Last summer, with vacation in full swing, most sunny afternoons found some twenty-five children who live at Edgewood Court Apartments not at the pool or park, but sitting quietly at tables in the small activity room, reading. These youngsters participated in a summer reading program started by an Emory College student, Tianna Bailey, and her cousin, Georgia State student Maurice Shaffer.

“Throughout our lives, a lot of organizations and people have invested in us,” Bailey (left) explains. “We both received full scholarships to college. We felt so blessed that we wanted to give back to the community in some way. We chose Edgewood Court Apartments because I have family who have resided there for the last ten years, and my cousin used to live there. We wanted to start in the community where we grew up.”

Bailey’s effort is exactly the kind of project Associate Professor of Medicine Neil B. Shulman had in mind when he launched Social Entrepreneurs at Emory, a start-up grant program administered through the Volunteer Emory office. In 2000, Shulman gave $2,000 to support students interested in starting their own non-profit services, and five students received $400 grants. Last year, fourteen Emory students received ten grants for $200 to $400 each. The idea, says Shulman, is that the students establish volunteer-based programs and services that continue to have an impact, even after the founders have graduated.

“I always wanted to see something like this done,” Shulman says. “In an academic institution, the professors are in charge, and the students learn from the professors. But I really feel there is a lot we can learn from the students if we just empower them to take an idea they had on their own and help them do it. It would be wonderful to have a lot more people graduate from school who are social entrepreneurs, starting their own non-profits for social good that could even turn into a business and a career for the student. With these small grants, these students have had incredible impact.”

Students can apply for grants as individuals, in small groups, or with a student organization; the only requirements are that they reach out to the community beyond Emory and that the student founders have a concrete plan for how they will continue in years to come.

Most of Emory’s social entrepreneurs have been drawn to working with Atlanta children who are in need or at risk, says Hildie Cohen, director of Volunteer Emory. The services themselves span a wide range, however, such as teaching conflict resolution skills to fourth and fifth graders, inviting elementary school kids to Emory for a day to see what college is like, helping inner-city high school students through the college application process, developing an inner-city tennis program, and volunteering in the juvenile court system.

“The volunteer hours from the first year alone exceeded nine hundred hours,” Shulman reports. “Students get their friends and classmates to be involved. A number have gotten newspaper coverage, and a couple have gotten additional grants to become a separate non-profit. These are students who are not just doing volunteer work, but starting something real that may go on forever.”

Most of the children at southeast Atlanta’s Edgewood Court Apartments live in single-parent households, with several siblings and young mothers who may work long hours. Before Tianna Bailey set up IMAGE (I Must Achieve the Goal to Excel), the free after-school program she and her cousin conduct in the community “activity room,” many of the children went home to watch TV in the afternoons, played outside–unsupervised or possibly looked after by older sisters or brothers–or just generally hung around.

During the school year, thirty-five of them now spend three afternoons a week, from three to six p.m., at the IMAGE site, mostly doing their homework with the help of volunteer tutors. The tutors help them through any problems, check their work, and make sure they are prepared for tests. Bailey found forty volunteers to help with the program last year, many of them Emory students and others from Georgia State, Morehouse, and Georgia Tech. After homework time, the volunteers usually organize a group activity that might teach the children about conflict resolution, honesty, or teamwork. The children also go on monthly field trips.

One unique aspect of the program, Bailey says, is that it encourages parent involvement. Parents are asked to volunteer at least five hours a month. “They like the program,” she says. “They know their kids will be safe and doing their homework. This is subsidized housing and the income level is not high. All of these kids are latchkey kids.”

The activity room, which the apartment management readily agreed to let them use, is crowded with tables and chairs, books and games, and a snack counter topped with huge jars of candy. A sign on the wall outlines a few rules: “No horseplaying. Mind your business. Be honest.” There is a discipline system that the volunteers enforce, Bailey says, with the most dire consequence for unruly behavior being expulsion from the program.

Bailey, who graduated this year, proposed the IMAGE project when she was a sophomore. She returns to Emory this fall for a graduate degree in education. She and Shaffer are also seeking additional funding and support for IMAGE; they have already received grants to continue the program.

Bailey never loses sight of the program’s rewards. “We had this fifth-grader last year,” she recalls, “who was having trouble academically and emotionally. He was being ridiculed and was to the point of giving up. We worked with him and tried to build his confidence. By the end of the year, his teacher sent a report saying she didn’t know what was going on at home, but there was a tremendous improvement in his behavior. She said he had made a 180-degree-turn.”

The more successful IMAGE becomes, the more work it takes to keep it going. “What Maurice and I are learning,” Bailey says, “is that this is like a business for us. We are not being paid, but it’s like a dream come true.”

I left my home in Puerto Rico,

the silent oceans,

the placid mountains,

the cool, soft nights.

So begins “The Forgetful Island,” a poem by Renfroe Middle School student Juan Cardoza Oquendo. The poem won third place in the poetry contest featured in X-Change, a magazine for elementary and middle school students founded by Emory social entrepreneur Lauren Gunderson (above).

“X-Change is a magazine for you, about you, by, and with you. Inside every issue will be stories about Atlanta kids, celebrities, issues in our world, art, science, sports. It’s what you care about. What’s cool. What’s exciting,” Gunderson and co-editor Nishima Chudasama ’02C tell their readers in the first issue. “It’s about your writing, your interests, your lives, your creativity, your opportunity to make a difference.”

Gunderson, a junior, and Chudasama together developed the idea for a kids’ literary magazine that would both inspire young people and give them an outlet to express themselves. “Basically, we got to talking about how we would take some initiative for change, not just helping out, but real long-term change in the community,” Gunderson says. “For long-term change you want to hit kids, so we decided that would be a good place to start.”

The first two issues of X-Change caught on quickly with both students and teachers in the eight Decatur public schools where the magazine is distributed by hand. Produced simply in black and white, the four-page publication is packed with graphics and text, including poems by students, calls for submissions, contest announcements with prizes, and numerous facts and inspiring quotes from various artists and writers. Ideally, Gunderson says, she would like to feature about a dozen youngsters per issue. She also wants to expand X-Change to reach other schools.

The magazine never wavers from its target audience. The summer issue offers a number of suggested activities for the long vacation that are part creative exercise, part fun: “Read a book and see the movie version!” or, “Write a letter to yourself. . . . Next year open it and see how you’ve changed.”

“The magazine was born out of this desire to reach kids in a way that is inspiring for them, but also makes sense to them, in their own language,” Gunderson says. “The huge overall goal is to celebrate kids who are trying to do something creative. If you want to reach a kid, the best way is to congratulate them on something they’re already doing. Then they’ll say, what the heck, I’ll keep doing it.”

When Caren Kelleher was a child, she was part of a special art class that produced a 3-D mural for a local hospital in a suburb of Washington, D.C. The teacher worked hard to encourage the kids’ creativity. “It really pushed me, it gave me confidence, it was fun, and I made great friends that way,” Kelleher says. “That was the fundamental idea.”

Now Kelleher (left), a sophomore and one of Emory’s social entrepreneurs, is trying to recreate that experience with ARTreach Atlanta. Working with about thirty Emory volunteers and a local group called Youth Art Connection, Kelleher led an effort to transform an art room at the urban Warren Boys and Girls Club in Cabbagetown last spring.

The art room had not been cared for or cleaned up in about a decade, Kelleher says. Their first task was to give it a thorough cleaning. Then, she asked the youth who use the club–about fifty children from the area, age seven to thirteen–to draw their ideas of the perfect art room. Out of a hundred drawings, she and the other volunteers gathered ideas for a giant mural, then let the kids paint it. The brightly colored, folk-art style mural takes up an entire twenty-five-foot wall.

“The kids were so excited to see that someone would actually come to help with their art room,” Kelleher says. “They were not using the room at all, they had no organization and no teacher. I hope now they will find a permanent art teacher.”

Kelleher is planning similar long-lasting art projects for ARTreach Atlanta in the future, including other boys and girls clubs and a local children’s hospital. But she also hopes to expand the program to provide art education and creative opportunities to individual children and small groups.

“Because our organization is so young, it’s kind of hard to see where it will go,” she says. “Fundraising has been our biggest hurdle because art supplies are so expensive. But I hope our volunteers can pair up with the kids and work with small groups to promote art. They really enjoy spending time with the children, tapping into their creativity. Kids look at the world and to them, it’s so new.”



© 2003 Emory University