In March, we recognized a group of women who had created or run organizations that give back to the community. This month, we recognize the men. Each of these gentlemen have made an impact on the Intown community, whether it’s by helping the homeless, aiding those with chronic illnesses in caring for their beloved pets, making sure children achieve their goals or fighting against racism and bigotry. These are exemplary Atlantans who have dedicated their lives to helping others. Help us celebrate them and read about how you can get involved. – Collin Kelley
Founder, SafeHouse Outreach
In 1982, Bray, 52, started a mission to rescue child prostitutes and runaways from the streets of Atlanta. He would counsel and offer assistance from a booth in a hamburger restaurant on Fridays and Saturday nights.
Since then, SafeHouse Outreach has grown to hundreds of volunteers, has helped thousands of people who need a “hand up, not a hand out” and has been recognized across the country for helping the homeless and those living on the margins of society.
Two of the most recent honors were President George W. Bush recognizing SafeHouse as one of the top faith and community based organizations in 2002 and the 2008 Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award from Emory University.
Although, he’s helped thousands, Bray said one story that stands out: “Many years ago, a man came to us who was homeless, jobless, broke and his family was destroyed because of addiction. He asked us for help; help to be free of addiction; to be reconciled with his family; and to see his dream to become a MARTA driver come true. We walked with him on his journey to be sober, helped him study for his MARTA training and then his driver’s license and watched as he was restored to his family. I spoke with him last week- he’s been driving for MARTA for 12 years, he and his wife have six grandchildren, and he celebrates more than 13 years of sobriety. That’s a stand-out moment.”
Bray – who with wife Dacia has seven children in a “blended family” – encourages the community to get involved and volunteer with SafeHouse or make a donation. “Giving back, even the smallest way, makes an impact,” he said. “Whether two hours a month or $25 a week, every little bit counts.”
To volunteer contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org and to donate online www.safehouseoutreach.org.
Director, CREW Teens
In 2006, Bennett, 35, was invited to join the East Lake Foundation in its work to break the cycle of poverty through education in the East Lake community.
He was immediately drawn to CREW (Creating Responsible Educated Working) Teens, an academic support program that provides alumni of East Lake’s Charles R. Drew Charter School and other East Lake teenagers the skills and the motivation necessary to complete high school and maintain a plan for continuing success in college, technical school or a career.
In just the past two years, graduates of the CREW Teens program have won acceptance at more than 30 colleges, including Emory, University of Georgia, University of Pennsylvania, Georgia Institute of Technology and College of Wooster.
“Nearly all – 97 percent, in fact – are the first in their families to attend college,” Bennett said. “Moreover, they have earned more than $2 million in scholarships, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Ann and Thomas Cousins, Posse Foundation and Hope scholarships.”
Bennett said one of the stand out moments in his work with CREW Teens came this year when two graduates were named Gates Millennium Scholars. “This is a very selective national award, and we are pleased to have had two winners in one year from the East Lake community,” Bennett said.
Bennett, who is married to Dietrice Swain and has two children, said more volunteers and mentors – especially young professionals – are needed. Call (404) 687-0001 for more information. Donations can be made at www.eastlakefoundation.org.
Executive Director, PALS
Bryant, 40, had been self-employed most of his life, but when he moved back to Atlanta in 2006 from Colorado for a fresh start, he decided to find a job that would “impact the lives of others… particularly those in unfortunate situations due to circumstances beyond their control.”
A life-long pet lover, he began volunteering at Pets Are Loving Support (P.A.L.S.) and is now executive director. The organization provides pet care, including free food and basic veterinary care, to the pets of critically ill and disabled Atlantans.
Last year, P.A.L.S. extended its services to include senior citizens, in addition to those living with terminal illness and/or disabilities. In February, the organization will celebrate its 20th anniversary.
“The services we provide help lift a burden and allow our clients to focus on their health, knowing their pet companion’s needs are met,” Bryant said. “Everyone enrolled in our program receives very little income. Often, they may put their own health in jeopardy by forgoing medication or a medical appointment to feed and/or care for their pets.”
Bryant said the death of his best friend and business partner, who succumbed to cancer at the age of 40, had a profound impact on his life. “She always said that while financial success and stability is important, that should not consume your life. What really matters is helping others…however small that gesture or action may be. That is what truly makes a difference in both their lives and in yours.”
Despite the economy, Bryant said P.A.L.S. made it through the recession without having to place any clients on a waiting list, while new registrations/clients increased by 30 percent this year alone.
P.A.L.S. receives no state or federal funding and relies on private and corporate donations. They can be made at www.palsatlanta.org. Volunteers to help with events, food deliveries, and office help are welcome, and so are donations of pet food, litter, treats and toys.
Board President, Create Your Dreams
Hammond, 42, is not only vice-president of Exervio Management Consulting’s Atlanta office, but he also serves as board president of Create Your Dreams, a youth development program devoted to nurturing the talents and dreams of students from elementary school through graduation and beyond.
Hammond said he was interested in connecting with a youth development nonprofit and his mentor/tennis buddy, Dr. Jabari Simama, suggested he talk to his daughter who was program director for Create Your Dreams.
“She invited me to attend their graduation program and that event sealed my commitment to CYD,” Hammond recalled. “Immediately, I saw a number of students that were engaging and gifted and the opportunity to be a part of their CYD family was compelling. They reminded me of myself when I was younger coming from humble beginnings, and I wanted to make sure they recognized the opportunity to pursue their dreams and enjoy an abundantly blessed life.”
Hammond joined the CYD board and a couple of years later was asked to lead it. He said the biggest accomplishment of the organization is that 100 percent of CYD alums have earned high school diplomas. He’s also proud of the students who have come back to work with CYD, founded in 1994, after they graduate.
He said said: “One of the students in the first group was a third grade student, Shanay Benton. Shanay went through the program, went on to graduate from Tuskegee University, returned to her same elementary school to teach second grade, and just this year has joined the board for Create Your Dreams.”
Hammond said his service to the community was prompted by a favorite teacher in high school who told him to “leave this old world better than you found it. I have accepted that as my purpose and CYD is a blessing to me as a way to do just that.” Because of the recession, Hammond said fundraising has been a challenge this year.
He said monetary and physical support are needed. He recommends visiting www.createyourdreams.org and watching the video to find out more about the organization.
Southeast Regional Director, Anti-Defamation League
Nigut, 62, became a household name and face after his career as a journalist at WSB-TV. He left television to become the director of the Atlanta Regional Arts and Culture Leadership Alliance and was then tapped as the Southeast director of the ADL because of his longtime involvement with the Atlanta Jewish community.
“ADL is one of the country’s leading providers of diversity education programs for schools,” Nigut said. “In 2007, here in Georgia, we launched a new initiative to celebrate diversity called ‘No Place for Hate.’ The initiative is now being run in more than 100 Georgia schools from pre-k through 12th grade just two years after it was introduced!”
Nigut said ADL’s efforts to “break the cycle of hatred and bigotry that permeate so much of our society are the most important contributions we make to the community. Whether it is working with children in schools, responding to the discrimination complaints that routinely come into our office or conducting training programs for law enforcement officers in how to deal more positively with their communities, all of our work is focused on creating communities of respect.”
Nigut said a recent stand-out moment for him occurred this past April when ADL staged the world premiere of a new PBS documentary on the Leo Frank case at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. “An audience of almost 2,400 people turned out to see the film,” he said. “They were Jews and non-Jews, blacks, whites, Latinos, students, law enforcement officials, as well as people whose families had played a role in either lynching Leo Frank or in defending him, or who were related to Leo Frank’s widow, the murder victim Mary Phagan or others in the case. It was an extraordinary evening in which a truly diverse crowd of metro Atlantans came together to watch a film that showed one of our community’s greatest shames, but committed themselves to building a better future.”
Nigut – who is married to playwright Janece Shaffer and has two children – said virtually all the services provided by ADL are free.
“We rely on the generosity of individual donors who share with us the goal of fighting bigotry. And so, contributions are essential to our work,” he said. “If you know a school that would benefit from our diversity education initiatives, you can help us by contacting us and giving us the school name.” Visit www.adl.org for more information.