Everyday Heroes 2022 revisited

Portrait of Maria Fundora at her Casa Nuova Italian restaurant in Alpharetta. The story is about Maria's devotion to the fight against pancreatic cancer, which her mother had. She used her restaurant and the many folks she knows through the restaurant as the springboard for her efforts, which to date, have netted $3 million, mostly for research.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Portrait of Maria Fundora at her Casa Nuova Italian restaurant in Alpharetta. The story is about Maria's devotion to the fight against pancreatic cancer, which her mother had. She used her restaurant and the many folks she knows through the restaurant as the springboard for her efforts, which to date, have netted $3 million, mostly for research. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

They are fighting cancer and helping those who survive it. They help the fearful overcome what’s been an obstacle to a full life, and they show us how far determination can take you. They don’t have to walk a mile in their neighbors’ shoes to want to lift them up and carry them through the tough parts of life’s journey.

Last year, we recognized these people and others as some of Atlanta’s everyday heroes. And today, we revisit them and see that they are still working hard to break barriers and improve lives.

They are the embodiment of the power of one.

$1 million goal in sight for Fundora’s fight against pancreatic cancer

Maria Fundora and a small group of loyal volunteers expect to end 2023 having raised $1 million for pancreatic research for a second straight year.

That will bring the total raised by Fundora and her nonprofit to $6 million, all in memory of her mother, who died from the disease in 2007.

Fundora says part of the credit is due to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which has followed her work for the last two years and named her an Everyday Hero last year.

“Oh, my God, your writing stories about us has been amazing,” said Fundora, owner of Casa Nuova Italian restaurant in Alpharetta. “It has really put us where we are recognized. I have people come to me at the restaurant all the time and say we read your story in the AJC.

Fundora, who runs the all-volunteer Purple Pansies with co-chair Janice Chalovich, recently announced a potentially groundbreaking partnership and creation of the Piedmont Breakthrough Treatment Center (BTC). The partnership is between Piedmont Hospital and Origin, a partnership of leading research institutes and science professionals who use their collective power to reach those in greatest need with the most promising medical advances.

“Our goal is to become a destination, not only for patients in Georgia but for those patients throughout the Southeast whose therapies have failed them and who are seeking out novel treatment to achieve better outcomes,” said Charles L. Brown III, M.D. and CEO of Piedmont’s Physician Enterprises.

This center will bring to Piedmont some of the most promising early-phase clinical trials, such as novel cell/gene therapies, next-generation immunotherapies, and precision early detection.

Cosmo Smith, managing partner at Origin, said that, through the partnership, Piedmont will be positioned “as a destination for cutting-edge research and advancements in oncology.”

To donate to Purple Pansies, go to https://purplepansies.org.

The Scalise sisters have raised $75,000 iin gratitude for the fact that their mother, Stephanie, not only survived but thrives since her breast cancer. Pictured from left to right are Emilie, Lauren, Samantha Scalise


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Sisters have raised $75,000 to benefit breast cancer patients

Every January, Samantha, Lauren, and Emilie Scalise have a standing date to take a walk – one they hope will make life better for breast cancer patients. They created the annual fundraising walk and nonprofit Strides for Survivors seven years ago after watching their mother, Stephanie, battle back from breast cancer.

They’ve raised $75,000 to date and have given all the money to TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta. They are adamant that the nonprofit helped their mother to recover and reclaim her active life.

The sisters were only 11, 13, and 15 when their then-43-year-old mother, Stephanie, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and had a double mastectomy. After the surgery, she had eight rounds of chemotherapy and 28 doses of radiation. She also developed lymphedema, painful and often lifelong swelling that surgery for breast cancer and other conditions can cause.

Today, Stephanie Scalise is still cancer-free, and the family remains dedicated to the nonprofit they created as an expression of their gratitude.

“The community has been so generous and supportive of our mission to educate and donate funds for the next steps to healing after surgery,” Scalise said.

Their annual walk, Strides for Survivors, will be on Jan. 13, 2024, at The Galloway School, 215 Chastain Park Avenue, Atlanta. To register for the walk or learn more about it, go to https://stridesforsurvivors.org.

Everyday Heroes Caleb Guy

Credit: Fresh Take Georgia

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Credit: Fresh Take Georgia

Cherokee’s Caleb Guy, Special Olympics world winner

Not too many people are met at the airport by a Chick-fil-A cow.

But then, not too many people can say they came home with three silver medals from the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin.

That is unless you are Caleb Guy, the pride of Cherokee County and a 2023 three-time silver medalist in kayaking.

When Guy was supposed to fly home from the World Games last summer, a Chick-fil-A cow was at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to greet the world medalist. The festivities fizzled due to flight problems but resumed once Guy arrived home to a champion’s welcome with family, friends, community supporters, and a cow.

Guy, who has Down syndrome, didn’t spend too much time savoring his victories in the men’s 200-meter, men’s 500-meter, and doubles 200-meter events. He was back with his teammates in Cherokee County Special Olympics for the fall season of kayaking and is now preparing for basketball season, his mother, Molly Guy, said.

“I keep him busy,” she said.

Guy, 21, has been competing with Special Olympics Georgia for more than 12 years and holds to the mantra: be kind and never give up.

Mother Molly said his success at the World Games gave him a boost of confidence. “I can tell he’s standing straighter,” she said.

Caleb Guy graduates in the spring from Transition Academy, where he receives vocational training and develops skills to transition into life after high school, his mother said. Now, he has to decide what he wants to do for the rest of his life, she said.

Learn more about Georgia Special Olympics at specialolympicsga.org. Read more about Caleb’s adventures at Paddle On for the Strudel.

Portrait of Rita Harris & her guide dog Madden who are featured in the mural behind them in Course F at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Harris is a blind women living in Madison who started a nonprofit to help others who are vision impaired. The organization is called Living Life Team.

Credit: Phil Skinner

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Credit: Phil Skinner

Rita Harris helps other visually impaired adults conquer their fears

Rita Harris is ensuring her Living Life Team of visually impaired adults have no fears they can’t overcome.

When almost all participants said they deeply feared water, Harris, who is totally blind, arranged for a kayaking adventure. Trained instructors helped 16 adults who couldn’t see to kayak for the first time.

They had a ball, Harris said. And swimming lessons are on the schedule for next year.

The grandmother from Madison founded Living Life Team to help other adults with vision loss regain their independence and enjoy life. Her group attracts residents from all around metro Atlanta and as far away as Augusta.

Harris lost her sight as an adult due to Retinitis Pigmentosa and can relate to the struggles of living without sight. She was a 2022 Everyday Hero.

This year, the group received white cane training, took a pottery class, and learned food prep skills, including using a knife.

“They learned to slice and dice,” Harris said.

Living Life Team hosts the annual Christmas party for children at the Georgia Lion’s Camp for the Blind in Waycross. Members provide all the food, decorations, and activities to build self-esteem and self-confidence in children who are vision impaired.

Harris is the first vice district governor for the Georgia Lion’s Club and is preparing to become the district governor next year. Her training includes travel to Australia.

“Everything is about serving and helping others,” Harris said. “Even with the Lion’s Club, it’s all about inspiring and encouraging others to serve. I’m loving it.”

Find out more at https://livinglifeteam.net/

Portrait of Solidarity Sandy Springs founder Jennifer Barnes in the food distribution store at First Methodist Church in Sandy Springs. For the Everyday Heroes holiday package. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Phil Skinner

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Credit: Phil Skinner

Solidarity Sandy Springs seeing more first-timers at food pantry

Jennifer Barnes optimistically believed that Solidarity Sandy Springs, which she co-founded, would be a short-term food pantry to help folks through the COVID shutdown.

Three years later, it’s needed more than ever. Solidarity has grown into a community movement to help overlooked families. Barnes said they had more people coming to a food pantry for the first time this year.

“I think it’s just the economy,” she said. “Everybody feels it because everybody has to go to the grocery store.”

Solidarity helps 750 to 800 people a week on average, which has almost doubled from last year.

“We’re providing a good solid safety net, so people don’t have to decide whether to pay their rent or, heaven forbid, go to the doctor or feed their family,” said Barnes, a 2022 Everyday Hero.

Food costs have also gone up for the nonprofit -- $4,500 to $5,500 a week for the basics like produce and meat, Barnes said.

This year, more than 1,000 kids will receive Christmas gifts from “Secret Santa,” and they’ll again have a free market to shop for gifts for their parents.

Solidarity gave away culturally diverse food bags for Thanksgiving so shoppers of all ethnicities could enjoy the holiday.

Barnes said these little extras let people know they are seen and heard. “Which is what all people need – to know that someone cares.”

The Pantry is at the Sandy Springs United Methodist Church, 86 Mount Vernon Highway, NW, Sandy Springs. Shoppers can come to shop for free groceries on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 9 to noon.

Solidarity is looking for a permanent location near Roswell Road and I-285. To donate or volunteer, go to https://solidaritysandysprings.org/