Lessons about housing issues go beyond the classroom for FACS students.
More than 50 students in the FACS Housing and Community Development class co-taught by Kim Skobba and Karen Tinsley participated in a service-learning project involving residents of nearby Lithonia, a first-year member of the GICH program.
The students led focus groups with Lithonia residents over the course of four days, seeking to learn more about community needs and barriers to home ownership in the small town in eastern DeKalb County.
Prior to the sessions, Lithonia mayor Deborah Jackson and city manager Eddie Moody visited Skobba’s class to talk to students about the town and some of the challenges it faces in increasing home ownership. Lithonia has a very high rental rate, Skobba noted.
For the focus groups with Lithonia residents, students came up with questions and appointed a group facilitator while others took notes.
“When students get out into the community and talk with residents, it tends to change some pre-existing notions they have,” Skobba said. “For example, we had a student who commented that they’d never had a real conversation with someone who is struggling to pay rent before (the class). He realized there are a lot of hard-working people who are not able to get to that point.”
Sarah Persinger, who graduated in May with a degree in consumer journalism with an emphasis in housing, served as a facilitator for one of the focus group sessions.
“I had never done anything like that before so I was pretty excited to have the opportunity to work so closely with residents,” Persinger said of the focus groups. “I love serving people and learning from people. Working with them to make changes and enhance the parts of the community they enjoy was pretty cool. They had this dream of what their city could be and we were just a stepping stone to that.”
Jackson came back to Skobba’s class to hear a presentation of student findings on the last day of class, and a final report will be sent to the mayor and city leaders later this year.
“I think having the mayor come to speak at both the beginning and end of class made a big impact on the students,” Skobba said. “The fact that the mayor would take time to talk to them and listen to what they had to say gave the project a level of importance to them. I think they took it very seriously.”