United Way is excited to spotlight Iriel Jones as a member of the Cole Society! Iriel is a Labor & Employment Attorney at Fisher Phillips, she graduated from United Way’s VIP Program, and she has served on the Wellness Committee for the Atlanta Bar Association. She is a great asset to our community and to the Cole Society.

Tell us about your role at Fisher Phillips.

I like to call myself the fixer. (I’m actually an attorney.) I help employers comply with their legal obligations as it related to their employees by reviewing employee handbooks, making sure employees are properly classified for overtime purposes, and reducing the risk of litigation. I also analyze affirmative action plans for federal contractors.

You are a graduate of our Volunteer Involvement Program (VIP) program! Tell us about the program and your experience.

United Way’s VIP is designed to develop and enhance leadership skills and increase diverse volunteer participation in nonprofit board and leadership positions in Greater Atlanta. While in the program, participants learn about nonprofit board roles and resources, fundraising, governing as a tram, marketing, legal and ethical decision-making, crisis communication, and intentional leadership.

My experience was absolutely amazing! I met great people who all care about improving the community around them. I gained the tools I need to become a nonprofit board member and I am so grateful for the opportunity United Way gave me.

What inspires you to Live United?

I’m inspired to Live United because we are all so unique and have so much to give to one another, even when we don’t think it’s much.

Growing up, I was taught that if you have a gift, then you should share that gift with others. That way, we can all learn from one another and grow into our best selves.

I make wellness a priority in my life by keeping my mental and physical health a priority. I’m an advocate for therapy and exercise. Health starts with the mind, and therapy can help people heal their minds. Exercise gives your body the energy it needs to conquer the day.

I love living in Georgia because it’s an excellent place to go hiking, find a mountain to climb, or even go for a short bike ride.

What is your favorite piece of advice?

My favorite piece of advice is “write down your vision.” Sometimes we get caught up with life and move without purpose or vision. Having a goal and something to look forward to helps you understand what you should be working toward day-to-day. If you don’t have a vision, seek a mentor to give you guidance. We all have gifts that are waiting to be used.

Tell us about your role at United Way of Greater Atlanta.

I am the Assistant Director of Cole and Retention, which means I am part of the Major Gifts team in the Office of Development. I will be creating and running Cole Exchange events and volunteer opportunities. I will also be getting to know y’all, keeping in touch, and being your go- to gal on all things United Way of Greater Atlanta.

What is the best way to get in contact with you, if I have questions about my Cole Society membership?

You can email me at knewman@unitedwayatlanta.org, or you can call me at (404) 614-1040. I am very excited to hear from y’all and get some ideas and feedback, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

What Cole Exchange event are you planning right now?

I am putting together a Cole Exchange volunteer opportunity with HOPE Atlanta for November 29, 2022! HOPE Atlanta seeks to help Georgians avoid homelessness and hunger through a comprehensive approach that equips them with the tools for lifelong stability. Volunteers will prepare and serve meals for 30-40 food-insecure women and children. Please register for the event at Onsite Meal Prep & Serve at HOPE Atlanta | United Way of Greater Atlanta (unitedwayatlanta.org) Can’t wait to see y’all there!

What inspires you to Live United?

Frankly, I had a very hard childhood. I grew up very poor, at times homeless, food insecure, and abused. Sometimes you can try as hard as you can on your own, and you will still be unable to climb out of a hole like that. The only real and lasting way that we can grow as individuals and as a collective is through community efforts. I know that I relied on my community for many things that I desperately needed to succeed including food, schooling, housing, and safety, and I am a firm believer that without that help I would not be the person I am today. My passion in life is giving other folks the same chance that I’ve been given, to live, to learn, and to grow into a healthy, successful, well-adjusted person.

What is your favorite piece of advice?

Be kind to yourself. Life is a journey, not a destination. Prepare for the worst; expect the best; and take what comes.

Tell us about your role at Publix.

In short I have the responsibility of total store operations for a Publix location in Roswell GA. I get to work with a team of 15 dedicated managers to work on continuous improvement of our location. Together we staff, train and develop our store teams to execute the sales and marketing strategies we create. I also serve as the chief ambassador of the Publix culture at my location.

How have you seen your work change in the last 18 months?

The grocery business has been in a constant state of change forever. The biggest change over the past 18 months has been the level of uncertainty. The pandemic brought unprecedented increases in our business as people began to prepare meals at home more. Growth normally creates an opportunity to add staff and of course as we quickly learned there were more available jobs than workers. I have never spent so much time and effort on talent acquisition as I do now. Another transition I have had to make is toward supply chain flexibility. Just because we plan for a promotion does not mean we will be able to fully implement the plans as initially intended. My team has had to learn how to quickly pivot toward plan B (and even plan C sometimes). The past several months have really opened our eyes to the interdependence of links within our supply chain. We never had to consider that fact the manufacturer of sport drink would produce their products in advance of the warm weather, but staffing shortages or damage at the plant of a supplier of packaging can throw deliveries behind by months.

You have been supporting United Way for about 31 years! What inspires you to Live United?

I have the amazing fortune of working with an organization whose founder was passionate about supporting the communities that made us successful. 92 years later we are still growing a culture of associates that show they care the most about the people they serve. Very early in my tenure I was mentored by a Publix leader who invited me to what was then called “A Day of Caring”. I was hooked! Since then I have served on the Board of Directors of two United Way funded agencies and headed 23 annual fund raising campaigns. I have also had the privilege of guiding hundreds of Publix associates (through my experiences) to make the commitment to become Leadership supporters of United Way.

How do you incorporate giving back into your free time?

It is a family value I that was instilled in me at a young age and as I matured it only grew. My wife served on one of the boards I was on. We have served dinners at shelters together, volunteered our time on holidays and supported about every service event sponsored by Publix. As our family grew we began taking our young daughter along with us to community activities. Our family motto has been to give until it feels good. My proudest moment was one Saturday when my (then 10 years old) daughter woke up early and began baking before sunrise. She had decided to raise money for the local Humane Society. She caught the bug! Making a difference if a personal choice. Through her actions I’m even more inspired to make a difference through sharing my time, my talents and my resources.

We love the ready-made items at Publix, what is your go-to Publix deli treat?

I have to admit I am addicted to the Limited Time Only Boar’s Head Jalepeno Popper sub. It has 3 varieties of cheese, bacon and jalepenos. It’s decadent and delicious.

Tell us about your role at Southern Company.

I lead the accounting team at one of Southern Company Gas’ non-regulated businesses – SouthStar Energy Services. I also serve on the Board of Directors for the company’s sponsored credit union, as well as Treasurer of the Southern Company Gas Charitable Foundation.

How have you seen your work change in the last 18 months?

We embraced the new dynamic during the first few weeks of remote work in 2020 by ensuring personal connections for long-term and new employees remained strong. This included having dedicated time to connect in person or by video for purposeful conversations to celebrate together the milestones of life that we used to do in the office. I found that many of us actually know more about our work colleagues, as work and personal was blurred together on our screens. Clearly the future of in office work will be different than before and being flexible to a hybrid work model will be important to our success as many of my colleagues thoroughly enjoy less time in the office.

Southern Company Gas also embarked on meaningful and challenging DEI discussions, which I have heard others describe like climbing a mountain, and you look down and say we have come so far and we are proud of ourselves, but then look up and see how much further we have to climb and we have a long way to go.

You have been supporting United Way for almost 20 years! What inspires you to Live United?

One of Southern Company’s values include total commitment to the success of our communities. This is important in who we are as a company. I also recall my first United Way Campaign in 2001, and through each subsequent year the personal stories of those in the community that have benefited from the United Way motivates me to continuing my support. I believe one of the reasons for the success of metro-Atlanta is due to the United Way.

United Way recently launched the Unite for More campaign. What do you want to see more of in our community?

At this point in the pandemic, we need to advocate for more housing assistance for those who are at risk of losing their homes.

What is your favorite book?

Usually the last one I read, which happens to be historical background on Greece and the island of Santorini, which I hope to visit later this year.

Of the 4,500 people signed up for the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge, hundreds are Cole Society members. We asked Beth Keller from Habitat for Humanity, Richard Tyler from Rollins, and United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Lauren Rock to weigh in about their impressions of the 7-week self-guided learning experience.

How did you find out about the 21 Day Racial Equity Challenge and what made you want to sign-up?

Richard: I heard about it through the United Way email. I thought it would be interesting to see what the topics were and that I could learn some things and possibly share with others.

Beth: I found out about it from Ginneh Baugh at a Cole Women United Cabinet meeting. It is a simple way to educate myself in order to be a stronger advocate, empathetic ally, and a compassionate human-being.

Lauren: I had the opportunity to collaborate with United Way of Greater Atlanta leaders like Kim Addie and Ginneh Baugh to share my perspective and contribute content ideas for a meaningful challenge experience. My first challenge experience was with the YWCA, however, I learned about it at a conference from Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. and Debby Irving, the educators who originally developed the program. Any opportunity that fosters my continued learning and journey to promote equity I will always sign up.

What lesson have you learned so far that you want more people to know about?

Richard: It has reaffirmed the unfortunate reality that so many things have been baked into our society that have put those already disadvantaged in an even more disadvantaged position, but that good-minded people have been and are still working to correct the courses when and where possible.  But also, that the situation in these aspects is not static but rather are dynamic – that other not so good-minded people are also constantly working to push back progress.

Beth: Redlining in the United States. White Flight in Atlanta. The history of systematic/purposeful housing segregation by the government in the United States and its lasting impact.

Lauren: I am always moved by the moments in history, most recent and distant past, that my fellow BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color) brothers and sisters have faced. This challenge elevates how generations in Atlanta have faced inequities and other discrimination that we often do not read about in articles or see on social media. I’m grateful that this challenge includes these experiences.

Why did you decide to get involved with United Way of Greater Atlanta?

I have been a long-time participant in United Way campaigns throughout my career path in Corporate America. For over 35 years, United Way and area grantees have been the focus of my annual giving initiatives.  All through the years, no truer words echoed with each year’s campaign – “it’s the right thing to do”.

Who or what inspires you to give back to the community?

As a child, my parents instilled the importance of ‘giving back’ to those in need.  Our small family of 4 was not considered wealthy, but what little we did have, we shared with other friends and neighbors.  Each year, my sister and I bagged the clothes that we had outgrown and we took them to family friends who had children our ages.  When we arrived with the bags of clothing each year, I can vividly remember them running out to the car in anxious anticipation of tearing open the bags to find the clothes their size.  To this day, the image of those happy children and the smiles on their faces are etched into my memory.  To me, those clothes were old and worn; to them, they were brand new and beautiful.

Why did you decide to become a Cole Society member?

Genuine Parts Company has five Operating Principles and one of those is Giving Back to the community. By participating in the Cole Society Level, I know that my contributions are making a positive impact. I am assured that every dollar is utilized in the best way possible in making a difference in the lives who receive those funds.

What advice to you have for others who are thinking about becoming a Cole Society member?

It is a personal choice and financial sacrifice but give what you can. Always be assured that any amount you contribute will be allocated to organizations in your community that make the most difference in the areas of health, education, and income.

What advice do you have to navigate the COVID-19 crisis (from a personal and/or corporate perspective)?

We may be apart physically, but in our hearts, we are all in this together.  If every contributor would rise to the call of helping those in need, together, we can have a huge impact on those communities in which we live, work and play.

How long have you been involved with United Way?

More than 15 years.

Why did you decide to get involved with United Way and Women United?

I love how the United Way helps in the community. Their approach to support low-income families in every aspect of their lives and to help them have a sustainable transition is admirable. The United Way really “gets it”. I love the affinity groups that the United Way offers and having the opportunity to serve with Women United has been an awesome experience. It feels special to work with a group of women who have the same passion as you do to support women in the community.

How do you link your professional and philanthropic interests?

I recently transitioned from a role of 17 years to a position more aligned with my passion to work in the community.  During this time, I have had the opportunity to work closer with organizations like the United Way and engage others by sharing how the United Way helps our community and how they can be a part of their mission.

What advice would you give to someone considering inviting the women in their life to get involved with Women United? 

I would share that Women United is a group of focused, like-minded, generous, women who have a mission to change the lives of all women, by providing support and encouragement.

How long have you been involved with United Way?

I have been a donor to and volunteer with the United Way in Atlanta and NE Florida for 20+ years.

What prompted you to get involved?

I initially donated a very small amount through a corporate campaign with not a lot of background on all the great work United Way does in the community. I have visited affiliates like the Atlanta Children’s Shelter over the years and witnessed the incredible impact the United Way makes with each donation and that has made me keep giving and increase my gift when possible.

Why is philanthropy important to you?

What other community organizations have you been a part of?  The spirit of giving back is what truly makes a community special and I was fortunate to have that emphasized early on in my life.  I think each of us possesses the ability to share our talents and time to help others.  That can be mentoring, cleaning up a park, or giving financially.  I previously served on the board for the DeKalb Habitat for Humanity affiliate and I am currently an active volunteer advocate for CARE and help with United Way events as much as I can.

What made you encourage your partner to attend Women United events?

I know United Way events are always well presented and Women United events match her interests.  More people thinking about the issues of our city and ways to help is always a good thing!

What is your favorite quote?

“It Always Seems Impossible Until It Is Done” – Nelson Mandela

What inspires you to Live United? What prompted you to get involved with United Way?

Initially I learned that my company held an annual United Way campaign; and the reasons why Enterprise supported the mission was that we believed in giving back to our communities. Our Founding Values speak to supporting the Community that we work and live in and why it matters both professionally and personally to invest in the health and overall wellbeing of everyone. Ever since that initial conversation 23 years ago, I have been involved through volunteerism and my annual pledge as I truly believe we all win when our most vulnerable populations are supported by outreach and programming.

What aspect of United Way’s work in the community are you most passionate about supporting?

Honestly, I’ve been the most involved with the efforts to address the Homeless populations here in Atlanta. The 5am Street to Home outreach is something I regularly attend and invite my colleagues and friends.  Once they witness another person’s life in that “light” they are forever changed. They recognize how fragile and vulnerable life can be for many. No one should ever feel castaway and forgotten and that is why I’ve been so involved with this area of United Way.

Why is philanthropy important to you? What other community organizations are you apart of? 

I grew up in a single parent household and feel very blessed to have been involved with many significant mentors throughout my life, including my mom. I don’t think there is any greater or more fulfilling emotion than the one you receive from giving back; that is truly when lives are changed.

What is your favorite quote? 

I never lose. I either win or learn. – Nelson Mandela

How did our COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund distribute more than $17 million dollars to the most in need in our community in a matter of weeks? With a lot of help from our friends like Lucy at BELUX Coffee Roasters.

How did you hear about the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund?
We are good friends of Sarah Hsi and she recommends us this fund.

What inspired you to give back?
We received a lot of support from our customers during this hard time and would like to give back to the community as much as we can.

How do you link your professional and philanthropic interests?
As a small business in food and beverage industry, we interact a lot with everyday customers from different backgrounds. This prompts us to think what we can do to benefit the community.

How can we find your products?

What is your favorite quote?
Do the right thing; do things right.