The week in local news.

It’s that time of the year again when our favorite fictional characters come to life — DragonCon

Now in its 37th year, the five-day multi-genre convention will include a parade, contests, workshops, contests and more. So pull out your costumes in preparation for DragonCon weekend, running from Aug. 31 to Sept. 4.

On to other local news:

Mayor Andre Dickens stands with Open Hand executive Matthew Pieper before delivering the 35 millionth meal. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

35-year-old Open Hand delivers its 35 millionth meal

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens helped Open Hand deliver its 35 millionth meal Wednesday – a fitting feat for a nonprofit that is celebrating its 35th anniversary.

“Today is a humongous milestone,” Dickens said as he toured Open Hand’s facilities on Armour Drive before helping load and personally deliver the 35 millionth meal. The mayor also posed for photos with Open Hand employees and helped them prepare meals for delivery. 

“This is food for the soul. I want to continue to work hand-in-hand with Open Hand,” Dickens said.

Matthew Pieper, who has been Open Hand’s executive director since 2012, called it an exciting day in the life of the nonprofit. The milestone served as a symbol of how Open Hand has been able to adapt and evolve over the years.

Mayor Andre Dickens stands with Open Hand employees (while wearing an apron after helping prepare meals.) (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

The organization was founded by Michael Edwards Pruitt in 1988 to deliver meals to people suffering from AIDs and HIV. Then it branched out to deliver meals to seniors and other people who were homebound. In 2004, it launched a for-profit arm – Good Measure Meals – as a way to generate revenue to support its mission.

During the COVID pandemic, the state asked Open Hand if it could deliver meals throughout the state, which led to the construction of a massive freezer at its headquarters.

“We had to turn our business model on a dime,” Pieper said. “We began shipping frozen meals all throughout Georgia.”

Pieper described his role at Open Hand as the most rewarding professional position he’s ever held.

“I love that we bring a solution to a really challenging societal problem,” Pieper said. “We do more than just nutrition here. We are part of the healthcare system.”

— Maria Saporta

Mayor Andre Dickens helps load the 35 millionth meal in a truck before delivering it to a homeowner. (Video by Maria Saporta.)

DeKalb County CEO proposes tax cut for homeowners

Last week, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond proposed a tax cut that would save homeowners $1 billion over six years. DeKalb voters will be able to vote on this plan in November.

The savings would come from a proposed Equalized Homestead Option Sales Tax (EHOST) credit and, if approved, this relief would begin in 2024. The current EHOST, approved in 2017, will save homeowners about $738 million by the end of the year.

“The proposed EHOST tax relief is part of a comprehensive strategy to improve housing affordability, counter gentrification and increase the marketability of homes,” Thurmond wrote in a recent release.

— Hannah E. Jones

Diaper Need Awareness Week begins on Sept. 18. (Photo courtesy of Helping Mamas.)

Helping Mamas collecting diapers, funds for Georgia families in need

Nearly half of U.S. families struggle to afford diapers, according to a 2023 study by the National Diaper Bank Network. A baby can go through about 2,000 diapers in their first year, and 46 percent of respondents said they had to cut back on other expenses to afford them.

To help lighten the load for Atlanta’s parents, Helping Mamas is striving to collect 300,000 diapers and raise $40,000 for September’s Diaper Need Awareness Week. From Sept. 18 to 24, residents can help through financial and diaper donations or by joining the team challenge.

Helping Mamas is the baby supply bank of Georgia and East Tennessee. Founded in 2004 by a social worker who saw a gap in services, Helping Mamas has served over 200,000 children and distributed over three million baby supplies to families living in poverty.

“The staggering new statistics tell us that it’s not just families living below the poverty line who need help – it’s almost all families,” CEO and Founder Jamie Lackey wrote in a release. “We know that 25 percent of working parents have reported a lack of access to childcare because they didn’t have an adequate supply of diapers. Childcare facilities require diapers. If parents can’t afford to buy diapers, they can’t access childcare. Without childcare, parents can’t work. We want to break the cycle.”

For more details about how to help Atlanta’s families, click here.

— Hannah E. Jones

Rich McKay, Kathy Colbenson and Arthur Blank at the CHRIStal Ball. (Photo by Bonnie Moret Photography.)

CHRIStal Ball shows that love is what matters

The major fundraiser for CHRIS 180 – the nonprofit that seeks to heal children, strengthen families and build community – was especially meaningful this year.

The CHRIStal Ball was held at the Stave Room on Aug. 19, and it raised more than $700,000 for the nonprofit.

The evening also was an opportunity for CHRIS 180 to say thank you to Rich and Terrin McKay. When Rich McKay moved to Atlanta to join the Atlanta Falcons organization in 2004, his wife quickly became involved with CHRIS 180 – a relationship that has continued ever since. 

Rich McKay was honored with the CHRIStal Vision Award, an honor that he said really belonged to his wife. McKay was introduced by Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who thanked the McKays for their contributions to the community.

But the real hero of the night was Kathy Colbenson, the long-time president and CEO of CHRIS 180. Colbenson lost her husband suddenly earlier this year. Then, her daughter, Shannon Elizabeth Brown, died on July 31.

In a Facebook post after the CHRIStal Ball, Colbenson posted a photo of her with Cyril Turner and Pascal Lewis in what she described as a great event.

“It was very hard for me, but I did it,” Colbenson wrote. “It helped to be surrounded by love and to know the money raised would make a huge difference for those we are dedicated to helping. It is good to be reminded people care about you when you feel so devastated and alone in the depths of your grief. I am so very grateful. Thank you.”

— Maria Saporta

Arts & Entertainment Atlanta opens annual grant cycle supporting local art efforts

Arts & Entertainment Atlanta (A&E) recently opened its annual grant cycle to support local artists and creative organizations. Now in its fourth year, the organization is prepared to offer $175,000 in total — the largest grant funding in its history. 

A&E is a neighborhood activation and economic development initiative for Downtown Atlanta. Those interested can apply for grant amounts ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 to support a specific project or general operations.

Through A&E’s grant program, the organization has aided in establishing new artist projects like public exhibitions and community festivals. This includes Rush Hour Music & Arts Festival, featuring artists from Atlanta’s Black and Asian communities and Untitled, a dance and photography-based activation of Atlanta’s libraries, archives and rare bookstores.

“We believe in the potential of every artist in our community,” wrote Fredalyn M. Frasier, project director and planning and urban design for Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District. “Through these grants, we tell them, ‘We see the value of your creativity and appreciate the energy you bring to Downtown.’ In its own way, A&E’s goal is to spotlight Atlanta’s role as a leader in the national arts community by celebrating and supporting the vibrant creativity found right here in our own backyard.”

The application deadline is Thursday, Sept. 7. For additional information, click here.

— Hannah E. Jones

Morris Brown begins mask protocol due to COVID cases

Earlier this week, Morris Brown College (MBC) issued a statement on its social media that it will reinstate its mask mandate. 

Due to reports of positive cases of COVID-19 infection, the Historically Black College will continue the mandate until the end of the month. 

In addition to students and employees wearing face masks, the school is also issuing guidelines on large gatherings, contact tracing and isolation and quarantine measures. 

“We prioritize your safety and seek cooperation in preventing another pandemic,” said Dr. Kevin James, President of MBC.

— Allison Joyner

Fulton Mills history exhibit opens at Georgia Tech Library 

The Georgia Institute of Technology Library is displaying items from its Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills archive in a new exhibit.

Subtitled “New South Industry,” the exhibit opened this month and runs through March. “Through an array of fascinating artifacts, photographs, and historical documents, visitors will witness the mill’s evolution, its impact on the local community, and the lives of the individuals who worked there,” said Jody Lloyd Thompson, the library’s head archivist, in a press release.

The mills on Boulevard were founded in 1881 by Jacob Elsas, who also created the Cabbagetown neighborhood as a company town and operated for over a century. The complex was also the target of a pioneering labor strike from 1914 to 1915. Georgia Tech says the facility also influenced the establishment of its School of Materials Science and Engineering. 

The mill complex has since been partly rehabilitated into apartments and condominiums. It received an official state historical marker earlier this year and has been the site of recent controversy over proposed antenna towers that could affect its historic views.

Georgia Tech acquired the mills’ archives in 1985, prior to the closure, and made the collection available to researchers in 2005. Thompson said the collection ranges from financial records and photographs to employee accident reports and transcripts of hearings about the strikes. 

The exhibit is on the first floor of the library’s Price Gilbert building at 260 4th Street N.W. It’s currently open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will be open daily starting sometime in mid-September. For more information, see the Georgia Tech Library website

— John Ruch

GACD President Jake Ford and Dr. Jacqueline Echols. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Association of Conservation Districts.)

Georgia Association of Conservation Districts names Urban Conservationist of the Year

During the Georgia Association of Conservation Districts‘ (GACD) recent Hall of Fame Banquet, the nonprofit named Jacqueline Echols as the recipient of its first-ever Urban Conservationist of the Year Award.

GACD is a grassroots nonprofit organization that represents Georgia’s 40 conservation districts that represent every county in the state. The conservation districts were formed throughout the nation in the 1930s to ensure continued protection of natural resources through local leadership.

The new Urban Conservationist of the Year Award was created to celebrate exemplary work and a strong commitment to soil and water conservation through land stewardship, community outreach and education in Georgia’s urban communities.

Echols is an environmental leader in the Atlanta area, serving as the board president of the South River Alliance Watershed. She also spearheads community efforts surrounding water pollution issues in Atlanta and Dekalb County and successfully advocated for DeKalb County to correct its sewer overflows. 

Throughout her two-plus decades of conversation work, she has been selected for GreenLaw’s 2017 Environmental Hero Award, DeKalb County’s 2016 Community Hero Vanguard Award and the City of Atlanta’s 2014 Park Pride Award.

— Hannah E. Jones

$25,000 grant awarded to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta

Last month, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta received a grant from the Sky Ranch Foundation for $25,000.

“Empowerment and hope are key factors in helping to inspire the potential of our nation’s youth and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta is the perfect example of an organization committed to reaching that goal,” said Ralph Aguera, President of Sky Ranch Foundation. 

The foundation says it’s dedicated to aiding the youth on behalf of the Beverage Alcohol Industry. They have provided almost $250,000 in grants to youth programs nationwide, which provides resources that allow organizations to positively impact the lives of young people. 

To find out more about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta, click here.

— Allison Joyner

Bob Hope and Gina Espinosa. (Photo courtesy of Hope Beckham Espinosa.)

Public relations firm Hope-Beckham updates name

Hope-Beckham, an Atlanta-based public relations firm, recently announced its new name — Hope Beckham Espinosa. The name change reflects adding co-owner Gina Espinosa-Meltzer as a named partner.

Meltzer-Espinosa joined the firm two years ago and is now stepping into the role of chief executive officer. Last year, Espinosa-Meltzer was recognized as one of the 50 Most Influential Hispanics in Georgia by the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Co-founder Bob Hope, who started the late Paul Beckham in 1994, will serve as chairman.

“Gina has added new expertise and leadership since she succeeded Paul as my partner two years ago,” Hope wrote in a press release. “We’ll continue to work together to grow the company and make further inroads into the fast-growing Hispanic market over the next few years.” 

— Hannah E. Jones

Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation Expands Scholarship Program at Spelman College with $104,000 Gift 

Last week, Spelman College announced a donation from the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation to expand its endowed scholarship fund. 

The $104,000 gift will be able to support more students who are recipients of the scholarship, which will help them receive access to quality education and foster the next generation of leaders. 

“Spelman has a long-standing commitment to academic excellence and we believe in investing in education and academic excellence and we believe in investing in the education and development of talented students who embody the legacy of Hank Aaron,” said Linda Gulley, managing consultant for the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation. 

The foundation hopes the scholarships will empower deserving students to pursue their dreams and make a meaningful impact in their fields.

— Allison Joyner

Hannah Jones is a Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for...

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