Kim Anderson doesn’t do anything on accident. As CEO of Families First, she is as decisive thanking her staff over Thanksgiving lunch as she was in her decision to move the organization to the Westside. As she cites specific employees in her speech and jokes with the 100+ staff by name, it is easy to see the intentionality in everything she does.
Since the 1980s, Families First has provided self-sufficiency solutions to over 400,000 children and families. The organization prides itself on operating as a community resource in the epicenter of need. So after seeing Midtown transform from blighted to prosperous, Anderson knew it was time to move; she set her eyes on the Westside.
The Westside, a general term for Washington Park, English Avenue, Vine City, Castleberry Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods has undergone a transition of its own. The area changed from Martin Luther King Jr.’s prestigious family seat in the 1960s to a hotbed of drug trafficking in the 1980s, and today is the focus of a surge in resources led by football dollars to stimulate socio-economic change.
According to Anderson, the Westside is “very reflective of the communities of people that we serve. The building is an open space; that means that staff can collaborate, walk with clients, run into each other, and really begin dreaming about possibilities for the community together. It also provides a lot of space for the community to use. We want people to have neighborhood and association meetings here. We want our partners who need space to gather their teams here so we can build collaboration and work together.”
Touring the space, it was easy to see how the Westside and their new building, once E. R. Carter School, the first public school for African-American children in Atlanta, is a perfect fit for Anderson’s vision.
The organization strives to keep its roots at the forefront. Guests, clients and staff are greeted by a scene from Atlanta’s first orphanage for the descendants of slaves. Lucetta Lawson and Sarah Grant founded the Leonard Street Orphans Home in 1890; it would later grow into Families First.
The new Families First space was designed to be full of innovative storage options. Volunteer Coordinator Ashley Uffner works in front of ample storage bins and bikes for some very lucky kids.
Families First turned traditional office structure on its head: the staff desks face the windows and the meeting rooms are on the interior of the building. This arrangement gives employees a stunning view of changing autumn leaves and plenty of options for private conversations. The real magic happens in one of the many adoption counseling rooms. All meeting rooms feature frosted glass for natural light to shine into the space, while still providing privacy for the most life-changing conversations.
In keeping with their branding, trees are featured all over the building. Here, Families First staff get down on Thanksgiving lunch beyond a glass wall with leaves thanking supporters who made the new building a reality.
It takes a seriously big space and quantity of turkey to serve lunch to over 100 employees and an even larger multi-purpose room to house meetings, events, and the occasional post-Thanksgiving Mannequin Challenge (featured in the headline photo).
The enthusiasm of the staff is palpable and the move has certainly impacted many of them in their work. Development Director Ayesha Harris, who has been at Families First since 2010, says that working in the Westside, “feels more mission-driven. We were already accomplishing our mission but now we are able to drop by the families and see people come into our building; that affirms that we are a more place-based organization.”
As we wrap up the tour, Anderson is just as driven as when she began. As I left their new space full of turkey and optimism, she shares with me her call to the city: “Atlanta, this is space for your family and for you to help strengthen families. Come and utilize this space; come work with us and beside us. Let’s work together to break the cycle of poverty and despair in our community. We can do it and we can do it here.”
Interested in becoming a volunteer, mentor, foster parent, advocate, or donor? Click here to read details on how to become more involved with Families First.
Photo Creds: Lara Wagner