The message is clear – we must change the status quo.
Our kids continue to drop out of school, many in our workforce continue to be unskilled, businesses are locating in other communities, and our poverty level remains the same. Obviously something isn’t working.
We must demonstrate our willingness to embrace new ideas, share power, become involved, demand excellence, and, where necessary, consider the appropriateness of new ways to govern.
This was written last decade by the group Partners for a Prosperous Athens, and it still rings true. Today, our kids continue to drop out of school and our poverty rate is nearly 10 points higher making it obvious that something still isn’t working.
We in Athens for Everyone are newcomers in the fight against poverty, so perhaps we can benefit by taking a look backward for a moment. Partners for a Prosperous Athens (PPA) was a research-focused group with massive community support led by Judge Steve Jones. Their mission: discover the causes of persistent poverty in Athens and propose a solution.
They completed their mission and then some — they proposed not just one solution but a total of 155 recommendations about a range of issues from public transit to education. OneAthens was then formed to turn the recommendations into reality; they formed implementation teams for Regional Economic Development, Education and Workforce, Health, Affordable Housing, Public Transportation, Family Enrichment, Human and Economic Development, Teen Pregnancy, Early Learning, and Philanthropy, based on the PPA focus areas. In 2010, they reduced these to just four focus areas. Today, OneAthens is largely considered to be defunct.
Although short-lived, OneAthens was an organization with a lasting impact. The Athens Area Community Foundation, Athens Health Network, Nancy Travis Hope for Babies/Care for Kids and Athens Community Career Academy all have their roots in OneAthens. OneAthens also helped open the Teen Matters clinic near Cedar Shoals High School and pushed for new sex-ed programs (which were approved by the School Board in 2009).
OneAthens successfully lobbied for Saturday bus service, expanded routes and buses running later into the night (until 11 pm), changes put into effect by Mayor Heidi Davison. In the past few years, some of these improvements have been reversed by Mayor Nancy Denson, who proposed on two separate occasions eliminating bus routes after 6 pm (fortunately the Commission only reduced the routes by one hour, to 10 pm), while increasing fares multiple times.
Partners for a Prosperous Athens and OneAthens together acheived substantial and (in most cases) lasting change. Even so, they are seen as disappointing by many who had extremely high hopes that they would make a permanent dent in our poverty rate.
Athens for Everyone would nonetheless like to recognize and praise Partners for a Prosperous Athens and OneAthens for everything they accomplished for our community. It was an amazing effort that even today provides a path forward to a poverty-free Athens. If all of their 155 recommendations were finally put into place, we would certainly see lasting change causing ACC’s poverty rate to fall by double-digits.
The status quo is still in need of change. This change may come more slowly than we’d like, but it will happen eventually as long as we refuse to give up. Let’s keep at it, Athens.by