “There aren’t many people in the country that do both things,” she shares.

     Cheryl’s family is important to her, and they support her in her passion differently. Her husband, Tony, is not as interested in watching long hours of competition. “It’s like watching grass grow to him,” she laughs. For a local show, Tony is there right on time to see Cheryl compete, like he will be for the upcoming show at Echelon.  “Because it’s my club, he’ll come and help me set up, and he runs the concession if I need him to,” she says. Her daughters were the inspiration and motivation that got her started in the hobby. The love for horses, specifically Arabians, is shared by the three ladies, and they are passing it on to a new generation. Cheryl has young grandsons that are enjoying getting to learn about horses alongside their mamas and grandma. With the support of her family, Cheryl is succeeding in her pursuits in dressage and enjoying the day-to-day fun of being a horse owner.

MANNA HOUSE MINISTRIES : Feeding The Hungry In Effingham County

Story By  Karlee Collins   Photos By Shelia  Scott

It began over 25 years ago when basically five churches came together to put the resources together to help people that were in need,” Lisa Bush, the Manna House director, explains. “And it grew and snowballed into what it is today.” The Manna House is a ministry of food assistance to Effingham county residents that find themselves in need.

     Lisa Bush has been a part of the ministry since 1999 and has been the director for ten years.

     Today, the Manna House is a food pantry that serves approximately nine hundred families every month. “The families can come every month and get that food assistance. They normally receive anywhere from 100-150 pounds of food when they come in,” Lisa shares. “For a lot of them, we are their only hope for food assistance, and they really depend on coming here and getting that food, and without us they just wouldn’t have it.”

     Partnerships are what make this project possible. “We partner with all our grocery stores in our area,” she says. “That gives us the benefit of getting donations on a corporate level and we’re able to secure a lot of food to pass out to people who need it.”

     In addition, the Manna House is now supported by over twenty-five churches and partners with the school system and other businesses and programs to continue having plenty of food and man power.

     Lisa is one of two paid staff for this ministry; the other is Liz Quarterman, Lisa’s assistant. Volunteers are what make the impressive numbers possible. “We have about sixty volunteers that come every week, and some of them give over fifty hours a month,” Lisa shares. “We’re open three days a week to the public, so we have some very dedicated volunteers that give of their time, and we could not operate without them.”

     Liz has been at the Manna House for four years, and one of her favorite parts is seeing the unity of the volunteers in helping their fellow Effingham County residents. “There’s so many people from different walks of lives, denominations, church backgrounds coming together for one common cause, and that is to meet the needs of the people of Effingham county,” Liz says. The volunteers help to sort and distribute the food donations as well as run the thrift store that helps financially support the ministry.

     When a family or individual comes to the Manna House for the first time, they go into the office area and are asked to show proof of residency and identification. After the paperwork has been completed, the family is taken to the food pantry building where they are given a cart full of groceries. “The first time clients are always the super best ones,” Liz explains. “We bring out the cart, and I don’t know what their expectations are and then they start crying.”

     Each cart is equipped with staples like grains, canned goods, and dairy products. Depending on what donations have come in, there are many special things, like fresh fruits and veggies or baked goods. Lisa shares, “They’re basically like ‘is all that for me?’” Liz explains that the food may not get them through the whole month, but it will free up some money for whatever is causing pressure in their lives. “People live their lives every single day with needs and a lot of people think ‘homeless,’ but you know what, it can be anyone,” she says. “Anyone that’s had an unexpected bill, a sick baby, a car break down, the house flooded, husband got laid off a job…it can be anything, and they can come here and get food. The money that they were going to buy food with they can help with the need.” Whatever the case may be, the Manna House is full of loving people and ready to assist as much as possible.

     Throughout the fall, some projects will be going on to further assist residents in need and to get more people involved in supporting the Manna House ministries. “We will be doing our Fall Food Drive,” Lisa shares. “We reach out to the community, businesses and individuals in our churches that are interested in taking one grocery bag.” Each bag comes back filled with goods that help stock the food pantry. She says, “We put that plead out and it’s usually an overwhelming result.”

     In addition, the Manna House is partnering with the school system and Woodmen of the World for an exciting project. “It’s going to be an effort within the schools to raise awareness for hunger and to allow the schools the opportunity to earn a thousand dollar grant from Woodmen of World for their school by participating in a food drive,” she explains. Both of these initiatives along with the donations of other supporters will help with the upcoming Thanksgiving project. Each fall, families register for a special Thanksgiving meal box that comes with a turkey and many of the other side dishes that are usually on the Thanksgiving table. “That’ll just be something to help them so they don’t have to worry about where they’re going to get their Thanksgiving meal,” Lisa says. “We usually do anywhere from seven to eight hundred families in addition to what we already do each month.”

     Both Lisa and Liz give all the credit to God for the work that is being done. Liz says, “God’s hand is on Effingham County in so many different ways. If you never knew anything about the Manna House, it is amazing to see how big He works here. We all grew up thinking that He was big, but we see it truly in every day.”

     Lisa and Liz have watched as provisions have been made in unexpected ways, and they give God all the credit. Lisa shares one particular incident: “We needed somebody to help with some maintenance issues outside, and out of the blue, I get a community service worker that we don’t know the guy, but he shows up and he’s a master electrician and a master carpenter.”

     Liz adds, “Last year 1800 gallons of milk showed up right after the hurricane.” The Manna House had no power, but all this milk and bread was provided along with plenty of volunteers, and they created a drive-thru for those that needed assistance during that tough time. “To me, it was the most exciting thing that has happened here. When people couldn’t buy milk and they couldn’t buy groceries, He provided enough to feed hundreds,” Liz shares.

     The Manna House’s main purpose is to provide food to those in need, but it gives so many other gifts to the community through uniform assistance for school kids, the thrift store for the public, volunteer opportunities for students with disabilities, community service opportunities, workman’s compensation partnerships, and much more.

     Effingham County is blessed to have an organization full of people willing to serve and help, but there are always needs to be filled in order to make this ministry function at its best. “We’d like for the community to know, we’re an entity here that can use your financial support,” Liz says. Monetary donations can help to ensure that operations continue smoothly and can also help purchase food in bulk for better prices than can be found in a grocery store.

     Donations of food for the pantry and items for the thrift store are also great ways to be involved in this community ministry. The Manna House’s team plans to continue serving well and wants to grow to serve better, and the community has a wonderful opportunity to rally behind this mission!

Inspiring Environmental Awareness One Student at a Time

story by Katrice Williams          photos by Sheila Scott

Zeal can be defined as a substantial amount of energy or enthusiasm when pursuing a goal or objective. Interestingly enough, Jessica Lyons is an impressive reflection of that definition. She has been teaching at South Effingham High School for nearly 13 years.

     Jessica has always maintained a noteworthy passion for education and strives to be a meaningful inspiration to all of her students. She currently teaches Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science, though she has also taught Physical Science and Biology I and II.

     Jessica has lived in the area for about 13 years along with her husband David and 16-year-old daughter Laila. The Illinois native grew up in Rhode Island prior to receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from Savannah State University and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Armstrong State University.

     “I love learning. I really love science and studying the world around us and how things work. My goal is to try to find out what works best; there are a lot of things to try but not everything works. I wanted to be able to share that with students,” Jessica reveals.

     Jessica always wants to make a significant impact on her students, as she also persists to show them the necessity of being responsible citizens and the true relevance of environmental consciousness. That said, Jessica feels privileged to see the growth and success of each individual student.

     She remarks, “I think that it’s very rewarding when you form relationships with your students and see that they’re excited–to see that they’re succeeding…to see who they are and what they’re doing in their lives. I learn from the students; they teach me a lot also.”

     As Jessica’s love for science was a big factor in her deciding to be an educator, she is always eager to pass that passion along to her students in hopes that they might embark upon new and exciting scientific interests of their own.

     “I hope to inspire a love for science in my students. I hope they appreciate the environment as well. My goal is to make the information relevant and rigorous. I want to challenge them.  I’m giving them a good foundation. I hope they go on to be global leaders…community leaders. I hope they go on to make the world a better place; I hope to contribute to that,” Jessica states. She feels that all teachers should be concerned with helping to properly connect with each student while motivating them to reach their highest potential.

     She comments, “Everyday good teachers are trying to solve the problems: How can I reach the kids? How am I making this interesting for them today? How am I going to get their attention today? You’re definitely competing for their attention sometimes.”

     Environmental science is probably Jessica’s favorite scientific field thus far. Actually, she has long been an avid nature lover.

     “I grew up in a family that was always outdoors—we camped, we hiked…went to the beach. Environmental science is just a good fit for me. I’m really passionate about the environment. A lot of times, people think of the environment as something to exploit. I want to pass on to my students that it’s associated with human health. I think there are more sustainable ways to meet our needs. I don’t think we’re there yet; I think we need to go in that direction. It starts with being aware and being educated on the issues,” she asserts.

     In order to educate her students in the most interesting and impactful ways possible, Jessica uses a variety of approaches. Her students may watch documentaries, complete Internet-based labs, do projects or even travel to Skidaway Island to participate in workshops. They have also been able to visit the island’s Institute of Oceanography to enhance their researching skills in that area. In addition, Jessica allows her students to participate in open and thought-provoking educational debates on vital issues like the Georgia-Florida Water Wars and the construction of dams. She has found that many of them “really enjoy the debate format.” Some of the kids appreciate the “hands-on aspect” of some of the nature-based studies, like Tree Frog Studies, that Jessica incorporates into the curriculum. Jessica wants to steadily promote a dynamic and exciting learning environment for each of her students.

     “If you’re doing what you love and teaching topics that you love, it’s easy to be enthusiastic in the classroom and spread it to the students,” she insists.

     With such a remarkable perspective and enthusiasm, it is no surprise that Jessica recently won an international scholarship, the Key Issues Institute Scholarship offered by Georgia Pacific. The scholarship is “geared mainly towards science teachers.” After completing an extensive application process last school term, her qualifications and overall field acumen were reviewed and accepted by sponsors. Jessica learned of her phenomenal accomplishment just before school ended. The scholarship allowed Jessica along with other select international scholars to participate in the week-long Keystone Institute Program. The program, titled “Bringing Environmental Issues to the Classroom,” was held in Keystone, Colorado and began on July 11, 2017.

     The program relied a great deal on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) related approaches to educational development and enhancement. Many of the tasks and objectives of participants involved “investigating and reviewing STEM issues and topics.” This incorporated a substantial focus on environmental issues. Whether tangible or intellectually-based, educators were “provided with tools to help students be good leaders” in order to “inspire student problem-solving, broaden perspectives and encourage them to be engaged citizens.”

     Jessica declares, “STEM areas are so important. I feel that students will really benefit from them in today’s world.” She is excited to take beneficial tools acquired during the program “back to the classroom to increase academic vigor.”

     Some areas addressed involved incorporating environmental sustainability and proper research and data analysis into the class curriculum. Jessica appreciates the “amazing opportunity.”

     In her spare moments, Jessica loves spending time with her family. Whether traveling, relaxing at the beach on Tybee Island or attending music festivals, she feels that their time together is priceless. Moreover, Jessica coaches the boys’ soccer team at South Effingham High, as she does “love soccer” and being able to work with the athletes on their skills. What’s more, she enjoys being outside with her four dogs that she adores. In fact, Jessica volunteers some of her time at the One Love Animal Rescue. Further, she likes gardening and yardwork, though she is quick to admit that her husband David is “better at it” than she is.

     By doing what she enjoys in a field that she loves, Jessica Lyons encourages students to have a sincere interest in their education while developing a healthy appreciation and responsible attitude towards the environment. She is making a real difference in and out of the classroom.

Mary Warner Boss Lady

Sitting on an end table in Mary S. Warner’s home is a large, glittery pink mug that reads “Boss Lady.” It was a gift from a friend at Effingham County High School, where Mary worked for almost three decades, and it sums up the way everyone at ECHS — from preschoolers to principals — feels about her. For the past 28 years, that’s exactly what Mary has been – the boss. As head custodian at ECHS, she led a team of coworkers and “checked to make sure everything was okay to begin the day” every morning before school started.

     Mary is a lifelong resident of Effingham and began her career at the original ECHS, working as a substitute custodian for two years before becoming one of the first employees to enter the current ECHS in 1987. After only a year, she became head custodian and maintained her leadership role until she retired in early June.

     Every day, Mary awoke at 5:30 AM to get ready for work. Throughout the years, her schedule shifted to later hours, but she always rose before the sun. Since retiring, Mary hasn’t set a single alarm and doesn’t plan on doing so any time soon.

     At one point a few summers ago, Mary jokingly hinted to Dr. Yancy Ford that she was approaching retirement. The next day, she arrived at work to find a sign with her name marking a parking spot at the entrance of the school.

     “Mr. Ford put my reserved parking space right at the front. He gave me that so I could come back to work, but I wasn’t quitting anyway!” She laughed. “I was just messing with him, but I got my own parking spot!”

     To this day, Mary remains the only custodian to have a designated spot. Though she no longer needs to park at ECHS, Mary is relocating her sign to her home for safekeeping.

     During her time at ECHS, Mary formed a special bond with colleague Gloria Davis. The two did everything together, including Mary’s favorite task: waxing floors.

     “I love waxing floors,” she said. “At the end of the year after the teachers and the kids leave, they take out all their desks for us, and we wax the classrooms.”

     The two women were partners on the job until Gloria passed away last January, and Eric Warner, Mary’s cousin, joined her team. In addition to Eric, Mary recruited some seasonal assistants to help tidy the school when the hallway traffic was light.

      Every summer, she took two protégés, Jim Ford and Graham Mongin, under her wing. While the classrooms were empty, Mary taught her apprentices how to clean floors and operate scrubbing machines. Together they ensured the school would be sparkling by the time teachers and students returned in August.

     Over her 28 years with the Rebels, Mary experienced multiple changes. She worked with every principal who passed through the current ECHS and witnessed multiple additions to the school’s architecture, but one thing always remained the same: her adoration for the students.

     “All the kids love me, and I love the kids. Pre-k…that’s my heart. They know Mrs. Mary. ‘There’s the boss! That’s Mrs. Mary!’ That’s what they’d say,” She laughed.

     The students were not alone in their admiration for the Boss Lady. When Mary tied the knot with her “wonderful husband” Frank Warner three years ago, many ECHS employees attended the ceremony, including her summer pupil Jim, who was a member of the wedding party.

     From attending prom and grad bash to gaining the respect and appreciation of every student who walked the halls, Mary certainly left her mark on ECHS. But all things must come to an end, and Mary felt it was time to close the curtains on her stint at ECHS.

     “I really enjoyed working at the school all these years,” she said. “That was everything to me, but it’s all about Mary now!”

     In the past, Mary has taken breaks, temporarily retired and made surprise returns to her position at ECHS, but she doesn’t think she will be reprising her role as head custodian any time in the future. For now, she is looking forward to the simple pleasures of retired life, including “watching her soap operas and sitting on the front porch with her cat!”