The Sandy Springs Diversity and Inclusion Task Force is asking city residents, particularly the underserved minority population, to help the city improve its parks and recreation offerings and its communication process.

The task force met on Sept. 14 to hear updates from its Parks and Recreation and Communications subcommittees on the steps they have taken and lessons learned.

Members of the Diversity & Inclusion Task Force met in a hybrid meeting at Sandy Springs City Hall and virtually via Zoom.

Clarissa Sparks, chair of the Parks and Recreation subcommittee, said the last of three email blasts of a community survey on the city’s resources was sent out on Aug. 31. The group partnered with Sandy Springs Together to reach a wide audience in Sandy Springs.

Sgt. Salvador Ortega of the Sandy Springs Police Department and a task force member volunteered to translate the survey into Spanish, she said.

They hope to have the results back and begin to calculate them over the next week.

“We’ve already started organizing focus groups, and we have three dates that will take place,” she said, adding those meetings are set for Sept. 18, 19 and 20 via Zoom.

They hope to have participants from the Community Assistance Center, Los Ninos Primero and the Sandy Springs Mission in the focus group, Sparks said.

“So far we’ve reached directly out to five individuals who are willing and ready to give us the answers to how we can make our parks easier for them to use and how to improve on the activities that we offer,” she said. “So I think it’s going to be a great value to the city of Sandy Springs and the Parks and Recreation department to hear direct feedback from our community residents.”

Communications subcommittee establishes objectives

Rabbi Joshua Heller, chair of the Communications subcommittee, said they established objectives at  their first meeting. Those included “identify the ways that the city of Sandy Springs can put relevant information in the hands of all components of our community, in particular minority communities that are not as well served by existing modalities. And also to ensure that the members of those communities know how to make those concerns felt to city government as well,” he said.

They quickly realized that non-governmental organizations – NGOs – will be very important to this work. Task force member Olivia Rocamora agreed to follow up with some of the NGOs in the Latinx community.

“What we identified as more of a challenge is that there are not necessarily the same resources for the African American community. So for example, while there are several churches in Sandy Springs that really have a ministry to members of the Latin American community… there are not strong African American churches in Sandy Springs,” Heller said.

Residents in that demographic tend to go outside of the city for church. This led Heller, Rocamora and task force member Nicole Morris to try to identify the places and mediators who can help them reach this community.

Heller said they concluded the papers of record are private entities and can only encourage them to print information. (Note: The Sandy Springs Reporter is a paper of record for the city of Sandy Springs.)

An alternative that seems to excite people is the idea of digital kiosks in key locations where members of the minority members of the community might be more likely to visit, whether it’s a grocery store or other venue, Heller said. Even people not “plugged in” technologically are likely to encounter these kiosks and see the information.

Another challenge is that identifying what information needs to be transmitted, as what’s relevant to a homeowner in one community may not be to someone who lives just a mile or two away, he said.

Fostering engagement faces another challenge they discussed.

“When someone engages with city government, do they see anyone who looks like them or they can relate to culturally?” he said.

Making sure people of color are appropriately represented in the professional roles within the city also was identified as important.

Heller said he spoke with Jason Fornicola, the city’s new communications director, and has invited him to come to the next Communications subcommittee meeting.

In his meeting with Fornicola and Community Relations Manager Dan Coffer, Heller said it’s clear some things already are in progress, so the subcommittee doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. They also don’t’ have to wait for a formal report to get some suggestions rolling if they let the city know what’s likely to be proposed by the task force.

The next task force meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Oct. 12 in the Barfield Conference Room at Sandy Springs City Hall at 1 Galambos Way.

Correction: Community Relations Manager Dan Coffer’s title was listed incorrectly in an earlier version of this story.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.