The City of Milton is located in North Fulton County in the metro Atlanta area. Milton is a new city, formed at the end of 2006. Since its inception, the City of Milton has been extremely dedicated and intentional in ensuring accessibility and providing opportunities to involve residents with disabilities. When the city was founded, the Milton Disability Awareness Committee (MDAC) was created as an official committee of the city council. MDAC has worked with city personnel to ensure they are familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act, have a basic level of awareness of issues impacting people with disabilities and have also worked to reach out and educate the larger community. The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities is currently working with MDAC and the City of Milton as part of Real Communities to ensure Milton is truly welcoming to all who live there and to provide opportunities for citizen engagement and involvement in community.
The City of Milton is currently working to develop a mini-grant program called Better Together that would be administered by the City of Milton. The purpose of these mini-grants is to provide neighborhood groups and residents with resources to create community-driven projects that enhance and strengthen local community life, build avenues towards civic engagement and create avenues for the full participation of all residents, specifically those typically left out of community life. All projects are initiated, planned and implemented by local residents. Mini-grants support neighborhood improvements, promote neighborhood associations and fund projects that bring community members together and create avenues for inclusion. Engaged and connected residents are the greatest asset in any given community. By allowing residents to actively engage in improving their communities and making them more welcoming for everyone, we see great things emerge and a new relationship develop between residents and local government. Additionally, Milton's Community Builder has been working hard to develop a citizen-led group to build relationships and use Asset Based Community Development to improve the City of Milton for everyone who lives there. To see a video of how the City of Milton's Better Together project promotes welcoming communities for all, Click here.
The Gwinnett Gives TimeBank, which promotes equality and builds caring community economies through inclusive exchange of time and talent, was started by a group of parents who all have children with disabilities. The group's initial interest was focused on exploring human service co-operatives, life sharing and other alternative arrangements that allow adults with developmental disabilities to live and participate in integrated community settings. As part of the Real Communities Initiative, GCDD helped them launch the first TimeBank in the metro area of Georgia in 2012. For more information about TimeBanks, visit, www.timebanks.org.
Located in south central Georgia, Fitzgerald and the surrounding Ben Hill County area is a small rural community. In 2008, Ben Hill County had a poverty rate of 23.2%. Locally, residents had been organizing around the issue of transportation for nearly two years, before starting to work with the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities as part of Real Communities in 2009. In Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County, there were very few options for transportation outside of privately owned vehicles, which greatly limited the opportunities for recreation and social activities, medical access, educational and employment opportunities and even many everyday errands. Additionally, due to the poor transportation, an individual using a wheelchair was killed by a motorist while trying to travel on a street with no sidewalks. Transportation impacts all who live in an area, regardless of disability. As part of its Real Communities Initiative, in July 2010, Ben Hill County and the City of Fitzgerald successfully passed a Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), which included $250,000 specifically earmarked to provide seed funding for a small-scale public transportation system.
Who We Are: Located in Macon, the Centenary United Methodist Church was founded in 1884. Once a vibrant congregation, changes in the neighborhood overtime dwindled the the congregation's numbers. It became clear that both the church and neighborhood would not survive unless major changes were made. In 2005, the church began to work actively to reach out to and engage the surrounding neighborhood. The neighborhood reached back and the church was saved. The congregation is now extremely diverse and dedicated to addressing the concerns of the community in long-term and sustainable ways. The diversity of the congregation, both racially and socioeconomically, is something Centenary not only embraces, but is proud of.
Community member poses with his best friend in Macon
Macon Roving Listeners Green Team heads to their next interview
One of this summer's Macon Roving Listeners at work
What We Do: Centenary has participated in Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) Real Communities by seeking ways to welcome people with disabilities and their families into the congregation, and offering opportunities for them to contribute. In the past, Centenary started a community garden and a transitional housing program for men. Centenary founded the Bicycle Program, which has adults with and without disabilities as paid employees who repair donated bicycles and give them to people without transportation.
Since 2012, Centenary has organized an annual summer Roving Listeners program with the goal of finding intentional ways to meet and make connections among people with and without disabilities to make the City of Macon a better place to live for everyone. Roving Listeners pays youth and adult supporters with and without disabilities to go into their community, meet their neighbors, and learn more about people’s individual gifts and talents. They aim to discover what they love about their neighborhoods; what their dreams are for the future; and how to connect them to others who may share common interests, gifts or dreams. The Roving Listeners host regular community dinners designed to bring neighbors together and support these connections. They also employ a Roving Connector who seeks opportunities to connect neighbors to one another.
In Summer 2014, listeners focused on revisiting neighbors they met over the past two to find ways to connect their gifts and passions to others in the community. They hosted four community dinners, two community clean-up events, expanded their relationship with Star Choices – a local disability support organization that is seeking to be a better part of the community – and provided six mini-grants to community members to teach a class or support a small community building project. As a requirement of these mini-grants, a person with a disability had to be a part of the project team. Additionally, two Roving Connectors were hired to work five hours per week to support the project, deepening connections that were formed over the past year.
In Summer 2015, the Roving Listeners project expanded and was asked to come to East Macon to be in partnership with the Mill Hill Project. Mill Hill is an artist residency and community revitalization area, spearheaded by the Macon Arts Alliance and the Urban Development Authority. The Roving Listeners are working with the residents of Mill Hill to listen for their hopes, dreams, identify their gifts and make sure the voices and talents of existing residents are a part of the planning and implementation of revitalizing their neighborhoods. This has involved genuine dialogue and empathetic listening to arrive at a true understanding of the community’s hopes for their neighborhoods. The listeners approached every household in the area and recorded the interviews done so that radio quality audio was captured. Professional photographers also worked with the Roving Listeners to capture portraits and candid shots of neighborhood residents. Their relationship with Star Choices continued and they added a new partner, Woodfield Academy, with two students and a teacher from the school working with them.
In 2016, the Roving Listeners will return to East Macon and work with artists to continue to hear and tell the stories there. Construction has already begun on the Mill Hill Arts Village and it is crucial that neighbors have input into the design and function of the public spaces.
For more information on the Centenary United Methodist Church or how to get involved, contact the Community Builder, Stacey Harwell, at .
In the News: The Centenary United Methodist Church Real Communities project was featured in an article from the Emory Candler School of Technology Click here to read the article.