A special thanksgiving to all our heroes who dedicate their lives to enhancing Atlanta

Our community is full of heroes who dedicate their lives to making Atlanta a better place to live.

As we give thanks this week, I would like to thank all our local heroes.

The abundance of great community leaders really hit home this past week.

It began with the induction of a new shining light — Bill Bolling, founder and executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank for 30 years. On Monday, Bolling received the Shining Light Award from Atlanta Gas Light and WSB-Radio — placed nostalgically on Peachtree Street in front of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

Then on Thursday, Progressive Redevelopment Inc. — one of Atlanta’s largest developers of affordable and supportive housing — held its annual gathering at the Carter Center.

Bruce Gunter, PRI’s co-founder and president (and last week’s SaportaReport guest columnist), used the occasion to celebrate the organization’s 20-plus years in business.

And in his typical generous style, Gunter honored “those whose dedication and hard work has significantly advanced the cause of affordable housing and inspired us at PRI over the past 20 years.”

Gunter called them the “Housing Heroes.”

At the PRI event, Bolling took the opportunity to thank Gunter for bringing the housing community together every year.

“This is the day when we come and celebrate our work together,” Bolling said. “This is not easy work.”

Bolling then spoke to Gunter directly. “No one else really holds up the heroes of housing,” Bolling said. “What I wanted to do today is I wanted to toast PRI — its staff, its board, all the people who have contributed to PRI. And I want to toast Bruce Gunter for being the organizer and the leader. He’s always thanking us. Now we want to thank Bruce.”

Here is the group of Housing Heroes that Gunter recognized:

Frank Alexander, director of the Project on Affordable Housing and Community Development at Emory Law School;

Lawrence Anderson, management consultant for real estate development with NeighborWorks and former director of the Enterprise Foundation Atlanta local office;

Clara Axam, director of the Enterprise Community Partners Atlanta office and a MARTA board member who has a long tenure in public service;

Terry Ball, deputy director of GEMA — Greater Atlanta Area;

Woody Bartlett, co-founder of Georgia Interfaith Power & Light;

Bill Bolling, founder of the Atlanta Community Food Bank;

Lynn Brazen, community investment officer of the Federal Home Loan Bank in Atlanta;

Ray Christman, former CEO of Federal Home Loan Bank in Atlanta and the new executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition;

Dave Dixon, development partner at the Norsouth Companies, which specializes in senior housing;

Hattie Dorsey, former president of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership (and this week’s SaportaReport guest columnist);

Alison Drummond, a partner with Arnall Golden Gregory who serves on the board of Georgia Affordable Housing Coalition;

Elise Eplan, a consultant to foundations and former vice president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and a co-founder of Hands on Atlanta;

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin;

Ernestine Garey, director of housing finance for the Atlanta Development Authority;

Renee Glover, CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority;

Jim Grauley, chief operating officer at Columbia Residential, a developer of affordable housing;

Young Hughley, CEO of RRC — Resources for Residents and Communities of Georgia;

Carol Jackson, executive vice president of the Atlanta Housing Authority and retired executive vice president of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta;

Larry Keating, professor of urban and regional planning at Georgia Tech;

Noel Khalil, chairman and CEO of Columbia Residential;

Ray Kuniansky, chief operating officer of Fabric developers and former chief operating officer of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership;

Kate Little, president and CEO at G-Stand, which promotes the development of quality, affordable housing by Georgia’s not-for-profit housing developers;

Bob Lupton, president of FCS Urban Ministries — a community development organization;

Larrie Del Martin, president and executive director of the Atlanta Habitat for Humanity;

Maureen Mercer, executive director a the Georgia Affordable Housing Coalition;

Robin Meyer, retired director of the Housing Finance Division with the Georgia State Department of Community Affairs;

Chris Morris, executive director of the DeKalb County Community Development;

Carol Naughton, vice president for communities for New Community Ventures and former executive director of the East Lake Foundation;

John O’Callaghan, CEO of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership;

Alan Patricio, co-founder of the Housing Resource Center;

Egbert Perry, chairman and CEO of the Integral Group, an urban development firm;

David Pinson, former director of housing finance at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs;

Don Phoenix; district director of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. in Atlanta;

Debi Starnes, homeless services advisor for the Shirley Franklin administration;

Craig Taylor, co-founder of Progressive Redevelopment Inc. and owner of Pro-Housing Inc.;

Ron Terwilliger, chairman and CEO of Trammel-Crow Residential and workforce housing advocate;

John Wieland, owner of John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods; and

Mtamanika Youngblood, director of neighborhood transformation for the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

I also wanted to mention other long-time heroes in our community — people who have dedicated themselves to helping improve our region for little personal gain.

Two names come immediately to mind — Dennis Creech, founder of Southface, which has helped make sustainable, green building part of our vocabulary; and Alicia Philipp, president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of people who are our hometown heroes. But many of these are people who do not seek the spotlight — preferring to showcase others rather than themselves.

And as long as I’m in a thankful mood….

As I write this column, I have just finished spending the day at the Atlanta Press Club run-off debates — held at Georgia Public Broadcasting. I serve as chairman of the APC Debate Committee, a role that has given me a front-row seat of our city’s and state’s political contests.

I came away from Sunday’s debates thankful that we have such qualified people seeking public office.

The first debate was for City Council President — a run-off between two Atlanta City Council representatives — Ceasar Mitchell and Clair Muller. For me, the highlight occurred when Muller was asked to say something nice about her opponent.

Muller said Mitchell was good at making sure City Council addressed key issues and that he always brings up important points.

In return, Mitchell said he turned to Muller “every chance” he could because of her depth of knowledge of issues that impact the city that she has gained in her 20 years on council.

Both Mitchell and Muller exemplify the best our city has to offer.

The same is true for the two other City Council run-offs. In Post 2 — at large, the race is between Amir Farokhi and Aaron Watson. And in City Council District 6, Liz Coyle and Alex Wan are in a run-off.

Again, our city can’t go wrong with any of these leaders. Unfortunately, not all of these six people can win. But how lucky are we that we have great choices. And for that I’m thankful.

The mayoral election between City Councilwoman Mary Norwood and former state Sen. Kasim Reed has been more contentious and acrimonious. The negative tone of both candidates has been disappointing.

If one were to listen to Norwood and Reed, one would believe Atlanta is on the brink of bankruptcy and that crime is out of control. Not only are both of those statements false, but the two candidates are not doing themselves any favors if they get elected.

The city of Atlanta has been undergoing a renaissance for the past decade with new residents, new developments and strategically positioned to be the jewel in our region because of its transit access, its water and sewer infrastructure as well as more green space and sustainable land use.

But since I’m in a thankful mood, I do appreciate the fact that both Norwood and Reed are willing to serve our city as its next mayor.

So thanks again to all the heroes in our midst.

Readers: I would love for you to submit comments and share the names of your heroes in the Atlanta region.

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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