Georgia Senate committee votes to maintain felon rights restrictions

Georgia Senate committee votes to maintain felon rights restrictions

The Senate Study Committee on Revising Voting Rights for Nonviolent Felony Offenders decided Wednesday to keep Georgia’s constitution as it is.

The members voted 3-2 in favor of continuing to restrict nearly 250,000 convicted Georgia felons from voting.

According to Georgia’s law, people who have been convicted of crimes with moral turpitude cannot vote until they complete their full sentence, including probation or parole. The U.S. Department of Justice defines moral turpitude as “conduct that shocks the public conscience.”

The state’s constitution does not clearly define the term, however, leaving all felonies subject to the law.

The committee was created to study which specific nonviolent crimes should be eligible for voting rights restoration based upon the moral turpitude exemption. Over four months, the committee heard testimony from advocacy groups on different sides of criminal justice reform.

According to the Georgia Center for Opportunity, one in 13 adults in Georgia is in jail, prison, on probation or parole. That’s significantly higher than the national average of one in 31.


Read the full article here

The Little Things: Keeping Perspective On Thanksgiving

The Little Things: Keeping Perspective On Thanksgiving

The Little Things: Keeping Perspective On Thanksgiving

Like many of you, this Thanksgiving our family will sit around a large table filled with decorations, turkey, stuffing,  mashed potatoes, that odd jello that your distant aunt insists on bringing, and those that we love. At some point, someone will clang a glass to announce a few things they are thankful for. Others will join in, prayers will be said, and then we will converge into a moment of gorging ourselves on the bountiful blessings in front of us.

It’s a picture that will be repeated in many family homes across the country as we come together this Thanksgiving day. 

These moments of reflection help us keep perspective on our lives, but also on the lives of others. We still live in a nation where nearly 49 million people are in poverty, including almost 14 million children. Their Thanksgiving dinner will likely be much different than our own.

The point of mentioning that is not to make anyone feel guilty, but rather to bring understanding and perspective on the blessings and responsibilities we do have. The truth is that we do not all face the same obstacles or opportunities in life.

Thanksgiving is a unique time for us to reflect on the opportunities we do have. Many of us, but not all, have had the opportunity to take advantage of a good education, a good job, and even a supportive family structure. These seemingly small things have helped set us up for success.

As you sit down this year and enjoy the time with family, dinner, and even the jello, remember the small things which brought you to this moment. Reflect on the opportunities afforded to you. And consider those less fortunate who are still waiting for their “little things” to arrive.

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.

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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.

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Second Chances Matter: Greg’s Story

Second Chances Matter: Greg’s Story

Second Chances Matter: Greg’s Story

If there’s one thing hard-baked into the American dream, it’s the second chance.

We all love second-chance stories—from the Gospel message itself found in the Bible to movies like Les Miserables, Invictus, or The Green Mile.

Perhaps it’s precisely because we all make mistakes and long to be treated with grace—and space to try again—that second chances matter.

And if second chances matter for you and me in the ordinary circumstances of our lives, how much more do second chances matter to those who have committed crimes and paid their debt to society—only to have doors slammed in their faces when they try to start over?

For a glimpse into the life of a Braselton, Georgia man who experienced first-hand how hard it was to get back on his feet after serving his prison sentence—and how important it was to have folks willing to give him a second chance—check out Greg Leppa’s story in the video above.

As Greg’s story proves, second chances are all about hope for a better future. And this is where Georgia Center for Opportunity’s groundbreaking program, Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG) comes in. HWDG offers folks coming out of prison—and other circumstances with significant barriers to employment—the resources and tools they need to find a job with a livable wage.

Through key partnerships with employers, community groups, churches, and other nonprofits, HWDG helps participants at this critical juncture of their lives identify the things that are holding them back, gain clarity on next steps and set goals, and acquire the necessary job skills to get a job and become successful.

As Greg shares, nobody can survive without a job. And as his story shows, getting that first job after prison was the most difficult thing because so many places weren’t open to hiring former inmates.

Second chances really do matter.

Click here to learn more about the HWDG program and find out how you can help give folks like Greg the second chance they need to not just survive, but thrive.

Introducing an Innovative New Way for Those in Poverty to Find Work

Introducing an Innovative New Way for Those in Poverty to Find Work

Introducing an Innovative New Way for Those in Poverty to Find Work

Government, particularly at the federal level, can only do so much to help those who are struggling in poverty to lead stable lives. We know instinctively that real change happens at the community level, when individuals, businesses, nonprofits, churches, and schools come together in the joint mission of lifting people out of poverty, giving them purpose, and strengthening the local economy.

That’s the theory behind Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG) initiative. HWDG brings together individuals seeking jobs with employers who need good workers and nonprofit community organizations who serve those in need.

Here’s the exciting news: Until this point, HWDG was all about one-on-one, face-to-face interaction. As a result, there was a natural limit to the number of people we could reach.


Announcing the HWDG online portal

The great news is that we’re taking the one-on-one interaction that makes HWDG so special and effective and scaling it online. In the coming weeks, we’ll be launching a new online portal website for HWDG as a pilot test in Columbus before scaling to other Georgia cities later in 2020, including South Gwinnett.

Individuals start with the HWDG online assessment tool to identify their barriers. The portal then shepherds them through the process and connects them with wrap-around services to remove their employment barriers and then directly with employers eager to hire.

Employers who participate benefit by getting a steady stream of committed, reliable workers ready to contribute.

“We couldn’t be more excited about the launch of HWDG’s online portal,” said Eric Cochling, Chief Program Officer and General Counsel for GCO who is also heading up HWDG. “This gives us a unique opportunity to reach underserved areas and treat individuals holistically. We know that a well-paying, upwardly mobile job is a key factor in well-being. But the benefits of work extend so far behind that—it provides a sense of purpose and contribution to one’s family and broader community.” 

What makes the HWDG portal unique

It would be a mistake to think of the HWDG portal as just another or What makes this portal unique is the fact that it addresses the individual from multiple sides.

We’ve actually vetted and worked with the full spectrum of local resources to ensure that peoples’ barriers are addressed and resolved. We match a specific individual to help for a specific barrier they’ve experienced that’s preventing them from getting a job.

That’s what really excites us. Other services only have one side of the equation—linking an individual with a job. But that’s not treating people like people. The wrap-around services provided by the HWDG portal remove the barriers that make employment difficult.