For individuals, families, and communities across metro Atlanta, the impacts of COVID-19 have left us feeling stressed, anxious, and struggling to cope. When we think about the impacts COVID-19 on children and adolescents across our region, we are also grappling with the increased vulnerability this pandemic has placed on the mental well-being of our youngest population.

At the height of the pandemic, children endured shifts to their education, social isolation from family and friends, and postponement of meaningful activities: family vacations, sports and club activities, and other social activities. Children were forced to adjust and reimage how they celebrated milestones – we witnessed proms and graduations go virtual; we watched children and young adults shared their frustrations with the world on social media. We also witnessed how children responded to the racial and social injustices happening in our country, all while having to adhere to public health guidelines on social distancing.

In a recent issue brief by the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 25% of high school students reported worsened emotional and cognitive health because of the pandemic. Over 20% of parents with children ages 5-12 reported similar conditions for their children. While there have been provisions to maintain, or in many cases increase mental health services for children through telehealth services, there was a significant decrease in access to mental health services, as many of these interventions were provided in school settings.

United Way of Greater Atlanta has been a long-standing champion of behavioral and mental health, and school-based mental health services. Over the last 7 years, our investments have supported behavioral health providers, such as Odyssey Family Counseling Center, to render services in communities across South Fulton and through school-based interventions in Fulton County Schools. Under United Way’s Brighter Future Strategy, Community Driven Innovation, our investments helped to create a space where organizations could shift their service delivery models to meet varying needs of the community in real time – and this proved critical during the height of the pandemic. Charles Releford, executive director at Odyssey reflects on the work his organization during this time:

The provision of mental health services went through a series of changes throughout COVID -19 and its variants.  Agencies like ours had to pivot quickly and get creative in delivering services.  Initially, all services went from the familiar face-to-face format to a much less familiar virtual format. It has been off putting, to say the least, for both provider and consumer.  Overlay that dynamic with the behavior profile of a middle school child with attention deficit disorder and you get a very different picture. We have settled on a hybrid model utilizing both approaches.  Clinicians have been very creative and exhibited an extreme amount of dedication.  

Nationally, we are amid the “great resignation” in all fields of endeavor. Many of our clinicians have felt overwhelmed with the serious increase in demand and the related uncertainty of the world at large and have left the profession.  Here at Odyssey, we try to stress “self-care” for our clinicians and have even instituted an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for those who may need it. The advent of COVID may force us as service providers to continue to evolve to meet the ever-increasing need.  The one-hour therapy session every other week may be over.  Shorter more frequent sessions are proving more impactful.  We will continue to listen to our community, students, and parents to offer the most comprehensive therapy and supportive services.

As we navigate a new world with COVID-19, we must collectively prioritize the mental well-being of our children. This comes with the recognition that we must also address the impacts racism and discrimination as part of this prioritization. We must also center the mental well-being of parents and caregivers. Through United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Child Well-Being Mission Fund and the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund, we have an opportunity to address racial inequities, make investments in communities of greatest need and support organizations, like Odyssey Family Counseling Center, to use their voice to amplify the concerns of the community, increase access point for behavioral and mental health services, such as early mental health screenings and interventions, expand resiliency and wellness efforts, and other strategies that create positive connections for young people. Together, we can do more.

This story was previously published on SaportaReport.com.

United Way of Greater Atlanta’s African-American Partnership (AAP) was launched in 2000 by community champions Conchita Robinson and Charles Stephens. AAP is a group of donors with shared affinities for philanthropy, leadership and service. The group was created to engage underrepresented members of United Way giving societies. In the first five years, AAP realized a 75% membership increase because of partnerships with previously untouched groups, including African-American small business owners. AAP also includes others who support the mission. Additionally, AAP engages members through volunteerism and advocacy, and offers ongoing opportunities for personal and professional development.

To put our community’s children on an equitable path to fulfilling their potential, we must improve the services and systems that support our children, their families, and the communities they grow up in. All young people require support to develop into successful adults and engaged citizens. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated systemic inequities and barriers that Greater Atlanta’s youth and families face in their daily lives. According to a recent study, “Quantifying the Impact of COVID-19 School Closures on Metro Atlanta Student Proficiency,” about 21,000 fewer students in English language arts and 29,000 fewer in math are now on track for grade-level proficiency in Metro Atlanta.

AAP’s signature program Powering the Potential is committed to improving outcomes for African American boys and young men in the Greater Atlanta area, through partnerships that will bridge the college and career readiness gap through increased academic supports, educational opportunities, and pathways to employment for middle and high school boys of color. United Way of Greater Atlanta’s College and Career Ready investment priority aims to improve the college and career readiness for 15,000 youth in very low and low Child Well-Being communities. Youth can graduate from high school ready for higher education and high-growth careers by improving their academic outcomes with access to afterschool and summer experiences, leadership development, employability skills and planning for future careers.

Addressing the achievement gap includes ensuring youth have access to high- quality learning and support services both in and out of the traditional school day as well as exposure to what is possible. United Way of Greater Atlanta and AAP’s efforts began with a laser focus on literacy and has expanded to providing over 1,059 boys and young men with additional learning opportunities targeted to support youth’s overall academic achievement and future success.

To support these efforts, please volunteer to support AAP’s Dream Bigger initiative, or register for the 6th Annual AAP Leadership Luncheon.

To help support United Way of Greater Atlanta’s work to address the root causes of racial inequities, to create a region where every person can reach their full potential, click here to donate to the Racial Equity and Healing Fund.

Learn more about AAP here.

Milton J. Little, Jr., President and CEO of United Way of Greater Atlanta“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yesterday, we honored Martin Luther King, Jr. for his life of service to the Civil Rights Movement, his power to strengthen communities, address social problems, bridge barriers and move us closer to his vision of a beloved community. And while we honor his legacy the third Monday in January of every year, the following Tuesday each year marks another important day for our community – the National Day of Racial Healing.

Today, January 18, 2022, marks the sixth year of the National Day of Racial Healing – a day dedicated to healing from the effects of racism. It is a day to acknowledge the stains in our country’s history and bring ALL people together in their common humanity to take collective action and create a more just and equitable world.

At United Way of Greater Atlanta, our longstanding commitment to remove racial barriers deeply impacting communities in our region remains stronger than ever. Our mission is to engage and bring together people and resources to drive sustainable and equitable improvements in the well-being of children, families, and individuals in the community. Simply put, our work is grounded in equity for all and is core to our mission to improve Child Well-Being.

In July of 2020, we launched our United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund. The fund was created to address the racial disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and to build on the new momentum from 2020’s civil unrest to address racial inequities and to advance deep and widescale changes. This fund invests in structural solutions that address the root causes of racial inequity.

Across the Greater Atlanta community we have seen immense support for the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund. Donations to-date of $3.1M have enabled us to provide multi-year grants to 19 partners. We have also seen a widespread commitment to learning about racial equity and healing through our 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge. Through the challenge, we were able to engage more than 4,500 people across 36 states representing more than 1,200 organizations. Douglas, Cobb and Gwinnett Counties participated in the challenge with a variety of public sector partners such as school districts, county commissioners, corporate partners and Chambers of Commerce. Last year, Gwinnett County officially proclaimed the Tuesday after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day the National Day for Racial Healing in Gwinnett County. The breadth and depth of insights that have informed our work in racial equity could not have happened without the convening of a diverse and talented group of volunteers, advisory board members and thought leaders.

Healing is an integral part of the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund’s title. According to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, racial healing is a process we can undertake as individuals, in communities and across society as a whole. In healing, we recognize our common humanity, acknowledge the truth of past wrongs and build the authentic relationships capable of transforming communities and shifting our national discourse.

As we reinforce the mission of achieving the promise for a more equitable Greater Atlanta, to improve Child Well-Being, healing is top of mind. United Way of Greater Atlanta recently provided grant awards to 8 nonprofits who not only have a racial justice lens but are also focused on healing and restorative practices that are rooted in place and grounded in community. In order to have both thriving and resilient communities, we must respond and invest in solutions that transform the systems that have disrupted so many lives in Black and Brown communities. Through these grants, we are committed to learning alongside our partners to better understand the role “healing” plays in creating a brighter future for children, families and communities and inspiring collective action.

Examples of funded partners are as follows:

  1. Sistercare Alliance – SisterCARE Alliance is a network of professionals, mothers, sisters, entrepreneurs, activists, self-care advocates, and leaders who believe that protecting Black women and their well-being is fundamental to ensuring family and community.
  2. Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiatives(PAD)– is an initiative born out of the work and vision of Atlantans directly impacted by policing and incarceration and committed to a new approach to community safety and wellness.
  3. Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective – is a network of healers, health practitioners, and organizers in the U.S. Southeast, began using the term “healing justice” as a framework to identify how communities can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence.
  4. JustGeorgia Coalition – was formed in 2020 by the Georgia NAACP and the Southern Center for Human Rights to form a racial justice advocacy coalition following the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

In honor of National Day of Racial Healing and beyond, we honor these organizations and their leaders for their longstanding commitment to advancing racial equity and healing for our region. Together, we can do MORE to achieve the promise to be an equitable Greater Atlanta for all. For more information on the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund, click here.

 

This story was previously published on SaportaReport.com.

This year, United Way of Greater Atlanta will provide assistance to more than 381,000 individuals and families across Greater Atlanta’s 13-county region. From the Child Well-Being Mission Fund, the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund, and the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, we’re providing sustainable and equitable improvements for the well-being of children, families and communities.

Because of our generous donors, more children will receive quality childcare, families will receive basic needs and housing, youth receive college planning, and families are provided with tools to build wealth. Read on for some highlights from the last year.

Child Well-Being Mission Fund

The Child Well-Being Mission Fund ensures lasting, equitable and collaborative solutions to the critical problems that stand between us and a better quality of life. The fund includes four investment priorities – Strong Learners, College and Career Ready, Economic Stability, and Brighter Future.

  • $43.92 Million Distributed
  • 223 Nonprofits Funded via 267 Grants
  • 381,000 Services Provided

82% of our grants are direct service grants, which provide active supports, services and/or programming to individuals and families.

Strong Learners 25,703 children will become stronger learners through securing housing and basic needs for their families, providing support to build reading skills, helping to strengthen family engagement, increased access to health services, and access to quality early learning.

College and Career Ready 104,326 youth will be supported for higher education and high-growth careers through strengthened academic support, expanded career pathways, increased college planning and secure housing and basic needs.

Economic Stability 113,062 individuals will gain access to childcare/afterschool care, job skills, financial training, and housing and basic needs, in order to reach economic stability.

Brighter Future 123,389 individuals will be supported through investments that expand key coalitions, increase civic participation, and improve advocacy that directly improves communities in Clayton, South DeKalb, and South Fulton counties.

United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund

Nearly 500,000 children in Greater Atlanta live in communities where the majority of residents are people of color and lack the basic opportunities and resources to thrive. The United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund tackles the systemic issues underlying the correlation between race and zip codes, place and equity.

  • $3 Million Raised
  • 7 Nonprofits Funded Through Initial Grant Round
  • $1.2 Million Granted as Multi-Year Commitments
  • Average Award of $105,889 (Additional round of funding to be considered in Fall 2021)

COVID-19 Response and Recovery

The COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, in collaboration with Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, provided support grants to nonprofit organizations to provide services to people in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fund rapidly distributed dollars to nonprofit organizations so that they could quickly get help to children and families impacted by COVID-19.

  • 14 Million Services Provided
  • $28.2 Million Distributed via 598 Grants
  • 481 Nonprofits Funded

We’ve improved the lives of 82,000 children, but we can do more. We know every child whose life we change will go on to change the lives of countless others, and when we work together our community impact grows exponentially to create an equitable future for all.

Work this important is never over or done alone. Can children, families and Greater Atlanta communities count on you? Unite for more today.

Have you ever stopped to watch a tree swaying with a breeze?

Imagine sitting in your favorite park or looking out your window at a tree whose limbs spread wide reaching out 20 or 30 feet, with branches reaching two, maybe three stories toward the sky. With leaves that are starting to turn golden with the onset of fall, the tree is healthy. But what if instead of stretching far and wide on both sides, there were a set of broken branches? Or what if the leaves in the middle section were shriveling and turning brown?

What if there were signs of decay or damage not only to that one tree but to several other trees in different parts of the park?

When we think about our community, we can think of it like a forest of trees. Some trees represent our health system, some represent our education system, our housing system, financial system and so on. On the surface, the trees don’t seem connected, but what if there was the same problem with several trees?

We would need to look beneath the surface, examine the roots and its groundwater.

For too long in Greater Atlanta and across our country, systems we interact with every day have been trying to fix or help one tree at a time. But the problem is in the groundwater. What should provide essential nutrition and make a system strong has been tainted by systemic racism.

Similar to a forest of trees, a community thrives only from the ground up.

Our challenge is that across the Greater Atlanta region there are too many trees that are not thriving — where the branches and leaves have been fractured by serious storms and weakened at the roots because there was poison in the groundwater.

Groundwater represents the unseen ideologies that feed policies and investments—the roots of our communities. When the groundwater is poisoned, the roots feed that poison into our community through disregard and disinvestment for Black and Brown communities, embedding racial inequities in health, education and economic systems. As these policies “branch” out, our community becomes fragile and unable to weather the next unprecedented storm.

To have the thriving community we all aspire to, we must end systemic racism. We must invest in solutions that look to address the root causes of the problem. In other words: For groundwater problems, we need groundwater solutions.

United Way of Greater Atlanta launched its Child Well-Being efforts in 2017 in hopes of addressing these disparities. But the problems did not start then. To United Way of Greater Atlanta and many of our partner nonprofits across the metropolitan area, the data about racial disparities in health, education, housing and income is not new. What is new is the way we are looking at the connections across those issues.

With a groundwater approach, we see that the problem is not in the struggling students, the overworked parents, the uninsured neighbors. Instead, we see that the way institutions are set up and the policies in place prevent resources from flowing where they are needed most. We see that socio-economic difference does not explain the racial inequities that exist. We see that systems and representatives of those systems treat people differently based on race.

Decades of disinvestment has created instability, limited the opportunity of children and locked Black and Brown communities out of economic prosperity, and these policies have made the branches of Greater Atlanta weaker.

Acknowledging this reality is necessary, but not the end of our journey. We are on an equity journey. Today in the midst of so much turmoil and tragedy we have found information, insights and partners that renew our hope that this community can close the racial divides and strengthen the roots of our community.

By reading publications like Groundwater Approach by the Racial Equity Institute, attending trainings with the National Equity Project, listening to leaders at Partnership for Southern Equity, Annie E. Casey Foundation, TransFormation Alliance, and partnering with organizations like the Housing Justice League and New Georgia Project, to name a few, we call attention to the change needed to create a more inclusive Greater Atlanta.

When United Way announced the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund in July 2020 to tackle the systemic issues underlying the correlation between race and zip codes, place and equity we knew that others would join taking on this challenge. We knew that it was time to unite and heal together.

“The correlation between race, zip codes and its effect on child well-being makes it critical for United Way to address place and racial equity strategically,” Katrina D. Mitchell, Chief Community Impact Officer at United Way of Greater Atlanta, said previously. “The decisions and actions we make today will significantly shape the future.”

And those actions, Mitchell says, are to invest in structural solutions that create effective, long-lasting change and address the root causes of racial inequity. To address these causes, we must invest in civic engagement, leadership and capacity building and education and awareness.

“The establishment of the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund adds significant momentum towards the realization of a more just and inclusive Greater Atlanta,” Nathaniel Smith, Founder and Chief Equity Officer for the Partnership for Southern Equity, said in a previous report.

Smith encouraged others to participate in civic leadership, adding that “the journey towards racial equity for current and future generations is a difficult path to follow.” But it’s a necessary path to follow.

Help United Way create a more just, equitable and inclusive Greater Atlanta. Donate today to the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund.

Jacob Ethel remembers the initial feeling of anger that swept over him when he first watched the video of George Floyd. He says he saw the “callousness” of the police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck and the surrounding officers who stood by and did nothing.

“It was eye-opening for me,” he says. “Especially being an African-American male in this country, you tend to internalize these images… I can easily see myself as George Floyd in that situation and under the knee of the police officer. That was the hardest fact—that could be me. It was heartbreaking.”

Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis, Minnesota, died May 25 after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes.

Floyd’s death was captured on video and shared worldwide, which set off a global movement of protests. Protestors spoke out against yet another senseless and preventable death of a Black individual at the hands of police. These instances are common in Black communities, protestors say, and are a byproduct of systemic racism in America.

Ethel watched as tens of thousands of people assembled in the streets of Atlanta in the days following Floyd’s death to express their outrage and call for change. He wanted to express his thoughts and further the conversation within his own circles, so he began to reach out to friends and colleagues. Ethel, who is serving his second year on the board for United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Young Professional Leaders, says he sent a message to other YPL board members.

“Once I sent that message, I started to get a flood of responses from others telling me how they felt [that day],” he says. “Disenfranchised,” “Anxious,” “Afraid,” were some of the first words that Ethel says the group of YPL members mentioned. But then, as the discussion grew, those morphed into “Determined,” “Motivated,” “Focused.”

“We thought about what we could do to make this a more active communication so we can do something better to support our members as well as the larger community,” he says.

That’s where the conversation started with the Lead. Impact. Network. Change (LINC) and YPL affinity groups at United Way. The group ultimately decided to launch a #howareyouatl campaign to ask its members how they were doing—to check in.

The question, simply phrased, “How are you?” had become hollow, akin to “Hello,” Ethel says. But now, with the current state of the

world—not only in the midst of large-scale protests, but also in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic—this question had taken on new meaning.

What that video of George Floyd showed was a small representation of a much larger issue, Ethel says. The actions in that video were “devoid of humanity,” he says.

“We are better than that as a community, and as a country we have to do better,” Ethel says. “No matter who it was—it doesn’t matter the skin color, race, creed or religion. We have to do better as a community. We can’t stay silent any longer and allow these things to continue.”

The deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others related to racial violence remind us that even in the midst of a pandemic, there is another disease we need to fear, fight and prevent: structural racism.

United Way of Greater Atlanta has always fought to end structural racism and upend the longstanding inequities that undermine the well-being of children, families and communities in our region.

United Way’s Child Well-Being Index, a set of 14 measures assessing the presence or absence of basic opportunities and resources that all children and families need to thrive, showed in 2017 that nearly 500,000 children live in communities of low child well-being. Those communities are occupied by a majority of Black and Brown residents.

The correlation between race and zip code comes with vulnerable populations and low levels of child well-being—making it critical for United Way to address place and racial equity strategically. United Way recently launched the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund on the belief they are uniquely equipped to play a role in bringing together communities around this critical need. You can donate to this fund today.

The best way to overcome years of inequity is by coming together and creating a dialogue around these issues, Ethel says.

“That’s what we’re pushing for, not only in YPL but worldwide,” Ethel says. “Our board members have taken the challenge to make sure this continues to our individual organizations.

“[United Way] supports a myriad of causes to improve the common good of communities around the world, and that’s why I continue to donate and support with my time,” Ethel says. “That’s why we have to continue these conversations. We need to make sure systemic racism in our country and discrimination is not tolerated.”