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Reporter’s Notebook: Trying to give away money

The Jackson Street Bridge at night by Kemet Alston The Jackson Street Bridge at night. (Credit: Kemet Alston)

By Maggie Lee

You might have “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” stuck in your head, so here’s a fun fact: its star singer got her start in Atlanta.

Dec. 11, 1944 marks the birthday of Brenda Lee, an Atlanta native who made the song her own in a 1958 recording.

On to happenings in metro Atlanta this week:

United Way and Emergency Housing Assistance

Milton Little, president of the United Way of Greater Atlanta, said the nonprofit organization is doing all it can to provide housing assistance to the City of Atlanta residents before a Dec. 31 deadline.

“We have helped about 3,443 people so far,” Little said. “And we have got another 2,460 who are in the pipeline.”

Milton Little

Milton Little at the reception desk of United Way (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The federal funds may be used to cover past due rent, utilities, mortgage and security deposits as a result of impending eviction. (Link to the program: https://relief.uwga.org or call 211.)

Because of income requirements and other restrictions, it has been harder to spend all the money that’s available. But Little said they are making progress.

Initially, United Way told the City of Atlanta that it would be returning nearly $11 million in funds. Now that number is expected to be $7 million.

“I think we have gotten, and the city has gotten, a poor rap,” Little said about news reports criticizing the program. Little said they have tried to get the word out through the press, social media and direct communication to let people know about the emergency assistance

“We can’t find the people,” Little said about the program that began in late August. “We’ve had lots of media exposure. People just didn’t qualify.”

But Little said activity has “really picked up in the last few weeks” as people began to realize that the deadline to access the money was at the end of December.

So far, more than $9 million of assistance has been distributed, including $8.35 million in rental assistance.

A total of 24 service provider organizations were approved to help United Way and the City of Atlanta administer the funds. To date, more than 100 onsite enrollment events have been held weekly at local apartment complexes and the Loudermilk Center. A United Way enrollment specialist also is working directly with the City of Atlanta Magistrate Judges to support residents who have current eviction proceedings.

-By Maria Saporta

Home Depot repurposes its holiday party funds

The Home Depot won’t be holding a holiday party this year. But it’s not because the Atlanta-based retailer is being a scrooge.

Quite the opposite.

Instead, the Home Depot and the Home Depot Foundation will “repurpose” its holiday party funds – and added some extra money – to grant four nonprofits a total of $200,000.

Hosea Helps CEO Elisabeth Omilami upon getting the news via Zoom that her organization would receive $50,000 from the Home Depot (Special: the Home Depot Foundation)

Hosea Helps CEO Elisabeth Omilami upon getting the news via Zoom that her organization would receive $50,000 from the Home Depot (Special: the Home Depot Foundation)

The surprise $50,000 grants were awarded to Hosea HelpsHOPE AtlantaMUST Ministries and the Meals on Wheels Central Texas, which is close to the company’s Austin Technology Center.

The four nonprofit partners are in line with the Foundation’s mission of serving communities in need. The $50,000 grants will have a significant impact on their efforts to further combat homelessness and food insecurity – issues that have been intensified by the year’s tragic events.

This year marks the Home Depot Foundation’s 10th seasonal giving campaign. Operation Surprise 2020 began on Veterans Day (Nov. 11) and will run through Dec. 31.

-By Maria Saporta

Southwest Atlanta At-Promise Center underway

By the end of next year, a new At-Promise Center is expected to open its doors on Campbellton Road, offering young people a place to hang out, learn, eat, play, get social services or even just socialize.

Like its sibling centers, the Andrew Young At-Promise Center will serve young Atlantans who have been in a little trouble with the law. The centers offer immediate help, from meals to showers to internet and a laundry room.  But through classes and mentorship, they also offer ideas about a different future, in order to prevent one or two brushes with the law from turning into a routine.

At a groundbreaking ceremony Monday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she’s been seeking an At-Promise Center in the neighborhood for years.

At-Promise Centers are funded mainly by philanthropic money and organized by the Atlanta Police Foundation. Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development authority, has set aside $1 million for the Campbellton Road center via a grant from a special property tax zone.

The new center will share a campus with the existing Walter and Andrew Young YMCA.

-By Maggie Lee

Truist reaffirms its commitment to the Atlanta community

Truist celebrated its one-year anniversary on Monday with its top two executives speaking virtually to the Rotary Club of Atlanta. The bank came about through the merger of Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks and Winston-Salem-based BB&T.

Kelly King

Truist CEO Kelly King at 2019 the HOPE Global Forum (File/Photo by Maria Saporta)

Truist is now based in Charlotte, N.C., but CEO Kelly King told Rotarians that Atlanta continues to play a special role for the bank.

“Atlanta is incredibly important for Truist – always has been and always will be,” said King, who had been CEO of BB&T. “It’s our home. It’s our largest region. We are very, very committed to this market.”

To further emphasize that point, Kelly said the bank wants to help the region through its economic challenges and be a source of hope and opportunity.

“We want to be part of that,” he said. “That’s why we are doubling our investment (in the Atlanta market) over the next three years…. We will be wherever the community needs us to be. When times are tough, we need to give back. We are very excited about Atlanta.”

Bill Rogers, Truist’s president and chief operating officer (and the CEO of SunTrust), agreed. Then he turned to Jenna Kelly, Truist’s president of the North Georgia region (Atlanta).

Kelly, who was celebrating her birthday the same day as Truist’s birthday, said the bank had just released its Atlanta Community Impact Report.

In total, Truist gave $10 million to metro Atlanta in 2020. Its philanthropic and community investment included:

  • Nearly $6 million in Truist Cares commitments to aid local nonprofits in pandemic relief, including the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, United Way of Greater Atlanta, Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs, Atlanta Community Food Bank and YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta;
  • $1.36 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to support small businesses during the pandemic, helping to save 678,000 local-area jobs;
  • Nearly $390 million in community development loans to assist with affordable housing, economic development, revitalization or community services throughout Atlanta; and
  • Ongoing investments in the historic Westside totaling $15 million to date, including support of the Westside Community Center and establishment of the Truist PRI fund, as well as a community development investment in the WFF Real Estate Fund.

-By Maria Saporta

Georgia Republican state Senators vow to end most absentee voting

About 1.3 million Georgians voted in this year’s presidential election via a paper ballot returned in the mail, in a drop box or to a county election office.

State Senate Republicans aim to restrict that kind of voting, saying that it leaves openings for fraud.

“We will reform our election laws to secure our electoral process by eliminating at-will absentee voting. We will require photo identification for absentee voting for cause, and we will crack down on ballot harvesting by outlawing drop boxes,” reads part of a statement that the Georgia Senate Republican Caucus published over the weekend.

Pushed by the pandemic, or Democratic messaging or just trying something new, about a million more Georgians decided to vote absentee this November, compared to numbers from November 2018.

Right now, Georgians don’t need to give a reason for requesting an absentee paper ballot. A handful of other states, like Mississippi, Alabama and Texas require various reasons to vote absentee, such as age, infirmity or actual absence from the state on Election Day.

But most states pretty much embrace no-excuse absentee voting in some way or another, and some of those embrace the mail so much, they conduct elections completely by mail.

Expect Georgia Senate Republicans to argue that Georgia’s roughly three-week in-person early voting period is generous enough.

File photo: a ballot drop boxAfter more than a month of reviews of the November election results, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger says his office has found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. His office has certified the results.

As for the Georgia House, Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, is mum right now on the idea of curbing voting by mail. He said on Thursday that he’s waiting on a report from a House committee that’s holding hearings.  In the meantime, he suggested it might be time for the secretary of state to be chosen by the Legislature instead of by voters.

“The people feel like they’re being excluded by that office, and they are focusing their frustrations on the members of the General Assembly,” Ralston said at a Thursday press conference.

It would be a legislative heavy lift to change how the secretary of state is chosen — it would require a supermajority vote by lawmakers and approval in a statewide referendum. Republicans hold a legislative majority but not a supermajority.

-By Maggie Lee

Street Grace and Georgia Cares announce merger

Two Atlanta-rooted organizations will merge their fights against criminal sexual exploitation of children.

Georgia Cares is already folding its work into an expanded Street Grace.

Georgia Cares started life as an initiative of the Governor’s Office for Children and Families. Street Grace was founded in 2009 by faith leaders in Atlanta and now works in several states.

“We believe child sex trafficking can be eradicated,” said Street Grace CEO Bob Rodgers. “Our journey to help children remains steadfast and stronger than ever. Together, with support from the community, we will continue this critical work until there is an end to CSEC.”

-By Maggie Lee

New folks in MARTA leadership

MARTA’s new general counsel is a familiar name in Georgia politics: Leah Ward Sears, former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and partner at Smith, Gambrell & Russell.

She was a judge in the City Court of Atlanta and Fulton County Superior Court before becoming the first woman and youngest person appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia in 1992. She became the first Black female chief justice of a state supreme court in 2005.

And civil engineer Stacy Blakley, founder of Douglas Consulting Group, will join the MARTA board of directors on behalf of Fulton County. County Commission Chair Robb Pitts nominated Blakley for a four-year term, which was approved by the commission this month. She replaces board member Alicia Ivey.

From Clayton County, former assistant district attorney and current Superior Court Judge Katie Powers joins the board, after a vote of her county commission. She replaces outgoing board member Jerry Griffin.

-By Maggie Lee

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Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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