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Tree planting ceremony to recognize lasting impact of local leaders on Westside ATL

mercedes benz tree

By David Pendered

At a COVID-sized ceremony Wednesday morning, 18 organizations are to be honored in a tree planting ceremony to recognize their work to lift up and sustain residents in hardscrabble neighborhoods west of the Mercedes Benz Stadium.

mercedes benz tree, shovel

Trees to be planted in a ceremony Wednesday are to honor 18 organizations that have provided sustainable leadership to help the young people and adults in Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods. Photo illustration: Mercedes Benz USA

Trees Atlanta is to plant 18 trees, one for each honoree who’s been recognized by Mercedes Benz USA’s Greatness Lives Here program.

The program is MBUSA’s commitment to Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods, which it started following naming rights of the stadium. The event is part of the company’s inaugural Week of Caring. COVID-19 safety measures mean that each honoree can send only one person to accept the recognition. The event is to be live streamed on the Greatness Lives Here Facebook page.

Trees Atlanta is to plant the 18 trees in a greenspace at the Georgia World Congress Center, the site of the stadium. A marker to be placed at the base of each tree bears the inscription of the person or persons being honored, the organization, and the line – So That All May Flourish.

Speakers scheduled at the 10 a.m. event include two leaders of Trees Atlanta – a board member, Mark Aikman, who is MBUSA’s general manager of marketing services and digital customer experience, and Greg Levine, Trees Atlanta’s co-executive director and chief program officer.

Greatness Lives Here is part of an emerging form of philanthropy in metro Atlanta. Impact investing goes beyond traditional giving programs, such as granting employees a day off to help with a neighborhood clean-up, to deliver measures that are to have a sustaining impact for recipients.

Each of the 18 trees to be planted in honor of a neighborhood leader is have a granite stone marking the recognition by the ‘Greatness Lives Here’ program. Credit: Mercedes Benz USA

In the case of MBUSA, the program last year drew upon strengths in marketing to provide a tailor-made documentary video for each honoree. The goal was to help the organizations become stronger in presenting their wares to the community. In addition, the company supports traditional philanthropic efforts for entities including Families First, Trees Atlanta and Community Assistance Center, in Sandy Springs, where the company’s headquarters is located.

The 18 organizations to be honored, along with their leaders, include:

Trees Atlanta staff unload trees to be planted in honor of Mercedes-Benz USA ‘Greatness Lives Here’ heroes at the Georgia World Congress Center campus. Credit: Mercedes Benz USA

  • Tim and Becky O’Mara, Bearings Bike Shop;
  • C.J. and Kelli Stewart, L.E.A.D.;
  • Kim Bearden, The Ron Clark Academy;
  • John Gordon, Friends of English Avenue;
  • Charmaine Minniefield, The New Freedom Project;
  • Scott Rigsby, The Scott Rigsby Foundation;
  • Zack Leitz, The Backpack Project;
  • Dantes Rameau, Atlanta Music Project;
  • Zac Brown, Camp Southern Ground;
  • Betty Klein, Childkind;
  • Guenther Hecht and Joe Labriola, Second Helpings Atlanta;
  • Diamond Ford, M. R. Hollis Innovation Academy;
  • Larry Witherspoon and Shawn McHargue, Automotive Training Center;
  • Maria Armstrong and Tangee Allen, Raising Expectations;
  • Susan Norris, Rescuing Hope;
  • Dean Leeper, The Kindezi Schools;
  • Amy O’Dell, Jacob’s Ladder;
  • Susan Jacobs-Meadows, Canine CellMates.

These groups run the gamut of individuals and services in the Westside area, including a Holocaust survivor who feeds the hungry by distributing leftover food from grocery stores, and a mom who takes dogs into the Fulton County Jail, where she hopes the interaction between inmates and canines will help with the inmate’s rehabilitation.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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