Despite their strong coastal economy, the Brunswick community faces various challenges, chief among them, unemployment and underemployment.
Settled in 1738 by English settlers, Brunswick, Georgia maintains the distinct flavor of a southern city with British roots. These diverse influences appear in the architecture and charm of the homes, public squares, and landmarks in Brunswick’s historic Old Town. Today, Brunswick flourishes as a costal city. Located along the Atlantic Ocean, Brunswick, once known as the Shrimp Capital of the World, stands at the center of Georgia’s shrimping industry. The Port of Brunswick is one of the busiest ports on the east coast, the second most productive port in Georgia, and a vital part of the city’s economy.
Despite their strong coastal economy, the Brunswick community faces various challenges, chief among them, unemployment and underemployment. 28% of the individuals 16-24 are not working or going to school. Subsequently, the poverty rate in Brunswick, at 42.4%, is significantly higher than the state poverty rate of 22.1% and national poverty rate of 14.7%. 53% of Brunswick children are living below the poverty level, compared to 24.2% of children in Georgia and 21% of children nationally.
Children affected by poverty often fail in academic setting, not because of a lack of ability or intelligence, but due to adverse life conditions. As Stegall explains, the difference between a child getting an A on a test or failing it is hunger.
The Community and Economic Development Department of the city of Brunswick administer programs designed to promote a safe, equitable and prosperous community. Travis Stegall, the Department’s director, defines the role of his department as “working to maintain a certain quality of life for citizens of low to moderate income.” This includes servicing anyone from senior citizens to newborn babies. As such they address a range of issues, including affordable housing, homelessness, and access to education.
According to Stegall, the department’s takes a proactive approach to solving the problems of the community. Instead of waiting for people to come to them, he says, the department will reach out to the community to ask citizens how they can help them become more self-sufficient. Being proactive is about ensuring that the citizens of Brunswick know that the resources exist to help and how to access them. The Department can provide these resources or direct citizens to the appropriate non-profit.
The Department of Community and Economic Development partners with, and in some cases, funds non-profits to provide a wide range of services to various demographics in the city. Stegall emphasizes the important role of non-profits, including faith-based organizations, to serve children and families living in poverty to help them become more productive citizens. According to Mayor Cornell Harvey, the city does what it can to support the community and make Brunswick a better place to live. However, impeded by limited resources, Mayor Harvey explains the need to partner with organization such as the Costal Georgia Area Community Action Authority Inc., which provides Head Start Programming to low income families.
Brunswick’s Head Start program serves 983 students in nine counties, and maintains a waitlist of approximately 300 children. It provides wrap around services for children, their siblings, and their parents in an effort to improve academic success and prevent the perpetuation of poverty.
Nina Bryant-Hunter, the Early Childhood Education Division Director of the, Community Action Authority Inc., credits the success of program to its holistic approach. Head Start is not just child focused, but family focused. The program supports parents to become self-sufficient and climb the Socio-economic ladder.
According to Tres Hamilton, the CEO of Community Action Authority Inc., parents largely want to be involved in the program to learn to improve their economic and home situations and to help their children thrive. Lanise Moore is a parent, member of the policy council, and an education advisor for the Head Start Program. She says that Head Start is not just another day care- it gives parents a voice and opportunities to invest in the program. It teaches families how to instill their children with a love of learning
At the center of Stegall’s vision for the future of the Department of Community and Economic Development and the city of Brunswick is innovation in technology and communication. Technology, specifically technology-enabled communication can improve the application of education and information. According to Stegall, technology can help the Department more effectively reach out to children and families in the community and educate them about the resources available to them to stave off an epidemic of poverty. New forms of communication technology will help Stegall to implement a proactive community outreach approach and ultimately aid his department’s efforts to transform the emerging market of Brunswick into a thriving city.
Improved forms of communication will enable the Department to more efficiently coordinate with non-profits and the state and Federal governments. Through strategic partnerships, the city could increase their access to technology, which could then be implemented in various department and project, such as the Head Start Program and Community Service Division. A technology enabled education and community development system would allow Brunswick to equip the next generation with valuable, marketable skills and ensure that the city has a viable workforce in the future.