A judge says Fulton County can start sending property tax bills, even though the state hasn’t given its go-ahead. The ruling brought relief to school leaders for now, but plenty of frustration remains.
By Paul Donsky The pandemic has changed so many of our routines: how we commute, how we shop, and how we spend our free time. A key question for regional planners and elected officials: How will this affect traffic on our roads and highways in the years and decades to come? It’s a complex, highly dynamic issue. Even experts say they don’t yet know the long-term impact. But new data sheds light on where things stand, and what may lie ahead, around the next curve. Read on at What’s Next ATL. This is sponsored content.
Project Kicks Off Systemwide Rail Station Rehabilitation Program MARTA hosted a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of renovations at Indian Creek rail station and kick off the systemwide Rail Station Rehabilitation Program. The ceremony was led by MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker and MARTA Board of Directors Chair and DeKalb County representative Rita Scott. Distinguished guests and speakers included Congressman Hank Johnson, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, and DeKalb County Commissioner Steve Bradshaw. DeKalb County MARTA Board Members, members of CEO Parker’s leadership team, DeKalb County Commissioners, and representatives from the design and construction firms handling the renovations were also in attendance. Indian Creek rail station is the easternmost terminus of the Blue Line and plays an important role in connecting customers east of DeKalb County to the greater MARTA system, averaging close to 10,000 riders a week. Improvements include a new lighted walkway from the parking to lot into the station, replacing all signage and damaged concrete, new public restrooms, tile cladding on the concourse level, and new landscaping. The $10 million project will be designed by Axis Infrastructure and constructed by Carroll Daniel Construction Company and C.D. Moody Construction Company and is funded through the penny sales tax in DeKalb County. The Indian Creek projects launches MARTA’s Rail Station Rehabilitation Program, a multi-year $300 million investment in improving the customer experience through projects that range from the aesthetic to the transformative. In addition to enhancing customer safety with new lighting and wayfinding, projects will use materials that are easier to maintain, making stations cleaner and safer for riders. All 38 rail stations are part of the Program, with Indian Creek kicking things off, and College Park, Five Points, Lenox, Arts Center, H.E. Holmes, and Airport stations included in the first phase. This is sponsored content.
“This year I’m thankful for my kids because they are healthy and also because we as a family have a roof over our heads. This year has been very difficult because of COVID but we have overcome a lot as a family,” shared Aileenayala, a Families First CHISPA client at a recent Thanksgiving event. The Families First Adopt-A-Family, in partnership this year with Macy’s, helps families like Aileenayala’s enjoy the holiday season with their families. Aileenayala is part of the Families First CHISPA program which is one of the ways Families First supports our clients at various points across the continuum of care including adoption, foster care, parenting, mental and behavioral health, supportive housing, and healthy starts for kids. In Spanish, “CHISPA” means “spark.” CHISPA, specifically for the Spanish-speaking community in Gwinnett County, focuses on early childhood education with bilingual parent educators who visit parents and children ages 0 – 5 years old in their homes and provide parent leadership training as well as school transition and literacy activities. Each of our CHISPA families received a Thanksgiving meal to enjoy through the Adopt-A-Family Thanksgiving program. “Macy’s is committed to giving back and being there for the community in times of need. This unprecedented time has brought challenges to many families in the communities Macy’s colleagues live and work,” said Kelli Lewis, Director, Corporate Giving of Macy’s. “From a holiday meal to gifts under the tree, partnering with Families First gives us the chance to connect with our neighbors and help them enjoy the holiday season.” For more than 132 years, Families First has served the local community and beyond, and today is focused on building resilient families and communities. Our two-generation approach is grounded in strengthening resilience so that families can better cope with the stresses of everyday life and have the tools and resources to pick themselves back up when life’s challenges come their way. The holidays can be especially hard for many of the families we serve, and our Adopt-A-Family program is one way we can help spread holiday joy in our community. This year, the Families First Adopt-A-Family in partnership with Macy’s is making the lives of our families a little brighter by helping more than 500 families in metro Atlanta between Thanksgiving and the New Year. For Thanksgiving, participating families are receiving nonperishable items and gift cards to create delicious meals to enjoy together in their homes. During the Christmas holidays, those adopting families get a wish list of the items requested by both parents and children, which often have a toy listed but also basic needs such as winter coats, shoes, pots, and pans. Senior Citizens without an income are also up for adoption, making such simple requests as a box fan, socks, and extension cords. Items that most of us purchase without a thought, are what they are hoping at Christmas to enjoy “comforts” that a lot of people take for granted. “Families First is so thankful for Macy’s support of Adopt-A-Family and helping us spread holiday joy and cheer. This year we are serving more than 100 additional families thanks to the support of Macy’s and our donors,” said DePriest Waddy, CEO of Families First. “The last 18 months have hit our families hard and it is heartwarming to see our community come together to support our families. Just last week one of our team members spent time with a local Brownie Troop where the girls were earning their Philanthropy Badges by participating in Adopt-A-Family. From individuals to community groups like the Girl Scouts to corporate support, it takes all of us to help spread holiday cheer.” In addition to Families First’s clients, Adopt-A-Family connects with community organizations to help their families including Raising Expectations, Connecting Communities & Families, Westside Works/Atlanta CareerRise and Crossroads Community Ministries. You can join Macy’s and Families First this holiday season to help our families enjoy the holidays! Our Adopt-A-Family helps bring holiday smiles and joy into the homes of our families! Join us today as a wish maker: Families First Donation Drives (roonga.com). 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 [email protected] 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 Kevin Box, Artist at Box Studio LLC Note: Kevin Box’s Conversation Peace was installed at 10th and Peachtree Streets on November 11, 2021. It is the latest in Midtown Alliance’s series of temporary public art installations to occupy this corner. Midtown is home to more than 40 public art installations in a 1.2 square mile area. Having spent summers visiting family in Georgia as a kid, it’s thrilling to have my work featured so prominently on Peachtree Street. Midtown is known to many as the epicenter of art and culture in Atlanta, and I’m delighted that Conversation Peace was selected to be part of the pedestrian experience in this vibrant district. As I developed my practice over the last 20 years, I yearned to extend beyond museums, galleries and fine arts patrons to reach broader audiences through public art. About 10 years ago, while visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden, my wife, Jennifer, and I shared an epiphany. We could showcase my work in the natural setting of botanical gardens and reach entire communities, including schoolchildren and families, who are at ease with experiencing art outdoors. And thus, the Origami in the Garden exhibit was born and has been featured in gardens around the country. It will be here at the Atlanta Botanical Garden beginning May 7 through October 30, 2022. The sculpture selected by Midtown Alliance as a focal point for the Midtown Arts District draws inspiration from the game rock-paper-scissors. We all know this zero-sum game as a fun way to resolve lighthearted conflict — who gets to sit in the front seat or who gets the last piece of cake. But serious conflict requires conversation so the disputing parties might better understand each other. Conversation requires as much listening to the other as speaking your mind, and compromise is often involved in a balanced solution. As an artist, I use sculptural objects to symbolize conflicting forces that have found balance. Conversation Peace is also a play on the phrase, “conversation piece,” meaning a piece of art or other interesting object that inspires conversation. In this sculpture, the rock-paper-scissors combination represents this kind of object. It’s a familiar grouping but with a surprising origami twist: the paper has beat the rock and scissors by folding itself into a peace crane and flying just out of reach. Through thoughtful, respectful transformation, peace has won. A timeless message that feels especially timely now. Origami has been a consistent theme in my work. It is wonderfully accessible in its humble origins —almost anyone of any age can pick up a piece of paper and learn to fold something. Yet in the most competent hands, incredibly complex forms can be created that are awe inspiring and remarkably out of reach. To me, origami represents a philosophical Zen approach echoing many of the mystic traditions that speak of discipline, practice, mastery and magic, turning lead into gold, “seeing the light,” and all that is possible when we dedicate ourselves. The fact that so much can be said with a single uncut square of paper can, and likely will, keep my creative spirit busy for a lifetime. Conversation Peace will be on view in Midtown at the southern end of the 10th Street Park until the summer of 2023. This is sponsored content.
By Michael Norton, Ph.D., Chief Policy Analyst at Reinvestment Fund Public libraries and museums are deeply embedded in their communities in ways that enrich the wellbeing of local residents. Through their core services, programming, and partnerships with other organizations, they catalyze broader networks of support that meet a diverse range of needs for individuals, organizations, and their broader communities. Reinvestment Fund recently completed a national study of the nation’s museums and public libraries to explore the different ways these institutions promote the quality of life in their communities. As a mission-driven financial institution, Reinvestment Fund has an unwavering commitment to make communities work for all people. In addition to bringing financial tools to partnerships to ensure that everyone has access to essential opportunities, we also offer data and research tools to help us and our partners understand markets, communities, and impediments to opportunity. This national study was done in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, with the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) at University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice and HR&A Advisors. The multi-year, multi-market study found the presence and usage of public libraries and museums to be positively associated with multiple dimensions of social wellbeing by promoting public health, supporting education, facilitating connections between individuals and organizations, and enhancing the cultural environment of their communities. Aarti Sharma, Executive Director of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library Foundation sees libraries as integral to healthy and thriving communities. “When libraries are fully utilized as critical convening and programming hubs, we succeed together,” shares Sharma. “Programming at libraries, like One Book, One Read in Fulton County, bring people together across lines of difference to engage in critical conversation and build community.” Reinvestment Fund’s study team also visited 24 museums and libraries across the country. These visits confirmed that the ways these institutions engage with their patrons and organizational partners is heavily informed by the local context—the type of community they serve (urban, suburban, or rural), the type and size of their institution, and the needs of local residents and communities. Museums and libraries adapt to local contexts and customize their services to advance their institutional missions and goals while being responsive to changing conditions and observed needs in their communities. One of our site visits was the Woodlands Garden in Decatur, a nonprofit public garden. Woodlands Gardens provides an urban refuge and promotes wellbeing as a resource for others to use, rather than as an active agent of change. This approach is grounded in the Gardens’ commitment to accessibility as welcoming to populations that can benefit from their resources. “Dr. and Mrs. Morse’s gift of Woodlands Garden in 2002 was built on making the urban sanctuary at Scott Blvd and Clairemont Ave in Decatur accessible to the community,” shares Kate McAlpin, Executive Director of the Garden. Decatur residents with developmental disabilities are one group that Woodlands Gardens have focused on serving. The Garden is currently partnering with an area chapter of a non-profit, L’Arche Atlanta, that provides semi-autonomous housing to individuals with disabilities. As part of their recent expansion, the Garden acquired an eight-bedroom home on an adjacent parcel of land. The Garden sold the property to L’Arche, which is working to renovate the property. The house will be owned and managed by L’Arche, allowing residents permanent and easy access to Woodlands Garden. Individuals with developmental disabilities already participate in many of the Garden’s annual activities, and those with sensory sensitivities find the Garden to be a therapeutic environment. “We look forward to growing our partnership with new neighbor, L’Arche Atlanta, by collaborating on volunteer projects, sharing educational opportunities, and continuing to promote accessibility for all audiences at Woodlands as inspired by the Morse family,” said McAlpin. The Garden’s largest event of the year, “Fairies in the Garden,” also represents its focus on urban education and engagement with the intent of contributing to social wellbeing. The event is held for children and families in the community in partnership with the Skyland Trails clinic, a local residential psychiatric clinic and non-profit mental health treatment organization. For the last nine years, the clinic’s art therapy patients have worked together to create fairy doors and fairy homes that are installed throughout the Garden. Children and families come to Woodland Garden to find the fairy homes and participate in arts and crafts, managed by volunteers from the local YMCA. The event is free and extremely popular with the local community: in the past year, the event attracted 750 individuals in a two-and-a-half-hour period. This event exemplifies the ways in which the Garden seeks to contribute to social wellbeing: the event provides a sanctuary for children and families that come annually to the event. For campers at the local YMCA, the event is an educational experience and an opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills through planning and staffing arts and craft activities. For the participants in Skyland Trail’s therapy programs, the event is an opportunity for patients in the organization’s expressive therapies program to share their work and give back to their community. The missions and programs of cultural institutions across the country afford an opportunity for communities to reflect their collective best selves. The findings from this study suggest that local libraries and museums are actively involved in animating social and institutional connections that catalyze the creativity, ingenuity, and empathy within their communities in ways that promote personal and social wellbeing. Working with community partners, they are able to address community needs more effectively than they could alone. As critical civic institutions that engage communities and advance inclusion, they are uniquely aligned with Reinvestment Fund’s own work to build strong, healthy and equitable communities. The services these institutions provide, the collections they maintain, and the interactions that happen (intentionally and fortuitously) through their spaces and through their community networks are crucial threads in the broader social and institutional fabric of places that promote human flourishing. Learn more about our study Understanding the Social Wellbeing Impacts of the Nation’s Libraries and …
by Nancy Clair Laird McInaney, Board Chair, The Nature Conservancy – Georgia The bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law by the president last week offers an extraordinary opportunity to address critical needs in communities across Georgia and the country. Its investments in energy, transportation and natural infrastructure will support valuable jobs and economic development. The bill – officially known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — was a true bipartisan achievement, backed by members of Congress across the political spectrum. I am grateful to those in Georgia’s congressional delegation who helped secure its passage. Much of the praise for the bill has understandably focused on how this funding will enhance roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure. I’d like to highlight some of the ways it will also help to advance conservation. Natural Infrastructure: The infrastructure bill underscores the vital role nature plays in making our communities stronger and safer. It establishes a clear definition of “natural infrastructure” that recognizes how natural ecosystems help communities manage flooding and other risks. (A 2017 study conducted by The Nature Conservancy and partners documented the role that coastal wetlands played in preventing more than $625 million in property damages during Hurricane Sandy.) With enactment of the infrastructure bill, natural infrastructure solutions are now more widely eligible for funding. Fish and Wildlife: The package provides funding to support restoration of aquatic, forest and other vital ecosystems, benefiting both nature and those communities whose jobs and economies are tied to sustaining healthy forests and wildlife habitats. This might include, for example, upgrading aging water culverts in ways that would enhance roadway safety, improve water quality, and provide fish and aquatic life with better mobility and habitat. The intersection of transportation and nature receives another boost in the package by providing funds for the construction of wildlife crossings in strategic locations to reduce the incidence of vehicle-wildlife collisions. Community Resilience: Georgia’s coastal communities will have access to expanded funding to improve their resilience to storms and rising seas, including resources to support flood protection, pre-disaster risk reduction and resilience enhancement. Funding to mitigate the danger of wildfires could further enhance the state’s use of prescribed burning to maintain healthy forests and reduce the risk of wildfire. Clean Energy: Any efforts to safeguard our communities and lands for future generations must be complemented by a successful drive to reduce our state’s carbon emissions. The infrastructure bill’s provisions supporting clean energy move us forward on that path, funding a range of measures that will have meaningful impact on reducing emissions and enhancing the quality of our lives. From support for clean energy development and enhanced energy efficiency to improvements making our transportation options cleaner and our power grid more resilient, the infrastructure package catalyzes the kind of progress we must make to meet the challenge before us. The additional clean energy provisions in the anticipated Build Back Better legislation will further accelerate this progress. Broadband: Think broadband expansion isn’t a conservation concern? Guess again. The pandemic revealed the gaps our communities face regarding internet access, particularly in rural areas. The internet is key to how we learn about our world now. It can spark and sustain a student’s interest in nature. It can connect aspiring naturalists to education opportunities and jobs. The infrastructure funding will help us fill the gaps to ensure more equitable access for all. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides us with an unprecedented opportunity. The investments we make now at the federal, state and local levels will drive tangible improvements for our communities and natural lands. Implementing these improvements will provide many good-paying jobs that benefit families across our state and country. As we mobilize to tap these funds, let’s use the power of public-private partnerships to work together to seize this opportunity for Georgia. This is sponsored content.
Average U.S. credit scores climb to 695 according to Experian’s State of Credit report and new HOPE Financial Wellness Index As we end the second summer since the arrival of COVID-19, Experian® today announced key findings from its 12th annual State of Credit report. This year’s report also serves as a launch for Operation HOPE’s all-new HOPE Financial Wellness Index, which will help shine a consistent light on the current state of consumer credit. Despite a challenging year and a half, the new data shows consumers are managing credit well with average credit scores climbing seven points since 2020 to 695 – the highest point in more than 13 years. “While consumers on average are managing their credit histories well, we know there are many communities in critical need of more financial education and resources” Tweet this According to Experian’s report, many consumers were managing credit well before the pandemic’s arrival and the accommodations afforded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act may have helped consumers protect their financial health. At the same time, stay-at-home orders and record savings levels1 may have contributed to lower unsecured and total debt levels, lower credit utilization rates and fewer missed payments. This year, Experian is partnering with Operation HOPE – the nation’s largest nonprofit dedicated to improving financial literacy – to launch the HOPE Financial Wellness Index, which highlights the average credit score in every state and city. According to the index, consumers in Minnesota have the highest credit scores with an average of 726, followed by Vermont (719), New Hampshire (718), Washington (717) and Massachusetts (716). States with the lowest credit scores were found in the south, including Mississippi (666), Louisiana (669), Alabama (672), Oklahoma (672) and Texas (673). The HOPE Financial Wellness Index will be updated regularly and will be used to develop programming and identify communities most in need of financial education and resources. “We believe credit education plays an important role in driving financial inclusion and helping consumers reach their fullest potential,” said Alex Lintner, President Experian Consumer Information Services. “While these findings are positive, we recognize they do not tell the full story and many consumers face financial obstacles due to a limited credit history. We are committed to working with consumers, as well as our partners like Operation HOPE, to improve financial equity and access.” Given the unique circumstances of 2020, this year’s report compared credit trends over the last three years. While consumers took on more mortgage and auto debt, score improvements were supported by fewer missed payments, lower credit utilization rates and reduced card balances and total debt levels year-over-year and prior to the pandemic’s arrival. Highlights of Experian’s State of Credit report include: 2021 State of Credit Report 2019 2020 2021 Average VantageScore® 2 682 688 695 Median VantageScore 687 697 707 Average number of credit cards 3.0 3.0 3.0 Average credit card balance $6,494 $5,897 $5,525 Average revolving utilization rate 30% 26% 25% Average number of retail credit cards 2.50 2.42 2.33 Average retail credit card balance $1,930 $2,044 $1,887 Average nonmortgage debt $25,057 $25,483 $25,112 Average mortgage debt $210,263 $215,655 $229,242 Average auto loan or lease debt $19,034 $19,462 $20,505 Average 30–59 days past due delinquency rates 3.8% 2.4% 2.3% Average 60–89 days past due delinquency rates 1.9% 1.3% 1.0% Average 90–180 days past due delinquency rates 6.6% 3.8% 2.5% “While consumers on average are managing their credit histories well, we know there are many communities in critical need of more financial education and resources,” said John Hope Bryant, Operation HOPE founder and CEO. “By helping people raise their credit scores, we are empowering them to take advantage of one of our nation’s most democratic tools. From housing and employment to healthcare and education, credit worthiness can be leveraged to improve our overall quality of life. We’re committed to using the HOPE Financial Wellness Index as a force for good in the communities we serve.” Understanding generational differences State of Credit also spotlights how each generation is managing their debts, showing scores have improved for every generation year-over-year. This trend is attributed to declining utilization rates and fewer missed payments. Credit utilization rates have declined for nearly every generation since 2019 except Gen Z who saw a slight uptick year-over-year. Similarly, credit card balances decreased for consumers of all age groups except Gen Z who increased their balances by $115 year-over-year. Across the board, consumers are missing fewer payments, with notable improvements seen among the youngest consumers. Gen Z decreased their 90 – 180 days past due delinquency rate by 29 percent year over year to 1.73 in 2021. This is a 72 percent decrease from the same period in 2019. Millennials also decreased their 90 – 180 days past due delinquency rates to 1.73 percent in 2021, down from 4.4% in 2021 and 10.6 percent in 2019. Additional 2021 generational findings from Experian’s State of Credit report include: 2021 findings by generation Gen Z Gen Y Gen X Boomers Silent Average VantageScore® 660 667 685 724 730 Median VantageScore 674 678 699 755 741 Average number of credit cards 1.7 2.7 3.3 3.4 2.7 Average credit card balance $2,312 $4,569 $7,236 $6,230 $3,821 Average revolving utilization rate 31% 30% 30% 21% 13% Average number of retail credit cards 1.6 2.1 2.5 2.5 2.1 Average retail credit card balance $1,125 $1,819 $2,214 $1,887 $1,329 Average nonmortgage debt $12,524 $28,317 $32,898 $24,136 $11,725 Average mortgage debt $192,276 $255,527 $259,100 $198,203 $163,254 Average 30–59 days past due delinquency rates 2.1% 3.1% 3.0% 1.8% 1.1% Average 60–89 days past due delinquency rates 1.0% 1.3% 1.3% 0.8% 0.5% Average 90–180 days past due delinquency rates 1.7% 3.2% 3.4% 2.0% 1.3% A strong credit history and responsible credit management can help consumers save thousands of dollars over a lifetime. For example, a person with a low credit score may pay close to $3,000 more in interest to purchase a $10,000 used car3 and a person with a subprime credit score may pay $241 more per month or $86,503 more over the life of a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan than a person with a score of 760 or above4. …
By Charles Redding, MedShare CEO & President While the health care system in Senegal is improving, there is still a tremendous need to address health disparities within the population. As a result, only 32 percent of rural households have access to regular health care. Senegal has only around 3.1 nurses and midwives per 10,000 people, which makes it one of the countries least covered with qualified maternal care in the world (162 out of 187 countries). Not surprisingly, outcomes for maternal and child health are poor. Many organizations are working to provide aid to ensure wider access to health care in Senegal. MedShare recently had the opportunity to join efforts with the Jef Jel Project to provide aid to Senegal with a focus on Maternal Child Health. “Jef Jel” is an expression in the Wolof language of Senegal that comes from the words “jef” meaning “effort” and “jel” meaning “take.” Together, “jef jel” translates to “give and take” or “the nature of your reward equals the nature of your effort.” The Jef Jel Project supports the people of Ndangane, a small rural village in Senegal, West Africa. Through the support of Jef Jel, the villagers will: live and survive within a familial social support system establish entrepreneurial activities in the agricultural, fishery, and artist industries have timely access to quality health care have the means to pursue education without jeopardizing the success of their income-generating activities or their progress toward financial independence. MedShare partnered with Jef Jel to deliver over $200,000 worth of medical supplies and equipment to Centre Hospitalier Regional El Hadji Ibrahima. It is estimated that these supplies were used to treat over 15,000 patients and included many items needed to improve maternal and child health outcomes, including beds, bassinets, sutures, ambu bags and Clean Birthing Kits. “Hello to all who participated [in] the success of this donation. We say thank you from the bottom of our hearts. May god bless you: Amen! Thanks again for your support of our community in need. Particularly in rural areas we do not have the means, and the supplies and equipment will go a long way to helping. My sincere thanks to the Jef Jel Project. The picture attached shows women from our village with their babies who received medical supplies and clean birthing kits from MedShare.” With a total population over 15 million people, much work remains to put access to quality health services within reach of most Senagalese. 54% of the population lives below the poverty line and the infant mortality rate is 42/1,000 live births. MedShare is very fortunate to work with organizations like Jef Jel that aim to provide vital assistance to struggling communities in Senegal so that they can fully participate in their local economies and live healthier and happier lives. This is sponsored content.
By Paul Donsky The pandemic has changed so many of our routines: how we commute, how we shop, and how we spend our free time. A key question for regional planners and elected officials: How will this affect traffic on our roads and highways in the years and decades to come? It’s a complex, highly dynamic issue. Even experts say they don’t yet know the long-term impact. But new data sheds light on where things stand, and what may lie ahead, around the next curve. Read on at What’s Next ATL. 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 Maria Azuri, Director of Capacity Building & Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Network for Good Laura Heiman, Director of Capacity Building & Operations at United Way of Greater Atlanta It’s no secret that Atlanta is grappling with serious challenges around inequitable outcomes. It’s the driving force behind United Way of Greater Atlanta’s focus on increasing the Child Well-Being of 250,000 children by 2027. This goal is a clarion call for stakeholders across our region, and across sectors, to lean in together to make big changes. Central to that effort are the many nonprofit agencies who work directly with children and families. They are the lifeblood of the social sector, working to deliver their mission with a fraction of the resources available to their for-profit counterparts. If we are to make a sizable impact on increasing Child Well-Being, we need to address the disparities that impact the nonprofit eco-system. To this end United Way launched a new grantmaking framework in 2020, naming Capacity Building for nonprofits as one of three major approaches to addressing Child Well-Being gaps. 2020 also brought with it an unprecedented global event that continues to deeply impact all of our lives: the COVID-19 pandemic. The fragility of our social safety net and the inequitable impact of public health, economic, and social crises on communities of color were made starkly, undeniably clear. Throughout the pandemic, Greater Atlanta’s nonprofits have worked around the clock to react in real time: redesigning their service delivery models, adapting to a digital infrastructure, and making sure that the people they served had what they needed to make it through another day. Overstretched and exhausted, many nonprofit leaders expressed frustration at their Catch-22 of a situation: their organizations didn’t have the capacity to do capacity building, but they still needed capacity building support. One of the top concerns lifted up by local nonprofits was fundraising and resource generation. United Way knew it needed to find the right partner to provide the extra layer of support that their nonprofit partners needed. Enter Network for Good. In 2020, Network for Good’s Director of Capacity Building & Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Maria Azuri, joined in discussion with local funders around helping support the capacities and infrastructure of nonprofit partner organizations as a necessary conduit in driving positive and healthy community impact. “What we know is that just as there are structural barriers that inhibit individual’s and family’s equitable health and growth, there are also key historic barriers for nonprofits led by- and serving communities of color,” says Azuri. “Part of the investment that funders have to offer is for infrastructure – and nothing is of greater importance in long-term sustainability than investing in these leader’s access to fundraising capacity building and generating revenue with the leading requisite technology and tools.” Financial sustainability is often the challenge nonprofit leaders cite as their number one concern. It’s also important to note that the nonprofit sector as a whole is the 3rd largest employer in the United States – nonprofit organizations are a key support pillar to communities in substantial ways. Supporting their economic growth and financial resilience has to be part of the investment made by Greater Atlanta’s philanthropic agents. In Fall of 2020, United Way identified a cohort of 7 nonprofit organizations, led and serving people of color, to participate in Network for Good’s Jumpstart Capacity BuildingSM program – a year-long program that provides one-on-one coaching, integrated technology tools, fundraising planning, and guidance aimed to help nonprofits build fundraising capacity, diversify revenue, and sustain and grow their programs. Even as the strains of the pandemic continued, the support of the Jumpstart coaches enabled participants to lean in and reap the benefits of the program. In January of 2022, United Way will sponsor their next cohort of nonprofits in the Jumpstart program. This second effort has grown into a joint funding partnership alongside the Annie E. Casey Foundation Atlanta Civic Site, Jesse Parker Williams Foundation, and the Cobb Community Foundation to expand the participant pool. Supporting capacity building efforts in the midst of a long-term public health crisis continues to be a journey of discovery. We know that focusing on diverse nonprofits and employing innovative approaches is paramount. With partners like Network for Good, United Way is certain that success lies where capacity building support is accessible, inclusive, and equitable – and centers grantees’ voices in real-time. This is sponsored content.
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 …
Annual Fundraising Gala Raises $930,000+ for Youth Development Organization “I am proud to be a Mexican immigrant, someone who is a persistent, determined, and hardworking human being. In life, I was given the opportunity to grow in a safe space: my home: But later, when I saw the painful reality of my country, I felt like success wasn’t achievable. And then, when I came to America, I joined the Boys & Girls Club, where they showed me that everything that I needed and more could be found within myself.” ~Regina Martinez, 2021-2022 Youth of the Year, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta With a smile that could fill the entire Coca-Cola Roxy theater full of 450 applauding guests (and more than 100 via Livestream), Regina Martinez gleefully accepted her new title: 2021-2022 Youth of the Year for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA). For two consecutive years, Regina has represented the A. Worley Brown Boys & Girls Club at the local level. In 2020, she made it to the semi-finals for Metro Atlanta. In 2021, she earned BGCMA’s highest honor. “I want all of you guys to know that despite where you come from, your background, your age or anything, nothing can stop you from being who you are,” said Regina shortly after being named BGCMA Youth of the Year. “Remember that the most important thing is your voice. The world deserves to hear your story, what you’ve been through and where you are now.” A16-year-old senior at Duluth High School, Regina has been a proud member of the A. Worley Brown Boys & Girls Club in Gwinnett County since 2017. Her proud Mexican roots and story of triumph have fueled her ambitious zest for life and success. Regina has not allowed life circumstances to hinder her from obtaining internships, leadership roles within her Club and ultimately becoming the Youth of the Year for BGCMA. Regina’s love for science and mathematics have driven her career aspirations to become a biomedical engineer and build prosthetics and medical equipment. “I am proud to be a Mexican immigrant, someone who is a persistent, determined, and hardworking human being. In life, I was given the opportunity to grow in a safe space: my home: But later, when I saw the painful reality of my country, I felt like success wasn’t achievable. And then, when I came to America, I joined the Boys & Girls Club, where they showed me that everything that I needed and more could be found within myself,” said Regina in her YOY speech. As BGCMA’s Youth of the Year, Regina was awarded a $3,000 college scholarship; in the spring of 2022, she will represent Metro Atlanta as Youth of the Year at the statewide competition. This year, 15 inspiring teens from Boys & Girls Club locations throughout Metro Atlanta participated in the 2021 Youth of the Year Gala, held Friday, Nov. 12 at the Coca-Cola Roxy and via Livestream. Themed “Breakthrough Stars,” the event raised $932,000 (and counting!) and featured live entertainment, remarks from community leaders, and dynamic speeches from YOY finalists. As the culminating moment, Regina was announced as BGCMA’s Youth of the Year for 2021-2022. Elias Dennis, a sophomore at Elite Scholars Academy who represented the Flint River Community Center Boys & Girls Club in Clayton County, was named runner up. “We are so proud of all of our candidates and excited to welcome Regina as Youth of the Year for Metro Atlanta,” said BGCMA President & CEO David Jernigan. “It gives me such hope to see kids and teens like Regina with a strong vision toward the future using their voice to strengthen their communities and the world.” Youth of the Year is a character and leadership program open to all Club members aged 14-18 who demonstrate exemplary academic achievement, leadership skills, and service to the community. Each year, local Clubs select one member as its Club-based Youth of the Year. With help from dedicated Club staff and community mentors, Youth of the Year candidates fine tune their interviewing, networking, writing and public speaking skills in preparation for the culminating gala. Through outstanding programming, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta focuses on helping young leaders thrive in life and strengthen the futures of their communities and the world. BGCMA is thankful for the support of all individual and corporate sponsors, including Global Payments who served as presenting sponsor of the YOY Gala and Bank of America who served as presenting sponsor of the Livestream. To watch a play back of the Livestream, please visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=82UF0f7XGS8. It’s not too late to support BGCMA’s Youth of the Year character and leadership development program. For more information on YOY and ways to give, please visit https://e.givesmart.com/events/lnb. This is sponsored content.