[VIDEO ABOVE: Tony Johns, 41, COO of the City of Refuge agency, talks about the Falcons and Arthur Blank Family of Businesses employees' community service day. George Henry of the Associated Press is asking the questions.]
Just a two miles west of the Georgia Dome, all of the employees from the Falcons and the Blank Family of Businesses did some community service at the City of Refuge on Thursday.
The City of Refuge is a social service agency that mainly serves homeless women and children in one of the roughest, drug-infested and depressed parts of Georgia.
“The 30314 area code has the highest rate of infectious diseases and highest infant mortality rate [in the State],” said Tony Johns, City of Refuge’s chief operating officer. “As a matter of fact, our infant mortality rate in this local area is higher than many African Nations.”
About 180 workers including owner Arthur Blank, head coach Mike Smith, general manager Thomas Dimitroff, assistant coaches and scouts were a part of the volunteer effort.
“We are more than doubling the size of our garden which provides fresh fruits and vegetables not only to our residents who live onsite but a farm-to-table effort that we are doing in partnership with Mobile Groceries to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to food deserts,” Johns said.
They also worked on an indoor playground for 80 homeless children, remodeled resident dormitories for the women and painted of an indoor mural.
Bruce Deel, the executive director of City of Refuge, told a story of trying to help a recovering crack addict, who tried to live on the streets after being released from Grady Hospital with a two-week old baby.
“We are operating about 20 different types of wrap-around programs in housing, health care, education and employment,” said Johns, who’s in his ninth year working for the City of Refuge. “We are trying to bring stability and sustainability in four of those areas for those we serve.”
Johns rattled off some of the statistics that reflect the plight of the inner city neighborhood.
“Statistically, when it comes to crime, poverty and health care this community, zip code 30314, is at the greatest risk of any community in the state of Georgia,” Johns said. “Sixty percent of the homicides that occur in the metro Atlanta, all of the counties that make up Metro Atlanta, 60 percent of those homicides occur right here is 30314.
“We have the highest rate of drug transactions in the state. As a matter of fact, a recent comeback of heroin usage and heroin trafficking just about three blocks up the street is kind of the main corridor for that in Atlanta right now.
“We have the highest rate of poverty in Atlanta. Over a 35 percent poverty rate in our community. Seventy-three percent of our children are in single adult households.
“Only 49 percent of our children graduate from high school. It’s really a crisis of resources right now because of the lack of investment.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also stopped by the City of Refuge.
“So a day, like today, when the for-profit-world and government agencies in the presence of Mayor [Kasim] Reed make a commitment and an investment in an under-served and under-resourced community, it makes a huge difference,” Johns said.
The Falcons, plan to spread their “Rise Up” campaign with actor Samuel L. Jackson to include community service by their fans.
“The idea is a simple one,” said Falcons president and chief executive officer Rich McKay. “In addition to wanting our fans to help us become the best team in the NFL on the field, we also want our fans to Rise Up and volunteer their time and talents throughout the year in an effort to make our great community a better place to live.”
The Falcons have partnered with Hands On Atlanta, one of the largest community-based volunteer service organizations in the United States in an effort to encourage volunteerism across the city. Falcons fans and community-minded volunteers can log onto RISEUPATLANTA.com to sign up for a variety of volunteer opportunities coordinated by Hands On Atlanta. Fans who sign up and attend a volunteer activity will receive a Falcons Rise Up team t-shirt.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog