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 »


UGA grads “have to grind” in post-graduate intern world

Recent University of Georgia graduate, Dorian Ezzard, wakes up at 6 a.m. in New York City to hit the gym, shower, and get dressed before starting the day at her sports endorsements internship. Across the country, UGA graduate, Blake Mitchell, arrives to his Los Angeles film production office around 9 a.m.

These two college graduates share more than their similar work schedules. They have had four to five internships, they work 40-45 hours per week, they live in big cities full of diverse culture, they go to bed around 10:30-11, and they represent the slim success rate of the ambitious and sleep-deprived intern nation.

Ross Perlin, author of “Intern Nation,” says the Millennials comprise an over-worked and exploited generation that competes for internships that do not benefit careers. More young adults ages 25 to 34 move back to their parents’ households than into their own city apartment. About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 in 2011 were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years, according to a 2012 Atlantic article.

Mitchell and Ezzard would be the first to admit the big city life is exhausting, but even after hours of phone calls and hundreds of e-mails, they still stay in their corporate hubs.

“Even when things are going well, you never feel completely comfortable,” says Ezzard. “Every day is a test but when you want it bad enough, none of that matters.”

Ezzard moved to New York without knowing anyone except who she wanted to become. Ezzard works as an intern for CAA Sports. To reach her dream job of becoming a leading executive in event coordination with a NFL or NBA team she spends 45 hours a week at the office from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. A typical day for Ezzard means always being prepared for the unexpected. She could be researching a company for the Property Sales group, or selecting images of professional athletes to be printed on lunchboxes. Before the day is over, it is a guarantee Ezzard will be pulled into several different directions before the day is over. When the day ends at 6:30 p.m. she takes the subway back home and usually cooks dinner or watches one of her weekly shows until bed.

“If you want to move to New York City,” says Ezzard, “know that you have to grind.”

Ezzard isn’t the only one among her friends to accept an internship after graduation. Some of her friends have done the same to “get their foot in the door at a big company.”

Ezzard was paid for three of her five internships. None of Mitchell’s internships were paid, including time at MGM studios and Double Feature Films. The communications field is so competitive, thinks Mitchell, companies get away with offering unpaid internships. Mitchell knows someone who fabricated a letter of school credit to land an internship working on a T.V. set, free of charge. To balance the toll of taking an unpaid internship, she works part-time at the Disney store to pay her bills, while interning without compensation.

Mitchell’s previous internship resulted in his current position as assistant to the executive vice president of production at Participant Media. He works in the Hollywood culture, but not without his own account of an outrageous intern request. At one of the companies he interned at previous to his current job, there was a producer who dinged her car and wanted it appraised and sent Mitchell to get the quotes.

“One day I spent the entire day, driving her SUV around L.A., when I was 19,” says Mitchell, “I was so nervous, thinking I’m going to wreck this car again. I went all over the place to get quotes. It was the worst situation. They would have been sued if anyone had found out.”

Mitchell enjoys the L.A. lifestyle, albeit fast-paced, that makes a demanding job worthwhile. Besides adjusting time zones, Mitchell’s downsize from a S.U.V to a Prius is one of the transitions he’s made since moving to L.A from Athens, Ga.  He commutes in his Prius to get to work around 9 a.m. His typical day is a “flurry” of arranging meetings, phone calls to executives and producers, and travel plans for his boss. Mitchell is constantly on his e-mail. He even brings lunch to work to eat at his desk to keep working without pausing. Mitchell’s schedule is full, but he owes his job to his internship.

“An internship is a great extended interview to prove that you have what it takes to be hired later on,” says Mitchell. “Most of my friends who are getting jobs out here, it’s because they interned at the place before hand.”

Mitchell advises to be flexible and patient to undergrads peering at the end of the tunnel.

“Put in the hard work, make the connections,” says Mitchell. “Be prepared for hard work and maybe not immediate pay-off.”

Cristina DuQue, a UGA student graduating this May has found a compromise between Mitchell and Ezzard. She is not in an internship or job, but a fellowship. DuQue works at 350.org, a non-profit. She hopes the pay-off of this non-profit fellowship will turn into a career. In the meantime, she works 15 hours a week, with compensation.

“In the non-profit world it is a little bit different, they hold progressive ideals, and one of those is worker’s rights,” says DuQue. “The concept of unpaid internships is kind of looked down upon.”

DuQue has worked in other internship positions and has dedicated thousands of volunteer hours. She believes she focused more time on her career development than her academics. For her, this decision led to paid internships, paid travel expenses to cities like San Francisco, Austin, Portland and Washington D.C., and compensation. She has three to four friends across the country who will probably take a similar route after graduation and enter a fellowship.

DuQue is following the grind of her UGA predecessors Mitchell and Ezzard. Even before entering the post-graduate world, her advice aligns with Mitchell’s.

“It’s all about the networking”, says DuQue, “Even if you do it (internship) just for a month or two after graduation, you’ll meet different people and soon a job will open and they may suggest you apply.”

Although the stress level is high and pay-off seems non-existent, risks and hard work from all three of these cases from UGA reveal what doors an internship can open.

“Go after what you want and don’t be afraid to move to a completely new city not knowing a soul,” said Ezzard, “I did it, and I wouldn’t take it back for the world.”


Non-profit advocate works to help Athens musicians

Lesley Cobbs works as a suicide awareness advocate for her community and fellow neighbors, inside the record adorned walls of Athens’ nonprofit music resource center, Nuci’s Space.

Cobbs pushes back her dreads contained by a bandanna as she starts up the espresso machine behind the coffee bar in Nuci’s Space. Her relaxed appearance matches her collected attitude as she simultaneously makes a coffee, answers the phone and replies to a colleague dressed down in casual clothes. Her British accent is evident when she says, “right on.”

Cobbs’ love of music fits perfectly in the eclectic college town of Athens. Her position as Volunteer Coordinator at Nuci’s Space aligns her with the musicians who live in Athens and struggle with depression. Her marketing experience in previous jobs allows her to plan fundraising for Nuci’s Space and establish ties in the community for volunteers. Cobbs works to recruit volunteers to provide the services Nuci’s offers to those who are in need of assistance.

“We’re like a complete package, if a musician needs therapy then we try to make that accessible, we try to remove all the boundaries,” said Cobbs.

Cobbs unlocks all of the practice rooms located in the hallway past the elevated stage, as the morning transitions into afternoon.

“When they’re not actually in therapy, they need a place to play music, they’re musicians,” said Cobbs.

Cobbs walks past the stage, which is covered with speakers and instruments. She points to the adjacent wall filled with records. Each record is labeled with the name of a donor that sponsors Nuci’s Space. Among business owners are several band names inscribed on records. Athens’ staples like Drive By Truckers, R.E.M and Widespread Panic all share space on this retro and symbolic décor.

Cobbs appreciates good local music and harnesses this passion to attract community involvement in events and fundraisers hosted by Nuci’s Space.

“Because of the events that we do, if you ask anyone in town, they know Nuci’s Space,” said Cobbs.

Cobbs puts the finishing touches on the annual fundraiser, Athens Business Rocks, every February. Businesses in Athens assemble a band with their staff team and compete in a battle of the bands style competition.

“We have people volunteer within the community that just want to give something back,” said Cobbs.

Drive By Truckers is an Athens band that echoes Cobbs’ appreciation for struggling artists by performing an annual benefit concert for Nuci’s Space. This year the Drive-By Truckers performed Jan. 17th-19th. On the last night of Drive-By Truckers’ homecoming show, Nuci’s Space hosted a pre DBT party, selling paraphernalia. All the proceeds went to their fundraising effort.

The fundraising provides the funds necessary to hold therapy and counseling. Musicians can come to Nuci’s for support and encouragement. Nuci’s reflects Cobbs inviting personality by creating a comfortable atmosphere and recluse for musicians.

“We decrease the stigma connected to depression by being completely transparent,” said Cobbs.

Cobbs walks into the room where counseling is conducted and switches on the lights. She names off the bands that make up the framed autographed posters lining the walls corner to corner ending on a bright poster signed by the B-52s.

In the past three years, Will Kiser, the counseling advocate, has seen an increase in the number of musicians seeking counsel, rental space and treatment. The ideal vision for Cobbs and Nuci’s is to expand their services to musicians nationwide. The initial step is to open a Nuci’s Space in Atlanta, according to Cobbs.

Cobbs is a visionary, but also sensitive to the depression some musicians face. Creative artists are listed fifth in the top 10 professions with high rates of depressive illness, according to The Guardian. The article suggests the possibility that a high proportion of people with depressive illnesses are drawn to working in the arts, but goes undiagnosed or untreated. It says some may go untreated because they “worry that getting medical treatment would stifle their creativity or make their output less interesting.”

“This is only my personal opinion, this isn’t anything to do with Nuci’s Space, I believe that people who are artistically creative, often can suffer from depression and mental illness and it’s a part of their artistic temperament,” said Cobbs.

Nuci’s Space specializes with the treatment of musicians, but anyone is welcome. Cobbs accommodates anyone who wants to help, or is seeking help.

“Anyone who comes in is treated exactly the same, whether you are an amazing musician, whether you’re a guy that’s coming in to play the guitar, or a guy coming for therapy, everyone is treated exactly the same,” said Cobbs.


Local Athens Library Dreams Big

A shy boy in the first grade scans the shelves at Pinewoods Library before he picks up a weathered copy of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Every day after school, David joins the majority of his neighborhood peers and files into the double wide trailer on lot G-10 that acts as the community’s library.

As the main branch in the Athens Regional Library System, Athens-Clarke County Library opens its newly renovated interior, Pinewoods still operates within its double wide trailer.

Although Pinewoods library is one of the smallest of the 11 branches in Athens Regional Library system, it is constantly busy. Often the library has to turn away children because of lack of space. The library is a resource center for Pinewoods residents, Hispanic immigrants and training center for University of Georgia students. The residing branch manager, Aida Quiñones, dreams of operating Pinewoods with more room.

“We want to offer more programs,” said Quiñones. “Because of the space, we have to say no to so many things and it’s really painful to say no.” A larger Pinewoods Library could offer more children like David exposure to mentoring and a positive learning environment.

From Monday to Thursday from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., there is a constant flow of children in and out of the library for the after school tutoring program.

“There are always kids here all the way until we close around 8 p.m.,” said Quiñones. Mentors for the after-school program are typically student volunteers from the University of Georgia. The College of Education sends students who are learning to teach Spanish or ESOL.

Sam Elliot, a senior Spanish major at UGA, feels like she can see the impact mentoring makes, but also identifies the problem of space.

“One of the girls I mentor frequents Pinewoods more than she does her seventh grade classroom,” said Elliot. “There are always kids here, but not enough room to accommodate them all.”

Children are not the only target audience Pinewoods offers programs to. Pinewoods Library attracts Hispanic immigrants within the estate of 2,000 residents and the 18,000 in the greater Athens area. It is one of the only libraries partnered with the Mexican Consulate offering, Plaza Comunitaria, or education courses for primary and secondary levels.

“In this neighborhood we have a lot of residents who never went past 3rd grade. And with this program, they have the opportunity to finish their education,” said Quiñones.

The funds for Pinewoods start with grants. Quiñones said Pinewoods just renewed the American Dream grant through Dollar General which pays for necessary resources to run their programs. Quiñones clarified that the grants only pay for teacher materials, or other resources for the classes.

“Salaries and maintenance do not come from grants, that comes from the Athens Regional, the grants are more for programs that we offer,” she said.

Quiñones says the Pinewoods branch, nestled between other mobile homes, is small.  She does not know if the state and local government consider the number of immigrants Pinewoods attracts from outside the Pinewoods estate in the budget drafting. The library already actively serves the people in the immediate Pinewoods community and is drawing more people, especially with programs like Plaza Comuntaria.

“Many come from Jefferson, Thalmann, Stone Mountain, many places,” said Quiñones. “When they originally constructed the budget for Pinewoods I don’t know if they took that into consideration. I think they only planned on the Pinewoods residents.”

Rhiannon Eades, the Public Relations Specialist for ARLS, explained the funding by comparing the library system to the health department.

“It’s kind of like a secondary agency, the county has input in the budget draft as well as the state,” said Eades.

For the sparkling new children’s area and other completed renovations, the Athens-Clarke County Library received two grants, funds from 2004 SPLOST totaling $8 million and $2 million from the state. Information regarding how other branches can expand settles with the state and local government. The plans for renovations on the main branch in ARLS were initiated several years ago. As the Athens-Clarke County Library revealed their expansion in February 2013, Pinewoods continued to provide a learning atmosphere for Hispanic adults, children, and UGA students from a space smaller than an average school classroom.

Pinewoods Library uses what it has to provide skills and qualifications to the Hispanic population. It offers English as a second language and computer classes. It recently started Spanish classes for Americans. Pinewoods wants to expand, but is inhibited by space. Quiñones explains many parents want more books in Spanish about citizenship education. The citizenship test is in English, which many of the adults in Pinewoods do not know. “All we have right now are these cards,” she holds up a blue card the size of a credit card with President Obama’s face beaming from the center.

“We want to do more education classes, but once again space is an issue,” said Quiñones.

Pinewoods’ biggest dream is expansion and the resulting ability to offer more classes, according to Quiñones. As Quiñones is listing the goals for Pinewoods, a mother is tugging a crying little boy out the front door.

“See they don’t want to leave,” said Quiñones with a laugh.