Real Communities - Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities

Centenary UMC

Centenary United Methodist Church

Who We Are: Located in Macon, the Centenary United Methodist Church was founded in 1884. Once a vibrant congregation, changes in the neighborhood overtime dwindled the the congregation's numbers. It became clear that both the church and neighborhood would not survive unless major changes were made. In 2005, the church began to work actively to reach out to and engage the surrounding neighborhood. The neighborhood reached back and the church was saved. The congregation is now extremely diverse and dedicated to addressing the concerns of the community in long-term and sustainable ways. The diversity of the congregation, both racially and socioeconomically, is something Centenary not only embraces, but is proud of.

centenary umc image1 Community member poses with his best friend in Macon
centenary umc image2 Macon Roving Listeners Green Team heads to their next interview
centenary umc image3 One of this summer's Macon Roving Listeners at work

What We Do: Centenary has participated in Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) Real Communities by seeking ways to welcome people with disabilities and their families into the congregation, and offering opportunities for them to contribute. In the past, Centenary started a community garden and a transitional housing program for men. Centenary founded the Bicycle Program, which has adults with and without disabilities as paid employees who repair donated bicycles and give them to people without transportation.

Since 2012, Centenary has organized an annual summer Roving Listeners program with the goal of finding intentional ways to meet and make connections among people with and without disabilities to make the City of Macon a better place to live for everyone. Roving Listeners pays youth and adult supporters with and without disabilities to go into their community, meet their neighbors,  and  learn more about people’s individual gifts and talents. They aim to discover what they love about their neighborhoods; what their dreams are for the future; and how to connect them to others who may share common interests, gifts or dreams. The Roving Listeners host regular community dinners designed to bring neighbors together and support these connections. They also employ a Roving Connector who seeks opportunities to connect neighbors to one another.

In Summer 2014, listeners focused on revisiting neighbors they met over the past two to find ways to connect their gifts and passions to others in the community. They hosted four community dinners, two community clean-up events, expanded their relationship with Star Choices – a local disability support organization that is seeking to be a better part of the community – and provided six mini-grants to community members to teach a class or support a small community building project. As a requirement of these mini-grants, a person with a disability had to be a part of the project team. Additionally, two Roving Connectors were hired to work five hours per week to support the project, deepening connections that were formed over the past year.  

In Summer 2015, the Roving Listeners project expanded and was asked to come to East Macon to be in partnership with the Mill Hill Project. Mill Hill is an artist residency and community revitalization area, spearheaded by the Macon Arts Alliance and the Urban Development Authority. The Roving Listeners are working with the residents of Mill Hill to listen for their hopes, dreams, identify their gifts and make sure the voices and talents of existing residents are a part of the planning and implementation of revitalizing their neighborhoods. This has involved genuine dialogue and empathetic listening to arrive at a true understanding of the community’s hopes for their neighborhoods. The listeners approached every household in the area and recorded the interviews done so that radio quality audio was captured. Professional photographers also worked with the Roving Listeners to capture portraits and candid shots of neighborhood residents.  Their relationship with Star Choices continued and they added a new partner, Woodfield Academy, with two students and a teacher from the school working with them.

In 2016, the Roving Listeners will return to East Macon and work with artists to continue to hear and tell the stories there. Construction has already begun on the Mill Hill Arts Village and it is crucial that neighbors have input into the design and function of the public spaces.

For more information on the Centenary United Methodist Church or how to get involved, contact the Community Builder, Stacey Harwell, at .

In the News: The Centenary United Methodist Church Real Communities project was featured in an article from the Emory Candler School of Technology Click here to read the article.

Community & Relationship Building Group of Clarkston

Community & Relationship Building Group of Clarkston

Who We Are: Over the past few years, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabiliites (GCDD) has supported Basmat Ahmed to explore the development of community projects in Clarkston, GA that are consistent with the Real Communities’ Four Commitments. Ahmed held the role of the Community Builder for The Clarkston International Garden at 40 Oaks Nature Preserve, a partnership with the Global Growers Network that supported the development of a Community Garden in the City of Clarkston. Currently, Basmat works with the Al-Tamyoz Community Building Group to build deeper relationships and finds ways to leverage these relationships to make change in Clarkston.

clarkston relationship building group image1 Clarkston READY School was launched through connections with Basmat Ahmed
clarkston relationship building group image2The Clarkston InternationalGarden ribbon cutting ceremony
clarkston relationship building group image3 Global Growers Network group

What we Do: The Clarkston Relationship-Building Group began their work by planning regular leaning conversations of their day-to-day responsibilities and built the relationships necessary to do effective community building work. The group regularly hosts a Community Relationship Lunch every other month where community leaders and members connect and discover partnerships and opportunities. This group also successfully co-organized the second annual Black History Month in the City of Clarkston, which was a result of a relationship founded among different organizations. Combined, they hosted this event, as well as supported and sponsored the 2015 Georgia World Refugee Day, organized by Refugees.

In 2016, they created new programs that provided equal opportunities for people with and without disabilities such as a monthly radio show that engaged community members, announced events and services, invited local guest speakers and broke cultural barriers in the City of Clarkston. They are also implementing a mini grant program, which was purposely designed to be a direct opportunity for all, and, specifically, to fund programs and projects within the Clarkston community.

Throughout her organizing work, Ahmed has actively sought to engage people within the disability community. As of now, there are four more adult and six more youth Community Builders with and without disabilities, who are implementing different projects within Clarkston. The adult and youth Community Builders have been focusing on building relationships through the Community Learning and Connecting Conversation program that involves meeting with individuals, organizations, groups and others to discover people’s gifts and goals for the future.

In addition, the youth Community Builders have taken more leadership roles, as they formed the Clarkston Youth Assembly, the first Clarkston event to be entirely organized by youth. Thirty youth attended and made action plans to develop the community. The Community Builders are also working inclusively to develop community engagement in partnership with different local entities and local organizations.

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For additional info: Racial Justice Action Center

Affiliated Sites:

Clarkston International Garden (Global Growers)
CDF Action

In the News: The Clarkston International Garden was featured in an article by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Click here to read the article now.

Forsyth Farmers' Market is the place for fresh food and fresh air

 Helen Fields of Joseph Fields Farm has a welcome smile for everyone who visits her display of organic produce at Forsyth Farmers' Market.      Helen Fields of Joseph Fields Farm has a welcome smile for everyone who visits her display of organic produce at Forsyth Farmers' Market.Spend Saturdays in the park with your favorite farmers

Visit the south end of Forsyth Park on a Saturday morning – yes, even in the winter – and you’ll find an array of tents, booths, and stands with eye-popping displays that include vegetables, greens, pastured meats, honey, breads, and many other healthy and delicious ingredients for any meal.

Forsyth Farmers’ Market (FFM), a 501c3 nonprofit, organizes the weekly event.

Located at the south end of Forsyth Park, the Market is open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. SNAP dollars are doubled at the market. The FFM Bring It Home initiative combines activity at the park with cooking demonstrations and information about how to use nutritious food as a way to prevent chronic disease. Learn more by contacting .

We spoke to Teri Schell, executive director FFM and one of its founders, to find out more about the market and the people who make it happen.

CRISP: What makes FFM important to Savannah?

Teri: FFM is a community effort to help people understand firsthand where their food comes from, how it was grown, who did the growing, and why it is healthy. At FFM, you can actually talk to the person who harvested the lettuce you're going to eat. We know that straightforward connection matters to people. It matters to us, too.

CRISP: FFM goes beyond the market to reach the community with programs such as Mixed Greens and its Little Green Wagon project and The Forsyth Farmers' Almanac. Tell us more.

Teri: You can think of Mixed Greens as our outreach group. The group works together to support FFM with projects and learning opportunities. Mixed Greens is supported by the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities Real Communities initiative and provides connection and collaboration for people with and without disabilities.

On second Saturdays at FFM, the Mixed Greens team members invite kids to plant seeds in the Little Green Wagon at the main FFM booth. The Mixed Greens care for the plants during the week, and on Saturdays, the young planters can visit their plants and check on them.

The Forsyth Farmers’ Almanac is one of my favorite projects. We originally thought it would be a one-time effort to collect stories and photos about people’s experiences growing up and growing food. During the collection process, we discovered there are so many wonderful and inspiring stories, that we’re already working on a second book. We’re happy to accept stories and volunteers for this project.

CRISP: What would you like more people to know about FFM?

Teri: We'd like to get the word out to more people that FFM is a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) redemption site and that we double SNAP dollars thanks to our partnership with Wholesome Wave Georgia. Two for one is a great way to stretch the family food budget.

Another FFM activity that we’re particularly proud of is the health screenings provided by Mercer University School of Medicine. Those take place nine months of the year and provide our customers with baseline health data and nutritional advice.

CRISP: Why aren't there more types of items for sale at FFM?

Teri: We only accept food vendors at FFM because our mission is to support a local healthy food system. That means giving all our time and attention to the farmers who bring their food to FFM. Many have been participating since we started the market in 2009. They're not just our farmers, they're our friends, and we hope Savannah residents and visitors will get to know them, too.

CRISP: Friendly people. Quality food. Fun! Visit the Forsyth Farmers Market soon for a fresh taste of Savannah!

Teri Schell is executive director of Forsyth Farmers' Market and one of its founders. She also serves as a community builder for the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities and is on the executive committee of the Savannah Chatham Food Policy Council. Communication professional Jan McIntire is CRI Senior Advisor for Outreach and a self-proclaimed evangelist for healthy living.

The original article and picture appeared on January 7, 2015 in Connect

Photo: Helen Fields of Joseph Fields Farm has a welcome smile for everyone who visits her display of organic produce at Forsyth Farmers' Market.


GCDD to Rally at Capitol to End Capital Punishment

On March 11, GCDD and Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty plan to rally at the Georgia State Capitol to advocate to end capital punishment in the state of Georgia. Advocating for Warren Hill, the 53-year-old on death row for beating another inmate, Joseph Handspike, to death with a nail-studded board in 1990 at the state prison in Leesburg, GCDD and many other activist organizations aim to push lawmakers to reconsider the limitations on the burden of proof for a defendant's intellectual disability.

Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a Real Communities partners of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Read more about the advocacy here.

Read more here: (This lnk is no longer active.)

Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP)

Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP)

Who We Are: Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP) is the statewide coalition of organizations and individuals working to end capital punishment in Georgia and around the world. By working in partnership with the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) Real Communities, GFADP also seeks protect the rights and dignity of those on death row while ensuring the protection of individuals with developmental disabilities from unjust application of death penalty laws.

In January 2015, the State of Georgia executed Warren Hill, a 52-year-old man with an intellectual disability. Despite undisputed testimony from the State’s experts, Warren faced execution because of Georgia’s incredibly high burden of proof for defendants with intellectual disability. His case highlights the ways in which people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are railroaded by the criminal legal system every day.

As a result of Warren’s case, GFADP and GCDD came together to explore ways to stop the execution of individuals with intellectual disabilities in Georgia and deepen our collective understanding of how mass incarceration and the criminal justice system uniquely impact people with disabilities. GFADP is working to create local alliances coalitions in three key communities around the state (Atlanta, Dawson, and a third location to be determined) that come together to focus on a local problem.

georgians for alternatives to death penalty image1Marching in the annual MLK parade to promote GFADP
georgians for alternatives to death penalty image2Vigil to stop the execution of Warren Lee Hill in Georgia
georgians for alternatives to death penalty image3 Commemorating the execution of Troy Davis

What We Do: GFADP is an organization that is working to actively form alliances by engaging other organizations and leaders both in and out of the anti-death penalty network. GFADP has collaborated with GCDD to work to change the standard of proof for proving intellectual disability in death penalty cases. We worked diligently to educate people within and outside of the disability community about why this is an important movement. Our efforts paid off, and SB 401 was introduced in the Georgia State Senate by Senator Elena Parent. This bill will change the standard of proof placed on individuals with intellectual disabilities in death penalty cases in Georgia from, "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt." to "Preponderance of the Evidence.”

Read the legislation here:
GFADP was also incorporated in the GCDD-organized 2015 Social Justice Summit where it made new connections and networking opportunities for future organizing work. Similarly, GFADP has been involved in related conversations with the NAACP. As this country is facing overwhelming occurrences of the shooting of unarmed black and brown people and mass incarceration, GFADP attempts to illustrate the connection between the death penalty and the African-American community.

GFADP aims to bringing a more diverse perspective to the death penalty work and they will continue to fight to abolish the death penalty in the state of Georgia. This organization strives to be a major part of reforming the criminal justice system. By building a stronger community, GFADP will be able to end the death penalty, and usher this nation towards the criminal justice reform movement.

Click here to visit our website
In the News: Columbus NAACP hosts vigil in protest of execution, World Now, 1/27/15 Click here to read article.

Real Communities Community Builder Honored at Conference

Teri-schellReal Communitiies Community Builder Teri Schell, founder of the Forsyth Farmer's Market, was honored at the 17th annual Georgia Organics Conference held at Jekyll Island.  Schell was the recipient of the Barbara Petit Pollinator Award for her leadership in Georgia’s sustainable farming and food movement. She is also the co-chair of the recently formed Savannah Chatham Food Policy Council.

In 2013, the five-year-old Forsyth Farmers Market was highest among all farmers markets in the state in regards to SNAP/EBT redemptions totaling $62,000. The market, under Schell’s guidance, was one of the first farmers markets in the nation to accept these federal benefits, which used to be known as food stamps. It partners with the nonprofit Wholesome Wave Georgia to double the value of SNAP purchases.

To read more about Schell's work and the Forsyth Farmer's Market, click here. (This link is no longer active.)

Real Communities Learning Tour

Real Communities Learning Tour March 23-28
Real Communities Learning Tour

March 23-28, 2015

The Real Communities Learning Tour, sponsored by the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), is designed to provide participants with the following:

    • An intensive view of the community building initiatives that the Council supports
    • An overview of the values, practices, and principles of Real Communities, as well as lessons learned
    • Opportunities to interact with community builders, community members involved in projects, and program staff
    • Time to share, ask questions, dream together, socialize, and reflect
    • Ideas for developing and supporting similar initiatives at home

Learn more about the Real Communities Learning Tour,and register here to join GCDD and Real Communities' leaders for an engaging conversation on building better communities for everyone.

About Real Communities

Real Communities is a cutting-edge initiative launched in 2010 by the GCDD to partner with local groups working to build more just communities. It's a thoughtful, action learning approach that equips community members at the grassroots level to work together toward common goals to improve their own community using person-centered supports, community-centered connections, and persistent and reflective learning. Purposefully involving people with and without developmental disabilities in collaborative projects is pivotal to the framework of Real Communities. We seek to support communities who welcome and utilize the gifts of everyone, including those who have been historically marginalized, and create avenues toward reciprocity, interdependence, and social change. Specifically, partners in Real Communities act on four commitments:

  • Taking action that makes a community better for everyone
  • Engaging people with developmental disabilities as active contributors
  • Organizing in a way that builds a community's capacity for collective action
  • Sharing what we learn

The Council actively supports communities in a number of ways, including technical assistance, training, popular education, and at times, financial support. Projects are determined by individual communities, as opposed to GCDD staff, and vary according to local needs and desires. They could range from community-based transportation to cooperatives to community gardens. By handing the reins to individual communities and leading by stepping back, GCDD supports real communities as they flourish and achieve real and lasting community-based change.

Real Communities Spotlight: ConnectAbility

In Dahlonega, a town of just over 5,000 people, seeing the same faces every day is common. For ConnectAbility, it’s not just about seeing those faces, but also getting to know who they are.

As a new Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) Real Communities partner, ConnectAbility looks to create communities where people of all abilities are valued, included and empowered, and where barriers are removed so the entire community can participate.

“We don’t have any restrictions on age, diagnosis, location or income,” said Jacqueline Daniel, executive director of ConnectAbility. “We’re just trying to make everything we do as accessible as possible in every different aspect of life.”

ConnectAbility Bridge

Meet Your Neighbor is its latest program. The program partners University of North Georgia students with individuals with disabilities to gather stories from different people in the community. Students from the university, which is located in Dahlonega, also learn valuable team-building lessons and create lasting relationships that follow them into the real world.

“It’s important to understand the social aspect of somebody’s life and how that works in their community if you’re going to do any work that is truly going to benefit anybody,” said Brianna Brown, project coordinator of Meet Your Neighbor. “When we get to know people, a lot of the barriers and labels we might associate with them are null and void.”

Another program, called 1000 Words, creates teams of photographers who get together to take pictures around town. The goal is to build relationships while taking unique or original photographs related to a central theme. This year’s theme is accessibility.

ConnectAbility has also collaborated with county government to construct a fully accessible playground at a local park. They built the ConnectAbility Bridge by teaming up with local organizations to make that park fully accessible.

Partnering with GCDD, ConnectAbility hopes to engage more with the community; increase social connections for people with disabilities and their families; and make accommodations for those who are facing challenges or struggling in the community.

“We are very excited to have the opportunity to partner with GCDD and Real Communities. It’s exciting for us in a rural area of the State to have the opportunity to learn, grow and to bring their knowledge to our little corner of the world,” Daniel said. “It’s a great privilege and honor to be included in that [Real Communities] partnership.”

To read more in Making a Difference magazine, see below:

Download pdf version of Making a Difference Fall 2017    Download Large Print Version of Making a Difference Summer 2017





Real Communities Welcomes New Community Builders

Purposefully involving people with and without developmental disabilities in collaborative projects is pivotal to the framework of Real Communities. GCDD’s signature initiative welcomes its newest community builders who are working to utilize the gifts of everyone and create avenues toward reciprocity, interdependence and social change.

Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty (GFADP)
Dorinda Tatum brings her talents as a community organizer and advocate in the labor, human rights and social justice movements to Real Communities. She currently serves as lead organizer for GFADP. This statewide coalition of organizations and individuals is working to end the death penalty, build power in communities targeted by the criminal justice system, protect the rights and dignity of those on death row and their families, and reform Georgia’s public safety system.

Mixed Greens Community Builders
Three new community builders – Jessica Mathis, Johnny Smith and Barry Helmey – join Teri Schell, executive director of Forsyth Farmers’ Market and GCDD community builder, to host monthly meetings, recruit new members, staff the Mixed Greens booth at the Forsyth Farmers’ Market and engage in reflective learning in order to support the market’s efforts.

The market serves as a building block to develop a more welcoming neighborhood and provide opportunities for connection and contribution for people with and without disabilities. The core group works together to support the market with smiling faces, interactive projects and learning opportunities.

Jessica Mathis was born and raised in Savannah, GA. Mathis attended Armstrong State University and is currently applying to their graduate level history program. She works at Living Independence for Everyone (LIFE), Inc. as a peer mentor and is starting an educational nonprofit. Mathis has been a part of the Mixed Greens for just under one year.

Johnny Smith has lived in Savannah for most of his adult life, and has been a Mixed Greens member since 2011. He also volunteers at the Forsyth Farmers’ Market every Saturday.

Barry Helmey, a Savannah native, has worked primarily in the health and wellness field, most notably at the Deepak Chopra Center in Savannah. He is also a board member for LIFE, Inc. and has been part of the Mixed Greens for more than one year.

Women on the Rise
Marilynn Winn joins Real Communities as the community builder for Women on the Rise. The project is a membership-based organization of women targeted and/or impacted by the criminal “justice” system, and it works to educate, heal and empower one another and our communities to demand justice, dignity and liberation for all. Winn is also the chapter organizer II for 9to5 National Association of Working Women, Atlanta.

Real Communities: A Real Community Has Room for All

On February 22, 2014, two middle school students from Charles Ellis Montessori Academy in Savannah, GA, presented during the Youth Leaders panel of the 17th annual Georgia Organics conference on Jekyll Island.  Emma and Becca presented on their experiences with learning science concepts through their learning garden at school.  Their talk reflected their interactions with the community at large and with the younger students of Charles Ellis.  Prominently featured in their community portion was Johnny Smith, a Mixed Greens member. 

GA Organics 2As a Mixed Greens member, Johnny helps facilitate the Little Green Wagon, an interactive youth seed planting project.  The Little Green Wagon is entering into its third season of existence at the Forsyth Farmers' Market and wouldn't exist without the weekly care from Johnny. 

Last year, Johnny was invited to help replicate the Little Green Wagon project at Charles Ellis.  He quickly became an important part of the middle school farm to school program and the larger Charles Ellis Academy family, eating lunch with the middle school students on garden days and working with younger students during re-delivery activities.  

In addition to all of these wonderful things, seeing the students include Johnny as an integral part of their farm to school activities at a major southeastern farm & food conference was a Real Communities moment.  Johnny was included in their presentation as a matter of fact and without any special markers, labels or explanation. His presence wasn't noted as important or a big deal or significant; his presence was noted because he's simply a part of their Charles Ellis Montessori Academy community, a RealCommunity that has room for all.

Teri Schell

Founder of Forsyth Farmers' Market, Savannah

Schell recieved the 2014 Barbara Petit Pollinator Award for her leadership in Georgia's sustainable farming and food movement at the 17th annual Georgia Organics Conference.

Real Communities: A Story of Success from the Korean Coalition

Update: Narae has got her second volunteer position at Assi Plaza, an Asian grocery store in Duluth as a stacker where she will work from 10 - 11 a.m.. The Duluth library also reached out to both Lucy and me and have a volunteer position for her at the library.

Lucy is a mother with a new purpose. She is looking for volunteer opportunities for her daughter, Narae.

For the past few months, actually since November 2013, Narae's circle of support has been meeting every month to widen her circle of friends and provide opportunities for her and lucy ( her mother) to explore lives independent of each other. Narae is 34 year old and her mother has been her only companion. Lucy did not have the confidence till recently to leave her daughter - even for an hour- in other person' s care.

Few weeks ago, Lucy, Narae, her attendant Sandy and I met at the Duluth library to talk about a volunteer opportunity for Narae at the library. Why a library? Simply because Narae always has a magazine in her hands and likes to flip through it. Folks at the library, were skeptical. They did not refuse but neither were they welcoming. I could sense the feeling of defeat creeping in on Lucy & "I told you so" look. We walked out of the library and decided to try our luck at the old age home next door. Wow! What a welcome! The activity director of the facility shared the activity calendar and various ways Narae could help them. She did not ask her to take a written test or questioned her ability to hold things in her hand or doubt maneuverability of her wheelchair. She believed that Narae was a god-sent, much needed help, for her.

Narae has been volunteering at this facility every Monday from 3 to 4 pm, for the past two weeks. Her job is to hand over the gifts to the residents after the bingo game. She is happy and excited to go every week - without mom. And, Lucy is using her time to find other volunteer opportunities for her daughter. She is now confident in knowledge that there are people, other than her, who can love Narae and need her. Her smile is broader and he eyes sparkle with excitement and possibilities.

I promise you, very soon, I will have more good news about Narae to share.

By Aarti Sahgal
GCDD Real Communities Diversity Consultant

Real Communities: Core Gifts Workshop with ConnectAbility

Fifteen people from all walks of life attended a Core Gifts Workshop conducted by Bruce Anderson and hosted by ConnectAbility on February 15 in Dahlonega. High school students, parents of children with disabilities, and local business owners attended the Core Gifts Workshop to deepen the conversation of discovering gifts.

The Core Gifts Workshop was started by Anderson in the late 1980s in to help struggling youth discover their "core gifts." Through this process, Anderson aims to transform lives so people can feel valuable to today's society.

This was certainly important to spread the message that people with and without disabilities,"bring value to our society and are also equally important contributors," said Jacque Daniel, president of ConnectAbility.

ConnectAbility was founded in 2001 by Daniel from her desire to work with people with disabilities. As the group has built relationships with people with developmental disabilities, the partnership with GCDD aims to help the organization expand its community outreach and develop community-based inclusive programs for people with and without disabilities.

Real Communities: Decatur Community Conversation

The Frazer Center, located in Atlanta, has spent its lifelong mission providing research-based education, vocational support and therapeutic intervention to children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families.  As many youth with developmental disabilities complete their secondary education, the options for what will come after high school is on the forefront of many parents' kitchen table discussions.

While the Frazer Center hosts a day program, GCDD's Real Communities Initiative (RCI) facilitated a community event to discuss the next steps to support young people, with and without disabilities and their families, to have work, volunteer and educational opportunities after high school. "Parents were concerned about what happens after high school," said Caitlin Childs, organizing director for RCI. "People want something different, and we want to feed off of the momentum to start making progress."

The Decatur Community Conversation was held on January 21 at the Decatur Recreation Center, providing space for the community to come together to start building conversations about transitioning out of high school. Approximately 15 people participated in creating a shared vision that leads to all young people having meaningful options to contribute their gifts and talents after high school.

REAL COMMUNITIES: New Work, New Culture: What is it?

By Caitlin Childs

RealCommunitiesIn October 2014, Real Communities Community Builder Teri Schell and I traveled to Detroit, MI, for the New Work, New Culture Conference. This was our second learning journey to Detroit.

Because the realities of a rapidly changing economy and impacts of globalization hit Detroit long before the rest of the country, organizers have had many years to envision and put into practice truly sustainable economic development approaches. Instead of waiting for corporations or politicians to solve these problems for them, grassroots organizers and activists dedicate their energies to what is called "Visionary Organizing." Visionary Organizing requires us to imagine the world we want to live in and work to develop the capacity necessary for ordinary people and community organizations to make these visions a reality now, even if it is on a small scale.

In Detroit, viewing the economic crisis as both a danger and an opportunity, folks are reimagining how we think about work and creating the cultural changes necessary to make it reality.

Real Communities is focused on community-based solutions to the social issues that impact people with disabilities. I was curious to learn how reimagining work and economy fits in with our increased efforts around employment for people with disabilities in Georgia through the lens of Real Communities.

What I learned is that new work is about moving away from the idea that "work" and "job" are different words for the same thing. It is about supporting folks to figure out what they are truly passionate about and what gives them energy and power. It is about finding ways to reduce the number of hours people need to participate in the traditional job economy through the use of tools like Community-Based Production (CBP). Then people can dedicate more time to activities they are passionate about and that drive them – or activities that make their neighborhoods and their communities stronger, safer, more connected and self-sustaining for the long haul.

Sounds idealistic, right? But what I observed over and over again is that people in Detroit are putting this into action and developing real strategies to provide for folks' basic needs through CBP models. Creation of products and skills can be exchanged or bartered through Time Banks – a resource that allows people to exchange time for projects and services – and other non-monetary exchange processes. Community-based production in Detroit includes large-scale community agriculture and the development of cooperatives of all kinds – everything from cafes and bakeries to housing co-ops and energy cooperatives.

Teri and I were able to visit Incite Focus, a "fab lab" guided by Visionary Organizing philosophies, which uses new technologies, digital fabrication tools and permaculture to put the tools of production directly in the hands of people in Detroit to create sustainable housing, transportation and other avenues toward economic development.

How can we learn from organizers in Detroit? Can we find opportunities to put some of these philosophies in action here in Georgia? I hope that in the coming years, Real Communities can find partners who want to do just that. We have to acknowledge that in a rapidly changing economy and decreasing services to support non-traditional workers, new approaches are not just a good idea... they are a necessity.

Caitlin Childs is the GCDD Real Communities organizing director.

Real Communities: Quilts Display Gifts and Talents of Congregation

On a 26-by-26 wall at Centenary United Methodist Church that was once bare now hang handcrafted quilts designed and made by Dottie Adams, GCDD's Individual and Family Supports Director.

GCDD's Real Communities Initiative, Adams got close to the people that make up the congregation and their work in the Macon community. A project she took on all on her own, Adams designed six quilts and eight small banners that best represented the congregation.
"It's a very diverse group of people and I just wanted to tell their story through something I already love to do," Adams said. With various textures, colors and patterns, the quilts exemplify the work that Real Communities, along with using personal gifts, is doing to help people achieve a better sense of self and connection to community.

Located in College Hill Corridor in downtown Macon, GA, Centenary United Methodist Church was founded in 1884. Once a vibrant congregation, over time and with changes in the neighborhood, the congregation's numbers dwindled. It became clear that both the church and neighborhood would not survive unless major changes were made. In 2005, the church began to work actively to reach out to and engage the surrounding neighborhood. The neighborhood reached back and saved the church.

One way this has happened is through the Roving Listener project, where youth with disabilities worked alongside youth without disabilities to participate in deep listening in the Beall's Hill, Huegenin Heights and Pleasant Hill neighborhoods of Macon during the summers of 2012 and 2013. Participants listened for gifts, skills and dreams of older and newer residents of this changing neighborhood. The Roving Listener project was such a huge success that the community opted to continue roving one day a month and host monthly community dinners throughout the year. This summer, the youth are using the information they collected to facilitate community dinners, encouraging neighbors to come together around common interests by offering mini grants for small community projects.

Bruce Anderson, founder of Community Activators, has been working with Centenary United Methodist Church to further identify and utilize church members' core gifts for the past year. "It was about engaging people in the congregation to find and use their gifts. It makes a profound difference in the way someone sees themself," said Anderson.

By engaging people in the workshops and all-day trainings, "we discovered a lot of gifts in our community that are hidden and underutilized," said Stacey Harwell. "We are also realizing that we are as community all more similar than different." These efforts and more have been captured in Adams' quilts which she started working on in November 2013. They display roving listening, the community garden, human rights, friendships, classes for ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages), Centenary School of Creative Education and more to allow the story of Centenary's work to be displayed artistically.

Smaller banners with "Thank You" and "You're Welcome" are quilted in eight different languages along with images to represent different talents. These pieces adorn dynamic and colorful banners that represent the inclusive community that Centenary is building through its work. Two larger quilts, measuring 13-feet wide that can be spread across two queen-sized beds, display gifts that Roving Listening, Core Gift interviews, and the programs through Centenary are discovering about its community.

Adams hopes that those who see them are able to see their personal story within the fabrics.

She says, "There are different ways people share their talents, and I am hoping they have a chance to see themselves in some way through the quilting."


Real Communities: The Ripple Effect: Basmat Ahmed and Clarkston Community Leaders Share the Wealth

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 3.39.39 PMAfter various events, Basmat Ahmed returned to the place that she called her first home in the United States. She was 18 years old when Ahmed and her family came to Georgia, and began their life in the US at Jubilee Partners in Comer, GA in 2006.

Started in 1980, Jubilee is an on-site ministry that has helped over 3,000 refugees from over 30 countries become acclimated to the US by providing comfortable homes, intensive English classes and other important cultural information to families and individuals who resettle in the US. "When we left Jubilee, I knew I'd be back one day to help the place I called my first home," said Ahmed, who is originally from Sudan.

In 2011, she started her work as a community builder with the Clarkston International Community Garden, a project of Global Growers Network, in partnership with GCDD's Real Communities Initiative. Ahmed brought to her work a background in community organizing and the experience of having a brother with a developmental disability. This experience, along with her work with Real Communities, brought the 26-year-old awareness for inclusion and finding ways to make everyone, people with and without disabilities, a part of the community.

Then, she and other grassroots leaders became focused on the bigger picture in the city, focusing on building connections across cultures and sharing opportunities by using community assets to support each other through exciting projects. Clarkston is on the south end of DeKalb County and is one of the most diverse areas in the State. It is home to 60 different ethnicities and 26 different languages.

"Clarkston is very rich, and we should share the wealth," said Ahmed. "There are a lot of community leaders but how do we bring everyone together? How do we continue forming inclusive communities?"

Diverse community leaders in the area and from organizations such as Women Watch Afrika, the Clarkston Interfaith Group, Clarkston Development Foundation, the City of Clarkston, the Avalon Ambassador, and GCDD – as well as individuals who live in Clarkston – came together and formed the Clarkston Relationship Builders Group (CRBG), and its mission is to create a relaxed and safe environment where people understand and value each other, giving voice, visibility and support to people with different abilities through relationship building.

Members of the Clarkston community, families and GCDD went to Jubilee to tour the facilities. The group noticed that the 35-year-old facility wasn't accessible for people with disabilities. "The facility didn't have wheelchair ramps or accessible restrooms, and our group could contribute resources to make Jubilee more accessible for its residents," Ahmed said. By partnering with local companies and organizations, they hope to have a working project established soon with Jubilee.

"With my experience through Real Communities, I didn't go back alone," said Ahmed. I went back with a group of people whose mission is to make a difference and build strong community relationships."

To volunteer with the Clarkston Relationship Builders Group, contact Basmat Ahmed at

BASMAT AHMED is a community builder and helped found the Clarkston Relationship Builders Group (CRBG).

Real Communities: Threads That Bind

Threads that Bind

Launched in February, the Tifton Museum of Arts and Heritage opened its "Season of Quilts" exhibit for three months spanning over two venues. Four exhibits used the art of quilting to tell inspiring stories of inclusion and create a world that works for everyone.
Threads that Bind opened on February 16 and displayed original quilts created by the Wiregrass Quilter's Guild. The quilts depicted personal life stories of individuals who had to overcome a challenge to live a meaningful life, such as Ronald Goodman of Fitzgerald.

Goodman has a spinal cord injury, and found respite through creating wildlife paintings.

On March 1, Story Quilts by global artist Beth Mount opened to express the "universal desire of people in all cultures to help one another." Story Quilts was complemented by a storytelling session by local attorneys and preachers, along with the opportunity to tell personal stories with National Public Radio's StoryCorps. Tom Kohler, who co-authored Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community presented the story of the late Waddie Welcome, a man with severe disabilities whose powerful life story rose above divisions of disability, race and income, advocating inclusion and creating new possibilities in an entire community.

Women on the Rise

Women on the Rise

Who We Are:Women on the Rise, a group formed by formerly incarcerated women, works to demand justice, dignity, and liberation for all through collective action that transforms communities and builds public safety by creating strong, interdependent communities. Through support provided by the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities' Real Communities Initiative, WOTR also seeks to also ensure that equal justice is received by individuals with developmental disabilities ensnared in the criminal justice system.

women on the rise image1 Advocates turn out for Atlanta Public Safety hearing to call for "Solutions Not Punishment."
women on the rise image2Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signs executive order to "Ban the Box."
women on the rise image3 Advocating before the White House to "Ban the Box"

What We Do: Women on the Rise hosts regular Transformative Leadership Development and Community Building gatherings and Strategy Sessions. In 2014, they ran a successful internship program for formerly incarcerated women, conducted street and organizational outreach, engaged leaders in an intensive somatic leadership development program, and won important policy victories which impact the lives of thousands of formerly incarcerated people in Georgia when they successfully ‘Banned the Box’ on job applications in Fulton County, Atlanta, East Point and the State of Georgia. These efforts have benefited those targeted by the criminal legal system, institutionalized and kept from receiving much needed services to integrate them into the community. They have built a strong core group of leaders who are routinely engaging in community outreach and campaign actions in the Atlanta Metro area.

Women on the Rise, the Racial Justice Action Center, and SNaP Co (Solutions Not Punishment Coalition) have been working towards creating a Disability Justice Committee that actively deepens their understanding of disability justice. They are crafting outreach and recruitment activities that address the reality that, similarly to formerly incarcerated people, people with developmental disabilities may often be isolated, discouraged from attending community building events, or even physically segregated by institutions. They hope to build stronger relationships with potential allies and build bridges within agencies and coalitions that focus on developmental disabilities, so they are better able to identify, engage and create a safe environment for people with developmental disabilities in their organization.

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For additional info: Racial Justice Action Center