Category Archives: Our Stories
Walter Hodges, who died May 12, was a founder and passionate supporter of UUCA’s 25 year old Partner in Education Project at Hope-Hill Elementary School. For those who want to honor his commitment to children, Walter’s family has selected two excellent non-profits that are working with Hope-Hill kids and families this summer.
“Walt Hodges gave much of his time and energy during retirement to students at Hope-Hill, one of the economically poorest schools in Atlanta, which, sadly, sits two blocks from Martin Luther King’s childhood home,” said Beth Stevenson, chair of UUCA’s Promise the Children service and advocacy coordinating group.
“If you knew Walter, you know he would want those Hope-Hill children to benefit from his memorial gifts,” she said. “So Promise the Children is supporting Alicia Hodges and her family to focus contributions on two local, Hope-Hill neighborhood non-profits that will impact Hope-Hill Children and families immediately.”
Choice 1: Sponsor kids to Mental Fitness’ STEM Summer Camp – five weeks of robotics, physics, math projects and science experiments for Hope-Hill students. Contribute any amount, but as reference, $80 sends one child to science/math camp for one week; $400 for the summer.
Best way to donate: Online using PayPal at www.mentalfitnessatl.org. Or, send your check to Mental Fitness 117 North Town Cove, Stockbridge, GA 30281. *** Note: on PayPal, click on “Add special instructions to the seller” and say it’s in memory of Walter Hodges.
Choice 2: Sponsor families in Boulevard Food Coop’s new (second) cohort of 30 Hope-Hill families learning to feed themselves with healthy food. UUCA helped start this organization last year. It addresses nutrition at a deeper level, with poor mothers and fathers joining for $3 a week and WORKING to make the coop work. Not a handout .. a real hand up. A food coop is NOT a food pantry.
Contribute any amount, but as reference, $20 sponsors one family for one month; $240 for a year.
Best way to donate: online at www.trulylivingwell.com using PayPal. Or, send your check to Truly Living Well, P.O. Box 90841, East Point, GA 30364. *** Note: on PayPal, click on “Add special instructions to the seller”: and say it’s for the Food Coop in memory of Walter Hodges.
Walt Hodges’ memorial service will be Saturday, June 13 at 1:00 p.m. at UUCA.
Hope-Hill Elementary School is ready to celebrate reading! Read Across America Day is Monday, March 2, 2015. We are in search of volunteers to read to our classes.
All volunteer readers need to arrive at 8:30 a.m. for a welcome reception. You will be given time for book selection or you may bring your own. We will begin at 9:00 a.m. and end by 10 a.m. Volunteers will have the opportunity to share their books with two classes. Please RSVP at www.SignUpGenius.com/go/20F0C4BA4AB2FA3F58-read if you would like to attend. You may reach me at 404-802-7460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the story of the brand new Boulevard Food Coop and UUCA’s role in its creation.
It began a few years ago … with some milestones along the way. The Food Coop which kicked off on Thursday, November 20 was a very important step! Here’s how it happened …
Promise the Children, UUCA’s advocacy and action group, had been thinking about children and hunger for several years. The congregation’s serious involvement with hunger began three years ago. PTC member Beth Davis had a question: “Almost all the children we tutor at Hope-Hill Elementary get free breakfast and lunch at the school. What do the children eat in the summer?”
From that question grew a two-year project to get half of Hope-Hill students into summer enrichment programs. Those summer programs provide FOOD, as well as learning and a safe environment!
UUCA networked together a group of non-profits and churches that helped the Summer Enrichment program achieve good success. And UUCA became a strong supporter and partner of Operation PEACE, which is one of the best of those After School and Summer Enrichment Programs.
About a year ago, Promise the Children organized UUCA members for a Thanksgiving Food Drive. Remember last Thanksgiving? About 125 member families participated. We raised money, families donated food, and many helped box it up and deliver it to our friends at Operation PEACE … We delivered – literally – a TON of food to families.
About the same time PTC member Joy Borra began asking a similar question of UUCA’s partners in the Old Fourth Ward (O4W) … and especially of Kwanza Hall, the city councilman for the district. “How many people in the Boulevard Corridor regularly don’t know where their next meal will come from? What can we do about it?” she asked.
Kwanza decided to start a year-long “Working Group on Hunger in O4W,” and all those partners began to look for answers. A long-term solution required long – term, community – wide action … And that’s where UUCA member Annie Archbold volunteered to go to work.
Annie is passionate about food … a real FOOD ACTIVIST! Annie served on the working group’s steering committee. She served as a vital “go to gal” for Kwanza’s overworked staff. Annie did everything. And she gave wise counsel from her long experience at the CDC on hunger issues.
The project that the Hunger Working Group agreed on was to begin a Food Coop. They modeled it on the very successful Georgia Avenue Coop that had existed more than 20 years. It would take a lot of work … but with the right support, the Food Coop would empower poor people to feed themselves.
Another UUCA member had the key to ultimate success. Rob Ohara works for the federal government’s regional VISTA Volunteers program. He heard about the O4W project. “Why don’t you apply for two VISTA Volunteers to do the organizing work that will be needed?” Rob suggested. “There are already VISTAs working with the O4W’s urban gardening program, Truly Living Well. It could be a perfect match!”
The end of the story is that everything came together … with a lot of good will, much enthusiasm, some good connections and savvy leadership …
The new food coop is launched!
Here’s what VISTA Volunteer Sara Thorpe wrote for Kwanza Hall’s Facebook page last week:
Earlier this evening, 15 families from District 2’s Boulevard corridor launched the first resident-run food co-operative for low-income families in the neighborhood. The launch of the co-op was one of Kwanza’s top goals for the 2014 edition of his Year of Boulevard initiative.
The Boulevard Food Co-Op is the result of a year of careful planning and monthly working group meetings in partnership with the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Truly Living Well Urban Agriculture. The founding families of the co-op come from the Bedford Pines community and the Atlanta Housing Authority’s Cosby Spear Highrise community.
Members pay a one-time $5 membership fee and a $3 charge for each food distribution, which takes place on the first and third Thursdays of the month at our host site, Fort Street Memorial United Methodist Church.
Unlike a typical food pantry, the Boulevard Food Co-Op is a member-based initiative, designed to foster community among its members over time. Members organize and supervise every aspect of the twice-monthly food distribution, from collection of fees and arrangements for child care to the equitable distribution of food and produce among members.
As the founding members become comfortable with their responsibilities, the Boulevard Food Co-Op will expand, welcoming new members and creating new cohorts in 2015. For more information about the Boulevard Food Co-Op, contact co-op coordinator Sara Thorpe: email@example.com.”
Hope-Hill Elementary has put out a call for volunteers to help inventory teaching supplies and organize media center (library) materials on Monday, June 16th and Tuesday, June 17th. Work sessions will run from 3:00 PM to 9:00 PM each day. Volunteers can choose to work one or both days and the length of time they want to work, i.e.1 hour, 2 hours, or more. No heavy lifting required. School staff will be available to provide guidance. This is a great opportunity for member/friends who want to support UUCA’s work with Hope-Hill but who are not able to volunteer on a regular basis. Contact Richard Bergman at 404-345-5983 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up or for more information.
Good food and good conversation are a winning combination in promoting good relationships. With this in mind, the Hope-Hill Advisory Team recently sponsored a Potluck Supper for UUCA members/ friends who volunteer at the school. In addition, Maureen T. Wheeler, Hope-Hill Principal and Leah Goodwin-Black, Assistant Principal were invited guests.
Our hardy and hungry group of 17 converged at the historic Inman Park home of Oren Mann on Feb. 21st. (Thanks Oren for your generous hospitality.) The agenda for the evening was to enjoy each others company and to get to know one another better. And as you’d imagine, much conversation revolved around our shared interest…that of the education and well-being of the children, teachers, and staff of Hope-Hill School and how the UUCA/Hope-Hill Partnership could be strengthened.
Principal Wheeler expressed her deep appreciation for the work of UUCA volunteers and for our commitment to the children at Hope-Hill. She know many of us by name and by sight due to the frequency with which she encounters us in the hallways and classrooms. Our one-on-one tutoring and our after-school math and science clubs are an invaluable support to the children and teachers.
While acknowledging that much more needs to be done, Ms. Wheeler noted the following accomplishments during her first six (6) months as principal.
- Implementation of Eagle Expectations, the school’s code of conduct for students, teachers, and staff. The Standards have contributed to a more positive, caring, and supportive atmosphere and culture.
- Adoption of a token/reward program to recognize and reinforce positive actions and behaviors. The program is wildly popular with the kids. “Lunch with the Principal or Assistant Principal” is one of the hottest tokens to be earned.
- Qualification and placement of six (6) children in special education services.
- Creation of working relationships with Old Fourth Ward neighborhood organizations who care for and about Hope-Hill children and their families.
- Selection of Ms. Goodwin-Black as Assistant Principal whose special talent is data analysis. She’s expert at identifying gaps and trends in student and teacher performance. Her work in this area has enabled Ms. Wheeler and the teachers to make important, data driven decision that benefit the children.
Ms. Wheeler and Ms. Goodwin-Black shared with us their “wish list” of services and programs that UUCA and other volunteers could offer.
- More tutors to work with children one-on-one and in small groups. Many children are in need of individual help in math and reading.
- Additional after-school academic enrichment clubs, such as art, music, dance, dramatics, photography, writing, chess, sewing, sports, etc. Many children and their families have few or no resources for life enrichment experiences like these.
- Support for parents who need help with gaining employment and career advancement, such as resume preparation, computer job search skills, employment interviewing, and GED preparation. Helping parents be successful is a direct, positive benefit to their children.
UUCA volunteers enjoyed hearing from with Ms. Wheeler and Ms. Goodwin-Black and in sharing their experiences working with the kids, teachers, and staff. Most enjoyable for all was the opportunity to “break bread together” and celebrate our work on behalf of the children at HHES. It’s highly likely there will be future Potlucks as we continue to build the UUCA/Hope-Hill Partnership.
Update: “Facing Sex Trafficking of Children”
From Promise the Children at UUCA:
Here is an article from a recent New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof. It tells the story of one 15-year-old girl who found herself being pimped for sex.
The story is from Boston, but it takes place daily on the streets of Atlanta.
Similar stories will be told in the “Facing Sex Trafficking of Children in Atlanta” theatrical performance at UUCA on Thursday, March 6, at 7 PM.
Join us for a compelling performance of the stories you’ve never heard…until now. Theater, mime, dance and song… Atlanta artists use their voices to tell true stories of girls who have been victims of sex trafficking in our city.
The event was developed by an Atlanta group and is supported by UUCA’s Promise the Children advocacy and action group.
BOSTON — Emily, a 15-year-old ninth-grader, ran away from home in early November, and her parents are sitting at their dining table, frightened and inconsolable.
The parents, Maria and Benjamin, both school-bus drivers, have been searching for their daughter all along and pushing the police to investigate. They gingerly confess their fears that Emily, a Latina, is being controlled by a pimp.
I’m here to try to understand the vast national problem of runaways, and I ask if they have checked Backpage.com, the leading website for prostitution and sex trafficking in America. They say they haven’t heard of it. Since I’ve written about Backpage before and am familiar with how runaways often end up in its advertisements, I pull out my laptop — and, in two minutes, we find an ad for a “mixed Latina catering to your needs” with photos of a semi-nude girl.
Maria staggers and shrieks. It’s Emily.
A 2002 Justice Department study suggested that more than 1.6 million American juveniles run away or are kicked out of their home each year. Ernie Allen, a former president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, has estimated that at least 100,000 kids are sexually trafficked each year in the United States.
Perhaps they aren’t a priority because they’re seen as asking for it, not as victims. This was Emily’s fourth time running away, and she seems to have voluntarily connected with a pimp. Based on text messages that her family intercepted, Emily was apparently used by a pimp to recruit one of her girlfriends — a common practice.
“Made about 15 or 16 hundred,” Emily boasted to her friend in one text. “Come make money with me I promise u gonna be good.”
So it’s true that no one was holding a gun to Emily’s head. Then again, she was 15, in a perilous business. And, in this case it turned out, having sex with a half-dozen men a day and handing over every penny to an armed pimp.
A bit more searching on the Web, and we find that Emily has been advertised for sex in four states: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The ads say that Emily (the name used in the ads, which is not her real name) is “fetish-friendly,” and that’s scary. Pimps use “fetish-friendly” as a dog whistle to attract deviants who will pay more for the right to be extra violent or abusive.
“We don’t care what she did,” says Benjamin, in a shattered tone. “We just want her back.”
The ads for Emily include a cellphone number to set up “dates,” and we pass the information to the authorities. The pimp’s phone number should make it easy to find the girl, so we wait to see what will happen.
Maria is bitter that the police haven’t done more. She has been pleading for months for help, hounding the police — and now she finds that her daughter has been advertised in four states on multiple prostitution websites and no one seems to have checked or noticed.
“I feel very strongly that it was racism,” Maria says. In fact, the Boston police force is admired nationally for its three-detective unit that fights human trafficking. This is the gold standard, yet, even here, a missing 15-year-old girl seemed to slip through the cracks.
Every day, more than 4,000 children run away or are kicked out of their home — and there’s negligible interest. We feel outrage when Penn State or the Roman Catholic Church ignore child sexual abuse, but we, as a society, avert our eyes as well.
Partly the problem is that many see sex trafficking as serious only when the victim is dragged off in chains; we don’t appreciate Stockholm syndrome or understand that often the handcuffs are psychological. Attitudes are changing, just as they have toward domestic violence, but too slowly.
There are failings here beyond law enforcement. You wonder about the men paying to have sex with a girl who looks so young. About the hotel clerks. And about why we tolerate websites like Backpage.com that peddle teenage girls.
A few hours after I sent police the link, officers located Emily in New Hampshire. Police raided a hotel, rescuing her and arresting a man, Andy Pena, 19, who, they said, was her pimp and took all the money she made. Police said that Pena was armed.
Pena is in jail in New Hampshire; his public defender declined to comment.
Emily is ambivalent about her rescue. She’s in a group home, getting support from other survivors of human trafficking through a group called My Life My Choice. She’s still rebellious, but it’s a good sign that she hugged her mom. Maria wept.
Today Emily is safe, but there are hundreds of thousands of other runaways out on the streets. These are our kids, in danger. Shouldn’t they be a national priority?