The May 3, 2019 Transform Westside Summit featured guest speakers from CHRIS 180, including CEO Kathy Colbenson and COO Cindy Simpson. Colbenson and Simpson participated in a panel alongside CHRIS 180 team members A.P. Thompson and James Tomlin, discussing CHRIS 180 programs. Also joining the panel were Isaac Simpson, a CHRIS 180 At-Promise Youth and Community Center participant, and Shauna Hughley, Westside resident and CHRIS 180 program participant.
Colbenson opened the discussion by sharing about CHRIS 180’s mission to heal children, strengthen families and build community. The organization has specific programs supporting Atlanta’s Historic Westside, including:
Outreach and community housing in partnership with Westside Future Fund’s (WFF) resident retention program to help provide safe and affordable housing to Historic Westside legacy residents.
Additionally, a new Westside Empowerment Center will open soon, providing counseling and community health care coordination. The center will be located at 810 Joseph E. Boone Blvd.
Almost all of CHRIS 180’s programs are in partnership with other organizations. “We work largely through partnerships, because we can’t do it alone,” said Colbenson.
CHRIS 180 COO Cindy Simpson shared how, in comparison to other communities, Atlanta’s Westside is making great strides forward. “It amazes me how far we’ve come working together on the Westside,” Cindy said. “Our partnership with Quest Development for housing, our partnership with Westside Future Fund, Atlanta Police Foundation, Urban League and all of our schools … We are way ahead.” She went on to introduce Thompson, CHRIS 180 At-Promise Youth and Community Center coordinator, and Isaac.
Thompson explained how the At-Promise Center’s partnership with CHRIS 180 has allowed the center to be innovative in its approach to helping Westside teens. He shared how one of the center’s first initiatives was to bridge the gap between community policing and the community, especially youth. And that’s exactly what the center did and continues to do, he said, adding, “What the At-Promise Center provides is a safe space. It provides a place that feels like family. A place that cares. CHRIS 180 has taken this program of wraparound services and is collaborating [with others].”
Isaac was one of the first teens to participate in the At-Promise Youth and Community Center when it opened in 2017. “One of the first things they told me was how they are there for our success. They are there for you, they inspire you,” he said. Isaac is now a senior at Booker T. Washington High School and will graduate later this month. He plans to attend the University of West Georgia and, thanks to his involvement with CHRIS 180 and the At-Promise Youth and Community Center, he already has a summer internship lined up.
Next up, Tomlin shared how CHRIS 180 helps provide temporary and permanent housing to residents in need. Just last year, CHRIS 180 helped source housing for 118 families, which totaled 525 people. He explained how “housing is a process. It takes a village to raise a family.” He also shared how CHRIS 180’s housing program is possible through collaboration and partnerships. “Quest Community Development Program helps us find housing when we can’t,” he said.
Tomlin then introduced Westside resident Shauna Hughley, a single mother of four who has benefitted from CHRIS 180’s counseling and housing services. CHRIS 180 helped Hughley and her children leave an abusive household and provided them with respite and refuge during an uncertain time. “That was my beginning,” she said. “It’s not easy, I’m still healing.” Hughley now has an apartment, a safe space for herself and her children to heal and grow. “People don’t know about research. We don’t know about all this stuff available to us. If we learn that, this community is going up.”
Summit attendees were able to ask panelists questions about CHRIS 180 programs and how they are supporting Westside residents. One attendee asked what is CHRIS 180’s biggest need right now. Colbenson answered, “We need to get the word out and listen to the voices of the people we serve.” Other ways people can lend a hand include helping provide temporary housing, donating welcome kits for those in temporary housing (including hygiene and household items) and offering storage space for individuals transitioning between housing.
When asked about his experience with the At-Promise Youth and Community Center, specifically how many other young people joined the center alongside him and how they are doing today, Isaac answered, “My friends are doing amazing. Many are graduating college or getting their GEDs.”
One attendee asked how CHRIS 180 is addressing equity and equality when it comes to affordable housing and other programs. Colbensen replied, “We are committed to equity and we are committed to the work we do to empower people [who have] fewer resources to have more resources. Our advocacy is really tireless around the issue of equity.”
Another attendee then asked what CHRIS 180 considers to be bridge housing and how many housing units could CHRIS 180 use today. Colbensen and Simpson both agreed that CHRIS 180 could use 30 units as of today. Bridge housing could be houses or apartments – any sort of home that is temporary – with rental periods from 30 to 90 days – so those benefitting can move to a more permanent housing solution.
Colbenson closed the Q&A by once again sharing about the Westside Empowerment Center. “It’s an adult service center, because healthy children need healthy adults,” she said. “We want adults to come and be able to get the integrated health services they need.”
Opening devotion was led by Leah Hernandez, founder and CEO of Young Arthurs Publishing and graduating senior at Clark Atlanta University. Hernandez shared how important it is to keep the mission of lifting up and supporting Atlanta’s Westside top of mind. As a student graduating in two short weeks, Hernandez explained, “We will all be students for the rest of our lives.”
Additional Summit Highlights:
The Anti-Displacement Tax Fund program deadline has been extended to June 1, 2019. To date, 94 Westside homeowners have enrolled in the program. Apply here.
The At-Promise Youth and Community Center will host a field day on May 18 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. The event will bring together over 500 youth, 200 volunteers and 100 law enforcement officers for a fun day. Register here.
Congratulations to the Atlanta Police Foundation and the At-Promise Youth and Community Center on receiving the FBI’s Community Leadership Award.
The Atlanta Business Chronicle recently published its 2019 Westside Market Report. Read the report here.
Summit attendees who are current residents of the Westside or who work for a nonprofit serving Westside neighborhoods have a chance to win a $50 gift card from The Home Depot at each Summit event. Congratulations to Linda Adams, the May 3 winner, pictured below.
Transform Westside Summit – Friday, May 3, 2019 About the Transform Westside Summit: Westside Future Fund’s Transform Westside Summit is held on the 1st and 3rd Friday of each month and is free and open to the public. Our audience includes a diverse group of stakeholders. Longtime neighborhood residents, community and faith leaders, heads of non-profits and corporate executives come together to share success stories and discuss challenges that currently affect our Westside neighborhoods. Meetings begin promptly at 7:15 a.m. with morning devotion,* presented by a member of the historic Westside community, and complimentary breakfast, provided by Summit sponsor Chick-fil-A. Many in our community are driven by their spiritual faith to participate in the Westside revitalization effort. The time at the beginning of our meetings is an opportunity to share various inspirational reflections. While the speakers may articulate their personal faith, it is meant to be inclusive, inspiring and meaningful. All are welcome.