Community Service Built on Collaborative Partnerships

Published 9:49 am Wednesday, February 15, 2023

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AMERICUS—Georgia has long been known as “Great for Business.” The citizens of Americus are now calling for this city to also be, “Great for Children.”  Following the shootings involving young teens last month on the city’s northside, the entire community is coming together to chart a different, healthier, safer path for all.

At the public meeting late in January at Friendship Baptist Church, parents spoke out, reminding others that more police, probation officers and prisons is not the first or best response to what is believed to be gang violence.

“If youth don’t have something fun and meaningful to do here, belonging to a gang becomes a real option,” said Raymarrius Brown, father of DeMari Brown. The empty former Americus High School on Harrold will make a great youth center.  The basketball court is already there.  Adding a few pool tables can make a big different in the lives of our young people,” said retired educator Brenda Green.  “Could the Rylander start a movie night for families and children?”

Beyond recreational options for Americus youth, discussions are being held around increasing the funding beyond the school budgets.  An oft heard refrain in the city is, “there is nothing to do.  No bowling alley, no movie theatre.” GSW students have the same complaints, with most leaving town on the weekends.

A group of mothers is organizing to approach local businesses, to underwrite new entertainment and sports venues.  “After all, merchants and properties renting to tourists want to assure customers and guests this is a safe city,” parent Keyanna Nunn said.

What we are realizing is that our city’s criminal activity is not only the business of police. “We need to offer great options for kids.  Get the city pools maintained, said Patricia Walton, a grandmother. “And maybe build a skate park. Or a dog park for people to get to know each other.”

A Model for Building Community Partnerships Exists

“Partnerships and Collaborations are the cornerstone of exemplary community service,” said Travis Lockhart, CEO of Fresh State Academy.  He knows of what he speaks. A non-traditional alternative school, Fresh Start endeavors to change the lives of Americus and Sumter County students.

Last December, Mr. Lockhart invited agencies, individuals, businesses, and organizations to recognize, “Christmas can be a struggle for many low-income families in our community.”

Responding to Mr. Lockhart’s call, more than 16 community partners sponsored a successful Santa Land Food and Toy Giveaway. Well over 100 children, parents and grandparents enjoyed the party, held in the Academy’s cafeteria on the Staley Middle School campus.

Among the extraordinarily supporters of the event were the Divine Nine Greek organizations: Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta,  and Zeta Phi Beta, Sororities. The  Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternities.  The business community stepped up as well, with People South Bank, Glide ATL. LLC and the William Bailey State Farm Agency leading generously.

“I think it is so important for every child to have a Christmas,” Mr. Bailey said, in explaining why he became a supporter. “If I can somehow be a part of it, I want to be able to give back to my community in anyway I can.”

Local public servants also provided support: Sumter County Sheriff Department, American Police Department, Sumter County Fire Department and Sumter County EMC. Well-aware of the needs being met by the event, the Georgie State Police and the Department of Family and Children Services contributed.  Among the individuals standing behind the event were Chief Sammye Stone of South Georgia Tech and Dr. Sherralyn Stone, Dr. E.J. Wallace and Good News Ministries, Rhoda Reddick, Terance Clemons and Mr. and Mrs. Darius Harris.

Bookcases became pop up store shelves, full of books and educational toys, organized by gender and age. Bicycles, scooters, and other large toy items went home with lucky children, who held a winning ticket.  Additionally, a delicious meal, prepared with donated ingredients, was served by community volunteers and school staff.

Luneda Brown, is chairman of UPLIFT, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Rho Sigma Omega chapter’s community initiative.  Mrs. Brown points to the Fresh Start Academy’s December efforts as a model for the city of Americus.  “Attending the Christmas event, I was inspired to do more.  The sorority is committed to uplifting Americus.”