Enterprising Education How metro Atlanta companies spark learning throughout the community
Atlanta boasts the nickname “The Phoenix City,” with that proud bird and its characteristic flames emblazoned on the city crest along with the mantra “Resurgens.” Here, we don’t fear the fire. Here, we spark change and ignite progress. Here, we rise from the ashes, using every resource available to grow stronger and brighter. Several companies based here in the nest of the phoenix shine light on education as one of the most powerful ways to enlighten the community. These local torchbearers see the flicker and stoke the embers, fueling the next generation.
Taste of Greatness
Rodney Bullard, Vice President of Community Affairs for Chick-Fil-A, Inc. and Executive Director of the Chick-Fil-A Foundation, finds continued inspiration in the CFA Foundation’s creed to help every child become all they were created to be. Bullard sees daily examples of how their programs spark motivation for the educational, personal and professional achievement of participating students. “Our founder, S. Truett Cathy, understood the value of giving back,” Bullard says. Therefore, the education initiatives developed and supported by Chick-Fil-A strive to continue creating leaders for communities throughout the nation, including here at home in metro Atlanta.
So far, more than $60 million in scholarships have been awarded to 5,700 students. CFA also partners with colleges and universities to secure tuition discounts for some team members.
The spotlight on education begins right inside each individual restaurant with opportunities for employees, known as Chick-Fil-A (CFA) team members. Applications for CFA Remarkable Futures Scholarships are available to any CFA team member, whether full-time or part-time, seeking higher education at an accredited two- or four-year college, university or technical/vocational school. Candidates could be awarded either a Leadership Scholarship of $2,500 or might even qualify as a True Inspiration Scholar earning $25K in funding toward their education. So far, more than $60 million in scholarships have been awarded to 5,700 students. CFA also partners with colleges and universities to secure tuition discounts for some team members. “With different programs for team members, we’re able to pour into them in several ways,” Bullard explains. “Part of the application is a recommendation from the store owner, and candidates can reapply each year. Over 60 percent of the recipients would not be able to go to school without this, and about 20 percent of our recipients are the first in their family to go to college. We love the stories of the influence CFA has had for them—how it spreads through the community.”
Outside of the restaurant, CFA challenges high school students to become part of the CFA Leader Academy program. Started six years ago and now active in 900 different high schools across the country, this seven-week leadership curriculum requires participants to create their own projects targeted for impact within their community. Each student must research and determine what needs exist within their community and devise a plan to address those needs. These projects put students at the helm, fostering creative leadership techniques that serve to achieve goals and influence peers.
In 2013, CFA connected with Junior Achievement (JA) to support its long-successful curriculum for economic education. While CFA partners with JA programs around the country, here in Atlanta the relationship took on a special bond with the opening of the JA/CFA Discovery Center. This facility inside the Georgia World Congress Center presents an immersive learning experience for middle school kids, pulling business education out of textbooks and putting it into practice, ultimately showing students where they too can make a difference.
The Real Thing
Atlanta’s iconic Coca-Cola Company bubbles over with enthusiasm for supporting educational opportunities through several paths for students leading the charge. For almost 30 years, the Coca-Cola Scholars Program has been funding scholarships for high-achieving students across America through an annual application process recognizing high school seniors based on their ability to lead others and to serve their communities. “These are students who are not only smart, but who have a passion for making the world a better place,” says Lauren O’Brien of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. “Just reading their applications alone is inspiring!” Each year, the company receives around 90,000 initial applications from an online entry; eventually, through more intensive applications and interviews, the pool narrows to a final group of 150 Scholars, each rewarded with $20,000 in scholarships to the colleges of their choice. And in addition to awarding scholarships, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation maintains ongoing relationships with all members of every annual class of Scholars by hosting regular events, connecting members with each other and providing enrichment opportunities—far more than college funding alone. “It acknowledges what they are doing really matters,” O’Brien says. “We hear [from candidates] that this encouragement propels them to do even more when they see such a large company recognizing them.”
The Coca-Cola Foundation First Generation Scholarship expands the reach of that encouragement to those students hoping to be the first in their immediate families to attend college. Established in 1993, this program was the first of its kind heralding a singular focus to identify these young “pioneers” and to invest in the domino effect higher education can have on an entire family. The First Generation funds go directly to the schools, which then select recipients from among their applicants. Wanda Rodwell from The Coca-Cola Foundation explains that while this is a national program, “we’ve given over $79 million to colleges and universities right here in the metro area. We hear amazing stories, such as a girl from a farming community who didn’t have the resources [for college] but literally found herself in the field one day and at school the next!”
At the grassroots level, Coca-Cola also takes action in its own neighborhood, working with Atlanta’s Westside Future Fund toward revitalization of the area right behind Coca-Cola headquarters. Here, the
Foundation supports both the Hollis Innovation Academy with grants to add classroom teachers, and also partners with the Atlanta Police Foundation At-Promise Center in an effort to further develop its after-school programming. “Our local strategy is to enhance communities and help them to thrive,” Rodwell says. “There is so much out in the community that we can be doing, and we look for ways that we can be part of change.”
Build Something Solid
The familiar orange aprons of Home Depot carry more than just tools for that DIY project. The Home Depot Foundation sharpens the tools for education necessary to build strong futures for motivated students ready to learn a skilled trade. This year, the Foundation set forth a commitment of $50 million in funding to train tradespeople in an effort to deepen the pool of skilled labor available for employers.
Executive director of The Home Depot Foundation, Shannon Gerber, calls this an effort “to bring shop class back, coast-to-coast,” with successful models for curriculum completion observed at Ft. Stewart in Georgia and Ft. Bragg in North Carolina. Last year at those military bases, the Foundation collaborated with the Home Builders Institute (HBI) nonprofit to initiate a trade education program for military members transitioning into civilian life. The graduates earned certification through a 12-week pre-apprenticeship program combining academic work and technical training; they then received job placement assistance. Now the Foundation hopes to expand that success, serving veterans across the country as they pursue new careers.
The Home Depot Foundation embraces this opportunity to provide more training and more resources than ever before, targeting a goal of training at least 20,000 new workers in the next decade.
Locally in Atlanta on the Westside, The Home Depot Foundation also works with the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) to establish higher -level training for tradespeople looking to advance their skill sets. These classes are held in conjunction with the Westside Works facility as part of its comprehensive technical education offerings for neighborhood residents seeking employment. This is key, as Bureau of Labor statistics indicate a massive need for skilled labor along with growing concern about the dearth of tradespeople coming into the workforce compared to the ratio of retiring professionals. This “gap” opens up enormous potential for future employment to meet the increasing demand. The Home Depot Foundation embraces this opportunity to provide more training and more resources than ever before, targeting a goal of training at least 20,000 new workers in the next decade.
It’s this kind of dedication to education that sets metro Atlanta companies apart. The spark they create undoubtedly will light the way to the future.
For students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a flourishing career in the corporate world may not seem like a viable dream. However, LexisNexis Risk Solutions® recently partnered with Cumberland Academy of Georgia, a metro Atlanta-based private special needs school, to show that it’s not only a possibility, but also an incredible opportunity.
In August 2018, the company hosted a two-day coding and career seminar for high school students at Cumberland Academy, which specializes in serving students with high-functioning autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADD, ADHD and learning disabilities and is the first school in Georgia chosen to participate in the event. During the experience, students were paired with volunteer mentors from LexisNexis Risk Solutions to complete a coding project using ECL coding language, which is a specific coding language developed for use with the company’s high-performance computing platform, HPCC Systems. After completing the project and presenting their work to the group, participating students enjoyed a tour of LexisNexis Risk Solutions’ data center in Alpharetta and were given advice from additional mentors for creating a resume and handling job interviews.
“Many of our students are math-oriented and already have been identified with coding proficiencies. This seminar gave our students a more in depth study of coding and added to their current skill level. Students found the resume writing and interview process invaluable. We are so grateful for our partnership with LexisNexis Risk Solutions. This is an opportunity for our students that can assist them as they make their way to college,” says Debbi Scarborough, headmaster and founding director of Cumberland Academy of Georgia. “Our students loved working together with the employees of LexisNexis Risk Solutions. The mentors were absolute rock stars. They were so patient and encouraging with our students. We hope they come back next year, so more students can join us and learn even more about coding and gain business-related skills.”