Meet Shannon Gurule, HR Coordinator

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We have a lot of new faces around the office these days. Shannon Gurule (pronounced “guru-lay”) joined our team this week as our new HR Coordinator. To learn more about Shannon, please see a quick Q&A below.

Hometown: Colorado Springs, CO
Alma Mater: University of Northern Colorado
Degree/Major: Liberal Arts – Classical Music
What excites you about your new position? I am graduating with my Masters in Human Resources in August, so I am really excited to be able to apply all of my knowledge to my daily work; and after being here a week, I’m really excited about all the hard work people put into doing something great for the community!
Why is your job so important to Families First? My job is to do my absolute best to get the best staff for Families First so that we can provide the best services!
Best advice your mom ever gave you: Whenever I was stressed out she’d always say: “Don’t cry darling, this too shall pass…” and that always kept it in perspective for me…she’s a good mom.
Spouse/Kids/Pets: Husband-Curtis, Jazz Musician/Legal Assistant/Engineering Student
Dream Job: HR Manager or Director
Hobbies: I love to travel, every year I try to fill my passport with a new stamp. Last year was Paris and Italy…
What is your favorite restaurant in Atlanta?  LaParilla (I love Mexican food)
Favorite quote: “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.” –Morgan Freeman (Shawshank Redemption)
First paying job: Grocery Bagger at the Commissary (Military Grocery Store) Ft. Carson, CO, 15 years old.
What is one thing you couldn’t live without? POPCORN (no, really, I love popcorn)
Do you sit on any local boards/committees for other organizations or volunteer anywhere? I hope to after I graduate.
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Meet Ashley Uffner, Volunteer Coordinator

Ashley Uffner is the new Volunteer Coordinator at Families First and we liked her so much, we wanted to be sure you got the chance to know her as well!

Ashley Uffner

Hometown: Born in Ridgewood, New Jersey but grew up in Marietta, Georgia.

College/University attended: Kennesaw State University

Degree/Major: Bachelor of Science in Communication

What excites you about your new position? One of my passions is volunteering so I love being able to work with people that share in that passion. It’s a great feeling to be able to connect people with volunteer opportunities that are important to them while helping others in need.

Why is your job so important to Families First? Volunteers are the lifeline of a nonprofit organization! They play a huge part in helping us serve our clients through programs like Adopt-A-Family.

What is one thing you already love about Families First? I love that everyone is passionate about their job and the end goal of why we are all here at Families First.

What is your favorite book? The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Worst food you’ve ever tasted: Saimin – a traditional Hawaiian dish

Spouse/pets: I am a newlywed! I married my husband, Brandon, in October 2013. We have 2 dogs – Ella and Darcy.

Dream job: This job! And maybe a little race car driving on the side.

Hobbies: I love going to concerts, hiking new trails and spending time with my family.

One thing people don’t know about you: I am addicted to sugar!

Favorite quote: “Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.”  –Henry David Thoreau

First paying job: Hostess at a restaurant

Do you volunteer anywhere? I volunteer at the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Atlanta Pet Rescue.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Families First or would like more information about our organization, please visit http://www.familiesfirst.org. To contact Ashley directly about volunteer opportunities, please call 404-853-2857 or email auffner@familiesfirst.org

And the Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round: Part 2

With the Morris Road Cooperative and it’s forest of pine trees in our rear-view mirror, we pulled onto the main road and a few minutes later, a new Families First residence was in front of us. The Weaver Gardens transitional-living facility. This structure provides apartments for formally homeless mothers, ages 17-26, with one child under the age of 12 months. The goal of Weaver Gardens is to enhance the mother’s parenting and life skills, and to develop long-term economic independence. The colorful hallways were home to bright paintings and bulletin boards, littered with event pictures, while smells of a delicious luncheon lingered in the main dining room. Naomi Haynes, Transitional & Supportive Housing Program Manager, Brenda Jones, Group Home Parent Liaison and Joyce Sloan, Director of Family Sustainability and Empowerment gave our group insight to the services offered to the mothers and children who live in the Weaver Gardens apartments.

While standing in the dining room, an 11-month old boy with curls that would make Shirley Temple jealous, tumbled into our sight. His mother was a few steps behind him and soon, she stood before us and shared her story. Her face was bright and her smile contagious. I was amazed by her courage and the ability she had to share her hardest struggles with a bunch of strangers. As I listened to her describe some of life’s hardest challenges, she also spoke of hope. She offered a list of her accomplishments while her most prized procession, topped with delicious curls, was holding tight to her neck. They were cheek to cheek, as she spoke of her experiences at Weaver Gardens.  A fleeting thought entered my mind. What if Weaver Gardens didn’t exist? What would her life look like? Would her little ray of curly, sunshine be on a path of hope or on a path of despair?

This young woman allowed 20 outsiders to enter her apartment that housed a twin bed, a crib, a few pieces of artwork on the walls, a kitchen and a small window that looked out over the community playground. She stood next to her son’s crib as she expressed her genuine gratitude for having the chance to live at Weaver Gardens and she shed tears as she reminisced how the staff took her in off the streets with love, care and compassion; something her own family wasn’t capable of doing. It isn’t every day that I get to witness something so powerful and tears welled in my eyes as we thanked her and filed out of her front door. The air outside was still damp and dreary, but my soul was warm. This structure wasn’t just a tower of bricks, it was a place of hope and restoration. There are 20+ young women in this facility that share a similar story. They were homeless but given a home. Some didn’t have goals, dreams or ability but Weaver Gardens allowed them to finish school, get jobs, learn life skills, receive parenting classes and raise their children with help, hope and sound counsel.

For more than 120 years, Families First has been offering a hand up to families and children across the state of Georgia. Weaver Gardens is no exception. This facility serves as a lighthouse to young women who desperately need help when they are helpless.

We said our goodbyes to the wonderful and welcoming staff, pushed through the large red front doors and walked back to the bus.

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Was it possible that our third and last stop could prove as engaging and compelling as our first two? You bet.

Becky Jarrell, Families First Director of Marketing

If you are interested in receiving more information about  Weaver Gardens for would like to know about volunteer opportunities, please contact Naomi Haynes at nhaynes@familiesfirst.org. For more information about Families First, visit familiesfirst.org. 

And the Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round: Part 1

A large, white bus was parked on 12th street, alongside our main office building. The weather was chilly, damp and overcast and with every third step I took, a light drizzle danced across my face. I boarded the bus and headed for the back; a habit I’ve had since I was in elementary school. The rows of empty seats were soon full of cheerful faces, laughter and a mobile stage had been set for new friendships. Our inaugural Families First Bus Tour was officially underway.

The purpose of this tour was to take donors, volunteers and new staff to see a handful of the Families First facilities across the state and inform them about the mission and passion that Families First has to break the cycle of poverty and create self-sustaining communities and families. Visual and tangible experiences always seem to resound better with people than a bulleted one-sheeter does. Can I get an amen?

Our bus pulled onto West Peachtree Street and headed south of the city. Families First CEO, Kim Anderson, along with Paula Moody, Director of Child & Youth Permanency and Joyce Sloan, Director of Family Sustainability and Empowerment, stood in the front of the bus as we drove down the busy highway. They gave each passenger an overview of Families First and shared the desperate needs that our community has for children and families who struggle with poverty, homelessness, abuse and additional overwhelming challenges.

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The brakes on the bus squealed as we pulled up to a large white house, amid a lavish setting of dewy, pine trees. This was the Morris Road Cooperative. In this large home, live five young men who have experienced hardship and are currently detached from their families. They came to Morris Road for guidance, counsel and a hand up. Todd Mitchell, Families First Permanency Cooperative Supervisor, greeted our group at the door and shared facts, figures and his passion behind helping the youth living under this roof.

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Mr. Mitchell shared emotional stories of reconstruction, forgiveness and second chances as our group of 20 weaved in and out of the hallways of this south Fulton county home. The walls were adorned with uplifting artwork, messages of hope, hard work and the importance of faith, family and joy. We learned that the boys are responsible for creating a weekly menu and cooking group dinners every night, they are required to do their own laundry, they welcome tutors four nights a week to assist with their school work and have bonded with a group of women from Buckhead, named the Chitchatters, who visit the home every Thursday night. The home is outfitted with a large living area, a computer lab, a stocked pantry and individual rooms, so the young men feel like they have some privacy in a group setting.

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Upon our exit, we thanked Mr. Mitchell and his staff for allowing us to visit and experience, first-hand, the great work they are doing to allow these young men to recognize and follow their hopes and dreams. As our group boarded back on the bus, members of the tour didn’t think it was possible to visit another facility that impressed them as much as this one. But they were wrong. Completely and utterly wrong.

Becky Jarrell, Families First Director of Marketing

If you are interested in receiving more information about the Morris Road male Cooperative or would like to know of volunteer opportunities, please email Todd Mitchell at tmitchell@familiesfirst.org. For more information about Families First, visit familiesfirst.org.

Become a Doula!

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DOULA , noun: A woman who is trained to assist another woman during childbirth and who may provide support to the family after the baby is born

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A Doula (also known as a labor coach), is a non-medical person who assists a woman before, during, or after childbirth, as well as her partner and/or family, by providing physical assistance, and emotional support. The provision of continuous support during labor by Doulas (as well as nurses, family, or friends) is associated with improved maternal and fetal health and a variety of other benefits.

Families First works to train volunteer Doulas so they can educate young mothers on prenatal and infant care, nutrition, breast-feeding and mother-baby bonding. Doulas help to ensure that young mothers make informed choices about pregnancy, labor, delivery and parenting and are provided with the resources they need to create long-term health and success for their baby.

Families First is able to offer FREE Doula training, to anyone interested in helping young mothers through their pregnancy, thanks to funding provided by United Way. Interviews for potential trainees begin on January 22, 2014 and if selected, volunteers will attend training, once a week, from February 3, 2014 – April 14, 2014.

If you are interested in becoming a trained Doula, please contact Robyn Carson at 404-541-3064 or Alice Maddox at 404-541-3051, for more information and to schedule an interview. 

Take Less, Give More in 2014

At a New Year’s Day party, I ran into an old friend. She has two daughters who are at that tender age when children are filled with holiday belief, excitement and expectation. I asked how their Christmas was. Instead of the joyful account of their holidays that I was expecting, she rolled her eyes and shared her shear disappointment with the overwhelming sense of commercialism that has seemed to envelop the holiday season. She shared that in 2014 she is committed to teaching and showing her children the importance of giving back.

I was moved and inspired by my friend’s resolve to heighten her daughters’ sensitivity to the plight of others and to enhance their empathy. Through both my work and personal pursuits, I am committed to closing the empathy gap; to mobilizing our community’s collective commitment to its most vulnerable children and families.  If my friend wants to enhance her children’s lives by fulfilling the needs of those less fortunate, I want to help make that happen.

What I find truly heartwarming and encouraging is that there are countless individuals, organizations and families who have the same resolve and compassion as my friend; who are deeply committed to making a difference in the lives of those who are less fortunate; who have the time, money and energy to create a greater sense of caring across our city, state and nation but often are seeking the opportunity. So, in an effort to help my friend and her daughters I shared with her  some volunteer opportunities that Families First offers to singles, couples, families and groups who are looking for ways to get involved and help break the cycle of self-indulgence, worldliness and social neglect. As so many of us begin the year making resolutions and have vowed to do more and share more in 2014, I decided to post the list I shared with her. There is no time like the present to join this movement.

Three Families First Focus Areas

Poverty
In the state of Georgia, poverty is a growing problem and the numbers prove it. In 2001, 16% of the Georgia population was considered to be living at or below the poverty level. Over the last 11 years, that number has jumped from 16% to 27%. That means that more than 672,000 people in the state of Georgia are struggling to provide basic life needs for them and their children. How can you help those struggling with poverty?

  • Group/Family Idea: Conduct a “Basic Needs” donation drive. Many of the low-income families that Families First serve, desperately need cribs (and mattresses), beds and bedding, diapers (all sizes), wipes , new socks and undergarments (all sizes), toiletries, household items and cleaning supplies, grocery gift cards (Kroger, Publix or Wal-Mart), MARTA cards and school supplies.
  • Individual Opportunity: Become an advocate. Create your own blog or post to your social media pages. Get the word out about your passion and willingness to create change in your community. Highlight organizations like Families First that strive to engage the community and support social change.

Child Abuse & Neglect
In 2012, seven (7) out of ever 1,000 children were recorded as having experienced child abuse and/or neglect. That means that more than 19,000 children in the state of Georgia have experienced something no child should ever experience. How can you bring joy, happiness and security to a child who has gone through abuse or neglect?

  • Group/Family Idea: Prep-A-Scholar Drive. Families First serves approximately 1,700 clients, ranging from toddlers to college-aged young adults. We provide the basic needs for children in need, such as story time and life-skills workshops. Volunteers can make a huge impact by becoming a consistent, positive influence to our most vulnerable population.
  • Individual Opportunity: Make it Click. This program supports positive youth development by connecting youth in foster care and our Cooperatives (formerly group homes) with community volunteers who commit to developing consistent positive engagement with youth.

Homelessness
According to homeless census data estimates, more than 10,000 people in metro Atlanta experience homelessness on any given night, with more than 40% being women and children. Is there something that can be done to help these numbers go down and help bring relief to the homeless men, women and children of Georgia?

  • Group/Family Idea: Become a Champion for a Cooperative. You can adopt a Cooperative (formerly called group home).  You can lead the development and cultivation of a community garden or create a food pantry support program. There are several opportunities to support the young men and women at our Cooperatives. Simple projects like these are useful and inspiring.
  • Individual Opportunity: Create Welcome Packages. Each person we serve, whether a teen mom with her baby or young man in our program, come to us with little to nothing. We provide them with shelter and basic items such as toiletries, hygiene products, luggage and bedding. Providing these very basic necessities helps provide clients with items that we often take for granted but help make them feel more at home.

2014 is here. With a new year, comes new goals, resolutions, dreams for our future and a social responsibility to help others. With the first few days of 2014 behind us, it’s time to get our resolutions secured and there is no better decision than helping to make sure the children and families in our community are taken care of. We have a busy year ahead of us. Let’s get started!

Kim Anderson, CEO, Families First.

If you’re interested in getting involved with one of these areas, please contact Andrea Hill, Community Engagement Manager, at 404-853-2857 or email her at ahill@familiesfirst.org. If you’re interested in learning more about the programs and services that Families First offers, please visit our website, familiesfirst.org.

Building a Ladder from Poverty to Prosperity and Economic Mobility

Over the last three days I’ve been thinking deeply about the article that appeared in the New York Times on Monday, In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters. More specifically, I’ve been lamenting the fact that our city, Atlanta, holds the dubious distinction of being one of the cities where it is least likely that a child born into poverty has a chance to ever realize the American dream. Only 4% of children in Atlanta born into a family with income of less than $25,000 a year will rise to become part of our community’s middle-class. This horrendous disparity is compounded in Atlanta where over 30% of children live in poverty.

The plight of these children, and their denial of opportunity, contradicts in the most visceral way our posture as a community ‘too busy to hate’ and a community that is touted as the Mecca of opportunity and equity in the South. As I began to contemplate “why”, I realized that the true question is not why are children in our community, who are born into poverty, forever destined to remain in poverty. The real question is why do we as a community, when faced with the opportunities and choices, continuously chose to fail to address the conditions that sentence impoverished children, and their children’s children, to intergenerational lifetimes of poverty.

Unfortunately, our failure to remediate the conditions that perpetuate poverty are deeply rooted in our misperceptions and beliefs about poor people and their complicity and/or willingness to transcend the impoverished conditions that envelope their lives. However, as highlighted in the article and supported by the study’s data, where a child and her family reside and the conditions that surround them are the most predictive factors of her likely economic future and opportunity. In addition to whether she was born into a two-parent household, her access to high performing educational institutions; whether she lives in a mixed income neighborhood; and whether the residents in her city are civically engaged, are the constructs of her path from poverty to prosperity and economic mobility. This probability and potential is emphasized by the study’s finding that children who moved from a city like Atlanta, where the chances of mobility from poverty are slim to none, to a city where mobility from poverty to higher income brackets is more likely, almost did as well economically as children who spent their entire childhood in cities with high mobility.

Without a doubt, where you are born in this country truly matters. We are not only our brothers’ keeper; we are the solution to our brothers’ distress. We can be the architects of opportunity and potential for children in our community to rise out of poverty and we can ensure that children where we live have the opportunity to achieve success. The study confirms what many of us know; that each and every one of us individually, and all of us collectively, can impact the lives of the children around us and their opportunities to be successful. It simply requires us to have the will and commitment to address those conditions that sentence children to a lifetime of poverty. Clearly, as highlighted in the article, if we would commit to justice and equity in our education system; ensure access to affordable and safe housing; the ability to attain employment  that pays a true living wage;  and access to reliable transportation, children who now live in poverty will not only have an opportunity to climb the ladder of success, there would actually be a ladder  to prosperity for their families and, ultimately, our entire community will be forever enriched.

Kim E. Anderson, Chief Executive Officer.

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