By Charlie Henn | Partner, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, LLP | Board Chair, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta 

Atlanta is a wonderful place for many of us to live, work, and raise a family. At the same time: 

  • Atlanta has the largest income equality gap in the country, and some estimates suggest a person born into poverty in our city is more than 95% likely to spend his or her entire life in poverty.
  • Fewer than half of Atlanta’s third graders are not proficient at reading, which is significant because students that are not reading “on grade level” by third grade are much more likely never to finish high school. The closure of schools and conversion to remote learning during the Covid pandemic only made matters worse.
  • The CDC reports that more than 40% of adults are obese, and 20% of kids and teens are obese. Last year, the AJC reported that Atlanta is among the nation’s “most overweight cities.”
  • Georgia, and Atlanta in particular, are among the most notorious centers of human trafficking in the United States, and the average age of trafficking victims in Georgia is 13 years old.

The heartbreaking statistics concerning our youth led me to become deeply involved in the work and mission of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta nearly a decade ago. BGCMA works every day to improve the lives of thousands of young people across the entire Metro Atlanta area, from Canton to McDonough and from Douglasville and Newnan out to Conyers and Lawrenceville. The professionals at each of BGCMA’s 25 Clubs ignite the unlimited potential of kids and teens in a safe, inclusive, and engaging environment, through programming focused on three pillars: academic success, healthy lifestyles, and character & leadership.

Mayor Andre Dickens declared 2023 to be the Year of the Youth, pledging to devote significant resources and time into supporting young people across Atlanta. His vision includes partnering with high-performing non-profit organizations that have demonstrated success improving the lives and futures of Atlanta’s youth. BGCMA is one of the city’s key partners in this effort.

In 2014, I joined BGCMA’s Board of Directors, and I have served as its Chair since the beginning of 2022. Our Board is comprised of nearly 60 volunteer leaders from most of Metro Atlanta’s largest businesses and professional services firms. As a Board, we work collaboratively with BGCMA’s professional staff, providing strategic advice and fiscal oversight, and we serve as ambassadors for the organization throughout the city of Atlanta. 

One of the more meaningful ways our Board members fulfill their responsibilities to BGCMA is by leveraging the resources of their companies and firms to provide real-world training to the kids and teens who are members of a BGCMA Club. We do this in an effort to support BGCMA’s College & Career Readiness goal – making sure all Club members are ready for college or the workforce when they finish high school. This article describes one way Kilpatrick Townsend has helped in this effort; I am hopeful that it will serve as a model for other companies and firms who are looking to make a difference in our community.

Kilpatrick Townsend is Atlanta’s oldest law firm and for nearly 165 years our attorneys and professional staff have helped clients create, expand, and protect the value of their companies and most prized assets by applying business acumen, technical skill, and creative thinking to the opportunities and challenges they face. We are proud of our Atlanta roots and the role the firm has played in the city’s growth.  One of our core values is being a force for good in our community, and Kilpatrick Townsend has long supported local organizations through donations, volunteerism, pro bono, and nonprofit board service. 

Kilpatrick Townsend’s financial and volunteer commitment to BGCMA dates back decades, and includes service on the Corporate Board and multiple County Boards, mentoring Youth of the Year candidates, providing media and PR training, and hosting off-site meetings and conferences. More recently, the firm created a week-long “Law Camp” experiential program for BGCMA teens, designed to introduce high school students to a variety of careers in the legal profession as well as various “soft skills” needed to succeed in professional life. 

Over the past two summers, Law Camp hosted 40 teens from BGCMA at Kilpatrick Townsend’s offices. The teens learned about careers across the firm, including the roles and day-to-day activities of legal, professional staff, and executive personnel. They participated in professional development workshops on public speaking, professional attire, using social media safely, and networking; and they learned about courtrooms, litigation, IP, voting rights, pro bono, and community engagement. The highlight of the week, though, is their preparation for and participation in a half-day mock trial involving a real-world trademark infringement dispute.

“Before camp I was iffy, but after camp I was like ‘Love this!’” said 12-year-old Kennedi H. “I was the youngest camper, but I had a lot of fun hanging with everyone, doing a trial, going against each other. It was friendly competition, but my team worked really hard and we won. I did the opening statement. The greatest part was I didn’t know how the trial was going to go. To actually be in one was actually inspiring. Now I want to be lawyer when I grow up.”

Kennedi also insisted on adding: “The food was amazing. Real good! We were fed real good. I had to make sure I said that the food was really good.”

Law Camp not only aligns with BGCMA’s College & Career Readiness goals, it also aligns with Kilpatrick Townsend’s corporate citizenship strategy to support educational equity and economic opportunities for underrepresented populations, as well as the firm’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice commitments.

In addition to direct volunteer engagement through programs like the Kilpatrick Townsend Law Camp, our Board members also can create incredible opportunities for BGCMA kids and teens by connecting them with other non-profit organizations in Atlanta. For example, I long served on the Board of Trustees of Theatrical Outfit, one of the oldest and most respected professional theater companies in the city. Recognizing that creative BGCMA teens would benefit from interacting with professional actors, playwrights, and directors, I connected BGCMA with Theatrical Outfit’s Associate Artistic Director Addae Moon. What developed out of that introduction was beyond anything I could have hoped for.

Theatrical Outfit created a six-session intensive writing and performance program called “Rhythm & Revision,” which introduced BGCMA members to poetry, spoken word, playwriting, and acting. Under the guidance of theatre professionals, the teens learned how to document and share autobiographical narratives. 

“Rhythm & Revision always brought my day up. The teachers and mentors were really cool and inspirational,” said Simeon G., 14. “It was a fun experience to hear what my Club-mates had to say, because I didn’t think some would say what they said. It helped me see them in an artist perspective. Poetry really brings out different sides of people and different perspectives.”

At the end of six sessions, each teen created and performed a 10-minute play for a rapt audience. The program piloted last summer with 24 students and engaged 43 more this summer, across four different BGCMA Clubs. Best of all, the program was funded in part by an Arts in Education grant from the Georgia Council for the Arts.
Our city faces real challenges, but each of us has the ability to improve the lives of Atlanta’s young people in a meaningful way. Whether it means starting a career-readiness program like Law Camp at your firm, leveraging your network to facilitate educational opportunities like “Rhythm & Revision,” or simply volunteering your time at a local youth-services organization, I encourage you to think creatively about ways you can make an impact in our community. To learn more about BGCMA, and how you and your company can get involved, go to https://bgcma.org/get-involved.

This is sponsored content.

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