Maryilynn Winn said she went to prison six times because she needed a job.
Rail Station on East/West Line Gets Safety and Aesthetic Upgrades By MARTA The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) has completed $6.9 million in safety and aesthetic upgrades to the Inman Park/Reynoldstown rail station on the system’s East/West Line. New safety features include an accessibility ramp connecting Walthall Street to the Reynoldstown bus loop and a stair tower to Seaboard Avenue on the south side of the station. The two pedestrian bridges linking the station to parking lots to the north along DeKalb Avenue and the south along Seaboard Avenue were rehabilitated, and a speed table was built to slow vehicle traffic. “This was the first major project to be funded by the More MARTA, now MARTA 2040, half-penny sales tax, and its successful completion provides great momentum as we undertake other rail station rehabilitation and transformation projects as part of our capital improvement program,” said MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker. “MARTA has a long history with these historic neighborhoods and we appreciate their patience during this project and their continued support.” Construction on the north pedestrian bridge began in December 2018 and re-opened on the eve of the annual Inman Park Festival in April 2019. MARTA helped celebrate by participating in the festival parade with a minibus and marching band. “We are grateful to MARTA for the quality work that has produced this great outcome,” said Inman Park Neighborhood Association President Beverly Miller. “We also appreciate Councilmember Amir Farokhi’s and MARTA’s responsiveness to the needs of the public during the work on the station. We were especially pleased that MARTA was able to open the pedestrian bridge in time for the 2019 Inman Park Festival.” Work on the south pedestrian bridge and accessibility ramp got underway shortly after the 2019 festival and concluded this spring. “On behalf of my Reynoldstown constituents, I am pleased that MARTA has completed the construction and installation of an ADA ramp on the Reynoldstown side of the rail station,” said Atlanta City Councilmember Natalyn Archibong. “The surrounding neighbors who consistently advocated for this ramp are to be commended. We are grateful to MARTA for its continuing efforts to keep all riders safe.” Most of the project focused on rehabilitating the decades-old pedestrian bridge linking the Inman Park and Reynoldstown neighborhoods to the rail station. MARTA removed the deteriorated structural slab and walking surface on the north and south sides and retrofitted the bridge with reinforced decking to help reduce vibrations from MARTA and CSX train tracks. The walkway ceiling, railings, and decorative metal screens were replaced, and the entire structure was painted. Safety upgrades include a new fire protection system, security cameras, and LED lighting.
Insurance Provider Donates $180,000 to Promote Atlanta’s Economic Stabilization By Metro Atlanta Chamber CareSource, a leading multi-state managed care plan, announced Monday a donation of $180,000 from the CareSource Foundation for the RESTORE ATL Fund, created by the Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC). The Fund will support black-owned small and medium-sized businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement was made by Bobby Jones, Georgia market president at CareSource. The RESTORE ATL Fund will provide immediate gap assistance to affected businesses in metro Atlanta through the distribution of grants in the amounts of $5,000-$10,000. The funds can be used for operating expenses including rent, utilities, payroll and other business-related needed. The grants will be reviewed and awarded within two to three weeks of the application deadline of July 6. The Fund builds on the work of MAC’s RESTORE task force, a diverse group of business leaders which aims to provide a blueprint for how metro Atlanta and Georgia might accelerate economic recovery. Applications for the Fund open on Monday, June 22 and will close on Monday, July 6. “While we recognize that this fund will be a small step to restoring our region’s economy, we are proud to build on the work of RESTORE, as well as our understanding of the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on our region’s black community,” said Metro Atlanta Chamber president and CEO Katie Kirkpatrick. “Atlanta has long been known as a place where black entrepreneurs have had success. We want to honor this important part of our legacy and support black-owned businesses. We appreciate the CareSource Foundation for its generous donation as we position our region for the future.” “CareSource’s history of supporting both the health of our members and the surrounding communities made our choice to support small businesses with the RESTORE ATL Fund an obvious decision,” added Jones. “We are proud to support our fellow Georgians through these unprecedented times as a partner of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.” MAC established the RESTORE task force in April to deliver a comprehensive list of policy solutions that federal, state and/or local governments in Georgia can apply to rapidly recover from the economic recession. The group took on this important task while prioritizing the health of Georgia’s families and neighbors, and taking into account the state’s most vulnerable populations. The Dayton-based health plan has pivoted their charitable resources to support both front line health care providers, to meet the variable community needs around social determinants of health and, most recently, to support small businesses in their local markets. Last month, CareSource, in collaboration with the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, announced a program to support Dayton local businesses affected by the economic disruption amid the pandemic. This economic program is being replicated in CareSource’s four additional markets. For more information on the RESTORE ATL Fund please visit: https://www.metroatlantachamber.com/restore-atl-fund About CareSource CareSource is a leading nonprofit multi-state health plan serving government sponsored programs and is nationally recognized as an industry leader in providing member-centric health care coverage. Founded in 1989, CareSource administers one of the nation’s largest Medicaid managed care plans. Today, CareSource offers individuals and families comprehensive health and life services including Marketplace and Medicare Advantage plans. Headquartered in Dayton, Ohio, CareSource serves over 1.8 million members in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia and Georgia. CareSource understands the challenges consumers face navigating the health system and works to put health care in reach for those it serves. For more, visit caresource.com, follow @caresource on Twitter, or like CareSource on Facebook. About the Metro Atlanta Chamber The Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC) serves as a catalyst for a more prosperous and vibrant region. To advance economic growth and improve metro Atlanta’s quality of place, MAC is focused on starting, growing and recruiting companies to the 29-county metro Atlanta region. The Chamber is also focused on growing the region’s innovation economy by promoting and strengthening connections to drive Atlanta’s innovation and entrepreneurial culture. MAC is committed to being an active voice for the business community, serving as an advocate for a competitive business climate and telling Atlanta’s story. For more information, visit www.metroatlantachamber.com Media Contacts: Natalie Jones Senior Manager of Marketing, Brand Communications [email protected] ; 404-586-8458 Joseph Kelley Manager, Media Relations [email protected] ; 513-509-8466 This is sponsored content provided by Metro Atlanta Chamber.
By Mark Banta, President and CEO, Piedmont Park Conservancy Walk through Piedmont Park on any given day and it seems to paint an almost perfect picture of the Atlantan spirit. Beautiful but unyielding it stood and served through the years and some of the toughest of times, fostering a spirit of community, culture and passion for those who visit. The Piedmont Park Conservancy is humbled and grateful to see the Park thrive as the hub for this spirit. We’ve seen an unprecedented number of visitors over the past four months as people seek respite to rest and recharge in a healthy, safe space that promotes mental and physical health especially while other resources are shut down. The Park has also continued to play its role as a critical place for free speech and peaceful gatherings as our community speaks up about racial injustice and other important cultural issues. These past four months have truly reinforced that our beloved greenspace is not just an amenity but an essential resource. This summer will look different and brings challenges we must overcome. However, we’re committed to bringing resources to the community when they need them most. The Green Market is operating in a new temporary location behind Park Tavern with social distancing guidelines to keep customers safe. Our summer camp and field trip programs have been put on hold for health and safety, but our Programs team has pivoted creating quality online content to help keep children engaged and learning throughout the summer. Our Facility Rentals department is offering elopement packages in the Park so celebrations of love don’t have to wait. And as always, our Operations team is on the ground keeping the Park green, beautiful and safe. This different, but incredibly busy season, makes us even more thankful for all our Park users. Piedmont Park is the green heart of Atlanta, and we could not be what we are today without our strong community of volunteers and supporters. We thank each and every one of you for your commitment and investment in Piedmont Park’s wellbeing. We hope to see you enjoying life with us one day soon.
By Daphne Bond-Godfrey, Director, ULI Atlanta During a ULI Atlanta event on housing policy, zoning, and land use, a panel of experts from across the public and private sector gave their perspectives on the current state of housing opportunity, inequality, and why now is the time to focus on finding innovations in our zoning and land use policies to better address the future of our city. First, we will have to wrestle with our cities exclusionary and discriminatory past before we can understand how to make better policy decisions for all residents across the socioeconomic spectrum. Understanding the history of how our cities get built is inexplicably tied to zoning and land use practices. Zoning codes evolved in the early 1900’s to help city planners better understand housing typologies and what types of uses go on which parcels. Developers also used these codes in an attempt to segregate residential uses by race, including prohibiting home sales to people of color. Zoning is a powerful tool that has been used to both divide and connect people and communities – and we’ve seen the harsh realities of discriminatory zoning policy with practices like redlining, urban renewal, and residential segregation. These housing disparities have only magnified why Atlanta remains the worst City in the country for economic mobility and inequality, according to a Bloomberg Analysis. Terri Lee, the City of Atlanta’s Chief Housing Officer echoed that sentiment, “Our policies have to be revised to take away racial segregation and injustice that has occurred. We’ve seen how redlining has taken form in zoning. It’s critical as a City that we be more progressive to address the development of our affordable housing needs and quality housing in our City.” It’s something that city planners and communities have grappled with for decades. Josh Humphries, the Director of the Office of Housing and Community Development shared part of his work ethos was to remember that the policy decisions we make today will have ramifications for people 50 years from now. “What role does land use play in the City’s ability to create affordable housing in the private market, including dedicated affordable housing and where it goes? When you think about that in the context of how housing determines your opportunity to education, access to fresh foods and jobs – it’s sobering”, he said. The City is now undertaking a zoning code rewrite which is a multi-year effort utilizing the framework laid out in Atlanta City Design, the intent of which is built on Dr. Martin Luther King’s concept of the beloved community. This framework seems even more salient now than when it was published in 2017. Part of the intent of Atlanta City Design was to weave its aspirations into every part of Atlanta’s growth, from housing, transportation, and the built environment. Egbert Perry, a housing icon in the Atlanta development world talked about the importance of design in communities on a downward trend. He impressed that certain regulatory issues like inclusionary zoning whereby the City allows a developer to pay an impact fee in exchange for building a market-rate product – i.e. without any affordable units – in desirable areas of the City (like the Atlanta BeltLine) only further segregate and concentrate poverty in other parts of the City. “When thinking about real estate, the idea of community development is more sustainable because of its focus on equitable, mixed income communities”, he said. Vibrant communities include different housing choices available to individuals at all income levels. When you think about how that translates from policy to practice, one concept jumps out: missing middle housing. This typology describes homes developed in the mid-range of density between high rise and single-family. A product that is very scarce in Atlanta, it illustrates the unmet demand for different housing types, and gives opportunity to those that were historically excluded from the homebuying process. In fact, one of the topics that inspired this ULI Atlanta program originally was the Minneapolis example of eliminating single family zoning. Proponents of this move say it will increase the production and diversity of housing types, increase density, and supply of housing. It helps to remove barriers individuals (primarily people of color) have faced around homeownership and residential segregation. It also challenges the housing norms by bringing about new types of housing innovation and offerings. Here in Atlanta, the MicroLife Institute headed by Will Johnston is trying to do just that. “Land use regulation is an important puzzle piece for how we reweave the social aspect of communities. We have built homes that don’t encourage community and neighborhoods that don’t connect with each other.” How do we change that? His answer to this question is smaller, more communal living. The Institute is now working on a flagship project with the City of Clarkston that will help dispel the myth of how we use land and hopefully be a proof of concept to other real estate professionals that there is a market here for tiny living. To summarize this very timely discussion and focus on finding innovations in our zoning and land use policies there were three big takeaways: Address the exclusionary and discriminatory history of zoning. We have to make better policy for the future through Atlanta’s zoning rewrite to help realize the doctrine of the Beloved Community. Understand the importance of flexibility. During a global pandemic, and economic recession, we are also in the midst of an awakening about systemic racism. COVID-19 showed the need for the City to pivot from long-term planning to short-term action. This shift had to be immediate because of the crisis Atlanta is facing. “Keeping people sheltered, particularly those who work in the hotel, retail, and service-based industries is paramount. In the long term, we need better housing policy – but in the short term we need short-term emergency rental assistance” said the City’s Chief Housing Officer, Terri Lee. Finally, we need to strive to be educated on issues that impact our businesses, communities, and families. ULI Atlanta has a long tradition of being a ‘big tent’ …
By Michael Halicki, Park Pride Executive Director As our world has been thrown into chaos through a public health crisis and with racial injustice at the forefront, parks are among the few places people can go to achieve some semblance of balance, normalcy, and sanctuary. Or, at least that should be the case. Too often, studies have found that disenfranchised neighborhoods lack equitable access to parks and natural areas. Certain historical markers in parks can and do make many Black people and people of color feel uncomfortable and unsafe. And we have seen even more glaring examples of racism taking place in parks recently, like that experienced by Christian Cooper in New York’s Central Park. So, as we think about the need to build a more just and equitable society, local parks are a critical piece of this picture. Everyone deserves a quality park where they live. Parks should be safe, clean, and accessible to all. Parks should reflect each community’s unique character and meet their needs. For over 30 years, Park Pride has been working to make quality parks accessible for all communities. One of the most meaningful ways we do this is through our grantmaking program (made possible with funding from Atlanta’s philanthropic community) which supports park improvements awarded to local Friends of the Park groups and conservancies. The engagement of local communities is a critical component of our grant program; the community, after all, knows best what they need and what park improvements will help them achieve their goals. Beyond the physical changes, successful grant projects strengthen relationships between communities, their parks department, and their elected officials. We are building more than parks. We are building trust. Park Pride has always strived to distribute our grants broadly throughout our service area. The accompanying map shows the distribution of grants awarded within the City of Atlanta from 2004 to the present. The “growth line” (first introduced as part of Atlanta City Design, 2017) demarcates areas of strong or stable growth (above the growth line) and those areas of low or no growth (below the line). It would be a mistake not to acknowledge the racial and economic dimension of the growth line: areas north of the growth line tend to be whiter and include more middle and upper income areas, and areas south of the growth line tend to be middle and lower income areas comprised of higher percentages of Black residents and people of color. The map shows that over the course of our grant program, 65 Friends of the Park groups located north of the growth line received grants from Park Pride totaling $4.3M; and 65 Friends of the Park groups located south of the growth line received grants totaling $4.0M. We know that there is a need for Park Pride to play a larger role in communities with greater economic challenges, and we have a history of raising additional philanthropic dollars to support these communities. Since 2005, Park Pride has raised an additional $4.5M in philanthropic support for park improvements in Atlanta with $4.3M (96 percent) going to parks south of the growth line. Noteworthy examples of this support include Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park on the Westside, Coan Park on the Eastside, and Adams Park and Collier Heights Park in the Southwest. However, conversations that began in “Undoing Racism” workshops (conducted by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond) and that have continued through Park Pride’s ongoing work with a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) consultant (Dr. Dietra Hawkins at Both And Partners), indicate that there is more we can do. Changes are needed within the grantmaking program. To date, a hallmark of Park Pride’s grantmaking program has been our matching component, which required communities to leverage our grant dollars to raise additional funds. Since 2004, $9M in Park Pride grant awards (which includes funding $650k in our other jurisdictions) have been matched with nearly $30M from local, public, and private sources, for a total of roughly $40M in community-driven park improvements. However, the structure of our grant program and its matching grant requirement has proven to be a barrier for many communities (a reality that we attempted to circumvent by raising additional philanthropic dollars—the $4.2M referenced above—outside our grant programs to support community-led efforts in under-resourced communities). But now, with the support of our Legacy Grant funder, the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, we have taken the next step to change the structure of the program. Moving forward, we will deploy 1/3 of our grant dollars through awards that waive the matching requirement for Friends of the Park groups in low-income neighborhoods within the City of Atlanta.* Working together with local communities, philanthropic supporters, and government partners, I am confident we can build upon Park Pride’s work connecting communities to their parks and we can do so in ways that are responsive and supportive of considerations of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We will continue to refine our programs and to make them more accessible to communities in each of our jurisdictions. We will also look to diversify our board and staff and explore other ways to make Park Pride more accessible to all communities. Parks present an increasingly crucial opportunity to bring communities together. We invite you to join us in this effort. PS: Presently, the City of Atlanta is working on ActivateATL: Recreation and Parks for All (a Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Master Plan) that prioritizes equity in the plan’s outreach, development and implementation. I would encourage you to take the survey and to attend one or more of the virtual public meetings to ensure your voice is heard. *These neighborhoods will be defined by the Community Development Impact Areas where at least 51 percent of the population are at or below 80% of the Atlanta area median income.
By Operation HOPE For many Americans, navigating the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming. We are proud to serve as a financial advocate and intermediary for these affected homeowners, renters, and small business owners in facilitating financial recovery. Since our HOPE Inside Disaster COVID-19 response began five weeks ago, we have provided over 14,500 virtual financial recovery services, including credit and money management coaching, small business counseling and loan application assistance, and mortgage and student loan deferment. Many thanks to our corporate and alliance partners for their ongoing support! Organizations that wish to provide financial or in-kind support to HOPE Inside Disaster may contact Mary Ehrsam, President of HOPE Partnerships, at [email protected] Last week, our response efforts were featured by several mainstream news outlets. On Wednesday, Chairman John Hope Bryant joined host Gayle King on “CBS This Morning” to discuss the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on the financial health of minority communities. Click the video below to watch Chairman Bryant speak on the ongoing work of Operation HOPE and our response to the coronavirus pandemic. Find more resources at www.hopeinsidecovid19.org
Introduction to Global Health Action In 1972, Dr. Ada Fort and Miss Virginia Proctor, two administrators at Emory University’s Woodruff School of Nursing, recruited and inspired a group of leaders from Atlanta’s health, religious, business, and education communities, to establish Global Health Action’s precursor, the International Nursing Services Association (INSA). Founded to help foster healthier communities around the world, INSA initially focused on health education and management training for nurses from developing countries. The idea was to not only improve the participants’ technical skills but, more importantly, to build their administrative and leadership skills enabling them to return to their home countries and multiply their impact within the communities they served. In 1993, the organization’s name was changed to Global Health Action (GHA) to better reflect the organization’s broader purpose and global outreach. Today, GHA builds on this history by linking evidence to policy and practice, expanding the knowledge and effectiveness of in-country health leadership, and by promoting community-driven solutions for addressing barriers to health, both locally and globally. GHA’s programs invest in affected communities with education, resources, and tools for mobilization and sustainable community-led solutions. GHA’s work consists of working alongside communities to identify and address the deeply rooted barriers to health for all. GHA currently is working in the US, the Caribbean, SubSaharan Africa, and Asia. Background 7% of Georgia’s general population have a serious mental illness compared to the population of Georgia’s Correctional Institutions which reports 17% of its population having a serious mental illness. Georgia moved its Pardons and Parole, which had been a separate state department, to fall within the Department of Corrections [and renamed it the Department of Community Supervision (DCS)]. Individual counties are adjusting their budgets and personnel to maintain the unique Community Coordinator positions, which are responsible for fostering maximum service provider coordination for returning citizens. According to Mental Health America of Georgia, Georgia’s overall mental health system ranks 34th in the US, and 6 of 10 young persons with clinical depression do not receive treatment. Most of Georgia’s Criminal Justice/Corrections improvements have focused on post-arrest with the exception of Fulton County which has a pilot pre-arrest program. For a jurisdiction to re-orient to a pre-arrest focus, there must be an adequate and integrated behavioral health, physical health and social services infrastructure. Georgia is currently lacking this. The current professional, institutional and general citizenry cultures are not reoriented to a bifurcated focus on restorative justice in the pre- and post-arrest arenas. Solution GHA, National Incarceration Association, Mental Health Alliance, Legal Action Center, Southern Center for Human Rights, Georgia Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Golden Memorial United Methodist Church partnered to conduct the No Health=No Justice series of community conversations (in Atlanta, Douglasville and Macon). The Georgia No Health=No Justice campaign is focused on helping state and local jurisdictions to prioritize health and mental health care as the primary response to decrease incarceration and recidivism in Georgia. As a follow up to the GHA co-sponsored Families Impacted by Incarceration event in April of 2018, and in alignment with the goal to conduct a Health Impact Assessment, GHA and lead partner National Incarceration Association saw this campaign as a strategic opportunity to combine and extend efforts to begin to collect data and generate community level conversations on the impacts of incarceration on families. The Legal Action Center’s No Health = No Justice Campaign, a multi state advocacy and organizing campaign to ground decarceration efforts in ensuring that people are no longer prosecuted and criminalized for their health needs, but are instead provided with real access to care. The campaign highlights the intersection of historic and ongoing racism in the health care and criminal justice systems, directly linking health inequities to the over-criminalization and disproportionate incarceration of Black and Latinx individuals. Together, these forms of discrimination continue to make life difficult and disempowering for many people of color and profoundly affect their communities. Justice means making sure people and communities are no longer criminalized for health-related conditions. Impact The partnership collectively facilitated local audiences of impacted individuals and their families, local organizations providing best practices, service providers (such as Grady Health, River-Edge, Douglas Community Service Board – all of whom are state or county contractors), and government agencies, including Department of Community Supervision, law enforcement, judges, district attorneys and public defenders, along with other community stakeholders. These intimate, highly interactive conversations allowed for honest open dialogue about what is working and where the gaps are in Georgia communities. In all three Georgia counties (Fulton, Bibb, and Douglas), stakeholder participants committed to working together to address the “silos problem” and identified a list of other solutions to improve health and justice in the community. These community-generated suggestions include: Increase and expand training on de-escalation tactics and other mental health crises management for all first responders (law enforcement and emergency personnel) and community supervision officers Create community wellness and safety centers to provide health and behavioral/mental health crisis management services, so law enforcement can escort individuals with immanent needs to appropriate services (diagnostic, treatment) instead of arresting them or burdening hospitals Increase and improve public transportation systems so more people can get to work and to treatment Provide more mental health crisis management training to family members Increase public service announcements (PSAs) to publicize the availability of publicly funded behavioral health services in the community, and to counter stigma/negative public perceptions of behavioral health challenges Fund incentives for persons to become educated in psychiatry in Georgia Colleges and Universities and then remain in Georgia, and to increase training for certification for more peer support specialists and health navigators Increase funding for Community Service Boards to provide prevention and pre-arrest services Increase access to affordable housing for families of incarcerated individuals and for formerly incarcerated people and their families Create strong practitioner coalitions to advocate for these policy changes at the state level Get Involved! In this time of unprecedented need, we ask that you join us at GHA to effect and sustain …
By Paul Donsky The news is dizzying these days, as we face a global pandemic and a recession. It can be hard to make sense of what’s happening. That’s frustrating for all of us, but especially challenging for metro Atlanta leaders who are working to respond to the crises and craft a path forward. Several new data tools from the Atlanta Regional Commission and Neighborhood Nexus put a local focus on the fast-evolving situation while helping to foster greater understanding and better decision-making. Read on.
Faris Albakheet, left, of Busboys and Poets, and Robert Laster of Saval Foodservice, distribute free food to restaurant industry workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic at Fourteenth and V Streets Northwest in Washington, D.C., on April 17. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo) By AnnMaura Connolly and Eric Tanenblatt, Dentons Ed. note: This article was originally published in Roll Call on May 6, 2020. We can’t spend our way out of our problems, but we can serve our way out of them together. The crises the United States knows best — fires and floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, school shootings and mass violence — have all been proximate to individual communities or states. Government and civil society are prepared for this backyard disaster paradigm because we’ve been called to respond to so many before. But the coronavirus pandemic is a uniquely national crisis affecting every nook and cranny of the country, and policymakers have struggled to develop a “whole of America” response. Predictably, the gut reaction in Washington has been to spend money — lots. But even as Congress writes trillion-dollar checks to stabilize the economy, the unprecedented strain on our health systems, schools and essential public services is so acute that stimulus alone won’t be enough. America will need to tap a well far deeper than its treasury if it’s going to pull itself out of this hole. We’re not going to spend our way out of these problems, but we can serve our way out of them together. Even in isolation, Americans are united and hungry to serve and help their communities recover, but few know how. New legislation introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers would connect this profound desire to serve with concrete opportunities to get the country back to normal by increasing our investment in civilian national service. National service programs, which augment the enormous contributions of community and faith-based nonprofits by mobilizing Americans in sustained service, are among the least funded in the constellation of federal agencies even though they generate some of the highest returns on investment for government and society. AmeriCorps is already on the ground working in hard-hit communities, just as it’s done in every local natural disaster for the last 25 years. All across the country, AmeriCorps members are supporting testing and contact tracing efforts at the direction of governors; assisting with intake at drive-thru COVID-19 testing centers to support the CDC; organizing blood drives; setting up temporary isolation sites; delivering emergency food and supplies to vulnerable populations; making support calls to elderly and medically fragile community members; and supporting students to mitigate the tremendous learning loss resulting from school closures. In schools, where students and teachers are making the bumpy transition to distance learning, AmeriCorps members’ work will be felt for a generation as they address the twin challenges of prolonged classroom absences and historic state and local revenue shortfalls. The longer students are out of conventional classroom settings, the more likely they are to slip through the cracks as already stressed parents step into the void as unprepared educators. As if the distance learning paradigm wasn’t challenging enough, research from the last recession showed that forced cuts in education spending tracked with poorer student performance and that downturns in families’ personal economies negatively affected students. AmeriCorps members are addressing those challenges in real time by providing meaningful virtual and academic support as students navigate this “new normal.” The limited funding currently available has allowed AmeriCorps to deploy 75,000 national service members to help address core weaknesses in education, the economy and public health exposed by this pandemic. But by leaning into the robust national service infrastructure that supports AmeriCorps, as Sen. Chris Coons and other House and Senate lawmakers have proposed, the country could deploy around a quarter of a million civilian national service members annually to help us respond to and recover from this pandemic. That’s a quarter of a million service members helping to teach and tutor America’s students, testing and treating our work force, and doing the hard work of pulling us out of this. The road to normal is a long and uncertain one, but one thing is clear: National service is delivering meaningful results in communities across the country, and Congress needs to support its vital response and recovery work. AnnMaura Connolly is the president of Voices for National Service and the chief strategy officer of City Year Inc., an education nonprofit funded partly by AmeriCorps and dedicated to helping public schools. Eric Tanenblatt is a former Republican board member of the Corporation for National & Community Service, the independent federal agency that administers AmeriCorps. He serves as the global public policy chair of the international law firm Dentons.
United Way 2-1-1 agents help people affected by COVID-19 pandemic By Bradley Roberts, Content Manager at United Way of Greater Atlanta Desirey Aguilar says she won’t—couldn’t possibly—ever forget Maria. Aguilar works for United Way of Greater Atlanta’s 2-1-1 team as a Community Connection Specialist. 2-1-1 is a free, confidential referral and information helpline connecting people of all ages from all communities to the essential health and human services they need, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She’s used to taking a high volume of calls daily, and typically those calls are for the things like rent and financial assistance and connection to food banks and pantries. The past two months have been different. though. For one, the amount of calls has increased dramatically. “We’re busy in certain times of the year,” Aguilar says. “Usually when school is starting back, or around the holidays, is our busiest season. But this was way busier than the holidays, and it wasn’t just about the amount of calls, but the type of calls, too. You could just hear a lot more worry and a lot more stress on the other end. These were just normal working families like us that were hit out of nowhere, and they didn’t know what else to do.” The reason for this increase in calls is because of the pandemic outbreak of the novel coronavirus. About two weeks into March, major cities across the country began shutting down restaurants, bars, gyms and schools in an attempt to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. As of June 29, the infectious disease, COVID-19, which is a respiratory illness with symptoms such as cough, fever and in severe cases, difficulty breathing, has infected more than 2.5 million people and killed more than 125,000. Businesses shut down in Atlanta and its surrounding communities, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on March 24 issued a “stay-at-home” order. On Wednesday, April 8, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp extended a statewide shelter-in-place order to roll on through the month of April, but he announced plans two weeks later to begin rolling back those orders to begin re-opening certain businesses previously deemed “nonessential.” Social distancing guidelines are still being encouraged at the federal, state and local levels. Millions of people had been furloughed or let go from jobs and forced to file for unemployment benefits. The city of Atlanta immediately put a moratorium on evictions for the next two months, and yet, Maria was still on the brink of losing her home, Aguilar says. The 23-year-old woman had reached her breaking point, and she needed to talk to somebody—anybody—who could help her. So, she called 2-1-1, and Aguilar answered and began talking through Maria’s concerns and her options to address those. “Before the pandemic, a few of her family members had passed away back-to-back,” Aguilar says. “She was on her own out here, but she was thriving. “I remembered what it was like when I came out here, and it just reminded me of how strong she was.” Aguilar took the job working with 2-1-1 about two years ago. She says she’s passionate about her job, and she tries to meet each caller with that same passion. Some of those calls are difficult to take and hard to forget, she says. But she stays “in constant connection” to her managers and coworkers. She says this, along with “lots of yoga,” helps her deal with a long day. She’s thankful for those opportunities to help people like Maria, though. She couldn’t imagine being in her same situation. And that’s what motivates her to do what she can to help others. “If I had come out here during a pandemic, and then suddenly not had a source of income anymore because of something beyond [my] control, I don’t know what I would do,” Aguilar says. Since March 13, 2-1-1 has had more than 98,000 calls related to COVID-19. The biggest requests are still for rent payment assistance, food pantries and help paying for gas and utilities. But there’s been a 33 percent increase in contacts over the past two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2-1-1 Contact Center is accessible by phone, email, text, chat and online, but United Way’s digital platforms will give you the fastest service. For fast self-service, text 211od to 898-211 or download United Way’s 2-1-1 app to access our searchable database of resources, which can also be accessed online here. Aguilar was ultimately able to connect Maria to legal aid, and she said the woman called her back to tell her thank you. “She called me back, and that’s very rare, but she just told me how they listened to her, made her feel like a human and didn’t treat [her] like trash,” Aguilar says. “I won’t ever forget her. “It makes me feel good when we see those emails from our clients.”
Featured Image: Rollins School of Public Health and the state of Georgia will embark on a new partnership to increase public health resources to combat the COVID-19 crisis, including planning, response and research. Emory University Photo. By Emory University Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health will embark on a new partnership with the state of Georgia in increasing its public health resources to combat the COVID-19 crisis. The Emory COVID-19 Response Collaborative (ECRC), established within Rollins, will provide ongoing, flexible and collaborative support to the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) in four major areas: Planning coordination; Outbreak response and evaluation; Training and deployment of public health professionals throughout the state; and Surveillance, research and monitoring. “As Georgia continues to re-open commerce, travel and social engagement, ensuring that the citizens of Georgia are kept safe from disease and death is a public/private responsibility,” says Kathleen E. Toomey, MD, MPH, commissioner of the Georgia DPH. “To be successful, there must be ample and accessible COVID-19 testing, extraordinary community engagement and an ability to trace contacts of new COVID-19 cases in order to forestall resurgent outbreaks. Expanding academic partnerships among Georgia’s public health system, Rollins and other Georgia-based schools of public health will benefit us now and in the future.” “Achieving adequate COVID-19 testing, community participation and contact tracing will require unprecedented investments in technologies, people power and communications campaigns,” says James W. Curran, MD, MPH, dean of the Rollins School of Public Health. “We are eager to support the state of Georgia in this comprehensive public health initiative to help ensure the health and safety of all Georgians.” The ECRC will be led by Allison Chamberlain, PhD, current director of Rollins’ Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research (CPHPR), which has a nearly 20-year history of managing programs and research that focus on helping communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from infectious disease, terrorism and other public health threats. The ECRC’s four focus areas will include: Participating in state strategic and program planning and identifying areas for immediate focus for assistance from faculty, alumni and students. This effort will be led by Chamberlain. Identifying and supporting RSPH faculty, students and staff to work in the field alongside practice partners to investigate and stem COVID-19 outbreaks as they arise throughout Georgia. Preparing and placing public health professionals throughout Georgia through creation of the Rollins COVID-19 Epidemiology Fellows Program. Conceived as a way to accelerate the hiring of additional epidemiologists, the inaugural cohort will aim to place one fellow in each of Georgia’s 18 health districts, with additional fellows assigned at DPH, the ECRC or in districts with unique needs or larger populations. Identifying key areas where rapid implementation, evaluation and research are needed and provide support through projects or other sources of funding. This includes conducting the nation’s first randomized statewide COVID-19 survey, modeled after an NIH-approved national survey, of 1,200 households across Georgia to understand the prevalence of COVID-19. The study will be directed by RSPH faculty members Patrick Sullivan and Aaron Siegler, two of the nation’s most renowned HIV and survey researchers. The ECRC will launch with support from a gift of $7.8 million from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. “Our mission is to support activities that put the talented academic community at Rollins in the service of our public health partners during the COVID-19 crisis,” says Chamberlain. “We hope our work will help solidify and expand academic-public health partnerships among Georgia’s public health system, the RSPH and other Georgia-based schools of public health that will endure well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.” This is sponsored content provided by Emory University.
By Frank Brown, Esq. Parents, teachers, students, faculty, and support staff, we’ve officially survived our first online-only semester of learning. But, what was the cost of such a dramatic shift for educators and pupils alike? Closing the academic achievement gap is an incredible task in ordinary circumstances. A global pandemic disproportionately killing Black Americans has made it all the more challenging. COVID-19 forced school districts to move to home-based learning. Like with every aspect of society it showed the impact and severity of the racial and economic disparities of the students we serve. At Communities in Schools of Atlanta, we found students lacking adequate technology resources to complete their schoolwork. Black and Latinx students are often forced to rely on their smartphones for internet access and to type up assignments. Thanks to generous donors we have provided nearly $90,000 in emergency relief for families, the bulk of which went to housing assistance. Our dedicated staff has served 24,607 families by providing hygiene kits, meals, one-on-one student tutoring, and even delivering laptops and tablets for students in need. Internet Service Providers have also stepped up to the plate to provide free internet access. It should now be clear that reliable internet access is on par with water and electricity as fundamental needs for families and individuals. Even still, internet access and technology alone are not enough to replicate the academic environment students need to thrive. In a recent New York Times article citing research from McKinsey & Company, “When all of the impacts are taken into account, the average student could fall seven months behind academically, while black and Hispanic students could experience even greater learning losses, equivalent to 10 months for black children and nine months for [Latinx].” Make no mistake, students know this past semester was a broad academic failure. Even our CIS of Atlanta alumni who came home early from college struggled to learn in the absence of a rigorous academic environment where peers, professors, and teachers’ assistants are readily available to coach students through complex concepts. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos previously granted standardized testing waivers for the 2019-2020 school year due to the unexpected need for distance-based learning. Georgia has just made news as the first state to request federal permission to also suspend standardized testing for the 2020-2021 school year. In a statement, state leaders noted the schools will likely focus on “remediation, growth, and the safety of students” when classes resume in just a few weeks. Our collective inability to provide a successful learning environment amidst an ongoing pandemic will rob these children of their future and society of the skills they need to change the status quo. Keep in mind this is all happening in the backdrop of a national reckoning of systemic racism. Black students, especially males, are grieving the loss of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and those whose names we do not know. I have cried with my two Black boys as I have had to explain that no matter our level of education or societal status, we can all succumb to such a horrible fate at the hands of those who took an oath to protect and serve. As a leader of an organization that was created to instill hope in young people, helping them get an education to change the trajectory of their lives, it’s hard to muster up the strength to adamantly tell them everything will be okay and that their lives really do matter. Instead of focusing on their achievements and important milestones, we as responsible mentors are having discussions about the “life codes” of survival that only apply to Black America. It’s not fair, but it is necessary. In the words of civil rights powerhouse Fannie Lou Hamer, “You don’t run away from problems – you just face them.” We must heed Hamer’s call. It is clear COVID-19 will be here for many more months, threatening to impact the entirety of the upcoming academic year. Education leaders and organizations must come together and identify improvements to ensure our students do not fall further behind and are able to overcome the challenges faced during the past few months. Failure to do so is an abdication of leadership. Involve students, and parents, in the process to ensure the new systems actually meet their needs. It’s their future that’s at stake. Unfortunately, the stark reality is employers, institutions of higher learning, and American society broadly will not excuse these students for not knowing principles they should have mastered in school. Nor will they be excused for struggling to cope with the scars of a young life marked by video after video of racial injustice. As an Atlantan, ask yourself how you can personally help solve the problems facing our city. Maybe that looks like leading with love rather than fear, having an honest conversation with someone whose world experience is different from yours, tutoring a Black student, or speaking up when someone exhibits racist and classist behavior – even if it takes place in a private conversation. This is no time to sit on the sidelines. The soul of America and the souls of Black and brown youth are on the line. Caption: Site Coordinator Jarrett Smith at S.L. Lewis Elementary School in Fulton County, compiling 40 laptops for his caseload students. In an email to staff, Smith noted how beautiful it was to see kids excited about receiving laptops so they can continue to learn.