By Joel Hall
About 200 Clayton County locals gathered at Clayton County International Park on Sunday for the first Clayton County Family Reunion. Many families braved strong winds and inclement weather to enjoy the park, and celebrate the Clayton County school system having regained its accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
The soggy conditions failed to dampen the spirits of local residents who ran relay races, got their faces painted, played rounds of "Frisbee-Golf," ate free hot dogs, and listened to live bands in the rain. Nonprofit organizations, county departments, public safety officials, museums, and historical groups hosted information booths, and offered visitors free food and prizes.
Pat Duncan, president and CEO of the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that while the rain led to a lower-than-projected turnout, many saw the event as a sign of change in the county.
"I think there would have been a lot more people here if it was a sunny day," said Duncan. However, "the people who have come out are having fun. The entertainers are playing to small crowds, but everybody is doing it with a good attitude.
"It's the joy of regaining something that we wished we never lost," he said, referring to SACS' decision earlier this month to restore accreditation to Clayton County Public Schools.
John Walker, director of school safety for the system, attended the reunion with his family. He said the event generated a "sense of pride" and "belonging" among Clayton County residents.
"It's a chance for the community to share common goals and breathe a sigh of relief," Walker said. "It took the entire community to regain our accreditation. The entire community should be able to celebrate in that accomplishment.
"All of the entities that make a family came together to make this event happen," he added. "It says that we can do all things when we put our heads together."
Lorna Reed, a Morrow resident, attended the family reunion with her two children, both students in the Clayton County school system. She said she believes the county can use its battle to regain accreditation as a learning experience.
"We could have relocated like some other families, but I didn't want to uproot my family over something that could be resolved," Reed said. "I'm grateful that the accreditation is reinstated. I'm hoping that we can learn from the crisis and move forward from here."
David Barton, programs coordinator for the Clayton County Foreclosure Resource Center, said the fact that many people came to the family reunion despite the rain demonstrates that the community is "thirsting for this type of environment.
"This is a turning point for us," Barton said. "I would like to see more of this cohesiveness. If the county stays vigilant ... we can make this an annual event."