The East Lake Foundation: Leading Residents From 'Poverty' to 'Paradise'

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The East Lake Foundation: Leading Residents From 'Poverty' to 'Paradise'

September 13, 2018

“They had real flowers here. The grass was green. The gate worked,” said Marilyn Hack, who vividly remembers the day, 18 years ago, when she was handed keys to her new apartment in the Villages of East Lake, a mixed-income community with 542 townhouses, duplexes and garden apartments in the East Lake neighborhood just east of downtown Atlanta. It was built on the site of a former public housing project.

Hack thought to herself, “How can I live here? This is not possible.”

East Lake was once a neighborhood that could only be described as down-and-out. In 1995, crime rates were 18 times the national average, high school graduation rates were dismal (less than 30 percent), employment rates were equally dismal (only about 14 percent) and poverty was handed down from generation to generation. Today its story couldn’t be more different.

Violent crime is down 97 percent. In 2017, 100 percent of the first seniors to graduate from Charles R. Drew Charter School, which serves students from Pre-K through 12th grade, were accepted to college.

The transformation took place largely thanks to a sport not often associated with urban living: golf.

East Lake is home to the East Lake Golf Club, a popular destination for the wealthy during the neighborhood’s heyday in the early 1900s. Golfing legend Bobby Jones played his first and last rounds there. But the club’s courses, along with the rest of the neighborhood, fell into disrepair in the 1960s. In 1993 the club was purchased by Tom Cousins and later restored.

Now it’s the site of PGA's annual TOUR Championship, sponsored by Southern Company. Net proceeds from the TOUR Championship benefit the East Lake Foundation, which was established in 1995 to revitalize the neighborhood, generate new opportunities for the families living there and create a vibrant community where all residents could thrive. Last year’s tournament provided more than $2.5 million to East Lake Foundation and other local nonprofits, including The First Tee® of Atlanta.

In July the PGA TOUR and TOUR Championship announced that it will expand its philanthropic mission in Atlanta.

“We are thrilled that the TOUR Championship will broaden its impact this year, supporting two new neighborhood-based organizations in Atlanta, the Grove Park Foundation and Purpose Built Schools Atlanta, in addition to the East Lake Foundation,” said Daniel J. Shoy, Jr., President and CEO of the East Lake Foundation. “This shift allows the TOUR Championship to connect more closely with our Purpose Built Communities’ partner organizations that are creating strong and healthy neighborhoods in Atlanta.”

Purpose Built Communities is a non-profit consulting firm established to take the East Lake model and use it to help catalyze and accelerate other holistic community revitalization initiatives across the nation.

The model doesn’t just improve communities, it improves lives.

“Life-changing is what it is,” said Hack. “I had dreams, I had goals for my kids. You want to emulate what you see…When you see people getting up and dressing and going to work and having nice cars and living well, you want to do that too.”

Watch the video for a glimpse of East Lake’s before-and-after and to meet Hack and others, including the President and CEO of the East Lake Foundation, and Jeremiah Furlow, one of Drew Charter School’s most recent grads, who seems poised for a future most East Lake residents from a few decades ago wouldn’t even think to imagine.