Artist Ronnie Land grew up in the wetlands of Jacksonville, Florida, but he said he gravitated toward Atlanta—there was something about its soul that he fell in love with.

“I was coming up here and pulling pranks and doing pop-up shows in the mid-80s,” Ronnie, who professionally goes by “R.Land,” says. “I felt instantly connected with Atlanta. It’s the center of the region and a center of the world. It’s a cultural refugee center for anybody who wants to come here for opportunity.”

He moved to Atlanta in the 90s, and his deep love for “the city too busy to hate” was reaffirmed. But he started to watch the local, homegrown feel of this city start to lose the very soul that brought him to his new home in the first place.

“It looked like there were hints of it becoming… more of a commercial-type development, and it was something that had long since happened outside of the Perimeter,” says R.Land, whose art has been filling streets, murals and galleries all over the country for the past three decades. “The local businesses, bars, restaurants and intown culture—the neighborhoods of Atlanta were at the core of all of that.”

Atlanta’s “soul was under siege,” he says. So, R.Land created a now iconic image of praying hands clasped together. This art piece displayed the words “Pray for ATL” printed below the hands in what was a desperate plea to the community to take back what Atlanta was on the brink of losing. Those giant, blue-print posters sat in a studio in Inman Park for about two years, he says.

“One night in 2004, I put one up on the overpass at Moreland and DeKalb Avenue,” he says. “That stayed there for I don’t know how many years. It kind of became a viral thing in its own right after that.”

The love for this image grew quickly, and it took on a life of its own. He started creating new prints and murals and it was branded for T-shirts and other merchandise. The image was ambiguous enough that each person who saw it interpreted it in their own way.

“The original idea was not necessarily how everybody took it,” R.Land says with a laugh. “It means different things to different people. It just becomes an identifier to represent our wonderful city.”

Now, years later, the city is again under attack—while that may seem dramatic, it’s not entirely too far off. About two weeks into March, major cities across the country began shutting down restaurants, bars, gyms and schools in an attempt to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. As of March 25, the infectious disease, COVID-19, which is a respiratory illness with symptoms such as cough, fever and in severe cases, difficulty breathing, has infected more than 70,000 people nationwide and killed more than 1,000.

Businesses shut down in Atlanta and its surrounding communities, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on March 24 issued a “stay-at-home” order for the next 14 days.

Social distancing guidelines were encouraged at the federal, state and local levels. One of the best ways—outside of isolation—to prevent the spread of disease, is to wash your hands frequently, experts say.

As the information of the virus spread to R.Land, the mental image of two hands clasped together in soapy water inspired him.

It was obvious what he had to do.

 

‘I DIDN’T EXPECT ANYTHING TO COME FROM IT’

R.Land went back to his studio in Inman Park and looked at that “Pray for ATL” design.

He then slightly altered the blue hands with soapy bubbles lathered up on the tips of its fingers, and the print below read “Wash for ATL”

“You start hearing all the language in the media and how it’s so important to keep your hands clean—there’s more to do than wash your hands— but it just seemed so obvious,” R.Land says. “It was a perfect sort of pivot that is another idea akin to this. I didn’t expect anything to come from it at all, but after the first 24 hours there was no question.”

He posted the image to his Instagram and within in minutes it exploded. It caught fire within the hour, and he said it had “more response than anything [he] had ever posted.”

People kept asking him to put the image on a T-shirt, print or anything else. They wanted to buy it and display it. The emails came flooding in. But then he got an email from a representative at United Way of Greater Atlanta asking about a possible collaboration.

“I have always been familiar with United Way and had a great respect for the organization,” R.Land says. “I had been inundated with emails and Instagram messages, but then I got an email from [SPC Sales Manager] Bill Campbell, and his message resonated more with me. I thought about how [United Way] worked and would have power in a broader way to get people help in the smallest amount of time. I thought this would be the fastest way to help the most people.”

The design was fit to T-shirts, stickers and coffee mugs with portions of each purchase going to United Way and Community Foundation’s Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. R.Land and Bang-On Custom T-shirts in Little Five Points have collaborated with United Way of Greater Atlanta to design and print the T-shirts, donating $10 from each T-shirt sold.

The Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund provides immediate support to those most vulnerable to the economic and health-related issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic such as help with emergency assistance, health services and additional critical needs such as childcare and food.

You can donate now to the fund, but if you or anyone you know needs immediate assistance, you can contact United Way’s 2-1-1 Contact Center.

The “Pray for ATL” design is something R.Land says has been continuous throughout his life, and it was exciting to have the opportunity to collaborate on this scale to help people in this city who needed it most.

“I want to see this max out and be the best it can be so we can help in the best way we can,” R. Land says.

ATLANTA – March 27, 2020 – Last week, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and United Way of Greater Atlanta announced the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to direct funding to nonprofits on the front lines helping our region weather this unprecedented health and economic crisis.

Today, our organizations announce the Fund’s second round of grants, totaling $2.665 million, to 14 organizations for emergency response. A total of $4.165  million from the Fund has been granted out to date. Initial grants were made to Atlanta Community Food Bank ($750,000), YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta ($500,000) and Open Hand Atlanta ($250,000). Today’s grant recipients, and grant amounts, are:

Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation ($150,000) Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF) provides free, high-quality legal services for more than 5,000 people annually. This grant will provide emergency support for tenants facing eviction through the Housing Court Assistance Center and services for survivors of intimate partner abuse. It will also increase AVLF’s ability to bring on contract, temporary labor across all of its programs to help with the influx of cases expected when normal court operations resume.

Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative ($250,000) Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative addresses the on-going crisis of inequity confronting Atlanta, with a focus on promoting understanding of community wealth building models for Black-owned businesses and elevating the engagement, capacity and leadership necessary to shape a more inclusive economic narrative in Atlanta. The grant will contribute to rapid-response grants and loans supporting Black small business owners for lease assistance, payroll shortages, e-commerce conversion support, conversion of service businesses to on-line interactions and other needs.

Center for Pan Asian Community Services ($175,000) Center for Pan Asian Community Services (CPACS) began in 1980 and is the first, largest and longest standing service agency focused on Asian Americans in the southeast, serving over 70,000 people per year in their native language. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CPACS has shifted its approach to a remote model. The grant will support the organization’s work with government agencies and partners to ensure people have access to information, and will support its community health center, food delivery for seniors, housing programs and domestic violence shelter, all of which have experienced an increase in referrals due to the added stress of this crisis.

CHRIS 180 ($200,000) Since 1981, CHRIS 180 has been providing services to children and addressing mental health needs for youth who are experiencing homelessness, in the foster care system or who may also be victims of sex trafficking or other forms of violence including LGBTQ+ discrimination as well as families living in poverty. Grant funds will provide food for youth and young families, behavioral health needs in this time of anxiety, and telehealth services which include providing electronic devices for individuals so they can continue participating in therapy in this time of social distancing.

Giving Kitchen ($250,000) Giving Kitchen provides emergency assistance to food service workers through financial assistance and a connection to community resources. Requests for assistance are currently 20 times higher due to the COVID-19 crisis and its direct impact on this industry. The grant will support increased requests for assistance for food service workers in crisis who are unemployed currently, many of whom are experiencing other personal, family or health crises while mitigating the ramifications of COVID-19.

Good Samaritan Health Center ($250,000) Since 1995, Good Samaritan Health Center has provided high-quality health care for residents of the region, regardless of their ability to pay. Serving as a frontline health facility, Good Samaritan is experiencing the combined burden of having to boost its capacity to care for more patients, while dealing with the added costs of mitigating increased health and safety risks to its staff. Grant funding will alleviate these added costs and provide additional support funding during reduced income streams.

Henry W. Grady Health System Foundation, Inc. ($315,000) Since 1994, the Grady Health Foundation has worked with philanthropists, corporate leaders and civic activists to raise critical dollars and secure in-kind (product) donations to benefit the Grady Health System. In response to the COVID-19 crisis Grady Health System will launch a text and phone campaign to enroll up to 10,700 patients in Grady’s mail order pharmacy program, at no cost to the individual, to reduce potential exposure for those most at risk and limit the spread of the coronavirus in the region. This grant will fill financial gaps to enable Grady to fully support this effort.

HOPE Atlanta ($150,000) HOPE Atlanta provides mental health services, family reunification, emergency hotel placement and permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness in the region. Due to the crisis, organizations providing homeless services are in dire need for additional shelter capacity through hotel and motel rooms. This grant will support efforts to provide safe and isolated locations for those that are high risk or have been exposed to COVID-19 with access to hygiene products, private bathrooms and food.

Inspiritus (formerly Lutheran Services of Georgia) ($150,000) Inspiritus serves families and individuals whose lives have been disrupted, a population that includes children and families, refugees and immigrants, people with developmental disabilities and individuals affected by natural disasters who are particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis. The grant will support rent and utilities assistance and food, household, medical and sanitizing supplies to meet the urgent needs of the individuals and families they serve across Metro Atlanta.

Latino Community Fund ($125,000) Latino Community Fund supports Latino-serving nonprofits and individuals in Georgia with advocacy, program development, technical assistance and collective investments. This grant will support an Emergency Assistance Fund to support families in crisis in five counties through an expanded network of more than 10 partner organizations, and will enable the organization to be a clearinghouse for resources, materials and documents relevant to the Latinx community.

Meals On Wheels Atlanta ($150,000) Meals on Wheels Atlanta provides healthy meal delivery to elderly and health-challenged residents in Fulton County. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it is tripling its production to over 35,000 meals per week, and preparing to deliver bulk supplies of emergency meals each week to seniors’ homes. This grant will be used to hire temporary staff, rent additional freezers, and purchase more cooking equipment, food and supplies.

MUST Ministries, Inc. ($150,000) MUST Ministries provides healthy food via 39 food pantries embedded in schools throughout the City of Marietta, Cobb County and Cherokee County. MUST Ministries also owns and operates a 72-bed shelter for individuals and families struggling with homelessness. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, MUST has significantly  increased its food pantry operations from serving 400 families in a normal week to 3,500 families last week. This grant will support the increase in needed services.

PowerMyLearning ($200,000) PowerMyLearning helps students in low-income communities harness the power of digital learning to improve educational outcomes. The organization has already received local requests to support 4,745 students directly from schools representing $2.4 million. This grant will help the organization to meet requests from districts for devices, WiFi, content and support for students experiencing homelessness.

St. Vincent de Paul Georgia ($150,000) St. Vincent de Paul Georgia serves more than 100,000 families per year throughout the metro Atlanta region providing emergency financial assistance and food through its 36 pantries. The organization is seeing an enormous increase in requests for both financial assistance and food. Its ability to respond is being severely impaired by social distancing measures implemented throughout the region. This grant will help to provide direct financial assistance to people furloughed or unable to work in hourly positions and to purchase bulk food from retailers to stock food pantries.

 

Grants from the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund focus on immediate and critical needs to support those most vulnerable. United Way and Community Foundation staff, with the guidance of a volunteer steering committee comprised of leading individuals from civic, corporate and nonprofit sectors across the region, are identifying additional organizations currently providing or receiving requests for support. This includes working closely with the State of Georgia’s Coronavirus Task Force Committee for Homeless and Displaced Persons, and other state and federal supports that are to be issued in the coming days and weeks.

The Fund was announced March 17 with Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta committing $1 million and United Way of Greater Atlanta contributing $500,000 to seed the Fund. As of today, commitments have been secured from  the Coca-Cola Company, Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, each donated $5 million to the Fund in support. Other current funders include the City of Atlanta, Truist Foundation and The Goizueta Foundation contributing $1 million each, Wells Fargo and Global Payments contributing $250,000 each, The Primerica Foundation contributing $50,000, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP and The Vasser Wooley Foundation, Inc. contributing $25,000, and $25,000 jointly from 11Alive and the TEGNA Foundation.

Individuals and families impacted and in need of support can contact United Way of Greater Atlanta’s 2-1-1 Contact Center. Due to high call volumes, texting is the quickest way to get in touch with United Way 2-1-1. Text 211od to 898-211 to get a list of resources by zip code. The 2-1-1 database is another quick way to find resources during this time of increased call volume. 2-1-1 is a valuable resource that is available 24-hours and 7 days-a-week.

The need continues to rise as stories accumulate from across our neighborhoods. To donate to the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, click here. The next round of grants will be announced early April.

The Community Foundation will continue to update details for donors and nonprofits through its blog and via social media via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. To view updates from United Way of Greater Atlanta, click here or follow on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

###

 

Editor Note: The journey ahead

Support funds will be released on a rolling basis throughout the outbreak and recovery phases of the COVID crisis, making it possible to deploy resources quickly and adapt to evolving needs in subsequent funding phases. United Way will administer grants from the Fund. No later than April 6, 2020, the Community Foundation and United Way will announce the process for nonprofits to share additional insights and information, as well as a grant process specifically for arts organizations. The next round of grants will be announced early April.

 

 

About the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Since 1951, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has been leading and inspiring philanthropy to increase the vitality of our region and the well-being of all residents. With nearly 70 years serving the 23-county Atlanta region and a robust team of experts, the Community Foundation expands its philanthropic reach and impact by providing quality services to donors and bold, innovative community leadership. The Community Foundation is a top-20 community foundation among 750 nationally, with approximately $1.2 billion in current assets, and is Georgia’s second largest foundation. For more information, visit: cfgreateratlanta.org or connect with the Foundation via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

 

About United Way of Greater Atlanta

United Way of Greater Atlanta, the largest United Way chapter in the nation, focuses on ensuring that every child in Atlanta has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. The organization invests in more than 200 programs in 13 counties through the Child Well-Being Impact Fund and works to help children succeed in school, improve financial stability of families, provide affordable and accessible healthcare and end homelessness. For more information, visit: unitedwayatlanta.org or Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Media Contacts:

For United Way United Way of Greater Atlanta

Chad Parker, 404.358.5055

cparker@unitedwayatlanta.org

ATLANTA – March 26, 2020 – Last week, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and United Way of Greater Atlanta announced the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to direct funding to nonprofit organizations and other agencies on the front lines helping our region weather this unprecedented health crisis.

 Today, the organizations reveal the Fund’s first grants, totaling $1.5 million to three organizations for emergency response. Grant recipients are: 

 Atlanta Community Food Bank supports a network of almost 700 nonprofit feeding programs in 29 counties in metro Atlanta and north Georgia, and distributes more than 70 million pounds of food and grocery products each year. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, more than 785,000 people in our community were food insecure, and that number is expected to rise as individuals and families face financial hardships. This grant will support the purchase of food to respond to increased need and reduced donations during the COVID-19 crisis.

Open Hand Atlanta provides prepared meals and nutrition services for homebound seniors and individuals with critical/chronic illnesses, an audience that is particularly susceptible to COVID-19. Eighty percent of the people Open Hand serves are over the age of 47. The grant will assist general capacity and increased production of frozen meals and shelf-stable boxed items, and increased delivery to seniors who previously obtained their meals at senior centers that are now temporarily closed.

YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta provides early education for more than 7,000 children annually at more than 40 centers, partnership sites and afterschool programs across metro Atlanta and northeast Georgia. As most early learning and afterschool programs closed in response to the crisis, the YMCA designed a program to serve children ages 3 to 12 of frontline hospital staff and regional essential employees (law enforcement, fire fighters, grocery store workers, etc.) who must continue working. The grant will support the cost of providing childcare for up to 2,000 children throughout their service area.  

Grants from the Fund focus on immediate and critical needs to support those most vulnerable. United Way and Community Foundation staff, with the guidance of a volunteer steering committee comprised of leading individuals from civic, corporate and nonprofit sectors across the region, are identifying additional organizations currently providing or receiving requests for support. This includes working closely with the State of Georgia’s Coronavirus Task Force Committee for Homeless and Displaced Persons, and other state and federal supports that are to be issued in the coming days and weeks.

Support funds will be released on a rolling basis throughout the outbreak and recovery phases of this crisis, making it possible to deploy resources quickly and adapt to evolving needs in subsequent funding phases. United Way will administer grants from the Fund. Community Foundation and United Way will announce the process for nonprofits to share their information and needs no later than April 6. The Community Foundation will also announce a grant process specifically for arts organizations in that same timeframe.

 “We have streamlined our funding process to ensure that money available through this Fund flows to nonprofit organizations swiftly and efficiently,” said Lita Pardi, interim vice president, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. “We recognize that each day brings new hardships for our first responders and our most vulnerable residents, and we lift up the valiant efforts of organizations that have been nimble to respond to those critical needs.”

The fund was announced March 17 with Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta committing $1 million and United Way of Greater Atlanta contributing $500,000 to seed the fund. In the days following, the Coca-Cola Company, Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation each donated $5 million to the fund in support. Other current funders include the City of Atlanta and Truist Foundation contributing $1 million each, Wells Fargo and Global Payments contributing $250,000 each, The Primerica Foundation contributing $50,000, and $25,000 jointly from 11Alive and the TEGNA Foundation.

“In just one week, we received a groundswell of support from corporations, foundations and individuals across Greater Atlanta,” says United Way of Greater Atlanta President and CEO Milton J. Little, Jr. “Thanks to their immediate and generous response, we are able to infuse substantial funding into those organizations that are on the front lines of meeting the urgent needs of our vulnerable populations.”

 

The Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund bolsters nonprofit organizations supporting:

  •   Families with young children and children on free and reduced lunch
  •   Individuals without health insurance, access to sick days or access to  healthcare
  •   Seniors and older adults
  •   Low-wage workers including hospitality, service industry and gig economy workers

 

Initial priorities will focus on the immediate needs of economically vulnerable populations resulting from closures and support community safety nets such as food insecurity, rent and utility assistance, medical supports and childcare. Additional priorities are the educational and emotional needs of children and youth across our region. Funds will help fill gaps for nonprofits before federal and other funding flows to this sector.

 Our region is likely to experience stresses in many areas: income insecurity, evictions, food insecurity, access to health care, childcare while schools are closed, access to online learning for K-12 students, small business bankruptcies and nonprofit closures. The Community Foundation and United Way continue to monitor impacts to our nonprofit sector as this crisis impacts our region.

Individuals and families impacted and in need of support can contact United Way of Greater Atlanta’s 2-1-1 Contact Center. Due to high call volumes, texting is the quickest way to get in touch with United Way 2-1-1. Text 211od to 898-211 to get a list of resources by zip code. The 2-1-1 database is another quick way to find resources during this time of increased call volume. 2-1-1 is a valuable resource that is available 24-hours and 7 days-a-week.

The need continues to rise as stories accumulate from across our neighborhoods, donate to the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund today. The next round of grants will be announced by Friday, March 27.

 The Community Foundation will continue to update details for donors and nonprofits through its blog and via social media via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

 

About the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Since 1951, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has been leading and inspiring philanthropy to increase the vitality of our region and the well-being of all residents. With nearly 70 years serving the 23-county Atlanta region and a robust team of experts, the Community Foundation expands its philanthropic reach and impact by providing quality services to donors and bold, innovative community leadership. The Community Foundation is a top-20 community foundation among 750 nationally, with approximately $1.2 billion in current assets, and is Georgia’s second largest foundation. For more information, visit: cfgreateratlanta.org or connect with the Foundation via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

 

About United Way of Greater Atlanta

United Way of Greater Atlanta, the largest United Way chapter in the nation, focuses on ensuring that every child in Atlanta has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. The organization invests in more than 200 programs in 13 counties through the Child Well-Being Impact Fund and works to help children succeed in school, improve financial stability of families, provide affordable and accessible healthcare and end homelessness. For more information, visit: unitedwayatlanta.org or Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Media Contacts:

For United Way United Way of Greater Atlanta

Chad Parker, 404.358.5055

cparker@unitedwayatlanta.org

 

 

United Way of Greater Atlanta has been closely monitoring developments related to the novel coronavirus. Based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on large gatherings, we have decided to postpone all events starting Monday, March 16 until further notice. While we are disappointed that we won’t be gathering for events, we’re dedicated to ensuring the health and safety of all involved. We will continue to monitor developments to determine if further postponements are needed or if a virtual experience is appropriate. Please stay tuned for future communications from United Way of Greater Atlanta regarding all postponed or virtual events.

In times of need, United Way of Greater Atlanta is here for the community. That’s how we started – supporting our community during a massive snow and ice storm that disabled the City of Atlanta in 1905. At this moment, our community is facing a new challenge and United Way is again here to help.

United Way of Greater Atlanta is helping address the negative impacts of the novel coronavirus in our community. We are in close contact with the CDC, reporting out all concerns related to COVID-19 that are communicated to us through our 2-1-1 Contact Center. We standby, through our 2-1-1 Contact Center, to support individuals and families who find themselves in need during this uncertain time.

Simply put, United Way of Greater Atlanta’s 2-1-1 Contact Center connects families with the community-based resources they need to thrive. There are many ways to connect to 2-1-1 including by phone, chat, email, or mobile app.

We encourage you to share with others that 2-1-1 is a valuable resource that is available 24-hours and 7 days-a-week.

“If the Census were easy, we wouldn’t have all of y’all here at 8 in the morning,” says Polly McKinney. She acts as advocacy director for Voices for Georgia’s Children.

This particular morning, she’s a participant in United Way of Greater Atlanta’s thought leadership breakfast known as the “InForum” series. The InForum series is a convening of nonprofit, philanthropic and public partners meant to spur discussion around issues in our community by featuring keynote presentations from national and local leaders.

The day’s conversation features McKinney alongside Executive Director of The New Georgia Project, Nsé Ufot, and Executive Director of the Latino Community Fund (LCF) of Georgia, Gigi Pedraza. The three women gathered to discuss the importance of the upcoming 2020 Census and the critical role it plays in the distribution of federal resources and political representation.

Specifically, they are discussing how that information will influence hard-to-count communities.

According to Georgia Counts, hard-to-count communities vary across the country, but are generally populations that have historically been undercounted and do not self-report as well as others due to difficulties with language, a lack of trust in government or simply because of a lack of communication.

Georgia Counts also indicates that some hard-to-count communities of the past have included people of color, immigrants, young children, renters and low-income households.

And, according to Voices for Georgia’s Children, if these communities remain undercounted they risk losing out on billions of dollars in federal funding, government representation at the state and federal level and infrastructural resources such as highways, hospitals and schools.

Because hard-to-count communities are sometimes referred to as hard-to-count persons, Pedraza emphasizes the importance of the “communities” part of that term.

“People are not hard to count,” says Pedraza. “They are hard to ignore.”

And in the state of Georgia, that notion is becoming truer every year.

Ufot, whose organization focuses on non-partisan civic engagement, voter registration and voting rights advocacy, states that over 2 million people have moved to Georgia in the past decade and that a majority of those individuals are people of color.

As a result, Georgia could gain at least one more Congressional seat, if not two – but only if we are able to achieve a complete count of the state’s population in the upcoming Census.

“Georgia is experiencing what political scientists and demographers refer to as the reversal of the Great Migration,” says Ufot. “All of these people moving back to the American South… have created opportunities in our state that we have not seen before.”

Pedraza states that approximately 9 to 10 percent of people living in Georgia are Latinos and in 2010, Latinos accounted for over 28 percent of the state’s growth.

“Georgia is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic state with multi-cultural, multi-ethnic voters,” says Pedraza. “How are we prepared to serve these communities?”

When discussing the significance of ensuring those people are counted, she states that whether or not her own daughter has a park to play in, a safe street to walk on, or a Spanish-speaking professional to communicate with at her school, hinges on the Latino community’s inclusion in Census counts. Inevitably, it will also influence what her daughter’s future will look like.

“What decision she has is going to depend on all of us and the work that we do,” says Pedraza.

And that’s why all of the speakers at the InForum remain solution-oriented.

When prompted about the most important thing attendees could do to get started on Census advocacy work, McKinney insisted that people “retweet… retweet, retweet.”

“All of us are putting stuff out. We’re making it so you can just pass it around and go viral,” says McKinney. “If you just have time for one thing, that’s what I would ask.”

Her organization has created a body of resources about the importance of the Census and everyone’s participation in it that can be accessed here.

Ufot recommended starting with the community. She shared about how the New Georgia Project begins its work first and foremost by talking with the people they aim to serve, having initiated over 4.5 million conversations since the organization’s inception.

“We want to have a gospel choir approach to advocacy in the state of Georgia,” says Ufot.

Pedraza invited attendees to consider joining a complete count committee – including the Georgia Latino Complete Count Committee, which the LCF of Georgia supports, or any of the complete count committees that have been formed at county, city and neighborhood levels.

At the event’s conclusion, Chief Community Impact Officer for United Way of Greater Atlanta, Katrina Mitchell, emphasized the importance of the 2020 Census to improving Child Well-Being across our region.

“If you layered our Child Well-Being Map with most of those communities with the lowest child well-being and the hard-to-count communities, those would be all the same places,” says Mitchell.

That’s why United Way of Greater Atlanta partnered with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta to disburse small grants to outreach organizations, including the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Black Child Development Institute (BCDI) – Atlanta, Community Teen Coalition, Fathers, Inc., the New Georgia Project and Project South.

But she emphasizes it will take everyone’s help to make an impact.

“We can connect partners, because I think that will be the huge part of what we’ll have to do, but I want you all to know that we need all of us,” says Mitchell.

If you would like to continue spreading the word about the importance of the 2020 Census, access United Way of Greater Atlanta’s 2020 Census Resource page and get involved today.

Each morning, your alarm on your phone sounds and you roll over in bed to switch off the device, flipping on a lamp at your bedside table. You scroll through that phone and check your calendar — a full list of the day’s events — you head to the kitchen, open the fridge and grab breakfast just as your automatic coffee machine cycles on and pours you a fresh cup.

You cram down your breakfast, take a shower, get dressed and hop in the car or rush to the train for your commute to work.

Every single step of the way, the decisions you make and the actions you take —all seemingly insignificant — are inspired by science, produced by an engineer and involve some sort of mathematical operation.
This is what United Way of Greater Atlanta President and CEO Milton J. Little, Jr. brought to the attention of the audience inside an AT&T ballroom in Midtown Atlanta a few miles from Fox Theatre on Nov. 19.

“There’s nothing that you can do in this world that doesn’t require science,” Little says. “There’s no clothes to wear, there’s nothing to eat, there’s nothing you drive — almost nothing we touch that isn’t the product of someone who learned to invest in science.”

United Way of Greater Atlanta has invested in science over the past year. On Nov. 19, United Way hosted its inaugural STEMUp Youth Maker Competition at AT&T.

The STEMUp program’s director and Senior Director of Youth Development at United Way Tricia Crossman says the Youth Maker Competition is about “giving young people the opportunity to give their ideas” in order to solve problems their communities face using Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Those ideas were presented to a round of judges via video submissions and then whittled down to nine finalists.

For this competition, students had to create something “solution-oriented,” Crossman says. The submission had to be realistic, could be successfully implemented, had to be youth-led and had to be creative and innovative.

Crossman says the students also had to consider a “social responsibility” component.

“Young people have great ideas, and we often don’t tap into them to help us make our world better,” Crossman says. “This is our inaugural competition, but it is our hope that we’ll be able to grow this competition and have it every single year for young people in our metro region.”

Crossman says the competition requirements were released at the end of August to schools in the Greater Atlanta region, and despite the quick turnaround, there were 78 submissions and 189 youth participants.

Twenty-four percent of those students were high school-aged, and 30 percent of the youth lived in low or very Child Well-Being areas, according to United Way’s Child Well-Being Map, Crossman says.

United Way of Greater Atlanta saw two years ago after its strategic planning meeting that the zip code a child lived in too often determined the fate of that child.

United Way saw 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 family, community and child measures, including things like eighth-grade math proficiency and third-grade reading scores, United Way calculated at the time a child well-being score of 58.9.

On May 9, 2019, 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 addition to the Youth Maker Competition, Crossman says United Way funds an initiative called “Get Connected,” which is a digital literacy program for children and their parents.

The nine finalists for Youth Maker were comprised of five high school teams and four middle school, Crossman says.

The finalists had to pitch their projects to judges in a “Shark Tank-style” demonstration before a winner was selected in front of the crowd at AT&T.

The finalists had run through those demonstrations for hours, and the time was quickly approaching for the winners to be announced.

Little made his way to the stage prior to the announcement, and he was presented a $230,000 check from AT&T’s Director of Federal Public Affairs Yvette Pugh. The check would fund “Community Impact and STEM” projects at United Way. AT&T supports the Chief Science Officer (CSO) program, which seeks to enhance the workforce and employability skills of student CSOs and their peers.

“We believe in the work United Way is doing,” Pugh said. “We have 20,000 employees in Georgia. We live and work in this community and want to be a part of the great work you are doing to move our communities forward.”

The STEM Youth Maker Competition is a great example of ways to move these communities forward.

“We know job trends in the Greater Atlanta region are going to require more science and math in order for young people to compete in the workforce of today and tomorrow,” Crossman says.

 

STEM IS EVERYWHERE

Each of the finalists and their school’s sponsors rushed to their tables with Chick-fil-A boxed lunches, eagerly awaiting the final results while nibbling on chicken sandwiches.

The judges were made up of local business owners and sponsors — the project was sponsored by Cox Enterprises, AT&T, General Motors and the African-American Partnership Affinity Group at United Way. They were tasked with selecting one middle school and high school winner each, but narrowing down to one each was more difficult than it seemed.

Ultimately, there were two winners each from those categories. In the middle-school division, Amariyahu Edmunds and Regie Ingram each won, and in high school division the two winners were the Forest Park High School Team and then Madison Kenney. Manitca Kheim, Helen Tran, Sharron Van, Evan Minor and Lazaro Valle-Reynoso made up the Forest Food Initiative.

The Forest Food Initiative is a hydroponics system and greenhouse that would address a lack of access to produce in Forest Park, Clayton County.

“Our goal was to create a hydroponics system and address a food desert in our community,” says Lazaro Valle-Reynoso, a Forest Park High School student. “So, what is a food desert? It is an area where people can’t reach food and fresh produce. I had a teammate who said she had to drive 30 minutes to buy fresh produce.”

Helen Tran said the Forest Food Initiative started through the CSO program, but once the team learned of the Youth Maker Competition, they pulled in additional members to form a team.

“We had a PowerPoint, and I brought in a hydroponics prototype,” Tran said. “We went over the budget, the goals and who we were collaborating with, and we shared with the judges what living in a food desert looks like.”

Tran says her family can only find certain foods by traveling 30 minutes or more one way, and she says this isn’t uncommon at her school.

Valle-Reynoso says the garden and greenhouse project addresses this issue.

Kenney established previously a RoboChicks program at the Andrew and Walter Young YMCA to help “get girls interested in STEM.”

“I started coaching them,” Kenney says. “When I saw the United Way grant, I applied ASAP because I wanted to get more funding to coach more girls and, at the time, I got a request to do an all-boys team as well.”

Kenney says her interest in STEM started when she was 8 years old.

“I got my most experience hands-on,” she says.

Like Kenney, Edmunds also first became interested in STEM while he was in elementary school. He says he was intrigued by the opportunity to build something on his own.

He developed his “Code Flow” program to generate more interest in STEM among younger kids.

“A lot of kids in my school, specifically third-graders, aren’t excited about STEM,” he says. “It can be fun. I want to take 10 students, and I want to buy them [robots] that you can code and get them to perform specific tasks in multiple obstacle courses, and my hope is that they will get excited about STEM.”

Edmunds loved the idea that as a kid he could learn how to “code and build stuff.”

“I built a robot out of a fan with, like, air pumps and air pressure, and when I saw what I could do, I said, ‘This looks really cool,’” Edmunds says. “STEM is everywhere! There’s nothing that you can touch that hasn’t been involved with science.”

Ingram also loved how STEM allowed him to open his mind and create something of his own. Ingram developed a joggers’ belt that he presented to the judges.

“I started with an experiment in the science fair to see if I could make electricity with magnets and coils of wire,” Ingram says, “and I wanted to make a product for this idea.”

Ingram identified a problem he saw that would allow him to flesh out this idea and address a need in his community. The belt is made of nylon and fits around a jogger’s waist. As the jogger bounces up and down, the magnets inside of a tube bounce up and down hitting a coil of wires attached to an LED light. The light begins to flash, which signals to drivers on the road that a jogger is on the sidewalk or passing in front of them.

“There are so many jogger injuries that happen each year,” Ingram says. He now plans to turn the Youth Maker grant into 30 prototypes he can share with his fellow classmates on his middle school track team.

The competition’s success stems —no pun intended— from an overall need in the community to generate interest around technology, which is where a trained workforce is needed in the Greater Atlanta region.

“The number of technology jobs far outpace the people that can fill those jobs,” Crossman says. “Many of the companies in our region are going out of state and country to get those jobs filled. We can change that. STEM programming for young people and STEM education is a critical part of making that happen.”

For more information for STEM programming and United Way of Greater Atlanta’s work, visit www.unitedwayatlanta.org.