Recent graduate, Sam Perez, writes first book

As Sam Perez (AB ’22) was finishing her journalism major at Grady College and her major in Spanish during the 2021-2022 year, she took capstone classes like Newsource and completed her NMI certificate. She worked as a Yarbrough Fellow and CNN intern. She was a member of Chi Omega and served as a Grady Ambassador. And, she wrote a book.

“Deviate from Denial,” an introspective look at personal stories of people who fight drug addiction and an inspirational account of what can be done to help, was published in September and was largely written while Perez was finishing her studies at UGA.

“Anytime I take something on, I have that initial thought, ‘oh no, what did I get myself into?,” admits Perez, who started work as a multi-media journalist at WLTX News 19 in Columbia, SC, in June. “But, once I commit, I am going to follow through. One thing I’ve learned, is that anything is possible.”

The idea of writing a book was inspired by a class assignment Perez had her junior year. She took Multiplatform Story Production, JOUR 4090, her junior year. Students were assigned to select two topics to write about throughout the semester and the subject of recovery from drug addiction was one focus she chose. She admitted there was a lot of information to cover on the subject and she barely scratched the surface.

Recovery from drug addiction is a subject Perez is passionate about, thanks to her parents, Rob and Diane, who operate restaurants in Lexington, Kentucky, called DV8 Kitchen. The restaurants provide employment opportunities to those recovering from drug addiction. Perez had a front row seat seeing the agony of drug use when her parents opened their first restaurant, but she also witnessed the sources of hope and optimism that employment opportunities provide.

“Drug addiction has so much stigma,” Perez said. “I think people see it as a choice, but it’s a really complex issue. What a lot of people don’t realize is that there are a lot of factors involved, especially for those people who don’t have good role models to look up to and a good support system.”

Also, there is a whole other category of addiction dealing with the opioid epidemic that is misunderstood since many people become addicted based on prescribed medications.

The most salient themes of the book are the interviews Perez conducted with those who have suffered from drug addiction. In the section titled “Stories of Strength and Hope,” Perez tells the stories of Tara who spent years in and out of recovery and homelessness; the mother of Gene who died of a drug overdose after several recoveries…followed by relapses; and Emily, whose mother asked her to take drug tests in her place so future employers wouldn’t know she had a problem.

Perez said it was not hard to get people to agree to be interviewed for the book.

“There was a real drive and determination from them,” Perez said of the people she asked to share their stories. “I feel like when I told them I wanted to write it, they had a desire to make things happen. They were all super big on vulnerability and transparency and were super willing to tell their story. It shows a lot about the issue at hand. They want to find a community of others with shared experiences, which makes them so trusting and so vulnerable.”

Perez was driven to write the book for several reasons. She felt a need to start the conversation to help erase the stigma. She believes addiction is a subject that is not talked about enough, and that everyone is deserving of a second chance.

“Everyone is deserving of grace — everyone should show compassion and try to understand,” Perez said.
Sam Perez in her graduation cap and gown with her parents Rob and Diane.
Sam Perez with her parents, Rob and Diane, at the Grady Graduation Celebration on May 13, 2022. (Photo: Sarah E. Freeman)

She also saw the incredible example her parents set forth in their community and wanted to provide hope and resources to others who needed it. The book includes chapters dedicated to the DV8 employment model, innovative programs that other communities are trying like needle exchanges and resources for recovery.

“I believe that everyone has some way they can help contribute to erasing the stigma,” Perez concludes. “Now that looks different for everyone, but I feel like my way to contribute to the conversation and to help is to share stories since that’s what I love doing and that’s what I’ve been trained to do.”

And, while she has no plans to follow up with another book anytime soon, Perez is focusing on her new job and continuing to practice those interview skills she learned in class at Grady College.

“There are just so many more stories to share.”

To view more interviews with Perez about her book, Deviate from Denial, please see the following:


NMI students build brand to support local Georgia seafood

Eating your way through local seafood cuisine along the Georgia coast may sound like a dream come true, but for a group of Grady College students, it was another day working on a class project.

The five students are in this semester’s New Media capstone class, which challenges students to build new media solutions that address specific client problems, explore and implement emerging technologies, or both. Cierra Cordak, Hunter Lanius, Sam Perez, Tallie Pietragallo and Carson Reynolds are creating a brand to promote local seafood within the state.

The Georgia Seafood On My Mind Team traveled to the coast with professor John Weatherford. (Photo: Sam Perez)

Georgia Seafood On My Mind is for proprietors of unique coastal seafood restaurants to promote culinary adventures in Georgia. The idea developed from the What’s the Hook? seafood pitch competition led by UGA’s Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. The competition was designed to generate innovative ideas that support Georgia’s working waterfronts and seafood products. New Media Institute Professor John Weatherford and Terry College’s Director of Entrepreneurship Bob Pinckney‘s concept won.

Along with the Weatherford and the NMI’s Chris Gerlach, the team traveled to six coastal counties to curate content that will be distributed across the brand’s social media platforms. The pictures and videos will also be shared with the local restaurant owners featured for their own marketing and promotional use.

“There’s a sense that we’re not just highlighting Georgia businesses, but Georgia people and communities,” fourth year marketing major Hunter Lanius said. “It’s a lot more sentimental than what you might expect from a food and travel-promoting brand.”

The group took over 1,700 photos and 600 videos over the course of three days including pictures of the food, restaurant interiors and exteriors, drone shots and interview segments.

Leading up to the trip, the team spent time developing a brand. They created social media accounts, designed a logo, strategized about branding guidelines, conducted user research and began connecting with local seafood restaurants in the coastal region.

Applying classroom lessons beyond NMI

Tallie Pietragallo serves as her group’s Client Relations lead. (Photo: John Weatherford)

Fourth year advertising major Tallie Pietragallo utilized skills she has learned in other classes and throughout internships to develop relationships with clients before the group embarked on the trip. For her, the client-racing role was “a really rewarding and exciting experience.”

“I kept in touch with the owners of six local restaurants across the coast of Georgia and learned more about their stories and the connection they have to the local community,” Pietragallo said. “Being in Grady helped make the connection from the owners stories to their restaurant and brand and lead to brand storytelling though our social accounts.”

Third year advertising major Cierra Cordak is the Project Lead and is heading up the team’s website development.

“Getting to take what I’ve learned in a classroom and use it to create something that looks like websites I actually visit, and not just another project, that will be live online for people to discover and use has been so exciting,” she said. “It has definitely developed my skills in that area beyond what they were before working on Georgia Seafood On My Mind.”

The team started in Camden County at Captain Seagle’s Restaurant and Saloon. They toured the attached hotel Riverview Hotel, which was built in 1916. Seagle’s is the oldest continually operating restaurant and bar in St. Mary’s, and the team got a chance to sit down with server Neal Schroeder to learn about the restaurant’s recipe for success.

“It’s hard to beat when you get the food right off the boat,” he said. “You’re not getting some of that store-bought seafood from the freezer or that was prepared a long time ago.”

While they had developed a course of action ahead of time, the students got to learn on the spot and strategize how best to capture the content. Multiple members of the team took turns capturing pictures of the seafood while fourth year journalism major Carson Reynolds focused on videography.

The team captured both photos and videos to promote local Georgia seafood. (Photo: Sam Perez)

“It was super cool to work on this project from a video planning viewpoint, especially with the budget and the gear we were able to use. We had professional level gear like lights, reflectors, and microphones, which made shooting feel very easy while also being impressive and professional for the person being interviewed,” Reynolds said. “The multiple camera and sound setup was great to use and made editing really easy. Overall, from the video and editing side of things, this was one of the most planned-out and professionally shot projects I’ve ever worked on and taught me a lot about working with different equipment and editing from different sources.”

Next, the group headed to St. Simons Island where they visited Georgia Sea Grill.

On day two of their adventure, the students drove to The Fish Dock in Townsend, Georgia.

Sunbury Crab Company catches crabs fresh from the water outside the restaurant each day. (Photo: John Weatherford)

Next up on the itinerary was Sunbury Crab Company in Liberty County. The team tried their hand at cracking open blue steamed crabs and heard from co-owner Elaine Maley who touted the freshness of the restaurant’s all-natural ingredients.

“We get the shrimp, they’re local, and they’re never been dipped, so they don’t have chemicals on them,” she said. “A lot of people that say they usually couldn’t eat shrimp can eat ours. We gather our own oysters and we have have our own crab lines.”

For the final leg on their second day, the team drove to Fish Tales at Fort McAllister Marina in Bryan County.

Collin Russell started as general manager at the restaurant just a few months ago. In his time there, he’s seen how the local community rallies around Fish Tales. In fact, he says he sees most of the guests “anywhere from four to seven times a week.” What keeps them coming back? According to Russell, it’s all about the seafood caught just a few feet away.

“I mean, it’s just a fresh taste,” he said. “A lot of our customers and stuff will tell you the difference between our seafood and you know, seafood that’s north and south of here, is that the shrimp – you can taste how fresh it is. I mean that is always what people say about here:  how sweet our Georgia shrimp is and that’s what we love bringing it to people.”

Just one of the dishes the team got to try while on their trip. (Photo: Sam Perez)

To conclude their three-day trip, the students stopped in Savannah where they met up with Robyn Quattlebaum, the proprietor of Driftaway Cafe before heading back to Athens.

Preparing for SLAM

Now, the team is combing through the content, editing pictures and videos, communicating with the restaurant owners to deliver the material and fine-tuning the brand’s social media. All of this preparation comes ahead of SLAM, an end-of-semester showcase that celebrates student projects and certificate recipients. On May 7, industry guests and NMI alumni from near and far will attend the day of showcasing, networking, reminiscing and interviewing job-seeking certificate students.

Editor’s Note: This feature was written by Sam Perez, a 2022 Yarbrough Fellow in the Grady College Department of Communication and member of the Georgia Seafood On My Mind team.