Hello to our Westside partners,
I am writing to share a few updates about The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s work in Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods of English Avenue and Vine City. In particular, I want to underscore our enduring commitment, an exciting new staffing development and some lessons from a recent evaluation of our work.
First, I want to reassure you that we have an enduring commitment to the Westside. These are neighborhoods with rich history, legacies, and traditions for which we have deep respect. We are steadfast in our support. As Arthur Blank has said, “We believe in the greatness of these Westside neighborhoods, and in the future of the Westside as a place that embodies Dr. King’s Beloved Community. We know there is more work to be done, and we are committed for the long term on working with residents, civic leaders, and other organizations to create positive, impactful change while supporting the cultural and historical preservation of the Westside.” We hold firm to this promise.
Second, I am delighted to share that Danny Shoy, Managing Director, will now be leading the foundation’s efforts on the Westside. Danny comes to us most recently from serving as the CEO of the East Lake Foundation, a highly successful place-based community development organization. Danny previously worked for the Blank Family Foundation from 2001-2010, and we are thrilled to welcome him back. He brings an equity mindset and is committed to community improvement and neighborhood empowerment. As we refresh the strategy for our work on the Westside, I know he will be a terrific partner to you. Over the course of the spring and summer, Danny and Suganthi Simon, Senior Program Officer, will be in touch with our grantee and funding partners and with residents to listen, learn and shape the next chapter of our work together.
Third, this past winter, we took stock of the foundation’s last eight years of investment in the Westside. We commissioned an evaluation that involved information gathering from key grantee partners, residents, funding partners and more. We learned that there were a lot of positive developments and that there are places we could do better moving forward.
Between 2014 and 2021, the foundation invested $31 million on the Westside. But it wasn’t just us. Other partners also stepped up to provide time, thought leadership and over $200 million in additional financial support, multiplying the foundation’s initial investment sevenfold. Going forward, we will seek to develop more funding partnerships in support of the Westside.
The foundation’s work was initially informed by extensive resident input and community engagement. The work was intended to generally improve community well-being and included a broad swath of efforts related to healthcare, environment, education, safety, economic mobility through workforce and financial inclusion, and affordable housing. Much has changed since the foundation’s initial plan. Overall incomes have increased. There is more greenspace. Additional services have been provided, and there is more of a pipeline for affordable housing. But, there are limits to what we know about actual results of the foundation’s work with partners because we did not develop consistent data collection systems or track outcomes over time. We are aware, however, there is a lot more to do. Many have deep concerns about gentrification and pushing out legacy residents who want to remain and preserve their neighborhood.
As we refresh the strategy for our work in Vine City and English Avenue over the next few months, we will seek to understand current community needs and how we can contribute in the most meaningful way. We will seek input from diverse stakeholders. We will learn from other successful neighborhood improvement efforts. We will stay in touch and communicate more. And we will work in common cause to make measurable improvements in ways that will matter most to the residents of Vine City and English Avenue.
The future presents exciting possibilities for Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods. We remain committed, and we look forward to continuing our work with renewed focus.
The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation