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Kershaw County wins All-America City award

'We did it!'

Posted: June 25, 2018 5:04 p.m.
Updated: June 26, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Johnny Deal/Bowtie Photography

Kershaw County Council Chairman Julian Burns (center) is flanked by Elgin and Camden mayors Melissa Emmons (left) and Alfred Mae Drakeford in this “photo frame” Sunday night declaring Kershaw County had just been named as one of 10 All-America City communities by the National Civic League (NCL). The county also won the NCL’s Social Media Award, and one of the delegation’s younger members -- recent Lugoff-Elgin High School graduate Clinton Washington -- won one of only two Youth Leadership awards.

“A community that engages its residents in visioning, this community uses all sectors to support student success. This community uses schools to improve healthcare availability: The ‘All-America County’ of Kershaw,” former Burnsville, Minn., City Manager Heather Johnston announced.

With those words, Kershaw County forever became known as an All-America City community.

The National Civil League (NCL) named 10 communities as All-America City winners, including Kershaw County, at the end of its three-day National Conference on Local Government in Denver, Colo. Kershaw County earned the title alongside the city of Mt. Pleasant. The city of Columbia also competed as a finalist. South Carolina was the only state represented by three finalist communities.

But it was a “clean sweep” for Kershaw County.

In addition to winning the All-America City designation, the county walked away with the NCL’s 2018 Social Media award, presented to Kershaw County All-America City delegation member Johnny Deal, and delegation member Clinton Washington won one of only two NCL John Clark Youth Leadership Awards. It is presented to a young person who has demonstrated “extraordinary civic engagement and leadership.” Clinton is a 2018 Lugoff-Elgin High School graduate.

The delegation nominated Clinton, who was interviewed in Denver and named one of five finalists before being announced as one of the two co-winners. As part of the award, Clinton received two round-trip tickets from NCL sponsor Southwest Airlines. Clinton’s co-winner was Aileen Martinez of El Paso, Texas.

“Every resident in Kershaw County should be proud -- we are an All-America City,” PLAY Foundation Board Chair Laurey Carpenter said in an email as the delegation began making its way home from Denver on Monday. “This award means two things: One, it’s affirmation that we’re doing the right things to improve the quality of life in Kershaw County. Two, the award is a catalyst that will help us continue doing great things for one another. It’s a great day in Kershaw County! So excited!”

Carpenter addressed the crowd after Johnston, who is the NCL board’s treasurer, presented the award, repeating her statement that citizens and leaders are doing the right things for the community.

She added, “It’s a catalyst, because we have more to do.”

The PLAY Foundation and its partners across the county worked for nearly three years to win the award. Carpenter announced her intention to see Kershaw County become an All-America City community in mid-November 2015 when the county unveiled the Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant Kershaw County West playground. It took awhile to get things rolling, but the foundation began holding All-America town halls in mid-May 2017 and officially applied in late September 2017. Another six months went by before, in March, the NCL announced Kershaw County was one of 20 finalists.

The NCL’s official press release Sunday night stated that Kershaw County “embraces the changing faces of its rapidly growing community, balancing its rural past and suburban future, with its business owners, residents and elected officials reflecting that diversity and building programs to ensure equity in healthcare, education and economic growth.”

On its Facebook page, NCL officials added, “Using the wellness bus tour with community members, program partners and city and county officials singing and showing how the county is being re-imagined for the benefit of all was a great visual and a fun presentation!”

The Facebook post was referring to a presentation the Kershaw County delegation made to judges at 9 a.m. (Denver time) Sunday. It started off with live fife and drum music, recalling the county’s Revolutionary War history, as the delegation marched up on stage with oversized photographs of landmarks and activities, and the “front” of the Community Medical Clinic’s Wellness Ride bus. After a “welcome onto the bus” by clinic CEO Susan Witkowski, Kershaw County Chairman Julian Burns recited a history of the county.

“Today, going forward, we are working to blend our rural past with a suburban future to meet the needs of our growing community,” Burns said, mentioning VisionKershaw 2030.

Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford followed, touting Camden as being the oldest inland city in South Carolina and “Steeplechase Capital of the World.”

“Today, we have an innovative training workforce model, featuring collaborations with the local school district, the local technical college, the county and the city to offer free tuition to high school students with a 2.5 GPA,” Drakeford said.

Elgin Mayor Melissa Emmons talked about her town’s history, dating back to 1898. Emmons described Elgin as a “metropolitan bedroom community” using public and private funds to create recreational spaces for the “fastest growing community” in the county.

State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk spoke about bringing people of diverse backgrounds together, which was followed by a song based on Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” with the clinic’s Kathryn Johnson on lead. This was followed by a presentation of facts gathered during the Wellness Ride tour and what has happened since in terms of improving healthcare in the rural parts of the county, especially the North Central area. Other portions of the presentation focused on the Jackson Teen Center, and how citizens were engaged in the VisionKershaw 2030 plan, leading up to the declaration that the county is “One Kershaw.”

A question and answer session followed the presentation, with one judge commenting that he was impressed that two mayors, a county council chairman and a state representative were among the delegation.

“We just don’t see that,” the judge declared.

Another judge noted the “many residents and businesses” included in the VisionKershaw 2030 process and asked how the county made sure all segments of the community were represented. A delegation representative responded that they used demographic data to confirm they were reaching underserved portions of the county and have followed up with an annual survey to see how planners are doing in following the vision. Witkowski added that the clinic conducts focus groups and uses other resources to gain information and feed it back to those working on the plan. She went on, following another question, to explain how the clinic now reaches out to the community rather than waiting on uninsured or underinsured residents to come to them.

“It wasn’t about building another building or making another marketing statement, it was about understanding and creating those relationships,” Witkowski said. “We try to go out to where they are and so they trust us.”

She added that Food for the Soul often accompanies them when going out into the community in an effort to bring services to those same people.

Responding to a question of how the core team stayed together through the long nomination process, one of the youth members of the delegation talked about how, at every meeting, they would engage in some type of bonding activity. That way, he said, when it came time to work, they didn’t have to spend time trying to get comfortable with each other -- they already were.

In a Facebook chat Monday morning, All-America City Awards Program Director Sarah Lipscomb said the event brings together communities from across the country, providing an opportunity for “innovative leaders and passionate residents” to connect with and learn from their peers.

“The award shines a light on communities that are working to tackle tough issues and lifts these places up for national recognition,” Lipscomb said.

She quoted Cynthia Seinhauser, former assistant city manager of Dubuque, Iowa, as saying that winning “helped us land a big project in the midst of (a) major economic recession. IBM located their first data center in 10-15 years in Dubuque and created 1,300 new jobs with an annual payroll of $58 million. This is a testament to what the All-America City Award stands for in terms of a community’s can-do spirit.”

Lipcomb said benefits of winning the award include:

• Economic Stimulus -- “All-America City finalists and winners find it easier to attract and retain businesses that generate jobs and a stronger tax base. They also attract and retain residents who want a healthy community. Finalists and winners also have seen an increase in tourism and grants.”

• Community Pride -- “The award has reinvigorated communities with a new sense of pride, accomplishment and teamwork. People are proud to live in an All-America City and they work to live up to that label and to maintain such a high standard.”

• Community Collaboration -- “The application process itself encourages communities to evaluate themselves and fosters new partnerships. People often say they learned more about the great work taking place in their community because of the application process than they ever imagined.”

• National Recognition -- “Winning the All-America City Award raises the profile of local efforts and puts communities on a national stage. Winners join an elite network of communities that can proudly call themselves an All-America City. We hear regularly about communities that still celebrate and take pride in winning even after 40 years or more.”

Along with Kershaw County and Mt. Pleasant, winning communities from across the country include Charlotte, N.C.; Decatur, Ga.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Longmont, Colo.; Springdale, Ark.; Stockton, Calif.; and the cities of El Paso and San Antonio in Texas.

In addition to Columbia, the remaining finalists were Allentown, Pa.; Battle Creek, Mich.; Beaverton, Ore.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Pasco, Wash.; Placentia, Calif.; and Tacoma, Wash.

Lipscomb said two other communities named as finalists dropped out before the Denver conference.

“Most often, cities drop out due to the financial aspects surrounding travel to and from the awards,” she said.

The Kershaw County All-America City delegation planned to arrive back at the Kershaw County Government Center to celebrate the award at 6:30 p.m. Monday, which was after today’s edition went to press.


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