Recently I had the privilege of visiting Walton Village, a beautiful apartment community located in Marietta, Georgia. I, along with other GCO team members, visited Walton Village as part of our Breakthrough Fellowship experience to get a taste of other organizations in the community who share a common vision for seeing families thrive.
Walton Village is part of a larger network of apartments in metro-Atlanta area and Augusta that are owned and managed by Walton Communities. This privately held company has a unique mission of developing real estate in a way that builds strong communities and improves the quality of life of its residents. In addition to providing exceptional housing at an affordable price, the community offers educational, cultural, and recreational programs tailored to the hobbies, interests, and needs of the people they serve.[i]
Taking a similar approach to many partners in Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Breakthrough Norcross collective impact initiative, Walton Communities seeks to align itself with non-profits, schools, and other partners to achieve positive outcomes for families in their community.
For instance, Walton Village partners with the non-profit, faith-based organization Parents With A Purpose to run their Adventure Center, which provides an after school enrichment program for primary school children in the neighborhood. The Adventure Center seeks to boost children’s love for reading by offering a fun environment where children can curl up with a book and let their imaginations run wild. One room even has a custom-built loft with a sign posted at the top that reads: “No Grown-Ups Allowed!” The program as a whole focuses on developing the children’s character and teaching them to take ownership of the place they’ve been given through keeping it neat and orderly.
One outcome that Walton Village has seen as a result of its educational efforts with the neighborhood children is improved test scores: One hundred percent of the elementary school children in Walton Village (who regularly participate in Adventure Center programs) were reported to have passed the state-based Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT). This is not only an important outcome for the local elementary school, as children from Walton Village comprise 40 percent of the school’s student body, but also a significant academic milestone in each student’s development.
One of the things I like best about Walton Village is the wide age range of residents the community attracts. The Legacy at Walton is specifically designed for senior living, while the other apartments are available for singles, couples, and families of all stages. Intentionally fostering an inter-generational community provides the opportunity for the younger and older residents to interact with and learn from each other. We learned of one woman in the community who volunteers her time in the children’s Adventure Center teaching the kids how to crochet. This opportunity allows her to pass on an enriching hobby that many children may never have learned, while allowing the children to invigorate her with the life and energy that they naturally bring.
Walton Village seeks to build authentic community by providing a platform for neighbors to help meet each other’s needs. The director of community relationships shared the story of a woman who, at a monthly social held for single-parents in the neighborhood, explained that her daughter would miss prom because she couldn’t afford to buy her a dress. Another resident, moved with compassion, spoke up and said that her daughter had an old dress that she could wear. Yet another at the dinner chimed-in and said that she was a seamstress and would be happy to make the necessary alterations. Still, another neighbor who was a hair-stylist spoke up and volunteered to arrange her hair. Before they knew it, these ladies had teamed up to help make the woman’s daughter – and their neighbor – feel beautiful on the night of her prom. The women were so proud to have been able to chip in to make this night special for her.
Another example of neighbors supporting one another can be seen in the way families have shared groceries with one another during times of financial need. Every two weeks, a food co-op run by Walton residents delivers an equivalent of $100 in groceries to families in Walton Village who have signed-up for this service. Some of the participating families, recognizing the needs of other neighbors who do not regularly benefit from this service, have been known to share the food that they received with families who are in a tight spot financially.
Walton Communities offers a great example of a for-profit company that seeks to eliminate the status quo by delivering needed services in an extraordinary way. They aren’t simply in the housing business – they are in the community-making business – and their efforts are changing the lives of the families living in their communities.
[i] Walton Communities Apartment Homes, “Our History: Walton Communities,” accessed May 6, 2014, http://www.waltoncommunities.com/about-us/walton-story.