LGBT Community Working Within UGA and Athens-Clarke County

Athens, apart from being recognized as a college town, is known for being a culturally diverse place with a progressive society. The downtown Athens area even has a reputation for having a bar or club for every social “scene.”

But what about the Lesbian, Gay, bi-sexual, and transgender community, commonly known as the LGBT community? Athens has a large and active LGBT community, but has no official place to gather outside of the LGBT Resource Center on the UGA campus.

Athens-Clarke County and the University of Georgia both show support for the LGBT community, but there seems to be some sort of disconnect between the community and the two institutions. Athens-Clarke County offers full domestic partnership benefits for city and county workers, however the University of Georgia does not. The university has an official LGBT resource center, whereas Athens-Clarke County lacks any official center for members of the LGBT community and has not had an official “gay-friendly” establishment in 5 years. Read the rest of this entry »

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Four Athens: Fostering Tech Entrepreneurs in Athens

BY TAYLOR BROOKS

Five years ago Jim Flannery moved to Athens fresh from college hoping to start his own business. Like many, Flannery couldn’t find a job, but insisted on staying in the Classic City. Roughly after a year of being in Athens, Flannery co-founded his own business, found a few partners and decided to start a resource for young entrepreneurs in Athens.

Today Flannery spends his days in meetings, reaching out to the public and trying to facilitate strong ties within the community for the organization he co-founded, Four Athens. Flannery currently serves as project director for the organization, which is tucked away in a modest office-space on East Dougherty Street.

Four Athens is a collection of mentors, volunteers, and creative individuals from the community that offer resources, funding, and guidance for young entrepreneurs in the Athens area looking to expand their technological-based businesses.

Four Athens has quite a strong relationship with the Athens Downtown Development Authority. The ADDA partnered with Four Athens to offer its startups rent subsidies to obtain a physical space downtown at a cheaper price.

ADDA executive director Pamela Thompson stated, “The ADDA thinks that Four Athens has a unique approach to helping develop local talent, connecting them to resources to succeed, and allowing us to partner with them to provide space downtown. This helps keep great talent local.”

Four Athens’ philosophy states, “Four Athens believes that Athens possesses all of ingredients necessary to create a strong technology startup hub.”

Startups are small businesses with high growth potential. Four Athens startups must have a technological component whether it is software, involving programming or coding, or hardware, the physical device.

Flannery believes Athens has an excellent market for startups due to the large amount of young, college- educated citizens in the community and the growing numbers of students leaving the university who want to stay and build their dreams in Athens.

Four Athens funds tech based startups, which are increasingly growing around the country. CNN.com listed 9 out of 10 of their top startups to watch as being technology based companies.

Tech based businesses consistently show up in our everyday lives, originating from all over the country and world. Examples range from Tunewolf, a local startup sponsored by Four Athens in the form of an app that allows users to choose songs from a virtual jukebox the venue creates, to the California based social media, photo-sharing app, Instagram.

The Calvin Institute did a study two years ago and conducted that high-tech startups are what’s creating the most jobs.” Flannery said. “In Georgia, for tech jobs, the average salary is $81,000 a year – the monumental impact that could have on Athens just can’t be understated. So, let’s focus on tech startups.”

Flannery believes it is too early to judge any success stories from the startups in the downtown area, but the organization has been growing steadily since Four Athens began two years ago.

In the next few years I’m not looking to see a big liquidation from one of our startups,” said Flannery. “But how we have affected the downtown area is by bringing people here. You’re downtown because of us, I’ve had three meetings today, all downtown. That’s really on the micro level, though. We’re looking to get the 100, the 1,000 people employed.”

Recently Four Athens and the ADDA have partnered together to sponsor Hatch Athens, a new local “makerspace” downtown.

The ADDA offered a rent subsidy through Four Athens for the organization to have a place to hold meetings and organize their members.

Hatch Athens is devoted to bringing people together in the community and other surrounding communities with skills, tools, and experience to design and create.

Through this startup makers and creators can come together, get hands on, and actually create physical products. According to Flannery, these are more “hardware” type products when it comes to their technological component.

Hatch Athens holds a monthly event at the Four Athens East Dougherty Street location called “First Friday Hackathon” where individuals from the community are urged to come together, create something, then choose a winner.

The Quad is another recent partnership downtown with Four Athens.

The Quad is a co-working space aimed at designers in the software field. Here the co-workers have access to internet, a conference room, desk spaces, and offices all located downtown.

The potential for tech startups to prosper is much greater with these recent partnerships that allow large spaces for the startups to meet, collaborate, and connect with one other to generate even more ideas.

Four Athens also takes advantage of the University of Georgia.

Flannery is often a guest speaker in university classes. The organization also has strong ties with the Terry Business of College New Venture Launch Competition, and is involved in the campus-wide entrepreneurial week and career fairs.

We do a lot of one-on-one basis things with the university and I would like to see that formalize over time,” said Flannery. “In most cities our size, in the Southeast, universities are financially supporting community-based incubators, to give students graduating with ideas a platform for a year or two. Which is what we’re doing as well.”

Strong ties with the ADDA, University of Georgia, and countless mentors, volunteers, and creators from the Athens area keeps Four Athens an ever growing, but important organization for our community.

Finally, when asked what was fundamentally important to Four Athens as a whole, Flannery answered,

Community. Companies are built by people and at the end of the day nothing else matters. It’s about finding those communities that can find those people to build those companies.”


Boom Baby Boom

BY TAYLOR BROOKS

By the end of 1945 World War II ended, American troops were returning home, and birth rates began to steadily increase giving rise to a generation we now refer to as the “baby boomers.”

During this demographic boom nearly 79 million Americans were born. Due to advances in medicine and modern technology these individuals, the first of whom celebrated their 60th birthdays in 2006, are experiencing much longer lifespans.

With more than 72 million Americans over the age of 65 by the year 2030, what can be done to assist this large group as they age?

Athens Community Council on Aging member Madeline Van Dyck explained: “Our graves used to be filled with people who died from phenomena, and child birth complications, we now have antibiotics and anesthetics, so people don’t easily die anymore, when they otherwise would have.”

This very same trend is happening in many communities around the nation, but more specifically in college towns, like Athens. The Athens Community Council on Aging became aware of the growing number of boomers and created the Athens Area Village to accommodate aging citizens’ needs.

Van Dyck states, “2012 marked the beginning for the next 18 years of the second ‘silver tsunami,’ which is made up of the members of the baby boomer generation; in a way, demographically, this has not been represented before. We now have the sixty-something-year-old and the eighty-something-year-old in the marketplace and we [boomers] are the ones holding the wealth for the most part, so it’s a huge consumer market.”

According to the 2010 US Census there are 9,952 citizens ages 65 years and older in Athens-Clarke County. This makes up 8.5 percent of the total population. The National Institute on Aging predicts that “by 2030 almost 1 out of every 5 Americans – some 72 million people – will be 65 years or over.”

The Classic City has also been cited as a popular retirement destination in the past several years. In 2013 Forbes and AARP named Athens as one of the top places to retire in the country and U.S. News and World Report listed Athens as one of the cities to which baby boomers will move.

Boomers are attracted to the Athens-Clarke County area for the rich culture and atmosphere, relatively low cost of living, affordable and available healthcare in the area, a less congested environment, and possibilities for continued education through the University of Georgia through programs such as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

In 2012, in response to the “silver tsunamis,” the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA) started the Athens Area Village to accommodate the growing numbers of adults over the age of 50 in the Athens area.

The program is designed after the Beacon Hill Village in Boston, Massacusettes. Their mission was to provide aging citizens assistance by using local resources and volunteers and provide a way for aging adults to do so within their own community.

Beacon Hill Village began in February 2002 and quickly became a trendsetter for assisting aging adults over 50 to age comfortably in their own homes and communities. In 2006 the Beacon Hill Village published “The Village Concept: A Founder’s Manual” which shared experiences and advice for creating a new village.

The Athens Area Village is the first village program in Georgia and serves as the model for the state as well.

The Athens Area Village, much like the Beacon Hill Village it is modeled after, provides services for adults over the age of 50. Volunteers from around the community offer services to Village members, who pay an annual membership fee.

The Athens Area Village has no physical location, but is made up of a community of volunteers and service providers from the Athens area that offer personalized assistance for Village members.

Unlike retirement communities or nursing homes, the Athens Area Village program allows aging adults to the freedom to age in their own homes and receive volunteer help or services as needed. The Athens Community Council on Aging does however have an office in Athens located on Hoyt Street.

“You have your members, your volunteers, and your providers,” Said Matte Barkdoll, a social worker at the ACCA. “Providers go through a vetting process and then they often offer a small discount to our village members. So our main focus is to have our members remain in their homes, age comfortably in place, and provide community and volunteer services like assistance in transportation and simple home repairs that help our members to remain comfortably where they are living.”

The Athens Area Village also offers a variety of additional services to it’s members including: fitness classes, special events, book clubs, and outings around the Athens community.

Other establishments in Athens also provide services for aging adults and disabled citizens. Iris Place which opened its doors in Athens in 2000 is an independent living community which also provides services for aging adults.

Members of this group live within the Iris Place Community, pay rent (including all utility expenses), are provided with three meals a day, and a variety of activities and events offered through the community.

Iris Place has 22 condo spaces and 118 apartments. In regards to whether Iris Place would be able to accommodate an influx of aging individuals in the community, manager Ken Grindele stated: “We’re at a limit now.”

For more serious care-related issues, facilities such as Arbor Terrace offer assistance and facilities for anyone who needs assistance.

Judee Odonell, a worker at Arbor Terrace said “Most of our residents are over a certain age, or simply people due to health-related issues that need help with medication management or a great deal more. For those that have serious dementia or Alzheimer issues, we have a memory care unit for that.”

While both types of assistance and care are necessary within a growing community, the Athens Area Village has adopted an innovative way of providing assistance for aging adults in their homes.

“What is happening is we are aggressively under-cared for across the frailty continuum of aging until we are suddenly permanently over-cared for. This means, we [boomers] have to find a way to die more gracefully, which is coming. Now there are these huge aging dynamically and wisely movements all around the country. Hospice is now not the last three days, but the last three years.” Said Van Dyck.

The Athens Area Village has adopted an innovative approach to assist aging adults in our community at a low cost, comfortable lifestyle, and ultimate ease. When faced with the question of if the Athens Area village could accommodate a large increase of members in the next several years, social worker Matte Barkdoll responded with a resounding “Absolutely.”

The Athens Area Village’s reliance on volunteer work and no risk of reaching a physical capacity with facilities, the program has potential for growth.