Protecting Georgians’ Rights

With 1.7 million members nationwide, and affiliates in every state, the ACLU has been a pillar of Constitutional preservation for nearly 100 years.

Working to ensure that all people are awarded the civil liberties spelled out in the Constitution, the group seeks equal treatment under the law, freedom of speech and religion, and the right to privacy.

Locally, the ACLU of Georgia is monitoring and lobbying 132 pieces of legislation, and keep a strong focus on issues pertaining to free speech and protest rights, the school-to-prison pipeline, and statewide voting rights.

Through litigation, community engagement, and lobbying, the group pursues these goals to protect the people of Georgia and beyond.

Although started in 1920, the group still faces some misconceptions about its work, namely that it is a partisan or political-affiliated organization.

“We only ask our staff and members for a commitment to defend the Constitution,” said Chris Bruce, Chief Lobbyist and Policy Council for the ACLU of Georgia. “I am here to let you know that we are completely 100% non-partisan.”

Originally founded to combat civil liberty violations after WWI, the ACLU has continued its work, defending a broad spectrum of Constitutional rights, including racial injustice, as in the 1967 Loving case.

“The ACLU’s commitment to civil liberties and the Constitution has remained consistent over the years, but as we know, the surrounding political environment and technological advancements have raised the importance of certain civil liberties,” Bruce said.

This changing environment and technological advancements are ever-apparent in a post-9/11 world, where the right to privacy is increasingly salient. Current work of the ACLU includes computer hacking legislation and ensuring safe security systems.

“In 1920, nobody thought about computers,” Bruce said. “But it is something that we have taken on because you have a right to privacy, no matter what age or era.”

The state-affiliate is also focused on the 90,000 people incarcerated in Georgia, with 2/3’s of them not convicted of any crime, but held because they can’t afford to pay bail. And, in the current political environment, the ACLU of Georgia is educating individuals on their rights to legal and peaceful protests. Informing people of their limitations and reasons a protest could get preemptively shut down ensure successful demonstrations of free speech.

“We do not go in alone,” he said. “We work with a lot of other organizations and community partners to make sure that legislation and the people are heard.”

Along with the cash bail bill and work on voting rules, the ACLU of Georgia is also focused on LGBTQ rights, and a Mobile Justice app, with which citizens can record and submit incidents of over-policing, racial profiling, or examples of excessive force.

For more information on their current initiatives, visit www.acluga.org.

Celebrating and cultivating established and emerging artists

For three decades, the National Black Arts Festival has advanced the arts and contributions for artists of African descent. With a long legacy of a lively and entertaining festival that features multiple art disciplines, the organization has showcased new and well-known talent for 30 years.

Every year, the Festival brings to life artistic endeavors in music, dance, film, visual arts, theatre, and literary works. Held in Atlanta, but celebrated throughout the art community, the festival is known as the oldest multidisciplinary arts organization in the United States.

Bringing opportunities for artists to showcase and perform in front of a large audience, the Festival has helped many-a-new artist gain popularity. The Festival has grown bigger and bigger each year, bringing in notable artists across the genres. Maya Angelou has been featured during literary events, The Temptations during music, and even Sydney Poitier during film.

“We have a long, deep history of showcasing major performing talent, literary talent, and launching the careers of many visual artists of African descent,” said Vikki Morrow, CEO of the National Black Arts Festival (NBAF).May(2) (9)

“In this 30th Anniversary year we want to pivot, and to figure out how we use this wonderful brand and wonderful legacy to uplift the next generation of artists,” she added.

The events this year will allow emerging artists to receive recognition, and hopefully more work. NBAF collaborates with local organizations to further promote artists, holding a jazz event the second week of September with the High Museum and a Celebration of NBAF event. With the Atlanta Beltline, they will hold a “Second Line of the Beltline” performance the last Saturday in September. At the Chastain, their “30 Years of NBAF” will run from mid-September through mid-October.

The NBAF has also increased and enhanced their educational partnerships. “For the first time, NBAF is doing direct-service in Atlanta Public Schools,” Morrow said. “We are going into underserved areas (Title I schools) and creating arts programs to inspire the next generation of artists.”

This new partnership will create opportunities for kids to express themselves artistically. The MOVE Dance component works with three area middle schools to teach kids dance across disciplines: tap, modern, jazz, ballet, and hip-hop. In addition to learning the trade, they also get the added bonus of health and fitness. In two high school, the NBAF if working on a donor-funded program focusing on visual arts, film & media, and fashion design.

“The kids love it, and when it culminates into a final performance, and they see everything put together, they are over the moon and very proud and feel a real sense of accomplishment,” Morrow said.

One of their biggest collaborations throughout the year takes place for the Fine Art and Fashion Event, in partnership with Neiman Marcus. Held every March, a top-buyer from the store comes in and produces a show. The event also features a chance for local design students to design clothes, have them modeled, and then be scored by an impartial jury. Winners receive a monetary award and great exposure, including a week-long feature in a Neiman Marcus store window.

Up next, the NBAF is holding their annual gala. On July 14th at Flourish, co-chairs Roz Brewer (COO of Starbucks) and her husband John will be joined by Legendary Supporter award-winner Ingrid Saunders Jones, and featured-artists Radcliffe Bailey.

“It is going to be a night of dancing, music, and pheromonal people who come from all walks of life: business, entertainment, the arts industry,” Morrow said. “It is one not to be missed.”

From Homeless to Hopeful

For the last 80 years, The Atlanta Mission has served those who need it most, seeking to transform the lives of the homeless.

Every day serving more than 1,000 homeless men, women, and children, the Mission provides critical wraparound services to the homeless population of Atlanta.

“We’ve spent a lot of time over the last five to six years doing best practice work and looking at what the real fundamental issues of the people we get the privilege to serve each day,” said Jim Reese, CEO of the Mission.

“A big challenge for the homeless and the many people we see on the street is that they’ve reached a place of hopelessness,” Reese added. “When you reach a place of hopeless, you are kind of frozen.”

Reese said that the Mission tries to get the people they serve from a place of hopelessness to help. This can be difficult for many reasons, including a lack of relationships and a support system for those who are homeless.

Started in 1938 as the Atlanta Union Mission, the nonprofit originally operated on a $10,000 budget with 20 beds, serving only men. In 2010, they officially changed their name to the Atlanta Mission, and now serve 1,000 people a day across four campuses.

“The goal of the Mission is to get you stabilized and get you the emergency needs you need,” Reese said.

In the short-term, this looks like shelter, and a variety of day services like laundry and showers. From there, the Mission tries to build relationships with their clients, to encourage them to “choose help” over hopelessness.

“We are not prescribing for you what you need, but helping you discover what your needs are,” Reese said.

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Clients work with ambassadors through this process, and are able to take part in programming through the Mission, like art therapy and conflict management classes.

From there, the goal is to move clients into the “make progress” phases. Focusing on their physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and vocational well-being, the Mission helps them build individual plans and goals. Clients work directly with a social worker, counselor, and an advocate to receive wraparound services.

The Mission hopes for three outcomes through this work: that the individuals become rooted in their community, that they can retain employment, and that they are able to secure housing. The Mission also helps their clients by offering work or service assignments, getting them comfortable with working on a team. In these controlled environments, their counselors can monitor their work and progress.

The nonprofit relies on the support of individuals and corporate partners to continue their work. To learn more about donating, or how to volunteer, visit www.atlantamission.org.

“There is nothing that will impact your life like serving the people that God gives us the privilege to help,” Reese said.

Employer Feature: Scanfil

As in the days of film photography’s prominence, development is a critical part of the process in readying job seekers for competitive employment. Much like film is developed in darkrooms, Goodwill’s program participants develop their skills in a controlled environment before they are work-ready.  March (27)

Local employers are an essential factor in this process. Supporting job seeker development in a variety of ways, including temp-to-hire positions for Goodwill skills program graduates looking for their first job in a new field, employers provide Goodwill with competitive work environments for hands-on training. They also offer insight into what their hiring needs are and how Goodwill can help prepare job seekers to meet those needs.  

Scanfil is an international contract manufacturer and system supplier, as well as an employer partner that helps make Goodwill’s mission possible. In a rapidly changing technology industry, Scanfil needs their employees to be adaptable and dependable. Goodwill’s Electronics Assembly and Soldering program has helped create a pipeline of job-ready candidates for Scanfil, where the nonprofit’s program graduates have both the technical skills and the soft skills – such as keeping up in a fast-paced environment and communicating clearly with colleagues – they need to be successful on the job. “Some of the newer manufacturing lines that we have added to the business require a higher level of skill that we weren’t finding through our normal avenues of recruiting,” says Orlando Martinez, managing director for Scanfil. “Goodwill has been a great fit to meet that need. Not just the technical skills, but the soft skills that they are learning before they come into the workplace are a huge plus.”   

Many Goodwill program graduates have had the opportunity to earn a permanent spot on the Scanfil team following successful introductory periods on the various assembly and soldering stations. “We have had a great success rate with the candidates that were brought in and have hired several as permanent employees,” says Martinez. A growing company in an in-demand industry, Scanfil adds value to Goodwill by offering its program graduates positions with high starting wages and career advancement opportunities. The collaboration is a picture-perfect example of how talent development can make a lasting impact.  

From Rock Bottom, a New Beginning

“I am a recovering alcoholic and addict,” says Richard “Rick” Lang. No stranger to the trials of addiction, Lang is a U.S. Army veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who doesn’t shy away from his past. He meets it head-on, and occasionally uses it to show others what is possible with determination and direction. His road has been one of peaks and valleys, ranging from great success in the corporate world to the low of getting arrested on alcohol-related charges. “I was almost relieved to get arrested because I couldn’t break the cycle on my own,” Lang says. Committed to turning a new leaf following his release from jail and rehabilitation, he set out to find a new job with a fresh perspective on life. RickLang

Lang soon learned first-hand the challenges of job hunting with a criminal record. Despite an impressive career in the Army and later in janitorial management, he struggled to find an employer willing to give him a second chance. Frustrated with his job search he turned to the Veterans Administration (VA) for help. The VA referred him to Goodwill of North Georgia’s Workforce Development program, opening his eyes to a resource he never knew was available. “I didn’t have a clue what Goodwill’s mission was,” he admits. “[While in the program] I got a great appreciation for what Goodwill does.” A standout participant in his program cohort, Lang was identified by April Smith, Goodwill’s regional manager for community engagement, as a top prospect for her new volunteer program.

As a Goodwill volunteer Lang has helped with every part of job search assistance – from résumé building to mock interviews, and even follow-up phone calls to confirm whether job seekers found work. Gaining tips for his own search for employment along the way, Lang was able to connect with those having a really hard time finding work. He uncovered a passion for understanding and helping other people. “I have seen some people the whole way through their job search to finding work,” Lang says. Energized and inspired by his volunteer experience he re-enrolled in college after a 40-year break in his formal education.

Today Lang is a psychology student at Georgia State University on track to graduate in the spring of 2018. He is also a part-time caterer for Proof in the Pudding, and still regularly volunteers his time at Goodwill career centers. Lang hopes to continue to give back to veterans, addicts and at-risk youth after he finishes school. “When I came to Goodwill I was broken,” he says. “But I’ve been blessed because I did the things I needed to and I’ve had some good things come my way.”RickLang2

Lang’s road hasn’t always been an easy one. Throughout his journey he has learned valuable lessons and is grateful for a second chance to reach his fullest potential. An advocate for Goodwill and for others seeking a second chance, he draws on his own lessons to empower and uplift others.

 

A safe place for the whole family at The Drake House

Women and children make up more than 40% of Atlanta’s homeless population, contributing to the more than 10,000 individuals experiencing homelessness on any given night.

Finding a safe place for these families to stay can be a challenge, and even more so if the family includes a son age 12 or older. In Atlanta, these boys are typically required to stay in an all men’s facility.

From a need to help keep families intact, and to offer them a stable living environment where they can get back on their feet, The Drake House was born. Founded in 2004, The Drake House is a 16-unit housing program for single mothers who come from North Fulton communities.

The home is located on a MARTA line, allowing kids easy access to their current schools, and provides adequate space for the whole family to stay.

Programming at the house includes mentorship, tutoring, and support for the kids and the mothers. Mothers must be employable or already employed to be eligible. They must live in the community, and the kids must be enrolled in school in the North Fulton area.

Housing must also be the number one priority for the mothers. Once admitted into the house, they work with social workers to outline a personal empowerment plan, and then are held accountable to their goals. Every Monday, mothers are required to attend a life-skills class, which covers a variety of topics like prioritizing needs over wants, household budgeting, making better decisions, and boundary setting.

“We give them the tools and education to help them better manage not only their money, but their lives,” said Kathy Swahn, Executive Director of The Drake House.

Mothers are also required to meet every week with their social worker and a career coach. The Drake House partners with local businesses to provide employment opportunities, and the women must save the money they would otherwise be paying in rent and food costs (all provided at the house).

“That’s a critical goal so they have a nest egg when they graduate from our program to hopefully have enough for a deposit for next-step housing,” Swahn said.

The nonprofit recently acquired another property of 16 units for mothers who have gone through the full program to transition after living in the Drake House. Here, they can pay under-market rent, and must set up utilities in their own name and establish some good credit. This gives families the opportunity for up to 24-months of under-market rent housing and additional services.

Swahn said these services provided are crucial for helping moms and families get back on their feet. “When the moms finally get into the Drake House and unpack their bags, they can take a breath,” she said. “They can sit down with the trained staff, and chip away at layers and layers of trauma.”

“We sit down and say, ‘let’s rediscover your strengths and build your confidence,’” she added. The job readiness programs at the house include resume development, mock interviews, outfitting for work, and babysitters onsite to watch the kids while the mothers are in training. With an average stay of 142, moms who go through the programming see a 45-60% increase in monthly wages.

To learn more about the organization, including details on their upcoming Miss Mary’s Ice Cream fundraiser on August 26th, visit www.thedrakehouse.org.

The sky is the limit with Skye Precious Kids

April (17)When Skye Jones witnessed firsthand the struggles of her coworker in taking care of her ten-year-old son, she felt hopeless.

At ten years old, the boy’s illness prevented him from walking, required a special person to bathe him, and caused some additional hardship for the family.

“I wanted to help her and her son,” Jones said.

To do so, Jones created Skye Previous Kids, an organization that caters to families with kids who suffer from chronic illness. Through educational, health, and well-being services, the group works with children ages 16 and under.

The organization helps families in a variety of ways, including payment assistance for treatment, medical supplies, educational trainings, after-school care, transportation, food, and housing aid.

“If your family has a financial hardship and you need help, and your child has a chronic illness, we are here to listen to you,” Jones said.

The nonprofit partners with the Ronald McDonald House to help provide housing assistance, and helps by paying for first month’s rent for new living situations.

Housing issues can also include making current living situations better. Recently, SPK helped a family with a child with a muscular disorder. Their house was filled with mold, and unsafe for the child. The group inspected the house, hired a contractor, and got the necessary services done for the family to make the house a healthier environment.

To help achieve their goals and offer services to as many families as possible, Skye Precious Kids looks for support in a variety of ways, including volunteers, supplies, and funding.

“The community really plays a part in helping us supply for the needs of these families,” Jones said.

This community includes teachers who donate their time as tutors for kids with additional education needs. “These kids are very smart and independent, but they need help,” Jones said. “Anything that affects the family, we are willing to help. Everybody is affected. The child has the chronic illness, but the people in the immediate family feel it too.”

Individuals can get involved by volunteering for events, or joining the SPK Ambassadors Team. They are also calling for engagement through their SPK Challenge, which asks people to take a picture recreating the organization’s logo, reaching for the sky.

Coming up next month, SPK is hosting an event at Monday Night Brewing on May 10, to help raise money for families in need. Those interested in volunteering or supporting the organization can find out more at www.skyepreciouskids.org.

“I got in this business so I could spread more love around,” Jones said. “It’s just little things that could help a family. We are here to relieve some of that stress, to turn your frown into a smile, and to make it all better.”

Listen to their full episode by clicking here.

A Savory Solution

Nothing ignites passion in Orlena Stocks quite like food. For her, food is almost a universal language, whether she is discussing it, preparing it or enjoying it. “I love to cook because I learned it through my mom from the age of six,” she says. “When you cook, you have to cook with love, because your food tastes like how you feel.” Through cooking she is able to share her talents with others. It seems only fitting that, in some ways, food is what brought Stocks to Goodwill of North Georgia.

Referred to Goodwill’s Smyrna career center through the Department of Family and Child Services Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps), Stocks was looking to fulfill the program’s work requirement. While in an information session at the career center she found that she could do more than that. Through Goodwill’s Hospitality program, Stocks realized she might finally be able to pursue her dream career of becoming a chef. “They didn’t look at it just as a job – they said a career,” she says of Goodwill’s staff. “[Goodwill’s program] would also assist me with job readiness skills and job placement after I completed the training.”April (2)

Before coming to Goodwill Stocks faced many setbacks in her life, including an abusive relationship and a run-in with the law. For a while she settled on working temporary positions at warehouses. Her heart wasn’t in those jobs, though, and health challenges started impacting her ability to accept those positions. The work wasn’t consistent either, which made it difficult to stay on top of paying the bills.

When Stocks enrolled in Goodwill’s Hospitality program she was ready for a major change. For six weeks she received hands-on training at a local hotel, learning to balance speed and quality in her work. She also worked with Goodwill’s staff on soft skills, such as how to interview for jobs and perfect her résumé. She excelled in the program.

After graduating from the program Stocks got a chef and prep cook position at SunTrust Park. “I work for the Braves stadium,” she smiles. “It’s a huge building and we feed thousands and thousands of people.” Finally, in a position to earn a living doing something she loves, Stocks speaks highly of Goodwill’s training program and its role in helping her realize her goal. She is gaining valuable experience every day and already has a vision for her future. Her next move: opening a restaurant of her own.

Forging a New Future

Australian Actress and Director Rachel Griffiths is quoted saying, “There’s nothing as exciting as a comeback – seeing someone with dreams, watching them fail, and then getting a second chance.” On Tyeisha Marshall’s eighth year of a 20-year sentence at Arrendale State Prison, she was ready for a comeback. But in order to take full advantage of her second chance she knew she would need a job, which would be difficult to land with a criminal background.

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Marshall was referred to Goodwill of North Georgia’s Welding program, a work-based learning program hosted in collaboration with North Georgia Technical College and sponsored by Georgia Mountains Regional Commission Workforce Development. The program is designed to equip participants like Marshall with industry-recognized welding skills along with soft skills, such as workplace etiquette.

“Everything about the program was surprising,” she says. “I learned that I like welding, which is something I never thought I would do. I wasn’t the type of girl who worked with power tools or did manual labor.” This changed as Marshall learned the ins and outs of welding, added new skills to her résumé and learned how to interview with an employer. Welding was more than a new skill; it was Marshall’s ticket to a comeback.

Upon graduation of the program Marshall was hired as a welder for Fanello Industries, Inc. Her co-workers helped show her the ropes, and she wields a welding gun with confidence. One thing she loves about her job is the family-like atmosphere – she says someone is always there to help her if she needs it and her colleagues are very friendly and supportive.

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Marshall is already planning her next career move, hoping to advance her welding techniques with additional courses at North Georgia Technical College. “I never thought I would do something like this because I’m kind of girly,” she laughs. “But I really like it here. This company rewards hard work and I’ve already earned a raise. I want to see how far I can go.” Crediting a combination of soft skills and technical skills for her new career path, Marshall is eager to take full advantage of her second chance. The embodiment of a comeback, she is embracing a new life and a promising career head-on.

Blue Girls Turned Gold

For Myesha Collins, Blue Girls Turned Gold has been a passion project that she’s been dreaming up for a long time.

“It’s always been an idea because of where I came from, as far as not having resources as a woman and a young teen mom,” she said. “It’s always been a s51Te175vwNL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_eed, but I never knew how to get it to fruition.”

Now a reality, Collins works with women to help them find these resources and support they need as they navigate through life.

“I’m offering them the opportunity to be braver and see how much power you have within yourself.”

Collins said the seed was planted for her after she became a mom at 15. “Having that responsibility at that age and not having the education and experience was difficult,” she said. “Having this extra responsibility made me know that I had to go harder because it wasn’t all about me anymore.”

Collins joined the military, but was sexually assaulted within the first six months. She said this left her feeling emotionally stuck, and like she was responsible for the bad things that happened.

“I had to learn a lot of lessons, the hard way,” she said. “I want to shorten those lessons for a lot of people.”

The nonprofit works with local women to help them turn from “blue” to “gold.” This is the process, Collins said, of going from not knowing to knowing how great you are. The group helps women empower themselves and gives them resources to make it through life’s struggles and challenges.

“Experiences shape who you are but they do not dictate who you become,” Collins said.

To aid in this work, Collins also recently put together an ebook, called Blue Girl Turns Gold. Along with eight other women and one man, the book shares stories of hardships and resilience, and finding the strength within one’s self to overcome.

“It was therapeutic for me, but I also knew so many women who had the stories,” she said. “It is empowering to see them empowered, and to me, that’s what it is all about.”

“I was looking outside for answers, for support, for encouragement, when all that was within me along with a higher power,” Collins said. “Experiences will occur, how you move forward is all that matters.”

Her organization is also partnering with the Genius is Common movement, to let everyone know they have genius within them. “Everybody starts out with a genius in them, you just have to figure out what the genius is,” Collins said. “It’s getting back to that seed that is already in us and really nurturing that.”

Up next, Collins and Blue Girls Turned Gold will host a Genius is Common Empowerment workshop on Saturday, March 31. Attendees will be lead in conversations on the genius that is inside of them. The group will go through a series of activities and discussions, and light refreshments will be provided. The session is for all ages, but geared toward boys and girls ages nine and up.

For more information on the organization and their upcoming events, find them online at www.bluegirlsturnedgold.org, or Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.