Mary Wilson, one of Ubuntu Community Catalyst’s three co-founders, says the organization is “emerging.” Although Ubuntu is new — they officially became a nonprofit in 2020 after receiving a planning grant from United Way of Greater Atlanta — the extent of their work in such a brief period of time suggests otherwise.
According to United Way’s 2023 Child Well-Being Outlook: Insights for Impact Report, 79 neighborhoods within Greater Atlanta have both low and declining child well-being. In collaboration with United Way’s Brighter Futures South Fulton investment priority, Ubuntu serves the community through their LiveWell South Fulton Collective, which primarily focuses on mental health and housing affordability.
In their work surrounding mental health, Ubuntu partners with Odyssey Family Counseling Center, which is also funded by United Way. Located off John Wesley Avenue in College Park, Odyssey provides mental health services to adults and children. As part of their mission to serve their community, they do not deny patients if they are unable to pay.
Headquartered in the heart of East Point, Zion Hill Community Development Corporation partners with Ubuntu to tackle housing affordability issues. They aim “to eradicate homelessness and poverty in the Metropolitan Atlanta area, with a focus on South Fulton, through financial assistance, education, housing and supportive services.”
Through their work with Odyssey and Zion Hill, Ubuntu is tackling the root cause of secondary issues that stem from poverty and lack of resources.
“No one likes to spend money on prevention. They would rather spend money on treatment, that’s where the money generally goes. It’s not about keeping families stable, it’s not about keeping families housed. It’s not about any of the things that would really help people to have well-being,” says Wilson, who has an extensive background in advocacy work.
While she got her start on Wall Street, Wilson is a Georgia native, hailing from Taylor County. After her stint in New York, she moved back to her home state and began working with an advocacy group during the Clinton administration that had focuses on environmental justice and healthcare reform.
“The issues are still front and center. We still haven’t arrived. We still have the same issues, primarily impacting the underinsured and under-resourced communities,” she explains.
Wilson also notes that a lot of non-profits in South Fulton simply don’t have the bandwidth to accomplish all they set out to do: “If you don’t have the resources, if you don’t have staffing, if you don’t have volunteers that can do things, then you don’t do them.”
In 2017, Wilson was involved with the Tri-Cities Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Healthcare Improvement (ARCHI), which includes College Park, East Point, and Hapeville. At one of the ARCHI listening sessions, law enforcement voiced their frustration with the lack of resources for the prominent houseless population, expressing both their inability and unwillingness to arrest people experiencing homelessness. Seeing their desperation for solutions, Wilson felt that the next steps were to organize a communitywide gathering around both health and human services in South Fulton, which took place in 2018.
This discussion led to Wilson and Ubuntu’s other two co-founders — David Gibbs and the late Sir José Bright — creating the nonprofit and eventually the LiveWell South Fulton Collective.
“For us, it’s not about creating new Odyssey’s or new Zion Hill’s. What we felt that our strength would be is to develop our residents and train them to be advocates. First, it would be leadership development for self, family, and community. The ultimate goal was that they would become advocates for the community so that we could become a force to advocate for services and programs and be that voice so that we can have a thriving and better community.”
In 2022, United Way invested over $170,000 into Ubuntu Community Catalyst, $80,000 into the Odyssey Family Counseling Center, $40,000 into the Zion Hill Community Development Corporation, and over $14 million into programs and initiatives that champion change for the community by the community. Investments like these aren’t possible without your support. Help unlock the potential of children, families, and communities today by donating to the United Way’s Child Well-Being Mission Fund.
Sir José Bright’s public memorial service will take place on Friday, October 20th from 6-8:00 p.m. at Impact Church in East Point.