Column: Two events highlight what makes Aiken truly special

·3 min read

Jul. 23—One of the best things about this job is getting a chance to mix and mingle in the community.

There hasn't been a lot of either in the past two years because of COVID-19. And, just when we thought we were out of the woods, we are starting to see high levels of the virus in many areas around us. Heck, even the president of our country recently tested positive and has "mild symptoms."

On Thursday, though, I was able to participate in two big events. I haven't worn a tie very often since the pandemic hit, but I wore one for both occasions.

The first was a groundbreaking for the new facility planned for Children's Place. Under threatening skies, several of Aiken's most prominent citizens gathered under a tent to hear remarks and enjoy light refreshments before shovels symbolically turned dirt.

Children's Place serves a vital need in our community as it helps children and families deal with the "impact of trauma and other adverse experiences." The organization started in the 1960s, and Peggy Ford has been the executive director for as long as I can remember. She and her staff do a remarkable job.

When Children's Place decided to start a capital campaign to raise funds for a new facility, retired Aiken Standard Publisher Scott Hunter didn't hesitate to help. For those who knew Scott, that wasn't surprising. He signed on as co-chair, but died in 2018 after a lengthy illness.

"Scott really got the ball rolling," Ronnie Maxwell, chair of the capital campaign, said Thursday. "We certainly have him here in spirit, but miss him here today and appreciate all that he did."

The campaign languished for a bit, then COVID-19 arrived. Charities were hit hard in a time of economic uncertainty, and the new facility for Children's Place had to wait.

Good news, though, arrived late in 2021. Aiken native Rob Johnston and his wife Pam announced a $1.5 million gift to the capital campaign.

Johnston grew up in Aiken before moving to Atlanta. He came back in 2006.

"This is a magical place, and we wanted to get involved," Johnston said.

The new Children's Place facility is only a few blocks from its current location, but will be vastly improved. The new building will have about 16,000 square feet of space, and plans call for it to be completed by the end of 2023.

Later Thursday, I attended the newspaper's annual banquet to salute Young Professionals 2 Follow.

It's a yearly event that recognizes those under 40 who make Aiken a better place "by making a difference and impacting the community in positive ways."

We gathered at Stable View Farm, and Aiken County Public Schools Superintendent King Laurence delivered the keynote address. He pointed out the contributions of all 10 honorees.

The acceptance speeches from the young professionals ran the gamut of emotions. As I said in my closing remarks, some made us laugh; some made us cry; but all were inspirational.

I know the younger generations sometimes get a bad rap, but I left with a feeling that we are in pretty good hands. The young people do care about our community, and they want to make it a better place. They also challenged each other to not rest on their laurels.

There's a lot of gloom and doom in today's 24-hour news cycle, but I was happy we could publish some good news.

Speakers at the Children's Place groundbreaking described it as a "great day," and Rob Johnston teased that there's "more to come."

Even on a cloudy day, Aiken's future certainly appears bright.

Thanks for reading.