Atlanta’s East Lake community shows what’s possible
By Guest Columnist MADELYN R. ADAMS, executive director of the East Lake Foundation
This week, golf fans all over the nation will focus their attention on Atlanta. Our own East Lake Golf Club will once again host THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola, the season-ending tournament for the PGA TOUR’s top 30 players.
While television viewers watch the world’s best golfers compete, they may also catch a glimpse of the neighborhood surrounding the historic golf club. They might notice East Lake’s new housing options, gleaming charter school and award-winning public golf course. What they may not know, though, is that there’s a lot more to East Lake than new buildings and green fairways.
Not all that long ago, the stories coming out of East Lake were anything but positive. Just over a decade ago, when you mentioned East Lake to most Atlantans, they associated our neighborhood with a dangerous public housing project. With a crime rate 18 times higher than the national average, safety, security and hope had been virtually extinguished in this once-thriving community.
In 1995, the East Lake Foundation was founded to rescue what had become one of America’s most violent and dangerous neighborhoods. Working with residents as well as public and private partners, the Foundation sparked the development of a new community, creating opportunities for residents and attracting newcomers.
Public housing has been replaced with best-in-class, mixed-income apartments that draw a diverse mix of families. The Villages of East Lake provide not only safe, attractive housing but also classes, events and support groups that help residents build friendships, knowledge and life skills.
“Cradle to college” educational opportunities blossomed with the opening of a public charter school that emphasizes character development and academic achievement. Charles R. Drew Charter School, the city of Atlanta’s first charter school, now serves more than 800 students, kindergarten through grade 8.
The East Lake Foundation built the public Charlie Yates Golf Course, which also serves as home to The First Tee of East Lake, a year-round life skills and golf instruction program that helps children develop values, life skills and academic success.
The revitalized neighborhood has attracted diverse commercial development (including a grocery store and two bank branches), as well as the East Lake Family YMCA.
And the East Lake Golf Club has been restored to excellence and been named annual host of THE TOUR Championship.
We are especially proud of the fact that net proceeds from the club and the tournament are reinvested in East Lake, supporting nonprofit organizations, including the East Lake Foundation. Over the years, THE TOUR Championship has donated $9 million to local charities.
Real revitalization, real results
While much of East Lake’s physical infrastructure has been rebuilt over the past decade, less visible but more critical revitalization work continues. Our neighbors are actively engaged in building better futures for themselves and their families, using tools provided by the East Lake Foundation: quality education, affordable housing and community wellness opportunities.
Violent crime has been reduced by 95 percent and East Lake students excel in school. This year, 92 percent of Drew 8th graders met or exceeded Georgia writing standards – compared to a state average of 75 percent. Drew’s new pre-K program has been adopted as a model by the state, and in just two years, Drew graduates have won more than $2 million in scholarships and now attend more than 30 colleges. East Lake has become a community where every child – and every family — has a chance to succeed.
The lessons we’ve learned in East Lake are now being applied in other communities across the nation. We encourage any neighborhood eager to reduce crime, improve education and create new hope to build on our experience.
As you watch THE TOUR Championship this week on TV – or, better yet, in person – know that you’re not just viewing another sporting event. You’re supporting a cause that strengthens our community. Thanks to support from THE TOUR Championship, the East Lake Golf Club and generous donors, we can continue to deliver the tools that local families need to build brighter futures.