Baldwin County Family Connection (BCFC) spent more than a year examining the community in detail to pinpoint its strengths, challenges and gaps within particular issues and neighborhoods. Results from BCFC’s community assessment indicate the target focus needs to be in developing and enhancing opportunities for children and families in the Harrisburg neighborhood to help ensure educational success and healthy lifestyles.
“Harrisburg is a traditionally black neighborhood with a long tradition as a vital area of our community. In recent years, businesses, schools and home ownership have moved away or declined,” said Janet Cavin, coordinator of the BCFC. “The collaboration will be working with several partners to reinvigorate this neighborhood and address the health and educational needs of the neighborhood members.”
According to the community assessment, 25.2 percent of nearly 46,000 Baldwin County residents live below the poverty level. The poverty rate for children under the age of 18 is 31.6 percent, which is approximately the same percentage of those children who receive free or reduced meals at school.
“There are neighborhoods throughout our county where many who fall into this category reside. The number is alarming considering that Georgia’s rate of persons living below the poverty level is 16.5 percent,” Cavin said. “We have two neighborhoods maintained by the Milledgeville Housing Authority, but there are also pockets in our community whose residents consistently fall below the poverty level.”
Of the 600 students attending Midway Elementary School, located in the Harrisburg neighborhood, 87 percent of their families fall below the poverty level. Using a $1,500 grant awarded by Tri-County EMC in December 2012, BCFC kicked off a weekend food program last year to keep the stomachs of 40 kindergartners full over the weekend with healthier meal alternatives. Communities In Schools of Milledgeville-Baldwin County, First Baptist Church and First United Methodist Church saw the need for the program and decided to help continue providing the free weekend meal to students.
“We want to decrease obesity rates of elementary age school children in the target neighborhood elementary school by 10 percent from July 2013 to June 2018,” Cavin said. “We also want to increase the percentage of students graduating from high school on time from 67.7 percent in 2011 to 74.7 percent in 2018.”
BCFC has also worked with the Milledgeville Community Garden Association in the Harrisburg community to provide garden plots to grow healthy, sustainable foods and a walking trail to encourage physical activity. Students in the area are given free tutoring sessions after school in the Collins P. Lee Center, made possible through Baldwin County Parks and Recreation.
“We will continue the efforts already begun with a strategy team and a neighborhood community group to weave together services and supports,” Cavin said.
The closings of Central State Hospital, state prisons and Rheem manufacturing plant have significantly impacted employment within the county. The community assessment also found the unemployment rate in Baldwin County to be 11.6 percent as of November 2012. The highest unemployment rate was in 2011 at 16.5 percent.
“Georgia Power will be closing their plant in 2014 and another 150 jobs will be lost. Previously, many of the jobs in our county did not require a high school diploma or having a high school diploma was sufficient for a good portion of these jobs,” Cavin said. “The county has tried many different strategies to counteract this issue. One is that we have become a Certified Literate Community and we have attained the Certified Work Ready status. There has also been a push toward offering more sites for GED classes. We have a goal to increase GED levels of completion from July 2013 to June 2018.”
BCFC began the strategic planning process in January 2012 with support from the Georgia Family Connection Partnership. More than 40 community representatives attended planning sessions throughout the calendar year to make recommendations for additional data collection. Key community leaders were interviewed, two small group forums with local students was held and a community assessment survey was conducted.
“We looked at data from the Department of Education, statistics in Baldwin County, the crime rate, graduation rate, teenage pregnancy rate and the U.S. Census. We gathered community members to sit around the table and have conversations about where we are and what we’re doing. Representatives were from schools, colleges, social service agencies, businesses, churches and law enforcement,” Cavin said. “Then we were able to decide what do we need and where do we go next.”