By Lisl Huber and Jess Liddick, Grants Committee

As a group composed solely of volunteers, we dedicate ourselves to promoting a vibrant community spirit, furthering the common good, general welfare, and interests of all residents. We are thrilled and humbled that VHCA’s active community contributions this year tally up not only in volunteer hours, but also in our ability and choice to give directly to a few of the many institutions that make our neighborhood wonderful. In total, $19,000 in 2022 has been donated to these organizations:
Since 2007, VHCA has donated $295,641 to local schools, nonprofits, Aaron Gross Community Award winners, and community members working to enhance the community. Of that $295,641, $145,300 was donated to local schools. We welcome our latest addition, the Virginia-Highland Elementary School, who joins the list of local schools to whom VHCA has donated: Springdale Park PTO, David T. Howard Middle School Foundation and PTO, Midtown High School Foundation, as well as the Midtown High School College and Career Center. Additionally, the YWCA of Greater Atlanta continues to be an incredible gem in our community, for their care of our young ones in the Early Learning Academy, allowing VHCA to use their property to support events, and their advocacy to eliminate racism and empower women. Lastly, we are gratified to be able to support Virginia-Highland Security Patrol’s efforts to install license plate readers as well.

Volunteer willpower to organize and host events has provided funding for us to be able to give back to the community in a meaningful way. VHCA has an elected, volunteer board of 11, and an additional 18 folks who carry the load of day-to-day committees like Parks, Planning, Historic Preservation, etc. On top of that, VHCA’s events including Summerfest, Virginia-Highland Tour of Homes, the Concert in the Park Series, Movies in the Park, VaHi-loween, and the FS19 Fire-House-Warming with Santa, demand more volunteer hours than we could ever count. By and large, it is these events which raise money. Whether you buy a ticket at the Tour of Homes or a race number for Summerfest, you can feel good about where the money is going. We will post VHCA’s income and expenses for the year in January 2023 once the books close and encourage you to take a look. 

For 2022, $0.93 of every dollar raised by VHCA, including Summerfest and Tour of Homes, goes back into the community directly. This includes covering the cost of events, park maintenance and improvements for our four community parks, planning consultation to guide the handful of significant proposed developments, and (most thrilling for us) direct grants.  

With the hectic holidays, it’s easy to get swept away with events, parties, decorating, gifts, and the like. But we pause now to thank you. Your support of VHCA events, whether through attendance, volunteering, or simply being flexible around the logistics is deeply appreciated. Everyone in our community has a part in the story of Virginia-Highland, and we recognize all that you do to make Virginia-Highland one of the best places to live.
By: Planning Committee

Last Monday, 12/12, members of the VHCA met with officials from the Atlanta Botanical Garden to discuss the proposed storage facility on 1011 Monroe Dr & 597 Cooledge Ave, how it can take into consideration the needs and values of our neighborhood, and cement Atlanta Botanical Garden’s legacy as a great institution and valuable partner. We informed Atlanta Botanical Garden of the following concerns, which we identified as being universal among neighbors:
  1. Slowing down the permit application process to allow for ample feedback collection on behalf of the VHCA and all neighbors
  2. The removal or limitation of access to Cooledge Avenue, especially for large trucks.
  3. Ensuring the new facility incorporates aesthetically pleasing aspects. This includes the removal of bright orange signage, the addition of a Virginia-Highland related mural, and building a facade that matches the surrounding homes.
  4. Ground-level activation, specifically of a small, local business that will bring life to this corner of the neighborhood.
  5. Inclusion of an Atlanta Botanical Garden created, garden-like concept to the facility, such as a green, "living wall” that will beautify the neighborhood and cement Atlanta Botanical Garden’s legacy as a valuable institution in the city.
The Atlanta Botanical Garden has agreed to slow down the application submission process, with the first permits now scheduled to be submitted on January 30th instead of two weeks from today. They also confirmed that they will be reimagining their plans to include as many of our ideas as possible, and have agreed to future discussions with the VHCA.

Thank you to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Councilman Alex Wan, City of Atlanta Officials, and all concerned neighbors for helping facilitate this productive conversation.

…to Virginia Highland Books!

By Karen-Jane Wright

I have always been a book and bookstore lover– treasure hunting in the used stacks, settling into a corner to browse through reference books, or just people watching in a peaceful setting. When I moved back to Atlanta and saw that a bookstore had gone into the large space on Highland Ave across from Moe's and Joe’s, I was elated. Virginia Highland Books has all the features you’d want in a locally-owned, independent bookstore: cozy atmosphere, great display tables for every taste, comfy seating, kids’ areas, personal recommendations from employees posted up throughout, and a lovely, inspiring owner: Sandra Huff. 

Sadra moved to VaHi from Nebraska in 1991, one week after getting married. It is here she started her family, spending hours walking the charming streets of her new neighborhood and relying on dinners at George’s and Highland Tap with her newborn in tow when too tired to cook. Although her growing family eventually had her move out of VaHi, this neighborhood never left her heart and to be a business owner here years later is a full-circle dream.

I was able to catch Sandra for a quick chat this month, just before the onset of harried shoppers looking for the perfect gift for that special someone (or assigned co-worker in the office white elephant gift exchange).

Voice: Tell me a little bit about how VaHi Books came to be; what was the inspiration?  

Huff: I opened the store in June of 2021. I  Have loved books and indie bookstores my whole life so this is a labor of love. 

Voice: Why VaHi for your store’s location?  

Huff: I had been a stay home mom for 20 years and happened to be in the area for a new calendar, and saw the “For Lease” sign in the window. I immediately thought, "That space should be a bookstore". Could not stop thinking about it and just decided to see if we could make it work. 

Voice: Fate! And so inspiring. Life is long and it’s never too late to leap into a brand-new career or passion-venture. What do you like most about being a business owner in VaHi?

Huff: The neighbors and neighborhood! Everyone is so supportive and kind and we love chatting about what books to read.  

Voice: I love the employee recommendation cards you have throughout the store. Any book or product suggestion for a universal gift, like a workmate you don't know well, or a white elephant exchange? 

Huff: Our family are game & puzzle fanatics so my go-to gift is a puzzle or fun game.  We always try to have a great selection of cookbooks as well, perfect for hostess, birthday, shower, wedding and holiday gifts. 

Voice: What other local businesses do you frequent or love?  

Huff: ALL of them! Friday I walked out the door to grab a quick lunch and didn't make it past our next door neighbor, Dakota J's, without making a purchase.

Voice: It is hard to walk by Dakota J’s without popping in. Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know about you or VaHi Books? 

Huff: We are so incredibly thankful to our neighbors for helping to keep this dream alive! You don't open a bookstore for the money, you open it for all those little moments: watching a parent read to their child on our window seat, helping a new reader find a great book, overhearing someone say they love a book you love and then chatting about it.  Each and every interaction is priceless to us and we are grateful each and every day to get to share books with Virginia Highland and all our new friends.
There is truly a book out there for everyone. Independent bookstores offer more than just a place to buy things–they tend to be community gathering spots, hosting author talks, events, book clubs, etc. and VaHi Books does too: They have children’s story time every Tuesday at 10:30am, and an in-store book club which conveniently holds two meetings to discuss the book of the month, to accommodate different schedules.

So get out there VaHi, to Virginia Highland Books and keep it local this shopping season!

Meet Local Author Shelli Johannes

By Karen-Jane Wright

While I was loitering in Virginia Highland Books, I came across local Author Shelli Johannes’ books in the children’s section and recalled that we had a friend in common. I wound up buying 2 of her books for upcoming birthday parties and reached out to pay my compliments and get to know her a bit. 

Voice: You author books for children and teens. Was this a passion from a young age? When did you publish your first book and what was it? 

Johannes: I always wrote when I was younger - mostly poems and short stories. But when I was in 4th grade, I entered an essay contest on “nutrition" for the state of Florida. Instead of an essay, I went against the grain and wrote a children’s book called “How to be a Smart Cookie” about a cookie who wanted to learn how to eat right. And I won! But I did not go on to study writing in college. I have a business degree, a masters degree in Marketing, and worked in Corporate America for a while. When my daughter was born in 2004, I had enough time off and the mental space to start writing again and wrote a novel in my time off. I quit to become a freelance copywriter for various companies like Spanx and Chick-Fil A and continue to write children’s books. 

Now I am the author of 18 books (out and forthcoming) with Penguin and HarperCollins in addition to my five self-published teen novels. My next book coming out is the newest chapter book in Chelsea Clinton’s "She Persisted” series on Florence Nightingale (3/7/23). I am very excited about this project and that it is releasing in National Health Awareness Month, especially after all we have been through these last couple of years.

Voice: How long have you lived in VaHi, and where are you originally from?

Johannes: I moved to Virginia-Highland in 2001 so I’ve been here 20 years - single, engaged, married, and as a mom! I live with my British husband, daughter (18 who goes to UNG) and son (15 who goes to Druid Hills High School). We also have 2 crazy-haired goldendoodles and a super sassy bird named Ziggy.

Voice: What's your favorite thing about living here? 

Johannes: I love how Virginia-Highland feels and looks like a small town. I love all the small businesses and the eclectic personality. I enjoy the people who live in the neighborhood and have loved seeing Virginia-Highland grow and change over the years!

Voice: Favorite VaHi restaurant/shop/business? 

Johannes: Of course, Virginia Highland Books!!! This was the best addition to this neighborhood and something we were really missing! I also love Perk, Highland Tap, and Murphy’s (So basically, I'm addicted to books, coffee, martinis, and flourless desserts. 😀

Voice: Oh, you’re not alone in those ‘addictions’, Shelli. Describe your perfect Saturday. 

Johannes: On the weekend, I love to do anything to do with writing and reading! Author signings, maybe binging Netflix True Crime shows, or watching the Harry Potter movies - over and over. I’m obsessed. During the week, my favorite thing to do is visiting schools and meeting with educators, moms, and book clubs to discuss writing. 

Voice: Are you involved with any local clubs, groups, etc.?

 Johannes: I am part of the neighborhood book club and a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, The Atlanta Writers Club, Georgia Writers Association, Broadleaf Writers (do you see a theme?)

Check out Shelli Johannes’ website for a treasure trove of books, activities, education offerings and more. And the next time you’re stumped on yet another kids’ birthday party gift, wander yourself into VaHi Books and pick up one of Shelli’s–I highly recommend Theo Thesaurus
We’re back, with our hard-hitting, sometimes polarizing Reader Poll! This month I want to hear from families on the very sticky Elf on the Shelf phenomenon. Some creative folks love the tradition and have fun coming up with and sharing new hijinx for their Elves to get into, while others bemoan the nightly obligation, resenting ever getting involved. Some of you may have no idea what I’m talking about - hold on to that blissful ignorance!

So tell us, readers, when it comes to The Elf on the Shelf, are you:
  1. Yes, and we love it!
  2. Yes, and we hate it!
  3. It’s a ‘no’ for my family.
  4. What is an Elf on the Shelf? 
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