July 6, 2022

By: Kayla Jones, GSIC Social Impact Fellow

True to its tagline, “Design for Abundant Living,” Rochelle Porter Design (RPD) believes everyone along the value chain should have the chance to live well. RPD prioritizes fair pay and the use of organic materials whenever possible. Their goal is to “Create the flyest possible products while doing the least possible harm.”

GSIC spoke with Rochelle Porter to learn more about her company and commitment to ethics, sustainability, and creating beautiful products.

 

 

GSIC: Thanks so much for being here. We’d love to hear about your journey as a designer and what inspires you as you design. 

 

Rochelle: Well actually, designing wasn’t always a dream that I had. I have no formal art background or ever thought about a design career growing up. I come from a very traditional immigrant, West Indian family. My family’s Guyanese and I was born there. And, with many immigrant families, you come to the U.S., you go to a good school, and you get a job as a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. So that was all I knew. I didn’t have any interest in any of those fields really, or any desire or any inclination toward them.

A career in design or art was not one of the job options. But I always doodled as a kid, and as an adult, I doodled on anything I could find. It wasn’t something I saw as a skill or a talent or anything particularly amazing. It was just what I did. It was more like a compulsion than anything. I mean, from you know, drawing on the corner of your books in school, to me being in corporate America and being in like, three-hour-long meetings. People thought I was taking notes voraciously, and it was a whole legal pad full of my doodles! That’s how I made it through those meetings. But I never really thought much of a career in design.

A few weird and pivotal things happened, though. So, I ended up majoring in English and History in college, much to my family’s chagrin. And my first job out of college was as a computer programmer. I hated the job and it was a horrible fit for me, but it was at a Fortune 100 company in Manhattan. I had “arrived.” I was wearing a suit every day, my family was proud, and everything seemed great. But really, I was dying inside. And I knew I was “creative,” but I would have never called myself an artist or anything. So just as an outlet, I took a class at FIT – Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. It was an Intro to Fashion Design class and I took it about 20 years ago at this point. It was only a three-day class and I went to the first two days. The instructor told us that if we wanted to get our products made, we’d have to go to China. I thought to myself doing production in China probably meant human rights violations, child labor, pollution, horrible worker conditions, and all these things that I had no interest in being involved in or perpetuating. So I didn’t bother going to third class and just moved on with my life.

Fast forward over a decade, and I started learning that sustainable fashion was a ‘thing.’ I didn’t initially have a great interest in it. I just knew what went into fast fashion, and I knew that it was bad; I didn’t want to be involved. So I felt encouraged when I learned about sustainable fashion. I took another class one day, but it wasn’t an art class in the traditional sense. It was a class about finding your heart as an artist and learning about how God created us to be creative. It was incredibly life-changing for me. I remember there was a woman in the class with me, and I didn’t know her at the time; but she looked at me and said, “I feel like there’s a dream that you had a long time ago that you put down. But I think God wants you to pick it back up now.” It was nice for her to say that, but not impressed (laughs). I was not impressed because I had picked up so many things from the time I took the FIT class until that moment. I filed the art dream in the back of my brain. And then another instance happened when, I was getting on a flight, and a Delta agent said my name sounded like a clothing line. Things like that kept happening for about a year and a half, and then I finally said to myself, “Okay, I’m listening, what’s going on? Clearly, there’s something here.”

The real turning point for me was going into some department store – it could have been Target or Nordstrom. I saw the stuff on the shelves – clothing, coffee mugs, greeting cards – and they all had these prints on them. The prints looked like things that I doodled. So I started asking myself, “How do people do that?” “How do people get artwork onto products?” I did my research, and found that it was an actual field called “Surface Pattern Design.” People did it for a living, and they had trade shows and conferences, too. I eventually went to the shows and conferences, and it kind of clicked from there. That’s the short version of how I got started!

 

GSIC: Thank you for sharing. Your designs are beautiful. Can you speak more about the surface pattern design style? 

 

Rochelle: It’s called surface pattern design, so anything that has a surface. Textile design is probably what people are most familiar with. But surface pattern design isn’t just textiles. It could be a phone case, wallpaper, fabric – anything that can have a print on it, basically.  

 

GSIC: Thanks for explaining that! Are there any unique challenges you’ve faced while navigating the industry? 

 

Rochelle: Okay, sure. So while I do make apparel products, I actually kind of hate the fashion industry. I love style, I love clothing as a form of self-expression, and I love that you can tell who somebody is without them even saying a word sometimes. That’s amazing to me and it’s beautiful. The industry, of course, is racist, sexist, and not particularly size-inclusive, either. So with my activewear line, specifically, the sizes go from extra small to 6x. We really try to have something for every body type. There are a variety of prints for people who are really bold with color, or a little more conservative. It’s focused on making everything a lot more inclusive.

The sustainability aspect of that is a challenge. Because if you’re using stretchy material, there’s not a whole lot of 100% sustainable options. For example, you can’t make an organic cotton pair of leggings. So the materials are not the most eco-friendly, but our production method is. We use a ‘print on demand’ model, so the item doesn’t get made until the customer orders it. The item then gets printed, cut, sewn, and sent to them in about a week and a half. That way, it’s less likely to end up in a landfill somewhere or languishing on a shelf, or a warehouse. So we try to be mindful of that.

Right now, we source organic cotton and use eco-friendly dyes for printing. This production happens in North Carolina. We try to keep our carbon footprint really low by being as local as possible. We actually have some of our decor made by Amani Women’s Center, which is run by Doris Mukangu, who’s also a Start:ME alum. Her sewing academy is focused on the Clarkston immigrant community. They train them to get to a level where they’re really good and then they start doing production in manufacturing for brands. By using local workers, I know that people are being treated well and paid fairly. They also just do a great job of production.

 

GSIC: That’s great. You recently collaborated with West Elm, congrats on that accomplishment! How do you decide on who to partner with and where to sell your products? 

 

Rochelle: Thank you. That’s an interesting story. With West Elm, the partnership came about in a sort of unconventional way. I had been doing pop-up shops at their stores for years. I heard that independent designers could do pop-up shops in their stores. So I went to one and was like, “Hey, I got these pillows.” (laughs) I had done that for about four or five years before anything was actually sold on westelm.com. But with everything that happened in 2020, with all the social unrest, brands started to make an effort to support Black businesses and Black designers.

Many brands took the 15% pledge after George Floyd’s death. The pledge was started by a designer named Aurora James who said to brands, “Here’s what you can do. Since Black people comprise roughly 15% of the population, we should be 15% of the products that are on your shelves.” West Elm was one of the first brands to take the pledge. I already had a relationship with them, so it was sort of a ‘no brainer,’ and the partnership happened seamlessly. They’re a company that values sustainability, individuality, and different kinds of expression. Their ethos aligned with what I was doing anyway, and it just made sense. They’ve been a great partner. As we grow and expand into other retailers, it’s important for me to vet them by asking, “Do they actually fit with my brand?”

 

GSIC: That sounds really hard to do. 

Rochelle: It’s definitely a challenge. If I was making some mass-produced, fad product, it probably would be a lot easier and more lucrative on the front end. But I’m trying to build a brand with longevity, values, and hopefully some influence on the rest of the industry going forward.

 

GSIC: This has been wonderful. Thank you for your time! Where can we find out more about Rochelle Porter Design?

Rochelle: You’re welcome! Thanks for having me. You can find us in West Elm and Home Goods and online at RochellePorter.com.

 

 

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Get connected and learn more about Rochelle Porter Design!

LinkedIN | Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter

June 6, 2022

By: Kayla Jones, GSIC Social Impact Fellow

Bread and Butter Farms aims to utilize what the earth provides holistically to grow vegetables,  fruits, and herbs with zero chemicals. They simply take care of the soil, plant heirloom seeds, and harvest to provide the most nutrient-dense produce possible.

 

GSIC caught up with founders and owners Micole and Musa Hasan to learn more about Bread and Butter Farms and their mission to provide a “true farm-to-table experience” for the community. 

 

 

GSIC: Tell us about Bread and Butter Farms and the challenges you hope to address with your mission. 

 

Micole: Bread and Butter Farms initially started as a way to afford to feed our family the way we wanted to eat, without having to buy foods or produce full of chemicals. We began very small in our apartment. In each space we lived, we started indoor growing. Then we would go to the balcony and backyard, making a natural progression.

We finally got a house and a yard, so we turned the whole backyard into raised beds. That’s when we started selling at a market. We would take pictures and post them on social media, and people started showing interest in what we had. So, we would just sell bundles here and there, and then somebody said, “Well, you guys should come to the Athens Farmer’s Market.”

We were like, “Sure, why not!” So, we tried it, and it was like getting bit by a bug because we did not realize that we could make money doing something that we enjoyed. We were already doing it for our family but saw that we could provide income for ourselves. It was our opportunity to get out there as farmers, scientists, and Black people. The farmer’s market was an area in a food desert, too. We partnered with the Athens Land Trust, which tries to work with Athens’s underserved and underprivileged communities.

So, we felt it was a good space for us and a good fit because we got to talk to all sorts of people. For example, people would come to tell us about their health challenges, like high blood pressure and heart problems. Our experiences, along with our education, helped us talk to people about what they should eat to mitigate the issues that they were having.

We are both very passionate about farming. It keeps us going on some level, especially when it comes to our customers and seeing the needs that we can fill.

 

GSIC: That’s wonderful. How long have you all operated, and how have you grown over time? 

 

Musa: We started in 2012 and have been pushing ever since

 

Micole: Yes, we came up with the name “Bread and Butter Farms” in 2015 because initially, we were farming without a name. We were operating, giving produce to families, selling a little bit here and there. But we became “Bread and Butter Farms” once we were at the Athens Farmer’s Market. The name came because I make bread and cakes and Musa makes butter. We took that to the market with us and the produce, which is how we began.  

 

GSIC: That’s awesome. Did you grow up farming, or did you get more involved as you got older? 

 

Micole: I grew up growing and gardening. My mother and my uncles always had gardens. I come from an agricultural family to the point where agriculture was the only thing that supported the family. My mother grew up on a self-sufficient farm operation. Everything came off the farm – we grew cotton, corn, and mostly cash crops. We also had chickens and hogs. My father grew up in the same kind of farming operation as well.

It was deeply rooted in my upbringing; I was the only one out of four kids interested in it. Every fruit seed I got, I grew. I grew some flowers on my front lawn and my parents, thankfully, let me have that independence to be able to do that. I’d have my gardens, too. When Musa met me in college, I had a balcony garden. So, I’ve always loved growing.

Wherever the two of us moved, I said, “We have to have sun; I have to be able to grow something!” When I met Musa, he shared that he grew up on a farm. He’d still go back to the farm while we were in college, going to visit his grandfather and help him on the family farm in Monroe. Musa has more of an upbringing with agriculture firsthand, and my family was more into gardening. I’d say that I’m first-generation, returning to farming, and Musa is a second-generation farmer.

 

GSIC: How has building connections and relationships helped you all run and expand Bread and Butter Farms? 

 

Micole: We’re so grateful for our network. We try to reach out and take part in whatever we can in terms of growth and development, but we are also pretty selective about opportunities. We don’t deal with any bank loans, and we don’t deal with any interest. It is very important for us to be able to farm and make an impact without it being stressful and without negatively impacting our mental health.

Because farming is very stressful, you put everything in the ground at the beginning of the season. And we lost 85% of our crops, for example, from the frost that we got a couple of weeks back. So, you do these things, and sometimes it feels like you’re on a hamster wheel. But thankfully, we have a network. We do have places like Emory Start:ME, where if we need to share something, they can help us.

We have the opportunity to work with the American Heart Association and receive publicity through that. We work with MARTA stations and various farmers’ markets. We also meet people in different organizations and partner with these micro-food systems throughout Atlanta. We try to collaborate with them and provide them with produce the best way we can because we’re kind of far out – we’re an hour from Atlanta.

So, connecting with those individuals and knowing that our food is getting to the people who need it is a huge thing for us. We’re happy to work with anybody who moves in a direction parallel to our values and what we feel.

Working with the school system is another opportunity for us. Starting with the kids, you need to build from the ground up. Creating that knowledge base and that interest when it comes to agriculture and farming, that’s how we move. When it comes to SNAP benefits and people that are low-income, we try to squeeze into that space as well.

Good food is not a privilege. You shouldn’t have to make a certain amount of money to go to Whole Foods and be able to buy stuff – and who knows how old the food is!

Anybody that needs food should be able to get it

Musa: That’s exactly right

GSIC: Can you all speak to Bread and Butter’s farm share initiative and the benefits of this farming model? 

Musa: So, the farm share is pretty straightforward, and it is a model that started in Tuskegee, Alabama. Basically, the idea is to have individuals interested in zero chemical, organic produce. They buy into the program ahead of schedule – so people start purchasing full and half shares around November and December for the springtime growing season. A family of four might buy a full share, and they would get a weekly distribution of veggies for ten weeks. That allows us to know exactly how much we grow and who we are growing for. Those seeds and plants are already allotted, and as farmers, we don’t want to waste anything. It helps us save tons of food.

And there’s a difference in quality, too. When you’re eating certain types of food, and you go to a farm or a farmers’ market and grab something harvested less than a couple of hours before, or at most a day, the taste is absolutely amazing. Even if you are buying conventional produce, just the fact that you’re getting it earlier than two weeks, the taste is different. And we don’t use any chemicals or pesticides either, so the nutrient density of the plant and produce is astronomical. 

GSIC: Do you all teach people how to farm as well?

Musa: We are working on that, and we recently hired our first staff member. We’re hoping to hire another person, which will free us to host more farm dinners and workshops. 

Many people don’t understand what’s happening in society right now. There’s a decline in produce and meats, and other food products that are typically readily available. Our culture needs to understand growing practices and the benefits of growing.  And just growing, even if they live in an apartment, to grow whatever they can. “Grow where you are” has been one of our mottos since we started.

Micole: Exactly, and the whole agricultural system in the U.S. is not sustainable. The conventional farming system, mass-producing everything and importing, is not sustainable because it destroys the land and the soil. 

If we can get more micro farms and micro gardens going, people don’t have to be so co-dependent on a grocery store. Then, if there’s a fault in the system, people can keep moving without stress and pandemonium. We have been talking about moving more to an educational farm-based operation instead of market and Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) models.

As we age as farmers, that’s something that we think about – how long we can sustain the physical labor and how much longer we can keep doing it. We can’t assume that our kids will automatically want to farm and carry on the business, and a lot of times, that’s not the reality with farmers. We are considering and remain passionate about creating an on-site educational program for people who want to learn how to farm as a business or just learn how to grow.

GSIC: What do you believe is Bread and Butter Farms’ superpower?

Musa: I’ll answer for Micole, and she can answer for me. Micole’s superpower is her organization. With thinking outside the box and her critical thinking skills, she’s a chess master when it comes to outlining details that I wouldn’t typically think of when it comes to business, farming, and things of that nature. Her creativity and great ideas – that’s a huge superpower. 

But other than that, honestly, it’s the balancing she’s consistently doing. This balancing act between a wife, mother, and business owner, engaging in self-empowerment and community development. All of that together, I think, is a superpower. 

Micole: Thank you, babe. I appreciate that! Musa is a networking king. He’s good at greeting people and getting into spaces that will benefit us. He’s great at making connections that end up helping us in the present moment or down the line. 

Another thing is his work ethic. He has a way of tunneling in and getting things done. He helps me execute my ideas, and he’s good with numbers. I think we’re a good business match in that way. He presents information in a format that people can read and understand, which has helped us in our grant writing and securing funding. We’re playing off our strengths.

GSIC: What other programs are you planning to start at Bread and Butter Farms? 

Micole: We’re pushing our farm stand to get more people down to the farm. It’s a precursor to having a school program, so we want more people to learn about growing. Those happen on Sundays. As we move forward, we’re hoping to grow and develop more as a company. We’d also love to provide jobs for more people interested in agriculture. 

Musa: Yeah, we think that’s important. Our whole motto is self-sustainability. Farmers’ markets are good spaces to be in as a farm, but we may not always be able to depend on them. 

Everything is done as a steppingstone to something else. Bill Gates purchasing farmland, for example, is a stepping stone to things that might come down the pipeline. Rules and the policies that get passed will likely protect big corporations or other big farmers from small farmers. Down the line, this might require farmers to get different certifications to keep farming. To avoid those regulations and policies that will come later, we believe that selling from our farm itself and dealing with the people around us will help us as we move forward. 

GSIC: Thank you both so much for your time.

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Get connected and learn more about Bread and Butter Farms!

Bread and Butter Farms Instagram | Facebook

Monroe, GA. 30655 | 470-487-3959 | [email protected]

The Georgia Social Impact Collaborative’s Steering Committee is committed to addressing racism and racial inequities internally and in our work in the community to accelerate the social impact ecosystem across Georgia.

We must do and be better. We commit to listening, learning, and reflecting individually and as a group, by taking counsel with our partners and friends, and by accessing resources and expertise on racial justice and inclusive capital. We believe that racial equity will not come about without intentional action to address significant inequities in investment capital and network access, while also confronting bias, reimagining power dynamics and changing narratives.

Our hope is that others within the social impact ecosystem will join us in this work by contributing leadership, participation and equitable access to resources. 

We remain committed to inspiring more mission-driven capital to sustain an economy in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

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How can a campus achieve aggressive reductions in energy use, and reduce its carbon footprint, through efficiency upgrades? Agnes Scott College initiated the college’s Green Revolving Fund (GRF) in 2011 as a practical solution to this common challenge shared by colleges and universities that have committed to a goal of climate neutrality.

By 2015 Agnes Scott’s GRF had become a model for meeting this sustainability challenge, especially for schools with 5,000 or fewer students, by revolving more than $1 million to support energy capture and efficiency as well as water fixture retrofits campus wide. Now, five years after that first major goal was met, the Agnes Scott GRF has invested in efficiency retrofits totaling close to $2 million, including direct support for several large scale, innovative projects. Most notably, 10% of the college’s 1 million square feet of building space gained geothermal heat and air conditioning with support from the GRF. In addition, this fund has proven not only to be an incredibly effective tool to finance efficiency projects, it has also been a key element in advancing two other campus sustainability objectives: engaging our students in research to solve “real world” sustainability challenges, and creating a campus culture that supports the goal of advancing climate neutrality initiatives.

The basic concept of a green revolving fund is to establish a pool of financial resources dedicated to investing in energy and water efficiency upgrades that will generate utility cost savings. The money saved through these projects is then recycled back into the fund for future projects, resulting in a sustainable funding source for climate neutrality efforts. At Agnes Scott the GRF was designed to strengthen the college’s institutional capacity for building upgrades while ensuring that the campus will be more energy efficient. It was also designed to be managed by the campus community rather than by one department. 

Agnes Scott is a liberal arts college for women founded in 1889 and located in Decatur. The enrollment for the 2019-2020 school year was just over 1,000 students. The college’s mission statement is to educate women “to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times.”  The approach that the college has taken to the GRF reflects this mission.

Sustainability and climate action are viewed by the leadership of the college as important components of Agnes Scott’s mission. In 2007 Agnes Scott was a charter signatory of Second Nature’s Carbon Commitment and in 2015 the college added a commitment to complete a Climate Resilience Plan with the surrounding community of Decatur. The college also participated as one of the first colleges to join the Billion Dollar Green Challenge, committing  to invest $1 million toward its GRF within the first three years after startup. 

Soon after signing the climate commitment, the college completed its first greenhouse gas inventory and drafted a Climate Action Plan (CAP) with a goal of climate neutrality by 2037. At the same time the Board of Trustees passed a resolution that all major renovation and new construction projects on campus would be required to achieve at least LEED Silver status. Since then three renovation projects have been completed:  The Anna Young Alumnae House (LEED Silver), Campbell Hall (LEED Gold), and Rebekah Scott Hall (LEED Platinum). The Campbell Hall and Rebekah Hall renovations benefited directly from GRF support and now operate on 100% geothermal HVAC.

The GRF has been a major driver in helping Agnes Scott College reduce its energy and water consumption and in the college’s efforts to achieve climate neutrality. Results include:

  • As of the 2017-2018 school year the college has reduced its emissions overall by close to 30% and emissions per full-time student by 39%.
  • Projects funded thus far funded by the GRF save the college an estimated total of $1 million in avoided water and energy expenses. 
  • Six individual student internships have brought students from different academic departments to the Center. These are often students that may not have had a sustainability focus previously. 
  • Moreover, the educational objective of the GRF has given many more students the opportunity to engage in environmental and sustainability issues and to wrestle with trying to create the right balance of environment, economics and equity as they make decisions. Students participating in the GRF Committee have made valuable contributions to proposal discussions, and have influenced the decision-making process with inventive solutions. 

At Agnes Scott the innovation investment of the GRF is truly seen as a tool for college improvement. It builds trust. The improvements from GRF projects, while not always flashy, have made the Center for Sustainability better at showing that climate mitigation takes a community approach and involves projects ranging from lighting upgrades to solar panels.

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Susan Kidd is the Executive Director of the Center for Sustainability at Agnes Scott College. In addition to the attention that the GRF has received, Agnes Scott’s overall sustainability profile has increased recently. The college received its STARS Gold rating in 2018 from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and then in 2019 received recognition for data accuracy in the Sustainable Campus Index that was released by AASHE. In 2020 Agnes Scott was ranked 13th in The Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges. This marked the first time Agnes Scott has been ranked in the top tier, and is the only college with fewer than 5,000 in the top 15. Agnes Scott also earned a top performer award for energy conservation from the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge in 2019.

Alongside Mission Investors Exchange (MIE), which held its 2020 conference virtually (instead of the originally planned location in Atlanta), GSIC hosted a session on place-based impact investing in Georgia on May 22. With over 75 participants, we witnessed a deep interest in understanding how impact capital can support investment in improved outcomes in our communities. Below is a short read-out of the conversation:

Mark Crosswell, GoATL Fund (Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta) and the Georgia Social Impact Collaborative (GSIC)

  • Gave background on the GoATL Fund, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s place-based impact fund, which deploys low-cost debt through financial intermediaries for social outcomes in alignment with the Foundation’s strategy to increase equity of opportunity.
  • GoATL started with $10 million in capital from the Foundation and began raising capital from its donors in 2018. With almost $12 million in total capital, GoATL has committed over $9 million, mostly to scale affordable housing, minority-owned small businesses and quality education through metro Atlanta’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs in Georgia.)

Jennifer Barksdale, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation

  • The Babcock Foundation transitioned to a 100% mission-aligned portfolio in the last several years. It has required each investment be made in accordance with their ESG Policy, which is updated regularly to consider new screens (such as private prisons).
  • To approach place-based work, the Babcock Foundation invests through CDFIs with grants, loans and credit enhancements. The Babcock Foundation does not make direct investments due to staff capacity requirements.
  • In response to COVID-19, the Babcock Foundation doubled unrestricted cash grants to all grantees, extended grant periods, eliminated interest on Program Related Investments (PRIs), forgave 20% and extended the maturity of all PRIs due this year by one year. The result is a doubling of their 2020 payouts. (See blog.)

Tracy Kartye, Annie E Casey Foundation

  • The Casey Foundation has allocated $200 million to its social investments, which began in 2002, before the term “impact investing” was coined. They invest both through CDFIs and directly into projects. They are very selective about their direct investments due to limited staff capacity.
  • Much of the Casey Foundation’s strategy in Atlanta has been around the Pittsburgh Yards development in NPU-V. It is a rare example of community-based development along the BeltLine, and it intends to provide employment opportunities and access to capital for individuals and hyperlocal businesses. To finance the $26 million New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) project, the Casey Foundation found both private and public investment partners.

Natallie Keiser, Annie E Casey Foundation

  • The Casey Foundation is embedded in NPU-V, Pittsburgh in particular, due to the extreme disparities in Atlanta by race and wealth. Caseyhas been a leader in promoting strategies for supporting greater equity in Atlanta through partnerships with entrepreneurs of color to build wealth, and developers to preserve and promote affordable housing, and families to minimize academic disruption.
  • Through the Foundation’s work in NPU-V, staff learned that Capitol View (a BeltLine adjacent multi-family property; photo) was for sale. Leveraging staff in both Atlanta and Baltimore, the Casey Foundation followed the Kresge Foundation’s Community Investment framework to evaluate and proceed with their investment. In partnership with HouseATL, the Casey Foundation found investment partners in Enterprise Community Partners, Invest Atlanta and others.
  • A major difference between the response to the ongoing pandemic and the last recession is the clarity around the need for emergency relief and early investment in recovery. After the last recession, the Casey Foundation invested $3 million to acquire 50 single family lots in Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood. With additional investment, they are exploring solutions to ensure permanent affordability.

Dale Royal, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)

  • LISC opened its local office in Atlanta just last year but they have already developed a series of Financial Opportunity Centers, which are career and personal finance service centers that help low- to moderate-income people focus on the financial bottom line with integrated delivery of employment services, financial coaching and access to income supports.
  • In Atlanta, LISC is focusing its resources on building capacity of small businesses through strategies developed in other regions, as well as from their surrounding neighborhoods.
  • Right now, a major focus is on micro-lending, as micro-enterprises have the hardest time raising capital for their businesses and are disproportionately impacted by coronavirus-related lockdowns.

Local Updates:

  • The Sapelo Foundation is speaking with Albany Communities Together! (ACT!) about a PRI for their work in south Georgia. They are looking for partners to invest alongside them. Request more information.
  • Initiatives in southwest Atlanta are advancing equitable approaches to small business financing and wealth building to close the racial wealth gap, such as the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative and the Village Micro Fund.
  • SPARCC (Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge) published a guide to support an equitable and just recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which can be found here.
  • Several participants commented on the interest in rural and urban funding. Many shared their excitement that Natural Capital Investment Fund is considering an expansion into Georgia.

Resources:

  • Entrepreneur Names: Asha Owens and Rebecca Kwee 
  • Venture Name: BestFit 
  • Impact Focus Area: College Success, Civic Tech 
  • Business Stage: Startup 
  • Year Venture Established: 2018 
  • Business Type: Private, Social Enterprise 

 Basic needs insecurity among college students is worse than you think. 

 Millions of college students in the U.S. rely on their school for stable access to food, housing, transportation, and work: At least 48% of college students experience food or housing insecurity, and they are disproportionately Black & Latinx, first-generation, financially independent, parents/caregivers, or working 30+ hours.  

 While the federal government invests billions of dollars annually in higher education, financial aid alone does not cover the economic, social, and psychological costs associated with persisting and completing college. Many students still struggle to meet their basic needs, and may drop out of college as a result of competing financial obligations. Additionally, because of stigma, lack of awareness, and lack of time, students underutilize the many institutional & public benefits that are available to them —  the US Government Accountability Office estimates that 57% of students at risk of food insecurity and eligible for SNAP did not collect those benefits. 

 The disparity in basic needs security among college students, as well as its impact on college persistance, is concerning given that 65% of jobs today still require some form of postsecondary education. However, 75% of low-income, underrepresented minority, and first-generation students who attend college will not graduate. 

 Redefining student success in a post-COVID-19 environment 

 We founded BestFit in 2018 to address the low college persistence rates among historically marginalized students. As graduate students at Columbia University in New York, we bonded over the fact that we both attended college without visiting in-person, and struggled to find a support system as well as access basic needs such as food or healthcare. Asha is a Columbus, GA native who left her home state to attend Brown University, while Rebecca attended Columbia as an international student from Singapore. Drawing from our past careers as software engineers and college counselors, we initially built a web platform where college students could share honest advice and insights through video stories. 

When COVID-19 struck, we’d recently relocated to Atlanta to join Techstars + Cox Enterprises’ Social Impact Accelerator, and were in the middle of a pivot. We were disturbed by the fact that many college students were displaced from campus housing with little to no warning–while low-income, rural, foster-care, and international students were scrambling to find food, shelter, and/or internet, they were still expected to complete their coursework and finish the semester. 

 This drove us to design, launch, and build our free resource portal for displaced college students within a week. Our web platform helps students design their own safety nets by leveraging college, community, federal, and philanthropic resources all in one place. We’re building the most comprehensive and up-to-date resource portal for college students, and our team is hard at work updating resources on a weekly basis.  

Students can use BestFit to: 

  • Find verified local and national resources for food, healthcare, transportation, financial assistance, and other basic needs; 
  • Determine eligibility and next steps;  
  • Submit resources they’ve found useful; and,
  • Sign up for weekly updates on newly added resources. 

In the wake of COVID-19, we’ve found the urgent need to expand our target population beyond college students to anyone facing a basic needs gap. After initial feedback from students, colleges, and community-based organizations, we’re developing a version of BestFit that helps any organization better connect their constituents to resources they need, when they need them.  

 Now, our goal is to scale our technology as a tool for building more equitable and resilient communities. 

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BestFit empowers college students to find and access the help they need, right when they need them, so they can focus on what matters—graduating. They are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Cox Enterprises Social Impact Accelerator (powered by Techstars). The company is actively seeking organization, city, and corporate partnerships for their recently launched community resource tool. Please reach out to them at [email protected] for more information. 

Other ways to stay updated: 

  • Instagram: @bestfit_app 
  • Twitter: @bestfit_app 
  • Sign Up through Website: http://best-fit.app  

 

In 2017, PadSplit launched as an innovative new model providing affordable housing for workers who have been unable to keep pace with the city’s rising rents, which according to RentCafe have increased by 65 percent in the last decade. In the three years of its existence, PadSplit has now housed more than 1,000 individuals, called “members,” throughout metro Atlanta. These members average $21,000 in annual income and typically work in hourly roles such as grocery store workers, security guards, restaurant employees, teachers and other posts that keep a community running.

Before PadSplit, these community workers had few, if any, reasonable housing options that were close to job centers. This lack of choices often led to individuals sleeping in airports or cars, being exploited in unsanitary extended stay motels or living far away and cobbling together 2-3 hour long commutes just to get to a job.

With years of experience in affordable housing, PadSplit’s founder Atticus LeBlanc realized there was a better model that could align incentives for workers, property owners and even cities. In launching PadSplit, LeBlanc showed other owners how taking existing, unused housing stock could create shared housing experiences that include private bedrooms, furnishings, utilities and healthcare access, alongside weekly, not monthly, rent payments. Having fixed costs made it far easier for individuals to budget and save, and all the while, property owners saw an increase in profitability and cities didn’t need to leverage tax subsidies for housing. The model did, in fact, align incentives and was working. PadSplit’s members report an average savings of $516 per month, as well as shorter commute times and improved credit ratings.

Fast forward to today and the Covid-19 crisis, where many of these same community service workers are now laid off, furloughed and unable to leave homes for public health and safety. Knowing that PadSplit’s member base would be severely impacted by the crisis, the organization quickly sprung to action to help its members ride out the crisis in the following ways:

  • Seeking grants: To date, PadSplit has raised more than $60K in funds that help members who cannot afford to pay their rent costs. 
  • Reducing fees: To cover all its bases, PadSplit reached out to all property owners and worked to negotiate lower rates to make it easier for members who could pay something, as well as allowing grant donations to last longer.
  • Providing emergency services: PadSplit is coordinating with other social impact organizations, nonprofits and companies to provide food, groceries and even toilet paper!
  • Offering healthcare: And, PadSplit is actively working to remind its members that they each receive 24/7 access to Teladoc services, in case anyone requires medical attention.

As the crisis continued, PadSplit didn’t just stop with the above plan. The organization layered in additional services for members to better position themselves when the economy re-opens. At the beginning of April, PadSplit began an employment assistance program that matches a member’s skills with available jobs, and they’re scraping job postings for any companies that are urgently hiring. 

All of this quick action has given PadSplit’s members peace of mind and allowed PadSplit to continue its own operations and prepare for growth in the coming recession. For more information about PadSplit, including how to rent out an available room in your home, visit PadSplit.com. Or, if you’d like to donate to keep hourly service workers housed, visit here.

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PadSplit, Inc is Public Benefit Corporation based in Atlanta, GA

 

  • Entrepreneur Name: Mario Cambardella
  • Venture Name: ServeScape
  • Impact Focus Area(s):  Landscape and Environment
  • Business Stage:  Startup
  • Year Venture Established: 2020
  • Business Type: Private – Landscape Consulting 

There is a disconnect between people and the natural environment. We get in our cars, park in our garages, work in our offices, and repeat. Yet even in our status-quo, there is a longing for connection. This is especially true as we struggle with the disruption to our social fabric caused by COVID-19. In a time where disconnect from people makes us feel isolated, we are searching for a tangible anchor; something that grounds us to our sense of place, gives us hope, and spreads joy.  

For me, this occurs when I am connected to the natural world.  For example, when I see the seed that I planted is sprouting, or the tree that I planted is blooming. Instantly, in the midst of instability, I feel rooted as I realize that the choice I made to care for a plant will serve the entire landscape with beauty and resiliency. In other words, my action directly contributes to the environment that I want to create.            

This is the foundational idea behind ServeScape. ServeScape seeks to bridge the disconnect between humans and nature by making it easier for people to create their own beautiful and resilient landscapes. This is done through leveraging technology to perform plant curation; a novel concept in the relatively antiquated landscape industry.  

Previously, plant suppliers and landscape professionals were stuck using old technology to account for inventory, make sales, and find the best plant. This was a slow process where plant inventory sat in the nursery for months, sometimes years, before being moved. Using our online marketplace, individuals and landscape professionals can shop real-time plant pricing and inventory.

In addition, ServeScape’s extensive plant attribute index allows for customers to design a multi-functional landscape by choosing a plant with an array of desired characteristics. These tools provide a systematic approach to meeting the needs of suppliers, landscapers, and individuals all on one website. Once the order is submitted, ServeScape uses our network of Georgia-grown plants and suppliers to deliver the plants right to your door. This system allows for you (the customer) to have full control over the environment you want to create for yourself, or your client, and ensures you are receiving the best plant at the best price.    

At ServeScape, we recognize that a healthy ecosystem is dependent upon the connectedness of each individual part that makes up the whole. While our mission is to connect people with place through plants, we believe that large-scale social impact is dependent on multiple missions sharing the same vision for a more sustainable, socially just, and resilient future. We are excited to be a part of the GSIC conversation and look forward to serving your scape!

 

Goodr has joined forces with Atlanta Public Schools to provide emergency food to APS students at five meal distribution sites during closure. Students will be able to access prepared meals from 10am-12pm Monday – Friday.

This includes: Douglas High, Cleveland Avenue Elementary, Bunch Middle, Sylvan Middle and Phoenix Academy at Crim. Goodr is also working closely with Atlanta Public School Board members to develop a plan that goes further to deliver food directly to apartment and housing communities thus eliminating any transportation barriers that will prevent students from accessing food during this closure.

  • Ready-to-eat meals will also be available at Loaves & Fishes at St. John Orthodox Church at 543 Cherokee Ave. SE Atlanta, GA 30312 from Monday – Friday from 9AM -10AM.
  • As of Monday, March 16th, all APS families can report to one of the five sites from 10AM-12PM to receive a bag of shelf stable grocery items from Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Goodr Founder and CEO, Jasmine Crowe said in a statement, “Goodr is experiencing a massive uptick in requests from nonprofits, families, and senior homes for food. At the same time, several of our client venues are having events and initiatives get canceled. What we know for sure is that with schools across the nation now closed, people being asked to work from home, and the growing number of people out of work – food is one resource that is critical at this time.”

On March 13th alone, Goodr was able to distribute over 90,000 pounds of food from three major sports arenas, event venues, schools and offices. They were able to deploy drivers in minutes, clearing refrigerators and freezers to feed the need. This rescued food served people in need across four counties. 

Building on that momentum, Goodr created a short list of ways you can help “Do Goodr:”

  • One-Time Pick-ups: They’ve enabled one-time pick-ups to help get food to more people. Don’t let good food go to waste. If your office or venue has food to donate – Goodr can pick it up today! Visit them online at www.goodr.co to get started.
  • Sponsor a Pick-up: Goodr serves a massive non-profit network nationwide and if you want to pitch in and help, you can sponsor a pick-up allowing them to do more good. Visit them online at www.goodr.co to get started.
  • Join us: Goodr will be hosting pop-up grocery stores in the Atlanta community over the next two weeks, you can join them as a volunteer. Text DOGOODR to 33777.
  • Spread the word: Please don’t let good food go to waste while our neighbors are hungry. Share Goodr’s services with your network and let them know how they can help!

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Goodr provides a secure ledger that tracks an organization’s surplus food from pickup to donation, delivering real-time social and environmental impact reporting analytics. The Goodr model aims to provide a triple-win solution by improving an organization’s bottom line through charitable tax donations, reducing its greenhouse emissions from landfills and getting its edible surplus food to local communities in need.

 

This post originally appeared on The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s blog on March 17, 2020.

 

March 25, 2020

ATLANTA – With children out of school, businesses temporarily closing, performances shuttered and workers being laid off, there has never been a time where community support and financial resources have been more badly needed. United Way of Greater Atlanta and Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta are announcing the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund.

The new fund will support those most vulnerable to the economic and health-related impacts caused by the pandemic. The Community Foundation is committing $1 million and United Way of Greater Atlanta is contributing $500,000 to seed the fund. Additional dollars will be sought from individual donors, corporate partners and foundations.

Funds raised will focus on providing crucial services to high-risk audiences including seniors, families with children who normally receive free or reduced meals at school, families in need of childcare, homeowners and renters at risk for eviction, and hourly/low-wage workers.

“United Way and our partners at the Community Foundation are uniquely positioned to quickly and effectively identify areas with the greatest need, activate and connect people to resources,” said Milton Little, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Atlanta. “We are committed to securing and supporting the community safety nets needed for Child Well Being in these unprecedented times.”

“The Atlanta Regional Commission’s 2019 Metro Atlanta Speaks survey revealed that 46 percent of families in metro Atlanta do not have $400 on hand in case of an emergency and this crisis will only amplify that vulnerability,” said Lita Pardi, interim vice president at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. “Bolstering support of our nonprofits addressing these needs is essential, and funders are working together to quickly support the residents and communities in our region.”

Individuals and families impacted and in need of support can contact United Way of Greater Atlanta’s 2-1-1 Contact Center. There are many ways to connect to 2-1-1 including by phone, chat, email or mobile app. 2-1-1 is a valuable resource that is available 24-hours and 7 days-a-week.

To donate to the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, click here.

 

UPDATE: Since this article was posted, the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund has received an additional $10 million from two renowned Atlanta institutions: $5 million from The Coca-Cola Company and $5 million from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation (read more here).

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About United Way of Greater Atlanta
United Way of Greater Atlanta, the largest United Way chapter in the nation, focuses on ensuring that every child in Atlanta has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. The organization invests in more than 200 programs in 13 counties through the Child Well-Being Impact Fund and works to help children succeed in school, improve financial stability of families, provide affordable and accessible healthcare and end homelessness. For more information, visit: unitedwayatlanta.org or FacebookLinkedInTwitter and Instagram.

About the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
Since 1951, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has been leading and inspiring philanthropy to increase the vitality of our region and the well-being of all residents. With nearly 70 years serving the 23-county Atlanta region and a robust team of experts, the Community Foundation expands its philanthropic reach and impact by providing quality services to donors and bold, innovative community leadership. The Community Foundation is a top-20 community foundation among 750 nationally, with approximately $1.2 billion in current assets, and is Georgia’s second largest foundation. For more information, visit: cfgreateratlanta.org or connect with the Foundation via FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter.