MARTA has donated a railcar from the Authority’s original fleet to the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth. The donation of the 42-year old railcar is one of several activities planned as MARTA transitions to its new railcar fleet. Railcar #509 was built by Société Franco-Belge and placed into service in 1981 along with 20 other identical cars, then retired at the end of its useful life 30 years later. It has a 75-foot-long aluminum body and weighs 81,000 pounds and can hold 46 seated passengers, with operator cabs on both ends. The railcar was transported from MARTA’s Avondale Railyard to the museum on Wednesday, Nov. 16. Construction of MARTA’s heavy rail system began in 1975, with the first railcars rolling out in 1979. The existing heavy rail fleet totals 340 cars and was obtained under three procurements in 1979-1981, 1984-1988, and 2000-2005. MARTA will replace its entire heavy rail fleet over the next several years with 224 railcars (56 four-car train sets) purchased from Stadler in 2019 for $646 million; the single largest procurement for either organization, and a milestone in MARTA’s capital improvement program aimed at more efficient performance and enhanced customer experience. “With our future rail car fleet now in final design, it’s time we start clearing track space to make room for our new trains. We’re beginning to retire our oldest rail cars and we want to ensure that one of them is around for future generations to see. At the Southeastern Railway Museum, it will join our historic fleet of MARTA buses as we begin a complete rail car fleet replacement,” said MARTA General Manager and CEO Collie Greenwood. “I got here in ’98 and this is what I trained on to become a mechanic, so it’s got a little nostalgia going. I’m not going to shed a tear, but this is an end of an era. We are getting ready to start a new chapter with the new cars, so everybody can see the transition from old to new,” said Pierre Merrick, MARTA Journeyman Rail Car Mechanic. The interior of the new railcars features an open gangway so riders can move freely between cars, seating options including facing forward and inward, and state-of-the-art technology such as charging stations and digital system maps and service information. The exterior features a lighted “smile” on the front of the train that denotes the color of the rail line; Red, Gold, Green or Blue, so riders will know from a distance that their train is approaching. The Southeastern Railway Museum houses close to 100 rolling stock items such as historic Pullman cars, classic steam locomotives, historic MARTA buses, and now an original MARTA rail car, providing entertainment and education to visitors. “As Georgia’s Official Transportation History Museum, we’re honored to be able to acquire such a significant piece of our region’s transportation history. MARTA is a significant economic engine for our region, and we’re pleased to continue expanding the collection related to its history and development,” said Randy Pirkle, Executive Director Emeritus, Southeastern Railway Museum. To learn more visit Southeastern Railway Museum – Georgia’s Official Transportation History Museum (train-museum.org). For video and photos of the train being transported from the railyard to the museum and of MARTA’s new railcars click here EPK – OneDrive (live.com). This is sponsored content.
Holiday Cheer Shared Systemwide Through December MARTA and its Art in Transit program Artbound invite you to celebrate the holidays with a trip through MARTA Land. Throughout the month of December, there will be customer appreciation events, live music and performances, Breeze card giveaways and free rides on MARTA’s holiday-themed buses. Dec. 4 – 31 Customers can enjoy free rides on the MARTA holiday buses. Be on the lookout for one in your neighborhood! Dec. 6 – 14 Customer appreciation celebrations with music from the Tinseltone Carolers, hot chocolate, a holiday photo booth, and giveaways from 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. at the following locations: Tuesday, Dec. 6 West End Station Wednesday, Dec. 7 Indian Creek Station Thursday, Dec. 8 Lindbergh Center Station Monday, Dec. 12 H.E. Holmes Station Tuesday, Dec. 13 Doraville Station Wednesday, Dec. 14 Five Points Station True Colors Theatre presents a special holiday performance by India Tyree (click here) and Maiesha McQueen (click here) Monday, Dec. 19 Clayton County Justice Center Transit Hub Wednesday, Dec. 21 Airport Station Dec. 19 – 21 MARTA elves will journey across our service area spreading holiday cheer and gifting 500 Breeze cards to bus riders. To view MARTA’s holiday service schedule visit MARTA (itsmarta.com). This is sponsored content.
Families First recently announced it received a grant from Bank of America to help support mental & behavioral health services and navigator case management. The $55,000 grant is aligned with Bank of America’s efforts for workforce development that will support Families First’s goal to strengthen families by offering a holistic approach and a host of programs designed to help families thrive. In 2022, Families First in Atlanta: Has helped over 16,000 families build resiliency through our Behavioral Health, Navigator Parenting, and Permanency programs and services. Navigator services has served over 600 individuals in accessing community resources across the continuum of care needed to achieve resilience. Serves as the Community Convener to coordinate programs, services and partnerships that foster resilience and address social injustice and racial inequity. “My vision for Families First is that we are always prepared to respond to everyone who seeks out our services – and I am excited for all the good work ahead,” said Paula M. Moody, CEO Families First. “In partnership with our Board of Directors, staff and volunteers, community stakeholders and partners, and friends like you, Families First will continue to build resilient families so all children can thrive.” The grants awarded by Bank of America are part of the company’s commitment to responsible growth as it works to improve the financial lives of individuals, families, and entire communities in Atlanta. Philanthropic and volunteer investments continue to play a key role in this effort to build thriving communities. “Partnering with Families First to provide behavioral services to individuals and families is part of our approach to driving economic opportunity and stability in Atlanta,” said Al McRae, president, Bank of America Atlanta. This is sponsored content.
Representatives from the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recently joined Fiserv, a leading global provider of payments and financial services technology with a significant presence in the Atlanta area, to present three Atlanta-area small businesses with $10,000 grants in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month. The business owners who received grants included: Joel Ferrer of Chef Joel Coco Cabana LLC, a restaurant delighting guests with unique cuisine, showcasing Chef Joel’s classically trained background and Cuban heritage. Vanessa Higgins of Clean Tu Casa, a cleaning, organizing and personal errand service company serving homes, small offices and short-term rentals in Metro Atlanta. Alejandra “Luz” Pelaez of UP Advertising, a multicultural advertising and digital marketing agency specializing in reaching the Hispanic market, ensuring companies communicate authentically. In interviews following the grant presentations, the recipients discussed the impact the grants will have on their businesses. Chef Ferrer highlighted plans to invest in upgraded technology, while Vanessa Higgins underscored that the grants will enable her to create jobs and Sebastian Uribe of UP Advertising noted an anticipated increase in sales. The grants were awarded as part of the Fiserv Back2Business program, a $50 million commitment to support minority-owned small businesses. In addition to grants, Back2Business connects diverse small businesses with critical resources, including complimentary small business coaching, leading technology solutions such as Clover and community partners. “We’re proud to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by supporting these inspiring businesses and all the small businesses that play a crucial role in Atlanta’s economy,” said Vivian Greentree, Senior Vice President and Head of Global Corporate Citizenship at Fiserv. “Providing funding and resources to help small, diverse businesses thrive is a key tenet of the Back2Business program and it’s wonderful to see the impact this program has made in cities all over the country, and especially here in our own backyard in Atlanta.” “It is an honor to partner with Fiserv and the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to celebrate and support entrepreneurs in the Hispanic community during Hispanic Heritage Month,” said Alex Gonzalez, Chief Innovation and Marketing Officer at the Metro Atlanta Chamber. “Through the Back2Business grants, Fiserv is providing access to capital and resources to help these three Hispanic-owned businesses grow and thrive.” In addition to facing difficult business conditions such as rising costs, supply chain challenges and labor shortages, Hispanic-owned small businesses have their own unique set of challenges. “Fiserv recognition and support of the Hispanic community, providing valuable grants and services at a critical time for small businesses through Back2Business, is key to assuring equitable opportunities for our community and to being seen as the vital force that we are for the economy and the great state of Georgia,” said Verónica Maldonado-Torres, President and CEO, Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “When one group thrives, we all thrive as a society, and that is our goal at the GHCC – to match businesses with the resources, tools and opportunities to inspire them and help them reimagine the next for their company.” In addition to Atlanta, Fiserv has sponsored the Back2Business program in cities including New York, Milwaukee, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, Tulsa, Oakland, Washington. D.C. and Omaha. To date, Fiserv has presented nearly 1,500 grants to small businesses through the program. This is sponsored content.
By Jim Durrett, executive director of Buckhead Community Improvement District, and Robin Suggs, general manager of Lenox Square December has arrived, and with it the return of holiday shoppers in Buckhead. Retail accounts for approximately $3.7 billion of economic activity in our community, and much of that occurs during this time of the year. I asked Robin Suggs, a Buckhead Community Improvement District board member and general manager of Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza, to provide her perspective on the 2022 holiday shopping season. I hope you enjoy this look at how things are going so far and what shoppers can expect to find at these two major Buckhead shopping destinations. – Jim Durrett We’re happy to report a major surge in shoppers this year – and a record Black Friday at Lenox Square – thanks to Atlanta regaining its place as one of the hottest national retail markets. We hope that you’ll share in this excitement as we continue to welcome an unprecedented list of amazing brands to Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza for visitors to enjoy. If you haven’t been to Lenox Square or Phipps Plaza lately, you’re missing out on very exciting changes. New stores and restaurants opening this year at Lenox Square include: Aritzia, North Italia, Breitling watches, Balenciaga, TUDOR watches, Blue Nile jewelry, Dr. Martens shoes, Elaine Sterling Beauty, Ferrari lifestyle store, The GAP, Gucci, Kokee Tea, Moose Knuckles, PacSun, Shake Shack, and local favorite Sugarcoat Beauty. We also anticipate Tiffany & Co. and Savage X Fenty to open this month. Our sister property, Phipps Plaza, is also undergoing an exciting wave of store openings and redevelopment. Earlier this year, Phipps enlarged its Bottega Veneta. In fall 2022, Amiri, Givenchy and Alexander McQueen were added to the retailer mix. Phipps Plaza also recently opened a Nobu hotel, Nobu restaurant, the 350,000-square-foot Class A office building One Phipps Plaza, and a community park space in the heart of all these new additions to the Buckhead office and retail landscape. In addition to the recent openings, Phipps Plaza announced the future addition of Citizen Culinary Market and Life Time Fitness Center. Lenox Square has several upcoming events to get you in the holiday spirit, including: 2022 Livable Buckhead Hot Chocolate Crawl on Dec. 10 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Pet Photos with Santa on Dec. 11 from 6-8 p.m. “Winter Wonderland” performance on Dec. 17 from 2-8 p.m. Please make sure to join us at one of our upcoming holiday events at Lenox Square. Our hope is to make the season a little bit merrier for everyone. And don’t forget to shop at Lenox Square for your holiday gifts – there’s plenty of opportunity thanks to the addition of 20 new stores and restaurants at our iconic center. As we close out 2022, I would like to thank the community for its support and wish you all Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. May 2023 continue to bring you good health and happiness. This is sponsored content.
The scarcity of affordable housing in cities across the country has been well documented. From the onset of the pandemic, news headlines pointed to rapidly rising home sale prices and the increase in investors and corporate entities purchasing and renting out single-family homes, leaving current and prospective homebuyers and renters on the outside looking in. In the early 2000s, what was considered a “starter home” in the Atlanta metro area went for $100,000–$135,000. Today, that same home is fetching upwards of $400,000, pricing out many homebuyers who are of modest economic means. The cost of rent has also skyrocketed, with renters paying top-dollar for housing that doesn’t seem commensurate with the quality or amenities of the unit. While the market is cooling, it is not yet clear how much the trend in investor purchasing will change. Atlanta isn’t alone in its quest to find solutions to address the affordable housing crisis—solutions that would allow a buyer to purchase a true “starter home” at an affordable price point; that do not displace longtime inhabitants; and that do not force people to pay top-dollar rents for subpar living arrangements. It all makes for a challenging situation for everyday people looking for a place to live in cities throughout the Southeast region. A new report, “Investor Home Purchases and the Rising Threat to Owners and Renters: Tales from 3 Cities” by Reinvestment Fund and the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University, examines housing markets in Jacksonville, FL; Philadelphia, PA; and Richmond, VA, and finds that more than 1 in 5 homes sold go from homeowners to investors. Detailed transaction-level data from Philadelphia show that such sales were most common in neighborhoods with low sale prices, high vacancy and elevated mortgage denial rates, and in areas with higher shares of Black or Hispanic residents. These transactions were also more frequent in those communities within Jacksonville and Richmond where the markets were showing signs of market stress. The report connects research on detailed transaction histories with Reinvestment Fund’s proprietary Market Value Analyses (MVA), a local stakeholder-informed, data-based, field-validated examination of a city or region’s residential real estate market. The report examines how investment in single-family homes for rental housing that has been lucrative for investors often comes at the expense of homebuyers and tenants. By connecting the traits of home sales to a profile of the markets where those transactions occur, you can understand better what communities are being most impacted by private investors in the residential market. Because of the disproportionate penetration of investors into the more stressed parts of a community’s real estate market, the authors conclude that the situation requires a coordinated and targeted policy response at the federal, state and local levels to help homebuyers compete with investors and to protect renters. The report presents multi-pronged solutions for addressing the increase in investor ownership organized by who is affected and how different levels of government can be involved: Current homebuyers: Current homebuyers are often priced out of new-home purchases because they cannot afford to compete with investors with ready access to cash who can often drive up home prices. On the federal level, the government could investigate possible changes to Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans to make them more attractive to home sellers and ensure that bulk sales via government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) give preference to individual homeowners as opposed to investors. Individual states could offer first-time homebuyer grants and loans, or explore the option of assessing a transfer tax when the buyer is a for-profit corporation. Locally, cities should evaluate their current regulatory environment, including zoning codes that may limit the supply of housing, contributing to the increased cost of homes. Tenants: When corporate and institutional owners buy up homes in bulk, tenants are often at the mercy of landlords that may charge high rents while neglecting the properties and/or evicting tenants to increase rent. The report recommends the federal government investigate tenant screening tools, and that states regulate landlord-tenant relations to protect tenants, and pass laws requiring the disclosure of beneficial owners of LLCs. Locally, government could pass rental registries, pass tenant protections such as just cause eviction and a right to counsel, and implement rental home inspections and code enforcement. Future Homebuyers: Once an investor purchases a home, it’s hard to say what the long-term impact will be on the neighborhood. Will it be resold at a much higher price point, turned into a rental, or bundled with other properties to sell to other institutional owners? A case could be made for state and local governments to create an acquisition fund to buy rental housing from medium-sized investors for public, quasi-governmental, and nonprofit entities to then resell to homebuyers. Current Homeowners: Homeowners with incomplete information are often targeted by investors who can make apparently attractive cash offers that waive inspections or objective appraisals. States can play a role in requiring an outside, independent appraisal that evaluates other homes in the area. Locally, a “do-not-call” list would prevent investors from targeting residents. Maintenance and home improvement programs could assist low-income homeowners with home upkeep rather than them feeling forced to sell. The solutions presented here are not particular to the communities studied in this report. Many metro areas, including Atlanta, are convening state and local entities to address this housing challenge. In an upcoming U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development panel discussion moderated by the Office of Policy Development and Research, panelists will discuss institutional investors in the housing markets. “Institutional Investors in Housing” will be held virtually on December 6, from 2 to 4 p.m. The panel will highlight research on this issue and explore actions that various levels of government, along with nonprofits and other mission-driven entities, can take to drive supply to owner-occupants and mission-driven entities. Bruce Katz, Reinvestment Fund’s coauthor in the recent report and founding Director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University, will be a panelist. This is sponsored content.
By The Conservation Fund Did you know over 40% of farmland in the U.S. is rented? In a survey by the National Young Farmers Coalition, young farmers reported that buying affordable farmland is their top challenge in 2022. Farmland has become an attractive asset for national and international investors, driving the national average of farmland value up 12.4% in the past year. This challenge is even more pronounced in metro areas like Atlanta where farmers are fighting increased urban sprawl and immense development pressure. So how do we help aspiring and next generation farmers gain access and ownership to affordable farmland? One solution that took root in Atlanta and is expanding to other cities is The Conservation Fund’s Working Farms Fund program. Recently featured in Forbes and other news sources, the Working Farms Fund is helping get farmers on a path towards land ownership and is ensuring sustainable food production for local communities around Atlanta, Chicago and more metro areas in the works in the coming years. Watch our newest video about the Working Farms Fund in Atlanta below! You can also visit our website to learn more here. This is sponsored content.
By Debbie Fiddyment Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf and Operation HOPE chairman, founder and CEO John Hope Bryant cut the ribbon Wednesday on a newly redesigned Stone Mountain branch that focuses on resources for unbanked and underserved communities. The updated Stone Mountain Memorial branch in DeKalb County introduced a “HOPE Inside” center and financial coach who works for the Atlanta-based nonprofit Operation HOPE. The financial coach will seek to empower community members with financial education and guidance, such as helping them improve their credit scores. It’s Operation HOPE’s 200th “HOPE Inside” location and the first redesigned Wells Fargo branch in the U.S. to feature an Operation HOPE financial coach. It marks the beginning of the bank’s work to introduce “HOPE Inside” centers and coaches in 20 markets by the end 2023. The plan, part of Wells Fargo’s Banking Inclusion Initiative, also includes redesigning 100 branches in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods across the nation. It’s Scharf second visit to the Atlanta area this year after he earlier announced a $20 million donation to help diverse small businesses in the city. The Stone Mountain branch in DeKalb County was chosen because it’s in one of the most diverse and fastest-growing counties in Georgia. The urgency for financial stability is growing as residents from DeKalb County and metro Atlanta face rising inflation and greater economic challenges. According to the FDIC, about 5 percent of Atlanta metro area residents are unbanked, and the unbanked population is disproportionately Black and African American, Hispanic and Native American. This is sponsored content.
By Eve Byrd, Director, Mental Health Program Whenever registered voters cast their ballots, election officials are there to serve them. But these stewards of democracy are increasingly under attack. In the aftermath of the tumultuous 2020 election cycle, election workers found themselves subject to harassment and intimidation. Many received death threats, and some had to hire private security or relocate to feel safer. The resulting trauma prompted thousands of election workers to leave their jobs. That is a tragedy not only for election officials themselves but for American democracy as a whole. To have well-run, secure elections, we need election workers who are healthy and experienced. The Carter Center has worked to strengthen democracy and to support mental health since our founding 40 years ago. And as we heard more and more disturbing stories about the recent treatment of election officials, we realized we were uniquely positioned to offer help. As the 2022 election season kicked into high gear, our mental health and democracy programs joined forces to publish “Taking Care of Yourself to Serve Others: A Well-being Resource Guide for Election Officials,” which offers tools to help these essential public servants take care of their mental health. The guide points out that lingering mental and physical responses — anxiety and worry, headaches and fatigue — are common after the kind of trauma that many election officials experienced. It provides links to resources like Mental Health America’s confidential and free services for anyone needing to chat with a mental health professional, and it also offers simple strategies that may help election workers — such as adopting relaxation techniques and avoiding negative “quick fixes” such as isolation or substance abuse. To help election officials feel safe at work, the guide also offers tips on workplace safety, including information about techniques to de-escalate potentially life-threatening situations. If you’re reading this column before Georgia’s Dec. 6 runoff, we hope that you’ll say “thank you” to the election workers you encounter at the polls. And if you’re reading this later, know that while the 2022 election season may be wrapping up, we’ll be heading to the polls again before we know it. Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond, The Carter Center is committed to finding additional ways to support the mental health of our frontline election officials. We can’t afford not to. Put simply, the healthier our election workers, the healthier our democracy. 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 Francesca “Checka Cee” Rodriguez- Williams, marketing and communication specialist, Inspiredu Inspiredu’s mission is to help underserved youth develop the skills needed for education and career success through technology‐based learning tools and engagement activities with their families, communities and schools in Georgia. We focus on the barriers in schools that inhibit student learning due to lack of access to technology. According to Digitunity, 36 million Americans do not have a computer at home, and tens of millions of households do not have enough computers to allow for concurrent use by multiple family members. Individuals in device-deficient households are often unable to access education, telehealth and employment. We work to bridge this digital divide by providing our Learning Spark Initiative to community centers and schools. Through our Learning Spark Initiative and school partnerships, Inspiredu facilitates a series of interactive workshops that leverage technology to improve family engagement while also helping families learn strategies to become strong learning partners and responsibly access and utilize digital tools for learning. In 2022, 48% of the families surveyed by Inspiredu have reported that the device they recently received would be the only device in their home. An additional 31% of families surveyed indicated that they have “no home internet access” or “access to internet by cell phone only.” Obviously, these disparities will put this population at a marked disadvantage of their better-connected peers. To combat this inequity, all of Inspiredu’s learning workshops also provide learners with information about affordable internet options for families. An additional problem we see is a lack of mentoring for students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) areas. To address this issue, we’ve started our STEM Pipeline Programming to support the educational pathway in the course. It is not only for students to learn how to design and prototype their own applications, but also for them to engage with corporate professionals from Atlanta’s robust technology hub and learn about potential careers in STEM fields. Corporate partners also host a full-day field trip to showcase their industry and spark interest in STEM careers. The other problematic area we see regarding individuals with technology and education is the lack of employment. There are 230,200 unemployed individuals in Georgia, of which at least 75,966 lack foundation digital skills. Inspiredu’s Adult Digital Literacy program initiative positively impacts adult learners who are seeking to better support their children’s academic success or add digital literacy to their own career toolboxes. As a result, we have worked with community partners and individuals to hold over 1,879 workshop learning hours in 2022 alone to help this population bridge the digital divide. Inspiredu services families such as the Lopezes, who were all sharing one computer in one household. The Lopezes are a family of four, where Dad works and speaks barely any English but can now learn to navigate the web and learn English. Mom, Yesenia, now has an opportunity to further her education and uses the extra laptop we gave her to fulfill her dream of being in the medical field. Their children, five-year-old Aden and four-year-old Violet, are learning their English alphabet on the app “ABC Mouse” that they access with the tablet we gave to them. Participants and families like these—with real world challenges and situations—continue to help drive our mission of digital inclusion, and funders like the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, which gave us a discretionary grant in July, help provide us the tools to realize that mission. To learn more or to support our work, please visit on our web or Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. This is sponsored content.
Cancer disproportionately impacts Georgia’s communities of color and those from rural and lower socioeconomic backgrounds. These same population groups are also significantly underrepresented in the U.S. biomedical research and health care workforce, which contributes to and exacerbates cancer health disparities. Supported by a new five-year, $1.34 million Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) and the Office of Data Science Strategy (ODSS) at the NIH, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University scientists will investigate whether problem-based learning, directly applied to case studies relevant to the students’ own communities in Georgia, will more effectively help to increase diversity in the biomedical research workforce and reduce health disparities. The program, called Data Detectives: Using Real Data to Solve Real Community Health Problems, will focus on students (primarily girls, those from racial/ethnic minority communities and those from lower socioeconomic status families) at Title I middle schools in both metro Atlanta and in rural areas in Georgia. The Data Detectives research program is led by Theresa W. Gillespie, PhD, associate director for community outreach and engagement at the Winship Cancer Institute, and Winship’s deputy director, Adam Marcus, PhD. “Our hypothesis,” says Gillespie of the Data Detectives research program, “is that by making science and health-related data applicable to real problems that affect communities where they live, students who might otherwise drop out of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) studies early in their academic lives will find STEM subjects more relevant and engaging.” These concepts support the importance of the community engaging in scientific endeavors, referred to as “citizen science.” The Data Detectives program will be delivered as an after-school informal science education program each semester and as a concentrated program on campus each summer. Underrepresented students will have the opportunity to engage with Emory undergraduate students, who serve as role models and near-peer mentors. The middle school students will gain experience in conducting research, data analysis, building networks and learning about college life, applications and financial aid. Ultimately, the program will diversify the pipeline for the future biomedical and oncology workforce, which will directly benefit research and patient care in Georgia and help to reduce health and cancer disparities. Students will be followed long-term to evaluate their involvement in future STEM studies in high school and higher education. Marcus notes, “The lessons learned from this program will allow for wider dissemination so other programs and groups can replicate it in their own communities.” This is sponsored content.
By Damian Ramsey The College Bound Partnership: Making College More Affordable The government sets aside funds each year to help students pay for postsecondary education, but too often students are unable to access them. In fact, $2B+ is left unclaimed annually. Why? Because the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is intensely complicated, especially for first-generation families who have never applied. In fact, there are more than 100 separate questions, many requiring specific financial details. To help support students and parents in this high-stakes process, Learn4Life (L4L) helped launch the College Bound FAFSA Initiative in partnership with The Scholarship Academy and the United Way of Greater Atlanta. What Is FAFSA and Why It Matters The FAFSA is a form students and families must complete to secure part of the more than $120 billion in financial aid the government provides annually to help pay for college (2-year, 4-year, or technical programs). Completion of the FAFSA is one of the strongest predictors of postsecondary enrollment, especially for low-income students and students of color who most benefit from financial assistance. A longitudinal study of more than 23,000 high school students found that high school seniors are 84% more likely to immediately enroll in college if they complete the FAFSA, and for students in the lowest socioeconomic quintile, that number jumps to 127%. The College Bound Program Is Working The initiative supports postsecondary enrollment and completion by helping high school counselors in metro Atlanta’s most under-resourced schools assist students and families with the FAFSA. Last school year, 10 high schools across the region received a comprehensive suite of supports, including free FAFSA training for staff and community volunteers, FAFSA completion events (both in-person and virtual to accommodate COVID safety precautions and improve accessibility for families), marketing materials, and incentives. We were able to engage 751 students and support the completion of 437 FAFSA applications, putting hundreds of students on a path toward an affordable or even debt-free degree. More Support Is On The Way Taking into account feedback from district leaders, principals, counselors and parents in last year’s cohort of College Bound schools, we have refined our FAFSA programming this year to include a dedicated AmeriCorps member on-campus weekly, targeted events for specialized groups, and the inclusion of a ‘Cost of College’ workshop to teach students how to calculate the financial aid gap for their desired 2-year or 4-year institution. So far this year, College Bound has hosted 5 two-day FAFSA completion events and engaged over 500 students from high schools in DeKalb, Fulton, and Clayton counties. The current postsecondary enrollment rate for metro Atlanta’s nearly 42,000 seniors is 72%, up from 68% in 2021. While we are making progress, we must continue working together to provide all students, especially our region’s most vulnerable, with direct support to overcome barriers to FAFSA completion and improve their chances for college success. For information on how to get involved with College Bound, email Damian Ramsey (email@example.com), Community Engagement Manager at Learn4Life. To join L4L’s conversation about postsecondary access and completion, sign up for our Change Action Network here. All are welcome. This is sponsored content.