Learning and exploring under the sea at the Georgia Aquarium

Good Works Show BlogAtlanta may be landlocked, but that hasn’t stopped the city from being the home to the largest aquarium in the United States. With more than a hundred thousand animals in ten million gallons of water, the aquarium has been visitors and aquatic-enthusiasts since its opening in 2005.

The aquarium offers a little something for everyone, with current exhibits featuring beluga whales, puffins and seabirds, dolphins, and tropical animals. It’s also the only place outside of Asia that keeps whale sharks.

Providing visitors the opportunity to see rare and unique creatures is a priority for the institution.

“We serve a community that may never have an opportunity to see a beluga whale or whale shark,” said Joe Handy, President and COO of the aquarium. “This gives us an opportunity to highlight these majestic animals and show the world and all of our visitors how beautiful these animals are.”

“It’s very difficult to be inspired if you’re not exposed,” Handy added. “If you have never seen a beluga whale, then you may never have an appreciation for the species, and you may never want to care for the species. We help shape your view and your experience and your interaction with these majestic animals.”

The aquarium offers an immersive experience that allows guests to get a firsthand look at the animals and their habitats. Set up like the spokes of a wheel, the aquarium’s exhibits branch out from one central main floor, allowing families and groups to always have a central meeting point after exploring.

The aquarium also contributes to research on the world’s water animals and have funded more than 100 research initiatives. Supporting studies from Florida to the Galapagos Islands, the Georgia Aquarium has invested time and money focusing on the health and lifestyles of penguins, manatees, sea turtles, and more.

The aquarium also offers opportunities for schools and students to learn about conservation, STEAM programming, and specific types of animals. Students and school groups can sign up for instructor-led tours, or can visit the aquarium on their own. The aquariums educational programs are all designed to connect with Georgia Performance Standards, and enhance what student’s study while in school. The Sponsored Education Admissions (SEA) program offers financial support for free admissions to individuals and groups in need of assistance buying tickets.

As a nonprofit organization, the Georgia Aquarium is supported by the generous work of volunteers and contributions of donors. Volunteers can sign up to help at the aquarium, and can do so on their website. They can act as greeters at guest services or can even sign up to help feed the animals and clean the tanks. The proceeds from individual ticket sales, along with the additional funding support received by the aquarium go toward maintaining the facility and critical research efforts.

More information on how to visit, support, or volunteer with the aquarium can be found at www.georgiaaquarium.org.

“There is always something to do at the aquarium,” Handy said. “Every day is an opportunity to experience the aquarium with your friends and family.”

 

To listen to the full episode, visit http://ow.ly/VACn30goaA2.

 

Second Helpings: Nourishing Those in Need

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40 percent of food produced in the United States goes to waste. A staggering and frustrating number, especially when you factor in the nearly 20 percent of Georgia residents facing food insecurity every day.

In fact, an average food-insecure family of four skips about 100 meals a month just simply because they can’t afford food. Hoping to bring the excess to those who need it most, Second Helping Atlanta bridges the gap between the waste and the want.

Started in 2004, the nonprofit describes itself as a “food-rescue” organization that focuses on two major societal issues: reducing hunger and food waste. This food waste occurs all over: farm-grown food that’s never sold, spoiled food, food not purchased from grocery store shelves, and food purchased but not eaten. Second Helpings finds this unused food, and “rescues” it.

Working with partner food-suppliers, including grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and caterers, Second Helpings connects leftover food with local pantries, community meal providers, and emergency housing facilities to provide food for individuals and families in need. They focus on securing perishable, highly-nutritious food to combat the health impact and typical diet of a food insecure individual.

“We recognize that the clients of the partner agencies who are receiving this food are surviving on highly-processed foods,” said Second Helpings’ Executive Director Joe Labriola. “We’d like to be able to introduce the types of food that they either don’t have access to or can’t afford.”

Second Helpings distributes the food using a powerhouse team of 360 active volunteers. Using their 90-minute model, volunteer drivers are connected with a route that gets them from their home to the food donor, in their own vehicles in 90 minutes or less. These boots-on-the-ground volunteers a quick and critical service and solution for a high-need problem.

The work of Second Helpings also generates an important multiplier effect. With their help, these partner organizations can funnel funds that might have previously been spent on food for their clients, to other critical services and programs.

“They can have a larger impact on the community they serve without necessarily having to raise more money,” Labriola said. “That’s another tremendous benefit and something that allows us to magnify what we are doing in the community every day.”

Second Helpings deliveries reach 4,500 people every day and amount to about 37,000 pounds of food each month. They have also recently started working with the new Mercedes Benz stadium, picking up leftover food from the executive suites, and taking part in the increased focus on the West Side of Atlanta.

The organization will continue its work in this neighborhood, with hopes of even great geographic expansion. Last year, they distributed 1.35 million pounds of food, a 60 percent increase over the previous year.

To continue to scale, Second Helpings is always looking for new partners, volunteers, and funders. More information can be found online at www.secondhelpingsatlanta.org.

The Future Foundation: A Slam Dunk for Atlanta’s Youth

While Shareef Abdur-Rahim maybe best known for his time as all-star power forward for the NBA, he’s currently making even bigger plays off the court.

An Atlanta-area native, Abdur-Rahim started his organization, the Future Foundation in 2004, making good on a promise to help local students be better-prepared for college and beyond. He first got the idea for the nonprofit while he and his sister, Qaadirah, attended college at the University of California, Berkeley.

While both were good students, they found themselves initially unprepared to compete academically at the college-level. They were determined to help other young students not have the same difficulties.

The Future Foundation’s mission is to level the playing field for youth in metro Atlanta by providing quality education, health, and life-skills programming. Through year-round and multi-year after-school programming, the organization has made great strides with students from low-performing schools in grades 6-12.

In fact, 100% of their participants have graduated high school, and 99% have gone on to a post-secondary institution.

The nonprofit accomplishes their lofty goals through their “Theory of Change,” a model that incorporates the five areas in which they believe young adults need for success and stability. These areas include relationship skill development, academic enrichment, family strengthening, life skills, and health education.

Through their work, providing students with outlets to learn and succeed, and giving families a chance to become stronger and more resilient, Future Foundation hopes to break the cycle of poverty for those most in need in Atlanta.

The Future Foundation holds daily after-school sessions at their Reef House Centers. Depending on their age, participants work on academics and learn how to maintain positive behavior and relationships. For older students, the focus shifts a bit toward drop-out prevention and preparing young adults for the difficult transition from middle school to high school.

Students here can also take part in a variety of programming, including “Real Talk ATL,” which encourages them to make healthy choices and create healthy relationships, and Fitness Unlocking Nutrition (F.U.N.), where participants learn new ways to be active.

These centers also incorporate opportunities for families to come together and learn how to be stronger, more supportive units. Families are invited to take part in group meals, games, and instruction on positive parenting and adolescent development.

“For kids to take the hard steps out of poverty, their parents have to be on board, as well,” Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim said. “We offer a wide variety of workshops focused on how to raise healthy adolescents as well as how to engage your family.”

To learn more about the organization, and how to get involved, visit them online at www.future-foundation.com.

Georgia Equine Rescue League: Safe and Loving Care for Georgia’s Horses

In the state of Georgia, the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Equine Division manages and enforces laws which protect the equine population. Through a variety of circumstances, including neglect and lack of proper care, horses are often picked up and impounded by the Department while owners undergo prosecution.

Unfortunately, no state funds are given to take care of the horses in these situations. Luckily, the Georgia Equine Rescue League (GERL) has devoted its work to raising fund and resources to provide the horses with the care and services they need. For those animals who need the love and care they deserve, the Georgia Equine Rescue League provides the critical financial and logistical support.

GERL was started with just $100 by two women in 1993. But the organization has grown to provide necessary support to the state’s equine population and the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

In fact, GERL has provided more than $560,000 in essential outreach and care to these horse rescues. This includes medical care and proper nutrition for the more than 170,000 rescue horses found every year.

Horse lovers can do their part in a variety of ways, including through fostering and adoption. GERL relies on 100% on foster homes to take care of the horses once they are removed from abusive or neglectful environments.

Often, horses that are rescued through the Department of Agriculture are found severely malnourished or starved. Through GERL’s “Feed a Horse” program, funds raised go directly toward providing impounded horses the feed and hay they need to both survive and recuperate.

GERL also offers critical law enforcement training to support the officers who encounter horses in need of rescue. These trainings include the basics of handling horses and signs of cruelty. The classes allow officers to interact with live horses, which gives them the opportunity to practice their demeanor and interactions around equines.

Patty Livingston, President of GERL since 2010, has also developed a five-part plan to go beyond just the essentials of basic horse rescue. These five components include:

  • Reduction of reproduction and the promotion of castration
  • Prosecution and the promotion of enforcing equine abuse laws
  • Disposition and the coordination of horse homes
  • Financial services and the need for sustainable funding sources
  • Education of the public and law enforcement agencies

Livingston believes that these five areas will greatly-impact the substantial problem in the state.

“I saw the need to diversify our mission due to the overwhelming number of unwanted horses in our state,” she said. “I realized then that we were never going to fix our horse problems by rescuing.”

GERL can be found on social media at both Facebook and Twitter. For even more information on GERL, visit www.gerlltd.org or call their hotline at 770-464-0138.

Bringing Home Atlanta’s Children

The numbers for child sex trafficking are staggering. In fact, human trafficking is said to be the fastest-growing criminal activity in the country. Within the United States, it is believed that more than 100,000 children are currently being trafficked.

And, unfortunately, there’s a high-prevalence of trafficking taking place in Atlanta. With frequent conventions, large-scale sporting events, and the busiest airport in the world, the city has become a hub for the trafficking industry.

A 2014 Urban Institute study found that trafficking in Atlanta was a $290 million industry. It has been named one of the top 14 U.S. cities with the highest rate of trafficked children. Conservative estimates find that up to 100 girls in the city are abducted every night.

The statistics are heartbrGood Works Show (1)eaking and dire, but thankfully, for the children, and the city of Atlanta, there is hope.

To combat the problem and bring attention to the issue, Genise Shelton started Our Children’s Keeper. In an effort to end what has been called “modern-day slavery,” Shelton and Our Children’s Keeper seek to recover abducted children, help victims rehabilitate, and raise awareness within the community.

“People don’t know that it’s happening in their backyard,” Shelton said. “We have to raise awareness so we can end childhood trafficking here in Atlanta.”

Shelton, who is on Bravo’s reality show Married to Medicine, wanted to capitalize on her platform and exposure to help create awareness for the issue. A mother of six, she was inspired to act for the city’s vulnerable youth.

In her work, Shelton warns that today’s traffickers don’t always fit the stereotype, and that everyone should be on the lookout. While older men are often seen as the culprits, the changing landscape of the issue now includes women, and even recruitment by young peers. Recruitment and abduction can happen anywhere, including in churches, at school, and online. It is important, Shelton says, to recognized the signs of traffickers, and to be on watch for those being trafficked.

Our Children’s Keeper wants to help the public identify these signs, and help children learn the basics of personal safety. The organization provides tools and resources for individuals and communities at large to take action and be more informed.

Most recently, Our Children’s Keeper held their “Bring our Children Home” event, a day full of activities and informational sessions on child trafficking. It included a family fun day, a 5k walk/run, a backpack giveaway, self-defense classes. Law enforcement officials, medical professionals, and family members of trafficking victim also lead a panel discussion to further inform on the issue.

The revenue from the event, and future fundraising efforts will go toward securing a rehabilitation center for formerly trafficked kids, which will include physicians, therapists, a day-care, and employment services.

To learn more, donate, or volunteer with the organization, please visit www.ourchildrenskeeper.org.

Fighting stigma and promoting mental health-literacy at the Lee Thompson Young Foundation

Often, in addition to dealing with the struggles of mental illness, affected individuals must also face the added challenges of misconceptions, misinformation, and misunderstandings about their disease.

The Lee Thompson Young Foundation (LTY) hopes to eliminate those added challenges by encouraging mental health literacy and understanding through education and advocacy. Working with schools, community organizations, and workplaces, LTY provides training and resources to help educate the public.

The organization is named and in honor of Lee Thomspon Young, an actor who appeared in a variety of movie and television roles. Struggling with mental illness for many years, Young never shared his troubles with anyone outside of his family.

This, according to Young’s older sister and LTY Foundation founder Tamu Lewis, is common among those who deal with mental illness.

“I’m sure there are other people in this situation, and we need to work to destigmatize mental illness so people are ok talking about it and they can let their support networks know,” Lewis said. “We are trying to combat the shame that is associated with it.”

In hopes of removing that shame and stigma, the LTY Foundation offers advanced holistic health treatments and strives to improve the lives of all those who are impacted by mental illness. According to LTY, one in five adults in the U.S. have a mental illness, but less than half will seek treatment. Through their efforts, LTY hopes to drastically change these numbers.

Through its MIND Program (Making Informed Decisions About Mental Health), LTY works with K-12 Atlanta schools to inform and educate students about mental health. The program includes providing students with effective methods to cope with stressful situations and issues within their own lives.

Lewis said these programs for young people are critical. “They are facing toxic environments: a lot of stress, anxiety, and pressure,” she said. “They feel pressure differently that we did when we were growing up, and feel a lot more.”

LTY also offers the Needs, Emotional Intelligence, Cognitive Behavior program, or NEICB, which provides tools on emotional and resilience training. Participants work through ways to develop healthy coping strategies that promote mental wellness. The program is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and focuses on each component: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

“We know that in life there are going to be challenges and stressors, but when those come up, we want to teach coping strategies and resilience to handle those challenges in a healthy way,” Lewis said.

LTY’s programs have seen great results, and growing participation. Last year, LTY had 784 individuals take part in one of their programs. By June of this year, their programs had already seen 804 participants.

LYT is a great resource for available research on mental health, and offers the latest findings on their website at www.lytfoundation.org. Individuals can also go online to find ways to volunteer and support the organization.

Workforce and Personal Development with the Great Promise Partnership

For the student participants of the Great Promise Partnership, sometimes it’s the promise part that is the most important.

“With Great Promise Partnership, we realized that so many of these young people have had promises broken to them,” said the nonprofit’s President and CEO Mike Beatty. “When we came up with the name, that’s our promise to these young people that no matter what tough situations or where they are coming from, if they the course and stay in the program, then our promise is that we are going to help them really catapult a career that will be there the rest of their lives.”

So, the Partnership strives strive every day to keep these promises, of working with at-risk teens to help them gain real-world job skills and training, all while still earning their high school diploma.

Working with employers across the state, the program provides a qualified workforce for in-need businesses, while mentoring and supporting the student-employees.

Students involved in the program are identified by their home school district as potentially at-risk of dropping out of high school. With the Great Promise Partnership, they themselves promise to take part in the work program, earning a paycheck and learning critical professional skills.

To keep their job, and their end of the bargain, they must continue to go to school. In fact, on the days they don’t go to school, they are not allowed to work. And if they drop out, they lose their job entirely.

“They are motivated to stay in school and graduate,” Beatty said. “There is something magic about earning a paycheck that makes you feel like you are part of society and you are getting things done.”

The organization partners with 35 different companies, and more than 1800 students take part every year. Students typically work 15-20 hours a week–though some work more–all after school. Beatty says that once they graduate from high school, about one third goes on to college, on third goes on to the military, and one third stays working with the company.

A former football coach, Beatty uses a similar coaching approach to prepare these young kids for their jobs and beyond.

“You kind of have to treat this like building a pipeline for a football team,” he said. “You have to get these folks coached up with the fundamentals of being able to go to work. Once they get that confidence, and they walk out on the plant floor, or into the office, they are prepared. They go in there, and they are going to be successful.”

Beatty says the program works, and improves the students’ attendance, discipline, and provides them the opportunity to learn from mentors and tutors.

“When you provide the mentorship, the life skills, and those opportunities, the young people really thrive,” he said. “That little discipline really makes a difference, when they have people around them that really care.”

To learn more about the Great Promise Partnership, including how you can volunteer or get your company involved, visit them online at www.gppartnership.org.

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.