Day at the Capitol event highlights collaborative effort between elected officials and nonprofit agencies

By Bradley Roberts

Lawmakers in Georgia have been in and out of session for just over two weeks, but on Feb. 13 they convened again to discuss United Way of Greater Atlanta’s work to improve Child Well-Being in Greater Atlanta’s 13 counties.

A room filled with politicians, donors and stakeholders met to mingle and discuss Child Well-Being in the Blue Room of the Georgia Freight Depot off of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive — a few small steps away from the statehouse.

Elected and appointed policymakers are those who have the ability to remove barriers preventing our children, families and communities from thriving. Removing these barriers is a way we can improve the well-being of the children in our region. There are currently 500,000 children living in areas of low or very low Child Well-Being.

“We are not your father’s United Way,” CEO Milton Little said. “It’s a model that is changing to be more responsive to challenges of communities and demands that companies and individuals make when they make decisions of who should be a recipient of their charitable dollar.”

Little said the United Way had chosen to “swim upstream” in order to address Greater Atlanta’s most pressing issue, which was the well-being of our children.

United Way of Greater Atlanta saw at the end of its last strategic planning meeting that children growing up in Greater Atlanta’s 13 counties were given a disadvantage based on the zip code where they were born.

United Way now uses 14 different data-driven child, community and family measures to determine an overall “Child Well-Being” score for each zip code in our 13-county region. It’s a shared agenda, and a way to leverage your donations in order to maximize the impact and reverse the implications of the Child Well-Being score.

By using the child as the lens, United Way can then identify the big picture needs of the community.

The Greater Atlanta area is one that has been extremely generous since its inception in 1905, Little said.

“Today, the United Way of Greater Atlanta is the most robust in the national system in terms of annual revenue raised,” Little says. “That is a testament to the generosity of you and others like you. We happen to be living in communities of great generosity — people who understand the personal sacrifices and personal commitment to the well-being of the community they are a part of.”

United Way has become “stewards of [donors’] generosity,” Little said. United Way is tasked with figuring out ways to aggregate philanthropy in our community, and then charge our volunteers to help make decisions about where we invest into the community.

He asked the room to continue to influence “policies that address challenges our people face.”

Gov. Brian Kemp made an appearance at Day at the Capitol. The newly-elected Republican governor, dressed in a blue, pinstriped suit made his way around the room, shaking hands with attendees before stopping to thank United Way for the work it does in this community.

Kemp agreed with Little, saying that the Legislative session wasn’t just about “passing laws and budget,” but drafting laws that govern our state, constituents and groups like United Way that are doing good work.

Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce President Dan Kaufman commented further on the “good work” United Way has been doing.

Kaufman talked about the great disparity in child well-being scores across his county — part of the county averages at 81.9, while the lowest zip code rating in Gwinnett is 23.7.

The Child Well-Being map is astonishing,” he says. “There are many places where our children are not doing well.”

Kaufman said with its population of children in low or very low child well-being —around 68,000— Gwinnett would still be the 25th largest county in the state, which was something that “really hit [him] between the eyes” when he started looking at the disparities. He highlighted some of the initiatives Gwinnett has adopted in order to address its children.

“Whatever we are doing in Gwinnett County is a direct result of the work United Way does with its Child Well-Being study,” he said.

The challenges Gwinnett County faces are not unique to one specific area, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said.

“We wouldn’t be the city of Atlanta if it wasn’t for your leadership,” Bottoms told the crowd. “We appreciate that you are willing to stand in the gap so we able to continue on the path forward in this city.”

Bottoms agreed that every child in Atlanta deserves an opportunity for success. It’s an agenda that isn’t hard to get behind.

“Child Well-Being is something that really resonates because people can quibble and argue —and fairly so— about to what extent you should help able-bodied people,” Mike Petrik, a local attorney and member of the Tocqueville Society and Ivan Allen Circle affinity groups. “But, with children, their futures are not a function of bad decisions.

“The Child Well-Being index is a wonderful metric for determining the health of a county.”

It’s United Way’s job, and the job of our elected officials, to make sure all children are doing well because there’s a clear connection to their well-being and the success of our community.

It’s what makes this an agenda that is easy to get behind.

“We want to create platforms where everyone can achieve success with no limits,” Little said. “We ask that you work with us, join us and continue to embrace Child Well-Being and our agenda because it’s your agenda.”