Breaking the Cycle of Poverty: The Fairmont Education Prosperity Zone Initiative

Executive Summary

A multi-institution initiative led by the Griffin Housing Authority and the University of Georgia-Griffin Campus


Griffin-Spalding County School System, Southern Crescent Technical College, Spalding County Health Department, Spalding County Parks and Recreation Department, Partners for a Prosperous Griffin-Spalding County, Spalding County Collaborative Authority for Families and Children, Inc., McIntosh Trail Early Childhood Development Council, Hope Health Clinic, and New Horizons/New Directions for Youth and Families, Inc.

Under the direction of the Fairmont Education Prosperity Zone Initiative Steering Committee.

The Steering Committee is made up of 80% residents who live in the EPZ who are retired educators, members of the local NAACP, law enforcement, high school students, principals, ministers, and members from the Fairmont High School Alumni Association.


To support a series of projects conducted in collaboration between UGA and GHA designed to provide public housing residents with continual life enriching educational opportunities that will enable them to prosper and eventually achieve a higher quality of life resulting in self-sufficiency and reduced/eliminated need for housing assistance.


Fairmont Educational Prosperity Zone is located in Northeast Griffin, Spalding County, Georgia (approximately 50 miles south of Atlanta). This blighted community is located in census tract 1603. The total Fairmont community population is 3,515 with a median age of 32.3 years. The areas racial and ethnic composition is 74.7% Black, 23% White, 1.8% Hispanic and .5% other. Over half (52.9%) of the population between the ages of 18 and 24 are without a high school education.

The basis of this initiative begins with the fact that no discussion of poverty can take place for long without dealing with education. Poverty is both a cause and an effect of insufficient access to, or completion of, a quality education. According to a recent study sponsored by the National Center for Children in Poverty, children in families whose income falls below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line are well below average on their reading, math, and general knowledge test scores compared to well-above-average scores of children living in families with income over 330% of FPL. Only 16% of poor families, but 50% of more affluent families, scored in the same upper range. In short, a lack of education perpetrates poverty, and poverty constrains access to schooling. Elimination of persistent poverty requires education. This vicious cycle continues: children of low income families lag in educational attainment and people with low levels of education are more likely to be poor. Breaking this cycle is a key to overcoming persistent poverty in our community.

The design of the Fairmont Educational Prosperity Initiative is to create a system of projects that provides a cradle-to-college-to career and beyond continuum of services that rests on the grassroots theory that significant and sustained community transformation starts from within the community itself. Our theory of action seeks to build on existing individual and neighborhood assets and resources. We understand a child’s success comes from providing early childhood development, high quality, comprehensive social services and programs that are responsive to the needs and desires of the community, that eliminate barriers, that create opportunities, and that provide a high return on investment. The goal of this initiative is to incorporate a broad array of services and supports that are arranged into an organized network. These networks focus on the entire needs of the family, coordinating prevention, intervention and treatment services for the entire family.

Initial Strategies

In the first phase of the initiative we are implementing seven strategies under the guidance of the Steering Committee to demonstrate both their effectiveness as well as our ability to marshal numerous partners to engage the community in action.

  1. Promote optimum health and school readiness through high-quality, affordable, accessible early childhood programming for children birth-age 5 and their families.
  2. Examine the Community School Model.
  3. Support and sustain effective schools to enhance and expand current efforts.
  4. Provide children with nutritious food during the weekend
  5. Provide and promote multiple pathways to college-career success, including two-year and four-year college attendance, career and technical Education programs, job training and apprenticeship opportunities.
  6. Promote optimum outcomes for children and sustain healthy, active living for all members of the community through comprehensive, affordable health care and health-related services.
  7. Promote community social capital, cooperation, and nutrition by establishing a community garden and nutritional programing.

Year 1 Programming

  1. An after school tutoring program has been established at Moore Elementary School along with an adult/student mentoring program.
  2. The Steering Committee recognizes that schools alone cannot erase the effects of poverty and should be treated as one part of a bigger strategy to address health, housing, parenting, and out-of- school time to improve student outcomes. In conjunction with the Griffin-Spalding School System we are examining the provision of “wraparound” services in schools and communities in partnerships with non-profits, corporations, and higher educational institutions to expand access to medical and dental services, drug-abuse, recreation, enrichment for children.
  3. Through the UGA-Griffin Kids University/Enriching Young Minds program over 60 children who are residents of the GHA participated in on-campus program in the summer of 2012 and 2013. Activities included science and technology instruction as well as art, animation and photography, and healthy living instruction. In addition the UGA Young Scholar supported high school students selected by GHA to work on campus in the summer to engage in research with faculty members. In addition a Financial/personal training program led by faculty in the department of Housing and Consumer Economics conducted a survey of residents regarding the need for financial and personal training.
  4. The Children’s Backpack Food for Kids is an initiative that addressed the issue of food insecurity faced by children who leave school on Friday’s and eat little to nothing until they return to school on Monday’s. Through the efforts of the UGA-Griffin Campus and the Spalding Collaborative, backpacks of non-perishable food items are delivered to children in numerous schools. Over 200 children were served in 2013.
  5. The GHA and Southern Crescent Technical College are providing GED training at the Fairmont Recreation Center for students who have left public school. In addition, through Southern Crescent’s Dual Enrollment Program, high school students are given the opportunity to enroll in college courses and earn college credit while still in high school.
  6. Spalding County Health Department serves Spalding County residents in need of general medical care, childhood and adult immunizations, family planning services, STD screening and treatment, HIV/AIDS testing, direct observation therapy for tuberculosis treatment. The Hope Health Clinic serves those Spalding County residents who are not covered by any government health care program and who are unable to afford private insurance. The Hope Health Clinic provides complete exams and follow-ups as needed; chiropractic services, nutrition services, pediatric health care and behavioral health; referrals to specialists as needed; medical records management for disability claims, acute medical care; dental services, including cleaning, filings and extractions. Nominal fees are charged for services. In the medical clinic a new patient visit with a nurse practitioner is charged a clinic fee of $15. An existing patient is charged $10. In the dental clinic there is a base charge of $25 and sliding scale charge (based on income) on procedures. No one is refused service due to inability to pay.
  7. The Spalding County Extension office and the UGA-Griffin Center for Urban Agricultural established a community garden at the site of the Fairmont EPZ.

A Final Word

The basis of this initiative is rooted in our belief that poverty was not inevitable. Poverty can be defeated. The biblical admonition need not be true. We can find ways so that people need not live in poverty and the primary means we have at our disposal is education. For anyone, no matter their present condition, poverty is not inevitable, poverty need not be generational, and poverty can be eliminated. To accept any other outcome is unacceptable—it is not reaching high enough. Our challenge is to instill in children that poverty is a condition that need not be a part of their world. Through education, poverty can be beaten.