Meet the Team
At the Athens Area Commencement Center, all of our staff are licensed and/or certified to treat the disease of addiction. The counselors and nurses continuously receive training and education in the most recent science of chemical dependency. AACC treats each client Biologically or Medically, Psychologically and Socially.
The Commencement Center exists to ensure that each patient reaches his or her destination of sobriety and wellness in a safe and confidential environment, and the AACC staff works together as a team, tailoring each treatment and recovery plan to the individual patient. Our Aftercare Services and our deep commitment to the local recovery community help to ensure long term sobriety for our clients.
JIM HINZMAN - President and CEO
Jim Hinzman is the President and CEO of the Athens Area Commencement Center. Jim has worked in the drug and alcohol field as a clinician and administrator for more than 3 decades and is experienced both in hospital and private medical settings. Jim received his Masters Degree from Emory University; is certified as a Master Addiction Counselor through NAADAC and in Co-Occurring Disorders by the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium/Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, Inc; and is a Certified Clinical Supervisor.
Mary Ekard - Business Manager
Mary has studied and worked in the healthcare industry for 15 years. Her unique skills set and devotion to helping people find recovery makes her the best FIRST person to talk with potential clients. Mary is compassionate and empathetic, all while being involved in all of the day to day operations at the center. Mary says, “Knowing that I am able to help people coming in at their lowest point and learning who they are meant to be and that they too are important is incredibly rewarding.”
FARRIS JOHNSON, MD - Medical Director
Dr. Johnson has worked with the Athens Area Commencement Center, treating patients with addictions, since its early years. Dr. Johnson is a member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and is board-certified by the American Board of Family Practice. A native Athenian, Dr. Johnson has practiced medicine in Athens since 1985.
JOE PRESTON - Professionals Group Coordinator
A Nationally Certified Addiction Counselor Level II and a Certified Clinical Supervisor, Joe Preston is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has more than twenty-five years of experience in the treatment field. Joe is a big part of the Athens Area Commencement Center Team, which tailors treatment to each individual patient based on his or her needs. Joe has been in recovery since 1986.
Charlie Davis, BSW, CAC IT
Charlie Davis is a graduate from the University of Georgia-School of Social Work and an active member of the Athens community. His duties include providing education and group therapy to our clients. He has a passion for helping new clients find their way in early recovery. Charlie has been in recovery since 2014.
CRISSY WALTON - Certified Addictions Registered Nurse
Crissy Walton, CARN, is a passionate believer in treating the patient completely: mind, body, and spirit, especially when it comes to recovery. Crissy's attention to detail comes from her previous work experience in accounting and working with special needs students. She believes her previous job experiences are what make her a better nurse. “People in recovery need to know that someone cares – that someone is listening. You can’t just tell them you hear them – you have to live it. They also need to know the science behind the disease of addiction and what they can do to prepare to get better. Accountability and structure, along with counseling and medical supervision is what makes AACC successful.” Having been with AACC since 2014 she has transitioned from being our part-time RN to Clinical Coordinator. Her favorite part of the program is the Aftercare groups. “Being able to see clients get better. Being able to follow them from the beginning and watching them feel better physically and then transition back into their daily lives successfully is why I am here.”
TINA WHITEHAIR, CAC IT
Tina Whitehair began as an MSW intern with the Athens Area Commencement Center in 2019. After her internship ended, Tina stayed on as a Collector for Dominion Labs and as a volunteer with the Center. A year later, Tina brings her passion and enthusiasm into the roles of Part Time Counselor and Billing Specialist. Tina is always ready with a smile and a song to make clients feel at home here at the Center. She loves her job and does what she can to advocate for clients not only while they are here in treatment, but also when they graduate and take part in our Aftercare Program. She will graduate in May of 2021 from the University of Georgia with a Masters in Social Work degree. She is also currently working on a Certified Addiction Counselor in Training certificate.
MERRILL A. NORTON - Pharm. D., D.Ph., ICCDP-D
Dr. Norton specializes in Psychopharmacology and Addiction Pharmacy as well as the management of chronic pain in the addicted patient. Dr. Norton serves on the faculty of the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy with past teaching experience at Fairleigh-Dickinson University, Alliant International University of San Francisco College of Psychology, and Berry College. Dr. Norton was recently honored by the Georgia Addiction Counselors Association with the Distinguished Service Award for 2015 for recognition of commitment to the treatment and welfare of those affected by alcohol and drug addiction. Norton’s book The Pharmacology of Psychoactive Chemical Use, Abuse, and Dependence, and his DVD series, “The Hijacking of the Brain” are used to train mental health professionals nationally. His new book, The Pharmacology of Substance Use Disorders, will be released this year.
JIM TURNER, MPPPM - Aftercare Coordinator
Jim Turner officially joined AACC in early 2014 as Aftercare Program Coordinator and has served as a volunteer worker at AACC since 2008. Jim holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Georgia. Jim greatly enjoys working with newcomers to recovery and feels the Aftercare Program is a vital part of the client recovery process. Since participation in the Aftercare Program is voluntary, it provides an additional level of responsibility and accountability for those in their first two years of recovery. Outside interests for Jim include golf and reading. Jim has been in recovery since 2007.
COOPER - Therapy Dog
Cooper is our most beloved staff member at the Athens Area Commencement Center. He is a pure-bread English Retriever trained in obedience and is a registered therapy animal. Cooper's job duties include greeting clients and putting smiles on their faces. Cooper loves attention from our clients, and he loves to be loved. The quality of therapy Cooper gives is unlike that of any other staff member at AACC. Cooper can't wait to meet you!