Originally created 02/29/04

Former educator leads community partnership program



It's 10 a.m. and Robetta McKenzie is already preparing for her second meeting. The day's agenda consists of a civic event across town in 20 minutes, an appointment at Fort Gordon after lunch, a meeting downtown immediately following, then another in the evening.

Such has been a typical day for the last 10 years for Dr. McKenzie. As executive director of the Augusta-Richmond County Community Partnership for Families and Children, Inc., she has found resources and started programs to combat teen pregnancy, drug use, school dropouts and other community problems.

Working late nights and weekends, the Cartersville, Ga., native said she wouldn't feel at peace if she didn't do all she could to help the community partnership reach its goal of bettering the lives of area youth and their families.

"I have a passion for children," said the former teacher, counselor and administrator. "Healthy children are the measurement of a healthy community."

Dr. McKenzie began a 3-year stint as volunteer director for the organization in 1991, helping acquire partnerships with local government, business, service groups and other organizations that work together to address community issues. All the while, she maintained a full-time job with the Richmond County school system.

"I volunteered during my 12th year as the district guidance director and then my two years as principal of A.R. Johnson ealth, Science and Engineering Magnet School), so you could say I had two full-time jobs," she said.

She retired from 24 years with the school system in 1994 and could have stopped working. Instead she switched careers and became the partnership's full-time director.

"I couldn't just sit at home. I'd feel like there was something I could be doing," she said.

Since then, she's worked for those in need. Over the years, she's helped secure more than $4 million in grants for projects to reduce infant mortality and drugs in the community. Partnerships have grown from nine in 1991 to today's 96 partners. She has implemented programs to help reduce rates of hunger, low birth-weight babies, youth arrests, child abuse and children living in poverty. Other programs help increase the number of low-income students in pre-K and the number who graduate on time.

Some of the programs work directly with families at home.

"When I came up as a teacher we did home visits. We try to fix kids in the classroom, but if they go home and they're hungry or their parents are fussing, then we need to address that," she said.

Chavone Glover, information specialist for Community Partnership for Families and Children, sees how diligent and caring Dr. McKenzie is every day.

"She does a lot. A lot. She's here way more than 40 hours, taking work home with her. And she's always teaching (the staff) something," Ms. Glover said.

Aside from partnership group, Dr. McKenzie manages to find time to work with other organizations, including leadership, counselor and educator associations. She belongs to civic clubs, and is a board member of an area child advocacy center. She also implemented a shadowing program for engineering and educational technology at A.R. Johnson Health Occupations High School and instituted the Richmond County Teen Conference for middle and secondary school students.

Carol Roundtree, director of guidance and testing for the Richmond County school district, has worked with Dr. McKenzie since 1989.

"Hard working, conscientious, committed to her task. She has a strong social consciousness for helping people in need," Ms. Roundtree said. "I've never seen her not react to students or people who have a need that she can help."

When one project gets under way, Dr. McKenzie is ready to start another. She is now working to start a program for children of incarcerated parents. She is almost never complacent.

"I'm always asking myself, 'is there something I'm not doing? Is there somebody I'm overlooking?"' she said.

Because she works so much, she said, her husband, retired Army Sgt. Alfred McKenzie wonders if she will ever stop. The couple will have been married 50 years in September.

"He's been so supportive," she said. "People often ask me why I do it, but it's because I believe in what we're trying to do and because I love this community and the folks I deal with on a daily basis."

Leaving the community partnership would give her more time to spend at home in Cartersville with her twin sister and mother, or in Atlanta with her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. But it's not time for that yet; there is still much she wants to accomplish.

"When I leave, I will be satisfied if we have reached all of our goals," she said. "I know when you get one set of problems under control, others start. But I hope I've helped tackle the present ones enough so the next director will be in a position to be ready to address the new ones."

Reach C. Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3552 or samantha.mckevie@augustachronicle.com