Nineteen percent of Grady’s student population is in severe poverty or is homeless, according to APS Insights. A group of parents, which has now grown to around 750 members, created a community organization to help these struggling families: Grady Cares.
Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman worked directly with the families coming into Grady and noticed when some were in poor living conditions and had challenging financial situations.
“There were a couple families that registered in early October that I felt like, ‘Oh, they’re going to need a lot of help,’” Dr. Bockman said. “They were in a shelter.”
Dr. Bockman started to realize how much help the families needed.
“I noticed those two families, particularly, and it just kind of nagged at me,” Dr. Bockman said. “Those are the two families that I really started talking to kids about what they need.”
Dr. Bockman has been a foster parent and an adoptive parent, so the students’ stories really stuck out to her.
“I’ve kind of been involved in child welfare forever, so it’s kind of a normal thing,” Dr. Bockman said.
Linda Brenner, parent of junior Josh Brenner, started the Facebook page for Grady Cares in December, which had an explosive response.
“It kind of blew up to the point where all the needs were met with the Amazon wishlist and holiday sponsors for families who are living in shelters or are very impoverished,” Brenner said.
Adelia Johnson, the social worker at Grady, also helps Grady Cares provide necessities to families in poverty.
“My role in Grady Cares is to connect our families with adequate resources to help with their emergency or more immediate situations,” Johnson said.
Over the holidays, Grady Cares really started to gain popularity. Holiday sponsors were families who donated Christmas gifts for kids and families in need.
“Most of the holiday sponsors went crazy,” Brenner said. “There were stacks and stacks of Christmas presents for these kids.”
Through the Facebook page, Brenner was able to post about families’ stories and the specific items they needed during the holidays. She has an Amazon wishlist posted as an easy way for parents to buy other family’s different items.
“We want to continue with the wishlist, and we want to expand it so teachers do not have to spend their own money on basic supplies,” Brenner said. “We want to use the Facebook page to showcase anonymously individual cases of need.”
The Facebook page specifically describes the difficult situations the students are in.
“A Grady student that had a baby, who is in transitional housing with relatives, had literally nothing,” Brenner said. “We put that out on the Facebook page and within literally 24 hours, there were boxes of diapers, baby clothes, a stroller and a crib.”
The identity of kids in need is kept completely anonymous.
“We are trying to protect the identity of the kids,” Brenner said. “But we know enough about the situation to be able to share it in a compelling way and get people that have the means and the interest in giving and share the wealth.”
This attempt to provide solid ground for these needy families has skyrocketed beyond just personal items.
“One family, in particular, that unfortunately was misplaced from where they were, had been living in their car,” Johnson said. “We were able to secure them with temporary shelter and provide clothing and food to meet their immediate needs.”
This community organization has expanded beyond Grady. Parents in nearby neighborhoods have heard about the number of kids in need and stepped in to help.
“Some parent, who has nothing to do with Grady, supplied a Grady student with three siblings, who only had one air mattress with beds from Ikea and mattresses, sheets, pillows and everything for these kids,” Brenner said.
Not only has Grady Cares raised thousands of dollars in goods, but also transportation for kids who strictly rely on riding the school bus, as well as supplying kids with MARTA gift cards for a wider variety of transportation. MARTA is the Atlanta public transit system.
“We had a thousand dollars in Uber gift cards for kids that do athletics after school and miss the bus or want to do clubs,” Brenner said. “We are also going to start doing MARTA gift cards.”
In the future, Grady Cares hopes to start a free store called Grady Cares Closet, a place where kids can get things for free.
“We are going to do ‘Grady Cares Closet,’ which is going to be a free store by invitation only to the neediest kids and their families with donations of new or nearly new shoes, clothes and coats,” Brenner said.
Grady Cares is planning on having this new store at the Virginia-Highland Church UCC and also make it a place where kids can hang out and play games.
“I would really like there to be more places around here rather than just Starbucks, where Grady students can go and just hang out and have fun,” Dr. Bockman said.
The new “Closet” will be a step in the right direction for improving the lives of these kids in need.
“I’m really excited about the Closet,” Dr. Bockman said.
The organization strives to make the Grady community a better place for students and families in need.
“The mental stress of being homeless or not having your own space is just a lot to deal with, so we want these kids to feel as normal as possible,” Dr. Bockman said.