A Force of Change in Atlanta-area Education

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The Georgia Council for Economic Education awards the 2017 VanLandingham Award to the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
Guest post from GCEE

For as long as anyone can remember, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has been a bedrock resource for the communities of metro Atlanta. But as Foundation President Alicia Philipp is quick to point out, the Foundation never goes it alone.

“If we are moving the needle for change, we are doing it collectively,” she says. “We do nothing alone. We work with other groups, organizations and our donors. That’s the way really good things happen.” And some good things are happening in Atlanta in terms of education, one of the Foundation’s five “impact areas” of focus.

“We’re involved in issues ranging from the youngest children to getting college students into the workforce,” Philipp says. “We have our hands in everything from the beginning to the end of the education trajectory.” This dedication to improving education for all students is a major reason the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta was named as the 2017 recipient of the Georgia Council on Economic Education’s William J. VanLandingham Commitment to Education Award.

“The Community Foundation, under the leadership of Alicia Philipp, has long been a champion for the underserved, and that is especially important when it comes to education,” says GCEE Executive Director David Martin. “It’s a one-of-a-kind organization that has built the bridges needed to bring about change and improvement, one initiative at a time.”

The Foundation’s origins date back to 1951, when Atlanta’s four largest banks – C&S, First National, Fulton National and Trust Company – created the Metropolitan Foundation of Atlanta. In its first year, the Foundation made 119 grants totaling more than $450,000 to area nonprofit organizations. The Foundation continued to grow in size and scope, and by 1977, assets had grown to $7 million. That same year, Alicia Philipp was named president. In 1997, the name was changed to the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

Today, the Community Foundation awards millions of dollars in competitive grants and grants from donor-advised funds, in five areas: art, community development, education, nonprofit development and well-being.

While the Community Foundation is involved in many programs to improve education, Philipp says she is particularly proud of the role it has played in Achieve Atlanta and Learn4Life.

Achieve Atlanta is a partnership created in 2014 between the Community Foundation, the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation and Atlanta Public Schools, with the goal of giving every high school graduate the opportunity to attend college. The program focuses on getting more students “to and through” college by increasing college access, removing financial barriers for students and providing support before and during college. Students receive hands-on assistance researching colleges, completing applications, applying for financial aid and navigating the college experience.

While Achieve Atlanta centers on postsecondary education, Learn4Life (L4L) stays with children from what Philipp calls “cradle to career.” Created last year through a partnership with the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Atlanta Regional Commission, United Way of Greater Atlanta and the Community Foundation, L4L is a regional strategy that unifies eight area school systems, local communities, businesses and nonprofits to improve education outcomes based on common goals and shared benchmarks.

“This is groundbreaking,” Philipp says. “We are building a regional effort around education that has never been done before. There are a lot of shared issues, and we will be able to focus on each part of the education continuum to improve education at all levels. Other communities that have done this have seen great results.”

Philipp stresses the importance of looking at the environmental factors that contribute to the success of a child’s education, such as housing, safety, food and clothing. “As a community, we have to be focused on our most vulnerable kids,” she says. “We all need to think of ways to help connect those dots to improve those essential elements that factor into every child’s ability to learn.”

One of those connect-the-dot issues is parental involvement. Last June, the Foundation launched a pilot program in several Atlanta Public Schools called PLUS – Parent Leaders United for Students. The purpose of the program is to support parents who want to become more engaged in their children’s education, but may not have the resources or the knowledge to do so. Through parent action groups, classes and small grants, parents are given a supportive environment to gain the skills to empower themselves.

“Many of these parents didn’t have good role models, and they may even be a little intimidated to go into their child’s school,” Philipp says. “We want to empower them to go to meetings, ask questions and learn the things they need to know to help their children.”

These programs are just a fraction of what the Community Foundation is involved in in terms of improving education for all Atlanta area students. And advocating for a child’s education is something Philipp learned from her mother.

“The importance of education was instilled in us at an early age.” she says. “There was never any doubt that my mother, who didn’t go to college, would do anything it took for my brothers and me to pursue a college degree. I hope every child has someone as emphatic as my mother to help them achieve that goal. I wish that for everybody.”

Story originally ran in a supplement to the Atlanta Business Chronicle on May 12, 2017.