Cathy Cox-Brakefield serves as Chair of the volunteer Board of Directors at Fannin County Family Connection.
Cathy is a fifth generation Fannin Countian. When asked what she loves most about the community, she responded, “I love the generosity and welcoming spirit of this community. The last year has shown me the extent of that spirit.”
After graduating from Fannin County High School, Cathy attended Mercer University. There, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science with minors in business and English plus a law degree.
Cathy then served the State of Georgia for 30 years. She was an assistant Attorney General for 15 years and then a prosecutor in the Appalachian and Enotah District Attorney’s Offices for 15 years. She retired as Chief Assistant District Attorney.
When asked to share something that most people do not know about her, Cathy said, “I am from a family in which very few people had finished high school, much less gone to college,” she said. “My father could not read or write. I am living proof of the value of education.”
After retiring, Cathy joined the Board of Fannin County Family Connection and served as Fundraising Chair, before becoming elected Chair.
“I was asked to join the Board by another Board member who is a member of my church,” said Cathy. “My husband had helped our church raise funds for the Fannin County Family Connection Food Pantry, so I was familiar with the organization.”
In her role as Chair, Cathy leads the monthly Collaborative of other community partners who provide social services to the community. In addition, she appoints committees to address specific areas of identified needs of the organization and the community. She also signs contracts and financial documents and supports the staff in daily operations.
When asked about her favorite moments and most challenging moments at Fannin County Family Connection, Cathy says they are one in the same.
“When I joined the Board, I was asked to focus on fundraising,” said Cathy. “I had absolutely no experience in this area but jumped in to organize a fundraiser on my farm in September of 2016, just months after I joined the Board. I was terrified, but with the help of my fellow Board members and the staff, we pulled it off. We followed that up with our first Christmas Tour of Homes in 2017. By then, I was less intimidated and was able to enjoy the event.”
In addition to her service at Fannin County Family Connection, Cathy serves as Treasurer of Blue Ridge United Methodist Church and is on the Board of the Academic Booster Club at Fannin County High School.
Cathy and her husband live in Blue Ridge and are the proud parents of two grown sons and a granddaughter.
And if YOU are looking for a way to make an impact in our community, Cathy has a message for you.
“If you are thinking about volunteering, I don’t believe you will be disappointed in the satisfaction you will get from serving our community as ‘boots on the ground,’ said Cathy. “We would love to meet you.”
We are so grateful for Cathy’s leadership at Fannin County Family Connection!
James Yacavone serves as Vice Chair of the volunteer Board of Directors at Fannin County Family Connection.
After graduating from the University of Florida School of Law in 1976, Jim joined the law firm of Fowler, White, Gillen, Boggs, Villareal & Banker, P.A. in Tampa, Florida, where he became a partner in 1980. In 2003 he joined and became a named partner in the law firm of Frazer, Hubbard, Brandt, Trask & Yacavone, LLC, in Dunedin, Florida. He practiced civil trial law specializing in insurance and governmental defense in state and federal court. He also served as a city attorney for several cities over the course of his career, most notably, the City of Tarpon Springs, Florida.
Jim retired in 2013 and moved with his wife, Meredith, from Clearwater, Florida, to Fannin County.
“When I retired and moved to the area, I wanted to stay active and involved,” said Jim. “I also felt a need to give back to my community. I was asked to join the board of Family Connection and discovered it was good organization dedicated to helping families and children.”
Jim has served on the board of directors of Fannin County Family Connection since 2014.
“As a retired trial attorney, I believe I bring an objective, analytical, common sense, solution-oriented, get-'er-done perspective to the board,” said Jim. “Let's figure out what the problem is, find a solution and execute it.”
Jim says that being on the board has taught him a lot.
“Being on the board has taught me how complex and multi-faceted the issue of poverty really is,” said Jim, “but we wrestle with all the issues that face families and children and how we can find and implement effective solutions to those problems.”
“I think you have to have a thorough grasp and understanding of a problem in order to fashion a solution. I also think you have to be objective and analytical. I have become deeply involved in the food pantry side of the operation in order to acquire that understanding.”
Jim says that the Food Pantry has changed since he first began volunteering.
“When I started at Family Connection, there were times when the food pantry barely had food to give,” he said. “Thanks to the generous support of Feed Fannin and the Fannin County community, as well as Sherry Morris's leadership, that has changed dramatically.”
When asked about his favorite moment volunteering, Jim says it was moving into the new building, and he is proud of his role in getting it up and running.
Jim has two sons who live in Orlando, Florida. His interests are gardening, history, fishing, and woodworking. He is also active in Feed Fannin and the North Georgia Master Gardeners.
And here’s something you might not know about Jim. He loves playing the bass guitar and he would really like to play in a classic rock garage band!
“The amazing generosity of the community is what I love most about living here,” said Jim. “I just wasn't aware that so many good, caring people existed before I moved here.”
Are you looking for a place to serve the community as a volunteer? Jim hopes you will consider Fannin County Family Connection.
“If you have a talent, skill or ability and really want to help people, we can find a place for you,” he said.
And what if you are a neighbor in need?
“FCFC may not have a solution to your problem, but we can help to point you in the right direction.”
We are so grateful for Jim’s leadership at Fannin County Family Connection!
Tom Niswander serves as Treasurer of the volunteer Board of Directors at Fannin County Family Connection.
Tom retired in 2017 after 36 years with BP in roles including engineering, project management, finance, procurement, oil field operations and human resources.
Tom and his wife have five adult children and are active parishioners at St. Catherine Laboure Catholic Church in Copperhill, Tennessee. Tom is a 25+ year volunteer and former board member with Junior Achievement. His hobbies include hiking, mountain biking, singing, gardening and woodworking.
Tom and his wife moved from the Chicago area to the Copper Basin in 2018 and are happy to make the mountains their home.
“After settling in, we were searching for volunteer opportunities and heard about Family Connection,” said Tom. “We had our first visit on a Tuesday afternoon in June 2019, worked a shift, met Sherry, Mandi and Greg and were hooked!”
Tom began volunteering regularly in the Family Connection Food Pantry. He joined the Board of Directors in July 2020 and assumed the Treasurer role in January 2021.
“The treasurer works with the Finance Committee to ensure Fannin County Family Connection prudently uses and accounts for all money received,” said Tom. “Fannin County Family Connection has incredibly generous donors and grant organizations and owes it to them to spend the money wisely. This role also requires that I keep one eye on the big picture and long term with the other eye focused on the details of today,” he said.
Tom shared that one of his favorite moments at Fannin County Family Connection occurred in December when he helped distribute coats during the News Observer Coat Drive.
“Folks would drive up and we would bring out what they needed,” said Tom. “A sister and brother in the backseat of one car just loved their new coats and I found myself smiling the rest of the day.”
What about the most difficult moment?
“Having to close the food pantry lobby during the pandemic has been a real challenge,” said Tom. “Clients stay in their vehicles and our interaction with them is much more limited. I'll be happy when the lobby reopens, and we can hear the buzz of people again.”
If you are wondering if Fannin County Family Connection is the right volunteer opportunity for you, Tom has a challenge to help you decide.
“Come spend a two-hour shift in the pantry and see what we are all about,” said Tom. “You will be welcomed, you will work, and you will leave a little changed for the better. Give it a shot!”
And what if you are a community member in need of assistance?
“Don't wait,” said Tom. “Just come in and see all we have to offer. If we can't address your need, we can connect you with another local organization who can.”
“I am so impressed with our community's generosity and willingness to help each other,” said Tom. “This comes from volunteers, donors, local businesses, the faith community and agencies all looking out for each other. And I deeply believe in Fannin County Family Connection’s mission to address the challenges facing children and families. I serve to help accomplish that mission.”
We are so grateful for Tom’s leadership at Fannin County Family Connection!
Jane Kimzey serves as Secretary of the volunteer Board of Directors at Fannin County Family Connection. She has served on the board for eight years.
Jane is a graduate of the University of Georgia. She retired to Fannin County after a career divided between teaching and administrative/management work in non-profits. For 20 years, she was the Assistant Director of Donor Resources Development with American Red Cross. She also served as Executive Director of the North Georgia March of Dimes for three years.
Jane is, technically, a Georgia native; being from a military family, however, she has lived world-wide in Japan, Germany, and Argentina.
“Even in retirement, travel is in my blood,” said Jane. “I love seeing the world with my husband. And when we travel, we generally ‘live’ in an area rather than just sight see,” she said.
She has traveled to Argentina, Chile, France and Ecuador where she has ‘lived’ for three to six months. She has also visited extensively in Peru, southern Africa, Spain, and Portugal.
In addition to her love of travel, Jane is committed to her Fannin County community. She is a member of Cherry Log Christian Church and serves on the board of Feed Fannin. She also enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking.
When asked what she is most proud of regarding her work at Fannin County Family Connection, she responded, “I was part of the board when we hired Sherry Morris as Executive Director, and she is pretty near perfect!”
“I also love working in the pantry,” said Jane. “It gets me closest to the clients. The payback is very good.”
When asked what she loves most about our community, Jane says, “Fannin County is a very giving community. I never cease to be amazed at how people open their hearts and pockets to help others.”
If you are trying to decide if Fannin County Family Connection is the right volunteer opportunity for you, Jane has a message.
“There is so much you can do at Family Connection,” she said. “From packing boxes to computer entry, if you have a skill, we can most likely use it! And the work is very satisfying!”
And if you are in need of assistance…
“Fannin County Family Connection offers a wide array of services,” said Jane. “If we do not provide the service you need, we can direct you to other service providers in the community. If you are a neighbor in need, you will find that the staff and volunteers are very caring and ready to assist you.”
We are so grateful for Jane's leadership at Fannin County Family Connection!
R. Doug Beck, Jr. is a member of the volunteer Board of Directors at Fannin County Family Connection.
Doug spent his early years in South Georgia. He attended LaGrange College and then Georgia State University. He attended graduate school at the University of Georgia and Georgia State University. His disciplines include management, operations and finance.
Doug spent his career working in residential construction, electric utility operations, the giftware industry, taxes, and financial planning.
He enjoys being with his family, playing golf, hunting, traveling, charity work, and supporting his church.
Doug and his wife Kathy lived for over 25 years in Metro Atlanta and owned a cabin in Blue Ridge. They divided time between the two locations until they retired.
“We love the people and lifestyle of Blue Ridge and Fannin County,” said Doug. “When we fully retired seven years ago, we moved to Blue Ridge full-time.”
A year after retirement, Doug became part of the leadership team at Fannin County Family Connection.
“The Fannin County Family Connection Board Chair and one other Board member who knows my wife from the Feed Fannin Board, asked me for a coffee meeting,” he said.
Doug learned they were searching for someone to serve on the Board with his skill set.
"After meeting and talking with the brand-new Executive Director Sherry Morris, who started her employment the day before I reported, I agreed to serve and became involved with some changes that were incorporated to strengthen the organization,” said Doug.
“Sherry did and has done a wonderful job in a turn-around situation and is a true treasure in Fannin County for all of our fellow citizens,” he concluded.
We are so grateful for Doug's leadership at Fannin County Family Connection!
Sherry Echelberger is a member of the volunteer Board of Directors of Fannin County Family Connection.
Sherry is a managing partner and works full time in the family business, Echelberger Construction, Inc. The company specializes in the commercial construction market and is licensed in six states.
Sherry and her husband, Bill Echelberger, are also managing partners in Blue Ridge Storage Solutions, LLC located in Blue Ridge.
Prior to moving to Georgia from Florida in 2008, Sherry was Vice-President of Sales for the roof coating division of Sherwin-Williams for 31 years.
Sherry and Bill reside in Blue Ridge, and they have three children, four grandchildren and six great grandsons. Bill is the current president of Kiwanis, an organization that also serves children of the community.
Sherry has been on the board of Fannin County Family Connection since January 2019.
“I came on board just in time to be involved in the search for and celebration of our new facility that opened in November 2019,” said Sherry. “It was amazing to see so many people come together with generous hearts to bring the new facility to life. The new facility has helped Fannin County Family Connection continue to touch so many lives in a positive way.”
As a board member, Sherry’s goal is to be aware of what is happening in the community and the effect it is having on the wellness and growth of our community’s children and families.
“As board members, we also need to be actively engaged with one another and our community’s collaborative partners to provide the resources to continue to be successful in our mission and meet as many needs as possible,” said Sherry.
“There are tremendous opportunities within Fannin County Family Connection for all of us to make a positive impact on our community,” Sherry continued. “The realization that the smallest act can make a huge difference in a child’s life is the best feeling ever. Sherry Morris and her team make their jobs look easy with huge smiles! They are an inspiration to us all,” she said.
When asked about her favorite moment as a volunteer, Sherry said it was this past winter volunteering for the coat drive, a partnership opportunity with The News Observer.
“Seeing the excitement of children choosing coats for themselves was so rewarding,” said Sherry. “Best feel-good moment ever. It just makes you want to do more.”
When asked to share something that most people do not know about her, Sherry shared this about her family.
“I grew up as an only child only to find at 40 years of age that I have two full sisters, 4 half-sisters and 3 half-brothers,” she said. “I learned firsthand many of the struggles that children and families are facing.”
If you are trying to decide if volunteering at Fannin County Family Connection is right for you, Sherry has this message.
“Come in and give it a try! There are so many areas for volunteering at Fannin County Family Connection,” she said. “You’ll be greeted by smiling faces, kind hearts and work with people who want to make a difference in this community. It is contagious and you’ll be hooked!”
And if you need help...
“That’s why we’re here,” said Sherry. “We work hard to determine what the needs of the community are and provide those services to those who need it. We want to help you so please reach out to us,” she concluded.
We are so grateful for Sherry's leadership at Fannin County Family Connection!