Thursday, April 28, 2011

Article 4

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Washington's Role in the Real Estate Crisis
By Candice Black

            Since 2007, the country has seen a devastating fall in the housing market. Home values are dropping dramatically, and while it may seem like a buyer's dream, the housing crisis has been a leading cause for the recession.

            “In the past,” said Richard Staley, mortgage broker, “people were financing homes with zero down payment and weak credit. And when values started declining people walked away from their homes. It was a spiral effect, like a house of cards.”

            Atlanta is considered a declining market, with house prices down 70 to 90 percent. Last year, around 360,000 notices were given for foreclosures. Twenty-five percent of those resulted in foreclosures.

            But what caused the real estate crash?

            “The government,” Steve Palm says frankly. Palm is CEO and president of SmartNumbers, an Atlanta-based company that provides residential real estate information and forecasting to real estate agents, appraisers, brokers, major builders, and banks.

            “The government pushed people into the red zone,” he said. “They overbuilt and over appraised. In the early 2000s, we really pushed people who couldn’t afford homes. Most people didn’t have to put down a down payment. It drove prices up for new construction.

            Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed programs that allowed loans to be granted to people with poor credit, largely contributed to the crisis.

            “We could easily get rid of [Fannie and Freddie], and no one would miss them,” said Palm. “It would help to get rid of them, because we don't need to spend money on them.”

            People buying homes out of their income range in turn caused the rise in foreclosures. Because of the problems caused by over-lending, lending rules have tightened.

            “Before, you could tell the loan officer, 'I have a job and I make this much money',” said Bob Kilinski, co-owner and operator of Keller Williams Realty's southeast region. “But they didn't check it. People were buying way above their pay.”

            Now, to qualify for a loan, buyers must have good credit and must make down payments. But because of the new strict guidelines, things have pushed in the opposite direction so that home-owning is nearly impossible for potential buyers, specifically self-employed buyers.

            “Self-employed borrowers have the hardest time getting money now because banks don't want to give them loans,” said Jeff Adams, senior loan officer at WR Starkey Mortgage. “Houses aren't selling.”

            Before August 2007, buyers qualified for loans based on their income. “Now,” said Adams, “you can't qualify them on what they make. You can only qualify them on taxable income. If you're only paying taxable income for 25,000, that's all I can use.”

            In Washington, there is also talk of repealing the mortgage interest tax deduction, which allows home-owning taxpayers to claim mortgage interest as a tax deductible expense, in an attempt to balance the federal budget. If appealed, incentive to buy homes will plummet.

            “It would be the nail on the coffin,” said Palm. “The effect would be demoralizing.”

            Brad Nix, managing broker and co-owner of Maxsell Real Estate, said, “[The repeal] would be the same as applying a new tax. Some are considering creative fees and regulations that apply to real estate transactions, which would be a new tax on real estate. But we have a voice, we can voice these concerns to our politicians.”

            The perfect storm seems to have been created for the crisis to happen. When people were buying out of their budget and homes were being foreclosed, job losses began to rise for those in the real estate sector.

            Richard Staley was recently forced to sell his brokerage firm, Covenant Mortgage, due to the financial reform bill, a bill that put regulations over lending institutions.

            “It was designed to avoid the clash of what we experienced,” said Staley. “The regulation they put in place required reporting policies and procedures that small to mid-sized mortgage companies were unable to meet.

            “The financial reform bill squeezed the mortgage broker out of business. It forced small brokers to switch to the banking model.”

            Many agents have lost their jobs as well. In 2000, the number of agents in the country was 25,000. Between 2007 and 2010, that number has dropped 45.8 percent.

            In a presentation on April 13, “Through the Looking Glass: The Current State of the Real Estate Economy,” Steve Palm was joined by Scott Murphy, appraiser and president of D.S. Murphy & Associates, and Dan Forsman, president and CEO of Prudential Georgia Realty, to present trends and and overview of Atlanta's market.

            In his overview of 2010, Palm cited Paulding, Spaulding, and Rockdale counties as the ones with the lowest home values.

            Lot prices in a Paulding neighborhood were between 45,000 and 65,000 dollars. When homes were listed for 349,000, they expired, foreclosed, and re-listed at 110,000 to 120,000. They were eventually sold in a short sale for 85,000.

            Another home, listed at a million and a half, sold for just 50,000.

            Stagflation, the potential for inflation, is a large part of the problem. Food costs and gas prices are higher than they were a year ago. The increased prices on goods causes a decline in new homeowners.

            “Inflation does not include food and energy,” said Palm. “It’s durable goods like cars and homes. Inflation would be over 10 percent if those things were added in.”

            The peak in the real estate market before the crash was in 2006. “In 2007,” said Dan Foresman, “we were in denial. We got very despondent and angry in 2008. We went into survivor mode in 2009, and things got a little worse in 2010.”

            “We think this year is critical,” said Palm. “We have to see an improvement in the economy to see the real estate market come back. Real estate's not going to lead us out of this like in the past. It's going to tailgate off of the economy.”

            Scott Murphy said for the market to recover, “good, honest, arms-length transactions” need to start going through. Murphy spoke at the presentation from an appraiser's standpoint and addressed the issue of the overpricing of houses.

            “One issue was lender pressure,” he said. “Appraisers were always pressured to get a higher number. Loan officers had a lot of power and control and a lot of appraisers yielded to that. As the market starts to change and values go down, homes are appraised for more than they're worth.

            “It compounds the issue. Not only does the economy dropping cause them to be upside down, but overpricing caused them to be further upside down.”
            “It's finally starting to stabilize,” said Jeff Adams. “But the question is, is it going to continue to stabilize or go down more?”
            No one is certain about what will happen, but there is a mix of optimism and pessimism for the future.

            “I'm a doom-and-gloomer,” Palm said. “Nothing out of Washington stimulates the economy. Oil prices will cause a double-dip in the recession. Unemployment is much higher than what is being reported. Ratios and statistics say that more start-up businesses are happening now, and assuming those businesses are hiring. It's an arbitrary number.”

            “But,” he added, “I think we're going to have gradual improvement in 2011 and 2012, in good in-town areas. Cobb, Cherokee, Forsyth, Dekalb, Fulton, Gwinnett. Rural stuff is not happening for a long time.”

            In his presentation at “Through the Looking Glass,” Dan Forsman expressed hope for the future.

            “Atlanta has always been one of the ten best cities to move to,” he said. “We're still a very popular destination. I think there's going to be a handsome return on investments.

            “It's not the price, it's the payment an individual makes when they acquire a home. I think we're going to see some pretty good appreciation in 2013.”

            Though the future of the real state market remains uncertain and unpredictable, professionals see ways to pave the road to a solution.

            “Cut the budget, balance the budget,” said Palm. “Promote capitalism, reduce the size of government, expand companies, and hire people.”

            While speaking at “Through the Looking Glass,” Scott Murphy said in order for the market to turn around, transactions need to go through.

            “We need to stay with it, stay firm, be diligent about those sales,” he said. “What I see too often and frequently, are true, good, arms-length transactions that are appraising low.”

            Cheryl Sadoti, regional director for Keller Williams' Southeast region, said, “People need to realize that we can't base our ability to sell a home on what we paid 5 or 10 years ago. We need to price it on the market that we are in. When we are willing to accept that’s where we are, that's when we will see a spark in home sales.”

            Staley said less unemployment would be the first step to correcting the housing crisis.

            “What they could do,” said Staley, “is allow people to refinance. They can't because they owe more than what the home is worth. If people are making clean mortgage payments in 12 months, let them refinance without any value restrictions. And that will create job growth among the real estate sector.”

            Bob Kilinski is clear on what he believes the government needs to do for the housing market to get back on track.

            “Stay the hell out of it,” he said. “And you can quote me on that.”

Photo credit:

Keller Williams Enjoys Success in a Declining Market
By Candice Black      

            Even in the midst of the housing crisis, Keller Williams Realty is one agency that has managed to stay debt-free.
            There were no Keller offices in the southeast region – Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee – until 2000. Keller was able to grow its offices by carefully planning expenses and devoting itself to training its employees.

Keller was ranked number 47 in Training Magazine's top 125 list of companies with the best employee training for 2010.

            “What we do is we teach our people the concept of lead with revenue,” said Bob Kilinski, co-owner and operating partner of Keller Williams' Southeast region. “Bring revenue first, as opposed to 'build it and let's see what happens'.”

            “We run our company for the agent,” Kilinski said. “The others say it, but they really run their company for their office.”

            “We believe real estate is a local business driven by local professionals, so we have to provide great training to be able to succeed in a declining market,” said Cheryl Sadoti, regional director for Keller Wiliams' Southeast region.

            Sadoti attributes Keller's success to their business model. “Our business model is one that allows us to work from a budget,” she said. “We don't spend money that we don't have available to spend.

            “That has always been our business model and always the way Keller has run their business. It's all about having a model that operates on the capitol that you have available.”

            Keller runs on a unique cap system where each office determines a set dollar amount based on what is reasonable in their market. Once an agent pays back a certain amount and satisfies the cap, they are able to keep 100 percent of the commission they make.

            “Gary Keller worked hard to develop this for the agents,” said Sadoti. “He realized that it's about the agents, not about the company.”

            Attributing to the biggest expenses of an agency are square footage of office buildings and staff salaries.

            “A competitor will build a 7,000 square foot office where we build a 3,500 square foot office,” said Kilinski. “They'll hire seven or eight office employees while we hire three or four.”

            Keller's Woodstock office was able to reduce rental costs of their office building by downsizing rental space, moving from two floors to just one.

            Kilinski lists staying abreast of the market, being truthful with buyers and sellers, and keeping up with research as the best ways for agencies to plan for the future.

            “You can't change the market, you have to react to the market,” said Kilinski.  “You react to the market by giving honest advice and doing your research so you know what you're talking about.”

             “We have an incredible culture that helps our people inside and in our community,” said Kilinski. “We want an environment where people have careers worth having, businesses worth owning, and lives worth living.”

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Article 3

Ralph Ugo, Leader and Friend
By Candice Black

            Ralph Ugo is an Army veteran, a Gulf War survivor, a Purple Heart receiver, a pastor, a former teacher, the founder of C.A.Y.A. ministries in Dallas, Georgia, and a true man of God.
            Born in Nigeria on December 31st, 1948, Ugo remembers his childhood fondly, despite coming from a small impoverished village.
            “I grew up in a difficult environment,” he said. “We didn’t even have shoes. I remember walking home from school and the ground was so hot that we looked for any shade to step in. In spite of that, I remember it being fun, my time growing up as a young child.”
            Ugo has an especial fondness for soccer, which didn’t come without consequences during his childhood.
            “We would use anything that was a little bit soft as a soccer ball,” he said. “I would spend my time playing soccer instead of what I was supposed to be doing. I got a lot of spankings for that,” he laughs.
            Ugo attended college in Madrid, Spain, where he studied photojournalism. Even though this did not pan out into a career, due to the immigration policies in this field, he still has a love for photography.
            Ugo met his wife Marie in Madrid during his time in college. A Queens, New York native, Marie was on a study-abroad program in Spain from St. Louis University. On her own in Europe, and just 18 years old, Marie was uneasy about being around men.
            But when she met the charming and polite young man in a restaurant, she struck up a conversation with him and his friend.
            “His friend did more talking than he did,” Marie said. “Actually, his friend took my number. My husband was just kind of like peering at me, like, who is this girl from New York?”
            For seven days, Ugo persisted calling the young lady from Queens. On the seventh day, Marie finally decided to accept her suitor’s call.
            “He asked me on a date,” she said. “He was so polite, opening doors for me, and doing all the right things to impress me. But that’s how he really was. And that just began everything.”
            Ugo traveled to Germany where he received his coaching license, and continued the passion for soccer from his youth. He became a semi-professional soccer player for his home country of Nigeria.
He even received a nickname for his superb soccer skills. “They called him ‘Torture Pelé,” laughs Marie, referring to Brazilian soccer champion Pelé.
In December of 1979, Ugo was able to come to America with his wife. He joined the United States Army, with which he served for 20 years.
            During the Gulf War, Ugo was the only member of his unit to be sent to Saudi Arabia. “My husband went to the bathroom to take a shower. He stuck his hand in the water, and it was cold, so he went back to the open bay. And that’s when the sirens went off.”
            A scud missile had hit the building, and the bathroom collapsed, burying Ugo underneath the rubble. The only man under the running water of the shower was electrocuted to death.
            “If that water had not been cold,” said Marie, tearing up, “my husband would have been in that shower, and he would have been dead too.”
             Although he buried beneath a building, bleeding profusely, with a collapsed lung and shrapnel in his body, Ugo never went unconscious, nor never needed blood transfusions in the aftermath of his injury.
            Upon digging himself from beneath the debris, he saw flames and a frantic swarm of people. While others were screaming, crying, and cursing, Ugo began to exclaim, “Thank you, God,” in his gratitude to have survived the attack.
            “He repeated it so much, that others began to say it with him,” said Marie.
            Even with a large piece of flesh hanging from his side, Ugo picked himself up and began to load injured people into Red Cross trucks.
            “My husband cares so much about people,” said Marie. “He had no sensation [of his injury]. He didn’t even know he was injured.” A look of amazement passes her face. “How could you not know that? It was because God was protecting him.”
            After the war, Ugo appeared on The 700 Club for Veteran’s Day. In full military dress, he gave his testimony about his miraculous experience. He was chosen for this opportunity in part for receiving a Purple Heart.
The Ugos have two children and five grandchildren. Ugo’s daughter Ebony David, a freelance writer and mother of four, remembers her parents never hesitating to lend a helping hand to anyone.
             “Our house was always welcome to other people,” she said. “[My parents] are constantly giving. From letting people stay at our house that they didn’t know from Adam, I saw it constantly growing up. It was never alarming. It really resonated with my brother and me how selfless they are.”
            While the family was living in Korea during Ugo’s military career, David’s brother made friends with a young man with whom he caused trouble in high school, and had to stay behind in Korea when the Ugos moved back to the United States.
            “When they got back,” David said, “[my brother’s friend] asked if he could stay with us. And he lived with us for a year.”
            The Ugos gave the young man direction and guidance during his stay. “My dad had rules,” said David. “If you want to live in the house, you have to go to church on Sundays.”
            Skeptical about God, but willing to follow the rules, the young man began to turn his life around by following the Ugos’ example.
            “He saw their lives, and it really changed him,” David said. “He was not on good terms with his parents, and my dad became like a father to him.”
            After serving 20 years in the military, Ugo’s retirement ceremony was held in Ft. McPherson Army Base in 2000.
            “Before his military service ended,” Marie said, “he told God, ‘When I finish my 20 years with Uncle Sam, I’m dedicating the rest of my life to you’.”
            With a love for missions work, having done mission throughout his entire military career, Ugo began to pray for direction on what to do. In a dream from God, he received revelation to start a ministry. In 2002, Come As You Are Ministries, also known as CAYA, came into inception. 
            CAYA ministers to low-income citizens, assisting them with paying bills, delivering food and clothing, and spiritual counseling. The ministry has also officiated funerals and marriages, and given counseling to single parents.
            “What I have learned from life,” Ugo said, “is that everybody needs somebody, no matter how rich or poor you are. Ralph is somebody who is always in need. My intelligence, my ability, they can only go but so far. They can always run aground. That has driven me more to be more dependent on God.”
            CAYA’s mission work is currently in Kenya, for the fifth year. Outside of Nakuru, CAYA has built Happy Revival Church and is in the process of building a school.
            In Kenya, the ministry has established medical and feeding programs for adults and children. Money from the ministry has helped to build businesses for people to have jobs and establish themselves.
            Tony Calhoun, a close friend of the Ugos and member of CAYA, testifies to Ugo’s generous nature.
            “He has a total dedication to the ministry,” Calhoun said. “Every year he manages to give away between 700 and 1,000 Thanksgiving dinners.”
            Two or three times year, Ugo collects donations of furniture and appliances and organizes a charity event. “It’s like a free yard sale,” Calhoun explains. “It really brings the community together. What’s leftover, he donates to the Warehouse of Hope.”
            At these events, Ugo transforms them into a community block party, providing hamburgers and hot dogs to participants and holding raffles for the larger items, such as living room suits.
            “I’ve seen him lead a lot of people to Christ,” said Calhoun. “He shares the gospel wherever he goes.”
            Though Ugo has come a long way from his humble beginnings, he has not lost his humility and modest nature.
            “I try to divorce myself from thinking that Ralph has done something,” he said. “I want to make sure that everything I do, I realize it is God that is doing it. It’s not because Ralph is so good.
“If you got to know me, you would think, ‘That’s not the man that everybody thinks is great.’ I cannot say that this is what I’ve done that makes me great, because it is God that is doing it through me.”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Article 2

Photo credit: Joe Pape (
Pinball Wizards
By Candice Black
The days of coin-operated arcade games seem to have been long forgotten about, but one group in Atlanta hopes to revive the lost art of pinball.
“I hated pinball when I was kid,” said John Latimer of Dawsonville. “I couldn’t stand the bells and chimes. But when the early ‘80s brought BlackOut, Firepower, and Eight Ball Deluxe, and  they talked, I was hooked.”
            Latimer, a customer care representative, cofounded the Georgia Pinball Appreciation Society, along with Akzo Nobel Coatings senior technical representative Joe Pape.
GAPAS began as a trading and selling website for machines, with listings for pinball parties and auctions.  Today it also serves as a message board for “pinheads”, as they’ve coined themselves, to talk about anything pinball-related.
“GAPAS was started with John having access to web host through UGA,” said Pape, “and I had a list of about 30 pinball collectors’ email addresses in the Atlanta area. John designed the site and I contacted everyone with the link. I put up on GAPAS the first invite to my first pinball party.”  
            Latimer estimates that GAPAS currently has around 100 members.
             But with all the advancements in modern gaming, why pinball?
For some “pinheads”, pinball holds an element of nostalgia. David Spake, an IT contract recruiter in Atlanta and owner of seven machines, remembers his first pinball machine, a Captain Fantastic that was waiting for him on Christmas morning when he was young.
            “Bands on tour would come through and stop by the house to play pinball,” he recalls. “I remember my sister and her friends having sleepovers, and they would have a pinball competition. She would play [the machine] with her feet, and still beat them.”
            Spake learned of GAPAS in 2002 through an advertisement for a pinball and video game auction. It was here where he learned of a group for collectors. Since then, Spake has hosted annual parties for his fellow pinheads.
            With 54 years of pinball experience, retired Air Force officer Carl Lizza still fondly remembers the first time he played pinball with his grandfather. Lizza was just 4-years-old when he joined his grandfather at a local “beer joint” to earn money by playing pinball.
            “In those days, the bar paid off when you won,” said Lizza. “After a while the bartender told my grandpa I could come in the bar, but 'no more pinball for him'. I won him too much money!”
            Lizza, whose family was in the vending and gaming business, received his first pinball machine, an Olde King Cole (one of the first pinball machines to have flippers) in 1957 for his 5th birthday. He now owns six machines, three of which are vintage.
            “Having the game room takes me back to days spent as a kid on military bases in Europe,” said George Hay, a GAPAS member and owner of 10 machines. “I’d play some 45s [vinyl records] and some pinball. Maybe that’s what I really get out of it.” 
            For others, the hobby is an addiction.
            Jeff Stoutamyer of Atlanta has turned the basement of his home into “Jeff’s Pinball Palace”, which even has its own website. The “palace” currently holds 32 pinball machines and is the site of Stoutamyer’s annual pinball parties.
Stoutamyer’s pinball obsession began innocently. “I lived in a house with an unfinished basement for 10 years,” he said. “I thought I’d put in a pool table. After it was completed and furnished, I decided the room was a little sparse and that it could use something, maybe a pinball machine.”
Stoutamyer purchased his top choice machine, Theatre of Magic, and describes himself as “mesmerized” by it.
With room for more, he purchased his second machine, an Addams family, and realized he spent more time with the pinball machines than the pool table he originally wanted.
“I dreamed of how many machines I could fit if I got rid of the pool table,” he said, “so I did. Many people self describe the pinball collecting process as an addiction. For me, this was quickly becoming the case, too.”
            “Gaming doesn’t interest me much,” said Stoutamyer. “I feel that is mostly a matter of luck, and the odds are against winning in the long haul. Pinball is therapeutic for me. The reward from having a good game after four or five bad ones is a kick.”
Latimer also disregards video games for their lack of entertainment value.
“Pinball is chaos,” he said. “While you can memorize shots, every game will be different, unlike [video games].
“The best thing is when kids gather around to watch me play. I always leave a couple of games for them to play and tell their parents to keep pinball alive.”
            There also seems to be a creative aspect to this hobby, from customizing machines to caring for broken-down ones and giving them new life.
            “Some people like beat-up old cars,” explained Spake. “They want to get it running and make it perfect. When you’re poor,” he laughed, “you can afford the broken machine and make it work.”
            “I like fixing things,” Pape agreed. “I enjoy the satisfaction of taking something apart, replacing broken stuff, putting it back together, and watching it come to life. Video games never break. I have two left from once a collection of maybe six or more, and they don’t have parts that readily break, which is no fun for me.”
            Others enjoy modifying their machines to their own personal tastes.
            Stoutamyer modifies his pins “to the max.” Such modifications include adding spotlights, toys, illuminated backboards, mirror-polished balls, gun handles to control flippers, sound and hardware upgrades, and replacing the glass with a no-glare glass.
            The world of pinball is also an opportunity for new friendships.
            At first, Stoutamyer was hesitant to take his GAPAS connections offline. “It felt scary at first to consider driving to a party hosted by strangers,” he said. “But they were fun and everyone was nice to me, a total stranger. Having broken the ice, I continued this pattern and started making some good friends.”
            For Spake, it was this social interaction that sparked his interest in GAPAS. “I joined for the comradery and meeting people with like interests. I have friendships with a group of people I wouldn’t have met in my daily life.”
            So what makes a pinball machine enjoyable?
            Spake expresses an interest in the Monster Bash machine. “It has multiple rim shots, and it said clever things,” he said enthusiastically. “The game itself has a campy feel to it. It takes primary movie monsters and puts them in a rock band. The animations are very funny.”
             Latimer was drawn to pinball machines of all kinds. “I’ll play any pin at least once. Just seeing one will make me put money in and play.”
            Entertainment value is at the top of Lizza’s list of qualities. “It has to be interesting and fun to play,” he stressed. “Then comes challenge, complexity, and theme.”
            “What I look for are a deep rule set,” said Stoutamyer, “and most importantly it has to be fun. If it doesn't get me excited, why buy it? My suggestion is to be sure and give a certain machine anchor shake before making up your mind.”
            He claimed the “untamed” Simpsons Pinball Party as his favorite. “It has a very complex set of rules and can never be tamed. And very funny sound bites.”
            Hay owns a 1967 Bally Wiggler, a machine he played as a child. “It’s a little beat and it doesn’t look that great, but it has a zipper flipper and three-ball multi-ball in a four-player game.  Ya gotta love it.”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Article 1

The Greatest Gift of All
By Candice Black

When it comes to Christmas, one of the best gifts parents can give to their children during the holiday season is the opportunity to help children who don't have as many privileges as they do. There are several holiday charities throughout Georgia that parents can use to teach their children the spirit of giving.
West Ridge Church of Paulding County offers one such opportunity for youthful volunteers. Hope for Christmas is the church’s annual community holiday charity for underprivileged families.
Hope for Christmas spun off from A Fresh Hope, another nonprofit children’s charity, founded by then 8-year-old Waverly Gilcrease and her mother Jennifer.
For the past three years, Hope for Christmas has been an outlet for the community to come together and lend a helping hand during the holidays. Opportunities for volunteers at this event are numerous.
There’s a shopping area, face painting, a jousting area, a fun room, and people even dress up like elves,” says Gilcrease.
In the Secret Santa Shop, the children pick presents for their parents to unwrap, assisted by other children volunteers, while parents are in another room choosing gifts for their children. Last year, the church provided 4,300 children with toys and had around 1,500 volunteers.
About one-third of our volunteers are under the age of 18,” Gilcrease says.
“We’ve had really great feedback all around,” says Paul Richardson, a pastor at West Ridge and co-founder of Hope for Christmas. “My favorite stories are the people who have helped in the two previous years who now come back to donate and serve on their own.”
Having my kids volunteer and realize it’s not all about them, especially at Christmas, gave them a great perspective,” says Tara Vanaman, mother of three boys ages 9, 11, and 12.
Vanaman and her sons have volunteered at Hope for Christmas every year. Last Christmas, the boys helped their mother round up thousands of dollars of food donations from their local Kroger and unpack them at the event.
They got to see that some people are really just grateful,” she says. “This is a great event for families to participate in.”
Hope for Christmas now has its own website, at
Lordstrom’s Children’s Holiday Celebration, held at the Fellowship Baptist Church of East Point for the last seven years, is another event providing Christmas gifts for children ages 5 to 12 of low-income East Point families. At this event, the children are invited to come into the church where classrooms have been set up as toy stores and pick a Christmas gift.
They also have their pictures taken with Santa, make crafts, select reading books, and enjoy a dinner.
The Rev. Melanie Conner, founder of Lordstrom’s, reminisces about attending similar types of holiday events with her family as a child.
I remember riding the Pink Pig at Rich's,” she says, “and they would give out presents. I thought it would be neat if children got to select their own gifts instead of just being handed what they wanted to give you.”
Volunteers at Lordstrom’s help in several ways. Some of them assist the children in selecting their toys, others are stationed in the toy rooms to help keep things in order, to restock, and to assist in finding gifts. Volunteers also work with Santa to help the kids get ready for their pictures, some assist in serving the food, and others help the children with a craft project. The event relies largely on volunteers.
Without our volunteers, we would not be able to do this,” Conner says.
Both Santa and the photographer who takes the pictures of the children with Santa volunteer their time for no charge.
Well,” Conner says with a laugh, “we give them a bottle of water and a peppermint.”
“The families that attend Lordstrom’s are always excited and thankful that they will have gifts for the Christmas holiday,” says Conner. “One mother told me that she was grateful to get the picture with Santa because they did not have a family portrait. She actually had tears in her eyes!”
Conner stresses that the heart of this event is the chance for the children to know what it means to give.
This is an opportunity for the children to learn about giving,” she says. “They get to make crafts and meet Santa, but we also want them to learn to give.”
In the past, children attending Lordstrom's were encouraged to select gifts not only for themselves, but their siblings and parents as well.
We haven't been able to do that to the extent that we had in the past, because of the financial situation,” she says, “but we want to be able to get back to that point.”
Information on how to volunteer at Lordstrom's can be found at
In middle Georgia, another event opens its doors every holiday season to provide toys for children. Kids Yule Love, founded by firefighter Joe Allen in 1986, is established in eight Georgia counties: Macon, Monroe, Bibb, Dodge, Peach, Houston, Laurens, and Baldwin.
Firefighter paramedic James Weeks has taken over as director for Kids Yule Love in Monroe County.
This event is for children, children who cannot help what their parents do,” says Weeks.
The main toy drive is held at Mary Persons High School in Forsyth, while a resident provides a home for toys to be collected and sorted through. Volunteers, children and adults alike, help with the toy drives, packaging the toys for the recipients, and delivering presents. Most volunteers are families; even the families who participate in the event offer to volunteer.
The seniors classes at the high school have made it into a competition,” says Weeks. “Last year’s class raised 11,654 dollars.”
All county locations for this event are on
This holiday season, instead of rushing to spend hundreds of dollars the latest high-tech toys, parents can offer their children something truly greater than anything bought in a store: the chance to make the holidays a little brighter for someone else. Volunteer helping less fortunate children enjoy Christmas, an experience that will create longer lasting memories.