Hiring Well, Doing Good is ramping up in Columbus!

Hiring Well, Doing Good is ramping up in Columbus!

Hiring Well, Doing Good is ramping up in Columbus!

We recently received the alarming news that 40% of low-income households across the U.S. reported a job loss in March due to shutdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic. Closer to home here in Georgia, Columbus faces a rising unemployment rate (12.2% as of April) that is sure to spike to between 14% and 20% when April numbers are released. 

In the middle of this economic disaster, Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG) program is expanding rapidly in Columbus. We are now open to forming partnerships with businesses and nonprofits in the region!

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What HWDG does

HWDG brings together community resources and technology to help un- and under-employed individuals achieve economic independence in three ways:

  • Offering support: Individuals can easily search for local service providers who can help them overcome barriers to employment.
  • Helping people find their strengths: Job seekers can identify their strengths and opportunities for employment through a soft skills assessment, a library of training programs, and a career pathway generator.
  • Linking people directly with job opportunities: Job seekers can then connect with jobs relevant to their skill sets and personal preferences and geographic area.

Help for people like Marshayla

HWDG helps people like Marshayla Walker, who grew up in poverty in the greater Columbus region and struggled for years as an unemployed single mom. Marshayla heard about HWDG and attended training offered by Troy University, where she is currently majoring in psychology with a minor in global business. She said she is grateful for the support, encouragement, and resources HWDG offers and feels that she is now equipped to break into the competitive HR field upon graduation—with a new-found confidence that she can work her way up the career ladder and give her son opportunities she did not have growing up.

How Local Businesses are Helping Workers and Feeding the Hungry During the Pandemic

How Local Businesses are Helping Workers and Feeding the Hungry During the Pandemic

Restaurant workers and the impoverished are two categories of people particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic devastation. An estimated 8 million restaurant workers have been out of work nationally, while 39 percent of households earning $40,000 or less per year have lost work. Specific data for Georgia are now available yet, but we imagine they will be similar.

Creating jobs while feeding the hungry

But in the Atlanta area, local business and community leaders are coming together to help both populations in an inventive way. We’d like to introduce you to the Compassion Kitchen Project. Put together by the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta and the Knights of Columbus, the initiative provides much-needed work for displaced restaurant workers while stemming the tide of rising food insecurity in the metro area.

Here is how it works: Donations to the project are passed along to local restaurants, who then in turn make meals for local nonprofits and homeless shelters to feed the hungry. Some of the allied nonprofits include CHRIS180, Nicholas House, Catholic Charities Atlanta, and Together We Rise.

The Compassion Kitchen Project also delivers food bags—called “compassion to-go” bags filled with items like protein cars, chips, canned meats, and bottled water—for people living in transient housing or out of their cars.

‘A good mixed with a good’

Gene Rice, a local commercial real estate developer, has been a key part of the project. He shared with us that many of his business clients are restaurants and brew pubs. The idea with the Compassion Kitchen Project was to get a double bang for the buck—help restaurant workers on furlough while feeding the hungry.

“It’s a good mixed with a good,” Gene shares. “It’s helping a business getting kicked in the teeth right now, getting hourly workers back in the kitchen, and helping folks who are hungry.”

Within a week of getting up and running, the initiative had already served 1,200 meals and raised $30,000. To date, a total of 17,232 have been served.

Civil society in action

This is an example of why civil society is key as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic devastation. When businesses, nonprofits, churches, and other community institutions partner together for good, we see amazing results. Learn more about our Hiring Well, Doing Good initiative here.

 

 

 

Coronavirus exposes the weakness of a K-12 education system built for one learning style

Coronavirus exposes the weakness of a K-12 education system built for one learning style

Coronavirus exposes the weakness of a K-12 education system built for one learning style

What will education look like in the coming months and years as Georgia continues to grapple with, and recovery from, the COVID-19 pandemic? Our state’s schools will reopen in August. But even then, education is likely to look much different. Virtual learning will be more popular than ever. Many parents will likely have their eyes opened to alternative education options available. And all of us will have a new appreciation for the vital role of teachers.

One blind spot the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us is the weakness of an education system built for one approach and a single learning style. The traditional public school system is based on this one-size, fits all option. But even as many families have flocked to alternatives—through charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling—that cry for flexibility will only increase in the coming months and years.

Our traditional school system offers a brick-and-mortar school that students come to for set classes and time periods during the day. Families will increasingly see that this archaic system no longer works in a 21st century education environment.

Here is what will be necessary in the post-COVID-19 education landscape: 

  • Public schools will need to adapt to virtual learning and break down the technology barriers that unfairly inhibit low-income students from succeeding. 
  • Elected officials must begin putting the needs of individual students and their families ahead of protecting “the system,” whatever that may look like. A wide diversity of educational options is key here—ones that maximize the potential of all students.
  • Unfortunately, academic achievement gaps could widen as low-income students and those from rural areas struggle with the new technological demands. This makes it even more crucial that lawmakers prioritize ways to extend educational access and resources to all of Georgia’s students, not just those in wealthy zip codes and urban areas.
  • Our state must give all students greater educational choice by passing an Education Scholarship Account in Georgia, which empowers families who wish to choose a private school to do so.
  • We also must continue to support Georgia’s programs that expand educational access, including the Scholarship Tax Credit Program and Special Needs Scholarship Program.

To be sure, many parents will still prefer the traditional approach offered by traditional public school districts. Georgia must continue to support a strong public school system. But many others will want expanded options, and lawmakers and the K-12 education infrastructure must adapt.

Could coronavirus unleash virtual learning?

Could coronavirus unleash virtual learning?

Could coronavirus unleash virtual learning?

This week we are celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week across the U.S. A lot of parents today find themselves in the unexpected role of teacher. In fact, we’re in the middle of the biggest virtual learning experiment in American history. It was recently announced that Georgia schools would be closed through the remaining school year, meaning school classrooms won’t open again until August 10. Experts are warning that mass school closures threaten kids’ academic social lives, not to mention their psychological well-being.

To cope, school districts are moving to virtual learning. But many schools are ill-equipped for this sudden and dramatic shift. One analysis of 82 school districts found that “most districts are still not providing any instruction.”

 

It’s time for education to look different

Our current school system was designed for the Industrial Age. As Kerry McDonald of the Foundation for Economic Education writes, “As factories replaced farm work and production moved swiftly outside of homes and into the larger marketplace, 19th century American schooling mirrored the factories that most students would ultimately join. The trouble is that we have left the Industrial era for the Imagination Age, but our mass education system remains fully entrenched in factory-style schooling.” 

To expand virtual learning, we will need to:

  • Help students develop digital literacy skills
  • Better train teachers to implement lessons in a digital environment

 

Equity concerns

One of the biggest reasons why more public schools haven’t moved to online learning is equity concerns. As National Public Radio reports, “Just over half of the nation’s public school children are from families considered low-income, and an estimated 12 million lack broadband Internet access at home.”  The National Center for Education Statistics reports that about one-quarter of students below the poverty line have no access to the Internet or, at best, dial-up access only.

Aside from income, geography is another factor, with students in more rural areas having less access to Internet services. What’s more, poorer school districts might not be able to offer take-home technology to students in the form of iPads and laptops.

There are a number of steps Georgia school districts may take to address the disparity right now. Much of it has to do with the proper allocation of educational resources: What about buying a tablet device or laptop for every student in Georgia? Ensuring that every home has broadband access? These are only a few of the strategies that Georgia could implement.

 

The age of virtual learning

Imagine this: Fall 2020 rolls around and coronavirus is still running rampant. Schools are still closed. Will we delay education for these kids indefinitely? The answer is obviously no. That means we need to begin looking at education differently: Through a technology-focused lens that centers on individualized ways to educate students.

Looking to the future, Georgia needs a renewed focus on the virtual classroom after the crisis abates. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual learning was well on the rise and the wave of the future. What would the current crisis look like had we focused more heavily on expanding access to virtual learning?

The truth of the matter is that virtual learning options are abundant and growing. Khan Academy is a free resource bank of online courses, lessons, and practice tools. Duolingo is a free way for kids to learn a foreign language. The Smithsonian has an online hub of digital resources from across its museums, research centers, libraries, archives, and more.

To be clear, virtual learning can and should grow, but it’s not the right fit for everyone. The goal should be to create an education infrastructure focused on the needs of individual students. For some families, that will be brick-and-mortar schools. For others, a virtual learning environment. And for still others, the key to success will be blended learning, combining virtual learning with traditional classroom time.

What the coronavirus pandemic has shown us, however, is that we are still woefully behind on creating a truly effective virtual learning environment.

Let’s make Georgia the best state to be a foster child

Let’s make Georgia the best state to be a foster child

Let’s make Georgia the best state to be a foster child

We can’t create flourishing communities without flourishing families—and foster care and adoption are crucial parts of achieving that goal. An alarming 97 percent of kids who age out of the foster care system without a stable connection to a family end up in chronic poverty.

At Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO), we understand the importance that foster families play in creating stable environments for the most vulnerable in our society—foster children.

That’s why we were thrilled to recently welcome Georgia’s leading providers of adoption, fostering, and prevention services to our offices and to tour some of our state’s foster care community organizations. A particular highlight was welcoming Lynn Johnson, Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, as part of the group.

Our site visits included allied organizations Faithbridge Foster Care, Bethany Christian Services, Foster Care Alliance, Connections Homes, and Promise 686.

Group photo of the GCO Foster Family meeting

The visits come as Gov. Brian Kemp and lawmakers in the Georgia General Assembly are pushing for legislation to reform Georgia’s adoption and foster care system, including increasing the tax credit for adoptions out of the foster care system from $2,000 to $6,000 for the first five years. The measure would also reduce the youngest age allowable to be an unmarried adoptive parent from 25 to 21, plus create a commission to recommend “systematic reform” in the foster care system.

We hope to see the foster community empowered through the current legislative session, so all of Georgia’s children can flourish—no matter their circumstances. For more, don’t miss this video of our panel on foster care and adoption from Breakthrough 2019.

In the end, we wholeheartedly agree with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan when he said let’s make Georgia the No. 1 place for foster kids in the U.S.