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Many Pike citizens volunteer their time to help others, including (l-r) Dutch Turner, Ashley Griffith and Kay Barnett who are sorting food items for the Pike County Backpack Program. The group is made of community volunteers who provide weekend meals for nearly 200 children in need and the bags of food are delivered to the students each week through the school system.

Civic Health: State sees decline in helping others

While data show an increase in voting rates from 2017 to 2021, measures of Georgians’ social connectedness and community involvement declined, according to the Georgia Civic Health Index, released today by Georgia Family Connection Partnership, the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), Georgia City Solutions, and the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC).

“Georgia continues to struggle with its civic health, lagging the national averages across most measures,” said NCoC Research and Evaluation Director Jeff Coates.

The report examines civic engagement measures and explores the way Georgians interact with each other, their communities and in political life under four main areas of civic health: social connectedness, community involvement, political action and confidence in institutions. Georgia ranks lowest in the nation – 51st – in frequently talking with or spending time with neighbors and reading, watching or listening to news or info about political, societal or local issues. Only 7.7% of Georgians reported they frequently do favors for neighbors compared to 10% nationally.

Pike County Family Connection director Michael Powell said state trends are likely being seen in Pike as well although there are plenty of opportunities to engage with neighbors and feel included in the Pike County community.

“Our Georgia Civic Health Index provides specific steps we as a community and as individuals can take to support strong civic health. One of my biggest takeaways from the report is that we know from the data we’ve collected that volunteering is linked with positive outcomes, not just for the community, but for volunteers – like decreased depression, increased life satisfaction, employment opportunities and better health – especially among seniors. Yet Georgia ranks 45th in the nation in volunteerism,” said Powell.

“We need to ask ourselves, What are we doing as a community to make sure everyone – from our young children to our senior citizens and everyone in between – who wants to engage can do so,” he said. “We can do that by creating plenty of opportunities for people to connect with one another outside their immediate circles and by providing welcoming spaces where anyone can get involved.”

Research has linked strong civic health to other positive community outcomes, including economic resilience, workforce development, access to opportunity, lower violent crime rates, and community vitality, as well as other public health outcomes, including child development, adolescent well-being, mental health, and reduced mortality.

Some ways to connect with others and volunteer in the community include by becoming part of the Pike County Family Connection which meets the first Thursday each month through June from 9 to 10 a.m. at Christ Chapel. Powell said other projects people can join include the Pike L4GA Literacy Project Team which meets the second Friday of each month at 11 a.m. The Project Access Mental Health Project Team meets virtually the second Wednesday of each month from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The Healthy Relationships Project Team meets the first Thursday of each month at 10:30 a.m. The Pike Family Connection One Stop is located at the Zebulon Opportunity Center where GMC is located.  There are also many community outreach programs and food banks where volunteers are always needed.

“Pike Family Connection provides a place for community individuals to network with a variety of non-profit organizations and be equipped with knowledge and resources to help others,” said Powell. “One example: At our February collaborative meeting, the Vice President of Economic Development at Southern Crescent Technical College presented on apprenticeship programs and the workforce pipeline. That was followed by community partners sharing information about their resources or services they provide.”

For more information on the Pike Family Connection, contact Michael Powell at 770.295.9208 or mihcael@connectup.info.

“Vibrant, economically prosperous cities form the bedrock of a thriving state,” said Georgia City Solutions Chair Kirby Thompson. “Cultivating our civic health directly influences the well-being of our communities and their residents. It is crucial for us to understand the interplay between civic health and the long-term prosperity of our communities.”

The good news is that Georgia measures on par or better than the rest of the nation in eight indicators, which suggests promising opportunities for our state.

More Georgians are voting. While Georgia ranked 37th in the nation for voter registration and voting in the 2019 edition of the CHI, our state ranks 33rd in voter registration and 29th in voting in the 2023 report. However, the report revealed that voter turnout increased significantly with age. And though our national ranking improved, the percent of registered voters increased only slightly from 69.4% in 2017 to 70.7% in 2021.

Georgia also saw a significant improvement in another measure of political action, ranking 35th in the nation in contacting public officials—up from 49th in the 2019 CHI. Communicating with public officials is another critical step in ensuring that a community’s interests are represented in decision-making. However, the likelihood of Georgians contacting a public official generally increases with age, more education, and higher income levels.

Similarly, 8.2% of Georgia’s residents report attending a public meeting, which ranks our state 32nd in the nation. Attending public meetings provides an opportunity to engage with fellow residents, and to share ideas and feedback with various public entities. Overall, attending public meetings also tends to increase with age and income.

“Gathering data is vital, but it’s not enough to equip all Georgians to fully participate in a democratic society,” said GaFCP Executive Director Gaye Smith. “While we still struggle to overcome our civic health issues in Georgia, we’re taking a collaborative approach that brings community members together, because that is the core component of fostering social connectedness, community involvement, and political action—and advancing improvements to our state’s civic health.”

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