Home is where the heart is for a small-town southerner with big dreams for her community.
Born and bred on 149 acres in Irwinton, Georgia, Terralon Chaney spent her summers as a child fishing and cooking with her grandmother, Daisy. She recalls fun times in the country, sitting on her grandmother’s counter as they baked cakes and biscuits. Four-wheelers, plum and fig trees, and strawberry patches were at her disposal to enjoy.
“The family and consumer sciences part came from my grandmother,” Chaney declared.
Her love for food, nutrition and gardening was further fueled by her high school home economics teacher, Lucille Dennard. The fascination came from seeing the love of the students, the passion for the job and the many career options in home economics.
“She was that teacher who inspired me,” Chaney said. “We sewed, cooked and participated in state competitions as members of Future Homemakers of America, now FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America). I was a member for four years, and the passion just grew.”
However, she was uncertain about her career choice after graduating high school. An entrepreneur at heart, she used her hair styling skills to obtain a cosmetology license, completing technical school in nine months. She then opened a salon at age 19 in her hometown.
“I had a little corner space and very good clientele. I’ve been a master cosmetologist for about 34 years,” Chaney said.
After two years, her late father, who gave her the nickname “Grown,” walked into her salon and strongly encouraged her to obtain a college degree.
“He allowed me to figure out what I wanted to do but knew that this would not last forever,” she said.
She enrolled at Fort Valley State University the following Monday. She had heard about the Historically Black University from two women who promoted the institution in her community.
Her agricultural upbringing came back to her as she realized her passion for family and consumer sciences. Her experience on campus and the family environment reassured her that she chose correctly. She even met her husband of 28 years, LeVert, on campus.
“I knew this was where I was supposed to be,” Chaney said. “Mrs. Hunt, Dr. (Vivian) Fluellen and Dr. (Linda) Johnson inspired me.”
The Twiggs County native continued to run her salon, working every weekend all through college.
“It made me tough and feel as though I could survive anything,” she said, noting she learned leadership skills. “It made me proud to run a business at an early age and earn a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences in infant and child development.”
She later received a master’s degree in instructional technology from Georgia College and State University and a specialist degree in administration and instructional technology from Nova Southeastern University.
The FVSU alumna used her skills in the classroom to pay it forward at Progressive Christian Academy in Macon, Georgia. For five years, she served as the coordinator and taught second, third and fifth grades.
“I feel as though God led me there to prepare me for what was going to come next,” she said.
Returning to her roots and what she loves, Chaney taught family and consumer sciences at Twiggs County High School for eight years. She also served as the FCCLA adviser and started a cosmetology program that still exists.
“It was exciting to return home and teach many of the students of the parents I attended school with,” she said. “Consumer education and basic food skills are needed in the classroom.”
Chaney’s desire to educate her community continued as she did home visits for two years under an Early Reading First grant and taught children how to read through pictures. She became a national parent educator, serving more than 200 parents in her county. She also served as an alternative school director for two years and chair of the school board for one term.
Her excitement to serve her community in these various roles spilled over into her return to her alma mater as the family and consumer sciences Extension agent for Twiggs County. She praised the support she has received while serving in this position, which she has held for 14 years.
“We are here to make things happen for the community,” she said.
With a lot of years in education, Chaney was always interested in FVSU’s Cooperative Extension Program because of the flexibility of being out in the community and the ability to create programs based on the community’s needs.
Some of her activities include veggie giveaways for Thanksgiving, community gardens and an annual walk-a-thon. She also offered a healthy night out event for two years, where she had more than 1,000 participants the first year and partnered with various businesses and organizations to educate the community about healthy living. Her biggest impact has been building community relationships among families. A recipient of national and state awards, she supports her community by serving on various committees and through her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
Chaney, the devoted driver of a black and red 1300 Hayabusa, keeps going even after being diagnosed with lupus.
“I did not let that keep me down,” she said. “Sometimes I must remind myself. That is where healthy living came in. I started with myself and that rolled out into the community. I am walking into what God intended for me.”
Her motivation is blessing someone and building people up.
“Twiggs is tiny but can be super mighty. There is a lot of love and great things here,” Chaney said. “It takes strong people to stand in the gap and say they are going to do something. I am one of those people.”