The Art of Expression

In 2012, Olatoye “Toye” Olawoyin moved to the United States from Nigeria in search of opportunity. His mother dreamed of a better life for her children, but was unable to relocate to America herself. At only 17 years old, Olawoyin departed from his homeland with only a dream in his heart and two sisters by his side.

Residing in Duluth, Georgia was no coincidence for Olawoyin. His uncle, who already lived in Duluth, offered Olawoyin and his sisters a place to call home as they began this new chapter in their lives. Having a home away from home gave them the chance to be able to get a head start on taking advantage of their new opportunity. Olawoyin enrolled in school at Central Gwinnett High School, where he has now graduated from.

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Struggling with English as a second language and a hearing impairment, Olawoyin had a hard time transitioning to life in the United States and finding employment. He was referred to Goodwill’s Workforce Development program by his counselor at the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Office to get help finding a job that fit his skills and abilities. While in the program, he received hands-on training, which included on-the-job assessments for attendance, punctuality, quality of work and co-worker relations.

During these assessments, Olawoyin worked inside Goodwill’s Pleasant Hill store, processing and sorting donations. It wasn’t long before those evaluating him and working alongside him realized he was an incredibly hard worker. “Toye was a model participant while in the program. He was always on time and never missed a day of training. He always had a positive attitude and worked well with his supervisors, the other participants and the store associates,” says Job Coach Felicia Moran. In fact, store management was so impressed by his work ethic that Olawoyin secured full-time employment at the store as soon as he completed his program training.

For two years now, Olawoyin has worked hard in the store, determined to make his own way and provide for his family. He sends a portion of his weekly paycheck back to his family in Nigeria and doesn’t allow his hearing impairment to prevent him from succeeding. Though he is quiet and shy in nature, Olawoyin is also resilient and determined to succeed in everything he tries.

As a “floater” in the store, he is ready to step in wherever he is needed. Whether he’s processing donations in production or arranging merchandise neatly on shelves, he’s always smiling and giving a thumbs up. “I really like my job and I want to keep working,” he says. Looking towards the future, Olawoyin hopes to continue saving his money so that he can visit his mother in Africa and further pursue his dreams of becoming an artist.

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.

How will you give this year?

Join the #GAGivesDay and #GivingTuesday movement! On Tuesday, November 28, charities, families, businesses, community centers and students around the world come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity.

There are many ways that people choose to give, such as making a financial contribution or volunteering their time at a local community-based organization. There are other ways to donate, too, like offering your time and skills to a food pantry or donating items to your local Goodwill. For the latter of those options, gently-used household goods will generate revenue to support employment and job training programs for people in the community. When you donate and when you shop, your actions help us put people to work. In fact, for every one donation, Goodwill is able to provide one hour of job training.

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No matter how you choose to give this holiday season, remember that November 28 is a great day to get started. Find the right way for your family, community, company or organization to come together to give something more, then share how you are giving and inspire others to also give.

To make a financial contribution to Goodwill of North Georgia, visit https://www.gagives.org/c/GGD/a/goodwillng

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.

 

A Blessing and a Newfound Purpose

Blessings come in all shapes and sizes. For Jovanda Martin, they arrived in the form of Workforce Development training at Goodwill of North Georgia’s Pleasant Hill career center. Martin hails from New Orleans, Louisiana, and was a dislocated worker following hurricane Katrina. With no college education, as well as a cognitive and a physical disabilitSuccess Story Template (11)y, she was having a difficult time finding a job.

She came to Georgia to live near her sister and her sister’s three children. Comfortably living on Social Security disability benefits, Martin became restless and interested in doing more with her life. “She wanted to be productive again,” says Dominic Carden, employment specialist at Goodwill. “She saw that she was capable of so much more than people assume.”

While enrolled in training, Martin sharpened her interviewing skills and learned how to work well with other people. She honed customer service skills by providing hands-on assistance to fellow job seekers in the career center. “Goodwill is a good place to start looking for a job. They have so much training and a job coach to help you,” she says.

As her training came to an end Martin applied for a job with YSS Athletics, a professional manufacturing facility specializing in athletic uniforms and apparel. She got the job and was hired as a production associate. She is responsible for quality assurance inspections of manufactured clothing, as well as order placing and maintenance of the company’s files. “I love it here – it’s a good environment,” Martin says. “Goodwill was really a blessing for me. [The training program] helped me get on my feet.” She is happy with her job and proud to come home with a sense of purpose.

Eager to inspire others to find their independence and realize their potential, Martin pays it forward by staying connected with the Pleasant Hill career center and sharing her success with new program participants. “I am very proud of Jovanda’s humility, attitude and persistence, as most people would have given way to anger, doubt and expectation,” Carden says. “She is truly an inspiring individual.”

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.

The Future Foundation: A Slam Dunk for Atlanta’s Youth

While Shareef Abdur-Rahim maybe best known for his time as all-star power forward for the NBA, he’s currently making even bigger plays off the court.

An Atlanta-area native, Abdur-Rahim started his organization, the Future Foundation in 2004, making good on a promise to help local students be better-prepared for college and beyond. He first got the idea for the nonprofit while he and his sister, Qaadirah, attended college at the University of California, Berkeley.

While both were good students, they found themselves initially unprepared to compete academically at the college-level. They were determined to help other young students not have the same difficulties.

The Future Foundation’s mission is to level the playing field for youth in metro Atlanta by providing quality education, health, and life-skills programming. Through year-round and multi-year after-school programming, the organization has made great strides with students from low-performing schools in grades 6-12.

In fact, 100% of their participants have graduated high school, and 99% have gone on to a post-secondary institution.

The nonprofit accomplishes their lofty goals through their “Theory of Change,” a model that incorporates the five areas in which they believe young adults need for success and stability. These areas include relationship skill development, academic enrichment, family strengthening, life skills, and health education.

Through their work, providing students with outlets to learn and succeed, and giving families a chance to become stronger and more resilient, Future Foundation hopes to break the cycle of poverty for those most in need in Atlanta.

The Future Foundation holds daily after-school sessions at their Reef House Centers. Depending on their age, participants work on academics and learn how to maintain positive behavior and relationships. For older students, the focus shifts a bit toward drop-out prevention and preparing young adults for the difficult transition from middle school to high school.

Students here can also take part in a variety of programming, including “Real Talk ATL,” which encourages them to make healthy choices and create healthy relationships, and Fitness Unlocking Nutrition (F.U.N.), where participants learn new ways to be active.

These centers also incorporate opportunities for families to come together and learn how to be stronger, more supportive units. Families are invited to take part in group meals, games, and instruction on positive parenting and adolescent development.

“For kids to take the hard steps out of poverty, their parents have to be on board, as well,” Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim said. “We offer a wide variety of workshops focused on how to raise healthy adolescents as well as how to engage your family.”

To learn more about the organization, and how to get involved, visit them online at www.future-foundation.com.