Growing Communities with Green of Hearts

Sometimes a hobby can turn into a passion, and that passion can change your community. Such was the case for Bonita Cason-Atlow.

After finding herself out of a job she held for twenty years, she found herself searching for purpose. She found it in a perfectly-heart shaped green tomato she pulled from her garden.

With her free time, she started gardening more, and took some of her fruits and vegetables to Interfaith Outreach Homes, a housing development for low-income individuals. She donated more than 20 types of food, and the staff were ecstatic.

Atlow took her love of gardening and whole foods and took it to the people of Atlanta. Now, her nonprofit Green of Hearts works with individuals and organizations to build community gardens and teach groups how growing and cultivating their own food can lead to healthier, more sustainable lifestyles.

Green of Hearts mission is to is to “alleviate societal issues concerning malnutrition, hunger, and obesity within populations at risk by establishing gardens – and a mindset – wherever there is an open space and a need.”

They achieve this mission through programming all over the city, working to turn black thumbs green. With their Senior Horticulture Education program, Green of Hearts works with senior citizens in an hour of gardening and garden-themed crafts. Then, to further help the community at large, the organization works with community groups, schools, churches, and residential centers to work on installing gardens and teach ways to cultivate and maintain them.

One of their biggest projects is with the Interfaith Outreach Home, as part of their efforts to create immersive community support. They work with residents and families to teach gardening and life skills, and show families how to incorporate the food and skills into their daily lives.

Through their community gardens, Green of Hearts hopes to inhibit community ownership, engage self-sufficiency, help citizens control obesity, provide access to nutritional foods for low-income families, and increase physical activity.

Atlow hopes to inspire people on the benefits of community gardening. “Cultivating and changing the way something is currently being used is a way to bring people together,” she said. “The goal is that we grow and share and sit down and have a meal together. I think we’ve forgotten how to just sit and talk and look at each other.”

“We are changing our direction of the way we view life,” she closed. “We are putting our hands together and doing something.”

The organization is always looking for volunteers to help with garden installations, garden maintenance, and carpentry. Volunteers can sign up and help out as individuals or in groups. The nonprofit is also always in need of financial support to carry out its programs, and donations go toward gardening equipment, seeds and plants, community outreach, and operations. Those interested can sign up or donate on Green of Hearts’ website at www.greenofhearts.org.

A Safe Place to Learn for Georgia’s Newest Citizens

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

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

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

GWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nzinga Shaw on The Good Works Show

This week’s episode of the Good Works Show featured a guest who is achieving great results in creating new norms.  Nzinga Shaw is the first person to hold the title of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the NBA, ensuring fans and players alike know that the team is more than just about their percentage from the free-throw line.

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At the end of the season, every team wants to have more wins than losses, and always has their eye on making it to the championship. There are times, though, when the game is about more than just the game.

For the Atlanta Hawks, priorities extend beyond the club’s free-throw percentage as they place increased focus on diversity and inclusion on and off the court. In fact, the team’s staff includes the first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer position in the NBA, with Nzinga Shaw at the helm.

The Diversity and Inclusion office oversees three key areas. Working on internal engagement, a good employee and job candidate experience is encouraged, making sure job opportunities are publicized in the community to reach diverse demographics, and creating programs so employees can reach their full potential.

“That’s really what diversity is about,” Shaw said. “It’s about finding out what’s great about each individual and then having them put in positions to shine and succeed.”

From there, the office focuses on the game experience itself. Beyond the basketball, they put together a show that attracts a diverse group of fans to the arena. This includes engaging different groups, such as women, and the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities.

Lastly, the Diversity and Inclusion initiative works on strategic partnerships to ensure that the team partners companies that align with their community and outreach goals. Women and minority-owned businesses have been sought out, in addition to the more traditional, larger companies with Atlanta ties.

Atlanta’s rich and diverse community provides a solid starting point for the team’s efforts. Shaw hopes to work with the diversity of the city to bring more people together, and promote integration.

“It’s not about competition, but it’s about coming together to provide a unique experience that everyone can enjoy,” Shaw said. “It showed that we can be unified. At the end of the day, we are human beings, we respect one another, and we all deserve to live a good life.”

The Hawks’ MOSAIC Program, Model of Shaping Atlanta through Inclusive Conversation, is currently organizing its second event. The program tackles different issues and topics impacting the community, and brings together thought leaders from across Atlanta.

Last year’s event was held at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, and revolved around the theme of race and gender in sports. Grant Hill, Atlanta Hawks owner and seven-time NBA all-star opened the program with “fireside chat” with his mother, a former MLB consultant. The two discussed the challenges that people of color face in moving up the ladder in professional sports. The event also included a panel discussion on multi-dimensional diversity in professional sports.

This year’s MOSAIC event will be held on March 14 at the Georgia Freight Depot, and will center around the theme of sports as a catalyst for social change. “I think social action is really what we need to be talking about this year,” Shaw said.

Invitations to the event are first extended to the Hawks’ community, including sponsors and partners. Then, remaining seats will be opened up to the general public. More information on the event and tickets can be found on the Community section of the website at www.hawks.com.

To listen to the full episode of The Good Works Show, click here.

Spotlight: HomeAid Atlanta

Annual Essentials Drive, courtesy of HomeAid Atlanta
Annual Essentials Drive, courtesy of HomeAid Atlanta

Feeling safe and secure are some of life’s most important necessities. To have the comfort of a warm home, protecting you from the elements and keeping you from the dangers and instability of living on the street. To go to work and to school without fear of threats or peril. To be prepared when life throws you an obstacle or calamitous event. HomeAid Atlanta is an Atlanta-based organization working to help individuals find this safety and security. Its goal is to offer this stability, and this comfort to those it serves. HomeAid Atlanta’s Executive Director Mandy Crater talks about HomeAid Atlanta’s fifteen year history of helping the homeless population find housing. “HomeAid Atlanta’s mission is to build new lives for homeless families and individuals through housing and community outreach,” Crater says. “We were founded in 2001 and we are the designated charity of the Atlanta Home Builders Association. We work with both the residential and commercial building industries, as well as the community to build and renovate housing for nonprofit organizations that work directly with Atlanta’s homeless. To date, HomeAid Atlanta has completed 53 housing remodels.” HomeAid Atlanta helps homeless individuals and families move into more stable housing. “There are approximately 9,000 homeless people on any given night in metro-Atlanta,” Crater says. “Forty percent are women and children, and twenty-one percent are veterans.”

Crater mentions the “invisible homeless:” those sleeping in their cars, extended-stay hotels, and crashing for multiple nights on the couches of friends. This group often includes those displaced after a sudden and unexpected life event. HomeAid Atlanta serves victims of domestic violence, teen mothers, abused or abandoned children, and veterans. “We help somebody that needs some time to get back on their feet,” Crater says. The organization does this by building both individual and multi-unit homes in coordination with local builders and trade workers. Individuals who live in the homes are expected to take classes on budgeting and financial literacy, parenting, and work readiness.

“One of their graduates is a homeowner now,” Crater says. “After being at the Phoenix Pass location for two years, and working two jobs, she was able to apply and qualify for a Habitat for Humanity home. In two years, she went from being on the street to being a homeowner. It’s life-changing.” One of HomeAid’s biggest initiatives is their Essentials Drive, in which they collect necessary items for families and babies. During the drive they accept diapers, wipes, formula, and baby food. Crater says this is a great way for those who do not renovate or build homes to give back.

HomeAid always does the drive right before Mother’s Day, this year from April 25 to May 3, collecting items that get used up and are costly to replace. “Sometimes they are choosing between food and changing their baby’s diaper,” Crater says. In addition to accepting individual donations, HomeAid works with 30 different organizations doing drives throughout the city. These sites and organizations can be found at www.homeaidatlanta.org.

“We are out their building housing every day,” Crater says. “We serve as a bridge, connecting local builders, trades, and suppliers with local nonprofit service providers, providing a unique and meaningful way for members of the building industry to give back. We try to save 50 percent of the construction costs- through donations from national partners, from local partners, from time, talent, and material.”

This cost savings goes back into the programs and services helping the homeless individuals find more stable housing. For individuals and builders alike looking to connect with HomeAid Atlanta, they can visit the website at www.homeaidatlanta.org or call 678-775-1401.

Everybody Wins!

Everybody Wins

This Goodwill Spotlight shines on Everybody Wins! For over 18 years, Everybody Wins! Atlanta has been devoted to improving the reading skills and developing a love of reading in students who are reading below grade level, giving them a greater chance for success in school and expanding their life horizon. Everybody Wins! started in just one school, but now has a presence in 12 school in five school districts across Atlanta, working with 700 students. Targeted students are of a diverse background in grades one through five, and are identified and suggested to the program by their teachers.

Everybody Wins! schools are Title 1, meaning they are economically challenged. Students in the program work on reading schools, vocabulary, and comprehension. “Currently 2/3 of Georgia 4th graders are reading below grade level, which is consistent across the country,” said Tiffany Tolbert, Everybody Wins! Executive Director.

Tiffany Tolbert Quote“The challenge is: students in 1st through 3rd grade are taught to read,” Tolbert said. “Above third grade, they are reading to learn. If a student doesn’t learn how to read well by the 3rd grade, they aren’t learning well beyond, because they can’t comprehend what they are reading.”

Schools interested in the program can reach out to Everybody Wins!, which is adding a new school to their roster this month. To complete the program, Everybody Wins! works with local businesses who are interested in getting their employees involved in a volunteer program. These volunteers spend the lunch hour with the students, therefore not interrupting their regular school day.

These “power lunches,” Tolbert says, are great for companies and a huge gain for the students involved. Students are paired one-to-one with a reader, and sometimes two-to-one. This allows them to have consistency with their reader throughout the year.

Books for the program are provided through drives and donations. Each student receives three books, at the beginning, middle and end of the year. These books are matched to the student’s reading level, and adjusted as the student progresses.

Tolbert said that studies have shown that 3rd grade reading levels have a direct effect on the prison and welfare system. “Of the 2/3 students who are not reading at grade level at the 4th grade, 2/3 of them will end up in jail or on welfare,” she said.

She also explained the economic impact. “We underestimate the importance of reading for our youth,” she said. “A child who cannot read well in the 4th grade cannot become gainfully employed at the age of 18.”

The program has seen success—in 2014, 80% of the program’s students passed their CRCT testing. Students speak highly of the program, their self-esteem, as well as their attendance has been shown to improve.

Tolbert, said that she has enjoyed reading since she was a little girl. She mentioned how thankful she was to be able to align her personal vision and mission with her career. Her favorite book as a child was Amelia Bedelia. As an adult, she loved How to Win Friends and Influence People.

To learn more about Everybody Wins! or to get involved, go to www.everybodywinsatlanta.org.