A Carrollton High School student who experienced a devastating loss is planning a walk to help raise awareness for suicide prevention.
Olivia Cranford lost her brother, Dustin, to suicide in 2014.
"One of the worst parts of it was the complete shock that someone like him would do something like that,” said Cranford. “But as time went on and I became hyperaware of every mention or discussion around suicide and depression, I realized that there is this stigma around suicide and mental health in general that keeps us from facing the reality of it all.”
Olivia wanted to do something to help change the ignominy around suicide. So she and her mother, Becky, began working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to plan an Out of the Darkness Walk.
Out of the Darkness community walks are the core of the Out of the Darkness movement, which AFSP founded in 2004. The walks are held in hundreds of cities across the country.
"We wanted to raise money for AFSP to help them in their efforts in raising awareness, supporting survivors of suicide loss, conducting research on mental health issues, and funding advocacy work within the legal system,” said Cranford.
Becky Cranford said she hopes the walk will provide an opportunity for people to talk about suicide and how to be proactive with steps for prevention.
"We can't solve problems we don't talk about,” said Cranford. “This walk is about giving people who have a connection to suicide the courage to talk about it. It offers the opportunity to walk in memory of loved ones we may have lost to suicide or in support of family and friends who may need to be surrounded by our strength. It gives people who may be struggling hope and encouragement.”
Olivia said the goal for donations is $20,000 and that nearly $16,000 has already been raised.
“We need as many people as possible to walk,” said Olivia. “We will raise awareness and support within our community this way. The walk is meant to create a light within our community to let people who may be struggling around us know that there is help and support available.”
As of now, there are 70 participants and fourteen teams registered to walk in October. Registration is free, and anyone can participate. To register or donate, visit https://supporting.afsp.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.event&eventID=7985
Shelly Amandolia poses with some of her students in her classroom. Some of her colleagues call her the “Phonics Ninja” because of her special gift in teaching struggling readers.
Amandolia views her profession as a call to ministry
It was late spring and one of the last general faculty meetings of the school year. Carrollton Elementary School teacher Shelley Amandolia, as she always did, paid special attention to the announcements and instructions to close out the year. But this time was a little different. During this meeting, the school's 2021-2022 Teacher of the Year would be revealed and she was one of the nominees considered for the honor.
When the time came, CES Principal Kylie Carroll said, cryptically, "She is a child whisperer and a mighty prayer warrior." Everyone in the room knew who she was talking about – Shelley Amandolia.
"Ms. Amandolia is a blessing to every student, parent, and colleague she meets," Carroll said later. "She has a love for all kids, and she never fails to share her genuine joy with others. We are so fortunate to have her at CES and could not be more proud of her."
"I must confess my peers honoring me as Carrollton Elementary School’s 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year still takes my breath away," said Amandolia. "However, the words spoken by Mrs. Carroll (at that meeting) meant more than all the gold in the world. Her ending statement before announcing my name will forever be etched in my mind. I pray the Lord sees me in the same way."
Amandolia credits her faith as the guide of her moral compass. She also credits faith for getting her and her family through difficult times and for providing new opportunities to make a difference in the world.
Amandolia did not start out to be a teacher at all. She was a nursing student at Kennesaw State when, in 1993, her brother Danny was severely injured in an automobile accident, taken to Grady Memorial's trauma center, and expected not to make it.
"Due to many prayers and the wisdom of the doctors, my brother woke up in the ICU on Mother’s Day with an amazing testimony," said Amandolia, although she said the accident left him with a traumatic brain injury that required intensive rehabilitation.
Danny was a high school senior with only a half credit away from graduating. When he finally returned to school, Amandolia said his teachers "were amazing in supporting him every step of the way." He completed his English credit and was able to walk across the stage.
"This whole experience made me rethink my career decision on becoming a nurse," said Amandolia.
Later that year, Amandolia and her husband Kenneth were expecting a child. They heard their son Austin's heartbeat for the first time on Nov. 2, 1994. "We were so excited about becoming first-time parents," she said.
The only other person who knew they were expecting was her brother. But the very next day, he was in another tragic accident. This time it took his life.
"In less than 12 hours, our lives had been drastically changed forever," said Amandolia. "A very intelligent man by the name of Job once wrote, 'The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.' Strangely enough, these words bring to mind the factors which influenced me to become a teacher."
When their son was born, Amandolia was a stay-at-home mom who practiced on Austin what would become some of her signature techniques in teaching reading.
"His ability to soak it in the letters, sounds, and words was exciting," she said. "By the time he entered kindergarten at CES, he was a reader and I had developed a desire to teach."
Amandolia taught preschool at Tabernacle Baptist Church and worked closely with Sara Williams, a special education teacher at CES, who came to the program to support one of Amandolia's students who had autism.
"Mrs. Sara saw in me what I did not see in myself," said Amandolia. "She encouraged me to join the team at Carrollton Elementary School, return to college, and change my previous major from nursing to teaching."
While finishing her degree, Amandolia worked as a paraprofessional at CES and took classes at night. She has since completed two more graduate degrees and is proud of all that work.
"However, by far my greatest accomplishment in education would have to be my very first student, my son, Austin Amandolia, Carrollton High School honor graduate, class of 2013," she said. "Teaching him to read and write developed a love for teaching, which catapulted me into my ministry and ultimately the calling God ordained all along. It has been a privilege to teach extraordinary little humans, while building forever relationships with them and their parents. Each and every one of my students holds a special place in my heart, because I know they were directed my way for a divine purpose."
Megan Robison examines a plant at a garden in San Francisco.
Class of 2010 chemical engineer uses skills to change world
In this ongoing series, we reach out to CHS alumni to learn what they are doing now that they have the advantage of experience, education and self-reflection. This month’s pick is Megan Robison, Class of 2010. Megan, a chemical engineer who currently lives on her late grandparents’ farm in Bowdon, is passionate about the environment and is determined to do what she can to educate others on how to save our planet.
EDUCATIONAL PURSUITS: Megan, who was an MVP soccer player for the Lady Trojans and performed in the CHS band, attended Georgia Tech after high school where her interest in sustainability began to blossom while she studied chemical and biomolecular engineering, specifically the biotechnology track. “I became interested in sustainable materials while taking a bioprocessing class and learning about biodegradable plastics.”
EMPLOYMENT: After earning her chemical engineering degree from Tech, Megan moved to Knoxville, Tenn., to work for Techmer PM and develop colorants for the automotive and consumer packaged goods industry. She later moved to Atlanta to work for Printpack, a consumer packaged goods company that also has a strong presence in Carroll County. She is currently the senior Product Stewardship engineer focused on recyclable and compostable packaging for foods like chips, salad and pet food. She also holds leadership roles in industry groups such as the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
HOBBIES: Megan enjoys mountain and road biking, gardening (she ejoys growing organic foods on her grandparents’ farm), hiking, live music/festivals, and – not surprisingly – is a fan of Atlanta United and the U.S. Women’s National soccer teams.
PROFESSIONAL ASPIRATIONS: “I will continue to educate people about recycling and composting while working with international brands to switch their packaging over to recyclable and compostable solutions. My main goal is to help drive the U.S. to a sustainable economy to bring down carbon emissions and ocean plastics while doing our part in addressing climate change. We must do everything we can to save our world for generations after us. The first and easiest step that you can take is to recycle (correctly)!”
PERSONAL ASPIRATIONS: “I am devoting my life to addressing the many dangers of climate change and ocean pollution while educating people to take the power into their own hands. We have the power to change our society for the better. I also want to show the next generation of women that they can be engineers in an influential role and make a difference, too!”
“I have been passionate about the environment since I was a kid watching ‘Captain Planet’ and running around my grandparents’ farm. Our earth is sacred, and we have a duty to protect it and be good stewards during our time here.”
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