Light of Hope Award Winners 2015

 Julie Brennan

Our first Light of Hope Award winner is Julie Brennan. As the both the editor of My Forsyth magazine and the Vice President of Community Investment for United Way of Forsyth County, Julie knows our community and has a heart for the organizations that work with children.

We would consider her a triple threat:

First, she uses her time, talent and knowledge to promote, help and advocate – whether volunteering with the South Forsyth Culinary School, or as a speaker for the Mentor Me Kick it Up Club, judging in the Optimist Club’s Oratorical Contest, or participating in Girl Scout meetings. She always finds time to work with children.

Second, Julie mentors her interns, some, like Ava, who started writing for My Forsyth Magazine as the Youth Foodie at age nine.  Former intern Kristine now works in the Marketing Department of the Lumpkin County Chamber of Commerce.  Here is what she has to say to Julie:  “Every girl needs strong female mentors and role models. So happy to have you be one of the best for me.”

Finally, Julie connects people.  She connects them to each other; she connects them to serving organizations. One of her friends so eloquently stated:  “I don’t believe Julie sets out to inspire any of us to do what we don’t want to do—she simply asks that we consider helping others as she knows we possibly can – and likely will.

Let’s listen to what a few others have to say about Julie. 

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            CASA—Our CASA children need triple threats like Julie. So often, it’s that one strong mentor figure that inspires a child to strive for more. Our CASA volunteers, and individuals like Julie in the community, can be the driving force behind a child’s desire to achieve more than they ever thought possible. For our CASA kids, it just takes one; one person to help them realize that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.


 Diana Delaney

Our second Light of Hope Award winner is Diana Delaney.  Ms. Delaney is an ESOL teacher at Shiloh Point Elementary School and is known for her connection to our Spanish speaking students.  She is aware of the challenges families encounter and is quick to help them get the resources they need --- whether it is food, clothing, books or technology for children to have access to learning at home.  Her students and their families know how deeply she cares for them and that she is a trusted person to go to for whatever they need.

Each Monday evening the media center at Shiloh Point Elementary School spills out into the hallways with students who are English language learners and other who are struggling with reading or other subjects. Working with the Mentor Me REACH program, each of the students is matched to a mentor who helps the student with homework, the extra worksheets Ms. Delaney has prepared or to play educational games.  It is quite a symphony of learning and Ms. Delaney is there to orchestrate, and to cheer each student on.

She has helped to make school a welcoming place for children who often feel “less than”, left out, different.  She is their Light of Hope.

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            CASA—As Diana is well aware, every child is unique. Every CASA child presents with a unique set of challenges and obstacles to overcome but each child also bring to the table great strengths and resilience. Given the many circumstances that CASA children have to face, we are beyond grateful for individuals like Diana who go above and beyond to link children with the resources they need. Our CASA children are beyond lucky to have individuals like Diana, who recognize their strengths and empower them to realize their full potential.


Amy Gamez  

            There are some people who never stop dreaming, thinking, doing.  Amy Gamez is one of those people. She is someone who aspires and works to make our community a better place. Amy identifies needs and does not see the barriers to addressing the needs, but the opportunities that are presented for the children and families she serves.

Amy has had some big ideas in her time as a School Social Worker. She saw homelessness as a serious issue for her families.  She searched for a solution and found it in the Interfaith Hospitality Network and has been a key player bringing the Family Promise concept to our community.

Her initiative “Project Connect” brings teachers and students together before school begins. School supplies are collected and organized and then Amy leads the school staff throughout the community to give out the school supplies and to meet the families that will be attending the schools. Her efforts have far reaching effects from the student who now has school supplies on the first day of school, to the parent who feels more connected to the school when a teacher invited her to come volunteer in the classroom, or the teacher who has a better idea of what her students might come home to each night and why their homework might not be completed.  Amy knows that helping to strengthen the home school relationship is important work and she makes this work a priority.

One thing we know about Amy is this, when you see the twinkle of a new idea in her eyes, you may as well say, “here we go again…”  

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            CASA—Amy interacts with our CASA children and CASA volunteers on a weekly basis. Together with the CASA, she is always coming up with new ways to meet the needs of our children. She’s inventive, she’s team-oriented and she understands that together, CASA and local community partners like School Social Workers can help to end child abuse and neglect in our community.


Kathy Goodberlet



            For the past fifteen years, Kathy Goodberlet has been the Angel of Angels over Forsyth.  Angels over Forsyth is a community-driven, volunteer program which ensures children placed with non-parental caregivers have the best Christmas possible.

For Kathy, Christmas begins in the spring and summer as she reaches out to donors and civic groups and she host fundraisers.

From October to November, DFCS case managers and CASAs bring wish lists when they visit their kids.  Those wish lists are returned to Kathy and she finds donors who are willing to fill all or part of the list.  For some lists, she has one donor; others may have many donors or may be split between Angel trees in local businesses or churches.  Kathy keeps up with them all.  Through the list she gets a sense of who the child is and what the child may like and is able to appropriately supplement as needed with another gift or donated gift cards.  She always seems to get it just right!

Once the lists are filled, the CASA or Guardian, or DFCS case manager delivers the gifts so the child can be surprised at Christmas.  Kathy is highly protective of the children and families she serves and has to explain to donors why it is important that the gifts be delivered to the warehouse and not directly to the child.

Like the donors, Kathy does not get to experience the joy of seeing the child open presents on Christmas morning.  What she knows is that for some children, this will be a Christmas like they have never experienced.  And that is all she needs to keep going, year after year.

Kathy is truly a Light of Hope for the children in our community!

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CASA—Without individuals like Kathy, many of our CASA children would not be able to experience Christmas like so many other children do. It’s the kindness and generosity of individuals like Kathy that our CASA children depend upon. Quite simply, without Lights of Hope like Kathy, our CASA children would go without. Kathy, our CASA volunteers and CASA children greatly appreciate your efforts!


Maureen Headrick & Michelle Miltz

            Maureen Headrick and Michelle Miltz first met when they volunteered to coach a cheer squad with Sharon Springs Cheer Association.  They were put together on a team, and they have been hanging out with cheerleaders most Saturday mornings since.

In 2013, Maureen and Michelle were the president and vice president of the Sharon Springs Cheer Association and the two were contemplating how they might leave a legacy.  For some that legacy is a donation of a bench, or a contribution to the Wall of Honor. 

For Maureen and Michelle, the conversation focused on what was important to the Cheer Association and what was important to them.  They were passionate about the program being open to anyone – those who have previously cheered to those who were new to the sport.  And as their conversation continued, they realized they had an opportunity to leave a very special gift to Sharon Springs and to the community by creating a squad designed specifically for cheerleaders with special needs – creating the Phenomenal Falcons!

And what a gift the Phenomenal Falcons has become.  One parent talks of the new self-esteem her daughter has since joining the squad:  “It’s exciting,” she says, “My daughter has overcome a lot of battles in her life, and it is really exciting for her to be out there and to be – just having fun, be a kid… Meeting new friends and being able to, somewhat, be typical, be able to do what other kids do.”

Maureen and Michelle would be the first to tell you that it is the kids and their families who are the blessing.  What they teach about giving your best, trying your hardest, being a team is overwhelming!

Thank you Maureen and Michelle for being the Lights in our community, your legacy gift has inspired us all!

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CASA—Many CASA children do not get to participate in extracurricular activities, whether it be because of transportation, budgeting issues, or available resources, among other things. We here at CASA are always beyond grateful to individuals who see a need in the community and take the necessary steps to fill that void. Without individuals like Maureen and Michelle, our CASA children would not be able to experience the joys that extracurricular activities can bring to a child.

Kathy Jolly




Kathy Jolly exemplifies what it means to be a person of high integrity, knowledge and passion as a servant leader in our community.  In Kathy’s role as Parent Involvement Coordinator in the Teaching and Learning Department of Forsyth County Schools she works with the parents of some of our community’s most vulnerable children.  Kathy believes and always remembers that parents are their child’s first and most important teacher so she works tirelessly to equip parents with the skills, technology and resources so they can help partner with the school for their child’s success.

She utilizes her connections with educators, non-profit organizations, professional colleagues and community leaders to support the education and well-being of at-risk children in our community.  Kathy is a visionary who keeps her finger on the pulse of our community, our state and our nation to better understand the issues that will affect the families with whom she works. 

Kathy was instrumental in Forsyth County’s Changing Demographics Task Force which looked at the changes in both diversity and growth of our community and the impact these issues would have.  The Task Force identified the need for a central location to assist immigrant and migrant students and their families and that would support and embrace the challenges of diversity within the community.  As a result Kathy played a key role in the establishment of the Transition Services Center on Elm St. that supports and embraces the challenges of increasing diversity.

Kathy is that quiet force that moves mountains for children and families.  Her efforts to improve our community began the day she moved to Cumming in 1994 and they continue to this day.  The entire community is a better place because of her persistent commitment and I cannot imagine a more deserving recipient of the Light of Hope Award.

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CASA—It can be intimidating to know how to best support and empower a CASA child and his or her family. Individuals like Kathy strive to put our CASA children and their unique needs first. She recognizes that families face challenges on a daily basis and that sometimes, we just need a helping hand to get back on our feet. Our CASA children could not be successful without individuals like Kathy in our community. Kathy, we are truly grateful!


Cathy Morse

            Cathy Morse has not only been a dedicated Girl Scout Leader for the past twelve years, she has held every volunteer position available in Girl Scouts.  She is a trainer, responsible for teaching skills to thousands of adult leaders who can pass those skills onto their girls. She has served repeatedly as a service unit director, managing between 300 – 600 children, and as a Day Camp Director, serving 200+ children each summer. Cathy has also worked as a camp counselor, all while running her own troop.

And that troop… Cathy has done something clearly remarkable – she has led a group of girls from 1st grade through now, their senior year of high school.  When one thinks about girl scouts, the images that come to mind are the cute little girls selling cookies.  Rarely do you come across an older girl scout. Cathy has kept this troop together by encouraging them to learn new things; teaching them responsibility and helping them grow as community leaders.  She has guided them in earning Bronze, Silver and now Gold awards.  And she is consistently challenging them to impact and change the world, reminding them that they “hold the power to change the world in the palm of their hands.”

Cathy leads by example.  Her influence reaches beyond girl scouting, touching our local schools as she has served as a room mom for ten years.  She works merchandise booths and ice cream counters as a PTO volunteer. One of her greatest accomplishments was founding and running the Mashburn Elementary recycling program.

She is raising both the leaders of tomorrow and our future volunteer force and is truly a Light of Hope in our community!

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CASA—Our CASA children need environments where they can be challenged, empowered, loved and accepted. Individuals like Cathy recognize that all children need this and she goes above and beyond to make sure that the necessary programs and outlets are available. Cathy also understands that standing by a child over the years, through the ups and the downs, is what children really need. Our CASA children need consistency, dedication and commitment and individuals like Cathy provide that to them every day. We thank you!


Adam & Whitney Rodes

            Adam and Whitney Rodes have volunteered at the Bald Ridge Lodge, a Stabilization and Assessment Center for boys in our community for the past two years.  They have chaperoned outings and have spent time one-on-one with youth who have earned time outside the Lodge.  During their time volunteering, they longed to do more and decided to take classes to become foster parents.  While they love children of all ages, teenagers hold a special place in their hearts – and we are so grateful!


When teenagers come into foster care, they are more likely to be placed in group homes than in foster homes.  In fact, last year in our community, nearly 80% of children 12 years old or older in foster care were placed in group settings.  Many of these youth have never experienced what it means to be in a family, what it means to have unconditional love.


What is unique is that Adam and Whitney do not have teenagers.  They have three young children.  Whitney is quick to say that she and Adam realize that for some of the teens they foster, they may be their last chance for a successful outcome and so they do everything they can to guide, teach and model good parenting for the boys.


Even as boys have transitioned from their home back to the Bald Ridge Lodge, the Rodes continue their relationship with the boys and continue to volunteer their time.  The boys know the Rodes will be there for them.  What a gift the Rodes are for the at-risk teens in our community, who have learned to trust that they have someone in their corner!

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CASA—Adam and Whitney have been such a blessing to the CASA program since they became foster parents. Always open to working with our CASA volunteers, they have truly embraced the ‘team approach’ necessary to support a child in need. By opening their home, they have allowed several CASA children to remain in county. This stability allows our children to remain in their same schools and to keep as much of their routine as possible while in care. They are unwavering in their support and have been such a blessing to the CASA children that they have welcomed into their home.

 Stacy and Todd Staley

Stacy and Todd Staley’s story began with a call. The parents of three elementary-aged children, their lives were already full of love and bustling activity.  Then they heard the story of our foster care system.  Too many children, not enough homes and families to care for them and this burden weighed on their heart.

The Staley’s understand that the very things that break our hearts should be the things that point us in the direction we should go.  Soon after they finished the training to become foster parents, they received a call and accepted a baby for one night and a set of toddler aged siblings for three weeks.

Soon after, another set of siblings were placed with the Staley’s. The children had been hospitalized and treated for malnourishment due to extreme abuse and neglect.  They were warned that there may be developmental delays and chronic health issues.  This did not deter Todd and Stacey.

They have welcomed these two children into their home and when the biological mother gave birth, the third sibling joined the Staley family.  The Staley’s now have three elementary school aged children and three foster children under the age of 3 ½.  To say their lives are full of love and bustling activity is an understatement.

Through their journey through the foster care system, the have learned the difficulty of letting children into their lives and then letting them go.  They have also learned to navigate the days filled with therapists and doctors, visits and appointment.  Yet they have never lost their stride or their belief that this is the very place they are called to be.

The amount of love and care they have given to these children is inspirational.  They are truly Lights of Hope for these children and for our community.

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CASA:  Todd and Stacy are another shining example of selfless individuals who understood that our CASA children have needs and took it upon themselves to fill those needs.  So many CASA children are in need of caring adults who will open their homes or who will advocate on behalf in court.  We can’t say enough good things about the amazing people like Todd and Stacy who go above and beyond every day to nurture and provide for our CASA children in need.


 Kenya Wooden

            Working as a social worker in the community is a challenging position.  Working as a DFCS social services supervisor is even more daunting.  Resources and time are scarce, while case loads, deadlines and expectations are high. 

Last summer, our county DFCS office was in transition.  The former director took a position in another county and Forsyth County was left without a Director.  For seven months, Kenya Wooden stepped in as the Lead Social Services Supervisor, taking on the responsibilities of the Director, all the while keeping her responsibilities as the Supervisor of the Family Preservation team.

As the interim director, she became the face of DFCS for our community.  She attended community and Board meetings, managed constituent complaints, and provided supervision to the other three supervisors in the office.  As the Family Preservation Supervisor, she spent time with case managers who were new to the agency and new to the field of social work.  She attended court hearings and Family Team Meetings, mentoring and coaching to enhance their skills and ensure their success in keeping children safe in their home environments.

During this time, Kenya was unshakeable.  She was a steady and comforting presence in the office and respected in the community as she developed relationships and collaboration among community partners.

She is truly an inspiration and should be recognized for her tireless efforts on behalf of her colleagues and the children and families of Forsyth County.

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CASA—CASA and DFCS are fortunate to have a support system in one another and we are so grateful that Kenya understands and nurtures the strength in that partnership. She gives of herself daily and goes above and beyond for every abused and neglected child that she encounters. She supports our CASA children, our CASA volunteers and our CASA program and is purposeful in her mission to join all local agencies in better lifting up our children in need. CASA is truly thankful for individuals like Kenya! 

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