AgLanta "Grows-A-Lot": What you Need to Know

Last Wednesday, Mario Cambardella, the City of Atlanta’s Urban Agriculture Director visited the Center for Civic Innovation to speak about the AgLanta “Grows-A-Lot” program.

Melonie Tharpe, our Programs Director, explained how the program grew out of conversations surrounding urban agriculture and equitable food access that took place at the Center for Civic Innovation. As Tharpe explained, “We really like convening people, asking them: What is it you actually want to see? And then helping them think through how to actually make it happen.”


Starting in 2016, CCI and Cambardella hosted a series of events where people and organizations that want to grow and access food could identify barriers and discuss what kinds of city policies would be most helpful in overcoming those barriers. During these discussions, participants identified access to land, information, and resources as their greatest challenges, and proposed land grants, farming opportunity zones, a NPU food access survey, and a food hub where produce could be processed and marketed as potential solutions.

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With this information, Cambardella and his department designed the AgLanta “Grows-A-Lot” program, which invites entrepreneurs, non-profits, and residents to apply for a 5-year renewable license to adopt a vacant, city-owned property to start a new urban garden or urban farm. In addition to land, selected urban farmers and gardeners will receive assistance with the permitting and insurance process; Cambardella also secured funding from the City of Atlanta to provide each farm and garden with its own water meter.

Cambardella explained the importance of community engagement in designing and implementing this program: “We want to stay in constant contact with the public that we serve, because inevitably I work for you.” He added, “we’re trying to build a resilient, equitable, and accessible local food system here in Atlanta.”

Watch the entire event here!

Applications are currently open and due Thursday, June 14! For more information about the program, including application requirements, visit the AgLanta Grows-A-Lot program page.

CCI Recap: Atlanta BeltLine Quarterly Briefing

If you couldn’t make it to Friendship Baptist Church last Tuesday for the BeltLine’s Quarterly Briefing, look no further: We’ve written a recap just for you!

 It was standing-room only as more than 300 community members attended the briefing to hear project updates, ask questions, and listen to a panel discussion concerning equity on the BeltLine, led by the Center for Civic Innovation’s Executive Director Rohit Malhotra. Panelists included Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; Odetta MacLeish-White, Managing Director of the Transformation Alliance; Brian McGowan, President and CEO of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI); Tim Keane, Commissioner of the City of Atlanta Department of Planning; and Brandon Riddick-Seals, interim Executive Director of Atlanta Housing.

It was standing-room only as more than 300 community members attended the briefing to hear project updates, ask questions, and listen to a panel discussion concerning equity on the BeltLine, led by the Center for Civic Innovation’s Executive Director Rohit Malhotra. Panelists included Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; Odetta MacLeish-White, Managing Director of the Transformation Alliance; Brian McGowan, President and CEO of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI); Tim Keane, Commissioner of the City of Atlanta Department of Planning; and Brandon Riddick-Seals, interim Executive Director of Atlanta Housing.

After brief introductions from Beth McMillan, Director of Planning and Community Engagement for the Atlanta BeltLine, Atlanta City Councilperson Ivory Lee Young, Jr. (District 3) and Councilperson Cleta Winslow (District 4), Sadie Dennard, a deacon of Friendship Baptist Church, welcomed the audience and shared a bit of the churche's long history.

The Atlanta BeltLine then shared project updates including new hires and material progress in a the form of an 11 minute video.

Following project updates, community members were given an opportunity to ask questions. Displacement and affordable housing were key areas of concern, as community members challenged the Atlanta BeltLine to uphold promises.

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Panel Discussion

Rohit Malhotra introduced the the panel, promising “to make sure the voices in this room are heard in an effective way, but also to make sure this conversation also moves forward.” To do so, he asked panel members to set clear goals so the public could hold them accountable.

Panelists moved beyond rhetoric, explaining the rationale behind policies, addressing past missteps and shared how they planned to better address equity  and affordability in the future. For example, McGowan said that once ABI became focused on “building the BeltLine, I think we lost sight of people and community. The project itself is about people and community. It always was. This is a community and economic development project.” Commissioner Keane expressed how difficult it is to address inequity, yet offered some room for hope. After a conference with western cities in Seattle, he concluded “Atlanta is thinking more out-of-the-box right now than any of those cities.” Odetta MacLeish-White, in her role as Managing Director for the TransFormation Alliance works with various community organizations in Atlanta and around the country, expressed that “folks are very concerned… We need more specificity on definitions. We need to know what are the tools and the strategies that will be put in place to keep myself and my family where we laid our roots down.” Malhotra then challenged Riddick-Seals to explain how he defines affordable housing and area median income (AMI). Riddick-Seals explained that “our dollars that we use and the tools that we have are based on the metropolitan statistical area,” which includes Marietta and Sandy Springs and is set by the federal government.

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Equity continued to be central to the discussion, as Malhotra praised Mayor Bottoms for placing the word “equity” at the center of her inauguration speech and asked how she planned to turn these words into action. Mayor Bottoms responded, that she’s “not just saying it, but hopefully really showing to our leadership team that I mean it… and making sure that our team understands that we have permission to think differently.” McGowan connected income inequality and mobility to physical mobility, explaining “there’s a lot of people in Atlanta who can’t get to where the jobs are. You can see the skyline, but you can’t get there.” Malhotra went further asserting, “transit is a civil rights issue.”

The panel also discussed frustrations with the community engagement process. As MacLeish-White explained, “I think people see opportunities but are afraid they will not be part of the decision making.” Mayor Bottoms responded, explaining that “as elected officials, you’re getting a lot of information from a lot of places. There may be 100 sticky notes on the wall, and there are probably 100 different opinions. That’s why you have to trust the leadership that you have elected really to reflect the voice of the entire community and not just a small portion of it.” She agreed that “we have to listen and engage differently,” especially so many people affected by the BeltLine don’t even know it exists. Finally, Malhotra asked Mayor Bottoms to name a metric or goal that she plans to meet by this time next year. Bottoms promised “there will be formalized coordination and leadership on behalf of the city as it relates to the affordability conversation.”

You can watch the whole meeting above. The panel discussion starts at 1:22.

Meet the Interns!

Aliyah Williams

Originally from The Bronx, New York, Aliyah is a junior at Georgetown studying culture and politics. Aliyah hasn’t spent much time in Atlanta before and is excited to learn more about the city and explore it over the summer. At the Center for Civic Innovation, she will be working with Rohit and Melonie to enhance the center’s public programming and fellowships. She’s excited get a new perspective on the journey of different social enterprises, and is fascinated by and the stories that each of the different fellows and associates can tell. Aliyah is particularly inspired by Next Generation Men & Women, whose mission is to expose students to the work environments and professions that they one day might want to work in, as she was part of a similar program that she loved. “I’m vibing with CCI right now,” she says looking around the “inspiring space.”

 

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Eriana James

A Chicago native, Eriana is a rising junior at Georgetown majoring in African American Studies and double minoring in Sociology and Justice and Peace Studies. This city girl embraces her inner tourist mentality when going to any new place. She’s ready to get lost in everything food and must sees in ATL. At the Center for Civic Innovation, she will be working with Dayle and Alex on the happiness team. “It’s the little things that never in a million years you’d notice...that keep the staff happy.” In the first week, Eriana has developed a newfound appreciation for the attention to detail from the snack bins in the kitchen to how the couches are aligned to make sure everyone is comfortable. She loves working behind the scenes and wants to know all the ins and outs of CCI.

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Jan Menafee

Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Jan is a rising junior at Georgetown University studying Science, Technology, and International Affairs. It’s his first time in the deep south for an extended period and he’s already felt the warmth–  both the expected “Hotlanta” weather and the southern hospitality. One of his main summer goals is to get on one of the new Bird Scooters and ride around the city. At the Center for Civic Innovation, he will be working with Rohit and Melonie to enhance the center’s public programming and fellowships. He’s ready to get to know each member of the CCI staff. “They’ve all had whole careers before coming here,” he says. Getting to know each of their backstories and understanding how their journey has led them to CCI.

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Josh Madwed

Originally from Trumbull, CT, Josh is a rising senior at Georgia Tech studying Industrial Design. Josh is looking forward to another summer in Atlanta exploring neighborhoods like Buford Highway, South Downtown, and Candler Park. Additionally, Josh looks forward to attending summer festivals in Atlanta, particularly the annual Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival. At the Center for Civic Innovation, Josh will be working with Andrea in communications, developing innovative visual communications; he is especially excited to develop GIFs for the Center. Josh is passionate about graphic communication and loves CCI’s visual language. Overall, Josh is most excited to get to know the staff, fellows, and residents at the center, as he finds their unique backgrounds and journeys particularly inspiring.

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Kell Crowley

Born and raised outside of Boston in Wellesley, Massachusetts, Kell is a rising sophomore at Georgetown University studying Science, Technology, and International Affairs. Kell’s only time in Atlanta prior to this summer has been spent in the airport, so she’s looking forward to getting to know the city. At the Center for Civic Innovation, she will be working with Rohit and Melonie to enhance the center’s public programming and fellowships. She’s excited to learn how different organizations operate on a day to day basis through CCI. After her first event at CCI, Kell was impressed by the large and diverse community that was engaged in the event. So far, she has been surprised to learn how young CCI was since its impact on the community is striking.

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Marina Alaricheva

The only international CCI intern of the summer, Marina is originally from Russia. She’s in Atlanta working on her Masters in Public Policy at Georgia State. It’ll be her first summer in Atlanta and she’s really looking forward to all of the festivals that are going on each week, specifically the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s performance in Piedmont Park. At the Center for Civic Innovation, she will be working with Kyle and Melonie to enhance the center’s programming. She’s excited to work on the content and problem solve. She’s fascinated by CCI’s company culture and the environment they’ve fostered. She’s become very interested in different forms of public engagement aside from general meetings and hopes to learn from different speakers at the upcoming events.

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Rebecca Aman

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Rebecca is a junior at Brown University studying Economics. Rebecca is CCI’s only Atlanta native intern. Each summer she looks forward to the Atlanta Ice Cream Festival in Piedmont Park and running the Peachtree Road Race. She’s also excited to be home over the summer to spend time with her family and their newest member: a Bernese Mountain Dog/Poodle mix. Rebecca will be working with Andrea on the communications team. She’s hoping to learn how problems are solved at the center since it's not like conventional non-profits. She’s excited about CCI’s network and plans to learn a lot from the different people that speak at events throughout the summer. “Everyone here is cooler than me,” she claims. Her expectation for “cool kids vibes” has certainly been met.

Real Talk Recap: Community Engagement is Hard Work

This week, more than 50 community members attended the Center for Civic Innovation's May Real Talk panel on the trial and error of community engagement. As Atlanta continues to grow and local governments launch increasingly ambitious projects, community engagement is increasingly important.

Presentations

CCI team member Kyle Kessler introduced the topic, emphasizing that community engagement is a spectrum that ranges from informing the community and inviting the community to participate, to empowering the community to make decisions. Later, CCI team member Bem Joiner introduced the panelists, who worked to engage the Atlanta community on projects such as the Atlanta Beltline, the Better Together Decatur campaign, and the Downtown Master Plan. After Kyle and Bem's introductions, participants all gave short presentations on their experiences and challenges engaging their communities, such as including difficult-to-reach communities, and the resources needed for successful community engagement.

You can download Kyle's presentation here.

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Panel Dissussion 

 Panelists include from (left to right) Nathan Soldat and Whitney Fuller (Community Engagement Managers at Atlanta BeltLine), Audrey Leous (Project Manager, Planning and Urban Design at Central Atlanta Progress), and Casie Yoder (Casie Yoder Consulting and Former Chief Spokesperson for City of Decatur). 

Panelists include from (left to right) Nathan Soldat and Whitney Fuller (Community Engagement Managers at Atlanta BeltLine), Audrey Leous (Project Manager, Planning and Urban Design at Central Atlanta Progress), and Casie Yoder (Casie Yoder Consulting and Former Chief Spokesperson for City of Decatur). 

Panelists and audience members discussed the promises and challenges of community engagement, including difficult-to-reach communities, the resources needed for successful community engagement, and challenges of accountability during the implementation phase. Nathan Soldat and Whitney Fuller from the Beltline explained how 20% of Atlanta residents will be directly affected by the project, and stressed the need to use both new digital tools and old school methods like postcards, as many older, legacy residents may not have access to high speed internet. Additionally, Whitney Fuller explained that while meetings typically are held during dinner time, she does not have a budget for food, which can be challenging community members balancing many responsibilities. Finally, Nathan emphasized while the process of building community trust takes time, this trust is “crucial because the community is your real partner in this process, and those relationships really mean a lot when you need advocacy for your project, for what you’re trying to accomplish.”

 

 Whitney Fuller describes how she moved to a neighborhood adjacent to the beltline to better understand her community's interests.

Whitney Fuller describes how she moved to a neighborhood adjacent to the beltline to better understand her community's interests.

Audrey Leous described how Central Atlanta Progress hosted several open houses at Georgia State, where community members could interact with maps and photo boards, explaining how she tried to move past the old meetings model to make community engagement exciting and, well, engaging. Cassie Yoder who led the Decatur Together Campaign explained how communities have the most influence during the first stages of any project, but often only become engaged once construction begins in their backyard. Additionally, she highlighted the importance of community engagement managers who look like the community, live in the community, and have similar lived experiences as community members. Finally, panelists expressed how crucial resources are in leading a successful community engagement process.

Audience members asked the toughest questions, challenging the panelists to work more closely with community organizations, and asking why projects sometimes do not look like what communities agreed to. Panelists explained the challenges of financial and political constraints, as well as the difficulties of keeping community members involved during the implementation phase.

 

 Charnette Trimble, Civic Innovation Resident at the Center for Civic Innovation and long-time community activist, challenges the panelists: Why do projects often look nothing like what the community agreed to?

Charnette Trimble, Civic Innovation Resident at the Center for Civic Innovation and long-time community activist, challenges the panelists: Why do projects often look nothing like what the community agreed to?

At the end of the event, panelists encouraged audience members to stay involved.

What next?

On June 4, the Beltline will host its quarterly briefing meeting 6-8:30 pm at the Friendship Baptist Church.

Central Atlanta Progress recently formed a Downtown Master Plan Task Force and encouraged community members to join and sign up for its listserv to stay informed.

#CCIIntern: Risha Parikh

A Day in the Life of a #CCIIntern

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Tell us a little more about yourself.

I have a love/hate relationship with coffee and getting news updates on Twitter. I have a love-love relationship with Waffle House and Atlanta’s art scene. I have a hate-hate relationship with mean people and the Comic Sans font.

How has your internship made you think about the role you and others have in the community?

I love that CCI doesn’t try to assume it knows everything about the Atlanta community at the forefront. The Atlanta community can be really easy to get wrong because it’s more like a salad bowl with a lot of unique subcultures and ethnographic differences. It trusts that the fellows are the experts--that they understand and the needs of their “users” (forgive me for using a tech term) the best. We just have to help them need-find and solution for these needs in the most sustainable way possible.

I’ve also learned a lot about how experimentation and technology can be introduced to the civic impact space. I used to think the only way to make civic impact was this rote process of donations and distribution. However, that’s not the case!

Being an informed and LOCAL voter is the new millennial pink. Seriously. It’s cool. Everyone should make it part of their seasonal routine.

Who did you work with during your internship (directly)?

I worked mostly with Andrea Cervone, who also leads a Hannah-Montana-esque double life as a city councilwoman for Clarkston. I also worked a lot with Kyle and Melonie, who guided Tim and me through our research process for an open data policy in Atlanta.

What is the source of inspiration for the work you do?

Does it have a creative element? Is it innovative/an idea or project that no one’s ever worked on before? Does it improve people’s lives? (And as a bonus, do they play good music in the office?)

How did you get to where you are today?

I have ridden on the shoulders of giants, from my parents to my friends at Georgia Tech to my professors. I’m also just a ‘yes’ person. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to get out of my comfort zone as much as possible and say yes to as many different kinds of opportunities as possible. That’s also why I have so many interests, and I’m happiest when I get to combine those interests and interdisciplinary skills in a place like the Center for Civic Innovation.

I’m also a dot-connector. I’m good at identifying the potential links between different people and scenes. This skill has served me well, especially with project management.

What brought you to the center?

I’d been following the Center for Civic Innovation on Twitter for a few years. In addition to the really cool events that CCI organized, Rohit, the founder, seemed like such an interesting person: here was a 1st-gen Indian-American–like me–who defied the stereotype and didn’t become a doctor–like me–and founded an organization with an amazing group of people. I used to be a science major, so I liked that the Center for Civic Innovation was a sort of civic “lab” for the city. Eventually, I saw the tweet that internship applications were out, so I bit the bullet and applied!

What has been your experience interning at the center? Name some highlights of your time here, favorite experiences, favorite things about being at the center.

One of my favorite things about the center is how COOL everyone is. Just one conversation with anyone on the team--or even any of the fellows, for that matter-- leaves me fascinated. It’s amazing how many famous people in Atlanta hip-hop Bem knows, or the variety of side-projects that Dayle has, or the amount of urban studies facts Alex knows.

What advice do you have for future CCI interns?

  • Ask lots of questions. Everyone who works or co-works at CCI has the most fascinating life. You’ll learn a lot about the multifaceted world of civic innovation just by “hanging out” and talking to people.
  • Pay attention to the challenges as well as the positives CCI goes through. When you’re “on the inside” in any organization, you learn about the unique issues that you have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Knowing how to problem-solve across different areas is a good skill to have!
  • If there’s a project or initiative you’re interested in that’s outside of your “on-paper” role, ask if you can participate! Chances are you’ll be able to work on it in your spare time.
  • Be proud to rep CCI around the city! Invite your friends to CCI’s facebook events. I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t enjoyed going to them.

Show Us the Money: Understanding the City Budget (recap)

On February 21, 2018, the Center for Civic Innovation hosted a presentation to help the public understand city budgeting. Melonie Thorpe, our Programs and Advocacy Director, provided a brief overview of the city’s budget and discussed how this budget interacts with city policies. Following this presentation, our Advocacy Manager, Kyle Kessler, moderated an interactive Q&A session with two budget experts, Chuck Meadows and Cynthia Searcy, who offered insights on a range of topics including property tax values, best practices for city budget transparency, and ways that Atlanta citizens can get involved in city budgeting. 

Some audience members expressed concerns about Atlanta’s changing residential landscape due to ongoing redevelopment projects which have been closely linked to the city’s growing income inequality. Meadows explained that property values will be affected by the emergence of new high rise condominiums such as those along the Atlanta Beltline. He noted that “the poor are getting poorer” and that Atlanta’s wealth is becoming more concentrated into the hands of a smaller community which has direct impacts on the stability of our city’s economy. Specifically, Meadows commented that property taxes perform better when you have a broader base paying into the system which is a challenge for the city to overcome 

With rising concerns about the state of Atlanta, audience members were eager to know how the City can be held accountable to its proposed budget in addition to how citizens can become more involved in the budget process. Cynthia Searcy noted that the city provides monthly expenditure reports to the public but could increase its accountability by linking its spending to tangible outcomes through a performance-based approach. Audience members were curious to know if there are any mechanisms in place that allow external parties to keep checks and balances on the city’s budgeting process. Atlanta does not currently  have an official third-party watchdog organization to oversee this process, however, an audience member raised the possibility of one being created if citizens  mobilize and go through an official petition process through the state legislature -- though these interventions have historically been implemented in other major cities in the aftermath of a financial crisis or scandal. 

Meadows and Searcy noted that there are events in Atlanta’s history that validate citizens being skeptical of the budget process and concerned about their inclusion. However, they both encouraged members of the audience to become more informed about the specific issues that they care about and set up meetings with their city council representatives to express their opinions. Meadows reminded the audience to be patient and persistent through this process as change takes time. The night ended with Searcy assuring the audience that,  “You will see change. You just have to be vocal and have your priorities set.” 


 

You can get the entire presentation here. 

#CCIIntern: Bailey Thompson

A Day in the Life of a #CCIIntern

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Tell us a little more about yourself. What are you studying/did you study in college and what do you want to use that degree and experience to do in the future?

I am a marketing major at Kennesaw State University with a specialty in social media marketing. After I graduate, I want to be a social media specialist. In the long run, I want to own a marketing firm that has a strong holding in the community because of the pro-bono non-profit work the firm does in the local area. As for on-campus involvement, I am a part of Model UN and a service honors society. In my free time, I love to hike, go to local restaurants, and explore Atlanta.

What is the source of inspiration for the work you do?

My mother worked in non-profit the majority of my life and my father always had a service-orientated personality, whether he was at work or in the community. One of the things my parents instilled in me at a very early age is the importance of leaving a positive impact in the world and helping others. Social media is a great way to do this because it crosses all socioeconomic boundaries, allowing people to be able to be informed on local issues no matter where they are in life. Being able to distribute content that is inspiring and informative can help anyone along their journey to being more aware and active in their community. 

How did you get to where you are today?

That’s a good question. I care about making a change in the community I live in, whether it’s through being involved on-campus or working with a non-profit as my first internship. Also, I have a drive and commitment that allow me to try my best in the endeavors I pursue. 

What brought you to the center?

What caught my eye is the story of how the center began. There was a real story of a member of the Atlanta community giving up a large part of his life to go into supporting civic endeavors that can help so many lives. This story resonated with me and made me want to work with CCI.

Life at CCI

I am currently working on a social media campaign to promote knowledge about the Atlanta election process and facts about elected positions. Additionally, the objective of the campaign is to increase voter participation for the upcoming Atlanta elections.

What's one thing you learned about civic impact during your internship?

Civic impact can spring from so many different ideas. One can be about promoting local artists, like A3C does through their music conference. Another way can be through helping people understand how to plant their own food and have sustainable local gardens, like Carver’s Produce. These two ideas don't necessarily seem to connect, but they do because they all affect the daily lives and opportunities afforded to people of all ages in the Atlanta area.

What has been your experience interning at the center? Name some highlights of your time here.

On my first day at the Center for Civic Innovation, it was the executive director, Rohit’s, birthday. The happiness team went all out to show him how much they cared. That really solidified how close-knit the CCI was to me from then. I also enjoyed creating content like graphics and volunteering events with the CCI. Volunteering has shown me so many sides to Atlanta that I have never seen before. 

How do you hope to drive impact in the future?

I love being a part of the community, and I will continue to support local causes through volunteering my time. Once I achieve my goal of owning a marketing firm, I want to increase my impact in the community through pro bono work with new entrepreneurs who have a civic mind and desire to make their community a better place.

What advice do you have for future CCI interns?

Make the most out of the volunteer events and projects afforded to you. There are so many opportunities for you to meet amazing people and have great experiences that you may not have otherwise by working with the CCI. 

How has your internship made you think about the role you and others have in the community?

I have started to redefine what I think my role is as a community member and others as well. It’s incredible the work that I have seen happen at CCI when you add just one volunteer, which made me think about that same concept for a community. If everyone just contributed a few hours a month to a designated cause in their community, how remarkable would the change in the Greater Atlanta area be? At that point, I made a promise to myself to stay involved in my community, no matter how busy I was or what was going on because to make a change every minute of time someone devotes to a cause helps.  

Love this? Want to join the CCI intern crew? Check out our current internship opportunities! 

#CCIInterns: LaBreshia Taylor

A Day in the Life of a #CCIIntern

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Tell us a little more about yourself. What are you studying/did you study in college and what do you want to use that degree and experience to do in the future?

I'm a college senior at Oglethorpe University, majoring in biopsychology, with dreams of becoming a pediatric nurse. I have always been fond of children and love engaging with them. Taking care of people is something that comes natural to me. Beyond being part of a healthcare team at a children's hospital, I really want to find myself doing medical relief work abroad in South America. Specifically, I would like to find myself in Guatemala learning more about holistic healthcare. They have some amazing practices that do not involve westernized medication. I am so interested in learning about procedures that involve natural medicines. I also love to dance. I have been dancing and teaching dance for over 18 years. As I get older, I found that I have to keep dancing on a regular basis. I have to keep my body engaged. Dance gives me so much freedom and safety. I feel a sense of welcome in a space where there is no judgment each time I step foot on the dance floor.

What is the source of inspiration for the work you do?

Source of inspiration comes from many different avenues. One of my biggest inspirations being my hometown and its people. Growing up in Memphis, TN there was a wide range of people. They say we are home to the most dangerous, but I know us to be home to the most passionate hardworking people. At an early age, I was surrounded by people who understood the logic behind hustle. Memphians have a different kind of work ethic. We think differently, move differently and grind it out like no other. My city inspires me to hustle, work for what I want and never take anything for granted.

How did you get to where you are today?

I owe a lot of my success to God and my family. Holding onto my faith while in school was crucial for me to my success. I had to stay prayed up and remained focused. I also got to where I am by focusing on myself for once. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish if you focus on your path rather than worrying about what someone in your circle may have accomplished. Everyone’s path is different, so don’t expect your path or journey to be like someone else’s.

What brought you to the center?

During my college career and even looking back at my high school years, I was always involved in some form of community service or engagement. For the past 4 years of college, I have worked in my university’s office of community service and outreach, the Center for Civic Engagement or the CCE. Planning campus-wide days of service and service-learning trips have been my thing. My biggest project has been Alternative Breaks. Alternative Breaks give students an opportunity to learn and engage with a community they are foreign to. These experiences are created in the U.S. and abroad. My advisor brought to my attention this intern position at the CCI. I had heard of the CCI before in relation to their food fellowship program. I had some time in my fall schedule, and I said it is worth a shot to apply! I know about civic engagement and the importance of supporting your local businesses, so why not apply for an opportunity where I could learn even more. Who knew I would actually get it, I was beyond excited. I was screaming up and down the stairs of the student center when I got my email, maybe a little over the top but who cares I was happy.

Life at CCI

I work with the People Happiness and Experience team. If there was ever an opportunity to be on a team named after three things I love this was the time. Dayle, Alex, and I have a very special job. If I could describe our team in one song lyric it would be “Real G’s move in silence like lasagna”- Lil Wayne. The people, happiness and experience team are the behind the scenes folks. We are the real movers and shakers of the center, keeping the center running like a well-oiled machine. But not many people know who is responsible for day to day managing of the center and all its components. From events, volunteers, to simply making sure the coffee is hot and ready, no task or project is beneath us, this team does it all. The People, Happiness and Experience Team is the best-kept secret. I have been in some job positions or internships where staff or supervisors were not supportive. It feels amazing to know that you have a great support system. It just makes me think about how so many individuals are in positions where they are miserable and hate coming to work every day and a lot of that has to do with the work environment. You may work for a company or organization, but that company should also feel like a community. The environment you work in has a big effect on your work productivity. I believe Dayle and Alex have done an amazing job at the community they have created and welcomed me into. Every day I come into the Center I feel a sense of openness. I become very at ease and refreshed. It’s great to come into a space where people are genuinely excited to see you.

What's one thing you learned about civic impact during your internship?

One thing I learned about civic impact was the amount of patience it involves. It takes a great deal of patience to work with various types of people every day, but it also takes a great deal of patience to wait for things to start changing. Yes, I know change doesn’t happen overnight but when you have been working towards change in your community or even to make a difference in your own personal life for quite some time, it can be difficult to stay motivated. I really applaud those entrepreneurs and small business owners for staying motivated no matter what their journey has looked like. Another thing I learned about civic impact is how hard it is to reach people. This is due to several reasons, one being that people are connected. And it is how job to find out how to fill that gap or figure out what caused this unconnected energy to occur. I just remember participating in working the Vote Local table during the A3C festival and people were very unengaged with the idea of voting in general. People feel as if their vote does not matter. I think people have sort of lost hope or have no faith in the system of voting which makes it hard for organizations like CCI that have voting initiatives to do their job. In general, not even with just voting it can be difficult to gain interest when trying to have a successful civic impact. I see this first hand on my campus. It is insanely difficult to get students engaged or involved with community work. Having food at events used to do the trick, but that doesn’t even work these days. I find myself contemplating very frequently as to what creates the space as to why people are not receptive to community involvement opportunities.

What has been your experience interning at the center? Name some highlights of your time here.

It is so hard to pick one experience because every day is so different. One of my biggest pet peeves is when things become too predictable. Interning at CCI is never predictable. Every single day is different, and projects are always different. Dayle and Alex always keep me on my toes because I never know what direction we are moving next. I really appreciate the element of surprise. One event, in particular, happened during the 2nd week of my internship, where I help set up for and attended an event titled, Our Future Atlanta Discussion Panel: Who Holds Local Government Accountable?. It was awesome because it was my first time listening to Atlanta residents talk about what was wrong with Atlanta. So often we get this glamorous image of ATL, Hollywood of the south, and those images overshadow what is really going on in the heart of the city. It was very eye-opening to understand more details behind some of the large land developments the city has undergone and how it is affecting residents.

What advice do you have for future CCI interns?

I strongly encourage future interns to be yourself. Always remain professional but be yourself. I have done internships in the past where I felt like I had to carry myself a certain way and I was losing my authentic self. I feel as though at CCI I am able to be myself while also adding a different layer to my professionalism. I think I am able to produce a greater quality of work when I am in an environment that allows me to be comfortable. I also encourage future interns to ask lots of questions. Ask not only about how the CCI operates but also about the co-workers and partners. You never know if there could be an opportunity for you to network and learn in other areas.

How has your internship made you think about the role you and others have in the community?

This internship has really heightened my awareness of the Atlanta community as a whole. I have lived in Atlanta going on 4 years now and the only thing I could tell you about Atlanta government is that the mayor is Kasim Reed and that the idea to move the Braves Stadium to Cobb County was a terrible idea. After being at CCI for not even a week I found myself becoming more well-versed in the language of local Atlanta politics. I have learned how important voting is on a local level. True systemic change starts at the bottom and filters its way up to the top. We focus so much on huge elections, when so much good work can be done in our own cities.

Love this? Want to join the CCI intern crew? Check out our current internship opportunities! 

Center for Civic Innovation Hosts Interactive Mayoral Forum

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On Monday, October 30, 2017, the Center for Civic Innovation hosted an interactive forum with the Atlanta mayoral candidates. The sold-out forum, hosted at Dad's Garage, brought out more than 200 attendees and prompted watch parties across the city. The theme of the evening was community engagement and the forum was treated as a job interview for the office of mayor.

Candidates were asked questions around :

(1) Qualification - where they were asked for short answers ranging from the salary they were willing to take as mayor to which Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU) they live in.

(2) Collaboration - where they played the famous improv “yes, and…” exercise, building on one another’s ideas to improve the NPU system.

(3) Courage - where they were asked to make a protest sign for an issue area that they were willing to lose reelection over.

(4) People-centered decision making - where each person talked about ways to engage people in the city decision-making and also commented on the commitment they would make to small businesses, in light of the city’s Amazon bid.

(5) Honesty/transparency - where they did a “failure bow” after saying something they wish they did better. The forum ended with each candidate choosing their ideal “vice mayor” and complementing what they have learned from one another.

“This forum was fun and brought a human element to what has been a stressful and exhausting election cycle,” Rohit Malhotra, founder and executive director of the Center for Civic Innovation, said. “We believe that if people are more informed about why these candidates are running and what they’re willing to fight for, they will be more likely to vote and remain engaged after the election cycle.” The Center for Civic Innovation plans to continue to strengthen civic engagement in 2018.

All 10 remaining candidates for mayor were confirmed to attend; however, only 9 showed up. All audience members were given a kazoo to show their appreciation of answers given by the candidates. Candidates were given pom-poms to wave if they supported the comments of another candidate.

This forum was a part of the Center for Civic Innovation’s #VoteLocal effort to engage and educate Atlantans around the 2017 municipal elec

foster attention, education, and engagement around the 2017 Atlanta elections. 8 of the 10 candidates filled out a “job application” questionnaire and all 10 candidates did a 90-minute breakfast interview with the Center for Civic Innovation. Audio from those interviews and the questionnaires can be found here: www.voteatl.org


Candidates that participated:

  • Peter Aman
  • Rohit Ammanamanchi
  • Keisha Lance Bottoms
  • John Eaves
  • Vincent Fort
  • Kwanza Hall
  • Ceasar Mitchell
  • Cathy Woolard
  • Glenn S. Wrightson

Candidates that did not participate:

  • Mary Norwood
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