Markesha moved to Atlanta, escaping a Florida neighborhood that had become violent and unsafe for her two children.

But finding an apartment became a challenge—and it wasn’t because of a previous eviction or lack of income, but for something else beyond her control. The single mom took refuge in a motel.

“I had moved from Florida, got a motel expecting to simply apply for housing here in Atlanta,” Markesha says. “I had lived in Atlanta before, and I was determined to simply start over.”

But that didn’t happen. Markesha says every apartment she applied to denied her.

 “I couldn’t understand it because I don’t have any evictions, felonies or things like that,” she says. “I found out that I had two really high unpaid light bills in my name from two different states. I never lived in those states. Someone used my name.”

The unfortunate event led to what she calls an “11-month battle of homelessness.” She says living in the motel was a “horrible” experience. She had to send her eldest daughter to live with her mother and keep her son with her.

“I couldn’t have my family unit together,” she says. “I was trying to escape my old environment but living in the hotel made it feel like I was back in the same environment. Living in a hotel is no place to raise a child.”

There was no space to move around, no stove—and the environment she was trying to escape by moving to Atlanta had crept its way back into her life. She was paying more than $1,000 monthly for a space that was too small and didn’t allow her to be with her family. She started to think about moving back to Florida.

But then Markesha got a flyer from a friend at the motel about a “Motel-to-Home” program through United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Regional Commission on Homelessness.

The Regional Commission on Homelessness and United Way are working to end homelessness and change lives in Greater Atlanta. Motel-to-Home is a three-step process of outreach, housing and aftercare. Housing location specialists work to identify the barriers each family faces and then match them with affordable housing.

Once a family is able to pay their own rent or mortgage without assistance, the family is eligible for ongoing aftercare services, which include financial literacy training, workshops and incentive-based programs.

“Right before that flyer came into my life, I was just about to pack up and move back to Florida,” Markesha says. “I applied to so many apartments and they all said ‘no.’ I was paying $1,050 for a motel room monthly – no space, no real kitchen, no extra room, and my family was still split. Now, I live in a two-bedroom apartment with a full-size living room, dining room, kitchen, and two bathrooms for $955.

“I can cry right now. You just don’t realize just how much this place means to me.”

Motel-to-Home is modeled after United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Street-to-Home Initiative, which aims to connect families living in motels to their own permanent housing.

Homeless families and individuals will often live in motels when they may be on the brink of homelessness. There are motels in every county that families use as a last resort. Motel-to-Home intervenes to provide families with case management, assistance with deposits and follow-up care to capitalize on their existing strengths and income.

The program helped Markesha get her family back, she says. He daughter was able to return back home.

“That’s the biggest blessing,” she says. “My husband died a few years ago and that’s how I became a single mom. My husband was my best friend.
“So, to go through this struggle and having to split my family was the hardest thing ever. But living here allowed us to reunite.”

Will you unite with us to do more for families in Greater Atlanta—families like Markesha’s? When we unite, we can change lives. Let’s do more, together.

Jennifer Swain and the staff at youthSpark saw what could only be described as a “gap in the juvenile court system.” It needed to be addressed.

“We have historically worked in the area of child sex trafficking since our beginning in 2000,” Swain, who is Executive Director of youthSpark, says. “Since Georgia’s sex trafficking movement has grown and expanded under the [Statewide] Human Trafficking Task Force, we’ve begun to intervene with the juvenile court as soon as possible. So, we’ve built out a space for youth services for girls who have experienced exploitation, and then we began serving boys and LGBTQ+ youth.”

The programs were non-gender specific, Swain says. They created programs geared toward LGBTQ+ youth to provide a safety net to support them in school and “increase their voice around sexual identity and gender.”

But Swain says there were still problems with how data around LGBTQ+ youth was being collected in the court system. She said the Fulton County Juvenile Court system didn’t collect sexual orientation data “nor did they identify and report that data in young people.”

So, youthSpark, a longtime partner of United Way of Greater Atlanta, joined with Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform in a project that would enhance youthSpark’s capacity and the juvenile court’s system to become a national leader in creating a fair, inclusive and respectful culture.

This Capstone Project is called “Intentional Culture Change to Reduce LGBTQ+ Youth Discrimination, Victimization, & Overcriminalization,” according to a press release from youthSpark.

The project focuses on eight primary goals and objectives developed from an intensive review of youth experiences, quantitative data on the challenges LGBTQ+ young people face in Fulton County and a review of recommended best practices in serving this vulnerable population.

“We don’t know a lot about the LGBTQ+ population in the Fulton juvenile system, but the Atlanta homelessness study, or the Atlanta homelessness study we worked on with Dr. Eric Wright at Georgia State University, was the launching pad to see how to serve this population,” Swain says. “The way to do that was to find out how many of these kids identify in ways we don’t know.”

LGBTQ+ youth are at a much greater risk of becoming homeless. You can help United Way today provide more resources for LGBTQ+ youth and families.

The Capstone Project has potential to improve the well-being of LGBTQ+ youth and their families in communities across Greater Atlanta.

youthSpark’s Youth Services Center is at the heart of the organization’s work and serving LGBTQ+ youth is encompassed in that work. According to youthSpark’s 2019-20 annual report, since opening the Center in 2017, they have served more than 600 kids with 121 acts of crisis intervention, 2,200 instances of individual counseling, 565 group therapy sessions and more than 12,000 hours of intervention services.

Those direct services have helped youthSpark reimagine how to serve students and provide training for school—to make sure they are college and career ready.

The nonprofit’s goals align with United Way’s mission to improve the Child Well-Being of Greater Atlanta’s 13 counties and create an environment where all children can thrive.

“We are looking for organizations who can change the trajectory for young people,” says Michele Jacobs, Director of Youth Development at United Way. “We are looking for programs that remove systemic barriers and increase access to College and Career Ready opportunities for youth and young adults in low and very-low Child Well-Being communities. youthSpark is a unique organization that offers real solutions for youth involved in the juvenile justice system.

“All their programs have been designed to create systematic change for trauma-exposed youth and the communities in which they live.”

Jacobs says grant managers and members of the Community Engagement team at United Way meet regularly to talk with organizations like youthSpark to find successes and challenges the organizations face. The goal is to help determine the level of support needed.

“We are true thought and collaborative partners in ensuring young people are equipped with resources they need to obtain education and secure positions in high-growth careers,” Jacobs says.

Swain has worked with youthSpark for 13 years and has been the executive director for over four years now. She says United Way’s support has been instrumental in allowing them to expand services.

“United Way has always supported our work, and when we transitioned our work over to the community-based response, United Way was our very first funder,” Swain says. “We’re very grateful for our partnership with United Way.”

When a community unites, lives can be changed. When we work together—pooling our resources, time and energy—our community impact grows exponentially to create and equitable future for all. Can children, families and Greater Atlanta communities count on you?

Melissa says she didn’t know 2-1-1 even existed before taking a job as a Community Connection Specialist just over three years ago.

“I went to Georgia State University, and I had heard of United Way [of Greater Atlanta] in the years prior, but I had no idea that 2-1-1 was a thing and I never knew of the need for something like that,” she says.

Melissa was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the Greater Atlanta area when she was 10 years old. She grew up in Atlanta, a bilingual student who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, blocks away from an organization she would later work for answering dozens of calls daily in service to a community that had once given her so much.

She wanted to use her knowledge to help relate to and empathize with people who would likely be calling her on one of the most difficult days of their life.

“I think for me the biggest factor that helped me a little bit was my background in psychology, and a lot of it has to do with empathy,” she says. “In the beginning, we did a few months of training, and it’s about learning the systems and the information that we need to know to keep our resources current.

“But we have such a wide span of things that we cover.”

The 2-1-1 Contact Center is an information and referral system connecting people to essential services they need—access to food, help paying electrical bills, access to shelter and clothing.

Each call to 2-1-1 is filtered to a trained specialist who provides information on services that align to a person’s specific needs. 2-1-1 is available 24 hours a day to offer assistance online—Melissa is one of the agents who answers live calls during the week.

“We take calls from metro Atlanta, but we also do for Columbus, Augusta, Athens, Macon—we cover a wide range of things, but in the past year the most in-demand thing has been financial help and housing,”she says.

The COVID-19 pandemic over the past 11 months has put an even greater stress on the need for programs such as 2-1-1.

About two weeks into March 2020, cities across the United States began shutting down restaurants, bars, gyms and schools in an attempt to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. The infectious disease, COVID-19, has infected millions, killed hundreds of thousands and has contributed to mass unemployment across Greater Atlanta and the United States.

With multiple COVID-19 vaccines now in the works, and the distribution of those vaccines yet to be determined, there’s still a large amount of stress put on nonprofits, the private sector and government as we look to provide aid to those families in need.

The need has grown, the calls keep pouring in to 2-1-1, but Melissa says it’s important at the end of the day to disconnect and focus on your own mental health.

“In the beginning it was weighing heavy on me,” Melissa says. “You have to find a way to disconnect and manage the stress of calls related to homelessness, suicide or people who are just at the lowest of their low.”

She likes to use aromatherapy, take time to tend to her plants or play with her dog.

“I feel like there’s a couple little things we can do to manage the stress and pull back from it,” she says.

Each year, on Feb. 11 we recognize our 2-1-1 Agents with a National 2-1-1 Day celebration. It’s a time to honor the efforts of the agents in more than 200 locations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The 2-1-1 program started more than two decades ago as “First Call to Help” in Atlanta.

Melissa’s job on the frontlines offering help is to provide necessary resources to those who need it, but she offers so much more.

“There’s some situations where you just really feel for them [callers],” she says. “It’s very easy in that moment when you’re talking to them to forget the script and let people vent.

“Sometimes people are skeptical or embarrassed to call and spill their problems, but a lot of people need help—this pandemic was completely unexpected. It’s all about reassuring them and making them feel like I’m here to help and then give them options and let them know what resources are out there.”

Learn more about 2-1-1 here.

The story was published originally in January 2021 and has been updated as of March 30, 2021.

 

Together, can help families today, tomorrow and in the future achieve economic stability.

This is an important component of improving child well-being because children thrive when their families thrive.

United Way has supported families and provided financial tools and resources for over 100 years. Today, our strategy must reflect the context of the infectious disease COVID-19 — a disease that has now killed hundreds of thousands of people and infected millions over the past year.

We know that the COVID pandemic has had a crushing impact on many industries and left millions of Georgians out of work, but it has had a disproportionate impact on the Black community. This extends to employment and wages, too.

Black worker unemployment has been almost twice as high as unemployment for white workers. This will have a lasting impact on household budgets and the ability of families to rebound.

When the Great Recession began in 2007, Black workers’ unemployment rate increased to double digits and remained that high for more than six years.

In comparison, the unemployment rate among white workers never reached double digits during the Great Recession or its recovery. It took more than 10 years for Black workers’ incomes to return to their pre-recession levels.

But even for those who are working, many are working fewer hours or have experience months without income in 2020. Tax refunds have provided an opportunity for low and moderate-income families to accumulate savings.

However, because so many families worked fewer hours in 2020, they earned less and will not have the additional dollars they may have received in the past.

According to the Center for American Progress, families use tax refunds to improve their economic stability:

  • 84% used part of their refund to pay off a debt
  • 61% used part of their refund for child care expenses
  • 33% used part of their refund to purchase or repair a car
  • 47% put part of their refund aside as savings for goals or future expenses

As a community, United Way donors and volunteers have responded to this crisis with generosity.

We have helped thousands of families by packing snacks for kids, delivering meals, donating to food banks, providing rent assistance and increasing access to health services by providing digital technology.

At United Way of Greater Atlanta, we’re focused on the well-being of children, families and communities across our 13-county region. One of our most important areas of work is economic stability.

Helping families and individuals attain financial security is foundational for our community to thrive. We know that every person whose life we change, will go on to change the lives of countless others. And when we work together—pooling our resources, time and energy—our community impact grows exponentially. United, we can do more for our community.

With your help

United, we can help more than 13,000 families build wealth by expanding outreach across our region so that more families are aware that they can get their taxes done for free. We can provide online resources and virtual tax support through our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, along with drop off and limited in-person options during the pandemic.

 $750 ensures that 50 families receive outreach and online tax support. $1,000 would provide financial coaching for 65 families.

We can help more than 2,000 individuals increase their wages and close the skills gap by increasing opportunities for hands-on work experience such as internships and apprenticeships and providing low-wage workers with financial support to secure credentials in high demand careers.

$500 would provide a month of on-the-job training for someone who has been forced to retool and start working in a new industry. $2,500 provides job placement and six months of employment support to enable a young adult or a new parent to be successful in a high-tech job and compete in the marketplace. 

We can help more than 27,000 families secure housing basic needs by ensuring that fundamental elements of life like stable housing, food security and reliable transportation are in place so that families avoid a financial crisis.

$500 can provide 30 days of rent or utility payments for a single mother who has lost her job to help her family avoid eviction.

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

ATLANTA, Ga., January 11, 2021 — OUT Georgia Business Alliance and United Way of Greater Atlanta have launched the OUT Georgia Impact Fund to drive a meaningful, measurable, and lasting impact for LGBTQ+ communities across the Greater Atlanta region.

The OUT Georgia Impact Fund, powered by United Way of Greater Atlanta, will be guided by a community-led advisory committee to make grants to eligible 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations advancing the following designated priorities:

  • Serve individuals, children and families who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other gender identities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations;
  • Support LGBTQ youth to be stable, secure, and college & career ready;
  • Support LGBTQ adults and families to address urgent needs and secure resources in an accessible and equitable environment;
  • Invest in small businesses;
  • Build awareness of inequities and how to be more equity centered; promote advocacy within LGBTQ community; and
  • Build broader public awareness of and increase investments to Black-led LGBTQ organizations.

After introducing the concept during the chamber’s Business Summit & Community Honors event in late 2020, the two nonprofit organizations formally launched the OUT Georgia Impact Fund in January 2021, with an initial goal of raising $100,000 to directly support nonprofits advancing LGBTQ+ individuals, youth, families, businesses, and communities.

“As OUT Georgia continues our growth as the state’s only LGBTQ+ and allied chamber of commerce, our leadership challenged the entire organization to commit to a safer, more inclusive, and more equitable Georgia,” said Chris Lugo, Executive Director of the OUT Georgia Business Alliance.

“This unique partnership allows us to bring that commitment to life by leveraging what United Way of Greater Atlanta does best: bring together people and resources to tackle complex issues and drive sustainable positive change to help our community thrive.”

“United Way of Greater Atlanta’s vision and mission center on inclusion and equity. Our vision is that Greater Atlanta is a community where all individuals and families thrive regardless of race, gender identity, or sexual orientation,” says Milton J. Little, Jr., President and CEO of United Way of Greater Atlanta.

“We’re proud to partner with OUT Georgia to create a measurable and lasting impact for LGBTQ+ communities across the Greater Atlanta’s 13-county region.”

HOW TO SUPPORT

Individuals, families, businesses, employees, foundations, and corporations are encouraged to make a difference for the LGBTQ+ community by making a tax-deductible contribution to the OUT Georgia Impact Fund, with the first grants to be distributed to selected organizations in 2021.

Interested in designated employee giving or larger contributions from a foundation / corporation? Connect with Aaron Rice to learn more about supporting the OUT Georgia Impact Fund.


About OUT Georgia Business Alliance

OUT Georgia Business Alliance proudly serves as Georgia’s only LGBTQ+ and Allied Chamber of Commerce.

Since 1994, OUT Georgia Business Alliance (formerly the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce) has served the LGBTQ+ and Allied business community by advocating for the most inclusive and equitable business environment; providing support and resources to fuel economic growth; and driving meaningful community connections and impact across the State of Georgia.

OUT Georgia Business Alliance is a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit headquartered in Atlanta, Ga., and is an affiliate of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. For more information, contact us at OUTGeorgia.org or info@OUTGeorgia.org.


About United Way of Greater Atlanta

United Way of Greater Atlanta, the largest United Way 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

United Way United Way of Greater Atlanta

Chad Parker, 404-614-1043
cparker@unitedwayatlanta.org

OUT Georgia Business Alliance

Chris Lugo, 312-451-9388
Chris.Lugo@outgeorgia.org

Belisa Urbina knew the well-being of her staff was her most important priority, but she had an important decision to make—she and her husband, Miguel, both.

The two founded the nonprofit Ser Familia in 2001 after moving from Puerto Rico to Georgia in 1999. In the nearly two decades since its inception, Ser Familia has become a leading program in Georgia that provides family services to the Latino communities of the Greater Atlanta region.

So, in March 2020 with the probable outbreak of the novel coronavirus on the horizon, Belisa says she reached out to her employees and board members for input.

“I remember that on a Sunday I sent a text to my board members and asked if they could meet with me via phone that afternoon,” Belisa says. “We went through every scenario—what if we closed the offices, we kept this one open, closed that one—we crunched the numbers and made plans from ABC up to Z.”

Belisa says Ser Familia ultimately made the decision to keep their offices open through the worst of the pandemic. She said it was important—too important—that the Latino community have a place to come “in the midst of a tremendous crisis,” and “be listened to and be supported.”

“We were blessed to be able to provide emergency assistance in the way we could do it,” she says. “We have provided the same services that we provided [before the pandemic], and on top of that, we are doing an emergency relief effort of really large proportions.”

Ser Familia aims to strengthen Latino families and equip Latino youth, couples, parents and families through programs that “teach improved life, leadership and communication skills,” and they offer social services to Latino families—for almost 20 years they have offered youth programs, case management, victim support services, mental health counseling, immigration legal relief efforts and other emergency services, Belisa says.

To this day, Belisa says Ser Familia has supplied more than $400K in emergency rental assistance.

And the demand has increased since the COVID-19 outbreak. Ser Familia was one of the most recent recipients of grant funds made possible through the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, a joint effort from United Way of Greater Atlanta and the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

On Aug. 11, United Way and Community Foundation announced the seventh round of grants for the COVID-19 response. Ser Familia received $150,000 to meet the increased demand for emergency financial assistance.

The seventh round of grants totaled roughly $1.13 million and targeted emergency financial assistance for housing-related costs. The grants went to 10 organizations in response to the region’s needs resulting from COVID-19.

The Latino community was one of the “first ones to be impacted,” Belisa says, after state and local officials made efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus by shutting down small businesses, restaurants, gyms and schools.

As of Sept. 1, COVID-19, which is a respiratory illness with symptoms such as cough, fever and in severe cases, difficulty breathing, has infected more than 6 million nationwide and killed more than 183,000 people.

“The hospitality industry, construction, all of those where the Latino families work went out the door,” Belisa says. “From this point, there’s no recovery in sight.”

Belisa’s team did a survey around the second week of April to see just how great the impact in her community was. She said Ser Familia found that of the surveyed, about 65 percent had lost one or both sources of income in the home.

Ser Familia had pivoted to address the immediate needs of the community, Belisa says, which meant offering tutoring, addressing food insecurity, COVID-19 testing, etc.

She’s been thankful for her staff and their ability to step up during these times—often working long hours, weekends. With every challenge that COVID-19 brought, Belisa says her staff went “toe to toe with it.”

“Sometimes you think that you have the right people on [staff], but it’s times like these when you just know you have the right people,” Belisa says. “My staff has been here and have shown up every day, every time. They have gone beyond everything that I have imagined they would do. They have made every difference in the world.”

She was also extremely grateful for the grant funds provided by United Way and Community Foundation. Without this partnership and support, she says, “none of this would be possible.”

If you would like to help empower this work in communities across Greater Atlanta, donate to the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund.

If you or someone you know lives within the city limits of Atlanta and are in need of emergency rental assistance, visit relief.uwga.org to see if you might be eligible for funds that could cover past due rent, utilities and move-in deposits as a result of impending eviction.

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.”

ATLANTA – Nearly 500,000 children in Greater Atlanta live in communities that lack the basic opportunities and resources that all children and families need to thrive. These communities are in zip codes where the majority of residents are people of color. These are also communities where COVID-19 hit hardest, exposing the health and economic disparities resulting from years of disinvestment and structural racism. The current spotlight on these disparities and recent civil unrest has created new momentum to address racial inequities and an opportunity to convert the moment into a turning point for advancing deep and widescale changes.

In response, United Way of Greater Atlanta has created the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund to tackle the systemic issues underlying the correlation between race and zip codes, place and equity.

“The urgency for racial equity embedded in this historic moment requires innovative strategies coupled with courageous action,” said Nathaniel Smith, Founder and Chief Equity Officer for the Partnership for Southern Equity. “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. The journey towards racial equity for current and future generations is a difficult path to follow. It is encouraging to witness United Way’s decision to choose a path seldom taken by our local civic leadership. I encourage others to choose this pilgrimage with us.”

United Way’s Board of community volunteers made the decision to match the first $1 million in donations to the fund to demonstrate their strong belief in the importance of its charter and its consistency with United Way’s Child Well-Being mission: to ensure that every child has the opportunity to reach his or her potential.

Since 2016, United Way of Greater Atlanta has been laser focused on addressing the reasons why Greater Atlanta sits at the bottom of the list of U.S. cities in terms of opportunity for social and economic mobility. A 2019 Bloomberg report named Atlanta “the capital of U.S. inequality” for the second year in a row. “Zip code should not be destiny,” has been a guiding force for the organization’s homelessness, human trafficking, early learning, and workforce development priorities.

“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,” said Katrina D. Mitchell, Chief Community Impact Officer at United Way of Greater Atlanta. “The decisions and actions we make today will significantly shape the future. It is our vision that this fund will invest in structural solutions to catalyze effective, long-lasting change, address the root causes of racial inequity and prioritize hope, healing, and care during an unprecedented time.”

Funds will be invested in organizations in Greater Atlanta that are primarily focused on racial inequity challenges in their communities and on a regional level. Priority will be given to organizations:

  • Led by (executive leadership, staff, board) and focused on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities most directly impacted by structural racism
  • That are leading policy and advocacy efforts that intersect with on-the-ground civic engagement that is focused on people of color
  • That prioritize youth voices and take a multi-generational approach
  • Working on or adjacent to Racial Justice Efforts

 

Fund investments will be guided by an advisory committee and will utilize a racial equity impact analysis to aid in grant decisions.

Raphael Bostic, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta (FRBA), and United Way of Greater Atlanta Board member, is a key supporter of the new fund and its timeliness. As Bostic said in an essay for a recent FRBA report, “Systemic racism is a yoke that drags on the American economy. By limiting economic and educational opportunities for a large number of Americans, institutionalized racism constrains this country’s economic potential. This country has both a moral and economic imperative to end these unjust and destructive practices.”

To donate to the United for Racial Equity and Healing Fund, click here.

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 Greater 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’s YPL, LINC asks ‘How are you?’

Affinity group looks to create dialogue around issue of systemic racism in light of recent deaths of Black individuals

George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man from Minneapolis, 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 nine minutes.

Floyd’s death was captured on video, shared worldwide, and then set off a global movement of protests that quickly spread across the U.S. — protestors spoke out against yet another senseless and preventable death of a Black individual, and the unjust murders of Black people at the hands of police. These instances are common in Black communities, protestors say, and these deaths a byproduct of systemic racism in America.

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.

On May 26, the day after Floyd’s death, protests began in Minneapolis and spread nationwide as tens of thousands of people assembled in the streets to express their outrage and sorrow. Those marches quickly spread to Atlanta.

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.

There’s one way we can hope to overcome such division: by coming together and creating a dialogue around these issues.

With so much going on in the world, United Way’s Lead. Impact. Network. Change. (LINC) and Young Professional Leaders (YPL) network decided to reach out to its members and check in—to ask, “How are You?”

 

Here are some of the responses to the #HowAreYouATL tag on Instagram:

User @idasangel says while the movement has exposed certain things, these issues are nothing new for Black communities in Greater Atlanta and across the United States.

“Atlanta is my birthplace. I was raised here. And will forever serve here,” @idasangel writes.
“This movement has exposed systems, behaviors and beliefs that have sought to tear both this city and this nation apart.

“Lately, I’ve been feeling mentally drained, but this emotion isn’t new to so many of us.”

@johnsonkentara echoed that same feeling, simply stating “I’m exhausted.”

Also, via Instagram, @jenniferjakijohnson says these injustices are sickening.

“I know I am tired and sick from the injustices. It is undeniable [sic] a sad place to be in when you wonder if your Black son, brother, or father will return home safely,” @jenniferjakijohnson says.

@kd.noire thanked YPL and LINC for taking the time to ask a routine but important question.

“Asking ‘how are you’ maybe once seemed so routine and simple, but it is really vital to creating genuine connections,” @kd.noire says. “Thank you for asking and caring!”

We want to know how you’re doing.

How can you participate? We’re encouraging Greater Atlanta to join us in the conversation and share how you are feeling on social media using #howareyouatl and engaging with United Way’s Young Professional Leaders’ posts and stories here.

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.