Column: Atlanta group rescues its 20,000th refugee

By Maria Saporta
Friday, September 3, 2010

The Atlanta office of the International Rescue Committee will hit quite a milestone on Friday, Sept. 3.

On that day, the Atlanta office will welcome its 20,000th refugee — Raeda, a single, Catholic woman from Baghdad who escaped persecution against ethnic and religious minorities by fleeing first to Jordan.

Now she will begin her new life in Atlanta with the help of the local office of the IRC.

The Atlanta office of the IRC opened in 1979, and it has helped provide a safe haven for refugees from 47 countries.

The Atlanta office also has just found out that it will be accepting its first case from North Korea, a man who will be arriving Sept. 8, according to Ellen Beattie, executive director of the IRC’s operations in Atlanta.

Georgia provides asylum and resettlement for 2,200 to 2,500 refugees every year. Of those, the IRC averages about a thousand each year, more than any other rescue operation.

In fact, the national operations of IRC, which has 22 regional offices, handles a total of about 10,000 refugees each year. That means the Atlanta office is one of the IRC’s largest operations in the United States.

“Our goal is to get the refugees to be self-sufficient,” Beattie said. “Over 90 percent of them reach self-sufficiency within six months of resettlement.”

Although the IRC does work with the U.S. Department of State and the Immigration and Naturalization Service and receives government funding, federal funds do not cover all of the resettlement costs.

That’s why the IRC holds an annual fundraiser — the Freedom Fête. This year, the Freedom Fête gala will be held on Saturday, Sept. 11, in the penthouse law offices of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP in Atlantic Station.

Raeda, the 20,000th refugee, will be a special guest at the $100-per-person event. CNN International anchor Isha Sesay will be the emcee at the gala. Reservations can be made at www.theIRC.org/Atlanta.

Mitch Jacoby, senior vice president of Jacoby Development Inc. (the developer of Atlantic Station), serves on the Freedom Fête host committee and is one of the most loyal supporters of the IRC’s Atlanta operations. “The key to me is that we are all refugees,” Jacoby said. “That’s what made America great — bringing people in from around the world.”

GSU names Dahlberg Hall

Bill Dahlberg remembers going to the circus at the old Municipal Auditorium. He also went there to see a roller derby. And more significantly, that’s where Dahlberg attended his graduation ceremony from Georgia State University.

Dahlberg went on to be president of Georgia Power Co., chairman and CEO of Southern Co., and chairman of Mirant Corp. Throughout his career, Dahlberg was loyal to his alma mater. He chaired GSU’s first capital campaign, including the Rialto Center for the Arts capital campaign. According to Georgia State, he even wore a band major’s uniform on campus to kick off the campaign in the mid-1990s.

As a way of saying thanks, GSU, which turned the old Municipal Auditorium into its Alumni Hall, will now call the historic facility Dahlberg Hall. The renaming ceremony will be held Sept. 17 at 2 p.m.

“As we look towards our second century, we are deeply grateful for the support of great alums like Bill Dahlberg,” said President Mark P. Becker. “His long-standing support has helped Georgia State University become what it is today. We are honored to recognize him with the naming of Dahlberg Hall.”

Dahlberg said that although he and his wife, Jill, also have made personal contributions to GSU, the renaming of the hall is not directly tied to a gift. “I’ve had a longtime relationship with Georgia State.”

Jewish Federation kickoff

The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta kicked off its annual fundraising campaign Sept. 1 hoping it will bring in more money than last year’s campaign.

The Community Campaign 2011 will last until June 30, 2011, but these first 60 days — called the “primacy period” — are critical.

The federation is not setting an actual dollar goal amount, something it has shied away from for the last several years, according to Steve Rakitt, the federation’s president and CEO.

“We believe that the relationships that we build with our donors, and the stories that we tell are all the motivation we need,” Rakitt said.

“We have terrific leadership, terrific enthusiasm, and we have the motivation to do better than last year,” Rakitt said. “That means raising more money, reaching more people and touching more lives.”

The co-chairs of the campaign are Joel Marks and Joanie Shubin. Cathy Selig Kuranoff is serving as vice chair.

The federation’s past campaign, which wrapped up June 30, raised $15.35 million, just 2 percent less than it had raised the year before.

Education funding

Dr. Bruce Feinberg and his wife, Iris, are seeding an endowment fund with an initial gift of $100,000 to provide continuing education for nurses and other medical and office staff at Georgia Cancer Specialists.

Feinberg is founding president and CEO of Georgia Cancer Specialists.

At the end of September, he will become a vice president and chief medical officer of Cardinal Health Inc., one of the nation’s largest health-care companies. He will remain in Atlanta.

But before leaving, the Feinbergs wanted to make sure that the GCS would get the best training and education possible.

“It was a chance to make a difference,” Feinberg said, adding that building the GCS practice, he was able to live out a dream. “That was a credit to my staff, and I wanted to give something back.”

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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