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.

Nzinga Shaw on The Good Works Show

This week’s episode of the Good Works Show featured a guest who is achieving great results in creating new norms.  Nzinga Shaw is the first person to hold the title of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the NBA, ensuring fans and players alike know that the team is more than just about their percentage from the free-throw line.

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At the end of the season, every team wants to have more wins than losses, and always has their eye on making it to the championship. There are times, though, when the game is about more than just the game.

For the Atlanta Hawks, priorities extend beyond the club’s free-throw percentage as they place increased focus on diversity and inclusion on and off the court. In fact, the team’s staff includes the first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer position in the NBA, with Nzinga Shaw at the helm.

The Diversity and Inclusion office oversees three key areas. Working on internal engagement, a good employee and job candidate experience is encouraged, making sure job opportunities are publicized in the community to reach diverse demographics, and creating programs so employees can reach their full potential.

“That’s really what diversity is about,” Shaw said. “It’s about finding out what’s great about each individual and then having them put in positions to shine and succeed.”

From there, the office focuses on the game experience itself. Beyond the basketball, they put together a show that attracts a diverse group of fans to the arena. This includes engaging different groups, such as women, and the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities.

Lastly, the Diversity and Inclusion initiative works on strategic partnerships to ensure that the team partners companies that align with their community and outreach goals. Women and minority-owned businesses have been sought out, in addition to the more traditional, larger companies with Atlanta ties.

Atlanta’s rich and diverse community provides a solid starting point for the team’s efforts. Shaw hopes to work with the diversity of the city to bring more people together, and promote integration.

“It’s not about competition, but it’s about coming together to provide a unique experience that everyone can enjoy,” Shaw said. “It showed that we can be unified. At the end of the day, we are human beings, we respect one another, and we all deserve to live a good life.”

The Hawks’ MOSAIC Program, Model of Shaping Atlanta through Inclusive Conversation, is currently organizing its second event. The program tackles different issues and topics impacting the community, and brings together thought leaders from across Atlanta.

Last year’s event was held at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, and revolved around the theme of race and gender in sports. Grant Hill, Atlanta Hawks owner and seven-time NBA all-star opened the program with “fireside chat” with his mother, a former MLB consultant. The two discussed the challenges that people of color face in moving up the ladder in professional sports. The event also included a panel discussion on multi-dimensional diversity in professional sports.

This year’s MOSAIC event will be held on March 14 at the Georgia Freight Depot, and will center around the theme of sports as a catalyst for social change. “I think social action is really what we need to be talking about this year,” Shaw said.

Invitations to the event are first extended to the Hawks’ community, including sponsors and partners. Then, remaining seats will be opened up to the general public. More information on the event and tickets can be found on the Community section of the website at www.hawks.com.

To listen to the full episode of The Good Works Show, click here.

In Case You Missed it…Literacy Action and First Step Staffing on The Good Works Show

Last week on The Good Works Show, two local nonprofits shared how they are making lasting impacts on the community. In the first segment, Literacy Action’s Executive Director Austin Dickson said, “Our mission is to teach literacy life and work skills to undereducated adults and help them reach their highest potential wherever we find those adults in the community.” As an adult literacy nonprofit, Literacy Action helps adults learn to read, learn math skills, and even receive their GED.

Dave Shaffer from First Step Staffing joined the show in the second segment to explain the idea that there is more to finding a job, than just finding a job. The nonprofit helps those with barriers to employment find steady work. While most staffing agencies are for-profit, First Step uses their “profits” to provide additional wrap-around services for their clients. In addition to finding employment opportunities, they help with job coaching, mentoring, and transportation to interviews and work. “First Step Staffing seeks to end poverty and homelessness by providing sustainable income and income streams,” he said.

To learn more about the work these nonprofits are doing in the community, listen to the full show here.

Kidz2leaders and Leadership Johns Creek on The Good Works Show

Mother Theresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

This week, The Good Works Show features two organizations creating those ripples. First, Atlanta’s kidz2leaders works with children of imprisoned parents, teaching them leadership and life skills, and hoping to break the cycle of incarceration. Then, Leadership Johns Creek offers development opportunities for Atlanta’s emerging leaders. Creating a pipeline of effective professionals, the program also provides avenues to give back to the community.

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In the show’s first segment, Executive Director Nancy Staub talks about the 17-year-old kidz2leaders program.

“Kidz2leaders exists to change the direction of the lives of children of inmates,” she says.

The 501c3 was founded by Diane Parrish, who encountered three generations of women from the same family, all in prison.

Leadership Johns Creek board member Todd Burkhalter joins the show in its last segment to talk about the program, and the impact it has on its participants and the community at large.

“We are a series of structured learning environments,” he says. “It’s a pretty unique thing that we design ourselves to create leadership talent and mature our current talent in our community.”

The program selects 25 individuals to go through a nine-month leadership training. They are broken up into groups to also work on a project to help the community in some way.

To learn more about these “ripple effect” organizations, catch the show Saturday at noon on News Radio 106.7 FM or listen at your leisure to the podcast.

Spotlight: HomeAid Atlanta

Annual Essentials Drive, courtesy of HomeAid Atlanta
Annual Essentials Drive, courtesy of HomeAid Atlanta

Feeling safe and secure are some of life’s most important necessities. To have the comfort of a warm home, protecting you from the elements and keeping you from the dangers and instability of living on the street. To go to work and to school without fear of threats or peril. To be prepared when life throws you an obstacle or calamitous event. HomeAid Atlanta is an Atlanta-based organization working to help individuals find this safety and security. Its goal is to offer this stability, and this comfort to those it serves. HomeAid Atlanta’s Executive Director Mandy Crater talks about HomeAid Atlanta’s fifteen year history of helping the homeless population find housing. “HomeAid Atlanta’s mission is to build new lives for homeless families and individuals through housing and community outreach,” Crater says. “We were founded in 2001 and we are the designated charity of the Atlanta Home Builders Association. We work with both the residential and commercial building industries, as well as the community to build and renovate housing for nonprofit organizations that work directly with Atlanta’s homeless. To date, HomeAid Atlanta has completed 53 housing remodels.” HomeAid Atlanta helps homeless individuals and families move into more stable housing. “There are approximately 9,000 homeless people on any given night in metro-Atlanta,” Crater says. “Forty percent are women and children, and twenty-one percent are veterans.”

Crater mentions the “invisible homeless:” those sleeping in their cars, extended-stay hotels, and crashing for multiple nights on the couches of friends. This group often includes those displaced after a sudden and unexpected life event. HomeAid Atlanta serves victims of domestic violence, teen mothers, abused or abandoned children, and veterans. “We help somebody that needs some time to get back on their feet,” Crater says. The organization does this by building both individual and multi-unit homes in coordination with local builders and trade workers. Individuals who live in the homes are expected to take classes on budgeting and financial literacy, parenting, and work readiness.

“One of their graduates is a homeowner now,” Crater says. “After being at the Phoenix Pass location for two years, and working two jobs, she was able to apply and qualify for a Habitat for Humanity home. In two years, she went from being on the street to being a homeowner. It’s life-changing.” One of HomeAid’s biggest initiatives is their Essentials Drive, in which they collect necessary items for families and babies. During the drive they accept diapers, wipes, formula, and baby food. Crater says this is a great way for those who do not renovate or build homes to give back.

HomeAid always does the drive right before Mother’s Day, this year from April 25 to May 3, collecting items that get used up and are costly to replace. “Sometimes they are choosing between food and changing their baby’s diaper,” Crater says. In addition to accepting individual donations, HomeAid works with 30 different organizations doing drives throughout the city. These sites and organizations can be found at www.homeaidatlanta.org.

“We are out their building housing every day,” Crater says. “We serve as a bridge, connecting local builders, trades, and suppliers with local nonprofit service providers, providing a unique and meaningful way for members of the building industry to give back. We try to save 50 percent of the construction costs- through donations from national partners, from local partners, from time, talent, and material.”

This cost savings goes back into the programs and services helping the homeless individuals find more stable housing. For individuals and builders alike looking to connect with HomeAid Atlanta, they can visit the website at www.homeaidatlanta.org or call 678-775-1401.