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Column: Junior Achievement Discovery Center planned in Gwinnett

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on February 28, 2014

Just six months after the opening of Junior Achievement of Georgia’s successful Discovery Center in downtown Atlanta, a second center is being planned for Gwinnett County.

The new Discovery Center, which likely would open in August 2015 at the new comprehensive Gwinnett high school campus, would include a Finance Park and BizTown — similar to the real-world simulations at the Chick-fil-A Discovery Center at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta.

“The vision would be to have the same level of authenticity and inter-activeness, but with a Gwinnett flavor,” said Jack Harris, president of Junior Achievement of Georgia. “When we designed the Discovery Center at GWCC, it was with Midtown and downtown in mind.”

Harris said that members of his board and executive committee currently are doing the due diligence around the “appropriate financial model” for the Gwinnett Center.

Junior Achievement ended up raising $6 million to build out the Discovery Center at GWCC, and Chick-fil-A provided the funding needed to lease the space.

“We are in discussions with Gwinnett County schools around collaborative funding,” Harris said.

The Gwinnett County Board of Education recently toured the Discovery Center at GWCC while middle school students were participating in the BizTown and Finance Park activities.

Alvin Wilbanks, CEO and superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools, said everyone was impressed with how the students were being exposed to a real-world learning experience.

“We intend to move forward with this,” Wilbanks said. “I’m very interested in providing this instructional experience for our middle school students. We just see it as a great opportunity.”

Wilbanks said the arrangement currently being discussed would be for Gwinnett to cover the costs of construction and for Junior Achievement to take on the year-to-year operating expenses.

Harris said he expects about half of the 40 companies who invested in the GWCC Discovery Center would invest in the Gwinnett Center. Then the plan would be to find companies in the Gwinnett area to participate so it would have a local flavor.

The GWCC Discovery Center serves 30,000 middle school students a year from Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb and the city of Marietta. The Gwinnett Center likely would serve 25,000 middle school students from just that county, which has the largest school system in the state.

Harris restated that Junior Achievement’s goal would be to provide a Discovery Center experience to every middle school student in the state of Georgia.

“It’s still the vision,” Harris said. “But it won’t necessarily be the same everywhere. It’s a matter of whether we can find the right partners in the right communities.”

CAP to honor Phil Kent, Charles Gardner

When Central Atlanta Progress holds its annual breakfast meeting on March 19, it will recognize two of its most dedicated volunteers — one who worked from the C-suite and one who worked on the streets. The prestigious Dan Sweat Award will go to Phil Kent, chairman of Turner Broadcasting System Inc., who stepped down as the company’s CEO at the end of 2013. Kent served as chairman of CAP in 2006, and he made sure that Turner Broadcasting was the first to donate $1 million to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, opening May 22. “You can see Phil’s fingerprints on so many organizations in our community, and we will feel the impact of his leadership for years to come,” said Raymond King, president and CEO of Zoo Atlanta, who served on CAP’s award nominating committee.

This year, the Turner Downtown Community Leadership Award will be going to Charles Gardner, senior pastor at Atlanta First United Methodist Church, who took a leadership role in the Partner for Hope program.

Throughout his life and career, Gardner has been serving “the least, the last, and the lost.” Late in 2012, he became involved with CAP to work collaboratively with the business community on issues related to the poor around public feeding. “He has been a leading voice in helping us all understand the effective ways to help our impoverished citizens,” King said.

Howard Buffett

In a candid conversation with students from Morehouse College, Howard Buffett admitted that he probably could not have gotten into the school because he wasn’t the best of students. But he had options because he was the son of Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest men in the world.

“I cheated in my life,” said Buffett in a program put on by the Andrew Young Foundation. “I had opportunities that a lot of kids didn’t have.”

Morehouse President John Wilson asked Buffett, who is a director of The Coca-Cola Co., what he would major in today. Buffett answered he would make the same choice — political science. “I love politics. I think government, in the end, makes or breaks countries,” he said. “One thing I would do differently. I would have gone into journalism … I would have loved to have been a journalist, and I would have wanted to be a journalist in war-torn areas.”

During the program, Buffett spoke about his book, “Forty Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World.”

GRA on the move

The Georgia Research Alliance is moving from the only home it has ever had — the historic Hurt Building near Five Points.

At the quarterly board meeting of the Alliance on Feb. 24, CEO Mike Cassidy announced that the 23-year-old organization will be moving a few blocks north to 191 Peachtree Street in May. “There’s melancholy about leaving the Hurt Building,” Cassidy acknowledged. “But we are very excited about it. It is not inexpensive. We are actually downsizing on space.”

Children’s Healthcare

The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation is naming nine members to its board — working under the leadership of Chairman Thomas Holder. The foundation board is charged with raising funds for the nonprofit pediatric facility. Those new members include Paul Bowers, president and CEO of Georgia Power; Jack Cay IV, president of Palmer & Cay; Kristine Faulkner, vice president and general manager of Home Security and Smart Home – Cox Communications; Jim Fortenberry, Children’s pediatrician-in-chief; Nick McKay, CEO of EnvironScent; John Montag, president, chief information officer and co-owner of A. Montag & Associates; Alison Moran, CEO of RaceTrac Petroleum; Cameron Sherrill, community volunteer; and Tyler Woolson, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Georgia-Pacific.

In 2014, the foundation board will focus on an annual goal of $61 million, including funds for the Marcus Autism Center, Children’s at Hughes Spalding and childhood obesity prevention.

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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