Forging Pathways of Success for Westside Residents

Meet Sylvia Russell, WFF’s Governance and Nominating Committee Chair

In 2013, AT&T Georgia President Sylvia Russell decided it was time to retire. Russell came to Atlanta in 1996, and after more than 20 years of hard work and dedication with the telecom corporation, it was time to embark on a new mission. Russell considered having a relaxing, care-free retirement, but when she looked around Atlanta she said to herself ‘there’s still work to be done.’ That’s when she discovered Westside Future Fund (WFF).

Leading the Way

“I made a conscious decision to help make Atlanta a better place,” said Russell. “We have this huge wealth gap that is both troubling and perplexing. The Westside of Atlanta has consistently been left behind, and these neighborhoods have not benefited from the economic growth much of Atlanta has experienced. Rather than stand by, I wanted to be a part of doing something to make a difference, which is what led me to Westside Future Fund.”

Russell sits on the WFF Board of Directors and chairs the Governance and Nominating Committee. She also sits on the Booker T. Washington High School Go Team, an advisory group she describes as the ‘principal’s kitchen cabinet.’

She brings years of experience from a lengthy history of leadership in corporate and philanthropic organizations in Atlanta including service on the Board of Directors of the Technical College System of Georgia, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the Georgia Corporation for Economic Development, the Woodruff Arts Center and Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs (RICE).

Cheering for the Westside

On the WFF Board, Russell’s extensive experience and knowledge help guide decision making on both economic and education initiatives. Among all of the work that she does with the Westside, there’s one role she believes is most important, and it is driven by her passion for the community.

“The most important thing I do is be a big cheerleader,” she said. “When people who know me ask what I’m doing, one of the first things that comes out of my mouth is the work of Westside Future Fund. I just feel so good about the possibilities it brings to the communities we’re serving.”

Russell’s extensive philanthropic involvement experience both personally and with AT&T Georgia has largely centered around education, which she describes as her primary focus.

According to her, bridging the wealth gap and priming members of the community to succeed requires stability in the four impact areas of focus for the Westside Future Fund: safety and security, cradle to career education, community health and wellness, and most importantly access to affordable housing.

Russell says, “When you think about the wealth gap and eradicating poverty, housing is a huge part of that. There is nothing like the stability of having a home. Without it, how can you do anything? How can you educate your kids?”

A Lasting Impact

After working with the organization for several years, she believes the Westside Future Fund is on the right track to make structural change, and she is confident that the mission to revitalize the community is being realized through their collective work.

“We work with the community and we listen to address all of the things that any of us would want for ourselves and for our families,” said Russell. “I think we’re creating a model that can be replicated over time by other communities. We are looking at it holistically and with the intent for this to be a systemic, long-term solution.”

As WFF continues its transformative work revitalizing the community, awareness of the importance of the organization’s mission remains a sticking point for Russell. She encourages people to experience the Westside community firsthand by taking one of the Westside Future Fund monthly tours.

Input from experienced leaders like Russell and the community have guided the tremendous success WFF has had in all of its initiatives – forging pathways for Westside residents to live in a safe, healthy and vibrant community.

“This is an organization that has dug in deep, has a plan, and is executing that plan. The plan is what makes the city better – and that makes all of us better.”