Opinion: Stories from 2018 that insipired us, others

Meet the Delaneys. Hopefully, you already know their story.

When Amy and Derron Delaney married more than 20 years ago, they imagined a blended family that included their kids from previous marriages along with more babies they’d have together. They would have more kids together — just not in the biological sense. Since their union, the Delaneys have adopted six children with disabilities.

“If we had listened to God and had an open heart much sooner, we’d have a lot more money right now,” Amy Delaney said in a news story, describing years of expensive fertility procedures. The love and care the Delaneys give to the kids in their expanded family is no different than that provided to their older birth kids.

On the day 11-year-old Lexie was having her 30th craniofacial surgery, columnist Gracie Bonds Staples got to witness that firsthand.

“I just remember the way she interacted with her daughter, reassuring her everything was going to be OK,” Staples recalled.

Equally impressive were reader responses to the story.

“I am grateful for people like the Delaneys,” wrote reader John Moeller. “I hope their story inspires others to consider fostering and adopting.”

Then there’s the story of Katie Hearn. About two years ago, Hearn, 28, landed her dream job with the Atlanta Braves overseeing social media. Then she started to go blind, and her doctor advised that she find another career, something Hearn refused to consider.

By the time reporter Helena Oliviero met Hearn earlier this year, Hearn was back at the Braves and living independently near SunTrust Park.

She had already completed months of training to learn new ways to do her job, including using a screen-reading computer program.

Oliviero says she was in awe of Hearn’s determination. These words from Hearn stuck with her:

“When I realized my vision was not going to return, and I was going to have to learn a new normal, I made a choice to not let it define me,” Hearn said. “There were two factors I could control: attitude and effort.”

Throughout 2018, there have been countless stories that inspired even the best of us. It’s our chance here at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to showcase ordinary people doing extraordinary things. These stories remind just how resilient we are collectively in our everyday lives.

Investigative journalist Johnny Edwards knows that all too well. For years, we’ve been nudging Edwards, a single dad, to write a Father’s Day piece about his special relationship with his now-teenage daughter Grace.

“I had a major stumbling block in that the first thing people wanted to know was, what happened to the mom?” Edwards said. “And I couldn’t describe that without revealing my daughter’s mother’s personal problems to a mass audience.”

Edwards worked with his editor to navigate around that in a way that didn’t shortchange readers.

“We also made sure the story didn’t solicit undue praise for a man doing what scores of single moms do every day,” Edwards said.

“I also had to be careful not to embarrass my daughter, who was a rising high school senior at the time. Before he sent the story to his editor, he let Grace read it. She loved it.

“Then after publication, she hated it. Then after she got compliments at school, she loved it again,” Edwards said. “She said to me once, ‘If you wanted to tell me you loved me, you didn’t have to write a long newspaper article to say it.’”

Speaking of high school… Imagine waiting almost 50 years to receive a high school diploma you had already earned. That’s exactly what happened to the 1969 senior class at the all-black Pike County Consolidated High School. School officials withheld the diplomas after the students conducted a peaceful march to protest discriminatory desegregation policies.

Retired Pike County teacher Geneva Woods was battling liver cancer, but somehow managed to spearhead efforts for the long overdue graduation ceremony. Education reporter Eric Stirgus drove down to Zebulon, Ga., on March 3 to watch the 43 graduates, now in their 60s, grace the stage in their white cap and gowns and finally hold that diploma in their hands.

Woods died a month after the ceremony – with her mission accomplished.

And let’s not forget the Kevin Baker Music Project.

Features reporter Shelia Poole heard about the project from folks raising money for the music program.

“I loved the idea of a group of dedicated individuals including committed parents, neighborhood leaders, two musicians and an Atlanta businessman pulling together to bring the sound of hope to the English Avenue neighborhood, which is in the shadow of the city’s thriving downtown,” said Poole, who went twice to watch students practice.

She got to know MaKhi Haynes, a shy and unassuming, but talented teen — and find joy in the competitive antics of Aryanna Maymi-Booker and Auvalli Booker. She also got to watch the special care given by instructors James and Julia Shealy.

Earlier this year, when celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain committed suicide, food and dining editor Ligaya Figueras started thinking about stories on physical and mental self-care.

“Instead of focusing on the negative in the restaurant industry, I wanted to turn the tables and focus on those people who make self-care a priority,” said Figueras. What she discovered was that throughout Atlanta, there were chefs trying to do a better job with their personal health.

That included Guy Wong, who lost 40 pounds in the past year by making a high-intensity workout a part of his routine. For Public School 404 Executive Chef Imani Greer and Canoe Executive Chef Matthew Basford, health and fitness became a family affair with their spouses. But it was the word cancer that got popular chef Kevin Gillespie’s attention. The owner of Gunshow and Revival was diagnosed with renal cancer. We appreciate him sharing parts of his uphill battle to wellness with us.

There are countless others who inspired us, including Jason J Carter who defied naysays who doubted he could pull off an urban cultural Woodstock called One Musicfest. But as music writer Melissa Ruggieri showed us, he did just that.

And finally, education reporter Arlinda Broady spotted something special in Gwinnett County schools weekly newsletter. Elizabeth Karivelil and Patrick Aghadiuno, both graduating seniors at Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology were interns at Micromeritics, a Norcross-based manufacturer of scientific instruments. The pair came up with a breakthrough manufacturing process — offering guidance on the effects of flow rate on temperature in catalytic reactions. Such scientific discoveries are virtually unheard of for high school students.

That’s just a few of the stories we found inspiring this year. We hope that you’ll share you own favorites with us and others.

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