A Different Kind of OMG: Young People Making a Change for One More Generation

At just seven and eight years old, Olivia and Carter Reis made a big decision: they wanted to start their own company to help with animal conservation around the world.

And they were serious. After an aunt adopted African cheetahs in their name, they found out the realities of endangered animals, and wanted to do something to help. Now 15 and 16 years old, the sister and brother use their organization, OMG: One More Generation, as a catalyst for change in animal conservation, environmental conservation, and youth empowerment.

Olivia and Carter joined The Good Works Show in-studio to talk about how their OMG organization started.

“Our mission is to save endangered species, preserve our environment for future generations and beyond, so that our kids and grandkids can see this beautiful planet as it is now and not have to Google search what they could have seen years ago,” Carter said.

Originally starting as an organization to protect wildlife in need, OMG has helped a variety of animals over the years including cheetahs, giraffes, and elephants. Currently, they are focusing on a letter-writing campaign for endangered orangutans and pangolins. Orangutans are in trouble as their homelands are being stripped away from forest fires, due in large part to the lumber industries dismantling of forests. Pangolins look like armored anteaters, and are poached—one every five minutes—for their scales and meat.

Recently, the siblings conducted a letter-writing campaign to save the rhinos of Africa, and hand-delivered 10,000 letters to the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs.

“We wanted to show them that kids really do care about species that don’t just live in your backyard,” Carter said.

On the environmental side, OMG stresses the importance of creating a safe and clean environment for animals to live. OMG is currently working on a “Report a Butt” campaign via Instagram, calling attention to individuals who throw away cigarette butts on the ground. They are also in the middle of their “One Less Straw” initiative, which calls for individuals to sign a pledge and give up using straws for at least 30 days. The two hope this will lessen the more than 500 million straws used by Americans every day. Too small to be recycled, the straws have nowhere to go but the landfill.

Olivia and Carter use OMG to help inspire other young people to take similar action. Through outreach in local schools and community centers, they educate and encourage young people to find something for which they are passionate, and help make positive change. With Green Well, OMG teaches kids about gardening and local produce, providing the grown goods to community centers and organizations. Their “We’ve Got You Covered” initiative collects warm blankets, which are then decorated by young members of Atlanta’s homeless population with drawings and inspirational and then distributed to local shelters.

“This shows kids that they can make a difference with just a small action,” Carter said.

Those interested in learning more about any of OMG’s current programs can visit their website at www.onemoregeneration.org.

SheWill: Teaching Financial literacy with a side of self-esteem and empowerment

JULY (4)At a 2013 Financial Literacy and Education Summit held at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray stated that “a large majority of K-12 teachers in the U.S. say that personal finance should be taught in school, yet less than a third say they’ve taught lessons about money, and more than half feel unqualified to teach their state’s financial literacy standards.”

Atlanta’s nonprofit organization SheWill understands this critical need, and is doing its part by teaching financial literacy to local girls between the ages of 8 and 17. These girls learn the importance of financial awareness and career empowerment.

Through an interactive, lecture-based curriculum, girls are taught through age-appropriate activities related to finance and work-readiness. For many, the idea of high school graduation is many years away, but the program provides them with insights and a framework for what they can expect when they complete school.

Research has shown that girls are able to understand the fundamentals of money and finances as early as three years old, so SheWill believes that starting them at 8 makes them even more prepared to learn. They talk about the basics, like what money is, how it’s used, how to count it, and then how to implement the financial skills into their daily lives. These types of skills help young girls to understand real life situations like bill pay and financial struggles or constraints that their parents might be going through.

Sheena Williams, Founder and Executive Director of the organization, hopes that beyond the financial training, that the girls learn individuality, self-esteem, and independence. She teaches them these skills through a variety of programs within the organization. In the mentoring program, girls are paired up with professionals who can guide them and teach them in their desired fields of study. Girls go through the fundamentals of finance in a 10-week course, but also meet and communicate regularly with their mentors to talk about areas they can build on. Then, in the SheWill Lead program, coursework focuses on the development and nurturing of leadership skills.  Finally, in the organization’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, girls learn that leading a business is just like leading their own life.

SheWill also travels to local schools, community centers, and social clubs to bring the organization’s curriculum to girls all over the city. Through their outreach programs, girls can learn how to balance a checkbook, put together their first resume, or build a business plan, all while incorporating fun activities, like Zumba.

The organization doesn’t stop with just the girls in the program, though. Understanding that this learning must continue at home, they offer opportunities for mothers and daughters to attend classes and events together. Girls 13 and over can bring their moms to the classes, and while the young girls learn their own lessons, moms are given tips on other financial topics, like couponing, budgeting, saving, and finding free activities for the family.

The organization is always looking for volunteers, including individuals to take part in the mentoring program. Those interested in learning more about how to help out, or who want to sign up for a class, can visit www.shewill.org.

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.

If You Build It, They Will Come: Building Websites for Local Nonprofits with 48in48

Nonprofits have a lot on their plate: the mission of the organization, the people they serve, raising enough funds to keep their programming going. The list goes on and on.

While they are busy doing good work, sometimes their online presence takes a hit. There’s not always enough manpower or revenue to design and maintain a quality website.

But with everything going digital, their website should be at the top of their priority list. It helps people connect with the organization, and acts as the face of the nonprofit for new and veteran supporters.

For those organizations who need a little extra help in the web department, there’s 48in48. Serving nonprofits in Atlanta, Boston, the Twin Cities, and New York, the group select worthy, small to mid-sized nonprofits, and helps them build a site that works for their needs.

48in48 mobilizes local digital professionals to lend their expertise and provide assistance with the nonprofit’s marketing and technology needs. Over an eight week period, they work with the nonprofit to go through branding, content, and maintenance for their website.

48in48 was founded by marketing professionals who saw a need for others in their industry to have an outlet to use their skills for good. They saw an opportunity to pair this with the needs of small nonprofits who might lack the resources and ability to keep a site up and running.

“Online presence is increasingly important,” said Carol Williams, 48in48 Executive Director. “A website is really the base of good online marketing. But it’s intricate and expensive, so many nonprofits push it aside due to funding or time to manage it.”

48in48 prefers to work with smaller nonprofit, who tend to be the ones who struggle the most with their online presence. After the eight week period, the program culminates with a 48-hour hackathon-style event in which 48 new nonprofit websites are built. 48in48. Get it?

48in48 held their first event in Atlanta in 2015, where they provided $1,200,000 of value in services to the nonprofits involved. They’ve since expanded into four US cities and are in the midst of planning international events, too.

The volunteers for the websites are content managers, graphic designers, and frontend developers, and typically come from area digital agencies. A lot of the teams that build the 48 websites come as a company group, providing great teambuilding and PR for participating organizations.

Each city’s 48in48 works with the local United Way to identify are nonprofits that would be good candidates for the program. The organization has transitioned from an application to an invitation system from United Way. The United Way checks the submitted organizations and look at their current websites to make sure the event would have capacity.

Nonprofits and interested volunteers can learn more about being considered at www.48in48.org.

Communicating and Caring at The Ellis School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Building the Next Generation From the Ground Up

Author and entrepreneur Jim Rohn once said that “whatever good things we build end up building us.” The Atlanta Center for Creative Inquiry is building a new cohort of creatives, bringing the world of architecture and design to the students of Atlanta.

Expert architect Oscar Harris started the organization in 2004, in hopes of giving high school students the opportunity to explore their own creativity and to showcase the profession to a diverse group of young people. With a mission to mentor, educate, and develop their abilities and provide a greater diversity in the architectural, engineering, and construction industries, ACCI seeks to bolster the fields with the next generation of professionals.

With staggeringly low numbers of minorities and women in the architecture field, Harris and ACCI bring architecture and design within reach of their students, expanding the opportunities for students who might not have considered the profession. Currently, just 1.5 percent of all registered architects are African American, six percent are Asian, and just 22 percent are women.

While they are still in high school, ACCI works with these students to expose them to jobs in the field. Partnering with local colleges and universities, ACCI also works with inner-city students to give them the chance to experience a summer on-campus experience. And, to further boost the pipeline of the profession, ACCI connects their students with area professionals to give them a one-on-one mentorship experience from someone already in the field.

Students who participate in the ACCI program learn from Atlanta’s best, attending lectures, touring construction sites, and visiting architectural firms. They focus on a wide-range of architectural styles and learning, including sustainable design and commercial building.

And, each summer, ACCI presents a week-long academy for 9-12th graders, held at Georgia Tech. While learning from professional instructors, they also get the chance to get hands-on—literally. Students in the program are required to come up with a design concept, and sketch it by hand. From there, they build a 3D model and present their work to their ACCI peers.

“At the end of the week, you’ll be able to stand up in front of everybody and give a presentation on your idea,” Harris said. “When a child comes out of the program, they feel empowered. For the first time, they have been able to develop an idea. They have rendered that idea, and they have presented that idea.”

“The main thing is to get these students excited about themselves and excited about creativity,” Harris added. “We want to get them to see that there is a future for them and a career in architecture, engineering and construction.”

ACCI has worked with hundreds of students in the Atlanta area, seeing many go on to prestigious architecture and design programs in their post-secondary education. More information and applications for this summer’s academy can be found online at www.acci.org. Listen to the full episode of The Good Works Show, 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.