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.

The Nanny Manny Brigade: Giving Love and Quality Time to Atlanta’s Foster Children

For children in the foster care system, life can be difficult. There are many hoops jump and waiting periods to go through before they are placed in a stable foster home.

This includes lots of time, potentially, spent at the Department of Family and Children Services. Not really a welcoming and fun environment for a child, they can often be left lonely and bored.

The Nanny/Manny Brigade recognized this, and decided to take action. Working with a slew of volunteers, the Nanny/Manny Brigade spends time with foster children waiting at DFCS. Playing games, spending time outside, and planning fun activities, the volunteers give the children the attention they need and deserve.

“Our main goal is to make them feel like somebody is paying attention to them,” said Pam Ritchie, coordinator of the organization. “They help get their mind off what’s going on in their life.”

This includes making sure children are occupied and entertained during high-stress meetings and phone calls, like child behavioral and needs conversations. The nanny/mannies work to create a positive environment for the children, especially as they go through intake, court proceedings, and any trainings with their new foster parents.

This year, the group is hosting a celebration for Cobb County’s foster and adopted children, dubbed “Princess for a Day.” The event will take place on February 18 from 12-5pm at the Smyrna Community Center.

At the event, children can take part in princess pampering, including full-service hair, makeup, and nails. They’ll also be treated to a princess outfit and fun accessories to make sure they feel like royalty. The party will include food, dancing, and appearances by “real” princesses and princes. All the children will get to take part in a fun photo shoot.

Nanny-Manny Brigade solicits event sponsors, princess sponsors, and dress donations. Sponsors at the $2,500 level receive logo placement in event materials and signage at the event. Room sponsorships are also available for $300, and organizations can select from the Makeover Room, Wardrobe Room, Ballroom, and more.

The event will also need donations of fairy wands and crowns, costume jewelry, and materials to make portable dressing rooms. Volunteers are also needed to help put together princess sashes and flip flops. More information can be found on the organization’s website.

To volunteer with the Nanny/Manny Brigade, individuals must submit to a drug screening and background check. Anyone over the age of 18 can sign-up, and then must take an orientation class.

For more information on the organization, visit their website at http://nannybrigade2015.wixsite.com/nannymannybrigade.

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.

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.

 

Second Helpings: Nourishing Those in Need

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40 percent of food produced in the United States goes to waste. A staggering and frustrating number, especially when you factor in the nearly 20 percent of Georgia residents facing food insecurity every day.

In fact, an average food-insecure family of four skips about 100 meals a month just simply because they can’t afford food. Hoping to bring the excess to those who need it most, Second Helping Atlanta bridges the gap between the waste and the want.

Started in 2004, the nonprofit describes itself as a “food-rescue” organization that focuses on two major societal issues: reducing hunger and food waste. This food waste occurs all over: farm-grown food that’s never sold, spoiled food, food not purchased from grocery store shelves, and food purchased but not eaten. Second Helpings finds this unused food, and “rescues” it.

Working with partner food-suppliers, including grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and caterers, Second Helpings connects leftover food with local pantries, community meal providers, and emergency housing facilities to provide food for individuals and families in need. They focus on securing perishable, highly-nutritious food to combat the health impact and typical diet of a food insecure individual.

“We recognize that the clients of the partner agencies who are receiving this food are surviving on highly-processed foods,” said Second Helpings’ Executive Director Joe Labriola. “We’d like to be able to introduce the types of food that they either don’t have access to or can’t afford.”

Second Helpings distributes the food using a powerhouse team of 360 active volunteers. Using their 90-minute model, volunteer drivers are connected with a route that gets them from their home to the food donor, in their own vehicles in 90 minutes or less. These boots-on-the-ground volunteers a quick and critical service and solution for a high-need problem.

The work of Second Helpings also generates an important multiplier effect. With their help, these partner organizations can funnel funds that might have previously been spent on food for their clients, to other critical services and programs.

“They can have a larger impact on the community they serve without necessarily having to raise more money,” Labriola said. “That’s another tremendous benefit and something that allows us to magnify what we are doing in the community every day.”

Second Helpings deliveries reach 4,500 people every day and amount to about 37,000 pounds of food each month. They have also recently started working with the new Mercedes Benz stadium, picking up leftover food from the executive suites, and taking part in the increased focus on the West Side of Atlanta.

The organization will continue its work in this neighborhood, with hopes of even great geographic expansion. Last year, they distributed 1.35 million pounds of food, a 60 percent increase over the previous year.

To continue to scale, Second Helpings is always looking for new partners, volunteers, and funders. More information can be found online at www.secondhelpingsatlanta.org.

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.

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.

Bringing Home Atlanta’s Children

The numbers for child sex trafficking are staggering. In fact, human trafficking is said to be the fastest-growing criminal activity in the country. Within the United States, it is believed that more than 100,000 children are currently being trafficked.

And, unfortunately, there’s a high-prevalence of trafficking taking place in Atlanta. With frequent conventions, large-scale sporting events, and the busiest airport in the world, the city has become a hub for the trafficking industry.

A 2014 Urban Institute study found that trafficking in Atlanta was a $290 million industry. It has been named one of the top 14 U.S. cities with the highest rate of trafficked children. Conservative estimates find that up to 100 girls in the city are abducted every night.

The statistics are heartbrGood Works Show (1)eaking and dire, but thankfully, for the children, and the city of Atlanta, there is hope.

To combat the problem and bring attention to the issue, Genise Shelton started Our Children’s Keeper. In an effort to end what has been called “modern-day slavery,” Shelton and Our Children’s Keeper seek to recover abducted children, help victims rehabilitate, and raise awareness within the community.

“People don’t know that it’s happening in their backyard,” Shelton said. “We have to raise awareness so we can end childhood trafficking here in Atlanta.”

Shelton, who is on Bravo’s reality show Married to Medicine, wanted to capitalize on her platform and exposure to help create awareness for the issue. A mother of six, she was inspired to act for the city’s vulnerable youth.

In her work, Shelton warns that today’s traffickers don’t always fit the stereotype, and that everyone should be on the lookout. While older men are often seen as the culprits, the changing landscape of the issue now includes women, and even recruitment by young peers. Recruitment and abduction can happen anywhere, including in churches, at school, and online. It is important, Shelton says, to recognized the signs of traffickers, and to be on watch for those being trafficked.

Our Children’s Keeper wants to help the public identify these signs, and help children learn the basics of personal safety. The organization provides tools and resources for individuals and communities at large to take action and be more informed.

Most recently, Our Children’s Keeper held their “Bring our Children Home” event, a day full of activities and informational sessions on child trafficking. It included a family fun day, a 5k walk/run, a backpack giveaway, self-defense classes. Law enforcement officials, medical professionals, and family members of trafficking victim also lead a panel discussion to further inform on the issue.

The revenue from the event, and future fundraising efforts will go toward securing a rehabilitation center for formerly trafficked kids, which will include physicians, therapists, a day-care, and employment services.

To learn more, donate, or volunteer with the organization, please visit www.ourchildrenskeeper.org.

Fighting stigma and promoting mental health-literacy at the Lee Thompson Young Foundation

Often, in addition to dealing with the struggles of mental illness, affected individuals must also face the added challenges of misconceptions, misinformation, and misunderstandings about their disease.

The Lee Thompson Young Foundation (LTY) hopes to eliminate those added challenges by encouraging mental health literacy and understanding through education and advocacy. Working with schools, community organizations, and workplaces, LTY provides training and resources to help educate the public.

The organization is named and in honor of Lee Thomspon Young, an actor who appeared in a variety of movie and television roles. Struggling with mental illness for many years, Young never shared his troubles with anyone outside of his family.

This, according to Young’s older sister and LTY Foundation founder Tamu Lewis, is common among those who deal with mental illness.

“I’m sure there are other people in this situation, and we need to work to destigmatize mental illness so people are ok talking about it and they can let their support networks know,” Lewis said. “We are trying to combat the shame that is associated with it.”

In hopes of removing that shame and stigma, the LTY Foundation offers advanced holistic health treatments and strives to improve the lives of all those who are impacted by mental illness. According to LTY, one in five adults in the U.S. have a mental illness, but less than half will seek treatment. Through their efforts, LTY hopes to drastically change these numbers.

Through its MIND Program (Making Informed Decisions About Mental Health), LTY works with K-12 Atlanta schools to inform and educate students about mental health. The program includes providing students with effective methods to cope with stressful situations and issues within their own lives.

Lewis said these programs for young people are critical. “They are facing toxic environments: a lot of stress, anxiety, and pressure,” she said. “They feel pressure differently that we did when we were growing up, and feel a lot more.”

LTY also offers the Needs, Emotional Intelligence, Cognitive Behavior program, or NEICB, which provides tools on emotional and resilience training. Participants work through ways to develop healthy coping strategies that promote mental wellness. The program is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and focuses on each component: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

“We know that in life there are going to be challenges and stressors, but when those come up, we want to teach coping strategies and resilience to handle those challenges in a healthy way,” Lewis said.

LTY’s programs have seen great results, and growing participation. Last year, LTY had 784 individuals take part in one of their programs. By June of this year, their programs had already seen 804 participants.

LYT is a great resource for available research on mental health, and offers the latest findings on their website at www.lytfoundation.org. Individuals can also go online to find ways to volunteer and support the organization.