Rome city commissioners are taking a new look at ways to reach out to the city's Latino residents following a report on local impediments to fair housing.
"It's a sizable portion of your population base," said consultant Jeremy Gray with Mosaic Community Planning, in response to Commissioner Bill Collins' question on the need for material printed in Spanish.
The Mosaic report found Latinos account for the majority of the city's growth since 1990 and now make up 16 percent of the population. Estimates are that a tenth of Rome's residents are foreign-born and about 7 percent have limited English proficiency.
Community Development Director Bekki Fox said more federal programs are requiring bilingual documents, and the state wants to see a communication plan. She also said there's a need for more Spanish-speaking employees — giving as example a recent case where parents applying to buy one of the city's HOMEBuild affordable houses relied on their child to translate mortgage details.
"I think, not just for our department, it has to be an issue for the police department, the water department and others," Fox said.
Reaching out to under-served communities with information on their rights and responsibilities was one of the report's five listed goals aimed at improving access to good housing. In addition to bilingual marketing materials and presentations, it recommended cultivating connections with leaders in the Latino community to promote opportunities.
The City Commission and the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority have both adopted the report as their guide.
"The challenge to the city of Rome is, we represent all populations — even those who are generally not heard," Mayor Jamie Doss said.
Improving the choice of housing for people with disabilities is another goal. Gray said the city should re-examine its ordinance limiting locations for personal care homes and treat them like other residences. However, he noted that the sidewalk program is helping to make many neighborhoods accessible to jobs and schools.
"We are blessed with transportation more than in some communities, but we still need to work on it," Commissioner Wendy Davis noted. "Trails aren't just for recreation; it's a vital part of our transportation plan."
Two of the goals are mirror-images: Focus community development activities in poorer neighborhoods and support construction of new affordable housing in wealthier areas that already have access to transportation, jobs, schools and other family needs.
Commissioners also spent some time discussing ways to increase mobility. Some residents want to move to better neighborhoods but are hampered by the cost or a lack of information. There's a voucher program that allows the recipient to use it in any area, but Fox said not all landlords meet the federal requirements.
Davis said some landlords don't like renting to low-income people because they risk not getting paid, "but we need to work on the perception — Section 8 (voucher) is guaranteed income."
The report is useful in defining problems in the city, Davis said, and providing a blueprint to overcome them. Commissioner Bill Irmscher agreed, but offered a quicker solution:
"We can solve this problem by promoting new industry. Not $10-an-hour jobs. Jobs that pay $20 an hour and up," he said.
A new Citizen Ambassador Program is in the works to replace the old Neighborhood Enhancement Program in Rome next year. The Rome Community Development committee approved the concept Tuesday and gave city staff the green light to move forward with the development of specifics for the program.
Assistant City Manager Patrick Eidson said the staff was challenged to look at alternatives to the previous NEP program which involved extended neighborhood clean-ups in North Rome and Summerville Park that did not result in the kind of long-term enhancements city officials had been hoping for.
"Coming out of the NEP, what it felt like was we did not have enough neighborhood infrastructure in terms of people and leaders to have that sustaining effect," Committee Chairwoman Wendy Davis said.
The draft concept program involves an eight week series of programs which Eidson categorized as a mini Leadership Rome program.
"The emphasis would be more on city services," Eidson said.
The city would identify up to 25 residents of neighborhoods across the city to participate in the program.
"The concept is to find people who are connected in their neighborhood, or have an interest in being connected in their neighborhood and give them the sort of insights in ways neighborhood groups could utilize this, this and this in terms of their relationship with city services," Davis said.
Expressing skepticism Commissioner Bill Irmscher said he was concerned that all the city would get were people who frequently complained about problems.
"I've been at a couple of neighborhood associations, I got a call yesterday from our neighborhood association, and I told him one thing and then it comes out altogether different," Irmscher said.
However, taking a more optimistic view Commissioner Randy Quick said he sees the concept as an opportunity for neighborhoods to be in control of what they want to do.
"With the right information that will give them better knowledge of how to work to make their communities better, that could make for a better situation," Quick said.
But it's important the eight-week sessions should not be a "dog and pony show" for department heads, Davis said, but a conversation between citizens and public officials as to how to best address problems.
She expressed a willingness to help "beat the bushes" to find the right people from neighborhoods across the city.
An important thing is to establish relationships between residents and city leaders said Community Development Director Bekki Fox.
"The whole goal is when they leave the program that they become an ambassador for the city of Rome and when they hear the negativity in their neighborhood, they can say wait a minute, they (the city) will help us and this is who you call for that."
Archery latest addition to outdoor programming at ECO center
Home-school students from as far as West Cobb and Paulding counties were among the first to launch arrows as part of the new archery program at the Rome-Floyd County ECO Center on Tuesday.
Twenty children, ranging in age from 8-12, listened as ECO Center Director Ben Winkelman talked them through a shooting-safety session before hitting the archery range that is the result of a grant from the National Rifle Association Foundation.
During the safety session, Bryan Shealy represented the NRA Foundation in presenting Winkelman with a ceremonial check for $6,638 which helped buy the Genesis compound bows, arrows and targets. Shealy said archery is a great way to introduce youngsters to shooting sports.
Many of the original arrows used by Native Americans were made of cedar and used turkey feathers for the fletchings, the fin-shaped stabilizers at the back end of each arrow, Winkelman said.
"I love it," said Kai'lee Murray, 9, of Rome after letting several arrows fly. "I've always wanted to shoot a natural arrow."
Murray said before Tuesday's lesson all she had ever done was shoot Nerf arrows.
Dylan Scott, 12, recalled shooting a bow and arrow one time before, during a program at the Etowah Indian Mounds in Cartersville.
"I enjoyed this," Scott said.
He answered, "yes sir" when asked if he thought that archery was a sport he might like as he continues to grow up.
Anniston Wade, 9, of Rome, fired one arrow after another into the bullseye target and said she would love to shoot again "if I have a chance."
Winkelman hopes to grow the archery program and has indicated he'll make another grant application to get additional equipment, including three-dimensional targets for use in the future.
Archery will be one of the primary components of the Ducks Unlimited Greenwings event at the ECO Center Saturday.
There is a $15 fee for the program which includes a free pizza lunch, BB gun shooting and other outdoor recreational opportunities along with a year's subscription to the Greenwings magazine, a T-shirt and a duck call.
The event will begin at 9 a.m. and continue through noon. Contact David Culp at 706-346-0571 for additional information.
Today's artwork is by Annabeth Ferguson, a student at Pepperell Primary School.
The Rome Board of Education approved several measures on Tuesday night to have funding for some of its programs released to the school system.
Board members approved a consolidated application for programs at each school for which the school system receives federal funding. The annual application has to be approved by the board and the state for the federal funding to be released to the school system for title programs.
The consolidated application is used to receive state approval on the improvement plans for each school as well as the system as a whole, according to a presentation from Director of School Improvement Leslie Dixon. The budgets for how the federal funds will be used are also submitted for approval.
The application lays out what the federal funding will be used for to address pieces of each school improvement plan. A needs assessment determines funding for Rome City Schools, which is a Title I district, based on the socioeconomic status of students at each of its schools. The needs of schools are also determined through data analysis and feedback from stakeholders.
Other title programs pertain to professional learning, immigrant students and English learners as well as special education. Title I is the area where the majority of the funding will be put into, according to Assistant Superintendent Dawn Williams.
Also, the board approved the Career, Technical and Agricultural Education local plan, a step toward having federal and state funds released to the school system. Federal funds allocated total $81,011, while state funds total $89,360, according to a presentation from Holly Amerman, the CEO of the college and career academy. Uses of the funds include career pathway improvement, professional development and extended-day and extended-year services by teachers.
An annual amount of $350,000 from the 21st Century Community Learning Grant, which was awarded to the system last year, was accepted by the board, fulfilling a requirement for the funds to be distributed to the ASPIRE after-school program. The five-year grant must have annual approval of the amount distributed for that school year.
Grant Coordinator Tonya Wood said the federal funds were used to establish afterschool operations for economically-disadvantaged kids. The ASPIRE program has 180 kids, who received additional learning aid, mentoring and activities.