When Riceboro City Councilman Chris Stacey received an invitation to the Georgia Municipal Association’s 2010 Mayors’ Day pre-conference on after-school activities, he decided to attend.
“I wasn’t engaged in the issue, but I knew there was a need in our community for the city to support additional out-of-school programs and enhance what we already have,” said Stacey, who is now in the third year of his first term on the city council. “I said, ‘Wow, GMA is involved, I want to go to the summit, get the information and take it back to my community.’”
The National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families provided a grant to the Georgia Afterschool Investment Council to produce the summit. The GAIC, in turn, partnered with the GMA to help sponsor the summit and connect with municipal leaders. Members of the Institute for Youth, Education and Families believe after-school, summer learning and expanded programs can be a valuable opportunity for mayors and their policy advisors, city council members and city department heads to address education and workforce-preparedness challenges in their cities.
Stacey said hearing about Douglasville’s Youth Against Violence Program and Moultrie’s comprehensive after-school program that included city-operated transportation for participants inspired him to want to do more.
“Once the council got back from Mayors’ Day, we started brainstorming on ways we could support youth development,” Stacey said. “We also asked the board of education to give us an assessment of the school-aged children in our community.”
Following the January summit, Stacey accepted an invitation to attend YEF’s April 2010 National City Afterschool Summit in Washington, D.C. While there, he lobbied congressional leaders to support after-school programs and heard from St. Paul, Minn., Mayor Christopher Coleman, chairman of NLC’s Council on Youth, Education and Families.
“The mayor spoke about the same problem we experience in Riceboro — the lack of coordination and partnership between the city council and the school board to serve youth,” Stacey said. “However, Mayor Coleman said he was finally able to partner with the school system and the partnership has made a big difference in the community.
“I realized that I needed to reach out to the school board. I realized that youth education and development is not just the board of education’s responsibility.”
Stacey also attended GMA’s training on after-school programs in Savannah during the June GMA convention and saw first-hand how Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson’s leadership on after-school activities had a positive impact on expanded programming in that city.
The Riceboro councilman shared his after-school training experiences with fellow council members and the mayor and successfully lobbied his colleagues to include $25,000 in the annual budget for youth programming.
“We had never had a line item for youth development,” he said. “I believe if you are really serious about developing youth programming, you have to have a line item for it in the budget. I challenged the other cities in Liberty County to do the same.”
Last summer, the Riceboro City Council developed a six-week summer program for high school students. Under the program, the city paid the students stipends to work at area businesses and institutions Monday through Thursday, and attend Friday workshops.
This past fall, the GAIC asked Stacey to help coordinate another after-school summit in Liberty County. Funded with a grant from America’s Promise Alliance, the organization former Secretary of State Colin Powell founded with his wife Alma to address the high school graduation rate, the GAIC charged Stacey with planning the summit and getting other city, county and school officials involved.
The November 2010 summit at the Liberty County Board of Education office drew a standing-room only crowd of officials, including Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, Midway Mayor Clemontine Washington, several Liberty County commissioners and board of education members, local business owners and after-school care providers.
“Councilmember Stacey has capitalized on a very intrinsic value of GMA, which is learning from his colleagues in other cities,” GMA Executive Director Jim Higdon said. “His efforts show how to put knowledge learned at GMA meetings and training into action back in one’s hometown.”
“Riceboro provides a terrific example to other cities in Georgia,” GAIC Executive Director Jill Reimer said. “Marching one foot at a time, Councilmember Stacey and the rest of the city council have really made a difference. Their work underscores the fact that after-school is neither too small nor too big for any size town. It doesn’t take all the money or all the time in the world to make something meaningful happen.”
Going forward, Stacey said he wants to see the cities in Liberty County expand after-school opportunities.
“My vision is to have after-school programs in each city marry each other — where after-school programming is a countywide activity,” he said. “I also want more municipal leaders and community members to be more aware of the importance of after-school.”