Column: Georgia Works! launched to help change lives of homeless
By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on November 29, 2013
When retired investment banker Bill McGahan, 51, launched Georgia Works! in early October, he knew the likely candidates for the program would fit the following description:
A middle aged African-American male who has been arrested numerous times. He is likely a felon who has child support obligations and has not held a steady job for nearly two years. He’s been homeless at least a year, and he has a history of substance abuse.
“Felons are overrepresented in the homeless population,” said Jack Hardin, co-chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission on Homelessness. “These are the most difficult people to get into programs. And they are the hardest folks to help.”
Today there are 30 men who have joined the Georgia Works! workforce — a groundbreaking 12-month program that has been modeled after New York City’s successful Ready, Willing and Able initiative, which was launched in 1991.
Men are brought in for a 30-day trial period before they are fully admitted into the room-board-and-work program at the Gateway Center, which prepares them to live on their own. They are drug-tested every few days, they have to renounce any public assistance other than Medicare, and they have to address past issues such as child support or legal problems.
Once they enter the program, they are paid minimum wage to pick up trash around downtown Atlanta — making about $240 a week. They pay $100 for their weekly room and board; they have to put aside $50 a week for savings; and the rest is their spending money.
McGahan, who has made a significant personal three-year contribution to the program along with several foundations and nonprofits, said it is all about changing habits and helping these men rebuild their lives so they can become self-sufficient.
McGahan hopes that government entities and businesses will partner with Georgia Works!, by giving the organization contracts to clean or landscape their properties at a competitive rate — knowing that they’re helping reduce homelessness at the same time.
Eventually the social enterprise, which is estimated to cost at least $1 million a year to serve 40 men, could end up paying largely for itself through employment contracts.
“This strategy has had great success in New York,” Hardin said. “I think it’s oneof the most exciting new programs that I’ve been involved with since I’ve been co-chairman of the commission.”
A Family Affair
Few families in Georgia are immune to the devastating struggles — emotional and financial — of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.
Several Atlanta families shared their own struggles during a fundraising dinner — “A Family Affair 2013” — at the Piedmont Driving Club on Nov. 20 as a way to raise money for Alzheimer’s research.
The co-hosts of the dinner — Jim and Sarah Kennedy — shared their own story of how Sarah’s father suffered from the disease, becoming more and more remote from the family.
Several prominent Atlantans appeared in a video that aired during the dinner. For example, Inman Allen, son of former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., spoke of how his mother, Louise Allen, had suffered from Alzheimer’s late in life.
The highlight of the evening was when two of the top researchers at Emory University spoke of the latest research that is underway, perhaps offering hope to those who face the possibility of getting the disease in their lifetime.
“We have raised over $800,000 — every single dollar to go to research at Emory,” said Dr. Allan Levey, director of Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. “This is a family disease. It’s been hidden in the shadows for decades. I can promise you we are making a difference. This is the most exciting time to be in Alzheimer’s research because we can taste it.”
Levey first scared everyone with the statistics. “Nearly 1 out of every 2 people will get Alzheimer’s once they reach 85 years old,” said Levey, adding that researchers are facing decreases in research funding and are having to spend much of their time writing grants rather than doing research.
Then he introduced Dr. David Weinshenker, who has been researching the role of norepinephrine in normal brain function and in Alzheimer’s disease.
Emory is now spearheading a clinical trial to treat people in the early stages with Strattera, a drug that has been used in the treatment of ADHD.
Weinshenker said Strattera is a potential breakthrough in the treatment of pre-symptomatic or early phases of Alzheimer’s.
The Georgia chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has named Charlie Crawford as the 2014 MS Leadership Class Honorary chair. Crawford leads Private Bank of Buckhead, and he is chairman of the Atlanta Track Club.
The MS Leadership Class is an opportunity for business professionals to strengthen their leadership skills through workshops led by some of Atlanta’s top business leaders. In addition, they participate in community events and raise funds to further MS research.
Roy Rangel, president of the National MS Society — Georgia chapter, said Crawford “is an inspirational leader, not just in business, but also in the community, and he champions health in both realms.”