Westside Future Fund: Bringing Renewed Hope and Focus to the Westside of Atlanta

With the pending arrival of the beautiful new Falcon’s stadium coming soon, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in partnership with the Atlanta Committee for Progress and Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank, decided to capitalize on the renewed focus of Atlanta’s westside.

So, the idea of The Westside Future Fund (WFF)was born, and the nonprofit was officially up and running in December of 2014. WFF was created to bring the city’s top leaders and organizations together to help revitalize and make a positive mark on a once thriving part of Atlanta.

While the community’s population reached above 50,000 in 1960, it currently stands at around 15,000 and the neighborhoods have long been dealing with high instances of crime, poverty, and lack of education.

WFF sees the promise and history of the westside, and is devoting efforts in an all-hands-on-deck way to preserve and protect the neighborhood and its citizens. WFF has prioritized four main focus areas to do this: cradle to career education, health & wellness, mixed-income communities, and public safety.

Through their research and time in the community, WFF has found that these four focus areas will provide a solid foundation for the community, and will create the transformational change.

To assist in quality cradle to career education, WFF is partnering with the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, Westside Works, and the recently opened Hollis Innovation Academy. They hope to create a pipeline of education for students who will continue to college and career, making the Westside a source of promise and potential.

WFF promotes health and wellness through its partnerships with Vine City Park, Families First Resource Center, and the Healing Community Center, in order to promote safe spaces for active lifestyles and resources for residents to receive the care and attention they need.

Mixed-income communities are also a high-priority focus, as WFF seeks to provide quality housing to the citizens of the westside. Hoping to keep current westside citizens in the neighborhood, these mixed-income housing opportunities will allow residents to take pride in their community, all while boosting local businesses and bringing in new people to the area.

In their last area of attention, safety and security, WFF partners with the Secure Neighborhoods Initiative, Westside Blue, and Operation Shield to help residents feel safe in their homes and on their streets.

With continued attention on these four areas of impact, WFF hopes to increase the Westside population by 33%, decrease the number of those living below the poverty line by 10%, and increase employment of those living in the area by 10%.

Individuals can learn more about WFF, how they can get involved, and how they can sign-up for the upcoming Westside Volunteer Corps “Day of Service,” by visiting www.westsidefuturefund.org. The event will be held in partnership with United Way of Greater Atlanta, on August 26 form 9-12, and individuals can sign up and be matched with a number of Atlanta nonprofits to volunteer their time and give back.

Adaptable and Dependable

At the age of 12, Tossapop Strickland developed an interest for electronics and soldering. “I began soldering when I was a kid in Thailand with my uncle’s soldering iron. I would take apart toys and piece them back together,” Strickland says. In 2013, he and his family relocated to the United States to be near family and better schools. Strickland’s surroundings changed, but his interest in soldering stayed with him.    24

Adjusting to his new home and a new high school, Strickland learned the importance and value of being adaptable. “At first it was hard. The weather, time and language were difficult to adjust to,” he says. Learning to speak English as a new high school student, Strickland worked even harder to maintain his grades and develop the ability to speak with his peers.

His English continued to sharpen as his friend group grew, but Strickland’s listening and comprehension skills lagged behind. “My speaking was off the charts, but not really my listening or reading,” he says. Upon graduating high school, he looked to transition directly into the workforce. He worked as a delivery driver for a family restaurant, but it did not provide him with a feeling of satisfaction.

With a seasoned interest in electronics, Strickland hoped to find a career that aligned with his passion for solving technical problems and working with his hands. He was referred to Goodwill’s Electronics Assembly and Soldering program by a friend. While in the program, he received technical soldering training and obtained industry-recognized credentials, including IPC 610 Specialist/Inspector and IPC J-STD Board Repair Tech certifications. Even with extensive knowledge in the area, Strickland needed help getting his foot in the door. “Goodwill helped with my English and communication skills for interviews,” he says. “I learned how to sell myself when applying for jobs.”

Overcoming the challenges of interviewing and networking, Strickland got the chance to put his skills to work when he gained fulltime employment as an electronic assembler at Scanfil. “I didn’t know it was possible to have a career in electronics. I never had the chance to try, but Goodwill gave me the confidence,” he says. In nearly half a year on the job he has distinguished himself as a top performer at his work site.

Bringing a great attitude, a natural interest in the work and strong technical ability to every task, Strickland surpasses expectations for every project presented to him at Scanfil. “I work in all of the departments. They put me in departments that are backed up or need to get ahead,” he says. As a valuable asset to the organization, his supervisor Roxana Flores says, “Tossapop masters each department right away and produces quality work. He exceeds the daily goals that some people take weeks to do.”23

Now that he’s hit his stride in his new country, Strickland hopes to continue advancing his career. “I really love what I do and I am thankful Goodwill helped me get here,” he says. Strickland took the opportunity to showcase his skills and not only loves what he does, but excels at it.

Filling Atlanta homes with love, and so much more

“A house is made of bricks and beams. A home is made of hopes and dreams.” For the single mothers of Atlanta, local nonprofit HOME is helping them transform their bricks and beams into hopes and dreams.

 HOME stands for Helping Oppressed Mothers Endure. And although the organization helps to restore hope and healing hands, they are also all about providing the tangible essentials that make a home a safe and comfortable place to live.

HOME was inspired by founder Carolyn Watson’s mother, Margie Faye Davis Webber. With her two daughters and two suitcases, she fled an abusive marriage to start a new life.JULY (7)

“That is the very image that remained in my head,” Watson said. “My mom was such a courageous mom to be able to rebuild her life and be brave. She had such courage and fight to start life all over again raising children alone.”

HOME helps mothers who have taken that courageous step, giving them the things they need to get back on their feet. The organization accepts new and gently used donations of home goods, like curtains, dishes, furniture, and TVs. In addition to the smaller items collected, HOME always ensures the mothers and their kids get brand new beds.

Webber’s legacy is honored throughout the year, too, as four deserving mothers are selected for their courage and perseverance and featured in HOME’s String of Pearls newsletter. Each mother chosen is also given a small financial gift and recognized at the annual HOME for the Holiday brunch and tea social.

HOME works in nine Atlanta counties, relying on word of mouth and partnering with local agencies to get connected to mothers in need of assistance. To qualify for HOME’s services, women must be transitioning out of a hardship, such as incarceration, relocation, or divorce. They must be a single mother, and employed and/or going to school. They must also have a lease that is in their own name.

The organization, started three years ago, helps nearly 100 moms every year. And their good work has not gone unnoticed. Recently, NFL star Colin Kaepernick heard about the nonprofit, and was touched by their mission. So touched, in fact, that he donated $25,000 to support their work.

HOME has seen many success stories, and Watson told of one while on the show. During their first year in operation, a mother of three came to them in need of support. She had just been through a divorce, and was living in an apartment with no furniture. She said she felt inadequate as a mom, and was ready to give up.

“She said HOME gave her hope,” Watson said.

Now, the mom runs her own cleaning business, to which HOME refers customers. “HOME was that hand up that she needed,” Watson said. “And sometimes in life, that is all we need is somebody to believe and somebody to show us that someone out there sees your situation and cares about it.”

For more information on how to support HOME or volunteer your time to help the organization, visit their website at www.home2heart.org.

Finding Strength and Stability One Run at a Time

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5:45am, you can find the team at Back on My Feet Atlanta running the streets. With workouts ranging from one to three miles they are consistent and unwavering with their runs.

But this consistency isn’t just about getting up their heart rate. In fact, the running itself is just an added benefit.

Back on My Feet is a national nonprofit with twelve chapters across the country, including one right here in Atlanta. The organization uses running to help combat homelessness in the city. Through running, Back on My Feet hopes to promote community support, and find new opportunities for employment, housing, and educational resources for those most in need.

“We seek to revolutionize the way our society approaches homelessness,” said Tanya Watkins, the organization’s Executive Director. “We believe that if we first restore confidence and self-esteem, individuals are better-equipped to tackle the road ahead, and move on to full-time jobs and homes.”

Atlanta has seen a significant drop in homelessness from 2013-2016, with numbers decreasing by almost 20%. These are promising statistics, but the problem still exists with 8,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night.

Back on My Feet partners with four shelters in the area to recruit runners of all skill levels. At the Salvation Army, City of Refuge, Gateway Center, and Trinity House, they meet with potential runners to tell them about the program.

Once a person signs up, they commit to three runs a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, each at 5:45am. This lasts for 30 days, and runners can only miss one run (90% attendance) during that time. From there, they are moved on to the second phase of the program, “Next Steps,” which allows the runners to receive resources on education, employment, and job training.

This initial 30-day period helps participants demonstrate commitment and dedication, skills they will need to get and maintain employment in the future. The nonprofit provides the runner with all the gear: running shoes, socks, and clothes. Much of this gear is collected through donations, including a large partnership with Brooks.

The runs every day are from one to three miles, with an optional longer run on Saturdays. When the 30-day trial period is over, participants can still run, but the additional resources become part of the program. Participants work on their goals for the future, and engage in steps to better their lives. These goals could range from putting together a resume to finding permanent housing. Back on My Feet also offers financial aid for those who have demonstrated commitment and need.

The organization is always looking for volunteers to participate in the morning runs. These runs, combining volunteers and participants bring everyone together, removing the isolation and stigma of homelessness.

Supporters can also give financially to the organization, and raise money for Back on My Feet through different running races. Those interested in learning more can check out atlanta.backonmyfeet.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.

11 Common Interview Mistakes

JULY (10)Raise your hand if you’re perfect. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone has been nervous or anxious about a job interview, right? Managing editor of CNBC Jenna Goudreau highlights the 11 most common interview mistakes she’s seen as an interviewer. Are you guilty of any of these errors?

  1. Arriving late
  2. Arriving too early
  3. Appearing unpolished
  4. Not bringing a résumé
  5. Displaying low energy
  6. Focusing too much on themselves
  7. Seeming unprepared
  8. Not having any questions
  9. Asking weirdly personal questions
  10. Forgetting to follow up
  11. Following up too aggressively

Learning how to walk confidently into an interview can make all the difference of getting or not getting the job. So, what do you need for a successful interview? More punctuality? Preparedness? Knowing the right questions to ask?

To read the full article, click here. and for more assistance, visit a one of Goodwill of North Georgia’s career centers. 

 

Meet Katie: From Anxious to Confident

Stephen Hawking once said, “Quiet people have the loudest minds.” For Katie Crunkleton, Hawking’s quote speaks volumes of truth. “Quiet people are deep and interesting,” says Crunkleton, who is one of 40 million Americans suffering from anxiety, the most common mental illness.IMG_9051

Crunkleton graduated college with a bachelor’s degree in art, but due to her anxiety considered herself to be ‘unemployable.’ “Overcoming anxiety is not easy,” Crunkleton says. She was referred by her doctor to Goodwill of North Georgia’s Workforce Development Program, which eased her transition into the workplace. “I was excited when she recommended the job training at Goodwill,” she says.

She completed mock interviews, learned about the many aspects of retail stores and how to work with others. “Being able to come somewhere everyday gave me a sense of accomplishment and I felt encouraged,” she says. With the help and support of the Cornelia Workforce Development team and Employment Specialist Velma York, Crunkleton secured her first full-time job 15 miles from home as a cashier at Dollar General. While she was relieved to have a job, Crunkleton hoped for a job closer to home. Two months later, she successfully secured full-time employment at Shoe Show in Toccoa. Crunkleton, who once feared job interviews, phone calls and the judgment of others, now confidently interacts with customers and co-workers on a daily basis.

Having worked at Shoe Show for only a year, Crunkleton is now a key holder for the store, a responsibility held only by the manager and herself. Through volunteering at job fairs with the career center staff and other program participants, Crunkleton stepped out of her comfort zone and gained confidence, as well as a community. “I put myself out there and it gave me the feeling of having a job,” she says.

Though her fear of social situations was once much stronger, Crunkleton’s creative and determined mind has remained constant. She has always enjoyed communicating with people through art and creating merchandise displays at Shoe Show is just one way she is able to express her creativity. “Visual merchandising is something that I want to continue learning about,” she says.

Grateful for a larger support system and a full-time job, Crunkleton looks forward to where her career is headed. With hopes of further using the skills obtained from Goodwill and expanding her creativity, Crunkleton dreams of owning an art gallery consisting of her unique paintings and pottery, as well as teaching art classes to the community of Toccoa.

Traveling on Two wheels: The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition

With just one piece of equipment, you can get from point A to point B, explore the city, and even burn some calories. The bike is the perfect accessory for transportation, being outside, and increased health and wellness.

For more than 25 years, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition has been promoting the benefits of the bike, and accessible bikeways to connect riders throughout the city. The organization’s mission is to transform Atlanta into a city where biking is safe, equitable, and appealing.

While Atlanta is often known for its packed highways and heavy traffic, residents also have the option of traveling the city on two wheels instead of four. The Coalition helps those interested in biking to their destination find the best and most convenient routes for them.

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In fact, it’s increasing these routes that is a top priority for the Coalition. Through the Connecting the City program, the Coalition hopes to create available bikeways within a half a mile of every resident. Making their way through Atlanta street by street, the organization is making sure that bike lanes, trails, neighborhood greenways, and safe crossings are all across the city.

For those who are just starting out on the bike, the Coalition offers classes to get riders more comfortable and acclimated to the new mode of transportation. In their True Beginners class, students learn the basics of riding and safety, including road rules and what riders should have with them at all times.

For those with a little more experience that want some additional training in busy areas, there are the Urban Confidence Rides classes. These courses help riders navigate car-packed streets, teaching safety and tips for dealing with increased city infrastructure and negotiating city throughways. The ride offers bikers a chance to get more comfortable while in a safe, group setting.

The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition also works with those who aren’t as comfortable with biking. Four times a year, they host the Atlanta Streets Alive event, where streets are shut down to cars for bikers to use. The Coalition’s next Atlanta Streets Alive event will be held on September 24, on Peachtree Street. The route will be centrally located, with five MARTA stations along it. For those not wanting to ride, there are also 40-50 additional activities for participants to enjoy. The Coalition hopes as many as possible come to the event, to promote building community, awareness of the health benefits of riding, and showcasing the demand for streets that are safe for bikers.

In an important legislative year for Atlanta, the Coalition has defined advocacy priorities, including making the future of biking a key tenant of the upcoming elections. They hold rolling town halls to engage with candidates and express their needs. This year has also brought increased construction and traffic, causing an uptick in the Coalition’s and ridership, and in individuals signing up for classes. To meet the additional need, the Coalition has provided a “hack your commute” program, showing riders the best routes to take for their most important trips.

The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition is a membership organization, and gets much of its revenue from its members. It also receives support from the City of Atlanta, and corporate and community partners. It’s always looking for new support and volunteers. Those interested can visit them online at www.atlantastreetsalive.com.

Listen to the full episode of the show below.

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.

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.