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Column: Woodruff Arts Center campaign raises record $9.6 million

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on June 6, 2014

Not only did SunTrust Banks CEO Bill Rogers set a record-breaking goal – $9.5 million – for the 2013-2014 Woodruff Arts Center campaign, but Rogers and his campaign team also ended up surpassing it – raising $9.6 million – a historic high for an annual campaign that dates back to 1968, the Woodruff Arts Center told Atlanta Business Chronicle.

The campaign closed out May 31.

“Everybody really rallied behind the campaign during the whole process,” Rogers said in an interview. “The Woodruff campaign is no different than any other campaign. You get the first big load of money up front. Then it’s the last days and gifts that make the difference in time and dollars. We had a really great team. And reached out personally to some people and companies.”

Rogers said he was especially pleased that giving was up across the board – from individuals, corporations, foundations and the trustees of the Woodruff Arts Center and board members of its four divisions — the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the High Museum of Art, the Alliance Theatre and Arts for Learning (formerly Young Audiences).

“One of the things we are most proud of is the number of increased gifts and new givers,” Rogers said. “As an example, technology givers were up, under the leadership of John Huntz. Every group in our campaign set a new high.”

The annual campaign represents nearly a third of the more than $30 million raised each year by the Woodruff Arts Center and its various arts and education partners.

The corporate campaign specifically supports the shared services of the four divisions, including finance, facility management, human resources, information technology and community engagement activities.

Rogers said it is important to remember that “Georgia is unique because the arts do not receive [significant] government funding, so we have to support the arts.”

The campaign also was helped by the fact that the economy has improved, a factor that probably helped the Center enjoy a record-setting campaign last year under the leadership of Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers. The goal for the 2012-2013 campaign was $9.2 million, and a record $9.3 million was raised.

“Let’s not forget that the product is great and that there’s a lot of good momentum in place,” Rogers said, mentioning the artistic successes of the ASO, the High and the Alliance. “The Woodruff Arts Center is integral to the cultural fabric of our community.”

Virginia Hepner, CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center, thanked Rogers, his team of 150 volunteers, her staff and the board of trustees — all of whom contributed to the record-breaking campaign.

The Woodruff Arts Center, one of the largest arts centers in the world, hosts more than 1.3 million visitors each year. It also is the largest arts educator in the state.

Literacy Action

Literacy Action will merge with Literacy Volunteers of Atlanta effective July 1.

The merger will permit two of Georgia’s leading adult literacy organizations to more effectively serve those seeking literacy, and work and life skills as well as U.S. citizenship.

Over the past 47 years, these agencies have helped tens of thousands of adults attain their GED, obtain U.S. citizenship, get a job or a better job, advance to a technical college or to a university, and achieve increased levels of self-sufficiency.

The merger was to be announced June 5 at Literacy Volunteers of Atlanta’s annual fundraiser, “Spellabration,” at The Fox Theatre. The program was to include Linda Mote, president of LVA’s board, who planned to welcome Literacy Action’s board chair, Christopher Miller of Southern Co.

“Literacy Volunteers of Atlanta and Literacy Action are now formal partners in the community’s effort to teach literacy, life, and work skills to undereducated adults,” Miller said in a release. “Since 1968, Literacy Action has been dedicated to this work, and by merging with a 27-year-old institution, it will take a big step toward enhancing literacy programming in the region. We can now make a strategic move to increase scale, synergy and efficiencies on behalf of our students and community.”

The merger of the two organizations comes at a strategic time for the state.

There are more than 1.3 million Georgians over age 25 without a high school credential. Of those, only 5 percent are enrolled in literacy programs.

Georgia’s 2013 high school graduation rate is 71.5 percent. In Atlanta, the graduation rate is 59 percent.

Every $1 invested in literacy programs returns $33 to the community in the form of reduced recidivism, better public health, engaged parents and knowledgeable workers.

The two organizations will blend operations and integrate programming over the next year, and at the end of a year of programmatic integration, Literacy Action will operate program sites throughout Fulton and DeKalb counties. The consolidated organization will be known as Literacy Action and Austin Dickson will serve as the executive director.

Patriots Dinner

Bernie Marcus doesn’t often talk about failure.

But when the Home Depot co-founder and philanthropist talks about the plight of wounded veterans and the inability for this country to provide adequate medical treatment, he takes it personally.

At the “Patriots Dinner: An Evening of Honor” event held June 1 at the Georgia Aquarium to benefit Shepherd Center, Marcus spoke about the SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center.

“I consider this to be one of my failures,” Marcus said. The reason: Despite its success in Atlanta, other cities haven’t launched similar programs. Marcus asked the Medal of Honor recipients in the room to speak about SHARE as they travel the country.

Marcus helped launch the SHARE initiative at Shepherd with the hope that funding would be made available to care for veterans suffering from brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorders. Shepherd has been able to treat more than 300 veterans (about 10 a month – with most staying two to three months) through the program.

“We wanted to take rehab centers like Shepherd and do this all over the country,” Marcus said. “We’ve allowed these kids to go home, and we’re not taking care of them. There are tens of thousands of them in need. It’s a horrible bureaucracy.”

That said, Marcus thanked people in Atlanta for supporting the initiative. The dinner raised at least $175,000 for Shepherd, according to W.B. Baldwin, who helped organize it. The event included 12 Medal of Honor recipients as well as U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Gov. Nathan Deal.

Alana Shepherd, co-founder of the Center, said it costs about $100,000 each month to operate the SHARE initiative.

“We are so grateful,” she said about receiving the funds. “There’s an overwhelming backlog [of veterans]. It’s overwhelming the numbers of veterans who are coming back.”

Clisby Clarke remembered

One of the most emotional parts of the Patriots Dinner was when U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson remembered his college classmate — Clisby Clarke— who passed away May 10.

It was Clarke, chairman of the Hospitality Business Network Foundation and a retired marketing executive, who conceived of the Patriots Dinner and was the driving force behind the event.

Isakson recalled getting a call from Clarke eight months ago saying he wanted to meet at his favorite lunch spot — Bones. Clarke wanted Isakson to secure Bret Baier, anchor for Fox News, to emcee the event.

“It was a dream of Clisby Clarke’s to do something to really make a difference,” Isakson said. “At the age of 72, he knew we should recognize the people who serve us. America would not be what it is today without our veterans.”

Then Isakson introduced a video of Clarke, sitting at a piano playing ‘Georgia on my Mind’ and singing the song. It was a fitting way to honor Clarke.

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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