A Vision For Poverty Transformation In Columbus Through Hiring Well Doing Good

A Vision For Poverty Transformation In Columbus Through Hiring Well Doing Good

A Vision For Poverty Transformation In Columbus Through Hiring Well Doing Good

Q&A: Norman Hardman on Hiring Well, Doing Good in Columbus

Norman Hardman is a lifelong resident of Columbus, Georgia. After starting his career in the world of finance, he’s now taken his passion and skillset and applied them to one purpose: helping the impoverished in Columbus escape to a new, thriving life.

 Norman is a partner with Georgia Center for Opportunity’s work through Hiring Well, Doing Good initiative. Here’s a brief Q&A with him.


Q: Tell us about yourself. What’s your passion in life?  

Norman: I was born and raised in Columbus, and my family has strong ties here. All my schooling has been locally here: Columbus State University and then finished my Master’s Degree at Troy University. After graduating, I spent six-and-a-half years in the banking world. I worked inside the bank and worked in the community outside the bank. That gave me a taste for what I do now. 

Toward the end of my banking career, I developed a passion for education. In my job I made personal and small business loans to people, and I started focusing on those who were rejected for loans rather than accepted. It created a desire to find out why—why were they being denied?  

After that, my first thought was that I needed more tools in my toolbelt. So I started the process of becoming a Certified Financial Planner to help people better manage their money. Then, through a series of events, I found myself back in the world of Christian ministry. My family had been in ministry in Columbus for 26 years, and I always thought I would end up back there. 

In 2018, my mom as a senior pastor passed away after a six-year battle with colon cancer. My brother took over as senior pastor. We talked before about me coming on. I prayed about it and eventually said yes. In June of 2018, I took over as head of the evangelistic and outreach departments. 


I loved everything I heard, from her first word to last word. We were in sync on our visions for Columbus.

Norman Hardman



Q: How did you come to be involved with Hiring Well, Doing Good? 

Norman: The mission of Hiring Well, Doing Good is really my passion in life.

Not quite two years ago, I got out into the community and said, “I want to know what’s already here. I don’t want to duplicate anything.” I wanted to start connecting the dots for families in the community. 

I met with Brian Anderson, president of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, to see what was going on in the community. Brian then connected me with Kristin Barker (Program Manager for Hiring Well, Doing Good). I loved everything I heard, from her first word to last word. We were in sync on our visions for Columbus.


Q: What’s your vision for poverty transformation in Columbus? 

Norman: My goal is prosperous families in every facet of the word prosperity, especially economic prosperity.   

But here’s the thing: I don’t just want to see people escape poverty by leaving their neighborhoods—say, moving from the south side of Columbus to the north side. I want them to stay in their neighborhoods and transform them. I want to see people go through the process together—see them become first-time homeowners, create prosperous communities, see the birth of new community leaders and programs, and families continuing to grow and thrive.


Q: What excites you in particular about Hiring Well, Doing Good’s approach? 

Norman: I know and have met people who are passionate. We all have different ideas about how to do that—some focused on healthcare, some on education. My baby is finance. Hiring Well, Doing Good brings us all to the table to say where are those points of intersectionality. It’s great to have a plan for each individual thing. But we know what really moves the needle on poverty is when everything comes together—when we communicate with one another and transfer data.

We currently have a strong network of community partners who are doing a great job of meeting the immediate needs of our community. Yet there is much more work to be done in order to address systemic poverty. Hiring Well, Doing Good brings each of us to the table and facilitates critical conversations that will lead to a reduction in poverty in our community.


Q: When we are successful in reducing poverty in Columbus, what will that look like in practical terms?

Norman: For me, I believe it’s major improvements in quality of life. That will manifest in many different forms. We won’t know until we see it. When we start to set people free, they’ll be creative in ways we could never have imagined. We’ll see improvements in education, the local economy, and our social and religious culture. We’ll see growth of trust and organic activity in the community. We’ll see an enriching culture here in Columbus. It will cause our city to grow and provide new opportunities.

Impact Your Community Today!

Find out how your business or organization can better serve the unemployed or underemployed in your community.

Support GCO With Amazon Smiles This Holiday Season (and all year long)

Support GCO With Amazon Smiles This Holiday Season (and all year long)

Support GCO With Amazon Smiles This Holiday Season (and all year long)

Like you, we love family and giving during the holidays. Well, we have a new way you can support Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) and give during the season of giving: It’s called Amazon Smile, and it’s a chance to give back a small percentage of each purchase at Amazon to support the work of GCO.

There are five quick steps:

  1. Go to smile.amazon.com and login to your Amazon account.


  2. You’ll be prompted to type in a charity. Simply put in “Georgia Center for Opportunity” in the “Choose your own organization” section.


  3. Select “Georgia Center for Opportunity” from the list given.


  4. Accept the terms shown by Amazon.


  5. Start shopping!

That’s it!

Just be sure to always do your shopping at smile.amazon.com rather than the usual amazon.com link.
Thank you!
Q&A: Kristin Barker on Hiring Well, Doing Good in Columbus

Q&A: Kristin Barker on Hiring Well, Doing Good in Columbus

Q&A: Kristin Barker on Hiring Well, Doing Good in Columbus

Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG) initiative is quickly gaining ground in Columbus, Georgia. Here’s a brief Q&A from the front lines with HWDG Program Manager Kristin Barker.


Q: What’s the goal of HWDG in Columbus?

Kristin: The HWDG effort is a mission to identify, train, and equip the chronically un- and under-employed for the workforce, thereby impacting the ecosystem in Columbus and Phenix City by reducing poverty, increasing self-sufficiency, and building a stronger workforce.


Q: When we’re successful in Columbus, what will that look like? What outcomes?

Kristin: Workers will be reengaged and prepared to add value to businesses and to continue advancing toward an income level that allows them to flourish.

Employers and nonprofit organizations will be drawn into the same space and conversation. Education will allow these groups to speak the same language and share common goals.

A shared vision is another goal. All entities that touch those who struggle with poverty will connect in a new way that opens up needed opportunities that haven’t existed before. The ultimate goal for all will become generating meaningful work and self-sufficiency for those currently living in poverty.

While building a partnership with HWDG, our company has been provided an opportunity to help our local community and hire individual’s looking for opportunities in the work field. I’ve enjoyed working with Hiring Well Doing Good and look forward to hiring more great associates that they provide in the future.

Donnel Baskett

Higher Education, Aramark


Q: What’s the jobs situation like in Columbus right now?

Kristin: It’s going well right now. In general, Columbus tends to lag a little behind other areas of the country. When we do have a recession, we may not see it as immediately. I do have contacts in certain industries who tell me they don’t have many entry level jobs, but they do have job needs in a specific area that require targeted training. Figuring out how to align these targeted needs with talent development will be a critical piece to address.

Above all, employers say they need motivated employees who are willing to work and care and are self-motivated.


Q: Share some of the partners you’re working with in Columbus. What makes these relationships so effective and special?

Kristin: HWDG is part of a larger movement in Columbus that’s super exciting. We’re able to tap into a lot of existing support and networks to help people find jobs. Many of the existing efforts currently exist in isolation. We’re working with these other groups to bring a more connected experience to low-income families and, specifically, underemployed job seekers.

Columbus 2025 began a few years back. It was initiated after a Chamber of Commerce inter-city leadership trip.

One action area of Columbus 2025 is called Talented, Educated People. It’s all about aligning education and workforce development and increasing the overall talent pool available in Columbus. A large part of the focus up until this year has been on the skilled workforce—how to best align with the school system.

It was leaving out what HWDG was doing—reengaging those not currently engaged in the workforce. We are being adopted into Columbus 2025 as part of the reengagement arm. They saw our value add there.

This is our first year of figuring out how we connect into that.

HWDG has given me hope, resources, and taught me strategies that help me make better decisions. It has empowered me to understand my abilities and how they relate in a job. I feel encouraged and inspired that I can be more than who I am!

Raquel Tarver

HWDG Participant

Another component group, start up this year, is the Chattahoochee Valley Poverty Reduction Coalition. It specifically pulls together resource providers and other community leaders into a working group to reduce barriers. The initial focus is on families who have kids under the age of 5, helping to move them toward self-sufficiency.

We’re gathering data and addressing priority issues together.

HWDG will be involved with the employment component. We are also an advocate for a common family intake form and online community portal that can be used across programs serving our target families.

Another important group we’re able to work with is Mayor’s Commission on Reentry. The purpose of the Mayor’s Commission on Reentry is to coordinate local efforts to support adults exiting local and state incarceration facilities in Columbus and statewide that will be released to a Muscogee County residency.

This is an important piece.

Impact Your Community Today!

Find out how your business or organization can better serve the unemployed or underemployed in your community.
From prisoner to influencer: Tony’s story

From prisoner to influencer: Tony’s story

From prisoner to influencer: Tony’s story

The day that Tony Kitchens was released from prison in 1985, he did an unusual thing: He got down on the ground and created a fake “snow angel” on the grass.

“I was elated, but nervous. Free, but I didn’t know anything. The sun was very bright. Red was very red, green was very green,” Tony recalls.

Tony faced significant struggles early in his life. He grew up in segregation-era rural Georgia and Atlanta, in neighborhoods riddled with drugs and crime. His dad was an alcoholic and abused his mom.

Tony was incarcerated as a teenager for 12 years. After his release in 1985, he knew he had a choice to make—follow a path that would lead him back to prison, or make the hard choices that would provide him with a future.

For Tony, the choice was simple: “I knew one thing: Even if I had to sleep in a gutter, I wasn’t going back to prison.”

That’s not to say the road wasn’t challenging. Far from it, in fact.


Digging out after incarceration

At the time, Tony had no job, no formal training, and no education. He didn’t know how to communicate appropriately, and he suffered from feeling like an outsider all the time. He looked for a job, but his criminal record was a huge roadblock.

The big difference came when an employer took a chance on Tony and hired him at a service station pumping gas. The pay was just $5 an hour, and his commute was two hours by bus. But Tony didn’t mind—he was moving forward.

“I was always grateful for the small things, because I know what it was like to have nothing at all. I don’t complain about jobs,” says Tony.


A life transformed

Soon, Tony began to climb the economic ladder, pursuing an education and eventually earning a bachelor’s degree. Another monumental change came in his life when he married and had his son.

“Up to then, I would smoke two packs of cigarettes today. I decided to quit then and there and focus my life on someone other than myself,” Tony says. “That’s when I came to realize the more I focused on other people, the better I felt. I began to understand that everything wasn’t about me.”

Today, Tony has dedicated his life to helping other men and women, just like him, transition to a fulfilling life after prison. He is Field Director for Georgia for Prison Fellowship, and formerly served as a Prison In-Reach Specialist for the Georgia government.

And we’re thrilled to report that Tony recently joined our board of directors here at the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

From prisoner to influencer. And the key driver was a job.


Celebrating work

We’re celebrating the life-transforming power of work all during the month of October. Our groundbreaking, community-driven program Hiring Well, Doing Good offers a unique solution to chronic unemployment across Georgia. Learn more.

As Tony often shares, “I keep all my possibilities on my windshield and my prison experience in the rearview mirror. If you’re always looking in the rearview mirror, you’re going to run into something. In the end, I know that if my prison experience didn’t kill me then, no matter what I face today, I know it won’t kill me.”

Best-selling author Tim Carney offers insights on America’s economic, cultural problems

Best-selling author Tim Carney offers insights on America’s economic, cultural problems

America is in an economic and cultural crisis, as millions lack the tools that make a fulfilling life: A great education, stable job, and healthy relationships. The chief question, of course, is how to best connect our neighbors with opportunities that lead to a flourishing life.

Tim CarneyTim Carney—best-selling author, Washington Examiner commentary editor, and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute—has some excellent answers in his latest book, Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse.  Tim will be highlighting his findings at this years Breakthrough event in Atlanta, GA.

Hot off the press in February, Alienated America examines the dissolution of our nation’s most cherished institutions—nuclear families, places of worship, and civic organizations. In this his third book, Carney chronicles how life is getting worse for people in some parts of the country because folks are facing their problems alone.

And after visiting all corners of America and digging deep into the data, Carney concludes what we here at the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) have been saying for years—failing social connections are driving a great divide in America that can’t be fixed solely with job-training programs or more entitlement spending.

Specifically, Carney makes the case that just three groups represent most of America: the elites, the religious conservatives, and the alienated. And while community and civil society has been eroding across all groups across the nation in recent years, it has not done so equally for each group.

In alignment with GCO’s view, Carney argues that working class people in America are currently suffering more than other groups because they no longer have the institutions to connect them to others—and provide an all-important sense of purpose. It’s this profound lack of belonging—and an inability to see this disconnect—that drives a sense of alienation that not only divides us as a nation, but tragically leads to despair and an erosion of individual self-worth and belief in opportunity.

While the problems before us as a nation often seem daunting, the good news is that both GCO and Tim Carney’s Alienated America present a framework for positive community-focused solutions that overcome deeply entrenched obstacles to opportunity and unleash prosperity at the individual, family, and community levels.

We’re thrilled that Tim Carney will be joining us for Breakthrough 2019 on September 11 in Atlanta. The event brings together some of America’s most innovative researchers, policy experts, and community-based practitioners to lead timely discussions on solutions that unlock human potential—and enable individuals, families, and communities to flourish in Georgia and around the country. Stay tuned over the course of the summer as we announce additional event keynote and discussion panel speakers.

Successes During the 2019 Legislative Session

Successes During the 2019 Legislative Session

As the dust settles on another Georgia legislative session, we are pleased to report that the overall results for bills that GCO worked on to achieve passage were positive and encouraging.


Education Opportunities Expand Once Again

For starters, in the education arena we collaborated with key legislators to put into action House Bill 787, which had been approved by the legislature in the previous session. This new law creates equitable facilities funding for charter schools—allowing them to receive funds for their facilities on par with those given to traditional public schools.


Job Licensing Reform

On the employment front, our team successfully worked to pass a key piece of occupational licensing reform legislation. Now, people who get behind on their student loan payments won’t risk losing their occupational licensing—helping to ensure that more Georgians will be able to get a good job and keep it after completing their education.


Removing The Welfare Cliff of Healthcare

On welfare reform, we worked with Governor Brian Kemp’s administration to move forward healthcare waivers for Georgia. This crucial step toward full welfare reform would remove built-in benefit cliffs while adding work requirements for public assistance. Ultimately, this helps our fellow Georgians break free from governmental dependency and lead renewed lives of dignity and purpose.


We Are Just Getting Started

While we are proud of these successes, there’s still much work to be done in the next legislative session, particularly in the educational arena. Unfortunately, lawmakers fell short of passing Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs) this year. However, the good news is that we came closer than ever to success—and we’re optimistic that ESAs will become a reality next year. In fact, the high level of co-sponsor support from Governor Kemp’s floor leaders signals that this important issue will likely return for consideration in the next legislative session.

When it comes to ESAs, the stakes are high for thousands of Georgia students and their families. Not only would ESAs help parents like Katie Gonzalez—a mother of seven adopted children, including six with special needs—they would offer much-needed flexibility and assistance to students from low-income families, those adopted from foster care, children of active duty military stationed in Georgia, students with an Individualized Education Program, and those with a documented history of being bullied.


Looking Ahead

Looking ahead to 2020, GCO will continue to work toward implementing common-sense reforms on not just ESAs, but also in welfare and occupational licensing to ensure that every Georgian has the opportunity to flourish through a great education, steady employment, and healthy family life. The bottom line is that we are optimistic that the legislative successes coming out of the 2019 session will translate into passage of more key legislation next year.