In April 2020, Dr. Suzanne Lester readied her mobile clinic with COVID-19 tests for Athens-Clarke County residents facing lack of transportation, homelessness and other care barriers preventing them from getting tested. But before a single test could be administered, she needed approval from the state and the county.
That’s where Alison Bracewell McCullick stepped in. McCullick knew the mobile clinic had already developed strong relationships in medically underserved areas of Athens and saw great potential for the clinic to help the community fight this new disease.
She facilitated conversations between Lester, a physician and associate professor at the AU/UGA Medical Partnership, and the county manager to better understand the need and find a way to help meet it. And within 48 hours of submitting the request to the state, the mobile clinic received the green light.
“There were families in Athens who were uncertain about COVID and its impact,” said McCullick, “so to have physicians they trusted offer testing, provide reassurance and inform them about the importance of masks was impactful.”
McCullick is the director of community relations in UGA’s Office of Government Relations, a position she’s held since 2015, where she helps foster partnerships between the University of Georgia and Athens-Clarke County.
When it comes to addressing community needs, McCullick is more than a facilitator; she’s a home-grown advocate. Born and raised in the Classic City, her community relationships run deep.
She can be seen cheering for the Clarke Central Gladiators—her alma mater and the school where her daughter plays varsity soccer—or enjoying mini-mega nachos from Taco Stand. She also serves on the Athens Career Academy board and the board of St. Mary’s Health Care System, the hospital where she was born.
“I feel like that’s where my role is important,” she said. “Being engaged in the community, hearing what those needs are, and determining whether or not the university can help fill a gap.”
McCullick leverages her love for Athens with her pride in the university’s many research and outreach programs. She has built relationship with nonprofit agencies, Clarke County School District leaders and other county officials.
When Clarke County schools went virtual due to the pandemic, some students lacked access to COVID-safe educational spaces. In response, Mayor Kelly Girtz called McCullick to discuss youth development opportunities. From there, McCullick connected with the Athens-Clarke County director of leisure services to identify areas with the highest need for after-school activities. After conversations with UGA’s Office of Service Learning, the Grow It Know It program expanded to offer programming for elementary aged students at the East Athens Community Center.
Grow It Know It engages students in a wide range of activities, from gardening and composting to cooking and nutrition. In addition to offering socialization and after-school care, students also get to take home meals they’ve prepared.
“That was a real success for the county, the school district and the university coming together, maintaining CDC guidelines and providing educational training for children in Athens,” McCullick said.
McCullick has also served in advisory capacities for several university initiatives, including the COVID-19 Community Engagement Subcommittee, which helped coordinate food deliveries to local hospitals, create a repository of educational materials for families with children at home and more.
“What drives me as an individual is feeling like I’ve made a difference,” McCullick said. “This is a community that I love. To be able to know what our faculty, staff and students are capable of doing, and pairing them with the possibilities for partnerships that exist on campus and in Athens—that’s what I enjoy about my job.”