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Canine Cellmates expects to benefit from its selection by Mercedes Benz USA to be featured in a program aimed at helping small non-profits thrive. Credit: Kelly Kline, Treehouse Photography

By David Pendered

Prisoners at Fulton County’s jail, and dogs from the county’s animal shelter, are being brought together in a 10-week training program whose founder hopes it will benefit from latest example of an emerging type of corporate giving that Mercedes Benz USA embraced when it relocated to metro Atlanta.

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Canine CellMates expects to benefit from its selection by Mercedes Benz USA to be featured in a program aimed at helping small non-profits thrive. Credit: Kelly Kline, Treehouse Photography

Mercedes Benz USA determined that a unique gift it can give the community is its marketing expertise. Greatness Lives Here provides selected grassroots organizations with a short documentary video, directed and produced by internationally known filmmaker Henry Corra, and a host of supportive initiatives. The program is in addition to more familiar outreach such as volunteer days and financial contributions to non-profits.

Canine CellMates founder Susan Jacobs-Meadows said the video is exactly what she had wanted for a long time, but was beyond her resources – a video long enough to introduce the program to potential sponsors and volunteers, and short enough to keep viewers’ attention. Some are to receive an invitation to view the video in a year-end email from Canine CellMates.

Jacobs-Meadows runs Canine CellMates out of her house and said the program has the endorsement of Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson. Prisoners who participate agree to attend a mandatory program that runs six days a week, with classes on personal development based on the Ask It series by Andy Stanley, founder of the North Point Ministries.

The program with the dogs shows prisoners how to take responsibility for another living creature, and perhaps develop a relation with another creature. The dogs learn basic obedience skills that may improve their chances of being adopted after their period in the Canine CellMates program.

“This program by Mercedes Benz is huge because it shines a much bigger spotlight on us than we’ve been able to shine,” Jacobs-Meadows said. “We are fortunate to have large corporations that have regional or national headquarters here, and a lot of them do believe in supporting the local community. … We also need support from as many walks of life as we can get. We need volunteers. We need adopters. We need people to follow up on social media so they can continue to share and promote us out there.”

Mariah received some tender attention from a prisoner in Fulton County’s jail while part of a 10-week training program aimed at helping both man and animal. Credit: Kelly Kline, Treehouse Photography

Donna Boland, manager of corporate communications at Mercedes Benz USA, said Greatness Lives Here draws on the company’s expertise in marketing in order to benefit the community. The program is in additional to support for entities including Families First, Trees Atlanta and Community Assistance Center, in Sandy Springs.

Greatness Lives Here represents a version of impact investing, a niche of corporate responsibility programs. The sector has emerged over the past decade and is defined by the non-profit Global Impact Investing Network as:

  • “[I]nvestments made with the intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact … to address the world’s most pressing challenges in sectors such as … accessible basic services including housing, healthcare, and education.”

Similarly, an Atlanta-based consulting company has determined to provide consulting services rather than money to non-profits that work in the poverty sector. Dianne Bernez, head of philanthropy for North Highland, wrote in a column published in that the company has determined it will:

  • “Provide pro-bono support only to organizations that can end poverty rather than just treat symptoms. We intentionally choose not to give money to non-profits focused on ‘doing good’ without addressing larger systemic issues. Instead, we have a sizable investment fund through which we deliver pro-bono consulting to organizations committed to ending poverty.”

Boland said Greatness Lives Here comports with Mercedes Benz’ fundamental corporate responsibility program: Wise use of funds with measurable results; intersect with employees’ interests in community outreach; be an organic fit with the company’s skills.

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Luna was adopted and moved to a home in South Carolina after living up to the name used while in training at the Canine CellMates program, Miracle. Kelly Kline, Treehouse Photography

“The idea is, ‘What can we do to enable the next generation to achieve success, however they define success?” Boland said. “And, in particular, where kids are challenged, ‘How do we help them get to the starting line?’”

Second chances are another aspect of the program. Canine Cellmates aims to help those who didn’t get a good start from the starting line and landed in jail. Likewise, programs that teach bicycle and automotive repair are less about teaching school-age youths how to make repairs than they are about teaching life skills necessary to succeed in life, according to Boland.

Greatness Lives Here tells stories or organizations that are unique to metro Atlanta and, largely, serve residents of neighborhoods located near the Mercedes Benz Stadium. The program grew from the company’s commitment to the Westside following the decision regarding naming rights of the stadium.

“We wanted to show we intend to be a member of the Atlanta community, for a long time and in big ways,” Boland said. “Greatness Lives Here is focused on Atlanta because it came from our feelings about Atlanta, and how inspirational these stories we came across are.”

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Sonic was renamed Finn following adoption and a move to a new home. Credit: Susan Jacobs-Meadows

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written...

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