With football season well underway, weekends in Athens are anything but quiet — University of Georgia fans, students and alumni from all over gather in one place to celebrate their favorite sport as a united team of red and black.
Along with the football games, pregames are a tradition that true football fans never skip out on, and Empire South is here again to deliver with its own Fan Friday Pregame series. On Sept. 28, the storefront will be hosting a pregame and benefit for Extra Special People, a local nonprofit that creates opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
Empire South is a clothing store that carries items from multiple clothing brands, such as Patagonia, Orvis, Karlie and its signature brand, Peach State Pride, which was created in 2009. The store came along in 2013 and its name is short for “Empire State of the South,” a historical nickname for Georgia developed out of the state’s economic growth.
“We exist so that individuals of all disabilities have an opportunity to engage, connect and thrive.”
- Laura Whitaker, the executive director of ESP.
The upcoming event is part of the store’s Fan Friday pregame series, a tradition that started several years ago by Derek and Kari Beth Chitwood, the brand owners.
“We host pregames on Friday evenings because we usually have a lot of alumni who come into town to hang out and make the whole weekend about the UGA game,” Derek Chitwood said. “It’s a good chance for us to engage those alumni and it’s a great way to kick off the weekend.”
The event will provide food from Five Bar and beverages to those who decide to attend. The storefront will also feature a trunk show from brands Orvis and Duck Head. Shoppers will also have the opportunity to purchase signature items from Peach State Pride.
This particular pregame event will be different from any of the others because it will also serve as a benefit for ESP. Derek and Kari Beth Chitwood currently serve as co-chairs on the advocate board for the nonprofit.
“We don’t typically work with nonprofits for Fan Friday but we decided to partner up with ESP [for this one] because we love what they do and … we thought this would be a good opportunity to engage people about the [organization],” Derek Chitwood said.
The organization was founded in 1986 and serves to provide children and young adults with developmental disabilities the same opportunities as everyone else through after school enrichment programs, summer camp and family support.
“We exist so that individuals of all disabilities have an opportunity to engage, connect and thrive,” said Laura Whitaker, the executive director of ESP. “These kids have the opportunity to play sports, do art or be a ballerina … they’re given the typical opportunities that every other kid has.”
The event will provide decaf brews and a special Jittery Joe’s blend from Java Joy, ESP’s own coffee cart. Additionally, 10 percent of the clothing store’s sales will go towards funding the organization’s after-school programs.
“[The proceeds] will … help us keep costs really low so every child of every economic background has access to our programs,” Whitaker said.
The best part of hosting these events for Derek Chitwood is the ability to engage and create a sense of community in a laid-back, fun way.
“By Friday, the energy for game day weekend is full-blown in Athens and everyone can bring [their energy] all under one roof,” Derek Chitwood said. “I love engaging the community and the people who love Athens.”
Correction: In a previous version of this article the date for the event was incorrect. This has since been corrected and the Red & Black regrets this error.