During competitive and downsizing times, starting a new lifelong learning center can be daunting, especially in a rural community.
Opened in April 2011, the Center for Lifelong Learning (CLL) at Athens State University in Athens, Georgia is an exception. Since 2011 annual income and enrollment has grown each year and activities have increased. Two full-time staff in a 9,041 square foot facility have successfully remained on budget and worked hard to reach out into the community.
But, Athens State University is primarily being recognized by LERN for serving as an outstanding example of a lifelong learning program dedicated to community service. The day after the CLL was opened, Athens and the Limestone County experienced one of the most devastating tornados in the community’s history. The CLL was one of the few places with electricity and Internet connections and for a week CLL’s business was emergency service.
This tragedy gave CLL the opportunity to introduce themselves to many in the community who might never have visited CLL. Staff estimates nearly 500 people came to visit CLL just in the first week. It was six days before power was restored to most of Athens and Limestone County. CLL kept their doors open and provided compassionate and responsive community service.
CLL’s outstanding work demonstrates the importance of community service, particularly in smaller communities where there are limited resources. Many lifelong learning programs have less than three staff and limited budgets, but like CLL their impact on their community is enormous.
As the community service arm of Athens State University, CLL’s role is to collaborate and partner with the community. Examples of groups CLL has collaborated with are Spirit of Athens, a nonprofit volunteer-driven organization dedicated to the revitalization of downtown Athens, Greater Limestone County Chamber of Commerce and City of Athens, Athens State University Faculty, the Storytelling Festival and the Arts, and the Athens Limestone Hospital. Developing partnerships is a creative way of generating visibility and building critical coalitions.
CLL is now a vital component of the community in only three years. The spirit of community service is at the heart of lifelong learning and congratulations to CLL for serving as a model to both small and large lifelong learning programs.