Westsiders to finally see their area rebuilt with $7 million investment for City of Refuge job training programs
Residents of the impoverished sections of Atlanta west side must have harbored feelings of resentment, neglect and under-appreciation as they watched the city build a $1.2 billion football stadium, reinvent Buckhead, construct Atlantic Station, add a billion-dollar runway at the world-class airport and infuse energy into portions of Eastside neighborhoods that forever changed their cultural complexion and economic vitality.
Westsiders are not feeling neglected anymore. Mayor Kasim Reed announced the City of Atlanta is joining forces with the Chick-fil-A Foundation and The Coca Cola Foundation as they pledge more than $7 million combined to the City of Refuge to expand job training programs and foster economic development on Atlanta’s Westside.
The Westside, which was already denigrated by other neighborhood residents as a vast economic wasteland, was further ravaged by the greatest economic recession in 80 years. According to reports, the Westside is one of the poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Atlanta, with a staggering 39.5 percent of the residents living below the Federal Poverty level. Approximately 60 percent of all murders in Atlanta happen in this neighborhood, while only 35 percent of its students graduate high school. These are the main reasons Bruce Deel founded City of Refuge. But the organization and the Westside have recently become the focus of dynamic development programs.
The City of Atlanta, Mayor Reed stated, will pledge $1.25 million in funds to support City of Refuge programs, including funds from Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm. The Atlanta Workforce Development Agency will leverage work force training dollars to support the expanded job training programs offered by City of Refuge.
“I am proud to announce the City of Atlanta’s investment in the new workforce innovation hub in our Westside communities,” said Mayor Reed. “Our city’s leading companies and philanthropic groups are stepping up to support meaningful and lasting change on the Westside. Through this pledge, the City of Atlanta will continue to advance economic success for hard-working families and their children through workforce development and support.”
City of Refuge, an Atlanta-based nonprofit, will use the funds to construct and operate an innovative job hub that will teach residents skills to prepare for careers in auto tech, retail, the culinary arts, landscaping, security services and HVAC installation and repair. The partnership will also establish a computer-coding academy for young adults, and a small business incubator and accelerator for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Today marks a significant milestone for Atlanta’s Westside. The tangible commitment from our city’s public and private sector will translate into real jobs that will give way to real optimism,” said Chick-fil-A chairman and CEO Dan Cathy. “Bruce Deel and his team at the City of Refuge inspire me, and I am honored that Chick-fil-A can play a part in making their vision for the Westside a reality. They are committed to their neighbors and I know they will continue to serve the community well.”
The combined $7 million investment lays a solid foundation for the launch of City of Refuge’s capital campaign, “Shining the Light,” with a goal to raise $25 million by 2018 to support organization programs such as:
- Building infrastructure and capacity for new and expanded vocational programming inside the gate
- Securing three years of operational costs for programming
- Constructing vocational, transitional, and permanent supportive housing
City of Refuge helps women and children facing homelessness. Through their emergency shelter and transitional housing, individuals and families can receive on-site health care, engage in activities for children and youth, and gain vocational training and staffing services.
“With committed and passionate partners, we can strengthen our communities and look out, in particular, for those most in need of life-changing help,” said Muhtar Kent, CEO of The Coca-Cola Company. “We’re proud to support this new vocational training effort that will improve the lives of men and women, young people, parents and families throughout our Westside neighborhood.”
Coca-Cola’s portion of the gift, $1.25 million, will support City of Refuge’s provision of vocational training, job readiness and entrepreneurial skills development for approximately 400 women through the 180º Kitchen Culinary Arts Academy, NAPA Auto Training Center, and the development of a Women’s Business Incubator and Accelerator Program. The grant will also support training for more than 150 men, and help them find employment in food service or automotive maintenance and repair, and provide education and training for entrepreneurs.
Furthermore, Coca-Cola Refreshments, USA, Inc., Coca-Cola’s largest U.S. bottler, will provide guidance in; commercial truck driving, fleet maintenance, fleet repair, supply chain management, and expertise in food service quality and delivery.
“I think it’s safe to say we’re all excited for the potential here,” said Bruce Deel, CEO and founder of City of Refuge. “We need more partners to join with us to transform the community, because these are the types of partnerships that can really change everything — more people will be served and more families will be impacted for good. That’s what matters. That’s what we’re about. I’m grateful for community leaders who share a vision for transformation and are willing to work together to see it happen.”
The planning phase for the job hub is underway. Construction, renovation and programming of the more than 20,000-square-foot training center and culinary academy will begin in the coming months and continue through September 2019.