Two Generations Benefit from Casey's Atlanta Efforts

Posted February 8, 2013, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Blog twogenerationsbenefitinatlanta 2013

Mar­i­lyn Winn rel­ish­es her job help­ing peo­ple work toward bet­ter jobs and futures at The Cen­ter for Work­ing Fam­i­lies, Inc., in Atlanta. I like engag­ing with the par­tic­i­pants because I remem­ber where I was and what it took to get me here,” says Winn.

Winn was strug­gling to over­come addic­tion and a crim­i­nal back­ground when she enrolled at the cen­ter in 2005. Today, she works there as a pro­gram associate.

When I got here, I had the will­ing­ness to change, but I didn’t know how to present myself to an employ­er, how to talk and act, how to do my resume or my job appli­ca­tion,” reflects Winn. I want­ed some­one to get me a job, but even if they did, could I main­tain it? You have to work to build a work eth­ic and show up every day. No job is a dead end because you can always build from it and move on.”
Atlanta is one of two civic sites, along with Bal­ti­more, where the Casey Foun­da­tion has a spe­cial con­nec­tion and long-term com­mit­ment to child and fam­i­ly well-being. Casey’s invest­ment in Atlanta, head­quar­ters to UPS and the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, focus­es on five south­west Atlanta neigh­bor­hoods where chil­dren and fam­i­lies face myr­i­ad obsta­cles in liv­ing the Amer­i­can Dream. Chal­lenges include high rates of pover­ty, employ­ment bar­ri­ers and a fore­clo­sure cri­sis that has whit­tled away the hous­ing stock.

The Atlanta Civic Site is help­ing sup­port orga­ni­za­tions like the cen­ter as part of a two-gen­er­a­tion strat­e­gy to address par­ents’ and children’s chal­lenges simul­ta­ne­ous­ly to break the cycle of pover­ty that often pass­es from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. While par­ents hone their work­force skills, many of their chil­dren attend a state-of-the-art learn­ing com­plex that is help­ing them reach the crit­i­cal mile­stone of read­ing on grade lev­el by the end of third grade.

Rec­og­niz­ing that fam­i­lies can­not thrive with­out safe and afford­able places to live, the civic site is also part­ner­ing with oth­er area fun­ders, com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment orga­ni­za­tions and res­i­dent groups in a com­mu­ni­ty-gen­er­at­ed revi­tal­iza­tion plan. In 2006, Casey pur­chased 31 acres of land in Atlanta’s Pitts­burgh neigh­bor­hood and set up a process to involve res­i­dents in plans to devel­op the prop­er­ty, attract busi­ness­es and stim­u­late the local econ­o­my. With the col­lapse of the hous­ing mar­ket in 2008, those plans had to be tabled, but 18 homes have since been reha­bil­i­tat­ed and the mas­ter plan has been redrawn to devel­op more afford­able rental hous­ing and pave the way for future com­mer­cial development.

We have a strong mas­ter plan and a good start, and each of the rehabbed homes pro­vides beau­ti­ful, ener­gy-effi­cient hous­ing for work­ing fam­i­lies,” notes Gail Hayes, direc­tor of the Atlanta Civic Site. About half of these homes are now occu­pied by Cen­ter for Work­ing Fam­i­lies participants.

Par­ents Work­ing, Chil­dren Learning

The cen­ter moves par­tic­i­pants toward self-suf­fi­cien­cy through three tracks: mov­ing to work, mov­ing to wealth and mov­ing to entre­pre­neur­ship. These pro­grams encom­pass job readi­ness and employ­ment train­ing, career and job search guid­ance, finan­cial plan­ning and assis­tance in access­ing ben­e­fits and devel­op­ing busi­ness plans and microen­ter­pris­es. Par­tic­i­pants also get refer­rals for help in over­com­ing bar­ri­ers from men­tal health issues to child care.

The center’s class­es, coach­ing and basic skill devel­op­ment helped Mar­i­lyn Winn land a job with a staffing agency. I got more expe­ri­ence and skills under my belt, was nev­er late and nev­er took off in three and a half years,” says Winn, who has been work­ing at the cen­ter since 2011. Her advo­ca­cy skills have also helped her mount a suc­cess­ful cam­paign to ease dis­crim­i­na­tion against ex-offend­ers apply­ing for city jobs and earned her a spot on the board of a nation­al orga­ni­za­tion with sim­i­lar goals.

Since 2005, the cen­ter has placed par­tic­i­pants in 1,500 jobs and con­nect­ed 6,052 res­i­dents with ben­e­fits that added a total of $5,628,258 to their incomes to help them make ends meet. In addi­tion, its free tax prepa­ra­tion pro­gram has helped more than 1,000 peo­ple access the Earned Income Tax Cred­it and receive a total of $6,022,914. In 2012, the cen­ter launched a new mod­el that tar­gets its most inten­sive ser­vices at par­tic­i­pants who com­plete an employ­ment boot camp” and fol­low through with fur­ther train­ing. We instill that you have to demon­strate your intent through your actions,” notes David A. Jack­son, pres­i­dent and chief exec­u­tive offi­cer of the center.

The cen­ter also leads Atlanta’s Green and Healthy Homes Ini­tia­tive. It trains low-income res­i­dents for jobs reha­bil­i­tat­ing low-income homes to make them more ener­gy-effi­cient and reduce envi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tants that cause health problems.
While par­tic­i­pants pre­pare for suc­cess in the work­place, many of their chil­dren are prepar­ing for suc­cess in school — and life — at the Ear­ly Learn­ing and Lit­er­a­cy Resource Cen­ter (ELL­RC). The ELL­RC is a part of the Dun­bar Learn­ing Com­plex, which also includes Dun­bar Ele­men­tary School. About 80 per­cent of the chil­dren enrolled in the ELL­RC have par­ents at the Cen­ter for Work­ing Fam­i­lies. Hav­ing high qual­i­ty sub­si­dized care has bol­stered par­ents’ pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, reap­ing a 33 per­cent increase in employ­ment and a mean week­ly wage increase of $35. Stephanie Flow­ers, a par­ent out­reach coor­di­na­tor at the ELL­RC, had strug­gled to find child care for her son Mar­cus before the ELL­RC opened. Mar­cus, who was in the first group of 3‑year-old chil­dren to par­tic­i­pate in 2010, is now in first grade. I know he would not be where he is now” with­out the mul­ti­ple ser­vices the Dun­bar com­plex offers, says Flow­ers. It has real­ly devel­oped a love of learn­ing in him.”

While Mar­cus was learn­ing, Flow­ers, a long­time res­i­dent of the civic site’s tar­get neigh­bor­hoods, took class­es offered by the Cen­ter for Work­ing Fam­i­lies that helped her bud­get and plan for the future. She now helps par­ents to access ser­vices and advo­cate for com­mu­ni­ty improve­ments, such as health­i­er and more afford­able food shop­ping options. We have to keep the fam­i­lies front and cen­ter and con­tin­u­al­ly ask: are they bet­ter off?” she says.

Prepar­ing Chil­dren to Prosper

In con­sul­ta­tion with res­i­dents and nation­al experts, the civic site part­nered with the Atlanta Pub­lic Schools and the Shel­ter­ing Arms Ear­ly Edu­ca­tion and Fam­i­ly Cen­ters to design a full-ser­vice learn­ing com­plex serv­ing chil­dren 6‑weeksold through fifth grade. With a goal of ensur­ing that chil­dren read pro­fi­cient­ly by the end of third grade, ELL­RC and ele­men­tary teach­ers receive joint train­ing from the Rollins Cen­ter for Lan­guage and Lit­er­a­cy and work togeth­er to help chil­dren tran­si­tion from preschool to school. The young chil­dren and their par­ents have oppor­tu­ni­ties to vis­it the school class­rooms and get to know the teach­ers, and the com­plex runs a sum­mer camp for preschool­ers enter­ing kindergarten.

We have two sets of teach­ers work­ing togeth­er who under­stand the ear­ly learn­ing cur­ricu­lum and the K–5 cur­ricu­lum,” says Dun­bar Ele­men­tary School Prin­ci­pal Karen Brown Collier. 

The cur­ric­u­la are aligned so chil­dren are pre­pared for what they are going to receive, and we assess their skills and doc­u­ment what we are doing to help each child meet mile­stones,” says Steven White, direc­tor of the ELL­RC. In a com­mu­ni­ty that has been under­served for a long time, our par­ents are hap­py with the ser­vices they are receiv­ing, and our atten­dance is through the roof.”

To address the sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of chil­dren who come to school with social, emo­tion­al and health chal­lenges, teach­ers are trained in test­ed meth­ods to pro­mote social and emo­tion­al well-being, and a full-time reg­is­tered nurse works to ensure that chil­dren and their fam­i­lies receive need­ed health ser­vices and have insur­ance and a reg­u­lar doctor.

A report on the Dun­bar complex’s first two years showed that 63 per­cent of chil­dren who had attend­ed the ELL­RC were read­ing on or above grade lev­el when they start­ed kinder­garten at Dun­bar, com­pared to only 47 per­cent who did not attend and only 6 per­cent before the ELL­RC opened. There were also sig­nif­i­cant gains in vocab­u­lary scores and first grade read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy. In addi­tion, the share of preschool­ers up-to-date on immu­niza­tions rose to 97 per­cent while the per­cent­age with a pri­ma­ry care doc­tor reached 99 percent.

We’ve brought the right set of part­ners togeth­er who could com­mit them­selves to the goals we have in mind and find the spe­cif­ic things they are real­ly good at to help us reach those goals,” says Leah Austin, direc­tor of the civic site’s two-gen­er­a­tion strategy.

Rebuild­ing Peb­ble by Pebble

Queen La’Rosa Hard­en Green, a long­time res­i­dent of Atlanta’s Pitts­burgh neigh­bor­hood whose 4‑year-old grand­daugh­ter attends the ELL­RC, is active in the Preser­va­tion of Pitts­burgh, a col­lab­o­ra­tion between the civic site, Sus­tain­able Neigh­bor­hood Devel­op­ment Strate­gies Inc. (a non­prof­it sup­port­ed by Casey) and the Pitts­burgh Com­mu­ni­ty Improve­ment Asso­ci­a­tion. Since the fore­clo­sure cri­sis, these part­ners have focused on a large-scale effort to trans­form vacant prop­er­ties into afford­able, safe and ener­gy-effi­cient hous­ing and estab­lished a land trust to pre­vent future wealth stripping.

Green lives in one of 18 homes rehabbed as an afford­able rental prop­er­ty. But secur­ing the fund­ing to rehab all the homes orig­i­nal­ly tar­get­ed has been chal­leng­ing, and the civic site is seek­ing an estab­lished real estate devel­op­er to help move it for­ward. Mean­while, the com­mu­ni­ty has craft­ed a revi­tal­iza­tion plan that, besides more hous­ing, would help res­i­dents bring their homes into code com­pli­ance, pro­vide more youth activ­i­ties and employ­ment, offer new play­grounds, insti­tute a cop on the block” pro­gram to increase pub­lic safe­ty and launch a food co-op to dis­trib­ute pro­duce from com­mu­ni­ty gardens.

Green, a for­mer Cen­ter for Work­ing Fam­i­lies par­tic­i­pant now pur­su­ing a mar­ket­ing degree at Atlanta Tech­ni­cal Col­lege, uses lead­er­ship skills she has gained through civic site pro­grams on a dai­ly basis.

I want to see a rip­ple effect — to drop one peb­ble and see it spread all over the com­mu­ni­ty, the state, the coun­try, the world,” reflects Green. I want to see all these dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties that have been dis­par­aged rise up again like the phoenix.”

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