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.

 

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.”

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.

Why pay full price for a costume you’ll wear once?

From unique to spooky, you can be anything you want for Halloween this year with the help of Goodwill. Find your inspiration below for piecing together that perfect costume. 

Choose between dressing up as a scarecrow, lumberjack or farmer with this costume.
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Turn into a mime and leave the crowd speechless with this easy DIY costume! Top it off with a cap and pair of white gloves to complete the look.
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Dress up as a tennis player this year with a pair of tennis shoes, collared shirt, skirt and tennis racket all from your local Goodwill!
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Bring back the 1920s and celebrate Halloween with class and style in this flapper girl costume.
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Turn your children’s dreams of being a fireman into a reality with this costume spotted at the Northside Drive store!
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Are you a fan of mysteries? Become a detective or Al Capone with this easy DIY costume.

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Whatever you choose to dress up as this year, don’t spend a fortune and make Goodwill your Halloween resource.

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.

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.

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.