Standing in the Gap
By Eric White
Summer is typically filled with so many fond memories: Sun-filled family vacations, delicious backyard barbeques, and sleeping in after long nights of laughter with friends,
The summer of 2020 is one I’ll never forget. Instead of taking my usual two-month break, I was asked to stay on in my role as a Communities In Schools of Atlanta site coordinator. Since then, I have processed more emergency fund requests than in any of my five years in this role.
With my colleague, the two us serve 100 students at Brown Middle School, representative of 20 percent of the total student body.
Pre-COVID, each school day presented its own set of unique challenges and opportunities. As site coordinators, we are keenly aware of the influence we have on the lives of the students and families we serve. Our work is vital to their success and growth, both academically and personally.
When COVID-19 arrived, no one knew just how strong its impact would be. As we have outlined here in the weeks since, Communities In Schools of Atlanta has answered the call during these uncertain times, continuously stepping forward to be of service and help those who are facing unprecedented trials.
One parent recently said, “Mr. White, you and your organization are the only ones who have answered my calls and have been in constant contact with me.”
Requests have come in from school administrators, directly from parents or students, and from others in the community who are familiar with our track record of tenacious action.
There is a certain amount of joy in filling out an application for a family because I know that I have a CEO and leadership team fully committed to assisting families in need.
There hasn’t been one time I’ve reviewed a family’s request and thought to myself, “We can’t help.” In these times, there is no can’t. We must help and we will continue to pull our resources together to ensure our families’ needs are met.
Each day we deal with the impact of serving a population already at a serious economic disadvantage. Nearly all of the children we serve are on free or reduced lunch. Since COVID-19, I have fulfilled six emergency requests, with applications for five more families currently under review. This represents just a sliver of the requests across the CIS of Atlanta network.
Through our COVID-19 relief fund, we have paid past-due utility and rent bills that have piled up because of parents’ reduction in work hours or have lost their jobs altogether. While Georgians who receive SNAP benefits have thankfully been allotted additional funds, we recognize some households now have more mouths to feed as a result of the circumstances at hand. College students are at home. Families and neighbors have come together to support those awaiting unemployment benefits. That’s why we’ve fulfilled numerous requests for fresh groceries to ensure no one goes hungry.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking requests we’ve received are to help cover burial expenses for family members who have died from coronavirus. When every dollar coming in is barely covering the essentials, families lack the extra cash needed for life insurance. Losing a loved one is hard enough. Being unable to fund a funeral is an unnecessary cruelty.
I am working on a case involving a mother fleeing domestic violence –as if this pandemic wasn’t already hard enough. She and the student had to abruptly flee the home, leaving everything behind. You can imagine what is needed to help them adjust to a single-income household and get them back on their feet in time for the upcoming school year.
The work we do is year-round, but especially these past few months, it all comes back to our mission: To surround students – and by extension their families – with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. The social services aspect of our work continues to increase, and we foresee this will continue in the coming months.
If you are able, please support us as we strive to ensure metro Atlanta’s most vulnerable students can thrive in spite of the academic and personal challenges they and their families face.
Given the difficulty of an at-home learning environment, there is a tremendous need for tutors who can volunteer their time during the upcoming academic year. If you are interested in volunteering virtually, please email [email protected], with the subject line “I can tutor” and we will match you with a student in need.
We are also in the process of setting up an online speaker series so students can learn from professionals of career paths across industries. Email us with the subject line “I can be a guest speaker” and a member of our team will follow up with you.
If we band together – civic leaders, the business community, and everyday people – we can provide metro Atlanta students the support they need to thrive in spite of the difficulties COVID-19 has wrought.
Eric White is a site coordinator at Brown Middle School in Atlanta’s historic West End.