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A tradition of giving back: Joy Griffin is Gainesville Jaycees’ Young Woman of the Year
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Joy Griffin, the Gainesville Jaycees' 2021 Young Woman of the Year. Photo submitted to The Times

Lifelong Gainesville resident Joy Griffin was “very surprised and honored” to be crowned the Gainesville Jaycees’ 2021 Young Woman of the Year at the organization’s March 10 awards banquet.

“I’ve been going to the Young Man and Young Woman of the Year banquet for many years … and to be honored in that way is truly surreal and very humbling,” she said.

Awarded since 2001, the title has been worn by noteworthy 40-and-younger women throughout the Gainesville-Hall County community, including Tracy Vardeman, Northeast Georgia Health System vice president of strategic planning and marketing; Heather Hayes, Edmondson-Telford Child Advocacy Center director; Jessica Butler, Gateway Domestic Violence Center executive director; and Academy Child Development Center Director Staci Vinton.

Recipients of the award are stand-outs in “direct, outstanding” community service and leadership, according to the Jaycees.

According to the award selection committee’s co-chair Nick Bruner, Griffin’s résumé speaks for itself. She has been involved in the community for “as long as he can remember” and is synonymous with “the definition of a community leader.”

Following the conclusion of a 10-year stint with United Way of Hall County in 2019 — the first six of which she served as vice president of resource development before rising to presidency — Griffin dove further into the nonprofit world, fully immersing herself in civic service.

She is involved with 13 area nonprofits in some capacity, whether it be leadership, membership or an advisory role, including WomenSource, Gateway Domestic Violence Center, Family Promise, Kiwanis, the Gainesville Housing Authority, the Gainesville Nonprofit Development Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier, the American Heart Association Heart Walk and the University of North Georgia BB&T Center for Ethical Leadership advisory council.

“I’m honored, truly, to be able to serve in that way and to be given that opportunity and would encourage anyone who wants to serve: raise your hand,” Griffin said. 

She holds a board-level position on the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Vision 2030 project and has been chosen to chair the committee for Vision 2050.

“I’m going to be really old by 2050, but I intend to still be here,” she said. “What we’re doing now will impact 2050, and we want to do things now, in our goal for 2030, that will remain in 2050.”

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Joy Griffin and Rep. Matt Dubik, the Gainesville Jaycees' Young Woman and Young Man of the Year. The two were honored during the organization's awards banquet March 10, 2022. Photo submitted to The Times

Griffin is also Gainesville City Schools’ director of marketing, communications and  public relations, which allows her to flex the skills she gained as a communications student at Georgia State University in the dissemination of “good news” from the public school system.

“When there’s something good to tell people, I want to get the word out. I want to be able to shout it from the rooftops,” she said.

The role seamlessly entwines with her nonprofit work, as she’s often the connection point between Gainesville students and families and available community resources.

“Our public school system, that’s where our future is,” Griffin said. “If there’s any part of our system that’s broken — for example, poverty that’s generational — we can break that cycle by pouring into our youth. That’s where that’s going to happen, showing them there’s another way. Saying, ‘Here’s some options for your career that might change that cycle of poverty you’ve been trapped in; here’s some other choices you can make to invest in your future from a health perspective.”

For Griffin, service is as intrinsic to her make-up as her own DNA. 

Her parents, David and Faith Simpson, came to Gainesville as newlyweds in the 1970s to launch Lanier Christian Church, where they have pastored and led worship, respectively, for more than 40 years. With role models like that, Griffin said it wasn’t hard to jump into civic service.

“When they moved to Gainesville, they immediately got involved with the community,” Griffin said. “We can tell countless stories about how my mother was a teacher, a coach, a worship leader, a community volunteer — she always did it all. My dad, as a minister, has always been the first phone call that people make when they’re going through some of life’s most challenging times, and he’s been that counselor and friend. Being raised by the two of them has certainly taught my brother and I both what service looks like. To be busy is sometimes seen as a bad thing, but for us, it’s not busyness; it’s (the) fulfillment of our life’s calling to serve others whenever possible in every moment.”

Griffin’s brother, John Simpson, was the Gainesville Jaycees’ Young Man of the Year in 2018. The two lead Lanier Christian’s lakeside service, held at 10 a.m. Sundays at the Gainesville Marina.

“This tradition of giving back is an expectation for our family. It’s what we do; it’s how we were raised,” Griffin said. “John and I have been following our parents’ lead in a lot of ways, and we’re surrounded by a community of really incredible people who have poured into us along the way.” 

Griffin specifically mentioned Lanier Christian’s co-worship leader Melanie Terrell, her high school English teacher Gail Ingram, former Gainesville City Schools superintendent and Little League basketball coach Merrianne Dyer.

“I could go on and on about the people in Gainesville that have made me want to make this my home,” she said. “There’s so many great people that have poured into me and continue to make this community the place that I want to raise my children.”

Griffin is the mother of two sons, Rhett and Jacob, who are in eighth and ninth grade in the Gainesville City school system.

“I’m still here because I want to raise them here,” she said.

Borrowing from a maxim of Jim Mathis, father-in-law of Young Man of the Year Matt Dubnik, Griffin believes that “giving back is your goodwill tax. It’s our obligation. I intend to pass that on to the next generation.”