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.

February 2018 (16)

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.

Support and Guidance for Students Without Mothers

Navigating the college-entry process can be a struggle for even the most informed and prepared student. With seemingly endless paperwork and costs that add up quick, it can be a tricky time for a young adult.

Trickier, still, if that young student doesn’t have a mother to help guide them through. Luckily for them, Atlanta’s Students Without Mothers nonprofit offers support and scholarships for students in the 21-county metro area who don’t have a mother in the home.

Started by Mary Torrence Williams in 2004, the organization provides financial assistance and life-skills for students who need a little extra adult guidance.

“Not having their mom just makes it really difficult to transition from high school to college,” Williams said. “There are so many questions and things that your mom would normally figure out for you. Most of the students we help are the first in their family to go to college, so there’s nobody who can help. There’s a lot that they need to get ready for this next big step in their lives.”

The nonprofit’s scholarship program holds an application period from September to January, and is open to high school juniors. While any students in this age group are encouraged to apply, priority is given to those living with a guardian whose annual income is less than $50,000 a year. The scholarship totals $4,000, which is disbursed in four $1,000 annual payments throughout the student’s college experience. To continue to receive the award, students must annually meet the scholarship’s standards.

Scholarship recipients are officially awarded in their senior year, after completing the groups Life Coaching Program. The Students Without Mothers’ Life Coaching Program helps provide additional support for students during this time of great transition in their lives. Working with Atlanta’s Gifted Education Foundation, the organization offers students the opportunity to work on important life skills training. The training sessions help students figure out how to choose a major, how to choose a college, how to deal with conflict resolution, and other important life challenges.

Students who receive the scholarship also receive a new or refurbished laptop for college. Computers are often a cost-prohibitive item for students coming from low-income families, and this additional resource will help on their college quest. Scholarship recipients are also awarded gift cards to help offset the costs that come even before starting their first college class: school supplies, dorm and room needs, and even personal items.

Since its inception in 2004, the organization has helped 72 students. Williams said that much of their success comes from the help and dedication of the nonprofit’s board. “I think the biggest area that we’ve grown is in our board members and board commitment,” she said. “They all share the passion and mission for the organization and they are all devoted to making this happen. It is because of their commitment that we have been able to grow and continue to help students.”

To help sustain their work in providing financial support for students, including scholarship funding, computers, and gift cards, the nonprofit is always looking for more donors and supporters. For more information on how you can give to the organization, or if you know a student eligible for the scholarship, www.studentswithoutmothers.org.

Fair and just representation under the law with Gideon’s Promise

The 1963 case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that defendants unable to pay for legal representation must be provided on by the state. This landmark decision was the birth of the public defender’s system in the United States, and created a momentous shift in the criminal justice system.

To honor that decision, and to ensure all public defenders were informed, engaged, and encouraged as attorneys, Gideon’s Promise was founded. Started in 2007, the nonprofit works with public defenders across the country to train, mentor and support them to provide quality representation to individuals who can’t afford attorneys.

While working with attorneys directly, Gideon’s Promise wants to shift current cultural perceptions, especially as they pertain to people of limited means. By supporting the grueling work of public defenders, Gideon’s Promise hopes to change the way defendants are processed through the system.

The organization is also trying to do their part in stopping mass incarceration. According to their website, since the Gideon v. Wainwright case was tried in 1963, the prison population in the United States has gone from 217,000 to 2.3 million, even though there has been a decrease in crime rates.

To combat these growing numbers, Gideon’s Promise is making it personal. “We felt like who better to partner with than public defenders who help tell the story of their clients, their client’s significance, their importance, and why we should advocate for people who have no voice in court,” said Ilham Askia, Gideon’s Promise Executive Director.

This partnership starts by acknowledging the demanding workload for public defenders. While the American Bar Association suggests that attorneys take on no more than 150 cases each year, the average public defender tried between 250 and 300. Gideon’s Promise works with young, new attorneys to make sure they are prepared for the work ahead of them.

To achieve its goals, Gideon’s Promise has multiple programs. The New Public Defender Program works with attorneys with less than three years of experience, providing them with comprehensive training and support for the first three years of their career.

To create a pipeline of new public defenders, Gideon’s Promise’s Summer Law Clerk Program attracts and recruits current law students interested in public defense. Each student is paired with a partner law firm for a 6-10 week summer training program.

Askia said their ideal public defender candidates are students already interested in the specialty.

“You have the heart-set, mind-set, soul-set to really do this work,” she said. “You have to really want to change and make a difference in the lives of people.”

“Law school tends to strip the humanity out of it,” she said. “You are learning about the law, but at the end of the day, you are representing people. So when we go into recruit, we try to remind them of that. When you talk about public defense, it takes a special breed of lawyer to do this work.”

For more information on Gideon’s Promise, including how to become a Summer Clerk Program partner firm, go to www.gideonspromise.org, or check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

Love Rolls: Providing Comfort and Care for Atlanta’s Homeless

It’s fairly common to hear about seasoned CEOs and company leaders and their successful business and nonprofit ventures. It’s not every day, though, that one of these success stories comes from the mind of a high school sophomore.

Such is the case, though, for the burgeoning nonprofit Love Rolls, and its founder, Atlanta High School student Kendall Robinson.

What started as a project for the 2015 Youth Summit quickly turned into a passion project for Robinson, as she saw firsthand the difficulties Atlanta’s homeless population endured while living on the street. While handing out goods, including toilet paper, at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, she encountered a homeless man who confided in her his need for the item.

“He was so grateful to receive it because normally he would have to ration out one roll for one month,” Robinson said. “I was completely shocked.”

This simple request for an item so often taken for granted sparked an idea for Robinson. Since then, the group has transformed from a small coalition of Robinson’s family and friends to a collaboration with large donor organizations, including Procter and Gamble (Charmin), Kimberly-Clark (Scott Brand), and even Chick-fil-A.

Distributing more than 100,000 rolls of toilet paper to Atlanta’s homeless population, Love Rolls has started a movement for the community, holding toilet paper drives and filling up a warehouse space to store the rolls for distribution.

Individuals can either come to the warehouse for pick-up or come to one of the many outreach events where Love Rolls hands out the toilet paper.

Love Rolls has also extended beyond the Atlanta-metro area, and has made multiple out-of-state distributions, to Florida, Louisiana, and New Jersey, to name a few. Their goal for 2017 is to make even more trips outside of Atlanta to distribute the toilet paper.

The organization has helped countless individuals, but Robinson said one specific man, whom she met during a distribution at Hurt Park, left an impression.

“He said ‘Finally, somebody thought that we might need this,’” she remembered. “It made me realize that I am out here doing the right thing and I am helping people, and they are grateful for what they are receiving.”

Robinson says she couldn’t do the work without all the support from her family and friends. Love Rolls was only supposed to be a one-week drive, but turned into something much bigger. The word of mouth and community support have also enabled the organization to host their recent fundraising 5K, which included fun and games for participants, raffles and door prizes, and food trucks and a movie viewing.

“It was only because of the help of family and friends and getting the word out,” she said.

For more information on the organization, including how to volunteer or donate, individuals can visit www.loverolls.org.

Gearing up for a day of giving!

Help make Georgia’s biggest day of giving even bigger: Show your love for Goodwill of North Georgia on November 28th by giving a little—and together, we’ll make a difference in our local community – fulfilling our mission to put people to work. Learn more by visiting http://goodwillng.org/givingtuesdayGA gives#GivingTuesday is a global giving movement that has been built by individuals, families, organizations, businesses and communities in all 50 states and in countries around the world. Millions of people come together to support and champion the causes they believe in and the communities in which they live. We have two days for getting deals – Black Friday and Cyber Monday. On #GivingTuesday, we have a day for giving back. Together, people are creating a new ritual for our annual calendar. #GivingTuesday is the opening day of the giving season: a reminder of the “reason for the season.” Every act of generosity counts, and each means even more when we give together.

 

Learning and exploring under the sea at the Georgia Aquarium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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.