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Column: Funding cuts forces YWCA to close homeless shelter

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on January 17, 2014

The YWCA of Greater Atlanta will close its five-bedroom Cascade House for homeless women and children on Jan. 17 so it can focus its efforts on its other core programs.

The “Women in Transition” homeless program, located at the Cascade House in southwest Atlanta, cost the YWCA nearly $250,000 to operate last year. Between January and September, the nonprofit had only raised $25,000 to support Cascade House.

In numerous discussions with United Way of Greater Atlanta as well as other funders, the YWCA was told that it should get out of the shelter business unless it planned to do it on a larger scale. Funding from United Way for Cascade House has gone from $200,000 a year in 2008 to zero in 2013.

“This has been a painful, difficult decision that was not made lightly or without great deliberation and without looking at all alternatives,” said Emily Ellison, CEO of the YWCA. “Again, we followed the advice of our funders and longtime partners, we looked at how we could have the greatest impact with limited resources, and we had to make the wisest decision possible.”

As of Jan. 1, five families were living in Cascade House. Since then, two have already transitioned out of the program, and the YWCA is providing resources for the remaining families and for YWCA employees impacted by the closing. Also, other organizations have expressed interest in taking over the Cascade House.

Ellison said the YWCA will continue to work on empowering underserved women and children in metro Atlanta.

“That work will be accomplished by a renewed focus on early childhood education, STEM initiatives for teens, women’s health and wellness, advocacy and racial justice and in making sure that we are providing programs that are relevant to current community needs,” she said.

Erica Qualls, YWCA’s board chair and general manager of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, said the decision was made after thoughtful cost analysis of all the nonprofit’s programs.

“The agency’s board and leadership agree that we need to focus on service areas where our core competencies are strongest and where we can have the most profound and lasting community impact,” Qualls said.

The YWCA opened the first homeless shelter for women and children in Atlanta in 1986, and the program has gone through several iterations — from emergency to extended-stay housing. But in the past two decades, other nonprofits have been created whose primary or only focus is serving the homeless.

GRA mentors

A key reason new business ventures fail is that leaders of those companies don’t have all the skill sets they need to be successful. That was one of the findings of a study conducted by the Georgia Research Alliance, the high-level public-private entity that helps foster technology startups in the state.

So GRA decided that it needed experienced entrepreneurs who could work in concert with technology startups to help them “scale up” their business and become sustainable.

At GRA’s September 2012 board meeting, Gov. Nathan Deal called the idea the “eHarmony” of the technology sector.

Now GRA has named its inaugural class of “Industry Fellows” — a broad group of industry veterans from the life sciences and technology sectors who will be matched with research faculty and entrepreneurs to help build successful ventures.

“There are opportunities with strong commercial potential being developed in the labs of our universities,” said Mike Cassidy, GRA’s president and CEO. “We developed the Industry Fellows program to give faculty access to top industry minds, right here in Georgia.”

The current class of GRA Industry Fellows includes several who have become CEOs of companies recently formed around university-based technologies, including Gregg BeVier, CEO of Body Surface Translations Inc. (UGA); Edward Cannon, president and CEO of NovAb (Emory); Tom O’Brien, president and CEO of Axion Biosystems (Georgia Tech); and Jim Stratigos, founder and CEO of Sytheros Communications (Georgia Tech).

Georgia Historical Society co-chairs

The Georgia Historical Society will make history at its 2014 Trustees Gala on Feb. 15 at the Hyatt Regency Savannah.

Among the honorary co-chairs of the event will be former President Jimmy Carter, U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and House Speaker David Ralston. Seven Georgia congressmen also are included, including three running for U.S. Senate — Jack Kingston, Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey.

One reason for the bipartisan display will be that Gov. Nathan Deal will induct Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Billy Payne as the 2014 trustees.

Todd Groce, the Society’s president and CEO, said the Trustees Gala raises money to support educational programming year-round and helps the organization collect, examine and teach Georgia History.

State of DeKalb

The DeKalb Chamber of Commerce and the Council for Quality Growth will hold the 2014 “State of DeKalb” business lunch on Jan. 23 at the Emory Conference Center, where interim DeKalb CEO Lee May will review 2013 and lay out his vision for 2014.

The DeKalb Chamber also has elected six new business leaders to its board, and they will be officially introduced at the Chamber’s annual lunch meeting on Feb. 6.

The six new members are: Ted Cummings, president of Onyx Media Group; Angela Graham, president of Graham & Associates; Michael Reeves, vice president of Reeves & Associates Consulting and Training; Brenda Reid, media and community relations manager at Publix; Kelsi Robinson, CEO of EGM Services; and JaKathryn Ross, director of Georgia Pacific – YEG.

Project Overcoat

In a desire to help spread the warmth, the Project Overcoat campaign will run until Jan. 25. People are being asked to donate “new and gently used” coats and blankets to any metro Kroger store. More than 130 community organizations — including United Way of Greater Atlanta, FedEx, Atlanta Mission and Bulldog Movers — will distribute the coats and blankets during the winter season.

Senior Connections

Senior Connections has received a $20,000 technology grant from the Waffle House Foundation to upgrade critical Meals on Wheels routing hardware and software components. The charity prepares and delivers more than 700,000 meals annually to low-income seniors. “The software we use to create our meal routes, scheduling of in-home aides, ordering and tracking of services, and volunteer hours is the linchpin of our services to vulnerable seniors,” said Debra Furtado, CEO of Senior Connections. “The Waffle House grant is a godsend.”

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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