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Bria Janelle (‘07) honored by Newton County
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Bria Janelle (‘07) honored by Newton County

Source: Gwinnett Daily Post

COVINGTON — Newton County School System and the Newton County Chamber of Commerce have announced the Bria Janelle Foundation as the 2023 NCSS Partner of the Year. The foundation is a partner in education with Newton High School. School Principal Dr. Shannon Buff nominated the foundation for the annual award.

Bria Janelle, a Greater Atlanta Christian grad, serves as the emcee for the Chicago Bulls but still volunteers countless hours with her foundation at Newton High School, where she serves as the first female PA announcer for the school basketball team. Janelle created a foundation whose mission is to build a stronger community through youth empowerment and community development. That mission has been exemplified in her work throughout the school year with Newton High School, its students and staff.

Janelle hosted a “We are One Community Weekend” during which students got the opportunity to shine and participate in experiences that, otherwise, would not have been possible. Through her connections to professional basketball, she brought former NBA star Dwight Howard and current WNBA star Monique Billings to the school to meet with students. Additionally, she was able to connect with radio station Hot 107.9 to have a lunchroom takeover to help students promote positive behaviors and community involvement at school.

The Bria Janelle Foundation has also sponsored other events at the school, including Newton High School’s first ever Sneaker Ball, to help bring awareness to mental health issues in teens. In addition, Janelle’s foundation sponsored 25 seniors to receive soft skill training, valued at $1,000 each, to help them prepare for post high school job interviews and jobs.

Janelle, whose given name is Bria Smith, is a Snellville native who was a standout basketball player at GAC.

“The students were extremely excited to participate in the program as it allowed them to receive a certificate and endorsement as a resume builder,” explained Buff.

“Even while serving as the emcee for the Chicago Bulls, Bria has given countless hours to our school,” added Buff. “While the job forces her to be in Chicago for much of the work week, Bria always finds time to fly back to town to be at Newton High School for the students and teams — and that level of dedication is far beyond that of a typical partner. We are so appreciative of the Bria Janelle Foundation because this partnership has allowed our students to have experiences beyond what they would receive on a normal school day.”

“I wanted to change the culture and landscape of how people view Newton basketball,” Janelle explained. “I wanted to do more than just be a PA announcer. I wanted to make an impact, not only on the school but in the community. For me it was very important to come in and make a difference. Newton High School has never seen a female PA announcer, so I knew that was one step to making history. But then I understood the value of how important this county is. Understanding that this school is one of the largest schools between Augusta and Atlanta — I realized I wanted to leave a mark in this community, and I wanted to make sure that it was done in such a way that kids can say, ‘I’m a product of Newton High School’ because I understand that some of these kids will come back and live in this community. Some kids will invest in this community. Some kids will be teachers and so much more. And I wanted to do my part. I’m a product of private school and so I had a lot of access to resources and things, and I just realized that the things that I had access to in high school some of these kids didn’t.”

Janelle noted her volunteerism has everything to do with her passion and calling.

“What I do is bigger than me, and I understand my purpose and my calling, and I wanted to bring that to Newton High School,” she explained. “That is why I started the Bria Janelle Foundation. I wanted to build a stronger community, and I knew that it could be done starting with Newton.”

Janelle explained her reasons for providing soft skills training to the Newton High School students.

“Not everybody is going to college,” she said. “Some people are college material, and some people aren’t, but we still want to be able to equip them. We can show them how to be better citizens in the world today… people talk about impacting the world, but it starts with the community and again Newton High school students are important to me so that’s why I felt we’ve got to start at Newton.”

Janelle admitted she was surprised and somewhat stunned to win the Partner of the Year award as Buff simply invited and encouraged her to attend the Partners in Education reception.

“I thought I was coming to a Partners in Education breakfast,” said Janelle. “To win this award… I’ve been at this for 12 years, and I’ve had an opportunity to experience a lot of different things all around the world. I’ve worked with a lot of people around the world, and I’ve received a lot of different awards, but this one speaks to my purpose, and this is the first award I’ve ever received that speaks to my purpose of ultimately what God put me here to do and why. I tell people that your dash between your birthdate and your death date is really what defines your purpose, and this shows I’m walking in my purpose. And to receive this from the county and the school board and understand that there are people who have the same vision I do means so much to me…. This is probably the greatest award I’ve ever received because it speaks to my God-given calling and assignment, and to me that’s the most important thing. …it shows that my hard work didn’t go unnoticed, and it truly is appreciated.”

“Bria is a great source of inspiration for our kids,” said Buff. “When you add in that she brought the One Community weekend to our school, it was absolutely phenomenal. Kids felt seen, they felt heard, because these celebrities came just to support and love them. The fact that her foundation just put their arm around our students and our community is absolutely phenomenal.”

She added, “Her support means the world to our students. They feel as if someone outside the doors of our high school cares and loves them. And the resources that she brings — it’s not just about the financial resources, as much as it is about the love and support she shows the kids each day and every time she comes in. When you have someone who will literally fly from Chicago to Newton High School to make sure that they are there for our kids, that’s pretty great!”

“It makes me so proud to know that we have school partners like this in our community,” said Debbie Harper, president of the Newton County Chamber of Commerce. “This partnership truly demonstrates that you do not have to be a big business with deep pockets and numerous employees to make a huge impact in our schools. Any business or organization, no matter how big or small, truly has the ability to make a difference to the children and staff in our schools.”

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