By Beth Volpert Johansen
SNELLVILLE - Technically speaking, the 30039 zip code is officially considered Snellville, but most people identify the area as Centerville.
More than just a five digit number, the Centerville Branch of the US Postal Service was established through a group of citizens who lived in Gwinnett County, but had Lithonia/Dekalb County addresses. While the actual name, Centerville, GA was already an incorporated city, tradition prevailed and 30039 was dubbed Centerville Branch in Snellville, GA. (source: Retired Postmaster, Tina Handrop).
Centerville is home to a variety of businesses and the Shiloh Cluster of Gwinnett County Public Schools. The community center and library are central to the daily buzz of activity that serves residents from babies to seniors. With its own business association, Centerville is on top of new building and vacant properties ready for new tenants. A country club with golf club, park space, and local therapeutic horse farms keep the country feeling while busy roadways continue to fuel the local economy. Creative solutions to aging properties, expansions of thriving small businesses, and a closely-knit group of clergy define Centerville as a true community, not just a zip code.
Recently, the Centerville Business Association hosted a breakfast meeting featuring Nick Masino, Sr. VP of Economic Development & Partnership Gwinnett, who spoke about the vitality of the area. Mark Foote, Director of the CBA and owner of Shane’s BBQ was pleased with the presentation and looked forward to welcoming new businesses to the area. “We get together every other month to network and support local businesses,” says Mark. “During the holidays, we coordinate efforts for families in need.” Foote is not only a local business owner, but has been a resident for well over 20 years. “We are sort of a lost area of the county without a city,” says Foote. “Having the post office with our own zip code is good for the area.” CBA member, Enid Grigg agrees that having a Centerville Branch of the USPS, even though the area is considered Snellville helps to identify Centerville as its own community. “Here in our own part of Snellville, we are somebody too,” says Enid paraphrasing a popular Snellville tag line.
Right: Dr. Danyel Dollard, new principal at Shiloh High School is all on board with supporting the community’s team, The Shiloh Generals.
Like most communities, Centerville identifies itself with the local high school. The Shiloh Generals have a new principal and several new assistants this year. With so many newly hired staff it might seem reasonable for an identity to suffer. Not so with the Generals says Principal Dr. Danyel Dollard. “As a cluster, we are a hub of seven schools that are very closely connected,” says Dr. Dollard. “I have found there is a strong sense of community pride here and we try to incorporate the identity of being a General from the earliest grades through the high school.” Dr. Dollard points to the academy structure of the schools as a way to stay connected to the community. “Through our project-based learning, students learn about business and the arts in our community,” says Dr. Dollard. “What is happening in our schools is global and students get to see and experience this within the programs we offer.”
In addition to the academy learning structure, the school is well-connected to the community through the tradition of sports. Friday nights in the fall are very much like any other Gwinnett County school with football, cheer, and marching band highlighting the night under the lights. “For me, as a first year principal here it has been very exciting,” says Dollard. “We have a very positive atmosphere, our team plays hard, our cheerleaders and band are phenomenal.” Dr. Dollard is aware that she is central to a tradition and has found Shiloh High School and the Centerville community to be very welcoming.
Traditionally, the local library has been an anchoring institution in a community and the Centerville Branch is no different. Identified by the tall brick silo, the library shares its building with the Centerville Community Center which houses a variety of programs and serves the community’s seniors until the new local senior center is built.
Left: Leona Swafford enjoys the iPad in the specially designed children’s area of the Centerville Branch of the Gwinnett County Public Library.
Centerville Library Branch Manager, Leigh Skowronski is one of the area’s biggest cheerleaders and takes great pride in the materials, equipment, software, and programs available for all ages. Unlike some branches who have occasionally reported trouble with the teenage population, Leigh welcomes the group and provides project tables and appropriate software for accomplishing assignments. “We have lots of communal areas and we get groups of students who are working together on projects,” says Leigh. “We also offer a traditional quiet area for those who need it.” Assistant Librarian, Radha Ashok loves to find and provide a variety of resources for library patrons. “Our library is a real hidden gem,” says Radha. “It is still about the book, but it is so much more than that.”
Offering something for everyone is part of Leigh’s goal at the library and that includes the little ones. Early Literacy Library Associate, Yesenia Gutierrez looks forward to story time. With a background in Pre-K, working with the young ones comes naturally. “They really love to come to hear stories,” says Yesenia. “They also love Mr. Bunny the puppet who is with us every week.” Yesenia and Leigh are working on a bilingual storytime which will reach more children to help form the early building blocks of literacy. Each day is an adventure in the literacy area with plenty of unplugged activities to complement the iPad options that grabbed little Leona Swofford’s attention. “I love it here,” says her mother Hannah. “This is a great library.”
Sharing the building with the library is the Centerville Community Center. Director, Vivian Gaither describes the building as a hub of activity for the community each day. “We opened for service on July 6, 2002,” says Gaither. “Back then, we had about 5000 people and 15 programs; this year, we have about 60 programs and have served about 56,000 people.” The focus of the center is to provide free to low cost programs that support health, wellness, and education. “We collaborate with many non-profits and individuals who have an expertise in an area to provide programs that suit the needs of the community,” says Gaither. “We also offer many senior services that range from financial education to exercise classes.”
Right: Country Club of Gwinnett is located in Snellvilile, 30039
With a thriving community center and library with a small, well-utilized park tucked in behind the building, it should not come as any surprise that Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation has completed a master plan for presentation to the county commission for a 60 acre passive-use park on Hwy 124 at Lee Road. One of the unique aspects of this property is that it offers a very good view of the east face of Stone Mountain. “There is a high point on the property that gives a very different look at Stone Mountain,” says GCP&R Project Administration Director Grant Guess. “Long-range, we would like to have a greenway to connect with the Yellow River Park on Juhan Road.” The park project is still pending SPLOST funding according to Guest and is slated to be voted upon in the near future.
Adding to the green space in the 30039 zip code is the golf course at the Country Club of Gwinnett. The par 72 golf course was built to appeal to advanced as well as beginning players. The semi-private club offers a driving range, putting green, and practice bunker. The Grille Room in the clubhouse has full bar service and seasonal menu. The course is often the site of charity tournaments benefiting different parts of the Centerville community including the Therapeutic Equine Riding Center at Parkwood Farms located nearby. “It is a privilege to host a variety of charity tournaments,” says Taylor Knight, Director of Operations. “We also enjoy watching the high school teams from Shiloh and Parkview practice and play here.” The course and club are open to everyone and draw golfers from throughout the Atlanta area.
Every community is home to a religious representation and Centerville is well represented. Redeemer Church pastor, John Byerly has found the community of pastors in the area to be very accommodating. “Our pastoral network is pretty tightly knit,” says Byerly. “Our churches work well together to serve our community.” This year, Redeemer is sponsoring Have A Heart Centerville with the idea to bring business and churches together for the purpose of training at least 100 people in CPR. The event is slated to take place on October 10th beginning with a 5K/Fun Run. “We have a great sense of oneness here in Centerville,” says Byerly. “There is great unity among our different churches.”
Older neighborhoods all over Gwinnett County have had to deal with the difficulty of maintaining community pools during the recent housing foreclosure crisis and Centerville did not escape without some impact. According to Gwinnett Aquatics Director, Hugh Convery when homes in the Quinn Ridge subdivision were no longer able to support the neighborhood pool and tennis facility, a solution was sought and eventually, the property became the home of Gwinnett Aquatics and is currently managed by Positively Pools. “We have about 100 parents come out each year to manicure the property and maintain the trails behind the covered pool,” says Convery. “We have a year-round competitive swim team, teach 400-500 lessons a year, and provide stroke clinics.” With that kind of activity and support, the pool remains well-maintained instead of an empty facility.
One other empty space which is of community concern used to house the Ingles Grocery store. Managed by Theresa Wilmot, the property has stood empty for about a year. “We are currently working on a very good prospect for the space,” says Wilmot who has managed the 52,000 sq ft property for more than 20 years. “We have had several showings and a few interested, but we think we have a good user for that space that would help the community-I’d like to see if we can make this happen.” Wilmot added that she has several prospects to help fill the other empty spaces that surround the popular neighborhood gathering spot, El Jinete. “They are an extremely good tenant and are a plus to leasing the remainder of the shopping center.”
Another gem in the 30039 is the Yellow River. It flows through the 70 acres of Vecoma at the Yellow River, a beautiful event facility tucked into the woods just off Ross Road as well as the Yellow River Park off of Juhan Road. Vecoma's event hall opens to a broad porch overlooking the Yellow River. A granite outcropping is the perfect place for wedding party or reunion photos as the Sugar Maples reflect their vibrant colors in the background. “We love being here and celebrating with brides and providing a relaxing atmosphere for events,” says Judith Warren, President. “The photos taken here with the reflections of nature are among our clients’ favorites.”
With many established businesses like Shane’s, El Jinete, and the booming big box, Walmart thriving in the 30039 zip code, it is no wonder that smaller restaurants like Good II The Bone BBQ are ready to expand into the empty space next door. Owners Michael and Simone Jones have also begun offering a Sunday Brunch to accommodate their growing clientele. “Our dining room is open for special events and brunch which is served family style,” says Simone. “We have embraced Psalm: 133 which talks of unity and brotherly love; we want to provide a place in the style of Mrs. Wilkes’ restaurant in Savannah where people eat together and talk in a nice atmosphere to build relationships.”
Overall, the 30039 zip code is alive and well with a vibrant community and strong sense of pride in the area’s schools. With The Generals, Centerville Community Association, and supportive churches providing a structure for the population of 30039, the once “lost” part of Gwinnett now has an identity all its own.