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.

A Rewarding Leap of Faith

Success Story Template (5)Inspired by her daughter Kaylee to transition her baking hobby to to a full-blown business venture, Amber Tellis took a leap of faith and started her own business, Kaylee Cake Pops and More. Before this leap, Tellis worked for a local railroad company, but the hours didn’t allow her much time with her family, and she was eager to pursue work that allowed her better balance between her growing career and growing children. Working full time, building a family with her husband and finding the time to bake was a challenge. “I knew I needed to work for myself if I wanted to make time for everything. I decided to jump out on faith and go out on my own instinct,” says Tellis.
Enrolling in Goodwill of North Georgia’s GoodBIZ program helped ease her transition from baking as a hobby to starting and running a business. “The GoodBIZ program helped me determine what exactly I wanted from the business. I used to look at it as a hobby, now I look at it as a business,” Tellis says. Through the program, Tellis received assistance in developing a business concept and plan, and was exposed to different events and resources to help her refine her business strategy.
Now, Tellis proudly earns a living doing what she loves with her inspiration by her side. “Kaylee still pitches in when she can. She usually does the taste tests for me,” Tellis says. Having only baked for one year before making the decision to launch her own business, Tellis is thankful for Goodwill’s support. “[The program] really prepared me to become business minded,” she says. Sharing her success story at Goodwill’s Metro graduation, a recognition ceremony for the organization’s metro-area program graduates, was momentous for Tellis. “I was nervous, but being able to share my story with other graduates was rewarding,” she says.
Since its small and sweet beginning, Kaylee Cake Pops and More has continuously grown into a successful and stable business. Tellis stays busy, competing in various baking competitions and catering events, ranging from baby showers and weddings to graduation ceremonies and corporate meetings. “I’ve been blessed,” she says. Critical to her business’s success has been an emphasis on quality. Whether she is baking cake pops or packaging her grab and go treats, she understands top-grade product is essential to cultivating repeat customers. As for next steps, Tellis is focused on continuing the expansion of her business, either on the shelves of local grocery stores or inside her own storefront property. She landed on both feet after her career-changing leap of faith, and she is eager for the next leg of the journey.

Workforce and Personal Development with the Great Promise Partnership

For the student participants of the Great Promise Partnership, sometimes it’s the promise part that is the most important.

“With Great Promise Partnership, we realized that so many of these young people have had promises broken to them,” said the nonprofit’s President and CEO Mike Beatty. “When we came up with the name, that’s our promise to these young people that no matter what tough situations or where they are coming from, if they the course and stay in the program, then our promise is that we are going to help them really catapult a career that will be there the rest of their lives.”

So, the Partnership strives strive every day to keep these promises, of working with at-risk teens to help them gain real-world job skills and training, all while still earning their high school diploma.

Working with employers across the state, the program provides a qualified workforce for in-need businesses, while mentoring and supporting the student-employees.

Students involved in the program are identified by their home school district as potentially at-risk of dropping out of high school. With the Great Promise Partnership, they themselves promise to take part in the work program, earning a paycheck and learning critical professional skills.

To keep their job, and their end of the bargain, they must continue to go to school. In fact, on the days they don’t go to school, they are not allowed to work. And if they drop out, they lose their job entirely.

“They are motivated to stay in school and graduate,” Beatty said. “There is something magic about earning a paycheck that makes you feel like you are part of society and you are getting things done.”

The organization partners with 35 different companies, and more than 1800 students take part every year. Students typically work 15-20 hours a week–though some work more–all after school. Beatty says that once they graduate from high school, about one third goes on to college, on third goes on to the military, and one third stays working with the company.

A former football coach, Beatty uses a similar coaching approach to prepare these young kids for their jobs and beyond.

“You kind of have to treat this like building a pipeline for a football team,” he said. “You have to get these folks coached up with the fundamentals of being able to go to work. Once they get that confidence, and they walk out on the plant floor, or into the office, they are prepared. They go in there, and they are going to be successful.”

Beatty says the program works, and improves the students’ attendance, discipline, and provides them the opportunity to learn from mentors and tutors.

“When you provide the mentorship, the life skills, and those opportunities, the young people really thrive,” he said. “That little discipline really makes a difference, when they have people around them that really care.”

To learn more about the Great Promise Partnership, including how you can volunteer or get your company involved, visit them online at www.gppartnership.org.

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!