Behind the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Strong Anti-Poverty Push in Atlanta

 Jobs and opportunity can be scarce in southwest altanta

Jobs and opportunity can be scarce in southwest altanta

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is well known for its extensive national grantmaking to help kids and families move out of poverty. But there’s another side to the foundation’s giving that we’re just starting to get to know a bit better. Although the Annie E. Casey Foundation is based in Baltimore, Maryland, it has a strong connection to the American South.

Lately, we’ve been highlighting southern foundations like the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation that have adapted their missions to pursue greater racial and economic equity in this region. Since 2001, the Casey Foundation has worked to increase access to educational and economic opportunities for low-income families in Southwest Atlanta. Better yet, the foundation has told us that it hopes to expand these efforts going forward.

Related: A Foundation's Hopeful Vision for a More Equitable American South

To learn more about the Casey Foundation’s growing commitment to the South and Southeast, I connected with the foundation’s Alexandra Roose and Kweku Forstall, who is the director of the Atlanta Civic Site. Forstall explained that Atlanta is home to the UPS headquarters and also many members of the foundation’s board. (UPS wealth, of course, is the basis of Casey's $2.6 billion endowment, and its board includes past and present UPS executives, including the company's chairman and CEO.) Along with Baltimore, Atlanta is a foundation-designated civic site, which means that the funder has a special connection to it and is committed to family and child well-being for the long term. In Atlanta, the foundation’s focus is on high-poverty neighborhoods.  

Forstall said:

The South and Southwest regions are home to 40 percent of the Unites States’ children and nearly 45 percent of the nation’s kids of color. Our annual KIDS COUNT data continually show these children are falling behind their peers in meeting key milestones on their path to adulthood. We are hoping to take a more concentrated approach with policymakers and leaders of public systems that serve children and families in South and Southwestern states to change those odds.

Some of the biggest issues facing the South and Southeast right now are affordable housing, jobs, and financial self-sufficiency. These are all top concerns of the Casey Foundation, especially in Atlanta. Forstall also told us that the foundation is also supporting local and statewide efforts focused on children to ensure young Georgians are healthy, thriving, and on track academically and financially.

As we have continued to point out, racial and economic equality have been big themes for philanthropy over the past year. To build off of this momentum in the South, the Casey Foundation has made an intentional commitment to incorporate race, equity, and inclusion into every facet of its work.

“We can’t ignore the fact that children of color fare far worse than their White counterparts – especially in the South,” Forstall said. “We also cannot ignore the very real part that race plays in our society, our social and governmental systems and our field.” 

Check out the foundation’s Race for Results policy report to better understand how children from different backgrounds and geographic areas are progressing on key milestones. The foundation’s Changing the Odds report was a follow-up that outlined recommendations to improve the lives of children of color in Atlanta.

These are some of the key findings of that report that have guided the Casey Foundation’s grantmaking:

  • Increasing access to high-quality early child care and education
  • Developing and preserving affordable and quality housing
  • Promoting equitable, community-based development practices
  • Building the capacity of low- to moderate- income entrepreneurs and enterprises in communities of color
  • Reducing barriers to employment with strategies like ‘ban the box’ and stronger public transit systems
  • Strengthening partnerships across the business community, institutions of higher education and the workforce development field

Collaboration is increasingly critical when it comes to equity funding in the South and throughout the U.S. So it should come as no surprise that the Casey Foundation is involved in many different collaborative efforts in this region. As Forstall told us: "It is going to take a concerted effort between the public, philanthropic and private sectors, including the business community, to overcome the needless barriers race and place continue to pose for thousands of kids and families in Atlanta, and across the entire South."

So for example, Casey is involved in a collaboration with the Foundation Center on the Boys and Men of Color Executive Director Collaboration Circle. The funder also works with the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia and the Center for Working Families to help Atlanta’s low-income residents find quality jobs and achieve financial stability. This partnership supported the Construction Ready, which was a free, four-week program to equip participants with the skills, tools and supports to secure employment. The city of Atlanta is growing rapidly, so the construction industry promises great employment opportunities here.

“Since its start in 2014, the Construction Ready program has placed over 300 people into full-time careers with more than 60 construction companies throughout metro Atlanta,” Forstall shared. “Graduation and placement rates consistently exceed 90 percent and more than 70 percent of graduates retain employment after 12 months on the job.”

Other local partners of the Casey Foundation include the Georgia Justice Project, Georgia Watch, Atlanta CareerRise, Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs, the Center for Working Families, Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, Georgia Family Connection Partnership (Get Georgia Reading Campaign), and Sheltering Arms.

Looking forward, Forstall told us:

In the months ahead, we will narrow our focus even further and concentrate on the Southside of Atlanta, where income, job and educational disparities are the greatest. We will work with our partners to ensure residents here are able to access equitable and diverse educational opportunities with appropriate support systems, so they can benefit from the growth metro-Atlanta is experiencing, instead of being left behind.

To learn more about AECF’s work in the region, check out the foundation’s blogs about a six-month pilot program launched to help nonprofit leaders working on behalf of boys and men of color across Georgia and its effort to ensure a more equitable distribution of income, wealth, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for Atlanta’s most vulnerable residents.

Related: Which Big Funders are Investing in Economic Growth in Appalachia?