What a mess. Back in November, I wrote a column about a couple dozen of high visibility trees in Midtown that were in danger of being cut down.
Authority Asks: Do You Want Your Bus to Go More Places or Arrive More Frequently? MARTA is seeking customer input on a possible redesign of its bus network. MARTA wants to know do you want the bus to come more frequently but go fewer places or go more places but arrive less frequently? Click here link to learn more about the two bus service options and then click here MARTA Bus Network Redesign Project Survey (surveymonkey.com) to tell us what you think. Participation in the survey will help MARTA create a more connected and efficient transit system that meets the needs of its customers. Once you take the survey, share it! MARTA wants to hear from as many riders and potential customers as possible. MARTA will take the feedback from the surveys and outline next steps in the process this spring. Questions and comments about MARTA’s Bus Network Redesign can be emailed to email@example.com. This is sponsored content.
State of Good Repair Work Will Impact Red and Gold Line Service Feb. 18-23 MARTA is preparing for the next phase of its Track Replacement Project, an approximate $225 million State of Good Repair project that will enhance the safety of the rail system, reduce train delays, and improve the customer experience. MARTA will replace heavy rail between Buckhead and Medical Center stations beginning Friday, Feb. 18 at 9 p.m. and concluding Thursday, Feb. 24 at 4 a.m. Red Line rail service south of Dunwoody station will be suspended during this time. MARTA is hosting two virtual meetings on Thursday, Jan. 27 and Saturday, Jan. 29 where customers and stakeholders can learn more about the project and service impact. WHAT: Track Replacement Project Virtual Public Meeting 1 WHEN: Thursday, Jan. 27, 6 p.m. WHERE: Click here to access the virtual meeting or Call 1-929-205-6099 and use access code: 240984 WHAT: Track Replacement Project Virtual Public Meeting 2 WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 29, 11 a.m. WHERE: Click here to access the virtual meeting or Call 1-301-715-8592 and use access code: 588725 The Track Replacement Project is a multi-year effort that involves replacing track and switches throughout the rail system. The work on the Red Line includes a rail crossover (Northland) that touches both main track lines and prevents normal single-tracking operations. To assist impacted customers, free bus shuttles will connect to Dunwoody, Medical Center, Buckhead, and Lenox stations and run continuously from 9 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 18, until the end of service on Wednesday, Feb. 23. Regular rail service will resume on Thursday, Feb. 24. MARTA station agents and transit ambassadors will be at the impacted rail stations to assist customers, and signs guiding customers between the bus shuttles and trains will be prominently displayed. Customers who normally drive and park at North Springs, Sandy Springs, and Dunwoody stations for southbound service should consider parking at Doraville or Lindbergh stations during the project. MARTA will also offer discounts for Uber and Lyft rides through its MARTAConnect program. Rail service north of Dunwoody and south of Lindbergh, and service on the Blue and Green Lines (east/west) will operate normally. To learn more about the track replacement work and service impact visit www.itsmarta.com/trackreplacement or MARTA – YouTube. This is sponsored content.
With the onset of the new year, it’s a time of reflection, resolutions, and what we can do to better ourselves and our communities. Reflecting on how we can improve ourselves and the lives of others, it’s natural that January is National Mentoring Month. Beyond classes, webinars, tutorials, etc., mentors have an incredible impact on career and life development at all stages of life, whether one is just beginning higher education or starting a career or working on personal growth. Mentors champion mentees through the peaks, valleys and experiences involved with education, work and overall growth. As the adult clients of Families First navigate life’s challenges to get to a place of “thriving” versus “surviving,” having a mentor checking in and providing accountability for their next steps has an extraordinary impact on their success. By connecting clients with Partners in Change (PIC) trained volunteer coaches, Families First provides the additional resource of having a partner in their journey to success. PIC was created by Neil Shorthouse, a co-founder of Communities in Schools (CIS), the nation’s leading dropout prevention program, which is active in 25 states and engages with 1.6 million children, most of whom are living in poverty. Over the years, Neil realized that adults are critical for the transformation of economically-struggling communities and he sought to develop a program that would encourage their self-empowerment. In 2019, seeing the success that coaching brings to both executives and college students, Neil created PIC to level the playing field and make free coaching available to under-resourced adults. Through its mission, PIC pairs trained volunteer coaches with adults who are desiring to assert greater control over circumstances and challenges holding them back. Programs and studies across the country have shown that 1-to-1 coaching/mentoring has a dramatic effect on the lives of those in under-resourced communities: 80% moved from “crisis” or “at-risk” to “stable” in areas such as housing, health, education & employment Incarceration recidivism went down to 8% (vs 44% nationally) Temporary housing went down by 35% Young adults were 130% more likely to hold a leadership position, 78% more likely to volunteer themselves, and 55% more likely to go to college “Partners in Change loves being a part of National Mentoring Month with Families First. The impact life coaching has on our volunteer coaches and our Members (people being coached) grows more practical and powerful in each of their weekly conversations. Members develop new skills, self-empower, and build renewed resilience. Both partners grow in respect and gratitude for each other and create powerful opportunities for each other’s ongoing transformation,” shared Shorthouse. PIC volunteers come from invaluable partner organizations including BlackRock, Georgia Natural Gas, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, The Temple, and University for Parents. Each week, as genuine and dedicated one-to-one partners, PIC Coaches connect with their Members who are making efforts to propel their lives forward in significant ways. The experience is meaningful for the coaches and the Members. Some coaches have shared experiences such as “Once she talks things through, you can almost see the light bulb go off in knowing what steps are necessary,” and “This is a challenging time for my Member. She is on the last stretch, and it will require determination and persistence to push towards her goals. I know she is up to the challenge.” Members, including those from Families First, are working to achieve progress towards goals in a wide range of areas, including childcare and parenting skills, education, employment, finance, and personal development. Members have shared the impact of PIC coaching including “Before I was afraid of failure. Now, I know that I only fail if I never try to succeed,” and “I’m glad I’m in this program because it’s making me work harder to achieve my goals.” Having a coach or mentor along each part of the journey makes an incredible difference as one Member highlighted, “My Coach is the perfect accountability partner.” “We honor the commitment and caring so evident in our trained volunteer life coaches. Many are driven by a deep desire to repay and honor those who were so supportive in their own lives. We are grateful for our coaches’ dedication, as they create transformational spaces for Atlanta’s under-resourced adults to self-empower, gain long-term life skills and resilience, and pursue new futures,” noted Shorthouse. “The Navigator Care Model at Families First is to provide the necessary resources for families so that all children can thrive. By collaborating with organizations such as Partners in Change, we’re able to give them even more resources to build a better foundation for their futures,” said Families First CEO DePriest Waddy. “Having a Coach or Mentor encourage individuals and champion them along each step on their paths is not only an incredible resource, but overwhelmingly increases their chances of success for them and their entire families.” While National Mentoring month may be drawing to a close, the long-lasting impacts that mentoring can have do not only affect individuals, but our community as a whole. As we encourage and lift up others as they strive to better themselves, we’re joining together to build an even better future for Atlantans. To become a trained PIC volunteer coach, or to apply to receive a coach, go to: picusa.org/get involved. This is sponsored content.
Last week, the Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC) announced ATL Action for Racial Equity, a multi-year, multi-step action plan designed to help address the ongoing effects of systemic racism impacting the Black community. In just a few days since launch, 30 additional metro Atlanta-based companies ranging in size and industry joined the initiative – to-date totaling more than 180 participating organizations. These companies and leaders will leverage the size, scale and expertise of the region’s business community to advance racial equity. Invitations to the initiative remain open, and MAC is inviting all businesses across metro Atlanta to sign on. ATL Action for Racial Equity focuses on measurable actions across corporate policies, inclusive economic development, education and workforce development – critical areas in addressing the region’s immobility and inequity challenges. See quotes below from the region’s business leaders on why they chose to participate and why this initiative is important, now more than ever. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more. Ed Bastian, CEO Delta Air Lines and 2021 Board Chair, Metro Atlanta Chamber: “In metro Atlanta, our differences are our strength. We work together to make our community and the world better. We are not perfect, but we are committed to preserving and holding up this region’s legacy, especially now. As we tackle economic recovery, public health and the disproportionate impacts on our Black community, our business community must do its part. This is a moral and economic imperative as we work to grow our region’s competitiveness today and into the future.” Jimmy Etheredge, CEO North America, Accenture: “Accenture is proud to collaborate with the Metro Atlanta Chamber and business leaders across Atlanta to take action on building a more equitable future for our community. Together, we are acting, we are leading, and we are driving change.” Steve Koonin, CEO, Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena: “We proudly support ATL Action for Racial Equity and promise that our franchise will continue taking the steps and supporting the causes that lead to equity for all in our city.” Rohit Malhotra, Founder and Executive Director, Center for Civic Innovation: “The Center for Civic Innovation mission and day to day operations are designed to fight for an equity-centered Atlanta. The business community in Atlanta has a long and complicated history with equity in our city— we’re glad to see the Metro Atlanta Chamber call on companies and institutions to take measurable actions that align with their publicly stated values and sentiments. It is in this city’s best interest for this effort to succeed.” Jenna Kelly, President, Truist Northern Georgia Region, Truist Bank: “At Truist, we firmly believe in building more just, inclusive, and equitable communities by standing for social justice, denouncing racism in all forms, and partnering with people and organizations who are as committed to equity we are. As we continue to have intentional dialogue around the role we can play in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, we’re excited to join the ATL Action for Racial Equity to do our part in making a positive difference throughout Atlanta.” Mary Schmidt Campbell, President, Spelman College: “If metro Atlanta is to close the region’s stark wealth gap, we all have to commit to bold innovative solutions. Spelman College, committed to the educational excellence of the 2000 Black women who attend the College, is also committed to the educational excellence of students in our neighborhood schools. For the past three years, our students have enjoyed major success in improving the reading scores of students in our neighborhood Washington Cluster Schools. We intend to launch a program that will accomplish improvements in math proficiency. This commitment to the improvement of K-12 education is aligned with the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce’s business and community imperative to advance racial inclusion. We are proud to partner with MAC in their strategic approach to advocating for equity.” Kyle Porter, CEO, SalesLoft: “The social justice and equity issues facing our companies, city, and nation are complex and intense. At SalesLoft we are committed to the necessary introspection, self-reflection, and action to be a more inclusive company because we believe it’s the right thing to do for our team, customers, and marketplace. SalesLoft is joining the ATL Action for Racial Equity because our internal efforts will be magnified and our progress accelerated through collaborative community work. Our community will become our ally and accountability partner providing the space to heed best practices, share wisdom, and generate ideas that will positively impact us all. Russ Torres, President, Kimberly-Clark Professional: “At Kimberly-Clark, we believe racial equity and justice are moral issues that must be addressed through comprehensive actions to enact meaningful and sustainable change. We are moving with urgency. Therefore, we are proud to partner with ATL Action for Racial Equity in this mission. Their disciplined, multi-year plan leverages the collective strength of metro Atlanta employers to support focused corporate policies that foster inclusive workforce and community development. With more than 1,500 Kimberly-Clark employees in the metro Atlanta area, this initiative is uniquely personal to us. We believe the success of our company depends on creating workplaces, communities, and experiences where inclusion and diversity are evident and thriving. Together with ATL Action for Racial Equity, we look forward to creating a vibrant and more inclusive region that offers opportunity, growth, and long-term value for all.” Elie Maalouf, CEO, Americas, InterContinental Hotel Group: “We applaud the Metro Atlanta Chamber on this initiative and stand with our peers in the Atlanta business community to advance diversity and inclusion. This commitment and collaboration reflect IHG’s values and inclusive culture, and builds on our own efforts to bring lasting, sustainable progress for the region and our colleagues.” Paul Bowers (Chairman and CEO) and Chris Womack (President), Georgia Power: “At Georgia Power, we deeply value the diversity of our team and the communities we serve. That’s why we are committed to creating an environment where employees and customers feel a sense of belonging and can be their true authentic selves. We’re proud to be a part of the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s ATL Action for Racial Equity efforts to do the same here in Atlanta. We believe businesses working together to ensure equality is how we can make a collective impact, and we’re …
By Jim Durrett, President of the Buckhead Coalition and Executive Director of the Buckhead CID Much has been written and said about Jeff Parker’s passing on January 14. Erin and the girls are left without a husband and father, and we grieve for them, especially. This is for those who lost a CEO. I rolled over to check the time on my phone. It was 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 15, and there was a text message glaring at me from a senior staff member at MARTA, which I have served as a board member for the past 12 years. “Need to speak with you urgently. Please call at any time.” I got out of bed and typed back to call me when able. Then I checked my email and my heart sank. Jeff Parker, General Manager and CEO of MARTA, had passed away Friday evening. There were no details about what had happened. A few hours later while speaking on the phone with MARTA’s Board Chairperson, Rita Scott, I found out that Jeff had died by suicide. The memories came rushing back. It was early in the morning of Friday, June 26, 1998, and I received a phone call from a staff member at the Georgia Conservancy. I was two years into my first job in the nonprofit community, serving the Georgia Conservancy as its COO. The voice on the other end of the line shared the terrible news that my boss and colleague, Carolyn Boyd Hatcher, CEO of the Georgia Conservancy, had died by suicide the night before. I quickly showered and dressed and drove to the office so that I would be there before any of the staff would arrive. I needed to be sure to meet every colleague to share the awful news before they heard it from another source. I also had to figure out how best to communicate something so devastating. I was all of 41 years old and was flying by the seat of my pants, pretending to be seasoned and wise. It was the worst day of my life and I hope I said and did the right things. What I vividly remember about the days following Carolyn’s death, is that over and over I asked myself what I might have said or done, or not said or done, to contribute to her decision to take her own life. Was there a warning sign that I had overlooked? Strong feelings of guilt clouded my mind, and I was in complete anguish for a time. My colleagues struggled with many of the same feelings. Thank goodness I found a nonprofit counseling organization that served survivors of suicide loss. The director of the organization spoke with us as a group to help us understand and come to terms with the feelings we all had. We learned about the difficulties of battling depression, and how well someone who suffers from depression can hide it from others. Most importantly, we learned that our colleague’s death was not our fault. Just as I was concerned 24 years ago about my fellow Conservancy employees, so am I about the good people with whom Jeff closely worked at MARTA. I wish for them grace and peace. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7 and confidential. This is sponsored content.
By Deron Davis, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy in Georgia The last year challenged us all to reevaluate our priorities and find new ways of getting things done. That’s certainly true for The Nature Conservancy in Georgia, and I’m amazed at what our teams and partnerships accomplished. Through the creativity of our science-driven staff working in communities from north to south, the people and nature of Georgia are enjoying the benefits of our commitment to conservation. With permanent funding from the Army at Fort Benning, we enhanced the sustainability of our 35,000+ acre Chattahoochee Fall Line program near Columbus, a landscape of native wildlife and plant communities. We expanded the 18,000-acre Broxton Rocks Conservation Area in Coffee County with the purchase of 1,000+ acres that feature a high diversity of plants and provide habitat for a variety of animal species. One generous donor provided full project funding, including stewardship funds that will provide opportunities for fire crews, interns and others to train, work on, study and learn from this property. TNC has made it a goal to protect, manage and restore longleaf pine forests across the Southeast. In Georgia, we planted 683,860 longleaf pine trees, and because fire is a natural part of the longleaf landscape, we burned a record number of acres: 58,269. Thanks to our work co-managing the longleaf pine forests of the Moody Forest Nature Preserve in Appling County, this year our experts observed 17 fledgling endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers there. These are just a few examples of the impact we achieved in Georgia with the support of our community partners and generous donors. See our full IMPACT REPORT here. This is the decade to deliver. Actions like these will define our state’s path over the next century. The Nature Conservancy is taking on the dual threats of accelerated climate change and unprecedented biodiversity loss. By letting science guide our focus and equity guide our execution, we can shape a better future for people and our planet. I hope YOU will join us. This is sponsored content.
Transaction Represents One of the Largest Capital Raises for a Black-Owned Company Over the Last Decade Facility is Part of Recapitalization to Form New Joint Venture with Other Institutional Investors to Accelerate Growth of Promise Homes’ Unique Impact Housing Product and Financial Empowerment Offerings to Thousands of New Residents ATLANTA–The Promise Homes Company, the largest Black-owned manager of institutional-quality, single-family residential rental homes in the United States according to Black Enterprise, recently announced that it has closed on a $200 million institutional debt facility from Barings, the global investment management firm. This transaction represents one of the 10 largest capital raises for a Black-owned company over the last decade. This facility is part of a recapitalization to form a new joint venture with other institutional investors to grow Promise Homes’ portfolio of single-family rental homes to an institutional scale, thereby providing investors expanded access to Promise Homes’ model of resident empowerment and attractive returns while also expanding the reach of its unique financial incentive offerings to middle-class and working-class residents across the country. Promise Homes’ existing portfolio of 663 homes is seeding the new joint venture, as it continues to pursue additional institutional equity and debt capital to grow the portfolio to more than 10,000 homes over the next two to four years. Promise Homes Founder, Chairman and CEO John Hope Bryant will continue to lead the organization as Managing Principal, and he is the largest individual shareholder of the new joint venture. “This transaction provides an unparalleled proof point that Promise Homes’ mission of ‘doing well by doing good’ can in fact be profitable for all stakeholders. We are doing this by offering a quality roof over families’ heads, providing the financial literacy skills to help residents enhance their creditworthiness and build wealth, rewarding residents for consistent on-time rent payments, and giving opportunities to small, local minority firms to provide critical maintenance services to our growing portfolio,” said Mr. Bryant. “Now, Promise Homes is growing from an entrepreneurial concept to a scaled business. We are gaining momentum with large national institutional investors seeking to invest in our unique model, which empowers both residents and vendors, delivers attractive returns as well as enhances corporate citizenship by providing steady income to minority small businesses.” “We are excited to partner with Promise Homes, which has proven that providing housing at affordable prices and free financial coaching and incentive programs for residents can be good business,” said William Awad, Head of the Global Private Structured Finance Group at Barings. “Barings is proud to be a part of this company’s mission and is committed to investing in attractive companies under strong leadership that also address a critical social need.” As a result of this transaction, the Promise Homes platform will provide more quality housing at affordable prices in leading markets across the U.S. and enhance the financial stability and creditworthiness of even more residents. Existing and future Promise Homes residents will benefit from new property management and continued services from local vendors, which are primarily minority- or women-owned businesses. The Promise Homes business model utilizes an innovative, multi-stakeholder approach to include a shared wealth creation objective that goes beyond equity returns for the business owner. They include: No-cost financial literacy education for residents through a partnership with Operation HOPE. Majority of property maintenance contracts awarded to minority- and women-owned/led businesses. Assistance to residents seeking to obtain mortgage commitments to transition from renters to homeowners. Deutsche Bank served as financial advisor, Kirkland & Ellis served as legal advisor, and Aprio and Ernst & Young served as tax and accounting advisors to Promise Homes on the transaction. About Promise Homes Launched in May 2017, The Promise Homes Company is one of the largest minority-owned managers of institutional-quality, single-family residential rental property in the United States, with a focus on working class and middle-class communities. Promise Homes offers its residents quality housing at affordable prices as well as financial empowerment and assistance that would position them financially to eventually own a home. Promise Homes also contracts with local, minority-owned businesses for property maintenance services, thereby creating local, sustainable jobs in the communities where it invests. Promise Homes is led by John Hope Bryant, an entrepreneur, author, philanthropist, and prominent thought leader on financial inclusion, economic empowerment and financial dignity. For more information, please visit http://www.thepromisehomescompany.com. About Barings Barings is a $391+ billion* global investment manager sourcing differentiated opportunities and building long-term portfolios across public and private fixed income, real estate, and specialist equity markets. With investment professionals based in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, the firm, a subsidiary of MassMutual, aims to serve its clients, communities and employees, and is committed to sustainable practices and responsible investment. Learn more at www.barings.com. *As of December 31, 2021 Contacts Mendel Communications Bill Mendel 212-397-1030 email@example.com This is sponsored content.
With more than 3,000 homes in rural Alaska lacking piped water systems, sanitation remains a serious challenge in many remote communities. As COVID-19 reached Alaska, residents in these unserved communities became even more vulnerable to the spread of the virus. “Those communities that lack basic services have higher rates of skin infections, infectious diarrhea and acute respiratory infection among children and elders,” said Troy Ritter, water subject matter expert for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “There is a striking difference in health outcomes between served and unserved communities.” In coordination with CDC, the CDC Foundation approached the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) to see how they could help. As a nonprofit agency with deep ties to Alaska Native and American Indian communities across the state, ANTHC began exploring ways to address the critical sanitation needs. The answer was the Mini Portable Alternative Sanitation System (PASS). Comprised of a simple gravity fed 20-gallon handwashing station and ventilated toilet, the Mini PASS is an iteration of a larger PASS unit designed by ANTHC engineers and used in rural homes across the state. Smaller in size than the original PASS system, the Mini PASS was ideal for smaller homes and easier to transport to remote Alaskan communities. The newly designed unit also has a low-flow faucet that enables household members to use fresh water, rather than reusing water from a basin—a critical improvement in sanitation. Because it uses no seepage pit, which requires digging in summer months, the Mini PASS can also be installed at any time of year. “With these CDC Foundation funds, there was flexibility, so we could use the funding to provide systems that were a bit different than what had been used in the past,” Ritter said. “We had this unique infrastructure sitting on the shelf, and we knew it worked.” Working first with tribal regional health associations who chose the most vulnerable communities, ANTHC then coordinated with community elders to identify the residents most in need. Once the homes were identified, ANTHC staff visited the homes to make sure the units would fit, and to educate the homeowners on proper use of the system. “The project can only be successful if the homeowner embraces the technology,” said Jacqualine Schaeffer, community development manager for ANTHC, who conducted the home visits. “If it’s too difficult, chances are that system is going to fail because we didn’t use the correct communication method.” Though the initial target was to provide 100 Mini-PASS units in 10 selected communities, ANTHC staff looked carefully at the costs and logistics of the project and determined the target might be better lowered to 75 homes. Wanting to reach as many homes as possible with the funding available, they looked hard at solutions. “We went to the CDC Foundation with the issue, and they asked how much we would need to hit that 100 mark,” said Charissa Williar, sanitation facilities program manager for ANTHC. “They were able to come through with additional support, so at that point we were full steam ahead.” Through CDC Foundation funding and the generosity of a private CDC Foundation donor, ANTHC was able to install 100 Mini-PASS units within six months. The funding also provided for the hiring of a local champion in each of the 10 communities to support the unit recipients and troubleshoot any problems that arise. Another 32 units will be installed by late 2021 with additional funds from the CDC Foundation and a contribution by an Alaska-based nonprofit. While the Mini-PASS system is still an intermediate solution, because it doesn’t solve the bigger challenge of piped water and sewage, the unit does create a far healthier environment, a critical point in homes often crowded with extended family in unsanitary conditions, said Schaeffer. “Imagine 10 people living under one roof without running water or any sanitation,” Schaeffer said. “They use a 5-gallon bucket for human waste, so there is a risk factor there that communities live with every day. But this system helps alleviate that risk.” This project will serve as model for other hard-to-reach communities. “Our work with ANTHC and CDC highlights how innovation supports the needs of communities,” said Ramot Adeboyejo, MPH, emergency response officer for the CDC Foundation. “The Mini-PASS unit is an example of one mechanism that can be scaled to serve many other communities who face unique challenges similar to the recipient families in Alaska. It has truly been an honor to work with ANTHC and CDC on this project.” This is sponsored content.
By Ashley Bell Amid the widespread racial justice movement that emerged last year following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, many large corporations were lauded for their work combatting the racial inequities that have plagued our nation since its inception. While these companies have certainly helped advance the cause, their efforts have fallen short of truly addressing the deeply entrenched inequalities in Black communities across the country. To be truly effective in this effort, we need companies and organizations of all shapes and sizes to step up to address the pressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, and provide resources to accelerate this much needed change. While this can seem like a daunting task, there are fortunately many groups that are already engaged that can provide a roadmap for those looking to get involved. Arguably one of the most well-known organizations taking up the mantle is the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, which is refinancing the construction loan for the team’s Emory Sports Medicine Complex with a syndicate of Black-owned banks. The $35 million loan, which was facilitated with the support of the National Black Bank Foundation (NBBF), marked the first time that a professional sports franchise took out a significant loan that was underwritten exclusively by Black banks. To understand the significance of this loan, it is important to know the state of Black banks in the country today. Black banks are often the primary source for fair, non-predatory lending within the African American community, yet since 2001, their numbers have fallen by more than half. In 1976, there were 50 Black banks spread across the country, but according to the FDIC’s latest count, that number is now just 18. The loan taken out by the Hawks not only helps Black banks as it allows them to compete with the major commercial banks, but it is also a win for the Black community. The dearth of access to basic financial services in many Black neighborhoods has forced underserved populations to rely on predatory businesses like check-cashing and payday loans. But by supporting the health and growth of Black banks, the Hawks are not just helping these vital financial institutions but are ensuring equitable access to capital for underserved communities of color and helping close America’s racial wealth gap. It is not just professional sports teams and household names, however, that are working to upend racial inequities. There are many cases of less well-known organizations making a big impact in Black communities throughout the country. For example, there is the Atlanta-based real estate firm Ornstein-Schuler Investments (OSI), which has donated $25,000 to the NBBF to help modernize the Black banking sector. While OSI has contributed for the past two decades to improve the lives of the people in the communities they operate in, this particular donation could not come at a more opportune time. In 2019, 49 percent of Black households were underbanked or completely unbanked compared to just 15 percent of white households, according to the Federal Reserve. A large reason for this is the sad fact that the Black community has very few trustworthy banking options at its disposal. Investing in Black banks – whether it be by introducing new digital tools or expanding the number physical branch locations in minority neighborhoods – means also making an investment in Black-owned businesses and Black neighborhoods. That is why the Hawks’ and OSI’s contributions to the NBBF are so important to help modernize the black banking sector and ensure Black-owned businesses not only survive but thrive. The Atlanta Hawks and Ornstein-Schuler Investments are two great examples of organizations of different sizes doing their part to combat structural racism and inequities in Atlanta and beyond. But they can’t be the only ones. To make a real and lasting change, businesses and organizations large and small need to step up, speak out and make a difference through their voices and their donations. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” so do not be silent. Ashley Bell is a partner at the global law firm Dentons and co-founded the National Black Bank Foundation, which facilitated a first-in-professional sports deal between the Atlanta Hawks and 11 Black-owned banks. This is sponsored content.
Westside Future Fund (WFF) is excited to be supporting thought leadership in the SaportaReport on Atlanta’s Historic Westside. At the October 15 Transform Westside Summit we announced the Westside Future Fund (WFF) PRI Program! A program-related investment (PRI) is low-cost capital that not-for-profit organizations can use to spur community development. Thanks to charitable support from Truist and PNC banks, WFF will provide low-cost loans to small, minority-owned businesses based in or serving the Historic Westside. This program builds on a pilot initially funded by AT&T and the Beloved Benefit. Our goal is to mobilize people with current, historical, or aspirational ties to the community to organically support the Westside’s economic development. The October 15 Transform Westside Summit highlighted the importance of economic empowerment of African American entrepreneurs with three special guest panelists – Courtney Smith from PNC Bank, Paul Wilson, Jr. from the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs (RICE), and Keitra Bates of Marddy’s Shared Kitchen and Marketplace. A common theme from the panelists was the need for equity in access to capital for Black business owners. Keitra Bates noted that white startups have access to $100,000 from family, on average, while for black startups, it’s only $11,000. In June 2020, PNC Bank announced its bold $1 billion commitment to playing a role in combatting racism and discrimination. During the Summit, Courtney elaborated on PNC’s commitment to the Westside by helping end systemic racism by donating to WFF for program-related investments. Keitra Bates is a recipient of a WFF PRI that she used to renovate and expand her shared kitchen. Marddy’s focus is on economic inclusion, business development, and growth opportunities for local food entrepreneurs with their primary service groups of people of color, women, and other marginalized populations. With the help of RICE, the PRI recipients will have access to resources to innovate, grow, create jobs, and build wealth. Part business generator, innovation lab, and museum, RICE invests in African American entrepreneurs, strengthens businesses, and creates community. We have many miles to eliminate the wealth gap between white and black startups. Thanks to our panelists and the organization they represent, we are making progress and hopefully serving as models for others! Check out our newsletter to learn more about the October 15 Summit. This is sponsored content.
By Alyssa Cobbs, program officer, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta I’ve called Atlanta home for most of my life. As I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, my mother, brother and I moved from apartment to apartment for a number of years. With each move, my mom always focused on making sure we stayed in the same school district. Thirty years ago, that meant we could afford to live in zip code 30306 and attend Morningside Elementary School. I just did a search and the least expensive apartment I found in 30306 was a studio for $1,200. Today, we would not be able to live in a neighborhood to attend this school, even if we moved often. Average rental prices in Atlanta were 17% higher in August 2021 than they were in August 2020 – twice the national average increase. This is one part of my story and how affordable housing, or a lack of it, had an impact on my family – and we never experienced an eviction like the one-fifth of 800,000 renters potentially at-risk of eviction in light of COVID-19 and its multitude of impacts in our region. In a September 16 blog post, we shared some statistics about households at risk for eviction and the long-lasting impacts of evictions, including children having to change schools, barriers to future housing, and increases in stress and depression. Since September 2021, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has joined with the Cobb Community Foundation, the Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia, a coalition of six family foundations (Betty and Davis Fitzgerald Foundation; Cousins Family Foundation; The Imlay Foundation; Sartain Lanier Family Foundation; The Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation; Tull Charitable Foundation), nonprofit partners and county leadership to respond to this issue. Together, we are identifying ways to support organizations working with families across the region to prevent evictions; advocating for improved processes to distribute federal emergency rental assistance funding to tenants and landlords to keep people in their homes; and sharing learnings and increasing partnerships all with a goal of addressing housing stability in the region. This work has been critical as our state and local governments have varied in their success in administering the first wave of Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) funding under the American Rescue Plan Act. The state program has provided just 10% of its available funding to families while some local offices have utilized 100% of their funds. In the most recent update from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), the agency did not meet the goal set by the U.S. Treasury to expend 30% of federal ERA funding by November 2021. To address this, DCA submitted a Program Improvement Plan and voluntarily proposed reallocating $74M of their unspent funds to local counties with more success disbursing funds to families ($25M to Fulton, $25M to DeKalb, $15M to Henry and $9M to Clayton) – this proposal was approved by the U.S. Department of Treasury on January 7. Meanwhile, evictions are rising in the region and the potential of this situation continuing to worsen – at a meeting of HouseATL’s policy committee it was shared that while 37,696 households had received ERA funding by the end of October 2021, more than twice that number of evictions had been filed in the five core metro Atlanta counties in 2021 (76,544 as of Nov 24, 2021). Two recent articles highlight the increase in eviction filings and an effort by the City of Atlanta to protect renters. Success at the local level has occurred both with counties that administer their own programs, and those who partner with nonprofits to distribute rental assistance. Nonprofit partners have identified that the administrative costs to administer Emergency Rental Assistance are often greater than what is available. In the last three months, through these collective efforts, over $1.5M in philanthropic funding has been committed to nonprofits working to: Ensure public Emergency Rental Assistance funds are available and accessible by supporting the capacity of nonprofit partners: For example, Africa’s Children’s Fund in Clayton County is working with the Chief Magistrate Court to identify and serve tenants with pending evictions and the Martin Luther King Sr Community Resources Collaborative is partnering with United Way of Greater Atlanta in Fulton County and the City of Atlanta to ensure families receive financial support 10-15 days from the initial application. Both of these organizations have put systems in place to ensure families in the region are able to access this government funding and are administering rent assistance amounts five times their prior annual budgets, increasing the need for staff, technology and other operation costs Provide rental assistance for those that do not qualify for government funding The Latin American Association, Latino Community Fund and Ser Familia are partnering to ensure families of immigrants have access to resources and are not excluded from programs they are eligible for Mercy Housing Southeast is supporting families facing financial hardship whether due to COVID-19 or not (the current influx of ERA funding requires that family financial hardship be related to COVID) Advocate to increase access to available government funding and keep families housed Enterprise Community Partners is advocating at the local, regional and state level to improve processes and access for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program Housing Justice League offers an eviction defense program for tenants facing eviction These examples are just six of the 26 organizations supported by community foundations and family foundation partners in the region. While there are government funds available for eviction prevention, there is still opportunity to support the capacity of organizations partnering to administer these funds, organizations providing direct rental assistance for families not eligible for government funding and organizations advocating for affordable housing. Our work and grant support has been done while working with local jurisdictions to ensure that we are responsive to how our dollars complement, not supplant, public dollars and how they are helping to unlock the full value of public dollars by increasing capacity and flexibility at nonprofits to best respond to people as they seek support to say housed. You may now be wondering why this post about evictions started with a …
A team of six Emory computer science students are helping to usher in a new era in artificial intelligence. They’ve developed a chatbot capable of making logical inferences that aims to hold deeper, more nuanced conversations with humans than have previously been possible. They’ve christened their chatbot “Emora,” because it sounds like a feminine version of “Emory” and is similar to a Hebrew word for an eloquent sage. The team is now refining their new approach to conversational AI — a logic-based framework for dialogue management that can be scaled to conduct real-life conversations. Their longer-term goal is to use Emora to assist first-year college students, helping them to navigate a new way of life, deal with day-to-day issues and guide them to proper human contacts and other resources when needed. Eventually, they hope to further refine their chatbot — developed during the era of COVID-19 with the philosophy “Emora cares for you” — to assist people dealing with social isolation and other issues, including anxiety and depression. The Emory team is headed by graduate students Sarah Finch and James Finch, along with faculty advisor Jinho Choi, associate professor in the Department of Computer Sciences. The team also includes graduate student Han He and undergraduates Sophy Huang, Daniil Huryn and Mack Hutsell. All the students are members of Choi’s Natural Language Processing Research Laboratory. “We’re taking advantage of established technology while introducing a new approach in how we combine and execute dialogue management so a computer can make logical inferences while conversing with a human,” Sarah Finch says. “We believe that Emora represents a groundbreaking moment for conversational artificial intelligence,” Choi adds. “The experience that users have with our chatbot will be largely different than chatbots based on traditional, state-machine approaches to AI.” Last year, Choi and Sarah and James Finch headed a team of 14 Emory students that took first place in Amazon’s Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge, winning $500,000 for their Emora chatbot. The annual Alexa Prize challenges university students to make breakthroughs in the design of chatbots, also known as socialbots — software apps that simplify interactions between humans and computers by allowing them to talk with one another. This year, they developed a completely new version of Emora with the new team of six students. They made the bold decision to start from scratch, instead of building on the state-machine platform they developed in 2020 for Emora. “We realized there was an upper limit to how far we could push the quality of the system we developed last year,” Sarah Finch says. “We wanted to do something much more advanced, with the potential to transform the field of artificial intelligence.” They based the current Emora on three types of frameworks to advance core natural language processing technology, computational symbolic structures and probabilistic reasoning for dialogue management. They worked around the clock, making it into the Alexa Prize finals in June. They did not complete most of the new system, however, until just a few days before they had to submit Emora to the judges for the final round of the competition. That gave the team no time to make finishing touches to the new system, work out the bugs, and flesh out the range of topics that it could deeply engage in with a human. While they did not win this year’s Alexa Prize, the strategy led them to develop a system that holds more potential to open new doors of possibilities for AI. In the run-up to the finals, users of Amazon’s virtual assistant, known as Alexa, volunteered to test out the competing chatbots, which were not identified by their names or universities. A chatbot’s success was gauged by user ratings. “The competition is extremely valuable because it gave us access to a high volume of people talking to our bot from all over the world,” James Finch says. “When we wanted to try something new, we didn’t have to wait long to see whether it worked. We immediately got this deluge of feedback so that we could make any needed adjustments. One of the biggest things we learned is that what people really want to talk about is their personal experiences. ” Sarah and James Finch, who married in 2019, are the ultimate computer power couple. They met at age 13 in a math class in their hometown of Grand Blanc, Michigan. They were dating by high school, bonding over a shared love of computer programming. As undergraduates at Michigan State University, they worked together on a joint passion for programming computers to speak more naturally with humans. “If we can create more flexible and robust dialogue capability in machines,” Sarah Finch explains, “a more natural, conversational interface could replace pointing, clicking and hours of learning a new software interface. Everyone would be on a more equal footing because using technology would become easier.” She hopes to pursue a career in enhancing computer dialogue capabilities with private industry after receiving her PhD. James Finch is most passionate about the intellectual aspects of solving problems and is leaning towards a career in academia after receiving his PhD. The Alexa Prize deadlines required the couple to work many 60-hour-plus weeks on developing Emora’s framework, but they didn’t consider it a grind. “I’ve enjoyed every day,” James Finch says. “Doing this kind of dialogue research is our dream and we’re living it. We are making something new that will hopefully be useful to the world.” They chose to come to Emory for graduate school because of Choi, an expert in natural language processing, and Eugene Agichtein, professor in the Department of Computer Science and an expert in information retrieval. Emora was designed not just to answer questions, but as a “social companion.” A caring chatbot was an essential requirement for Choi. At the end of every team meeting, he asks one member to say something about how the others have inspired them. “When someone sees a bright side in us, and shares it with others, everyone sees that …
By David Jernigan, President & CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta The pandemic phenomenon known as “The Great Resignation” has set the job market on fire. As voluntary turnover continues to spread across the nation, companies struggle to fill vacancies amid competition and retain understaffed talent amid burnouts. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November 2021 with the highest numbers concentrated in the southern region. Some 660,000 employees quit their positions in educational and health services, and an additional 87,000 quit their jobs in state and local education. Our youth-serving organization has certainly felt the impact of “The Big Quit” as well. We currently have 109 vacancies, constituting roughly a quarter of our workforce. While many for-profit companies and even some non-profits have solved “The Great Resignation” with “The Great Raise,” passing increased labor costs to our consumers is not a viable option for many non-profits, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA). At BGMCA, we pride ourselves in maintaining an affordable after-school program for our families; membership is based on a sliding scale fee structure. For example, a family of three would pay approximately $100 per child for the entire year, and we also offer scholarship opportunities. Like many non-profit organizations, BGMCA can offer such an affordable option to families because approximately 90% of our $24M budget is funded by the generous support of foundations, corporate partners, individual donors, and various government grants. This means that every time we make an investment in compensation (which makes up nearly two-thirds of our budget), we must also consider how this investment impacts our annual fundraising need and the extent to which we can sustain the fundraising lift, a financial analysis that is significantly different than most for-profit businesses. Despite this complexity and uncertainty, we know that our dedicated employees deserve to be fairly compensated, so our 2022 budget contemplates an additional $700,000 investment in compensation, including a $1 per hour increase for our part-time employees. And yet, this significant increase in our annual fundraising lift still only translates to an average hourly rate of $12 per hour for our hardworking hourly employees. As we see local fast-food restaurants offering $15 per hour and other businesses offering even more competitive compensation packages, we have been challenged to consider other ways that we can remain competitive in this difficult labor market. “Investing more in our staff is not just the right thing to do, it is mission critical,” said Veronica Squires, BGCMA Chief Development Officer. “Our secret sauce as an organization is providing our members a safe place to go where caring, trusted adult mentors pour into their lives every day. This is what leads to transformation. Investing in our staff is the most strategic thing we can do to deliver on our mission.” Meaningful Interactions, Not Band-Aid Transactions Our talented and passionate Club staff work during critical non-school hours each day at our 25 Clubs to ignite the unlimited potential of kids and teens by creating safe, inclusive, and engaging environments. Club staff make up roughly 82% of our workforce and are our front-line employees. Full-time Club staff serve as executive directors, program directors, and teen directors. Part-time Club staff serve as youth-development instructors in areas that include art, physical education, and academic support. Club staff are the heartbeat of our organization. Likewise, our Support Center staff serving in administrative and executive roles are equally vital to our sustainability. As we spent the past year grappling with the financial implications of compensation investments, we have come to understand that there are many factors beyond compensation that attract and retain our dedicated employees. “Majority of my staff have worked with me four or more years,” said Paulding County Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Raiko Jones, who has been with BGCMA for nearly 21 years. “I asked my staff this question [why do you continue to work for BGCMA] and the overwhelming response was of our Club environment.” The family-like atmosphere can also be felt in our Support Center. “When I interviewed at BGCMA I was immediately drawn to the warmth of our employees,” said Margo Marks, Senior VP of Human Resources, who’s been at BGCMA for 3 years. “I could see their passion in their smiles and their love of the work in their words. When we have in-person training, we allow time for dance parties and games at the end of the day. This is a place people can make a difference and have a great time doing it! This is also the only place I interviewed that ended with hugs.” Our Fall 2021 Employee Pulse Survey affirms these sentiments. Approximately 83% of surveyed employees would recommend BGCMA as a great place to work, 91% are proud of the BGCMA brand, and 94% believe their work serves a good purpose and aligns with BGCMA values and goals. We also learned that while employees feel that they receive effective communications from their direct supervisors, many also desire to provide more input in organizational decision making. Insight like this is especially vital as we navigate voluntary turnover and work to offer solutions to real issues that may result in resignation. In direct response to feedback around elevating the voices of our frontline employees, we created an extended leadership team that brings our Club directors to the decision-making table on a consistent basis. By expanding the leadership table, we have challenged ourselves to pause and listen to the perspective of those who are working in our communities every day, and we have chipped away at the natural division that can exist for organizations with a centralized support center and another group of employees who are on the frontlines. Nurturing Career Paths and Development Opportunities When employees expressed concerns about career mobility, we took immediate action. In 2021, we filled 60% of our open full-time positions by hiring internally. In addition, our L.E.A.D. @ BGCMA program (Leadership, Exploration, And …