We Are Community…

What a wonderful night to remember, as our community gathered just a few weeks ago, to celebrate the companies and business leaders of Toccoa-Stephens County.

Our 72nd Annual Chamber Recognition and Awards Celebration was such a wonderful demonstration of the commitment and dedication of the people in this town who make this place so special and set apart! The event was hosted at Reflections at Lake Toccoa. Of course, this was the old Toccoa Country Club up on Black Mountain. The City of Toccoa has since purchased and completely renovated the facilities and golf course, added a restaurant and event center, which is all available and open to the public. Reflections is such a lovely venue for any special event. We are all so blessed to live in Toccoa-Stephens County, where our leadership recognizes the value of the quality of life in our community and works hard to maintain and improve it every day.

Back to the awards celebration…the room was full of over two hundred and thirty guests, including our State and Local elected officials, business leaders, volunteers, family and citizens of Toccoa-Stephens County. Every year this event demonstrates how our community is full of such a diverse and dedicated group of people.  One Chamber Board member best describes this annual gathering as “evidence of how our community is full of team players, amazing business people, entrepreneurs, board members, teachers, farmers, volunteers, retirees, bankers, accountants, doctors, cosmetologist, bakers, journalists, pastors, lawyers, rising young adults, accomplished senior adults, leaders, life time achievers, friends and family!! Caring people that show up and tackle whatever task is at hand! We ate, met, awarded, laughed, may have shed a tear or two, prayed, praised, laughed some more and celebrated Toccoa and Stephens County!! What a great place that God has blessed us with to live, work, play and to be a part!”  Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our event sponsors and countless volunteers. To all of whom we are extremely grateful.


It’s the people of Toccoa-Stephens County that make this town so special. We have seen time after time in our community, when we decide to be intentional for the purpose at hand, we put aside personal differences and recognize each other’s strengths, we work together and accomplish the goal! Because we are stronger together than alone. We have passionate and gifted leaders in Toccoa-Stephens County, with a like-minded goal of bringing new industry, new opportunities and new jobs to our community. Our eyes are fixed on the prize!

Fully utilizing all our resources is the solution to growing and strengthening our community, and you are part of the plan. It can be done…one step at a time, and we need your help! We have opportunities every day to make a difference. We can’t afford to let them pass us by. We all must find our place to serve. Shop here, volunteer here, invest here, start a business here, enjoy life here!

Our enemy delights when we get caught up in our differences and take our eyes off the goal. Let’s continue to come together in one accord and be part of the plan to make Toccoa a town to remember! We are moving in the right direction. We are partners in progress!! And it is our privilege at The Chamber to be your advocate and community partner to promote, develop and support commerce & tourism in Toccoa-Stephens County.

Opportunities continue to come our way and new doors are opening every day. As we continue to move ahead together let us be sure to appreciate the gift of community that is right here among us. Toccoa-Stephens County is a great place to do business and an even greater place to do life!

Currahee Military Weekend 2018 is only a month away!

Our Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce is once again partnering with The Stephens County Historical Society, with the cooperation of The City of Toccoa to host the 19th Annual Currahee Military Weekend set for the weekend of October 5-7, 2018.  

Brenda Carlan, Executive Director of Currahee Military Museum shared, “This started out as a military reunion in 2000 for the men that trained at Camp Toccoa during WWII.  Now our veterans, their families and our community experience how important our local military history was during WWII and to the men that trained here.  There will be several living historians and encampments in the downtown area and the museum, as well as re-enactments for everyone to enjoy.”

Stephens County is rich in military history. Camp Toccoa had over 18,000 soldiers who trained here in four regiments – the 506th, 501st, 517th and the 511th.  This is the birthplace of The Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, Saints and Soldiers and The Dirty Dozen. The event serves to celebrate the accomplishments of the veterans who trained at Camp Toccoa.  


Currahee Military Weekend 2018 activities planned are as follows:  


  • 11:30am–1:30pm Barbecue at The National Guard Armory: Tickets are available at The Chamber/Welcome Center. Local companies are encouraged to pre-order dinners to be delivered to their workplace for their employees. Individuals can purchase tickets at the Chamber or at the door of the Georgia National Guard Armory (located behind Toccoa First United Methodist Church) for eat-in, delivery or take-out. Be sure to get your tickets early!

  • 1:00pm–5:00pm Book Signing at the Historic Train Depot: Come meet the authors of several military books about the paratroopers of WWII, and Memorabilia Show in Downtown Toccoa.

  • 7pm–10pm USO Swing Dance – Reflections @ Lake Toccoa with the David Fry Quartet. Live music, dancing for all ages, and even a dance competition. So come dressed in your best 1942 attire! Food and fun for everyone! Swing Dance lessons at the beginning of the evening. Tickets are $15/each or 2 for $25, and available at the Chamber/Welcome Center at the Train Depot.


  • 7:00am Currahee Challenge: Come experience the 5k and 10k run/walk up the famous Currahee Mountain trail, “3 miles up and 3 miles down,” that served as part of the rigorous basic training where the men of the 101st Airborne were hardened to become the paratroopers who parachuted into Normandy hours before the D-Day invasion. Take the Currahee Challenge…be Toccoa Tough!

  • 10am-4pm Historic Downtown: travel to the 40’s and experience Toccoa during WWII, including a Quarter Faire … fun for the whole family.

  • 1pm Veterans Parade – downtown Toccoa

  • 7pm Veterans Banquet – Camp Toccoa @ Currahee, tickets available at The Historical Society


  • 8:30am Remembrance Service - Meet at the Parachute Infantry Regimental Memorial – Currahee Mountain.

When We Last Spoke, Movie #5 in Toccoa-Stephens County!

You may have heard through the community grapevine, it’s happening again!

Yet another movie production in Toccoa! This will be the fifth movie filmed in our community in the last two and a half years. Our lovely, quaint town has much to offer the film industry and we are certainly grateful for the support from the State of Georgia who has made it quite attractive for production companies to do business here.

If you haven’t had the opportunity already, we want to make sure to welcome the film crew under the guidance of REELWORKS STUDIOS out of Charlotte, NC who have been in Toccoa for several weeks now prepping for production which began shooting July 11th, 2018. Shooting will continue through the end of July in various locations.


With heart, humor and some wonderful musical interludes, When We Last Spoke is a story set in the south in 1966 about a lovable but quirky family who’ve had more than their fair share of hard times. Two resilient and independent little girls, Juliet and Evangeline Cranbourne take us on a journey of tears and laughter as they deal with being abandoned by their mother and the untimely death of their father in war torn Vietnam. The girl’s grandparents, Walt and Ruby share a deep loving relationship, which is somewhat interrupted when they accept their forced upon role as guardians. To further their challenges, they are surprised soon after by another arrival at their doorstep … Walt’s aging and delusional mother.

Fast-forward to the mid-nineties, where the estranged sisters are not on speaking terms and in need of a good dose of Walt and Ruby’s wisdom. When We Last Spoke is a timeless story packed with rich characters and reflects the things that matter most—family, friends, love, and forgiveness.

How exciting is this to have another family friendly film shot in our community? Georgia was not only the number one State in the Country but also in the World for film and television production in 2017. According to Ellie Hensley of The Atlanta Business Chronicle, “the main reason for the industry's staggering growth is the State’s film incentive program, which awards up to 30 percent of what a production spends back in transferable tax credits that can then be sold on the free market.”

I am certain these incentives and our willingness locally to welcome and support such industry, gives the production companies the confidence to not only shoot here, but to consider bringing television shows here that could be long-lived and consider putting down roots. Georgia has stepped up to the plate and Toccoa-Stephens County has too. The television and film industry is economic development and we are the beneficiaries. The investment in Toccoa-Stephens County is real when a cast and crew of 50-100 people roll into our community for 6 weeks at a time. Literally hundreds of thousands of dollars directly into our local businesses.

Please join me as we roll out our hometown red carpet to the cast and crew of REELWORKS STUDIOS as they spend the next few weeks in Toccoa-Stephens County for the making of the film When We Last Spoke. For those of you interested in being in a family friendly film, they are seeking volunteer extras July 21-30. Specifically, July 25 is a great day for children to film in a playground scene. So start raiding your attic and favorite thrift store for vintage/retro clothing and email  ToccoaCasting@gmail.com to register today! To sneak a peek at the storyline of When We Last Spoke, go to the UTUBE channel and checkout the trailer on the book.

Community at It’s Best: Chamber Mobile Welcome Center Project Completed Just in Time for B.R.A.G.

The Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce has been talking about our need for a mobile welcome center for over a year now.

This would enable us to have representation at local and regional community events to promote Toccoa-Stephens County. The doors began to open for us when Mr. Larry Dodd, a local resident and businessman offered to donate his trailer for the project.

To date, securing a trailer had been the biggest challenge as this project was not in the Chamber budget. Larry Dodd’s generosity and interest in promoting our community certainly helped get this ball rolling. From there we were looking for a team to help finish off the inside the trailer, so it could serve as a mini welcome center to include information on the various sites of interest and tourism in Toccoa-Stephens County. In a conversation with City Commissioner Gail Fry, she made a phone call and pitched the idea to our Stephens County High School Construction Department teacher, Mr. Brad Randall. With only a few weeks left in the school year, he gladly agreed to take on the project.

The SCHS Construction classes have taken a donated 7’x14’ trailer in great need of some TLC, and finished off the inside with paint, flooring, wiring, lighting and a tv mount to be used to help us better tell the story of Toccoa-Stephens County both here and afar. Our students have done a phenomenal job! This is just one more example of the many accomplishments of our SCHS CTAE programs and how they continue to excel and represent our community so well. The Collision Doctor and local body shop and new Chamber Member donated their time and did such a professional job painting the trailer, just in time for Jaymarz Signs to apply the Community Visit Toccoa Stephens County Logo along with the logo of each of the contributors to the project.

Thank you to Mr. Larry Dodd for your generous contribution and to Mr. Brad Randall and the SCHS Construction Classes for doing such a great job with this project and to City Commissioner Gail Fry for helping us make this connection. And many thanks to our local Chamber members The Collision Doctor and Jaymarz Signs for their contributions also.

All this came together just in time for us to have the Mobile Welcome Center Debut last week as one thousand cyclists with B.R.A.G. (Bicycle Ride Across Georgia) rolled into Toccoa last Friday. This event was quite a collaboration of amazing volunteers as once again our community came together to roll out the red carpet to deliver a solid and lasting positive first impression on a large group of visitors who might never have crossed our path otherwise.

It was exciting to see this project from beginning to end. At first, I must say it was a bit daunting and somewhat difficult to get my mind around. We pulled together a team of community leaders to take the project in pieces. Representatives from our Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Toccoa, Stephens County School Board, Toccoa Elementary School, City of Toccoa Police Department, Stephens County Sheriff’s Department, Stephens County E911 Emergency Services and our local Tour de Tugaloo Bicycle Race have been meeting for months leading up to the event. When the time came, and the cyclists were headed our way, it was my privilege to see this community in action. The B.R.A.G. cyclists all stopped at The Links at Lake Toccoa and Traveler’s Rest pit stops along the route through Stephens County. They wrapped up the tour as the basecamp was located at Toccoa Elementry School. Our local hotels and Bed and Breakfast were full of B.R.A.G. cyclists. Toccoa Elementary School cafeteria and gym was lined with bed rolls of those who wanted to rest in the comfort of the air conditioning. Boyd Field was full of tents for those who preferred to camp out under the stars.


Our local businesses, retail stores and restaurants delivered quality customer service with a smile. Local volunteers stepped up welcome and shuttle our guests all over town from 1pm to 10pm Friday night. We showed off Toccoa-Stephens County from Ping’s Grill at Lake Toccoa, Toccoa Falls, Currahee Military Museum, Miles Through Time Automotive Museum, Currahee Vineyards, Camp Toccoa at Currahee, Tugaloo Bend Heritage Park and Yonah Dam. We also had shuttles running all up and down Big A Road stopping at restaurants and stores all along the way.

We could never have accomplished this without the full support of our local City and County Officials and countless volunteers who worked tirelessly and went above and beyond the call to make a lasting first impression of Toccoa-Stephens County that would make them want to come back again.

Thank you to all who played a part in this event and who made such a great impression of our guests. Southern hospitality at its best! The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive. I love it when faced with a task, our community comes together to get the job done with excellence. This is what sets us apart from the rest. Our people make the difference and its why I always say…Toccoa-Stephens County is a great place to do business and an even greater place to do life!


Toccoa-Stephens County…a destination!

This is National Travel & Tourism Week.

You don’t have to be in our office long to hear a visitor in our Welcome Center saying how beautiful it is here. So much natural beauty and resources and history not available in the big cities covered in asphalt. From Toccoa Falls, Tugaloo Bend, to the Currahee Military Museum and more, Toccoa-Stephens County is smack full of beautiful places to see and experience. Over the past few years tourism has taken on a whole new direction in our community. What once might have been more of a pitstop on the way to somewhere else has now become a destination spot for many travelers.

The Chamber of Commerce has recently launched a website dedicated specifically to inviting tourists to visit us as well as business owners to consider expanding their locations to include Toccoa-Stephens County. www.VisitToccoa.com has a fresh new look. We invite you to check it out too.

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A few years ago, a team was formed with the vision to “set the standard for dynamic, rural communities where residents take pride and contribute to ensure an unsurpassed quality of life.” Toccoa-Stephens County Tomorrow was originally a privately funded effort and partnership between the Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce & the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at the University of Georgia with the goal designed to turn our community’s potential into reality by focusing attention and resources on a common vision.

More recently Toccoa-Stephens County Tomorrow has made great strides toward the betterment of our community. The group currently made up of a diverse group of traditional and non-traditional leaders representing the entire community has focused their efforts on the opportunity placed before us to invite more visitors to our community. This being the new four-lane highway leading into Stephens County from I-85 in Lavonia. This was the biggest project on the books for GA-Department of Transportation for the two years of construction …and it leads right to our backyard!

While the new road was still under construction, this local group of community and business leaders and citizens recognized this as an opportunity to capitalize on to help grow our town. Inviting tourism into a community is certainly economic development. Toccoa-Stephens County Tomorrow took the lead role in preserving the natural beauty along Highway 17 running from the Franklin County line to the Habersham County line by proposing to the Stephens County Commission a plan to adopt an ordinance prohibiting new billboards along the Highway 17 stretch in Stephens County.  This ordinance prevents future generations from placing unsightly advertising structures all along that gateway corridor. Thus, preserving the beauty.

With the billboard moratorium in place and with the encouragement and assistance of our State Representative Dan Gasaway, a committee of this organization has been diligently working with the Georgia Department of Transportation to designate Highway 17 as “Currahee Parkway”, and to place identifying and directional signage all along the highway, including directional signage to significant points of interest in the City of Toccoa and Stephens County.  Our efforts in this area are beginning to come to fruition. Have you driven along the new Highway 17 and the 17 Bypass lately? If so, you may have noticed “Currahee Parkway” trailblazer signs are now in place along the stretch of Highway 17 within Stephens County. This is only phase one of many to follow. In addition to the encouragement we received from Representative Dan Gasaway in this effort to preserve and name Currahee Parkway, we are also grateful for the support of our Senator John Wilkinson, Speaker of the House David Ralston, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and Governor Nathan Deal, all of whom were behind the mission. We know it wouldn’t be possible without their full support. Toccoa-Stephens County is the beneficiary of the strong leadership representing us at the State level.

Join us as we work together to promote travel and tourism in Toccoa-Stephens County. www.VisitToccoa.com

About Our Chamber

The Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce is a local non-profit business organization representing the interests of our local businesses of all sizes.

Our members range from mom-and-pop shops to local churches, individuals, charities, medium and large industries and corporations. They all share one thing—they count on the Chamber to be their voice and connection to our community and beyond.


Our Chamber is a member of the Georgia Chamber and has obtained a four-star accreditation with the US Chamber. Our vision is to be the leading member organization, creating a positive business climate, facilitating tourism, and developing the economy as we promote the outstanding quality of life in the community. Our mission is always to serve, promote, and protect every member of the Chamber of Commerce to help them grow and prosper.
In the effort to always push toward our mission our Chamber remains focused on:

  • Increasing Local Business - Marketing our community to invite new business and help grow local business

  • Support and Strengthening of our Local Businesses through Networking, Education, Leadership and Workforce Development

  • Tourism – inviting the world to Visit Toccoa-Stephens County and discover all we have to offer

We were presented the opportunity to partner with NextSite, a consulting firm who has established relationship with Georgia Power in the effort to help develop the rural communities of Georgia. Georgia Power is making it possible by footing a large part of the expense so that smaller communities can afford to tap into the available resources NextSite gathers on their behalf.  

The focus of NextSite for our community is to provide unparalleled research, market analysis and mapping support, assist in the identification of real estate opportunities for retail development and redevelopment and then connect these opportunities to the appropriate retail real estate decision makers. We are grateful to our City and County Commissions who have chosen to support this effort. We are looking with great anticipation to all this effort brings for Toccoa-Stephens County.

In addition, The Chamber has a Retail Marketing Task Force whose approach is more of a grassroots effort to personally invite business we frequent in neighboring communities to consider expanding their operations to Toccoa-Stephens County. We have produced a cutting-edge booklet which tells our story in print to give to the business owners to review at their convenience.

The Chamber supports and helps strengthen our local businesses by offering educational Lunch & Learn events with relevant topics for our business and industry employees. We present networking opportunities because people prefer to do business with people they know.

Through our Leadership Toccoa-Stephens County program for Adults and Stephens County High School Seniors, and our Chamber Education Committee our focus is to help educate the adults, teachers, and students about the opportunities available to grow and thrive in our community. That not only helps strengthen our leadership on all levels, but it also takes our workforce development to a new level. Bringing local industry and business to the forefront.

Tourism is another very important piece of The Chamber. We have the honor and privilege of showing off our beautiful community and all the assets it includes. We take that responsibility seriously. Our natural resources speak for themselves and our town boasts of many historical sites worth making a special trip to see. We welcomed over 15,000 folks through the Welcome Center doors in 2017. It’s our job to help spread the word about our town outside our county lines throughout the NE Georgia Region, the State and surrounding States. What we have here is exceptional and we don’t want to miss one chance to share it with the world!

This is your Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce in a nutshell. I’ve simply scratched the surface in these few words. I’m so humbled to be part of those sharing the good news. This is our community and that is something for which we should be quite proud! Let us choose continue to work through life’s challenges together and press on together to help grow our community. Toccoa-Stephens County is a great place to do business and an even greater place to do life!

Toccoa-Stephens County: Making A Difference

By: Julie Paysen

I recently came across an article written by Mr. Eric Heller entitled Dear Internet, Please Send Miss Manners. In this he accurately addresses etiquette or the lack thereof, when it comes to social media. We have become quite the society… Heller writes, “in the real world, we’re reasonably well behaved. We don’t need laws to make you hold the door for the person behind you. We don’t have fines for pushing your way to the front of a checkout line. There are no cops looking to arrest people who don’t say “excuse me” when they bang your buggy at the store.” He continues, “Outside of the occasional exception – which goes viral because it’s so unusual – no one really violates these basic social rules.”

“Until we go online… There we attack each other like children. We snap at “the other side” with names and flames like they are sub-humans. We cut down strangers with vicious insults just to make ourselves feel superior. We get off on clickbait where someone’s being “destroyed” or “slammed,” then dive into the outrage battle that follows. Our friends and co-workers and neighbors become raging haters on social media. Towards people they don’t even know.” And I might add, without nearly enough facts to even weigh in. “It’s embarrassing, if you think about it.” Heller says, “And it’s driving us apart.”

Heller continues, “Confident people don’t enjoy making others feel bad. So, this probably has a lot to do with fear. We seem to be suffering an epidemic of low self-esteem. Maybe it’s scary to live in an unequal, materialistic society, where our self-worth is defined by Photoshopped images and impossible perfection. Maybe the constant feed of terrible events from all over the world creates the optical illusion that bad things happening once-in-a-while, are happening everywhere and all the time. So we seek validation from others, insist on our ideological certainties, and attack anyone who dares to challenge our comfortable preconceptions.”

In conclusion Heller writes, “Here’s the thing. We live in a democracy. Facebook and social media have become our public square. We need to figure out how to talk to each other in a way that connects, not divides. We’ve developed etiquette for our face-to-face connections. As more of our interactions take place online, we need rules there too.”

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So how does this affect us in Toccoa-Stephens County? What will help us to be set apart? We are a community, a family. Our community, as every community, is made up of imperfect people. We should be certain to practice the art of thinking through the issues we face as a community, so we understand all sides and perspectives instead of simply reacting with an emotionally charged response. Listening with respect for others’ opinions will help those around us to do the same. Let’s take the approach to show grace toward one another, as we would like it shown toward us. We are all familiar with the golden rule. It’s a truth we must not forget: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I believe we would all prefer that someone come to us directly to try and resolve an issue rather than take to social media. We should be intentional to set the best example in how we handle discrepancies or disagreements with others, for those around us to see because they are watching.

Let’s remember as our children learn in school: Before you speak, THINK; - is it True, is it Helpful, is it Inspiring, is it Necessary, and is it Kind? Great questions for all of us to ask before we speak, or post.

We should always be kind and encouraging even when we don’t agree. As my mama used to say, “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Share concerns, offer suggestions with the big picture in mind, and always surround the negative with positive. There is a lot of positive in Toccoa-Stephens County, and the people here is what makes this place so special!

We won’t always agree but if we are going to move forward in life as a prosperous community and leave a positive, lasting impression on those we love, we must choose to be part of the solution.  Join the team and make a difference.


Rural Development: Focus in Toccoa-Stephens County and Across Georgia

By: Julie Paysen

Last June Toccoa-Stephens had the privilege to be chosen by the House Rural Development Council to host one of eleven meetings throughout rural Georgia to inquire of the challenges faced by rural counties and how they can be part of the solution to help rural Georgia thrive and grow. In addition to meeting in Toccoa, they also spoke with leaders in Tifton, Thomasville, Bainbridge, Ellijay, Dalton, Metter, Waycross, Albany, Warm Springs and Milledgeville. The Council was lead by Rep. Terry England and Rep. Jay Powell.

In addition to a warm welcome to our community given by then Mayor Jeanette Jamieson, County Commissioner Dean Scarborough and myself, we each had the opportunity to share with the Council, highlighting the success of Toccoa and Stephens County in attracting new jobs but also the challenges faced by the community, including having a sufficient qualified workforce and adequate housing to attract new workers.” As quoted from the official notes from the meeting “The problem isn’t the availability of jobs, but the willingness of qualified workers to take the open positions. These challenges were echoed by other local presenters throughout the meeting.”

Furthermore, “Pat Wilson, Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner, highlighted the presence the department has in every county in Georgia as well as the impact the department has in international markets in the promotion of Georgia businesses and products. The commissioner stated that there is “no magic bullet” to attract industry, indicating that every community has something to offer.” Commissioner Wilson also spoke highly of Toccoa-Stephens County for the progress made in recent years and the effort of local leadership to work together to get the job done. Like mindedness and collaboration goes a long way.

“Local business leaders Barry Roberts, ASI Southeast; Leon Osborne, Osborne Wood Products; and Tim Martin, Stephens County Economic Development, addressed workforce challenges faced by the area. The availability of skilled labor, lack of applicants with soft skills or the ability to pass a drug/background check, as well as limited housing and lack of public transportation were all repeatedly named as reasons for a labor shortage in the area. Local employers suggested the state could provide GED assistance, protection for companies that hire applicants with a criminal background, as well as market the positives of Georgia to bring new talent in from out of state. Other suggestions included providing incentives particularly to counties that border other states to promote education, workforce training and infrastructure.”

From the House of Representatives Rural Development Council Recommendations Overview “The success of the state’s metro areas is deeply aligned with the contributions of rural Georgia. The entire state’s well-being depends on a recognition of this relationship, as well as better communication and cooperation across county lines and regions. The economic future of rural Georgia requires us to connect our small communities so that services, educational opportunities and jobs that make up our quality of life are equally available to all of our citizens.” The following are the findings from the Council.

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GENERAL WORKFORCE – “To reverse the current population migration trend, the council proposes a “Rural Relocate and Reside” program designed to incentivize rural living, especially for professional, high wage earners through a local and state government partnership.”

BROADBAND – “Another key to attracting and retaining people to rural Georgia is broadband connectivity, which is a critical tool for the vitality of rural communities. Broadband is modern infrastructure – the “road” to anywhere or anyone in the world, and a survey of Georgians conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government noted that today’s citizens overwhelmingly equate internet access with opportunities to earn a living and the quality of life.”

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – “In addition to broadband as an absolute need toward economic prosperity, there were a large number of other economic development strategies that emerged as best practices for propelling the growth of a rural community. “Regionalism”, “partnerships” and “connectivity” that pool together resources for workforce, training, marketing, health care and infrastructure dominated conversations. To that end, smaller communities do not always have the resources to instigate these partnerships nor the leadership to execute them; the state needs a focal point with the expertise to connect smaller areas with the multitude of existing state and federal programs, execute a statewide rural strategy, and provide leadership training. The council will work to incorporate many of the suggestions made for improving economic development in existing legislation, as well as within budgeted programs.”

EDUCATION – “Because economic development is centered so heavily in the availability of a qualified workforce, educational programming must be coordinated over the course of an entire academic career. Repetitious complaints that educational systems are not able to quickly respond to needs for industry programming because of a lack of flexibility or leadership were heard. Moreover, students are leaving their smaller communities for post-secondary education and never return. The state must provide opportunities that allow rural students to stay in place, as well as make the long-term investment in leadership and soft skills training that prepares a quality workforce.”

HEALTH – “Georgia’s overall health status, health system performance and clinical care rankings are low in the nation, and because the scores are an overall average that include metro Atlanta’s relatively positive performance and delivery, it means rural rankings are likely even lower. In addition to the aging of rural Georgians, rural populations on the whole are sicker, have less or no access to prevention and services, are more likely to suffer from mental illness and chronic diseases, have higher rates of teen pregnancy, and higher mortality rates.”

“Based on testimony, as well as results from the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, several best practices are emerging to revamp care delivery through telehealth, care coordination models and the creation of hub-and-spoke, free-standing emergency departments where patients can receive acute care, stabilize and transfer if necessary. The council recommends a multi-layered approach to stabilizing rural, as well as other health systems.”

“The House Rural Development Council presents these recommendations to improve the social and economic vibrancy of the state’s rural communities and regions. The recommendations are interrelated and reflect the complexity of building upon our assets without hampering the many unique attributes and contributions of the state’s rural communities.”

Toccoa-Stephens County is grateful to have been included and heard by the Council as they were gathering research. We look forward to the implementation of these recommendations in the near future.

The House of Representatives Rural Development Council Recommendations Overview can be found in its entirety at: http://www.house.ga.gov/Documents/CommitteeDocuments/2017/HouseRuralDevelopmentCouncil/. A second report from the Georgia Chamber Center for Rural Prosperity: Recommendations for a Rural Renaissance can be found at www.gachamber.com/rural-georgia-home/ for reference.


Jingle Bells in the City

By: Julie Paysen

It sure is beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Toccoa! The colors are bright, holiday music, beautifully decorated trees, twinkling lights, carolers singing familiar Christmas songs, Santa’s workshop, gingerbread houses and ice skating in the south! There is a sparkle in the eyes of everyone you see from the youngest to the old and wise. There seems to be something magical about this time of year. But for some it may be more difficult than you think.

For those who have fallen on hard times, for those who will not be home with their family because they are deployed in service to our country, for those who will spend the holidays alone because they cannot get home to see family, for those who will spend Christmas without someone that they loved dearly. But for some, Christmas may actually be the most difficult time of the year.

Christmas was always a favorite for me. I remember growing up and spending Christmas Eve with my daddy’s side of the family. He was one of five and I was the youngest of sixteen grandchildren. Three generations all under one roof. We would gather every year and my Aunt Virginia and Uncle Stroud’s house and exchange gifts making memories that I still hold dear. On Christmas Day my mama’s family would come together at our house. My Uncle Ty always brought us pecans to crack and my Aunt Kate would make all kinds of sweet treats, all cut into bite size servings. One year as the cars were pulling into the driveway, our cat ran straight up the tree! The cat jumped out and ornaments went everywhere! It wasn’t too funny then, at least not to Mama, but it sure makes me chuckle now!

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I have always enjoyed decorating the tree, wrapping presents, giving gifts and seeing the smile on the faces of those receiving. I love the wonderful smell of cooking in the kitchen while hearing the laughter of friends and family all around. It makes me happy to see the sparkle in the eyes of my children as we celebrate the season. It’s the wonder of Christmas!

I also understand the sadness that comes with losing a loved one and missing them over the holidays. It was eighteen years ago when my precious mama went home to be with Jesus, on a cold and rainy Christmas Eve. It was so unexpected, I wasn’t ready for her to go. Left behind with pictures and so many sweet memories of a mama who loved Jesus, loved my daddy and me and served others all her life. She is greatly missed, but her legacy lives on in the lives of everyone she touched. I sure miss my sweet mama every day. But she is singing with the angels to the Prince of Peace, the One whose birth we celebrate! That is where we find Hope.

As we enjoy all the holiday festivities in our small town and beyond, and gather with friends and family, decorate the trees, buy gifts for those we love, be sure to discover the real reason for the season. Merry Christmas.


By Julie Paysen

It’s hard to ignore the recent challenges of recent days. Whether it be from a global perspective in the devastation from hurricanes in Puerto Rico, or a National standpoint with disastrous flooding in Texas and Florida. Or random shootings at a public gathering of thousands at a concert in Nevada. What was supposed to be a fun and entertaining night on the town, ended in sheer terror. And just this week, small town USA was attacked, a little church where 50 gathered to worship last Sunday morning, only to be gunned down instead. And in our own hometown as the past few months have been riddled with heartbreak in what appears to be the senseless loss of life of our loved ones. Lives taken seemingly way too soon. Our own Toccoa Falls College just this week hosted a memorial service of the 40th anniversary of the dam break and flood at Toccoa Falls in 1977. That was a life altering event in this community still evident, even after so many years. All so tragic and often hard to understand.

As the season of Thanksgiving is upon us, we naturally reflect on the things for which we are grateful.  We live in a community full of reasons to be thankful.

Though at times it’s hard to be thankful when there is so much tragedy all around us, when we personally fall on hard times or see the ones we love suffering. However, it is often in the difficult times of life when we are drawn closer together and closer to Almighty God as we are reminded that we are not in control, but we are comforted to know that He is in control.

It’s been said, true character is revealed not by life’s circumstances but by how we handle those circumstances. What I have seen time and time again in Toccoa-Stephens County is when tragedy strikes, we come together. Whether it directly affects our community or those in a neighboring state or country! We consistently respond with an outpouring of love. Toccoa steps up! 

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I am and continue to be so grateful to be part of this community. I have always said that it’s the people of Toccoa-Stephens County that make this community different and the same is true today! We rally around those who are hurting and reach out to those in need. A very special, heartfelt “Thank you” to all who donated time and money to the cause and to those took the time to bring supplies that filled two truckloads that we delivered to Texas and Florida this fall for hurricane disaster relief, individuals and companies alike. Coming together, meeting the needs of others. Many of us have before been in a place of need how that life experience has lead us to want to be part of blessing someone else in need. What a beautiful picture of The Church, together in one accord…helping others, sharing Hope. What a joy to be just a small part of how the Lord chooses to faithfully provide for our every need. How grateful I am to live in Toccoa-Stephens County, a community that comes together for those in need. Thankful.


The Total Eclipse is happening and the people are coming to Toccoa!

By Julie Paysen

If you hadn’t heard it on the streets of Toccoa, you have now heard it on regional and national news. The total eclipse of the sun is happening over Toccoa August 21st, 2017.

This is certainly an unprecedented event which makes it a bit of a challenge for which to prepare. Though it has been a topic in many of our local meetings for almost two years, it’s still hard for many of us to imagine the number of visitors that are projected to converge on our little town August 21st of this month.

But here is our chance to make a wonderful first impression on the potentially thousands of visitors who will be headed this way.

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A Community Standing Together

By Julie Payson

In difficult times, our great community pulls together. As you certainly are aware our small town has been hit hard over the past few weeks. One tragedy after another it seems right in our own backyard. Tragedy reveals the true character of a community. When I was growing up in north Atlanta, there was a strong sense of community. People rallied around in support whether it was in celebration of a new life, or the joining of two families in marriage, anniversaries, retirements or if in sorrow to share the pain and help carry the burden of grief.

Caught up in the busy-ness of our culture today that sense of community seems to have slowly faded away. But not in Toccoa! We are a community that is generous in compassion. We do life like family in this Small Town, USA setting. We celebrate the success of one another. We come together under the Friday Night Lights to cheer on our team, we gather at concerts on Main Street and for many community events and celebrate life in Stephens County. In that same vein, we also come together to support one another in times of tragedy and loss. We are a community that carries our wounded.

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For the families hit so hard by illness or tragedy it is such a comfort to be surrounded by friends, family and the community who will help carry and walk alongside them as they face the difficult journey ahead. As I often say and so firmly believe, the people of Toccoa-Stephens County is what sets this town apart. Our Community = Common Unity. We are a community that understands the big picture. There is more to this life than just the day-to-day routine. We are family, in good times and in difficult times. We must take the time to invest in those around us. Because one day, we will be the ones in need of that support. And when you’ve been on the receiving end of that love and support, you have a new appreciation for it. I am so thankful to live in a community full of friends and neighbors who love and care for one another.

I and humbled and grateful that as a community we still recognize the sovereignty of our Almighty God. I am praying for His continued blessings on the people of this community as we are faithful to be His hands and feet as we care for each other, help our neighbors walk life’s difficult path and simply do life together. Life is different here, in such a good way.  I reflect on a line from a recent movie, Heritage Falls, filmed right her in our town. It so applies to our Toccoa, “we are a team, we are family, we are one!”

County Line Showing!

By Julie Paysen

The Historic Ritz Theatre at The Schaefer Center will
host the first theatrical release of INSP Films “County Line”.

INSP Films has chosen Toccoa, GA, to host the premiere of its newest release, County Line.  The action-packed crime drama was shot in Toccoa in 2016.  Gary Wheeler, Vice President of Original Movies at INSP Films, said “the city of Toccoa provided the perfect backdrop for County Line.” “We needed rural landscapes, a racetrack, a small-town diner, a courthouse and other unique shoot locations.  Toccoa provided these and more.  It’s fitting that the townspeople, many of whom played extras in the film, will be one of the first audiences to see it.”

This is the second film that INSP has shot in Toccoa-Stephens County. The first was Heritage Falls. It premiered in Toccoa last fall. Then just a few months later INSP Films decided to shoot their next movie here as well. The INSP cast and crew were such a delight to work with and were very grateful for the warm welcome they received in our community.

The film industry is booming in Georgia. According to a new report by FilmL.A., “17 feature films shot in Georgia in 2016, beating California as the top location for feature film production and making it the number one filming location in the world! Georgia’s film industry not only shot the most movies but, had some of the highest grossing movies films in the state as well.”

Toccoa-Stephens County is a Camera Ready  Community.  According to the www.Georgia.org website, “Georgia’s Camera Ready Communities program connects film and TV productions with skilled county liaisons across the state to provide local expertise and support.” Being a Camera Ready Community in the State of Georgia helps tremendously when it comes to the exposure that we receive with those in the film industry; and the benefits to our community are many. The dollars that are invested in our community during the many weeks of filming have a definite impact on our local economy. Not to mention the opportunity for our folks to be part of the production as cast members and extras along with the sense of pride that comes to our residents to see our town promoted on the “big screen”.

County Line tells the story of Alden Rockwell, an aging ex-sheriff dealing with the recent death of his wife and forced into retirement after losing a re-election bid.  When his old war buddy, closest friend and neighboring sheriff, Clint Thorne, is shot, Rockwell finds himself in the middle of a non-sanctioned investigation.  Amidst a dangerous threat to his own life, Rockwell refuses to stand by while a ruthless element takes over the town.

Cast in the leading role as Alden Rockwell is Tom Wopat (The Dukes of Hazzard, Longmire, Django Unchained). Sheriff Clint Thorne is played by Jeff Fahey (Texas Rising, Justified, Lost, Under the Dome). Patricia Richardson (Home Improvement, The West Wing) plays the spunky diner owner, Maddie Hall.  Dendrie Taylor (Saving Mr. Banks, Out of the Furnace, True Blood) plays Clint’s straightforward but fiery wife, Jordan Thorne.

INSP Films debuts its newest movie in Toccoa, June 16-18 at the Historic Ritz Theatre @ the Schaefer Center. For show times call or stop by the Chamber of Commerce office and purchase your tickets! They’re going fast! To see the County Line movie trailer, please visit our Visit Toccoa page on Facebook or www.countylinemovie.com.


From All Over the World They Come to Toccoa…

We often take for granted the very things that others see as most amazing. Our natural resources and abundance of history is what helps to make Toccoa beautiful. Last year alone 14,704 visitors walked through the doors of our Welcome Center, located in the historic train depot. Those visitors included residents from all 50 of the United States of America and 27 foreign countries.

We hear all kinds of interesting stories from those who enter our doors. We always ask “Where are y’all from?” And after hearing about their journey, I have often asked, ”Where are y’all headed?” More often than not, I get the response “Right here in Toccoa!” As surprising as that may seem, it’s the truth! Folks from all over the globe set out to make the trek to Toccoa, Georgia to experience the natural beauty of our mountains, lake and rivers, hiking trails and water falls and to visit our Currahee Military Museum.

Last year alone we welcomed visitors into our Welcome Center from:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, China, Dominican Republic, England, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Scotland, South Africa, South Korea, South Wales, Thailand, the United Kingdom and from every State in the U.S.A.

What’s the big draw, you might ask? The Stephens County Historical Society maintains the Currahee Military Museum located in the old train depot where soldiers arrived before they made the five-mile hike to Camp Toccoa. The Museum is the home of photos, documents and memorabilia of World War II, including one of the most popular exhibits which is a horse stable from Aldbourne, England that served as housing for 506th Infantry Regiment, American paratroopers. The stable,17x70 feet long, serves as a reminder of some of the finer living conditions during the war. More than 18,000 paratroopers trained at Camp Toccoa prior to and after D-Day. Also located in the train depot is the Stephens County History Museum full of local exhibits that tell the history of Stephens County for the past 100 years.

The Currahee Military Museum and Toccoa's annual Currahee Military Weekend, (which is the first weekend in October every year) celebrate and preserve the legacy of Camp Toccoa, which took men directly from civilian life to the battlefields of World War II as a new type of soldier called “paratrooper”.

In recent years, Camp Toccoa has become a destination for historians, tour groups, reunions, and especially veterans returning to visit their "home" during training. Currahee Mountain is part of the Piedmont province and rises sharply about 800 feet above its surroundings and is the highest peak in Stephens County Georgia. Adjacent to the Chattahoochee National Forest, Camp Toccoa has become a favorite place for camping, hiking, horseback riding, sightseeing, and to the place to run footraces following the footsteps of the soldiers run of "Three Miles up, Three Miles down" – CURRAHEE!

For more information about Camp Toccoa visit www.CampToccoaatCurrahee.com . For more specifics about the museums call the Stephens County Historical Society at 706-282-5055 or check out the Currahee Military Museum website, www.ToccoaHistory.com. Stop by for a visit, Currahee Military Museum, over 15,000square feet of history, right in our own backyard in Toccoa! See you soon!




From the Eyes of a West Point Mom

From the eyes of a West Point mom…little did I know what was ahead when my son was accepted and signed a letter of commitment with the United States Military Academy – West Point. It was early in his senior year when he made the decision and was accepted. I had always been told that Joey was an exceptional baseball player. I was his mom so of course I was proud but I certainly was far from an expert in baseball. All I knew was that he loved the game and that’s all he ever wanted to do…play Major League Baseball. And from the time he could swing a bat, he played baseball and played it well.

He is my oldest child, with a crew coming up behind him, who practically grew up at the ballfield playing in the dirt with the other younger siblings as their brothers played baseball. The years went on and before I knew it he was talking about where he wanted to play ball in college. He was on many scouts’ radar. But never had we even discussed the possibility of a military academy. Until one day I received a call from his high school coach asking me if we would even consider talking with USMA-West Point. I responded by saying of course, we would consider all options.

To make a long story short, we met the baseball coach from West Point and there was great interest on his part. He encouraged Joey to consider USMA West Point. He made it clear that USMA West Point looks for well-rounded leadership characteristics that will in turn make the strongest leaders. What a compliment to even be considered.

He applied, and it was quite the extensive process. Even though he was being considered to play baseball, he still had to meet all academic requirements and receive a Congressional nomination before being accepted.  At that time, he had to look at the future with the realization that he was always just one injury away from being done with baseball. His thoughts had to be farther down the road. And when the time comes that he is done with baseball, what then? What education will he prefer to have, what will be in his best interest? How will he be best prepared to accomplish what God has created him to do and be?

The decision was clear, apples and oranges, not even a comparison in our book. What a privilege and honor to be accepted into the USMA – West Point. The Academy provides a superb four-year education, which focuses on the leader development of cadets in the academic, military, and physical domains, all underwritten by adherence to a code of honor.

So off to West Point we went to drop him off for “BEAST” – USMA  West Point boot camp. All of a sudden, the parents, friends and family are given just minute or two, literally, to say their good-byes and out the door walked our children, young men and women with the initial goal of becoming Cadets at USMA West Point, looking forward to the day that they would be commissioned as an officer on the US Army!

The United States Military Academy's mission is to educate, train and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the nation as an officer in the United States Army.

After a rigorous four years of balancing the challenge of military training, academics and baseball, that time finally came. Graduation Day! What a celebration! As a mom, I reflected of the challenges and obstacles Joey had faced, the endurance, discipline and dedication he had demonstrated and the fine young man he had become. I am so thankful that he was given the opportunity to be part of the West Point Long Gray Line.

After graduation, the challenge and the commitment continued at a whole new level. Joey is now an Airborne Ranger and Captain in the US Army. He has proudly served his country well. Alongside many others with the same commitment, some of whom paid the ultimate price, he has fought for and defended our freedom on the ground in the Middle East. And from this mom’s perspective, I am forever grateful for their sacrifice, their dedication to protect and defend, and for their love for the people of the United States of America.

This year we are again a proud community in Toccoa-Stephens County as we have two more of our very own who have been accepted into USMA West Point from Stephens County High School. A.J. Howard and Nikhil Patel will be reporting to The Academy in just a few short months. They will be joining another former SCHS Indian, Abigail Vickery, also from Toccoa, who began her military career at West Point in 2015.

To all who have served and to those who currently serve in our U.S. Military, thank you for your commitment to protect and defend the freedoms that we so enjoy in this great Country. May God continue to bless the United States of America!


Tomorrow's Leaders Have Arrived

One of the best investments any community can make in its future is the development of its future leaders. This month we will celebrate yet another group of leaders as they graduate through Leadership Toccoa-Stephens County, Class of 2017! 

The purpose of the program is to provide emerging leaders both adults and youth with a greater awareness of community issues, needs, services, and resources. Participants will gain insight into ways to exercise meaningful leadership - for the betterment of our community. 

The Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce supports the Leadership Board of Directors as they annually hold an Adult Leadership Class as well as a Youth Leadership Class. Each year full-day sessions are planned from August through February, including graduation.   Although the participants get traditional leadership training, the focus is on the past, present and future of Toccoa-Stephens County and the systems that make it work. The program curriculum was developed by the Fanning Leadership Institute, at the University of Georgia. The Fanning Institute is nationally recognized in the field of community leadership development.

We are blessed to have the support of our local government and business leaders as they volunteer their time and expertise to facilitate each class and invest in the futures of each participant which ultimately strengthens the future of Toccoa-Stephens County. Both the instructors (our local leaders) and the curriculum guide and encourage participants to put into practice the concepts and skills they learned during the program. 

The first session kicks off with a personality profile for each participant and team building challenges. Topics covered in the sessions to follow include Understanding Leadership, Understanding Local Government and Making Group Decisions,

Building Communities Through Collaboration, and Leading Community Change. The participants learn about local government including fire and police protection; social services, civic organizations and community programs; education; the health care industry; and Toccoa-Stephens County legal and political structure.  They take field trips to local businesses and industries and get a behind-the- scenes look at these companies.  They see economic development in the making and create bonds with fellow participants that last a lifetime. 

Each year both the Adult Leadership Class and the Youth Leadership Class take on a community project that they choose to focus their influence and passion. That becomes their first “official” opportunity as a group to make a direct and positive impact on our community. Some of the Leadership Projects in the past include the 1) Development of the Toccoa Walking Trail 2) Leaders and Legacy Recognition Banquet, which raised funding to help our local schools with needed supplies 3) Helping to Promote and Fill the existing need for our local Mentoring Program 4) Partnering with Keep Toccoa-Stephens County Beautiful on local beautification and clean-up projects…and the list goes on.

These Leadership participants groom themselves for leadership positions in their jobs, the local community and the State. The program has alumni in leadership positions at all these levels.  Most say their experiences in this program helped them advance and reach their goals.  Call the Chamber today at 706-886- 2132 for more detailed information and application. 

Strong leadership is key to the future of Toccoa-Stephens County. The Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber takes this charge and opportunity very seriously.

Let's Get on the Team!

Can you believe that the 2016 chapter has closed and the page has turned to another year? Welcome 2017, and we have hit the ground running! What does the turn of a new year mean to you? Have you set specific goals? Are you looking for a fresh start or simply moving on down the road that you’re on because it’s where you are meant to be?

This year called 2017 is a new beginning for all of us on many fronts.  But in the end…we are on the same team!

At this point, it matters not who each of us voted for in the elections… from the President of our great Nation right down to our local leadership. Or whether or not the folks that we voted for actually won. Though I will say, kudos to all who took the time to exercise their right to vote. We must do our part. At this point in the game, the decisions have been made and our leaders have accepted the challenge. Let us be careful to not underestimate the difficult jobs that they face. 

We waste our opportunity to make a difference if we spend our time arguing, grumbling and complaining. Do we all think just alike…of course not! How boring would that be?  Might we have some opposing ideas? Sure. Might we think that things could be handled differently. Sure. We must accept our differences and show respect to one another as we learn to work together to make this world a better place to be.

We are all created with different gifts and strengths that can be used best when we choose to work together to make a positive difference for the common good. Let’s be sure to stay on track and not get distracted bickering amongst ourselves. Don’t be part of the problem…be part of the solution! If we want our Nation, our State and our Community to be the best that it can be, to be most effective and prosperous, then we must all get on board. Join the team and get on the field.

What exactly does that look like in our little town? There are so many places to serve and ways to share your gifts and talents. Find the good things to talk about and to highlight…there are so many! We live in such a wonderful place, nestled here in the foothills of the mountains, full of natural resources, beauty and rich history. That’s a great place to start…

Would you like to invest in the life of a child…be a Mentor…it’s just an hour a week and makes a difference! Find a local charity to volunteer your time. Look into the local opportunities to volunteer at the Chamber, Community Events, The Arts and Community and Downtown Development. The list of ways to be a part and to make a difference is vast. 

Toccoa is a great place to do business and a greater place to do life! Purpose in 2017 to find a way to get on board…join the team! Team Toccoa-Stephens County! There is a place just for you…we need your help!

INSP Films in Toccoa-Stephens County

As we come off the one week a year that as a nation, we come together with hearts of thankfulness. We have so much for which to be thankful. From the freedoms we enjoy in our great Country, our family and friends, to the blessings of this beautiful community called Toccoa!

As our tag line reads…Toccoa means more than Beautiful! What makes our town a community is the people! This has once again been demonstrated as just before Thanksgiving we were blessed to once again be the location for a second movie to be filmed right in our backyard. As the local contact for the Georgia Film Industry, I have had the privilege to be on the front lines of the filming process, twice now. 

INSP Films chose Toccoa-Stephens County to be the home of its next movie, County Line.

According to their recent press release, “County Line tells the story of Alden Rockwell, an aging ex-sheriff dealing with the recent death of his wife and forced into retirement after losing a re-election bid.  When his old war buddy, closest friend and neighboring sheriff, Clint Thorne, is critically shot, Rockwell finds himself in the middle of a non-sanctioned investigation.  Amidst a dangerous threat to his own life, Rockwell refuses to stand by while a ruthless element takes over the town.

Cast in the leading role as Alden Rockwell is Tom Wopat (The Dukes of Hazzard).  Sheriff Clint Thorne will be played by Jeff Fahey (Texas Rising, Lost).  The movie also features Patricia Richardson, (Home Improvement, The West Wing) who plays the spunky diner owner, Maddie Hall” and Grant Goodeve (Eight is Enough) , newly elected Sheriff.

The making of this movie was much more action packed and labor intensive than Heritage Falls (the INSP movie previously filmed in Toccoa-Stephens County earlier this year). The cast was much larger, the need for special effects and props was much greater and required much organization, cooperation and support from the community. Once again, the people of Toccoa stepped up, with smiling faces and generous attitudes excited to be involved and help in any way possible.

As our town came together again and rallied to the call, whether it be for extras in the movie, vehicles used as props, law enforcement services, City and County organizations, and local business owners, the people of Toccoa helped to make it happen! And we will reap the benefits and see that sacrifice brings progress, humility brings favor and unity brings prosperity.

Let us be careful not tomove too quickly from a time of Thanksgiving to the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. Let’s continue to be grateful for the blessing of living in a community where people care about one another and come together to accomplish the task at hand! Let’s celebrate the true meaning of the season, the birth of Jesus! Merry Christmas to all!

A Picture of Community

Toccoa is more than beautiful… it is the picture of community! A community that rallies around those in need. My heart was so blessed to see this demonstrated just a few weeks ago when the need arose in South Carolina for victims of Hurricane Matthew.

The little town of Nichols, S.C. sits between the Pee Dee River and the Lumber River. Soon after the hurricane, the rivers rose and the levy broke. The people of Nichols, S.C. had only a thirty minute warning to evacuate.

Governor Nicky Haley has since condemned the entire community. Including a 3 year old school, churches, businesses, residential homes …all destroyed. Entire contents of the homes and buildings from furniture to insulation has now been cleaned out and hauled to the street for pick-up. Everything was lost and the people were all displaced. The drinking water has all been compromised.

There was and still is, such great need.

The Lord placed this burden on the heart of my husband, Steve Paysen - P230 Foundation (www.P230.org) and he made a plea to our community to help us fill a 53 ft. tractor trailer with clean folded clothes, food, and water. And with only a 2-day notice…Toccoa-Stephens County showed up. In just a matter of a few hours, we filled that truck with HOPE for the people of another community that we do not know but we did know that they needed our help.

I was so blessed to hear the stories of so many who donated. People of all walks of life and backgrounds, from the “haves” to the “have nots” across this great community, people gave what they could give. From a small grocery bag of clothes, to pick-up truck loads of clean, folded clothes…some still warm from the dryer…were delivered. It was non-stop all day.

The people of Toccoa-Stephens County came together to make a difference in the lives of people we don’t even know. It took this village to get it done. So together with P230, Hemphill Trucking, Quality Foods, Ebenezer Baptist Church, local business leaders and the people of this community, we filled that truck with supplies to meet the needs of the residents of Nichols, S.C. and in doing so, we sent the message of HOPE right along with it!

I have always said that it’s the people of Toccoa-Stephens County that make this community different and this is just one more example of just that! A very special, heartfelt “Thank you” to all who took the time to wash and fold clothes, bag and box them up, donate time and money to the cause, and shared personal stories of how you have before been in a place of need how the experience has lead you to want to be part of blessing someone else in need.

What a joy to be just a small part of how the Lord chooses to faithfully provide for our every need. How grateful I am to live in a community that comes together for those in need.

Community At Its Best!

As I reflect over this past weekend…Currahee Military Weekend 2016…the word that comes to mind is COMMUNITY!

As a few thousand people took part in the celebration it took the core of our community to make the experience great! The Stephens County Historical Society and Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce, along with Main Street Toccoa teams worked for months in preparation for this annual event. The City of Toccoa and Stephens County teams worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure the details were handled and the first impressions for our visitors was a positive one! And the countless volunteers that poured out of the woodworks in support of the weekend full of activities was unbelievable!


Main Street Toccoa hosted the “The Story of Joe Beyrle, WWII” Thursday evening at the Historic Ritz Theatre to officially kick off the weekend! Followed by the Annual Chamber BBQ which was held again this year at the National Guard Armory Hall. The “cooking crew” headed up by Tommy Moon and Burt Holmes got started at the Elks Lodge and EMT BBQ pits before 5am to successfully cook 1000 chicken halves. I showed up with biscuits for the teams around 7am and they were all having a blast and getting the job done! The chicken was delivered to the armory by 9:30am. Where they were greeted by more volunteers to pack the 1000 boxes, then deliver 700 plates throughout the town and serve the remaining 300 in the Armory Hall. All well planned and a smooth operation by Melvia Lynn Dickinson, Ashley Sharpe and The Chicken Team of volunteers!


We then rolled right into the Annual USO Swing Dance at the Armory where we were joined by 325 wonderful friends and neighbors dressed in vintage attire all dancing the night away! The David Fry Band and The Freedom Belles provided our live entertainment. The Civil Air Patrol, VFW and Stephens County Middle School PTO all served up refreshments. Marilyn Hall was the Hostess and Organizer for the event and did a wonderful job again delivering a night of enjoyment and great memories. Leaving us all looking forward to next year!


We rose up early Saturday morning to the Currahee Challenge 5k and 10k up Currahee Mountain. The event was organized by Craig and Melvia Lynn Dickinson and hosted 250 runners who participated from all across the country. The weather cooperated this year and it was a perfect fall day in Georgia. We were welcomed by another group of early bird volunteers who helped with registration, water stations, refreshments and awards. We started the morning off with prayer and a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem sung by Shauna Fortson, which brought cause for reflection on the very reason we are able to gather freely because of all who have gone before us fighting for our freedom.

The day of celebration continued with a parade down Main Street and Opening Ceremonies hosted by our Historical Society. Toccoa was lined with visitors enjoying the WWII Reenactors, Veterans Book Signing, and Memorabilia Show. We gathered again that evening at the Armory Hall as the Historical Society hosted their Annual Veterans Banquet. The evening was full of acknowledgement and appreciation for those who trained here in WWII and for our Toccoa soldiers. 4-Star General David Petraeus was the Guest of Honor and spoke to a full room of patrons. It was a wonderful evening hosted by Lyn Hack and Brenda Carlan for the Stephens County Historical Society and all who pitched in to help.

We wrapped the 16th Annual Currahee Military Weekend with the Remembrance Service held at Camp Toccoa, Parachute Infantry Regimental Memorial, which was well attended as we paid tribute. In 1942, the U.S. Government acquired a site in Toccoa, Georgia, where a new type of soldier, the paratrooper, was trained. Some 18,000 soldiers of the 501 st , 506 th , 511 th and 517 th Parachute Infantry Regiment trained at Camp Toccoa during World War II. This is our history of which we are so proud!

This weekend we saw the fruit of the collaborative efforts of or City and County governments, the extensions of those entities, the Chamber of Commerce, the Historical Society, the businesses in our town and the residents all working together to promote Toccoa-Stephens County, all that we have to offer and the history that we hold so dear.