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Indigo Girls among 2023 Hometown Heroes recipients in Decatur

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Indigo Girls among 2023 Hometown Heroes recipients in Decatur

The city of Decatur and the Decatur Business Association celebrated the 2023 Hometown Heroes on Tuesday, Dec. 5. Photo courtesy of the city of Decatur.
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This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur Business Association celebrated the Hometown Heroes Awards on Dec. 5. Mayor Patti Garrett and the city commissioners presented the awards to 17 recipients this year, which included Emily Saliers and Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls.

The Hometown Heroes program began at the end of the city’s Hometown to the World Festival during the 1996 Olympics.

“The 14-day festival was a success because of the hundreds of volunteers who helped, many of whom worked tirelessly behind the scenes,” Garrett said. “At the close of that festival, the city commission decided to have a special ceremony to honor all those volunteers who serve cheerfully and tirelessly to make our celebration a success. This year, we celebrate our 28th year of honoring our Hometown Heroes.”

Indigo Girls. Photo provided by Lenz.

The Indigo Girls are on tour, but family members accepted the award on their behalf. Saliers and Ray were nominated by Julie Rhame for being ambassadors of the city for over 40 years.

“From their modest beginnings playing at Decatur’s Trackside Tavern and the Decatur Square in the 1980s, they have appeared at countless festivals and concert venues and have always given their time and talents to causes of justice and worthwhile causes throughout the community and beyond,” Garrett said.

The Indigo Girls recently played a benefit concert at Decatur First United Methodist Church and headlined the Amplify Decatur Music Festival in 2021, which raised about $50,000 to combat homelessness.

“Last spring they raised $10,000 for Talley Street Upper Elementary School by doing two private backyard concerts,” Garrett said. “Both Emily and Amy have helped make Decatur a foodie and music destination.”

Here are all of the 2023 Hometown Heroes:

– Marjorie Cooper, nominated by Matilda Young

Cooper has taught science at the Global Village Project, a school for refugee girls, for 10 years. She taught in DeKalb County Schools for 25 years.

The Global Village Project works to fill in gaps in education for middle school girls from various countries to prepare them for high school.

“She is a dynamic instructor who gets her students to participate in class as they learn about plants, animals, the solar system, the human body and other science subjects, while having fun and increasing their English vocabularies,” Garrett said. “Miss Marjorie, as the students call her, is well-liked and respected by her colleagues and the volunteers at GVP.”

– Nancy Eilen, nominated by Laura Hunt

Eilen formed Wild Nest Bird Rehab in 2021, which is a nonprofit songbird rehabilitation facility. Wild Nest is located at Legacy Park, but first started out in Eilen’s home.

“Nancy dedicated all of her free tie to caring for injured and orphaned songbirds,” Garrett said. “The volume of birds needing treatment surpassed her ability to continue her work alone. She entered into partnerships with other like-minded bird lovers and environmental activists, establishing networks of rehabbers and volunteers across the Atlanta area.”

What began as the work of a one person, has grown into a facility that allows others to advance Eilen’s mission to preserve and protect birds in Georgia.

– Peter Helfrich, nominated by Claudia McDavid, Steve Rose and Vicki Lloyd

Helfrich has been the chair of the Beecatur, Decatur’s Bee City USA, since 2017 and works in a volunteer capacity teaching residents about the importance of bees and other pollinators. He created the Beecatur website and promotional materials.

“He conducts engaging, popular programs for youth and children,” Garrett said. “For three years, he’s coordinated a community festival during National Pollinator Week, which in 2023 brought 29 like-minded participant exhibitors to interact with and educate festival-goers about the importance of protecting pollinators.”

Helfrich, and others, also created the Pollinator Pledge program. The program gives the community simple steps to make sure they are providing a good urban habitat for pollinators. He maintains, and helped start, two pollinator gardens in Decatur.

– Peter and Colleen Morich, nominated by Gary Garrett, Kristin and Billy Allin and Terry Koval

Peter and Colleen Morich are founding members of the Atlanta Slow Foods movement in Decatur and have been active leaders for over 20 years. They have also curated various local showings of the Lexicon of Sustainability. Peter and Collen Morich have also been champions of Slow Food Atlanta, sustainable farmers and building community through food.

The Morichs have supported Koval and his restaurant staff in many ways, including painting, pressure washing, getting the work out, planting and watering. They have also supported Kristin and Billy Allin’s restaurants.

“Peter and Colleen are representative of what makes Decatur a unique and special place – a couple supporting local businesses on many levels through patronage, engagement and education. They lead by example and show a keen interest in making Decatur a better community,” Mayor Garrett said.

– Neil Norton, nominated by Annie Archbold and Paul Wrights

Norton has been a catalyst for saving the Glenn Creek Nature Preserve in Decatur from development. He is often known as the “Mayor of Glenn Creek Nature Preserve.” The area is maintained by the community and is now under the Decatur Parks and Recreation Department.

“Neil is a professional arborist who uses his skills to teach our youth about the value of the preserve,” Garrett said. “He organizes Saturday workdays during the year gathering adults and youth to clear the area of invasive species and then pays for a pizza party afterward.”

This year, Norton raised over $11,000 to pay for improvements to the preserve, which included replacing the walkway bridge, improving the gateway entrance, and coordinating with stream experts to look at future maintenance needs.

– Dan Peterson and Eric Canosa, nominated by Jill Joplin and Mia Manekofsky

Peterson and Canosa are the founders of the tutoring program Mind Bubble. DeKalb County Public Library has been able to offer free tutoring through Mind Bubble.

“Mind Bubble fosters a love of learning by connecting students with community members through free tutoring, workshops and games,” Garrett said. “Students who attend the tutoring sessions are paired with adults who can guide them through their schoolwork and other academic challenges from math problem sets to English essays.”

The pair started coordinating tutoring sessions in 2019 for students at the Decatur Library.

“When Dan and Eric decided to step back from their roles at Mind Bubble, they gifted the DeKalb Library Foundation Mind Bubble’s remaining assets and began working with Mia Manekofksy at the Decatur Library to transition Mind Bubble’s tutoring volunteers and expertise to DeKalb County Public Library,” Garrett said. “Every other week, Dan and Eric have trained tutors, so Mia can begin building a cadre of volunteers.”

– Shell Ramirez, nominated by Beate Sass

Ramirez has played a large role in caring for the Oakhurst Dog Park in Decatur. The dog park is owned by the city but it’s primarily cared for by dog park users.

“Shell is there every morning by 6:15 a.m. The first thing she does is wash all the water bowls and fill them up with clean water,” Garrett said. “During the warmer season, she does the same with the small doggie swimming pools.”

Ramirez is often one of the first people to meet and welcome new owners and their dogs when they enter the park.

“If there are altercations between dogs, she will step in to ensure that dogs and owners stay safe,” Garrett said. “She always has dog treats on her, which she shares with the other pups if they are willing to sit patiently to receive one. If a hose needs repair, holes need to be filled or trees need to be trimmed, Shell jumps in to do maintenance.”

– Pete and Rachel Schwartz, nominated by Carol Morgan

Pete and Rachel Schwartz moved to the Westchester neighborhood on Harold Byrd Drive about six years ago. In 2019, they created and organized Byrdfest, a fall festival on Harold Byrd Drive. The festival features bands, a chili cook-off, cookie tasting, games, hot dog grilling, college football on a big screen, face painting, and more.

The Schwartzes coordinated volunteers and designed t-shirts for neighbors to purchase, which helped fund the event. Byrdfest was held in 2021 and 2022 and plans were underway for this year.

“They arranged with the city of Decatur to block off Harold Byrd Drive during the event and to have the city of Decatur fire truck come to entertain the kids,” Garrett said. “With boundless energy and enthusiasm, Pete and Rachel have generously and graciously devoted their time, talents and resources. Their home is headquarters for the event, and their front porch serves as the stage for the bands. Due to their efforts, Byrdfest has promoted goodwill and helped neighbors build relationships in a friendly, casual setting.”

– Shawn Vinson, nominated Gary Garrett and Angie Macon

Vinson has been involved in the arts community in Decatur and around the region for many years. He served on the Decatur Arts Alliance board for many years and has played a significant part in producing multiple pop-up art shows.

“He has served on art juries and been a volunteer for the Arts Alliance annual Arts Festival,” Garrett said. “Shawn introduced the city to the Gathering 4 Gardner festival, which stimulates curiosity and the playful exchange of ideas and critical thinking in math, science, literature, and art. He was instrumental in starting the Decatur Artwalk for the annual Arts Festival.”

Vinson has hosted various art shows as well in his gallery on the Old Courthouse Square, which was the city’s first contemporary art gallery. He also co-founded Different Trains Gallery on East Howard Avenue.

– Joyce Washington, nominated by Tammy Washington

Joyce Washington has worked for the city of Decatur for about 18 years as a crossing guard serving Glennwood Elementary. Students know her as Ms. Joyce.

“The parents, staff, and students love to see her during the school year,” Garrett said. “She gives the students at Glennwood, Beacon Hill Middle School, and Decatur High words of encouragement, with a smile, as they go to and from school – all while making sure they are safe.”

Garrett added that if anyone has been to a festival in Decatur recently, they probably know Washington. She is an active volunteer at various city events.

“During the 2022 holiday season, she served as Santa and Mrs. Claus’ personal administrative assistant,” Garrett said. “She helped the kids with writing letters and receiving their personalized postcards from them. She helped the kids complete their letter and place it in the mailboxes at various holiday events. She is an active walker and loves to walk in various city marathons.”

In the nomination, Tammy Washington thanked her mom for her hard work toward the community she loves and has lived in for 35 years.

– Ivie Wildman, nominated by Jill Joplin, and Decatur Library Youth Services staff Mia Manekofsky, Lauren Tennyson, and Colleen Ferketish

Wildman participated in the Decatur Library’s Book Bunch Book Club as an elementary student and continued to attend through high school.

“Ivie came to the library on a field trip in elementary school and would come to the library several times a week,” Garrett said. “[They] then began helping out with their craft projects preparation. As a teenager, Ivie volunteered their time to serve as a member of the DeKalb County Public Library’s Teen Advisory Board.”

While serving on the board, Ivie helped plan, organize, and implement projects that aimed to grow teen engagement with the library. They attend meetings consistently, helped with library outreach events, and helped host special events. Wildman now serves as a part-time library page.

“As a page, Ivie assists with library tasks and creates elements for library programs including a narwhal ring toss…which is on display in the children’s area,” Garrett said. “Ivie now attends college but still works at the Decatur Library during school breaks.”

– Amy Wilson, nominated by Cynthia Varkey, Leah Manley and Marc Sanders

Wilson, and her husband, moved to Decatur in 2001. She is a long-time member of the Community Center of South Decatur and has served in multiple roles on the board, including as past president.

Amy Wilson exemplifies the definition of a hero,” Garrett said. “In the early days of CCSD and the Solarium as an event space, Amy applied her event planning expertise to help forge a path. She has volunteered endless hours of her time and energy to ensure that the Solarium remains a community resource. She has been the longest-serving member of the CCSD board and has archived many of the past photos, mementos, and memories of his historic building in Oakhurst, has organized Solarium events like the Jazz Nights, Patio Party, Breakfast With Santa, Sips and Small Plates, and more.”

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