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.

Fair and just representation under the law with Gideon’s Promise

The 1963 case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that defendants unable to pay for legal representation must be provided on by the state. This landmark decision was the birth of the public defender’s system in the United States, and created a momentous shift in the criminal justice system.

To honor that decision, and to ensure all public defenders were informed, engaged, and encouraged as attorneys, Gideon’s Promise was founded. Started in 2007, the nonprofit works with public defenders across the country to train, mentor and support them to provide quality representation to individuals who can’t afford attorneys.

While working with attorneys directly, Gideon’s Promise wants to shift current cultural perceptions, especially as they pertain to people of limited means. By supporting the grueling work of public defenders, Gideon’s Promise hopes to change the way defendants are processed through the system.

The organization is also trying to do their part in stopping mass incarceration. According to their website, since the Gideon v. Wainwright case was tried in 1963, the prison population in the United States has gone from 217,000 to 2.3 million, even though there has been a decrease in crime rates.

To combat these growing numbers, Gideon’s Promise is making it personal. “We felt like who better to partner with than public defenders who help tell the story of their clients, their client’s significance, their importance, and why we should advocate for people who have no voice in court,” said Ilham Askia, Gideon’s Promise Executive Director.

This partnership starts by acknowledging the demanding workload for public defenders. While the American Bar Association suggests that attorneys take on no more than 150 cases each year, the average public defender tried between 250 and 300. Gideon’s Promise works with young, new attorneys to make sure they are prepared for the work ahead of them.

To achieve its goals, Gideon’s Promise has multiple programs. The New Public Defender Program works with attorneys with less than three years of experience, providing them with comprehensive training and support for the first three years of their career.

To create a pipeline of new public defenders, Gideon’s Promise’s Summer Law Clerk Program attracts and recruits current law students interested in public defense. Each student is paired with a partner law firm for a 6-10 week summer training program.

Askia said their ideal public defender candidates are students already interested in the specialty.

“You have the heart-set, mind-set, soul-set to really do this work,” she said. “You have to really want to change and make a difference in the lives of people.”

“Law school tends to strip the humanity out of it,” she said. “You are learning about the law, but at the end of the day, you are representing people. So when we go into recruit, we try to remind them of that. When you talk about public defense, it takes a special breed of lawyer to do this work.”

For more information on Gideon’s Promise, including how to become a Summer Clerk Program partner firm, go to www.gideonspromise.org, or check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

Love Rolls: Providing Comfort and Care for Atlanta’s Homeless

It’s fairly common to hear about seasoned CEOs and company leaders and their successful business and nonprofit ventures. It’s not every day, though, that one of these success stories comes from the mind of a high school sophomore.

Such is the case, though, for the burgeoning nonprofit Love Rolls, and its founder, Atlanta High School student Kendall Robinson.

What started as a project for the 2015 Youth Summit quickly turned into a passion project for Robinson, as she saw firsthand the difficulties Atlanta’s homeless population endured while living on the street. While handing out goods, including toilet paper, at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, she encountered a homeless man who confided in her his need for the item.

“He was so grateful to receive it because normally he would have to ration out one roll for one month,” Robinson said. “I was completely shocked.”

This simple request for an item so often taken for granted sparked an idea for Robinson. Since then, the group has transformed from a small coalition of Robinson’s family and friends to a collaboration with large donor organizations, including Procter and Gamble (Charmin), Kimberly-Clark (Scott Brand), and even Chick-fil-A.

Distributing more than 100,000 rolls of toilet paper to Atlanta’s homeless population, Love Rolls has started a movement for the community, holding toilet paper drives and filling up a warehouse space to store the rolls for distribution.

Individuals can either come to the warehouse for pick-up or come to one of the many outreach events where Love Rolls hands out the toilet paper.

Love Rolls has also extended beyond the Atlanta-metro area, and has made multiple out-of-state distributions, to Florida, Louisiana, and New Jersey, to name a few. Their goal for 2017 is to make even more trips outside of Atlanta to distribute the toilet paper.

The organization has helped countless individuals, but Robinson said one specific man, whom she met during a distribution at Hurt Park, left an impression.

“He said ‘Finally, somebody thought that we might need this,’” she remembered. “It made me realize that I am out here doing the right thing and I am helping people, and they are grateful for what they are receiving.”

Robinson says she couldn’t do the work without all the support from her family and friends. Love Rolls was only supposed to be a one-week drive, but turned into something much bigger. The word of mouth and community support have also enabled the organization to host their recent fundraising 5K, which included fun and games for participants, raffles and door prizes, and food trucks and a movie viewing.

“It was only because of the help of family and friends and getting the word out,” she said.

For more information on the organization, including how to volunteer or donate, individuals can visit www.loverolls.org.

Learning and exploring under the sea at the Georgia Aquarium

Good Works Show BlogAtlanta may be landlocked, but that hasn’t stopped the city from being the home to the largest aquarium in the United States. With more than a hundred thousand animals in ten million gallons of water, the aquarium has been visitors and aquatic-enthusiasts since its opening in 2005.

The aquarium offers a little something for everyone, with current exhibits featuring beluga whales, puffins and seabirds, dolphins, and tropical animals. It’s also the only place outside of Asia that keeps whale sharks.

Providing visitors the opportunity to see rare and unique creatures is a priority for the institution.

“We serve a community that may never have an opportunity to see a beluga whale or whale shark,” said Joe Handy, President and COO of the aquarium. “This gives us an opportunity to highlight these majestic animals and show the world and all of our visitors how beautiful these animals are.”

“It’s very difficult to be inspired if you’re not exposed,” Handy added. “If you have never seen a beluga whale, then you may never have an appreciation for the species, and you may never want to care for the species. We help shape your view and your experience and your interaction with these majestic animals.”

The aquarium offers an immersive experience that allows guests to get a firsthand look at the animals and their habitats. Set up like the spokes of a wheel, the aquarium’s exhibits branch out from one central main floor, allowing families and groups to always have a central meeting point after exploring.

The aquarium also contributes to research on the world’s water animals and have funded more than 100 research initiatives. Supporting studies from Florida to the Galapagos Islands, the Georgia Aquarium has invested time and money focusing on the health and lifestyles of penguins, manatees, sea turtles, and more.

The aquarium also offers opportunities for schools and students to learn about conservation, STEAM programming, and specific types of animals. Students and school groups can sign up for instructor-led tours, or can visit the aquarium on their own. The aquariums educational programs are all designed to connect with Georgia Performance Standards, and enhance what student’s study while in school. The Sponsored Education Admissions (SEA) program offers financial support for free admissions to individuals and groups in need of assistance buying tickets.

As a nonprofit organization, the Georgia Aquarium is supported by the generous work of volunteers and contributions of donors. Volunteers can sign up to help at the aquarium, and can do so on their website. They can act as greeters at guest services or can even sign up to help feed the animals and clean the tanks. The proceeds from individual ticket sales, along with the additional funding support received by the aquarium go toward maintaining the facility and critical research efforts.

More information on how to visit, support, or volunteer with the aquarium can be found at www.georgiaaquarium.org.

“There is always something to do at the aquarium,” Handy said. “Every day is an opportunity to experience the aquarium with your friends and family.”

 

To listen to the full episode, visit http://ow.ly/VACn30goaA2.

 

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.

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.

Fighting stigma and promoting mental health-literacy at the Lee Thompson Young Foundation

Often, in addition to dealing with the struggles of mental illness, affected individuals must also face the added challenges of misconceptions, misinformation, and misunderstandings about their disease.

The Lee Thompson Young Foundation (LTY) hopes to eliminate those added challenges by encouraging mental health literacy and understanding through education and advocacy. Working with schools, community organizations, and workplaces, LTY provides training and resources to help educate the public.

The organization is named and in honor of Lee Thomspon Young, an actor who appeared in a variety of movie and television roles. Struggling with mental illness for many years, Young never shared his troubles with anyone outside of his family.

This, according to Young’s older sister and LTY Foundation founder Tamu Lewis, is common among those who deal with mental illness.

“I’m sure there are other people in this situation, and we need to work to destigmatize mental illness so people are ok talking about it and they can let their support networks know,” Lewis said. “We are trying to combat the shame that is associated with it.”

In hopes of removing that shame and stigma, the LTY Foundation offers advanced holistic health treatments and strives to improve the lives of all those who are impacted by mental illness. According to LTY, one in five adults in the U.S. have a mental illness, but less than half will seek treatment. Through their efforts, LTY hopes to drastically change these numbers.

Through its MIND Program (Making Informed Decisions About Mental Health), LTY works with K-12 Atlanta schools to inform and educate students about mental health. The program includes providing students with effective methods to cope with stressful situations and issues within their own lives.

Lewis said these programs for young people are critical. “They are facing toxic environments: a lot of stress, anxiety, and pressure,” she said. “They feel pressure differently that we did when we were growing up, and feel a lot more.”

LTY also offers the Needs, Emotional Intelligence, Cognitive Behavior program, or NEICB, which provides tools on emotional and resilience training. Participants work through ways to develop healthy coping strategies that promote mental wellness. The program is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and focuses on each component: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

“We know that in life there are going to be challenges and stressors, but when those come up, we want to teach coping strategies and resilience to handle those challenges in a healthy way,” Lewis said.

LTY’s programs have seen great results, and growing participation. Last year, LTY had 784 individuals take part in one of their programs. By June of this year, their programs had already seen 804 participants.

LYT is a great resource for available research on mental health, and offers the latest findings on their website at www.lytfoundation.org. Individuals can also go online to find ways to volunteer and support the organization.

Finding Strength and Stability One Run at a Time

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5:45am, you can find the team at Back on My Feet Atlanta running the streets. With workouts ranging from one to three miles they are consistent and unwavering with their runs.

But this consistency isn’t just about getting up their heart rate. In fact, the running itself is just an added benefit.

Back on My Feet is a national nonprofit with twelve chapters across the country, including one right here in Atlanta. The organization uses running to help combat homelessness in the city. Through running, Back on My Feet hopes to promote community support, and find new opportunities for employment, housing, and educational resources for those most in need.

“We seek to revolutionize the way our society approaches homelessness,” said Tanya Watkins, the organization’s Executive Director. “We believe that if we first restore confidence and self-esteem, individuals are better-equipped to tackle the road ahead, and move on to full-time jobs and homes.”

Atlanta has seen a significant drop in homelessness from 2013-2016, with numbers decreasing by almost 20%. These are promising statistics, but the problem still exists with 8,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night.

Back on My Feet partners with four shelters in the area to recruit runners of all skill levels. At the Salvation Army, City of Refuge, Gateway Center, and Trinity House, they meet with potential runners to tell them about the program.

Once a person signs up, they commit to three runs a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, each at 5:45am. This lasts for 30 days, and runners can only miss one run (90% attendance) during that time. From there, they are moved on to the second phase of the program, “Next Steps,” which allows the runners to receive resources on education, employment, and job training.

This initial 30-day period helps participants demonstrate commitment and dedication, skills they will need to get and maintain employment in the future. The nonprofit provides the runner with all the gear: running shoes, socks, and clothes. Much of this gear is collected through donations, including a large partnership with Brooks.

The runs every day are from one to three miles, with an optional longer run on Saturdays. When the 30-day trial period is over, participants can still run, but the additional resources become part of the program. Participants work on their goals for the future, and engage in steps to better their lives. These goals could range from putting together a resume to finding permanent housing. Back on My Feet also offers financial aid for those who have demonstrated commitment and need.

The organization is always looking for volunteers to participate in the morning runs. These runs, combining volunteers and participants bring everyone together, removing the isolation and stigma of homelessness.

Supporters can also give financially to the organization, and raise money for Back on My Feet through different running races. Those interested in learning more can check out atlanta.backonmyfeet.org.

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.