From Homeless to Hopeful

For the last 80 years, The Atlanta Mission has served those who need it most, seeking to transform the lives of the homeless.

Every day serving more than 1,000 homeless men, women, and children, the Mission provides critical wraparound services to the homeless population of Atlanta.

“We’ve spent a lot of time over the last five to six years doing best practice work and looking at what the real fundamental issues of the people we get the privilege to serve each day,” said Jim Reese, CEO of the Mission.

“A big challenge for the homeless and the many people we see on the street is that they’ve reached a place of hopelessness,” Reese added. “When you reach a place of hopeless, you are kind of frozen.”

Reese said that the Mission tries to get the people they serve from a place of hopelessness to help. This can be difficult for many reasons, including a lack of relationships and a support system for those who are homeless.

Started in 1938 as the Atlanta Union Mission, the nonprofit originally operated on a $10,000 budget with 20 beds, serving only men. In 2010, they officially changed their name to the Atlanta Mission, and now serve 1,000 people a day across four campuses.

“The goal of the Mission is to get you stabilized and get you the emergency needs you need,” Reese said.

In the short-term, this looks like shelter, and a variety of day services like laundry and showers. From there, the Mission tries to build relationships with their clients, to encourage them to “choose help” over hopelessness.

“We are not prescribing for you what you need, but helping you discover what your needs are,” Reese said.

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Clients work with ambassadors through this process, and are able to take part in programming through the Mission, like art therapy and conflict management classes.

From there, the goal is to move clients into the “make progress” phases. Focusing on their physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and vocational well-being, the Mission helps them build individual plans and goals. Clients work directly with a social worker, counselor, and an advocate to receive wraparound services.

The Mission hopes for three outcomes through this work: that the individuals become rooted in their community, that they can retain employment, and that they are able to secure housing. The Mission also helps their clients by offering work or service assignments, getting them comfortable with working on a team. In these controlled environments, their counselors can monitor their work and progress.

The nonprofit relies on the support of individuals and corporate partners to continue their work. To learn more about donating, or how to volunteer, visit www.atlantamission.org.

“There is nothing that will impact your life like serving the people that God gives us the privilege to help,” Reese said.

The sky is the limit with Skye Precious Kids

April (17)When Skye Jones witnessed firsthand the struggles of her coworker in taking care of her ten-year-old son, she felt hopeless.

At ten years old, the boy’s illness prevented him from walking, required a special person to bathe him, and caused some additional hardship for the family.

“I wanted to help her and her son,” Jones said.

To do so, Jones created Skye Previous Kids, an organization that caters to families with kids who suffer from chronic illness. Through educational, health, and well-being services, the group works with children ages 16 and under.

The organization helps families in a variety of ways, including payment assistance for treatment, medical supplies, educational trainings, after-school care, transportation, food, and housing aid.

“If your family has a financial hardship and you need help, and your child has a chronic illness, we are here to listen to you,” Jones said.

The nonprofit partners with the Ronald McDonald House to help provide housing assistance, and helps by paying for first month’s rent for new living situations.

Housing issues can also include making current living situations better. Recently, SPK helped a family with a child with a muscular disorder. Their house was filled with mold, and unsafe for the child. The group inspected the house, hired a contractor, and got the necessary services done for the family to make the house a healthier environment.

To help achieve their goals and offer services to as many families as possible, Skye Precious Kids looks for support in a variety of ways, including volunteers, supplies, and funding.

“The community really plays a part in helping us supply for the needs of these families,” Jones said.

This community includes teachers who donate their time as tutors for kids with additional education needs. “These kids are very smart and independent, but they need help,” Jones said. “Anything that affects the family, we are willing to help. Everybody is affected. The child has the chronic illness, but the people in the immediate family feel it too.”

Individuals can get involved by volunteering for events, or joining the SPK Ambassadors Team. They are also calling for engagement through their SPK Challenge, which asks people to take a picture recreating the organization’s logo, reaching for the sky.

Coming up next month, SPK is hosting an event at Monday Night Brewing on May 10, to help raise money for families in need. Those interested in volunteering or supporting the organization can find out more at www.skyepreciouskids.org.

“I got in this business so I could spread more love around,” Jones said. “It’s just little things that could help a family. We are here to relieve some of that stress, to turn your frown into a smile, and to make it all better.”

Listen to their full episode by clicking here.

Blue Girls Turned Gold

For Myesha Collins, Blue Girls Turned Gold has been a passion project that she’s been dreaming up for a long time.

“It’s always been an idea because of where I came from, as far as not having resources as a woman and a young teen mom,” she said. “It’s always been a s51Te175vwNL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_eed, but I never knew how to get it to fruition.”

Now a reality, Collins works with women to help them find these resources and support they need as they navigate through life.

“I’m offering them the opportunity to be braver and see how much power you have within yourself.”

Collins said the seed was planted for her after she became a mom at 15. “Having that responsibility at that age and not having the education and experience was difficult,” she said. “Having this extra responsibility made me know that I had to go harder because it wasn’t all about me anymore.”

Collins joined the military, but was sexually assaulted within the first six months. She said this left her feeling emotionally stuck, and like she was responsible for the bad things that happened.

“I had to learn a lot of lessons, the hard way,” she said. “I want to shorten those lessons for a lot of people.”

The nonprofit works with local women to help them turn from “blue” to “gold.” This is the process, Collins said, of going from not knowing to knowing how great you are. The group helps women empower themselves and gives them resources to make it through life’s struggles and challenges.

“Experiences shape who you are but they do not dictate who you become,” Collins said.

To aid in this work, Collins also recently put together an ebook, called Blue Girl Turns Gold. Along with eight other women and one man, the book shares stories of hardships and resilience, and finding the strength within one’s self to overcome.

“It was therapeutic for me, but I also knew so many women who had the stories,” she said. “It is empowering to see them empowered, and to me, that’s what it is all about.”

“I was looking outside for answers, for support, for encouragement, when all that was within me along with a higher power,” Collins said. “Experiences will occur, how you move forward is all that matters.”

Her organization is also partnering with the Genius is Common movement, to let everyone know they have genius within them. “Everybody starts out with a genius in them, you just have to figure out what the genius is,” Collins said. “It’s getting back to that seed that is already in us and really nurturing that.”

Up next, Collins and Blue Girls Turned Gold will host a Genius is Common Empowerment workshop on Saturday, March 31. Attendees will be lead in conversations on the genius that is inside of them. The group will go through a series of activities and discussions, and light refreshments will be provided. The session is for all ages, but geared toward boys and girls ages nine and up.

For more information on the organization and their upcoming events, find them online at www.bluegirlsturnedgold.org, or Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

A network for good in Lake Spivey/Clayton County (and beyond!)

Transformational, long-lasting change can take some serious manpower. It needs a group of dedicated individuals, committed to a cause.

It doesn’t get much more dedicated or serious than the 1.2 million membership network of Rotary International, an organization devoted to creating a positive impact in communities at home and abroad.

Rotary International is an international service organization whose stated purpose is to bring together businesses and professionals leaders to provide humanitarian services. The organization wants to advance goodwill and peace worldwide, and is a non-political and non-secular group.

With 35,000 chapters around the world, Atlanta is lucky to have many right in its backyard, including the Lake Spivey/Clayton County Rotary. Now celebrating its 58th Anniversary, the local chapter takes its work, including initiatives in literacy and health, very seriously.

“I feel like it’s one of the best clubs you could possibly be a part of,” said Gina McCombs, President of the group. “It’s a group of community leaders and people who very much care about their community. We spend many, many hours doing service for our community and around the world.”

Groups typically meet once a week, either in-person or virtually. While fulfilling their main tenant of helping the community, it’s also an opportunity for members to form strong friendships.

The Lake Spivey/Clayton County Rotary Club is part of the Rotary’s District 6900, and is one of the biggest in the world, reaching from Tennessee to Florida. “We are an awesome force in the world. We love what we do,” said Claudia Mertl, the group’s Public Image Chair. “We’re passionate about what we do, and we try every way we can to make rotary accessible.”

One of their main passions? Rotary groups both locally and worldwide lend a hand to support the organization’s focus on eradicating polio. These efforts have created partnerships with some heavy health hitters, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the CDC, and the World Health Organization.

“We promised the children of the world that we would stop this disease and Rotarians always keep their promise,” Mertl added.

Locally, the Lake Spivey/Clayton County group has zeroed-in on the tragic reality of human trafficking. Supporting the safe home Gigi’s House, a place for formerly trafficked girls ages 13-19 to leave, learn, and get back on their feet, the group recently donated furniture for the house.

They also take great pride in their dictionary initiative, giving more than 20,000 dictionaries over the last 20 years to Clayton County 3rd graders. For some of these students, it’s the first book they’ve ever owned.

To join the club, individuals must be asked by a current member. A great way to get involved is to visit a club and let the President know of interest. For more information on the Lake Spivey/Clayton County group, visit www.rotarycluboflakespiveyclaytoncounty.org. Other chapters can be found at www.Rotary.org.

The Nanny Manny Brigade: Giving Love and Quality Time to Atlanta’s Foster Children

For children in the foster care system, life can be difficult. There are many hoops jump and waiting periods to go through before they are placed in a stable foster home.

This includes lots of time, potentially, spent at the Department of Family and Children Services. Not really a welcoming and fun environment for a child, they can often be left lonely and bored.

The Nanny/Manny Brigade recognized this, and decided to take action. Working with a slew of volunteers, the Nanny/Manny Brigade spends time with foster children waiting at DFCS. Playing games, spending time outside, and planning fun activities, the volunteers give the children the attention they need and deserve.

“Our main goal is to make them feel like somebody is paying attention to them,” said Pam Ritchie, coordinator of the organization. “They help get their mind off what’s going on in their life.”

This includes making sure children are occupied and entertained during high-stress meetings and phone calls, like child behavioral and needs conversations. The nanny/mannies work to create a positive environment for the children, especially as they go through intake, court proceedings, and any trainings with their new foster parents.

This year, the group is hosting a celebration for Cobb County’s foster and adopted children, dubbed “Princess for a Day.” The event will take place on February 18 from 12-5pm at the Smyrna Community Center.

At the event, children can take part in princess pampering, including full-service hair, makeup, and nails. They’ll also be treated to a princess outfit and fun accessories to make sure they feel like royalty. The party will include food, dancing, and appearances by “real” princesses and princes. All the children will get to take part in a fun photo shoot.

Nanny-Manny Brigade solicits event sponsors, princess sponsors, and dress donations. Sponsors at the $2,500 level receive logo placement in event materials and signage at the event. Room sponsorships are also available for $300, and organizations can select from the Makeover Room, Wardrobe Room, Ballroom, and more.

The event will also need donations of fairy wands and crowns, costume jewelry, and materials to make portable dressing rooms. Volunteers are also needed to help put together princess sashes and flip flops. More information can be found on the organization’s website.

To volunteer with the Nanny/Manny Brigade, individuals must submit to a drug screening and background check. Anyone over the age of 18 can sign-up, and then must take an orientation class.

For more information on the organization, visit their website at http://nannybrigade2015.wixsite.com/nannymannybrigade.

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.

Lifelong learning starts with early learning at Sheltering Arms

Not many organizations can tout a more than 100-year history, but Atlanta’s Sheltering Arms, can do that, and then some. Since 1888, the organization has served children and families in Cobb, Dekalb, Douglas, Fulton, and Gwinnett counties.

Even better than their longevity? Their mission. Sheltering Arms

Sheltering Arms works with young children, from six weeks to five-years-old and typically from low-income families, to promote the importance of early-learning and help prepare them for academic journey.

Every year, Sheltering Arms provides critical services to more than 3,600 local children and families, working with participants with their “Creative Curriculum,” a model that seeks to promote self-esteem, creativity, and critical-thinking skills. The Curriculum follows 38 teaching strategies, based on research, which include social-emotional learning, cognitive, physical, language, and academic learning.

At the heart of Sheltering Arms’ work is an intense focus on language and literacy. Those who participate in the program score, on average, in the 90th percentile for language and literacy. These scores place participants in a healthy position to start kindergarten ready to learn and succeed.

“We take building early literacy and language skills very seriously at Sheltering Arms,” said Blythe Keeler Robinson, President & CEO of Sheltering Arms. “Children who do not have access to books and don’t read regularly are at high-risk of becoming some of society’s most vulnerable children.”

To help achieve their goals, Sheltering Arms partners with the Atlanta Speech School and the United Way, among others, and are on board with the state’s 2020 vision of students reading at grade level by the 3rd grade.

Sheltering Arms holds a year-round literacy program, and offers a monthly book distribution to help children build home libraries.

“Our literacy and language focus is what sets us apart,” Robinson said. “Exposing children at young is what puts them on path for love of reading and learning, and the sooner we can expose them, the better.”

Sheltering Arms recently expanded into its 16th learning center, located on the Barack and Michelle Obama Academy campus in Peoplestown. A brand new, two-story, 26,000 feet building, the center has fourteen new classrooms. Children are grouped by neighborhoods, and follow the same cohort throughout their time with the program.

The center also has meeting rooms and hospitality areas, as well as multi-purpose rooms intended for community and neighborhood meetings. The new center was built in partnership with Atlanta Public Schools, in hopes to promote a direct pipeline for education. The goal is for students to transition out of Sheltering Arms, ready to enter Atlanta Public Schools.

Next up, Sheltering Arms hopes to expand its services to increase STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) project-based learning. They are also placing increased emphasis on dual-language student services.

Sheltering Arms is always looking for volunteers, and interested individuals can go online to www.shelteringarmsforkids.com, or visit them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or LinkedIn.

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.”

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.