unspecified-1By Grace Huseth

The nonprofit City of Refuge has been a light in the Vine City, English Avenue and Washington Park neighborhoods for more than 18 years. Now, with a new investment, the organization has a new game plan to expand job training and foster economic development.

Terry Tucker, Chief Strategy Officer, said City of Refuge has long had plans to construct and operate an innovation jobs hub. With a $7 million pledge by The Chick-fil-A Foundation, The Coca-Cola Foundation and the City of Atlanta, City of Refuge will be better equipped to teach people skills to prepare for careers in auto tech, the culinary arts and computer science.

The newest initiative by the City of Refuge is to create a computer-coding academy for young adults, along with a small business incubator and accelerator for aspiring entrepreneurs. The center will be called the Workforce Innovation Hub, a collaborative space that allows for instruction and mentorship.

After examining trends in Atlanta’s job growth, Tucker knew it was time to start a computer science program. After all, his own start in computer coding came from a mentor who saw his potential and taught him the skills necessary to succeed.

“Mentor advice is what young people need,” Tucker said, “All those years ago, someone took a chance on me and gave me the spark and validation by saying, ‘You mean something.’ Everyone needs to know that what they do on a daily basis matters.”

Bruce Deel, CEO and founder of City of Refuge, at the Innovation Hub announcement.

The Workforce Innovation Hub will be housed in a former indoor basketball court, which will be converted into a 20,000-square-foot space that can accommodate seven different training sessions at one time. Offices upstairs will have startup businesses, which will likely use students from the coding academy as interns. The fluid space will include glass walls so everyone in the facility can see the work that is being done.

Officials hope to have the Workforce Innovation Hub up and running in six months. In the meantime, City of Refuge is doing an employment brief to reveal the employment demands of metro Atlanta over the next decade. Tucker predicts hospitality, including food and beverage and entertainment, will provide jobs in the future. This is the first step to finding partner businesses that will later employ graduates from City of Refuge training programs.

“Knowing what is to come helps us talk to people and identify who is willing to hire. If you start those conversations, people they are usually very willing to build a partnership,” Tucker said.

For instance, the City of Refuge has partnered with Just Brakes to use the company’s training curriculum in their NAPA Auto Center. This partnership allows Just Brakes to hire technicians right out training, while students can find employment quickly after graduation.

The investment from these organizations lays a solid foundation for the launch of City of Refuge’s capital campaign, “Shining the Light”. Their goal is to raise $25 million by 2018 to support organization programs, including permanent supportive housing and workforce housing.

For more information, visit cityofrefugeatl.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.