Thomasville Heights Elementary School of Atlanta lies just minutes south of of the trendy bars and restaurants and pricey homes of East Atlanta Village, Grant Park, and Little Five Points, but trapped as it is between an old landfill, the razor wire fences of Atlanta’s Federal Pen, a housing project, and a boarded up public library, it feels a world away.
It’s one of Atlanta’s lowest performing public schools, suffering from a forty-percent annual enrollment turnover rate. Most kids who attend miss more than a week of school, and less than ten percent of its fifth graders read on grade level. And yet thanks to the efforts of Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF), partner organizations, the school, and the Thomasville Heights community, things are looking up.
AVLF trains, mentors, and supports pro bono attorneys to assist low-income people at critical times in their lives. Within its offices inside Thomasville Heights Elementary, AVLF works passionately to address the root causes of poor performance as part of its Standing with Our Neighbors Initiative. Since the initiative kicked off, AVLF has become a partner to the community, attending and hosting public functions, developing relationships with neighbors and getting to know neighborhood dynamics.
The vast majority of the kids who attend Thomasville Heights Elementary live across the street in an project-based Section 8 apartment complex riddled with mold, cockroaches, maintenance problems, and other health and safety concerns. Not surprisingly, these kids suffer from higher-than-normal rates of asthma and other health issues that force them to miss school. Parents are often hesitant to complain about conditions because they fear retaliation from the landlord. Instead, they may stay silent or look for affordable housing elsewhere. Housing instability, AVLF and its partners are convinced, is a primary contributor to Thomasville’s high student turnover rates. Families stressed out by health or housing issues can’t put learning first.
AVLF, the largest provider of tenant representation in Atlanta, knows that students cannot thrive when forced to live in unstable housing and deplorable conditions. They sponsor know-your-rights talks and pop-up legal clinics at locations within Thomasville to help residents advocate for better living conditions. Working on referrals from school nurses, social workers and teachers, they advocate for and represent individual clients in an effort to force remediation of deplorable conditions, to halt evictions and to resolve underlying issues.
AVLF handles a LOT of data, and they needed a robust way to manage it. In 2014 TechBridge helped AVLF install a custom, SalesForce-based CRM system that includes MapAnything technology. With it AVLF can efficiently upload, integrate, and share client histories. They can monitor and report on school system, poverty, public health and other demographic data and see the information overlaid on a neighborhood map. They can easily schedule clinics, meetings, and fundraisers. They can manage lawyer and non-lawyer volunteer schedules. Having access to and the ability to organize and create reports with their data also allows AVLF to better be able to show potential donors how the work they’re doing is making a difference in specific communities.
“It revolutionized the way we do our work,” says AVLF deputy director Michael Lucas.
AVLF plans to expand their Standing with our Neighbors Initiative into several other local communities in need starting next year. AVLF’s work in and commitment to these neighborhoods shows that we are, truly, #BetterTogether.
Murals by Thomasville Boys and Girls Club director Immanuel Reed
TechBridge’s #BetterTogether Campaign
The #BetterTogether campaign showcases the important efforts of nonprofits TechBridge has had the privilege to work with. We are proud to have provided technology solutions that have assisted these organizations on the front lines of social change in our communities—alleviating homelessness, fighting poverty, helping kids do better in school, making sure seniors get proper meals, and more. Our solutions build the capacity of nonprofits to achieve better results and to form measurable and sustainable community-based collaboratives.
Because social change is a community effort, you’ll also be hearing about the generous sponsors, amazing technology partners and tireless volunteers and staff who enable the transformational work we do. We are, indeed, #bettertogether.