A Very Good Year

By Brad McEwen

Although they seem to zoom by at an alarming rate (as I’ve always been warned they would) an awful lot can happen in a year.

As I sit at my desk, in an office I’ve already grown quite accustomed to despite having only been in here about six months, it’s been exactly one year since I showed up at AB&T headquarters ready to take on my new role as Communications Manager.

As I’ve written before, part of the thrill (and slight trepidation) of my decision to leave the Albany Herald and return to the world of banking, was the simple fact that the position I was taking was somewhat nebulous.

While Luke and Perry had sketched an outline of what my duties would be, they left the door wide open for my role to evolve over time.

Although that role-evolution piece has no doubt been exciting—I now know way more about website design and marketing concepts than I did a year ago—the most thrilling part of my time at AB&T has been my magical journey Beyond the Bank.

And because that trip began with me addressing the community that had embraced me during my time at the Herald, and explaining to them the impetus for my decision, it seemed fitting to take a moment to reflect on how that decision has shaped the previous year.

When I arrived at AB&T my most direct charge was figuring out a way to better connect the bank with the community it serves—a daunting task for any bank to be sure.

In truth, however, the key to making that happen turned out to be something fairly simple.

Through the Beyond the Bank concept, we discovered that the best way to connect the bank with people—and to connect people with people—is by simply focusing on those people we admire, people whose dedication to others and to their community help enrich our home and lay the foundation for a better tomorrow.

To say that the Beyond the Bank features have been a success—finding a broad and diverse audience hungry for positive stories about their friends and neighbors (both known and unknown)—would be an understatement.

It’s nearly impossible for me, or many other members of the AB&T family, to go more than a day or two without someone—often folks we’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting—praising the Beyond the Bank mission.

And while that is certainly fulfilling from a professional standpoint—as we can all agree there’s few things in our work lives as satisfying as being told you’ve done a good job—that positive feedback is but a small reason that I consider this last year to be one of the more memorable I’ve experienced.

Sure I’ve had some incredible personal experiences, like finding out Milla, who finally decided to play at the age of 11, is one heck of a softball player. A standout on her first rec team—which earned her a selection to the all-star team—she also made the decision to join the softball team at her new school Deerfield-Windsor, where she’s continued to grow and develop.

And speaking of Deerfield, the McEwens becoming a part of that family was also a high water mark of the previous 12 months. So far, Milla’s experiences at that school have been nothing short of wonderful. She’s doing well academically, she’s continued to be involved with athletics and more importantly she’s started forming some deep relationships with some other impressive young people.

Along those same lines, my man Bear has been hard at work forging new connections over the last year too—many of which have grown out of his involvement with youth baseball (which in and of itself has been an interesting experience).

After earning a selection to his second all-star team following last year’s rec season, Bear and his fellow 7U all-stars (along with the parents of said little leaguers) got their first taste of the highly competitive world of travel baseball.

While it wasn’t always easy squeezing in extra practices and trips around Southwest Georgia for tournaments, our experiences with the Longknockers (yes you read that right and the boys most certainly live up to their name) have been incredible.

Not only have we gotten to know some special people, we’ve all become a wonderful Longknocker family, who relishes any chance we get to come together and enjoy the thrill of youth baseball.

But as wonderful as it’s been to expand our McEwen family through our connections with softball, DWS, baseball and of course AB&T, the relationship forging I’ve enjoyed the most, has come with the creation of the Beyond the Bank family—which includes some truly amazing people.

It’s hard to put into words what an awesome thing it’s been for me to spend time—even just 30 minutes or an hour—getting to know the subjects of Beyond the Bank a bit little better.

And to tell their stories and share some of the qualities that have made each and every one of them a valued resource in our community, is almost overwhelming.

Whether its Alice Coachman Elementary School Principal Melissa Brubaker sharing her life’s dream of improving the lives of young people who weren’t blessed with the advantages she had, or men like Jason Belk and Marvin Laster of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Albany dedicating themselves to ensuring that the resources that changed their lives are still available to future generations, the stories I’ve been fortunate to share are the stories of individuals whose greater purpose to serve others is what fuels them.

And that’s been inspiring.

It’s hard to hear how native Bahamian and now Albany resident Keva Harris has dedicated herself to making even the smallest difference in a person’s life without feeling as though I could have a positive impact too.

Because of the hard work of people like Lee County Family Connections Director Patsy Shirley—whose job it is to literally connect people in need to available resources—and of folks like Beth English—who has dedicated herself to making sure our fellow citizens with disabilities can have a vibrant and meaningful life—our community is truly enriched.

While I already knew some of the folks I’ve written about—friends like community champion and Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau chief Rashelle Beasley, Albany Dougherty Economic Development Commission head Justin Strickland and Albany Technical College culinary wizard Todd White—that hasn’t diminished the impact of their stories. And quite honestly, like my readers, I too learned just a little bit more about what makes them so special through the interview process.

Perhaps even more fulfilling though has been the joy I’ve found welcoming new people into my life, folks I might have only met in passing or flat out hadn’t met at all.

Getting to know Quail Country Customs co-owner Cole Walden—who has created a thriving business out of helping folks with disabilities find a measure of freedom, or Monroe Comprehensive High School Principal Vinson Davis, whose passion for education and determination to transform one of the community’s traditionally struggling schools into one of the system’s gems—and then share their drive for excellence with others—has truly made this year an amazing journey.

I mean the list goes on and on—Chehaw park Education Director Jackie Entz, Albany State University Head Baseball Coach Scot Hemmings, husband and wife duo Wallace and Jennifer Bonner, Big House Foundation Ambassadors Baylee Purvis and Hope Joiner, Special Education teacher and foster parent Brittny Dennison.

All are shining examples of what it means to be passionate about something and letting that passion drive them to supporting the community they hold so dear.

And in sharing the love people like Dougherty High School Principal and empire-builder Eddie Johnson, West Point graduate, veteran and local attorney Eric Hooper, and AB&T’s own Alfredia Hampton have for their community and the people who call it home, I’ve not only shined a light on some extraordinary people, I’ve seen my life enriched.

When I look back on this past year, and think about how blessed I’ve been to highlight the hard work and true dedication of Cpl. Kalandria Peterson-Kearney, Cpl. Nicovian Price, Sgt. Dennis Richardson, Cpl. Chris Hutcherson, Cpl. Benjamin Persley, Cpl. Roger Jones and Lt. Keithen Hall of the Albany Police Department’s Robbery Homicide Unit, I’m a little taken aback.

As I reflect on the time I spent with Radiation Oncologist Adam Jones, retired physician turned aviation teacher Frank Middleton, volunteer youth sports official Foy Shemwell, Lee County High School Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Hank Wright, UGA Small Business Development Center Director Debbie Finney, and Dudley Thomas, clinical director of the Anchorage faith-based drug and alcohol recovery ministry, I’m blown away at how fortunate I have been to tell their stories and how fortunate my community really is.

Without people like Deerfield-Windsor Headmaster Geoffrey Sudderth, Lee County Chamber of Commerce Vice President Lisa Davis, Albany Area Primary Health Care Chief Operating Officer Clifton Bush, retired Marine and Albany YMCA Director Dan Gillan, Meals on Wheels angel Lucille Crouch, LRA Constructors Project Manager Jake Reese, former Albany Downtown Manager LaToya Cutts, and Angie Barber, Karen Hills, Kristen Champion, Shaquana Carr and the rest of the Network of Trust team, I honestly believe Albany, Ga would be just another point on a map.

Instead, because of the people I’ve been honored to welcome into our lives during this Beyond the Bank journey, my community is something more. It’s an incredible and vibrant place, filled with magnificent people—people who have helped to inspire the next generation of servant leaders.

Thanks to the commitment of these people, Albany, GA is the kind of place that has helped shape the lives of countless individuals—young people like Patrick Forrestal and Trey Young, who have been inspired by their mentors to embrace their community, and who have in turn committed themselves to making our world a better place by sharing their gifts with others.

That I had the good fortune and honor to lead a celebration of the men and women who make up the fabric of this community is, quite frankly, humbling.

When I began the journey, I had confidence that I could meet the challenges laid out by the AB&T leadership, but I simply had no idea how fulfilling meeting that charge would be.

And for that, thanks are in order.

Thanks to Luke and Perry for giving me a platform and the freedom to use it to carve out this Beyond the Bank space. Thanks to my new co-workers and my many friends who put me in touch with so many of the incredible people I’ve written about.

Thanks to the readers who have helped spread the word about Beyond the Bank and its mission.

As always, thanks to God, for blessing me with the opportunity to spend some meaningful time with such incredible people.

But perhaps most importantly, thanks to the Beyond the Bank subjects who not only took the time to meet with me and answer my often difficult and ridiculous questions, but whose dedication and commitment to others has made them more than worthy souls to write about.

Without each one of you, my year wouldn’t have been quite as memorable, and this community would not be the place I’m so honored to call home.

I can only hope, as my journey continues, that I’m blessed to introduce my friends and neighbors to the many other residents who make this community great.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen 

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