CED Lecturer Uses Service-Learning Project to Revitalize Small Georgia Communities
As you start to assemble a puzzle, sometimes the pieces look nothing like the finished product. That’s the challenge for College of Environment and Design senior lecturer and continuing education coordinator, Donnie Longenecker. By finding ways to challenge his students and connect with the community, Longenecker brings together those individual pieces to create a unique picture.
That’s why when the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health contacted Longenecker to work as the Physical Activity Lead for Healthier Together Georgia, Longenecker was happy to take on the opportunity.
“At the end of the day,” said Longenecker, “I am just a project manager at heart, so to me the coolest part about working on these projects is it’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle. I’m trying to figure out how to put the students in a position to be successful while helping the communities be successful.”
Healthier Together Georgia, funded by the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, was implemented statewide to improve health and wellness in communities with limited access to healthy foods and active routes such as bike lanes or sidewalks. The program is run by the UGA Extension to support rural Georgia counties.
Longenecker and his students have been heavily involved with the program since 2019 and have made considerable progress on the physical activity portion of the program.
Longenecker’s students created a complete list with maps of all residential areas in five rural Georgia counties, measured distances between homes and everyday locations and identified constraints to biking and walking along selected routes.
The program’s heavy emphasis on service learning has enriched student learning, Longenecker said. By working directly with community members, Longenecker’s students learned how landscape architecture can make a difference in communities and connect across disciplines.
“I’m a believer in having the studio class replicate what it’s going to be like to work in a real design firm,” said Longenecker, “so that’s how the classes are set up — to allow students to do design work and explain their design ideas.”
At the request of community members, Longenecker’s students identified individual parcels of land that could be transformed into useful, healthy spaces such as parks or farmer’s markets.
In Ft. Gaines, Georgia, community members asked Longenecker to consider renovating Jefferson Street Park, a local park in disrepair. At the request, Longenecker and his students set out to create 25 master plan concepts for the park’s 1.95 acres.
Community members selected their favorite plans, and then Longenecker and his students developed a final master plan based on the feedback.
With the final plan implemented, the Ft. Gaines community now has access to a renovated space, consisting of 9400 square feet of basketball court and a newly added walkway and pavilion.
“On a bigger level,” said Longenecker, “[This project] really has helped the community’s overall self-image and self-esteem because it’s something they can be proud of.”