Five Questions with Casey: Kweku Forstall and the Atlanta Civic Site

Posted January 27, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog fivequestionsforstall 2015

As direc­tor of the Atlanta Civic Site team, Kweku Forstall over­sees pro­grams, invest­ments and part­ner­ships to increase edu­ca­tion­al and eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties in sev­er­al south­west Atlanta neigh­bor­hoods. Before join­ing Casey in Jan­u­ary 2014, Forstall was exec­u­tive direc­tor of Year Up Atlanta, which focus­es on employ­ment and train­ing for young adults. He also was found­ing exec­u­tive direc­tor of Project GRAD Atlanta, a com­pre­hen­sive school reform ini­tia­tive to boost the num­ber of first-gen­er­a­tion col­lege grad­u­ates. In addi­tion, Forstall has held lead­er­ship roles at Unit­ed Way of Greater Atlanta and in More­house College’s com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice efforts. 

What are some of your major goals as director? 

We are com­mit­ted to achiev­ing sig­nif­i­cant change for the res­i­dents of the neigh­bor­hoods we serve in Neigh­bor­hood Plan­ning Unit V (NPU‑V) and will con­tin­ue to pur­sue that goal through our three strat­e­gy areas: edu­ca­tion achieve­ment, fam­i­ly eco­nom­ic suc­cess and neigh­bor­hood trans­for­ma­tion. We’re work­ing to inte­grate our efforts across those three areas and to devel­op a clear pol­i­cy agen­da. Also, we’re sup­port­ing work focused on improv­ing out­comes for boys and men of col­or and striv­ing to ensure equi­table oppor­tu­ni­ties for all in every­thing we do.

How has the civic site pro­mot­ed healthy child devel­op­ment and aca­d­e­m­ic success? 

Our ear­ly learn­ing cen­ter, which is co-locat­ed and col­lab­o­rates with Atlanta Pub­lic Schools’ Dun­bar Ele­men­tary, is reap­ing promis­ing results. Chil­dren are out­per­form­ing not only their peers in oth­er ear­ly child­hood pro­grams but also in high-qual­i­ty cen­ters through­out the coun­try. We believe this is because of our two-gen­er­a­tion approach, which address­es the needs of par­ents and chil­dren at the same time. Par­ents dis­cov­er how to nur­ture their children’s learn­ing and are con­nect­ed with train­ing, edu­ca­tion, job oppor­tu­ni­ties and ben­e­fits through the Cen­ter for Work­ing Fam­i­lies, Inc. and Shel­ter­ing Arms Ear­ly Edu­ca­tion and Fam­i­ly Cen­ters, a local non­prof­it that runs Edu­care Atlanta, the ear­ly learn­ing cen­ter. There also are staff mem­bers ded­i­cat­ed to ensur­ing the kids and their fam­i­lies have a pri­ma­ry care doc­tor and receive reg­u­lar health care.

In addi­tion, we work with the Get Geor­gia Read­ing cam­paign, a statewide pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship focused on mak­ing sure all chil­dren in the state read pro­fi­cient­ly by the end of the third grade. 

How has our coor­di­nat­ed approach to address­ing fam­i­ly needs, focus­ing on kids and par­ents, ben­e­fit­ted families? 

We are col­lect­ing data and build­ing evi­dence so that we can share what we are learn­ing about the impact of this approach. Shel­ter­ing Arms wants to adopt the two-gen­er­a­tion approach through­out its 15 cen­ters around met­ro­pol­i­tan Atlanta. Shel­ter­ing Arms is con­sid­ered a gold stan­dard for ear­ly child­hood devel­op­ment pro­grams, so incor­po­rat­ing this approach in all of its cen­ters is a real­ly impor­tant plat­form for scal­ing this work. 

Efforts to rede­vel­op homes, increase afford­able hous­ing and attract new busi­ness and jobs to NPU‑V stalled dur­ing the reces­sion. How is the work pro­gress­ing now?

Work­ing with an expe­ri­enced real estate devel­op­ment firm, we’re on our way to rede­vel­op­ing 53 vacant and fore­closed homes in the Pitts­burgh neigh­bor­hood. We have rehabbed five, with a plan to com­plete 48 more by 2017. We also sup­port the local­ly based Pitts­burgh Com­mu­ni­ty Improve­ment Asso­ci­a­tion in rehab­bing 30 to 40 homes and estab­lish­ing a land trust to cre­ate a stock of high-qual­i­ty, per­ma­nent­ly afford­able hous­ing — for rent and own­er­ship — in the neigh­bor­hood. In addi­tion, we are work­ing with the Enter­prise Foun­da­tion on poli­cies to pre­serve afford­able hous­ing in the area. In the next year, we will seek pro­pos­als to devel­op the Foundation’s 31-acre site along Uni­ver­si­ty Avenue, which we envi­sion as a future hub for job cre­ation and as an eco­nom­ic cat­a­lyst for the area. 

What are the biggest chal­lenges the civic site team faces?

Com­mer­cial devel­op­ment projects — for exam­ple, Tyler Perry’s pur­chase of Fort McPher­son to build movie stu­dios and the planned rede­vel­op­ment of Turn­er Field when the Braves leave the sta­di­um in 2017 — are chang­ing the neigh­bor­hoods we serve. We must ensure cur­rent res­i­dents have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to live and thrive in these neigh­bor­hoods even as new res­i­dents move in. We must also build the orga­ni­za­tion­al skills and capac­i­ty of local com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions. And we need bet­ter strate­gies to engage young peo­ple and mobi­lize youth leadership.

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