During the past several years, we’ve introduced readers to some of their neighbors whose volunteer work has helped shape our communities into better places to live. Here are a few we met in 2014 whose stories especially impressed us.
Sandy Springs doctor Jeff Marcus’s Halloween display began as a simple family project. His daughter, Melissa, who is autistic, loved Halloween, with its costumes and candy, so Marcus put an array of ghosts and witches in his front yard to delight her and his neighbors. He called the annual show “Scare Away Autism” and it now draws crowds of admirers.
A couple of years ago, Marcus and his family began collecting donations from the people who came to admire the display. They gave the money to Autism Speaks, a charity that pays for autism research, advocacy and services for families with autistic members.
This year, things really took off. Marcus said the family collected nearly $13,000 for Autism Speaks, double the amount raised the year before. Marcus is already thinking about 2015. He said he wants to get others involved to help set up and market the display “to make it more of a community event.”
But in 2014, it remained the Marcus family’s show. Melissa had a great time greeting and thanking people who came to visit. “We had a good year,” Marcus said.
The first time Dunwoody lawyer Robert Port took his bike to Israel, he thought it would be a good way to see another land close up. But after that trip in 2006, he was hooked. He returned in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2013 to take fundraising rides across that country.
He figures that through his rides he’s raised $20,000 to $25,000 for the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies, an academic program that brings Jordanian, Palestinian, Israeli and western students together at a kibbutz in the Arava Valley, which runs along part of the border between Jordan and Israel.
“The goal is to have students of all these different backgrounds come together and try to find some commonalities dealing with … issues,” he said. “The goal is to foster some cooperation and understanding on the environmental side and in other areas as well.”
Sandy Springs Rotarian Fran Farias’ two disabled brothers made her aware of the high cost of home medical equipment. So when she was looking for a way to utilize some money raised by the Rotary Club of Sandy Springs, she had an idea.
“No one [in the area] was really doing anything to recycle home medical equipment,” said Farias, who serves as Rotary’s community service director, is a past president and has been a member for 18 years. So last fall she started working on an idea for such a project. She approached the city, which referred her to Keep Sandy Springs Beautiful, which operates the city’s recycling facility on Morgan Falls Road.
Kathy Reed, executive director of Keep Sandy Springs Beautiful, said she was more than happy for the recycling center to house the Rotary’s trailer, where folks can drop off unneeded medical items such as crutches, wheelchairs and walkers.
He’s been called a Pied Piper by a member of the Chastain Park Conservancy. He’s been called a savior by parents. But Matt Adams says he just loves teaching children the game of golf.
“He’s devoted his life to teaching kids how to golf and how to respect the game at the same time,” said the Conservancy’s Jay Smith.
Adam teaches golf clinics to children at the park’s North Fulton Golf Course. He’s been teaching for 35 years, 12 years at Chastain. He also helped found the Annual Sutton Middle School Invitational Golf Tournament, which draws 20 to 30 schools each year to the Bobby Jones Golf Course.
“He teaches them etiquette like shaking hands and saying ‘thank you,’” said Theresa Southerland, whose two daughters Reagan and Steele take lessons with Adams. “He just has a way with kids. One year he gave every one of them a new club or shoes.”
In 2014, for the second straight year, members of a Brookhaven congregation gathered to stuff “blessing bags” as part of an effort to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Brookhaven Christian Church hosted the blessing bag event in partnership with Street Grace, an organization that aims to end the sexual trafficking of children.
Greg Chevalier, coordinator of the program for Brookhaven Christian, also serves on the state of Georgia’s CSEC Task Force, an acronym which stands for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. Through the task force, Chevalier has helped create a curriculum to help educate organizations such as schools, neighborhoods, corporations and governments about the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The city of Brookhaven recently joined the initiative, becoming Georgia’s first city to take part in a task force combating child sex trafficking. At a Nov. 10 press conference and ceremony, city officials signed a “Not Buying It” pledge.
Angi Bemiss has been described as an “on call” healer who plays the harp for patients at Northside Hospital twice a week through the hospital’s Healing Sounds Program. A certified music practitioner, Bemiss says she plays differently depending on the audience. Her listeners range from newborn babies to people convalescing to people who are dying, she said.
She usually performs on Friday mornings and Sunday afternoons. “Just a few hours ago, I was there and ran into a cancer patient waiting for her ride,” Bemiss said recently. “Tears came to her eyes when she saw the harp, ‘Oh my, you played for me in May, when I was in the hospital and almost died. I still remember how your soothing music made me feel.’ That’s what it’s all about!”