United Way launches new community action program

United Way hosted a town hall meeting at Georgia State University on Feb. 10 as part of the organization’s Metro Voices, Metro Choices initiative.

The meeting at Georgia State University was the fourth part of a six-part series of meetings around the Metro Atlanta area.  The Metro Voices, Metro Choices series dealt with youth development in the first three meetings, and deals with alcohol and drug abuse in the second set of three meetings.

The purpose of the Metro Voices, Metro Choices program is to find issues relevant to the Metro Atlanta community and actively engage in revolutionizing reform in the most supported areas.

To create this unique program, United Way enlisted the services of The Ad Council, a company primarily at the forefront of creating public service announcements.

The Ad Council began interviewing people around Atlanta during the summer of 2004 to find what social issues were important to residents.

In the spring of 2005, The Ad Council conducted a survey of 2,543 people across the fourteen counties that make up the Metro Atlanta area.  In addition, an online survey with 400 people in leadership areas ranging from the government and religious groups to business and non-profit organizations was conducted.

According to George Perlov, senior vice president of The Ad Council, the results were then analyzed to find the issues people felt were most critical and where people could make the most impact.

Youth development and substance abuse were two of the top answers in both areas.

When observing criticism specific to youth development, The Ad Council and United Way, along with partners Regional Atlanta Civic League, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, and Atlanta Regional Commission, discovered that most Atlanta citizens felt improvements could be made to after school mentoring programs and public schools in general.

The town hall meeting series was initiated to further gauge community interest and knowledge in the areas of youth development and substance abuse.  Five goals were set for the series of meetings:

  • to brief attending citizens on the Metro Voices, Metro Choices program;
  • to share knowledge of the state of community involvement regarding the various issues amongst attendees;
  • to present regional programs that have developed community engagement on the issues;
  • to create a vision for what an new Atlanta based on the issues would look like;
  • and to brainstorm new or expanded program ideas and/or other ways to gain greater community involvement to help address the issues.

Perlov sees the town hall meetings as part of “developing a blueprint for change in these areas that would include ways to get more people involved, more people engaged, as well as any sort of policy-related kind of changes or other kind of implementation that needs to happen at business level, or non-profit level, or at churches.”

Originally scheduled to start last September, United Way chose to postpone the series after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent arrival of refugees in Atlanta.  The meetings were rescheduled to begin in January.

Following the conclusion of the series, United Way plans to present their findings, present a plan for action, and seek out community answers for implementing the plan.

Georgia State University was chosen as one of the six locations for meetings due to its central location in the downtown area as well as to engage students in the discussion of the meetings.

Charidy Vinson, public relations Manager in the office of Community Engagement for United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, discussed how the meetings were designed to both engage the community and break down barriers that might provide a hindrance to further engagement.

At the meeting Friday night, among the statistics revealed at the meeting was that 39 percent of those surveyed for the program believed there was a significant amount of work needed to be done about substance abuse issues.  Further inquiries took parents to task, stressing involvement of parents as a major factor in curbing drug use among teenagers.

Other statistics relayed that 80 percent of crimes committed in the United States have some relation to drug use, with 85 percent of those crimes currently involving methamphetamine to some degree.

Among the most shocking of statistics, though, was one that averaged the number of drug users in the United States at 19.1 million, with 7 million classified as addicts.  Of those 7 million, 2 million were averaged to be in clinics, leaving 5 million drug users without any sort of treatment.

One solution presented was to replace consistent use of imprisonment for drug-related charges for addicts with drug courts, where drug users would be consistently tested and supervised for a set period of time.

The significance of such a change for Georgia would be substantial, given the lead Georgia has taken in the number of prisoners in state correctional facilities.  From a cost perspective, the cost of taking care of a person in prison averages $30,000 per year, where drug courts would amount to $5,000 per year per person.

Several students and faculty members from both the Georgia State community and the Metro Atlanta area gave their thoughts on the issue of substance abuse.

Mary-Kate Murray, a junior at Georgia State, discussed her involvement in areas dealing with substance abuse as an example of students already actively involved with combating substance abuse.

Elijah Owuor, a member of the Student Government Association, attributed the lack of involvement by many people to drug use not being mentioned unethical in the Bible and other sources of social consciousness.

The two final meetings for Metro Voices, Metro Choices will be held Feb. 20 between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. at the Cobb County Civic Center, and March 1 between 6 and 8 p.m. at the South Fulton County Service Center.  For more information, please visit www.metrovoices.org.

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