University of Georgia
May 2016
Helping Communities
Strengths and needs

Assistant professor Rebecca Matthew, second from right, watches activities at a First Friday gathering in East Athens.

Strengths and needs

University students, faculty work with East Athens community.

Residents of East Athens have been utilizing a study produced by graduate students from the University of Georgia School of Social Work, as well as other outreach efforts from university faculty and students, to improve the quality of life in the area.

“The students wanted to produce a document that would prove helpful in informing the scope of future change efforts within the community, as well as a data source to complement grant writing initiatives to support those efforts,” said assistant professor Rebecca Matthew. Under her guidance, they produced a community needs assessment during fall 2014 that has since been used for community revitalization efforts.

The students’ goal was to identify the community’s assets and strengths as well as areas of concern. The students worked in collaboration with the East Athens Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization that works on behalf of people who live within U.S. Census tracts 301 and 302. They collected data on the area’s history and demographics such as population size, employment numbers, household makeup and education levels. Students then held forums with local service providers, leaders, residents, members of law enforcement and local government.

“Our aim was to learn more about the strengths and current needs of this Athens community, and to offer back a formal document sharing our findings,” said Julia Jones, a social work master’s degree student. “We were also hopefully laying some seeds for a better relationship with the university and the organizations who are positioned to be action-oriented in East Athens.”

The students identified seven main topics of concern. The three most often cited were a desire to enhance youth development opportunities, high unemployment and a need for greater community involvement in addressing problems.

Since the 93-page study’s completion, the local government has utilized it to determine priorities for community development block grant funding, and members of the EADC refer to it for data when seeking funding and other resources.

“The community assessment has been very useful to the East Athens Development Corporation,” said Winston Heard, CEO and executive director of the EADC. “It helped us to frame our five-year strategic plan, and the forums conducted during the data gathering process brought together both community residents and stakeholders and helped to identify gaps in perception about youth and how the community prioritizes needs.”

Matthew and others at the School of Social Work also continue to support outreach efforts with the district. Some of her students assisted with a well-attended event called “First Friday”held at the East Athens Community Center last June. The festive gathering brought youth, families, community members and local service providers together to enhance awareness of and access to local public services. Members of the UGA Center for Social Justice, Human and Civil Rights, in collaboration with East Athens youth and students from UGA’s student chapter of the National Art Education Association, also helped create an outdoor mural of civil rights figures. The mural, located at the Triangle Plaza shopping center, was dedicated in February 2016. The “First Friday” event—which continues to be held the first Friday of summer months—as well as the mural were the brainchild of Broderick Flanigan, an East Athens artist.

Matthew also is finalizing a project with the Unified Government of Clarke County to support another assessment, this time focused on youth in the area. The project, she said, “builds on some of the earlier assessment’s top priorities: youth development and community involvement, as well as building relationships within the local communities.”

A copy of the East Athens Community Assessment is posted at http://t.uga.edu/1U0. For more information about collaborations between the School of Social Work and the East Athens community, contact Rebecca Matthew at ramatthew@uga.edu.

— Laurie Anderson, School of Social Work