GEORGIA: A LONG TRADITION OF GIVING
Georgian business leaders have maintained the state’s historical commitment to philanthropy & charitable giving established upon its founding
When the English prison reformer and humanitarian James Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia in 1732, charity was one of his major motivations. The first settlers consisted of former detainees of English debtors’ prisons who were being given a new chance in a new world, as well as religious refugees from across Europe, including both Protestants and Jews. In those early years, slavery was prohibited, as were large landholdings: Oglethorpe’s dream was of an equitable, egalitarian society based above all on family farming.
While a lot has changed in Georgia in the nearly three centuries since then, to this day the state is characterized by an abiding culture of philanthropy and charity. Casual visitors are often surprised by the extent to which some of the leading institutions of Atlanta and other cities have been shaped by philanthropists, ranging from universities to arts venues to hospitals.
In today’s Georgia, private donors are helping to make sure that noone misses out or gets left behind in the continuing economic boom. In the historic Westside District around the new Mercedes-benz Stadium, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation (AMBFF), established in 1995 by Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank, is working to improve infrastructure and leisure options, train residents for job opportunities, and help protect locals from the impact of rising property taxes.
“A priority for our foundation is making sure that the people who have invested their lives for generations in the Westside, and who want to stay there, will still be able to,” says AMBFF President and Trustee Penny Mcphee.
Some of the city’s largest corporations are also supporting communities in the fast-changing district. “Access to financial services is a very important part of growth in the Westside, and that’s a big part of our purpose,” says Allison Dukes, Chairman and CEO of the Atlanta Division of Suntrust Banks, one of the state’s leading financial institutions and the first to open a retail branch in the Westside. “Our purpose is to light the way to financial wellbeing.”
Philanthropy thrives across the Georgian business community. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a team of 10 employees from Southwire, the country’s leading manufacturer of wires and cables for electricity, traveled to Mississippi to assist with a Christmas event planned for victims. That visit marked the launch of the company’s Project GIFT® (Giving Inspiration for Tomorrow), an initiative that has grown rapidly in recent years. In 2017, Project GIFT® volunteers have handed out 23,000 bags of supplies to school students. “Today we have 900 volunteers for Project GIFT® from our company of 7,500 employees,” says Rich Stinson, Southwire’s President and CEO.
At the same time, this year Southwire is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its 12 for Life initiative, which provides high school students with the opportunity to receive mentoring and earn wages in a manufacturing facility, inspiring them to complete 12 years of schooling. “It is very encouraging to see at-risk students getting into either a technical school, a four-year school, the workforce or the military,” Stinson says.
Meanwhile leading local companies such as Delta Air Lines are donating 1% of its annual net income to charity which is almost $40 million, showing that the motto of Oglethorpe’s original group of Trustees of Georgia is just as relevant in the state as ever —“not for ourselves, but for others.”