A “do gooder” with a lot of flair, Katherine Downs is dedicated to the Athens, Georgia nonprofit community. Although not an Athens native, for decades, she has made a pivotal impact on the town she now calls home.
The Savannah native attended the University of Georgia as an undergraduate, then made her way to Washington D.C. After meeting her husband Bertis Downs there, the couple moved back to Athens where the two would continue on to play an instrumental role in Athens fabric.
From the beginning, the Downs’ had a notable name in Athens after Bertis had established himself as the manager of R.E.M, an up and coming band.
As time passed, Katherine found herself wanting to establish herself as an individual as well. She wanted to start her own legacy. While starting a family was a high priority for Downs, she knew she also wanted to make a community-wide impact.
“Travelling with Bertis and R.E.M. was fantastic, but I realized that I wanted my own thing.” Downs says of her past.
That is when she began her career in volunteerism.
Her work began at Clarke County Child Abuse Prevention by getting involved with the board. Downs quickly immersed herself in the program and helped take their annual fundraiser, Starry Starry Night, beyond where it had ever been before. From moving the event to a higher scale location in order to attract more guests to donate, to exciting and creative ways to donate – Downs’ knack for fundraising became evident.
Volunteering at CCAP sparked more interest for Downs to assist other organizations and she moved on to work with Athens Community Connection, an online source for locals to be able to access all the non-profit resources that Athens has to offer. Here, her talents were confirmed. Downs had a talent for transforming events to an exceptional occasion– a trait that any fundraising effort strives for.
From being the start of Taste of Athens fundraiser to planning extravagant events for the Athens Clarke Heritage Foundation, Downs was putting together some of Athens’ most instrumental events. “It’s just like… she was creating something beautiful out of nothing.” Downs reflects on a coworker of hers who assembled wreaths from scratch for one of their fundraisers. Downs did not realize, however, that she had essentially summed up her philanthropic career.
Creating something beautiful out of nothing.
As time passed, she went from creating fundraisers to creating a family of two daughters, which ignited her passion to continue helping Athens grow.
Once Downs’ daughters entered the public school system, she realized the needs of the schools. They needed a nurturing hand, to take the time to build them to their potential.
She started small with book fairs and field trips. And as her family grew, her volunteer efforts at Barrow Elementary did as well.
She was heavily involved in the school’s Parent Teacher Association, PTA and volunteered in school activities. Downs established “A is for Arts”, a program that brings in locals from different artistic fields and gets students involved, at the school as a way to incorporate more hands on learning.
Once Downs’ daughters reached middle school, she found one of her most influential roles as a school mentor for the Clarke County Mentor Program.
“Katherine began mentoring Jackie when she was in 7th grade… they have done countless activities together; in recent years Katherine has helped her study for the SAT’s, learn to drive, and negotiate the college admission process, said Paula Shilton, Executive Director of the Clarke County Mentor Program”
“She didn't just meet this girl at school once a week as most mentors do. It started like that; but then she was taking her to the movies, to local fundraising events, to overnights at her house. Texting with her during times when Katherine was out of town, when her mentee was in need of a friend late at night, whether it was convenient or not. She taught her to drive. She took her to visit colleges. She threw her a graduation party. She took her in, basically, like a true friend.” Karen Smith, close friend to Downs says of her time as a mentor.
Downs ongoing support in the school system led her to help start Experience UGA, a program that ensures that all children in the Clarke County School district have an annual field trip to the University of Georgia to help encourage them to seek higher education.
Downs does not treat her work as a task, or even a project, but as a work of art. From perfecting every detail, to envisioning and introducing unique concepts and ideas, Katherine Downs is an artist of giving back to her community.