In 2009, the Dalton-Whitfield community in the state of Georgia joined forces with the University of Georgia outreach program, Archway Partnership. The Archway Partnership is a community and economic development initiative created by the University of Georgia to help communities articulate, prioritize, and address local needs.  Founded on principles of collaboration and knowledge-based decision making, the Archway Partnership empowers communities to address long-standing needs by placing a faculty liaison in the community to facilitate dialogue.  As needs are identified, the Archway Partnership then works to locate higher education resources (students, faculty, and staff) across the University System of Georgia that can assist the community in meeting its needs.  On the local level, decision making occurs through consensus by a body of local leaders referred to as the Archway Partnership Executive Committee.  Stakeholders on this committee include top leaders from the local hospital, school systems, City of Dalton, Whitfield County, small businesses, large industry, the local arts community, the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce and Joint Development Authority, the Young Professionals of Northwest Georgia, a large private foundation, and many other entities.

Whitfield County became an Archway Partnership community in 2009 after local leaders, reeling from the impact of the recession on the floorcovering industry, reached out to the University System of Georgia and requested assistance.  In 2010, the newly appointed Dalton-Whitfield Archway Partnership Executive Committee led an extensive visioning process to articulate long-term goals for the community.  Through that process, the community identified key goals including continuing its tradition of innovation, supporting and sustaining existing industries, and developing successful birth –to –work learning strategies.

As the community’s work unfolded, it became clear that education/workforce development was the community’s front running concern.  As a result of ongoing conversations and a growing consensus regarding the importance of early learning opportunities and intervention, community leadership made a pact to get every student on grade level by third grade.  In support of this effort, a citizen-based effort known as Readers to Leaders emerged to address literacy and educational opportunities outside of the classroom.

It soon became apparent to leaders and volunteers that school readiness was an essential component of workforce development.  To reach a third grade reading level goal, the community realized that it must make critical investments in children birth to age 5.

First Five was created through a partnership between the Dalton-Whitfield local elected officials and business leaders, and the University of Georgia Archway Partnership in 2013. Sixteen members of the community were invited to form the coalition. The members consisted of leaders of the faith-based community, elected officials, non-profit agencies, business leaders, healthcare professionals, school districts, and child care providers. A University of Georgia faculty member with a joint appointment between the College of Education and Public Service and Outreach was hired to facilitate the committee and link higher education resources.

First Five’s inaugural planning process occurred over a seven-month process. During these seven months, the name of the committee, vision, and mission were determined at regular monthly meetings. First Five was divided up into two subcommittee work group: Early Literacy and Healthcare. The goals and objectives were developed in these specialized work groups and finalized by the committee. The aim of the goals is to remove barriers and provide solutions that interfere with children’s readiness. Though these goals are not easily achieved, yet it is important for the community to have a strong foundation of planning and support to promote school readiness for the families and young children in the community. Current committee goals include:

Goal 1:

Children in the Dalton-Whitfield community, birth to age five, will have access to quality early care and educational programs that meet the needs of families to promote school readiness.

 Goal 2:

Dalton-Whitfield community parents of young children will have the opportunities to gain the knowledge and capacity to succeed in their role as their child’s first teacher.

 Goal 3:

Children, birth through age five, in the Dalton-Whitfield community, their families, and expecting parents, will be aware of  the availability of community health, nutrition, and mental healthcare services and resources to ensure that children arrive to school with healthy minds and bodies.