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Claire Cline
Claire Cline - photo by Michelle Kim/The News

Enter Claire Cline’s lair on a random Friday in January and the first thing your eye is drawn to is an enormous bouquet of roses rising prominently above the controlled chaos. When asked, she reveals they were from her ex-husband of 22 years. He sends them every year on her son’s birthday. Really, what more does one need to know about her? Actually, there’s plenty.

Cline’s gift is cultivating people to make the community stronger. “My basic philosophy is if you come to the table tell me what you bring, not what you want to take away,” she said, “This community basically operates that way…we care about each other.”

So one needn’t be taken aback when asked to “step up to the plate” – another signature line.

The South Georgia native and UGA graduate’s primary passion in life is education. She spent 23 years of her career with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension system before moving to Rockdale in 1995. While director of Continuing Education at Georgia College in Milledgeville, a compelling job offer summoned her.

The job was director of The Rockdale Center, a collaborative between Clayton State,
DeKalb College (now Georgia Perimeter College), DeKalb Tech (now Georgia Piedmont) and the Rockdale County Public School System. Cline was intrigued with the concept of a four-year, two- year and technical college and a public school system “working together to support higher education.” She said the “out-of-the box thinking and seamless education concept” sold her on Rockdale.

When she arrived at The Rockdale Center, the eight-month old facility had an enrollment of 300. When she left five years later, it had grown to 1,000 students offering 100 classes per quarter. Many who had dropped out of school could get their GED and start basic college courses.

The Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Rockdale (LR) program is another dimension of Cline’s passion for community and education. She was a member of the 1996 class, and along with her Co-Chair Tim Baker (LR Class of ’97) has facilitated classes for the last 13 years.

“It’s hard to believe how many people I’ve come in contact with…it’s well over 300,” she said, “I feel like every one of them is my child.” She delights in seeing them “get their feet wet in different leadership endeavors” within their respective fields, becoming elected officials or getting involved with their homeowner’s association.

Literacy is another passion project she pursues in her “spare” time. First Baptist of Conyers Dr. Jeff Meyers (LR class of ’09) reminded her of a study linking third grade reading levels with prison populations. Basically, a learning gap begins for children not reading at grade level by third grade, and they have “a higher likelihood of entering a life of crime, drugs and bad behavior.”

Cline started a program her second year in Rockdale to address this threat. Kid’s College, a program funded through grants and gifts, provides 100 second through fifth-graders needing a boost the opportunity of an eight-week Saturday session manned by 20 school system employees. Cline drills the mantra “You take care of self, each other and place” to get across they’re responsible for their education, a privilege, not a right. “I always tell Sheriff Jeff Wigington (LR Class of ’96) it’s my job to put you out of business.”

During her time at United Way, she’s helped build partnerships with the school system, hospital and other industries to address UW’s mission of “driving sustainable change in education, income, health and homelessness, while continuing to address urgent and basic human care.”

Through UW’s Gifts in Kind program, businesses send in surplus items, and they are distributed to non-profits. Just before Christmas, another LR crony, David Cooper (Class of ’08) with Premier Platforms sent three trucks laden with Christmas trees, storage containers, charcoal, food items, clothing, etc.

 “Whether it’s through kids or adults, it’s all around education, the more you learn the more you see the value of investing your time.” Her formula is working for Rockdale County.