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.”

October (2)

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.”

Georgia Equine Rescue League: Safe and Loving Care for Georgia’s Horses

In the state of Georgia, the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Equine Division manages and enforces laws which protect the equine population. Through a variety of circumstances, including neglect and lack of proper care, horses are often picked up and impounded by the Department while owners undergo prosecution.

Unfortunately, no state funds are given to take care of the horses in these situations. Luckily, the Georgia Equine Rescue League (GERL) has devoted its work to raising fund and resources to provide the horses with the care and services they need. For those animals who need the love and care they deserve, the Georgia Equine Rescue League provides the critical financial and logistical support.

GERL was started with just $100 by two women in 1993. But the organization has grown to provide necessary support to the state’s equine population and the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

In fact, GERL has provided more than $560,000 in essential outreach and care to these horse rescues. This includes medical care and proper nutrition for the more than 170,000 rescue horses found every year.

Horse lovers can do their part in a variety of ways, including through fostering and adoption. GERL relies on 100% on foster homes to take care of the horses once they are removed from abusive or neglectful environments.

Often, horses that are rescued through the Department of Agriculture are found severely malnourished or starved. Through GERL’s “Feed a Horse” program, funds raised go directly toward providing impounded horses the feed and hay they need to both survive and recuperate.

GERL also offers critical law enforcement training to support the officers who encounter horses in need of rescue. These trainings include the basics of handling horses and signs of cruelty. The classes allow officers to interact with live horses, which gives them the opportunity to practice their demeanor and interactions around equines.

Patty Livingston, President of GERL since 2010, has also developed a five-part plan to go beyond just the essentials of basic horse rescue. These five components include:

  • Reduction of reproduction and the promotion of castration
  • Prosecution and the promotion of enforcing equine abuse laws
  • Disposition and the coordination of horse homes
  • Financial services and the need for sustainable funding sources
  • Education of the public and law enforcement agencies

Livingston believes that these five areas will greatly-impact the substantial problem in the state.

“I saw the need to diversify our mission due to the overwhelming number of unwanted horses in our state,” she said. “I realized then that we were never going to fix our horse problems by rescuing.”

GERL can be found on social media at both Facebook and Twitter. For even more information on GERL, visit www.gerlltd.org or call their hotline at 770-464-0138.

A Rewarding Leap of Faith

Success Story Template (5)Inspired by her daughter Kaylee to transition her baking hobby to to a full-blown business venture, Amber Tellis took a leap of faith and started her own business, Kaylee Cake Pops and More. Before this leap, Tellis worked for a local railroad company, but the hours didn’t allow her much time with her family, and she was eager to pursue work that allowed her better balance between her growing career and growing children. Working full time, building a family with her husband and finding the time to bake was a challenge. “I knew I needed to work for myself if I wanted to make time for everything. I decided to jump out on faith and go out on my own instinct,” says Tellis.
Enrolling in Goodwill of North Georgia’s GoodBIZ program helped ease her transition from baking as a hobby to starting and running a business. “The GoodBIZ program helped me determine what exactly I wanted from the business. I used to look at it as a hobby, now I look at it as a business,” Tellis says. Through the program, Tellis received assistance in developing a business concept and plan, and was exposed to different events and resources to help her refine her business strategy.
Now, Tellis proudly earns a living doing what she loves with her inspiration by her side. “Kaylee still pitches in when she can. She usually does the taste tests for me,” Tellis says. Having only baked for one year before making the decision to launch her own business, Tellis is thankful for Goodwill’s support. “[The program] really prepared me to become business minded,” she says. Sharing her success story at Goodwill’s Metro graduation, a recognition ceremony for the organization’s metro-area program graduates, was momentous for Tellis. “I was nervous, but being able to share my story with other graduates was rewarding,” she says.
Since its small and sweet beginning, Kaylee Cake Pops and More has continuously grown into a successful and stable business. Tellis stays busy, competing in various baking competitions and catering events, ranging from baby showers and weddings to graduation ceremonies and corporate meetings. “I’ve been blessed,” she says. Critical to her business’s success has been an emphasis on quality. Whether she is baking cake pops or packaging her grab and go treats, she understands top-grade product is essential to cultivating repeat customers. As for next steps, Tellis is focused on continuing the expansion of her business, either on the shelves of local grocery stores or inside her own storefront property. She landed on both feet after her career-changing leap of faith, and she is eager for the next leg of the journey.

A Different Kind of OMG: Young People Making a Change for One More Generation

At just seven and eight years old, Olivia and Carter Reis made a big decision: they wanted to start their own company to help with animal conservation around the world.

And they were serious. After an aunt adopted African cheetahs in their name, they found out the realities of endangered animals, and wanted to do something to help. Now 15 and 16 years old, the sister and brother use their organization, OMG: One More Generation, as a catalyst for change in animal conservation, environmental conservation, and youth empowerment.

Olivia and Carter joined The Good Works Show in-studio to talk about how their OMG organization started.

“Our mission is to save endangered species, preserve our environment for future generations and beyond, so that our kids and grandkids can see this beautiful planet as it is now and not have to Google search what they could have seen years ago,” Carter said.

Originally starting as an organization to protect wildlife in need, OMG has helped a variety of animals over the years including cheetahs, giraffes, and elephants. Currently, they are focusing on a letter-writing campaign for endangered orangutans and pangolins. Orangutans are in trouble as their homelands are being stripped away from forest fires, due in large part to the lumber industries dismantling of forests. Pangolins look like armored anteaters, and are poached—one every five minutes—for their scales and meat.

Recently, the siblings conducted a letter-writing campaign to save the rhinos of Africa, and hand-delivered 10,000 letters to the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs.

“We wanted to show them that kids really do care about species that don’t just live in your backyard,” Carter said.

On the environmental side, OMG stresses the importance of creating a safe and clean environment for animals to live. OMG is currently working on a “Report a Butt” campaign via Instagram, calling attention to individuals who throw away cigarette butts on the ground. They are also in the middle of their “One Less Straw” initiative, which calls for individuals to sign a pledge and give up using straws for at least 30 days. The two hope this will lessen the more than 500 million straws used by Americans every day. Too small to be recycled, the straws have nowhere to go but the landfill.

Olivia and Carter use OMG to help inspire other young people to take similar action. Through outreach in local schools and community centers, they educate and encourage young people to find something for which they are passionate, and help make positive change. With Green Well, OMG teaches kids about gardening and local produce, providing the grown goods to community centers and organizations. Their “We’ve Got You Covered” initiative collects warm blankets, which are then decorated by young members of Atlanta’s homeless population with drawings and inspirational and then distributed to local shelters.

“This shows kids that they can make a difference with just a small action,” Carter said.

Those interested in learning more about any of OMG’s current programs can visit their website at www.onemoregeneration.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.

The Mission Continues

When the men and women who so bravely served our country come home, they are often left with a bit of a void. Bonded by the fact that they all had the passion to serve, they miss that opportunity for constant service and camaraderie.

The Mission Continues helps these veterans continue their calling by bringing them together to give back to their community. Partnering with local nonprofits and organizations, The Mission Continues provides the manpower and dedication needed to create real impact.

Placing veterans and community volunteers into platoons, the groups are deployed to areas that are in the most need, focusing on education and at-risk youth, food disparities, housing, and neighborhood beautification.

Not only are the veterans able to continue their service, they are able to find ways to more easily reenter civilian life while collaborating with both veterans and local-residents. The organization operates under five main values: word hard, trust, learn& grow, respect, and have fun. Tjune (10)hese values help connect their volunteers and build and environment to create the most community impact.

Right here in Atlanta, the organization deploys three platoons to serve across the city, with two platoons stationed on the West Side and one on the South, and plans to for expansion over the next two years. They work on a variety of projects, including youth development and providing supportive housing for those in need. In partnership with the Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls Club, they have helped improve technology spaces for kids, renovated and painted reading rooms in the library, revitalized an outdoor baseball field, and helped plant a community garden.

On the community development side, the team helped a veteran’s village housing complex with more than 24 veteran residents. The building has serious issues with flooding, so the platoons installed a drain to alleviate the problems.

Veterans can also take part in a six-month fellowship, in which the organization places them in a local nonprofit for up to 20 hours of work. There, the veteran can acclimate back into the working world while also providing critical manpower to nonprofits that need it.

“This generation sees themselves as assets, and want to leverage their talents and skills that they built in the military to be able to help in their local neighborhoods,” said Stewart Williams, Atlanta’s City Impact manager. “It’s a natural desire to do good work.”

One of their biggest projects, Operation West Side Surge, is coming up the week of June 8-15. More than a hundred veterans are flown in to help with projects all around the city, and stay in campus housing at Georgia Tech. They’ll be doing landscaping and greenscaping at parks, building urban farms, and creating outdoor learning centers, including an amphitheater on English Avenue. For this and other projects, the organization accepts the broader community into their platoons to promote working hand in hand with the community for the greater good.

Listen to the full episode of the show, here. Those interested in learning more about the organization, including how to apply for a fellowship, sign up for a platoon, or donate, can visit www.missioncontinues.org.

STE(A)M Truck—bringing fun and learning to a school near you

For many students, learning and growth are simply about access. Their minds want to explore and create; they just have to be given the opportunity.

STE(A)M Truck brings that opportunity right to their fingertips with mobile-learning labs designed to ignite passion for science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Serving in Title 1 schools of Atlanta, the trucks bring the tools and teaching to students who might not otherwise have the chance to take advantage of similar programs during the normal school day. The trucks can also frequently be found at community events, public spaces, and local libraries.

Started in 2014, STE(A)M Truck started with just one roving workshop, and made sure to incorporate art into the common STEM programming to allow kids to use creativity and innovation. Now with five trucks, and hopes to build the fleet to nine by the end of next year, STE(A)M Truck is booked solid and in high-demand.

“We bring tools, talent, and technologies to communities that may not otherwise have access,” Jason Martin, Executive Director of the nonprofit said. “Our mission is to close opportunity gaps that are too often predicted by zip codes. We want to give youth an opportunity to tackle real problems, not textbook problems, get their hands dirty, and build something together.”

While each truck has a slightly different setup, they are all equipped with tools (both hand and high-tech) for students to learn. Each comes with the technologies and community experts to lead students on experiments and hands-on learning. And they have seen results—of the students who participate, more than 73% say they have an increased-interest and confidence in pursuing a STEM career.

STE(A)M Truck targets students between the 3rd and 8th grade to pique interest at an early age. “We want to spark their interest while they are still young enough, before they get into high school,” Martin said. “We want to give them a sense of what’s possible.”

One, three, five and 20-day “builds” are offered to the students, in which participating groups will take part in putting together their own STEM-related materials, including a stomp-rocket made out of soda bottles and PVC pipe, and a solar-powered Bluetooth speaker.

To figure out what types of builds and projects to do, STE(A)M Truck works with the participating teachers. Working with the teachers is critical, as their partnership and continued enthusiasm helps continue the work even after the STE(A)M Truck leaves. The organization works to build capacity of schools and teachers to do the work on their own.

STE(A)M Truck is always looking for volunteers and supporters. Those interested can go to their website at www.steamtruck.org to learn more on how to give time, talent, and treasure. They are also looking for their hottest commodity: trucks. Building their fleet will enable more schools and students served, and vehicle donations are always welcome.