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Mercedes-Benz & partners playing for keeps on Westside

By Lyle V. Harris

In addition to the gleaming new stadium downtown bearing its famous logo, Mercedes-Benz USA is seeking to impact nearby neighborhoods by funding more than a dozen Atlanta-based non-profit groups that teach young people the power of playing with a purpose.

The luxury car company is partnering with the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and the National Recreation Foundation in launching “Sport For Good Atlanta,” a three-year, $3 million program to benefit school-age children and their families in Vine City, English Avenue and Washington Park.

Dietmar Exler, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, speaks to children at Washington Park (credit Paul Abell)

The first phase of program will support 14 sport and athletic non-profit organizations and is expected to reach about 2,000 young people in targeted neighborhoods in the first year, according to Julia Lankford, Programs Officer of the Atlanta chapter of Laureus, a nonprofit group focused on changing the lives of young people through the power of sport.

During a kickoff event this week in Washington Park, about 300 children spent the morning playing baseball, tennis, cycling, jumping hurdles, and yes, even practicing their fishing skills in the grass.

Laureus  surveyed about 400 residents in those communities, more than half of them between the ages of  12-to-18. They cited violence, drugs and gang activity as the greatest challenges they faced;  73% of respondents said affordability was the highest barrier between youth and sports participation.

“By providing these grants, we are empowering these organizations to work together and make an even bigger impact,” said Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, CEO of Laureus USA and former Olympic track and field gold medalist. “One program alone cannot solve the challenges our research identified, which is why we’re building a team of passionate programs that can make our long-term goals of reducing violence and improving educational attainment, achievable.”

The link between a lack of physical culture and health outcomes is also well-known, and the effects are especially devastating for low-income communities of color. Residents in predominantly African-American neighborhoods with inadequate recreational facilities and poor nutritional choices available to them are more prone to developing serious problems such as diabetes, hypertension and chronic heart disease later in life.

Diamond Jack, principal of the M.R. Hollis Innovation Academy and a former competitive swimmer, said the program could also help her neighborhood students to improve their academic performance in the classroom once the new school year begins.

“This is just an awesome program,” said Jack during the kickoff. “Having kids in motion does a lot for learning because they need opportunities to express themselves in different ways. Sports teaches you how to balance athletics and schoolwork, you learn about teamwork and how to persevere and push through when things get difficult.”

The organizations which have received grants of varying amounts are:

  • Field of Dreams Academy — (baseball, soccer and soap box derby)
  • Girls on the Run Atlanta — (running)
  • KIDsGym USA — (gymnastics)
  • L.E.A.D. — (baseball)
  • Soccer in the Streets
  • The First Tee of Atlanta (golf)
  • Atlanta Track Club (track and field)
  • Atlanta Youth Tennis and Education Foundation
  • Bearings Bike Shop (cycling)
  • Camp Southern Ground (ropes course)
  • First Works Soccer
  • Teach a Child to Fish (fishing)
  • Chattahoochee Foundation (tennis)
  • Net Result Tennis/Child First Team Initiative

In marking its two-year anniversary since moving its corporate headquarters to Atlanta, Mercedes-Benz USA has released a video titled “Greatness Lives Here,” as a shout-out to some of the truly inspiring individuals and organizations that make the city special.

“It’s not about the stadium and it’s not about us getting a return-on-investment,” said Dietmar Exler, CEO and President of Mercedes-Benz USA who attended the kickoff event with company employees who have also been volunteering their time to support the program.

“We believe the most impactful way to help Westside neighborhoods is to support the people and organizations that are already doing good work. They come from the community and already work in the community so this gives us the opportunity to help these neighborhoods from the inside out. The value for us is that we’re contributing to communities where we live work and play.”


Lyle Harris

Lyle Harris rejoins SaportaReport after seven years as MARTA’s chief spokesman. He will be covering three topics critically important to the future of our city, our region and the state of Georgia: Transit and transportation, the media, and marijuana legislation.


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