BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – We all like the sound of making a difference in the community, but how many of us actually take action? Fannin County High School student, Cassie Stepp, took the initiative to put her own community service project into place.
Stepp is a junior at Fannin County High School who is currently juggling not only her high school classes but dual enrollment at North Georgia Technical College along with her project. The Fannin County junior came up with the idea of supplying backpacks, full of everyday necessities that we take for granted, to the homeless. She came up with the idea all on her own and named her project “Blessing Backs With Packs”. When asked how she came up with the project and what made her decide to do it, Stepp responded, “I was at church one night when our youth leader, Justin Minter, asked us, ‘If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?’ My immediate thought was to help the homeless. Since I cannot build homes, I started to think on it and came up with this.”
Putting the project into place took a lot of time, patience, and planning. Once Stepp knew that she wanted to make her project happen, she went to one of her youth leaders, Matt Meeks, to lead her in the right direction. “Matt helped me schedule meetings to get my project approved and moving along,” Stepp shared with the FetchYourNews (FYN) team. “There have definitely been challenges that I’ve had to overcome when scheduling the important meetings because I’ve been so busy, but I have managed to work through it.”
Knowing that putting the bags together would take a lot of money, Stepp hit the drawing board. “Starting out, I set a goal for $500 in order to make 10 bags,” Stepp explained. Cassie raised money from a bake sale, yard sale, and a raffle. She stayed up for hours the night before her bake/yard sale making desserts, rounding up things she no longer used, making signs, and pricing items. For her raffle, Stepp went to local businesses asking for generous donations to put in the baskets she would be giving away. “Altogether I raised $600, exceeding my goal by $100,” Stepp said.
Then, Stepp wasted no time purchasing the bags and the items to go in it. In the bags, she included: a piece of paper explaining what the bag was, socks, a lot of canned food, an emergency blanket, a small flashlight, pens, hygiene products, a Bible, a journal, a water bottle, and information about local shelters. When asking Stepp how many people she will have helped at the end of her project, she responded, “There are currently 34 homeless in Fannin, and I plan to eventually help them all. I established the goal of 10 bags as a starting point for my project to grow off of. I spent $400 on the 10 bags and plan to put the leftover $200 towards the other 24 bags after more fundraising.”
After asking Stepp when she thinks the rest of her bags will be complete and her project will come to an end, she answered, “I don’t plan for my project to ever come to an end. After I’ve helped everyone in Fannin, I want to expand my project into other counties to help more people.” Cassie is continuing to think of more ways to raise money for her project as she also works to become a non-profit organization so that Blessing Backs with Packs can grow.
Stepp has made such a big impact on the community from being asked one simple question from her youth leader. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
“I would like to express my appreciation to all of the businesses who donated items for the raffle and helped me reach my goal. I could not have done this without them,” Stepp shared with the FYN team. The organizations include: Serenity Spa and Resort, Mason Tractor Company, Dairy Queen, April’s Attic, Blue Ridge Outdoor Adventure Wear, River Gypsy, Humble Pie, Blue Ridge Bird Seed Company, Chocolate Express, Blue Ridge Mountain Mall, Blue Ridge Fly Fishing, Fannin Lanes, Cohutta Mini Golf, Cohutta Feed and Seed, Taste of Amish, Blue Ridge Oil Change, X-Treme Print Graphics, Fannin County High School, Donna Gray, and Cheryl Stepp.
West Fannin’s third grade teachers Mrs. Grubb and Mrs. Shinpaugh are doing things a little differently this year. Their new schedule allows for a STEM block where they can co-teach science and math. By integrating science and math, students can make better connections between the two subjects. The integration of the two subjects also helps students see the relevance of mathematics. Recently, students used what they have learned this year in their science and math units to construct solar ovens from pizza boxes. The students worked in groups to plan and build their designs. The students had to measure lengths, measure angles, and record the measurements in their STEM journals. After they constructed their solar ovens, they went outside to test them by cooking S’mores. The students gathered all the data and shared their successes and failures with one another. The students then received new pizza boxes in an attempt to improve their solar ovens after analyzing the data. Making data-based improvements is a vital part to the STEM Engineering Design Loop. Our third graders loved this STEM project. What a creative way to integrate science and math.
Artist Jenny King has been a fixture on the Marietta Square for almost a decade. At the end of the month, she will be moving her studio from the cozy spot above The Australian Bakery, to a shuttle bus conversion. “Leaving the Square was a tough decision, I love it there, the people, the community, but ultimately, transitioning into a mobile studio is in alignment with a project I’ve been working on for awhile now called Artist on the Lam.”, she explains.
Since 2009, King has contributed countless hours to help create the booming art scene present today on the Marietta Square. Her efforts include sharing her studio space with other local artists via Red Door Art Gallery & Studio, creating the charity event Trilogy, making the First Friday Art Walks more exciting for patrons with Mystery Themes, and even donating her services to The Winter Wonderland Experience by painting the mural at the ice rink, and that’s just to name a few.
She has strived to help bring the community together through art, so why move off the thriving Marietta Square now? She says that it’s simply the right time for her. “The Square is in a good place with some very talented and dedicated people to support it. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the last 19 years, my boys are getting ready to go off to college soon and so now I’m looking forward to slowing down from the grind, logging some travel time while still being able to create art.”
Her new project aims to continue that spirit of building community through art, but on a broader platform. It’s described as “a video documentation of the creative process presented in an engaging format to nourish your mind and spirit.” She breaks it down for us like this: “If Bob Ross and American Pickers had a baby…it would be Artist on the Lam.”
Fellow artist Kirk Stansbury is an integral part of this endeavor as he brings a different style of art and perspective. His work uses many upcycled and repurposed materials he randomly finds and constructs into a folky and funky art.
“I’m excited about it on a number of levels.”, says Stansbury. “This is a new experience of the unknown. I’m looking forward to traveling to new places, the adventure, meeting new people, the things we’ll discover to create art. My only hope is to educate and inspire others while having a little fun along the way.”
The diversity of Kirk and Jenny’s styles along with their congenial personalities is sure to make this a dynamic production, which is on track to launch in 2018.
The heart of Artist on the Lam is to inspire people by shining light on what it takes to create art in a way that others may learn. “If even one person out there can take something from this, can learn something new, travel (even if only vicariously) to a place they’ve never been, but especially if someone connects with their inner artist from watching Artist on the Lam, we will know we have achieved our purpose.”
King is not quite ready to leave the Square completely however. Her art will be remaining as she partners exclusively with Markay Gallery. “The Light Series is an important body of work to me.”, says Jenny. “I went through some very difficult life changes over the last two years. I’m still going through it. This series has been very soul healing for me.” The collectors that are drawn to these paintings seem to appreciate the ethereal feeling of hope they experience when viewing her work as well.
Markay Gallery, located just off the Marietta Square at 26 Winters Street, is the newest venture to join the Marietta Square, its owner however, Amber Markay Byrd, has been a prominent figure in the community for the last decade and has had a significant impact on the growth and success of the arts in the area.
“Having met Jenny almost 10 years ago, I have loved seeing how she uses art to connect with people in such a special and meaningful way.”, says Byrd. “Her canvas is her page and her paint is the story. Her work is beyond beautiful, it’s a personal connection to behold. Having her on board as a Markay Gallery artist is an exciting new chapter for both Jenny and the gallery. We’re honored to represent her!”
Amber’s vision and forward thinking approach to connecting collectors to the kind of art that “you just can’t live without now that you’ve seen it” has catapulted Markay Gallery to the top of unique gallery experiences to acquire the best and brightest the art world has to offer.
Jenny King still accepts commissions for clients who value a personal touch when it comes to art. View all the services she offers at www.JKingArtworks.com.
To learn more about the Artist on the Lam project, please visit www.ArtistOnTheLam.com.
For more information on Markay Gallery, please visit www.MarkayGallery.com.