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10th Annual Michael Isenhour Toy Drive Makes a Difference

Dec. 16, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn

Sting Daily

A half hour spent watching the evening news on any day makes it clear that these are not standard times, but even with that pretext . . . Thursday was a day so far beyond standard that it dove into the pale. It was sensory overload for this middle-aged toad.

I never cried, but Roddy Jones, Jason Peters and Jessica Sinclair came close to making that happen, and I wasn’t even there when the Georgia Tech student-athletes drove a few blocks east on North Ave.

When they dropped off some toys at the Atlanta Children’s Shelter, ACS development director Tony Conway was expecting that. He was not expecting a $5,100 cash addendum. “They handed me the envelope, and I said thank you very much. I knew I was with some folks who are going to school for a living, basically; they have very limited resources,” Conway told me when I called him. “I opened it up, and went, `Oh my god!’ It was an awesome moment.”

Call me a softy, but I’m a sucker for this kind of story. That made Thursday more than gray, damp day. If you’re not moved to similar emotion by the end of this story, you’re a hard-y.

Busy was the word as I went from Alexander Memorial Coliseum and an interview with Paul Hewitt back home to resume working on a story for the AARP regarding transportation for seniors in Cobb County.

There are some folks who care a great deal about that issue, non-seniors included, and they’re desperate for several things ranging from funding to all the help they can get at spreading the word about the programs that already are available. Objectivity aside, I was moved in interviews with the ARC, the Council on Aging, Cobb County Transit, and especially by the passion of one Ron Roberts of the Cobb County DOT.

In some cases, these folks work with shut-ins who don’t want to be shut-ins, seniors who don’t have what they want. With parents of a certain age, who happen to live in Cobb County, that hit home.

In her job as director of total person support services in the Tech athletics department, Leah Thomas comes in contact occasionally with people who are shut out, people who don’t have what they need.

Under Thomas, Tech student-athletes this year branched out a bit in their holiday toy drive.

Nothing against the Toys for Tots campaign and the U.S. Marines, with whom Tech has worked in recent years, but there’s a commitment on The Flats to make Tech’s annual Michael Isenhour toy drive distinct.

In speaking with Thomas mid-afternoon, one comment jumped out in bold.

I asked about student-athlete involvement in these kinds of things, and she said about 75 percent of the 375 or so Tech athletes tend to be involved in one charitable program or another over the course of the school year, but that final exams this week took many of them out of circulation.

Not Jones, Peters and the softball team’s Sinclair, all of whom Thomas referred to as (here it comes), “some of my loyals; there are a few, like Roddy, who don’t let an event go by without being involved.”

Jones, like Peters, will graduate tomorrow along with fellow redshirt junior football players Kyle Jackson and Michael Peterson. I haven’t talked to Peterson yet, but Jones, Peters and Jackson all plan to return to play another season of football, something I’ll write about soon.

Back to the present . . . If you know Jones, this won’t surprise you much. Some details, however, might cause tingling.

He was yucking it up after practice Thursday with reporters (I went back to Tech), talking about coach Paul Johnson inviting Jones’ brother to attend practice while he’s in town for his older brother’s graduation. That’s funny, sort of, because Jones’ brother plays for Air Force. “They run the same stuff we do,” Jones said in his very respectable Johnson imitation.

No. 20 comes from serious stock, via Chamblee. Rod and Angel must be proud. “My parents have always preached giving back,” Jones said. “Growing up, I played in the Tucker football league. We always had guys coming back and help out. Asher Allen, who played at Georgia, came back, and Thomas Brown, who went to Georgia, played there. Patrick Pass (who also played at Georgia) would always come back and help out. Those guys showed me what it is to give back to kids. That meant a lot.” As nearly every news cycle suggests, we live in a wild and wooly world. The notion of Jones learning from future Bulldogs confirms it.

`Tis the time of year to put aside petty.

At Tech’s final home football game, a men’s basketball game and a women’s game, Tech student-athletes collected roughly 500 toys, and cash donations.

Thursday, they delivered toys to the Ronald McDonald House, Egleston Children’s Hospital and the ACS. “Delivering the toys was very fun, but the best part was when we handed the Atlanta Children’s Shelter the money,” Thomas said. Conway’s face apparently did not light up. He reflected a shade of some sort of stunned.

“A gift of $5,000 from college students makes a very big impact. It’s pretty tremendous,” he said. “We have 40 kids in the early childcare program. We have a self-sufficiency boot camp for . . . mostly moms, most fleeing domestic violence. When they leave us, they’re stable. The average stay is seven months. “After seven months, they’ll typically go into a home we’ve worked to arrange, and into a one-year mentorship with us. It takes about $10,000 a year for one family . . . so that check just about brings a family to the finish line.”

Youngsters in the ACS program range from one month to 5 years old.

Working across multiple strata and media (I was in the office Wednesday night/morning to 1 a.m.; I’ll be covering a Hawks game tonight; writing about Tech football for the AJC Saturday, and visiting senior citizens in Cobb County Sunday), my head spins sometimes.

I’m not alone.

Even as we emerge from an era of excesses, we remain over-stimulated yet under-informed.

The information age is bombardment. The emotional needle doesn’t move as easily as it once did because all around fly billions of bytes of information (much of it meaningless, a good portion brainless conjecture). Details and their imitations pass before our eyes and whiz over our heads, less frequently comprehended in part because we’re often numbed by volume.

In the wake, special stories sink untold or ignored.

For my two cents, this might have been one of them.

Yet Jason Peters, Jessica Sinclair, Leah Thomas and Roddy Jones were plugged in Thursday, acutely.

Conway showed off the Tech check to others at ACS, and gave his guests a tour. “They had a glass door with a window up top and a window on the bottom, and one of the infants came up to the window and he was kind of looking up,” Jones said. “It was a very pleasant experience.”

Yes it was.

“The students were great. We’ couldn’t have scored today without them,” Conway said. “Roddy was pretty fixated on the infant room; I couldn’t get him out of the window.”

Never mind the quality of writing here, if you’re not moved by the details, turn in your soul. Or, if you’re moved, give. You can find all of these and other charitable organizations via internet search engine. If you go that route, mention Tech.



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