CHRIS SHEA : Effingham County’s Agribusinessman of the Year

CHRIS SHEA

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.

3 Year Old Piper Hill Battles Cerebral Palsy

3 Year Old Piper Hill Battles Cerebral Palsy

story by Karlee Collins  photos by Tonya Perry

Everybody falls in love with Piper. She’s just so happy,” says Debbie Floyd of her three-year-old granddaughter Piper Hill. Piper is diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy Spastic Quadriplegia, which means she lacks muscle control in all four limbs. In addition to her CP, Piper has CVI which is Cortical Vision Impairment and Epilepsy, and due to these diagnoses, she has  significant global developmental delays, which means she is behind in all areas of development that the average toddler should be able to perform. Piper and her big sister, Caralina, are being raised by their grandma, Debbie. Debbie works full-time and is fully responsible for Piper’s care. She gets to see Piper for the beautiful girl that she is. “I like to say her little body is broken but her spirit is fully intact. She is such a happy baby. She, in her little three years, has taught me so much about life and living and love,” she shares.

     “Unless something is hurting her or she’s hungry, then she’s laughing,” Debbie says. “She loves music, any kind of music really, but her favorite is praise and worship.” When Piper hears music, she stops what she is doing and directs all her smiling attention to the sounds. Despite her issues with her vision, she enjoys watching music videos too and tries to stay focused on them the best that she can.

     When it comes to play time with her sister and cousins, she loves to be tickled. “She loves for them to come up and tickle her. They can just make the sounds and touch her like they’re going to tickle her and she will laugh,” Debbie explains.

     The only thing that really makes Piper upset is when she is hungry! “She would make the perfect participant on a Snickers Hangry commercial. You let her get to that point where she’s just beyond hungry and she’s ‘hangry,’ she’s going to scream,” laughs Debbie. As long as mangos are not on her menu, then she is going to be satisfied with anything she’s given. “She does love her vegetables,” says Debbie. “But we all love vegetables.”

     Each week Piper attends multiple therapies to help her grow and develop and stay healthy. “She’s getting Speech Therapy and they are working on trying to get her to say the sounds because she is nonverbal,” shares Debbie.“She makes her little sounds, but she doesn’t say any kind of words or even try to form words.” Her biggest form of communication is her laughter, but her therapist is working on increasing her sounds. She participates in two types of Occupational Therapy. With one therapist, they work on reaching and purposeful movement. With another therapist, she is working on feeding and working on chewing. Right now, Piper’s diet is strictly purees. To round out her therapies, Piper gets Physical Therapy to help keep her little body moving.

     This year, Piper started three year old preschool. “She’s going to school two days a week for a half a day. That is a good start,” Debbie says. At school, she receives some of the same therapies that she is already working on and gets to play and learn with some awesome teachers. “This past week the teacher said that they were working on animal sounds, and Piper was loving the animal sounds. The teacher sent me a picture of her with a huge smile on her face,” Debbie says. “And my little baby is riding the bus!” The days of school are already encouraging for Debbie. Piper is getting extra support from those who are working with her at school, and the activity and busyness of a half school day seems to be helping with the insomnia that she battles. Her little brain is so active from her epilepsy that Piper struggles to sleep at night. “Her neurologist said that her neurons are just firing all the time and she has a hard time shutting her brain off. Some nights she just lays there and plays, but some nights you can tell she just wants to go to sleep so bad and can’t.” says Debbie. For a grandma to see her baby struggle to sleep, it can be heartbreaking. Debbie is thankful for school and hopes the pattern continues where busy school days lead to nights of good rest for Piper.

     Debbie is a single parent to Piper and her sister. She shares that there are not any support groups in our area that are specifically related to families facing Cerebral Palsy. “All the support groups around here are either for Autism or Down Syndrome,” she says. “CP is such a large diagnosis.”

     Many that are diagnosed with CP may only have issues with one body part and it may not be an obvious struggle. Others, like Piper, have difficulty in many areas and the CP affects all parts of her life. For a family that is dealing with CP, a network of help and support is so needed. Fortunately for Piper and Debbie, the Effingham County   Navigators have welcomed them into their support group. Although this group is not targeted to families dealing with CP, it has been a blessing to Debbie. “We’ve gotten a lot of encouragement from that group. It’s just a monthly meeting that you go to and then they have events that you can go to. They had a Christmas party in December,” she says. “It was pretty cool.”

     CP is a broad diagnosis and the awareness about CP is much less than other disabilities. For Piper and Debbie, the need for greater awareness in our area is great, and Debbie hopes that by sharing Piper’s story people will see the need to seek out and support Piper and others that are battling this lesser known disability.

     Currently, Debbie’s mission is to raise the funds necessary to purchase a handicap van to assist in transporting Piper to her many doctor’s appointments and therapies. “I’m only five foot three, and she’s already three feet tall. It’s just only going to get harder and we know it’s going to take us a while to come up with this money, and that’s why we’re starting now,” she says. “It’s getting to the point where we just need to be able to transport her.” Right now, Debbie moves Piper from her car seat to her wheel chair and back in again every time they need to go somewhere. During cold or rainy weather, this difficult process becomes more taxing, and as Piper continues to grow, it will be nearly impossible for Debbie to go through this process. A better mode of transportation is necessary in order for Debbie to leave Piper in her chair and roll her straight into the van, but a handicap van comes with a 50,000 dollar price tag. The fundraising has begun, and they are just shy of 3,000 dollars.

     Piper’s story can be followed on her Facebook page, “Prayers for Princess Piper.” There, information can be found to donate toward her handicap van via GoFundMe and get involved with upcoming fundraisers. The page will be carrying information about a Boston Butt sale in honor of Piper’s van fund that will take place March 30-31. As a community, Effingham should rally around Piper and be aware of the needs of those that battle a Cerebral Palsy diagnosis.

Josh Reddick: Effingham’s Mr. October

story by Julie Hales

photos by Andrew Yousse, Photographer for Houston Astros

You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end, it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.

                                                                                              ~Jim Bouton

HISTORY

     Baseball surely has a grip on Josh Reddick. For the most part, it’s had a grip on him his entire life. Josh started playing T-Ball in Effingham when he was only 4 years old. Now, at age 30, he is still ‘in the game.’

     Kenny and Cheryl Reddick really didn’t know what to expect when their five year old son told them he wanted to play in the Major Leagues. Most parents would brush that off as a childhood whim, but these parents didn’t do that.

     Cheryl shares, “We supported him in every way we could. We wanted to make sure he had every opportunity to succeed.” Kenny coached Josh and his team mates in the county recreation department and they paid his way to gain more experience through travel ball.

     Josh then played high school ball for the South Effingham Mustangs under the leadership of Coach Kirkland, a man he admires and admits helped him find success on the ball field.

     Middle Georgia College was his next stop in his baseball career. Josh was named Region XVII Junior College Player of the Year during his short time there. As a freshman outfielder, he led the conference with a .461 batting average, he scored 57 runs on 89 hits, seven of which were homeruns and had 33 RBI’s…not bad for a college freshman.

     In 2006, Josh Reddick was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 17th round of the MLB Draft. Yes, MLB stands for Major League Baseball.  This guy’s dream was coming true.

     In 2011, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics where he played right field for his first full year in the majors. “It was a different team with different dynamics. It was very different from Minor League baseball,” says Josh about his beginning experiences with the Oakland A’s.

     But, he adapted very well. It was here, in 2012, that Josh won the Golden Glove Award.

     In 2016, Josh found himself being traded again…next home…Los Angeles. As a Dodger, Josh was immediately headed to the playoffs.  He loved playing with them and there was a much larger excitement level there than he had experienced in Oakland.

     But, his time in LA was short lived…Josh found himself being a free agent.  However, his free-agency was very short lived.  He says, “Houston came calling pretty quickly.” This made the transition a very smooth one for our favorite right fielder.

     It was in Houston where Josh continued to flourish and his Major League career reached new heights.  Here, OUR major leaguer accomplished the dream every little leaguer dreams about…Josh Reddick is now a World Series Champion!

THE MAN

     Anyone who knows him knows there is a little boy lurking somewhere within the man.  There aren’t many professional ball players that have as much fun as Josh Reddick. He will be the first one to tell you that he likes to make it fun…whether it be Spiderman climbing the fence to steal a homerun or his love for wrestling that has traveled with him wherever he goes…even to his new home, now better known by Reddick fans as “Wooston,” he is having fun.

    And, that man remembers where he came from and what it was like to be that little boy with big aspirations.

     “Winning the World Series is a childhood dream come true.  That’s any kid’s dream as a five year old in the backyard putting that scenario through their head of game 7 of the World Series, and going through the motions in the back yard of winning it. Being able to live through that is something I feel is the accomplishment of my childhood dream,” he shares.

     Most people in Effingham County have followed his career.  Many watched him play as a child in the recreation league, others followed his high school career and on to college.  Some may have only started following him when he was picked up in the MLB draft.  But, whenever they became a fan, they remained a fan.

     As a fan, they all experienced the excitement of watching him play in the big leagues and making it to the World Series. They shared in the excitement of every inning of every game.  But, no one can imagine the excitement Josh himself was feeling.

     When the series came down to game 7, the excitement turned into anxiety for many.  But, the Houston Astros proved to us all they were indeed the best team in the nation. Josh shares, “I was so excited.  My heart was racing the entire 9th inning. I remember sitting in the dugout next to Carlos Beltran, who had just recently retired. Knowing that he wouldn’t be back and being able to experience something like that with him, it being my first one and his first one in such a different age group, it was just amazing. My heart was racing. There was just so much excitement. I don’t think I have ever sprinted as fast my whole life as I did onto that field when that last out was made.”

     When Josh was asked what it felt like to be a World Series champ, he shares, “It feels really great.  I am trying to find special words to explain it. Awesome is the word I keep going back to.  Being able to hold that World Series trophy and knowing I am going to be able to bring it to Effingham for a few days. To be able to share that with my hometown is going to be something that I am going to enjoy and hopefully bring some smiles around the county as well. I want to be able to share it with the hometown that I love so much and try to help out as much as I can, the town that gives me so much back to me personally.  It is just going to be a special moment.”

     Josh is very close to his family. This man knows, and loves, his roots. Having his family at the World Series was very important to him. “I couldn’t imagine it without them.  To be in my first World Series, to have all my family around, my best friend and my girlfriend, all my loved ones, to be able to experience this with them, whether win or lose, it showed how much support I had.  I really wanted them all to be there. I can still look back to before I was in the big leagues, to when I was playing travel ball and when I was in the minors,  they all came to watch me play and supported  me and I felt they all deserved to be there. They all helped me get to where I am today,” he says.

     On his first trip home after the series, Josh was surprised with a huge pep rally at South Effingham High School.  Coaches, family, students, county officials and others were there to show their support. He says, “I was shocked. I was told to come to the high school and I really didn’t know why or what to expect.  Knowing Trey (President of the Josh Reddick Foundation), there’s not really much you don’t expect.  The sky is the limit with him. I know how crazy he can be and how crazy this foundation can be. I was very thankful for what the people at South Effingham High did for me. To be supported like that as a high school alumni there, made me feel really special.”

THE JOSH REDDICK FOUNDATION

     Since its inception in 2014, the Josh Reddick Foundation has been on a mission to advocate for the youth of Effingham County with a focus on supporting students, preserving recreational parks and helping those in need.

     The Foundation hosts all charitable events in Effingham County and the money raised is given back to the community.  Portions of all money raised go toward the recreation departments as well as the sheriff’s office, fire departments, animal shelter, the Manna house, the Treutlan House and others.

     The Foundation also gives money back to the Board of Education by being a platinum level sponsor to both Effingham County High and South Effingham High.  They also gave money to each elementary school this year and have plans to give to each middle school in the Effingham School District.

     In July, the Foundation started accepting nominations for “The Josh Reddick Athlete of the Month.” The first winner was recognized in August and the contest is open to any athlete residing in Effingham County from 6th grade up.

     Athletics are not the only focus of the Foundation.  Each year, the organization awards four graduating seniors, one male and one female from each high school, a $1000 college scholarship for academic excellence.

     Josh’s desire to give back to this community has remained evident in everything he does. The Foundation is an avenue where he can continue to do this. When speaking about the Foundation, Josh shares, “In the off season, it means everything to me.  To be able to come back and run a few events and be able to give back to this county that I love so much is important to me.  I just really enjoy trying to help this county to improve  on what we  already have. If there is any way I can help, to kind of leave my mark, it makes me feel good inside to give back. This is where I got my start, this is where it all began.  I feel like I have to give back to it, to be able to help the next generation as much as I can. We are all supposed to leave it better for the ones behind us.”

THE ‘MIRACLE FIELD’

     With Houston having suffered so much devastation from the hurricane earlier this year, the World Series title was something each player desperately wanted to bring home.  Even with it being Josh’s first year in Houston, he still found himself on the streets and in the neighborhoods doing what he could to help these victims…that is the Josh Reddick Effingham County has grown to love.

     This man is always giving.  And, his biggest gift is going to be something absolutely amazing for all of Effingham County.

     The groundbreaking ceremony for the Josh Reddick Field was recently held at the new Clarence E. Morgan Sports Complex in Springfield.  This field is being built with a gift of one million dollars by Josh so that all the youth of Effingham will have a place to play.

     This will be a turf field which is being built to be accessible to children with special needs.  Josh feels like every child in our community should have the same opportunities to play, to live their dream.

     One of the most important messages Josh wanted to relay in this story was his thanks to Effingham County for all their support of him throughout his career.  Well Josh, we want to thank you for all you do for the people in Effingham County!

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.

The Josh Reddick Foundation Lending A Hand In Effingham County

story by Tessa DeMeyer     photos by Nelson LaPorte

For most of the year, Josh Reddick is 954 miles from home, but due to an organization he created that strives to give back to the county, Effingham residents feel like the hometown hero never left. Since its inception in 2014, the Josh Reddick Foundation has been on a mission to advocate for the youth of Effingham County with a focus on supporting students, preserving recreational parks and helping those in need. These efforts are spearheaded by Josh and the foundation’s president, Trey Saxon. With the help of a knowledgeable board of directors and countless volunteers, the two organize multiple events every year that improve various aspects of the county.

“We try to do all the events here in Effingham, and all the money raised is given back to the county,” Trey said. Portions of all proceeds acquired go toward the rec departments as well as “the fire department, K9 Units, the animal shelter, the Manna House and the Treutlen House.” The foundation is a “platinum level corporate sponsor” for Effingham County High School and South Effingham High School with future plans to make $250 donations to the physical education programs of every elementary and middle school in the Effingham County School District.

Perhaps the most well-known of all the foundation’s functions is the charity concert held annually at Freedom Park. The family-friendly mini country music festival, which has featured food vendors, face painting and inflatable attractions in the past, will return for a fourth year in late January or early February 2018, and the foundation plans to continue its tradition of working collaboratively with other nonprofit organizations in order to disperse the profits around the community.

In addition to the highly-anticipated concert, the foundation hosts a home run derby which directly benefits Effingham. The derby will remain at Sandhill Ballpark for the seventh consecutive year, and though the event always welcomes anyone who wants to step up to the plate, Josh hopes to see some new faces at the seventh installment of the competition. “Girls can participate in the derby! It’s always [been open to] boys and girls, but we never have girls show up. We would love to have females in it as well.” In the past, an annual charity golf tournament was held at local courses, most recently Lost Plantation Golf Club, but will not return in favor of more inclusive events.

In late July, the foundation began accepting nominations for their “Athlete of the Month” contest with the first winner being recognized in August. Open to Effingham athletes in the sixth grade and older, the winner will be presented with a certificate and a gift card from one of the organization’s local sponsors. Another new event set to make its debut later this year is a 5K.

“Run the Town with Reddick,” coined by Trey, will be held in November, and competitors will race through Springfield in pursuit of prizes awarded at the finish line.

Athletics aren’t Josh’s only concern, nor are they the sole focus of his foundation. Each year, the organization encourages students to pursue higher education by awarding four graduating seniors, one male and one female from both high schools, who displayed academic excellence with a $1,000 college scholarship. Josh also emphasizes the importance of reading by visiting local elementary schools for storytime. Most recently, he stopped by South Effingham Elementary and Springfield Elementary to share a story with fifth graders.

In June, Josh brought smiles to more children when he and Trey visited patients at Memorial University Medical Center, and the foundation later supported Zach Norton, a young man with a rare form of cancer, during his Celebration of Life Event. Earlier in the year, the foundation sponsored Zach and three other boys battling cancer by donating $1,000 as well as additional items to their families to help cover medical expenses.

With the MLB season in full swing, the foundation consistently works to sustain the connection between their namesake and the county they serve. Though plans have not yet been finalized, Josh revealed that he “wants to work in another [charity] event during the season” to maintain involvement despite being in Houston. Dedicated board members like Vice President Brian Coulter, Treasurer Jan Landing and Secretary Donna Shepard along with the help of the two newest additions, Productions Coordinator Donald Oliver and Media Specialist Julie Hales, ensure that the Josh Reddick Foundation and its positive impact on Effingham will continue to grow.

The future of the organization looks promising, and Trey has confidence that it will continue to expand and improve with time. “Considering the age of the foundation, I think it’s off to a great start. Great things are definitely in store for us.”

To keep up with all upcoming events and developments, like the Josh Reddick Foundation page on Facebook or check out http://www.joshreddickfoundation.org.

Chandler Fritts Young Gun, Old Ways

Story By: David Pena

Photography By: Shelia Scott

Local country crooner Chandler Fritts would rather stick to his roots than follow the current musical crowd.

 

Musician Chandler Fritts has always been something of an anomaly. The recent Georgia Southern graduate says he doesn’t really listen to the radio much, preferring instead to listen to more “traditional” country music like Merle Haggard and George Jones. And with his easy, self-deprecating manner, he is quick to downplay his own abilities, opting to let his music speak for itself. Ah, if that attitude could only be bottled and sold to today’s artists. And although Fritts is not a huge fan of any of today’s country crooners, he feels that all artists should have the same basic goal in mind: to convey a genuine emotion to the listener. “Music has always been about ‘feel’ to me. A musician should try to convey to the audience exactly how they feel, while at the same time trying to evoke the same feelings in them,” says Fritts. “All the songs I play are true to who I am; that’s why I picked them to begin with. The first time I heard (each song), they had an immediate impact on me. That’s what I’m about, and that’s what I want my audience to experience with me.”

Aside from attending GSU in Statesboro, the twenty-three-year-old musician has always called Rincon his home and remembers getting bitten by the musical bug quite early in life. “As long as I can remember, I’ve always been musically inclined,” Fritts recalls. “I started out playing percussion in my middle school band and just went on to a full drum set from there. I practiced every chance I could at home.” Being more of an athlete, however, Fritts soon abandoned the drums for the grid iron. “After about the eighth grade, I really didn’t have too much time to play (drums) since I started playing a lot of sports in high school. Once he graduated, however, Fritts had something of a musical epiphany. “After I finished high school, I pretty much decided out of nowhere that I wanted to learn to play the guitar,” he says with a laugh. So he bought his first guitar before leaving Rincon to attend the University of North Georgia in Athens.

Despite the new and exciting change of scenery, the move to Athens actually helped Fritts as a musician. “There wasn’t much to do there, so I ended up playing a lot of guitar on my own. I’ve never needed any kind of music lessons because once I figured out the chords, I picked the guitar up pretty quickly. In fact, I started playing complete songs about three or four months after starting to play, and it just progressed from there.”

After playing guitar for only about six months, Fritts started to also develop his voice, so it was only a matter of time before he could play and sing songs well enough to perform for others. When he started developing his repertoire, Fritts didn’t have to look far to find musical selections that reflected both his taste and style; all he really had to do was break out the family record collection. “My parents and my grandparents really influenced me in terms of the music I listen to, especially my Papa. I know it’s kind of strange, but I really don’t listen to the radio. That’s because I grew up loving traditional country music with folks like Hank Williams Jr. and Waylon Jennings,” he explains. “But at my gigs I’ll throw in the occasional Alan Jackson song for good measure.”

After changing his major from agriculture to business, Fritts decided to attend Georgia Southern University, which was also closer to home. It was actually upon moving back that he started taking his music a bit more seriously.  “At first I did a few open mics before opening for local groups around Statesboro. I really just wanted to get my name out there. But beginning in my sophomore year (2013), I started playing professionally at venues like Retrievers Sports Bar, where I played my first real gig.” Despite having the butterflies that night, the young singer quickly knew he had found a calling once his first song was underway. “I got up there in front of my friends, which made it a bit easier. However, once I started playing the first song, I just felt a giant release of all my nerves. That’s when I knew that I was meant to do this. Soon I moved on to places like the Millhouse and RumRunner’s, where the audience response was amazing.”

About a year into his musical career, Fritts got involved with William Bridwell of Airbound Entertainment. That’s when he says his number of bookings increased dramatically. “I was playing three or four shows a week. After a while, it was a bit much, and I actually had to turn down gigs.” Although the number of gigs might have decreased, Fritts found himself playing to bigger audiences in more upscale venues. This culminated with an opening slot for national recording artist Corey Smith at South City Tavern in Statesboro. Around that time Fritts joined forces with guitarist Riley Lowery, who’d just returned from Nashville where he had been working steadily as a lead guitarist. “He’s such a fantastic musician and has become a really good friend. I was really lucky to get him,” Fritts says.

The pair played as a duo for few months until they picked up a drummer, then finally hired a bassist to round out their sound. The band played its first show during the opening week of school in 2016 to rave reviews. And although Fritts says he prefers performing with a band, there’s a new kind of pressure that accompanies making music with others. “It’s kind of unsettling because there’s so many moving parts within a band. Plus the band is named after me, so I want it to go well. I feel I’m responsible for anything that goes wrong, but it doesn’t help that I’m probably the weakest musician in the band by far,” he says with a laugh. Despite all the “moving parts,” he loves the reaction from the audience that only a band can evoke. “The crowds are usually more into the music, and you actually don’t work quite as hard being part of a band as opposed to being a soloist. You do a lot less singing and with all the camaraderie, it’s definitely way more fun playing with the guys.”

Lately, however, it’s not been all about picking and grinning for Fritts. The recent college grad will soon be working for Colonial Fuel and Lubricant Services in their management training program. “Even during my last semester of school, I had to pull back on the reins a bit. I didn’t really play nearly as many shows as I had in previous years. At this point, I’ll probably stick to weekend gigs and staying closer to home doing shows primarily in Statesboro and Savannah. I just do it for fun now,” he says. But although he now considers himself to be a part-time musician, Fritts is quick to point out that his passion for music has not subsided; he just prefers to be a realist about his music. “The biggest thing I’ve realized sadly is that the kind of music that I play doesn’t make the radio anymore, and I’m not really willing to change in order to be commercially successful. I’d rather stick to my roots and play music I love for people than become part of the (music industry) machine.”

With that said, Fritts is quick to point out that even though his musical schedule is a bit more limited at the moment, he’s not ruling anything out. He has the familial and financial support to take it to the next level. “My family has been super supportive of my music. They helped me get all my guitars, so they’ve been fundamental in everything. I couldn’t have done it without them.” In fact, when Fritts was thinking about going to Nashville, he said his folks were surprisingly positive about the move. “They said if it was something that I wanted to do, and my hang up was money, then they would do what they had to do to make that happen.”

Whether he’s playing a show at the Millhouse in Statesboro or the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Fritts is grounded in the fact that his purpose will remain true. “As an artist, I’m trying to evoke some really strong emotions from the audience. I love the fact that people can go to a concert and just forget about anything that’s negative in their lives, even if it’s just a couple of hours. They can feel good about life or themselves for that brief amount of time. The best songs are either going to make you smile, make you laugh, or make you cry. If you’re not doing that (as an artist), then you’re not really experiencing what music is all about.”

Adam Heidt: Taking Archery To The Olympic Level

story by susan lee

photos by tonya chester perry

Adam Heidt has a strong sense of focus. Whether he has his eye on an archery target during a national championship or he’s contemplating the steps in his Olympic journey, his focus is unwavering.

What started out as a hobby has turned into Olympic hopes for the teen. At the moment, he’s getting settled in as a Resident Athlete at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.

The Effingham teen, who just turned 17, became interested in archery when he was in elementary school. “I was always into hunting and fishing,” said Adam. “My dad was into bowhunting and I would always be outside with him when he was practicing. He never did it competitively but he enjoyed it and that’s how I was introduced to it. Then, of course, the Hunger Games came out and it got me really interested.”

It wasn’t long before Adam got a simple recurve bow and started shooting in the backyard. “I was addicted from the start,” he said. “Then, on TV, I saw the U.S. archery team competing in the 2012 Olympics. I didn’t even know archery was an Olympic sport, but from then on I was really into it.

When it was time to move up to the next level of bow, Adam and his dad, Chris, headed out to The Range, an archery shop in Statesboro. That store happened to be owned by Carl Greene, a U.S. Archery Level 5 coach (the highest level). “It was their first meeting, but Carl talked to Adam for two hours about archery and competitive shooting,” recalled Chris. “He could tell right away how interested Adam was.”

Greene also happened to be the coach of the 4H archery team in Statesboro, and he invited the young archer out to practice. He also set up Adam with a new bow, this time an Olympic style recurve bow.

Since Effingham at the time didn’t have a 4H archery team, he became a permanent member of the Statesboro team. He joined the 4H team in Statesboro, also coached by Tim Cooper and Tim Wall, and started shooting in state tournaments. It wasn’t long before Adam started earning recognition. “I got invited to the national championships, which were held in Ohio at the time,” he said. “Even though I was only 13, I competed in next age group, the 15-to-17-year-old division. It was my first national competition and I ended up getting 16th in the country. After that, I really started training harder.”

Next, Adam set his sights on the Olympics. “I knew it could have just been a dream, because I know lots of kids dream of going to the Olympics,” he explained. “But then I thought that I might be able to do it if I really work hard.”

Since that first meeting at the archery shop, Carl Greene has been Adam’s coach and is now his primary archery coach.

In 2015, Adam tried out for the 2016 Olympics, competing in the adult division at the age of 15. He almost made the first cut. “I was in the 11th position, but then this huge storm came through and the wind was horrible, tents were flying everywhere,” he said. “I got completely messed up and bumped to 30th. I still had a quarter of the competition to go and I did end up climbing back up to 20th, but I just couldn’t recover.”

Although he didn’t make the Olympic cut at that tournament, Adam did make the national team for his age group, the Cadet Division for 15 to 17 year olds. He earned the 5th spot on the 5-person team.  This past year, he finished in first place and became the team captain for the division.

Since then, Adam spent the year competing in a variety of national tournaments throughout the country. In 2016, he won two gold and four silver medals.

In November of last year, Adam took a major step toward Olympic competition when he tried out for the Resident Athlete Program. “The Olympic team is almost always comprised of resident athletes, which are the athletes who train at the Olympic Training Center in California,” he explained. “I knew that if I really wanted to get into the program I had to move out there so I went out there in November for the two-month trial process. I ended up doing really well.”

After a Christmas break, Adam went back to finish trials at the center in January and then returned home to Effingham. A few weeks later, he got the call that he had made it and was invited back to train permanently at the center. Now he’s on a direct path to making the Olympic archery team.

Adam’s life at the Olympic Training Center is a dramatic change from his home, where he lives out on the farm with his dad, mom Annika and 12-year-old brother Alex. “I was really excited at first about going out to California and being on my own,” he said. “Then I got out there and it was all a bit overwhelming and I just wanted to go home.”

Adam said he has since gotten more comfortable at the center, but his parents understandably are still anxious about him living so far from home. “I worry about him all the time and text him a lot,” admitted Annika. “He’s so far away, it’s not like you can be there in a couple of hours. But I think he’s grown up a lot and the experience has made him more responsible. I also feel like he appreciates things a lot more when he’s home.”

“We’re very excited for him, but nervous at the same time,” added Chris. “But all we can do is put our faith in God, in Adam and all the people watching over him out there at the center.”

At the facility, Adam’s week consists of full days of archery practice as well as intense workouts. “A lot of people think we mostly just use our arms in archery but most of it is our back, shoulders and core,” explained Adam. “So we do a lot of core workouts, targeting our abs, obliques and lats. We also do cardio, because tournaments can be really long and tiring, so you need to have pretty good stamina.”

Adam said physical fitness is also important because the archers at the Olympic Training Center use the National Training System, a technique that no other country in the world uses. “It’s a biomechanically efficient method of shooting a bow, so you really have to know the muscles you’re using,” he said. His coach at the center is USA Archery head coach Kisik Lee.

The athletes, who range in age from 16 to 22, are off on Sundays and Adam spends his free time hanging out in the dorms, sightseeing in San Diego or working on homework. He’s been attending school online this school year because his frequent competitions made it impossible for him to continue at Effingham County High School. “The school worked with me as much as possible, but I knew I was going to be shooting in even more tournaments than normal this school year so it just wouldn’t work,” he said.

While at the training center, Adam will still have a full calendar of national competitions. He has hopes of making the team for the world championships in Mexico City this year.

As for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Adam said he has a lot more work to do before the tryouts in 2019. “There are only spots for three men and three women, but everyone here says they’re going to be on the team, so it’s really competitive,” he said. “We’re all planning to go all the way.”

And Effingham County will be cheering for him.

John David “JD” Fulcher: You’re Not Strong Unless You’re JD Strong

story by katrice williams   photos by tonya chester perry

“Sometimes real superheroes live in the hearts of small children fighting big battles.” ~ Anonymous

The late Christopher Reeves said that “a hero is an extraordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” It is obvious that those heroes come in all sizes. John David Fulcher, JD, is a bright-eyed 10-year-old boy with a boatload of courage that easily complements his warm, witty and straightforward personality. JD has lived in Effingham all of his life, along with his dad Shane, mom Melodie, big sister Anna and big brother Wesley.

JD was diagnosed with B-Cell All, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia last June. It is the most common type of cancer in children; it usually progresses rapidly. It happens when the bone marrow and blood contain too many immature white blood cells, or b-cells (lymphoblasts).

Melodie still counts her blessings, stating, “This is a cancer with a fairly good prognosis.”

Prior to his diagnosis, JD appeared to have stomach virus symptoms. He would also run an occasional low fever. Doctors felt this all to be very common viral symptoms, especially in a healthy child with no known medical problems. JD began to experience leg cramps that became increasingly painful over time. Various tests were done by medical professionals, yet no problems were found. Shane and Melodie tried to do all they could to ease the cramps at home, whether keeping JD plenty of potassium rich foods like bananas or even making sure that he took nice, warm baths for their therapeutic nature. After seeing that their little athlete even occasionally struggled to move around during some of his baseball games, their concern heightened.      .

Melodie mentions, “He started really struggling through ball games. It had gotten to the point where he couldn’t put any weight on his legs.” Thereafter, JD was hospitalized for three days, while his medical staff tried urgently to figure out what was going on.

“They knew his white blood count was fighting something, but they couldn’t find anything in the blood work to indicate it,” Melodie notes.

Additional tests were run, specifically those tracking white blood cells; consequently, a large amount of lymphoblastic b-cells were found.

Since his diagnosis, JD has withstood several procedures and is currently on chemotherapy treatment. The objective of the chemotherapy is to destroy all leukemic cells and to prevent the bone marrow from making other ones. During his current phase of treatment, JD receives a variety of about eight different chemotherapy drugs at any given time. The oncologist keeps a check on his cell count and spinal fluid regularly. Melodie is very thankful that JD’s body has been “handling treatments well.”

Interestingly enough, JD just recently lost his hair, which didn’t get the trooper down much, especially since he had been asking his parents for years for a shaved head. He is looking forward to getting his bald head painted by the well-known and talented local artist Morgan Webb, who has a huge heart for children battling cancer; she does tons of beautiful artwork to benefit the cause.

All in all, JD is just a fun-loving, precious kid. He does not leave his house much, due to a low immune system. He does miss getting out. Whether playing baseball, having fun with his pets outside, riding his dune buggy and four-wheeler or fishing, JD has always been an active guy. He still makes the most of his time indoors and really “likes family time.”

For some time now, JD has been receiving Homebound Instruction a few hours each week from his teacher Ms. Karen Seckinger, who diligently works with him “to help keep him from falling so far behind” academically.

“I like science; it’s my favorite, but my specialty is math. I want to be an RC mechanic,” JD affirms. He would like to do work with an elaborate company like Traxxas, a radio control model manufacturer. JD is intrigued that Traxxas remote control cars are the “fastest in the world,” some being able to reach 60 miles per hour.

Further, JD would love to attend his parents’ alma mater, Georgia Southern University (GSU). Shane is an Eagle at heart; it is obvious that Melodie is as well when seeing all of her GSU memorabilia.

While pointing out his mom’s numerous collectibles, JD jokes, “If you can’t tell, my mama went there too.” JD is also fond of the University of Georgia (UGA)—those Dawgs. He recalls a very generous deed done by the Uga Breeder.

JD states, “About a month ago, the person who breeds the Ugas gave me a picture of an Uga with a stand which said: To my friend JD, from Uga #10.” In fact, JD was visited by the entire UGA Hockey Team while at the clinic receiving treatment. They actually visited all the kids there.

Additionally, JD is very proud of a special Certificate of Courage given to him by the U.S. Army.

The family is incredibly thankful for the abundance of compassion and support shown to JD by various warm-hearted individuals.

Shane later comments, “A lot of special people have come to visit him. He’s gotten a lot of neat little gifts.”

Some renowned individuals include Statesboro-bred country singing sensation Erin Alvy. Even Effingham’s very own professional baseball icon Josh Reddick surprised him with a visit. JD, who had made one of Effingham’s Little League All-Star Teams prior to his diagnosis, was thrilled by the visit and still gets excited just talking about it. Speaking of baseball, JD’s all-star baseball team took a picture for him flexing their muscles after his diagnosis, coining the slogan “JD Strong” for him.

JD’s family is whole-heartedly appreciative for all the care and attention shown by his medical team.

“We’ve been just amazed by how the doctors, nurses, childcare specialists and the social workers just kind of walk this journey with you,” Melodie remarks.

JD does not take any of that for granted. He is a grateful little boy and values all the love shown to him.

JD says that one of his biggest inspirations is his dad. Shane is Superman to him right now. He completely shares in his son’s care, not out of sheer duty or obligation, but because he can see it no other way. He is looking forward to his son’s full recovery.

In his own words of encouragement to other children fighting such battles, JD asserts, “Stay strong…stay JD strong.” Sometimes really big courage can come in small packages.

Ashia Miller Glitz, Glamour and Giving Back

story by katie vendenhouten   photos by tonya chester perry

Effingham County native, Ashia Miller, is the ultimate combination of beauty and brains. She is the reigning Miss Georgia, and she is thrilled to have represented her home state in the Miss United States Pageant this summer in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Most people don’t know that we have a Miss Georgia right here in Effingham County, but Miller says she is working hard to get out in the community to motivate children and to encourage anyone who thinks big dreams can’t come true in a small town.

She began competing in pageants much later than most contestants.  She was 23 when she first started. Now, at 26, she has already won honors such as Best in Interview at the Miss Georgia South USA 2014 and 2016 pageants, fourth runner up at Miss Savannah St. Patrick’s Day 2014, as well as fourth runner up in the 2015 Miss Georgia South USA pageant.

Even though she was late getting involved in pageants, she certainly has a knack for it. Her most prestigious title, of course, came this year when she was crowned Miss Georgia United States.

Her involvement in pageants was always about more than physical beauty. Pageants have fed her competitive nature while also giving her a platform to make a difference and give something back to her community.

“I competed on French horn for so long that I wanted to feed that competitive streak,” she says. “I love beauty and glamour and hair and makeup, but I also like volunteering and so beauty pageants encompass that as well.”

She has always wanted to speak at schools and motivate young people. “I think the reason a lot of girls get involved in it is because of the opportunities and the platform it gives you to talk about your personal causes and to be able to be a role model,” she says.

One of her favorite causes to promote is music education. Miller was a success in her own right as a musician before she became Miss Georgia. She graduated from SEHS with the prestigious John Philip Sousa Band Award and  earned a full out-of-state tuition waiver to attend the Florida State College of Music.

She graduated from  Florida State with a degree in Classical Music with a concentration in French Horn, and claims that music education has benefited her tremendously. “Taking music lessons and learning an instrument improve cognitive processes,” she explains.

“There have been many studies done that show that musicians’ brains are different, and only two years of learning an instrument has positive effects on the brain, and  I certainly have my training in music to thank for my unwavering work ethic,” Miller adds.

She put that work ethic to use when she started competing in pageants. She works full time at The University of Phoenix as a Campus Operations Coordinator, and while she’s preparing for a pageant, she dedicates one to two hours a day to training.

For Miller, it’s all about balance. Managing her job, pageant preparation and various speaking engagements and personal appearances has been a juggling act, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

She says her Miss Georgia title has afforded her many opportunities, but the greatest of these is getting out in the community and promoting causes like Meals on Wheels and being a motivational speaker at schools and other venues.

“I’ve always wanted to go into schools and talk to kids,” Miller says. “But being able to do it now is extraordinary because you get to see the kind of impact you can make just from having a crown and sash on.”

“I always ask the children about their dreams and their goals, and they always have interesting answers, but just seeing someone like me that comes from the small town of Meldrim that no one’s ever heard of in Effingham County, that means a lot to kids who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds,” she explains.

Believe it or not, Miller has had her fair share of obstacles in life. She wants children to know that they, like herself, can overcome anything. She is proof of that.

She has been the victim of bullying and physical abuse, but she refuses to let those negative experiences define her. “Inevitably, there are kids who have experienced the same things,” Miller explains. “Being able to speak to them in that way on their level and encourage them, I think that it means a lot to me, but I know it means a lot to them as well.”

Oddly enough, Miller says her looks were never really an advantage for her when she was growing up. “I wasn’t popular in high school. I wasn’t even what many people would consider attractive,” she says. “I think I’m like a swan. I just kind of aged well.”

Miller recalls her difficult experiences with cliques in high school and in college: “I know what it’s like to be bullied, I know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.” She talks about the struggles in her life in hopes of helping others overcome similar situations.

She’d like to be known not for her beauty, but her compassion for others. She loves to volunteer and give back to her community in any way she can.

Volunteering for Meals on Wheels is especially important to her. When she was growing up, both sets of her grandparents were recipients of Meals on Wheels. Miller has seen the impact the program had on her family and she speaks highly of the program that feeds so many people nationwide.

“It’s always been very close to me because I saw the volunteers indirectly when I was younger,” she says of the charity. “And I said, ‘this is something I want to be involved with’ because of the respect I had for my grandparents.”

In fact, one of her biggest supporters is her paternal grandfather. Miller says it meant the world to her for him to be there when she won the Miss Georgia United States pageant.

“He’s always been so supportive,” she says of her grandfather. “It was the first pageant he ever attended, and he was there and I won it, and my onstage question was about Meals on Wheels and my grandparents.” It all seemed to come full circle at that moment.

Her family is extremely close. She lovingly refers to her mother as the “momager” who custom makes her evening gowns, and it was her brother, Jarrod, who inspired her to start playing the French horn.

Ironically, her brother says his little sister has inspired him just as much as he has inspired her. “She’s driven to succeed, and volunteers her time every holiday season since she was 16 years old to homeless shelters,” he says. “I’m very proud of the woman she has become, and I know she can inspire the youth during her reign as Miss Georgia.”

Miller certainly is an inspiration to the youth of Effingham County. Shortly after winning her title,  her picture was mounted in the halls of SEHS with a banner along with other prominent community figures. She will forever be a face that other students of her alma mater can look up to.

Her attitude is one of positivity and grace. Even though she may not have won the title of Miss United States, she maintains an optimistic outlook. “I felt like I did my best, but one of the things you learn from being in pageants is that only one person is going to get the sparkly hat, and that may or may not be you,” she says with a laugh.

Her ultimate goal is to get into broadcasting, and she has her sights on an anchorwoman position with CNN or Entertainment Tonight. She loves public speaking, and she thinks it would be the perfect career.

For now, she continues to make the most of her sash and crown by judging beauty pageants, volunteering, and speaking at schools and other community events. She says people may not remember what you say, but they’ll always remember how you make them feel, and so she does everything in her power to make people feel good.

Miller prides herself on her southern charm and hospitality. “I like to say that I’m a glass of sweet tea with a little something special in there,” she says with a smile. “I’m very southern, very. I prefer simplicity over anything.”

Ashia Miller is a beautiful person, inside and out. In her own words: “Beauty is something that is moreso internal than anything.”  This year’s Miss Georgia United States has shown that true beauty is not just glitz and glamour, but giving back.

To schedule speaking engagements or appearances with Ashia, contact her at ashia.k.miller@gmail.com.

Josh Reddick Keeping The Dream Alive

story by julie hales    photos provided by Jon Soo Hoo ©Los Angeles Dodgers, LLC 2016

South Effingham High School standout, Josh Reddick, was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 17th round of the Major League Baseball Draft in 2006.

Fast forward 10 years.

Josh Reddick is playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who just clenched the National League West, and are hopefully heading to the 2016 World Series.

Wow!  And then, there’s all that in between.

Josh’s first stint in the Majors was with Boston.  Reminiscing of those days, Josh says, “Boston was everything I had hoped for.  I was treated like royalty there.”

In 2011, Josh was traded to the Oakland A’s.  It is with Oakland that Josh played his first full year as a Major Leaguer.

Being traded to Oakland was a big change for Josh…a much different experience.  He said, “It was a different team, different dynamics, very different from Minor League and High school baseball.”

But, Josh adapted very well.  In 2012, he won the Golden Glove Award.  This was the first time an Oakland outfielder had received this prestigious award in 27 years.

Earlier this year, Josh was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. With this trade, Josh finds himself on a team headed to the playoffs.

Josh says, “I am having a blast.  I am very excited and happy to be back in the playoffs.”

When asked how he felt about his trade to the Dodgers, Josh said, “You stay somewhere for so long and you get used to being there.  It’s a level of comfort. And, you become a pretty good fan favorite. But, at the same time, it’s better for me and for that team to move on.  And, it’s been what I wanted.”

Moving to Los Angeles has been an adjustment for Josh.  “As much as I don’t like the city of LA, not the people, the people are great, but the city is just so fast-paced, tons of buildings, so many people.  It’s just different for me.  Coming from where I come from, people can understand you just want your space. I do love playing in LA and having a guy like Vin Scully call a game for me is incredible. It has a lot of ups,” he said.

Josh Reddick was traded to the Dodgers organization for two pretty big prospects.  When he first came to LA, he wasn’t producing right away. This was a very frustrating time for Josh.  He recounts, “When you first come to a new team, you want to help that team. I didn’t do that right at the beginning. But the team was good enough without me and the guys made the transition easy…and this past month has been a big turn for me.”

A turn it has been.  Josh has been on fire!  If you were fortunate enough to see his grand slam on Saturday night, September 24th against the Rockies, you can see the difference.  Josh recalls, “It felt amazing! One, to have a guy like Scully call it, and two…I haven’t hit a lot of home runs since I’ve been here.  So, it felt great to be able to help my team drive runs in.”

Playing for the Dodgers is a much different excitement level for Josh than when he played in Oakland.  The Dodgers stadium boasts over 40,000 fans per game. The last two games called by Scully, the weekend of Josh’s grand slam, the Dodgers attracted 50,000 fans. In Oakland, the average game brought in 8,000 to 12,000 fans.  That is a huge difference.

Back home in Effingham, Josh Reddick has many fans.  He still calls Effingham home and resides here in the off season.

He is also still working strong on the Josh Reddick Foundation, an organization founded by him in 2014 to give back to his community.  In 2016, the Josh Reddick Foundation has given approximately $20,000 to public safety, the Treutlan House, Effingham County Animal Shelter and Effingham Parks and Recreation.

There are definitely hopes of raising more money in 2017.  There is an upcoming golf tournament planned, along with a concert coming in January and the annual Home Run Derby coming in February. Be on the lookout for dates and times.

In closing, Josh adds, “I want to thank the people of Effingham for your continued support over my last 10 years in professional baseball. It is a big honor to be recognized in this county.  In return, I try to do as much as I can to help out and make our county even better.”

“I also want to thank Julie and Effingham Magazine.  To have been on the cover of the  premier issue when I was drafted by Boston was an honor.  Now, 10 years later, it is a greater honor to be a part of their 10 Year Anniversary,” he stated.