Westside Future Fund: Bringing Renewed Hope and Focus to the Westside of Atlanta

With the pending arrival of the beautiful new Falcon’s stadium coming soon, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in partnership with the Atlanta Committee for Progress and Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank, decided to capitalize on the renewed focus of Atlanta’s westside.

So, the idea of The Westside Future Fund (WFF)was born, and the nonprofit was officially up and running in December of 2014. WFF was created to bring the city’s top leaders and organizations together to help revitalize and make a positive mark on a once thriving part of Atlanta.

While the community’s population reached above 50,000 in 1960, it currently stands at around 15,000 and the neighborhoods have long been dealing with high instances of crime, poverty, and lack of education.

WFF sees the promise and history of the westside, and is devoting efforts in an all-hands-on-deck way to preserve and protect the neighborhood and its citizens. WFF has prioritized four main focus areas to do this: cradle to career education, health & wellness, mixed-income communities, and public safety.

Through their research and time in the community, WFF has found that these four focus areas will provide a solid foundation for the community, and will create the transformational change.

To assist in quality cradle to career education, WFF is partnering with the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, Westside Works, and the recently opened Hollis Innovation Academy. They hope to create a pipeline of education for students who will continue to college and career, making the Westside a source of promise and potential.

WFF promotes health and wellness through its partnerships with Vine City Park, Families First Resource Center, and the Healing Community Center, in order to promote safe spaces for active lifestyles and resources for residents to receive the care and attention they need.

Mixed-income communities are also a high-priority focus, as WFF seeks to provide quality housing to the citizens of the westside. Hoping to keep current westside citizens in the neighborhood, these mixed-income housing opportunities will allow residents to take pride in their community, all while boosting local businesses and bringing in new people to the area.

In their last area of attention, safety and security, WFF partners with the Secure Neighborhoods Initiative, Westside Blue, and Operation Shield to help residents feel safe in their homes and on their streets.

With continued attention on these four areas of impact, WFF hopes to increase the Westside population by 33%, decrease the number of those living below the poverty line by 10%, and increase employment of those living in the area by 10%.

Individuals can learn more about WFF, how they can get involved, and how they can sign-up for the upcoming Westside Volunteer Corps “Day of Service,” by visiting www.westsidefuturefund.org. The event will be held in partnership with United Way of Greater Atlanta, on August 26 form 9-12, and individuals can sign up and be matched with a number of Atlanta nonprofits to volunteer their time and give back.

A Different Kind of OMG: Young People Making a Change for One More Generation

At just seven and eight years old, Olivia and Carter Reis made a big decision: they wanted to start their own company to help with animal conservation around the world.

And they were serious. After an aunt adopted African cheetahs in their name, they found out the realities of endangered animals, and wanted to do something to help. Now 15 and 16 years old, the sister and brother use their organization, OMG: One More Generation, as a catalyst for change in animal conservation, environmental conservation, and youth empowerment.

Olivia and Carter joined The Good Works Show in-studio to talk about how their OMG organization started.

“Our mission is to save endangered species, preserve our environment for future generations and beyond, so that our kids and grandkids can see this beautiful planet as it is now and not have to Google search what they could have seen years ago,” Carter said.

Originally starting as an organization to protect wildlife in need, OMG has helped a variety of animals over the years including cheetahs, giraffes, and elephants. Currently, they are focusing on a letter-writing campaign for endangered orangutans and pangolins. Orangutans are in trouble as their homelands are being stripped away from forest fires, due in large part to the lumber industries dismantling of forests. Pangolins look like armored anteaters, and are poached—one every five minutes—for their scales and meat.

Recently, the siblings conducted a letter-writing campaign to save the rhinos of Africa, and hand-delivered 10,000 letters to the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs.

“We wanted to show them that kids really do care about species that don’t just live in your backyard,” Carter said.

On the environmental side, OMG stresses the importance of creating a safe and clean environment for animals to live. OMG is currently working on a “Report a Butt” campaign via Instagram, calling attention to individuals who throw away cigarette butts on the ground. They are also in the middle of their “One Less Straw” initiative, which calls for individuals to sign a pledge and give up using straws for at least 30 days. The two hope this will lessen the more than 500 million straws used by Americans every day. Too small to be recycled, the straws have nowhere to go but the landfill.

Olivia and Carter use OMG to help inspire other young people to take similar action. Through outreach in local schools and community centers, they educate and encourage young people to find something for which they are passionate, and help make positive change. With Green Well, OMG teaches kids about gardening and local produce, providing the grown goods to community centers and organizations. Their “We’ve Got You Covered” initiative collects warm blankets, which are then decorated by young members of Atlanta’s homeless population with drawings and inspirational and then distributed to local shelters.

“This shows kids that they can make a difference with just a small action,” Carter said.

Those interested in learning more about any of OMG’s current programs can visit their website at www.onemoregeneration.org.

Filling Atlanta homes with love, and so much more

“A house is made of bricks and beams. A home is made of hopes and dreams.” For the single mothers of Atlanta, local nonprofit HOME is helping them transform their bricks and beams into hopes and dreams.

 HOME stands for Helping Oppressed Mothers Endure. And although the organization helps to restore hope and healing hands, they are also all about providing the tangible essentials that make a home a safe and comfortable place to live.

HOME was inspired by founder Carolyn Watson’s mother, Margie Faye Davis Webber. With her two daughters and two suitcases, she fled an abusive marriage to start a new life.JULY (7)

“That is the very image that remained in my head,” Watson said. “My mom was such a courageous mom to be able to rebuild her life and be brave. She had such courage and fight to start life all over again raising children alone.”

HOME helps mothers who have taken that courageous step, giving them the things they need to get back on their feet. The organization accepts new and gently used donations of home goods, like curtains, dishes, furniture, and TVs. In addition to the smaller items collected, HOME always ensures the mothers and their kids get brand new beds.

Webber’s legacy is honored throughout the year, too, as four deserving mothers are selected for their courage and perseverance and featured in HOME’s String of Pearls newsletter. Each mother chosen is also given a small financial gift and recognized at the annual HOME for the Holiday brunch and tea social.

HOME works in nine Atlanta counties, relying on word of mouth and partnering with local agencies to get connected to mothers in need of assistance. To qualify for HOME’s services, women must be transitioning out of a hardship, such as incarceration, relocation, or divorce. They must be a single mother, and employed and/or going to school. They must also have a lease that is in their own name.

The organization, started three years ago, helps nearly 100 moms every year. And their good work has not gone unnoticed. Recently, NFL star Colin Kaepernick heard about the nonprofit, and was touched by their mission. So touched, in fact, that he donated $25,000 to support their work.

HOME has seen many success stories, and Watson told of one while on the show. During their first year in operation, a mother of three came to them in need of support. She had just been through a divorce, and was living in an apartment with no furniture. She said she felt inadequate as a mom, and was ready to give up.

“She said HOME gave her hope,” Watson said.

Now, the mom runs her own cleaning business, to which HOME refers customers. “HOME was that hand up that she needed,” Watson said. “And sometimes in life, that is all we need is somebody to believe and somebody to show us that someone out there sees your situation and cares about it.”

For more information on how to support HOME or volunteer your time to help the organization, visit their website at www.home2heart.org.

Finding Strength and Stability One Run at a Time

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5:45am, you can find the team at Back on My Feet Atlanta running the streets. With workouts ranging from one to three miles they are consistent and unwavering with their runs.

But this consistency isn’t just about getting up their heart rate. In fact, the running itself is just an added benefit.

Back on My Feet is a national nonprofit with twelve chapters across the country, including one right here in Atlanta. The organization uses running to help combat homelessness in the city. Through running, Back on My Feet hopes to promote community support, and find new opportunities for employment, housing, and educational resources for those most in need.

“We seek to revolutionize the way our society approaches homelessness,” said Tanya Watkins, the organization’s Executive Director. “We believe that if we first restore confidence and self-esteem, individuals are better-equipped to tackle the road ahead, and move on to full-time jobs and homes.”

Atlanta has seen a significant drop in homelessness from 2013-2016, with numbers decreasing by almost 20%. These are promising statistics, but the problem still exists with 8,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night.

Back on My Feet partners with four shelters in the area to recruit runners of all skill levels. At the Salvation Army, City of Refuge, Gateway Center, and Trinity House, they meet with potential runners to tell them about the program.

Once a person signs up, they commit to three runs a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, each at 5:45am. This lasts for 30 days, and runners can only miss one run (90% attendance) during that time. From there, they are moved on to the second phase of the program, “Next Steps,” which allows the runners to receive resources on education, employment, and job training.

This initial 30-day period helps participants demonstrate commitment and dedication, skills they will need to get and maintain employment in the future. The nonprofit provides the runner with all the gear: running shoes, socks, and clothes. Much of this gear is collected through donations, including a large partnership with Brooks.

The runs every day are from one to three miles, with an optional longer run on Saturdays. When the 30-day trial period is over, participants can still run, but the additional resources become part of the program. Participants work on their goals for the future, and engage in steps to better their lives. These goals could range from putting together a resume to finding permanent housing. Back on My Feet also offers financial aid for those who have demonstrated commitment and need.

The organization is always looking for volunteers to participate in the morning runs. These runs, combining volunteers and participants bring everyone together, removing the isolation and stigma of homelessness.

Supporters can also give financially to the organization, and raise money for Back on My Feet through different running races. Those interested in learning more can check out atlanta.backonmyfeet.org.

SheWill: Teaching Financial literacy with a side of self-esteem and empowerment

JULY (4)At a 2013 Financial Literacy and Education Summit held at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray stated that “a large majority of K-12 teachers in the U.S. say that personal finance should be taught in school, yet less than a third say they’ve taught lessons about money, and more than half feel unqualified to teach their state’s financial literacy standards.”

Atlanta’s nonprofit organization SheWill understands this critical need, and is doing its part by teaching financial literacy to local girls between the ages of 8 and 17. These girls learn the importance of financial awareness and career empowerment.

Through an interactive, lecture-based curriculum, girls are taught through age-appropriate activities related to finance and work-readiness. For many, the idea of high school graduation is many years away, but the program provides them with insights and a framework for what they can expect when they complete school.

Research has shown that girls are able to understand the fundamentals of money and finances as early as three years old, so SheWill believes that starting them at 8 makes them even more prepared to learn. They talk about the basics, like what money is, how it’s used, how to count it, and then how to implement the financial skills into their daily lives. These types of skills help young girls to understand real life situations like bill pay and financial struggles or constraints that their parents might be going through.

Sheena Williams, Founder and Executive Director of the organization, hopes that beyond the financial training, that the girls learn individuality, self-esteem, and independence. She teaches them these skills through a variety of programs within the organization. In the mentoring program, girls are paired up with professionals who can guide them and teach them in their desired fields of study. Girls go through the fundamentals of finance in a 10-week course, but also meet and communicate regularly with their mentors to talk about areas they can build on. Then, in the SheWill Lead program, coursework focuses on the development and nurturing of leadership skills.  Finally, in the organization’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, girls learn that leading a business is just like leading their own life.

SheWill also travels to local schools, community centers, and social clubs to bring the organization’s curriculum to girls all over the city. Through their outreach programs, girls can learn how to balance a checkbook, put together their first resume, or build a business plan, all while incorporating fun activities, like Zumba.

The organization doesn’t stop with just the girls in the program, though. Understanding that this learning must continue at home, they offer opportunities for mothers and daughters to attend classes and events together. Girls 13 and over can bring their moms to the classes, and while the young girls learn their own lessons, moms are given tips on other financial topics, like couponing, budgeting, saving, and finding free activities for the family.

The organization is always looking for volunteers, including individuals to take part in the mentoring program. Those interested in learning more about how to help out, or who want to sign up for a class, can visit www.shewill.org.

Traveling on Two wheels: The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition

With just one piece of equipment, you can get from point A to point B, explore the city, and even burn some calories. The bike is the perfect accessory for transportation, being outside, and increased health and wellness.

For more than 25 years, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition has been promoting the benefits of the bike, and accessible bikeways to connect riders throughout the city. The organization’s mission is to transform Atlanta into a city where biking is safe, equitable, and appealing.

While Atlanta is often known for its packed highways and heavy traffic, residents also have the option of traveling the city on two wheels instead of four. The Coalition helps those interested in biking to their destination find the best and most convenient routes for them.

JULY (3)

In fact, it’s increasing these routes that is a top priority for the Coalition. Through the Connecting the City program, the Coalition hopes to create available bikeways within a half a mile of every resident. Making their way through Atlanta street by street, the organization is making sure that bike lanes, trails, neighborhood greenways, and safe crossings are all across the city.

For those who are just starting out on the bike, the Coalition offers classes to get riders more comfortable and acclimated to the new mode of transportation. In their True Beginners class, students learn the basics of riding and safety, including road rules and what riders should have with them at all times.

For those with a little more experience that want some additional training in busy areas, there are the Urban Confidence Rides classes. These courses help riders navigate car-packed streets, teaching safety and tips for dealing with increased city infrastructure and negotiating city throughways. The ride offers bikers a chance to get more comfortable while in a safe, group setting.

The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition also works with those who aren’t as comfortable with biking. Four times a year, they host the Atlanta Streets Alive event, where streets are shut down to cars for bikers to use. The Coalition’s next Atlanta Streets Alive event will be held on September 24, on Peachtree Street. The route will be centrally located, with five MARTA stations along it. For those not wanting to ride, there are also 40-50 additional activities for participants to enjoy. The Coalition hopes as many as possible come to the event, to promote building community, awareness of the health benefits of riding, and showcasing the demand for streets that are safe for bikers.

In an important legislative year for Atlanta, the Coalition has defined advocacy priorities, including making the future of biking a key tenant of the upcoming elections. They hold rolling town halls to engage with candidates and express their needs. This year has also brought increased construction and traffic, causing an uptick in the Coalition’s and ridership, and in individuals signing up for classes. To meet the additional need, the Coalition has provided a “hack your commute” program, showing riders the best routes to take for their most important trips.

The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition is a membership organization, and gets much of its revenue from its members. It also receives support from the City of Atlanta, and corporate and community partners. It’s always looking for new support and volunteers. Those interested can visit them online at www.atlantastreetsalive.com.

Listen to the full episode of the show below.

Keeping a Forever Home with HouseProud Atlanta

The AARP recently found that 87% of senior citizens wish to age in place, remaining in their own home without having to move to an assisted living facility or different location as they grow older. Sometimes, though, keeping up with home repairs and making sure the house meets the needs of an aging population is not always easy, or cheap.

HouseProud Atlanta works to meet the needs of elderly individuals who need some repair work to keep them comfortable and safe in the home they love.

Originally called Community Redevelopment Inc, HouseProud got its start in 1992. The organization gave repair assistance on critical issues like electrical, plumbing, and home accessibility. Now 25 years and a couple of names later, HouseProud has helped more than 400 low-income seniors and their homes in southwest Atlanta.

“We have a very compressed geographic area, which helps us to really focus on community revitalization, we serve about 20 neighborhoods in southwest Atlanta,” Lisa Jones, House Proud Executive Director said. “There are some neighborhoods where we have worked on every house on that street, and we feel like that’s really impactful.”

Partnering with local organization and skilled individuals, HouseProud fills an essential need for residents as they wish to stay in their home, but need a little extra help. And, as they have grown over the years, they have expanded their services to also meet the home needs of disabled individuals and veterans, with the mission of keeping everyone warm, safe, and dry in their homes. HouseProud wants to give back to those who have already given so much.

HouseProud works on any number of projects to update and repair homes, but does not perform rebuilds. Volunteers often work on needs like re-decking porches, fixing and replacing locks, installing wheelchair ramps, and light painting.

Using corporate partnerships and volunteer manpower, the nonprofit capitalizes on the collaborative efforts of the community to assist individuals in need. Sponsors for the organization include Home Depot, SunTrust Bank, KPMG, and Wells Fargo, just to name a few.

Partners and volunteers who sign up to help out with the project are equipped with all the necessary tools and instructions, and are matched up with a professional to oversee the work. These projects are also great opportunities for corporate visibility, allowing companies to promote their service and receive recognition for their team’s work.

To be eligible to receive HouseProud services, senior citizen individuals must be 60 years of age or older, live in the designated service area, and have homeowner’s insurance. There are not age restrictions for individuals with disabilities.

To help raise money for their services, the HouseProud is throwing a large fundraising event in October, called “Raise the Roof.” A cocktail party with a live DJ, the event will be a chance for individuals to learn more about the organization with a $25 donation.

Individuals and companies can learn more about the event and how to volunteer at www.houseproudatlanta.org.

Growing Communities with Green of Hearts

Sometimes a hobby can turn into a passion, and that passion can change your community. Such was the case for Bonita Cason-Atlow.

After finding herself out of a job she held for twenty years, she found herself searching for purpose. She found it in a perfectly-heart shaped green tomato she pulled from her garden.

With her free time, she started gardening more, and took some of her fruits and vegetables to Interfaith Outreach Homes, a housing development for low-income individuals. She donated more than 20 types of food, and the staff were ecstatic.

Atlow took her love of gardening and whole foods and took it to the people of Atlanta. Now, her nonprofit Green of Hearts works with individuals and organizations to build community gardens and teach groups how growing and cultivating their own food can lead to healthier, more sustainable lifestyles.

Green of Hearts mission is to is to “alleviate societal issues concerning malnutrition, hunger, and obesity within populations at risk by establishing gardens – and a mindset – wherever there is an open space and a need.”

They achieve this mission through programming all over the city, working to turn black thumbs green. With their Senior Horticulture Education program, Green of Hearts works with senior citizens in an hour of gardening and garden-themed crafts. Then, to further help the community at large, the organization works with community groups, schools, churches, and residential centers to work on installing gardens and teach ways to cultivate and maintain them.

One of their biggest projects is with the Interfaith Outreach Home, as part of their efforts to create immersive community support. They work with residents and families to teach gardening and life skills, and show families how to incorporate the food and skills into their daily lives.

Through their community gardens, Green of Hearts hopes to inhibit community ownership, engage self-sufficiency, help citizens control obesity, provide access to nutritional foods for low-income families, and increase physical activity.

Atlow hopes to inspire people on the benefits of community gardening. “Cultivating and changing the way something is currently being used is a way to bring people together,” she said. “The goal is that we grow and share and sit down and have a meal together. I think we’ve forgotten how to just sit and talk and look at each other.”

“We are changing our direction of the way we view life,” she closed. “We are putting our hands together and doing something.”

The organization is always looking for volunteers to help with garden installations, garden maintenance, and carpentry. Volunteers can sign up and help out as individuals or in groups. The nonprofit is also always in need of financial support to carry out its programs, and donations go toward gardening equipment, seeds and plants, community outreach, and operations. Those interested can sign up or donate on Green of Hearts’ website at www.greenofhearts.org.

If You Build It, They Will Come: Building Websites for Local Nonprofits with 48in48

Nonprofits have a lot on their plate: the mission of the organization, the people they serve, raising enough funds to keep their programming going. The list goes on and on.

While they are busy doing good work, sometimes their online presence takes a hit. There’s not always enough manpower or revenue to design and maintain a quality website.

But with everything going digital, their website should be at the top of their priority list. It helps people connect with the organization, and acts as the face of the nonprofit for new and veteran supporters.

For those organizations who need a little extra help in the web department, there’s 48in48. Serving nonprofits in Atlanta, Boston, the Twin Cities, and New York, the group select worthy, small to mid-sized nonprofits, and helps them build a site that works for their needs.

48in48 mobilizes local digital professionals to lend their expertise and provide assistance with the nonprofit’s marketing and technology needs. Over an eight week period, they work with the nonprofit to go through branding, content, and maintenance for their website.

48in48 was founded by marketing professionals who saw a need for others in their industry to have an outlet to use their skills for good. They saw an opportunity to pair this with the needs of small nonprofits who might lack the resources and ability to keep a site up and running.

“Online presence is increasingly important,” said Carol Williams, 48in48 Executive Director. “A website is really the base of good online marketing. But it’s intricate and expensive, so many nonprofits push it aside due to funding or time to manage it.”

48in48 prefers to work with smaller nonprofit, who tend to be the ones who struggle the most with their online presence. After the eight week period, the program culminates with a 48-hour hackathon-style event in which 48 new nonprofit websites are built. 48in48. Get it?

48in48 held their first event in Atlanta in 2015, where they provided $1,200,000 of value in services to the nonprofits involved. They’ve since expanded into four US cities and are in the midst of planning international events, too.

The volunteers for the websites are content managers, graphic designers, and frontend developers, and typically come from area digital agencies. A lot of the teams that build the 48 websites come as a company group, providing great teambuilding and PR for participating organizations.

Each city’s 48in48 works with the local United Way to identify are nonprofits that would be good candidates for the program. The organization has transitioned from an application to an invitation system from United Way. The United Way checks the submitted organizations and look at their current websites to make sure the event would have capacity.

Nonprofits and interested volunteers can learn more about being considered at www.48in48.org.

The Mission Continues

When the men and women who so bravely served our country come home, they are often left with a bit of a void. Bonded by the fact that they all had the passion to serve, they miss that opportunity for constant service and camaraderie.

The Mission Continues helps these veterans continue their calling by bringing them together to give back to their community. Partnering with local nonprofits and organizations, The Mission Continues provides the manpower and dedication needed to create real impact.

Placing veterans and community volunteers into platoons, the groups are deployed to areas that are in the most need, focusing on education and at-risk youth, food disparities, housing, and neighborhood beautification.

Not only are the veterans able to continue their service, they are able to find ways to more easily reenter civilian life while collaborating with both veterans and local-residents. The organization operates under five main values: word hard, trust, learn& grow, respect, and have fun. Tjune (10)hese values help connect their volunteers and build and environment to create the most community impact.

Right here in Atlanta, the organization deploys three platoons to serve across the city, with two platoons stationed on the West Side and one on the South, and plans to for expansion over the next two years. They work on a variety of projects, including youth development and providing supportive housing for those in need. In partnership with the Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls Club, they have helped improve technology spaces for kids, renovated and painted reading rooms in the library, revitalized an outdoor baseball field, and helped plant a community garden.

On the community development side, the team helped a veteran’s village housing complex with more than 24 veteran residents. The building has serious issues with flooding, so the platoons installed a drain to alleviate the problems.

Veterans can also take part in a six-month fellowship, in which the organization places them in a local nonprofit for up to 20 hours of work. There, the veteran can acclimate back into the working world while also providing critical manpower to nonprofits that need it.

“This generation sees themselves as assets, and want to leverage their talents and skills that they built in the military to be able to help in their local neighborhoods,” said Stewart Williams, Atlanta’s City Impact manager. “It’s a natural desire to do good work.”

One of their biggest projects, Operation West Side Surge, is coming up the week of June 8-15. More than a hundred veterans are flown in to help with projects all around the city, and stay in campus housing at Georgia Tech. They’ll be doing landscaping and greenscaping at parks, building urban farms, and creating outdoor learning centers, including an amphitheater on English Avenue. For this and other projects, the organization accepts the broader community into their platoons to promote working hand in hand with the community for the greater good.

Listen to the full episode of the show, here. Those interested in learning more about the organization, including how to apply for a fellowship, sign up for a platoon, or donate, can visit www.missioncontinues.org.