Atlanta Project leaders announce shift in focus for second phase

When former President Jimmy Carter and former Emory President James T. Laney announced the creation of The Atlanta Project (TAP) in October 1991, they called for The Carter Center-based initiative to address an array of urban problems (homelessness, unemployment, teen pregnancy, the high school dropout rate) in a five-year period. With that deadline fast approaching, the residents involved in implementing TAP in their neighborhoods let TAP administrators know that despite some problems and disappointments, the program had done a tremendous amount of good for some of the city's most vulnerable residents and they did not want to see TAP end.

Recognizing the ongoing nature of the problems TAP was intended to address and that solving some of them could take generations, TAP leaders expressed support for continuing the program. They also recognized, however, that the structure of TAP had to change dramatically in its second phase of operation. As a result, a much leaner, more streamlined plan for TAP's Phase II has been announced.

TAP Program Director Jane Smith, who holds a master's degree in sociology from Emory, held a press conference Aug. 26 to unveil the Phase II plan. Smith was joined by Carter Center Executive Director John Hardman and several key players in TAP's first phase.

"The strong partnerships that grew out of Phase I of TAP will continue in large and small ways for years to come," Smith said. "What we need to do now is design projects with manageable expectations, greater focus and genuine collaboration. We've accomplished too much to turn back."

In Phase II, expected to begin in January, TAP's annual budget of $5.4 million will decrease dramatically to a projected $1.5 million per year. Smith said most of that reduction will be attributable to a corresponding reduction in the number of TAP staff. The 20 neighborhood clusters into which the 500,000 residents of the TAP service area were originally divided each have a cluster coordinator, assistant cluster coordinator and secretary. In Phase II, those 20 clusters will be collapsed into four area-wide clusters, which Smith said will have minimal core staffs. The locations of those cluster offices have not yet been selected.

Smith also said the TAP central administrative staff housed at City Hall East on Ponce de Leon Avenue also will be reduced to a minimal number. Smith said she does not yet know exactly how many paid employees will be retained for Phase II, but the number will be a fraction of the 85 on the Phase I payroll.

The reductions in budget and staff, Smith said, reflect a shift in focus to issues surrounding youth, children and families, areas in which TAP was particularly successful during Phase I. She outlined four "benchmark" areas that TAP's second phase will emphasize:

* Increasing the number of students graduating from high school on time;

* Increasing the number of pre-kindergarten facilities and enrollees;

* Increasing the number of children immunized by the age of 2; and

* Increasing employment growth in the TAP area.

"The selection of these four benchmark areas was determined by our experience in Phase I of TAP," Smith explained. She also said that the overall shift in focus for Phase II represents TAP's intention to emphasize its role as a coordinator of existing service providers, rather than TAP being perceived as and interacting with residents as if it were a direct service provider.

Beginning in September, Smith said, TAP leaders will be holding discussions with potential donors and service provider groups for Phase II. A transition team will organize and staff TAP with a view toward launching Phase II no later than January 1997.

Although he could not be present at the press conference, President Carter said in a prepared statement: "I am heartened by the successful collaborations which have taken place between TAP cluster residents and their partners from the business and academic world. Because of the many serious problems which threaten the lives and health of our young people, we have no choice but to continue our work."

--Dan Treadaway

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