On Friday, August 13, the culmination of a monumental community effort came to life with the dedication of Gwinnett County’s first and only homeless shelter, The Resting Spot. After many years of planning, United Way of Greater Atlanta’s HomeFirst Gwinnett initiative gathered community leaders and government officials for an official ribbon cutting to commemorate the occasion and celebrate a vision realized.

The $1 million, 20-bed facility located in Norcross will house women and their children and includes a library, computer lab, dining area and landscaped courtyard for guests to use up to 90 days. Government funding along with monetary and in-kind donations from corporate partners made the shelter’s opening possible. “We are happy to finally be in position to provide women and their children a temporary place to rest and regroup while they work to secure transitional housing,” said The Resting Spot Shelter Director, Brandee Thomas. “From job training to mental health services, we are aligned with community partners who can assist families with making the transition from the shelter to stable housing.”

At the ribbon cutting, Chad Dillard, Chief Development Officer of United Way of Greater Atlanta, recognized many instrumental community leaders and organizations like the Primerica Foundation, Gwinnett County Government, and former Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman, Charlotte Nash. He also acknowledged Pat McDonough, community advocate and long-time United Way of Greater Atlanta volunteer, who championed the mission and led community stakeholders to embrace the hard task of finding the resources and partnerships to see the shelter across the finish line. “United Way of Greater Atlanta is extremely grateful for these community partners and for leaders like Pat McDonough who became the ultimate champion, connector, visionary, driver and everything else we needed to ensure The Resting Spot came to fruition,” said Chad. “United Way is grateful for your leadership.”

Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman and United Way volunteer, Nicole Love Hendrickson, discussed the complexities of homelessness citing the statistic that an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people experience homelessness in Gwinnett. “In 2017, the average age of a homeless person in Gwinnett was just 6 years old,” said Hendrickson. “Homelessness is a complex and tragic problem that has only worsened during the pandemic, and Gwinnett County is fortunate to have a partner like HomeFirst Gwinnett on the front lines addressing this issue.”

On Tuesday, August 17, the shelter officially opened and welcomed two families and four single women who were experiencing homelessness. While at the shelter residents will have access to the Norcross Assessment Center, a one-stop shop for resources and support to start their journey to better financial stability. “There is so much more work to do to address this complex problem of suburban homelessness,” said Matthew Elder, Executive Director of HomeFirst Gwinnett. “The shelter opening has been a long time coming and we wanted to make sure we were equipped and 1,000 percent ready to fully support families in need.”

To learn more about the shelter opening and experience the ribbon cutting, click here. For those who are experiencing homelessness and in need of help, please call the Norcross Assessment Center at 770-847-6765 or visit www.homefirstgwinnett.org for assistance.

Previously published on SaportaReport.com.

Two years ago, Gwinnett County saw too many children in its own back yard were growing up with a disadvantage.

Children in “low to very low child well-being” areas across Gwinnett County grew up within these same geographical boundaries, but without access to the same resources. They lacked the same access to quality education, food and health care among other things.

But a lot can change in two years.

On Oct. 18, United Way of Greater Atlanta announced a 2.3-point improvement in the overall Child Well-Being score for Gwinnett County. The announcement came during United Way and Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Children Summit.

More than 350 business leaders, elected officials and community stakeholders gathered at 12Stone Church in Duluth to celebrate the improvements in Gwinnett County and praise the progress achieved because of community, corporate and nonprofit partnerships.

In 2017, United Way of Greater Atlanta saw after its strategic planning meeting that the zip code a child lived in too often determined the fate of that child. United Way observed that, statistically, because of what zip code a child was born into, he or she was handed a disadvantage beyond their control. Through a set of 14 measures, United Way calculated at the time a child well-being score of 58.9 for the 13-county region.

In the spring, officials announced the score had improved in two years to 61.8. That equates to a change in the lives of more than 82,000 children in the region living in low or very low child well-being.
In Gwinnett in 2017, the county had a score of 61.8, but Ginneh Baugh, vice president of Strategic Impact for United Way, said Oct. 18 the score had improved to 64.1. Gwinnett’s score, while higher than the region average, still tells the story of 52,000 children who are living in low or very low child well-being communities, Baugh says.

“It’s about, ‘How are all the children in Gwinnett and in our region doing?’” Baugh said. “It’s not just about what we want for kids in terms of them being smart. I want them to have lots of opportunities in front of them. It’s about making sure the children have the opportunities, resources and social supports they need to reach their full potential. We can take that on.”

United Way saw previously that our region was one of the largest regions growing in suburban poverty in the country, Baugh said. The communities with low child well-being were spread across the 13-county footprint. There are still extreme disparities among Gwinnett County zip codes with the lowest-scoring zip code rating 23.7 and the highest at 81.9.

This means there is definitely still a need in Gwinnett, Baugh said.

“We can’t claim victory, but we can claim progress,” Baugh said. “We’re really excited to see that map change. Also, that’s a big part of what we’re here for. We need something to put our stake in the ground on. By moving forward, the pieces are coming together.”

Gwinnett County saw overall improvements in high school graduation rates, decline in births to mothers without a diploma and more adults who now have health insurance, Baugh said.

Baugh spoke of the progress in Lawrenceville, a four zip code area where there was a 3.2-point increase in child well-being up to 64.2. Lawrenceville saw improvements in high school graduation rates, but an increase in children of families in poverty and fewer financially stable families. These “headwinds” help show us where we need to focus our efforts, she said.

United Way is driving change in its three big roles as a strategic philanthropic partner, data-driven investor and by acting as convener and catalysts for change, Baugh says.

“All of this is so we can activate people, align dollars and really see a significant change,” says Baugh.

There’s still work to be done in the region, though. For example, Baugh said there’s still a “25-point gap” in third-grade reading for communities in low child well-being. But by bringing people and resources together, we can drive collective impact and lasting change.

“We really have to make sure the opportunities are there for all children, regardless of where you grow up,” Baugh said. “Our system is not fully working to meet their needs. There are gaps to close, but we think it’s possible to make that change.

“Progress is possible when good people move from ideas to action.”

To help empower progress and put this plan to action, donate today to United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Child Well-Being Impact Fund.

#WhyWednesday: Belinda Walker

What inspires you to give back to your community? For State Farm Property & Casualty Underwriter, Belinda Walker, it was her commute to work every day that inspired her to take action and get involved!
Today, hear why Belinda serves on the Gwinnett Advisory Board and supports United Way of Greater Atlanta.

When you give to United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Child Well-Being Impact Fund, you get to have the biggest impact on communities. Covering multiple areas to help advance child well-being across Greater Atlanta, this fund is dedicated to ensuring lasting, collaborative solutions to the critical problems standing between a better quality of life for children and families. Learn more here.

#WhyWednesday: Wayne Ellison

“I’m involved in United Way because I clearly see the difference it’s making in our community and it takes all of us working together to make our community better.”

Wayne Ellison is the owner of Ellison Insurance Agency and the Vice Chair of the Gwinnett County Advisory Board for United Way of Greater Atlanta. Listen as Wayne tells us about the importance of extending a helping hand.

In 2018, leaders in Gwinnett County identified homelessness as one of the top issues facing its community. Find out how you can help us work to end suburban homelessness by getting involved with HomeFirst Gwinnett, or find out more about the issues affecting Gwinnett County here.