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Six nominated for Woman of the Year

Six local women have been nominated for the annual Woman of the Year award, which will be announced at the Chamber of Commerce banquet on Jan. 22 at the Kirbo Center.

The Pilot Club is the sponsor of the annual award, and its members vote on the winner of those nominated, who were Alesia Brinson, Dana Bryant, Marlene Free, Sarah Griffin, Susan Rathel and Joyce Robinson.

The following are the nominees:

Alesia Brinson

Alesia Brinson’s daughter, Shaundra Bivins of Atlanta, and Crycynthia Gardner both nominated her mainly because of Brinson’s work with the 1 on 1 Community Mentoring Program, which Bivins said started due to Brinson’s “desire to make a difference by providing guidance, support and encouragement to the youth of Decatur County.”

More than 100 citizens in Decatur County have volunteered their time and assistance in support of the 1 on 1 Community Mentoring Program, which connects at-risk middle school students with community mentors.

“She encourages each 1 on 1 mentor to motivate their students to be respectful, stay positive and excel academically. The program is committed to helping our youth face daily challenges all while developing character and life skills over shared meals,” Bivins wrote in her nomination letter. “These 1 on 1 relationships have created bonds that have the potential to develop into life-long trusted friendships.”

Brinson is the owner and operator of New Vision Hair Salon, and was appointed to serve on the newly formed City of Bainbridge Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which she was voted to serve as co-chairman.

Dana Bryant

Nominated by Family Connection Coordinator Ami Mejia, Dana Bryant was a volunteer work in association with First United Methodist Church, the Family Connection Collaborative and the Hunger Prevention Coalition’s executive committee.

Bryant leads a parenting group on Wednesday evenings, serves on the Lay Ministry Team and rotates as a teacher for the senior adult Sunday school class.

“Dana and school social worker Allison Harrell had a vision of having some food and clothes available that they could access when they encountered needy families. That vision turned into the TLC Room, which is actually a building donated by First United Methodist Church (thanks to Dana’s request to the FUMC board of trustees),” Mejia wrote in her nomination letter. “Through Dana’s vision and hard work, Hunger Prevention’s TLC Room now serves 117 children in the backpack program and 106 children through food delivered to homes.”

Bryant also worked with the church to establish a host site in Bainbridge for Angel Food Ministries, which allows the hunger coalition to offer families an opportunity to order high quality food at an affordable cost.

Bryant also volunteers with the ADK, the Touchdown Club, the YMCA board of directors, Family Connection Collaborative and the Samaritan Counseling Center board of directors.

Marlene Free

Three presidents of three different organizations nominated Marlene Free as Woman of the Year.

Ken Bailey, president of the Bainbridge Rotary Club; Betty Jackson, president of the Bainbridge College Ambassadors, and Phyllis Lucas, president of the Bainbridge-Decatur County Council for the Arts, each cited Free’s work and dedication to each of their organizations.

Bailey said Free is responsible for the recent organization of the RotarAct Club at Bainbridge College, supervision of the Georgia Laws of Life essay contests and other planning and organizational duties where the Rotary Club is working with students. She also volunteered to travel to Kenya to treat children with AIDS in 2008.

Lucas cited Free’s work on behalf of youngsters and the Arts Council’s Student Art Show and the Student Art Camp, even providing transportation for several of the participants of the art camp who would not have been able to attend otherwise. She is also responsible for planning art exhibits, setting them up and taking them down; preparing food for receptions and cleaning up the Firehouse Gallery following those receptions.

Jackson wrote that Free “has been a willing worker in all endeavors,” which included preparing and serving food to students and faculty, assisting in several special events at the college including the Georgia Literary Festival and grand opening of the Charles H. Kirbo Regional Center, and collecting a major portion of contributions for the Bainbridge College 35th Anniversary Cookbook.

Sarah Griffin

Sarah Griffin, co-owner of the Junior Mall, was nominated by Scarlett Walden because of work with St. John’s Episcopal Church and the VFW Auxiliary women’s group.

“Sarah has helped so many in this town who needed food, rent money or help with their children,” Walden wrote in her nomination letter. “I know of one juvenile who needed help, and Sarah personally paid for her to get the right help. Also, at times when the sheriff’s office or police department are working long hours on an investigation, Sarah is right there with coffee and sandwiches for the officers.”

Walden wrote, “She is a retired nurse and is helpful to lots of cancer victims who need money and care. She will pay their rent and food bills, keep the utilities on and give extra money to them and their families. She has a heart so big!”

Susan Rathel

Susan Rathel was nominated by her daughter, Haley Rathel, because “she is not only an outstanding parent, but she is someone that will do anything and everything for her community as well as anyone in it.”

Rathel, who is co-owner of Rathel’s Wrecker Service, was the president of the Parent Teacher Organization. She is a member of the Decatur County Young Farmers and an active officer on the Bainbridge High School’s baseball dugout club and softball booster club from 2005-2008. Rathel was over the Diamond Dolls and ran the concession stand for the basketball teams.

“It did not matter if her children participated in school activities; she tried to help the school system to her best ability,” young Rathel wrote in her nomination letter.

Susan Rathel attends West Bainbridge Baptist Church, where the family is very active.

“No matter what it may be, my mom is always the first person to jump and help with whatever we have going on at the time,” Rathel said. “She was over several committees for the annual Harvest Festival and Vacation Bible School. She also helps with the Lottie Moon Christmas offering and the missionary trips.”

Haley Rathel, who is a senior at Bainbridge High School, said her mother suffered a severe brain aneurysm following the birth of a son, and that “It was a miracle that she is still alive. She will always be my hero.”

Joyce Robinson

Janice Kell and Judith Maxwell nominated Joyce Robinson, who they said “Joyce is a ‘background’ worker, moving along behind the scenes of projects, never seeking honor or accolades for herself. She simply tried to be sensitive to the needs of others, whether it’s taking a bowl of chicken and rice soup to a person in need or chairing a service committee.”

Robinson is a member of the Decatur County Support Group for Breast Cancer Survivors Network, and she is in charge of placing pink ribbons around town. She is also a certified Southwest Georgia Hospice volunteer who meets with terminally ill patients and their families.

The duo said Robinson “uses her beautiful alto voice to sing in special choir programs at First Baptist Church. She is also a member of the Heavenly Sunlight Singers sponsored by the First United Methodist Church, a group of ladies who meet weekly and sing for residents of area nursing homes and care facilities twice a month,” Kell and Maxwell wrote.

A former public school teacher, Robinson teaches the Hilda Byrd Sunday School Class and currently serves on the library, social and bereavement committees at the church. She is active with the Salvation Army and YMCA, and she plays the piano and leads the music for the Church Weekday Education Program at Morningside Baptist Church.