Faces of COVID-19 in Sumter County

Published 8:24 am Saturday, May 30, 2020

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Joyabhishek Charles, Valedictorian of Americus Sumter High School class of 2020

Americus-Sumter HS Valedictorian Joyabhishek Charles shares his senior year experience amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Ken Gustafson

For all high school seniors across the country, it was a senior year they will never forget, but not for good reasons. When schools began to shut down in March due to the COVID-19 crisis, high school seniors were deprived of the things that all previous senior classes got to experience: going to Prom, experiencing that final year of baseball or track and most importantly, a normal, dignified graduation ceremony.

One such high school senior who lost out on these things happens to be the Valedictorian of Americus-Sumter High School. His name is Joyabhishek Charles.

During the last four years, Charles has diligently attended to his studies while enjoying his time with his classmates through extracurricular activities.

Charles, a member of the ASHS boys’ varsity soccer team, was looking forward to helping lead the Panthers to a successful season. He was looking forward to going to the school prom and, being the valedictorian, was anticipating that day when he would address his classmates at the ASHS high school graduation, which would normally take place around this time. Fortunately for Charles and his classmates, they will have a modified graduation ceremony that will be as close to normal as possible, but it will be postponed until Friday, June 27.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States in mid March, nobody thought that it would turn the country upside down. When the pandemic began and school systems across the country began to suspend in-school instruction, it was thought by many students, including Charles, to be a short and temporary suspension of normal activities.

“At first, we were told that school would be cancelled for only two weeks and many students, especially seniors, thought of the closure as an early spring break,” said Charles. “As a result, it was unimaginable to learn that what was only supposed to last 10 days would go on to last for 30 and eventually result in our not returning to school at all. I think I speak for many of the students in our senior class when I say that if we had known that March 13 would be our last day in school, we would have done it very differently. We would have taken a moment to cherish greeting our teachers, learning and studying with our peers, eating our last breakfast, or chatting with friends at our lockers between classes.”

For all high school students, especially seniors, the cancellation of all in-school instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic also meant the cancellation of all remaining extracurricular activities for the remainder of the school year. High school students were looking forward to experiencing these activities such as prom, spring sports and for the seniors, graduation. Due to this pandemic, these students, who deserved to experience these activities, were robbed of these experiences. The seniors were hit especially hard, knowing that they would never get another chance to experience these things. They would be forced to find ways to make the best of the situation, which would not be easy for them to do.

“As a senior, my last season playing soccer was already going to be one that I would treasure, so it was really hard to cope with the fact that my last year playing for the school’s team would be cut so short,” said Charles. “It hit harder because due to my commitments to extracurricular and community service, I had to miss the first three games of the season. But I was fine with it because I still thought that I could make up for the lost time at the remaining 10 soccer matches. All of them, of course, were cancelled due to the global crisis.”

In addition to his final season playing soccer for ASHS, for the last few years, Charles had been anticipating going to prom, but those plans were dashed by the Coronavirus pandemic as well. “By March, I had already made plans with my friends for a night that, unfortunately, we never had the chance to experience,” said Charles. “Ultimately, this pandemic truly taught me to treat every opportunity like it might be my last. It very well could be.”

For many high school students, not being able to attend school with their fellow students in a school setting was a difficult thing to adjust to, but for the last three months of the 2020 school year, it was the reality that students like Joyabhishek Charles were forced into.

“Fortunately, I had some experience with online learning because I took several Advanced Placement courses through an e-Learning platform, so for me, it was a relatively smooth transition from learning in the traditional manner to one that took place on the internet,” said Charles. “For many of my peers, however, it was not so smooth. I personally had some friends who were at a disadvantage because their devices or connectivity at home were insufficient for the coursework of a high school senior.”

For all of the ASHS graduating seniors, it was difficult to not have their graduation on Friday, May 22, which was the day originally scheduled. “Since the day that we found that the Class of 2020’s graduation ceremony would be on Friday, May 22, many of us marked the dates on our calendars or started a countdown on our instagram stories. That was the date we had defined would be the one where we wrap up this chapter of our lives and move on to the next, so it was unsettling, at first, to learn that we would not “march” on this day after all,” said Charles. “There is a modified ceremony scheduled to take place in June, so we are all really hoping that we get to have this experience even if it does occur one month later.”

Charles will be headed to Georgia Tech in the fall and will be majoring in Pre-Med Biochemistry.

Vic Patel, General Manager of Best Western Windsor Plus Hotel

Pull Your Drawl Out Again, You’re About to Be Saying the Word “Verandah” a Whole Lot.

Tracy K. Hall

Floyd Lowery, the Windsor Hotel’s longest serving employee would be happy to welcome you back to the pub that bears his name. Floyd’s will be opening its doors and inviting our community in for great food, drinks and conversation. Some things always remain, and some things change. Floyd’s is embracing change and some wonderful new opportunities are coming to life.

Once again, the verandah will offer an opportunity to gather and watch the city unfold. However, to ensure the space has just the right amount of people gathered, seating will be available through reservation. More good news: there is a new menu to taste! Vic Patel, General Manager of the Windsor reports “we have taken the best of the bar menu and the Rosemary and Thyme menu and we have also added new desserts.” To serve up this new menu they will be bringing back your favorite staff. Vic reports, “If you treat the staff like family, they become your family.” And the Windsor has been treating staff like family for a while. In this crisis, the hotel has lost about 80% of its typical sales. The Windsor has taken advantage of federal funding which allows the staff to retain a paycheck while they are at home. When asked what Vic has missed the most, his staff is at the top of his list. He is quick to add he has also missed “our friends and our guests.”

So, what is different? The pub will be open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 5pm to 9pm. Vic is hopeful about getting back to normal hours, but he is most concerned about the health and safety of his staff and guests. Vic is not willing to sacrifice either of those in order to open. However, he looks towards this “soft open” to teach him about future plans.  As time passes, Vic will be making notes as he learns new ways to balance abundant hospitality with concern for health. “We will figure out how to make it work, how to adapt and how to be safe.”

Some of the Windsor’s safety measures are standard. Because Floyd’s is a tight space, what we typically consider the barroom will remain closed. Service will be on full display on the verandah. His staff will be wearing masks as Vic feels masks offer an additional way to prevent the spread. They will be using disposable menus, rolled silverware, serving water bottles, allowing time for both table and chairs to be sanitized, and checking the temperature of both staff and guests with a touchless temperature gun. Thorough deep cleanings have already taken place and will continue, and social distance stands of 6 feet separation will be practiced.

Different can be fun and it’s apparent that Vic is excited about being creative. While still yet in planning stages, Vic says we will see a blue tent offering curbside service on Windsor Avenue. He will open with minimal hours, and as time progresses and the need is determined he will have curbside hours reflect a full day. In addition, he will be offering discounts on wine, mix and matching craft beer pack options and developing new drinks for Floyd’s customers. Take out alcohol options will be utilized. Ideas have been flowing about daily meal specials that can serve multiple people. He hopes offering us a special menu item will keep our meals fresh and creative throughout the week. Consideration has been given to a delivery options for neighbors who desire it. The ideas are many. Although not expected, there is something exciting about finding a new normal.

So, what stays the same? Floyd’s has offered travelers from all over the world a unique experience. Unlike those travelers, we get to immerse ourselves in her charm on a regular basis. There is something special about enjoying downtown Americus from the verandah at Floyd’s. Somehow, no matter how many times we might have borrowed one of her rocking chairs, we never grow weary of her embrace. Floyd’s quite literally offers us a different view on life, and our invitation is always standing. Some things don’t change at all.

To make your reservation on the verandah or place a curbside order, please call 229.924.1555 x 0.  Come have a seat at 125 W Lamar Street here in Americus, and check out the website at www.windsor-americus.com. It is so good to have you back, old friend, come sit a spiel.


Superheroes and Lemonade

Tracy K. Hall

Ayden Battle, young Philanthropist

Ayden Battle is an entrepreneur. Ayden Battle is a philanthropist. Ayden Battle is a relief worker. Ayden Battle is beloved community wide. Ayden Battle is a social media phenom. Ayden Battle is big into science and a specialist at robotics. Ayden Battle keeps company of superheroes on the daily. Ayden Battle is 8 years old.

Ayden has seen his name in the media since he was 5 years old. At 5, he decided he wanted to find a cure for cancer. So he did what he could to make it happen. At any age, finding a cure for cancer is a rather large undertaking, but at 5, it can be especially daunting. Unless, of course, you take lessons from superheroes. A superhero takes his skills and puts them to work for the greater good. Ayden does the same, except he doesn’t have superpowers, he has a lemonade recipe. While a cure might be bigger than a 5-year-old, being able to offer comfort to those who are diagnosed with cancer is not. With healing on his mind, Ayden got to work selling his lemonade. Ayden could be found selling his wares at a stand at Mercer Beauty and Barber Shop on Lee Street. His mom, Latoya Mercer, states Ayden started on this journey because his sister’s mom had cancer twice. “He wanted to see what he could do to find a cure. Ultimately, he decided to bring comfort and ease to them.” A cup at a time, Ayden began to collect funds for the oncology department at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center (PSMC). He supplied them with “comfort bags” which have items such as blankets, socks, lip balms, moisturizer and other non-perishable items. Ayden and his team both literally and figuratively brought comfort to his new friends. Since he started serving up his juice, he has raised about $3000 for cancer patients. That’s a lot of juice! A family member of a patient receiving care at PSMC wrote from North Carolina thanking Ayden for his dedication to finding his special brand of cure. Ayden is reaching folks far beyond our little village. In addition to his mission to bring comfort from cancer, he has also made it a mission to ensure multiple families enjoy Christmas by bringing comfort to those in need. Ayden and his mom, Latoya are passionate about being of service in this community. It is not surprising Ayden and his team are stepping up yet again.

 Lemonade stands are taking a hit during the pandemic. But superheroes are no strangers to hits. Since Ayden cannot sell his juice in his traditional manner, he has set up his stand in nearly 800 homes. He is selling his special brand of comfort on Facebook at Ayden J’s Juice. It is a great deal, this juice he is selling. For a mere $10 a gallon, Ayden will specially oversee the making of his homemade concoction to his exact specifications, pack it full of healthy and natural ingredients and then give his profits to Emergency Management Services (EMS) and the Emergency Management Technicians (EMT) that serve to keep us safe and healthy.  He realizes he might not be able to cure COVID-19 yet, but he sure can bring some comfort. This time he has chosen to bring comfort to our heroes who bring comfort to others.  Latoya says Ayden realizes the impact EMTs are making on the community and he wants to help them continue in their efforts. EMTs are not strangers to Ayden. They have been helping him out with his project to comfort cancer patients for some time now. Latoya reports, “They are very supportive of our efforts and we want to be there for them. We will give monetarily or whatever Ayden decides is fitting. He chooses.”

So, what does the summer of COVID-19 look like for Ayden? While typically a student at Byne Christian School in Lee County, he has finished up school for the year. This summer he will be enjoying an online STEM program because he loves science so much. He will be keeping up with COVID-19 to determine when and if he can open his traditional lemonade stand back up. Until then, he will continue to utilize his Facebook page to get his sales up. Please give him a like and place an order at Ayden J’s Juice.

Why Lemonade? “because he enjoys it” his mom says. But Ayden’s favorite part about lemonade? He “likes the look on people’s faces when they drink it.” An eight-year-old has decided he can cure with comfort. He has decided he will do it through some local heroes, our EMTs. I fully expect his cure is exactly what is needed. My apologies to Ayden, I was wrong. Not only does he have superpowers, he has them to spare. His heroes have taught him well, he is indeed working for the greater good.