When Judi Jenkins accepted the 2013 Charles Welch Citizenship Award last week, she said her roots go deep in the Forsyth County community.
The Welch award is presented annually at the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Dinner Meeting Celebration. Given each year in member of the late Welch, who served as a Cumming city councilman and county commissioner, it recognizes someone who has dedicated much of their life to giving back to the Forsyth community.
Jenkins’ dedication comes from a deep love of Silver City, which as she pointed out during Friday’s dinner, is “in north Forsyth County and is the hub of the world.”
She’s lived there her entire life. Her current home is just a couple of miles from the property on which she grew up on A.C. Smith Road, which is named after her father.
Each room of Jenkins’ home is a testament to her long love of her community and her family.
Photos, ranging from those black and white with age to those sharp in full color, fill dozens upon dozens of beautiful frames.
A.C. Smith’s image can be found in many of those photos along with his wife, Ellorie, who at 92 years old still lives up the road from Jenkins.
Besides honored spots in photo frames throughout her home, Jenkins’ parents hold positions of deep, abiding respect in her heart.
“I can truly say that my parents made me everything that I am today,” she said.
Her father in particular inspired her lifelong habit of helping her neighbors.
“He was very giving and we never really knew what all Daddy did until after he died,” Jenkins said. “People would come up at a funeral or something and say how their house had burned down and Daddy had helped them.
“But Daddy never told anybody the things he did for others. I think that’s one of the good things about giving … that’s what makes you feel good is not letting people know what you do.”
Jenkins said her parents taught her and her brothers, Terry and Phil, values that some today might consider old-fashioned. But she thinks the world would be a better place if modern society embraced more of those values.
“We had breakfast together every morning before we left the house and it wasn’t just a Pop Tart as you ran out the door. Then we had dinner together around the table every night,” Jenkins said.
“My parents carried us to church every Sunday. When we went off to college, Daddy said we could stay out as late as we wanted on Saturday night, but no matter what we would be in church Sunday morning.
“And they taught us to work hard and care about other people.”
Jenkins has carried those values throughout her adult life.
She planned to be a teacher after attending Brenau University and then finishing at the University of Georgia with her bachelor’s degree in early education. Several years later, she returned to Brenau to receive a master’s degree and later completed a leadership program at Mercer University.
But, for some reason, she said, she had a sudden change of heart just before starting her first job at Cumming Elementary School.
“I had a job lined up to teach first grade,” she said. “But for some reason, and don’t ask me why, a couple of days before we were supposed to report, I changed my mind.”
She instead ended up working for a bank in Atlanta for a few years and later as a real estate agent.
But she eventually did make it back to Cumming Elementary School in 1990, where she spent nine years as a teacher.
Then her beloved mother had a serious car accident and Jenkins took about six years to serve as a caregiver to her.
“Then in 2005, I went back and taught at Matt Elementary and got my leadership degree. Then in 2006, I went to the county office to work in my current job.”
That job is as the school system’s business and community relations facilitator. In her position, Jenkins oversees the system’s Partners in Education program, in which businesses and other organizations partner with individual schools or the system as a whole to provide additional support.
Partners in Education help with everything from providing additional funds and in-kind donations to volunteering.
Jenkins outgoing personality and connections to the local business community has been a perfect fit for the role.
“Usually, when we see folks coming that are going to ask us for something, we hide,” said Candy Norton, the school system’s director of human resources, when Jenkins was presented the award. “There is no hiding from Judi.
“Her selfless, compassionate, caring, fun-loving nature combined with her passion for this community, make her exemplary in her role.”
But an exemplary work ethic seems to have been a pattern for Jenkins, another quality she attributes to her upbringing.
She was named a Teacher of the Year during her time at Cumming Elementary School, and as a realtor she served as a president of the Forsyth Area Board of Realtors and was named the association’s Realtor of the Year.
In her civic life, Jenkins has worn many hats. Among them, being a charter class member of Leadership Forsyth and a founding member of the Sawnee Woman’s Club.
She also served as president of the local chapter of the American Cancer Society and received the Forsyth County Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award for community service.
Additionally, she has been a member of the Lanier Forsyth Rotary Club, United Way’s allocation committee and the board of Keep Forsyth County Beautiful.
Currently, she serves on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta community board and treasurer of Leadership Forsyth.
Jenkins has been a faithful member of Concord Baptist Church for many years, where she has served as a Sunday school teacher, choir member and on the church’s board.
All the while, Jenkins has made time for what’s most important in her life – her family.
She and husband, Dave, have been married for 29 years and have one grown son, Drew, and daughter-in-law, Amy.
“I would never have been able to have done all the things in the community that I have without the support of Dave,” Jenkins said, noting that Drew was in elementary school at the height of her civic involvement.
“Dave helped out a lot around the house so I could do those things in the community and still have time with Drew, and that really meant a lot to me.”
Her husband, she said, has also been a big help in recent years as Jenkins and her brothers have become caretakers for their mother so she can remain at home rather than going into an assisted living facility.
After she retires this June, Jenkins will have even more time to spend with her mother and the rest of her family.
“I’m getting ready to decide what I’m going to do when I grow up,” she joked about life after retirement.
No matter what comes next in her life, her family and helping her neighbors will likely remain a big part of it.
“You’ve heard that old adage that it’s better to give than to receive. Well, I really think if you give, you always receive much more than you ever give.
“Daddy and Mama taught us that and that’s just the way I was raised to be.”