Fully Reopening Georgia’s Economy Safely

Fully Reopening Georgia’s Economy Safely

Fully Reopening Georgia’s Economy Safely


Today, the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) released the following recommendations for governments and schools to adopt to safely return to normal during the COVID-19 crisis. These recommendations come on the heels of President Trump’s announcement that states should begin reopening the economy at their own pace beginning May 1st. GCO will be releasing further recommendations in the near future.

1. Establish a Georgia Task Force on the Economy and Education

We encourage state leaders to put together a task force on reopening the economy. This task force will invite business leaders to submit industry-specific guidelines on how they will operate safely in a restrictive environment until the threat is over, such as when a vaccine is found. These business leaders will receive guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Georgia’s Commissioner of Public Health. Gov. Kemp can then use these guidelines to loosen restrictions in a safe manner. In addition, GCO recommends that the governor consider modifications to his shelter-in-place order to allow people to shop, a vital step for businesses to rebound successfully.

Second, we recommend another task force providing advice to families and school districts on facilitating remote learning. This task force should also create a plan and timetable for the safe return to brick-and-mortar schools in a restrictive environment. We also recommend that school systems develop a plan to ensure students are caught up on schoolwork they might have missed. Additionally, school systems should prepare for COVID-19 outbreaks during the 2020-2021 school year and be ready to return to remote learning when and if that occurs, including a plan to assist students with limited internet access and limited access to appropriate technology.


2. Tap Into Civil Society Resources

Now is the time for civil society to work with government to plan out the reopening of our economy. Workers are being hurt because of forced closures, and we must focus particularly on individuals in vulnerable sectors of our society who could be working now but are unable. Our small businesses are hurting, too. A recent survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that one-in-four small businesses are on the brink of closure and half are considering a temporary shutdown.

In this environment, civil society is more important than ever through nonprofits, community organizations, and churches. We recommend the state of Georgia tap into these resources through coalitions such as GCO’s Hiring Well, Doing Good initiative that matches local businesses with workers.


3. Working with Neighboring States

We are seeing positive examples of other states forming regional coalitions to fight the coronavirus. The Georgia government should consider working with neighboring states. For example, the Port of Savannah is close to the South Carolina border, and many people work at the Port and live in the Palmetto State. It would make sense for these two state governments to coordinate reopening this area at the same time.

Quote from GCO President and CEO Randy Hicks

“We are in unprecedented times, and we recognize the suffering from those affected directly by the disease, but also by those impacted by the mass closure of our economy, schools, and way of life. The time has come to create actionable items for reopening Georgia. No recovery plan is without risk, but we must weigh the risk and rely on health and business professionals to do so. Now is the time for everyone to come together to explore solutions that protect our neighborhoods and respond to community needs.”

You Don’t Have To Be African American In Order To Appreciate Black History Month!

You Don’t Have To Be African American In Order To Appreciate Black History Month!

You Don’t Have To Be African American In Order To Appreciate Black History Month!

As I reflect on Black History Month, I remember when I first started working at the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO). Randy Hicks, GCO President and CEO, and I entered into a discussion about African American families. In reality, it should be called more of an awakening than a discussion.  

When one group does not succeed, it affects us all.

Randy spoke for several minutes on some of the experiences African American families were having within Georgia and across the country. For instance, the rate at which black people were getting married was drastically dropping while the number of single African-American parents was at an all-time high.  He asked me if I was aware of this plight within the black community and I said no. I remember asking him why did HE know so much about this group of people when he was so clearly not one of them, and his response was stunning.  He said, “It is important that ALL people flourish.”

When one group does not succeed, it affects us all. To this day, I am still amazed by that conversation, especially because I wasn’t aware of the horrifying statistics affecting my neighbors. After all my parents raised my sisters and me to know about Black History.

I had no knowledge about the state of African-American Marriages or the incredibly high out of wedlock birthrate.  As part of my work, I attended The African American Healthy Marriage Initiative conferences and I began to learn more.  This education has not only shaped my work but shaped my life in how I think and care for others.

Today, my life is devoted to helping relationships (of all kinds) be healthy and strong. If I’m not doing something to solve the problems, I am part of the problem. As Black History has taught us, it’s through strong individuals and communities coming together that we all become one and see success.

I am very thankful for my conversation with Randy almost 15 years ago.

About The Author

Joyce Mayberry

Joyce Mayberry

VP of Family Formation

As VP of Family Formation at the Georgia Center for Opportunity, Joyce works in the community to build strong families through local collaboration, event planning, and outreach.

Recognizing Black History Month Is About Recalling Where We Came From

Recognizing Black History Month Is About Recalling Where We Came From

Recognizing Black History Month Is About Recalling Where We Came From

Seeing Black History Month through the eyes of 114-year-old Gertrude Baines

To celebrate Black History Month, let me take you back to November 2008.

The morning of the election—an election that would make history with the victory of Barack Obama, first African-American president in U.S. history—a small headline appeared on websites and in papers: “At 114, a daughter of former slaves votes for Obama.”

Gertrude Baines celebrating 115 yearsGertrude’s story really typified the reasons why. She was born less than thirty years after the conclusion of the Civil War, during the presidential administration of Grover Cleveland—at a time when African Americans were often kept from voting and subjected to unspeakable abuses. Her life had overlapped those of many of America’s (and history’s) great black leaders, like Frederick Douglass (he died about six weeks prior to Baines’ first birthday), W.E.B. Dubois, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

She had lived through some important milestones in the fight for civil rights and equal opportunity. She was 53 when Jackie Robinson jogged onto the diamond at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, 60 when the Brown v. Board of Education ruling was handed down, and 61 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.

She has also been witness to some of the most shameful moments in our nation’s history. She was 61 when 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Money, Mississippi, 69 when four black children lost their lives in a Birmingham church bombing, and just two days shy of her 74th birthday when Dr. King was assassinated. (Please take note: those are just the high profile abuses she witnessed as a senior citizen.)

Gertrude’s story reminds me of how exceptional and amazing American democracy is. How many other countries have elected ethnic minorities to lead them? Generally speaking, elsewhere in the world, such transitions don’t happen without military coups and civil wars. The fact is, America is exceptional in large part because of the many people of color who helped rise above and form it that way.

President Barack Obama taking his oath of office in January 20, 2009.

Can you imagine Gertrude’s parents ever having said to her, “One day you will cast your vote for a black man who will win the presidency”? I suspect they never could have imagined it. And yet, on November 4th of 2008, Barack Obama became America’s president-elect. And it was not by court order, legislative edict or military force, but by popular vote. The majority of American voters—black, white, Asian, Hispanic, etc.—chose him to be their leader.

The fact is, America is exceptional.

It’s worth pointing out that this is a trajectory we have been on for decades as evidenced by the fact that people of various ethnic backgrounds have been elected or appointed to become governors, lawmakers, cabinet secretaries, judges and so on.

We celebrate that this Black History Month.

Admittedly, I’m just a white guy from Orange County, California, now living happily in Atlanta. My ability to understand the plight of minorities in the U.S. is obviously limited. But I am a human. And I am able to recognize suffering, heartache and inhumanity when I see it. So I am also able to recognize both the source and manifestation of profound joy felt by millions of African Americans – and people of African descent worldwide—in seeing Barack Obama elected to the White House in 2008.

While that was a great moment, so much more remains to be done to ensure that everyone, of every color and ethnic background, has a legitimate opportunity to flourish. We’ve come a long way—but we have a long way still to go.

Gertrude Baines passed away in September 2009 at the remarkable age of 115—at the time, the oldest living person in the world. What a lifetime of progress she saw toward the realization of the American ideal—laid out (but not always carried out) by our visionary and courageous founders: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

And that’s why we at GCO we will be celebrating those who have contributed so much to our nation—those from the African-American community who, like Gertrude, remind us of what is great about this country.

The Little Things: Keeping Perspective On Thanksgiving

The Little Things: Keeping Perspective On Thanksgiving

The Little Things: Keeping Perspective On Thanksgiving

Like many of you, this Thanksgiving our family will sit around a large table filled with decorations, turkey, stuffing,  mashed potatoes, that odd jello that your distant aunt insists on bringing, and those that we love. At some point, someone will clang a glass to announce a few things they are thankful for. Others will join in, prayers will be said, and then we will converge into a moment of gorging ourselves on the bountiful blessings in front of us.

It’s a picture that will be repeated in many family homes across the country as we come together this Thanksgiving day. 

These moments of reflection help us keep perspective on our lives, but also on the lives of others. We still live in a nation where nearly 49 million people are in poverty, including almost 14 million children. Their Thanksgiving dinner will likely be much different than our own.

The point of mentioning that is not to make anyone feel guilty, but rather to bring understanding and perspective on the blessings and responsibilities we do have. The truth is that we do not all face the same obstacles or opportunities in life.

Thanksgiving is a unique time for us to reflect on the opportunities we do have. Many of us, but not all, have had the opportunity to take advantage of a good education, a good job, and even a supportive family structure. These seemingly small things have helped set us up for success.

As you sit down this year and enjoy the time with family, dinner, and even the jello, remember the small things which brought you to this moment. Reflect on the opportunities afforded to you. And consider those less fortunate who are still waiting for their “little things” to arrive.

Second Chances Matter: Greg’s Story

Second Chances Matter: Greg’s Story

Second Chances Matter: Greg’s Story

If there’s one thing hard-baked into the American dream, it’s the second chance.

We all love second-chance stories—from the Gospel message itself found in the Bible to movies like Les Miserables, Invictus, or The Green Mile.

Perhaps it’s precisely because we all make mistakes and long to be treated with grace—and space to try again—that second chances matter.

And if second chances matter for you and me in the ordinary circumstances of our lives, how much more do second chances matter to those who have committed crimes and paid their debt to society—only to have doors slammed in their faces when they try to start over?

For a glimpse into the life of a Braselton, Georgia man who experienced first-hand how hard it was to get back on his feet after serving his prison sentence—and how important it was to have folks willing to give him a second chance—check out Greg Leppa’s story in the video above.

As Greg’s story proves, second chances are all about hope for a better future. And this is where Georgia Center for Opportunity’s groundbreaking program, Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG) comes in. HWDG offers folks coming out of prison—and other circumstances with significant barriers to employment—the resources and tools they need to find a job with a livable wage.

Through key partnerships with employers, community groups, churches, and other nonprofits, HWDG helps participants at this critical juncture of their lives identify the things that are holding them back, gain clarity on next steps and set goals, and acquire the necessary job skills to get a job and become successful.

As Greg shares, nobody can survive without a job. And as his story shows, getting that first job after prison was the most difficult thing because so many places weren’t open to hiring former inmates.

Second chances really do matter.

Click here to learn more about the HWDG program and find out how you can help give folks like Greg the second chance they need to not just survive, but thrive.

Introducing an Innovative New Way for Those in Poverty to Find Work

Introducing an Innovative New Way for Those in Poverty to Find Work

Introducing an Innovative New Way for Those in Poverty to Find Work

Government, particularly at the federal level, can only do so much to help those who are struggling in poverty to lead stable lives. We know instinctively that real change happens at the community level, when individuals, businesses, nonprofits, churches, and schools come together in the joint mission of lifting people out of poverty, giving them purpose, and strengthening the local economy.

That’s the theory behind Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG) initiative. HWDG brings together individuals seeking jobs with employers who need good workers and nonprofit community organizations who serve those in need.

Here’s the exciting news: Until this point, HWDG was all about one-on-one, face-to-face interaction. As a result, there was a natural limit to the number of people we could reach.


Announcing the HWDG online portal

The great news is that we’re taking the one-on-one interaction that makes HWDG so special and effective and scaling it online. In the coming weeks, we’ll be launching a new online portal website for HWDG as a pilot test in Columbus before scaling to other Georgia cities later in 2020, including South Gwinnett.

Individuals start with the HWDG online assessment tool to identify their barriers. The portal then shepherds them through the process and connects them with wrap-around services to remove their employment barriers and then directly with employers eager to hire.

Employers who participate benefit by getting a steady stream of committed, reliable workers ready to contribute.

“We couldn’t be more excited about the launch of HWDG’s online portal,” said Eric Cochling, Chief Program Officer and General Counsel for GCO who is also heading up HWDG. “This gives us a unique opportunity to reach underserved areas and treat individuals holistically. We know that a well-paying, upwardly mobile job is a key factor in well-being. But the benefits of work extend so far behind that—it provides a sense of purpose and contribution to one’s family and broader community.” 

What makes the HWDG portal unique

It would be a mistake to think of the HWDG portal as just another Monster.com or Indeed.com. What makes this portal unique is the fact that it addresses the individual from multiple sides.

We’ve actually vetted and worked with the full spectrum of local resources to ensure that peoples’ barriers are addressed and resolved. We match a specific individual to help for a specific barrier they’ve experienced that’s preventing them from getting a job.

That’s what really excites us. Other services only have one side of the equation—linking an individual with a job. But that’s not treating people like people. The wrap-around services provided by the HWDG portal remove the barriers that make employment difficult.