Setting vision a priority for new AthFest directorPosted: April 3, 2014
By Clay Reynolds
Jill Helme brings a unique mix of skills to her new position as director of the downtown Athens based nonprofit AthFest Educates.
A former English teacher and school administrator, she left her job working with a school system in Orlando Florida to pursue a masters degree in nonprofit leadership – a step she took with an ultimate objective of becoming the executive director of a nonprofit organization centered around education or youth.
A nonprofit like this one was exactly what she had in mind.
“My entire path has been leading me to this,” Helme said.
Helme, named director of the organization this past week, replaces previous director and founder Jared Bailey, who stepped down earlier this year. She takes over the position April 15.
She comes into the job hoping to help the organization set a more of a future vision in its efforts at sponsoring music and arts education programs for kids in local schools.
AthFest Educates supports grants to local educators through its two well-known fundraisers: the AthFest Music and Arts Festival each summer and the AthHalf half marathon every fall.
Highly successful with those events, the organization’s board wanted to bring in someone who could help better translate those dollars into the community impact they want to make.
Helme fit into their plan perfectly.
“Their mission is so clear. They just want to make sure they can achieve that mission,” she said. “I felt like I was a big piece of that puzzle.”
Helme moved to Athens last year when her husband took a job with the University of Georgia’s Dept. of Student Affairs.
She joined in on his trip to interview for the position, and made sure to bring along their 2-year-old son so they both could scout out Athens as a place to live, work and go to school.
It made the cut.
“It was really important to me to feel like we could live and work in a college town even though we were not directly connected to the school,” Helme said.
She graduated with a bachelors degree from the University of Florida – a college town atmosphere she said is totally different from Athens.
“Living in a place like Gainesville, truly the whole culture was the college,” she said. “Athens has a complete separate identity. People who aren’t connected to the university still have a whole separate culture.”
Quite a bit of that culture will reside just outside the door of her new downtown office, housed in the AthFest headquarters on Clayton Street. She’s only been there a few times, but is still new enough to not have memorized the address.
Helme expects the change in leadership to be largely transparent, especially since she’ll leave much of the organizing work behind this year’s already-scheduled music festival and race to those who have done it in years previous.
She will mostly throw her efforts behind evaluating the programs AthFest helps fund for effectiveness and purpose, and look to develop long-term plans for improving them.
“They’re clear on who they want to serve and the kind of impact they want to have,” Helme said of the AthFest board’s objectives. “What’s not perfectly clear is where they want to be in three years. They want somebody to help pull all those ideas together and to get it into some kind of vision.”
She describes her passion as working with youth, ages 13-20. She realized that in five years spent teaching English and language arts, four of them in Orlando and a fifth in Valencia, Venezuela.
Helme eventually moved out of education to do more work dealing with youth development and after-school programming. Her family spent time living in Orlando, Philadelphia and Chicago before making their most recent move to Athens.
They felt attracted to the Classic City for a number of reasons, especially the low cost of living, which has enabled them to spend more time together. But she was most intrigued by the sense of community she noticed in all spheres of Athens life.
“It’s definitely a community effort,” Helme said. “Everybody is focused on doing what’s going to build and better their community.”
Athens is different from places she’s previously lived, but is great in its own way.
“There are a lot of things I miss,” she said. “But a lot of great things about living in a smaller town that you couldn’t replicate anywhere else.”