Margie Gill poses for a photo with an honorary warrior stick from Rwanda that was given to her for her efforts in helping to build schools in the country. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Margie Gill: An Active Voice

Margie Gill keeps busy in Brenau’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services. Her day job, however, provides only a glimpse into her big heart and extensive work educating children in Nicaragua and Rwanda and rescuing sex trafficking victims in Atlanta.

Margie Gill poses for a photo with an honorary warrior stick from Rwanda along with a purse and two bracelets gifted to her. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Gill, assistant director of Brenau’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services , poses for a photo with an honorary warrior stick from Rwanda along with a purse and bracelets gifted to her. (Photo by AJ Reynolds)

By Kristen Oliver and Kenya Hunter

If you talk to Margie Gill, BU ’10, you might not guess she is the founder of an organization for trafficking victims or that she helped start schools in remote villages in Rwanda and Nicaragua.

Humble, but driven, the assistant director of the Brenau Center for Counseling and Psychological Services in Gainesville is working on a Doctor of Philosophy in counseling and student personnel services at University of Georgia. She is also president and founder of Tabitha’s House, an organization for trafficking victims. And, she works with the Crimson Foundation, which sets up primary schools in underserved nations.

Gill comes from a family of social justice leaders. Her grandparents belonged to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Cousins worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Andrew Young as civil rights activists. Yet Gill says not everyone needs to be on the front lines in the fight for social justice. “You can be the person preparing meals for the ones going out to the battlefield,” she says.

In a way, that is what Gill does today. She is motivated to improve social inequalities and all the forms they take.

“I am an active voice in education,” Gill says. “I am an active voice for marginalized populations, whether it crosses racial boundaries, sexual orientation, religious viewpoints or abilities that are often overlooked. I tend to lend my voice to a lot of things.”

While working full time at Brenau, Gill balances a family of three children, a passion for community service and a drive that crosses international borders.

A personal connection

In 2013 a friend approached Gill about building a residential home for sex trafficking victims, but she hesitated to take up the project because of limited resources.

“But I thought about my daughter,” Gill says. “If she didn’t have proactive and engaged parents, what might have happened to her? She gave me impetus to go out and do what I do now.”

“Professor Gill is among the most dedicated and devoted people I have ever known. Her passion and stamina inspire and amaze me.”

Kristen Green, clinic director of the Brenau Center for Counseling and Psychological Services

A 2014 federal report for the U.S. Justice Department listed Atlanta as the No. 1 city in the nation for sex trafficking. According to the Center for Public Policy Studies, 5,000 girls in Georgia are at risk for such exploitation.

Gill developed Tabitha’s House as a resource for these victims of sex trafficking, specifically girls age 11-17. However, a greater need soon presented itself, and the organization expanded its reach and impact. The Atlanta-based nonprofit helps victims of trafficking – including men, women, children and individuals identifying as LGBTQ – by providing rescue, safety and restoration services.

The name “Tabitha” has biblical roots. According to scripture, Tabitha was a “go-to person” in her community, providing for orphaned children and widows. “She was a staple,” says Gill. “When Tabitha passed away, her community questioned what would happen. But she was one of the first people in the Bible to be raised from the dead, and she continued to provide these services. Her ministry was so strong, and she continued.”

Although she remains tight-lipped on campus about the work she does with Tabitha’s House, Gill shines as an example in leadership for Brenau women.

The Brenau Center for Counseling and Psychological Services that she directs provides individual, family, couple and childhood counseling, plus group therapy and stress management for anyone in the community who seeks the services.

“Professor Gill is among the most dedicated and devoted people I have ever known,” says Kristen Green, clinic director for the Gainesville campus. “Her passion and stamina inspire and amaze me.”

Junior accounting major Peyton Edmond works closely with Gill in Brenau’s Black Student Association. “I have learned so much from Margie Gill that I really don’t know where to start,” says Edmond. “She’s very educated and eloquent. At the same time she’ll give it to you raw, like your mama or grandma. I love her, and I think BSA has a strong future with her and others like her working with us.”

Spreading the love

Tabitha’s House was not Gill’s first charitable endeavor. Through the Crimson Foundation, started in 2009 by her longtime business partner Phillip Haynes, Gill has helped build schools for primary education in Nicaragua and Rwanda. Recently, the Chinese Ministry of Education invited the foundation to open a school in China.

Haynes, president of the Crimson Foundation, sprung the idea on Gill after a mission trip to Rwanda, where he promised the residents a school.

“I said, ‘Phillip, you can’t just make promises like that,’” says Gill with a laugh, although she knew leaving the children of Rwanda with no education was no laughing matter.

They began by establishing a one-room school in the Kagina village of Rwanda. Still, Gill says she had no idea the response and demand for education in the village would be so great. “There were people lined up outside of the classroom ready to learn,” she says, “so we had to expand.”

A Letter from a student at the school Margie Gill helped start thanks her for her efforts. (Photo by AJ Reynolds)
A Letter from a student at the school Margie Gill helped start thanks her for her efforts. (Photo by AJ Reynolds)

Today, there are Crimson Academies in Rwanda, Nicaragua and Tanzania, plus one at home in nearby Woodstock, Georgia. Although the term “primary education” usually refers to the early stages of education, like America’s system of kindergarten through sixth grade, Crimson Academies’ service extend well beyond 5- to 13-year-olds. In Rwanda, adult students often come in for primary education as well. “To them learning is different,” says Gill. “They don’t think they should not be in a classroom with 6- and 7-year-olds. They are there to get the education they never received.”

An earnest desire to learn bubbles from within children who have suffered greater hardships than the average American child. In the Rwandan Crimson Academy particularly, many of the families were affected by the Rwandan genocide, sparked by the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana, which killed more than 800,000 people from April to June 1994. “The Rwandan genocide had a great impact on my students,” says Gill. “In fact, many of my adult students are survivors of the genocide.”

Gill recalls one young woman she sponsored to attend the school. The woman was an adult student at the Crimson Academy years later, until she one day stopped coming to school. Gill says the administration contacted the young woman’s mother and found she was gravely ill. “Whatever her diagnosis was caused her to appear seven months pregnant,” says Gill. The family could not afford the necessary treatment. It cost only $200.

“I paid for the whole thing,” says Gill.

The adjunct professor says it reminded her that sometimes the little things easily taken for granted by some are so important to others elsewhere.

Between caring for two Crimson Academy Operations with more than 850 total students and being president of Tabitha’s House and a doctoral candidate, Gill advises balance to remain sane and make time for her family. “My family will always come first,” she says. “I have designated time for my family, and I always make sure I am never burned out.”


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