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Column: $75 million raised for new Drew Charter School Senior Academy

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on February 21, 2014

The East Lake Foundation has accomplished a rare feat during an economic recession in Atlanta. It has raised more than $75 million in less than three years to build the Drew Charter School Senior Academy.

When one reviews who was on the campaign committee, then it’s easier to understand how they were able to raise that much money during a challenging economy.

The campaign chair was David Ratcliffe, retired CEO of Southern Co., and the fundraising consultants were Ann Curry and Jessie McKellar of Coxe Curry & Associates.

The others on the committee were Duane Ackerman (retired BellSouth CEO); Richard Courts IV (real estate); Larry Gellerstedt (Cousins Properties); Tom Cousins; Tom Fanning (Southern Co.); Lillian Giornelli (Cousins Foundation); Taylor Glover (Turner Enterprises); Geri Thomas (Bank of America); John Imlay (philanthropist and angel investor); and Joe Rogers (Waffle House).

The original campaign goal was $73 million, and $75.6 million was raised to build the Drew Senior Academy — which will permit the successful charter school to teach its students through high school.

“Our commitment is to fulfill our cradle-to-college theme,” said Don Doran, principal of the Drew Charter School. “Eventually we will have 600 students in the high school.”

The Senior Academy will open in time for the 2014-2015 school year, and Doran said the East Lake community and the Drew Charter School want to partner with all the public schools in the area.

“We want southeast Atlanta to be an education destination. We want to figure out how we can all hold hands,” Doran said. “When you really think of the whole purpose of this school, it is built around a mission of transforming a community without displacing the existing residents.”

Cynthia Kuhlman, who chairs Drew’s board, said it would not have been possible “without the generous support of our donors.”

The leading donors — those contributing at least $1 million — included The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, CF Foundation, Chick-fil-A Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Georgia Power Foundation/Southern Company Charitable Foundation, the Kendeda Fund, the Marcus Foundation, Robertson Foundation, O. Wayne Rollins Foundation and Robert W. Woodruff Foundation.

In addition to the $43 million that is going to the actual construction, campaign funds also will go toward an operating reserve account and a future scholarship fund for Drew Charter School graduates.

The new 200,000-square-foot campus will allow the Drew Charter School to serve 1,000 6th to 12th graders in Atlanta’s East Lake community and employ an estimated 485 teachers and staff.

“It will be like no other high school you’ve ever seen,” Doran said.

Charlie Loudermilk.

If Aaron’s Inc. founder Charlie Loudermilk has an opinion about the $2.3 billion unsolicited buyout offer the company recently got from a Florida investment firm, he’s not sharing.

“I’m no longer associated with Aaron’s,” Loudermilk said on Feb. 19 when asked about the pending buyout offer.

Loudermilk retired as chairman of Aaron’s in September 2012, when he became chairman emeritus. Since stepping off the board, he has diversified his holdings, and he is no longer a major shareholder.

Loudermilk started Aaron’s in 1955 by renting chairs for 10 cents each. He grew the company into a large national chain selling and renting electronics, furniture and appliances.

Georgia Perimeter.

Georgia Perimeter College has entered a new era — receiving its first-ever$1 million grant from a private donor.

The gift from the Betty and Davis Fitzgerald Foundation was announced on Feb. 19 at the Learning & Tutoring Center on GPC’s Clarkston campus.

The gift will enable the institution to address the “Complete College Georgia” goals — including widening college access and improving college retention and graduation rates for African-American and Hispanic students.

State projects estimate that in six years, more than 60 percent of the state’s jobs will require either a certificate or an associate degree or a bachelor degree.

Currently, only about 42 percent of the state’s young adults meet those requirements.

“Georgia Perimeter College is eager to begin addressing this state-wide need through the generosity of Atlanta-based Fitzgerald Foundation,” GPC spokeswoman Kysa Daniels wrote in an email announcing the gift. The college serves more than 21,000 students through five campuses in metro Atlanta.

Walking to end hunger

For 30 years, Atlantans have been taking to the streets to reduce hunger in our community.

On Sunday, March 9, the Atlanta Community Food Bank will hold the 30th annual Hunger Walk/Run — raising enough funds to help distribute more than 45 million pounds of food throughout the state.

Thousands of people — of all walks of life — will start gathering at Turner Field’s Green Lot at noon, and the Walk/Run will start at 2 p.m.

With more than 28 percent of Georgia’s children living in food insecure homes and the harsh winter metro Atlanta has experienced, the Atlanta Community Food Bank and others are working extra hard to meet the demand.

In addition to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the other five benefiting partners are: Episcopal Charities Foundation, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Lutheran Services of Georgia, Presbytery of Greater Atlanta  and St. Vincent De Paul Society.

In the event’s 30 years, the Hunger Walk/Run has raised more than $7 million, including nearly $650,000 last year.

“The Hunger Walk/Run is one of our most important fundraisers each year,” said Bill Bolling, founder and executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank. “We are working harder than ever along with our partners to meet the need for food assistance that still exists for many in our community.”

Major sponsors for this year’s event include: the Arby’s Foundation; AutoTrader.com; Walmart; Hall, Booth, Smith P.C.; and The Coca-Cola Co.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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