From Breakdown to Breakthrough

In 1973, Rickie Parker was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him with a life-changing physical disability. “My left leg and arm were amputated and I knew it was going to be tough,” Parker says.

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His road to recovery began with regular visits to his local Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (VR). Though he had regular appointments scheduled, Parker struggled to attend them consistently. “I was a disappearing act for a while. I wanted to work again. I love working, but employers saw me as limited,” he says. Faced with doubt and lack of confidence, Parker hit a low point in his life.

“I became homeless and knew I needed to make a change,” Parker says. With the courage to turn his life around, Parker was referred by his VR counselor to Goodwill of North Georgia’s Workforce Development Program, offered at the organization’s Cartersville career center. While enrolled in the program, Parker learned various skills that aided his re-entry into the workforce. He worked in Goodwill’s Cartersville store where his skill level and work ethic were evaluated. Throughout this process, he regained his confidence, rebuilt his stamina and strengthened his communication skills. “I remember thinking, I can really do this,” he says. Parker secured employment as a Garden Center Attendant at Home Depot, where he enjoys greeting people, tending to the plants and simply going to work each day.

From a life-changing accident to a life-changing experience, Parker found hope in himself again. “I couldn’t have done it without Goodwill,” he says. “They believed in me, counseled me and went the extra mile for me.” Less than a year ago, Parker believed he would not be able to work again. With help from Goodwill, he broke through barriers and landed his life on the right track.

After successfully completing the Workforce Development program in 2017, Parker was invited to speak at his graduation ceremony as an inspiration to his fellow graduates. “Being able to speak at the graduation ceremony and look at all of the graduates was an experience I will never forget,” he says. Now a role model for job seekers, a graduate and a homeowner Parker knows the sweetest success comes after the greatest defeat.

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.

Communicating and Caring at The Ellis School

Not every child learns the same way. And even the most effective and veteran teachers are not always equipped with the time or resources to give every student the individualized attention they need and deserve.Our mission is to create confident students who are life-long learners, focusing on what IS possible.

The Ellis School of Atlanta hopes to offer an educational experience for those students who might need a little extra support. First started by Alison Caputo in 2012 to give her son a place to learn and grow, the school offers a learning environment for students with multiple developmental and physical disabilities.

Caputo and her husband started the school after being met with programs in the public school system that didn’t fully meet their son’s needs. Caputo found that most teachers had too much on their plate or did not have enough training to accommodate students like her son with multiple disabilities.

They were also looking for a school that placed high-importance on communication. Caputo believes that communication was a crucial piece for her son, and so many others like him, to help him be a member of his community and have human relationships.

“Those relationships really start and end with communication,” Caputo said. “For a child who has so many other things going on, at the very least we wanted him to have enriched relationships. That was the main thrust of what we were looking for in a program.”

The Caputos quickly realized that many parents and families were looking for this type of program. The school works with a highly-collaborative staff that designs individualized programs for each student. When the child first enters the school, they will complete a full evaluation and assessment, including vision, hearing, behavior, motor skills, and speech. Evaluators will also determine the academic level for each student, looking at their communication skills, and their math and sequential problem-solving scores.

From there, the staff develops a program to capitalize on the student’s strengths, and focus any high-need areas. This is not just a student-teacher approach, though. Parents and family members are asked to be as involved as possible, making sure they are fully aware of any medical and educational needs, and utilizing at-home strategies to carry the learning throughout the full day.

Since the school is also a nonprofit, they also offer additional programming, including a summer camp that is open to all members of the community. They also offer community education events to help train and inform members of the community who might want to learn more. Lastly, The Ellis School helps with evaluation services to provide families unique and specialized evaluation services outside of their public school or hospital.

The school has seen many success stories, including a young student who was ten years old when she started at the Ellis School. At first, she wouldn’t speak, and scared of her walker, her only device of mobility. By working with the school and its staff, she became more comfortable with her walker, and blossomed in her communication. Now, she’s a chatty teen and her academic scores have increased.

The School is always looking for financial support and volunteers for their summer camp, and can be found online at www.ellisschoolatlanta.org. Listen to the full episode of The Good Works Show, here!

Call it a Comeback

Success Story Template (5)Some of Brian Bennett’s past mistakes were the only thing standing in the way of him finding work. He has a criminal background, and needed a company willing to look beyond his record to allow him the chance to prove himself. As he searched for ways to start the next chapter in his life, Bennett heard about Goodwill of North Georgia’s Welding program.

While enrolled in the program Bennett’s training was two-fold. He gained hands-on training at CSX Railroad Education and Development Institute, completing nearly 100 hours of welding training. Through the program Goodwill staff also helped him refine his job readiness skills, such as how to address gaps in his employment history on a résumé. Upon completion of the program there was no question that Bennett was a desirable job applicant, criminal record or not.

Now a pipe cutter at Cobb Industrial, he has proven himself time and time again as a stand-out employee. Bennett operates a forklift and industrial equipment with ease. He shows up on time every morning and he stays until each job is complete and completed correctly. “Brian is a great employee,” says Mike Hrib, president of Cobb Industrial. “He’s doing very well and he has a good attitude.” Constantly learning on the job and looking for new ways to help the company, Bennett is eager to contribute and to make up for lost time.

Bennett’s workplace successes have translated into areas outside of his new job, too. He shared with Goodwill staff that his new job helped him and his family have one of the best holiday seasons they have ever experienced. “I cannot thank Goodwill enough,” says Bennett. “I knew that I had to make a change in my life to get where I wanted to be, and it all started with Goodwill.” Prepared to work hard, stay focused and seek out a strong support network, he is a perfect example of the resounding impact of a second chance.

Cultivating Community and Creativity at The Guild

The GuildThink about all the times you had a great idea, and just needed to talk it through with someone else. You just needed a sounding board, and someone who could help you take the idea to the next level. But maybe it’s 10 p.m. and you don’t want to drive all the way over to that person’s house. Or it’s dinnertime, and you don’t want to interrupt. You wait until you can talk tomorrow. In the meantime, you lose that flash of genius, and the creative momentum dies down.

What if during all those times, all you had to do was go to your own living room to talk it out? Or sit down to dinner with the person that could help you expand your idea? What if the flash of genius didn’t go away, but just got brighter?

That’s the reality at The Guild in Atlanta, a co-living home for entrepreneurs and social change makers. By bringing individuals together to live and create, The Guild capitalizes on the collective energy and inspiration of the group.

Accepting housemates for a 10-month idea accelerator program, The Guild brings together diverse individuals who are working on projects or businesses for a social good. The cohort learns how to grow their idea or venture, how to increase their social impact, and how to develop themselves as individuals and leaders. They even receive coaching from professional mentors and industry experts.

For their part, the members have to commit to participation in a leadership retreat, weekly dinners, monthly peer leadership group meetings, and sponsored events. They are expected to take part in four hours of community service at the East Lake Commons every month, and must make a presentation on their project at the end of the program.

Porsha Thomas, founder of Atlanta’s Ladypreneur League and member of the inaugural Guild cohort, is thankful for her experience with the program. “I have a better foundation for everything,” she said. “I am generally happier, because I know how to structure things. It’s knowing that you have people around you to talk to. It helped set me up for success– I’m happy that I joined.”

In addition to their in-house program, the Guild’s Triple Bottom Line Lab works with local organizations to connect them with their environmental and social impact. Not only does this allow Atlanta businesses to increase their social footprint, but it connects the cohort to area organizations and experts, giving them hands-on experience.

What started as one house a year ago has quickly developed into the idea of an expansion, and building a greater social enterprise that develops co-living spaces and programs to empower change makers and build resilient communities. The Guild also has plans to expand its offerings even more, preparing for a 12-week external cohort group that will focus on the same curriculum.

Learn more about The Guild in the latest podcast from The Good Works Show.

A Safe Place to Learn for Georgia’s Newest Citizens

With more than 2,000 refugees resettling to Georgia every year, the state is one of the top six across the country for refugee resettlement. Learning to acclimate to new surroundings can be difficult for adults, and even more tricky for kids, finding themselves placed in a new environment and a new school.

And for many, this is the first time they’ve been in an educational setting in a very long time. Many young refugees, having spent years of their lives in refugee camps, have experienced extended periods of interrupted education. For them, the transition to the public school system in the United States can prove very difficult. Being placed into a grade based on their age, and not their academic ability, often leads to struggle and strife for the student.

For those students, there’s the Global Village Project. An accredited special-purpose middle school for refugee girls who are academically behind because of their refugee-status, the school helps bridge the educational gap. Working with girls ages 11-18, the school focuses on academics and social awareness, and groups students based on their learning level, not their age.

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The school’s focus on girls is based on staggering numbers of those affected by the refugee crisis. 80% of all refugees are women and girls. And, of the 21 million refugees around the world, half are under 18—that’s the entire population of the state of Georgia! As girls have disproportionately less access to education than boys and men, the Global Village Project sought to provide the greatest impact where there was the greatest need.

Providing them with a safe space to learn and grow, the school currently has 42 girls attending full-time. Embracing the student’s cultural values and backgrounds, while also providing them the information needed to feel comfortable integrating into their new surroundings, the school provides individualized attention and instruction for its students.

“At Global Village, you meet the child where they are,” said Pia Ahmad, Global Village Project Board Member. “The most important thing is to meet the child where they are right now. You work with them. We are all teachers and we are all learners. People assume refugees come with a lot of deficits. In fact, though, they have tremendous strengths.”

An 8:1 student to teacher ratio is additionally bolstered by the 150 community volunteers who support the school and provide even more encouragement and assistance to the students. Students are grouped into “forms,” put with students of similar academic levels. Each form is then broken down into 3-4 subgroups, allowing smaller groups of girls to work directly with volunteers, based on their needs.

Students apply to the school through resettlement agencies, and are selected based on their need. And these students have found success– the school is producing staggering numbers of its own. 90% of students have grown 1.8 grade levels in just nine months of coursework, a critical jump for those behind multiple years. 90% of those who complete the program have successfully gone on to high school or college coursework. In fact, during the last school year, 15 of the Global Village Project students went on to college.

Global Village Project is always looking for volunteers, mentors, and financial supporters to continue their work. Those interested can find out more at www.globalvillageproject.org. To listen to the full episode of The Good Works Show, check out the podcast at www.soundcloud.com/thegoodworksshow.

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.

Brightening up Hamilton Mill

If you have visited the Hamilton Mill store within the last three years, you may have seen Chandell Wiley arranging the merchandise, sorting through donations in production, or sharing a laugh with customers on the store floor. Wiley, who is originally from Florida, moved to Georgia three and a half years ago. With three children to support, finding a job held the highest priority during her transition.

“Goodwill was the first job I applied to once I moved here and I’ve been here ever since,” she says. Wiley’s hard work and motivation don’t go unnoticed. As a previous winner of the store’s employee of the month award and a top prospect for team lead, she hopes to continue growing and moving up within the organization. “I am in the process of becoming a team lead now, but want to continue to progress in the company and maybe one day hold an assistant manager position,” she says.

Wiley’s outgoing personality mixed with the determination to achieve her goals contributes to her success in any position within the store. “I pretty much work in every position,” she says. “I’ll step in where ever I’m needed.” Adapt­ability and great service make Wiley one of store customers’ favorite employees. “I really enjoy having conversations with the customers. I get to meet people from all over. Some of our regular shoppers come in and look forward to seeing me. That’s one of my favorite things about working here,” Wiley explains.

In addition to working full-time at the Hamilton Mill store, Wiley is also a full-time mother. Wiley says, “I enjoy being a parent and teaching them.” Whether she’s cooking dinner for her children every night, spending time with them at Chuck E. Cheese’s or taking them to the movies, Wiley’s children are her biggest source of motivation. “Making a way for my kids to be better than I am and leading them by example is what motivates me,” she says.Soccer in the Streets (19)

For the more distant future, Wiley looks to pursue a career as a dental assistant. “I have always wanted to work in the medical field,” she says. While working at Goodwill, Wiley has been able to go to school, allowing her to get one step closer to achieving her dream.

As a stepping stone to her successes, Wiley’s career at Goodwill has been a learning experience. “Communication is always the key,” she says. “Seeing all kinds of different people and never knowing what kind of day they’re having, but still having a conversation with them is something I’ve learned through Goodwill,” Wiley adds.

While her personal and career successes are continuing to grow, her outgoing disposition will continue to shine a light to those around her.