creativity, culture, community
“For the last six months, as part of our Young Gamechangers program, 25 innovative young Georgians have been learning about Americus and Sumter County,” states Amir Farokhi, Executive Director of GeorgiaForward. “These 25 big thinkers have been exploring new ideas that may help this community thrive in the 21st century. We are excited about what they’ve come up with and hope that Americus and Sumter County will find value in, and adopt, some of their proposals. At the least, we hope the Young Gamechangers start a robust conversation about how this community can be a model rural community in Georgia and the nation. The public is invited to join us as the Young Gamechangers present their ideas at a special event at the historic Rylander Theater in Americus from 2-4 pm on Friday, April 26.”
Americus is buzzing about the upcoming Young Gamechangers event. VIPS and local dignitaries are making plans to be there. Guests scheduled to attend include: Bill Harris of Café Campesino; Charlotte Cotton, CAO, City of Americus and Barbara D. Grogan, Executive Director, Americus Sumter Chamber of Commerce & Payroll Development Authority. Participating in the program are Amir Farokhi, Executive Director of GeorgiaForward; Barry Blount, Mayor of Americus; selected Young Gamchangers and Jim Thornton, City Councilmember, City of LaGrange.
After spending a weekend in Americus in November 2012, the Young Gamechangers were asked to articulate new ideas in response to the following questions:
The Young Gamechangers are made up of young professionals between the ages of 20 and 40 who work in diverse sectors including business, law, health, non-profit, arts & culture, education and urban development. Here are some comments from Young Gamechangers about the project.
Ben Andrews is the Community Development Coordinator for the City of Americus. Active in his community, he’s VP of the Board of Directors for the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, and program manager for the Americus Rotary Club. He has a degree in Business Management from Georgia Tech and a Masters of Business Administration from Georgia Southwestern State University.
“I went into this project not knowing where it would lead,” says Andrews. “Because we have such talented, interesting people in the program, it was ideal for generating fresh opinions. It opened up new ideas for me in how small businesses can partner in communities, and it showed me how much untapped potential we have here in Americus.”
As the Governmental Relations Associate at the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), Ashley Meggitt helps develop, and advocate for, environmental and natural resources policies of vital interest for municipalities in Georgia. She has a Masters in Public Administration from Georgia State University and a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs from the University of Georgia.
“As part of my work, I enjoy discovering the stories of different cities,” explains Meggitt. “I think it’s interesting to see how every city tells its story. We had a diverse group of people focusing on ways to highlight the strengths and assets of Americus. It was fun to be part of a team working to articulate a message for Americus and help craft their unique story moving forward.”
Catherine Muller is a Studio Instructor at the College of Architecture at Georgia Tech and a certified yoga instructor. An architect and community designer, she has been fortunate to travel and to study a wide range of civic and community solutions in the US, Europe and Central America.
“A number of fantastic opportunities already exist in Americus and Sumter County,” states Muller. “It’s a matter of leveraging them and getting more widespread community support. Even in a small community there can be quite divergent mindsets, so we had to consider that in our suggestions for economic development and improvement.”
An associate attorney at Gatewood, Skipper & Rambo in Americus, Bardin Hooks’ family has lived in the area for eight generations. He attended The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee and studied abroad at St. John’s College, Oxford University.
“I’m delighted with my Young Gamechangers experience,” enthuses Hooks. “I was impressed that the program was going to look at all kinds of cities, even small, rural communities. I got excited when I found out this year’s project focused on Americus. I love Americus and want to see it succeed.”
“Without giving too much away, one of our ideas about economic opportunities revolves around alternative energy,” Hooks continues. “Many of our ideas can work well in other areas. I think this program is going to take off and cities around the state will be clamoring to be chosen.”
One of the South’s most sought-after political strategists, Howard Franklin has distinguished himself by running successful campaigns for young candidates, including state Senator Jason Carter and Atlanta City Councilmember Kwanza Hall. He was elected first chairman of the Democratic Party’s African-American Caucus. He earned degrees in English and sociology from Morehouse College.
“Young Gamechangers taught me more about economic development than I ever thought possible, says Franklin. “The program gave us firsthand experience in reordering the business, education and community components of a small-town eco-system. I would highly recommend the program to other young leaders.”
Carmie McDonald serves as Program Manager for the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI), an outreach division of Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. Prior to joining FTI she worked for the Historic Savannah Foundation. She earned a B.A. in Art History from Georgia State University and Master’s degrees in Historic Preservation and Architectural History from the Savannah College of Art and Design.
“It’s been an interesting project because the issues we discussed are not specific to Americus,” says McDonald. “They are issues facing many rural communities today. Cities are trying to figure out how to differentiate themselves in a post-agrarian, post-manufacturing era, and make themselves competitive.”
“The Young Gamechangers program is providing an avenue for young professionals to get involved in improving Georgia communities,” adds McDonald. “That’s great because we’ll be here to help implement the ideas and continue to move the state forward in the long term.”
GeorgiaForward is an independent, non-partisan organization working to improve the state of Georgia by engaging business, political, academic and civil leaders to collaboratively shape a statewide policy agenda. For more information about the Young Gamechangers program, visit their web site: http://georgiaforward.org/young-gamechangers.