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Even During a Pandemic, Cobb EMC and Gas South Are Still Inspiring Students

Bells Ferry book club
Bells Ferry book club

By Lindsay Field Penticuff

Since its inception 10 years ago, the Literacy Week Program has supported more than 135,000 students in schools across Cobb, Paulding, Cherokee, Bartow, and Fulton counties. Launched by Cobb EMC in 2010 and followed by Gas South in 2015 as a co-sponsor, Literacy Week was created to encourage students’ love of reading and creative writing.

“The program supports the efforts of the schools, and the author and illustrator visits bring real-world examples to the classroom. Literacy Week inspires imagination and promotes lifelong reading habits,” explains Mark Justice, director of education and community relations at Cobb EMC. “Reading is one of the most important components of a successful education, and literacy supports successful STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education.”

Literacy Week was started with New York Times Best Selling Author and Illustrator Brian Lies visiting just three schools. Justice says the response to Lies’ visits was so positive that Cobb EMC decided to make Literacy Week an annual event. Today, the program impacts students in 30 to 46 schools across five metro Atlanta counties. It is offered to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and starting this year it also will be offered to college students.

The number of authors who participate changes each year, but they are expecting 12 authors to share their books and illustrations the last week in October during this year’s Literacy Week. “Literacy Week is more than inviting an author into a school to read one of their books,” Justice adds. “Instead, it is a focused time for students to be inspired to love reading and writing. Students learn about the process of writing and editing. A few of our authors are also illustrators. The students get to see live demonstrations and learn tips about how to draw.”

Justice adds that Literacy Week has become one of their most popular school programs and is one of Cobb EMC’s most important community efforts for education. “It is also probably the most demanding week of the school year for us, but we love every minute.”

Impacting the community at large
Gas South’s involvement in Literacy Week goes back to the company’s annual commitment of returning 5 percent of its profits back to the community, specifically to children in need in three areas: basic needs, education, and illness and disability.

“Cobb EMC has a strong education component to their community giving, so we thought co-sponsoring Literacy Week would be a great avenue to collaborate on,” shares Carley Stephens, community affairs program manager at Gas South, adding that this year alone, Gas South will be giving more than $1.2 million back to the community.

A large portion of Gas South employees have personally experienced the good deeds of Literacy Week, as their children are students at one of the participating schools — Norton Park Elementary School in Smyrna. “We know that we are not only impacting our communities, but we are bringing a really great program to the children of our own employees,” Stephens says. “One of the things we strive to do is to put people first, and that doesn’t just pertain to our customers. Taking care of our employees — our own family — is really important and impactful for the company to be able to touch everyone in that way and provide that support.”

A pandemic didn’t slow them down
This year’s program was held virtually to be respectful of social distancing rules and regulations instituted by many of the metro area’s school systems in light of COVID-19. “We normally have a kickoff event for schools on the first Monday of Literacy Week, giving media specialists and principals a chance to meet the authors and illustrators in advance of scheduled presentations,” Justice says. “We will not be able to host a kickoff dinner this year, though, because all of the presentations will be virtual.”

But, Cobb EMC’s mascot, Wattson the Red-Tailed Hawk, will visit close to 30 schools during this year’s Literacy Week. He also will be seen during virtual visits this year.

Stephens added that hosting this year’s event virtually will give presenters an opportunity to speak to smaller groups of students. “Kids will be able to interact in different ways with the authors and illustrators and ask more questions, which I think is really beneficial. …I think this will be a great opportunity for [them] to share their presentations and maybe be more focused on what the skills of a specific class or grade is learning at the time.”

To learn more about the community programs at Cobb EMC and Gas South, visit cobbemc.com/content/partners-education and gassouth.com/giving-back, respectively.


Highlights of Literacy Week:

  •  Held the last week of October every year since 2010.
  •  Two Spotlight on Excellence Awards from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
  •  Business-to-Business Partnership Impact Award – Corporate Volunteer Council of Atlanta
  •  New York Times Best Selling Author and Illustrator Brian Lies has participated since year 1.
  •  Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods participated in Literacy Week in 2015.
  •  NASA author, speaker and space historian Andrew Chaikin has participated in Literacy Week for several years.


Teachers of the Year


This year, our educators certainly had an inordinate number of challenges, but that didn’t stop them from performing above and beyond the call, and helping their students make the best of the school year. During a remote address back in August, Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale announced the district’s 2020 Teachers of the Year: Darline Douangvilay, City View Elementary School; Michelle Gottenberg, Mabry Middle School; and Beth Foster, Osborne High School.



Douangvilay, who teaches fifth-grade, enjoys incorporating her students’ cultural backgrounds into her lessons. Gottenberg is a seventh-grade English teacher. She has an ability to connect with students and is a positive asset to Mabry. Foster teaches English as a second language, as well as history. She works well with her high school students, is supportive of her colleagues, and is willing to pitch in wherever she is needed — from completing tasks or necessary paperwork to giving ideas for classwork and projects. Congratulations to all three educators.



Cobb Chamber Names 2020 Public Safety Award Winners
The Cobb Chamber honored Cobb County’s finest Monday, October 5, during its annual Public Safety Appreciation Luncheon, presented by Cobb EMC and Wellstar, at the Coca-Cola Roxy. The hybrid event drew a sold-out, socially-distanced crowd and kicked off Public Safety Appreciation Week, a community-wide effort to say “thank you” to the men and women who work tirelessly to keep Cobb County safe.

Cobb Chamber Marquee Monday. (Photo: Karl L. Moore)
Cobb Chamber Marquee Monday. (Photo: Karl L. Moore)

Vic Reynolds, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, served as keynote speaker and awards emcee, honoring each of the nominees and presenting the 2020 Public Safety Awards. Nominations for the Public Safety Awards were solicited from public safety agencies throughout Cobb County, including police, fire, sheriff’s office, campus police, and EMS. Congratulations to all of the winners:

  •  Public Safety Employee of the Year — Deputy Tyrone Reid, Cobb County Sheriff’s Office
  •  Awards of Merit — Officer Matt Smith, Kennesaw Police Department; Office of Victim Services, Kennesaw State University Police; MPD Crime Interdiction Unit, Marietta Police Department
  •  Distinguished Achievement Award — Battalion Chief Stephen Westbrook, Smyrna Fire Department; Training Manager Krista Tillman, Puckett EMS
  •  Outstanding Community Contribution — Firefighter Ron Presley, Marietta Fire Department; Lieutenant Michael Goins, Marietta Police Department; Detective Evan Wallace, Acworth Police Department
  •  Medal of Valor — Officers Andrew Abernathy and Quinius Lyles, Cobb County Police Department
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