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CELEBRATING NEWTON'S BEST: 2020 Visions award winners honored one year later
2020 Visions winners
From left are 2020 Visions award winners Michael Whatley, Crystal Little, Clara Lett and Shannon Buff. Not shown are award winners David Bauer of Arbor Equity and Ava Jane Teasley. - photo by Mason Wittner

COVINGTON, Ga. — Shannon Buff waged a fierce battle with cancer in recent years but it never stopped her from being one of Newton High School’s top supporters and cheerleaders. 

“Obviously, I feel like God brought me through this,” said Buff, in her fourth year as the school’s principal. 

“I’m hopeful he will use me to continue to serve the students of Newton High School and the community,” she said.

Buff was among the honorees during a reception hosted by The Covington News for the 2020 winners of the newspaper’s annual Visions awards Thursday, April 29, at The Reserve at Hendricks in Covington.

Award winners for 2020 included:

• Shannon Buff, Community Spirit Award;

• Arbor Equity, Employer of the Year;

• Ava Jane Teasley, Youth of the Year;

• Clara Lett, Unsung Hero;

• Crystal Little, Unsung Hero; 

• Michael Whatley, Unsung Hero.

Publisher and Editor Taylor Beck of The Covington News told the crowd at the event that the awards, and the annual Visions publication featuring the winners’ stories, are part of the newspaper’s “yearly celebration of the community it calls home.”

The newspaper was unable to host its 2020 awards celebration due to COVID-19 so it decided to host two years of award winners in one reception Thursday.

“Each year, we choose a theme to mold our magazine around. In 2020, it was ‘Simply the Best’ to show what makes Newton County such a special place to ‘live, work and play,’” he said.

Buff had previously served as a teacher and assistant principal at the school.

She served a four-year stint as a school system administrator before being named principal in 2017. 

Her diagnosis of cancer came in 2019 but her final treatment was April 10.

Buff said she was “humbled” by the award that honored her for working to lead the school through her cancer treatments.

“Even now, hearing those words was incredibly moving,” she said.

“I love my kids. I love my teachers. I love the faculty. I’m very grateful and thankful (that) God allowed us all to be together again — my husband, my daughter and my son’s at college.

“I’m very blessed and very humbled,” Buff said.

Beck also told the crowd about other award winners’ community service.

He said Arbor Equity President David Bauer’s “hands-on approach” and working as part of a team “has allowed him to grow it from a basement business into a flourishing tree service.” 

“As the company has expanded, it has also become a partner with Newton County Schools’ College and Career Academy, and recruited locals to join the business,” Beck said.

Clara Lett “is a minister in every form of the word,” Beck said. 

Lett leads the operation of Newton County’s homeless shelter, pastors Rainbow Covenant Ministries, and has ministered professionally for more than 28 years — allowing her to help an estimated 40,000 people since 2001. 

“She’s also played a big role in Porterdale’s Meals on Wheels program,” he said.

Crystal Little founded the Ride for Roxy Foundation and raised $35,000 through four charity motorcycle rides to help her mother, Roxanne Hall. 

“The focus quickly moved from helping breast cancer patients to several types of cancer patients, victims of motorcycle accidents and other types of diseases,” Beck said.

Hall died of the disease in 2019 but Little carries on with Ride for Roxy to honor her mother’s legacy and provide hope for those who feel all is lost, Beck said.

Whatley served four terms on the Covington City Council and on various boards, including the State Board of Water and Wastewater Certification after being appointed by former Gov. Sonny Perdue. 

“Whatley played an instrumental role in the redevelopment of the downtown area and planning for inevitable growth across the city,” Beck said.

Teasley, a student at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, found her passion for community service through her family and church, Beck said. 

“She has displayed this passion through a variety of ways, and many have taken notice,” he said.

Through her leadership and service, Teasley hopes to inspire other youth, Beck said.