Melanie Burton’s passion is volunteering and helping others, so when she was asked to help with a technology rollout at Barnett Shoals Elementary, she accepted.
Families are often at a disadvantage when they don’t have access to a computer, and Melanie wanted to help bridge those gaps for the parents and students in her area. That rollout led to a position as a Neighborhood Leader, a role in which she has thrived.
Melanie sat down with FC-CIS to discuss the benefits of having neighborhood connections and her thoughts on serving as a community resource.
FC-CIS: You were asked to be a part of the technology rollout at Barnett Shoals Elementary and help parents and students get set-up on computers. Why did this appeal to you?
MELANIE: I was already volunteering at the school and was on the PTO board. I love helping out, so when they said technology and computers, I was like- yeah! I love that kids and families get to have computers and technology at home. I wanted to be part of that.
There are many benefits to having a computer at home. Students can do their homework with no excuses. They don’t have to go to the library, and they can check their email.
FC-CIS: What challenges did these families face when it came to implementing the technology?
MELANIE: A lot of us are scared of technology. I sat through the classes that IT hosted for the families, and I could be with them to bridge the gaps. Those included how to use a mouse, how to work with the software, and other things.
FC-CIS: What benefit is there in the Neighborhood Leaders program?
MELANIE: With me being a Neighborhood Leader, parents see me in the school system; they see me at events. I’m easy to talk to and when you can talk to a parent about “why” they seem to open up more. If someone does n’t like a parent or a principal or want to know why someone is asking for money, I can make people understand things like the necessity of a fundraiser or potluck.
FC-CIS: As a Neighborhood Leader, what kind of support do you offer to families?
MELANIE: I give out my cell. They ask- Can you help me? Can you show me how to do this? How do I download this app? Did you say what store could help me with my computer? How can I get clothes for my kids? How can I get assistance for day-to-day life? How can I find a job? Is anyone hiring? We get all kinds of questions.
FC-CIS: To stay on top of the resources available in our community, you are introduced to different leaders and assets each week, right?
MELANIE: Yes. The Neighborhood Leaders have weekly meetings, and we have different partners that come in and network. We talk about how to better the community and talk about different partners. One week, we may have the Cancer Institute and someone who does mammograms. One week, we may have a literacy person to come in- then, maybe someone from the food bank.
We have had UGA researchers come in with a focus on children and families. We ask how we can help them gather info or how we can help get people to their events. So, we’ll go out, do events, go door-to-door to tell people. We’ll also talk about healthcare or surveys.
FC-CIS: During the Athens Wellbeing Project, Neighborhood Leaders actively participated in gathering information.
MELANIE: We did. The Neighborhood Leaders hit the pavement asking ‘What can we bring to you and your neighborhood?’
Basically, when you come talk to a Neighborhood Leader, we’re here to help you. Growing up, my mom was a volunteer. No matter what- you look at making someone a little better.
For more information on Neighborhood Leaders, please visit our Neighborhood Leaders page.