Campus News Georgia Impact

University joins community effort to address persistent poverty in Clarke County

The university will play a key role in a major new initiative to address persistent poverty in Athens-Clarke County.

The initiative, announced earlier this month, is a joint effort by the Athens-Clarke County government, the Clarke County School System, the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, Family Connection and UGA to combat the conditions that create the county’s 28 percent poverty rate—twice that of the entire state.

Pat Allen, UGA’s director of community relations, is one of five co-conveners of the “Partners for a Prosperous Athens” initiative. Four university employees sit on a steering committee for the project, and UGA’s Fanning Institute will provide facilitation and staff support.

“The university is committed to helping Athens be a vibrant, safe, economically healthy community, and we are excited to be a partner in this initiative,” Allen says.  

While UGA provides Clarke County with a solid and reliable economic base, the community has long-standing problems with such poverty-related issues as affordable housing, teen pregnancy, school dropout rates, transportation and health care access.  

The steering committee expects to spend this year studying these problems and creating an action plan to address them. 

Staff from the Fanning Institute, part of UGA’s office of public service and outreach, guide much of the work. The institute already has extensive experience studying poverty through its Initiative on Poverty and the Economy, which former Sen. Zell Miller started several years ago to address persistent poverty in the nation’s so-called “Black Belt.”  

Joe Whorton, a Fanning Institute senior fellow and associate professor of public administration and policy in the School of Public and International Affairs, will be the primary staff support for the Clarke County initiative.

“This is exactly the kind of work our public service program is designed to do,” says Allen. “We are grateful to Art Dunning, vice president for public service and outreach, for allowing Dr. Whorton to lend his expertise to this effort, and for making additional resources and personnel available.”

Other UGA personnel on the steering committee are Juanita Johnson-Bailey, professor of lifelong education, administration and policy in the College of Education; Vivian Fisher, associate vice president for public service and outreach; Beth Gavrilles, a researcher in the Institute of Ecology; Latosha Pittard, an accountant for supplies and materials in physical plant; and Brian Williams, assistant professor of public administration and policy in the School of Public and International Affairs.

Leaders of the initiative say widespread involvement by all segments of the Athens community is essential for the project to succeed. Allen urges university faculty, staff and students to participate in public meetings and other avenues for input. “We have superb talent, energy and expertise at UGA that can be crucial in making this effort succeed,” he says.  “Athens is our home, and we need to help make it the best community it can -possibly be.”