A Community-Led Renewal in Atlanta
Dec 27, 2013
By the mid-1990’s, Atlanta’s historic neighborhood of East Lake had become a place with little hope. Its crime rate was 18 times higher than the national average, and its employment rate was just 13.5 percent, with only 4 percent of residents earning incomes above the poverty line. Less than one-third of the neighborhood’s students graduated from high school. And the neighborhood was the victim of a $35 million annual drug trade.
In 1995, community and business leaders had seen enough. Together they established the East Lake Foundation to help revitalize the neighborhood. The Foundation had a big goal – to develop a new community on the site of East Lake Meadows, a failing 650-unit public housing development that had been built on a golf course in 1970.
The new East Lake includes The Villages of East Lake, a mixed-income apartment community with 542 townhouses, duplexes and garden apartments; the Charles R. Drew Charter School, which now serves more than 800 students in grades pre-K-8; the East Lake Family YMCA; and the Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Center for children from birth to kindergarten. The new East Lake also brought a golf course back to the community – the 18-hole, mid-length, public Charlie Yates Golf Course, the net proceeds from which directly benefits the East Lake Foundation.
Bank of America has been a philanthropic partner of the East Lake Foundation since its inception. In 2011, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation provided grant funding to support the CREW Teens program and the workforce development program with the Villages of East Lake. In all, Bank of America provided more than $175,000 in grants to the East Lake Foundation in 2011.
Those grants help fund programs like CREW (Creating Responsible, Educated and Working) Teens, designed to help East Lake teenagers complete high school and develop a plan for post-secondary education and careers. Participants receive tutoring, homework assistance, standardized test preparation, community service and leadership training, career advisement and assistance with navigating the college admissions and financial aid process. In 2011, more than 96 percent of active CREW Teens graduated from high school, and most of them will be the first in their families to go to college.
“Bank of America has been an indispensable partner to us since the day we began our work to reclaim East Lake,” says Lillian Giornelli, chair of the board of the East Lake Foundation. “It’s clear to us that Bank of America is committed to ensuring that East Lake remains a thriving, vibrant neighborhood.”
East Lake’s transformation has been profound, making it a place of hope again. The community’s violent crime rate has plummeted by 95 percent since 1995. Five percent of East Lake adults rely on welfare today, down from nearly 60 percent in 1995. And 99 percent of Drew Charter School students meet or exceed state standards for reading.
Eva Davis, a past president of the East Lake Meadows residents’ association put it simply. “We tore down hell and built heaven,” she said.