Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center holds listening session in Atlanta

An individual presents to a room full of peopleOn Wednesday, May 29, representatives from the Region 4 Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center (TCTAC) spoke at RCE Greater Atlanta’s quarterly meeting at the VICARS Community Center. Over 120 people attended the meeting, which included presentations by the Georgia Team Leads and EPA on grant writing technical assistance for environmental justice communities.

The Region 4 TCTAC, also known as the Resource for Assistance and Community Training in Region 4 on Environmental Justice (REACT4EJ), helps communities find funding and support for environmental justice issues through networking, training and development resources.

“The purpose of it is to provide assistance in any shape, way or form for grassroots community-based environmental justice organizations,” said Félix Santiago-Collazo, one of the University of Georgia professors on the project, “from grant writing, workshops and training, to budgeting and budget monitoring, and even how to conceptualize an idea.”

There are ten TCTACs (often referred to as “tic-tacs”) across the country, with the Region 4 center working across the largest number of states: Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina. Within this region, REACT4EJ brings together partners from major universities like UGA and Georgia Tech, as well as sustainable community initiatives and Tribal Nations.

The Georgia TCTAC team includes UGA College of Engineering professors Drs. Christina H. FullerAlysha Helmrich and Félix Santiago-Collazo, as well as Carla Lewis, Executive Director of ECO-Action, Jazz Watts, Director of Community Engagement at the Vulnerable Communities Initiative and Dr. Jill Gambill, Executive Director of the Coastal Equity & Resilience Hub at Georgia Tech.

REACT4EJ works to connect communities working toward sustainable goals with funding opportunities, subject matter experts, government and academic institutions, training and education resources and guidance documents. Issues the group focuses on include air, water and soil quality, exposure to environmental hazards, clean energy transitions and more.

A room full of people listening to a presentation

Part of the May 29th meeting was dedicated to breakout groups, in which the REACT4EJ representatives facilitated discussions where attendees were given time to speak about their concerns and questions. Of the four groups, two were intended for community personnel and two for academic faculty, with each group focusing on complementary questions. These discussions focused on how TCTAC can support local efforts, as well as how the team can improve existing services and introduce new programs to better address the concerns of the community.

“Being an engineer, we usually only go to the community that is affected to get information or data on their issues, and then we leave. That leaves a bad impression. So, building bonds is probably one of the most important tasks that we need to do when it comes to working, and the thing that everyone should strive for,” Dr. Santiago said. “Then once you have that relationship with the community, you can build, with those stronger bonds, permanent solutions. Once we have this co-designed solution, then the community is more likely to host it and cherish it and protect it and maintain it.”

The team took notes and recorded ideas on flip charts during the breakout groups. Dr. Fuller noted a particular interest in improving grant writing capacity, the funding proposal process and sampling data resources, particularly for air and water quality.

“I also think it’s important for academics to learn how to work effectively with community-based organizations, and maybe plan grants in a different way so that they can be successful and positive for everyone involved,” explained Dr. Christina Fuller. Some of the team’s ideas for improving their grant writing assistance include new training and education, and adding more accessible online resources to help local organizers get to know the complicated world of project funding.

The Georgia REACT4EJ team plans to continue developing their collaborative efforts by holding two more listening sessions in the near future: one in coastal Georgia, and one virtual session that community members all over the state can attend. The organizers hope to make these sessions a learning experience on environmental equity and justice for everyone involved, including those traditionally considered the experts.

“This isn’t something you’re going to learn in graduate school,” Dr. Fuller said. “There’s all kinds of different trainings and learning opportunities that can be had by academics as well, because many academics are interested, but just haven’t had that training on how to be efficient and equitable.”

A room full of people listening to a presentation

RCE Greater Atlanta works to localize the UN Sustainable Development goals through youth engagement, education and community-academic partnerships within the Atlanta region. The REACT4EJ team credits the listening session’s great turnout with their ability to partner with this highly impactful organization. Learn more about RCE Greater Atlanta here.

REACT4EJ is hiring a program manager to help make further community connections like this listening session! If you have experience in grant writing, an interest in working directly with community projects, and knowledge in environmental topics, learn more and apply here.

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