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Kelli Jo Armstrong

Kelli Jo Armstrong reports on a community forum conducted by graduate students.

Community assessment helps East Athens residents identify resources

Posted March 4, 2015
Reported by: Laurie Anderson, laurie@uga.edu

Athens, Ga. – Residents of East Athens, Georgia, are discovering resources they didn’t know they had thanks to the efforts of graduate students from the University of Georgia School of Social Work. The students, led by Assistant Professor Rebecca Matthew, produced a community needs assessment study during the fall 2014 that is now being used by community leaders to improve the quality of life in the area.

“The students wanted to produce a document that would prove helpful in informing the scope of future change efforts within the community, as well as a data source to compliment grant writing initiatives to support those efforts,” said Matthew.

The students worked in collaboration with the East Athens Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people who live within the U.S. census tracts 301 and 302, a historically impoverished area. They collected data on the area’s history and demographics such aspopulation size, employment numbers, household makeup and education levels. Students then held forums in which local service providers, leaders, residents, members of law enforcement and local government discussed the area’s assets and challenges.

“Our aim was to learn more about the strengths and current needs of this Athens community, and to offer back a formal document sharing our findings,” said Julia Jones, who helped to present the students’ findings. “We were also hopefully laying some seeds for a better relationship with the university and the organizations who are positioned to be action-oriented in East Athens.”

The students identified seven recurring topics of concern to the community. The three most-often cited were a lack of support for youth, high unemployment and a need for greater community involvement in addressing problems.

Both residents and police expressed a desire for more parental and community engagement with youth to reduce crime and a high school dropout rate. Some saw potential resources for mentoring programs in older citizens and members of African American fraternities and sororities from the university. Participants also expressed a desire for better communication between service organizations, and to address joblessness for residents who had criminal records or who lacked college degrees.

“The elephant in the room is poverty,” said one participant. “We need to find a way to tackle jobs.”

The study also identified several assets. Participants frequently mentioned the East Athens Community Center, which offers tutoring and mentorship to kids. Local churches, a recreational park and the EADC itself were also cited as resources.

Since the study was completed, members of the community have been using it to prepare grant applications for youth programs.

The task of organizing and conducting the assessment was daunting but worthwhile, said the students.

“I think one of the larger things we learned through the class is that it’s so easy to read about working with communities in a textbook, but actually doing that is a completely different experience,” said Kelli Jo Armstrong. “I got a huge lesson in humility and really listening and asking a community how you can be helpful to them.”

A copy of the East Athens Community Assessment final report is posted at http://t.uga.edu/1U0.