Mona Sabeti wanted to volunteer in Atlanta during Pride Month.

Sabeti’s new to Atlanta—she’s pre-COVID-19 pandemic “new,” but still, not too long before that. So, it hasn’t been the easiest time to connect with volunteer opportunities in Greater Atlanta over the past year.

“I wanted to find some time to step away from my day-to-day work and give my time to people who need it more than I do, or my [job] does,” she says.

She was scrolling through her LinkedIn feed one day when she saw a friend post about United Way of Greater Atlanta’s “Unite for Service Week.”

This was a massive community-wide undertaking for United Way. It was a coordination of 40-plus service projects and more than 1,000 volunteers across 13 counties. All just in one week.

Volunteering is important work, though. Work that’s never over or finished.

Sabeti wantedto do more for her community—for families and children like her own. This brought her to an in-person—masked up and in conjunction with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines—volunteer opportunity at the Lost-N-Found Youth Thrift Store in Atlanta.

“This was the first time I’ve heard about Lost-N-Found and what they do for the community, but this definitely wasn’t the first time I’ve seen the United Way logo around the world,” Sabeti says. “I figured it would be a great opportunity to do something with [United Way] and give an extra set of hands.”

Lost-N-Found Youth’s mission is to end homelessness for all LGBTQ+ youth by providing them skills and support needed to live independently—LGBTQ+ youth are at a much greater risk of becoming homeless. Lost-N-Found provides emergency and transitional housing, food and hygiene supplies and jobs skills training among other things.

Sabeti and a team of volunteers including Stayce Michelle sorted and tagged clothing donations before they were rolled out onto the thrift store floor.

Michelle is “always down” to volunteer with United Way. She loves to participate anytime there’s a Day of Action or service week like this.

“One of the reasons why I like service week is because I get to learn about so many organizations that are partnered with United Way,” says Michelle. “I always like coming back to United Way because they make it easy for volunteers to access opportunities. The hours are convenient, and you get to meet people and become aware of organizations that have a need.”

Volunteering in-person has long been built into MUST Ministries in Marietta’s operation as a nonprofit. MUST provides food, clothing, housing, workforce development training and more for its community.

“Several times a year we have groups from United Way come in and help us,” Volunteer Coordinator for MUST Ministries Kristy Steely says. “Before COVID, we were about 80-85 percent volunteer run and now that has drastically reduced. A lot of our locations are small, so that forced us to work mostly with our employees.

“We’re getting back to where we were, though.”

United Way had a group of about eight volunteers on site. They were each working through large pallets of winter clothing that had been donated months prior. The organization began the process of inventorying items before shipping to one of three clothing shelters in neighboring counties.

The items on this day were going down the road to a clothing closet and thrift store.

“It serves as a clothing closet for our clients,” Steely says. “It also serves as a normal thrift store in the community where people who don’t qualify for services necessarily but still need clothing for an inexpensive price can come and shop for their families.”

Unite for Service Week took a lot of time and commitment from volunteers, nonprofit agencies and United Way staff. But the payoff comes with the connections we make to the community, new friends and ultimately the lives we change when we can unite for more in Greater Atlanta.

“This is something that’s been close to my heart,” Sabeti says. “I’m a little new to the Atlanta community, and this has been a great opportunity to learn about new volunteer opportunities that are easily accessible.”

The hundreds of hours logged over the past week will go further than you can imagine, and the impact you all have made on your community is exponential. Want to further that impact? Volunteer with us today. Can children, families and Greater Atlanta communities count on you? Let’s do more, together.

Two weeks into MUST Ministries’ summer lunch program, Kristen Miller received a troubling email.

Miller, who works as a Community Outreach Coordinator for MUST, says a mother of six children emailed her letting her know she needed help feeding her family.

“I immediately contacted the lead volunteer at our closest host site and asked if we could add them to one of our routes,” Miller said. “The next day, we were serving them lunches.”

Each summer, more than 350,000 children are hungry. These children have come to expect the lunch provided by their school, and during the summer, that one reliable meal they had the other 10 months is no longer available.

United Way of Greater Atlanta launched its Silence the Growl summer meal initiative six years ago with the purpose of feeding children who are hungry each summer because they don’t have access to school lunches.

In six years, more than 230,000 meals fed children in need. United Way’s efforts have been successful. In 2019, United Way reached its goal of serving 80,000 meals. This success has allowed the program to expand year-round and because of programs like this, kids can focus on more important things — like, being kids.

Miller said about a week after she served the family, she was able to assist volunteers as they delivered to the family.

“As we pulled up to their house, she and her children were so excited to see us,” Miller said. “She looked at my name tag and exclaimed, ‘Oh my goodness! You’re the one who helped me! Thank you so much for helping me feed my kids!’”

The mother of six stood there in the doorway with Miller, hugging her as tears rolled down her cheek.

“This was just one of the many experiences that emotionally moved me and reinforced how grateful I am to be serving our community,” Miller said.

United Way of Greater Atlanta began serving its community in a new way about two years ago following its strategic planning meeting. The nonprofit began to notice that a child too often had his or her destiny determined by the zip code they grew up in — they were 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, and United Way began intentionally targeting efforts in areas of low child well-being.

On May 9, 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.

By using the child as the lens, we can identify the big picture needs of the community, and if the child is fed, then there’s one less thing he or she needs to worry.

If you would like to help us Silence the Growl across Greater Atlanta year-round, and give kids the opportunity to reach their full potential, click here.