This summer, we invited readers to nominate a Cobb County resident for a day of pampering. For the third year since we started the Diva For a Day contest, nominations rolled in for wives, mothers, friends and daughters who inspire with their strength and selflessness. This is the story of Carla Pierce, the winner of our contest.

A Georgia girl from the start, Carla was born at Crawford Long Hospital in downtown Atlanta, raised and educated in Decatur, at Agnes Scott College. She later went on to earn a master’s in city planning from Georgia Tech and began her career in air and water quality management at the Environmental Protection Agency. It was at the EPA that she also met a young, handsome engineer named Jeff Pierce, who she would eventually marry.

Ten years later, the Pierces welcomed a son, Jason, and Carla stepped down from her career to focus on her family and volunteer at Macland Presbyterian Church.

“I’ve always had a servant’s heart and was inspired by the incredible work the church was doing to feed low-income people through Sweetwater Mission,” she says.

That motivation to serve also compelled Carla to co-found the Spring Chicken Run, a 5K and one-mile fun run that raises thousands of dollars each year for Sweetwater Mission, the largest distributing food pantry in North Georgia. She cherished those years staying at home with her young son and serving the community, yet the professional in her was anxious to return to her career once her son started kindergarten.

However, that plan changed with one phone call and one word on the other line: “adenocarcinoma.” Her mother’s cancer, which had been undetectable for years, had recurred. It was around this time that her father, who had been battling heart disease, was also diagnosed with both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s.

It became clear that for Carla’s next chapter, she wouldn’t be a working mom and wife, but rather a full-time caregiver. The Pierces moved both of Carla’s parents into their home and she dove headfirst into the task of navigating doctor appointments, medications and, most difficult of all, the role-reversal that so many people with aging parents encounter. For Carla’s father, a WWII veteran who had fought in Iwo Jima and Guam, his toughest battle was handing over control toward the end of his life, while his daughter fought to establish a new role positioned somewhere between respectful child and diligent caretaker.

It was a round-the-clock job, but she wasn’t alone. She credits the guidance of nurses and doctors at Piedmont Healthcare for getting her through. That, and the support system beside her every step of the way — her husband, Jeff.

“There aren’t many men that would agree to bring their in-laws into their home for eight years,” she says. “But he did and he’s been a constant source of strength and comfort through it all.”

Both of Carla’s parents passed away five years ago. She continues to serve the community, now primarily through her son Jason’s fundraising efforts for Kick-It Champion, a national, volunteer-driven effort that raises funds for childhood cancer research. As a punter/kicker on Hillgrove High School’s varsity football team, Jason raises money for the charity through donors and corporate sponsors. His biggest cheerleader is not on the sidelines, but in his mom, who taught him the life-enriching gift of serving others at an early age.

“This contest and the transformation it has given me couldn’t have come at a better time in my life,” Carla says. “I lost my both of my parents, my son will soon graduate, and this feels like a reinvention for my next chapter. I don’t know exactly what that chapter will look like yet, but this is a good sign of what’s to come.” 

Photography by Erin Gray Cantrell

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