Atlanta Falcons serving Atlanta Mission's Homeless Community

We can’t think of a better way to start the year than to highlight one of our favorite clients. Atlanta Mission is an incredible organization making a daily impact in our city. The following blog was written by our fall Marketing Intern, MiKalla Cotton, who recently participated in Atlanta Mission’s annual Thanksgiving meal. Keep reading for insights into 2017’s event and see how our team was inspired by the guests we met. 

In November, our team sat around our big family style table in the office green room, with plates full of Thanksgiving food. As we all took our seat, naturally, Billy (Elevate’s Founder and President) posed the question: “what are you grateful for?” As we went around the room and each of us answered, Roman Kotowski, Experience Leader, shared gratitude we could all resonate with – gratitude that sprouted from that week’s events. 

Just a few days before, Roman hosted Atlanta Mission’s annual Thanksgiving meal in partnership with the Atlanta Falcons. After serving the Atlanta Mission clients for the first time, he noticed a correlation between these individuals. Each of them walked in the door with a unique story, but they all shared one thing. Undoubtedly, they were there because they had no place to live, however, they were especially there because they had no form of community to dwell. Truthfully, the only difference between them and us are the people in our lives – or lack thereof. Maybe a house is not what they’re truly lacking, but rather a community that creates a home.

Take Harry’s story for example. He had everything he could want, but when his wife of 20 years left, he turned to cocaine, ended up jobless, and soon had nowhere to go. Last Thanksgiving (2016) was when he hit rock bottom. He was so desperately hungry that he realized he would have to rummage through trash to find food. The thought of that was enough to convince him to go to Atlanta Mission. Just a few days after the holiday, those meals were what sparked his journey there that still continues today. Harry is now clean, has started a new job, and has a healthy relationship with his children. This Thanksgiving, Harry was filled with gratitude reflecting on the stark contrast of how far he’s come since last year. “Atlanta Mission has been a big blessing,” he says. “The people who support this place gave me another chance.”

Odds are you have at least one person in your life that would provide a place for you to lay your head before you went without. Every story is unique, but what they share is the lack of those types of people in their lives. Just like in Harry’s story, Atlanta Mission strives to be those people.

Atlanta Mission’s purpose is to be a “community united to end homelessness… one friend at a time.” Their philosophy is to meet each “person where they are, in their unique circumstances, and provide customized services to help them overcome the cause of their homelessness.”

Since 1938, The Christian non-profit ministry has grown from a small soup kitchen to a multi-facility organization serving the largest homeless population in Metro Atlanta. Today they serve over 1,000 homeless men, women, and children through emergency shelter, rehab and recovery, vocational training, and transitional housing. They invest in the spiritual, personal, and professional development of people through multi-layered programs that are designed to help individuals exactly where life has led them.

One way Atlanta Mission executes that vision outside of their daily services is through providing a Thanksgiving meal. Every year, a large number of homeless neighbors arrive to eat, fellowship, and be inspired to begin the healing process. Close to 98,000 meals are served annually, and for those of you who might be asking, “how can I help?” it only costs $2.67 to provide one hearty dinner. Your gift not only supplies nourishment for their physical needs, but it also provides nourishment for their mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

For the last six years, it has been our honor and privilege to play a role in activating this experience through hosting the annual Thanksgiving meals. In addition, the Atlanta Falcons have come alongside Atlanta Mission, which looks like some big guys, with even bigger hearts, wearing hairnets and filling plates. The players serve the main course and include a couple sides, and by sides, I mean a little dancing and autograph signing.

The first of two nights is set-aside for the women and children, consisting of a couple meals: the first, singles, and the latter for mothers and their kids. These meals are served at the women’s shelter, My Sister’s House, located in Northwest Atlanta. The second night is a meal specifically for the men, served at Shepherd’s Inn, the men’s shelter north of downtown Atlanta.

While the noise heightened outside the doors and the women’s anticipation grew, we all gathered to form a tunnel of celebration for the first entrance. When the time came, the doors were opened and all the single ladies flooded into the cafeteria welcomed by our spirit fingers and enthusiastic cheers. The women found a seat with other friends around tables accented with red and black Falcons balloons as the jams bumped in the background. We welcomed them on the mic, introduced Falcons players, Matt Bryant, Joshua Harris, and Matt Bosher before they grabbed serving spoons, and the assembly line commenced. The wait for food created plenty of space for the room to participate in a game we like to call Song Scramble. With the cue of every song, the room lit up with excitement, as some ladies sang every lyric and others got jiggy with it. One of those being Lee Ann, who, with Roman’s prompting, willingly danced with him in the center of the room.

Following their dismissal, the doors opened for a second time, this round for mothers and their children. They flowed in with the same authentic joy as the team and Falcons players cheered and high-fived each individual. Welcome and announcements were made, and within moments the room was literally transformed into a dance floor. Children of all ages rushed to the front, and their faces lit up as we took turns picking them up and twirling them around for the rest of the night. The dancing only stopped upon their exit, but I have a feeling their genuine smiles and gratitude lasted for days after.

The men entered the celebration dinner through an energetic tunnel, and the night two experience was nothing short of meaningful. Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle, Grady Jarrett, played a large role genuinely serving and engaging, alongside his family who also attended the event. A gem that most people might not know about Jarrett is his heart for giving. In addition to investing in the men of Atlanta Mission, he recently spoke to Newton High School on the dangers of bullying and in an effort called The Grady Bunch, he consistently buys tickets for every Falcons home game and gives them away. The time Jarrett gave that night proved impactful, as the men not only took away autographs, but they moonwalked to the food line and left with an aura of thankfulness. The faces and stories touched us, but one man, in particular, stood out to our team. Prefaced as an interactive party-starter, we knew Bishop could be counted on to capture the attention of the room. He demonstrated exactly that when he asked for the mic and rocked an Al Green song, naturally commanding every pair of eyes present. Moments like Bishop’s are why we call ourselves thankful to partner with organizations like Atlanta Mission, who creates space for the hero to be called out of the underdog.

The guests who attended the meals that week left with full bellies, but I’m convinced they also left with full hearts. The reason they left fulfilled was not due to the music, the autographs, the centerpieces, or even the food, but rather the humans who played the music, signed the autographs, created the centerpieces, and served the food. Although those services were most definitely highlights, if they were the purpose, it would’ve been easier to just press play, unveil the food, and walk away.

The men, women, and children left full not because of the stuff, but rather as a result of the people who chose to invest in their lives.

Though we often take it for granted, you and I can easily say we are grateful for our home. What Roman shared around the table a few weeks ago was a simple but profound thought – the roof is a blessing nonetheless, but the holidays prove a time much more opportune for recognizing the people who sit beside us. As we transition into a new year, see and love the people who choose to continually show up for you, but also take time alongside us to be those people for the men and women without. We may not all be able to build a house, but we can all create a home.