Each year, the Governor's Community Achievement Awards (GCAA) celebrate ten Texas communities for their achievements in litter prevention, beautification, public awareness, and other focus areas. Categorized by population, these ten cities share a prize of $2 million in landscaping projects.
Athens is nestled in East Texas and is home to 12,710 residents. Known locally as the "Black-Eyed Pea Capital of the World" and claimed by residents as the home of the original hamburger, Athens appeals to those looking for city life without the challenges, while visitors enjoy scenic views and excellent fly fishing. The schools and students in Athens are heavily involved in community events and volunteer groups work closely with administrators, educators and student volunteers to promote litter prevention on local campuses. More than 30 school employees participate in community improvement events each year, including cleanups and educational workshops for students. Because of this key partnership, litter prevention programs reached 3,450 Athens students in 2016.
Carol Morton, affiliate coordinator for Keep Athens Beautiful (KAB), knows that building strong relationships between city officials and volunteer organizations has been key to the city's success. "We work together very closely. I have always been able to pick up the phone and get the help I need." Whether it's a new idea for a project, guidelines for implementing litter prevention lessons in local schools or resources for community cleanups, Morton has fostered a strong bond with KAB's partners. "The influence of TxDOT in our community has been highly visible," Morton said. "We work on the Adopt-A-Spot program and participate in the Don't mess with Texas Trash-Off every year."
Community leaders organize more than a dozen cleanup events in Athens each year, including the Great American Cleanup, the Little People's Litter Party and a series of events during April, which has been deemed "Keep Athens Beautiful Month" by the city government. More than 1,000 Athenians participated in the 2016 Don't mess with Texas Trash-Off. Carol Morton attributes the high volunteer recruitment numbers to the city's successful outreach efforts. "Our programs are well-supported in the community," she said. "Winning the Governor's Community Achievement Award will only increase that, as it highlights our work and shows the community that there are rewards for this work." With a growing volunteer base and strong partnerships across the community, Athens is a shining example of what communities can accomplish when they work together.