Column: GM CEO Mary Barra to speak at Atlanta Rotary’s prayer breakfast

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on September 19, 2014

The Rotary Club of Atlanta’s 16th annual Atlanta Interfaith Business Prayer Breakfast on Oct. 22 at the Hyatt Regency downtown could be one for the history books.

The keynote speaker will be Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors Co., the first woman to run a major U.S. automobile manufacturer. It is quite a coup for the Atlanta Rotary to get Barra to deliver the keynote address amid all the issues that she has faced at the helm of the top U.S. automobile company.

According to Atlanta Rotary Executive Director Linda Glass, well-placed connections among Rotarians helped secure Barra as a speaker.

Glass gave special mention to Charlie Ogburn, chairman of Crawford & Co., who served as an executive director of Arcapita Inc., an international private equity firm, from March 2001 until he retired in July 2010.

The prayer breakfast will have another extra special guest – Gary C.K. Huang, president of Rotary International, who will give the global prayer.

The Interfaith Business Breakfast is taking on a greater global significance as Atlanta prepares to welcome Rotary International’s annual convention here in 2017.

As always, the breakfast will include readings from the Old Testament and the New Testament. (At the 2001 breakfast right after 9/11, the event began including readings from the Quran – giving the occasion a true interfaith feel.)

This year music will be provided by Kaleidoscope, formerly known as the Michael O’Neal Chamber Singers.

By the way, the notice for the prayer breakfast includes a quote from the Dalai Lama: “All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness. The important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.”

Atlanta Chamber Players

While the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians and management appear to be at an impasse, there is an option for those who want to hear classical music.

The Atlanta Chamber Players – now in their 39th season – announced four public concerts as well as their new leadership team.

Paula Peace, the founding artistic director, has stepped down after 38 years, even though she’s agreed to stay for a portion of the season in an advisory role.

The new leadership of the organization is Elizabeth Pridgen as artistic director and Rachel Ciprotti as general manager.

“I am thrilled and honored to pass the artistic reins of ACP to Elizabeth Pridgen,” Peace said in a release. “She is a world-class pianist and a real sweetheart, who Atlanta audiences are going to love and be dazzled by!”

Jim Throckmorton, board president of the Atlanta Chamber Players, also expressed confidence in the new leadership.

“The board knows we have chosen two highly qualified, passionate individuals capable of moving our organization forward,” he said. “Elizabeth is an extraordinary talent with a bold vision. I have no doubt of her ability to lead the organization as marvelously as our beloved outgoing artistic director, while preserving Paula’s founding vision of our organization: intimate ensemble music of the highest caliber reaching a broad audience.”

The 39th season will open at the New American Shakespeare Tavern on Oct. 7 with an “Act One” program highlighting Pridgen alongside 10 Chamber musicians and filled with music from Chopin, Thuille and Francaix, fit for a celebration of a new era for the ensemble.

The season continues on Nov. 9 at Ahavath Achim Synagogue; at Spivey Hall on Feb. 27, 2015; and back at the Shakespeare Tavern on May 5.

In addition to the public concert season, the Atlanta Chamber Players hosts a series of popular soirée concerts in homes and venues throughout the Atlanta area.

Prevent Blindness Georgia CEO

Prevent Blindness Georgia has a new CEO – William “Bill” Burke – a veteran of the health-care industry.

Burke, who has 25 years of experience in the field, has demonstrated expertise in strategic planning and business development for clients representing innovation in health care, according to a release from the organization.

His career has also been dedicated to the implementation of patient care and productivity enhancement solutions for physicians and self-funded employers. Burke previously held principal positions at WORKsiteRx, Capital Health Associates, held an officer position with Matria Healthcare and was a co-founder of I-trax Inc.

Vision problems cost Georgians nearly $4 billion each year. Prevent Blindness Georgia is making an impact by visiting hundreds of elementary schools each year to provide 35,000 children with free eye screening. Of the preschoolers Prevent Blindness screens, about 6 percent to 10 percent are found to have significant vision impairment. If left untreated, those cases could potentially lead to blindness. In addition, each year PBGA provides 3,500 low-income adults with comprehensive eye care.

Burke noted that expanding screenings to more pre-kindergarten children, continuing to embrace the latest vision screening technologies and building a public/private sector model are among his initiatives for Prevent Blindness Georgia.

“Bill is a great fit for Prevent Blindness Georgia,” said Laurie Irby, vice president of children’s vision programs for the nonprofit. “With his leadership and guidance, we are ready to take our organization to the next level, and provide even more children and adults with the eye care they deserve.”

Atlanta Legal Aid’s 90th anniversary

For 90 years, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society has been providing legal services to low-income people in metro Atlanta, helping families save their homes, have access to health care and be protected consumers.

So on Oct. 2, Atlanta Legal Aid, which serves clients from Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties, will celebrate its 90th anniversary at a luncheon at the Oceans Ballroom at the Georgia Aquarium.

The event chairs are Gaylen Kemp Baxter, Cheryl Naja and Rita A. Sheffey; and the honorary chairs are David and Luck Gambrell. The theme of the event will be: “The Many Faces of Atlanta Legal Aid Society,” and it will give thanks to the law firms, corporations and lawyers who have helped the organization thrive since 1924.

The program will feature video remarks from a Legal Aid client, inspiring remarks by the staff about their experiences and Atlanta Legal Aid Executive Director Steve Gottlieb’s reflections on “Keeping the Promise Made in 1924.”

Atlanta Legal Aid Society was begun in 1924 by 17 prominent local attorneys with an operating budget of $600. In its nine decades, it has served a countless number of people in need of legal services. Just last year, attorneys handled nearly 25,000 cases, primarily involving housing, family and senior citizens’ issues.

Atlanta Legal Aid Society has another reason to celebrate. Early next year it will be moving into its new home at 54 Ellis St. downtown.

Alan Wolk and Jewish National Fund Atlanta board

The Jewish National Fund has named Alan S. Wolk as the new co-president of the Southeast board of directors. Wolk will join current co-president Alan Lubel.

“Alan is a great resource for the Jewish National Fund,” said Lubel, who is entering his second year in his leadership position. “He brings to us his years of management experience as a corporate executive, combined with a passion that he and his wife share for Israel. We are fortunate to have the benefit of Alan’s leadership experience and commitment to raising the profile of JNF in Atlanta and the Southeast. I look forward to serving with Alan this coming year.”

The Jewish National Fund began in 1901 as a dream and vision to re-establish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere.

In 2007 Wolk retired as president of the interiors business of Invista after nearly 30 years in the industry. He currently teaches part time in the finance department of Terry College of Business at The University of Georgia.

Wolk has been involved with JNF for many years, first in Wilmington, Del., and for the past four years in Atlanta. Both he and his wife of 35 years, Roni, have a great desire to assist JNF in growing its various programs.

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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