Column: Southwest Airlines steps up support for Grady Hospital

By Maria Saporta
Friday, November 18, 2011

Southwest Airlines is sending a signal about its role as a civic player in Atlanta by accelerating and expanding AirTran Airways’ pledge to the Grady Health Foundation and Grady Memorial Hospital.

AirTran had made a five-year, $250,000 pledge to Grady in 2009, and it had already fulfilled $100,000 of that pledge when it was acquired by Southwest Airlines in May.

Southwest now is not only honoring AirTran’s pledge, but it is adding another $50,000 to the pot. It also is providing the entire gift at one time.

“AirTran did have this commitment to Grady, and we knew how important Grady is to Atlanta,” said Debra Benton, director of community relations and charitable giving for Dallas-based Southwest Airlines. “We thought we could accelerate that multi-year gift now that we are one company.”

The Southwest/AirTran donation will be used to renovate the hospital’s emergency department waiting area. Grady’s emergency department sees nearly 105,000 patients annually, including nearly 3,500 major trauma cases. The waiting area hasn’t been updated in 20 years.

“Southwest Airlines is making a definitive statement with their support of Grady, Georgia’s premier Level I Trauma Center,” said Lisa Borders, president of the Grady Health Foundation. “We are working to close out this remarkable capital campaign two years early, and their gift is truly an ‘on-time’ arrival. It’s clear our new partner understands the value the hospital offers to the community and the positive impact their contribution will provide.”

Ever since it was announced that Southwest would acquire AirTran, there has been concern about what impact that would have on local giving. AirTran has been a generous civic player in Atlanta, which was the airline’s major hub. With the Southwest merger, Atlanta will be only one of the airline’s top five markets.

Several nonprofit organizations have questioned whether they would continue to receive the same level of support from Southwest as they have from AirTran.

“All of the [outstanding] commitments that AirTran has made, we are fulfilling,” Benton said. “We certainly intend to give to Atlanta.”
But it is still not known whether Southwest will be as generous a donor as AirTran over the long term.

“AirTran has been such a committed partner in Atlanta,” Benton said. “To suddenly turn off that faucet would be shocking. We are looking at what they’ve traditionally done in the scope of what we normally do.”

Southwest also has hired former AirTran official Quinnie Jenkins-Rice as the community affairs manager in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Tad Hutcheson, AirTran’s vice president of marketing and sales who was the company’s leading face in Atlanta, spent his last day with the airline on Nov. 2. Previously, Hutcheson has said he would like to remain in Atlanta.

By the way, his wife — Janin Hutcheson — will continue to be a pilot of AirTran and will migrate over to Southwest when the operations are combined.

International School expands

The Atlanta International School held a groundbreaking Nov. 15 that was so emotional that the skies opened up just as shovels were to be put in the ground.

Ever since AIS opened in 1985, it had wanted to have an Early Learning Center where 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds could be fully immersed in a foreign language program.

That was the vision of the school’s founding headmaster — Alex Horsley. As a way to recognize Horsley’s contributions, the Early Learning Center will be housed in the Alex Horsley Building, which will open in August 2012.

So it was particularly poignant that Horsley, who is in hospice with cancer, attended the groundbreaking in a wheelchair surrounded by his family members.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to an AIS function ever where you could keep me quiet, but this school has been a genuine love for me going on for 30 years,” Horsley said. “To see the school in such good hands and with exciting programs is a thrill and joy for me.”

For current headmaster Kevin Glass, AIS had come full circle with the groundbreaking event, which had several current and former trustees on hand. The founding board chairman — Roy Plaut — was there with his wife and fellow trustee emeritus — Olga Gomez Plaut.

The Plauts’ daughter — Veronica — was the first AIS applicant in 1985. Today, Veronica Plaut McDaniel is a teacher at AIS (and her husband, Mark McDaniel, is the school’s athletics coordinator).

And the McDaniels’ daughter — Lana — was the first applicant to the Early Learning Center for 3-year-olds — which will have full immersion programs in French, German and Spanish.

The $4.7 million center is being financed through AIS’ resources. “The school has weathered the economic downturn well,” Glass said. “We have continued to expand enrollment and programs. We were in a very lucky position in this downturn.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed attended the event and called AIS “one of Atlanta’s jewels” that has enriched the city. “I really can’t imagine the city without it,” Reed said, adding that the school has more than 1,000 students from nearly 100 different nations. “It is contributing to Atlanta being a world-class city.”

ADL awards

The Anti-Defamation League honored two Atlanta business leaders — Stuart Snyder and Jack Halpern — at the ADL’s Community of Respect Dinner on Nov. 16 at the St. Regis Hotel in Buckhead.

Snyder, president and chief operating officer of Turner Broadcasting’s Animation, Young Adults & Kids Media division, received ADL’s Torch of Liberty Award for leading the Cartoon Network’s participation in the successful bullying prevention public affairs campaign — “Stop Bullying: Speak Up.”

Halpern received ADL’s Abe Goldstein Human Relations Award for his commitment to promoting economic development in Atlanta’s minority business community as well as his long history of philanthropy in the Jewish community.

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, host of “Anderson Cooper 360º,” served as honorary chair of the evening, and praised both Halpern and Snyder for their dedication to promoting diversity and putting an end to bullying and bigotry.

“We are proud to have the opportunity to recognize the achievements of these two remarkable Atlanta leaders,” said Liz Price, chair of ADL’s Southeast regional board.

Halpern and Snyder join a long list of distinguished leaders who have been recipients of the ADL awards — including Arthur Blank, Sam Nunn, Robert Woodruff, Morgan Freeman, Bernie Marcus, Neville Isdell, John Portman, Anne Cox Chambers, Shirley Franklin and Dr. Louis Sullivan.

AIA names board

AIA Georgia, which is associated with the American Institute of Architects, has named its new officers and board appointments for 2012.

Roy Abernathy, CEO and managing principal of Jova/Daniels/Busby, will serve as president, succeeding Edward Bernard, Southeast regional manager and vice president of Marx|Okubo Associates Inc.

Janice Wittschiebe, a partner at Richard Wittschiebe Hand, was elected as president-elect after serving as treasurer of the organization.

The new treasurer is Christopher Welty, an assistant professor at Southern Polytechnic State University. Franklyn D’Arcangelo, a junior partner with Martin Rule & Associates Architects in Statesboro, was elected secretary of the organization.

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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