Amie McElhaney

Feb  2016 | Volume 6 
Photo: Amie McElhaney and Christopher Aaron Hunnicutt     

On a Saturday afternoon in November, friends, family members, and neighbors gathered to celebrate Amie McElhaney's birthday and annual Art Show. One of the things we learned is that the story of the discovery of Amie's amazing talent is almost as fascinating as her art work!

As Hurricane Opal passed through Atlanta in 1995, Amie was unable to watch her DVD's or TV due to a power outage. Her mom set up an art table in the kitchen illuminated by candlelight. The only paper available was a standard paper flip chart. The large sheets were placed in front of Amie, one at a time. With a cup of hot chocolate and a set of acrylic paints, the creativity began. What emerged that night was dubbed "The Hurricane Paintings." 
This event planted the seed that art was an avenue for Amie to explore as a way to express herself with color and beauty. In 2009, she began working with artist and art coach, Lee Sanders, and has also studied with renowned local artist, Kay Powell.
Amie's love for art has blossomed and she continues to experiment with color, shape and design using a variety of acrylic paint techniques, watercolor, and collage.
Amie was only 13 when she created this painting and named it "Fish" 



The images below are an example of how one of Jonathan Hayes's latest artistic projects evolved from the initial sketch to the finished piece.   



"I sketched and painted a picture that reflects the Aborigine's culture. My research and planning was based on the study of the history of the Aboriginal people and how they used things that were  found in their real-life surroundings. 
It is common to find different types of patterns (dots, shapes) used to show movement (patterns give the piece a feeling of motion); in sea creatures and animals (reptiles, amphibians) found in the region.
The use of colors such as browns, yellows, oranges and reds are common pigments used which they made from natural resources (clay, soil and ashes) found within their natural habitat. "   

Samples of Jonathan's artwork can be found at:


By Sandy Commito 


I was delighted to be invited to join Margaret Whitley and her support team for the first follow-up meeting after her MAPS Action Plan. When asked what advice she would give to someone who is considering a similar meeting, Margaret replied, "I would recommend it to anyone who is struggling with decisions. The chart now hangs on a wall in my apartment as a reminder of the steps that will lead me on the path to fulfill all of my dreams." She added, "I would also tell them, don't ever look back; look to the future." Quoting lyrics from The Lion King about endorsing a worry-free philosophy, Margaret raised her voice with laughter, "Hakuna Matata!"  

An Emory University Hospital employee, Margaret discussed some of the tasks she has mastered, such as stocking cabinets with sheets and gowns, making copies of documents, and putting blankets in the warmer for surgical patients.

Having a passion for animals, one of her goals is to serve as a meet-and-greet volunteer who assists in bringing trained, therapy dogs to visit with patients. Margaret explained that sometimes, a friendly visitor with a wagging tail can cheer people up and make all the difference in the world.
Margaret's team understands the importance of being flexible. Instead of a Google calendar, the group decided that email blasts are just as effective in notifying board members about meetings, outings and social activities. Margaret's friend Rose wanted to help with pet-sitting activities, but is now experiencing some knee-related problems and the group will try to recruit a substitute volunteer to take on this task. Jerry planned to do some gardening with Margaret, but with winter almost upon us, they mutually decided to find another activity to share.

Travel is definitely in Margaret's future. She has committed to memory a very lengthy list of places
she would one day like to visit and explore. When asked to prioritize her top three destination choices, she chose Mexico, the small town of Brevard, North Carolina, and the Bahamas. She reminds herself that if she wants to have sufficient time accrued at work that will allow her to get away, then staying healthy must be a priority.

Margaret is committed to living a healthier lifestyle by avoiding junk food, keeping a variety of healthy snacks on hand, eating more vegetables and taking daily walks with her dogs around the apartment complex.
She said Jackie made her a colorful chart that lists all of the things she needs to do to arrive on time and be prepared for work. Her brother Steven, who joined the conversation through Skype, promised to call her every morning between 8:15 and 8:30 AM to make sure that she has her phone, keys and ID badge packed and ready.
Always enthusiastic about meeting new people, Margaret's biggest dream is to meet "Mr. Right." In spite of the lasting memories and many friendships she has made attending summer camp, basketball, and performing arts programs, she has yet to find a perfect match. But even in the romance arena, Margaret had tidbits of wisdom to share.
"Finding love is not easy. You start by building on friendship, common interests, and values. I want someone very special that I can take to meet my parents to see if they feel it is a good fit. Family is everything!"
Written with love by Ryan's Mom, Stacey Ramirez
Ryan wants to work, live in an apartment, and travel. He enjoyed, truly enjoyed, a 17-hour train ride to New York to see his "Lady Love", the Statue of Liberty. He has traveled to Edinburgh and London and is now saving for a trip to Ireland
Ryan will take on anyone who tries to get in his way of becoming an independent, self-supporting citizen. He is now working with a team to get a part-time job while he begins his own business as a pet sitter in the niche market of small mammals - mice, ferrets, chinchillas, and even rats. "I like keeping the little critters. They deserve love too." 
Ryan is learning how his autism can be a gift because he knows his brain works in ways that others don't understand. And, it is this lack of understanding from many folks, that has inspired him to start his own business.
Planning for the Future
Knowing this was an opportunity for a new beginning, his mother invited several people who knew and loved Ryan to gather for the development of a person-centered plan. Ryan's friend, Ryan Johnson, facilitated the plan using the process of a MAPS. Knowing they needed to look for employment, Ryan and his support circle thought the library would be a perfect place for him to work because of his knowledge of calendars, ability to order numbers, and his love for books. With the help of a job coach, he took a part-time volunteer position at a local library. This went well for a while, but the relationship soured when Ryan began to feel unappreciated.

The Beginning of a Dream

Ryan recognized that he was going to have to find another way to achieve the independence he so strongly desires. An idea came to him when he thought about who would care for his mouse if he was on a trip. He looked up pet sitters, but couldn't find anyone who was willing to keep a mouse, rat, ferret, or other small mammals. Ryan shared this discovery with his mom. Through that conversation, a dream began to take shape and he has taken the first steps to starting his own business.
Ryan enlisted the help of several people. Lisa (Dayton) Whitfield, a dear friend for over 35 years, just happens to be an expert on reptiles, small mammals, cats, dogs, horses, and lamas. She helped Ryan realize that he wants to focus his pet sitting business on cats, dogs and small mammals. He received additional advice from Aarti Sahgal who met with Ryan several times to help him complete a check list for starting a Micro Enterprise. Earl Camp, an expert in business development, then met with Ryan to help shape the marketing plan and website design.
Carl King is a videographer contracted by the Georgia Microboard Association to capture the stories of people starting Micro Enterprises. Carl invited the newly formed team to his studio to capture conversations between Ryan, Earl, Dayton and his mom about how to create the reality of "Ryan's Critter Care." 

The Next Steps 
Ryan has contacted the business school at Kennesaw State University searching for a business student who would be interested in partnering in an one-of-a-kind start-up opportunity. He also contacted the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency to request financial support. Life is looking up! Although Ryan has survived his share of set-backs, road blocks, and negative people. He is finding his stride and refuses to stop until he achieves his dream of independence.
Stay tuned....
Graphics by Brittany Curry

On Saturday,January 9, the Board of Directors and a group of Microboard members gathered at Dunwoody Baptist Church. The energy, camaraderie and ideas formed at this meeting were nothing short of amazing.
Executive Director, Gillian Grable, opened the event by presenting Debra McElhaney with an engraved plaque for five years of hard work, commitment, and dedication as President and Chairman.
Sandra Commito, retiring Communications Coordinator  was presented with a gift from the board and roses sprinkled with glitter for adding a little sparkle to every task.
Tom Copper received a warm welcome as Chairman and President of the Georgia Microboards Association and a goodie-bag from Gillian Grable filled with symbolic items, including a large paint brush to help create a "broad brush vision" of the future!
Tom expressed his personal gratitude to everyone who has worked so hard to make this another successful year for the Georgia Microboards Association. He thanked the Board of Directors and the Nominating Committee for the vote of confidence and said he looks forward to working with them on the goals and challenges ahead. 
PETER LEIDY, Keynote Speaker

Our one-of-a-kind Microboard Retreat included sing-alongs to satirical tunes written by our visiting advocate from Wisconsin -- "I'm Learning My ABC's, and "Three Days a Week," about the jargon of the social services field and imagining for a moment what it would be like to live in group home and  be required to take two weekly van rides to Walmart!

Peter explained that in order to make new community connections, people need to know a little bit about you. After splitting up into small groups, board members returned to share just a few interesting facts they learned about the person they had just met.
Jenny sends hand-made cards to all of the folks at the Methodist church she attends, so everyone knows her! She opens and closes all of her meetings with a ritual. Jenny would like a Dynavox eye-gaze communications device and is in need of a new van.
Amari is looking for employment and would like to live in a host home in the community. Her favorite color is pink and she enjoyed learning how to make a pair of PJ pants at Hobby Lobby.       
Narae works at an Asian Grocery store and would like to be part of an adult Bible study class.  She also volunteers in the library in Duluth sorting books and magazines. 

Harold loves horticulture! He would like to meet a Master Gardner in the Lawrenceville or Lilburn area and people to help him build a business. He wants someone to go shopping with at thrift shops to purchase old tea cups - he plans to display some of his beautiful plants in the cups.
Todd is a fanatic Braves fan whose dream is to work for the Atlanta Braves. He loves retreating to the "man cave" to watch movies or baseball with his high school classmate, Chris - his friend for 27 years.
Lois is a visual artist and would like to sell more of her art work. She loves receiving mail! Lois just moved to Lithonia, Georgia, and would like to get to know more people - especially artists.
Who do you know who might enjoy meeting Jenny, Amari, Harold, Todd, Narae, and Lois?

Using the "Yes, And..." technique, we took turns practicing four ways to open a conversation and quickly became professional askers!

Employing the rules of improv, we accepted every offer, made the other person look good, and practiced our listening skills.  

James offered to help Amari with a list of potential employers in her area.
Chris invited Narae to his adult Bible school class and Jenny invited Narae to her next Microboard meeting.
Dennis and Maria offered to ask their personal contacts with the Braves about Todd's job search.
Lucy made two new American friends. 
Marilyn came away with a plan for researching a new van, and Peter Leidy is now one of Lois's pen pals!  
How does it feel to the person who made it happen?


On behalf of the Georgia Microboards Association, we send our heart-felt thanks to Peter Leidy for sharing his unique and inspirational insights with our Microboards. Peter is one of those rare individuals who leaves a lasting impression on everyone he meets and we encourage anyone who missed this event to visit the website at

"Thanks to all the board members for hosting the event - I had a pleasant time with good people, positive energy, and an opportunity for thoughtful fine-tuning of goals and plans."
Linda Pogue

"It was greatly helpful to brainstorm about concerns and ideas. Jenny felt extremely validated. I loved that everyone was warm, friendly and helpful. What a great group to be with!"
Marilyn Humphreys  

"It was very good to reconnect with Todd and Lois, to meet Christopher and other new families. The story of the "girl who loved school buses" for me was very moving and reminded me of how each individual has a unique vision and personality."  
Randy Pilkenton