The Bible says children are a gift from God, but they sometimes fall victim to poverty, homelessness, illness, neglect and other unfortunate circumstances — the good news is, they have a friend in Traci George.
The philosophy behind George’s love for the little folks who often can’t help themselves is reflected in her longtime support of the Shepherd’s House homeless shelter in Mount Airy which has provided refuge to increasing numbers of families in recent years.
“Adults have a choice,” she explained during an interview last week. “But children don’t have a choice.”
Traci George’s focus in serving with the homeless facility is both general and specific. “It’s (about) the families — but more so, it’s the children.”
Her community involvements haven’t been limited to easing the plight of the homeless. She’s also led other projects that have included aiding patients at Brenner Children’s Hospital, helping to launch a mentoring program for local students, leading a campaign to provide coats to those in need, chairing the March for Babies and more.
Interests go way back
Community involvement and/or service are acquired traits for some people. But Traci George seems to have been born with those qualities in 1973 to parents Jackie and the late Steve Haynes.
“I was raised in church, and it also was instilled in me to volunteer and be involved,” said George, whose childhood was “very family oriented,” additionally populated by three sisters and a brother.
Brownie and Girl Scouts, volunteering at Reeves Community Center and singing in the church youth choir at Calvary Baptist were among her activities.
“Even as a child, community was always important,” George stressed.
Various athletic endeavors have been part of the mix dominated by youth-oriented pursuits.
“I was involved with sports in church and the community,” said George. “I love working with children — I volunteered at Reeves Community Center as a basketball coach” for more than 10 years.
This mirrors George’s own career in that sport, which included playing for her alma mater, North Surry High School, where her husband, Jimmy George, starred on a team that won the state championship in 1989.
That led to Traci being a member of the women’s hoops team at Montreat College in Black Mountain, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in human services in 1995.
“I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do when I graduated,” George recalled.
So she came back to her hometown and spent the summer working as a lifeguard at Cross Creek Country Club, mirroring an aquatics interest spawned at RCC.
“I started taking swimming lessons when I was very young with Cathy Cloukey,” George said of the longtime swimming instructor at the local center who is now Mount Airy’s assistant parks and recreation director.
Influenced by others
When the summer as a lifeguard was winding down, local businesswoman Teresa Lewis, a country club member, approached Traci one day and asked what she planned to do afterward. Lewis suggested that the recent college grad come to work for the staffing agency Lewis had founded nearly 10 years before, known then as Surry Temporary Services.
This seemed to be a natural career choice for George, given a lengthy list of community activities built by Lewis. It has included serving in leadership roles with the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, Reeves Community Center, Surry County Economic Development Partnership and the local hospital, and twice heading the annual March of Dimes campaign locally.
“I really didn’t understand what I was going to be doing,” George said of joining the staffing company.
Yet she was certain about one thing: “I had a lot of respect for Teresa and what she was doing in the community — I guess Teresa is what intrigued me” about that employment opportunity.
The staffing firm also seemed like an extension of her own life, George says. “That’s always been one of our core values, community — so once I was hired at WorkForce, that community thing was already instilled in me with my family.”
That admiration continues today for Lewis, now retired, whom George considers one of the three most-influential people in her life. The others are her aunt, Claudia Bryant, now 87, known for her long tenure with the county health department, and Dr. Terri Mosley, a former teacher and basketball coach at North Surry who now chairs the Surry County Board of Education.
“Those three are people I want to make sure to mention,” George emphasized, saying that in one way or another they “keep me between the lines.”
George started as a receptionist with Surry Temporary Services, now known as WorkForce Unlimited, and presently serves as director of business development there. Her responsibilities include growth of the firm’s existing long-term clients and generating new business.
The community activist credits Bryant with getting her involved in the Shepherd’s House, since her aunt worked closely with the late Berta Glenn Springthorpe to establish the homeless shelter in 2003.
“It’s just been the right fit,” said George, who has been involved with the facility for 10-plus years and will chair the governing board of the organization in 2021.
This is an exciting time for the Shepherd’s House, with a $2 million expansion now under way along Spring Street behind the existing shelter on Rockford Street which will provide a larger facility serving more clients.
Traci George also is proud of another activity aiding youths, the G.R.A.N.I.T.E Mentorship Program (with its name an acronym for Grow, Resource, Achieve, Nurture, Inspire, Teach and Empower).
She helped develop the program introduced in Mount Airy City Schools in recent years, patterned after a Lunch Buddies initiative led by the system’s Polly Long in the 1990s.
“Polly was super-instrumental in getting that program off and running,” George said.
Its format centers around one-on-one activities in which mentors share meals with students they are matched with, discuss any problems the youths might be experiencing, help them solve those problems and set goals — basically just serving as positive role models.
In addition to other endeavors, Traci George is preparing to begin the second year of a campaign benefiting both youths and adults during the colder months, what she calls her “coat project.”
It is based on one she read about in which a business owner elsewhere in the country decided to put up a rack outside his establishment for the public to get coats if needed, or to hang coats for others to obtain. It is similar to the Little Free Library “take-one, leave-one” concept that involves books being available at tiny stations serving as donation points.
“I will get my racks up before Thanksgiving,” George pledged, which will be placed at five different locations.
She describes this effort as “just something new, another way to give back — to bring something new to the community.”
The coat rack sites will include Donna’s Barber Shop, Heavenly Angels Photography, White Elephant Beer Co., Unique Background Solutions and the Chase & Charli restaurant.
Traci George’s charitable causes sometimes touch anonymous individuals she might not ever meet, having no direct personal connection to her. One notable exception involved a collection effort to benefit patients at Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem.
It was a local incarnation of the Jared Box Project, a Pennsylvania-based charity. Its mission is to lift the spirits of youngsters facing health crises by filling boxes with “gift of play” items for those in emergency rooms, hospital rooms, surgical centers and clinics.
The small storage-type boxes typically include toys, crayons, card games, puzzles and others that can bring a smile.
George’s campaign locally led to 800 boxes of items being delivered to the Winston-Salem hospital, a gift of love in more ways than one on her part which was triggered by a situation involving her godson, Kesson Steven Haynes.
Kesson died of a heart ailment just before Christmas 2018 at age 2.
“He inspired me,” George said regarding her decision to undertake the Jared Box Project here. “I did it in honor of him.”
Traci George’s love of children is further demonstrated by the fact that while she doesn’t have kids of her own, much joy is derived from taking care of nieces and nephews and what the local woman calls her adopted nieces and nephews.
Somehow she also finds time for physical fitness activities and working part-time at the Kazoku sushi restaurant and bar in downtown Mount Airy.
And as if all that were not enough, George is the Potato Queen during annual Mayberry Days festivals, portraying a character on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Yet the woman born and raised in Mount Airy is quick to credit others who support her various efforts, whatever they are.
“I might have an idea,” George said of a project to aid some charitable cause.
“But it’s the community that makes it happen.”