Decatur names 2014 hometown heroesFile Photo: Jonathan Phillips Diogo Richards hangs out on the barrel of the cannon outside of the historic courthouse during the AJC Decatur Book Festival on Saturday, August 30, 2014. The ninth annual event saw tens of thousands of people come out to the downtown Decatur area to meet with world-class authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, booksellers, and artists for a weekend filled with literature, music, food, art, and fun. /File Photo
The city of Decatur’s tradition of recognizing Hometown Heroes began in 1996 as a way to honor volunteers who helped the city get ready for the summer Olympic Games.
Each year it has continued and its ranks have grown to include nearly 300 people who work hard, “often behind the scenes, to make our community a better place to live and work.”
Decatur recognized the latest crop of heroes during the Decatur Business Association meeting on Dec. 2.
The 2014 Hometown Heroes are …
A volunteer with the Decatur Arts Alliance and Visitor’s Center who “does not let her age define her,” according to the award announcement from the city.
The announcement says, “Mary does whatever is needed to make our jobs easier. Her commitment to her volunteer position is unmatched.”
Gayle Gellerstedt and Bill Funk
For the last 30 years this husband and wife team, “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.” Gellerstedt is a founding member of the Decatur Education Foundation.
An active volunteer at Woodlands Garden. She hosts events and participates in work days.
“A few years ago, Annie decided to take up the banjo and now plays with a group, the Garden Fresh Pickers,” the announcement says. “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.”
She’s a volunteer director of the Global Village Project, a special purpose middle school serving refugee teenage girls in DeKalb County.
“Under Michelle’s direction, the mentor program now has 40 mentors, at least half of whom are Decatur residents,” the announcement says.
She’s been an active volunteer since moving to Decatur in 2007.
“Her passion has become working to help people of all ages and abilities continue to be a part of Decatur,” the announcement says. “She has done this by working on two large service projects, A Season of Giving/Christmas Decatur and the Martin Luther King Jr. Service Project.”
She has “worked in virtually every position” with A Season of Giving.
A volunteer who works “behind the scenes,” Pegel’s work is described as “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,” the announcement says. “Rob updates all the volunteer contact information, volunteer hours, and schedules new and returning volunteers.”
Rhett founded Reading is Essential for All People in 2013. The nonprofit group trains public school teachers to support students who are struggling with reading proficiency.
“Jennifer founded REAP because her own son has dyslexia and she realized that teachers needed more tools in their teacher toolbox,” the announcement says.
A member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and its current chairman, Smith, “Handles potentially challenging public meetings with grace, intelligence and tact.”
Smith currently serves as co-president of the Winnona Park Neighborhood Association.
She manages the Decatur Heights Neighborhood mailing list and is willing to visit people at home to give them information if they don’t use the internet or “are not internet savvy.”
“Deanne serves as liaison to three neighborhood businesses: Suburban Nursery and Pre-K; the Church at Decatur Heights and Peer Support and Wellness Center,” the announcement says.
The past president and vice president of the Oakhurst Neighborhood Association has led the group through “a difficult financial time” and has overseen the transitioning of the annual Barbecue, Blues and Bluegrass Festival into a new format.
“While serving as ONA president, he also chaired this festival,” the announcement says. “He was instrumental in developing a grant program for nonprofit organizations in and around Oakhurst to apply for funds from ONA.”