25 Years of Transformational Change with Agape Atlanta
by Guest Columnist NELL BENN, CEO of Agape Atlanta.
It’s been 25 years since Agape Atlanta Youth & Family Center first opened its doors. A program that began as an outreach ministry of Trinity Presbyterian Church is now a five-day-a-week, wrap-around program. Agape’s programming is uniquely embedded in the Atlanta Public School System and serves 225 students and 110 families in our local community.
Looking ahead to the future, we must ask ourselves, how did we get here and what work is left to do to achieve our mission of empowering and supporting underserved children and families here in our city?
When we set down our roots in 1997 in the Bolton Road Community, we had one goal in mind: to end the cycle of generational poverty. We believe that it only takes helping a single child to create a lasting impact on the economic course of future generations. By offering our students comprehensive programming in academics, life skills, and emotional and mental well-being, we can significantly increase their chances of academic success and improve the lives of the generations to come.
Over the past 25 years, we have served more than 500 school-age children in the Atlanta area, offering services that include in-school, after-school academic programs, summer camps and more that support entire families.
Agape’s community efforts are not limited to our unique programming. We’ve teamed up with other local organizations to facilitate food drives & fundraisers to set our students up for success. We’ve distributed 10,000 turkeys and food baskets, 55,000 backpacks, toys, and coats, and served more than 300,000 meals to our students.
This entire year at Agape is dedicated to celebrating what we’ve accomplished over 25 years while never losing sight of the day-to-day impact our programs make for children and families in our community.
It’s incredible to realize that, on average, our students are part of our program for eleven years. This means by the time they are seniors in high school, we’ve watched them grow up alongside us. The students can take all the foundation established with Agape beyond the classroom and into their future. Since 2009, 95% of Agape seniors have graduated high school and moved on to either college, technical school, or full-time employment. Seeing our students flourish with us is the real reward.
To look back, Agape‘s origin was the vision of senior pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams. It was her effort that led a core group of members from the congregation and other faith-based organizations and community organizations to set down roots in the Atlanta Mission’s building on Bolton Road in 1997.
The result was a one-day-a-week after-school program for 25 students from the Hampton Oaks Housing Development and a day program for senior citizens from Marietta Road Highrise. Standing firm in its mission, we expanded the organization over the following years to a five-day-a-week program and added additional programs, services, and community initiatives to serve students from other schools and neighborhoods in the community.
Due to the increase in the number of children served over the years, Agape offered after-school programs at the Agape facility on Bolton Road, Trinity Presbyterian Church and St Anne’s Episcopal Church. Today, Agape partners closely with Atlanta Public Schools (APS) and currently serves students from:
- Bolton Academy
- E. Rivers Elementary School
- Scott Elementary School
- Sutton Middle School
- North Atlanta High School
- Atlanta Classical Academy
After a successful $8.5 million capital campaign that launched fall of 2015, Agape moved into a new 35,000-square-foot facility on Marietta Boulevard in 2018, bringing all our programming under one roof. The new facility allowed Agape to increase capacity and offer new and enhanced programming. We’re so grateful for our current home, which includes a gymnasium, commercial kitchen, computer lab, library and 10 study rooms.
During the height of COVID-19, Agape pivoted its programming to virtual and partnered with Atlanta Public Schools to provide students with the necessary technology to participate in their online classes. In addition, Agape provided over $125K in grocery gift cards, utility and rent assistance. During the fall of 2020, Agape reopened its doors and served as a study pod for students providing accountability, stable technology, and a conducive environment for learning while schools were still offering virtual schooling because of the pandemic.
Now in 2022, Agape is laying the groundwork for the next 25 years with a $2.5 million capital campaign as we work to end the cycle of generational poverty. The funds are earmarked for critical investments, including an outdoor recreational and learning space, upgraded technology and STEAM equipment, new buses, and the creation of a building maintenance fund and endowment as Agape looks to secure its future.
The dedication and support of the Atlanta business and philanthropic community brought us to this milestone. We will continue to spend the rest of this year dedicated to celebrating our past and securing the future as we help our students and families discover, embrace, and achieve their full potential.