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.”

Johnny Coleman : 2017 All-Greater Savannah Softball Coach of the Year

Johnny Coleman

2017 All-Greater Savannah Softball Coach of the Year

story by Kelly Harley     photos by Shelia Scott

If you had to pick a coach, Johnny Coleman may be your first pick. The Effingham County-native is committed to teaching kids about sports, education and life lessons both on the field and in the classroom.

     Johnny is a special education teacher at Effingham County Middle School. He works with students with slight learning disabilities; students who need a little more support and attention. “It’s rewarding. The students I work with, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from anyone else,” says Johnny. “They have learning disabilities and, with a little extra help and time, they can be just as successful.”

     Johnny’s passion for teaching grew 20 years ago. He graduated from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia, with a degree in middle grades education and later earned a certification in special education. His career has led him to teach physical education, geography and at an alternative school for a few years. This is his second year as a special education teacher at Effingham County Middle School.

     The work that Johnny does in the classroom extends beyond the walls of the room. As sincere as his passion for teaching, so is his passion for coaching sports. Currently, Johnny serves as the coach for Effingham County High School’s girls’ fastpitch softball team and as the coach for Effingham County Middle School’s boys’ baseball team.

     “It’s always special to see young people put a lot of effort into something and be successful at it,” says Johnny. “Because I grew up here, I know the majority of the kids I coach; I’ve known most of them since they were born.” Johnny also has the privilege of coaching his own children. His daughter plays for the girls’ fastpitch softball team and his son for the boys’ baseball team.    “Seeing them and their friends doing well, has been really enjoyable. Being around your kids more, it’s just very special. A lot of coaches don’t have that luxury,” says Johnny.

     When asked about his coaching style, Johnny says he doesn’t like to yell or scream at the kids. He takes more of a competitive approach and it’s an approach that doesn’t mean just beating the other team. “We try to have a competitive atmosphere. I want the kids to just be better than they were the day before,” says Johnny. “These kids are going to have to compete for jobs and everything else one day. I try to stay as positive as possible and help them learn and not be scared to mess up.”

     Johnny says his favorite part of coaching is seeing the kids put in the effort. He says they put in so much work on top of everything else they have to do, it’s impressive to watch them. “When they win or do something better than they did before, that’s what I enjoy. When they succeed, it means a lot,” says Johnny. “As a coach, I just try to give them the information the best ways that I can to get them better physically and mentally and hope they take it the rest of the way.”

     In 2017, his girls’ fast pitch softball team made it to the playoffs. The final eight teams – also known as the Elite 8 – played a tournament in Columbus, Georgia. While the team didn’t win the championship, Johnny says they played really well and that’s what matters. That same year, Johnny was named the 2017 All-Greater Savannah Softball Coach of the Year by the Savannah Morning News. “It was very unexpected. Last year was the first year I had coached the softball team there. We had a good program in place, talented girls and outstanding assistant coaches,” says Johnny.

     Since a young age, Johnny has been drawn to sports. He grew up in Meldrim, Georgia, and his first childhood memories were at the Meldrim ballpark. His mom played softball and his grandfather and uncle coached softball teams. Johnny started playing T-ball in kindergarten and football in second grade. He played recreation ball growing up and played baseball and football all four years while he attended Effingham County High School.

     “High school football was huge when I was in high school. There was only one high school and the whole county was behind us. It was a great atmosphere then,” says Johnny.

     Despite his love of sports, his parents always made sure he kept his grades up. If you didn’t have good grades or got into trouble, you couldn’t play. Johnny says that really helped him realize the importance of having an education and being skilled in sports.

     He says his mom always made sure he did the right thing and carried himself the right way, and his dad made sure he was doing everything right on the football field. He says the support of his family was instrumental in his success. He also credits his success to playing under really good coaches. He played for football coach Bob Griffith and baseball coach Jim Simmons; Simmons still coaches in Statesboro. “They really helped me to learn a lot when I was fresh out of college and they had a big influence on me,” says Johnny.

     It’s those same ethics Johnny is now passing on to those he coaches. He requires them to keep their grades up, to do the right thing and to work as hard as they can. “I try to be open-minded. The older I get, the more I am open to new things. I research as much as I can,” says Johnny.

     He wants his players to know that just because you’ve done something all these years, doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to do it a little better.

Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County Making the Dream of Home Ownership a Reality

Habitat for Humanity
of Effingham County 

Making the Dream of Home Ownership a Reality

story by Kathryn Vandenhouten      photos by Shelia Scott

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization founded on the conviction that everyone deserves a decent place to live. Its mission is a simple one: Seeking to put God’s love into action to bring people together to build homes, communities, and hope.

     Since 1995, Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County has been working to achieve that mission by advocating for fair housing policies, constructing homes, and providing training and resources to help local families improve their living conditions. So far, they have helped twenty families build homes in Effingham, and they hope to keep adding families every year.

     Jimmy Rutland has been involved with the organization since 2004. He started as a volunteer, and the more he became involved, the more passionate he became about helping the community. Now he is the Executive Director, and he works for Habitat for Humanity full time.

     In addition to being a standard non profit, Habitat is essentially a construction company, mortgage originator and retail operation as well. “Habitat of Effingham is multi-faceted,” Rutland explains. Unlike other mortgage companies, Habitat works closely with families to maintain their debt to income ratio and to not only get them into homes, but to keep them there.

     “We’re taking people off the streets,” says Rutland. “And it’s keeping their debt to income ratio less than 43 per cent. Their total housing is only 30 per cent, including their taxes, so that’s a game changer for somebody.”

     Jim Presnell is also on the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity. As a real estate agent and contractor, he literally lays the foundation for these homes. He has volunteered hundreds of hours on multiple homes, but says helping a child get into a good home is always worth it.

     “Habitat for Humanity builds homes for families. Families have kids. Kids are what make the world go ‘round,” says Presnell.  “That’s what the bottom line is for me.”

     Presnell also dispels the common misconception that Habitat families get homes for free. “The misnomer is that we build houses and give them to folks,” he says. That is not the case. “They purchase the home just like everyone else. They have a mortgage, and they also have to put in what we call sweat equity. They have to put time into building the homes with us,” Presnell adds.

     Habitat families do not need a handout; they just need a helping hand. They pay a mortgage like anyone else would, except their lender is Habitat for Humanity, and their cost is more manageable.

     Most banks won’t give someone a home loan if they haven’t maintained the same type of  job for two years, for instance. Habitat focuses less on the type of job and more on the fact that someone has kept steady work.

     Another major difference is that Effingham’s Habitat for Humanity doesn’t just build homes, they build lifelong relationships with the families. Wilhelmina Roberson can attest to that.

     She moved into her new home in December with her three children, the oldest of whom has Down Syndrome. She is grateful for Habitat and for Mr. Rutland and Mr. Presnell for their continued friendship and support. “They’re great people. I love them,” she says. “I can’t say enough, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”

     Roberson calls her new home a blessing, and she knows she has a support system in Rutland, Presnell and all of the Habitat crew. “I can call them any time I need to if I need anything,” she adds. “They’re still involved. If I have any problems, they don’t hesitate.”

     Brittney Roper is another community member who can say that Habitat for Humanity has changed her life. She moved into her mother’s Habitat home when she was seventeen, and now she is getting a home of her own.

     Her new home is currently under construction, and she can’t say enough about Habitat for Humanity of Effingham. “It’s amazing,” she says. “I never thought I would be a homeowner at this age.”

     She says raising the first wall of her home was one of happiest moments of her life. “I smiled ear to ear for like thirty minutes,” she says. “I was full of emotions at the time. It was happy, and I felt like tearing up. I was just overjoyed.” For her and her two small children, this home is not just shelter, but security.

     She also says that Rutland and Presnell are not just workers for Habitat, but family. Habitat has made such a difference in her life that she plans to keep working for them long after her home is built.

     “It’s a great experience and feeling to know that you’re helping someone else in the same situation you were in,” says Roper. “I’m going to continue volunteering. Helping is a really good feeling.”

     Both Jimmy Rutland and Jim Presnell agree.  “It’s good for the heart-period. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally,” Presnell says. “Habitat does the body good.”

     One of Rutland’s most memorable moments occurred recently upon a home’s completion: “Her son came up to her and asked, ‘When are we going to have to move again?’ and she got to tell him, “This is ours. We don’t have to move any more.’”

     Stories like these abound from Habitat for Humanity, and hopefully they will continue to bless area families with homes every year. Their goal is to build at least one home each year, but they need the support of the community to do so.

     Whether it be donations of money, property, supplies or labor, any help will make a difference. Habitat Restore, located at 3065 Highway 21 in Rincon, is a retail sales and donation center whose proceeds go back into helping the community.

     The ReStore is always accepting donations of used furniture, appliances, building materials and other home goods, in addition to monetary donations. No donation is too small to make a big difference.

     For those who can’t make donations, volunteers are always needed. “We save almost half the cost of a house in labor,” says Rutland. No experience is required. “All you need to know is which way to hold a hammer and how to hold up a two by four,” he adds.

     Both Jimmy Rutland and Jim Presnell want the people of Effingham to realize that Habitat of Humanity doesn’t just help families, it helps the entire community. If they take an empty or abandoned lot and build a new home, the city gets taxes and the property value for nearby homes is usually increased as well. The entire community benefits.

     Effingham’s Habitat for Humanity is changing lives in our community. With continued local support, donations, and volunteers, they will continue helping area families by making the dream of affordable housing a reality.

     For more information on Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County, visit habitatec.org.

Vicki and Kevin Edwards : Building Relationships One Rock At A Time

Vicki and Kevin Edwards

Building Relationships One Rock At A Time

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single minute before starting to improve the world.”

                             ~Anne Frank

story by Katrice Williams     photos by Tonya Perry

Vicki Edwards has long appreciated the difference that a happy, healthy community can make. For some time now, she has strived to bring her community together through “friendship and fun.”  In fact, her warmth, creativity and love for community is exemplified by the efforts and initiatives that she implores through her local business, Effingham Rocks, a rock group that she started over a year ago.

     Vicki states, “It’s all about bringing the community together—to build relationships one rock at a time.”

      Actually, Vicki has been in Effingham for about two years after moving from her hometown, North Augusta, South Carolina. Vicki and her husband, Kevin, have four adult children and one little grandbaby on the way. Though Kevin admits that Effingham Rocks is Vicki’s “baby” he has played a tremendously instrumental role since its inception. Vicki’s inspiration for her rock group, the first in Effingham, actually came from her hometown, as she was a member of a local group there. Hence, she was able to experience all the fun and benefits firsthand.

     What’s more, the rock “painting…hiding…finding” phenomenon has become an enormously popular pastime, as it is “going on all across the U.S. and some other countries.” Vicki and Kevin are confident that the group is fun for all ages, adults and children alike.

     Kevin remarks, “Individuals can range from a two-year-old that just paints colors on a rock to the best of artists that have put a lot of detail into it.”

     Some people regard the idea as the most massive and ongoing Easter egg hunt of all time, only painting and hiding rocks instead of eggs. Individuals are able to register to join the group via Effingham Rocks’ Facebook page. Members can purchase rocks from various venues; Lowe’s is often a popular choice. Afterwards, they have the opportunity to paint their rocks as they please and at their leisure. “Acrylic paints and paint pens work best;” using a paint sealer is recommended, so that the rocks are not affected by normal weathering.  n

     Everyone is an artist, so there is no skillset that is too minimal. Then, they can cleverly hide them outdoors, nearly anywhere and everywhere. Popular hiding places are parks, churches, historical landmarks and businesses. Some have been found at Walmart, Kroger, dental offices, in the Lowe’s garden center and at the YMCA. Indoor hiding is not usually encouraged, except with the approval of the venue’s management.

     Vicki says, “You can just stumble across them all over the community.”

     Also, members are encouraged to “hide and seek” in safe areas; this discourages activity in very high places, brushes (unseen reptiles may be present), places that may not be easily assessible or those that may be physically challenging. Participants may choose to leave helpful hints for seekers on the Effingham Rocks’ Facebook page. Further, those who find and take a rock are expected to hide another painted one to make up for the one they acquire. This allows the amount of rocks to remain plentiful for members so that the cycle can go on.

     Vicki comments, “That’s the whole cycle of it…paint, hide, find, repeat.” Participants “may opt to keep what they have found, leave it or relocate it somewhere else.” Vicki and Kevin ask that members place the group name with the Facebook symbol on the back of their rocks. They, too, ask that individuals take pictures of their rocks and post them on the group page to share with others.

     Kevin says, “You might see one sitting on a lamp post at the grocery store; you just pick it up and take your picture. You can keep it or re-hide it.”

     Individuals are not limited to hiding rocks in Effingham but can take them on most any excursion. The couple has been astonished to look on the Facebook page and see the Effingham Rocks symbol on various rocks that have been taken to different places, whether to other states or countries like Germany.

      “It’s really neat to see where some of these rocks go,” Kevin stated.

     Vicki definitely wants it to be tons of pure fun for the entire family and “takes a Christian approach” to handling their business.  That said, there is no tolerance for “negative talk on the website.” Advertising is also not permitted. For safety reasons, a brief questionnaire must be completed by prospective members, which allows Vicki and Kevin to better understand individual motivations for joining, noting any “questionable people.”

     “We are listed as a closed group; that’s just strictly to keep our families and friends safe.

     This is family-oriented. This is straight-up fun for the family,” Vicki insists.

     Vicki and Kevin certainly get in on the action, too. They enjoy painting their own creative pictures on each rock. Vicki feels that Kevin is “very artistic” and much more of an artist than he knows, as he shows a rock adorned with a beautiful waterfall that he painted.

     “We hide rocks; we find rocks, just like everybody else. We actually bump into other people outside doing it, and it’s so much fun. This is a big thing. We love it. The parents and kids—they love it,” Vicki said.

     Vicki likes seeing that kind of happiness coming from all around the community, parents and kids alike. She is proud to contribute to that joy. She loves when parents post a picture of their kids on the Facebook page smiling from ear-to-ear holding a rock. Vicki even recalls being messaged by a lady that told her of how the rock that she found, with a special picture on it, really “made her day.” She also mentions a member taking one with her to a nursing home to share with a patient.

     Vicki adds, “It’s making a difference in the community…that’s really big with me.”

Through Effingham Rocks, Vicki and Kevin also support various local, noteworthy charities and fundraisers. They were recently asked to paint some rocks for some of their group members to take to the veteran’s hospital in Augusta, Georgia.

“We love to see them travel,” Vicki stated.

     Vicki welcomes the support of local businesses, as everyone can play a part. One of her biggest goals is to see the group grow and see participation from neighboring counties. She is also looking forward to the group’s next big “rock swap,” which is basically one big, centralized rock jamboree for members of her group. Parents and kids are able to come together to paint rocks and do some hiding and finding outside on a nice day. Various tables with rocks, paints and supplies are provided free of charge at the events for adults and kids to paint as they like. They also ask for others to bring their own special painted rocks to trade at the event with other rock painters, if they wish. Great snacks are provided as well. Yes, there is food…folks….and fun. Vicki aspires to have one or two each year. New Providence Baptist Church, where Vick works, kindly provided the location for the last rock swap, and it was a great success.

     In her spare time, Vicki loves to spend time with her pets. She has four dogs and is anxiously awaiting some chickens. Kevin jokes and says that she is about to have a little “micro-farm,” as she already has a garden, fish pond and coop for her new chickens. Vicki, too, loves to do antique and vintage furniture shopping; she really likes painting the furniture she attains.

     On the other hand, Kevin has participated in tournament fishing, specifically kayak tournaments, for some time now. At times, when he fishes at his leisure, Vicki gets out on the water with him. The couple loves spending time together and with family.

     Vicki does aspire to paint the world kind one rock at a time and is definitely doing just that with Effingham Rocks. Alongside her husband Kevin, she persists to make the difference that is needed in the world, one community at a time. In her own words, “It’s about fun, family and friendship.”

Andrea Garcia : ECHS Volleyball Player

Andrea Garcia
ECHS Volleyball Player

Story by Cindy Burbage

photos by Shelia Scott

Although volleyball is more than a hundred years old, it is just now developing into a favored sport. Local volleyball player, Andrea Garcia, proves that perseverance is the way to succeed and accomplish life goals.

     The Effingham High School athlete has been playing volleyball for almost 5 years; but getting serious about the sport in the 8th grade. “Before I started middle school, I had no idea what volleyball was. On the first day of school, there was an announcement saying that volleyball tryouts were going to be held the next day. I asked my mother if I could tryout and she said yes, thinking that I was joking with her because I had never touched a volleyball in my life. The next day, I went to tryouts; after tryouts, I looked at my phone to discover that I had about 24 missed calls from both my parents and 50 texts asking where I was. I called them and they yelled at me for 10 minutes asking where I was and why I didn’t call them. I said that I was at volleyball tryouts and they stayed quiet for about one minute. ¨You were being serious about that?¨ my mom asked me. I said yes and asked if they could pick me up at 5:00 for the next two days. They agreed to, but, they thought I would be cut from the team immediately. To our surprise, I made the team,” she exclaimed and then jokingly replied, “I even got the rookie award my 6th grade year.”

     She did not realize her calling as a volleyball player or knew that her future in the sport could change.  “I didn’t become serious about volleyball until Coach Amy Duke came to one of our practices and invited me to be a guest player for her club team. That tournament changed my life! For the first time, I got to see what volleyball was really about. I made friends with many different people, created memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life, and developed fundamental character traits, all while learning how to play. For the first time, I was excited to go to practice and to get better. Without Coach Duke, I would never have discovered the passion I had for volleyball,” she recalled.

     Andrea chronicled, “For the first two years, I played as the setter. In my eighth grade year, the coach put me in as an outside hitter. That year I also won MVP. It wasn´t until my freshman year of high school that I was told I was too short to play hitter. My dreams of being a volleyball player were crushed. That is until the high school varsity coach, Brittney Lein, told me to try playing libero. ¨Li-what?¨ I had never heard of that word. I agreed and spent the majority of tryouts passing instead of hitting. The day they announced what teams we made, I expected to be put on the JV team because I thought there were other players that were so much better than me. Seeing the amount of skill this team had pushed me to work hard and be just as good as everyone else. Though I had no idea what the libero was, I knew I had one job: to keep the ball from hitting the ground. Since then, I have been playing libero for the Effingham County High School Varsity volleyball team. And I enjoy every minute of it. Now, I can’t imagine playing any other position than Libero.”

     After playing a match against a rival school, Andrea’s volleyball careered changed. “The GACA North-South All-Star Classic is a two day event where the best players from all over the state are chosen to compete against each other. I was nominated by Coach Bob Massey from Statesboro High School. After playing against their school team, Coach Lein came up to me and said that Massey wanted to nominate me to play for North-South All-Star game. I was able to meet amazingly talented girls from around the state and bond over our love for volleyball. After putting a lot of hard work into our practices, The North-South teams faced each other in a best 3 out of 5 match. After putting our all in four sets, our team won 3-1. This was one of the best experiences of my life because I got to see true passion and determination with girls I have never even played with. I am very grateful that I got to participate in this once in a lifetime opportunity.”

     Volleyball is not the only sport that the sixteen year old Junior has mastered. “I grew up playing soccer. Since I come from a culture where soccer is idolized, my uncles, Salvador and Javier Figueroa, urged my mother to let me play soccer. For the first few years of my life, I lived and breathed soccer. I played on an all boys team coached by my uncle Salvador until the age of 13. As I got older, my mom was worried that I would get hurt playing with older boys. That is when Robert Long approached me and invited me to tryout for a new soccer club. I played for that club for two years until I decided to take a break from soccer. I thought that when I grew up, I would become a professional soccer player for the women’s national team. But as high school went on, I realized that I couldn’t be in AP classes and do both sports at once. I had to choose which sport I wanted to continue to play. It was one of the hardest choices I’ve ever had to make, but in the end I chose the sport that made me the happiest.”

     Andrea’s drive is one that she learned firsthand from her family.  “My family has always been very supportive of me. They put a great deal of time and energy into our family restaurant, to create a good future and wellbeing for my sister and I. My parents grew up in poverty in Mexico, and started their lives together in the United States with little money and little-to-no family. After living in Houston and working in restaurants for a few years, they decided to move to Georgia to have a fresh start and attempt to pursue their dreams and open their own restaurant. Since then, my parents have successfully managed two businesses. My older sister, Nadia Garcia, has been like a second mother to me. Because my parents spent a majority of their time working, my sister has been responsible for keeping me on track with school work and making sure I had food to eat after a long day of practices and school. My family has done so much for me and I am very grateful to have them in my life,” Andrea shared.

     Andrea Garcia’s future is bright. After graduation, she plans to attend a four year college/university where she will pursue a master’s degree in both Aeronautical engineering and Mechanical Engineering. Hopefully the high school honor student will  design and build airplanes to travel around the world.

CHRIS SHEA : Effingham County’s Agribusinessman of the Year


Effingham County’s Agribusinessman of the Year

story by Kelly Harley     photos by Tonya Perry

If you’ve ever worked on a farm, you know it’s not an easy job. Even if you haven’t ever stepped foot on one, you can likely imagine the time and energy that goes into maintaining one. It involves manual labor. It depends on the weather, which could affect grain prices and ultimately your crops.  Chris Shea knows that farming requires a certain type of work ethic. “When you have a farm, you always have something to do. It’s not a 9-to-5 job, you have to work around the clock, even on weekends,” says Chris.

     Chris should know. He owns two farms, one in Effingham County and one in Statesboro, Georgia. The Effingham County-native, with his family, started the 80-acre cow farm 15 years ago and now raises 75 cows. He lives on the farm and between him and his family, they do all the work. They farm the hay for the cows and feed them. His daughters, ages 17 and 11, also play an active role on the farm. “It’s enjoyable. It takes time, but it’s valuable time,” adds Chris. They raise the calves and sell them when they get around six to eight months old, usually at a cattle auction in Swainsboro, Georgia.

     Chris’s other farm in Statesboro is a 243-acre longleaf pine farm. He started that farm about a year ago as a business opportunity. He sells the pine straw for people to use for things such as flower beds and then cuts the timber off the mature trees. Chris offers advice for someone considering farming, “If you have a passion, go after it. Do what you love.”

     That’s exactly what Chris is doing. His passion for farming, cows and the outdoors started at a young age. He calls himself a normal country boy who grew up hunting and fishing. When he attended Effingham County High School, he participated in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) organization. FFA was founded by a group of young farmers in 1928 with the mission to prepare future generations for the challenges of feeding a growing population.  The program teaches that agriculture is more than planting and harvesting – it’s a science, it’s a business and it’s an art.

     While Chris participated in the program, one of the highlights for him was showing cows. He raised the Red Angus cows that he showed. He participated in local fairs and competitions. He says being part of FFA taught him responsibility and he built lasting relationships with other people who had similar interests, interests that his daughters now share. Both are part of the FFA program and they, too, show cows. “It’s really rewarding as a father to see my daughters do this. I help them with the cows and spend great quality time with them. I even teach them some tricks I know,” says Chris.

     Chris isn’t just a farmer, he’s also a businessman. After graduating high school in 1999, he attended Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College in Tifton, Georgia. He then transferred to Georgia Southern in Statesboro, Georgia, and graduated with a business degree. From there his love of buying and selling heavy equipment took off.

     “I’ve always bought and sold tractors and backhoes with my father, so in 2004, I went to work for Low Country Machinery,” says Chris. After working as a salesman at Low Country Machinery selling JCB equipment for 12 years, Chris worked his way through the ranks and, in 2016, decided to purchase the dealership. In addition to owning Low Country Machinery, he also owns the subsidiary businesses of Low Country JCB, Low Country Massey Ferguson and Low Country Kubota in Statesboro. Since 2016, Chris says his companies have doubled and he now employees 48 people. Chris says every day is different and he enjoys meeting new people.   “Customers are looking to me for advice on what kind of equipment to buy,” says Chris. “It makes me feel good that they put their trust in me. Some people work their whole lives to buy one tractor.”

     Chris’ hard work pays off, not only personally, but professionally. In 2017, Chris was honored by being named Effingham County’s Agribusinessman of the Year. The award was presented to him at the 2017 Effingham County Young Farmers Annual Awards Banquet at Ebenezer Retreat Center by Georgia State Representative Jon Burns. Ironically, Chris worked for   Jon at a feed store while he was in college.  The award isn’t something you apply for, you have to be nominated. “I was totally shocked when I received the award. I thought we were there for my daughter who was getting an award for showing cows,” says Chris. He says the award means the world to him because he went from loading bags at Ijon Webb’s feed store at age 14 to owning his own company.

     As a farmer and business owner, he is very aware of the changes in the farming industry and Chris says the farming industry is constantly evolving. Tractors are becoming automated and are equipped with GPS, auto steer and auto spray. He says the smaller farmers are fading out and bigger farmers are coming in. He credits that change to cost in equipment. “A lot of smaller farms are teaming up with other smaller farms in order to share equipment cost,” says Chris. “One farmer might have a cotton picker and the other a combine and they will help each other out. It takes teamwork to keep smaller farmers going.”

     Chris doesn’t come from a family of farmers. He learned the trade just by being around friends that had farms and working at the feed store. Of course, FFA played an invaluable role in preparing Chris for what he’s doing now. Chris recommends everyone find something they enjoy doing, especially when it comes to children. “I think everyone should learn a trade. Kids sit behind a shut door and play video games or text on their phones,” says Chris. “If we want to occupy the time of the younger generation, we need to teach them how to do something.”

     If you spend enough time with Chris, you might find his passion for farming and helping others achieve their success in farming may rub off on you. If it’s not farming, it could be his genuine interests in helping his customers or his passion for working hard every day.

Zebrandon Gant : State Wrestling Champion

Zebrandon Gant

State Wrestling Champion 

“Failure is a choice, winning is the challenge.”

story by Cindy Burbage     photos by Shelia  Scott

Effingham County High School senior, Zebrandon Gant was first introduced to wrestling four years ago. “My friend Austin (A.J.) King and I were jumping on his trampoline one day and he said ” Z, have you ever thought about wrestling, would you try out for the wrestling team?” I was going to basketball tryouts, but I changed my mind and went with A.J. instead,” the athlete shared.

     His first year of wrestling proved he had natural ability. He went on to state as an alternate wrestler. The following seasons demonstrated he was growing as a competitor. “My 2nd year I placed 3rd in the state. Last year, I placed 2nd in the state. And this year I became the State Champion with a 57-0 record,” he humbly said.

     But the 2017-2018 wrestling season was not about the championship; it was to honor a great friend. It was to express to the world what a footprint a comrade had made in Zebrandon’s life. “My friend A.J.  was like a big brother to me. We did things together like playing basketball, riding bikes, playing football and fishing. Fishing, I have to say was our favorite. A.J. passed away in an accident on August 5, 2017. I wanted to do something that would honor him, so I went into the 2017-2018 wrestling season with the commitment to practice hard, work even harder- that was what A.J would have done. He was a hard worker. His legacy will live on in those whose life he touched while he was here. That was where the 57-0 record came in. He wasn’t the best wrestler, but he was the hardest working one. He had great work ethics”, he sadly articulated.

     It seems that sports in general is “Z”’s niche; he also participates in the football as well. “On the football field, I play several different positions, which include running back, quarterback, linebacker and strong safety. I play where I am needed to get the job done,” the team player voiced.

     The football field is not the only field Zebrandon plays on either. The Effingham Rebel is a starting striker for the school’s soccer team. “I was nominated and won at the high school level for the Wendy’s Highschool Heisman. I excel in those sports as well. Failure is a choice, winning is the challenge,” he modestly said. This award is not a simple win; with over 29,000 public and private school scouted for a Heisman winner, “Z” has proved to be that all around athlete and a role model for others.

     Being a dedicated sportsman is more than a one-person feat. Zebrandon is a member of a big family who cheer for him. “I live with my parents, Ricky and Sandra Gant. I have two sisters Miah and Ariana, three brothers Lee, Marques and Jacquavious. I also have three nieces and one nephew. I have lots of support from my other family members and my church,” he proudly admitted.

     After high school, the eighteen-year-old plans to attend college and eventually become a marriage counselor.

     For Zebrandon Gant’s size, determination and just plain ole hard work has demonstrated to be a good recipe for success. “The other thing that I would like people to know about me is that I am a gentle giant. Most people are intimidated by my size but I would give the shirt off my back and help anyone who needed it. One word that has been used to describe me is humble, it is never about me alone. The best work is teamwork. I owe a special thanks and recognition to Coach Guggino, Coach Jordan, Bobby our athletic trainer, Isiaiah Royal, Alex Williams, Lee Johnson, and my teammates Zekeil Walls and Josh Wright,” the demure gentle giant closed.



1. Don’t skip breakfast. Studies show that eating a proper breakfast is one of the most positive things you can do if you are trying to lose weight. Breakfast skippers tend to gain weight. A balanced breakfast includes fresh fruit or fruit juice, a high-fiber break-fast cereal, low-fat milk or yogurt, wholewheat toast and a boiled egg.

2. STRETCH: Learn to do stretching exercises when you wake up. It boosts circulation and digestion, and eases back pain.

3. Neurobics for your mind. Get your brain fizzing with energy. American researchers coined the term ‘neurobics’ for tasks which activate the brain’s own biochemical pathways and to bring new pathways online that can help to strengthen or preserve brain circuits.

     Brush your teeth with your ‘other’ hand, take a new route to work or choose your clothes based on sense of touch rather than sight. People with mental agility tend to have lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease and age-related mental decline.

4. Brush up on hygiene. Many people don’t know how to brush their teeth properly. Improper brushing can cause as much damage to the teeth and gums as not brushing at all. Lots of people don’t brush for long enough, don’t floss and don’t see a dentist regularly. Hold your toothbrush in the same way that would hold a pencil, and brush for at least two minutes.

     This includes brushing the teeth, the junction of the teeth and gums, the tongue and the roof of the mouth. And you don’t need a fancy, angled toothbrush – just a sturdy, soft-bristled one that you replace each month.

5. Get what you give! Always giving and never taking? This is the short road to compassion fatigue. Give to yourself and receive from others, otherwise you’ll get to a point where you have nothing left to give. And hey, if you can’t receive from others, how can you expect them to receive from you?

6. Get smelly. Garlic, onions, spring onions and leeks all contain stuff that’s good for you. A study at the Child’s Health Institute in Cape Town found that eating raw garlic helped fight serious childhood infections. Heat destroys these properties, so eat yours raw, wash it down with fruit juice or, if you’re a sissy, have it in tablet form.

7. Get spiritual. A study conducted by the formidably sober and scientific Harvard University found that patients who were prayed for recovered quicker than those who weren’t, even if they weren’t aware of the prayer.

8. Bone up daily. Get your daily calcium by popping a tab, chugging milk or eating yogurt. It’ll keep your bones strong. Remember that your bone density declines after the age of 30. You need at least 200 milligrams daily, which you should combine with magnesium, or it simply won’t be absorbed.

9. Knock one back. A glass of red wine a day is good for you. A number of studies have found this, but a recent one found that the polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) in green tea, red wine and olives may also help protect you against breast cancer. It’s thought that the antioxidants help protect you from environmental carcinogens such as passive tobacco smoke.

10. Berries for your belly. 

Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries contain plant nutrients known as anthocyanidins, which are powerful antioxidants. Blueberries rival grapes in concentrations of resveratrol – the antioxidant compound found in red wine that has assumed near mythological proportions. Resveratrol is believed to help protect

against heart disease and cancer.

11. Curry favour. Hot, spicy flavor foods containing chillies or cayenne pepper trigger endorphins, the feel-good hormones. Endorphins have a powerful, almost narcotic, effect and make you feel good after exercising. But go easy on the lamb, pork and mutton and the high-fat, creamy dishes served in many Indian restaurants.

12. Cut out herbs before ops. Some herbal supplements – from the popular St John’s Wort and ginkgo biloba to garlic, ginger and ginseng – can cause increased bleeding during surgery, warn surgeons. It may be wise to stop taking all medication, including herbal supplements, at least two weeks before surgery, and inform your surgeon about your herbal use.

13. I say tomato. Tomato is a superstar in the fruit and veggie pantheon. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful cancer fighter. They’re also rich in vitamin C. The good news is that cooked tomatoes are also nutritious, so use them in pasta, soups and casseroles, as well as in salads.

     The British Thoracic Society says that tomatoes and apples can reduce your risk of asthma and chronic lung diseases. Both contain the antioxidant quercetin. To enjoy the benefits, eat five apples a week or a tomato every other day.

14. Eat your stress away. Prevent low blood sugar as it stresses you out. Eat regular and small healthy meals and keep fruit and veggies handy. Herbal teas will also soothe your frazzled nerves.

     Eating unrefined carbohydrates, nuts and bananas boosts the formation of serotonin, another feel-good drug. Small amounts of protein containing the amino acid tryptamine can give you a boost when stress tires you out.

15. A for Away. This vitamin, and beta carotene, help to boost immunity against disease. It also assists in the healing process of diseases such as measles and is recommended by the WHO. Good natural sources of vitamin A are kidney beans, liver, dairy products, green and yellow vegetables, pawpaw, mangoes, chilli pepper, red sorrel and red palm oil.

16. Load up on vitamin C. 

We need at least 90 mg of vitamin C per day and the best way to get this is by eating at least five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables every day. So hit the oranges and guavas.

17. No folly in folic acid. Folic acid should be taken regularly by all pregnant women and people with a low immunity to disease. Folic acid prevents spina bifida in unborn babies and can play a role in cancer prevention. It is found in green leafy vegetables, liver, fruit and bran.

18. GI, Jane. Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index, such as bread, sugar, honey and grain-based food will give instant energy and accelerate your metabolism. If you’re trying to burn fat, stick to beans, rice, pasta, lentils, peas, soy beans and oat bran, all of which have a low GI count.

19. Pure water. Don’t have soft drinks or energy drinks while you’re exercising. Stay properly hydrated by drinking enough water during your workout (just don’t overdo things, as drinking too much water can also be dangerous).

     While you might need energy drinks for long-distance running, in shorter exercise sessions in the gym, your body will burn the glucose from the soft drink first, before starting to burn body fat. Same goes for eating sweets.

20. Mindful living. You’ve probably heard the old adage that life’s too short to stuff a mushroom. But perhaps you should consider the opposite: that life’s simply too short NOT to focus on the simple tasks. By slowing down and concentrating on basic things, you’ll clear your mind of everything that worries you.

21. Do your weights workout first. Experts say weight training should be done first, because it’s a higher intensity exercise compared to cardio. Your body is better able to handle weight training early in the workout because you’re fresh and you have the energy you need to work it.

     Conversely, cardiovascular exercise should be the last thing you do at the gym, because it helps your body recover by increasing blood flow to the muscles, and flushing out lactic acid, which builds up in the muscles while you’re weight training. It’s the lactic acid that makes your muscles feel stiff and sore.

22. Burn fat during intervals. To improve your fitness quickly and lose weight, harness the joys of interval training. Set the treadmill or step machine on the interval program, where your speed and workload varies from minute to minute. Build up gradually, every minute and return to the starting speed. Repeat this routine. Not only will it be less monotonous, but you can train for a shorter time and achieve greater results.

23. Sunscreen can be a smokescreen. Sunscreen is unlikely to stop you from being sunburned, or to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. That’s because most people don’t apply it properly, and stay in the sun too long.

The solution? Slather on sunscreen daily and reapply it often, especially if you’ve been in the water.

24. Your dirtiest foot forward. If your ankles, knees and hips ache from running on pavement, head for the dirt. Soft trails or graded roads are a lot easier on your joints than the hard stuff. Also, dirt surfaces tend to be uneven, forcing you to slow down a bit and focus on where to put your feet – great for agility and concentration.

25. Beat the sneezes. There are more than 240 allergens, some rare and others very common. If you’re a sneezer due to pollen: close your car windows while driving, rather switch on the internal fan (drawing in air from the outside), and avoid being outdoors between 5am and 10 am when pollen counts are at their highest; stick to holidays in areas with low pollen counts, such as the seaside and stay away from freshly cut grass.

26. Doggone. If you’re allergic to your cat, dog, budgie or pet piglet, stop suffering the ravages of animal dander: Install an air filter in your home.

Keep your pet outside as much as possible and brush them outside of the home to remove loose hair and other allergens. Better yet, ask someone else to do so.