The AJC asked Northside contributors to share their personal stories of optimism. Top row: Dr. Behnoosh Momin, Danny Umali and Mary Rittle. Bottom row: John Ray, Yusra Khan and Max Lehmann.

Stories of optimism: How your neighbors are coping

Clearly, the coronavirus is testing everyone’s patience and resolve. Yet, amid the uncertainty, a resilient spirit thrives. 

Your Northside neighbors are finding solace through their faith, their relationships with family and friends – even through their love of brisket. 

To provide a bit of a diversion from the news around us, we’ve asked our community contributors to share their personal stories of optimism during these troubling times. 

We hope you find their insights inspirational. 

We hope they provide you with some perspective. 

And we hope they remind you, as captured in one of the personal stories, that we are all truly in this together.


Dr. Behnoosh Momin lives in Dunwoody and serves in a voluntary capacity for communications and outreach on The Ismaili Council for the Southeastern United States.

‘Hope will guide us through’ 

In a speech given at the commencement ceremony at Brown University in 1996, His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, said, “The right to hope is the most powerful human motivation I know.” 

Let’s face it: We are struggling to deal with the daily deluge of information on how to protect ourselves and our communities from the Coronavirus while also dealing with its human, societal and economic impacts. 

No matter how uncertain and challenging these times are, hope will guide us through. 

History teaches us that when communities come together with hope and mutual respect and humility, they can stare down the problems they face, no matter how challenging they appear. 

Today’s crisis is no different. 

By coming together in the same spirit of hope, we can and will overcome this calamity and emerge even stronger than before. 

Most faiths suggest in one way or another that humankind has been created from a single soul, and from it, men and women, so that people can understand and appreciate the other. 

Diverse communities around the world share a common set of ethical principles, chief among them being to look after your neighbor. 

So regardless of your faith, let us use our shared human values to guide us in this moment of crisis and put our faith in hope so that we can, together, overcome the fear of the unknown. 

Dr. Behnoosh Momin lives in Dunwoody and serves in a voluntary capacity for communications and outreach on the Ismaili Council for the Southeastern United States. 


John Ray lives in Alpharetta. He owns his own business consultancy, Ray Business Advisors, as well as North Fulton Business RadioX, a business podcast studio. He is also a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.
Photo: Kyle Valencia

‘We can extend kindness’ 

What survives a virus? I’d offer one suggestion: it’s our relationships, not just with family, but those in our community. 

At home, maybe we can rekindle and recalibrate our relationships. 

We can stoke encouragement and healthy caution but alleviate fear. 

We can offer calm where panic might otherwise overwhelm. 

We can also reach out to our community. 

Reaching out could simply be a phone call to a neighbor with an encouraging word. We can also be mindful of those who were vulnerable before this crisis who are acutely suffering now. 

In addition to the elderly, it’s also children and families who are homeless or financially vulnerable and rely on breakfasts and lunches at school. Maybe you can contribute to North Fulton Community Charities, which is on the front lines of this assistance. 

Finally, we can be grateful – grateful for the things we are blessed with which we ordinarily take for granted. From that gratitude, we can extend kindness. Gratitude and kindness not just for first responders like our police officers who continue to serve, but for those who pick up our garbage, stock the shelves at our stores, deliver packages, prepare food and provide medical services. They continue to show up to work to serve. 

Be grateful for them and thank them. 

They are the true public servants. 

John Ray lives in Alpharetta. He owns his own business consultancy, Ray Business Advisors, as well as North Fulton Business RadioX, a business podcast studio. He is also a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. 


Yusra Khan, 18, lives in Alpharetta. She is a senior at Alpharetta High School and is a member of the UpLift Muslim Youth council.

‘A comforting balance’ 

As I write this, my friends and I are talking to each other over a video call in place of the time we’d usually be chatting away during our lunch period at school. 

My friend came up with the idea just last night when our group chat seemed to be filled with nothing but disheartening thoughts. 

It’s possible our senior year could come to a close three months earlier than we thought – and without the experiences we’d planned to share together as a group. 

We realized, though, that the present situation has the potential to bring us closer as friends, despite “social distancing” that seems to have quickly impacted us in one way or another. 

For example, my friends and I had planned on writing personal letters to each other leading up to graduation with words of encouragement and inspiration before diving into our first years of college. 

Now, we’re considering embracing an entirely new take on that idea by creating a pen-pal system. 

Each week, we plan to mail each other uplifting letters, developing a new kind of connection – a stronger connection when working-side-by-side and simply conversing over lunch isn’t an option. 

Going forward, I’m hopeful that these will be only a few of the many small changes to appreciate. And I’m hoping they provide a comforting balance to the uncertainty brought about by the current situation. 

Yusra Khan, 18, lives in Alpharetta. She is a senior at Alpharetta High School and is a member of the UpLift Muslim Youth council. 


Max Lehmann, an Oglethorpe University graduate, lives in Dunwoody with his wife, Tricia and their dog, Drum.
Photo: Picasa

‘Perfect brisket’ 

The second week in March began with a full moon and ended on Friday the 13th. 

What could possibly go wrong? 

Kids, parents, are all telecommuting. 

Perhaps a new day is upon us as the dreaded commute is furloughed for a while. Telecommuting, flex-hours and online learning are game-changing paradigm shifts that might effectively reduce peak traffic loads in the long term. 

People are walking everywhere. 

I am seeing new clusters of folks out and about as I walk my Flatcoat Retriever. Nice chats organically pop up like daffodils – all from about 6 feet away. 

For now, at least, I’m still able to visit my favorite Mexican restaurant Taqueria Los Hermanos, which delights diners with generations of old-family recipes in the new Shops of Dunwoody location. Their brisket tostado is tender, juicy and flavorful – perfect brisket in a light and fluffy tostado. 

NFA Burger recently re-opened after a brief administrative kerfuffle that had nothing to do with their food operations, to the joy of the Dunwoody burger-eating public. But not everyone is able to hit these great spots. 

And the city is partnering with Malachi's Storehouse at St. Patrick's Church to help close the hunger gap for kids who had depend on school lunches for nutrition. 

Our gorgeous Spring blooms remind us that life, rejuvenation and beauty are constants guiding us through a gray corridor of uncertainty. 

As Scarlett O'Hara said, “Tomorrow is another day.” 

Max Lehmann, an Oglethorpe University graduate, lives in Dunwoody with his wife, Tricia and their dog, Drum. 


Mary Rittle lives in Johns Creek and recently retired from a career in marketing and public relations. She has three grown sons and keeps busy with her three grandchildren, pickleball, swimming, a community garden, singing in a choir and volunteering. In 2019, she published a children's book, "Sparkler the 10th Reindeer."

‘Rolling with the punches’ 

My wife, Karen, and I work from home, but we have a lot of families come and go through our business. I get a sense from everyone that we’re still moving forward and rolling with the punches. 

We work with families in helping their kids with college, and I don’t see them slowing down or taking their eyes off the ball anytime soon. 

We are being smart while practicing the right social distancing along with frequent handwashing. We stay up to date constantly with actions taken at the local, state and federal level. We are also tracking the latest updates from the CDC. 

In the meantime, we get supplies as we need them and continue to support local business where we can. We keep our morning bagel run at Bagel Boys in Sandy Springs and use DoorDash for our dinner orders from other local restaurants nearby. 

Let’s see if this holds. If we do end up staying put for a while, I think we’ll be ready. We’re fully capable of working remotely online and we stay constantly in touch with our family and friends though social media and messaging apps. 

I think a lot of businesses and organizations are currently re-evaluating (and maybe innovating) some of the current structural and geographic norms around the workplace. 

Who knows, maybe something good will come out of all of this? 

Danny Umali is the principal of Game Theory College Planners. For more than 10 years, he has helped more than a thousand high school students and their families navigate the college problem facing many Americans today. He lives in Sandy Springs with his wife Karen and his three terriers. 


Mary Rittle lives in Johns Creek and recently retired from a career in marketing and public relations. She has three grown sons and keeps busy with her three grandchildren, pickleball, swimming, a community garden, singing in a choir and volunteering. In 2019, she published a children's book, "Sparkler the 10th Reindeer."

‘Help someone else’ 

Yes, we are all nervous, but this is the time to have courage and encourage. 

Try to talk to those in a panic. 

Try to encourage those who think they are invincible to be smart. 

Try to stay healthy. 

For me, that begins with eating right and getting some form of exercise daily. It also means focusing on my mental health, as I am a social person and social distancing is not my strength. 

To maintain a positive mood, it helps me to get outside. I walk a lot and spend time weeding and cleaning up my yard. When the sun shines, my mood soars. But even when it’s cloudy, nature is a great diversion. 

I also rely on my faith. Instead of questioning why God lets things like this happen, I pray that I will get through this and that my children and grandchildren will stay well. I voice gratitude for all that I have been given in my life so far. 

Finally, help someone else. Check on your neighbors. Pick up groceries for someone else. Share where you can. 

We are truly in this together, and we will only fare as well as our own families and neighbors. 

Mary Rittle lives in Johns Creek and recently retired from a career in marketing and public relations. She has three grown sons and keeps busy with her three grandchildren, pickleball, swimming, a community garden, singing in a choir and volunteering. In 2019, she published a children's book, "Sparkler the 10th Reindeer."


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Also, we'd like to hear from you. How are you spending your time? How is your family coping? Share your story with us by emailing coronavirus@ajc.com.

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