Georgia Tech's Serve-Learn-Sustain recently hosted an Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) session in Jackson, GA.

students at SLS ABCD short course in jackson, ga

The session was part of a short course, titled "ABCD in Practice," aimed to introduce and review the basics of ABCD, which is an approach that focuses on working with communities based on their assets and strengths.

The course, led by two Serve-Learn-Sustain faculty members, Dr. Jennifer Hirsch, and Dr. Ruthie Yow, was open to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as community partners from outside Georgia Tech. 

In February, course participants visited the Henderson School, an all-Black school in Jackson, GA, that opened in 1955 and closed in 2010. The school is being restored and repurposed by the Henderson School Alumni Association Trust (HSAAT), which hopes to turn the building into a community and workforce development center. Participants worked with HSAAT and other community members to brainstorm ways to move the restoration forward. "Often, you may only get a small slice of the community when you do this type of work," said Yow. "But in this case, the diverse group included pastors, teachers, a representative from Georgia Power, local officials, an economic development officer, and staff from the local historical association. 

During the event, participants were led through idea-generating exercises that wedded asset- based community development (ABCD) frameworks with participatory facilitation techniques. This approach focuses on identifying and leveraging the assets and resources that exist within a community to foster collaboration and positive change. "Taking part in this course has made me think more critically about my role in my community, and how I can shape my future and influence the future of others," said Ewan Pritchard, a First-year Environmental Engineering Student at Georgia Tech. Pritchard is also taking an ENGL 1102 course for which HSAAT is the course partner.  

A City and Regional Planning graduate student who took the course, Madison Davis, shared his thoughts on the value of the ABCD approach: "The ABCD community workshop was a stark reminder of the true value of any community: its people. Smaller communities like Jackson, particularly those in rural areas, are too often ignored despite the invaluable assets of the community and the near-boundless expertise of their residents. I am endlessly grateful for the opportunity to learn about Jackson from the community and help them elevate some of the amazing assets in their city." 

Chuck Barlow, Sr., the HSAAT president and board chair, spoke about the importance of community involvement in decision-making: "When people have an opportunity to participate in decisions that will affect their lives, it is easier to get buy-in, support, and commitment. I visited tables and watched people reach a consensus on ideas and were willing to compromise to get the desired outcomes. These were people [course participants from Georgia Tech and local community members] who did not know each other before the meeting." 

The collaboration between Georgia Tech and HSAAT is an example of how ABCD can positively impact communities. By focusing on the assets and strengths of the community and by leveraging complementary expertise and resources at Georgia Tech, HSAAT can work towards the restoration and repurposing of the Henderson School to serve as a valuable resource for the community.  

The next step in the partnership with Georgia Tech will be developing a business plan for HSAAT. 

We will be delighted to visit the April HSAAT board meeting to discuss the next steps in detail, including the possibilities of an action workshop to extend the work accomplished and the creation of a business plan in conjunction with diverse partners and an HSAAT summer intern supplied by the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain," said Yow.