Albany Leadership Hosts ‘Community Cafe’ to Discuss A Shared Vision for Addressing Poverty in Community

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Lucille Lannigan, The Albany Herald, Ga.

ALBANY – City, county, state and community-based leaders joined Albany-Dougherty County residents at the Albany Civic Center Saturday morning for a town hall meeting to discuss local poverty.

Albany Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard invited presenters from Georgia Cities Solution, a Georgia Municipal Association nonprofit; Georgia Family Connection Partnership; Family Literacy Connection, and United Way of Southwest Georgia, to share community data on poverty, youth health and financial hardship.

After processing this data, about 50 community attendees participated in a “community cafe” among their tables and came up with potential solutions to some of the problems plaguing the area.

Rachel Oliver, Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP) Regional Manager, shared data about the county’s young population. The data gathered by GaFCP showed Dougherty having a higher rate of low-birthweight babies, infant mortality, teen pregnancies and children living in single-parent households than the state average.

While Dougherty County’s on-time high school graduation rate of 87% was higher than the state average of 84%, its rate of third-graders achieving a proficient reading level was less than half the state average. Oliver said this was a problem because children who can’t read by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school compared to proficient readers.

Dougherty’s high school dropout rate for teens ages 16-19 is about 9%. The state’s average is about 5%.

The county has the second-highest rate of children living in poverty at 41%. Terrell County has the highest.

Dougherty’s poverty rate is at about 28% compared to the state average of about 13%.

Oliver said this isn’t just a Dougherty County issue but a regional one.

“It’s not like you guys stick out like a sore thumb, and I don’t want you to think this about this data,” she said. “A lot of it doesn’t paint a real pretty picture about our communities, but the fact that you’re here says a whole lot about you wanting to do something about it.”

Shaunae Motley, the president and CEO of the United Way of Southwest Georgia, shared data on ALICE, an acronym for individuals who are asset-limited, income-constrained and employed. It represents those who have an income above the federal poverty level but below the cost of basics in the county where they live or the “household survival budget.” These people are often working essential jobs and have little to no savings for emergencies or future investments.

Motley said the southern region of the U.S. has the highest percentage of households under the ALICE threshold at 45%. The data she shared also showed that indigenous, black and Hispanic people, those younger than 25 and older than 65, single parents and rural communities are most affected.

After the presentation, attendees discussed what they think are the top three contributing factors to poverty in Albany based on the data. The table that included state Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, came up with a list that included literacy rates, academic exposure and household income.

The data presented showed that Dougherty County has a higher rate of children growing up in households where their parents have less than 12 years of academic experience than the state average.

The tables also talked about what resources the county has to address these issues and what it’s lacking. The general consensus was that the county lacks a central place where residents can be made aware of what help is available to them and that there may be barriers like transportation to accessing these resources.

Attendees emphasized the importance of resources like Family Literacy Connection.

Sara Mitchell, Family Literacy Connection’s executive director, talked about the organization’s programs like the Childcare Development Center, which provides children ages 6 weeks to Pre-K with developmental instruction and provides child development classes.

Its summer program, Reading & Racquets, provides students with tennis lessons, educational activities as well as snacks and a cooked meal. Mitchell said the summer program is at 50 attendees.

“We are maxed out,” she said. “If we have 50 students in our child care after school, provided two meals a day, at six weeks, five days a week, how many meals will we provide this summer for these children?”

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