02-03-2020 · SPARK Prize


Larry Campbell had a vision.

He could take a $25,000 investment and put it into his organization immediately, and over the next fiscal year, he felt he could turn that into a viable revenue stream — 15 percent of which he could pump back into a tutoring program for children in his community.

This was the impetus for Corners Industries several years ago. Campbell is the executive director of Corners Outreach, which encompasses Corners Academy and Corners Industries.

“Corners Academy serves over 450 students in Title 1 schools [in Greater Atlanta], and we do after-school programs and summer camps to help improve their academic standing,” Campbell says. “We began that in 2012.”

But Campbell says Corners wanted to also help families in these communities gain employment and work jobs with better wages and better hours. He wanted to give them an opportunity to earn a living and have the chance to play a bigger role in their children’s lives.

Corners Industries provides lawn services to their community. During the busy season, they service up to 120 yards weekly or biweekly, employ about eight people to full and part-time jobs, generate around $300,000 annually per truck unit and give 15 percent of those proceeds back to Corners Academy — toward a proven curriculum preparing children for the Georgia Milestones Assessment.

More kids served, more families helped.

Think of the impact an extra $25,000 could make.

United Way of Greater Atlanta’s SPARK Prize competition gave Campbell the perfect opportunity to expand Corners’ service.

The competition awards grants to organizations that fund projects addressing Greater Atlanta’s social challenges.

Through the SPARK Prize Competition, United Way incentivizes innovative advancements among nonprofits, community and business groups. SPARK Prize rewards those focusing on improving the child well-being of Greater Atlanta’s 13 counties.

The deadline to submit your idea for this year’s SPARK Prize is Feb. 7 at 6 p.m., and you can submit to competitions in Gwinnett, North Fulton or South Fulton counties.

At each of the regional events, competitors present innovative ideas addressing the needs of children and families in their communities – these are brought to judges in a sort of Shark Tank-esque presentation, and a winner is selected and given the prize.

Campbell took his winnings from the Gwinnett SPARK Prize competition and purchased another truck and lawn equipment. He says this helped generate about $200,000 this past year — $30,000 of that went back into Corners Academy.

 

‘WE WERE THRILLED TO PARTICIPATE’

An estimated 100,000-300,000 youth are at-risk for sex exploitation in the United States each year. This fact shocked Bob Rodgers.

The numbers in Atlanta were staggering, as well. It was something leadership in Atlanta desperately wanted to address.

“I think there was this realization after the city woke up to the fact that not only does sex trafficking exist, but this was a significant problem in our city,” Rodgers says. “The mayor at the time, Shirley Franklin, had done some research around it and… Atlanta was high on the list of instances of sex trafficking. It was just a convergence of things in a two or three-year period.”

Rodgers worked previously as president of a graduate university when he says he “stumbled” across the issue and “couldn’t believe it was occurring at such a broad scale.”

“It was time for me to make a change and see if there was anything I could do to protect these children and end this fight,” Rodgers says.

Rodgers is president and CEO of Street Grace, which is a faith-based organization that mobilizes leaders in the nonprofit, faith and business communities to end sex trafficking of children throughout the U.S.

“We have approached this issue as prevention and protection of children, public policy and then the pursuit of the buyers of sex trafficking,” Rodgers says.

In 2018, Street Grace participated in the North Fulton SPARK Prize competition. Street Grace wanted to use the money from the competition to fund innovative technology that uses a chatbot to “chat like a 14-year-old girl or boy” and then collect information and data on potential buyers of illegal sex.

In the past year, the program disrupted more than 10,000 instances, he says.

“It helped us uncover and identify potential buyers,” Rodgers says.

This was made possible by SPARK Prize.

“It was a neat and interesting concept, and we were thrilled to be able to participate,” he says.

 

NURTURE RELATIONSHIPS, UTILIZE PARTNERSHIPS

Helena-Kelleese Smith founded Serve Community, LLC as a marketing agency for nonprofits and small businesses. Serve Community focuses on building strategy by engaging in community development and educating others through workshops and innovative training methods to help people become better community leaders.

“We’ve been a business for a solid three years,” Smith says.

Smith worked in youth development prior to starting Serve Community. She worked with Girls, Inc., the Broward County YMCA and as a substitute teacher. She was teaching a “teen lifestyle clinic” in one of the local YMCAs in South Fulton County when she found out about the SPARK Prize.

“I wanted to do more for the teens, specifically in high school,” Smith says. “I was working in high schools and partnering with schools like Banneker and Hapeville.”

So, Smith pitched this clinic that would be implemented in South Fulton to help students with homework assignments, job applications and help them apply for scholarships and financial aid for college.

“I was able to leverage that funding and serve more kids, build connections, build partnerships and have a program where you are really getting to serve people,” she says. “I was able to serve people and give back.”

Smith, Rodgers and Campbell were able to take advantage of a unique competition and grant opportunity to make an immediate impact. Do you have the next great idea to spark change in your community?