Proclaiming March 19 “the day we start to solve poverty,” leaders of Partners for a Prosperous Athens, the community’s anti-poverty initiative, presented 10 strategies Athens can follow to help lower its 28 percent poverty rate.
An estimated 1,300 people turned out on March 19 for a community meeting in the Classic Center to hear PPA’s recommendations, which include creating a regional organization to spur economic growth, opening a school to teach technical and vocational education and reducing teen pregnancy by
25 percent in three years.
Other recommendations include converting one or two elementary schools to a “new model” that could be based on the charter or magnet school concept; starting a one-stop access center for health and social services at a local school; and creating a community health foundation to provide basic health services for low-income people.
To implement these and other recommendations, PPA called for a new organization, to be named OneAthens, that would be funded by a private, nonprofit foundation to be in place by next January.
“This is a celebration, ya’ll,” PPA Chair Steve Jones said in opening the meeting. “We’ve recognized the problem (of poverty), we’ve attacked the problem and this is the first step to solving the problem.”
PPA was started in January 2006 by five “co-convenors” including UGA, the Athens-Clarke County government, the Clarke County School System, the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce and Family Connection. The group has spent the past 15 months gathering information about the extent and causes of poverty in Athens.
Many faculty, staff and students have worked on PPA study committees, and the Fanning Institute is providing most of the administrative and staff support for the initiative.
Provost Arnett C. Mace Jr. attended the community meeting and said the university will continue to play a role in implementation of the PPA recommendations.
“The plan PPA set out tonight is ambitious and demanding, but I believe it is what is necessary to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty that has afflicted Athens for too long,” said Mace. “I’m very impressed and optimistic, and the university will work closely with the other co-convenors to ensure that this vision becomes a reality.”
Mike Beatty, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, and Mike Thurmond, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor, told the crowd that PPA is a model for other poverty-strapped cities in Georgia and around the nation.
Written responses to the recommendations will be used to finalize a set of recommendations that will be presented to the co-convenors within a month. PPA will continue holding “community conversations” to discuss the initiatives and will work on implementing the recommendations. PPA will develop a plan to transition its work to the new OneAthens by July 1.
Following are the 10 recommendations from Partners for a Prosperous Athens:
1. Regional Economy. Create a regional economic development organization by July 2008 under the leadership of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce.
2. Early Learning. Provide access to quality child care and other school-readiness programs for all children age 0-5 by August 2010.
3. Education and Workforce Development. Convert two schools, preferably Fourth Street and Chase Street elementary schools, to new school models (charter, magnet, etc.) and develop them, with shared decision-making by the school district, parents, community leaders and neighborhoods by August 2008. Consider additional new model schools as well.
4. Family Engagement. Pilot a comprehensive family resource center at/near Fourth Street Elementary School to provide one-stop access to supportive services and to facilitate family engagement by August 2008. Consider additional family resource centers as well.
5. Public Transportation. Increase dramatically the hours, frequency and coverage of Athens Transit and develop a regional system by January 2009.
6. Affordable Housing. Develop an innovative housing strategy by July 2008 that preserves diverse communities and increases the supply of affordable housing across the continuum of housing needs, from homelessness to rental to home ownership, so that every resident is living in adequate, safe and affordable housing by 2015.
7. Health. Create a community health foundation (with a board including, but not limited to, health care providers) to coordinate funding and basic health services for those in poverty and near poverty by January 2008.
8. Teen Pregnancy. Reduce the teen pregnancy rate 25 percent by December 2010, providing comprehensive teen pregnancy prevention programs at schools, in places of worship and in neighborhoods.
9. Human and Economic Development. Support the Department of Human and Economic Development so that by July 2008 it becomes a driving force to reduce poverty by building the capacity of service providers and empowering individuals and neighborhoods to solve their problems; restructure HED to act beyond being a pass-through agency for federal funds.
10. OneAthens. The co-convenors and Steering Committee will create OneAthens as the successor organization that will provide leadership from the community to ensure the implementation of these initiatives and other remaining PPA recommendations.