Preservation on pause for historic Athens property

In the early 20th century, at the height of success for the cotton empire, April would have been a month of production for the Southern Manufacturing Company. Now, over a century later, Southern Mill, as locals call it, stands as a vacated industrial building, inhabited by only insects and vermin. Read the rest of this entry »


Athens sits in a paradox of poverty and health

Athens residents, among the poorest in Georgia, are healthier than anyone would expect.

The poverty is well known. Clarke County has the seventh highest poverty rate in the state out of 159 counties. Nationally, Athens contains the fifth highest poverty rate among counties with populations higher than 100,000 people, according to recent census data.

And, experts say, that with this level of poverty comes poor health. This is the outcome for most counties in Georgia. Nearly 80 percent of Georgia’s counties with high poverty rates contain health statistics that match up just as poor.

But, a new study shows just the contrary for Athens. Clarke County ranks 14th for the best health rates in the state. They sit just above Henry County who oppose Clarke with the eighth lowest poverty rates.

An assembly of experts offered a range of explanations as to why these statistics contest one another. They include: a UGA Public Health professor, the state’s most well-known demographer, a volunteer physician, and an office manager at a health clinic for the underprivileged.

Three primary explanations from experts:

  • Athens is a young town with a small percentage of the population 65 years or older, which lowers the mortality and morbidity rate.
  • Athens has a large number of highly educated people who make smart health decisions.
  • Athens is a social and economic hub with two regional health centers that attract commuters. There are also free health clinics that help the uninsured.

Athens is a young town.

Multiple news sources, from CNN to Kiplinger, have ranked Athens, Ga. as one of the top places in the country to retire, yet only 8 percent of the population is 65 years and above. That is lower than the rest of Georgia where an average of 11 percent are in their retirement years. In Clarke County, 74 percent of the residents are between the ages of 19 and 64 years old.

“If you have a population that is on the younger end of things,” said Dr. Monica Gaughan, UGA assistant professor in the College of Public Health, “than you are going to have lower mortality rates because older people are the ones who tend to be sicker.”

The University of Georgia plays a slight role in this statistic; however, only a small percentage of students declare Clarke County as their permanent residence so they do not effect the census results.

Almost two-thirds of UGA students come from about ten counties in the metro-Atlanta area, said Dr. Doug Bachtel, UGA professor of demographics. A significant number of these students drive back and forth from school each day or live in university dormitories.

The facts are simple. Younger people tend to be healthier people. Athens has a significant number of young to middle aged citizens who push the mortality and morbidity rate down; therefore, the overall health rate of the county is elevated.

Athens entices the highly educated. 

“Better educated populations are going to live longer and they are going to be healthier while they are living,” Gaughan said. “One of the weird things about Athens-Clarke County is that we have extremely low income levels and extremely high education levels.”

The high school graduation rates of Clarke County are at 66 percent, which is only one point lower than the rest of Georgia; however, there is an overwhelming number of of the population with a bachelors degree or higher. The University of Georgia, located in the center of Athens, obviously plays a part in this statistic. A large portion of the population consists of highly educated professors and professionals, all who contain premiere health insurance and can afford to live healthy lifestyles.

Athens has a bimodal distribution of education and poverty levels, meaning there are large populations of people resting on two extremes of the spectrum. Forty percent of the Clarke citizens have a bachelors degree or above, which is twice the percentage of rest of the state.

“If you aren’t poor in Athens you are actually very well-off,” Gaughan said. “These are the people who are going to have access to good health care. They have money to buy healthy food. Yes, poor people are going to be unhealthy people and they are going to be more likely to die, but if half of the population is extremely wealthy, which is what happens in Clarke County, than they can pull that statistic up.”

Those classified within the 34 percent who live under the poverty line are not all uneducated. Gaughan stressed the necessity to remember the people who contain a college degree, but are voluntarily poor.

“Think about all of the musicians, and the artists and the hanger-oners that are part of Athens,” Gaughan described. “You have the education which will reduce your mortality and reduce your morbidity, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that education is translating into higher income.”

Athens is a medical hub.

Athens is a lively town with shops and shows that people from all parts of the state travel to be a part of. They also commute in for medical care because of the two regional hospitals: Athens Regional Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital.

“It’s all about the location,” Bachtel said. “There is a large number of state and federal agencies that are headquartered here. You’ve got a large number of people with Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance. Plus Clarke County and Athens tends to be a social, retail, service and educational hub in northeast Georgia. That’s why a lot of things cook here.”

About 20 percent of Athens’ residents contain Medicaid. Another 23 percent contain jobs but are still uninsured because they are ineligible for Medicaid and make too little to afford insurance. Most of the private physicians in town refuse to see either type of person, choosing to only care for those on the upper half of the bimodal distribution.

Those struggling in the lower half are not left completely uncared for. A multitude of free clinics are offered through Athens Health Network, an organization committed to filling in the holes of medical care within the health system of Athens. The program started from an umbrella organization through UGA called OneAthens, and then broke off in 2010 to be more focused on underprivileged healthcare.

“Its confusing because most populations have a much more normal distribution than our population,” Gaughan said. “Athens-Clarke County is comprised of extremely affluent, white retirees and professors and professionals, and extremely poor African American people who clean our toilets, and that is the ugly little secret of Athens. These clinics constitute the health safety net in town so poor people, who don’t have insurance, can use these practices to get access to the system.”

The two most popular clinics are Mercy Health Center and Athens Nurses Clinic. Both care for those who are completely uninsured, with no way of paying for health services.

One their main goals, said Dr. Paul Buczynsky of Mercy in a World Magazine article, is to get their patients involved in their own health by educating them on their illnesses. When a patient is treated for diabetes, one of the most perpetual chronic diseases seen at the clinics, he or she is required to take a six-week course that teaches the patient about the illness in order to get a prescription refill. The volunteer physicians highly enforce lifestyle changes over quick treatment so that more patients can be seen over time.

Not a perfect system.

Despite the glowing census numbers, not all experts agree on the accomplishments of Athens’ healthcare system.

Dr. Bachtel feels confident in the success of the services provided by the faith community and free clinics; however, Dr. Gaughan and those at Athens Health Network know the harsh reality.

“We do not have enough resources for the poor,” Gaughan stated. “I think it is a convenient little fiction that we tell each other when we say, ‘There’s so much charity care. Athens is just too busy to hate.’ That’s crap.”

Demand for free healthcare in Athens is rising, according to an AthensPatch article. The clinics are first-come, first-serve, and only have the resources to see a limited number of patients per day, said Mary Baxter, office manager of Mercy.

When the clinics are closed, 75 percent of the patients go to the Athens Regional ER, even though most of their health issues are not emergencies. This increases their wait time and many leave without being treated.

“The poor have pretty hard lives and don’t have a lot of access to care,” Gaughan said. “They go to the emergency rooms which is not necessarily the highest quality of care. If you have diabetes and you are having a diabetic episode than you don’t need to be in the emergency room, you need to be with a physician that has been managing your care. Very few physicians take people who don’t have health insurance, or even take people with medicaid.”

Athens-Clarke County is one of the few places in Georgia who has defied the standard of poor people with poor health rates. However, as seen nationally and locally, there is always room for improvement in the public healthcare system.

Statistics taken from: CountyRankings.orgCensus.gov, GeorgiaStats.uga.edu


One Month after opening World Famous settles in

One stop shopping is becoming The World Famous’s mantra.

The establishment has been open for a month and has already become a destination for food, drink and entertainment. As the sign says outside the door “This is It.”

“I’m really floored by how well received we’ve been,” said co-owner David Parajon. “The community has been nothing but supportive, and it’s made it all worthwhile. The reception has been wonderful.”

There is no question on how successful the model is. It all does start with the food.

Head chef Jarad Blanton takes no shortcuts. The challenge for the chef who formerly worked at establishments such as The National and Farm 255 was to make fresh, high quality food at an affordable price.

“I wasn’t going to serve something that came out of a Cisco bag, that’s not what I do,” Blanton said. “I wanted to get the freshest ingredients and still have affordable food.”

Menu items such as the chicken and waffle club sandwich and wonton nachos only scratch the surface on the creativity Blanton has placed on his food. He embraces the challenges of being the head chef with open arms.

“I like to make pub fare. I hate to put a label on much of anything,” he said. “I want people to come in, not be stressed about the food, have it at an affordable price and enjoy it. “

Alongside that, living up to the world aspect of the name, Blanton also incorporates a wide array of global food.

“The approach has to be the same no matter what kind of food you make, that’s what I try to do here,” he said. “We’re trying to make cost-effective bar food, but we want to make it as fun and tasty as we can.”

Mixing high quality food in a bar environment at first might sound out of place. Yet with the venue serving food until 2 a.m. and having its peak hours of food come after midnight, it all comes together.

“When you’re drunk I want you to think about my food,” Blanton said. “I kind of like that.”

While having a restaurant wasn’t an idea at first, conditions of taking over the rental space played a  role in that occurring.

“One of the stipulations the landlords here had in regards to renting the space out to perspective tenants was that there needed to be a restaurant,” Parajon said. “So, I guess the bar and the venue came first when we found the space and when we realized a restaurant was going to be required we embraced it.  We were thrilled to be able to have that, it was just another challenge.”

The next tier is the drink menu. All of the menus are ever-changing, and the cocktails are no different. Recently introduced were the Tango Whisky Foxtrot, which features tang on the rim of a mason jar, and the Flash Gordon which mixes gin, lime and Cheerwine.

“If you’re in a space, you want to be confident and comfortable with what you serve,” Parajon said. “Whether that’s the band on the stage or the drink in the glass, you want it to be something you’re proud of and something you’d pay to enjoy.”

The affordable prices are what draw people in. Nothing on the menu is over $10 and the portions are filling.

“As long as we can offer folks something that’s worthwhile, if you can offer them a worthwhile experience at a fair price, there’s no secret how to do business in Athens,” Parajon said. “That’s all there is to it.”

Finally, there is the entertainment portion of the venue. As a space that can only host up to 60 people, high quality acts have been booked for the venue.

For instance, later this month the venue will bring in Kishi Bashi, and it has been chosen to host shows for AthFest and Twilight Americana.

“It’s cozy,” Parajon said. “If you ever wanted to be in an environment where 60 people feels like 60 million, we offer that here.”

Branding itself  as a home away from home, The World Famous is all about comfort and relaxation. Through that, the owners are bringing in new ideas.

For instance, there are plans to have bring your own vinyl nights as well as airing television shows in the listening room.

“Over the last five to ten years, TV has become an almost private vice,” Parajon said. “We would love for you to watch ‘Game of Thrones’ here, or ‘Walking Dead,’ Braves games, Georgia games. If it’s a TV event of any importance, we can watch it here together. We’ll watch the election returns or whatever.”

One of the difficulties came with the fact there are so many different establishments downtown either offering food or music. That has required the staff to be versatile and creative in having a presence on Hull Street.

“There are so many entertainment options downtown. We knew we couldn’t offer anything that was already happening, but at the same time, it’s not like we’re reinventing any wheel either,” Parajon said. “We’re just trying to offer folks a variety of things to do, while keeping it fresh.”

With the wide array of ideas, it is hard to believe the place is so small. At only 1500 square feet, some limitations occur, but it doesn’t halt the quality of the food or entertainment.

“The reality was that with 198 square feet [in the kitchen]. It’s tiny, and concessions were made,” Blanton said. “I want to take the same approach the guys at Five & Ten take, I wanted the food to taste like anything I made over there. I wanted to take my time and develop tastes that hit your palate all over the place.”

Outside of space, there have been few limitations and difficulties. Creativity has been what’s making The World Famous successful, and special.

“That’s the great thing about this place,” Parajon said. “When you have an idea, it can come to fruition because there isn’t anybody stopping you.”

Looking to the future, the owners are grateful for the success the venue has had thus far. With that success, the only hope is it will continue.

“We’ve had a lot of great shows and been fortunate enough to feed a lot of people,” Parajon said. “Hopefully we will have many more months like this.”

 

World Famous menu

World Famous menu

World Famous menu

World Famous menu

Mat LaVore performing at World Famous.

Mat LaVore performing at World Famous.

Mat LaVore performing at World Famous.

Mat LaVore performing at World Famous.


Buena Vista historic district approved, though many are left unhappy

On Tuesday, March 5th, the Athens-Clarke County commission board voted to designate the Buena Vista neighborhood as an historic district. Fourteen days later, Mayor Nancy Densen allowed it to pass into law without signing it, officially sealing the area’s fate as a protected neighborhood.

This decision marks the end of an almost two-year controversy between local home owners and perhaps one of the more divisive issues for Athens in recent years.  Though the decision is now final, home owners and developers on both sides of the issue remain unhappy with the outcome.

“It leaves something that everyone can say they dislike,” said one official.

The issue was first raised in May of 2011, when the Athens Banner-Herald reported that the residents of the neighborhood were considering applying to be a designated historic district.  While the neighborhood itself does contain many historically significant homes, it also contains various contemporary homes and rental properties.  With the advent of the University of Georgia’s new medical campus, residents in the area decided to pursue this designation in order to protect the area from development geared toward student housing.  Other home owners in Buena Vista opposed the decision, fearing that it would take away some of their rights as property owners.

In October of 2012, the designation proposal finally went before the Mayor and county commission, where it was tabled until February due to the amount of dissention between residents.

 “I’m glad that there was no final vote back in October,” said district nine Commissioner Kelly Girtz.  “That window allowed us to track up a lot of important things.”  Girtz, along with commissioners Kathy Hoard and George Maxwell, took that opportunity to take another look at the proposed district in order to reach a compromise.  He also explained that preserving the city’s character and history was part of his reason for redrawing the district map, but that he also wanted to make sure that many of the non-contributing properties and the home owners who opposed the designation would remain out of the area.

The purpose of historic designation is to preserve the look and feel of a community as well as protect property values and promote the refurbishment of historic buildings.  In an historic district, any new development or external change to existing buildings must first be approved by the preservation commission.  In this manner, the preservation commission is able to manage development and preserve the character of historically significant areas.

The new district is roughly bounded by Prince Ave. on the South, Pound St. and Park Ave. on both sides and Nantahala Extension on the Northern side.  With just 62 properties, the approved district is significantly smaller than the Historic Preservation Commission’s original 100-property plan that was recommended last fall.  Proposing a plan that included fewer properties, the commissioners sought to protect the historic homes and cut out the properties that were described as not contributing to the historic significance of the area.

But few advocates or opponents of the historic designation are content with the resulting compromise.

“This is not a compromise, but a sellout,” asserted Melissa Link, a community activist and resident of the neighboring Boulevard district at a commission meeting in February.  Standing her ground, she maintained that the smaller district would only allow the area to be taken over by developers capitalizing on the growing neighborhood.  She also argued that Buena Vista should have been included in the Boulevard historic district when it was designated 25 years ago.

Jared York, Vice President of the Athens Area Home Builders Association, owns properties in Buena Vista and was opposed to the designation of this district.  He argued that this decision would complicate many things in regard to renovation for home owners in the area.

“The biggest thing for property owners is that is creates uncertainty,” said York.  “You don’t know if the commission is going to approve what you are asking for, so you are less likely to ask for it.”

York described the process of having to go through the preservation commission to make exterior changes to buildings as discouraging for property owners.  He explained that the fees and permits involved in renovation of these properties could potentially add two or even three months to certain building projects, even if these changes were approved by the commission.

George Maxwell, who represents district 3 which includes the Buena Vista neighborhood, voted against the new plan.  Though he had previously supported the redrawing of the district, he voiced reservations on the idea of a smaller district.  He ultimately decided that he would support the original plan or none at all.

“That compromise is not serving the district as I feel it should be served,” he explained to the commission when he decided to vote against the measure.

Buena Vista resident Kristin Morales however, is relieved by the recent vote, telling OnlineAthens that she would rather see some of the district protected than none of it.

“It’s certainly the most contentious issue I’ve seen since I’ve been on the commission,” Commissioner Jared Bailey, who represented the area before redistricting this year, told OnlineAthens.  This proposal remained controversial for many property owners of the area throughout the entire process.  At tense public meetings concerning Buena Vista, home owners and activists arrived in large numbers to assert their position.

 “People on both sides of the issue brought up valid arguments,” said Kelly Girtz, “but it got to the point where neither side was listening to the points made by the other.”  He maintained that the decision to create and approve the smaller district was not an easy one, but that the commission had to respect the wishes of the people in the district.  In the end, the issue came down to protecting the historic area without infringing on the rights of the property owners.

“It leaves something that everyone can say they dislike,” explained Girtz, “but that’s what a compromise is.”

The owners of this home proudly display their support sign for the designation of Buena Vista as an historic district. This sign contrasts sharply with others in the area that read, “Say No To Buena Vista Historic District.”


Campus Kitchen Fights Senior Hunger and Food Waste in Athens

While one in seven seniors go hungry in the United States, according to a Meals on Wheels report, nearly half the food produced in America is wasted, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council study.

The irony of this isn’t lost on an Athens nonprofit, Campus Kitchen, aiming to solve both– and it now has the recognition of its national namesake.

So far, the organization has targeted a population in need within the community, affiliated with the national Campus Kitchen organization and seen tangible results from its efforts.

“Campus Kitchen has grown a lot and our expansion is really an ongoing process,” Nathalie Celestin, an AmeriCorps VISTA working with Campus Kitchen, said.

Campus Kitchen began at the University of Georgia in the spring of 2011 as a campus organization, but faculty sponsor Cecelia Herles connected the club to her classroom as an initial means of institutional support.

“From the beginning we have been a hybrid of a service-learning course effort and a student organization,” Sarah Jackson, an intern with the Office of Service Learning at the University and volunteer since 2010, said. “It has worked out for the best. Having a student organization and Leadership Team provides the structure and consistency we need to run this level of efforts, but they really wouldn’t be plausible without the support of students from different courses.”

Students completed community assessments in one of Herles’ class to determine the need a feasibility of an Athens Campus Kitchen.

“Campus Kitchen at UGA focuses on seniors in Athens because the rate of food insecurity for seniors is much higher than for other groups,” Talie Watzman, a junior social work major at the University, said. “We wanted to address that food insecurity directly in our operations.”

One of five Athens-Clarke County residents is food insecure, many of whom are elderly.

 “We found that because the senior population is often hidden from society, people tend to forget about them,” Celestin said. “If you think about it, there are so many programs and aid out there geared towards children and young adults because that’s who we see all the time and that’s great but what about the senior population?”

Volunteers pick up food from places it would be otherwise wasted– restaurants, community gardens and Greek housing– and then repurposing the food into meals at a central cooking space. Shifts then take these meals to seniors facing food insecurity.

“The Athens Community Council on Aging already had several programs in place that were targeted at seniors, Grandparents Raising Children and Meals on Wheels are the two we work with, so it was easy for us to get connected with the senior community that way,” Watzman said.

Campus Kitchen benefactors are funneled through these programs, meaning the group can focus primarily on project follow-through and organizational growth.

One major area of growth is the Athens Campus Kitchen’s recent affiliation with the national Campus Kitchen.

“Being affiliated with the national Campus Kitchen was a huge deal for us. It was something that Sarah Jackson and other members of the leadership team had been working for for the better part of 2 years,” said Watzman. “The national organization makes us ‘official’ in a way that we weren’t before.”

And despite a history of service and community connection, that affiliation did not come easily.

“It required a lot of time and a lot of paperwork. We had to submit records of our operations, stuff like the amount of meals we served each month and how many pounds of food we collect weekly,” said Watzman. “A representative of the national organization visited Athens for a few days to check us out.”

Once a school is offered affiliation, the group must pay a $1,200 annual affiliation fee, which covers everything ranging from program support (access to national program managers, on-site training, program materials) to financial resources (in-house grant opportunities and internships) to marketing support (use of national brand and logo, website services, publicity support). In total, Campus Kitchens estimates the value of an affiliation with them to exceed $8,000.

Campus Kitchen volunteers say the training and national management support has been invaluable, and funding opportunities have played out this month. Between April 5th and April 12th, Campus Kitchens across the country are competing against each other to crowdsource the most money in the “Raise the Dough Challenge,” an effort supported by national branding and online funding platforms. The national Campus Kitchen will also give the school that raises the most money $1,000 and the school with the most donors will receive $750 towards their efforts.

Support for Campus Kitchen groups is expensive partially because the projects are so intense, but also because each group is distinct and poses different challenges and needs. The Campus Kitchen at the University of Georgia is no different.

We’re the only Campus Kitchen that focuses on senior hunger,” Watzman said.

Georgia is eighth in the nation for hunger among older adults, and collectively the 166 Campus Kitchen volunteers have put in 680.2 hours of work this semester, according to their own calculations. Many keep coming back because they see tangible effects from their work.

“We were able to remove 32 clients from our waiting list and provide them with two prepared meals, produce from the UGArden and commodity goods to last them the month,” Celestin said. “Thirty-two might not seem like a huge number, but it was a big accomplishment for us and we hope to keep that going.”

Even before those seniors were added to the meal list, in 2012 that totaled 5,745 meals that Campus Kitchen prepared and delivered to community members in need, a result of collecting 27,623 pounds of surplus food, again, according to their own calculations. Those involved also benefit from the work, which Watzman calls “the most rewarding volunteer experience” she’s ever had.

“So many student groups on campus are focused primarily on fundraising and while that is incredibly important, I really wanted to do hands on work with members of the Athens community,” Watzman said.


Linda Lloyd: Justice for All

            Silence covers a brick house that was once filled with Athens’ activist. An intern taps computer keys as time winds down on her final day at work. The executive director comes in with final words of thanks and encouragement before sending the intern off to contribute to the economic justice of the community. This is part of a typical day in the life of Linda Lloyd.

            Lloyd serves as the executive director of the Economic Justice Coalition in Athens. She dedicated almost 10 years of her life to the enhancement of others lives and their rights and does not plan to stop in the near future. Her passion to serve others stems from her humbled upbringing and personal experience with economic injustice. Her influence impacts cities around Georgia but centers in Athens, Georgia.

Lloyd had her final meeting with Strozier Monday morning to discuss her learning plan to complete for the internship requirement.  The interaction was brief but substantial to the interns start in the real world of social work.

“I’ve really enjoyed her she’s very caring and nice and so involved in so many different things. She’s really a hard worker she’s also my teacher at Athens Tech,” said Daniela Strozier.

Lloyd recruits social work interns for the Economic Justice Coalition from her classrooms at Athens Technical College. Strozier was Lloyd’s most recent catch whose term as an intern came to an end on Monday. Students complete the internships for an out of classroom experience as well as for course credit. Lloyd enforces “Good News Day” every Tuesday in class. Students share news about something good has happened to them within the week or share something they’ve done good for someone. She believes that when people acknowledge good things they come back to us.

“I enjoy teaching social work because I love my profession,” Lloyd said. “I’m just as excited now as I was 30 years ago about social work to be able to instill this passion I have in others to become foot soldiers and carry on task that need to be done.”

Lloyd described experience as the best teacher, which led to her implementation of the interns for the Economic Justice Coalition. Lloyd’s past experiences inspired her to expose her students to first hand experience and motivated her to work harder for economic justice for all. She also serves as a field instructor of the master’s of social work program at the University of Georgia.

Lloyd swayed in her desk chair as she reminisced about her personal experiences with economic injustice. She experienced two incidents where she knew that something had to be done to stop the unfair pay and treatment of workers.

With closed eyes, Lloyd recalled a termination from a previous job that she challenged in various levels of court.

“In the middle of my career I was terminated without due process after working for this company for 18 years,” Lloyd said. “ I fought that case for 10 years and eventually got my name cleared but now I’m so avid of workers rights because my rights were violated. I try to teach my students that you have to advocate for another person’s rights like they were your own.”

Lloyd served as the first African American female county manager of Green County, Georgia in 2001.  Lloyd was responsible for the management of over $14 million and 150 employees. When she suggested allocating a larger portion of the budget toward raising wages for workers in the county she was confronted by a commissioner. The commissioner scolded her for the request and cursed so loud that others in the building noticed.  Lloyd checked nearby offices to ask others if they heard what happened. They did, but reassured her that her decision came from the heart and referred to her as a breath of fresh air in the department.

“People go bizerk when you talk about increasing people’s wages at the bottom,” Lloyd said. “But I enjoy fighting, I don’t know what else to do when your rights and mine are violated, you can’t just do nothing,” Lloyd said.

            Her firm belief in fighting for others translated back to Athens in the past 10 years through her work with the Economic Justice Coalition and other organizations.

 Lloyd met with a representative from the Peachy Green co-op program to discuss the next step to get the program on its feet in the near future. Lloyd listened with pursed lips and concerned eyes as updates were shared. Excitement took over once she discovered that the program was well on its way to a good start. The meeting was brief but progress was made.

            The Peachy Green co-op is similar to how a food co-op is set up but focuses on providing work for day laborers in Athens. The program started around three years ago when the Economic Justice Coalition created Unity Cooperative Labor partners as a social enterprise. They recruited handymen, lower maintenance workers and cleaning staff. After receiving a planning grant from the Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago Lloyd along with 15 other businesses built upon the idea of the co-op to make it a reality.

            “We will be Athens’ first worker cleaning co-op and in the south people are familiar with cooperative but they are usually doing food cooperatives,” Lloyd said. “But now in terms of an industry like we’re doing you got other folks that are used to other cleaning co-ops like in the West.”

            The program is still in the beginning stages but affiliates see a promising future for the success of the program. Lloyd understands that in order for the program to flourish she has to be active in the community and with other businesses

“We have to spend time with people,” Lloyd said.  “When you establish a relationship and show people your passion for a cause, they believe you and are willing to help.”

Lloyd twiddled her thumbs as she talked about the wage system at the University of Georgia. She refers to them as slave wages. Lloyd has worked to raise these wages to living wages for employees in Athens and on the University of Georgia’s campus.

“It’s sad to see these workers come in frustrated with the amount of money they make and still see no progress on the issue when new buildings are always being built on campus,” Lloyd said. “The money is there but the activism is missing.”

Lloyd explained that workers are held back from receiving their full wages because the university found ways to get around their own policies. The university is required to pay workers full-time after six months of consecutive work.

The university has around 2,500 employees that are considered part time part-time temporary workers when they are working full- time permanent hours. To get around that workers are paid part time for six months, terminated and then rehired according to various employees of the university. The Economic Justice Coalition views this treatment as unjust.

To fight against it, they work with lawyers who analyze the employee’s cases on an ad hoc basis then provide legal services if need be for the employees. Lloyd believes the Living Wages movement is on a good start to helping these workers move away from slave wages.

When Lloyd finds time to wind down she enjoys staying home.

She kicks off her shoes after work but carries her concerns in her mind one she arrives home. Her husband is the only person in the house now that her daughter ahs moved off to Nashville, Tennessee to teach. Lloyd admits to a new interest in watching soap operas for entertainment and speaking with family on the phone when she can.

“I do too much, I know I do,” Lloyd said. “But people realize that I have passion and a purpose even when I go to Dooly county I’m doing work there.”

Her ultimate getaway is back home to Dooly County but the work doe snot stop there. During her last spring break period, Lloyd traveled home to visit her mother for her birthday but her break was far from a vacation.

Lloyd opened a summer enrichment program and after school program in her hometown of Dooly County in 2004. Both initiatives grew from the basement of her home church building and have had a large impact on her community’s high school graduation rates.  

At the programs inception Dooly County only had 30 graduates from public high schools that most of the black community attended. Yet students from private schools in the county graduated in normal ranks. Lloyd determined that something had to be done. She applied for a grant to start both programs and results were quick to follow.

            “You know I’m a grant writer, and I encourage others to work on a volunteer basis, “Lloyd said. “ Over those years we got over $250,000 and doubled the high school graduation rates in Dooly.”

Lloyd also created the Families First Empowerment Center to help local families understand their rights as workers and how our economy works.

When asked why she continues to work for the benefit of other her answer was simple.

“I was driving down 316 the other day and saw a billboard that said ‘ Happiness is Helping Others’ I think that pretty much sums up why I’ll always fight for the rights of others, “ Lloyd said.

To learn more about the Economic Justice Coalition, make a donation or contact Linda Lloyd follow this link.


Town and gown relationship strong under UGA President Michael Adams

Video

On his first day as president of the University of Georgia, Mike Adams stepped through the Arches, crossed into the downtown, climbed the hill to City Hall, ending up at the desk of the Athens-Clarke County mayor.

Many saw that action as testament to the new president’s commitment to the UGA-Athens relationship.

Now, 16 years later, many agree the relationship is better than ever.

Interviews with Adams, Mayor Nancy Denson, and others show the mindset, the projects and the systems that propelled the improvement.

Relationships between college towns and the colleges they contain can be tenuous amidst the clash of university administration and city government, local and student. Denson said before her time in Athens government, there was a “wall” between the school and the city. Now, the relationship is much improved, thanks in large part to Adams. That improvement, though, doesn’t mean smooth sailing. It means fostering awareness and mutual respect despite the disagreements.

“That tug and pull between different interests makes us arrive at the best interests for everybody,” Denson said.  “Because if you’re just running along smooth and everything’s going great, you don’t look at your processes very closely.”

A collaborative attitude

Director of Community Relations Pat Allen said it is important for the University to be mindful of the importance of its relationship with Athens. Attracting the ideal students and faculty requires a “solid town,” he said, in addition to all of UGA’s qualities.

“I guess we have a self interest in ensuring that we have a vibrant economy in our community,” he said. “That it’s a safe place, and it’s a place that people will want to come for four years or for 40 years.”

The University also has a responsibility to the state, which incorporates its responsibility to Athens.

“And of course as a state institution we have a commitment to the state of Georgia, including Athens-Clarke County, to bring the resources of the University to bear on the biggest problems in the community,” he said.

Denson and Adams both acknowledged that they encounter Athens residents who bemoan the amount of land the University owns but doesn’t pay taxes on. Both, coincidentally, used the term “short-sighted” to describe this mindset, and counter with their own.

Adams pointed out that comments of this type are “potentially harmful to our state support base.”

“They contribute to a negative feeling in Atlanta, not widely shared by our funding partners, who still believe that sending some $400 million of taxpayer money every year to Athens is a pretty strong level of commitment,” he said.

Denson disagreed with these complaints on an even more fundamental level.

“It’s important to note that the University wasn’t just plopped in the middle of town. The town and the university grew together. And basically, without the university, Athens would just be a sleepy little village,” she said. “If we didn’t have all those taxes in property taken by the university, there would probably be just raw land sitting there and it would not have much tax value to it.”

Instead of “raw land,” she said having the University in her city brings a variety of positives – including a more “cosmopolitan” attitude and business growth.

“The University is more of an asset than anything else to the community, but it’s not a uniform asset to every member of the community,” she said.

Allen’s job, created in 2003, is a product of this collaborative attitude.

“It’s called a liaison, it’s called a lot of things, but my role is to assure that we communicate with local government and community groups on issues and opportunities for us on issues that we might be having,” he said. “As self-serving as it may sound to you, him recognizing that we needed someone focused on this every day, that’s a commitment of the University’s resources to the issue.”

Project-based collaboration

Adams’ tenure has seen a variety of projects that strengthened the relationship between UGA and Athens. Project-based collaboration. just one part of the complex relationship, has increased dramatically while Adams was in office.

The University contributed $3.6 million to ACC’s new water treatment plant for odor control in 2011.

“You remember the terrible smell over on East Campus? That impacted the University and our quality of life,” Allen said. “So we recognized first that a lot of the products they processed in that plant comes from campus, so we partnered with them and helped them with some odor-control technology.”

Part of that contract also dedicated UGA resources to helping expand the College Station Road bridge. The bridge expansion will also provide better access to the University’s Veterinary Medicine Learning Center that will be built beyond it.

The University also gave the city land for a fire station adjacent to the plot of land designated for the new Veterinary Medicine Learning Center.

Allen said these are examples of mutually beneficial exchanges.

“We also worked with the city on the bridge at college station road that goes across the Oconee River, to connect not only with that plant but to connect with property that the university owns past that plant,” he said. “We can have much better access to our own property, but at the same time are able to provide another access point for the sewage treatment plant.”

He said the fire station helps both communities as well.

“What that does for the county is it saves them the cost of buying property to build a new fire station,” he said. “What it does for us is it gets us assurance that we have close-by, adequate fire protection on the south part of our campus, especially now that we’ll be building a $90 million building next door to that fire station.”

Another prominent collaboration between the city and the University was made over a building built two decades before the Civil War. The Wray-Nicholson House has flipped between University, city and private ownership over its long history. The antebellum home traces its roots with UGA back to 1825, when it served as the dining hall. It then returned to private ownership in 1845.

ACC saved the house from demolition in 1994 as part of a $64 million sales tax referendum vote. The house took up $4.4 million of that referendum. The city bought the property for $860,000 and spent the rest of the money to renovate the house and the four smaller buildings nearby.

The University, with approval from the Board of Regents, bought the house in 2000 for $2.3 million. It is now the home of the UGA Alumni Association.

The University subsidizes the Athens Transit bus system, “which is what’s kept this city bus system alive,” Adams said.

The University pays 86 cents per rider today, which Adams said puts the University support of the system between $800,000 and $850,000 annually.

A commitment to long-term partnership

Partnership means more than occasional project collaboration. Cooperation on longer-term, issues-based initiatives deals with the broader relationship between the town and University. Allen said this has been one of Adams’ priorities since before his job was even created.

“Since the mid-90s, a group of University administrators and the senior staff for Athens-Clarke County have breakfast once a month, and we talk about those very types of things,” Allen said. “So we look for things, and communicate openly about what projects that each of us have and how me might compliment each other with those.”

the University has a neighborhood relations roundtable, composed of “of Athens-Clarke County elected officials, Athens-Clarke County staff, neighborhood leaders and University folks,” Allen said.

The committee used to meet regularly to address issues of ACC citizen concern. A neighborhood leader chaired the group. Allen said the chair eventually told the group that the major issues had been addressed. The neighborhood leaders suggested meeting on an as-needed basis.

“To me, that is a very good example of improving town and gown relations,” he said. “We have the group that was formed to fix the problems saying we’ve come so far that we can just meet on-call. And there hasn’t been a meeting in several years.”

Denson and Allen individually lauded the UGA College of Education partnership with ACC schools.

“We’ve really invested our faculty and staff in assisting the Clarke county school system,” Allen said. “And we help them operate what we call professional development schools, every school now has some type of relationship with the University, though at different levels, some have on-site faculty some have more of a consultative relationship.”

This collaboration began in 2007, but Denson said she hopes to see even more done to solidify the partnership.

“It’s something that has begun to happen but I’d like to see it happen to a much larger degree,” she said. “So it’s a great benefit to those student-teachers that are coming in because they’re getting hands-on, real world experience with students, but it’s also expanding the faculty of the school because you’ve got more people working with those students. So that’s a perfect example of how you mutually help each other. I think it’s just as beneficial to the university as it is to the elementary schools.”

Allen also noted UGA’s involvement in Partners for a Prosperous Athens, an organization that broke ground in 2005 to address poverty issues in Athens. The organization was a collaborative effort on the part of UGA, ACC government, the Clarke County School District, the Athens Chamber of Commerce, and various local nonprofits.

“We formed a group called Partners for a Prosperous Athens where we had a major initiative to identify and address poverty issues here and develop strategies to try to deal with that, understanding that the poverty level of this county, being whatever the numbers show now, is just an embarrassment to a county with the flagship institution of the university system located within it” he said.

He said the University’s ability to collaborate is important to ventures like this one.

“We got involved and partnered with these other people,” he said. “We didn’t come in and say we’re the university we can fix this for you, what we said is let’s work together and we’ll bring our resources in terms of facilitators and office space and back-room support to help our community address what we think is the major social problem here.

PPA spent time and resources fact-finding and adopting an action plan to address poverty in Athens. It then transferred their findings to a nonprofit called OneAthens. This organization has addressed a variety of needs in the community – most recently helping to develop the Athens Health Network.

Bumps in the road

This positive relationship has had its bumps along the way.

A highly publicized scuffle occurred at Sanford Stadium beginning in 1999. The teams weren’t composed of athletes, but rather of administrators – the University versus ACC.

Before the 1999 football season, UGA workers noticed a brown liquid that looked and smelled like sewage bubbling up from that sacred piece of grass between the hedges and causing patches of grass to die. UGA brought in the company that installed the field to determine the cause of the problem. That company brought in an environmental consulting firm, which concluded that leaking sewage from an ACC line was the crux of the problem.

The cost of repair to the field, the University said, could be in excess of $1 million.

The University took the report to ACC officials and indicated they may be at fault and liable to pay for repairs to the field. ACC responded by hiring their own consulting firm. This firm’s report concluded that the smells and liquid could not be sewage due to the depth of the line beneath the field.

A third report concluded that the smells and liquid was indeed sewage, though the sewage leaks weren’t as bad as in the past. It said the death of the grass was due to old age.

UGA and ACC retained lawyers. The threat of a lawsuit was eminent. But Adams and then-mayor Doc Eldridge announced a solution to the problem in April 2000.

The city agreed to remove a discontinued sewer line discovered beneath the field during investigation. The project cost approximately $40,000. The University agreed to bear the cost of installing new turf and restoring the field before the 2000 football season began.

The relationship has grown since.

Allen said community relations is about bigger questions than periodic projects, whether they be successful or not.

“It’s not just helping build a bridge or a fire station, but it’s helping to address issues that are more long-term and not project related, and might have a long-term impact to the University and the community,” he said.

For richer and for poorer

This isn’t a perfect marriage.  When times get tough, the relationship is strained. But Adams and Denson have worked hard to fulfill their primary responsibilities, despite the dwindling dollars.

“We would like to help in more [ways],” Adams said. “But there’s just not been that much venture capital over the last three to four years to do anything new.”

The University must stick to its “core functions” of teaching, research and public service when money gets tight, Adams said, “and probably in that order, if you look at the budget.”

In his State of the University address this year, Adams said “some have forgotten that the University of Georgia is a charity, not a donor.”

He praised the collaboration on “mutually beneficial” projects in the past, but he reminded the audience that UGA is “a nonprofit educational institution” whose “resources have been more limited in the past three years than at any other period in my 16 years here.”

Adams said it’s important to remember that UGA’s commitment is statewide, not just to Athens.

“I get up every morning thinking, ‘OK, how do I serve the state of Georgia?’ I don’t ignore Athens, I love Athens, I live in Athens, I’m going to continue to be in Athens going forward, but my job is a statewide mission,” he said. “So sometimes I have to balance what’s the request from Athens versus what does the whole state need. And that’s not always a perfect answer.”

Denson said there’s a fundamental imbalance, but the right attitude helps maintain a good relationship.

“Of course the university’s core responsibility is educating its students, and our core responsibility is providing for the safety and welfare of everyone here, including the students,” she said. “So when money gets tighter, that gets to be harder for both of us. But I think that we can make that easier to both groups by having an attitude that we are responsible for each other.”

Looking forward

 When Adams steps down July 1, current Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Jere Morehead will take his place. Denson said she thinks Morehead will be “a real asset to the community.”

The mayor praised his academic background, but said “the fact that he was the first person in his family to graduate from college” will give him the sensitivity to understand the people of Athens.

“He’s going to have the sensitivity and understanding of regular people,” she said, “that people in academia in previous generations may not have had.”