All posts by Team Ourhouse

Our House Teacher Finalist for Georgia Pre-K Teacher of the Year

Michele Brown, lead Pre-K teacher at Our House’s Decatur location, is full of energy. With a ready grin and an engaging laugh, she seems perfect for the role of making learning fun for her students. And that’s her goal. She says her mission is to get her students to understand that “school is a fun place, learning can be fun.” She sits in her classroom surrounded by colorful selections of the children’s artwork, the Smart Board they use for lessons, and toys in bins labeled in both Spanish and English. She seems perfectly at home here in this sunlit classroom. But this teacher who seems built for the classroom didn’t start out planning to enter the teaching field.

Michele is from a small town in rural Indiana and started college at Kansas State with her major undecided. She took a variety of classes from a wide range of fields and didn’t think about education until a friend suggested that it might be a good fit for her because of what a wonderful mom she was to her young daughter. Based on that suggestion, Michele took an exploratory education class that had her in a classroom three days a week for 16 weeks. At the end of the class, the teacher she had been assigned to said, “You’ve got it. You know how to connect with kids.”

After that experience and finishing school, Michele realized that teaching was not so much a career as a calling. She said she felt called to work in low-income communities, especially with students who struggle with learning. “I’m going to be that teacher for all the kids who struggled, for all the kids who don’t get it, all the kids that weren’t straight A honor students,” she says, her face serious. She recounts her own experience in 11th grade where a math teacher belittled her in front of the entire class. “That’s why I teach. That’s why I do what I do.” She also has a special place in her heart for the children Our House serves; children from families experiencing homelessness. She says, “This is the greatest area where we can make the biggest difference.”

In her third year of teaching at Our House, Michele has taught Georgia Pre-K for a whopping fifteen years. And all that experience has paid off. This year, she was a finalist for Georgia Pre-K teacher of the year. It was a grueling process that included writing essays, submitting a video of her teaching a lesson, and participating in an in-person interview. Even though she made it through an intense competition and had her teaching skills recognized state-wide, she still makes it clear that the work she does wouldn’t be possible without Britney Michel, her assistant teacher and a graduate of Our House’s job training program. She refers to Britney as her co-teacher and says that they’re on the same page in terms of what they should be doing every day. “It’s like, let’s just go in, let’s do what’s best for the kids, make it fun for them, give them a great experience, so that they equate school with happiness and joy,” she says. Britney nods in the background while cutting out construction paper shapes for the day ahead.

When asked whether she feels like she has made a difference in the lives of the children at Our House, Michele is brimming with pride and success stories. She talks about a little girl whose mother didn’t even have her GED and how that same mom now has a GED, her trucker’s license and drives a bus for the DeKalb county school district. That little girl, “Deja,” is now in accelerated classes in elementary school. Then there’s the story of a little boy, “Moses,” who was living in a safe house with his mother and siblings after fleeing from domestic violence. Moses is now in kindergarten and his standardized test scores are the highest in the kindergarten school-wide. Michele acknowledges that it can be challenging to work with children who have experienced such trauma but is still filled with hope about their potential.

“They have to feel safe, they have to feel like you love them. [I]f they feel like you care, they’ll learn from you. So you never know which of these children may do great things. You gotta have that experience of someone showing you some compassion and love.”

And when she’s asked what she likes most about working at Our House, Ms. Brown doesn’t hesitate. “Our mission,” she says, followed by, “the families we serve.”

November 28th is Georgia Gives Day

This year Georgia Gives Day is teaming up with Giving Tuesday on November 28, 2017. Georgia Gives Day is an online giving initiative established through the Georgia Center for Non-profits and a network of non-profits across the state of Georgia. Our House will be participating in Georgia Gives Day this year and hoping to build on last year’s success. We have a $10,000 goal with a $15,000 stretch goal to gain all matching funds from an anonymous donor.

We know our mission to break the chains of homelessness is important to you and we hope you will join us on this day of giving and help us reach our goal. Please support Our House and give on Giving Tuesday at https://www.gagives.org/c/GGD/a/ourhousega.

Save the Date: Cocktails, Confetti & Cake Gala

The gala to celebrate Our House’s 30 years of serving the Atlanta community will be held on February 10, 2018 at the Atlanta History Center. There will be a DJ, cocktails, dinner and dancing as well as a live and silent auction to benefit families with children experiencing homelessness. For more information about the gala and becoming a host or sponsor or to purchase tickets, click here.

Director Cagle Visits for Georgia Pre-K Week

Bobby Cagle, Director of the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) visited Our House and read to the Pre-K classroom for Georgia Pre-K Week. We thoroughly enjoyed hosting Director Cagle and we are grateful to him for spending time with the children. Our House would also like to congratulate Director Cagle on his appointment to lead the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Director Cagle has been a positive force for protecting children in Georgia.

Shelter Renovations have Begun

Our shelter renovation has begun! Plans for the shelter renovation have been finalized and permits obtained. Construction began on September 7, 2017. Our House will demolish the existing shared bathrooms and replace them with private bathrooms in 14 of the 18 residential units. The four rooms that will not have private bathrooms will be short-term stay rooms – families will be able to move into other rooms when they become available. Two shared bathrooms will remain, for use by residents in the four short-term rooms. Renovations will take place in phases in order to minimize disruption to services provided. The renovation will take an estimated six months to complete, and we do not anticipate that the project will cause a significant reduction in our service level.

Our House established a board committee to guide the renovation project, which includes professionals in the construction industry. We also engaged award-winning construction management firm Silverman Construction, which has recently won a number of accolades for their involvement in the Ponce City Market project. In addition to our recent classroom renovations in Atlanta, Silverman managed Our House’s renovation project that added a new wing to our Decatur location, which was completed in 2009. Silverman Construction has a unique perspective on the needs of our clients and on our needs as a nonprofit partner.

 

The trauma of homelessness causes negative social, emotional, and health consequences to adults and children. By adding private bathrooms and restoring a sense of privacy, dignity, and normalcy to the lives of the families we serve, we expect better physical and mental health outcomes as families work through the traumatic experience of homelessness, and an easier transition to mainstream housing. We are pleased to further align our program with best practices in human service delivery in order to provide the best experience possible for the families in our care. The construction supervisor is currently estimating that the first phase will be done in December with the second phase wrapping up in February.

Bright from the Start’s Commissioner Jacobs Visits Decatur Pre-K

On August 31, 2017, the Our House Decatur Pre-K received a very special visit from Amy M. Jacobs, Commissioner of Bright From the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning. Commissioner Jacobs spoke to Linda Stouffer of WSB-TV about the importance of Georgia’s Pre-K program and spent some time playing and interacting with our children. Our Pre-K children benefit so much from having positive interactions with so many adults who want to see them succeed.

Our House, Inc. Awarded Transformational $900,000 Grant

Largest Program Grant in 30 Year History of Our House

Atlanta, GA May 25, 2017:  In a powerful statement of support for the importance of early childhood education, a local foundation recently awarded Our House a grant of $900,000 to support high-quality early learning programs for Atlanta children experiencing homelessness. Over the next three years, the transformational grant will ensure that Our House achieves its strategic goals of programmatic and operational excellence. Grant funding will provide general scholarships for homeless children to attend Our House’s early childhood education program and will allow for the expansion of an existing partnership that provides daily intervention services for children with special needs.

Homelessness is a traumatic experience, and in recent years, research has become more and more conclusive regarding the effects of trauma. For children, the trauma of homelessness can cause developmental delays and behavioral health challenges that, when left unaddressed, become barriers to successful learning.

To combat the problem, children at Our House receive developmental assessments early on in order to determine their individual needs and assess the best way to prepare them for Kindergarten. Many homeless children have special needs that require intervention to be ready for school. In addition to regular classroom activities, Our House partners with The Adaptive Learning Center to provide daily intervention services for children with identified need for special attention.

Grant support will allow Our House to place a specialist from The Adaptive Learning Center at the Atlanta site for the first time, and will support continued service at the Decatur site, expanding the partnership from one site to two.

Funding will also provide scholarships to fully cover the costs of children not covered by Head Start, allowing Our House to continue to offer services at no cost for children who are most at risk of poor educational outcomes.

Our House provides shelter to live and education to thrive. The mission of Our House is to break the chains of homelessness by providing quality early childhood education and comprehensive support services for families experiencing homelessness.

National Volunteer Week: Thoughts on Service

In honor of 2017 National Volunteer Week, we asked our Board Chair, Aaron Danzig, to reflect on why he chooses to serve. 

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth,” so said the late, great Muhammad Ali.  And Winston Churchill once wrote, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Board Chair Aaron Danzig speaks at the most recent CDA class graduation.

Board Chair Aaron Danzig speaks at the most recent CDA class graduation.

Both of these truisms reflect what is important in a life well-lived.  While there are many similar sayings, the point is universal:  Helping others should be done by everyone with the ability to do so.  The benefits of volunteering are three-fold.  A need is fulfilled for the recipient, whether a basic need or something that brings happiness the recipient may never have known.  The giver fulfills his or her human duty to assist and nurture, obtaining the warm glow of satisfaction from doing a good deed.

But perhaps even more important is the interaction between recipient and giver — people who may not otherwise ever have the opportunity to meet — which promotes a greater understanding of the trials and tribulations of others and an appreciation of viewpoints and perspectives different from one’s own.  Too often, we live in an echo chamber of our own choosing, ensconced in a cocoon with similar people.  Volunteering provides an avenue for helping others while also helping ourselves.

There is no “right” method of volunteerism.  Each of us is imbued with unique skills and abilities.  There are thousands of organizations from which to choose — social service, education, religious, senior citizens, refugees — the list is endless.  And the rewards are limitless.  While I hope I make at least a small difference in the lives of those I serve when volunteering, I believe my service has had an even larger impact on me.

For the past five years, I have been on the board of Our House, and have served as the board chair for the past three years.  Our House is a wonderful organization providing high-quality early childhood education to those experiencing homeless and a shelter for infants and their families.  It provides “Shelter to Live and Education to Thrive.”  Every time I step foot into Our House, I come away inspired by both the staff at Our House and the children and families they serve.  If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities, please visit the Get Involved page. If you are interested in board service, please contact hello@ourhousega.org, and let us know why you would like to serve at Our House.

-Aaron Danzig, Our House Board of Directors Chairman

Our House, Our Dreams Gala: Fundraising Announcement

1 Jackie Gingrich Cushman Gala HonoreeWith almost 350 guests in attendance, Our House’s benefit gala generated more than $215,000 –nearly 15% more than the goal! The program started off with a welcome by the night’s emcee and advisory council member, Jovita Moore. Board Chair, Aaron Danzig, introduced advisory council member and gala honoree, Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and presented her with an award for her service and dedication to Our House.

After Cushman’s remarks, Our House President and CEO, Tyese Lawyer, made brief remarks and attendees viewed a moving video presentation about the impact of Our House (view below). The live auction and fund-a-need drew spirited participation and contributed to the success of the evening.

Our House Board Member, Ellen Persons, had this to say about the event, “Having attended the Our House Gala for six years now, I can say that last night was far and away the best event yet. The space was magnificent, food was delicious, it was a great turnout, and the enthusiasm was spectacular,” which sums up the evening quite well!

Our House would like to extend a special thank you to all of our gala sponsors, patrons and hosts. We also want to recognize the Gala Chair, Vickie Hunter, and the entire Gala Committee for their hard work.  We invite you to join us next year as we celebrate 30 years of service to our community and honor community leader Stephanie Blank.

Check out the Gala video presentation below:

2017 Gala Video from Tyese Lawyer on Vimeo.

Announcing Our House, Our Dreams Gala Honoree: Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Our House is thrilled to announce Jackie Gingrich Cushman as the honoree for the annual Our House, Our Dreams Gala. We are pleased to celebrate Jackie for her work in the community and for her commitment and service to Our House.

Honorary Chair, Jackie Gingrich Cushman (center) with Our House CEO, Tyese Lawyer (right) and Michael Hertz (left), Board Member and Chair of Our House Fundraising Committee.

Gala Honoree, Jackie Gingrich Cushman (center) with Our House CEO, Tyese Lawyer (right) and Michael Hertz (left), Chair of the Our House Fundraising Committee and Gala Patron & Host Committee.

Jackie became involved with Our House (then Genesis Shelter) after her son was born. Inspired by the challenges of motherhood, she had a desire to help other families who were raising children while also grappling with temporary homelessness. For more than 15 years, she has helped Our House by serving on the board and the marketing committee, fundraising, adopting families for Christmas, and volunteering with her husband Jimmy and with their children, Maggie and Robert.

The gala will be held at 6:30 on Saturday, February 4, 2017 at the Atlanta History Center. The night will include a silent and live auction, a wall of wine and live entertainment. We had a great turnout last year and hope you will join us this year to celebrate Jackie, and to support the mission of Our House.

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