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Annie Akins is a professional singer who performs all over the Golden Isles. In fact, when we sat down to talk, she had just finished 13 gigs in 13 days. After resting the previous day, she was off to another one that very afternoon! She has been making a living as a performer her entire adult life. Annie knew at an early age that she was destined to be in front of an audience. “I really thought I was going to be an actress,” she said, “but I’m delighted with my choice and career.”
Hear Me Roar
How did Hope 1312 Collective get its name?
Proverbs 13:12 says: “When hope is deferred it makes hearts sick.” This had been my experience serving children in hard places in and around the child welfare system. The lack of change and healing in those I was serving was making my heart sick, as well, but the verse continues: “but when longings are fulfilled there is a tree of life.” This spoke to me about all that could be if the resources of the church and community were connected with the actual needs of children in hard places. Trajectory shifts, broken generational cycles and hope fulfilled were still possible, and so our collective efforts were launched!
When did you first know you wanted to help children?
As a child, though I had a beautiful life from the surface, I often found myself feeling hopeless and voiceless. This experience connected me with other hurting children at a pretty young age, and God granted me perspective that I wouldn’t trade for anything!
The Family That Plays Together
Accomplished St. Simons pianist Michele Jamieson not only fell in love with music at a young age, her passion for song also played an integral part in meeting the man that would become her husband. Playing music together continues as one of the strong bonds she shares with the couple’s four children.
“I started (playing the piano) at age 5. As typical of many Asian households,” she laughed, “there was a piano in our home, so it was assumed I would take lessons. But I loved it; I really loved it. I am going to be 50 this year, so I’ve loved playing the piano for 45 years.”
Michele’s parents, Manuel and Cleopatra Fontanilla, came to the United States from the Philippines and settled in Virginia, where they raised Michele and her brothers Michael and Richard. After high school, she attended the University of Virginia, majoring in biology. While there, she met a fellow student, Timothy Jamieson. “When I met him, he was learning to play piano when he was working on his Ph.D, and that was part of the initial attraction,” she said with a smile. “I thought at first: ‘Is this a pick-up line? Is this for real?’ And it was real. He was learning to play a Chopin concerto, and I thought, ‘this is really cool.’”
Hear Me Roar
This month, our theme is #MamaBear. You are currently on a tough journey trying to become a mama bear, as you wrap up your first In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatment. Why have you decided to share your IVF journey?
Infertility affects so many people. One in eight couples experience infertility, which means someone in your life has struggled, and you may or may not be aware. By speaking out, I hope I can make a difference with infertility awareness, somehow, some way. Whether the difference is in helping someone not feel alone during their own infertility struggles, or just putting information out that can help people understand infertility a bit more. Either way, in my heart it feels right, and I actually feel lighter in speaking my truth and sharing this very personal experience.
Figuring Out How to Live AJD (After Jake Died)
On the morning of January 6, 2020, the “Office Girls” received a text from Regina Banis that said, “Jake’s dead.”
It was the exact moment Regina discovered her 23-year-old son, Jake, had died from an accidental drug overdose that divided eternity in two. Everything before that precise second was experienced BJD (before Jake died), and everything that followed—every breath, every thought, every sound, every smell, Every. Single. Thing.—passes through a filter of grief labeled AJD (after Jake died). Just that quickly life goes from being experienced to being endured.
Do Run, Run, Run
Avid runner and race director of this year’s Sunshine Festival 5K and 1-mile fun run, Lesley Leonard didn’t start running seriously until after college. Once she got hooked on the sport, there was no turning back.
“I was the little girl who hated P.E. and much preferred to be in the library, reading books,” said the St. Simons Island resident and member of the Golden Isles Track Club. “I didn’t run until I was in college, and only as a part of my P.E. requirements.”
Changing Lives Through Play
We are proud to introduce this trio of strong local women working, and now “playing,” as well, at the game of life here in Coastal Georgia. Yes, we have the stats on three high school athletic coaches from McIntosh County Academy, Glynn Academy and Brunswick High School. We thank their school guidance counselors for connecting us with leaders who excel in encouraging, energizing and engaging their teams. These lady coaches provide guidance, accountability, and discipline—and of course, always give of themselves 110 percent!
The Natural World’s Best Friend
Growing up spending her summers at the Jersey Shore, Rachael Thompson developed an early love of the ocean.That love would ultimately lead her to the Golden Isles, where she is now the executive director of the Glynn Environmental Coalition (GEC), an organization that educates and advocates for a safe, clean environment and healthy economy for the people of Coastal Georgia.
“I grew up in South Brunswick, New Jersey, an hour from New York City, and only 45 minutes to the closest beach. My step-grandparents lived at the beach in Avalon, New Jersey, and we visited them every summer.” Rachael’s family had a small camper set up in a campground that shares a name with a Golden Isles landmark. “We stayed at Driftwood Campground,” she smiled. “So not only did I grow up in South Brunswick, I also spent summers at Driftwood—two parallels between my childhood and now.”
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What was your very first adventure?
Growing up in Northwest Wisconsin we were outside all the time. A trip we often took as a family was a canoe trip up in the Boundary Water Canoe Area (BWCA) in Ontario, Canada. We would first find our way to our cabin, which could only be accessed by snowmobile, 4-wheeler, or boat. The cabin used a generator for electricity, and of course, the bathroom was an outhouse—not exactly glamping. We would pack the canoe and our hiking packs for a few days and take off. We would canoe and portage from lake to lake and camp overnight—rain or shine!
A Heart for Nursing
Registered nurse, Amber Geiger, said her desire to become a nurse was divine inspiration.
“When I was 14-years-old, I asked the Lord what He wanted me to be, and He wanted me to be a registered nurse,” said Amber, who currently works as a nurse on the Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick Campus orthopedic floor. “I thought it was a crazy idea. No one in my family was in medicine, but over time I knew He was right. I love helping people, and I love what I do. It was meant to be.”
After earning her high school diploma through homeschooling, Amber enrolled in the nursing program at the College of Coastal Georgia (CCGA). She credits God, along with two of her nursing preceptors with her successful completion of the program. “Erin, who I can’t remember her last name, and Laura Townsend, who works at the hospital, were so patient and kind. They really helped me make it through.”
Hear Us Roar
A blind date during college spring break in 1965 is how long-time St. Simons Islanders, Nancy and Mike Muldowney came to Coastal Georgia in 1993. Well, really Mike’s career as an executive in food processing was the catalyst. But great warmth in making long-time friends, community service, an art framing business, playing golf and our Coastal Georgia climate have kept them here ever since. The Muldowney’s not only love each other, they love cooking and feeding a crowd. So, pull up a chair, because learning about them is a real treat:
3 locals who achieved their health goals share how they lost weight, got stronger, became more flexible, overcame bad relationships with food, regained self-confidence and stayed motivated through it all.
According to a popular meme, the first rule of 2021 is to never talk about 2020.
Enticing proposal. However, we probably shouldn’t listen to a riff off of Brad Pitt’s line in Fight Club, especially since 2020 gave us a lot of material for making drastic changes. Maybe, instead, we could structure our 2021 game plan according to another classic 1999 film: The Matrix. Rather than trying to forget the past (as the meme jokingly suggests), we choose a mindset—like the red pill in The Matrix—to see necessary truths for knowing how to exponentially improve our lives.
Look at it this way: We can either bury the pile of memories from a year we’d love to forget, or use that plethora of experiences as opportunities for rising in life-altering, empowering ways.
An Entrepreneur Who Really Digs It!
“Entrepreneur, commercial realtor, mom, mentor, volunteer and construction expert are just a few of the many hats St. Simons Island resident Cherise Cartwright wears on a daily basis. But that wasn’t always the plan.
“I grew up in a little bubble in Wellington (Florida), a small, equestrian town known for polo. My family’s business was real estate and construction, and I thought I would be doing anything but that,” she laughed, adding originally she planned on being a journalist. “I wanted to be independent, leave home and get a corporate job.”
Three Local Women Share Their Passion & Compassion
More than any year in recent history, 2020 has shown us the utmost importance of lending a hand and doing for others. Particularly, thanks to our magazine editorial and other media sources, we have been able to witness countless women in various stewardship acts of kindness. Thanks to our wonderful readers and friends of Paisley Magazine we found three local, dynamic representatives, who are full of heart and emulate what it means to lead lives driven by purpose. Read on as each woman gives us a peek at how she is helping to be the difference…
Doubling Down on Student Success
Dr. Michelle Johnston, President of College of Coastal Georgia (CCGA), says the number one way the school is making this issue’s theme of #BeTheDifference a reality can be summed up simply—by preparing its graduates.
“We are preparing incredible graduates to go out into the world,” said Dr. Johnston, who was selected to lead CCGA in 2018 as the institution’s sixth president.” We have students that not only come from the local area, but also from 35 states and 20 countries, and they are graduating and making their mark on the world. They are the reason we are making a difference in our community and beyond. Our most recent data shows that 77 percent of our graduates choose to stay and work in this area of the state,” she said, adding that many of the graduates who have stayed in the Golden Isles come from over 100 other Georgia counties. “Instead of experiencing a brain drain, like other areas have experienced, our school has become a brain magnet.”
Best friends Tammy Langdale and Cindy Schoch met as community service volunteers. Their shared dedication in giving back to veterans and their families is what continues to keep this heart-filled friendship strong five years later.
“We met working as volunteers with the American Legion Auxiliary in Darien,” said Tammy, whose grandmother was the president of the chapter years ago. “We didn’t know each other before that, and we just hit it off. Volunteering with the Auxiliary is a great way to meet friends.”
While Tammy is a native of Darien, who grew up on Jekyll Island, Cindy is a native of Connecticut, who didn’t move to Darien until six years ago after she and her partner, Wally Schieferdecker, sold the marina they owned and managed in the Constitution State. “We spent about 10 years looking for a place to move, including Glynn and Liberty counties, but we kept coming back to Darien. We fell in love with the waterfront.”
Solid, Like a Rock
Becca Randall, the Glynn County Interim Executive Director at Habitat for Humanity, considers herself blessed to have her best friend Caroline Kittle. The feeling is mutual. Caroline is Executive Director for Grace House, a 14-bed, sober women’s living home in downtown Brunswick. These best friends consider each other to be their best lucky charm in life. Willing to share their thoughts, we secretly asked each one questions about their friendship. Enjoy reading not only what each friend said about the other, but also about themselves:
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Inez McDaniel, born and raised in Niterói, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, moved to Georgia a little over 30 years ago and is a naturalized US citizen. Inez is fluent in Portuguese, English and Spanish, which is a big plus in her career as a Georgia Licensed Professional Counselor. This busy mother of two adult daughters Amanda, 23 and Stella, age 21, recently opened a private practice in downtown Brunswick. When asked about the subject of personal well-being, a motorcycle was immediately mentioned accompanied by a huge smile on her face…
Inez, what three things do you consider vital as the best tools in working as a professional counselor? It is difficult to limit it to only three, but the three things I consider vital in a counselor are: 1) Ability to listen to feelings and underlying issues genuinely; 2) Ongoing learning of new techniques and strategies, enhancing flexibility and understanding of cultural differences and diversity; 3) Self-care. This one is critical! Making the best of leisure time, connecting with family and friends, eating healthy, exercising and having a hobby such as riding a motorcycle.
Helping Change Lives for the Better
Darien native Amy Pontello, ARNP, has just two things on her ultimate wish list: “One, that there would be less stigma surrounding mental health issues; Two, more access to mental health care. Really, less stigma would automatically equal more access for some people,” said Amy, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Coastal Community Health Services (CCHS).
Although Amy has been a nurse since the 1980s, she didn’t transition into psychiatric nursing until about three years ago. “I started out as an R.N. at the hospital in Brunswick.” She and her husband, Bob, then spent 15 years living in Florida, finally settling in Key West, where she transitioned into oncology nursing.
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Meet Gary Nickoukary–President, activity organizer Dondra Whigham,
and “numbers guy” Mark Semmelmayer—a trio of key leaders in the non-profit organization The St. Simons Island Newcomers Club. For over 15 years their mission in promoting community friendliness has seen their numbers grow to over 340 members this year. Their successful program incorporates learning and
socialization while gaining an appreciation for the Golden Isles.
Drawing, Painting and Beading from Life
Although self-taught watercolorist and beadwork artisan Jodi Gregory grew up “doodling,” and loving art, she never thought it would turn into a career.
“I’ve always had papers and pencils with me. On Sundays, my mom would give us paper to draw on during church, since we didn’t have children’s church then,” said Jodi, who was born in the old Gilman Hospital in St. Marys when her dad was stationed at the naval station in Jacksonville.
Making Waves in a Male-Dominated World
From the time Stephanie Treece was a young girl growing up in Saltsburg, a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Pa., she knew she wanted to pursue a career in the sciences. She had no idea at the time she would eventually become one of the first women to serve on a U.S. Navy submarine.
“I’ve always been pretty good at math and science. In math, there is always an answer, so I knew I would be going into a technical field,” said Stephanie, who currently oversees defense contracts as program manager with PaR Systems at the Brunswick Port. “My dad started out as an HVAC tech. He had to work a lot on weekends, so he would take me on calls to spend time together. He would take me to inner-city Pittsburgh, and we would go up into the skyscrapers, that’s where I got my love for physics,” she said, adding thanks to her father, she also learned how to install tile, drywall and fix plumbing.
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Mayor Kizzi, You have been Mayor of Woodbine, Georgia, since January—congratulations! What is an interesting component in being a leader in your community of 1500 people?
Thank you! I think the component that stands out the most is leading from the ground. I feel best being always at eye level with everyone; I’m not looking down from a platform, or from behind a traditional desk. My residents have clear access to me.
We understand, in your town, being mayor is a part-time job. What is your additional career and how do you make it all work?
I’ve been in law enforcement for over 14 years and child advocacy for the past five. Neither of my positions are considered “work” to me anymore. It feels like I’m just going out every day to make someone’s life a little better.
Making Friends While Changing Lives
As the founder of MAD (Manifest A Deliverance), an motivational organization for women using discussions, events and music, and The Pink Group, a marketing and publishing company, Hashondra Jernigan-Smith, uses her past experiences to help women overcome obstacles that could be holding them back from living happy, independent lives.
It started from her book, Attached, that was published two years ago.
“It was basically me telling my story and what I learned over time as an adult from the emotional trauma of having sex too soon. I literally started writing at the age of 22 in the middle of the night,” she said. In between “life happening,” which included earning degrees in organizational management and medical coding, raising her first daughter, Cianie KaLeeah, getting married and having her daughter, KayLee, Hashondra continued to write, finally finishing the book at age 32. “So, you get to see what happened looking back through my eyes as a 32-year-old and what I’ve learned.”
Ready to Roll
Four years ago, Nicole Arnold was approaching graduation from Hilton Head Island High School and craving some adventure. After brainstorming a variety of ideas, her biggest passion led her on the greatest journey of her life so far. With a whole lot of planning, dreaming, and researching, Nicole set her goal: To bike across the United States.
For as long as Nicole can remember, she has been glued to a bicycle seat. Always an independent child, she would spend hours biking around her island neighborhood. When she road, she had a box on the back of her bike to keep her belongings in— little did she know, this would prepare her in achieving her dream while traveling with ease.
A Life Lesson in Going with Plan B
As the author of award-winning plays, including the widely acclaimed “Ferris Wheel,” and her work as an actress in New York City and beyond, you would think St. Simons Island resident Mary Miller’s theatrical work was in the cards from the beginning. But her long and successful career was originally her Plan B.
Plan A was a career as a professional tennis player. “I wasn’t a theatre kid in school. I played on the national tennis circuit all through high school at Westminster (in her hometown of Atlanta),” said Mary, who graduated with honors and was selected for the prestigious school’s Hall of Fame in honor of her rank as the No.1 female high school tennis player in Georgia. “My dad had gotten me into tennis when I was 8 or 9 years old.”
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Riding east on Cannons Point Road, along a natural woodland path in northern St. Simons Island, you realize you’re in for a treat as you approach The Farm at Oatland North. This picturesque animal sanctuary, set among giant oaks, with its horse barn, corrals and pens is one animal haven we think Mother Nature would certainly approve. Meet Diana and Volunteers at The Farm…
Diana, tell us about the family who created The Farm at Oatland North…
Previously, the land was leased as a riding and boarding stable as part of the Murrah family farm. In 2003, Barbara and Bascom Murrah returned to St. Simons. Barbara and her daughter, Natalie, began saving animals, beginning with a horse named Lightning and two cows: Amanda and Panda. Soon The Farm became a haven for Little Saint Simons Island retired trail horses, and then began receiving abused and neglected farm animal cases from Glynn County Animal Control.
Our Water is a Treasure We Need to Protect
As the Coastkeeper with the Altamaha Riverkeeper, which is a non-profit dedicated to the “protection, defense and restoration of Georgia’s biggest river, Susan Inman spends much of her time in the great outdoors actively monitoring the health of the Golden Isles’ waters. This is perfect for her.
“My passion is being outside,” said the native of South Dakota/Minnesota. “I started out working on my uncles’ farms. Of course, when you do that for family, you don’t get paid,” Susan laughed. “That passion led me to work all over the United States to study animals and work on the environment.
See Us Kick
Recently, we learned how many local adults are staying active while having fun—they’re playing kickball! Co-Captain Sharonda Boggs, of the Just Kickin’ Kickball Team, gave us great insight into all the fun of adult kickball. You’ll get a kick out of Sharonda’s “play-full” information:
Sharonda, are you an athlete by nature?
I played basketball and ran track and cross country in high school. I’m a school counselor and try to stay active.