It’s been a busy time here in Augusta with the Masters Golf Tournament and Easter and Spring Break so I took a little break. Finally, I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend, Jennifer Llamas, at Goat Kick Coffee in Evans, GA. I’ve known Jennifer for a while, we met when our boys were in pre-k activities, but it has been a while since we’ve had the opportunity to get together and I know you’ll want to know her too.
Me: Are you originally from the Augusta area?
Jennifer: I’m originally from the Fairfax, VA area. I was raised there. Then I met my husband, Chris, who was in the Air Force and we moved to Baltimore, MD for a while. Chris was in the U.S. Foreign Service and we were sent to Poland for a number of years. Our son was born there.
We don’t have a military base in Poland so we had to live, shop, and otherwise function within the Warsaw community. I had to learn Polish because no one speaks English. Well, they are actually taught English in school, but if they don’t do well enough on their proficiency assessment, they aren’t considered an English speaker. So they don’t speak it.
Me: That must have been tough to be just thrown in. Was it uncomfortable?
Jennifer: Eh, at first. I liked Poland. They are very different than we are here. Economically, there is no middle class. There are the uber rich people, and then there is everyone else, most of the people are equivalent to our lower middle class. And everyone else is on government assistance. It’s also a very Catholic country. Everything is closed on Catholic holidays. One interesting thing is they are very good at moving people around. They have buses and trains, and their mass transit is fantastic. You can get anywhere you need to go on time.
Schools are interesting too because they are half days, and the students go Monday through Saturday. The children go to school, have their lessons, and then return home to do the practice, what is really the busy work our students do in class. Parents are expected to do the work with their children.
Me: Don’t the parents have to go to work?
Jennifer: Yes. Most households are multi-generational households and it’s usually the grandmother who gathers all the children and does the work with them. Families live near each other too if not in the same home. Make no mistake, Babcia, the grandmother is the matriarch, very much in control, and what she says goes.
Me: So, what brought you to Augusta?
Jennifer: We received orders to return to Fort Gordon. We’ve been here 10 years now. Chris is retired from the Air Force but his work is here.
Me: How does this area compare to Fairfax and Baltimore?
Jennifer: Oh, it’s much quieter. Fairfax and Baltimore are cities with every convenience you can imagine. Busier, more things to do, public transportation, walkability. There are trails that actually lead somewhere like shops and restaurants, not just trails for hiking. I miss the hustle and bustle. But, we’ve been here for 10 years and it’s home now.
Me: What do you do?
Jennifer: When we were in Poland I was a Special Investigator for the Diplomatic Security Service. I had to interview people for security clearances who worked for the foreign service. That was exciting trying to get background information from the applicants’ Polish neighbors when not very many people speak English and they don’t like to talk to strangers.
Now I’m working on building a Home School Cooperative. I started homeschooling my children in the Independent Cottage Classes which is under the umbrella of Liberty Independent Private School, a fully accredited private school. It has evolved into G.U.I.L.D. which stands for Garden of Unique Individuals Learning Diligently. We are currently meeting at the Blythe Recreation Center. We have 30 students now ranging from elementary school through high school. We run on a University Model so students can take one or all of the classes. I’m really excited about our Home School. We are one of the few, if not the only non-sectarian homeschool groups. Many of the home school co-ops are religious based.
Me: So, what is your favorite activity to do in the Augusta area?
Jennifer: I really like kayaking on Betty’s Branch and the Little River.
Me: Have you paddled out to Stallings Island to see the donkeys?
Jennifer: Not yet. It’s in the Savannah River and I think I’ll go with a guide first, so I know where to paddle. I don’t want to get too close to the head gates or get caught in an unexpected current.
Me: Anything else you like to do?
Jennifer: Well, it’s not here in Augusta, but Aiken has Vizion VR that’s pretty cool. It’s a VR simulation place with different games you can play. It’s really cool.
Me: That’s cool! I haven’t heard about it before and I’m sure my son would love to give it a try!
Me: Do you have a favorite restaurant?
Jennifer: I do! It’s Casa Bella in Aiken. It is so interesting because it is in an old restored Victorian house. They left the rooms intact so you can be seated in the living room or the dining room or one of the other rooms. It wasn’t gutted to be a “restaurant.”
Me: What do you order when you eat there?
Jennifer: I love their chicken picatta. I love capers. They should go on everything!
Me: Do you have any hobbies?
Jennifer: I like to travel. My son goes to Premier Martial Arts so we go to places mainly for my son’s Karate tournaments but it’s fun to go see different places.
I like sewing too. My mom used to sew but I didn’t want to learn when I was a kid. It was not interesting to me and I vowed I would never do anything so boring. But then my mom got a new sewing machine, and she gave her old one. I took it out of guilt and the next thing I know, I’m sewing! And I actually like it. I made one of my military ball gowns. It’s peaceful to just create.
I also like to bake. I like to make pretty painted cookies. They taste good too. Making the dough and cutting them out and baking isn’t really the fun part. But decorating them is fun.
Me: What is one thing on your bucket list you haven’t done yet?
Jennifer: I’d like to go to Japan. I think that would be a terrific trip.
Me: What is one of your long-term goals and how are you working toward it?
Jennifer: Well, G.U.I.L.D. is a nonprofit corporation in Georgia now and that’s huge! That was a 10-year process to reach that point. So now, I’d like to take G.U.I.L.D. to the next level, next step is Federal 591c3 status! I’d like it to be marketed to reach those students and families we can help. So, marketing and building are my current goals. We have a Facebook page and a website but otherwise getting our name out there is something we have to do.
Long-term, I’d like to benefit those students with diverse learning abilities and levels. We welcome everyone and I want to keep it that way. All the while keeping G.U.I.L.D. affordable.
Me: What is one thing you’ve done that you are proud of, or glad that you did?
Jennifer: I guess going out on that limb, taking the leap of faith to build G.U.I.L.D. I’m really glad I did that and I’m excited to see where it can go.
Me: Name one thing that makes you unique, interesting, or special.
Jennifer: Oh, geez. This is a tough question and I don’t have an answer. I don’t really think of myself as special or interesting. I’m just me.
Me: I know what makes you special! You have a heart for education and for children. You make sure that there is an opportunity for all kids to be met where they are to learn and grow at their pace and ability. That’s awesome.
Jennifer: Well, yes, I do. Thank you for that!
Me: Jennifer, thank you for meeting with me today! It’s been great to catch up and way too long since we’ve gotten together. If you are interested in homeschooling and G.U.I.L.D, you can reach out to Jennifer for more or you can contact me and I’ll put you in touch with Jennifer.