Clarke County Board of Education to Vote Upon Budget at Tonight’s Meeting

By Joy Bratcher

The Board of Education tonight will vote on the $130 million budget proposed by Superintendent Phillip Lanoue.

<http://www.clarke.k12.ga.us/files/14/fy2016%20budget%20presentation%20final.pdf&gt;

Lanoue says the budget includes expenses needed to equip the renovated Clarke County High School and the rebuilding of Whitehead Elementary and Barnett Shoals Elementary schools.

A special purpose local option sales tax, SPLOST, financed the construction. In addition to the operating budget, the board will vote on matters related to the SPLOST tax

Construction began in mid 2014 on Clarke Central High School, Whitehead Road Elementary School, and Barnett Shoals Elementary School. At Clarke Central High School, a $30-million renovation and partial reconstruction is taking place according to the Clarke County School District Update presented in August of 2014.

<http://www.clarke.k12.ga.us/files/4391/splost%20update%20presentation%2008%2D14%2D2014.pdf&gt;

Tonight, Lanoue will update the board on the construction.

Much of what has happened so far is demolition, but some of the restoration process is already finished. At the start of this school year, students seen restoration to their classrooms in the west wing second and third floors of the high school.

The wing’s classrooms have been expanded from 660 square feet to 930 square feet, Shearer’s article stated. This is to accommodate larger class sizes Clarke and other schools have been forced to form due to cutbacks in education funding.

Students at Whitehead Elementary will be anticipating a new building this fall as construction is scheduled to conclude in August. The new school will also be welcomed along with a new Barnett Shoals Elementary that will be finished at the end of 2015 and opened in January of 2016.

According to the budget presentation, the goals of the 2015-2016 budget also includes:

Goal I – Select, support and retain a highly dedicated, talented and diverse professional workforce.

Goal II – Create dynamic learning experiences for all students to close the achievement gap and to prepare them for college and careers.

Goal III – Strengthen neighborhood schools through strong collaborations with parent, district and community members to support student academic growth, socio-emotional development and physical well-being.

Goal IV – Strategically leverage resources to improve district programs and implement new initiatives.

Tonight’s meeting will begin at 6 pm at 240 Mitchell Bridge Road.


After a few drinks health score doesn’t matter

By Audrey Milam and Esther Shim

 

Jerrod leaves Magnolia’s at 2:20 a.m. Thursday night, ready to sober up on a heaping pile of hot food at a 24-hour restaurant. Few full service restaurants are still open downtown, but Jerrod has his sights set on Waffle House. The Washington Street Waffle House received an 87 on its last health inspection, not terrible but not great. “I don’t care,” Jerrod says, “Waffle House is AMAZING.”

“The Grill is disgusting. Steak ‘n Shake is way too far to drive on a couple [of drinks]. That’s just my prerogative,” Jerrod said, explaining his rationale.

After a night of fun and drinks, Jerrod said that he isn’t looking to drive anywhere, especially when Waffle House is only a short walk away. Plus, he enjoys the All-Star Breakfast deal that the joint serves.

Jerrod’s loyalty to his first choice restaurant is typical of downtown visitors. When it comes to picking a dive, cleanliness isn’t a factor. People just don’t care.

In a survey of 50 late-night drinkers, only two people changed their minds about their chosen eatery after learning the health score. Both decided not to go to Waffle House.

Most of the survey subjects commented on the quality and taste of the meals served or the quality of the service provided. Cleanliness didn’t play a large role in altering a subject’s choice of venue.

Multiple people declared that Waffle House had the best breakfast, the most convenient location, and the most food for a few bucks. In terms of pricing, some, such as UGA student Lewis Payne, disagreed.

“I prefer Steak ‘n Shake. Waffle House in Athens is disappointing. They all have bad service and cold food. I’ve never had a good experience at any of the three around campus.”

There are in fact nine Waffle Houses around Athens.

Steak ‘n Shake, a chain restaurant specializing in Steakburgers and milkshakes, was noted the second-most popular restaurant during the survey. The venue boasts half-priced shakes during happy hours from midnight to four in the morning, a prime time for drunken crowds to rush into the diner.

However, half-priced shakes and hot Steakburgers don’t mean that the restaurant is performing at high standards. The Steak ‘n Shake on West Broad Street actually failed a health inspection.

Unexpectedly, no one decided against Steak ‘n Shake, even after learning that it received a score of 71. The Clarke County Department of Public Health cited the restaurant for two critical violations: failure to properly wash hands, and failure to cool food properly.

Employees were seen handling clean dishes right after washing dirty dishes, something you might easily do in your home and never give a second thought. But it’s cross-contamination in the dish room enough to alarm health inspectors.

A representative for the West Broad Street Steak ‘n Shake declined to comment on the branch’s performance.

Steak ‘n Shake’s failure didn’t seem to sway its fans, though.

“I can’t believe Steak ‘n Shake is so dirty. I guess I’d still go, though. I love their fries,” said UGA student Sarah Greene.

The restaurant offers several flavored seasonings for customers to add to their fries. Greene said she constantly craves this dish and often orders “a ton of fries and a shake after a night out with the girls.”

After learning about some of Steak ‘n Shake’s health code violations, Greene shrugged and said, “they must be busy or something.”

Ricoh Black, another UGA student, agreed, “I’d still go to Steak ‘n Shake to get my Steakburger, parmesan fries and my mint Oreo shake. Can’t pass up such a good deal. Why would anyone want to pay 10 bucks for a burger when they can pay four bucks for one?” he said, referring to the higher prices at The Grill.

The long-time Athens diner, The Grill scored the best out of the round-the-clock downtown eateries. It’s score of 93 is exceptional, but not enough to change its perception as a grungy hole-in-the-wall.

“I was never a big fan of The Grill. It’s grody,” said UGA student Matt Thomas. He said the cleanliness was funny because “it’s always gross” when he goes. “I haven’t heard any good things, like ever.”

According Yelp, The Grill scored three and half stars out of five, and four stars on Urbanspoon.

Mike Bradshaw, owner of The Grill since 2009, laughed at the survey’s findings. “I worked my butt off for that [health inspection] score!” he said.

When it comes to dining after a night out and a few drinks, does the health score truly make a difference? In this college town, it’s not about the cleanliness of a diner, but about convenience, large servings, and money left in pockets.

 


Easements preserve natural and community resource

If you blink, you’ll miss 230 Boulevard. You’ll miss the bags of soil and the saplings waiting in blue recycling bins. The mayor and commission approved plans in February to turn the tiny lot into Boulevard Woods, a community park.

Land is very expensive in the historic neighborhood, but owner Gary Bayard chose not to clear it and sell to a developer; instead he placed it in a conservation easement, a privately owned property that can’t be mined, timber farmed, or developed, per the owner’s request.

Boulevard is only one lot out of more than 800 acres in Athens-Clarke County designated as conservation easements.

Landowners can receive federal income tax deductions and state tax credits for registering land with an approved conservation organization like Athens Land Trust or Georgia Conservancy.

But to the average Athens-Clarke County resident, what difference does a conservation area make? Most of the county’s 120,000 residents rent, not own, property.

The answer: land conservation protects biodiversity and ecosystem services such as clean air and water. Athens area conservation protects the water supply in particular.

Many easements border the middle Oconee River or its tributaries. Athens Land Trust protects more than 600 acres along the Oconee in multiple counties.

People care about water, said Dr. Liz Kramer of the Natural Resources Spatial Analysis Lab. “When we start seeing a stress on a resource, it’s going to impact us.”

Georgia’s land and water are stressed more than ever, Kramer said. “Georgia changes a lot because we have a lot of development,” she said.

Permanent easements insure some of Georgia’s resources are maintained.

Because more than 95-percent of Georgia land is privately owned, these easements are the most effective tool for conservation, according Clint McNeal, Georgia Land Conservancy conservation specialist. Landowners retain the rights to sell and bequeath the land, local governments receive property taxes, and registered conservation trusts care for the land and its resources in perpetuity.

The State Assembly introduced the tax incentive program in 1993 to encourage more land owners to protect forests, wetlands, and greenspaces from destruction.

The state offers transferable tax credits for 25-percent of the land’s resale value minus the development or timber value prohibited by the easement, up to $250,000.

The credit especially helps “land-rich, cash-poor” individuals who can sell the credit for about 80 cents on the dollar, said McNeal, although as few as eight easements in the state qualified for credits last year.

Limited liability corporations also contributed to the increase in number of easements in the last two to three years, said Athens Land Trust Conservation Director Kyle Williams.

Although people tend to think of conservation areas as large tracks of land like Bear Creek Reservoir, the average size of an easement in Athens-Clarke County is 67 acres, that’s about two city blocks.

In the Boulevard neighborhood, less than half an acre makes a difference. Boulevard Woods will provide a greenspace in Athens’ urban center, a unique role in the growing city.

Boulevard is an affluent pocket in a mixed student, townie, and low-income area. Williams says the conservation easement is a really a community easement.

“Recognizing a tree is valuable, or a flower, gives them a greater sense of stewardship of resources.”


Undocumented students in Athens left with few in-state college options

By Lauren McDonald

As a senior in high school, Alejandro Galeana-Salinas had the grades and the ambitions to go to a top university in Georgia. But because of his legal residency status, he didn’t have the option to apply.

“It was senior year – my final year – and next year I would be out in the real world, paying bills,” said the recent Cedar Shoals High School graduate. “It was either college or bust.”

Of the approximately 3,000 undocumented students who graduate from Georgia high schools every year, none may receive in-state tuition rates or federal aid to attend college, per state policy.

The University System of Georgia also bans undocumented students from attending five of the top public schools in the state of Georgia, including the University of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University.

For undocumented students who would otherwise possess the credentials to attend one of the top five schools and who cannot afford to attend college without federal aid or in-state tuition, the ban restricts their access to most options of higher education in Georgia.

These state policies left Galeana-Salinas feeling apathetic about his future for the first half of his high school career.

Galeana-Salinas said his plans at that time did not extend further than receiving a high school diploma and applying for a position to work in a factory with his parents.

“I thought, ‘There’s no point in me going to college, I’m not going to make it,’” he said. “That was just what I thought. My parents work in factories, and I don’t know anyone who goes to big colleges. The people that I do know go to Athens Tech, so I didn’t see the point.”

In 2010, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents implemented these policies due to the concern that undocumented students would take college seats away from natural-born citizens.

“The purpose of the policy was to mirror state law as passed by the Georgia General Assembly,” said Charlie Sutlive, USG vice chancellor for communications.

In 2010, a USG report also found that, of the 310,000 students enrolled in University System of Georgia institutions, 501 were undocumented.

Federal law entitles unauthorized immigrant children to free kindergarten through twelfth grade education, following the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court Plyler v. Doe decision that struck down a state statute that denied funding.

“The Georgia Constitution creates a clear right to public K-12 education, and the U.S. Constitution requires that this right be afforded to Georgia residents equally, regardless of immigration status,” Sutlive said. “However, that requirement does not extend to public higher education.”

For undocumented students with aspirations to attend college, the ban takes a toll on their self-motivation, according to Lauren Emiko Soltis, an activist who has worked with undocumented students for the last four years.

“So many of my students, if you look at their grades from freshman and sophomore year, they’re taking AP classes, and they’re getting 4.0s,” Soltis said. “Then junior year, their grades start to decline. And that’s a reflection of the fact that they realize that they don’t have any options for college.”

The students give up hope, Soltis said.

“By the time that they’re senior or that they graduate, they have internalized failure in order to protect themselves,” Soltis said. “That’s a terrible thing to do to young people, to essentially close off their options for the rest of their lives, in a society where higher education is absolutely essential to economic mobility.”

Georgia’s policies do not match those of most states, Soltis said.

Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina maintain admissions bans on undocumented students, and Georgia, Arizona and Colorado ban undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition. Georgia maintains both policies – the only state to do so.

Galeana-Salinas didn’t realize he had any possible chance to receive an education beyond high school, until he got involved in the undocumented immigrant activist movement.

Attending marches and protests, as well as getting heavily involved with organizations such as the Ambitious for Equal Rights group and the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, Galeana-Salinas took part in the earliest conversations to found Freedom University.

Founded in Athens in 2011, FU provides an option for undocumented students to continue their education. FU students also take part in the activist movement to lift the bans and increase access to higher education.

“I would go to my high school classes, and I would be like ‘I don’t feel like bubbling in this answer sheet, I do not want to do this homework, I’m sorry but I just don’t care,’” Galeana-Salinas said. “And then I would go to Freedom University, and I was learning about Jim Crow, I was learning about stuff I really loved. These were college-level courses, so we would debate and discuss – things we didn’t do in my high school classes.”

His experience as a student activist at FU altered Galeana-Salinas’ plan.

“In junior year, I started getting focused,” he said. “I thought, ‘Okay, I need to go to college. I can’t work at a factory for the rest of my life, I have more potential than that.’”

But the USG ban left him with few options in-state.

Galeana-Salinas said he knew several undocumented students at Cedar Shoals hindered by the state policy.

“There’s different ways students handle this,” he said. “Some students went and applied to other colleges outside of that spectrum, like to private colleges. A lot of private colleges seem like the answer right now for a lot of us.”

Despite Georgia’s ban, Galeana-Salinas planned to go to college. So he took action, applying to schools out-of-state.

This past year, Galeana-Salinas received a full scholarship to Berea College in Kentucky, where he will begin classes as a psychology major in the fall.

One out of five Freedom University students leave with a full-ride scholarship to an out-of-state school, Soltis said.

“It shows that they are academically qualified, but they have to leave the state of Georgia in order to continue their education,” Soltis said.

But right now, Sutlive said, the Board of Regents does not plan to change the policy. He said the policy continues to achieve its purposes, and USG institutions are adhering to it, including the 25 of the 30 schools that allow undocumented students to attend, if they meet the admissions criteria.

“Given that our policy mirrors state law, until state law changes, the Board is not discussing a change in policy,” Sutlive said.

Even though Galeana-Salinas achieved his goal, he plans to continue with the student activist movement, because he said the fight for education equality for undocumented immigrants has far to go.

“There’s such gray areas when it comes to access to higher education, access to funds, grants and scholarships,” he said. “You just have to keep asking questions.”


CHaRM facility coming soon!

By Esther Shim

Residents and businesses in the community of Athens have been limited when it comes to recycling or disposing of broken equipment around the home or workplace. During fall of 2015, the city of Athens, Ga., in response to the lack of proper trash handling, will finally bring in a one-stop-drop facility for those inconvenient, large or dangerous objects that are difficult to recycle.

The 2011 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) is funding the Athens-Clarke County Center for Hard to Recycle Materials facility (ACC CHaRM) or Project #25, which will replace the former Solid Waste Department site at 1005 College Avenue. According to the SPLOST Project Concept, the 11,217 square feet facility will be able to house all necessary equipment and will cost $187,000 to renovate and equip.

On Feb. 2, 2012, the members of the Mayor and Commission meeting approved the Center for Hard to Recycle Material’s concept, designed to accommodate the community’s need for convenient trash management, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. The purpose of the facility is to provide a location that people can bring their large or dangerous items, such as vacuums, mattresses, refrigerators, or even chemically composed objects. This will prevent residents or businesses from having to leave potentially hazardous items on their curbs or in front of their homes, according to the project concept.

Additionally, the concept proposes that it will provide opportunities for the community to learn how to efficiently recycle and use the resources that they have available. There will also be educational programs available to teach the younger generation about the importance of conservation and recycling.

A large area that the facility will affect is the main downtown region of Athens. Suki Janssen, the interim director of the Solid Waste Department, says that downtown is always a challenging area for trash and recycling management due to the lack of alleys to hold disposed or recycled items.

“So many business owners can’t put their trash and recyclables in a less visual location, and they can’t keep it in their facility due to health code violations,” said Janssen.

Business owners and residents will be able to bring in their broken equipment or large objects to an area that is close by and easy to access. Janssen said the facility will also play a large role in raising the waste diversion rates from 47% to 60% by the year of 2018 due to the efficiency that should come from the center’s operational nature.

Items that are dropped off will be sorted and labeled as recyclable or disposable. Large items that are recyclable will be taken apart so that conservable pieces can be reused. Hazardous or chemically composed items that can’t be recycled will be disposed of in landfills. The Solid Waste Department’s goal is to recycle as much of the dropped-off material as possible.

Although the facility is conveniently located and easy to use, the project plan suggests that there will be a small handling and shipping fee for certain items such as electronics, tires, and other reusable objects. The Athens-Clarke County’s concept for the center originated from facilities in Colorado.

The first Center for Hard to Recycle Materials facility was established in Boulder, Colo., and opened in 2001, according to the Eco-Cycle, an organization which helps provide services to help build zero-waste communities. The organization designed the facility with hopes to recycle more objects instead of throwing them away. This not only reduces the amount of trash building up in landfills, but it also provides ways for communities to conserve natural resources by reusing items that have already been used.

The Center for Hard to Recycle Materials has swept through Colorado, and is making its way into Georgia’s communities. The morning of Nov. 15, the Atlanta City Council held a groundbreaking ceremony for its own recycling facility, and the site became operational at the beginning of the year.

Other states have also constructed facilities to hold hazardous or hard to recycle materials, while others have specifically targeted electronics due to their mixed compositions of reusable parts. The Environmental Protection Agency states that many of these facilities have been designed to not only reduce waste, but also to produce economic development opportunities.

In charging a small fee for handling, the facilities provide employment opportunities and generate tax revenues from the operations. Frank Hefner and Calvin Blackwell, professors of the Department of Economics and Finance at the College of Charleston, say that recycling contributes to the economic health of a state just as much as it benefits the environment.

Due to the benefits that recycling and conservation have on the environment as well as the economy, many states in the nation have either adopted the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials facility design, or have chosen to build facilities that are specific to hazardous or reusable items such as electronics or vehicle parts.

The Athens-Clarke County facility will provide many benefits and job opportunities for members of the community. It will be an efficient way for the city to become a more eco-friendly community and a more economically sustainable one as well.

To find out more information about the Athens-Clarke County Center for Hard to Recycle Materials or the origin of the facility, take a look at the following sites:

Origin of CHaRM Facility: www.ecocycle.org/charm

ACC CHaRM Facility: www.athensclarkecounty.com/5849/CHaRM


The Road to Legalization of Medicinal Marijuana is not over

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The road to legalization of medicinal marijuana is a bumpy road. At one point, it seemed like the possibility of legalization was going to happen. Senator Allen Peake was pushing hard for House bill 885 which would have legalized the use of cannabis for the treatment of cancer and glaucoma. House Bill 885 did not pass because the General Assembly did not have the chance to deliberate the bill. Another bill, Senate bill 397, which would have reformed medical treatment for autistic children in Georgia was a last minute addition to HB-885 and this attachment did not fair well for both bills.

Georgia HB 885, titled Haleigh’s Hope Act was passed in the Senate 54-0 only to later have it shot down on the floor of the General Assembly. A few people though, were skeptical of this bill without some changes.

The director of Georgia C.A.R.E Project saw this coming.

“We supported HB-885 with the hope that the committee (House Health & Human Services) would identify the issues and modify the bill’, said Bell. “Without this reform the bill is dead!”

According to James Bell, a component of House Bill 885 would have given smugglers immunity from prosecution to anyone who smuggles cannabis extracts into Georgia. He claims the proposal encourages swindlers and patients to violate federal laws that could land someone in federal prison for minimum of ten years to life.

“HB-885 sets up yet another black market and jeopardizes the freedom of those seeking legal medicine’, Bell said. “We need to legalize cultivation of cannabis in Georgia. We need legislation that removes cannabis from the criminal elements.”

James Bell, a lobbyist for marijuana law reform, resentfully supported HB-885 but now will turn his attention to the 2015 legislative session and will begin to work on a new bill that allows for “legal cultivation, dispensing and doctors recommendations for cannabis use.”

Medicinal marijuana reform has gained some muscle in the past few years. Some of that muscle has came from Dr. Sanjay Gupta, an important advocate for medicinal marijuana and an influential individual being a CNN correspondent who has taken numerous trips to hospitals and laboratories hoping to understand the science behind marijuana.

“It is about emerging science that not only shows and proves what marijuana can do for the body but provides better insights into the mechanisms of marijuana in the brain, “ said Gupta. “This scientific journey is about a growing number of patients who want the cannabis plant as a genuine medicine, not to get high.”

Dr. Gupta went onto release a sequel to “Weed” entitled “Weed 2: Cannabis Madness.” In the sequel, Dr. Gupta looks at United States federal laws that contemplate marijuana as a drug with no medicinal value and provides voices from scientists who say the federal laws are wrong.

In other words it is the “politics of pot – the politicians vs. the patients.”

So who are these politicians that some are pro medicinal marijuana and others who are against medicinal marijuana.

Nathan Deal, Governor of Georgia expressed his interest in legalizing medicinal marijuana after HB-885 did not follow through.

“I will be talking with all of our state agencies who have any kind of involvement in dealing with that issue to see if there is something we can do to make this treatment possible, “ Said Deal.

Marijuana has been called the “gateway drug” and one of the many reasons why it is still illegal is because of the THC level in the plant. The THC in marijuana is what gives you the “high” but in marijuana there is cannabidiol.

Cannabidiol “is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that possesses a wide range of therapeutic benefits.”

Some of the few benefits of CBD (cannabidiol) are that CBD can offset the carcinogens found in metastasis of cancer. CBD is also an anti-psychotic medicine that can treat schizophrenia as well as other brain related concerns.

So why is medicinal marijuana still ILLEGAL?

One of the reasons why it remains illegal in Georgia can be unfortunately thanked to Senator Renee Unterman who attatched Senate Bill 397 to House Bill 885 which would have “reformed medical treatment for autistic children in Georgia.”

“She had an agenda important to her, but it needed to stand alone. She didn’t need to hijack another bill to push her piece of legislation”, said Rep. Allen Peake, the main sponsor of HB 885.

Therefore adding SB 397 to HB 885 it predicted failure.

This failure puts a speed bump on the road of legalization to medicinal marijuana and it affects everyone from patients to politicians because of how important a reform like this is in present American society.

“These parents don’t understand how the General Assembly works but this building is nothing but politics”, Unterman said in an interview with WSBTV.

Now it seems like the year 2013-2014 the legislative session failed to pass two important bills for autism and medical marijuana reform.

Nonetheless, if each bill stood alone then we might now be in an era where medical marijuana is legalized.

The road to legalization of medical marijuana started on a high note, and then ran into some problems; but the road continues and might just end in a high note.

State Senator Curt Thompson has filed State Bill-432 (Controlled Substance Therapeutic Relief Act), which will address many of the issues such as the quality of how medicinal marijuana will be served, the safe and legal access to cannabis oil.

(Regarding the State Senators busy schedule, he did not have the time to sit down with me to talk about his act)

His controlled substance therapeutic relief act will do the speaking for him.

The C.S.T.R act will ensure patients a safe way of receiving cannabidiol – this substance will help patients. People who comply with this act will not put the State of Georgia or their patients in violation of federal law.

For patients, SB-432 will allow two ounces of marijuana for use. If the qualifying patients registry identification card states that the qualifying patient is authorized to cultivate marijuana, then eight marijuana plants contained in an enclosed and locked facility will be provided. However, if the patient is moving living locations then the marijuana plants will not have to be in an enclosed and locked facility for travel.

Locally, the people of Athens and its GOP heard some good news about legalization of medicinal marijuana from Governor Nathan Deal.

Governor Deal has been in constant communication with the state pharmaceutical board, composite medical board, and the state medical school as well as the Georgia Regents University in Augusta all about testing on volunteers with cannabinoid oil.

Governor Deal will be looking over this reform very carefully in legalization of medicinal marijuana.

“This is not something we want to open the floodgates on,” Deal said. “It has to be done in a very controlled manner.”

If the trails were successful, the General Assembly could take up medical marijuana again.

State Bill 432 will do what House Bill 885 couldn’t do – pass. So lets hope for the best for the patients who are suffering from cancer, glaucoma, and other diseases that can be cured by medicinal marijuana.

 


Setting vision a priority for new AthFest director

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.”