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.

Gigi’s House: providing love without strings or sacrifice

Home to the world’s busiest airport, countless convention, and a burgeoning entertainment industry, Atlanta, unfortunately, provides the perfect-storm of opportunity for sex trafficking.

Called, she says, to do her part, Gigi’s House founder Sabrina Crawford has created a safe haven for formerly trafficked girls in the metro area. Providing a space for these girls to escape their situations and get their life back on track, Gigi’s House plays a key role in combatting the trafficking epidemic.

“I knew there was something inside of me that was just on fire to help these girls, and just mentoring them wasn’t enough,” she added. “Once you know that these girls are out on the street, you have to do something. You can’t just sit back and do nothing.”

A former CASA (court appointed special advocate) guardian, Crawford said she saw the problem firsthand, and noticed that the foster system was not always the best place for a girl just out of trafficking.

“I think seeing what the kids going through in the foster system helped me with this home,” she said. “It’s so much for than just being someone’s mom when you have the level of trauma that these girls had. There is no way they can get where they need to be as a young adult without going through the trauma-informed therapy. They have to work through their past issues.”

This trauma, Crawford said, typically includes sexual abuse from within the family of the girl. 95%, she said, have been abused before being trafficked.

“You can’t just put them in a home and expect that they are going to change,” she said. “They don’t know how. They have to be prepared to be independent.”

Now with a ten-room house, Crawford’s organization offers life-skills and a safe space for trafficked girls ages 13-19. The house in single-sex, and girls are homeschooled while they live there. This is important, Crawford says, as this added attention to their specific needs, away from the distractions of the school, helps with their long-term success.

The one-home model, in comparison to traditional foster care, is beneficial to the girls’ recovery, Crawford said. Here, they are able to work with professionals trained in trauma, and aren’t as susceptible to the shame they might feel in an integrated setting. Arming these girls with the practical and emotional skills and tools they need to succeed in the real world, Gigi’s House provides a crucial transformational zone.

With such a high need, Crawford hopes to expand her services to care for more girls. She would love to open a second home, and an independent living home for girls over the age of 19. Here, they will still have the support system, but not as many rules.

“It’s allowing them to start making decisions on their own, but with support staff there with them,” she said.

Those interested in supporting the organization can visit www.gigishouseatl.org or attend one of their upcoming events, including a 5k, a golf outing, and a “Come Together” event, featuring keynote speaker Annie Downs, and award-winning recording artist Meredith Andrews. The concert will be held on Friday, March 23 at Community Bible Church. Tickets are $25, and can be purchased at communitybible.church.

Goodwill’s C3: combining college and career for long-term success

With a goal of assisting 50,000 individuals this year, and placing 24,000 in jobs, Goodwill of North Georgia has all hands on deck to help people find new or better employment.

One of the many ways they are getting the job done? C3: College Career Catalyst.

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Individuals enrolled in C3 enroll in a college or credential program while working with Goodwill to receive additional support and placement help. Working with Goodwill, they participate in skills and professional development trainings while also attending post-secondary courses.

Ashia Walker, one of C3’s Navigators (who help applicants with the program and college), said the work they do with the students is all-encompassing, ensuring success.

“Our job is to help any of our participants who are enrolled in programs with post-secondary education,” Walker said. “That includes helping them figure out where they want to go to school, what they want to study, and helping them get their applications done.”

Once they get into school, the assistance continues through the first semester, making sure they can navigate the campus and their classes. From there, after completing their educational program, Goodwill helps them get a job.

“It’s helping people not just find a job, but helping them find post-secondary education or credentials to help them further their career,” Walker said. This includes assistance for those looking to earn more money, get a promotion, or take on a leadership role.

Ideal candidates for the program are those who have gone through a training at Goodwill, or who are referred from one of the many Goodwill partner organizations. Those working with the C3 program often don’t have any family members who have gone through the college process, and need that extra help.

“They don’t even know where to start,” Walker said. “I’ve had students who actually paid for their FAFSA to be completed, not knowing it was a free application.”

Walker has worked with Goodwill for six years, and has encountered a lot of success stories during her time, including a young man who is now enrolled at Chattahoochee Technical College, with hopes of eventually transferring to Kennesaw State University to study marine biology.

Walker calls his parents once a month to check in on the student and his progress. “That makes me happy every month that he’s still in school,” she said. “It’s important to know that somebody cared and that he wasn’t just a number, and somebody is proud of him.”

The C3 program partners with a variety of local technical college partners, including Athens Technical College, Gwinnett Technical College, and North Georgia Technical College.

With 13 career centers and five dedicated navigators, those interested in working with the C3 program can essentially visit any location to be matched with assistance.  For additional information, please visit www.goodwillng.org/collegecareercatalyst.

EarthShare of Georgia: protecting the environment, one employee at a time

For EarthShare of Georgia, conservation is king. In an effort to protect the air, land, and water, the organization partners with 50 employers from across the state to raise money for environmental nonprofits.

Primarily through workplace giving, EarthShare of Georgia coordinates employee giving campaigns to support more than 60 environmental and conservation organizations. With 30 based in state, and the others nationwide, there is an organization for everyone.

The group started as the Environmental Fund for Georgia in 1992, and then affiliated with the national EarthShare in 2001. In their 25-year history, EarthShare of Georgia has helped raise $6 million for its member groups.

EarthShare of Georgia’s Executive Director Madeline Reamy called into the show first. EarthShare was founded 25 years ago by environmental nonprofits who wanted representation in workplace giving.

Currently, nearly 400,000 employees across the state participate in EarthShare’s giving program, and come from a variety of companies, including Booz Allen Hamilton, Emory University, and MARTA. Employees are able to pick from a slew of environmental nonprofits, like Georgia Conservancy, Trees Atlanta, and Park Pride.

The group remains en vogue, especially as the environment becomes more and more of a hot topic. Many are connecting the dots between the benefits of improving the environment and strengthening communities. This work can also connect companies to volunteer projects in underserved areas.

“That is a new area that we have gotten into that is very exciting, because it brings many more people to the table to have a conversation about the environment and the benefits of a sustainable Georgia,” said Madeline Reamy, Executive Director of EarthShare of Georgia.

Individuals are encouraged to give and volunteer, as it makes such a critical impact on the environment. “The bottom line is those contributions help to conserve land in Georgia, they help to improve air quality, they help to strengthen work and improving the quality of our water,” Reamy added.

EarthShare of Georgia

In addition to the opportunity for employee giving, companies partner with EarthShare for its countless opportunities for employee volunteer engagement. More and more companies are looking for year-round opportunities for their employees to engage and give back to the community.

For them, EarthShare offers a variety of options, including multiple events revolving around Earth Day. The annual holiday is typically used as an entry point for interested organizations, and they can take part in three separate events, including a Corporate Green Day, Earth Leadership Breakfast, and a closing party. Members also receive special invitations to corporate sustainability forums, access to the Green Chamber, and discounted tickets to the sustainability speaker series.

This year’s Earth Day Green Challenge will be held on March 30th and 31st, and the Earth Leadership Breakfast will take place on April 12. Sponsors get package deals to support the different events. This year, Lewis Perkins of Cradle to Cradle will act as the keynote speaker.

More information on EarthShare of Georgia, and how you can get involved, can be found at www.earthsharega.org.

A network for good in Lake Spivey/Clayton County (and beyond!)

Transformational, long-lasting change can take some serious manpower. It needs a group of dedicated individuals, committed to a cause.

It doesn’t get much more dedicated or serious than the 1.2 million membership network of Rotary International, an organization devoted to creating a positive impact in communities at home and abroad.

Rotary International is an international service organization whose stated purpose is to bring together businesses and professionals leaders to provide humanitarian services. The organization wants to advance goodwill and peace worldwide, and is a non-political and non-secular group.

With 35,000 chapters around the world, Atlanta is lucky to have many right in its backyard, including the Lake Spivey/Clayton County Rotary. Now celebrating its 58th Anniversary, the local chapter takes its work, including initiatives in literacy and health, very seriously.

“I feel like it’s one of the best clubs you could possibly be a part of,” said Gina McCombs, President of the group. “It’s a group of community leaders and people who very much care about their community. We spend many, many hours doing service for our community and around the world.”

Groups typically meet once a week, either in-person or virtually. While fulfilling their main tenant of helping the community, it’s also an opportunity for members to form strong friendships.

The Lake Spivey/Clayton County Rotary Club is part of the Rotary’s District 6900, and is one of the biggest in the world, reaching from Tennessee to Florida. “We are an awesome force in the world. We love what we do,” said Claudia Mertl, the group’s Public Image Chair. “We’re passionate about what we do, and we try every way we can to make rotary accessible.”

One of their main passions? Rotary groups both locally and worldwide lend a hand to support the organization’s focus on eradicating polio. These efforts have created partnerships with some heavy health hitters, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the CDC, and the World Health Organization.

“We promised the children of the world that we would stop this disease and Rotarians always keep their promise,” Mertl added.

Locally, the Lake Spivey/Clayton County group has zeroed-in on the tragic reality of human trafficking. Supporting the safe home Gigi’s House, a place for formerly trafficked girls ages 13-19 to leave, learn, and get back on their feet, the group recently donated furniture for the house.

They also take great pride in their dictionary initiative, giving more than 20,000 dictionaries over the last 20 years to Clayton County 3rd graders. For some of these students, it’s the first book they’ve ever owned.

To join the club, individuals must be asked by a current member. A great way to get involved is to visit a club and let the President know of interest. For more information on the Lake Spivey/Clayton County group, visit www.rotarycluboflakespiveyclaytoncounty.org. Other chapters can be found at www.Rotary.org.