When she first started working with the Westside Future Fund (WFF), Carol Waddy knew the organization was positioned to make a tremendous impact in the underserved, disinvested Westside community – and she was committed to help make it happen.
Waddy, director of Corporate Social Responsibility for Chick-fil-A, Inc., joined Chick-fil-A with the specific intent to help support company Chairman Dan Cathy’s philanthropic efforts on the Westside. With her, she brought years of experience and commitment to supporting underserved communities in Atlanta, including a decade-long tenure with United Way of Greater Atlanta.
Waddy’s relationship with the Westside is personal. From a young age, she’d become engrained on the Westside – from memories of lunches at Paschal’s while on vacation with family to attending graduate school at Clark Atlanta University. Her time in the community exposed her to the extensive needs and gaps in resources for local residents.
“Over the decades, there have been a lot of broken promises and disinvestment for this community. It’s important that we right that. We need to make it possible for people here to stay and thrive, not just survive,” said Waddy.
In the formative days of WFF, Cathy, Waddy and Chick-fil-A leaders joined forces with WFF leadership with the goal of bringing together civic and corporate leaders as well as local residents in a way that would be engaging and informative about the critical needs of the Westside. From that came the Transform Westside Summit – and as the event grew, it became clear that the organization had an opportunity to further expand community engagement and really make an impact.
“They started as small Friday morning meetings at City of Refuge, where I was getting up and arriving at City of Refuge at 5:30 in the morning, setting up chairs and helping them figure out the weekly programming,” said Waddy. “As the event grew, we started putting together a plan together through collaboration between Dan, WFF leadership and other stakeholders on how to engage the community more broadly and educate people on the work the organization is doing to draw more people in.”
Waddy then approached John Ahmann, the newly appointed president and CEO of WFF, with an idea.
“I immediately thought that volunteer efforts could be a wonderful and effective way to get corporate partners to come to the table, learn more and engage in a hands-on way,” said Waddy. “The thinking at the time was ‘if they do that, they’ll also want to give.’ Not to say that the needs and the story weren’t enough, but there’s nothing like having your staff come out and say ‘it was amazing, I connected with the Westside.’”
In that moment, the WFF Volunteer Corps was born. At the time, WFF’s team was small and just getting started in their mission. They needed help getting the program off the ground, so Waddy turned to her friends at United Way of Greater Atlanta who agreed to help provide resources for volunteerism. In an effort to bridge costs as WFF built up its team, Chick-fil-A elected to underwrite the costs of kicking up the program, paying United Way costs to partner with WFF.
“We simply helped with the initial efforts to engage corporations, large community groups and other folks who may not necessarily understand or know the impact of WFF,” said Waddy. “From there, once people really got out into the community and understood its needs, the mission of WFF did the rest.”
Waddy, Cathy and Chick-fil-A’s commitment to the Westside didn’t stop there. Over the years, the company has been deeply involved in philanthropic efforts supporting local schools alongside WFF, and extended their support to other local organizations for change in the community.
“We wanted tocome in and help local organizations small and large in the community and help them succeed. We didn’t want to come in and create anything new or get in anyone’s way, we saw that these organizations were doing great work and wanted to be a resource for their success,” said Waddy.
As his philanthropic efforts on the Westside continued to expand, Cathy took notice of one issue in particular – food security. His solution: open a Chick-fil-A in the community where restaurants and groceries are largely absent – and do so in a way that it supports the community in more ways than one.
“Dan made the commitment to bring the restaurant to the community. To me, that was the biggest ‘putting your money where your mouth is’ investment that you could make. The goal was not only to bring in a place where people could get quality food, bring in a job center with over 100 jobs, and be a resource for the community. Within that store, is a community resource room dedicated to H. Herman Russell, a hometown and community hero,” said Waddy. “Quincy Springs, the owner operator, was selected from his role as the general manager of the Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd Walmart as someone who was already known, trusted and committed to the Westside.”
The partnership between Chick-fil-A and WFF has been essential to the organization’s success. With their support, WFF has been able to provide key resources to local residents that both protect their ability to remain in their homes without being priced out while simultaneously transforming the neighborhoods into clean, safe and vibrant communities.
“The Westside community is a part of the historic fabric of Atlanta and the Nation. I don’t know if folks really understand that. It can’t be left behind. It’s important for legacy families and residents can remain in the community and thrive in the community,” said Waddy. “The work of the Westside Future Fund is what makes it possible for these legacy residents to stay, to have the resources they need.”
As WFF continues its work to revitalize the five historic Westside neighborhoods – English Avenue, Vine City, Ashview Heights, Atlanta University Center and Just Us – the hard work continues with results that would make Dr. King proud to call the Westside home.