#Plywords on Justice from Debbie Wells

A personal account from Debbie Wells, Founder of Reaching Beyond Bars:

"On November 14, 2007, my life was forever changed. I received a phone call stating that my 17-year-old son had been involved in a crime that would lead him to prison. Once detained and evaluated, he was diagnosed with having bi-polar and mild personality disorder and sent to serve out his sentence in a mental health prison. Although he faced many challenges while incarcerated, there was no greater challenge than when he walked out of the gates as a free man—he was given a gold envelope with no plan of action, no medication or prescription, no help and little hope. What was supposed to be his second chance, became just another sentence.

Although my son was now in the “free world,” he wasn’t free. He continued to wrestle with his mental illness. He faced many other challenges, such as finding housing, gaining employment, and securing reliable transportation. He feared that he'd never be able to establish a stable environment for he and his daughter.

We were not able to receive any assistance, forcing me to work through the roadblocks on my own.  It was then that I remembered the faces of those around me when I visited my son during his incarceration, realizing that they too, would someday face the same challenges my son had faced. In an attempt to change this harsh reality, Reaching Beyond Bars was created.

The mission of Reaching Beyond Bars is to give both youth and adults returning home the opportunity at a fair and just second chance by providing them with the necessary resources and tools to live a self-sustaining life. With the help of our volunteers, donors, and partnerships, all returning citizens can make real strides towards success.

They say Justice is blind, but is she also deaf.  In my work, the cries of the young, the old, the poor and mentally ill go unheard.  The world does not seem fair while evil still abounds, and so those oppressed petition God to intervene on their behalf.  Justice can hardly be found amongst those charged with ruling our nation with fairness and equity. Instead we seem to be bombarded by the “system” of plea bargaining, overburdened and overpopulated prisons, and an alarming number of wrongful convictions. In America today, data shows that only three percent of those charged with a federal crime will see a jury trial.  In fact, there was no jury trial for my son when they attempted to send him away on a 10-year mandatory sentence.  Where is/was the justice in that?  

In the United States, dozens of 13- and 14-year-old children have been sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole after being prosecuted as adults. A study by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has documented 73 cases where children 13 and 14 years of age have been condemned to death in prison. Almost all of these kids currently lack legal representation and in most of these cases the propriety and constitutionality of their extreme sentences have never been reviewed.   

Some may ask, “What can I do? This is too big for one person.” Trust me, it’s not a one person job.  It will take us all.  Our responsibility as a nation is to act justly which should inspire us to CONSTANTLY speak out against injustice in forums, with friends and family, organizations embedded in this work, social media, etc.  Over criminalization, especially in the US is a liberty issue. Every American should know if they are about to break the law, and have the right to choose not to break it. Because there are so many laws, many of which are so capricious, almost everyone is ignorant of these laws on some level. The laws in most cases, vary from state to state.  For example, my son was 17 and was charged with armed robbery but didn’t have a gun. This charge carries a minimum 10 year sentence because it’s considered one of the Georgia’s “7 Deadly Sins”.  I never remembered my children coming home from school studying such “sins”.  Before there is such harsh sentencing, we citizens should demand such “sins” or “laws” be taught to us, our children, teachers, and other educational institutions. How else are we to know? There is no magic repository listing ALL the laws of the land.  Even if there were, where would one begin given the vast number of them? Most of the time, we don’t know we’ve broken a law until the hand of “injustice” comes crushing down. I’m not advocating we let those who’ve broken the law get away with such things. However, there should be a just, fair, and equitable solution. Most importantly, we MUST get back to the platinum rule which supersedes the golden one and that’s Love as God loved, have mercy when it’s in your power to do otherwise, extend forgiveness daily. This is what justice looks like to me."

Debbie Wells, Reaching Beyond Bars


#Plywords on Justice from Chelsea Sabo

“I care about Justice.” “Social Justice is important to me.” “We need to fight for justice.” Justice is a word that we throw around a lot. A word that we hear in our culture often to describe our social bent and often to make ourselves look socially relevant or to try to prove to others that we aren’t selfish or racist or intolerant. But justice is so much more than a social phrase or a cause or act of awareness.

Justice is the very thing that determines the trajectory of our lives and lives of others around us. And justice is easy to agree with and to promote when it is affecting us positively or when it allows us to point out the flaws of another. But, justice is hard to swallow when we are on the receiving end of a hard outcome. I have been living in the world of child welfare for a few years now, and I can’t tell you the amount of times, I have said things like, “well, that is unjust,” or “I want justice in this case.” And sure, the juvenile court system is hard and frustrating, but can I really say that it was the court system itself that was so unjust? In searching for this answer, among many others, I have had to take a step back and evaluate.

Justice itself is honesty, truth, fairness, and rightness. But, I have also learned that justice is not created or destroyed by the laws that govern it, but rather by those writing, implementing, and interpreting that law. Systems themselves are not flawed, because protocol and procedures can’t carry character like those that implement them can. However, I find that it is easier to blame the system, a party or a group, instead of identifying my personal role in that justice and the roles others play as well.

Doesn’t it seem crazy that a young boy at 14 years old would be brought into the courtroom in shackles for shoplifting (unarmed), be called a delinquent as an excuse for his behavior, and then hear his own mother say she didn’t want him and didn’t care what happened to him? … he was escorted back out of the courtroom to return to jail and wait until someone figured out what to do with him at the Department of Family and Children Services. Doesn’t it seem crazy that the average stay for a child in foster care is 4 years, yet, often services aren’t put in place to help parents or children until they have been in care for 2 years? None of these things seem fair or right. But, there are laws that we use to “Cover our Butts” from lawsuits, and we rely on these laws instead of valuing people. Injustice to put it simply, is when one person’s life is valued over another. And that is never ok.

Adults are not more important than children. The rich are not more important than the poor. One race is not more important than another. And bad choices may define your consequences, but they should never define your value. So, do we really want justice? Are we serious when we say this? Because if we do, then that means that we want right consequences, while still giving equal value to each person. That means we have to change our perception of justice being “getting our own way,” to fighting for everyone to equally get what is best for them as a person. Children in foster care should have justice, which is the right to a loving family, to stability, to education, to doctors, and to safety. But, their biological parents should have justice too, which is their right to good rehab and treatment plans, good doctors, education and medications, jobs, and housing. Bringing big fancy houses and apartments and businesses and shopping to an area is wonderful, but not when it is at the expense of another. Anything that values one over another and pushes out those without resource, merely because of their lack, is unjust. So, if we truly want to see justice, we need to start with ourselves first, and question how we see the world and the privileges we enjoy daily.

-Chelsea Sabo, Founder of


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Justice: A Definition with Action

There are two questions that come to mind when I think about “justice.” The first is “What is justice?” and the second is “What does justice require of us?” As such a loaded word, it’s likely that each of our visions of justice is most prominently shaped by who we are, where we are from and the kind of work that we do in the world. So I’d like to offer a vision of justice that I adopted a few years ago when working as a gardener around the city of Atlanta.

It was 2011 and I was touring an urban farming professional development program in Stone Mountain, GA. As we strolled through the garden, a small and unassuming sign caught my eye. It read, “Pay attention to what works in the garden, because what works in the garden may one day work in the world.” Upon seeing these words, my next thought was, “Well, what works in the garden?” As a gardener, I learned that everything begins and ends with the soil. I learned that biodiversity is essential to the thriving of an ecosystem. I learned that there are seasons for everything, and that sometimes you have to prune really, really good things in order to make room for the very best. I learned that when trees release their leaves each fall, they are coating the ground so that the soil can replenish itself. I learned that plants, animals, mushrooms and more all work together for the thriving of the whole. They serve one another. And as a gardener, I had the distinct privilege of bearing witness to and participating the miraculous unfolding of thriving life.

When I think about justice, this is what it looks and feels like. It looks like a garden. It looks like diversity. It looks like thriving, beauty, abundance and joy. It’s a lofty vision. But it is also a worthy one. When I think about justice, I imagine the establishing of societies, systems, projects and businesses that contribute to the thriving of all, not just a few.

So, what does this kind of justice require of us? What does it take to get to this place? I propose to you that justice, the kind that is made of diversity and mutual thriving, demands at least four things:

  1. Self-giving. Reordering the world will take generosity from each of us. It will take generosity with our time, with our belief in one another and with our resources. No one can decide for you how much is the right amount to give, but I do know that true justice is costly to us all.

  2. Truth telling. Justice requires that we tell the truth. We have to tell the truth about who we are and about the stories, good and bad, that shape our individual and collective identity. In grappling with the truth honestly, we find common ground and we find the gaps that require more of our attention.

  3. Patience. This work takes time, mostly because change and true maturity take time. Have you ever seen a large and fruitful pecan tree grove? Or have you ever given thought to the number of years it takes for fruits trees to bear a harvest. In our fast-paced, convenience-addicted society, we lose the art of waiting for the things we long for the most. Justice is one of those things that we have to work for and wait for over a long period of time.

  4. Hope. Plywood People believes that better is possible. We believe that the future is good. We also believe that a good future won’t just happen, but it will come by way of our thoughtfulness and choices. Problem solving takes intentionality, and our actions towards a better future are outward displays of the hope that we carry inside.

So this is one vision for justice as well as some thoughts on what it takes to build a more just world. This week during #Plywords, we invite you to engage the various visions of justice that emerge from voices in our community. And when one of the visions compels you, ask yourself, “What would this require of me?” knowing that a good future is built when we give ourselves to that work.  


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From Good Enough to Phenomenal

#Plywords from Chase Andrews if Terminus Wake Park

How do you create experiences that inspire others and get people involved in what you're doing?
I’ve always been one to live for great experiences. It has shaped a lot of my life and who I am. I push to make a good experience great and am constantly looking for a way to take the great to the next level. If you can create a personal connection with the experience it makes it that much better.

I’m not sure if you have lost someone close to you or not, but if you have you know this feeling: The feeling that the experience didn’t happen if they don’t know about it or if you can’t tell them about it. The experience may have been fun but the connection with that person is really where the experience really takes off. I was 19 when I lost my dad to cancer. You see our BIG thing was being on the lake together. He was a professional show skier and I was on my way to being a professional wakeboarder. I remember the first time I landed a new trick wakeboarding after he had passed. I didn’t realize it then but the first thing I would do was to tell my dad. Him knowing and being a part of the experience made it that much better… plus I got a candy bar for every new trick I did! Sharing experiences with others is what we live for.

I believe that every single person coming to one of our facilities is looking for “more…” More of something. More fun, more relaxation, more family time, more excitement, more adrenaline, more connection, more community, more acceptance, more peace, maybe even more quiet. Its our opportunity and challenge to figure out what a guests’ “more” is. If we can figure that out I think we just found the trick to their great experience. I say “trick” because we actually have to do something about it. Knowing doesn’t do anything, we have to “do.” If we can make their experience next level they will be back for more (and probably want to share it with their friends and family). It may only take one person to make the experience next level! -It may be a mom who is tired from the week and wants to let the kids ride while she sits in peace and quiet (i better make sure I have a spot for her away from the music).
-It may be dad wanting to spend time with his son because he finally has some time away from work (what could we do to make that kid remember the day even more?)
-It may be someone trying to get over an addiction and they are trying to find a new community.
-It may be a kid who hasn’t found where he fits in. (we can call him by name and encourage him. Maybe he will conquer a fear and learn something new about himself that day.)

What does it look like for you to push through good enough and make your work phenomenal
Good enough is simply us doing our jobs. For the Terminus team it might be checking someone in, getting someone their rentals, handing someone a handle, etc. Being phenomenal to me is taking advantage of the opportunities in front of us. Our eyes and ears have to be open. We have to be actively looking for those opportunities. If we truly care to see them and act on them, then people will take notice and feel it. If we are not taking care of ourselves and enjoying what we do, we will not be inspired to share that inspiration with others. We encourage our staff to ride, to live out their own adventures. It’s that passion for adventure that people take notice of. Our guest is currently living an adventure while they are with us! Our staff has the opportunity to join in on that adventure and have a part in the guest's’ story. Or…. They can just hand someone a handle and be left out of the story.

An Artist's Process from Okorie Johnson


Okorie shares with us his process of creation. We also want to challenge you to spend the next few minutes that follow to listen to his music and let it be the soundtrack to what you're doing. We have a feeling you'll be wowed.



I used to be an English teacher. And even though I am a cellist/artist now, I think I will always be a teacher deep down.  I love the classroom.  I love the exchange of ideas, and I especially enjoy the back and forth of conversation.

I try to bring aspects of the classroom to my live show - not so much to teach my audience anything, but to involve them.  

I was coming of age at a time in education where we were discouraged from being the “sage on the stage.” Instead, we were to create “student centered classrooms,” which are beautiful things.  They’re noisy, the students are engaged and constantly contributing, and ideally, they should be full of laughter, joy, and insight.

That’s also the perfect picture of an audience to me  - the fourth wall is merely a formality and the audience is joyously contributing to the show and growing from it.  I try to create this experience in my set.

In every Epi.phony show I play, I build in three interactive features.  One is an improvisation, sometimes with suggestions from the audience.  Another is a busking set, where I try to surprise, delight, and entertain my audience out of a few more dollars by playing popular, well-loved songs that they don’t expect a cellist to play - lots of mirth and laughter there. The third, however, is the most interactive and rewarding for me.  It’s called Storytime.

Storytime is a collaborative experiment where I provide the music and my audience provides the meaning.  

  1. I play a chord progression that I think is especially narrative.

  2. I invite my audience to close their eyes and to let the chord progression conjure up for them a person, setting, or a time.

  3. I tell them that I will improvise over this progression, and as I do, I ask that they pay attention to the image in their head, watching as if they were watching a movie.

  4. I improvise over the progression, creating a little bit of unexpected drama along the way.

  5. I end the improvisation, cut the house lights up, and poll the audience for their stories.

  6. For those that don’t get a chance to share out loud, I post a video of “storytime” to my social media pages, and encourage individuals to share their story digitally after the show.

Folks are sometimes shy at first, but I never have enough time for all the stories.  At some point, the dam just breaks.

Storytime does four things:

  1. It allows the audience to personalize some part of my show.  Each person can create and take home a memory that is theirs alone.

  2. It allows all of us to share something - the progression, the improvisation, the stories.  All of that becomes something that we have created together rather than something that I have exclusively shared.

  3. Because what people share is so creative, emotional, and narrative, we all get to travel boldly into the realm of storytelling  - which I think is the highest achievement of art.

  4. Each person who dreams up a story has named - or rather worded - what they felt, and hopefully will remember the song, the feeling, and the moment long after it ends.

People who don’t get a chance to share with the group find me afterward and gleefully share their stories.  People see me weeks later, at other shows even, and share those stories.  Almost everybody becomes part of producing the experience and the memory of Epi.phony, and it’s super special.

I love that.  It brings that best of the classroom to the best of the concert hall.  And with everybody helping to make the show, the room feels lighter and I couldn’t be any happier.

Okorie Johnson of Ok Cello

WOW: In Life and Leadership from the founder of Sseko Designs

“WOW. It's one of my favorite words, in fact! I want to be a WOW leader, not a HOW leader. At a certain point in the creation journey, HOW becomes necessary, but by creating a culture of curiosity over criticism we can intentionally make space for the ideas that will eventually WOW. When creating, ideating and executing, I love to keep a single end user in mind. Who is she? What makes her come alive? What would make her say, 'Wow. I feel like this was created just for ME.'
The moment we try to soften our edges or tone down our idiosyncrasies to please the masses or to create something that is more palatable, I think we lose the ability to create truly unique products or experiences that will resonate deeply with anyone, let alone those we're most excited about creating for. I try to remember this truth as it helps me tune out all the voices competing for attention and approval and helps me focus instead on creating something that is TRUE, even just for myself and one other.
That's when the magic happens ✨✨✨.” -Liz Forkin Bohannon of Sseko Designs

The Art of Living a Focused Life


Public Relations Executive
Co-Founder of Bearings

A richer, more effective life takes intentionality, thought, sacrifice and focus. Think of a silversmith who refines ore over and over through fire, drawing out its impurities and molding the metal with careful attention. The craftsman uses focus to bring the silver into its most brilliant and valuable state.

The art of living with focus is hard to do in our modern age. With easy access to almost limitless possibilities, our discipline of choice is put to the test. And, if we are honest, most of us will admit that unlimited options do not generally favor productivity and fulfillment.

When left unfocused, our zeal and drive can leave us overcommitted and overextended, ultimately diluting our effectiveness. By taking an edited, concerted approach, we can live with a clarity of purpose.

Streamlining our method to working and living enables us to say “yes” to the best of what makes us come alive and say “no” to that which slows us down and distracts us from the fulfillment of our mission. Each day we have opportunities with our finances, relationships, time, technology, health and resources to choose the less convoluted path.

A sharp focus on our vision for what could be and what we are wired to accomplish is immensely freeing. It gives us a filter for how we invest in our days and it establishes an understanding of what is possible. And when we under-promise, then over-deliver, we bring gratification to those we are serving.


If you’re unclear about where and how to focus your time and energy, here are a few initial questions to ask yourself:

What am I wired to do? (fulfillment)

What do I do incredibly well? (skill)

What can I do that no/few others are doing? (distinction)

What does the world/my world need? (value)

Now that we have heard from Jeremy, we encourage you to take at least five minutes and focus on the questions above. Instead of thinking about all the distractions we can eliminate, process what it is that makes you come alive. When we set aside time to be intentional, we are able to refocus our energy and find clarity in our purpose.

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Mindset from a Founder

Our mindset can get in the way of progress. As problem solvers, when we’re in the daily grind of making ideas happen, measuring outcomes, building community around our solutions and managing cash flow, it can feel like the burden of the mission we’re pursuing outweighs the joy of bringing that solution to life. Our mindset determines our outcome. It anchors us in the possibility that things can be better. This week we will hear from different voices with different mindsets, and we hope each person challenges your thinking.
Today we have the opportunity to learn from Dana Spinola, Founder and CEO of fab’rik, in a quick seven question interview. When our team thinks of people who inspire our work and challenge our mindset, Dana is one of those people. She works incredibly hard to create a culture of WOW in all that she does, from her company to her non-profit to her family and friends. Join us in learning from Dana.

1)   Share what attitude or mindset means to you and why it’s important in your work and your daily life.
Mindset is how you approach your life, your day or even a challenge. When you wake up in the morning, you are either ready to take on the day or want to run from it. I feel it’s so important as a leader to have a positive mindset because it sets the entire tone and culture of the organization you are leading. When your mindset gets off track, it can easily side track everyone that is pursuing your same mission. So every once in awhile when I wake up and want to run from a day, I head to yoga, to a devotion or simply change my schedule to get reconnected so that I have a better chance of approaching my day from a mindful, thoughtful place.

2) Are you the kind of person who looks at a glass half empty or half full? Explain.
The glass is always full and almost pouring over in my mind. There is just so much beautiful opportunity every day to try to make the world a better place I can almost get lost in it. When I approach life with this perspective, it makes everything an adventure and a chance to dive in and use all the gifts I’ve been given. At fab’rik we call this our WOW culture. If we forget to put a dress in a customer’s bag, we could lose them forever OR we could look at it as an incredible chance to make a customer for life by driving the dress to her house, with a bottle of champagne and the necklace we saw her trying on. I approach my personal life the same way, if my five year old tells me he misses me and I’ve been working too much, instead of letting guilt jump in, I pick him up early from school the next day with his bike packed and spend 4 hours just the two of us.

3) How do you adjust your mindset when you come up against a challenge?
When it comes to business challenges I almost feel like the terminator in the end of the movie when he is being shot at and keeps getting back up and moving forward. I have NO idea how I do it, but honestly was made with this relentless endurance to fight for my company and everyone that works in it. However, I’m not even going to pretend I’m that strong when it comes to people and feelings. I’m a very passionate person so there are times when I feel like life just isn’t fair and get the wind knocked out of me. Thank God I have an incredible wise counsel, with my husband leading the charge, that I share so honestly with and can course correct my heart and get me back on track.

 4) What does it look like in chaos?
I think I operate better in chaos than in calm. I love when there are crazy deadlines, back to back meetings, big executive decisions to be made, 4 kids that want to play and a husband to make dinner for. That is my calm. I know that some people love a schedule, predictability and don’t like change. Things staying the same and not evolving is one of my biggest fears. I love growing, learning and adding new things to mix of my chaotic world. So figure out your happy place, your calm-even if it’s chaos, and spend time there every day!

5) How do you lead your team in this area?
I try to lead my team with transparency and honesty. I find when I pull them into my world and share that I am going through chaos, heartbreak, stress and just hard times they can relate and pull together our army and hold each other up. I used to try to figure it all out on my own, act like I had it all perfectly handled and pretend peace just oozed from my veins, but once you share with your team that you are human, it creates a bond and encourages everyone to cheer for each other and share the same. If you are going to be a leader, why not let them know what to expect in life and they too will overcome it all. I literally staged by own intervention with five members of my team to check in and see how I was leading and share what I was going through. It was terrifying until I learned they loved be able to lift me back up and get back to leading our mission.

6) What perspective do you want them to have on their work and life?
Our core values define the perspective I hope my team has on work and life…..DREAM big, HUSTLE hard, stay INSPIRED, WOW everyone and CELEBRATE the big and the little things.

7) What encouragement do you have for the Plywood Community as they work to make this world a better place?
It’s impossible to do everything but unbelievably easy and impactful to slow down long enough, look around and cheer someone else on. Every single small gesture, random act of kindness, listening ear, “you’ve got this” text, morning prayer goes farther than I ever knew. The people that stopped to encourage me along the way are the real heroes. The ones that slowed down their own ship to help mine are the ones that make this world a better place.

Plywood Pursues: A Better Board

Earlier this year, Plywood People hosted an event for non-profit leaders called Plywood Pursues: Building a Better Board.

We learned from seasoned board chairs Chris Bledsoe and Jim Dudley along with Plywood’s executive director Jeff Shinabarger, and we began with this bold statement: “The health of a non-profit organization is easily understood by the health of the board.”


We discussed board recruitment and expectations, how to host effective board meetings and how and what board members should be giving to the organizations they are serving. It was a great evening of learning alongside others. 

The evening was made possible by our partners Sun in My Belly who provided an incredible venue and dinner for the group, and the always-amazing Kim of Holland Daze who supplied the floral decor. We hope you will join us for a future event!