2014 Hometown Heroes

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2014 Hometown HeroesMary Davis
Nominated by: Angie Macon and Sherry Jackman

Mary Davis does not let her age define her. She demonstrates that age is truly just a number and does not limit what a person can contribute to the community. Mary volunteers for the Decatur Arts Alliance and the Decatur Visitor’s Center offices, which are located in the same building. She staffs the front desk, answering the telephone, organizing marketing material and gathering information for visitors. Mary welcomes and talks to an endless number of people who come to the Decatur Visitor’s Center.

Mary has also worked countless hours for the Decatur Arts Alliance. She volunteers at gallery receptions, member events, as well as the month long Decatur Arts Festival held annually in May. Mary does whatever is needed to make our jobs easier. Her commitment to her volunteer position is unmatched. She never misses an assigned shift and always stays until the job is done. Her enthusiasm and exuberance for life make working with her a pleasure.


Gayle Gellerstedt and Bill Funk
Nominated by: Tyese Lawyer

Over the past 30 years, Gayle Gellerstedt and her husband Bill Funk have demonstrated a sustained commitment to making Decatur a community where families of all backgrounds and incomes have access to high quality schools and family support services. Their commitment to education led to their service with the Decatur Education Foundation (DEF). As a founding member, Gayle served as vice chair for two years and chair of the board for three years. Gayle’s leadership enabled DEF to increase its donor base and annual income, expand programs and scholarships, and successfully accomplish small projects.

Their belief that every person has the right to those resources that make for a fulfilling life is demonstrated in their service on the advisory board of L’Arche Atlanta. Gayle is also on the Our House board of directors. Her commitment to the mission of providing homeless families with a firm foundation for school success, while also providing their parents with the tools and resources they need to achieve self-sufficiency, has been transformative. Her service on the board from 2006 through 2013 (and board chair from 2010-2013) led the organization successfully through a capital campaign, through expansion, and finally, in 2013, to a merger that will more than double the amount of homeless families Our House serves annually. Together, Gayle and Bill have built a legacy of philanthropic work and civic engagement.


Annie Godfrey
Nominated by: Carol Ellis Morgan

For over 10 years, Annie has been actively involved as a volunteer at Woodlands Garden, a treasured greenspace in Decatur, regularly hosting Sundays in the Garden and other garden events and participating in work days. She has served on the board of directors since 2012 and is currently vice president. A few years ago, Annie decided to take up the banjo and now plays with a group, Garden Fresh Pickers. She and the other band members use their musical gifts to help others by playing without charge at retirement homes, assisted living facilities, fundraisers, and other charity events in the community.

Annie regularly volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and occasionally with Trees Atlanta. She is an active member of her church choir. She has prepared and served meals for homeless families at Hagar’s House emergency shelter in Decatur. Annie has volunteered with the Decatur Book Festival for eight years and with the Decatur Martin Luther King Jr. Service Project for five years. When her children were attending City Schools of Decatur, Annie did everything from being a Girl Scout Troop leader to a tutor to working on the wildlife habitat in Hidden Cove Park to serving as co-president of the Decatur High School PTA. In addition to being an effective leader, Annie is a tireless, dedicated hands-on worker.


Michelle Kuperman
Nominated by: Julia Levy

Michelle is currently the Volunteer Director of the Global Village Project (GVP). In 2010, during GVP’s second year as a special purpose middle school serving refugee teenage girls in DeKalb County, eight students had completed the program and were ready to enroll in high school. The parents of these girls did not speak English, and most had no formal education beyond grade school – they also worked full time in the chicken factories in Gainesville. GVP organized a mentor program, matching graduating students with mentors to help them navigate their way through high school. Michelle was asked to oversee this program.

This year, most of those first students in the mentor program graduated from high school. Under Michelle’s direction, the mentor program now has 40 mentors, at least half of whom are Decatur residents. They, separately and often together in groups, mentor over 50 GVP students and alumnae, helping them navigate confusing educational pathways, obtain tutoring if necessary, cope with administrative issues, and now fill out college applications! Michelle also organizes numerous enrichment activities throughout the year. These include field trips to various activities in Decatur, such as plays and presentations at Agnes Scott College, Decatur High School and the DeKalb Library. Michelle has created a community of support. She herself has stepped in to mentor several girls, working tirelessly to help them find jobs, obtain tutoring help, access services they need, and connect with the larger community to gain access to the arts and other enrichment activities.

Joann Majercsik
Nominated by: Lee Ann Harvey

Joann has volunteered in a number of roles since moving to Decatur in 2007. She began volunteering at special events and with Literacy Volunteers of Atlanta as an adult literacy tutor. Her passion has become working to help people of all ages and abilities to continue to be a part of Decatur. She has done this by working on two large service projects, A Season of Giving/Christmas Decatur (ASOG) and the Martin Luther King Jr. Service Project (MLK). Joann has worked in virtually every position in ASOG. She begins as a volunteer interviewer of parents to help compile their children’s wish lists. She then comes into the office once or twice a week to do administrative work and to call senior citizens to obtain their wish lists. She is the epitome of patience as she speaks with between 60 to 100 senior citizens each year. Finally, she helps in the distribution center with checking out the gifts to the parents and guardians.

In 2013, Joann began volunteering with MLK as senior liaison, visiting the homes of the senior citizens who have applied for assistance. She has provided them with information about the project and services they might need, such as Meals on Wheels, while another volunteer assessed the repairs requested. She served as a “ride coach” when the senior shuttle was started and, when special projects came up, has made phone calls to senior citizens. Last year, Joann was appointed to the new Lifelong Community Advisory Board (LLC). The board’s goal is to implement elements of the 2010 Decatur Strategic Plan to make the city a place where people can live throughout their lifetime. This initiative includes a number of Aging in Place issues. Joann also served as the LLC liaison to the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) committee that was working with a consultant to update the city’s codes and ordinances. Joann exemplifies a spirit of caring and concern for the less fortunate members of our city, while always doing so with respect and admiration for them as individuals.


Rob Pegel
Nominated by: Angie Macon and Sherry Jackman

Events and activities in the City of Decatur involve many people with a variety of skill sets. Rob Pegel is a volunteer who works “behind the scenes” and what he does is crucial to volunteer recruitment. Rob has volunteered for Volunteer Decatur for more than five years updating and maintaining the database of over 5,000 people who volunteer for nine events and projects involving more than 2,700 volunteers per year. Rob updates all the volunteer contact information, volunteer hours, and schedules new and returning volunteers. Rob played a major role in the execution of the new volunteer software which was implemented in 2013.

Rob is one of those people who does not seek recognition or acknowledgement for his volunteer contribution. He, instead, does it for the love of community. Rob is extremely competent in database management and is happy to share his extensive knowledge. He is definitely a team player. In a world that glorifies the extrovert, let’s hear it for the quiet guy!


Jennifer Rhett
Nominated by: Kara Campbell, Julie King and Carla Stanford

Jennifer Rhett founded REAP (Reading is Essential for All People) in Decatur in 2013. REAP is a nonprofit organization that provides training for public school teachers to support struggling readers and overall reading proficiency. Teachers in its Orton-Gillingham (OG) course commit to an eight month training program followed by a 50-100 hour supervised practicum during which they work with struggling student(s) who cannot afford a private tutor. The teachers go on to use these new skills in the regular classroom to ensure a strong reading foundation for all students and they serve as mentors for other teachers. Jennifer founded REAP because her own son has dyslexia and she realized that teachers needed more tools in their teacher toolbox. Thanks to Jennifer’s tireless work, REAP trained 12 City Schools of Decatur (CSD) teachers in 2013-2014. REAP is currently training six more CSD teachers, 29 Gwinnett County teachers, and 35 Cobb County teachers. The knowledge these teachers gain will impact about 1,000 children this year alone. Jennifer treats her work as a full-time job and it is 100 percent volunteer.

Jennifer has formed community partnerships with the Decatur Education Foundation, International Dyslexia Association – Georgia Branch, Agnes Scott College’s Office of Student Disability Services and CertaPro Painters. Jennifer and her son went to Washington, D.C. as part of the Decoding Dyslexia group and asked Representatives to join the bipartisan Dyslexia Caucus, which supports a bill promoting dyslexia awareness. It is an inspiration to see how Jennifer has turned her child’s diagnosis of dyslexia into a massive community awareness and teacher training program that will continue to help all children to become proficient readers in our community.


Brian Smith
Nominated by: Seegar Swanson

Brian was appointed by the City Commission to the Decatur Zoning Board of Appeals several years ago and was elected chair by the board in January 2014. In this capacity, he handles potentially challenging public meetings with grace, intelligence and tact. He is currently co-president of the Winnona Park Neighborhood Association. He has personally recruited new individuals to fill numerous officer and committee chair positions. Brian is active in the Decatur Business Association and is part of the membership committee. He is in his second year as chairperson for Safe Routes to School for Winnona Park Elementary School. Brian is a soccer coach with Decatur Active Living and a baseball coach for Druid Hills Medlock Park baseball team. At work, he has served as the KPMG Atlanta lead for Meals on Wheels and participated in KPMG’s sponsorship of RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities). In addition, he was in the LEAD Atlanta class of 2010, focusing on raising awareness and money for Kate’s Club.


Deanne Thomas
Nominated by: Connie Moore

Deanne manages the Decatur Heights Neighbors Google group. More importantly, she will go door-to-door to deliver information or place phone calls to those folks who want information but do not have internet access or are not internet savvy. Deanne serves as liaison to three neighborhood businesses: Suburban Nursery and Pre-K; The Church at Decatur Heights; and the Peer Support and Wellness Center. In this role, she has been invaluable to Suburban Nursery and Pre-K. Our childcare center serves over 70 families. Therefore, Deanne’s efforts have a multiple beneficial effect. Our center depends on Deanne as a “go to” source for community updates, questions, and as a way for us to communicate back to the neighborhood.

Deanne initiated the Decatur Heights Neighborhood Watch in 2011 and is currently overseeing it. She helped to establish the charter for the Decatur Heights Neighborhood Association and was elected to the board. She was neighborhood liaison to the City for traffic calming and street improvements, successfully leading to a speed limit reduction on Sycamore Drive and improved signage. Deanne has served as the neighborhood representative to the Cross-Neighborhood Committee working with developers on nearby redevelopment projects. She has also organized several community policing and safety events and candidate forums for school board and City Commission races.


Michael Vajda
Nominated by: Gary Garrett

The Oakhurst Neighborhood Association (ONA) plays a critical role in the ongoing activities and community life in the Oakhurst neighborhood. Mike served as vice president and president of ONA. He agreed to extend his term as president to oversee a difficult financial time and the transitioning of one of the neighborhood’s biggest events – annual Barbecue, Blues, and Bluegrass (BBB) Festival – to a new format. While serving as ONA president, he also chaired this festival. He was instrumental in developing a grant program for nonprofit organizations in and around Oakhurst to apply for funds from ONA. During his tenure as president, ONA began a structured meeting focus each month with speakers selected and announced prior to the meetings. As president, he also was highly involved in organizing and marketing the Oakhurst Wine Crawl and helped with the semi-annual Oakhurst Jazz Nights. He assisted with organizing the ONA annual Thanksgiving dinner and the annual Oakhurst Arts and Music Festival.

Mike also has volunteered to do home repairs for the neighborhood’s senior citizens as part of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Service Project. He has been and continues to be active behind the scenes in a number of ways in the neighborhood. You can find Mike helping set up tables at the Jazz Nights or selling tickets to the BBB Festival. Current ONA president Linda Lehsten says, “Mike has served as a volunteer for years donating his valuable time to serve his community. He is a great example of wonderful leadership and giving back that keeps this community strong.”