GALLERY: AACC presents ‘The Greatest Show’ in honoring businesses, membership

Published 11:00 am Saturday, February 10, 2024

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The Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated its membership and the successes of 2023 during its annual banquet held Thursday night at the Kiwanis Community Center.

With a theme of “The Greatest Show,” guests were welcomed to the event by a variety of circus-themed performers from Flying with Ease. The program featured the presentation of the chamber’s annual awards, including businesses of the year, student and teacher of the year, and community service awards.

Chamber Executive Director Mellisa King introduced the organization’s board members, including recognizing 2023 chamber president Jennifer McClung. She also spoke on the successes of the chamber, from organizing the 10th year of Candyland and expanding the chamber membership.

“Thanks to the hard work and dedication of our board and volunteers our programs have been more successful than ever,” King said. “As a chamber, let’s continue to strive for excellence in everything we do and stay committed to our mission of serving our members and the community. We thank everyone for their support and together we will continue to make a difference for those we serve.”

Serving as the guest speaker was LBW Community College President Dr. Brock Kelley, who tied the circus theme to the culture of business.

“The circus began with one big dream and every business begins with one dream,” Kelley said. “Additionally, every successful business embraces innovation. When you look at what makes the circus so great is that they embrace innovation … a circus has something for everyone. The third thing, and perhaps the most important, is that family is home. In the circus, the family lives and travels together. They work together. They fail together. In the end they all come together as family and call it home.”

After recognizing the 2023 Board of Directors and incoming members to the board, AACC Director of Membership Services Maggie Holmes presented the chamber’s annual education awards. After recognizing all the nominees, the award was presented to Tyler Zessin, a physical education teacher at W.S. Harlan Elementary School. He also serves as the head baseball coach for Florala High School.

The award for Student of the Year went to Andalusia High School senior Ava Tomberlin, who has a 4.3 grade point average and serves as class president, vice president of the Student Government Association and Covington County Youth Leadership Program, National Honor Society president, Key Club secretary and vice president, Subdeb secretary, cross country captain, Girls’ State Federalist Party chairman, and is on the Principal’s Student Advisory committee. She received the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Award, finished as first alternate in both Distinguished Young Women of Covington County and the Alabama Rural Electric Association Youth Tour’s contest, and obtained the highest average in English Composition and Honors English 10. She is a City of Andalusia ambassador, the present homecoming queen, and a Meredith’s Miracles junior director.

Business awards were presented in three categories, based on size. The Small Business of the Year Award was presented to Outlaw Realty. The award was accepted by Barry and Mary Alyce Outlaw. Outlaw Realty was recognized for its support of many community programs as well as sponsorship of multiple chamber events and programs.

“Outlaw Realty takes pride in giving back to the local community. The business paid three months’ rent for the Full Tummy Project of Covington County and has volunteered in packing bags for lunches on Tuesdays. Outlaw sponsors and donates to the Rotary Club’s annual World Championship Domino Tournament and provided numerous other donations, including to the Pilots for Christ, the Veterans Honor Flight and the Andalusia Humane Society,” King said in presenting the award.

The Mid-Sized Business of the Year Award was presented to Step One Automotive. The auto dealership with three locations in Andalusia was recognized for its growth and community projects.

“Step One Nissan Andalusia and Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Andalusia celebrated its grand opening with a ribbon cutting by the Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce in June 2023. There was a large turnout on hand for the event with door prizes and other special giveaways offered. Step One Automotive Group has collectively donated over $75,000 back into our community during the past year,” King said.

The Large Business of the Year Award was presented to CDG, Inc.

“CDG has been a longtime supporter of the chamber and participates in numerous organizations and events throughout the city, including July Jamz as a Pole Banner sponsor, the Chamber’s Clean and Green Initiative, the Chamber Classic Golf Tournament, and the chamber banquet as a platinum sponsor,” King said. CDG also supports Meredith’s Miracles, Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, the Rotary Club’s World Championship Domino Tournament, Pilot Club, LBW Community College’s Saints on Stage variety show, LBW’s golf tournament, the Full Tummy Project of Covington County’s golf tournament, Andalusia City Schools, Straughn High School, Andalusia Office Professionals Association, Covington County Child Advocacy Center, Andalusia Ballet Association, and Angel of Hope.”

Three Community Service Awards were presented, including the Business of the Year-Community Service, Distinguished Citizen of the Year, and the Chamber Board President’s Award.

The Community Service Award for businesses was presented to All In Credit Union.

“All in Credit Union promotes community service and involvement through their work. They sponsor and volunteer at chamber events. Last year, All In sponsored and volunteered at the Chamber Classic Golf Tournament and volunteered for the Full Tummy Project of Covington County. At July Jamz, All In sponsored the Foam Frenzy machine and had representatives on hand each week to oversee the attraction for children. At Christmas in Candyland, All In volunteered for “Cocoa with Characters” and ran a booth giving away free cocoa. All In is a wonderful business in the community that strives to get their employees plugged into their community.”

The Distinguished Citizen of the Year Award was presented to Kiley Spears. An Andalusia native, Spears serves as the executive director for Meredith’s Miracles, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families with sick children with travel expenses.

“Kiley’s concept, Cookies with Characters, started out with 15 characters for children to meet and enjoy and has increased to over 90 characters in 2023. The event raised over $106,000 in 2023, the largest amount raised for the organization to date. Meredith’s Miracles has served 2,586 families since 2006. Meredith’s Miracles is involved with Christmas in Candyland, providing the very successful ‘Characters in Candyland’ shows and everyone’s favorite holiday event ‘Cocoa with Characters,’ bringing thousands to Andalusia. Kiley coordinates and orchestrates both of these additions to Candyland each year,” King said.

The President’s Award was presented to Michele Gerlach, Communications Director and Grant Writer for the City of Andalusia. Gerlach serves as the secretary for the Covington Veterans Foundation and was the driving force for bringing the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to Andalusia and serves an important role in the veterans’ memorial banners displayed throughout the city each November for Veterans Day.

“Michele is very active in the civic life of Andalusia. She coordinates special projects and grants for the City of Andalusia, which have included the splash pad and Miracle League. Her ability to get things done is unmatched. She is always willing to help and is the driving force behind every successful endeavor. The city would not have the visibility it currently has without Michele. She truly lives the motto, ‘Love where you live’,” King said.

Also participating in the banquet was Adrianna Carpenter who performed the National Anthem and the invocation was provided by Eric Mancil.