Community Investment Fund Spotlight: Saving Animals, Cultivating Future Leaders

Posted September 17, 2018, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Young girl is learning to care for a dog.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Atlanta Civic Site sup­ports the res­i­dent-led Com­mu­ni­ty Invest­ment Fund (CIF), which awards small grants to lead­ers in south­west Atlanta.

This posts focus­es on Grace Ham­lin, founder of the non­prof­it W‑Underdogs, and is part of a series high­light­ing how CIF grant recip­i­ents are improv­ing the lives of young peo­ple and fam­i­lies in Atlanta’s Neigh­bor­hood Plan­ning Unit V(NPU‑V). Here, Ham­lin describes how she is using CIF fund­ing to res­cue neglect­ed ani­mals while also cul­ti­vat­ing lead­er­ship and advo­ca­cy skills in local chil­dren and youth.

The mis­sion: I start­ed W‑Underdogs when I was liv­ing in Peo­plestown as a sort of diver­sion pro­gram for young peo­ple who were at risk of being recruit­ed for gangs. Over time, though, it has grown into so much more. By teach­ing young peo­ple the skills to care for neglect­ed ani­mals, we are help­ing them tap into a deep­er sense of pur­pose, empa­thy and hope — and pro­vid­ing them with oppor­tu­ni­ties to devel­op lead­er­ship, job and advo­ca­cy skills.

Pro­gram basics: We help youth and young adults ages 6 – 21 care for stray and abused ani­mals. Par­tic­i­pants build and col­lect dog­hous­es to ensure fam­i­lies in Peo­plestown can pro­vide shel­ter for their pets dur­ing the cold win­ter months, and they deliv­er free food for ani­mals in need. Our W‑Underdogs also learn about ani­mal groom­ing, health and train­ing. In addi­tion to their res­cue work, young peo­ple get to par­tic­i­pate in enrich­ment activ­i­ties, like field trips.

Mon­ey mat­ters: We received our first CIF grant in 2015, which enabled us to expand our out­reach and serve even more youth in the com­mu­ni­ty. CIF fund­ing has helped us begin the process of leas­ing and ren­o­vat­ing a larg­er, more con­ve­nient loca­tion to serve a broad­er swath of south­west Atlanta. We plan to help more ani­mals and help more young peo­ple gain skills to build future jobs as vet­eri­nar­i­an technicians.

Evi­dence of suc­cess: CIF fund­ing has enabled us to men­tor 15 young peo­ple and res­cue more than 200 ani­mals. We are help­ing cre­ate a safer envi­ron­ment for ani­mals and peo­ple alike.

Real-world impact: An impor­tant les­son lies at the core of our work. When young peo­ple are giv­en an oppor­tu­ni­ty to use their voic­es to advo­cate for ani­mals, they end up using those same voic­es to advo­cate for them­selves and the things they need.

The Com­mu­ni­ty Invest­ment Fund at a Glance

What: A Casey-fund­ed pro­gram that awards a total $50,000 in small grants, rang­ing from $500 to $5,000.

Who and where: res­i­dent board over­sees the fund, which is open to com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions and net­works in Atlanta’s NPU‑V.

Why: To pro­mote com­mu­ni­ty-dri­ven change by empow­er­ing res­i­dents to tack­le com­mon neigh­bor­hood challenges.

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