Experience, Energy and Enthusiasm Unite 30 Young Gamechangers
“In keeping with our mission of bringing Georgians together to work on common goals, we’ve created a new, solutions-focused program that will tap into our state’s best and brightest,” says Amir Farokhi, Director of GeorgiaForward. “Sometimes a fresh perspective is what you need to solve a tough problem. We identified successful young innovators between the ages of 20 and 40 who work across multiple sectors of business, law, health, non-profit, arts & culture, education and urban development. As part of our work on statewide prosperity, we asked them to work with Americus and Sumter County to re-vision their future as a vibrant 21st century rural community. 30 of them accepted the challenge. This program, called Young Gamechangers, will run over seven months and kicks off in Americus on November 16 & 17.”
Preparing for the work ahead, several of the Young Gamechangers spoke about their hopes for the assignment in Americus, and the future of the program.
Denise Grabowski, President of the urban planning firm Symbioscity in Savannah, brings a wide range of experience as a senior-level planner for local governments and a consultant to public and private companies. She is a founding member of the U.S. Green Building Council-Georgia, and co-founder of Designing4Health, a non-profit working to increase understanding between design and public health.
“One of the things that attracted me to the program is that it connects talented people from around the state to work on change in a specific location,” says Grabowksi. “I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity. I’ve been fortunate to work on both policy and physical design, and to help create master plans around health concerns and transportation issues. This initiative aligns well with my profession and will allow me to utilize my skills to help.”
“I think we’ll need to be mindful of engaging the local community in Americus,” continues Grabowski. “It’s important that we are working with them, not for them. My hope is that we set realistic, achievable goals, and that the Young Gamechangers will stay actively involved.”
As a Senior Program Specialist at the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), Gregory Burbidge is helping build a program around regional arts and culture planning. ARC recently absorbed the work of the Metro Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition (MAACC), an organization dedicated to education, awareness and advocacy for arts and cultural issues. Burbidge served as Operations Manager at MAACC, so he’s able to call on his experiences there in his work at ARC and in the Young Gamechangers program.
“Arts and culture are new to planning,” explains Burbidge. “So I am delighted to have a seat at the table. The impact that arts can have on a community is huge: emotionally, socially, educationally and economically. And the fact that Americus has recently restored their historic Rylander Theatre is a plus. They obviously consider the arts important, and have already begun that investment.”
Kris Hattaway is the Director of Place at NewTown Macon, a non-profit working to revitalize downtown Macon. She’s responsible for marketing and promotions and is involved in the organization’s overall economic development projects, engaging with government agencies, corporations, small businesses, other non-profits and area universities. She’s also active in the Macon Rotary Club and Junior League.
“Although NewTown works to improve life in Macon, our vision is broader,” says Hattaway. “I’ve been meeting people across the state and trying to figure out creative ways to work with them. The Young Gamechangers program came along at just the right time. All of the people in the program are up-and-coming young professionals, with expertise in various fields, and I think I will learn a lot from them. The project in Americus is a great way to expand my network and I hope to build some lasting relationships.”
“The service aspect of the program also appeals to me,” adds Hattaway. “I know we’ll have some surprises and some challenges, but I’m very excited to be involved.”
As the Assistant District Attorney for the Southwestern Judicial Circuit, Justin R. Arnold serves Americus and Sumter County. Born and raised in Americus, Arnold attended law school out of state, and returned home to work at a local law firm before taking the position in the District Attorney’s office. He is president of Americus Literacy Action and an active member of the Rotary Club.
The quality of life in Americus is wonderful, we just need to promote ourselves better,” says Arnold. “This project resonates with me because I moved away and experienced life in other cities, but returned home to try to make a difference. I’m investing in the future of this community.”
“The fact that the Young Gamechangers program has an emphasis on Southwest Georgia this year is fantastic,” enthuses Arnold. “I love that these energetic, educated individuals are willing to come together to help my area. From what I have learned about them, I think they’ll bring their expertise and a new set of ideas to the challenges we face here, and come up with some interesting outside-the-box solutions.”
Chantee Earl is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Middle and Secondary Education at Georgia State University, and she coordinates and teaches the social studies M.A.T. program. She serves the Atlanta community as coordinator of the Edgewood Court Apartments summer tutoring program.
“To become an agent of change, you must get involved,” states Earl. “Young Gamechangers is about making a commitment to work for change. Because of the diversity of the participants, we will have an opportunity to collaborate across many sectors and backgrounds. Because of my areas of interest and study, I bring a perspective that advocates for gender and race equality, and mindfulness about economic disparity. And I’ll give voice to the importance of education to help create change.”
“It’s important that we aren’t just bringing ideas to Americus,” adds Earl. “Hopefully bonds will be established with the people there, and as a result of that partnership, true progress will take place.”