Athens Land Trust’s Community Education and Empowerment team closes the year out very excited about the support and outreach provided to many residents in our community. The West Broad Community Advisory Board members have gone beyond the call of duty to serve as a liaison for residents to share concerns about their homes, unhealthy trees in the neighborhood, dangerous traffic patterns, and any other issues they wanted to be addressed. The establishment of a phone tree where each of the advisory members were given 20 community people to “check on” during the height of COVID also increased resident engagement.
Early this year, the residents spent time thinking through a $4 million transportation grant. This project was the perfect setting to establish norms between city officials and community members. Talking through plans, listening to rationale on both sides, and working through plans truly boosted the level of confidence community members have with planning projects and working with city staff. In response to the pandemic, community meetings had to be swiftly moved from in person gatherings that included dinner to virtual meetings where participants could sign up for dinners to be delivered to them right before the meeting. Even though the format of the meetings changed, it did not hamper the progress residents made in advocating for their neighborhood. Athens-Clarke County District 3 Commissioner, Melissa Link attended most meetings, and provided individual support on issues and concerns shared during meetings.
Other topics presented during the monthly meetings included a series on “protecting our legacy”, which was facilitated by advisory board member Shirley Grant. These conversations focused on the need to prepare for the future through insurance, creating wills, and understanding what the probate process is after a family member dies. Community members were assisted in establishing clear plans for their homes and lands, many which have been in the community for several generations. Resources were presented around living in a food desert, and boxes of food were delivered to members in the community identified through advisory board members. Finally, a presentation from the Young Urban Farmers about the air and water quality testing they did in the neighborhood have rounded out these community meetings Ultimately, Athens Land Trust aims to replicate the work in the West Broad neighborhood to other areas in the community. A strong focus on outreach and staying close to the residents is what makes this program successful.