Building Communities Here and Abroad

Friendship Force International Executive Director Jeremi Snook says he often meets the same type of people interested in getting involved with the organization. “They are the type to say, ‘I don’t want to be a person of hate, I don’t want pre-judge, I don’t want to stereotype. I want to meet people where they are,’” he said.

The Atlanta-based nonprofit has been around since 1977.

“Its mission is to bring people from around the world together for the purpose of increasing our understanding of the world around them,” he said. “For 40 years, they have been facilitating groups to visit people from other countries, and stay in their homes and live with them for a week or two weeks at a time.”

Groups of 15-20 travel to partnering towns around the world and stay with local families to get a firsthand look at the country and its culture. “They get to know their families, and expand their mind and understanding of that local community,” he said.

The organization started when Wayne Smith, a Presbyterian minister, started working with then-Governor Jimmy Carter on ideas to bring people from all over the world together. “They worked together to brainstorm this wild idea of what if we brought people from the United States and Russia together?” Snook said. “During a time when there were a lot of divisions in the world, he thought it would be a great idea to embark on a mission of citizen diplomacy.”

For Friendship Force members, they go with one mission in mind- they want to better themselves. They want to listen and not talk, and absorb and not try to pre-judge.”“Expect to be changed,”The organization’s current model has sustained them since the 80s: 360 “clubs” around the world host people in clubs from other countries. 60 countries are represented, with 16,000 members. Every year, 5,000 people travel with Friendship Force.

Snook believes that it’s so popular because people are looking for a way to connect. “If you look at the news, everybody has an opinion about what’s going on in the world,” he said. “Those opinions can really sway you to think a certain way. We were founded on the idea of planting seeds of understanding beyond the barriers that separate people. We approach first with understanding, before you form stereotypes of opinions that could possibly lead to hate.”

“These are things that resonate to a lot of people who are looking for a way to engage with the world without being influenced by the way the world says they should do,” he added. “People are looking for a way to develop themselves as global citizens because they are rejecting what they are seeing around them.”

It takes two groups to make Friendship Force work: the host club, and the traveling club. While they aren’t traveling, clubs often take part in local activities, like get-togethers and cultural events. Friendship Force trips have gone all over the world, including Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, and South America. Each club will likely host a traveling club once or twice a year.

“Any club that you join can tell you stories of people they have hosted from all over the world,” Snook said.

“One thing that has really emerged in all the conversations I have had with folks is the similarity in their spirit, in the way that they think, and their desire to continue to develop themselves,” he added. “You can sign up for a cruise, you can go on a tour– you can do all those things. You can use another hosting organization to pay money to stay with somebody. But for Friendship Force members, they go with one mission in mind: they want to better themselves. They want to listen and not talk, and absorb and not try to pre-judge.”

“Expect to be changed,” he said.

Trenise asked how he had been changed since his time working with Friendship Force. He said he has an eye-opening experience during a trip to Japan right after the 2016 Presidential Election. Right after he got off the plane, a woman ran up to him, asking if he was an American. “What are we going to do?” she asked. “The election! What are we going to do?”

Snook went to a conference while he was there, where the speaker opened up the event by saying “In the last 48 hours, the world has fundamentally changed.”

“You think that your world is right here, and for me that was a really big moment to realize how interconnected the world really is,” Snook said. “I wasn’t going just to attend a conference—I was going as a citizen ambassador. I was representing a whole group of Americans.”

Snook explained how the host-family setup makes the program different than just traveling with a tour group. “The meal is the most important part of the whole home-hosting experience,” he said. “There’s a special moment that happens when you are sharing a meal together and you begin to talk about life.”

For those who are skeptical of the process and opening up their homes to strangers, Snook said there is a network of 16,000 members and a dedicated Friendship Force staff that will  help answer any questions or concerns.

“You have to have the will to open up your home and try something new,” he said. “Be prepared to be changed.”

Those interested in the organization can learn more online at www.thefriendshipforce.org.

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David Lee, Executive Director of the Atlanta Hawks Foundation, knows that his job is about more than just basketball.

“It’s a commitment that I have as an individual to give back to Atlanta, who has been so good to me and my family, but also what’s great is that our organization takes on that identity as well,” he said of the Foundation.

Known for their skills on the court, the Hawks also take time to give back to the community through their Foundation.Hawks

“The Atlanta Hawks Foundation exists for three areas: health, wellness, and education,” Lee said. “We focus on young people. Our core audience is 6-14, so everything that we are creating is trying to use our sport and the resources from our sport to help try and make a better outcome for these kids.”

Lee said it’s important for the team to be a strong community partner in Atlanta. With 14 years with the team, Lee considers this position to be his most important. “There’s no better way to build a business than to build a community first,” he said.

When Hawks CEO Steve Koonin took the role in 2014, he made it clear he was invested in the community aspect for the team. “There was a redoubling of that commitment,” Lee said. “We are fortunate to have an opportunity to be in this industry, and the responsibility that we have is to make ourselves the fabric of the Atlanta metro-community, and work in ways that are both important and impactful.”

“It’s both an obligation and a call-to-action,” he added. “We have a chance to build the community.

Lee said that although only one team will win the championship each year, every team has the opportunity to bring that championship-excitement to the community, no matter what. “There is a way in which the community can win a championship every year,” he said.

The Foundation is busy with its work in the three areas of health, wellness, and education. They are working to open up access to public courts, with a goal of cleaning up 25 courts in the next five years. “We want to make sure that every kid, regardless of their ability, has the opportunity to play in a safe and enjoyable environment.”

The Foundation is also investing in training for youth basketball coaches, as one in three coaches are not properly trained in the sport in which they coach. They also host frequent camps and trainings for young players, and offer scholarships for kids who can’t afford the cost. “There should be no income or economic barrier to a child’s ability to grow, learn, and enjoy the sport of basketball,” Lee said.

More information on the Foundation can be found at www.hawks.com/community.

A Safe Place to Learn for Georgia’s Newest Citizens

With more than 2,000 refugees resettling to Georgia every year, the state is one of the top six across the country for refugee resettlement. Learning to acclimate to new surroundings can be difficult for adults, and even more tricky for kids, finding themselves placed in a new environment and a new school.

And for many, this is the first time they’ve been in an educational setting in a very long time. Many young refugees, having spent years of their lives in refugee camps, have experienced extended periods of interrupted education. For them, the transition to the public school system in the United States can prove very difficult. Being placed into a grade based on their age, and not their academic ability, often leads to struggle and strife for the student.

For those students, there’s the Global Village Project. An accredited special-purpose middle school for refugee girls who are academically behind because of their refugee-status, the school helps bridge the educational gap. Working with girls ages 11-18, the school focuses on academics and social awareness, and groups students based on their learning level, not their age.

GWS

The school’s focus on girls is based on staggering numbers of those affected by the refugee crisis. 80% of all refugees are women and girls. And, of the 21 million refugees around the world, half are under 18—that’s the entire population of the state of Georgia! As girls have disproportionately less access to education than boys and men, the Global Village Project sought to provide the greatest impact where there was the greatest need.

Providing them with a safe space to learn and grow, the school currently has 42 girls attending full-time. Embracing the student’s cultural values and backgrounds, while also providing them the information needed to feel comfortable integrating into their new surroundings, the school provides individualized attention and instruction for its students.

“At Global Village, you meet the child where they are,” said Pia Ahmad, Global Village Project Board Member. “The most important thing is to meet the child where they are right now. You work with them. We are all teachers and we are all learners. People assume refugees come with a lot of deficits. In fact, though, they have tremendous strengths.”

An 8:1 student to teacher ratio is additionally bolstered by the 150 community volunteers who support the school and provide even more encouragement and assistance to the students. Students are grouped into “forms,” put with students of similar academic levels. Each form is then broken down into 3-4 subgroups, allowing smaller groups of girls to work directly with volunteers, based on their needs.

Students apply to the school through resettlement agencies, and are selected based on their need. And these students have found success– the school is producing staggering numbers of its own. 90% of students have grown 1.8 grade levels in just nine months of coursework, a critical jump for those behind multiple years. 90% of those who complete the program have successfully gone on to high school or college coursework. In fact, during the last school year, 15 of the Global Village Project students went on to college.

Global Village Project is always looking for volunteers, mentors, and financial supporters to continue their work. Those interested can find out more at www.globalvillageproject.org. To listen to the full episode of The Good Works Show, check out the podcast at www.soundcloud.com/thegoodworksshow.

STE(A)M Truck—bringing fun and learning to a school near you

For many students, learning and growth are simply about access. Their minds want to explore and create; they just have to be given the opportunity.

STE(A)M Truck brings that opportunity right to their fingertips with mobile-learning labs designed to ignite passion for science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Serving in Title 1 schools of Atlanta, the trucks bring the tools and teaching to students who might not otherwise have the chance to take advantage of similar programs during the normal school day. The trucks can also frequently be found at community events, public spaces, and local libraries.

Started in 2014, STE(A)M Truck started with just one roving workshop, and made sure to incorporate art into the common STEM programming to allow kids to use creativity and innovation. Now with five trucks, and hopes to build the fleet to nine by the end of next year, STE(A)M Truck is booked solid and in high-demand.

“We bring tools, talent, and technologies to communities that may not otherwise have access,” Jason Martin, Executive Director of the nonprofit said. “Our mission is to close opportunity gaps that are too often predicted by zip codes. We want to give youth an opportunity to tackle real problems, not textbook problems, get their hands dirty, and build something together.”

While each truck has a slightly different setup, they are all equipped with tools (both hand and high-tech) for students to learn. Each comes with the technologies and community experts to lead students on experiments and hands-on learning. And they have seen results—of the students who participate, more than 73% say they have an increased-interest and confidence in pursuing a STEM career.

STE(A)M Truck targets students between the 3rd and 8th grade to pique interest at an early age. “We want to spark their interest while they are still young enough, before they get into high school,” Martin said. “We want to give them a sense of what’s possible.”

One, three, five and 20-day “builds” are offered to the students, in which participating groups will take part in putting together their own STEM-related materials, including a stomp-rocket made out of soda bottles and PVC pipe, and a solar-powered Bluetooth speaker.

To figure out what types of builds and projects to do, STE(A)M Truck works with the participating teachers. Working with the teachers is critical, as their partnership and continued enthusiasm helps continue the work even after the STE(A)M Truck leaves. The organization works to build capacity of schools and teachers to do the work on their own.

STE(A)M Truck is always looking for volunteers and supporters. Those interested can go to their website at www.steamtruck.org to learn more on how to give time, talent, and treasure. They are also looking for their hottest commodity: trucks. Building their fleet will enable more schools and students served, and vehicle donations are always welcome.

Brightening up Hamilton Mill

If you have visited the Hamilton Mill store within the last three years, you may have seen Chandell Wiley arranging the merchandise, sorting through donations in production, or sharing a laugh with customers on the store floor. Wiley, who is originally from Florida, moved to Georgia three and a half years ago. With three children to support, finding a job held the highest priority during her transition.

“Goodwill was the first job I applied to once I moved here and I’ve been here ever since,” she says. Wiley’s hard work and motivation don’t go unnoticed. As a previous winner of the store’s employee of the month award and a top prospect for team lead, she hopes to continue growing and moving up within the organization. “I am in the process of becoming a team lead now, but want to continue to progress in the company and maybe one day hold an assistant manager position,” she says.

Wiley’s outgoing personality mixed with the determination to achieve her goals contributes to her success in any position within the store. “I pretty much work in every position,” she says. “I’ll step in where ever I’m needed.” Adapt­ability and great service make Wiley one of store customers’ favorite employees. “I really enjoy having conversations with the customers. I get to meet people from all over. Some of our regular shoppers come in and look forward to seeing me. That’s one of my favorite things about working here,” Wiley explains.

In addition to working full-time at the Hamilton Mill store, Wiley is also a full-time mother. Wiley says, “I enjoy being a parent and teaching them.” Whether she’s cooking dinner for her children every night, spending time with them at Chuck E. Cheese’s or taking them to the movies, Wiley’s children are her biggest source of motivation. “Making a way for my kids to be better than I am and leading them by example is what motivates me,” she says.Soccer in the Streets (19)

For the more distant future, Wiley looks to pursue a career as a dental assistant. “I have always wanted to work in the medical field,” she says. While working at Goodwill, Wiley has been able to go to school, allowing her to get one step closer to achieving her dream.

As a stepping stone to her successes, Wiley’s career at Goodwill has been a learning experience. “Communication is always the key,” she says. “Seeing all kinds of different people and never knowing what kind of day they’re having, but still having a conversation with them is something I’ve learned through Goodwill,” Wiley adds.

While her personal and career successes are continuing to grow, her outgoing disposition will continue to shine a light to those around her.

True Colors Theatre Steals the Show in the Atlanta Art Scene

For an emerging playwright, there’s nothing better than getting the stamp of approval from a celebrated and accomplished Broadway director. At Atlanta’s True Colors Theatre, this is exactly the case for many of the top new theatre talent.

When Tony Award-winning Director Kenny Leon started True Colors in 2002, he set out to create a space to promote playwrights, preserve African-American classics, and cultivate new, young writers. The theatre focuses on creating opportunities for artists of color, and tells stories of diversity, inclusion, and cultural understanding.

With his backing and the freedom to take risks, the theatre often gets to showcase works that other playhouses might not consider. Opening the door to those who often get it slammed in their face, True Colors takes chances on projects they believe in and want to promote.

The upcoming season features a wide variety of plays and musicals for the community to experience. First up in the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winning play Between Riverside & Crazy. They’ll also produce Holler if Ya Hear Me, the musical featuring the music of Tupac Shakur, working with students at local HBCUs to write new poetry and rap for the show’s finale.

Leon and his staff put the season together after careful deliberation of readings and workshops, even taking input from test audiences. If a showcase reading receives rave reviews, it has a chance of being placed in the lineup.

“From there, Kenny starts to craft the story he wants to tell for the whole year,” said Jennifer McEwen , Managing Director of the theatre. “It’s not just play, by play, by play. It’s what kind of message am I trying to tell this community right now. We are always looking for something that has some hope bubbling through. We are always looking for something that makes you think, that starts conversation, and is entertaining.”

Beyond their performances, True Colors hosts education programs for young adults, elementary-age through high school. First, with the Page to the Stage program, True Colors take elementary-aged students, and turn a book into a stage play. The kids then learn the basics of production and putting on a play.

For middle school girls, there’s Act Like a Lady, working with young women who might need a little extra support. The 7th and 8th grade ladies talk about issues currently affecting their lives, and put these emotions and thoughts into a play, letting their artistic expressions aid in social-emotional learning. The August Wilson Monologue Competition is open to all Georgia high school students, and encourages participants to perform a 1-3 minute monologue from August Wilson. The top three performers receive a scholarship and a chance to compete in New York City against winners from across the country.

Individuals can buy tickets to upcoming performances and learn more about educational opportunities at the True Colors website at www.truecolorstheatre.org.

To listen to the full episode, click here.

The Winning Goal for Atlanta’s Youth

At Soccer in the Streets, it’s about more than just the game. The fundamentals of the sport are important, but so are the building blocks of the player. Pairing the two to teach the essentials of soccer while also fostering the personal development of the individual, the nonprofit works with undeserved youth to foster a love of the game, all while teaching important life skills.

Started more than 25 years ago, Soccer in the Streets saw a need to bring kids off the streets and provide them with something constructive to do. Capitalizing on the U.S. World Cup, the organization started promoting soccer to communities that typically didn’t know much about the sport.

Soccer in the Streets works with youth of all ages, starting their programming for students in elementary school, in hopes of getting kids excited about soccer at a young age. Their Positive Choice Soccer program works with these players, helping them learn how to play, but also encouraging their character and good behavior. In this program, ten life skills are matched with ten soccer skills, and are used to reinforce how to make good choices. The program encourages them to resolve problems in a peaceful and positive way, which can be easily demonstrated with soccer—working in teams, playing hard but fair, and respecting the players and the referees.

Soccer in the Streets

“We train them in soccer, but also try to be a positive influence in their lives,” Soccer in the Streets Executive Director Phil Hill said.

As they get older, players can take part in the Life Works curriculum of the organization, competing in the sport while also learning about opportunities for employment and economic independence. Soccer in the Streets also offers one-day clinics and tournaments for participants to further practice their skills that they have learned for both on and off the field.

While working with Atlanta’s youth, Soccer in the Streets is also making history, facilitating the world’s first soccer field in a transit station. After convincing the city of the idea, and getting the Atlanta United MLS team on board, they funded the field with local partners, and have helped solve the biggest issues for the kids they serve—a lack of transportation or a way to get to their practices and games. Currently in its pilot phase, there are plans to replicate the field in nine more MARTA stations.

With the increased popularity of the sport, Soccer in the Streets has experienced communities receptive to their mission. To continue their work, and make the most of the growing interest, they host four fundraising soccer events every year, bucking the trend of the traditional stuffy, black tie sit-down events. Players and teams can sign up to play, and raise money to compete. Throughout the year, teams play in these events, which include country-affiliated and corporate-based teams. These tournaments are competitive, and raise the necessary funds for the Soccer in the Streets programming.

The fun, everybody-can-play event takes place in October. The Black Tie Soccer Game brings together players dressed in black tie and ball gowns! To learn more about how to participate in one of these events, or to volunteer with Soccer in the Streets, visit www.soccerstreets.org.

Listen to the full episode, here.

Three Thrifty Tips for Spring Fashion

The change in seasons can often leave us wondering what to wear. Luckily, if there’s a Goodwill – there’s a way.

  1. Layer up. Many spring mornings are chilly, but the afternoons can really heat up. Adding layers to your outfit not only adds a great accessory, but also functionality in this season of inconsistent temperatures. See what variety of cardigans, vests and jackets are waiting for you at your local Goodwill.
  2. Bright colors and prints. Feeling like you don’t have enough spring colors or prints in your closet? No worries. Goodwill has ample colors and a variety of prints to choose from. Mix and match some of your favorite colors with some of your favorite prints for multiple spring looks.Spring-17_Social_SHOP
  3. Statement pieces. A pair of flower patterned heels or bold colored jewelry can add the perfect pop to your outfit. Statement pieces are meant to add a little fun to your outfit, so why not have fun thrifting for them at your local Goodwill?

Three Thrifty Tips jewelry

The Heart of Life

For a family with a child in need of a heart transplant, getting the call that a donor heart is available can bring a huge sigh of relief. That relief can be short-lived, though, as the longevity of donor organs can be uncertain.

The average lifespan of a donated heart, in fact, is just twelve years. If a child needs a heart transplant at a young age, this means they could possibly require another transplant before they even enter their twenties. This, combined with all the processes and procedures necessary to make sure the donated organ is performing properly, can lead to a long road for the recipient.

For these children and their families, there is hope, by way of Enduring Hearts. “Enduring Hearts recognizes that twelve years is not a lot of time for a child who receives a heart transplant at a very young age,” said Ankur Chatterjee, President and Executive Director of the nonprofit. “We fund research to improve the longevity of those organs and try to make the quality of life for these children substantially better.”

Patrick Gahan and his wife founded Enduring Hearts in 2012. Their young daughter Mya had weakened heart muscles, and was in need of a transplant. While going through the process, they found out that transplants are not permanent fixes, and that Mya would need frequent care and eventually another transplant. They started the nonprofit to address the need and help families in their same situation.

The organization has raised $2.5 million for new research and advanced science. They focus on issues affecting transplant patients, and how to improve their quality of life, placing special attention on conditions facing young children.

Working with the American Heart Association and the International Society of Heart & Lung Transplantation, Enduring Hearts funds clinical research and new technology to increase transplant durability. Priority is given to research conducted on the long-term results of transplant patients, and each organization provides a funding match for selected projects. With multiple projects in the works right now, current research includes stem cell-based therapies, coronary disease in heart transplant patients, and short-term therapies to diminish instances of heart transplant rejection.

For families with children receiving heart transplants, this work is critical, and provides essential comfort. “These families are looking at it as a lifeline for their kids,” Chatterjee said. “This is stuff that can directly impact the lifespan of your own child. It’s great to be able to offer these families that kind of hope.”

Enduring Hearts accepts donations from funders throughout the year, and hosts an annual Bourbon Gala & Auction, coming up on March 30. Auctioning off 16 bottles of hard-to-find Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon, all proceeds go toward funding research.
Grant requests and funding applications for the summer program schedule are due by June 10, with a decision and award granted by November 1. Those interested in learning more about the organization or how to apply for funding can visit Enduring Heart’s website at www.enduringhearts.org.

New Hope and Progress in East Lake

The East Lake neighborhood that people know today is not one and the same of 25 years ago. Formerly overrun with blight and crime, the community has seen a resurgence and revitalization, offering a safe place for families to live and grow.

Much of this transformation is thanks to The East Lake Foundation, a community nonprofit whose mission is to redevelop the area through mixed-income housing, cradle-to-college education, and community wellness. Started in 1995, the Foundation provides opportunities for residents to get the resources and support services they need.

The Villages of East Lake, the Foundation’s mixed-income housing, provides a safe and stable living environment for the neighborhood’s residents. Residents receive the support they need without the stigma, and subsidized housing is situated right alongside tenant-rent housing.

Their education pillar stands strong with the Drew Charter School, the city’s first public-charter school, started in 2000. Once a public elementary ranking at the bottom of the 69 elementary schools in Atlanta, it’s now a K-12 site that seeks to have 100% of its seniors graduate every year.  Offering additional educational opportunities for children as young as six-weeks old, The East Lake Foundation partners with East Lake Sheltering Arms and the Early Learning Academy at the East Lake YMCA, giving students a chance to learn and be ready before they even enter Kindergarten at Drew Charter School.

“We’ve really disrupted the cradle to prison pipeline and replaced it with a cradle to college pipeline,” East Lake Foundation President Daniel Shoy said.

In the old school, less than ten percent of students in the 5th grade were able to meet or exceed state standards. Today, nearly 100% meet or exceed these assessments. The students at Drew have also been measured against their peers at other public schools, and rank above the 50th percentile in nationally recognized standards. Students living in the Villages of East Lake receive first priority for preference. Additional spaces are given to those in the greater East Lake and Kirkwood areas.

The Foundation’s goal is for 100 percent of its 82 graduating seniors to be accepted to at least one college. “We want to eliminate the barrier of access,” Shoy said. “In the old East Lake, you were more likely to be the victim of violent crime or the victim of a felony, than you were to graduate high school.”

In addition to the Foundation’s housing and education work, small businesses are also supported through the Start ME (micro entrepreneurship) initiative.  The Foundation offers an accelerator program and connects small businesses with mentors, business plan coaching, and even help them increase their credit score.

The Foundation has seen great success from its holistic community work. When still in its time of turmoil, the East Lake community’s crime rate was 18 times the national average, but there has been a 90% decrease in violent crimes, and the crime rate for the neighborhood is 23 percent below the city’s average.

More information on the East Lake Foundation can be found online at www.eastlakefoundation.org.

Do you want to hear the full episode of The Good Works Show? Click here.