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.

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.

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.

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.

True Colors Theatre Steals the Show in the Atlanta Art Scene

For an emerging playwright, there’s nothing better than getting the stamp of approval from a celebrated and accomplished Broadway director. At Atlanta’s True Colors Theatre, this is exactly the case for many of the top new theatre talent.

When Tony Award-winning Director Kenny Leon started True Colors in 2002, he set out to create a space to promote playwrights, preserve African-American classics, and cultivate new, young writers. The theatre focuses on creating opportunities for artists of color, and tells stories of diversity, inclusion, and cultural understanding.

With his backing and the freedom to take risks, the theatre often gets to showcase works that other playhouses might not consider. Opening the door to those who often get it slammed in their face, True Colors takes chances on projects they believe in and want to promote.

The upcoming season features a wide variety of plays and musicals for the community to experience. First up in the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winning play Between Riverside & Crazy. They’ll also produce Holler if Ya Hear Me, the musical featuring the music of Tupac Shakur, working with students at local HBCUs to write new poetry and rap for the show’s finale.

Leon and his staff put the season together after careful deliberation of readings and workshops, even taking input from test audiences. If a showcase reading receives rave reviews, it has a chance of being placed in the lineup.

“From there, Kenny starts to craft the story he wants to tell for the whole year,” said Jennifer McEwen , Managing Director of the theatre. “It’s not just play, by play, by play. It’s what kind of message am I trying to tell this community right now. We are always looking for something that has some hope bubbling through. We are always looking for something that makes you think, that starts conversation, and is entertaining.”

Beyond their performances, True Colors hosts education programs for young adults, elementary-age through high school. First, with the Page to the Stage program, True Colors take elementary-aged students, and turn a book into a stage play. The kids then learn the basics of production and putting on a play.

For middle school girls, there’s Act Like a Lady, working with young women who might need a little extra support. The 7th and 8th grade ladies talk about issues currently affecting their lives, and put these emotions and thoughts into a play, letting their artistic expressions aid in social-emotional learning. The August Wilson Monologue Competition is open to all Georgia high school students, and encourages participants to perform a 1-3 minute monologue from August Wilson. The top three performers receive a scholarship and a chance to compete in New York City against winners from across the country.

Individuals can buy tickets to upcoming performances and learn more about educational opportunities at the True Colors website at www.truecolorstheatre.org.

To listen to the full episode, click here.

New Hope and Progress in East Lake

The East Lake neighborhood that people know today is not one and the same of 25 years ago. Formerly overrun with blight and crime, the community has seen a resurgence and revitalization, offering a safe place for families to live and grow.

Much of this transformation is thanks to The East Lake Foundation, a community nonprofit whose mission is to redevelop the area through mixed-income housing, cradle-to-college education, and community wellness. Started in 1995, the Foundation provides opportunities for residents to get the resources and support services they need.

The Villages of East Lake, the Foundation’s mixed-income housing, provides a safe and stable living environment for the neighborhood’s residents. Residents receive the support they need without the stigma, and subsidized housing is situated right alongside tenant-rent housing.

Their education pillar stands strong with the Drew Charter School, the city’s first public-charter school, started in 2000. Once a public elementary ranking at the bottom of the 69 elementary schools in Atlanta, it’s now a K-12 site that seeks to have 100% of its seniors graduate every year.  Offering additional educational opportunities for children as young as six-weeks old, The East Lake Foundation partners with East Lake Sheltering Arms and the Early Learning Academy at the East Lake YMCA, giving students a chance to learn and be ready before they even enter Kindergarten at Drew Charter School.

“We’ve really disrupted the cradle to prison pipeline and replaced it with a cradle to college pipeline,” East Lake Foundation President Daniel Shoy said.

In the old school, less than ten percent of students in the 5th grade were able to meet or exceed state standards. Today, nearly 100% meet or exceed these assessments. The students at Drew have also been measured against their peers at other public schools, and rank above the 50th percentile in nationally recognized standards. Students living in the Villages of East Lake receive first priority for preference. Additional spaces are given to those in the greater East Lake and Kirkwood areas.

The Foundation’s goal is for 100 percent of its 82 graduating seniors to be accepted to at least one college. “We want to eliminate the barrier of access,” Shoy said. “In the old East Lake, you were more likely to be the victim of violent crime or the victim of a felony, than you were to graduate high school.”

In addition to the Foundation’s housing and education work, small businesses are also supported through the Start ME (micro entrepreneurship) initiative.  The Foundation offers an accelerator program and connects small businesses with mentors, business plan coaching, and even help them increase their credit score.

The Foundation has seen great success from its holistic community work. When still in its time of turmoil, the East Lake community’s crime rate was 18 times the national average, but there has been a 90% decrease in violent crimes, and the crime rate for the neighborhood is 23 percent below the city’s average.

More information on the East Lake Foundation can be found online at www.eastlakefoundation.org.

Do you want to hear the full episode of The Good Works Show? Click here.