The city was named one of 27 finalists for the All-America Cities competition in April, largely based on its city-sponsored programs that assist Acworth's youth. Many of the children in the programs are among the 42 delegates - along with Acworth City Council members, religious leaders and program directors - who traveled to Kansas City on Wednesday to represent the city. Back home, a crowd of about 30 residents gathered at Acworth City Hall to watch the presentation being broadcasted live.
The ten winners will be announced at an awards ceremony tonight.
After representatives from North Miami, Fla., finished their presentation around noon Thursday, a sea of red shirts being worn by the Acworth delegates flooded the stage chanting "Acworth, Georgia!"
"Are all of these people from Acworth, Georgia? That's wonderful," one of the judges said into her microphone.
Mayor Tommy Allegood opened the presentation, which highlighted the community's commitment to helping children succeed.
"We've tripled our population and became the fastest-growing city in Georgia," Allegood said. "And while we were focusing on economic development efforts to protect our quality of life, we decided we needed to design programs for our community to invest in our children's lives."
The NCL competition requires applicants to document three community projects that address local challenges. Acworth chose the Horizon Field, which is the baseball and softball field specially designed to serve children with special needs; the Expanding Horizons Program, which uses local donations to fund educational trips for students who rarely, if ever, get to travel outside city limits; and the Acworth Achievers After School and Mentoring Program, which offers afterschool opportunities for students.
Marlon Longacre, pastor of Community Development at Acworth's NorthStar Church, stood by his wife, Libby, and their autistic son, Matthew, as the father and pastor spoke of the impact Horizon Field has had on Matthew's life since it opened last April.
"As Matthew grew, we noticed the need to bridge the gap with special needs families and sports opportunities," Longacre said. "Five years later, we get to witness the joy of him participating in sports with his buddies. The progress we see in Matthew is absolutely inspiring."
Cobb County has 15,000 children with special needs, Longacre said, and the community raised $1.25 million in donations for the only special needs field in the county. The field's league already has 155 participants and 255 volunteers.
Acworth ended its program by holding signs with pictures and slogans representing what living in Acworth means to them. One student's sign that read, "First to go to college." Major Wayne Dennard with the Acworth Police Department held up a sign that said, on one side, "Police officer on weekdays," and on the other side, "Coach on the weekends."
After the program, one judge said, "There needs to be a new rule of not making the jury cry. You're a community of heart, and we see that."
Another judge said, "You have an amazing story to tell. We get too bogged down about infrastructure and politics, but when you think of our kids, we've given them parks and recreation activities. But you've given them the greatest gift of all: love."
Clarence and Sonja Robinson of Acworth watched the presentation live in the Acworth City Hall Council Room and said the presentation made them proud to be residents of the city they've lived in for 36 years.
"We raised our three sons here, and there are so many dedicated people in our city who are trying to do the right thing and raise our children up to be caring and successful," Sonja Robinson said. "This is such a wonderful city. That looked like a winner, to me."
Allegood said residents and businesses donated $35,000 to pay for the delegates to make the trip and that no taxpayer money was used.