UGA’s first Archway Partnership community continues to build on its successes

When they keep inviting you back, you must be doing something right.

Colquitt County leaders have continued to fund the Archway Partnership in their community, nine years beyond the original five-year commitment to the program.

“We just really believe in it,” said Chip Blalock, executive director of the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie and chair of the Colquitt County Archway Partnership. “Our funding partners invest in the program because they know we’ll get a good return on it.”

An impact study from March 2017 shows that in the 12 years between 2005, when the University of Georgia launched its Archway Partnership in Colquitt County, through 2017, the area realized an additional $226.9 million in economic activity, an average of nearly $19 million a year.

And the program is going strong today, as the community continues to tap into UGA resources to help create businesses and jobs, develop leaders and address critical challenges, like public healthcare, infrastructure needs, education, housing, zoning and downtown design.

Since 2005, more than 169UGA students and18faculty have worked on 134projects in the south Georgia county.

In recent months UGA students completed a crime survey of the county, which resulted in the city hiring two additional police officers; produced a design for a Moultrie Welcome Center in a vacant storefront on the town square; and kicked off the second year of a leadership program designed to prepare African American males to be community leaders one day.

“Growing up in this community, a lot of the leaders I looked up to are getting older and we do not see the next group to take their place,” said Brian Knighton, principal of Stringfellow Elementary School in Moultrie. Knighton and Colquitt County native Ralph “RJ” Taylor brought the idea brought the idea to the Colquitt Archway Partnership in 2017, and worked with faculty from the UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development to create the program.

“I feel an obligation to give back and help develop that next generation of leaders.”

The relationship between the county and the university and the desire to “give back,” also influenced a group of Colquitt County natives to set up the UGA Moultrie-Colquitt County Alumni Scholarship Fund. Every year in perpetuity this fund will provide at least one academically talented student from Colquitt County High School with a scholarship to attend UGA. Using a dollar-for-dollar match from the UGA Foundation, the group so far has provided Georgia Commitment Scholarships for five students to attend the University of Georgia.

“With these scholarships, the community has launched a new partnership with the University of Georgia that will benefit our students from Colquitt County,” said Jimmy Jeter, a local businessman, who contributed to the endowment.

Colquitt County was the pilot community for the Archway Partnership, which was developed by faculty in UGA Public Service and Outreach and UGA Cooperative Extension. Based on the extension model, Archway placed a UGA employee—an Archway professional—in Moultrie to address economic development issues in the county.

Initial projects included helping the county find a cost-efficient way to pay for expansion of its wastewater system in order to accommodate a new chicken processing plant that would bring 1,500 jobs to the area.

UGA also facilitated meetings to adopt a zoning ordinance and land-use plan for the county, an effort that had failed in the past.

After a series of community meetings, the Archway Executive Committee identified the county’s most-pressing needs: Increasing the graduation rate for high school students and improving the health status of local residents.

Since then, 13 Georgia counties have been Archway Partnership communities. Six have graduated from the program. Seven, including Colquitt, are still active.

In 2009, when the YMCA in Moultrie received a grant to establish the Healthy Colquitt Coalition, UGA’s College of Public Health (CPH) became involved. The county’s relationship with CPH led to additional grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Health Alliance.

Colquitt County officially graduated from Archway in 2011. But UGA continued its commitment to the community with support that included a grant funded through CPH. When that grant ended, the original local funders—Colquitt County, the City of Moultrie, the Colquitt County Board of Education and Colquitt Regional Medical Center— agreed to continue with Archway, each giving $10,000 a year to pay for a part-time Archway professional and cover operations.

“We just really refused to end it because of the great relationship we have with UGA,” Blalock said.

When the opportunity arose for each funder to contribute $5,000 more for the Archway professional to work full time, they all agreed, Blalock said.

“That’s just an illustration of the buy-in,” he said. “It’s about what we can do to make Moultrie and Colquitt County better.”

The Leadership Legends program began with 13 African American eighth grade boys in fall of 2018. As ninth graders this school year, they will be assigned mentors from the community, whose interests are similar to the student’s aspirations. In 10th grade, the program will focus on community engagement in Colquitt County. When the students graduate from the program at the end of 10th grade, they will become mentors for participants in the next Leadership Legends class. The program already is showing positive results.

“When I first started, I didn’t want to speak in public, but now since I’ve been doing it for the last year, it’s going to help me a lot,” said Joseph Stokes, a ninth grader in his second year of Leadership Legends. “Usually, I’d be scared to do something like this, but now I’m not.”

In addition, Colquitt school officials are considering adding a leadership program to the middle and high schools in the county. The Youth in Action Leadership Program, created and implemented by the Fanning Institute, has been in the county’s elementary schools since 2015.

Developing a diverse group of leaders is vital to community sustainability, said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute.

“Today’s community leaders have a responsibility to develop the leaders of tomorrow,” Bishop said.

Recent UGA projects underway in Moultrie include a crime survey by geography majorTaylor Hafley, which showed the city needed more police patrols. At the same time, a landscape architecture student Ben Proulx, identified areas along the Tom White Linear Park walking trail where tree roots had broken through the asphalt, and stretches that were dark and possibly unsafe.

Proulx suggested the city install lighting in strategic spots along the trail and recommended trees be planted a distance from the trail to avoid future problems with roots. During the process, a property owner next to the trail offered part of his land to be used for a rest station, with shelter from the sun and possibly rest rooms.

Yusheng Fang, a graduate student at the UGA Lamar Dodd School of Art, created a design for a new Moultrie Welcome Center, which will be located in a vacant storefront on the town square.

The task provided an experiential learning opportunity for Fang, whose expertise is in reimagining spaces for their function and possibility.

“On the second floor there is a special barn door and many structures with a sense of industrial design,” she said. “How to retain these historical senses while allowing them to serve the new functions is an exciting and challenging part of the renovation project.”

“The university knows we’re a place they can try new ideas,” Blalock said. “It’s all about community.”