Decatur High student fundraises for STEAM Plus summer camp, May 8, 2017

Mayah Kirson, 17 year old Junior at Decatur High School, Sitting elbow to elbow with five little kids from five different countries trying to teach them their times tables, I quickly realized volunteering within the Clarkston refugee community was a priceless experience for me. I had no idea that one of the most culturally rich and ethnically-diverse communities in the south was right in my backyard until just a few months ago. Here I was, just a few miles from Clarkston, Georgia, one of the largest refugee relocation hubs in America.

The challenges in the Clarkston community are both economic and cultural. One in two children in Clarkston live below the poverty line.  Families have a median income of $29,000, and 56% of the refugees live in poverty. The population of Clarkston is 14,000 with 43% of residents being refugees or immigrants. The refugees come from more than 57 countries, including Burma, Bhutan, Somalia, Syria, Congo and Iraq.

The Clarkston Community Center’s goal is to strengthen community engagement in programming and outreach. The Center offers opportunities for people to increase social capital, to share talents, and to know their neighbors, thus ensuring community and personal well-being.

I started tutoring refugee kids for a couple hours each week in Clarkston through Friends of Refugees. It became the absolute highlight of my week, and from there my interest in the community grew.

To me, the Clarkston Community Center is the place where service and support meet inspiration, resiliency, and community-wide collaboration. In my mind, getting involved with the Center addresses the local needs of my community while touching on the more global issue of the refugee crisis.

My project

At Decatur High School, I am expected to complete a Creativity Action Service project, or CAS project for short. I am encouraged to volunteer and collaborate with a local group of my choice for a month, so I decided to connect my time in Clarkston with my CAS project in Decatur.

I have been given the opportunity to work with The Clarkston Community Center to raise money for over 80 excited campers ready to attend the Science Technology Engineering Arts, Social Studies, English and Math camp (STEAM Plus)  this summer. The Clarkston Community Center started the STEAM Plus camp to keep refugee kids on track with their English skills and academics in an active and fun setting.

Campers not only explore eco-friendly art and experiment with programming and STEM skills, they are also provided breakfast and lunch as well as a supervised place to play and learn while their parents work.

Many refugee families struggle with financial burdens as they continue to acclimate to the United States. They are required to find a job within 90 days of arrival sometimes with little to no English skills. Parents are faced with long hours earning minimum wage to support their family. Childcare is not always an affordable option, making the STEAM Plus Summer Camp at the Center a realistic solution.

Only two of the 82 campers could afford to pay the full price of $300 for a 4 week session last year. I hope to stop this number from keeping any more kids out of summer camp.

Exposing kids to the arts, sciences, and humanities ultimately influences the course of their academics, hobbies, and careers.  In my mind it is not a matter of why, but how.

How You Can Help

The heart of the issue is funding, which requires nonprofit organizations like the Clarkston Community Center to stretch far and wide to meet financial needs.

To break it down, half a session at a reduced cost is $150. One week of summer camp comes down to $75.

By donating $25, you cover upwards of two days of camp for one kid. This includes four meals and two days spanning everything from science, math, and the arts to healthy living skills.

If five people each donate $5 that’s another two days of camp, and eventually those two days build up to one more happy camper.

By donating you not only show the  refugee community that they have allies, but that you’re willing to invest in a child’s future. There is no ‘right amount’ because that $5 or $25 can travel far.

To give, please click the donate button. All the money directly supports campers with their camp expenses.

I would like to personally thank you for supporting this project and strengthening the community of Clarkston.


Dare2BAware Youth Program,

News Letter by Sydnie Cobb (Georgia State University), April 28, 2017

The Clarkston Community Center serves as a pillar of the Clarkston Community. Every week, hundreds of Clarkston citizens partake in the activities available at the community center, which range from the Clarkston Global Academy to the Digital Literacy Class to the Senior Refugee Program. I was given the opportunity to volunteer with Dare to be Aware, a program that strives to help refugee teens from places like South Africa, Afghanistan, Somalia, Kenya, and other countries better assimilate into American culture. Being a Minority Youth Violence Prevention program, Dare to be Aware teens are taught using the Positive Action curriculum to tackle diversity, bullying, goal-setting, employment, leadership, and healthy habits among other subjects. Teens in this program are exposed to new concepts weekly, allowing them to dabble in different subjects until they find their interests.

The engineering program, for instance, allows students to construct their own mouse trap car and bottle rockets to compete against other schools at a local science competition sponsored by Georgia Tech. Besides being a fun activity, the mouse trap car exposes teens to scientific jargon and processes that are not always discussed in the classroom. Another activity the group does is the gardening program. The gardening program gives students the chance to learn more about biological processes by letting students observe the growth of plants. Aside from these skills, students are also guided through matters concerning college preparation.

Dare to be Aware also encourages literacy among refugee teens by adding a book club component to the program. During the bi-weekly sessions, teens discuss the book (“Brother I’m Dying” by Edwidge Danticat) and create connections between the book’s protagonist and their own lives. Seven Stages, a small theater troupe located in Little Five Points, has teamed up with the students involved in Dare to be Aware to give students a chance to partake in the arts. Later this month, the teens will be participating in the Voices of Clarkston, a showcase that presents the artwork, poetry, spoken word, and plays derived from the creative minds of the citizens of Clarkston. The teens from Dare to be Aware plan to base their creative pieces from their book club book, “Brother I’m Dying.”

If you are interested in the Dare to be Aware program, the club meets Tuesday and Thursday at the Clarkston Community Center, which is located 3701 College Avenue, Clarkston, GA 30021. For more information, you can contact Justine Okello, the Director of Programs and Technology, at In addition, the program is open to youth ages 10-18 and is always seeking new volunteers. Happy volunteering!
Written By: Sydnie Cobb. (Georgia State University)

Fall Arts & Crafts Fair and Chili Cook-Off, Saturday Nov. 19th

CLARKSTON, GA – The Clarkston Community Center will present two new fundraising events on Saturday, Nov. 19 beginning at noon. The Fall Arts & Crafts Fair and Chili Cook-Off will combine beautiful hand-made items with a tasty sampling of chili provided by businesses, restaurants, caterers and individual cooks. The Arts & Crafts Fair will begin at noon, and will feature jewelry, accessories, home décor and gift items created by international artisans, many of whom live in Clarkston. At 2 p.m., doors will open into the Center’s Angora Hall where ticket holders can sample various chili recipes, enjoy live music and win raffle prizes from 2-5 p.m. Members of the Atlanta Silverbacks professional soccer team will sign autographs and take pictures with attendees and the chili will be judged and prizes awarded. There is no charge to attend the Arts & Crafts Fair, but tickets are required for the Chili Cook-Off. Tickets are $10 in advance for adults and children age 6 and older, and $20 at the door for adults and $10 at the door for children age 6-12. Children age 5 and under will be admitted for free. Tickets may be purchased online at or at the Center, located at 3701 College Ave. in Clarkston.

Proceeds from the day’s events will benefit the Center, which serves over 40,000 people annually through educational offerings, recreational programs and community building. Those interested in participating in the Arts & Crafts Fair and/or competing in the Chili Cook-Off must register in advance and purchase a table to participate. “Many residents of Clarkston have relocated to DeKalb County from around the world, bringing with them their culture and their native arts and crafts. We thought it would be interesting to combine this international artistic showcase with the very Southern tradition of a chili cook-off. The day will literally be a blending of cultures and flavors, and should be a lot of fun,” said Cindy Bowden, executive director of the Clarkston Community Center. “I hope the local business community will generously support this event and families from all over the metro area will attend.”

The Clarkston Community Center Presents an International  Food & Wine Festival, Saturday, Sept. 10

International-food-and-wine-galaCLARKSTON, GA – The Clarkston Community Center will present an International Food & Wine Festival on Saturday, Sept. 10 in the Center’s Angora Hall.  The new event is designed to showcase the cuisine of many countries from which Clarkston’s international population hails, including Ethiopia, Nepal, India, the Caribbean, Thailand, Vietnam, Nigeria and more.  Guests will be invited to sample the various dishes, provided by area restaurants, as well as enjoy a collection of international wines.  The event is a fundraiser for the Center, which serves over 40,000 people annually through educational offerings, recreational programs and community building.  Tickets are $25 per person or $600 per table of eight, and may be purchased at the Center or online at

“Clarkston is one of the most diverse small towns in the U.S., if not the most diverse,”CCD Dance (1) said Cindy Bowden, executive director of the Center.  “Our neighbors who have relocated to DeKalb County from around the world bring with them their culture, their language and their cuisine.  We thought it would be a lot of fun to host a fundraising dinner showcasing dishes from many countries now represented here in Clarkston, and hope to feature some chef demonstrations during the evening, too.  We won’t forget our roots, however, and will also offer several traditional Southern favorites!”

The International Food & Wine Festival will include music and dance performances.  A number of international dignitaries have been invited, including members of Atlanta’s Consular Corps.  Because the evening will include wine sampling, guests must be 21 years or older to attend.

Seniors on the Go at Clarkston Community Center, Aug. 18

clarkston1CLARKSTON, GA – The Clarkston Community Center will host its first Senior Programs Showcase on Thursday, Aug. 18 from 10 a.m. – noon.  Seniors on the Go is a free event for adults age 55 and above to learn about the variety of programs, classes, workshops and social events available to older adults at the Clarkston Community Center, 3701 College Ave., Clarkston, Ga., 30021.

“About 45 percent of Clarkston’s citizens are refugees,” said Cindy Bowden, executive director of the Clarkston Community Center.  “Children attend school, and many of the adults have jobs, but often older refugees sit at home.  If they don’t speak English or have access to transportation, they can become isolated and lonely.  The Clarkston Community Center provides many opportunities for seniors to learn, make friends and master new skills.  Our Senior Showcase will give seniors and their families a chance to see all of our programs at once and ask questions about them.”

During the event, instructors and program leaders will staff information tables detailing activities including English classes, cooking, sewing, art, music and computer skills, as well as life skills such as banking, handling legal issues and grocery shopping.  Attendees will be able to move from table to table, collecting information and learning what’s available.“We hope we will get a good response from the community and hope to make Seniors on the Go an annual event,” said Bowden.


Clarkston Community Center Shares “Best Practices” with   Delegation from Portugual Seeking to Strengthen their Country’s Refugee Response


CLARKSTON, GA — Earlier this week (last week, yesterday), the Georgia Council for International Visitors and the U.S. State Department brought a delegation from Portugal to visit the Clarkston Community Center to meet with Executive Director Cindy Bowden, tour the Center and speak with the Center’s staff and local residents. This delegation is just the latest group of international dignitaries to visit the Center to discuss best practices to help manage the ever-increasing influx of refugees fleeing war, poverty and persecution in the homelands. “Over the past two decades, Clarkston, Georgia has become a refugee haven for people from over 57 countries,” said Bowden. “In fact, our community is often referred to as America’s most diverse square mile. The Clarkston Community Center was created to address some of the challenges that arise from bringing together people from different cultures, races and religions who speak different languages and have completed varying levels of formal education. We use the common themes of art, food and recreation to engage people, and offer specific educational programs for all ages including computer and technology training, English language, job skills, cooking, arts and crafts and performing arts. I am very pleased the State Department and Georgia Council for International Visitors have asked us to showcase our best practices to others who work with refugees.”

During their visit, the dignitaries dropped in on the Center’s summer camp, toured the athletic facilities, bicycle repair shop and community garden, and sat down with Bowden and her staff to discuss how the programs work, how they are funded and what type of government support is received. While in the U.S., the group will also visit Phoenix and Washington, D.C. The State Department’s goals for these international fact-finding missions are:

 To learn how central governments, states and municipalities develop policies regarding refugee resettlement and how this translates into implementation through procedures and best practices

 To observe how government and implementing agencies coordinate with each other throughout the relocation, reintegration and rehabilitation process

 To discuss why it is important to conduct assessments in health, psychology, language and cultural orientation

 To learn how central and municipal governments have shaped acceptance through public awareness and cultural sensitivity training campaigns

 To explore how the U.S. integrates security into the screening process

“Georgia welcomes between 2,500-3,000 refugees every year, many of whom become residents of Clarkston,” said Bowden. “They have gone through a lengthy legal process to be relocated to the U.S. and most seek to eventually become U.S. citizens. Each  refugee must first be officially recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees and then goes through a 12-step screening and security process. Once they arrive in our country, a large network of local organizations, including the Clarkston Community Center, aids the refugees in adapting to their new home and becoming self- sufficient through education and employment. My staff and I are happy to share both our success stories and challenges with officials from around the world as they put programs into place to help support their own refugees.”

Registration is Now Open for Art at the Center and STEAM Camp at Clarkston Community Center

CLARKSTON, GA – Registrations are now being accepted for two summer day camps at the Clarkston Community Center: Art at the Center Camp and STEAM Camp. Both programs are open for children age 6-14 and will be offered June 6-July 28, 2016. Each week of camp will last from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m., Monday-Thursday and will include

breakfast and lunch each day. The cost per two-week session is $300 per child. After- camp childcare is also available for an additional fee. “Our summer camps are geared towards improving literacy and academic skills for low-income youth and teens in a fun, creative atmosphere,” said Andrea Waterstone, art and education director for the Center. “The camp experience also builds stronger English language skills for those who are new to this country and bolsters self-confidence for participants, especially for girls and young women.” Art at the Center Camp is taught by experienced teaching artists experienced in working with multicultural youth. Campers will explore and create eco art, assemblage art, painting, drama, dance, voice, improvisation, movie-making and gardening. Campers in the STEAM sessions will learn about 3D printing, computer programming and architectural design, strengthening their STEAM skills: science, technology, engineering, art and math. “Clarkson has become a major refugee center, and is now home to people from over 57 countries,” said Cindy Bowden, executive director of the Clarkston Community Center. “Many of our community’s children are struggling to learn English, adjust to a new culture and succeed in school. Some are lonely and isolated, and living in poverty. Our summer camp, now in its third year, offers a safe and nurturing environment for about 70 low-income children and teenagers where they can learn important academic skills, explore their own creativity and have fun with kids their own age. The camp also serves as a summer feeding site, ensuring these children receive nutritious meals and snacks during the summer school break.”

Art at the Center and STEAM Camp are supported by The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Vision Factory, Something New, Théâtre du Rêve, the City of Clarkson and Georgia Council for the Arts.

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Clarkston Community Center to Host First-Ever Workshop Open House May 15th

The ClaDSC_7763rkston Community Center, which serves over 40,000 adults and children annually, will hold its first WorkshopOpen House, according to Cindy Bowden, the

new Executive Director of the non-profit organization. Scheduled for Sunday May 15 from 3- 5 p.m., the free event will include light refreshments and will feature performances and demonstrations including computer skills, dance, photography, music, drumming, cake- decorating and much more. The activities will take place in the Center’s newly- renovated special event space, Angora Hall, 3701 College Ave., Clarkston, Ga. For a list of worksops to be showcased, visit

“Our Center is known for offering a wide variety of hands-on learning experiences for people of all ages, both new to this country and long-time residents. Our programs serve children, adults and seniors, and range from language lessons to job skills to arts and crafts and performing arts,” said Bowden. “We thought it would be educational and fun to bring a number of our workshop leaders together for an afternoon to offer a sampling of what is available to people of all ages here at the Clarkston Community Center. Guests will be able to try some of the activities, talk to the leaders and learn when the actual workshops will take place. Whether you want to improve an existing skill or try something new, we hope you will take advantage of what we have to offer.”

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About Clarkston Community Center

Established in 1994 and headquartered in the beautifully renovated former Clarkston High School building at 3701 College Ave. in Clarkston, Ga., the Clarkston Community Center offers programs for children, teens, adults and seniors, centered around art, recreation and community building. The Center serves over 40,000 individuals annually, primarily from Clarkston and greater DeKalb County, Ga., and many of whom have immigrated to the United States or are newly-arrived refugees. The Center’s programs are designed to bring people together and bridge divides of language, customs, culture and faith. In addition to the headquarters building, the Clarkston Community Center includes an activity field for sports and recreation, acreage for a planned community garden and an additional structure for future development. Angora Hall, the Center’s renovated auditorium and stage, is available for public rental for parties, weddings and other special events. A new fundraising program, Friends of Clarkston Community Center, offers individuals the opportunity to financially support the work of the Center.

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Cindy Bowden Named Executive Director of Clarkston Community Center

Cindy Bowden Headshot 2016CLARKSTON, GA – Cindy Bowden, a long-time Atlanta arts and non-profit leader, has been named executive director of the Clarkston Community Center, according to Martha Talbott, chairman of the Center’s Board of Directors. In her new role, Bowden will oversee the Center’s numerous community services, especially those in the areas of art, recreation, education and community building. “The Board of Directors is thrilled to have found a new director with the depth of experience Cindy brings to the Clarkston Community Center,” said Talbott. “Thanks to her many years of working in the non-profit arena, Cindy has a track record of success leading and managing staff and volunteers, securing grants and other types of financial support, developing programs and growing the mission and outreach of community-focused organizations. Cindy is also extremely well-connected in the arts, non-profit, cultural and educational community, which will open the doors to new partnerships and programs for the Clarkston Community Center.”

Bowden served for nearly two decades as the Executive Director of the American Museum of Papermaking, located on the Georgia Tech campus. She also served as Executive Director of the American Association of Woodturners in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is the Founding Director of Bright Ring Foundation, an organization that assists artists and non-profits with sustainability and marketing. She has an active member of the Georgia Association of Museums and Galleries for over three decades and is currently serving as the North American President of the World Craft Council, UNESCO.

A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Bowden and her husband, Tom, live in North DeKalb and have a grown daughter.