Lifelong learning starts with early learning at Sheltering Arms

Not many organizations can tout a more than 100-year history, but Atlanta’s Sheltering Arms, can do that, and then some. Since 1888, the organization has served children and families in Cobb, Dekalb, Douglas, Fulton, and Gwinnett counties.

Even better than their longevity? Their mission. Sheltering Arms

Sheltering Arms works with young children, from six weeks to five-years-old and typically from low-income families, to promote the importance of early-learning and help prepare them for academic journey.

Every year, Sheltering Arms provides critical services to more than 3,600 local children and families, working with participants with their “Creative Curriculum,” a model that seeks to promote self-esteem, creativity, and critical-thinking skills. The Curriculum follows 38 teaching strategies, based on research, which include social-emotional learning, cognitive, physical, language, and academic learning.

At the heart of Sheltering Arms’ work is an intense focus on language and literacy. Those who participate in the program score, on average, in the 90th percentile for language and literacy. These scores place participants in a healthy position to start kindergarten ready to learn and succeed.

“We take building early literacy and language skills very seriously at Sheltering Arms,” said Blythe Keeler Robinson, President & CEO of Sheltering Arms. “Children who do not have access to books and don’t read regularly are at high-risk of becoming some of society’s most vulnerable children.”

To help achieve their goals, Sheltering Arms partners with the Atlanta Speech School and the United Way, among others, and are on board with the state’s 2020 vision of students reading at grade level by the 3rd grade.

Sheltering Arms holds a year-round literacy program, and offers a monthly book distribution to help children build home libraries.

“Our literacy and language focus is what sets us apart,” Robinson said. “Exposing children at young is what puts them on path for love of reading and learning, and the sooner we can expose them, the better.”

Sheltering Arms recently expanded into its 16th learning center, located on the Barack and Michelle Obama Academy campus in Peoplestown. A brand new, two-story, 26,000 feet building, the center has fourteen new classrooms. Children are grouped by neighborhoods, and follow the same cohort throughout their time with the program.

The center also has meeting rooms and hospitality areas, as well as multi-purpose rooms intended for community and neighborhood meetings. The new center was built in partnership with Atlanta Public Schools, in hopes to promote a direct pipeline for education. The goal is for students to transition out of Sheltering Arms, ready to enter Atlanta Public Schools.

Next up, Sheltering Arms hopes to expand its services to increase STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) project-based learning. They are also placing increased emphasis on dual-language student services.

Sheltering Arms is always looking for volunteers, and interested individuals can go online to www.shelteringarmsforkids.com, or visit them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or LinkedIn.

Meet Justin

Humility is a core value for Justin McKibben. While he won’t tout his own successes very widely, he has overcome tremendous challenges to get where he is today. A major source of adversity McKibben faces is hydrocephalus, a medical condition once known as “water on the brain.” The condition, along with complications occurring in more than 70 surgeries he’s undergone in relation to the condition, cause McKibben a great deal of pain. When he was 19 years old, he decided to drop out of high school and live on disability checks. “I had fallen on rock bottom, skipping around from house to house,” he says. After some prodding from his family McKibben decided to get serious about looking for a job.

McKibben connected with his local Vocational Rehabilitation office, and he stopped by Goodwill’s Cartersville store looking for clothing when he noticed a sign for the career center. He entered the center and immediately felt a connection. “I was at the career center every day for four months,” he says. “I used every resource it offered – computers, job boards, job fairs – everything.”

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Following a work evaluation, work adjustment and what seemed like hundreds of job applications, McKibben got an offer to work at FedEX in Marietta as a package handler. When he accepted the position his connections at Goodwill stepped in again to help him. “I didn’t know my rights as a disabled citizen,” McKibben says. With support and suggestions from the career coaches at Goodwill, McKibben’s employer instituted small accommodations for him, like lowering the time clock and recycle bins.

Now eight months into the job, he has already received more than one pay raise and is working on getting his GED so he can transition into a quality assurance position at the company. He arrives early to work each day and works hard to show his appreciation for his new position. “Without the career center I wouldn’t be where I’m at,” he says. “When I go to work, I work.” Ever humble, McKibben is quick to credit others for their role in his achievements. But there is no denying he is a shining example of success in the face of extreme adversity.

Meet Curtis…A Veteran, Trainer and Helping Hand

While serving for four years in the Air Force as an Aircrew Life Support Specialist, Curtis Sigur was responsible for ensuring that all flight and safety equipment was in perfect working order before departure. “I was in charge of inspecting survival equipment on the planes,” he says. From packing emergency items to inspecting survival kits, the attention to detail provided by Sigur protected and helped many members of the Air Force.

Sigur’s interest in joining the Air Force came when he was 18 years old. “I’ve had relatives serve including my dad who served in the Army and I had a friend who was in the Air Force. The Air Force just seemCurtised interesting to me,” he says. Through his time serving, Sigur received the Kuwait Liberation Medal for participating in Operation Desert Storm. A prestigious honor, the medal recognizes service during the liberation of Kuwait. In addition to the medal, Sigur also received an Outstanding Achievement medal for his hard work and leadership.

Upon returning from duty, Sigur came across the Smyrna Career Center on his way into the store. “I was just walking into the store to look for some vintage items and noticed the sign for the career center and everyone looked friendly inside, so I walked in,” he says. After speaking with the career center facilitators, Sigur was referred to the First Choice Veterans Program.

Sigur’s desire for helping others shined through his time spent at the career center. With a background and passion for information technology, Sigur assisted visitors at the career center with logging in, building their résumés and searching for job postings online. “Being a part of the program really brought out my skillsets and allowed me to help others look for employment,” he says.

Today, Sigur continues to help people. As a Corporate Trainer for Coca-Cola, he helps associates grow and expand their knowledge. Through the process of onboarding employees, training employees on machinery and updating and presenting procedures, Sigur has been a valuable contribution to the Atlanta-based company for nearly a year.

With hopes to inspire other veterans returning for work Sigur says, “Goodwill is a good place for a veteran to go. It’s good to know there’s an organization like Goodwill to help you and respect you for serving your country. It was a very positive experience for me.”

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.

Adaptable and Dependable

At the age of 12, Tossapop Strickland developed an interest for electronics and soldering. “I began soldering when I was a kid in Thailand with my uncle’s soldering iron. I would take apart toys and piece them back together,” Strickland says. In 2013, he and his family relocated to the United States to be near family and better schools. Strickland’s surroundings changed, but his interest in soldering stayed with him.    24

Adjusting to his new home and a new high school, Strickland learned the importance and value of being adaptable. “At first it was hard. The weather, time and language were difficult to adjust to,” he says. Learning to speak English as a new high school student, Strickland worked even harder to maintain his grades and develop the ability to speak with his peers.

His English continued to sharpen as his friend group grew, but Strickland’s listening and comprehension skills lagged behind. “My speaking was off the charts, but not really my listening or reading,” he says. Upon graduating high school, he looked to transition directly into the workforce. He worked as a delivery driver for a family restaurant, but it did not provide him with a feeling of satisfaction.

With a seasoned interest in electronics, Strickland hoped to find a career that aligned with his passion for solving technical problems and working with his hands. He was referred to Goodwill’s Electronics Assembly and Soldering program by a friend. While in the program, he received technical soldering training and obtained industry-recognized credentials, including IPC 610 Specialist/Inspector and IPC J-STD Board Repair Tech certifications. Even with extensive knowledge in the area, Strickland needed help getting his foot in the door. “Goodwill helped with my English and communication skills for interviews,” he says. “I learned how to sell myself when applying for jobs.”

Overcoming the challenges of interviewing and networking, Strickland got the chance to put his skills to work when he gained fulltime employment as an electronic assembler at Scanfil. “I didn’t know it was possible to have a career in electronics. I never had the chance to try, but Goodwill gave me the confidence,” he says. In nearly half a year on the job he has distinguished himself as a top performer at his work site.

Bringing a great attitude, a natural interest in the work and strong technical ability to every task, Strickland surpasses expectations for every project presented to him at Scanfil. “I work in all of the departments. They put me in departments that are backed up or need to get ahead,” he says. As a valuable asset to the organization, his supervisor Roxana Flores says, “Tossapop masters each department right away and produces quality work. He exceeds the daily goals that some people take weeks to do.”23

Now that he’s hit his stride in his new country, Strickland hopes to continue advancing his career. “I really love what I do and I am thankful Goodwill helped me get here,” he says. Strickland took the opportunity to showcase his skills and not only loves what he does, but excels at it.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping a Forever Home with HouseProud Atlanta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communicating and Caring at The Ellis School

Not every child learns the same way. And even the most effective and veteran teachers are not always equipped with the time or resources to give every student the individualized attention they need and deserve.Our mission is to create confident students who are life-long learners, focusing on what IS possible.

The Ellis School of Atlanta hopes to offer an educational experience for those students who might need a little extra support. First started by Alison Caputo in 2012 to give her son a place to learn and grow, the school offers a learning environment for students with multiple developmental and physical disabilities.

Caputo and her husband started the school after being met with programs in the public school system that didn’t fully meet their son’s needs. Caputo found that most teachers had too much on their plate or did not have enough training to accommodate students like her son with multiple disabilities.

They were also looking for a school that placed high-importance on communication. Caputo believes that communication was a crucial piece for her son, and so many others like him, to help him be a member of his community and have human relationships.

“Those relationships really start and end with communication,” Caputo said. “For a child who has so many other things going on, at the very least we wanted him to have enriched relationships. That was the main thrust of what we were looking for in a program.”

The Caputos quickly realized that many parents and families were looking for this type of program. The school works with a highly-collaborative staff that designs individualized programs for each student. When the child first enters the school, they will complete a full evaluation and assessment, including vision, hearing, behavior, motor skills, and speech. Evaluators will also determine the academic level for each student, looking at their communication skills, and their math and sequential problem-solving scores.

From there, the staff develops a program to capitalize on the student’s strengths, and focus any high-need areas. This is not just a student-teacher approach, though. Parents and family members are asked to be as involved as possible, making sure they are fully aware of any medical and educational needs, and utilizing at-home strategies to carry the learning throughout the full day.

Since the school is also a nonprofit, they also offer additional programming, including a summer camp that is open to all members of the community. They also offer community education events to help train and inform members of the community who might want to learn more. Lastly, The Ellis School helps with evaluation services to provide families unique and specialized evaluation services outside of their public school or hospital.

The school has seen many success stories, including a young student who was ten years old when she started at the Ellis School. At first, she wouldn’t speak, and scared of her walker, her only device of mobility. By working with the school and its staff, she became more comfortable with her walker, and blossomed in her communication. Now, she’s a chatty teen and her academic scores have increased.

The School is always looking for financial support and volunteers for their summer camp, and can be found online at www.ellisschoolatlanta.org. Listen to the full episode of The Good Works Show, here!

Building the Next Generation From the Ground Up

Author and entrepreneur Jim Rohn once said that “whatever good things we build end up building us.” The Atlanta Center for Creative Inquiry is building a new cohort of creatives, bringing the world of architecture and design to the students of Atlanta.

Expert architect Oscar Harris started the organization in 2004, in hopes of giving high school students the opportunity to explore their own creativity and to showcase the profession to a diverse group of young people. With a mission to mentor, educate, and develop their abilities and provide a greater diversity in the architectural, engineering, and construction industries, ACCI seeks to bolster the fields with the next generation of professionals.

With staggeringly low numbers of minorities and women in the architecture field, Harris and ACCI bring architecture and design within reach of their students, expanding the opportunities for students who might not have considered the profession. Currently, just 1.5 percent of all registered architects are African American, six percent are Asian, and just 22 percent are women.

While they are still in high school, ACCI works with these students to expose them to jobs in the field. Partnering with local colleges and universities, ACCI also works with inner-city students to give them the chance to experience a summer on-campus experience. And, to further boost the pipeline of the profession, ACCI connects their students with area professionals to give them a one-on-one mentorship experience from someone already in the field.

Students who participate in the ACCI program learn from Atlanta’s best, attending lectures, touring construction sites, and visiting architectural firms. They focus on a wide-range of architectural styles and learning, including sustainable design and commercial building.

And, each summer, ACCI presents a week-long academy for 9-12th graders, held at Georgia Tech. While learning from professional instructors, they also get the chance to get hands-on—literally. Students in the program are required to come up with a design concept, and sketch it by hand. From there, they build a 3D model and present their work to their ACCI peers.

“At the end of the week, you’ll be able to stand up in front of everybody and give a presentation on your idea,” Harris said. “When a child comes out of the program, they feel empowered. For the first time, they have been able to develop an idea. They have rendered that idea, and they have presented that idea.”

“The main thing is to get these students excited about themselves and excited about creativity,” Harris added. “We want to get them to see that there is a future for them and a career in architecture, engineering and construction.”

ACCI has worked with hundreds of students in the Atlanta area, seeing many go on to prestigious architecture and design programs in their post-secondary education. More information and applications for this summer’s academy can be found online at www.acci.org. Listen to the full episode of The Good Works Show, here.