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Gateway85 Community Improvement District celebrates immigrant success stories

Cover photo: L to R: Patty Thumann, Manoj Barot, and Von Tran.

Atlanta, GA, October 26, 2023: Gateway85 CID (Community Improvement District), The Atlanta Press Club, Eagle Rock Distributing Company, Global Atlanta and World Affairs Council of Atlanta partnered to present an evening of networking with media and entrepreneurs on Tuesday night.

The mixer/storytelling event with focus on “Our Community of Commerce and Culture” was held on October 17, 2023 at the Eagle Rock Distributing Company.  The event featured personal addresses from CID members representing multiple nationalities and immigrant success narratives by speakers Manoj Barot, President of Smurti Corporation, Founder, MEALS FOR KIDS, Von Tran, founder of First Senior Center, and Patty Thumann with PBJ Media Holdings. The event concluded with a tour of the iconic Eagle Rock studios where series such as the popular Dynasty was filmed.

Emory Morsberger introduces Manoj Barot.

 “The 14-square-mile Gateway 85 CID along the I-85 corridor in western Gwinnett County is home to more than 3,000 businesses and has an annual economic impact of $16.6 billion. It is also one of the most diverse areas in the southeast,” Emory Morsberger, Gateway85 CID Executive Director, said.

“One of the goals of the mixer is to showcase not just immigrant stories of trials and triumphs, but also their contributions and services back to the community,” Shiv Aggarwal, Chairman, Gateway85 CID, Developer/Property Owner, American Management Services, Inc, said.

“I think stories of our lives deserve a mini-Netflix series,” Barot quipped. Presenting a chapter-wise description of his life, Barot said, Chapter 1, his Academic and Research career was short lived. Barot embarked on his US journey to complete his Ph.D. in Cardiac Surgical research. But due to some irregularities in the lab that he was working in, he was transferred to Emory university but had to give it up soon, as his research samples were stranded in the previous lab. Gain, he summarized was entry to USA and cost was Academic Career.

Chapter 2, Barot said was his Transition to Business Career and Corporate America. Post loss in career, the business genes within kicked in and he took up franchise of Blimpie Subs and Salads. Manoj said his background in nutrition came in handy and he excelled at his job, quickly becoming the training store and was also elected as Vice President for the Blimpie National Franchisee Advisory Committee which represented over 2000 Blimpie stores across USA. His tenure ended in 2019 with the onset of covid. His gain he said, was Business world experience and confidence and the Cost – Loss: Family life, loss of my mother in 2004.

In Chapter-3, Barot spoke of Entrepreneurship and Self Employment. Based on his experience, he developed a brand called Campuscafe, a food service management company specifically designed to cater the needs of students attending community colleges across Georgia. His company served many colleges in metro area such as including campuses of GPC, Gainsville, etc. He also developed concepts for food service for courthouse buildings and managed food services for several county court houses. This venture which continued from 2005 to 2020 brought him financial & entrepreneurial success but cost his family life with loss of brother and divorce.

His Chapter 4, Barot said, was his realization to give back to society. “I started brand called MEALS FOR KIDS with my beautiful wife Natalie who is from El Salvador and shares similar passions and interest.” During Covid, with the help of some sponsoring organizations they served over 2000 children on a daily basis. They also helped arrange after-school activities and homework help for these children. MEALS FOR KIDS is now an approved vendor of GA State agency called Bright From The Start which is responsible for taking care of nutrition for all the qualified children in the state of GA.

Tran traced her inspirational journey back to her childhood, when, at nine, she and her family left Vietnam, escaping the country in the bottom of a boat covered in fishnets. She spent a year and a half in refugee camps in Malaysia and the Philippines before they arrived in Dallas TX where she spent the rest of her childhood. As a sponsored student at an all-girls Catholic school, Tran studied and worked hard to build a life for herself upon graduating from Trinity University with a Bachelor of Science. She moved to Atlanta in 1998 originally planning on entering the medical field she instead began a career and real estate flipping houses her residential career grew substantially, and she later transitioned into commercial real estate.

“I have always heard you spend the first 50 years of your life on yourself doing what you can to get yourself stable in the 2nd 50 years is to serve others and make a difference and I have the burning desire to do so I am just trying to meet the needs of my community,” Tran expressed.

Tran learned from her elderly Vietnamese neighbors that there was a common generational disconnect between these senior citizens with their families and caregivers. Understanding the important nuances of Vietnamese culture, Tran fostered her love of service and decided to embark on her next adventure opening the first Senior Center in 2017.

Beginning as a senior daycare center the operation grew to create a transportation leg – bringing in the daycare members every day directly from home delivering meals and providing at home nursing services. When the pandemic struck FSC adapted their services and began telehealth communications with their patients and members and has operated limited in person activities. Since then, full-time in-person operations will begin again November 1st, a date that staff and their 250 members, she said are excitedly looking forward to.

The enormous 26,000 square foot facility is quipped with amenities such as in house movie theater with reclining massage chairs a craft room hair salon and spa performance stage and even an acupuncturist and chiropractor covered entirely by Medicaid. Even beyond the senior services first senior care is home to Atlanta’s second largest food pantry and the only bank where transportation services provided distributing about 30,000 lbs. of food to around 3200 families weekly. Tran and her sister launched the food pantry in 2021, when the two felt it was necessary addition to their community service operation as their family once relied on food banks when they first moved to the US.

“We came here as immigrants. For past ten years we went to the Catholic church’s food pantry every Sunday and we lived in Section 8 housing projects. Now that we are stable, you’d we would want to live the  “good life,” go on vacations showing off on Facebook, buying nice purses – thinking selfishly. But i haven’t forgotten where I came from. I remember every single moment,” Tran remarked.

Members of the media with Amanda Brown Olmstead and Shiv Aggarwal (right).

Born in Cuba, Patty Thumann, her father and mother who unbeknownst to the family was pregnant, fled Castro’s communist country when she was seven years old. The escape happened in the middle of the night. With nothing but the clothes on their backs, her parents told her they were leaving Cuba for Canada, attempting to avoid the stigma of being a ‘Gusano’ – pejorative term used to refer to Americans following the Cuban Revolution. The ardavin’s first went to refugee camp for processing before they boarded the Mariel boat headed for the Florida Keys. Tillman recalled, “My dad stayed up all night waiting for our names to be called to leave the camp we were crammed in the bottom of the boat many boats sank because they were overcrowded.”

Their lives drastically changed when Thumann and her family moved to Coral Springs FL after being processed in Miami. Her mother a formerly renowned singer in Cuba, didn’t speak English and took care of the children while her father, an engineer, walked several miles to work night shifts at a factory. Family still in Cuba had to hide for several months after their decampment often facing public humiliation and targeting. The government destroyed all her mother’s records and memorabilia, and she was removed from radio playlists. After a job opportunity was presented to Thumann’s father in 1982, the family of four moved to Gwinnett County where they reside to this day.

Both parents worked multiple jobs in Georgia, often in fast food restaurants and in factories. Patty and her husband, Brian both went to Lilburn middle school but the two didn’t officially meet until 1995 at a Braves game. His family worked in the energy space and owned a technical publishing company that Brian took over after college.

 In 2020 the pair joined forces combining each of their 25+ years of experience to launch their own joint venture PJ media holdings. Focused within the energy industry, the company specializes in consulting and training for energy employees. PBJ media holdings is a Women Owned Small Business through the SBA and a certified minority business enterprise.

Through the Community Foundation for northeast Georgia, the couple started the Thumann foundation, a nonprofit organization that awards grants to other established nonprofits in the community impacting children’s life through health, nutrition, safety, and education.

Thumann serves on several boards around Gwinnett County SW Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, Good Samaritan Health Center of Gwinnett, and MRC GEM, where she serves as the Vice Chair of the board of directors and COO of the organization. “I never considered myself a public servant, but it has been so rewarding to do so much great work within my community. Engagement and service became my passions, without ever working towards or realizing it,” she stated.

Summarizing evolving landscapes across the years, she added “I didn’t grow up with this with the diversity we have today and only as an adult have I learned to appreciate it. There are so many different nationalities, languages and international businesses here. Gwinnett represents the world.”

The grand tour of Eagle Rock Studios was quite the revelation for the novice visitor. The expansive space is the largest stage complex under one roof in the United States with 465,000 square feet of space. There are three locations: Norcross Studios, Stone Mountain Studios, and Skyland Studios.

Described as an “under one roof” studio operating system, Eagle Rock Studios includes covered basecamp areas at both Best Friend Road and Stone Mountain facilities.

From 2017 to 2022, The CW’s Dynasty was filmed in Eagle Rock’s Norcross location.

 Eagle Rock Studios Atlanta was carefully designed to be flexible, comfortable, and timesaving for each production. One of the many unique features that Eagle Rock Studios Atlanta provides are the 3 breezeways located throughout the facility. The breezeways enable the ease of flow between stages, basecamp, shops, storage, and offices. Productions found the Main Breezeway to be appealing because it gives them the option to have a covered, on-premises basecamp area.

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