Local Makers - Irene Barton
East Cobb Citizen of the Year
Each year, the Cobb Chamber names a "Citizen of the Year." The winner is someone whose impact is everywhere—someone who spent 2023 making East Cobb better. No truer words can be said for Irene Barton. Day in and day out, Irene relentlessly serves her fellow citizens, neighbors and friends through countless roles and endless efforts.
As Executive Director of the Cobb Collaborative, a collective of organizations and individuals determined to meet the needs of Cobb County, Irene has a chance to make a difference every day. And she does.
Since becoming Executive Director five years ago, Irene quadrupled Cobb Collaborative's budget, launched a Connecting Cobb Veterans program, forged new partnerships, trained and educated thousands through her Mind Your Mind campaign, brought books to children and families across the county and grew membership.
“The needs of our Cobb County residents vary, which makes our work at the Collaborative always evolving and interesting,” says Irene. “During 2023, we brought mental health and resiliency-focused programming to schools and faith communities, parenting workshops to early learning centers, and supported the placement of Little Free Libraries in East Cobb.”
Her work is reflected in countless ways: through her voice on the Mind Your Mind podcast, reducing the stigma around mental health; through her touch lingering on Little Free Libraries everywhere visited by children and parents daily; and through her face, which almost anyone recognizes as a symbol of deep community involvement and long-lasting legacy.
Local Makers - Bonnie Buckner Reavis
Marietta Citizen of the Year
According to Marietta's Citizen of the Year, Bonnie Buckner, "We are fortunate to live in a community that appreciates the arts and their importance. Public art plays a pivotal role in stimulating economic development within a community by attracting visitors, fostering cultural tourism, and enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal of public spaces."
Self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur and owner of multiple event spaces and a marketing firm, Bonnie is a maker in every sense of the word. Downtown Marietta's celebration of the arts is due, in part, to her endeavorous spirit.
Her appreciation for all forms of self-expression started with Zenith Design Group, the firestarter’s creative marketing and advertising firm and first conquest. Named a Top 25 Small Business of the Year by the Cobb Chamber and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Zenith's success fueled Bonnie's next undertaking, The Brickyard.
The timeless space on Marietta Square hosts hundreds of occasions and thousands of newcomers to the city. At The Loft, The Brickyard's recent expansion, Bonnie displays works from hundreds of emerging and established artists from metro Atlanta and beyond.
If her business concepts, artwork displays and downtown innovations aren't enough, Bonnie is at the helm of Marietta's art-enriching efforts as Executive Director of the Marietta Arts Council. Her mission is not only to paint but also to sculpt, build, design and decorate the streets of Marietta until every corner is adorned.
Local Makers - Jay Cunningham
james L. Rhoden, Jr. Award for Visionary Philanthropy Recipient
Superior Plumbing founder Jay Cunningham is setting a philanthropic example for local and regional businesses across the State. Both his and his company's names appear at festivals and on buildings, boards and committees all over East Cobb.
The Cobb Community Foundation President Kim Gresh presented Jay with the James L. Rhoden Jr. Award for Visionary Philanthropy for his significant contributions to the community.
In 2018, the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta opened its new Town Center Outpatient Care Center, named the Cunningham Family Building, in honor of Jay's generous gift. A gift that brought a new sports medicine gym, outpatient rehabilitation programs, orthotics and prosthetics, and pediatric specialists to the Cobb community.
Jay's other contributions have created two initiatives that support local veterans and their families, a cause near and dear to him. Superior Plumbing's VECTR Center, another development funded by Jay, functions as a career and counseling support center for veteran students, while Superior Pets has been housing pets and putting smiles on the faces of veteran families for years.
Shari Martin, President and CEO of the Cobb Community Foundation was a part of the board that selected Jay for the honor. "Behind that yellow and blue Superior Plumbing logo is a man with a huge heart that has a special place for children, particularly those with special needs and veterans," says Shari. "Jay understands that a symbiotic relationship between business and community is good for us all."